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by Resonant

Chapter 16: Sorting

"It's no good my telling you not to get your hopes up, is it, Draco?" Hermione said as they sat at the top table.

"I've never understood this business of not getting one's hopes up," he answered. "Is it really so unbearable to be disappointed?

In the center of the dais sat Phoenix Skye with the Sorting Hat on her head, long legs drawn up awkwardly.

"When I was being sorted, I thought the chair must be the right size for adults," Ron murmured to Charlie. "Guess it's not the right size for anyone."

"You can't be seriously thinking that the hat might choose you as Headmaster," Harry said to Draco.

"Why shouldn't it? I've got intelligence, imagination ... no taste for odd headgear, but I suppose that could come later ..."

Phoenix left the hat behind on the chair; Madeleine Aerie picked it up and put it on, with an expression like someone bracing herself for pain, and almost immediately took it off again, looking relieved.

"Well, why you?" Harry said. "Why shouldn't it pick me?"

"Do you want to be Headmaster?"

"Hadn't really thought about it," Harry said. "But I'm sure I could do it."

"There you have it," Draco said. "Gryffindor in a nutshell."

"Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall --" Hermione began.

"Were the right heads for wartime, when what we needed most was courage," Draco said. "But the war's over now, and what we need most is vision."

"And you think you're the one to provide that vision?" Harry said.

"Who better?"

"There you have it," Harry said. "Slytherin in a nutshell."

Hermione nudged him. "Your turn, Harry."

Harry sat in the chair -- it really was ridiculously low, even though last time he'd sat in it his feet hadn't touched the floor -- and put the hat on his head.

"Hm," said the familiar voice of the Sorting Hat. "We meet again, Harry Potter."

Harry tried to project friendly greetings in his head, which was more difficult than he would have expected, but the hat replied in a pleased voice, "Why, thank you. Likewise, I'm sure," so he must have succeeded.

"Not especially interested in being Headmaster, though, are you," the hat went on.

Not really, Harry thought. It would be so nice just to teach. One challenge at a time, for a change. But if the school really needed me ...

"Oh, there's no need for further sacrifice as yet," the hat said. "Go and send Miss Granger up. I'm sure I'll be speaking with you again soon, Professor Potter."

When Hermione emerged from the chair, she was beaming so broadly that Harry thought the hat must have chosen her. But she tapped Draco on the shoulder and sat down, still grinning.

Draco's conversation with the hat wasn't as long as Harry had expected, but he looked thoughtful as he sat down. "Go ahead," he said to Ron.

"You must be joking," Ron said, and pushed Oliver toward the chair.

When everyone on the staff had had a turn, the hat sat there silently for a few moments as they all watched. Then the hat sang out:

"Oh, I'm the smartest hat there is.
My brains are packed in tight.
And if you're half as smart as me,
You'll know I'm always right."

Harry looked at Hermione. "Surely it doesn't plan to ..."

"Sh," she said. "Sometimes you just have to humor it."

"It took bold hearts to win the war.
But put all that behind.
The tasks that lie before you now
Will call for clever minds.

I've had a sit on every skull
And rummaged all about.
So I'm quite sure I know the man
To sort old Hogwarts out."

There was a pause while the hat made the most of its moment in the spotlight, and then it called out in a loud voice: "The new Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is ... Cypherus Summs!"

"Summs?" Charlie looked shocked. "I thought he was going to retire straight away."

Draco was still looking off into the distance, lost in thought, but at Charlie's words his eyes suddenly widened. Then he began to applaud. After a moment the others joined in.

Cypherus stood up shakily and nodded to the hat. "I appreciate your confidence," he said. "And your patience," he added to the staff. "I had originally planned to return to my home in Arden at the end of this school year, but the Sorting Hat has convinced me to postpone my retirement for a year or two longer help Hogwarts make the transition from war recovery to a new era."

"Do you see it now?" Draco murmured to Hermione. "What an intriguing choice."

She rolled her eyes at him. "It gives you just enough time to find the perfect green fedora."

He drew himself up. "I wouldn't settle for less than a silk top hat."

"Can you stay awhile, Hagrid?" Hermione asked. "Or do you have to go back to Greater Wrenching?"

"Bless yeh, no -- I'm back t'stay," Hagrid said. "Another scone?"

"Stone, did he say?" Draco whispered in Harry's ear, feeling his jaw gingerly with his fingers. Harry hid a smile and went on shredding his own leathery scone into crumbs in the hopes that it would look as though he'd eaten it.

"It was good to be wi' my people, but Hogwarts'll always be my home," Hagrid went on.

"You'll want to be back with the animals." Ron shifted uncomfortably. "I suppose Charlie can teach, er, arithmancy?"

"Does he know anything about arithmancy?" Hermione asked. Ron shrugged.

"Rubbish," Hagrid said stoutly. "Groundskeeper's what Dumbledore made me, rest his soul, an' groundskeeper's good enough fer me."

There was a tap at the door of the hut. "Come in!" Hagrid bellowed, and Harry grabbed for his teacup as the table rattled.

"Might I interrupt for a moment?" Summs stuck his head through the door. He was wearing a purple baseball cap that said, "Arithmancers Do It By Number." At their stares, he touched it. "It turns out to be indispensable," he said, winking at Hermione.

Hagrid had stood when Summs entered. "Headmaster! Sit yerself down. Scone? Tea?"

"Thank you, Hagrid, I will," Summs said. "Two sugars, please." Harry stared with fascinated horror as Summs, with some difficulty, broke off a piece of scone -- and then dropped it into his cup and used a spoon to poke it under the surface of the tea.

"I wanted to speak with you all about some matters of concern before convening the entire staff," Summs went on, tucking a napkin into the collar of his robe. "First of all, as studies have been so badly disrupted by the events of the year, I'd like to offer a summer term, if you would be willing to forgo your vacations to teach remedial classes."

There were nods of agreement all round. Hermione looked especially pleased with the idea.

"We must also address the school's financial condition, which I fear is shockingly weak."

"The hiatus, the damage -- it must be," Draco said, frowning. "I never considered that."

"Of course you wouldn't," Summs agreed, with Ravenclaw wryness. "With your upbringing, I wouldn't expect you to have a lick of financial sense. Which is why I'm inviting you to lend Hogwarts a substantial amount of money to fund our repairs -- at a competitive rate of interest, of course."

Draco beamed. "I'll arrange it immediately." Ron and Hermione snickered, and he glared at them. "It's an extremely sensible investment," he added pointedly, "as it will guarantee my future interest in the school's finances."

Summs' eyes twinkled in a way eerily reminiscent of Dumbledore, and Harry found himself grinning at him. "Now. Remus has kindly agreed to take the position of deputy headmaster. Madeleine is willing to step into my place as Head of Ravenclaw, which creates another vacancy. I believe you have expressed an interest in overseeing the fortunes of Slytherin, Draco?"

"Like he's going to say no," Ron said, and Harry looked at Draco's cheek, flushed pink with pleasure, and had to resist the temptation to kiss it.

"Another position which remains to be filled is that of caretaker, which has been vacant since the tragic death of Argus Filch," Summs said, and turned to Ron. "Perhaps you would be willing to take on this responsibility?"

Draco snorted loudly and raised his teaspoon in salute. "Congratulations, Weasley. Your first real job offer. Your mother will be so proud."

Ron tilted his head to one side. "Yeah," he said eventually. "I reckon Peru can wait a while." Hermione flung her arms around him, squealing, and Hagrid caught his hand and pumped it vigorously.

"This is the famous Ravenclaw wisdom?" Draco inquired with elaborate concern. "A Weasley in charge of maintaining order?"

Ron just gave him a lazy smile over the top of Hermione's head. "I grew up across the hall from the famous Weasley and Weasley, Limited. I know all the pranks and then some."

Hermione released him to smile at Draco. "And you've met his mother," she said. "He also knows all the punishments and then some."

"Say!" Ron grinned suddenly. "If I catch someone meddling, I can use her Toolfinger Charm!"

"Or punish eavesdroppers with Wall Ears," Harry said. "Or tattletales with Taffy Tongues ..."

Draco looked out at a few students who were playing broomstick croquet on the lawn. "Poor little urchins," he said. "They won't know what hit them."

"Y'don't mean t'go spoilin' all their fun, now?" Hagrid said to Ron, looking worried.

Ron just grinned. "Reckon I know what's fun and what's bloody dangerous, having done a great deal of both."

Summs cleared his throat. "Which brings me to one last appointment."

Harry and Hermione looked at each other. "Arithmancy?"

"No, not just yet," Summs said. "Nor will we be addressing the need to add calligromancy to the curriculum at the moment. There is another matter which must be foremost in our minds at all times: the well-being of the children." He fished the scone out of his tea with his spoon and chewed it placidly, glancing around the circle. "Many of our students have lost friends and family in the war, and of course the mines have created their own traumas. Childhood is always one of the first casualties of war, and the effects can endure long after the fighting is done." His eyes rested on Harry for a moment, and Harry's own eyes stung. He felt Draco's shoulder pressing against his, and reached down to touch his hand under the table.

"To that end," Summs said, "I'm creating a new position on the Hogwarts staff, the Children's Custodian. We need someone who will always be there, offering children comfort and wisdom in all their worries, large and small." Hermione nodded enthusiastically, and Summs smiled gently at them all. "And I think you'll agree that the person best suited to the role is our host, Rubeus Hagrid."

There was a second of silence and then a great roar of applause. Harry leapt from his seat to hug Hagrid; Ron and Hermione had gotten there first, but there was enough of him for three of them to hug at the same time. Above their heads, Harry could hear him saying damply, "I'd be more'n honored, sir," and then blowing his nose.

"You really were a superb choice for Headmaster," Draco told Summs admiringly. "My compliments to the Sorting Hat."

Summs stood and tapped his baseball cap, which rearranged itself to read, "Thinking Cap."

"Watch and learn, my boy," he said. "Watch and learn."

As a murmur went through the hall, Harry looked up and saw Spielberg, flanked by an escort of suspicious-looking owls, with a small parcel tied to his leg. Harry quickly cleared a spot on the table, and Spielberg flopped down gracelessly and began eating out of the kipper dish while Harry untied the parcel.

"I asked Kat to send some American sweets," he said, opening the box.

Draco looked over his shoulder. "Super Sour Toxic Waste Barrels," he intoned with great precision, leaving a little pause between each word. "Atomic Fireballs. Mega WarHeads. Blitz Power Mints. Are you planning to outfit an army?"

Hermione sniffed at a mint and pulled back. "Potent," she said.

Spielberg honked at Harry and poked the parcel. "What is it?" Harry asked him.

"There's something else in there." Ron rummaged through the wrapping and handed something to Harry.

Sunday must have forgiven him; it was a new speedwell.

Harry pulled down his sock and tied it around his ankle. Draco's mouth tightened. "Lovely," he said. "As though you didn't project enough of an air of savagery already."

Harry smiled. "Want me to ask him to make you one, too?"

He took his bag and walked around the outside of the staff table to the other end where Dumbledore's ghost hovered. He'd been talking to Professor Binns, but Binns was walking Harry's way now, a puzzled frown on his face.

"It's a very odd thing," Binns said as he drew even with Harry. "Albus has been bringing some matters to my attention, and --" He passed his hand thoughtfully through a nearby chair. "It appears that I am emeritus."

There didn't quite seem to be a right answer to that, but Harry finally offered, "Congratulations."

Binns brightened. "Why, thank you," he said. "Perhaps now I may devote myself to finishing my monograph on the 1660 Treaty of Osnabrug ... I had been awaiting the opportunity to consult some letters which the library has recently acquired ..." And he walked off, mumbling happily to himself and seeming not to notice that he had gone right through the table.

Harry turned to find Dumbledore's ghost watching him cheerfully. "Harry," he beamed. "Have you forgiven me yet?"

Harry looked up sharply. Dumbledore was twinkling as usual. "I didn't -- there's --" He took a deep breath. "Yes," he said. "I'm sorry."

"All in good time, my boy, all in good time. I've nothing but time now."

"I have something for you," Harry said. "From America." He opened the box of sour candy and held it with two fingers.

Dumbledore passed his mouth through it, just brushing Harry's fingers with icy cold. "Ah! I can almost taste them," he said. "Thank you."

"Dr. Bokor sends his love," Harry said. "He wants to know if you can still dance a hornpipe."

"Oh, better than ever, Harry! For a dancer, freedom from gravity can only be a most welcome improvement." And he rose and began to kick until his ghostly shoe-buckles flashed.

Harry found Draco sitting at the foot of the Snape statue. "And in the meantime, I've already spoken to him about the Slytherins, now that Madeleine is moving over to Ravenclaw," he was saying. "Such plans I have, Severus! Fourth-years and up need to have an independent study, I think -- no more spoon-feeding. Do you suppose those blasted Weasleys would be advisers for the business-minded? I know 'Mione would help with the ones who want to make their mark on the sciences ..."

As Harry drew closer, he could see that Draco had a tabby cat on his lap. At Harry's approach, it stood and stretched, and Harry recognized the glasses-shaped markings around its eyes. Draco's hand passed right through its head. Harry smiled as the cat stalked through a wall and away.

"The Headmaster wants us all to meet and discuss candidates for History of Magic, Draco," he said.

"Tolkach-Rychag, of course," Draco said.

Harry looked at him, startled. "I thought you might be interested yourself."

"And leave the school's most important subject to some lesser intellect?" Draco smirked. "After all, the second Battle of Hogwarts was won on the strength of a fire extinguisher, a rope ladder, a mechanical pencil, and an electric torch."

"Ah. Best see to it that it's taught exquisitely, then," Harry said.

"Of course." Draco stood and stretched gracefully. "I've got Tolkach-Rychag's CV upstairs -- I owled her for it after Christmas. Tell everyone I'll be there in a moment." He made a half-bow to the statue. Harry watched him walk off -- robe falling immaculately to the floor, hair clasped at the crown with a gently writhing emerald snake, a perfect model of Slytherin magnificence -- and smiled.

After a moment the statue made an impatient noise. "Mr. Potter? Is there some way I can assist you, or did you simply wish to stare vacantly?"

Harry turned his attention to the late Potions master. "That's the wrong sort of cauldron, isn't it?" It was the student style, deep and narrow with a rolled rim, rather than the straight-sided models Harry had seen in Snape's workroom.

"Of course it is," Snape said in tones of great annoyance, "and the Magical Artists' Guild should be ashamed of themselves for overlooking an error that's obvious even to you. I was not accustomed to working with inferior tools in life, and I don't see why I should be reduced to it now."

"We'll get it fixed," Harry said. "Someone from the Guild will be out next week to do M -- Minerva's portrait. They can take care of it." He touched the spot on the stone forearm where the Mark was etched. "You want that off as well?"

"No, Mr. Potter, I do not," Snape said. "Someone must serve as a rebuke to the extremely short memory of the wizarding world, now that young Mr. Malfoy has been rendered tabula rasa."

"All right." On impulse, Harry gripped the outstretched hand. "Professor ... thank you," he said. "I mean. You know. For everything."

The huge stone fingers tightened briefly around his. "You're most welcome."

"Ah, Harry." At Summs' approach, Harry stood up from the luncheon table. "I wanted to ask a favor, if I may."

"Sure, Headmaster," Harry said around a mouthful of Linzer torte.

"When I returned to Hogwarts last year, as a temporary measure I was placed in an upper suite," Summs said. "I never expected to stay more than a year, and now that I've taken on the headmaster position, I'm anticipating that the stairs will quickly become a burden. As your rooms are on the ground floor, would you perhaps be willing to relocate?"

"I'd be happy to," Harry said. "I'd love to get higher up and have a better view."

"Good, good," Summs said. "I'll be vacating the Gray Suite. Fifth floor, South Tower. I believe you already know the way." And indeed Harry did; the Gray Suite was right next door to Malfoy's rooms.

"Sleeping chamber's a bit -- cramped, on account of the -- bookshelves," Summs panted as they arrived on the fifth floor, "but when the windows are -- restored, the view will more than -- compensate." He stood for a moment catching his breath before continuing. "Let me just show you the trick of the doors. The thing to do with Captain Raleigh is always to approach from the right, on account of the eye, as you see," he said, walking up to a painting of a pirate with one patched eye and truly disreputable hair. "Captain Raleigh!"

"Evenin', Your Grace" the pirate said, grinning a toothy grin that rather reminded Harry of Hagrid.

"Let me introduce the newest resident of the Gray Suite, Harry Potter."

The Captain gave Harry a salute made grisly by the silver hook that replaced his hand. "An honor and a privilege, young sir," he said.

The bedchamber was indeed tiny, with hardly room for more than the curtained bed and the bookshelves that lined three walls right up to the ceiling. The fourth wall was filled with a curious sculptural frieze of a gruesome scene from the Goblin Rebellion.

But the sitting room was spacious and comfortable, with a cozy study corner and two broad windows that would probably look out over the lake when the stone was removed.

Even after he'd unpacked all his books and supplies, the sitting room was awfully bare. He sat for a moment looking around at the walls, and then he started digging through his trunk. He had no memory at all of packing to go to Florida, but this trunk had stood at the foot of his bed in his dormitory room, and he'd been in the habit of throwing all his souvenirs in it, so ...

Ah. There they were, underneath his old Quidditch robes -- piles and piles of old photographs. And there were still more of them in Kat's parcel of letters.

The biggest of the bunch was a shot of him, Ron, and Hermione, taken by Colin Creevey the day after they'd taken their N.E.W.T.s. Already then the war had made schoolwork seem like an afterthought, and their pale young faces showed the strain of trying to make themselves into soldiers. He smiled reassuringly at them. "Cheer up. We made it," he said, and put the picture up on the wall behind the desk.

And here was the whole Weasley family on a summer trip they'd taken to Romania while Ron was still at school. Bill and his wife were trying to get baby Keket to wave at the camera, but she was more interested in grabbing for Bill's long braid and stuffing it into her mouth.

He smiled even wider at the next one, a group shot of all four seventh-year Seekers. Phoebe Benedict and the Hufflepuff boy, whose name he'd forgotten, were smiling and waving with a fine show of sportsmanship, but Harry and Draco could barely be bothered to look at the camera in between the murderous glares they were throwing at each other.

Here was the Gryffindor group photo from fifth year. Harry smiled sadly at Lee Jordan's happy, hopeful face. He'd wanted to be an announcer for Wizard Wireless, but he'd never even had the chance. Beside Lee, the Weasley twins were proudly holding up a sign: Weasley & Weasley, Ltd., Novelties and Surprises. It was the same sign that still hung over the door of their Hogsmeade shop.

A group shot of the Coven staff, taken when Harry was still new enough that his pale face looked ghostly among their tanned ones. Kat was already casting knowing glances at him and Sunday. "Next time you tell me to lighten up, I'll try to actually do it," he told her.

A Chocolate Frogs collecting card of Nicolas Flamel, and another one of Albus Dumbledore ... Seamus and Omar, beaming, at the door of their cottage in Limerick ... a poster from Angelina Johnson's first year on the Puddlemere main squad ... Colin Creevey, taking his own camera away from his face for just long enough to smile and wave ... a newspaper clipping of Neville taking oath as Deputy Minister of Magic, with Circe Stormlaw looking stern behind him ... Remus in his first year as professor, looking threadbare and half asleep ...

Sirius at his parents' wedding, looking carefree and a little bit dangerous. Sirius a few months before his death, looking thin and grave.

His parents, looking young and happy and only a little bit worried. Himself at age one, hair standing out in all directions, waving bye-bye over and over.

A rumbling sound from the bedroom interrupted his thoughts. He looked through the open door and saw the carved panel sliding back, revealing Draco leaning on the wall and smirking.

"Adjoining rooms -- lovely! I've been longing for a library, and this will make a fine one, once we get this silly little bed out."

"What, you want me to sleep in the cage with Hedwig?"

"I want you to sleep," Draco said, "where you've been sleeping for the last four nights. All right?"

Harry looked at Draco's happy, impatient face and pushed down a great bubble of joyful laughter. "Your bed's too soft," he said solemnly.

"Oh, for --" Draco pushed Harry back against Hedwig's perch and kissed him soundly while she clucked in mild alarm. "All right, then. I'll just shove you out on the floor when I'm finished with you."

Harry laughed against Draco's red mouth. "You'll never be finished with me."

"May I have everyone's attention?" The buzz of after-dinner conversation stopped as Summs spoke, and the staff common room fell silent.

"This is an historic moment," he said. "Having dealt with the most urgent repairs, we can finally begin removing the stones from the windows." There were muted cheers around the room. "Why don't you start right here, Mr. Weasley?"

Ron stood up, and Harry and Hermione vacated the couch so he could get closer to the window. He pointed his wand at the stones and murmured, and gradually each stone turned into a square or rectangle of leaded glass.

"Um. It wasn't like that before, was it," Ron said.

"No, no, leave it," Hermione said hoarsely.

It was a cloudy night, and no stars were visible, but in the distance Harry could just see the dark sky give way to the still darker trees of the Forbidden Forest.

"It's beautiful," Harry said.

On to the Epilogue

Back to Chapter 15

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April 25, 2003