With a noise that Harry would later swear sounded distinctly like a burp, Floppy turned into a sombrero big enough for three to get shade under. To complete the look, the sombrero was a garish red – as though it was mocking the house with whom Harry was currently sitting. Two long ties came down and wrapped themselves under his chin. A small tear opened up on the right strap near his ear. “You’re the first person to ever ask me about that, Mr Potter.”
Harry shuddered slightly, as everyone at the Gryffindor table stopped eating and stared at the Hat on his head. Laughter slowly started ringing out across the Great Hall, and next to him, Ginny choked on her pumpkin juice.
Slapping her back slightly harder than was strictly necessary, Harry gave her the evil eye before giving it up as a bad job. Harry pulled out his wand and turned his spoon into a moderate-sized mirror sitting on the table.
Staring closely at the reflection on his head, he let out a slow sigh. “You do realize no one here has been to Mexico other than you and me, right?”
Floppy made an inarticulate sound before twisting into itself and turning into a tri-corn hat similar to what colonial warriors wore during the 1700’s. Its colour was more orange than red.
“England lost the war with the American colonies. Hasn’t anyone told you?” Harry was almost certain he heard burping now.
The Hat almost seemed to melt before shimmering back into a blood-red bowler hat.
“All right, all right. There’s no need to imitate that idiot Fudge.”
Harry was acutely aware that Hermione was watching the Hat with slightly glazed eyes, a bit of shepherd’s pie slowly falling off the fork suspended halfway to her mouth. Ginny was giggling almost non-stop, and Ron had finally given notice that he was aware of what was going on in the world around him by blinking owlishly.
With one last heave, Floppy made a rrrrrrrp! sound as it reverted back into a battered old wizard’s hat, listing precariously over Harry’s right ear. “What was the point, Mr Potter, of that little spectacle?” Floppy asked.
Harry paused to consider the question, absently returning his spoon to its normal state. Ginny was still giggling like mad, her eyes screwed shut, while Hermione was still staring with what Harry would swear was naked lust at the powerful magical artefact on his head. Ron seemed to wake up slightly, realizing that there was pudding on the table, and he resumed eating while glancing occasionally at Floppy. The redhead was most likely checking to see if the hat had turned any new tricks. Neville was rather passive, eating quietly and for the most part seeming to ignore Floppy, keeping a weather-eye on two redheaded blokes further down the table.
Harry reflected on what Floppy was trying to ask of him. Clearly the question was about something more than the surface appearance of the Hat. “Aside from the notion that people see or hear the label and make an association based on it? Bowler for Fudge and stuck-up idiots in general, the sombrero for hot days and lazy moments, that silly army hat for fighting, and the wizard hat for everything magical?”
Floppy seemed uninterested in his response. “Think about it, Mr Potter. The answer to your Sorting question is there.”
Hermione leaned forwards and hissed, “How do you do that, Mr Floppy?”
Floppy twitched briefly. “Eh, who’s that?” The tip of the Hat twisted around, almost like an antenna trying to tune in a weak signal. “Oh, Miss Granger. Do what? Change shape? Am I magical or not?” That seemed the definitive answer as far as the Hat was concerned, and no matter how many more questions she asked, Floppy had no other answers for Hermione.
Harry used the respite provided by Hermione’s frustration to actually eat some of his meal while considering the possible meanings of Floppy’s actions. Ginny had managed to get her giggles under control and was eating again, letting out random snickers with sidelong glances at Harry’s head. Ron meanwhile appeared to be slowing down in his food-vacuuming manoeuvres.
Harry also realized that as most people finished their dinners, they were beginning to stare at him again. It was quite annoying, really, that no matter what he looked like, what he did, or where he did it, people in this world would always react to his name or his scar. Even the people he had been talking to on the train – the same ones around him now – initially reacted like adolescent fans, although by now they seemed to have got over the first shock. He was almost certain that he could slap his name on dragon dung, and it would sell faster than Honeydukes’ Best Chocolate Bars – on sale now!
The whole concept of a sentient hat, with clearly unknown magical powers, changing shapes while adorning his head felt so typical of his life. He just seemed to blunder from one manic event to another when all he really wanted to do was sit back and relax somewhere with a good book or at least a decent historical programme on the telly. Of course, the fact that he just happened to also be the mysterious Boy-Who-Lived meant that he could never have such a simple life, assuming he stayed in the magical community. The idea of just transplanting his scar and hair upon some unsuspecting bystander and letting them deal with the idiocy was a temptation that he was unable to completely suppress.
Even the idea of just becoming someone else for a day….
Harry felt a moment of surprise, as though the proverbial light switched on in his brain.
Whipping his wand forwards, Harry drew an intricate pattern in the air, thrust the tip of his wand through the centre and said, “Tweet, Tweet!”
Hermione’s mouth formed a silent ‘O’ as a nimbus of grey light radiated off of Harry’s body and clothes, including Floppy. The absolute silence that descended around him let Harry know that his Aura Silencing Charm was working just fine. Harry promptly ignored the rest of the people in the hall, closing his eyes and concentrating on his senses to let him know if there was danger.
“Gryffindor hasn’t always been known as the home for the brave, has it Floppy?” Harry knew the answer, but he was a trifle unclear how he knew.
“Very good, Mr Potter. As a matter of fact, no, it hasn’t.”
“You sing a song extolling the virtues of each house prior to the first years’ Sorting, as I understand it. Do you change the association with each house?”
“Slowly, yes. I can’t just up and say that this year Slytherins are brave and Hufflepuffs are cunning, now can I? It takes a longer view, Mr Potter.”
“The Hat is just a hat, regardless of shape or utility. The House is just a house, not some clique of the stated attribute. It’s a place to live, to meet people with similar values and hopefully grow a bit, but not where everyone is brave or cunning or some other label.” Harry felt the rightness of the statement, but there were many open questions. “So the stated Sorting – bravery, brains, loyalty, sneakiness – that’s just superficial – a cover to keep people from asking questions, isn’t it?”
“You might be on to something, Mr Potter.” Floppy almost sounded smug, although Harry was less than positive he could read meaning into the Hat’s speech patterns. For all he knew, Floppy was exasperated with his lack of intelligence and was just humouring him.
“Right, so that explains why someone as cunning as a flobberworm wound up in Slytherin. I fail to see how Malfoy could ever be thought of as sly, cunning, or sneaky. What with the stories I’ve heard over the years and his actions on the train....” Harry let his sentence taper off meaningfully.
“Yes, well, not everyone can be what they want to be, now can they, Mr Potter?”
“There’s more to this, I can feel it. Godric wasn’t known for his bravery, was he? Nor was Salazar some evil snake plotting to take over the world every night.” Harry knew this was a tangent, but it might help him resolve Floppy’s little puzzle. “Ideas change with time, and values change as well. As human beings, our perceptions of life evolve and our society is forced to adapt to fit the new standards… conflicts arise from the old