A/N: Welcome to any new readers! This fic is the third in a series starting with "The Definition of Normal", and is followed by "A New Kind of Normal". It is written primarily for an adult/teen audience but content is kept child-friendly (no explicit romance, no bad language, no violence greater in level than JKR's canonical HP books). This fic is complete, and will be updated twice a week on Tuesday and Friday mornings (Australian time) with a new chapter. You may wish to "follow" the fic to be updated whenever a new chapter comes out.
The more changes accumulate in this series, the more it drifts slowly away from canon. However, canonical events remain the framework for the series.
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Dudley's summer homework and some open textbooks (mostly Harry's copies) were spread out all over the Dursleys' coffee table, and the piles spilled onto the floor next to it. The television was blaring away in the background but Dudley and Harry were mostly ignoring it – the show was a repeat so Dudley was only occasionally distracted by it.
"…So you see the book On the Origin of Species was published over 20 years after the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, which you should note took about ten years to be enforced properly. The Act was being enforced right at the start of Queen Victoria's reign, but Darwin was well into her rule. There's nothing wrong with working in a reference to it, but it wasn't the inspiration for the Act. Now for a good quote for your essay on slavery, here in England in 1785 we have Cowper writing-" Harry explained, pointing at a timeline he'd sketched to illustrate his points.
"What's this, then?" interrupted Uncle Vernon with a grunt on his return home from work, the door closing with a slam behind him, making Harry jump. Vernon wasn't pleased to see the mess in the lounge, when he really just wanted to sit down and watch the telly.
"It's my summer homework, dad," said Dudley, matter-of-factly. "I have to get it done some time, and Harry's finished all his chores for today." It was true. Thanks in large part to Dudley's somewhat grudging intervention Harry's workload had halved to just having to do gardening, cooking, dishes, and vacuuming.
"Dudley's showing me all about what he's studying at school," gushed Harry. "He's so kind to teach me about more normal subjects. He's good at explaining things. I'm learning all about British history."
"Hmph," said Vernon, and smiled. "Good work then, son." He ruffled Dudley's hair, and ignored Harry. "But don't spend all afternoon on it – there's plenty of time to finish it later." The lounge room being productively occupied, he lumbered off to the kitchen instead in search of a small snack. Perhaps a couple of chicken sandwiches and some crisps.
After he'd left the room, Harry saw an unusually thoughtful expression on Dudley's face. "That wasn't really true, though. Was it, Harry?" Dudley asked, sounding reflective.
Harry hesitated. Dudley had never even begun to question the order of things before. He'd always been happy before to take credit where credit wasn't due.
"Well, you're their son. They want you to be the smartest – the best. And I'd rather not upset them. Or you. I'm happy enough just being average."
"I guess. Except for Maths."
"Well, I like Maths. You get a question, and the answer is simple. Nothing's hidden, nothing's hard to figure out. You're right or you're wrong – the teacher's opinion doesn't even matter. And grades are easier to figure out – you know what you're going to get as soon as the test is finished."
"Doesn't matter anymore since you're at that magic school. You can't beat me at anything now because the subjects are all different," said Dudley smugly
"You know Dudley, sometimes you're actually very smart."
Dudley's face scrunched up as he scowled and raised an angry fist.
Harry talked quickly. "No! No! I really mean it! I hadn't really thought about it that way before. Honest, I swear by Merlin."
"Merlin?" said a puzzled Dudley, lowering his fist.
"Oops. Forget I said that. But honest, I mean it - that was a really helpful thing to say. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon weren't impressed when I told them my grades from Hogwarts. They told me last week that they actually want me to do better at Hogwarts so my magic gets under control faster. I could hardly believe it. I thought they were joking – Uncle Vernon yelled at me. Aunt Petunia said the more my mum studied, the less 'accidents' she had. But I was worried you'd be mad at me if I did better. I mean, I'd have to do what they say, but I didn't want you upset, you know?"
"Nah. I don't care what you do at magic school. Unless you start boxing. Don't do boxing - I'm starting that. Or computers – I'm good at that. Smeltings has these great new computers and the teacher's pretty cool."
"They don't do boxing at Hogwarts. No sports at all actually apart from Quidditch. Which I already quit. And they don't have a single computer in the whole school."
Dudley was satisfied. And so was Harry. He was completely free to increase his grades at Hogwarts as much as he liked. And he knew the best way to do it – slowly. If you took them up too fast, then people thought you were cheating. So this year, he'd take half his subjects up to Exceeds Expectations, then in Third Year he'd aim for all EEs (except for his favourites of Herbology and DADA). He might even try to increase them all to Outstandings in his Fourth and Fifth Years, just in time for OWLs. They were the first grades that really mattered. Hopefully the Dursleys would still be tolerating him doing well – that would make things easier. He wasn't sure he wanted to do that well, though. What was the point of standing out so much? He'd have to find out which subjects were important for learning medical magic and focus on working up to good grades for those ones by OWL year and maybe getting more average grades in the leftover subjects – he did want to keep open the option of becoming a Healer. That was kind of what he'd been planning to do at Stonewall High – keep average grades right up until when it mattered for getting into medicine at university... to get a scholarship and leave the Dursleys behind him. Having their current approval for good grades just pushed his schedule up.
"Hey Dudley, what if I did study some normal subjects too?" he asked tentatively. Being a Healer would be cool, but Harry hadn't forgotten his original dream of becoming a doctor – either an emergency surgeon or a paediatrician (he hadn't decided). Clearly the magical world wasn't going to support him in reaching that goal – only magical-ghetto professions.
"What? Are you leaving the magic school?"
"No, I just thought… since I'm studying stuff with you anyway, it'd be good to work towards getting my GCSEs. Maybe A levels too, eventually. I don't want to be stuck with no qualifications – never graduating properly so I couldn't do any normal job, ever. Except you know, working in a fish and chip shop or something."
Dudley looked thoughtful. "Yeah, I can see that would suck. But I don't want you beating me. Maybe you could do different subjects to me? And how would you even do it, stuck at freak school all year?"
"I couldn't do all different subjects – I'd still have to do English and Maths for example. And if I study some stuff the same as you, like French instead of Spanish, then I can help you better during the year – less homework for me. I was thinking of studying long distance."
Dudley made a face. It looked like thinking so much was hurting him. "I dunno," he said eventually. "Just don't beat me at any stuff I'm good at."
"No sports or computers, I promise. And no creative stuff like art or woodwork."
"Yeah, I suppose. But if you get too snotty about it and show me up in front of mum and dad I'll thump you and flush your head in the loo. GCSEs are ages away anyway." Dudley shrugged dismissively, and got Harry to keep working with him on his history essay. Harry wasn't writing the whole thing, but he was giving Dudley a detailed outline of the structure needed and several key points and quotes to include. Dudley thought Harry was way better at this than his tutor at Smeltings, who expected him to do all the planning and the writing. What was a tutor for if not for that? And it was nice to be around someone smaller than him again, for a change. He didn't get the respect at Smeltings that he felt he deserved.
Harry spent all of his Muggle money on phone calls in the first couple of days of the summer holidays. Not phoning friends – he'd forgotten to get Hermione's phone number, and the others didn't have phones (or in most cases, even know what they were). He was in fact phoning various distance education providers and home school organisations to see what his best options were, and how he could juggle studying normal subjects officially. His story that he gave out was that he was living with an elderly deaf relative on a small farm in Scotland during the school year, and neither he nor his Grandma Dorea were impressed with the local school's educational standards. He wanted to study in a way that would work around looking after his elderly grandmother at home, and having limited access to a phone (as she didn't have one due to her trouble in using one and a general dislike of modern technology). She also wanted him to study for his GCSEs and A-levels rather than the Scottish Certificate of Education's Standard Grade and Higher Grade qualifications; all of those factors together necessitated distance education.
After some research at the library and consultation with various people he decided that he would start studying for his GCSEs in Hogwarts' Third Year, as the organisation he liked best, Oxford Home Schooling, preferred students to start studying for those when they were thirteen. Also, communicating with his assigned tutor by phone (which seemed an important part of the process) would be easier when he was allowed to leave Hogwarts for Hogsmeade visits – and that wasn't until Third Year. He might need to sneak off to a Muggle area to find a phone, of course. Waiting a year would also give him an extra year to catch up with normal subjects. He didn't really enjoy admitting it to himself, but in fact he wasn't doing as well as he would like at the moment. Working with Dudley didn't exactly demand high standards – not like working for perfect Cs had required. And Hogwarts work took up a lot of time last year.
They'd suggested he sign up to learn the Year 9 curriculum this year, if his goal was to start working for GCSEs next year, and that seemed wise (if tiring). He decided to just stick with the basics of English, Maths, and Science. Dudley's work would probably keep him up to date with the other subjects. But Dudley's Maths and Science homework tended to be… less than challenging.
It made him wonder for the first time what the Dursleys had been telling people about where he went to school. After he'd spent a week or so gathering all his information (including some brochures and forms that were mailed to him) he was ready to talk to the Dursleys. Having already cleared the air with Dudley, he decided to approach Aunt Petunia next. She tended to be slightly more approving of his academic accomplishments compared to Uncle Vernon.
He raised the topic early one Saturday morning as they ate some fruit and cereal for breakfast (Harry just had water on his cereal, which wasn't so bad once you got used to it). Dudley and Uncle Vernon were having a bit of a lie in.
"Aunt Petunia? Do you remember how you gave me that very good advice about not getting stuck in a magical ghetto?"
She looked surprised by the topic. "You remember me saying that? It's still true. Nothing you can do about it now, more's the pity."
"Well that's just it. I've been thinking about it, and there kind of is a bit of a way to escape it."
She put her spoon down next to her bowl and looked intently at him. "I'm all ears, Harry."
"So, I can't leave Hogwarts. Well, not yet. And I do need to get my magic under control – not just for me but to protect you all. But that doesn't have to mean giving up on studying regular school work."
"Vernon says you've been working with Dudley," she mused.
"Yes, he's been a big help! Remember how he got me some textbooks at Christmas?"
"But it's not going to be enough to graduate properly. And Aunt Petunia," he said seriously, "I don't want my options to be limited to jobs in the magical world. So I've been looking into home schooling and distance education, and I've found a great place that will mail out assignments and work for me to do. With no intrusive check-ups or awkward questions. And in a few years when it's time to do my GCSEs, I can show up at any one of a number of examination centres and do the tests there."
"That sounds… like a good idea," she said approvingly, but hesitantly. "But like it might be expensive. I don't see we could afford another set of private school fees. And Vernon would never agree."
Harry had already planned out his arguments and lies for this one. "Well luckily my parents left me a small amount of money – not a lot - there's just a little set aside as a small educational scholarship that can only be spent on secondary school expenses. The paperwork has been horrible, I have to show them every single receipt and can't even spend a knut… uh… penny on something like extra note paper – but it's been paying for Hogwarts fees and basic expenses like uniforms. I think I can get the goblins to cover regular schooling fees too though. You wouldn't have to pay anything, Aunt Petunia. All you'd have to do is sign the forms for me."
"Goblins," muttered Aunt Petunia.
"They run the bank. You know, their bank."
""She never left me anything, did she? And there's no money for anything else? You know things are tight here sometimes," Aunt Petunia asked optimistically. "Some money to cover your living expenses would be good."
Money to cover a new car for Uncle Vernon and a bigger television for Dudley, you mean, thought Harry cynically and jealously.
"No, I'm sorry Aunt Petunia. They're really strict on that. I couldn't even get extra money to buy lunch when I was out with Professor McGonagall that time we shopped for last year's school supplies," said Harry, looking earnest and repentant, or at least a good facsimile of those emotions. "I don't think mum or dad left anything else. The war used up all of their money, and their house was apparently completely blown up by the Dark Lord. But if I ever manage to get anything extra out of those goblins I promise I will share it, Aunt Petunia."
Luckily Aunt Petunia was convinced, and since there was no effort or expense required on her part, signed the home schooling forms he'd need to get started. Apparently they'd simply told the neighbours they'd decided to send Harry to Smeltings too. As no other local children Dudley's age had gone there, there was no-one to contradict the story. Reading between the lines Harry thought his aunt and uncle seemed to have been enjoying boasting of sending two children to an expensive, exclusive private school (and for half what their acquaintances would guess it would cost). Harry was happy to go along with that story, and briefed Aunt Petunia on what they'd be telling the home school organisation. His aunt was going to talk to Uncle Vernon for him, which was a weight off his mind. Sometimes it was easy to tell when Uncle Vernon was working up into a rage – he'd go all quiet, or his face would start going red and his fists would tense. Other times he could be quite nasty while still smiling – it made his reactions harder to guess at and manage.
Harry had it all planned out now. This year he would work on getting up to speed on core subjects with home schooling by correspondence, and keep up to date with Dudley's work. On the magical side of things he would practice flying on his broomstick, and researching stealth and transportation charms to help him sneak away from Hogsmeade next year as needed. He'd also have a year to think about his subject choices and research what you needed to get into medicine at university… or to be a Healer. Next year he'd start his GCSEs (as well as his Hogwarts electives), and do them over Third and Fourth Year at Hogwarts, trying to get at least a couple done in Fourth Year so that he could concentrate on OWLs in Fifth Year. After that, a few A levels. He was a bit fuzzy on how to manage that at the moment, but hoped he could get them done in Sixth Year. Apparently A level Chemistry (which he needed to get into medicine at most universities) was difficult to do by correspondence, but that was a problem to worry about later. Year 9 Science and GCSE level Science and Biology weren't too bad – the Oxford Home Schooling receptionist had promised you could obtain equipment easily to work on practical experiments at home (on in his case, at Hogwarts). And final assessment for GCSE science subjects was just doing papers at an examination centre. Travelling to London from Surrey might be the easiest option – there were plenty of places there he could take the exams if Harry was willing to travel.
Harry's birthday was a very low-key event in the Dursley household. Aunt Petunia seemed to be in a good mood and gave Harry the morning off from cooking breakfast, and they had a small cake at lunch. Mind you, they had cake often at the moment. Aunt Petunia was worried that Smeltings was starving her Duddykins. Harry got more textbooks from Dudley, care of his father's wallet of course. His aunt and uncle gave him some new folders to keep notes in, a bag of new second hand clothes, a big roll of stamps, and a brand new cap with the Smeltings school crest on it.
"We wear them for sports," Dudley explained. "The boaters are for class and lunch times and everything else. The stamps are so you can write to me. Mum thought of the hat, but the stamps were my idea," he said, proud of his frugality. Now he wouldn't have to buy Harry stamps out of his own pocket money.
The textbooks would be useful, but the stamps were Harry's favourite gift. They'd be useful for writing to Dudley, who hadn't always given Harry enough postage – the Hogsmeade Post Office had slugged him with extra fees every so often.
With the unimportant business of Harry's birthday out of the way early in the morning, the family got down to the real important event of the day that needed to be discussed. The Masons were coming for dinner; important clients of Vernon's.
"And there will be no funny business from you!" warned Uncle Vernon.
"Of course not, Uncle. Like I promised when I came home – I won't do any magic while I'm here. Maybe mum did magic in the holidays, but I'm going to be respectful. I know you don't like magic," he said, glancing at them all. "Neither do I." Harry wasn't sure in his own mind if that last part was a lie or not. There were some parts he didn't mind so much. He guessed… magic itself was quite fun. The teachers and Hogwarts itself were a mixed bag of wonderful and horrible. And as for the wizarding culture… some of it he liked, while other parts made all of Aunt Petunia's accusations of the wizarding world's isolationism and bigotry seem horribly accurate.
The Dursleys practised their hollow flattery they would employ for the Masons, and Harry was informed of his role for the dinner party as waiter and chief cook (though Aunt Petunia would no doubt get most of the credit), which was fine by him. Harry volunteered to eat his dinner in the kitchen which earnt him a small morsel of approval from his guardians, and a reprieve from having to listen to Uncle Vernon's Japanese golfer joke a second time.
A/N: In British (and Australian) English the subject is called "Maths", not "Math" like in America. Thank you to my new Britpicker, Jennybeth98, who picked up a couple of other things that I missed (and have now corrected to the best of my ability).