Categories > Books > Harry Potter > Echoes of Power, Part I: Anger

2. Waking Up

by moshpit 4 reviews

Chapter 2

Category: Harry Potter - Rating: R - Genres: Action/Adventure - Characters: Andromeda Tonks, Angelina Johnson, Arthur Weasley, Barty Crouch Jr., Bellatrix, Bill Weasley, Blaise Zabini, Cho, Colin Creevey, Crabbe, Dean Thomas, Dobby, Draco, Dudley, Dumbledore, Ernie, Fleur, Flitwick, Fred, Fudge, George, Gilderoy Lockhart, Gi - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2006-12-30 - Updated: 2006-12-31 - 6882 words

Chapter 2: Waking Up

"Mr. Potter", Professor Flitwick began, "do you really feel that the amount of force you used against those three was appropriate? Headmaster Dumbledore informed us of your unusual status, but surely you could have been less brutal."

Harry realized that this was one conversation that was likely to become very tedious, very quickly. "The human mind is a negative feedback mechanism, and the more humiliating the incident, the longer it will be burned into the brain. It does wonders for teaching manners."

With a casual shrug of indifference, Harry tried for a more innocent look. "Tell me, Professor Flitwick, do you really feel that the lack of punishment for bullying and harassing the other students by those three was appropriate?" Harry did his best to look like an eager young student waiting for lecture to begin. The professors began conjuring their own chairs to sit and discuss things with Harry.

Flitwick scowled slightly. "I thought those students were being punished. When we passed along student complaints, both Albus and Severus told us they would take care of the problem." He paused for a moment to look closely at Harry. "Are you telling me that they were not punished?"

Harry shrugged his shoulders again. "Honestly, I don't have any personal knowledge. From what I was told by more than one student, however, it would seem that no, they weren't punished. Moreover, those who did complain found themselves in the Hospital Wing shortly after every complaint. Does that seem like the offending students were being effectively reprimanded?"

Flitwick frowned again, before looking to the other Head of House. Professor Sprout looked unhappy as she turned to face Harry directly. "Well, is that why the complaints dropped off? I thought it was an indication that the problems had ceased."

"Maybe you should be asking your students these questions yourself." Harry said in return. His stomach growled loudly. "Would it be possible to get some sandwiches? It's been a very long time since my breakfast."

Flitwick nodded quickly before calling out, "Blinken!" With a soft 'pop' Flitwick's personal house elf assigned to him as a Hogwarts professor appeared. "Would you please bring us some sandwiches and tea? And perhaps a butterbeer or three for Mr. Potter?" Blinken smiled happily before disappearing with another soft 'pop.'

"Thank you," Harry said. "Back to the point, why do any of you trust that Death Eater to be a Professor of children? Does no one monitor him to make sure his actions are appropriate? And does the person in charge of the Hospital Wing not report back to the Heads of House when a student is injured?"

Professor Sprout seemed shocked, but Flitwick merely looked like he had eaten a Super Sour Sherbet, a new Honeyduke's candy. "As for the injured students, no, Madam Pomfrey does not generally inform us. She does tell the Headmaster and only lets us know if anything serious has occurred that requires an overnight stay. Between being a Professor, a Head of House, and monitoring the wards on the castle, we don't really have the time to deal with lesser matters like who is sick for some reason. Most people are in and out in less than an hour. Maybe we should change this..." Flitwick trailed off thoughtfully. While he was thinking, Blinken reappeared with a tray of food and drinks. After setting it down on an end table, the house-elf returned presumably to her usual duties.

Harry helped himself to two sandwiches and a butterbeer, letting Flitwick and Sprout talk quietly with each other for a moment. It seemed ludicrous that a person nominally responsible for keeping track of up to 300 students would receive no notice of injuries, ailments, or other problems concerning those very students. Students here were clearly dumped into a sink-or-swim pool, and if what those on the train had said was true, no effort had been made to harpoon the sharks.

This suggested deeper problems, and Harry was disinclined to get involved. Perhaps finally agreeing to attend Hogwarts was a mistake after all. It would certainly make things difficult for his own plans if he were constantly dealing with idiots and their fumbling attempts to neutralize his own resources.

After devouring two sandwiches (absently noting how rich the food was in flavor and basic quality of ingredients), Harry decided he wanted the rest of his answers regarding Snape before Dumbledore returned. He cleared his throat briefly to get the other two professor's attention.

"Would you mind answering about Snape?" Harry asked politely.

Flitwick sat back and studied the ceiling. "What makes you think he's a Death Eater?"

Harry smirked. "Please, as the head of the so-called brainy House, don't act like an idiot."

Flitwick sighed before looking back at Harry. "Honestly? Because Albus Dumbledore swears that Snape can be trusted and is a spy for our side against You-Know-Who. Snape seems to be bitter and snide much of the time, but I have to admit that he's first-rate at Potions and their applications. I'm not sure he knows how to teach, but he does know the material, better than many who are entitled to be called Potions Master. He's nearly as good as his original mentor."

Harry slowly let his gaze move to the fireplace. "Thank you for your candid answer. The evidence of Snape being a spy goes both ways. Personally, after reviewing the evidence and many pensieve memories from different witnesses, coupled with events from this summer... I don't trust him. I think he's either working for himself or is in truth aligned to Voldemort, especially since his rebirth."

"What?!" Flitwick shot to his feet, and Harry realized for the first time just how diminutive the man was. "What events are you talking about? And what do you mean that Voldemort has been reborn?"

Any opportunity to reply was cut short as the merry trilling of the phoenix in the corner indicated that the Headmaster was returning. Moving his chair so that the back faced the solid wall rather than the door, Harry waited patiently. After mere moments, the Headmaster and Deputy Headmistress walked in together. Both returning professors picked up a cup of tea before seating themselves next to Flitwick and Sprout, forming a semi-circle of professors facing Harry.

"Mr. Potter," Dumbledore began, "do you realize that the charges you are leveling against Professor Snape are going to make a great many things very difficult? In fact, you may be placing the lives of many innocents at risk!" Clearly Dumbledore was less than pleased with Harry.

Harry smiled blandly at the Headmaster. This was going to be fun. "I prefer to think of it as eliminating a major risk of serious injury or death for the students under your care. Or do you think that some lives are more valuable than others?"

Dumbledore blinked twice before returning to a state of calm. "And what are you referring to? Severus is not a threat to the students here."

Harry continued his bland, mindless smile. He hoped that it would irritate the Headmaster, as legend held the man to be nearly unflappable. "You mean that letting his Slytherin slugs terrorize, brutalize, and molest other students without reprimand was helping all those students in some magical way?"

Dumbledore sat back in his chair. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

Professor McGonagall shifted in her seat, leaning forward to look more closely at Harry.

"Really?" Harry felt his irritation rising now. "So you are telling me that you didn't receive unceasing reports from the matron of the Hospital Wing of injuries to students? Suspicious injuries? You did not notice the lack of Slytherin injuries? You did not notice the steady stream of accusations of student abuse from the other Heads of House to your supposedly tame Death Eater?" Harry's voice had become increasingly cold. "For a man who is reported to be extremely observant with a minimum genius level IQ, as well as supposedly being very bloody sneaky, I find your statement to be fallacious at best."

Harry was still very irritated and on the verge of a dangerous state of anger. At the same time, Harry was inwardly pleased to see Dumbledore reacting now and starting to look ever so slightly annoyed. "What do you know of Death Eaters or Severus?" Dumbledore's own voice was frosty.

"Heard any new prophecies lately, old man?" Harry casually drawled in imitation of Draco's superior attitude. Dumbledore's complete look of utter shock caused Harry to make a mental note to send a copy of his sensory monitor to his tutors. Otherwise no one would believe that Harry had caught Dumbledore completely bent out of joint.

Professor McGonagall, however, recoiled as if slapped. "Show some respect, Mr. Potter! Were school in session, I would have you in detention for a month!" She seemed honestly upset and affronted at Harry's casual and mildly insulting demeanor.

Harry stared back at McGonagall. "Oh? And how should I address someone who is clearly lying to me? And, for that matter, lying to all of you? Someone who has been withholding critical information from me for a great many years now?" Harry then turned his attention back to Dumbledore. "For a leader of the Light side, I'm not very impressed."

McGonagall appeared amazed that anyone would talk back to her, let alone a student. Dumbledore showed increasing signs of anger and irritation. "I believe it is time that Mr. Potter and I had a frank discussion in private. I ask you all to please verify that everything is prepared for the students' arrival in an hour or so."

Harry and Dumbledore continued to stare at each other balefully as the other professors departed. When the door closed, Albus abruptly stood and moved behind his desk. Sweeping his wand in dozens of intricate movements while muttering under his breath, a palpable feeling of power soon permeated the room. "Very well, this room is now secure from listening and scrying attempts. Let us be frank with one another, Mr. Potter. Very frank." Albus stared hard at Harry for a long moment.

Harry merely yawned in the face of Dumbledore's ire. He was quite pleased with how things were going thus far and saw no reason to change tactics - yet. If he could keep Dumbledore on edge, perhaps he could actually pry loose some of the secrets that had been evading his grasp for the past four years.

"First, do you know what role Severus plays in things?" Dumbledore peered quite intently at Harry.

Harry reverted to his innocent, vacant school-boy look. "Of course. You think he spies for you, but in reality, you don't really know who he works for. It could be you, it could be Voldemort, it could be himself, or it could even be /me/. Isn't that fun, guessing who he supports /today/?" Harry was almost positive that the combination of his facial expression and deliberately light voice was grating on the Headmaster's nerves like nothing else in recent memory.

Dumbledore remained standing and glaring at Harry. "I have full faith that Severus is working for me and the side of the Light. I am asking you to drop your charges against him. We think that Voldemort is coming back into power, perhaps even seeking to gain a new body. I need the information that only Severus can provide!"

Harry could not stop himself; he started laughing at Dumbledore's expression and naivete in his trusting Snape. Dumbledore's demeanor gradually became more angry, and were Harry easily intimidated, he might have stopped laughing sooner. As it was, it took nearly a minute to breathe normally again. "Really, Dumbledore, you are a fool. Has Severus not told you yet that Voldemort has regained a new body?"

"What?!" The roar of irritation caused the furniture to shake slightly and the phoenix to take to the air, singing a calming song to placate Dumbledore's temper. "You will tell me what you know!"

Harry smiled a grin that would look perfectly in place on a drunken gambler stumbling into a major Las Vegas casino. "Oh? I will? Why should I?" Harry nonchalantly began a leisurely inspection of his fingernails.

Dumbledore appeared to be stuck between a towering rage bound by the phoenix now sitting on his shoulder and a look of desperation that Harry might not tell him what he so desperately needed to know. Harry had identified the attempt at Legilimency by Severus, but his lack of mentioning a defense was a sure sign of no advanced training. Taking a calculated risk that his own skills in Legilimency, second only to Voldemort as far as he knew, would far outstrip any shields any student could put up, he launched a massive thrust against Harry's mind to seize what information he needed.

As his full power focused into a sharp point to smash aside any shields, he was left stunned when he found no shields at all. In fact, he could find no sign of Harry's mind. It was as if he was ... dead.

"Tsk, tsk, Headmaster. I think, just this once, I will overlook your actions and not press charges against you - even though my sensory monitor has just caught you doing illegal Legilimency against me. That was a rather amateurish attempt to control my mind, you do realize?" The mocking tone of Harry was completely lost on the Headmaster who slumped into his seat, staring at the boy in front of him.

After a long silence, Dumbledore finally looked Harry in the eye and asked the question he was suddenly afraid of knowing the answer to. "Who are you?"

"Me? Why, I'm the Boy-Who-Lived, didn't you know that?" Harry smirked evilly. There was no way this memory was not getting sent back home for blackmail material. In all likelihood, someday Dumbledore and Harry would be allies and possibly even friends, but there was a long keel to haul to get there. Playing this back later should be good for hours of entertainment.

"I don't understand. You refused to attend Hogwarts for four years. You announce out of the blue that you are ready to attend. I put out feelers, and no one knew of anyone who had tutored you. Yet you sit there clearly knowing more than I can guess. How is this possible?" Dumbledore looked resigned to a situation he would have little control over at the moment.

"Do you really understand what it means to be the Boy-Who-Lived? What that whole vanquish-dark-lord clause really means? What kind of power I have inside of me?" Harry looked mildly surprised that Dumbledore of all people had failed to consider this. "I've had training, trust me. When, where, what, and who are irrelevant questions at the moment. The why of the matter stems from that bloody prophecy. What I want from you are concessions. You'll agree to my terms, or I'll simply be leaving before the feast starts. We both know that once I get sorted, I'm bound by oath to finish at least my O.W.L. exams before I can leave permanently - just like every other student. In return, I'll give you some answers - including what happened with Voldemort."

Dumbledore slumped forward and unthinkingly popped a lemon drop into his mouth. "What concessions will you be wanting?" he asked warily.

"Nothing drastic, old man. You will tell me everything you know about Voldemort, everything you suspect, and as soon as you find out something new or hear a rumor relating to him, you will tell me as soon as possible - even if I'm in class or sleeping. In return, I offer the same to you. You will likewise tell me or take me to a copy of the entirety of any and all prophecies relating to Voldemort or myself, or those you suspect might do so. I don't like partial information and just knowing the first bit of that whole 'vanquish' rubbish has been irritating the hell out of me for four years now." Harry sat back and regarded Dumbledore coolly.

Dumbledore sat thinking for a while. Really, what Harry was asking for was what he planned to do, but not until Harry was older and had graduated from Hogwarts. Since the choice was now taken from him, he resignedly nodded in agreement.

Harry shook his head. "No, sorry, that won't work. You're too good at being clever and sneaky. I want an Unbreakable Vow. I will return the same. After all, we don't really trust each other yet. We can play catch-up on Voldemort after the feast since there's likely too much information to share before then, and we still have other things to get through before I'll agree to stay here."

With great trepidation and frustration, Dumbledore swore his unbreakable vow to Harry, promising to inform him as soon as possible of any and all developments relating to Voldemort, and Harry reciprocated his oath to Dumbledore.

Deciding that there was little to be gained by hiding from this development, Dumbledore looked back at Harry with no particular emotion or twinkle in his eye. After resuming his blank expression, Dumbledore asked, "What must we discuss next?"

"Let's talk about Draco and his friends. Why have you let them get away with so much?" Harry was genuinely curious to find out why the Headmaster had permitted a clearly dangerous situation to continue.

Dumbledore leaned back into his chair, tenting his finger tips as he collected his thoughts. "Mr. Potter - would you mind if I call you Harry since we'll clearly be seeing quite a bit of each other?" Harry waved his hand in an indifferent motion, and Dumbledore continued. "Harry, have you ever given someone a second chance?"

"Of course."

"Then why should I not give the same opportunity to those children who have been brain-washed into believing as their parents do? Do they not deserve the opportunity to learn for themselves that those beliefs are invalid? Or should we condemn the son or daughter with the father, even though the child has never learned right and wrong?" Dumbledore paused, looking expectantly at Harry.

Harry wanted to groan with the oversimplification that Dumbledore was making. "Tell me, Headmaster, if a rabid dog bites a puppy, thus making the puppy rabid, would you think it appropriate to permit the rabid puppy to run freely among all the other puppies?"

Dumbledore frowned briefly. "Of course not. Even if it is only a puppy, the saliva will carry rabies to all that come into contact with it. But Draco and his peers are not rabid, so I fail to see the connection. By your example and actions on the train, you are implying that we should eradicate someone for their actions even when they have no real knowledge of right and wrong. That is what I cannot condone."

Sighing somewhat, Harry thought he saw the problem the Headmaster had with his peculiar vision and desire for granting second chances. "Let me draw a different parallel, then. Would you agree that a person suffering from dementia should not be allowed weapons, for fear of the damage they might do to themselves or others?"


"And would you agree that hands, feet, elbows, sticks, knives, guns, wands, and, most importantly, the human mind are all weapons that can cause extreme harm, if not death itself?" Harry leaned forward, wanting to drill in his next point.

"Yes." The Headmaster seemed uncertain where Harry's line of questioning was headed. It was clear that the students were perfectly in possession of their faculties, just skewed in their beliefs.

"And what would you recommend doing to a person suffering from dementia?" Harry asked.

"Well, in general, you confine them in such a way to ensure the safety of everyone and then proceed to treat their illness - whether by therapy, potions, or something else. The primary aim is to safely contain the poor soul and to help them heal." Dumbledore started to lean forward as well, curious to see what the connection would be.

Harry wanted to smirk, but given how much he had already pushed the Headmaster, he kept his face neutral. "And do you agree with the common definition of dementia as either not being aware of one's own actions through illness, or being incapable of telling wrong from right in their own mind?"

Dumbledore just stared at Harry. The phoenix on his shoulder let out a soft cry, before flying back to its perch in the corner. After several minutes, Dumbledore blinked and seemed to become aware of his office again. "I think I see what you are trying to convey. You believe that they are the equivalent of a specific type of dementia and should be treated accordingly."

"Not really," Harry shook his head. "The problem as I understand it - and bear in mind this is based on limited observations today and comments made to me by others - is that you've set up a double standard and have no accountability in place. If they are safe enough to be students among the general population, then they should be treated as the rabid puppies they are - assaulting and molesting the other students, pushing their so-called brainwashing on others, and so forth and so on. If, however, you believe they cannot tell right from wrong, then they are not safe to be among the populace and they should be confined until therapy solves their problems - if they ever can be solved. You can't have it both ways, Headmaster. You are harboring a group of students who are either rabid or suffering from dementia, and they are already heavily armed with just their wands. Imagine the damage if they discover other means for inflicting pain and suffering? I applaud your aims but not your methods for achieving them."

Harry leaned back in his seat, gazing impassively at the Headmaster. While his goals were very noble, in that he wanted to offer a framework for those to learn a different point of view and perhaps change their allegiances, the horse led to water can only drink if it so chooses. Harry understood that you cannot change others; the lack of repercussions only encouraged further assaults and cemented the abusers sense of superiority. It had taken years to really understand some of the underpinnings of how this society worked, even with the combined minds of his Muggle and magical tutors. As to whether the fundamental problems could ever be fixed, none of his mentors could agree. The situation inside of Hogwarts, however, needed to be fixed, or this next war with Voldemort would be lost - even if Harry and his group won the battles.

Dumbledore walked over to the window, absently petting the phoenix and staring at the grounds. Harry waited patiently for the Headmaster to truly understand the point, taking the opportunity to study the contents of the office. The various paintings on the wall were either staring hard at Harry, or whispering to each other as they moved through the different portraits. Behind Dumbledore's large desk was a tall, wooden stool with an old wizard's hat sitting on top of it. Turning his attention to the wall of books opposite the window, Harry rose and began examining the titles, searching for something new to read.

Dumbledore turned to watch Harry scan the books. Clearing his throat briefly, he nodded to the books. "Feel free to borrow any book that catches your interest. Please take only one at a time and return it before taking the next one. With regards to your views on Draco and the other children, I must think more on this. Perhaps your proposal is the only solution, but I hope not. You are, however, correct to point out the damage that is happening to the other students through my inaction. I shall redress this tonight at the feast."

Harry paused in his inspection to look back at Dumbledore. "Thank you, sir." There was no reason not to be polite, now that he had successfully pushed Dumbledore off balance enough to listen to what people told him instead of selectively hearing what was said. It probably would only last a short time, but it was enough to plant the major seeds. "And what of Snape?" Harry asked.

"Professor Snape, Harry," Dumbledore corrected absently. "You know I need him. You also must know that your charges against him will fail, and he will return very hostile towards you. I also doubt your charges against Draco and his two friends will be upheld. The evidence doesn't really support the charges against his two friends, and you know that his father, Lucius, will spend all the money necessary to save Draco from Azkaban. Unfortunately, I believe he will succeed with that plan."

Harry chuckled lightly. "Oh, I know. You could say that I'm counting on it." Turning back to the bookcases, Harry resumed his perusal before continuing. "I am pleased enough for now that the students have been expelled and their wands will be snapped, forcing them to purchase new ones if another school will accept their enrollment - a school such as Durmstrang. This will alleviate many fears here in Hogwarts while taking much time and money away from Lucius. And if they should attack me again, I am well within my rights to deal with them most firmly. I trust you will do something about those that remain?"

Dumbledore sighed. "Yes, Harry, I will make an announcement tonight that should any student assault another student without due cause, they will be expelled and their wands snapped in two. I will continue to think about your dementia argument and try to find a usable solution since the Ministry and Board of Governors would never let me directly punish them that way."

Harry paused as he found a book that looked interesting. Pulling it out, he showed the cover to Dumbledore - whose eyes started twinkling again slightly - before pocketing it under his robes. A book like that demanded to be read slowly and carefully, and this was not the time to start. For casual reading or when otherwise bored, Harry had a copy of the latest David Weber paperback, /Oath of Swords/.

Dumbledore pulled out his pocket watch and looked back at Harry. "We should wrap this up soon, Harry. I need to prepare for the students arriving in the next hour or so. Is there anything else we should talk about before the feast, since we will be meeting afterward?"

Harry shrugged briefly. "We need to talk about what classes I'll take, but we can do that later. We should discuss my living arrangements, although I assume that has to wait until I've been sorted. I need your permission to freely come and go from the grounds when I am not required to be at a school function. I won't skip class, and I will keep up with my studies. So long as I do that, I expect you to let me travel as needed. You already have my oath on keeping you informed of Voldemort's activities, so you'll know if my travel is for that purpose. Otherwise, I won't necessarily tell you the reasons why I am traveling."

Dumbledore grimaced before sitting behind his desk again. "This is most unusual, Harry. Can you not provide some examples of why you might need to leave? Your Head of House and I are, after all, nominally responsible for you."

"Oh, for many reasons, sir: to meet my tutors who cannot or will not come here, to deal with my financial obligations, to pick up some materials that can't be ordered by Owl Post that I require for my advanced studies. It's not just to pop off and meet a girlfriend, although that's not a bad idea either, if I manage to find one."

Dumbledore chuckled at Harry's comment. "Will you be able to provide me with advanced notice and time frames, along with a general destination? Given your key role in the prophecy you already know part of, surely you understand my desire that your safety does not become compromised."

Harry looked thoughtful. "No, I don't think I can do that. I can promise that anytime I'm going to be in places where I might be at risk, I will ask you to arrange a guard. Otherwise, I have my mentors who like to act as guards and typically accompany me. I would just like to remind you, sir, that I've been on my own since before I was six years old and have dealt quite well with those problems peculiar to my status."

Dumbledore sighed again, this time with a slightly wistful expression on his aged face. "I am sorry for that, Harry. I should have checked on you while you were there." Harry felt the deep stirrings of anger and hate bubbling to the surface but managed to push them away again. "I will agree to your terms. You are free to come and go when not required to be here, given the conditions that you will not skip class without permission, you do not slip in your studies, and that you give me your word that any time you need to take a trip and cannot be accompanied by your normal escorts, you will allow me to provide one of my own people to accompany you. However, you may not take any other students with you without my permission, on a case-to-case basis, of course."

"Fair enough, Headmaster. I think the rest can wait until after the feast."

"Thank you, Harry, for a most unusual afternoon. When you return to my office after the feast, the password shall have been set to 'Ice Mice' - just say it to the gargoyle in front of the staircase. Now, if you will follow me, I'll show you where to wait for the sorting ceremony." With that, Dumbledore strode out of his office, and Harry followed along behind him. For a man of advanced years, Dumbledore set an impressively vigorous pace.

"I'll leave you in here, Harry. Professor McGonagall will collect you when it's time for you to be sorted. The first years will go first. You should expect her in about an hour."

Dumbledore left Harry sitting in an empty classroom just down from the Great Hall. It appeared to be unused, possibly for some time, given the lack of furniture in good order. Most of the desks and chairs appeared older and in poor condition. Considering the decline of the population after the first rise of Voldemort and the reduction in attendance at Hogwarts, Harry supposed it was likely that there were several unused classrooms. That might be useful later, but for now, it just gave Harry some peace and quiet to reflect. Pulling his David Weber book out, he thumbed to his place holder and resumed reading.

"Mr. Potter," Professor McGonagall called from the doorway of the empty classroom he had been waiting in. "It's time for your sorting. Come with me, please."

Harry got to his feet, looking forward to the impending spectacle. He anticipated being gawked at, talked about and treated simultaneously like a rock star and a leper. Replacing his bookmark, he pocketed the volume and followed the professor down the hall.

It was sadly typical of the magical community to not know how to deal with an icon. The media had blown out of proportion the events when he was only a year old. Combine that mystery with various conspiracy theories on why he had declined to attend Hogwarts earlier, along with rumors of Dark Arts rituals, and everything became crazy. Why they even cared about what flavor of candy or brand of floss he preferred was a bit beyond his ken, but it was his lot in life. There was little he could do about it - for now.

As Harry followed the Deputy Headmistress into the Great Hall, he was amused to find every eye on him. It left him with the mild urge to do something theatrical, but knowing the way his life worked, he was sure something would happen without any deliberate effort on his part. He strolled toward the tall and uncomfortable looking wooden stool where perched a dilapidated pointy hat; he had seen both in the Headmaster's office earlier.

McGonagall whispered to him as they walked past the tables filled with gawking students. "It's tradition. When I call your name, you sit on the stool and place the hat on your head. It will sort you into your House." Moving slightly in front of the stool, she turned to Harry. Her face carefully neutral, she called out loudly, "Potter, Harry."

Excited whispering immediately filled the Great Hall. Why anyone was surprised he was there was beyond Harry, considering most people knew he was on the train after the drubbing he gave Draco and company. He was almost certain that others would have reported his portkeying directly to the castle with Snape. Of course, the prominent absence of the professor and the three students that were involved with Harry could have been fueling the speculation and whispers, but that was irrelevant.

Sitting on the stool, Harry dropped the hat on his head. He waited good-naturedly for it to do whatever it was supposed to. After nearly a full minute of silence, the brim of the hat opened and shocked everyone in the hall. "Errr, where are you Mr. Potter?" the hat asked.

"You're on my head, so I'm underneath you," Harry patiently replied.

"Really?" the hat asked back.

"Something I can help you with?" Harry returned.

The hat became quiet for nearly another full minute. During that time, Harry scanned the students and saw that they were perfectly silent, waiting intently to see what would happen next. No one had ever heard of the hat casually talking like this. Looking at the Head Table, he noticed that every single person at the table seemed to be in a mild state of shock. Dumbledore alone seemed to be unperturbed, but he was instead slowly shaking his head from side to side as though hopelessly lost in his own back yard.

"Merlin!" the hat exclaimed. "I can't find you at all. How is that?"

Harry shrugged while examining his nails. "As I don't know how you work, I'm not really the best person to ask, now am I?"

"Have you had any Occlumency training?!" the hat demanded.

"Quite." Harry idly pulled out the small book from under his robes and began turning to where he had left off reading. "Do let me know when you're ready to get on with this."

"Look, I've had Occlumens under me before - up to level three, I might add - and I've been able to read them just fine. In fact, I can see shields and the consciousness of people, but for some reason I can't see you. I don't suppose you'd lower your shields, would you?" The hat seemed mildly depressed about the whole situation.

"Errr, since I don't really know you and can't see your brain either, why would I want to do a thing like that? I'm at level five, by the way." Harry felt his question was perfectly reasonable. Just because everyone else was stupid enough to put a sentient and heavily enchanted object in control of their brain did not translate to his following the same pattern of blind faith. Having found his place in the book he was thumbing through, he resumed his reading from earlier this morning. He hadn't made much progress in the book; somehow he kept being interrupted.

"Five? Really? Hmmm. Right," said the hat. Opening the rip in its brim all the way, the hat yelled out, "CONFERENCE!"

Dumbledore looked surprised once again - a situation he was probably starting to find unpleasantly common today - and stood up. Walking down to the stool, he looked hesitantly at the hat. "Well, Floppy, what seems to be the problem?"

Floppy dropped the volume of its voice down to a near whisper before replying. "Albus, Mr. Potter and I need to have a long talk. This could take hours. You need to start the feast while we chat."

Dumbledore looked almost ready to cry, or perhaps curse, at this. "By the rules and regulations, the feast can't start until every student has been sorted. Can't you just sort him and talk later?" Harry was not quite certain, but he thought Dumbledore might even be starting to whinge slightly.

"Hmmm. That's fair, so long as we all agree it's a temporary sorting. He'll be properly sorted later. Does that work for you, Mr. Potter?" Floppy seemed to be getting almost excited by this turn of events. "In the meantime, you'll be wearing me until you trust me enough to let me sort you properly by letting me in your mind."

"If that means I can go eat, then yes, let's do that. Do I get to call you Floppy?" It seemed a bit of a silly name for a hat, but since the hat appeared to be sentient to some extent, who was he to complain? Harry was quite hungry and wanted to get something to eat immediately. If he waited much later, it would make his evening training more difficult. Much of the workout he needed to do later would be rather unpleasant on a full stomach.

"Right then, you call me Floppy, and I'll announce your temporary sorting. Any of the Houses have a particular appeal to you, Mr. Potter?" Floppy asked.

Truth be told, Harry felt no particular affinity to any of the Houses, but he was going to have to choose one if he wanted to eat. "Er, it really doesn't matter. How about the one with the Weasleys? We were trying to talk about Quidditch earlier but got interrupted. "

"That works." Floppy almost seemed to take a deep breath before it shouted out, "TEMPORARILY GRYFFINDOR!" Unlike the other students, there was no burst of applause for this. Most people, even the staff, were looking at each other in confusion over the disclaimer that the sorting was "temporary", especially after the initial odd behavior of the hat.

Dumbledore looked at Harry and motioned him toward the Gryffindor table. "Congratulations Mr. Potter, please join your new House for the feast."

Harry, with Floppy still on his head, strolled over to the Gryffindor table. As he approached, Hermione, Ginny, Neville, and Ron slowly stood and began clapping. Gradually the entire table was clapping, and the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs soon joined in. The Slytherins were fairly universal in their glares.

"Not popular with the Slytherins after that train incident, are you?" Floppy asked quietly, while drooping down over Harry's right ear.

"M'eh," Harry said with indifference. Spotting an empty seat between Ron and Ginny, Harry dropped down into the spot with Ginny on his right side. Ron offered a half smile, and Ginny looked at him sympathetically for a moment, eyeing the hat that was draped over his ear with a mixture of curiosity and irritation. Harry was almost certain she was muttering about the hat under her breath.

As Dumbledore returned to the center of the Head Table, he clapped his hands together once and announced in a loud voice, "Tuck in!"

Harry piled food on his plate while ignoring the strange looks he was getting from everyone around him. Hermione, sitting across from him with Neville, looked ready to explode with questions and speculations. Harry smirked at her. "Anyone seen Snape or Malfoy?" he asked in a loud voice, a look of innocent inquiry on his face.

A zone of silence descended over the Gryffindor table at Harry's question. Everyone looked at him askance before they scanned the hall, looking for the missing people. Whispered speculations started up again, but at least the focus was off Harry for the moment.

"That was rather Slytherin of you, Mr. Potter!" Floppy whispered. Ginny jerked back slightly, and Harry suspected she was the only other person to have heard that statement..

"Tell me, Floppy," Harry whispered back while pouring some juice for himself. "In all of your thousand-odd years of sitting on little kids' heads, did you ever not sort someone into one of the four Houses? I mean, doesn't that get old? I doubt most people really can be identified by such a trite idea as bravery, or cunning, or raw intelligence, or basic loyalty... most people should be a mix. Why can't you sort someone into multiple Houses? Or better yet, no House? Isn't there something more to life than a label? Could you just make up a new House and call it `Floppyhat' or something?"

Ginny looked at Harry thoughtfully, while Hermione leaned in closer to try and hear the conversation. Ron blissfully stuffed his face with food as fast as he could and was paying attention to nothing else. Neville was watching Hannah with a slightly wistful expression on his face, seemingly lost in his own mind.

Harry would almost swear that Floppy chuckled. "Now that's an interesting question, Mr. Potter."


A big thank you to my genius betas who have valiantly strived to make this story better, despite my crafty attempts to make it incomprehensible. Immeasurable thanks to Chreechree and cwarbeck.

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