AN: I loved this idea when it came up, but it just wouldn't fit anywhere. Hope people get it. It didn't get a warm welcome on CaerAzkaban...

000

He was coming.

She could almost feel him, his evil presence. It was a nerve-wreaking experience for Minerva McGonagal. She honestly didn't know what was worse, having it happen the first time without any mental defenses against it whatsoever, or the agonizing wait that could only end the moment things would start going south.

And they would, they always did. Every single time.

Minerva cursed at her fate. She cursed at the world, she cursed at Evil. She cursed at Him. Most of all, she cursed at her own stupidity. She had allowed herself to relax the previous year since she had known that none would come, but the year of rest had left her mellowed. Soft. Now she'd pay the price for her short respite.

Talk about a poisoned gift indeed!

Minerva allowed her eyes to part from the gigantic grandfather's clock that towered above the teachers lounge to take a look at her fellow staff members. All of them were in different states of panic as far as she could tell. Yet, they, at least, had a chance of going through the ordeal unscathed. Not her, never her.

Quirinus was a real mess. Aside from Minerva, he had been the main victim two years prior and he just hadn't been the same since. To see the confident muggle studies teacher reduced to the quivering mess he was now almost brought tears to her eyes. Not all were as strong as her, that was the sad reality of life.

Minerva could tell that Pomona and Filius were both on edge too. One leg into the abyss. She couldn't blame them. They had been here since the very beginning of it, had seen the heavens strike at their associates without discrimination nor reason. They had both been spared so far, but the lingering doubt in their hearts subsisted. Would they be the next ones?

Her eyes drifted on Sybil for a moment. Just enough to record her whispered omens of appocalypse. She would have smiled if the situation hadn't been what it was. The woman couldn't predict the weather to save her life, but at least this time she was right.

Argus and Rubeus were both taking what little confort they could from hugging their respective pets to death. Her traitorous mind couldn't help but wonder which one would be successful first. She hoped that Argus would. Miss Norris was, as far as Minerva was concerned, an insult to everything feline with her sycophant ways. Still, she understood Argus. He'd paid dearly for his foolishness during the second coming of Evil. His sacrifice had not been in vain though. Since then they always locked the potion classes throuroughly to avoid incidents. To lose that much magic in the backslash… it was a miracle he was even breathing.

Next were the former Slytherins. Rolanda, Aurora and Severus seemed collected at first sight, but she knew better. No one, no one could have stayed that calm in face of the approaching disaster. That, and since the happenings of four years ago, Rolanda's famous impartiality had all but vanished when Minerva's house was playing. And Severus hadn't had the heart to rant about the pampered little Potter Prince for days. A sure sign.

Finaly, she allowed herself to look at Albus, like she did everytime. Albus had been the first to fall besides her. That terrible year. He was only a pale shadow of his former self since it had first happened. Not quite sound of mind anymore.

"Please Albus! We must do something! Anything! I can't take it anymore!"

He gave her a sad look.

"You know that it isn't possible Minerva. The oath prevents me from altering meaningfull traditions in any way. It's just as true this year as it was two years ago, and two years before that, and before, and before."

Minerva tried to stop herself from shaking. There was no time for this. In a few seconds, professor Vector would be arriving with the first years. The poor woman had drawn the short straw this year to everyone's else great relief.

She took a deep breath.

"It's time Hat."

Only Minerva had the strengh to actually look at the Hat these days. And that was only because each time she suffered at least as much as It. The Hat, once a proud and tall specimen of his kind, a wonder of enchanting, was not much more than a ripped and tattered piece of cloth now. It looked at her like a kicked puppy, Its eyes begging her to end Its existence and spare It the pain. She could not of course. Nothing short of FiendFyre could. An attempt would only further maltreat It, without offering any release at all. The Hat Itself had tried to end his miserable life more than once, but the founders had done a fine job in that aspect. No, the Hat was her only true companion in her misery and It would remain so until the very end.

She took Its sobbing form against her chest with great care and walked to the stool waiting for the students to arrive. When they were all in the hall, she carefully nudged It and the song started. Not a very good song of course, but she didn't think that any of them could have done much better in the same situation. She didn't even felt the little pang at her heart when Its voice turned venoumous during the Gryffindor couplet.

She took another deep breath. Only one though. Hyperventilating hadn't done her much good four years prior and she knew that she couldn't afford to be slughish now. Dread filling her, she took the list and started to read.

"Abbeasley Ron, please step forward and allow the Hat to do Its job."

It was no use of course, it never was. One just couldn't reason with Evil. The look of pure horror on That Thing's face when she spoke was clue enough.

"You want me to put that on my head so it can read my mind! Are you insane! Never! I'd rather eat nothing but Berty's every flavour pills for the rest of my life than put something that talks and thinks without a true brain on me so it can meddle with mine! And it just said that Slytherin himself had a hand in its creation! Are you insane? You want a dark artifact to have access to my mind?"

After that it degenerated rather quickly. Hogwarts didn't allow legitimate staff members to raise a wand against students, so Minerva had to try and subdue the rampaging read head by force. Sometimes she really wished that the damned prefects would do something to help. They couldn't be ordered to, Hogwarts wouldn't allow it, but each year they tried to pick the most likely to act when the time came. The more violence prone, the more self righteous, the more rule abiding.

It never worked of course.

In the end, it took 45 minutes to sort Ron Abbeasley. Not nearly as bad as with the twins but then, nothing could really be as bad as that. At least this time they had managed to confine the situation inside the Great Hall and there had been no contact with the paintings or the mirrors to further alianate the boy. Not that it had been easy, not in the least. The boy hadn't been abble to cast any spell, thank Merlin for mediocrity, but he could still scream, kick, bite and shoot sparks with his wand. Minerva knew that she and Severus would need potions to grow their hair back. The Hat, unfortunately, they could do nothing about.

"Albus, can't we at least sort them from last to first? If they could see that nothing nefarious happens to the other students, then maybe it wouldn't be an issue! Or try to convince Arthur to stop making them all so paranoid about it?"

Albus sighed. She knew why of course. The trice damned founders had put spells to stop people from talking about the sorting to anyone who was not present for it.

"You know that I can't Minerva. But look at the bright side. Next year's will be the last one in the forseable future."

She could only hope none of them would pass it along to the next generation.