Curious about what would happen if you tried me on again, eh? Wondered what else I might be able to do other than just Sort and occasionally drop swords on people's heads? No, don't be embarrassed. You're not the first student who's ever done this, you know, oh indeed no not by a long chalk. And I dare say you won't be the last.
And there's no need to apologise, either. I hear you've been called in for a talk with the Headmaster? Don't worry, young man, you're not in trouble for anything. I'm sure he only wants to hear your story in more detail, now that things have calmed down a bit after that little excursion of yours. He has a very high opinion of you after all the things you've done.
Yes, what you've done. You've done so much more than you ever give yourself credit for. I get to hear about these things, you know, and I can see what's in your head, remember ... No, don't take me off just yet! I know hearing my thoughts inside your head alarms you after some of the things you've been through, but what I do won't leave scars.
And it's such an occasional pleasure for me to be able to talk to somebody, rather than just sit here and listen. I don't have the chance to do that very often.
What do I do all year, you wonder? A very fair question. I actually spend a great deal of my time in quiet reflection. Well ... to be absolutely honest with you, dear boy, I suppose I don't really have much else to do with it. Just my one moment of glory every September, when I sing my little song and decide which Houses the new students of Hogwarts will be placed in, and then it's back on the shelf for another year.
Ah, I see you've discussed this before. Very perceptive of you all. You were right, you know it actually can be a pretty boring life being a Hat. But I can't spend all year just composing my song for the next Sorting. So, quiet reflection it is then.
Fortunately, you can pick up quite a lot to reflect about even when you're left on a shelf. If that shelf happens to be in the Head's office at Hogwarts, that is. I've overheard many interesting conversations here over the years especially when the Head plays a role outside the school, as this one does. I listen to all the reports that come to them. And the portraits go out of their way to tell the rest of us in the office anything they learn on their travels, you know. I think they like to chat as well.
Yes, come to think of it, it must be a pretty boring life being a portrait too, mustn't it?
Naturally, I reflect most often upon the young men and women whose heads I've looked into, and on how my decisions turned out. You're surprised to hear that, aren't you? Didn't think I ever had any doubts? Perhaps I may be a little overconfident at times. I even recall claiming I've 'never yet been wrong' in one of my more recent songs. You wondered about that? To be honest with you, lad, it's possible I've made that claim quite a number of times over the years. Well, after more than a millennium in the same job, you're bound to repeat yourself occasionally, aren't you?
I'd like you to know that I was certainly sincere but, to answer the question you weren't sure it would be polite to ask, yes I do sometimes have second thoughts about my judgments, in the light of how they turned out. Oh, it's true that I've never yet placed a student somewhere that was definitely wrong for them, but that's not to say I couldn't have done better sometimes. Not every decision is an easy one, not every Sorting turns out quite the way I expected it to. Events can make or break a boy or girl who would have done well in the House in which I placed them under normal circumstances, but would have been better off in another House as things happened. I'm not blessed with Seer powers, you know.
What am I blessed with then, you ask? A perfectly reasonable thing to wonder, so I'm glad you asked me that. I'll do my very best to answer you. As everyone knows well, everyone who's actually listened to my songs at the Welcoming Feasts, rather than the rumblings of their stomach, that is the four Founders of this noble school put some brains into me. They put a little bit of themselves into me, in fact, which let me tell you was a pretty amazing feat of magic for its day. But I suppose they must have taught you about this in Histo ... ah, I see. Well anyway, they placed a charge on me to use this intimate knowledge of how they thought about potential students, together of course with anything I might learn over the years, to determine which candidates should go into which House just as if they were still here in person to do it themselves.
I must admit, I was every bit as nervous about my first Sorting as you were about yours ah, you didn't know a Hat could be nervous, did you? But after that first time, all four of them were kind enough to say they were perfectly content with who they'd been given, and would have done much the same in my place. That gave me such a great deal of confidence for the future.
I can sense you're impressed, and so you should be! I really am a very remarkable magical object, and I can say without undue modesty that Hogwarts is lucky to have me.
You're quite curious about what I've just said, aren't you? You can't help but wonder exactly how the Founders divided up their new students before they made me. Well, as they did give me a little of their brains, I happen to be able to tell you. You know, I don't think anyone's asked me about that since a chap who said he was doing research for a book called Hogwarts, a History?
For a start, as I've said in my Songs, each of them had their own notion of what an ideal student would look like. So naturally enough, they all tried to earmark the ones they most wanted for their Houses and often they got their own way; there were always some candidates who fitted one stereotype so neatly the others let them be claimed without any objection. But as for the rest of them well naturally, there had to be a lot of horse-trading involved in order to decide which of them would be teaching which students. Not to mention a fair few arguments.
Yes, I did say arguments. Confidentially, dear boy, I think they often used to argue like cats and dogs. Did they actually put that into Hogwarts, a History?
Ah. I'll have to hope someone who's read it tries me on one day then.
It didn't prevent them working well together, of course if they hadn't all been such friends in the first place, this school would never have survived its first few years! They made an excellent team, despite all their arguments. Nothing much changes, eh?
I understand Godric, Salazar, and Rowena were always most insistent about getting their favourites. Even Helga sometimes dug her heels in and demanded that she be given a student she particularly liked the look of. You know, I suspect they were all quite glad when Godric came up with the idea of using me instead? It meant they could shift the blame if they didn't like how the decisions turned out. And they could pretend to be entirely neutral about them.
You know, it sounds very strange to say this ... but sometimes I think old Godric would have made quite a good Slytherin. Maybe that's why Salazar liked him so much? At first, anyway. Ah well.
You're surprised. I can tell. But surely you must have noticed that sometimes I take my own good time over a decision? That's why, you see. It often happens that a student has qualities that were prized by more than one of the Hogwarts Four and I understand that even back in the old days there were sometimes brave, ambitious children from wizarding families that Godric and Salazar nearly came to blows over; there were loyal, hard-working children of a scholarly bent that Helga would have liked, but whom she eventually let Rowena talk her into giving up. Since I have a little something from each of them, I can practically hear them debating as I think about it. Students like that are always difficult for me to make a decision on, even after a thousand years of practice.
What happens if a student doesn't have any obviously outstanding characteristics, you ask? I thought you might, you know. Another very good question. It happens often, of course; but nonetheless they still have to be placed. I simply have to make the best guess I can. It was the same in the Founders' day too. I think we can probably imagine just how many deals had to be struck back then among the four of them to ensure that each of the Houses took their fair share of both desirable and ordinary students. And at least they had the luxury of being able to consider all of the year's intake as a group before settling on the final allocations. I have to decide as I go along.
You know, I sometimes feel rather sorry for the last few students to be Sorted each year? Unless they stand out, they have to be sent to any suitable House that needs to make up the numbers. But then, if they don't stand out, they will probably do equally well in any suitable House anyway. At least, that's how the Founders reasoned so that's how I reason.
Don't feel so alarmed, young man. You weren't one of them, even if you didn't reach me until we'd nearly finished. You stood out. I was able to place you in a House with confidence, remember?
Ah, you're concerned that I did that because you wanted to be placed there? To follow in the family tradition, as it were? You're not the first to be worried about that idea, either. Let me say this very clearly I don't think anyone could claim that you don't belong in Gryffindor.
But I agree, choice is a very important factor, and confidentially, I do take it into account wherever possible. As did the Founders, of course. Because naturally, all of them preferred students who actually wanted to study with them to students who would much rather have been somewhere else. It's only human nature, isn't it? And I've picked up quite a lot of titbits about human nature over the years, even though I don't have one myself. Or maybe I have four myself? It's quite a complex and interesting question, wouldn't you say?
Well yes, I suppose your friend would understand the theory better than you. I remember her particularly clearly, as it happens. She wasn't an easy Sorting at all, oh dear me no. And she was so very keen to be in Gryffindor, even though she had no real understanding of what it meant, that it swung my decision. Oh, of course, she had the potential to be an outstanding Gryffindor, that much was plain to see I wouldn't have placed her there otherwise but she was one of those in which that potential might so easily have gone unrealised, if events had take a different turn. From what I hear, knowing you, and of course your friend, has helped her immensely there, dear boy. No, I mean it; from what the Head has let slip, I'm sure he feels the same way. I don't have second thoughts about that decision any more.
Feeling a little uncertain about this, aren't you? By now, you really shouldn't be so startled that the way I Sort can be decidedly ad hoc. What? Oh, I do apologise; I sometimes forget they don't teach Latin here any more. What it means is that I have to make things up as I go along sometimes. After all, although I have brains from each of the Founders, and a specific charge to quarter the intake every year, as far as is humanly well I suppose in my case inhumanly possible, of course I don't have knowledge of the Founders' innermost thoughts after they'd made me.
It concerns me sometimes that they may well have changed their minds subsequently in fact, Salazar did, as we both know; and that seemed to me to affect the others' thinking too, in ways that I could hear about but not fully grasp. But I can only Sort on the basis of what they gave me at the beginning, and hope as the decades go by to learn enough of what is happening in the world outside for my decisions to make sense in that world.
So that's how I work, then. I consider what the Founders would have wanted; I allow for what I've learned over the centuries; I let the various parts of me argue, and debate, and finally come to a decision. I really don't have much choice in the matter. That's what I was made to do. That's how I've had to do things for a thousand years and more.
And yet, and yet ... as you obviously know, I do worry that things are different now. Back in the old days, it used to be that each Founder would teach their own House, and so students hardly ever needed to meet their peers in the other Founders' houses, except at mealtimes. But for centuries now in fact, since Salazar Slytherin walked out on us and left a House full of his erstwhile students who, nevertheless, had to be taught Hogwarts has had integrated teaching. And recently well, for several hundred years, anyway, I'm afraid I still think of that as recent most of your leisure pursuits have been common between Houses too. There's so little need to divide you all up any more, to perpetuate those long-ago stereotypes from one particular frozen moment in time, to let the old House traditions that have developed over the years influence your attitudes towards your fellow students.
Oh dear, you're getting lost in my thoughts now, aren't you? Yes, I've seen the system work well over the centuries and I've also seen it bring this school to the brink of open warfare. I honestly don't know, on balance, if it's a good or a bad thing. But still I have to do it. Tradition can be a very powerful force, young man. Especially in our world, where I understand wizards still cling to robes and quills and cauldrons and similar outmoded things because they think that adopting modern ideas will make them seem like Muggles, will make them feel somehow less special.
I honestly don't know if that's a good or a bad thing, either.
You think you can hear the Head coming up the stairs? Oh dear you'd better take me off then, young fellow! I've been gossiping, and I don't think I'm really supposed to do that. But before you do! ... ah well, since I am gossiping, let me tell you one more thing. I suppose it may assist you to decide whether you think the House system is a good or a bad thing when it can help you and when it can be a hindrance.
Because there's one former student I can see has been in your thoughts a lot over the last few months. He's someone that I remember very clearly too. His Sorting just so happens to be one of those I've had second thoughts about; one of those where I consider that maybe, just maybe ... if I had placed him somewhere else, it would have taught him things that he really needed to learn.
He could have gone anywhere, you know. I could see that immediately, and that's something I very seldom get to see. The Founders could have spent the whole day deciding who got him.
Courage? Oh yes. He had courage, even though others have doubted it. And he was someone who valued it. Godric would have been very happy with him.
Brains? No shortage there. It seemed obvious to me when I Sorted him that here was a boy who would always be top of the class, and I wasn't wrong. Rowena would have loved to teach him.
Ambition? Indeed so. Driving ambition, in fact. And Salazar would certainly have had no problem with his bloodlines.
Industriousness? Most definitely. That went hand-in-hand with the ambition. I think Helga would have been pleased to accept him.
He could have been very difficult to place. But of course, he wanted to go in one particular House, as you did. He felt it was his birthright. And he was undoubtedly successful where I placed him. Head Boy, I hear. Did extremely well for himself for a while.
But when I consider what I've heard about him and what I can see in your thoughts about him I wonder whether I should have taken a chance. I could instead have put him somewhere which would have taught him a little humility. Somewhere he would still have stood out maybe even more so but where he could have been a natural leader of his peers, have been popular and respected and liked in the way he never quite was in the House in which I placed him. And that, in turn, could have taught him judgement, could have helped him avoid some of the terrible mistakes he made later on.
He's at the door? Quick then. But let me just say this one last thing to you yes, after quiet reflection, I now wonder if perhaps I should have put your brother Percy in Hufflepuff?
Notes: The story that triggered the idea for the last section was Broken Down Angel, an excellent Percy gen piece.