Anything you recognise belongs to JK or Topps. Anything else probably belongs to them too.
Background Author Notes: A number of years ago I read Doghead Thirteen's excellent fic Enter the Dragon (fanfic story id 5585493) and rather enjoyed it. Recently, I came across a writing challenge where you write in another author's style, rather than your own. I thought I'd give it a crack while suffering from writer's block for my other fics.
You will need to read Doghead Thirteen's fic to understand the background for this one (and how successful - or not - I was in emulating his style). It's a long, single chapter work, and it does trail off with no resolution, but the journey is delightful.
Meddle not in the affairs of wizards, especially if they're also lizards.
Hogwarts Castle - Headmaster's Office. 31st August, 1991
Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts, settled back contentedly into his favourite armchair, his be-socked feet resting comfortably upon a soft footstool. He held a crystal glass filled with Crème de Menthe in one hand and a long-stemmed pipe in the other. It had been over six months since he had indulged in a comfortable smoke; from the first pull he could tell that his pouch of tobacco had aged most agreeably. It had been a long day, and tomorrow promised to be longer still. Paperwork, the bane of his existence, would have overflowed from his desk had it not been for his bottomless in- and out-trays. The ancient wizard gave a small sigh at the thought that only one of the two trays really needed the bottomless charms. He placed the stem of his pipe between his teeth and gently drew another lungful of magical smoke.
Around his office, the Heads of each of the four Houses relaxed in their own preferred way. Minerva McGonagall sat bolt upright in a high, straight-backed, padded leather chair, her long legs tucked neatly under the chair and crossed at the ankles. She held a bone china teacup daintily in her right hand, its corresponding saucer in her left. She sipped at the steaming tea, which had been mildly fortified with a dash of rather illegal home-distilled single-malt.
Pomona Sprout lay half-sprawled in the Roman fashion, along a divan with a small glass of sherry in one calloused hand. The bottle floated behind her, charmed to automatically refill her glass should it become empty. Her usual scent of earth, pollen and petals had been scrubbed away earlier after she had finished all the necessary preparation for the start of term. Tonight was a time for relaxation in a fire-warmed room in clean, indoor clothes.
Filius Flitwick hovered in his levitating chair; his own creation that lowered to the floor when he needed to sit down or stand up, but floated at eye level once he was seated. He drank from a glass filled from a pitcher of warm yak's milk, which floated to his left.
Severus Snape, like Albus, was sunk deep in a soft armchair, sans pipe and with cognac instead of a sweet liqueur in his glass. The acerbic Professor looked calm and at peace; an odd sight given the date.
It was near midnight on the 31st of August, and the five faculty members were relaxing, simply enjoying each other's company and the relative silence of the school, before the oncoming hormone-fuelled rush of noise, commotion, rivalries and teenage angst.
"Hufflepuff, I think," Pomona Sprout said, breaking the companionable silence. She took a sip of her sherry.
"Hmm?" the Headmaster replied, echoing the non-verbal questioning from the other three Heads.
"I think young Mr. Potter is going to be one of my Badgers."
Dumbledore took the pipe stem out from between his teeth. "What makes you so confident, Pomona? Not that I disagree; I am simply curious."
Sprout smiled. "I stopped in on Mattias at the start of August to pick up some mandrake seedlings. A young Muggleborn witch and her family were in Diagon Alley, trying to shop for her supplies and were looking a bit overwhelmed at the sights around them. Most particularly, the sight of a specific, well-armed centaur. Mr. Potter introduced himself and took them under his wing. The lad almost drove Mattias' poor nephew to tears with his haggling over their potion ingredients. The last I saw, Potter had dragged the family into Flourish and Blotts. Any such Samaritan would be prime Badger material."
McGonagall gave an unladylike snort. "The boy stands up to authority and leaps to the defence of his friends in an instant. He's as much one of my Griffons as either of his parents. His constant talk of rescuing damsels speaks of his innate nobility. Mark my words; he will be in my House tomorrow."
"Ah, but he has an incredible, even obsessive love of learning. I don't think there is a book in the Library outside of the restricted section he hasn't already memorised," Filius pointed out diplomatically. "He takes the time to think through what he learns, and is proving quite adept at logic and philosophy. I am convinced that he would do very well as one of my Ravens."
Four heads turned to the Potion Master. Snape took a sip of his drink and swallowed calmly. "What?" he asked flatly.
Dumbledore covered a smile by gripping his pipe stem between his molars. "I believe they are expecting you to claim that Mr. Potter is destined to be a Slytherin," he said with a blue-tinted puff.
Snape snorted a far more impressive snort than the previous instance from McGonagall; his substantial nose giving him an unfair advantage over his colleague. "That bloody lizard is about as subtle as, well, as a dragon in an apothecary. He has so little grasp of anything remotely resembling cunning that he answered every question put to him by Lovegood without even considering what he was going to do with that information. He didn't even bother to try and convince you all to let him stay in his lair, or to continue expanding his collection of damsels from the student body; he just made the declarations and you scurried to distort the rule book to allow it. The mental gymnastics and contortions you went through would have scored highly at the muggle Olympics. Potter will get away with anything in his time here; he is very much like his father in that respect," he finished sourly.
"I thought you liked him, Severus."
There was a time that Severus would have roared a response beginning with, "I DO NOT…" However, he had long refused to be baited this way. He took a deep breath. "I do not like him, Filius. I have told you before that the lad is," he paused, weighing his words, "tolerable company. And he is far and away the most intriguing individual I could ever imagine. If I did nothing but study his unique physiology and biology for the rest of my natural life I would be utterly satisfied."
McGonagall's lips twitched. "Not to mention that your association with the lad has been very profitable."
Snape shrugged. "I won't deny it. It was implausibly satisfying to buy a lifetime membership at the Club and eat a celebratory meal there while Lucius and Narcissa waited impatiently to be seated."
"Are you not looking forward to teaching him? Beyond the tutoring you have given him so far?"
Snape rubbed his chin. "I find myself looking forward to see how well he performs in the practical aspects of potion brewing in a class rather than in one-on-one tutoring, yes. He has memorised the textbooks for all seven years, as well as almost all of my more esoteric tomes. Should he live up to my lofty expectations, I would be tempted to permit him access to my private notes in the hope that he achieves the pinnacle of brewing. But I am not at all looking forward to the mayhem and chaos that will inevitably follow him in these halls."
"Oh for goodness sake, Harry is nothing like his father!" McGonagall said with exasperation.
Snape rolled his eyes. "I know that," he replied flatly, with no room for argument. "And thank you for that mental image, Minerva. The founders themselves wouldn't know what to do with a dragon with James Potter's attitude. Less than half of Slytherin House would have survived the experience. I doubt Hogwarts herself would still be standing. The next time I encounter a boggart I suspect will take the form of James Bloody Potter as a dragon."
"He was a bully," Snape snapped flatly, leaving no room for argument. "And I was his favourite target." He held up his free hand to forestall the developing eruption of Mt. McGonagall. "I'm not interested in debating ancient history with you, Minerva. The last few years of association with the blasted reptile has cured me of any lingering belief that young Mr. Potter is anything at all like his father. If not for his voice and his choice of human form, I could not make a connection between them. I shall always hate James Potter, but I can respect and accept that his son is very different. His nature is all too painfully like his mother."
"Is the comparison between father and son fair then?" Flitwick asked.
"It was not I who made the comparison. I merely said that I wasn't looking forward to the upheaval his presence will cause. You have to admit that we have contorted the spirit of the student rulebook and interpreted the remaining rules in a bizarrely creative manner in order to accommodate him. I saw the draft acceptance letter for the first year students. A cat, owl, toad or centaur as a pet? Until the students send their first letters home, I'd wager my royalties that the parents of older students will just believe that Albus here has gone even more off his rocker than usual."
Dumbledore chuckled, sounding most satisfied. "Who's to say I haven't?"
Snape grunted. "I sometimes wonder."
Sprout held out her small glass for a refill from the floating bottle. "If you don't think Harry is anything like his father, why would you think that mayhem will follow him? Lily was one of the most even-tempered young witches I ever met."
Snape sighed and drained the remains of his cognac. "Believe me, there is no comparison between the kinds of havoc the father made and those the son will make. Potter, that is, James, tormented and bullied students under the guise of playing pranks for his own amusement. Harry Potter will turn the school on its head by virtue of his species, not his attitude."
Albus took another puff on his pipe, his eyes distant with thought. "Come now Severus, surely you don't expect it to be quite that bad."
"Have those execrable Muggle sweets rotted your brain instead of your teeth? Pomona just told us that the boy has already made friends with a Muggleborn first year witch. I wouldn't wager against the fact that she'll be his next collected damsel, if she isn't already. If the boy's pedigree breeds true and he ends up in Gryffindor, someone like young Mr. Malfoy will see him and his blasé attitude to blood status as a natural enemy. And because of the wretched lizard's relative immaturity, any malicious pranks played on him or any friends he happens to make will probably be met with a direct response that will undoubtedly be swift, shocking, and most of all, childish. What do you suppose will happen when the son of a Governor ends up as malodorous fertilizer somewhere in the forest?"
"I doubt things will go that far, Severus," Dumbledore said attempting to placate his friend.
"Indeed," agreed McGonagall, taking a sip of tea. After a moment, she continued, "If he's anything like his father, young Draco will probably be unpalatable even to Harry's digestive tract."
"Minerva!" a trio of mildly shocked voices echoed in unison over a fourth, which tried to smother a snicker, and was only moderately successful.
"Oh come now, I was just being facetious. Severus has raised a valid point though. We have no idea how or at what rate Harry will grow. Already he appears to be emotionally a few years behind his forthcoming classmates. If he continues to mature slowly, we may be faced with a situation in later years where his classmates are entering adulthood while he is still a young child. A particularly powerful young child."
"That's true," Sprout added. "If they survive their mating contests, dragons can live into a sixth century. But Lovegood's observations to the contrary, we do not know for sure what species Harry is, or what his lifespan is. If he is going to live for several hundred years or more, maybe he will still emotionally be a child even after he takes his NEWTs."
Flitwick chuckled aloud, to the astonishment of his colleagues. "What?" he asked, looking around at their expressions, "I'm beginning to suspect that young Mr. Potter will be the harbinger of a new era of civility at Hogwarts. At least, once people realise that they have a choice between being nice to each other or being sat upon by a dragon that happens to be larger than the Hogwarts Express Engine."
Dumbledore echoed the Charms Professor's chuckle himself. "Indeed. Mr. Potter is fond of threatening to sit himself down upon those who annoy him. I think we shall have to impress upon the lad that sitting on one's classmates is not a valid form of retribution."
"What would be a valid form of retribution?" Sprout asked with a pointed look. "For a student who, with little effort, could conceivably lay waste to the entire school should he so desire?"
Snape shook his head. "As usual, you all missed my point. I wasn't referring to the difference in maturity levels, though that will undoubtedly bring about some challenges of the Not-Fun-At-All variety." He paused before continuing, considering that statement. "All though, there may be some small amount of amusement to be found as well. But no, I was referring to his propensity to dispense disproportionate physical responses. While I missed the actual encounter in question, his centaur pet was, once suitably persuaded, willing to recount it to me. Those monstrous Acromantulas happened by the Centaur colony looking for a quick meal of horse-flesh. Instead, they ended up facing the prospect of extinction after meeting several thousand degrees worth of dragon flame face-first."
Flitwick gave Snape a sly glance. "You wouldn't happen to have insisted on having the story related to you because of what happened immediately prior, would you?"
A smile of epic proportions appeared on the Potion Master's face. It was self-satisfied. It was smug. It was the smile of a man whose best laid plans had been executed successfully beyond his abnormally high expectations. "Filius, I have no idea what you mean."
"That expression you wear suggests otherwise, my friend."
Sprout tilted her head to one side. "I appear to be missing some context. What story?"
"Do you recall the gift Severus gave Mr. Potter a few years ago? On his ninth birthday; the first he spent in his new lair?"
Sprout frowned in thought. "Wasn't that the saddle and harness contraption for his centaur damsel? So that he could… oh dear. I see."
Snape's smile looked as though it wouldn't be shifted with anything short of a major tectonic event. "Oh yes. Mr. Potter was out playing 'horsie' with his damsel when Bane saw them. He reacted," Snape paused, savouring the image, "predictably. He grabbed the nearest stick and charged at the pair, fully prepared to swat the child from his daughter's back."
"Oh dear," Sprout repeated.
Nothing could convince Snape to stop recounting the story at this point. "Potter transformed back into a dragon and backhanded the arrogant centaur so hard that he skidded across the forest floor for thirty yards and saw naught but his precious stars for the next several hours. As Attitude Readjustment Tools go, I daresay there are few more effective than the back of Mr. Potter's hand."
"What does Bane's humiliation have to do with Acromantulas?"
"After Bane could actually stand with no more than two others helping him, the centaur herd left Potter and his damsel to their own devices. They barely got half a mile back towards their camp before they were ambushed by almost the entire Acromantula colony. The centaurs were trussed up almost without exception before Potter arrived on the scene. He hit the arachnids so hard that morphic resonance has probably made every Acromantula in the world genetically terrified of dragons."
Sprout looked a little concerned. "Does Bane still hold some ill will to the lad?"
The intensity of Snape's smile ebbed, but the Potion Master still looked inordinately pleased with himself. "No, oddly enough. It appears that the readjustment of his attitude worked even better than I had expected. He is still antisocial of course; nothing short of a complete lobotomy would change that. But Potter's hand seems to have instilled in him a new-found sense of caution; a reason to deliberate before taking action." Snape's expression turned a little grim. "If Potter decides to perform an encore of similar attitude readjustments on the student body, there will be little beyond careful, verbal persuasion we could do to stop him."
Dumbledore glanced down at the bowl of his pipe. The tobacco had gone out. He released a tiny flicker of magic, raised his pipe to his mouth and puffed it back to life. He absently blew a couple of smoke rings while the rest considered the recounting. "You may be right," he said eventually. "We shall need to guide Mr. Potter gently and very, very carefully."
"Of course I'm right. I already plan to warn my Serpents against any action towards Potter, no matter what House he ends up in. Most will accept it, but I'm afraid a few die hard individuals will not. Having him here only during class time will help tremendously of course, by limiting the number of opportunities for surreptitious actions in the late afternoon and evening. But I do not have much confidence that we shall end the year without a number of long-term residents under Poppy's care."
McGonagall winced, but nodded. "As much as I am loath to admit it, I can easily envisage Mr. Potter inadvertently injuring a student enough that they would need long term medical care. Even with his," she paused, her left eye twitching slightly, "inexhaustibly merry attitude, he won't let bullying slide. We will need to be even more vigilant for, and even more intolerant of, intimidation amongst the student body."
Dumbledore nodded, swirling the emerald liquid around the bottom of his glass. "It is a fine line to walk. Without delving into restricted potions or Legilimancy, evidence is often difficult to establish; bullies don't generally act with unfriendly witnesses around. If we start punishing infractions on the basis of mere suspicion, I foresee a torrent of accusations from students who have no just cause for complaint. We could become the bullies in our efforts to stamp out the practise itself."
Snape stood and stepped over to the Headmaster's drinks cabinet. He poured himself another generous measure of cognac. "Let's not be too hasty. I find myself morbidly fascinated imagining how Potter would react to those insane Weasley twins. Perhaps a single sanctioned attitude adjustment could be tolerated?"
"Severus! That is beneath you," McGonagall chided, her eyes narrowing dangerously.
"Perhaps a smaller adjustment," Snape continued, seemingly not registering the Deputy Headmaster's rebuke. "But not too much smaller. Yes, that would be welcome."
"Oh, settle down, Albus. I'm only stirring. I do think that the Weasley twins will run afoul of Potter at some point, however. It would be best if Minerva, Pomona, Filius and I impress upon our charges the magnitude of this shift. We are already warning them away from the third floor corridor. It shouldn't be too much of a stretch to include a new standard of behaviour."
Dumbledore nodded, taking another sip of his brandy. "Well, whosoever of you is fortunate enough to have Mr. Potter in their house, could you ask him to see me after the Welcoming Feast? I shall make a point of personally discussing the topic with him. But I agree that you all should make it clear to your students that from this year onwards, any hint of intimidation will be met with a swift response."
"From us or from Potter?"
The five sat in companionable silence for a few more moments until Dumbledore's pocket watch chimed midnight. Flitwick drained his milk and vanished the pitcher. "I'm going to seek my bed. Good night to you all, and good luck for tomorrow. Shall we meet here again after the students are in bed? Whatever the result, the upcoming sorting promises to be most interesting."
A chorus of murmured agreement followed, and the Heads of Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff exited the Headmaster's office. Snape and Dumbledore sat for another quarter of an hour, pondering the coming year.
"There is a possible solution, though it smacks of using a Killing Curse to get rid of an annoying fly."
Dumbledore raised a bushy eyebrow. "Oh?"
Snape nodded, deep in thought. "A time turner and an invisibility cloak. If any student is injured, or makes an accusation of bullying or intimidation, one of us could use a time turner and a cloak to observe the altercation unnoticed."
"What is wrong with engaging the portraits around the castle to assist?"
"Besides the fact that the portraits sleep? And there is a significant fraction of Hogwarts free from portrait frames. The students are not stupid, Albus." Snape paused, reflecting on that claim. "Well, that's an overstatement; a small fraction of the student body are not stupid. Potter will be here for up to seven long years, and during that time I suspect that at least one of the few intellectually gifted will make the connection between locations where infractions get caught and locations with portraits."
"Perhaps. A compromise then? We utilise the portraits where we can and I'll fish out my time-turner for when we cannot rely on our pigmented spy network."
Snape raised an eyebrow. "You're actually going to implement my idea?"
Dumbledore shrugged. "It is a bit drastic, but yes, it is certainly feasible."
Snape sighed. "I'm afraid my Slytherins will be difficult to rein in. Four in five mentally translate 'do not do something' to 'do not get caught doing something'."
"Hmm, it sounds as though you have a challenging year ahead."
The pair sat in silence for a few more minutes. Finally, Snape rose. "Good night Albus."
Dumbledore tapped out his pipe. "To you as well, my friend," he said, rising to his feet. He winced at the creaking of his knees.
Just as the Potion Master was about to leave, he stopped and turned back to face the Headmaster. "You do realise that Potter has to be sorted tomorrow. Well, today."
Dumbledore frowned at the out-of-character statement of the obvious. "Of course. Your point?"
Snape smirked, and pointed to one of the many shelves in the office. Dumbledore followed his friend's finger to a crumpled lump of haberdashery, which was fast asleep and snoring softly.
"The Sorting Hat?"
"Have you woken it to tell it? About Mr. Potter's condition, I mean."
Dumbledore's eyes lit up with realisation. "Ah. No, I have not as yet."
Snape's smirk grew wider. "Do me a favour then, and leave it ignorant."
"Why on earth would you care about that?"
"Do I need a reason? Perhaps I just wish to ensure that it has no preconceived notions that may prejudice its decision."
The Headmaster raised an eyebrow. "I find myself somewhat sceptical of your answer."
"Fine. I simply think it will be amusing to see its reaction when it finds itself on a dragon's head."
Dumbledore rolled his eyes. "Yes, that is much more believable. I shall consider it. Good night, Severus."
Kings Cross Station – Platform 9 & ¾. 1st September, 1991
Hermione allowed herself to be swept away in the Potter boy's wake of exuberance. There seemed little choice. He looked as though he knew where he was going, and Hermione had no real idea, beyond the necessity of boarding the train. Amid the engine driver's fading laughter at their observations, the trio boarded the nearest carriage door.
Tried to board through the door.
At eight feet tall to the top of her human head, Suze the centaur was going to struggle to enter a door made for humans.
"Um, Suze?" Harry said to his centaur after observing the puzzle for a moment. "Can you sort of duck down a bit?"
Hermione stared as the imposing centaur maid obligingly bent her human half forward in a sort of bow and tucked her head down. Though she was bent down as such, she still had to raise her arms to keep from banging her head on the door frame as her forward half struggled up into the doorway. Even with the problem of height partially resolved, there was still the matter of the width of her equine body.
"Harry, Suze will never fit!" Hermione exclaimed.
The green-eyed boy scratched at his unruly mop of hair. "Er, maybe. What do you think, Suze?"
The centaur gave one final push against the platform with her hind legs, forcing her body into the entryway of the carriage. A couple of shouts echoed from beyond the centaur, but neither of the two first year students could see past Suze to see who was making the noise.
"It's a bit of a squeeze, but I can make it," Suze called out beneath her body.
"Cool!" Harry said, his usual good humour again shining through. "I'll grab Hermione's trunk and follow. Do you think you can find us a place to sit?"
Hermione's attention was drawn away from the sight of a centaur forcibly squeezing herself through a small doorway and down a narrow corridor when she noticed that Harry, a boy who had inexplicably grown several inches in the past month to approximately her own height, had picked up her trunk with sublime ease and casually balanced it on one shoulder. She gaped at the sight. Her father had gone red-faced when he had lifted the heavy leather chest out of the boot of the car when they arrived at the station, and he'd used two hands.
He had also made a few unrepeatable comments under his breath about the number of books Hermione had packed that he probably did not intend for his daughter to overhear.
In the moment it had taken her to mentally process the scene, Harry had bounded up the steps and into the carriage after his centaur damsel. With a shake of her head and wondering how she would retain her sanity if the magical world was always this odd, Hermione ran the few steps to the carriage and clambered up the steps, following the boy who had absconded with her trunk. Several equine hairs were stuck in the door frame on either side, mute testimony to the difficulty the centaur had encountered.
"Harry! My trunk has wheels. You don't have to carry it," she called out as she stepped through the entrance and turned into the corridor that ran down the length of the carriage.
She came to a sudden halt at the sight in front of her.
Suze had apparently found an empty compartment towards the centre of the carriage, but was experiencing considerable difficulty in getting her body through the relatively small doorway. The problem lay in the fact that the corridor was not wide enough for her to turn her body perpendicular to the corridor. She had attempted to enter the compartment door on a rather acute angle and now appeared to be quite stuck, the front half of her equine body was already in the room; her haunch stuck outside. The corridor was too narrow for her to even twist her body, and her hooves were unable to gain enough traction on the polished wooden floor to fully bring her strength to bear.
Harry was between Suze and Hermione, trotting down the carpeted hallway to the centaur. Each of the half dozen occupied compartments Suze had passed by on her trek down the carriage sported at least one curious soul with their head stuck out. Several students stared at the sight of a centaur stuck on the Hogwarts Express – a sight probably unique in history.
Hermione began to think that any moment she spent in the Wizarding World was slightly more surreal than the last. But nothing could prepare her for the Potter boy's next action.
"Hang on, Suze," Harry said, putting the trunk down and running up behind his damsel. He placed his left arm under her belly and said, "Ready? One, two three, jump!"
Hermione's eyes bulged as the slender lad appeared to lift the hindquarters of a centaur maid to the accompaniment of her rear legs flailing wildly. He pushed up and turned her, using the height of the corridor to turn the centaur around. With her body now straight enough to squeeze through the small compartment doorway, Suze pushed against the wall with her hind legs and wriggled through. Harry let her body down once she was again capable of standing in a straight line.
Once cleared of a half-tonne of centaur, Hermione could see all the way down the corridor, past the compartment into which Suze had just been almost forcibly inserted. Suze's initial journey to the empty compartment had pushed several students backwards, leaving at least four in a pile on the floor. The corridor was full of faces that were red and shiny with anger. They did not look happy at all.
Harry's obscenely cheerful attitude seemed to stump the angry students though, despite the fact that they had been pushed back and piled up on the carpeted hallway. He picked up Hermione's trunk once more, gave them a wave and a happy, "Hi there, thanks for letting us through," before disappearing through the door after his centaur pet.
That left a couple of dozen bewildered, angry students glaring down the corridor at the astonished first year witch. Even though she had technically not had anything to do with the sudden and forced blockage in the corridor, her cheeks flushed with shame.
One of the larger students, who had been forced over onto his backside by the large centaur, clambered to his feet and stormed into the compartment. His blustered shout of "YOU LITTLE…" was cut off as he gave a loud, "OOMPH!"
Bent double, the upperclassman appeared to spring backwards out of the compartment, crashing hard into the wall on the opposite side of the corridor. A spider web of cracks appeared in the plasterwork under his rapid deceleration. He collapsed down to the floor, clutching low on his belly, and curled into a tight ball of private pain.
Harry stuck his head back through the door; Hermione could see a concerned expression in his profile. "Are you all right? It's not safe to sneak up on a centaur from behind, you know. They can't turn their bodies around all the way, you see, so their instinct is to kick first and ask questions later."
Another older student from the press of bodies, a young lady this time, stepped forward and crouched over the injured boy. She had her wand out and passing over the prostrate form. Seemingly satisfied with the results, she turned to glare at Harry. "What is that creature doing on the train?" the witch demanded.
Hermione watched with bated breath as Harry's eyes narrowed, his cheery attitude vanishing in an instant. "She's not a creature, she's my friend! And she's allowed on the train! 'Snot her fault that this poo head yelled at her from behind."
Hermione, who had quailed a little at the older witch's tone of voice, was quietly impressed at the way that Harry didn't even so much as twitch backwards in the face of the student witch's anger. Finally getting her feet back under her control, she darted down the corridor to the compartment. She intended to grab her trunk and find another place to sit. One that was a little less insane, if that was at all possible.
Harry leaned to one side to allow her past, without taking his eyes off the witch who had questioned him, whose robes were adorned with a golden badge of office. Hermione watched as the prefect gave a dismissive sniff and turned her attention back to the injured student on the floor. Harry slid the door to the compartment shut.
"Huh. You know Suze, looks like there are a lot of grumpy bums here on the train," he said.
The centaur maid had claimed a trio of seats for herself. With graceful movements that belied her size, she lowered her equine body onto the row of leather seats, tucking her legs beneath her. She leaned her human body against the wall, the top of her hair just brushing the underside of the luggage rack. "We've only met a couple of people, Harry. The rest may be nice."
Hermione bit her lip. "Um, maybe I should g-," she started, before noticing the dark expressions of the students looking in through the glass into the compartment. It would probably not be a good idea to tempt the mood of the crowd and leave the compartment just yet. "stay here a little while."
Harry dropped Hermione's trunk onto the free seats opposite his centaur. "You can stay as long as you like. Did you bring anything to read?"
"Of course," Hermione replied absently. She hadn't stepped into a vehicle for a trip of longer than a couple of minutes without reading material since she could hold a book unaided. "Didn't you? Hang on, where is your trunk?"
Harry flashed a cheeky grin at her. "Don't need one. I'm not staying at Hogwarts because I live near the castle and can just go there during the day for classes," he said in his usual rushed speech. "You should get the books out now and I'll put your trunk up on the rack. This is the book I brought along to read," he finished, pulling out a small object from a pocket and tossing it onto the leather seat.
Hermione opened her mouth to object that the trunk was far too heavy for someone of his size to put up in the luggage racks, but the memory of him casually jogging down the corridor with it over one shoulder gave her pause. Wordlessly, she opened the pair of latches and pulled out couple of books. She thought a moment, then pulled out a couple more. She then closed the lid, and watched as the slight boy picked up the heavy trunk, stepped up onto the leather seat (without removing his shoes – or even cleaning them!), and hefted it into the metal rack.
The Wizarding World was mental.
Hogsmeade Station. 1st September, 1991
Hermione jumped off the train and onto the station platform. She took a deep breath of the crisp, clean Scottish Highland air. The lack of scent of centaur was quite welcome. None of the mythology texts she had read in her life had gone into any detail about how permeating the smell of the creatures was, which given the singularly distinctive aspect of the bouquet either meant that the books had been authored by non-magical folk with no direct experience, or by wizards who had never been cooped up in close quarters with one for eight hours.
It had been an interesting trip, even if she hadn't managed to get much reading done. No sooner had she turned the flyleaf of a book than the first of many, many visitors arrived.
It turned out that having a centaur as a pet was quite rare. Unique in fact.
Harry had taken it in stride with his usual effortless enthusiasm. Once word had spread up and down the train that there was a real live centaur on board everyone had to come and visit. First through seventh year students had gaped at the centaur maid through the glass.
Several students had entered and introduced themselves, though few of them had been particularly interested in talking to her. And the ones who did choose to speak to her almost without exception insulted her. It was embarrassing enough being in a compartment with a celebrity and a carnival attraction, but to be dismissed as a second-class citizen simply due to the circumstances of her birth had been humiliating.
"Firs' years, firs' years, over 'ere!"
Hermione turned and looked wide-eyed at the man calling out to the first year students. He was enormous, not just impossibly tall but wide of both shoulder and girth. He had hair that looked as though it could win a prize meant for rhododendron bushes and a beard that could have been mistaken for the result of an explosion in a fishing line factory. Two beetle-black eyes looked out of the relatively small area of face not hidden by coarse black hair.
Harry bounded over to the enormous man. Hermione wondered exactly how someone with as much pent up energy as Harry exhibited had actually managed to sit down and read a book. She'd known children like that at primary school; but they hadn't been able to sit still long enough to read a single chapter, and a couple even had trouble concentrating long enough to read a single sentence.
"'Arry! I thought Suze was travelling with you. Where is she?"
"She couldn't get out of the carriage easily, so I sent her home with my portkey. This is Hermione Granger. I met her at Diagon Alley."
Hermione found herself under Hagrid's gaze. "Um, hello," she offered, determined not to quail under the gigantic man's attention.
"'Ullo, Miss," Hagrid said with a booming voice and a broad, genuine smile. "Looking forward to Hogwarts?"
"Oh, yes, Mr. Hagrid."
"Just Hagrid Miss, Mr. Hagrid was my Da. You stick with young 'Arry here, he'll make sure you're all right."
Harry beamed and looked at her. "Hagrid here is Hogwarts' Groundskeeper, but he knows absolutely everything there is to know about all sorts of really cool creatures! Dragons, centaurs, hippogriffs, unicorns, everything! He's even raising Acromantulas! And he bakes the best rock cakes you've ever tasted."
Hermione craned her neck to look back up at the man, noting with surprise that the small patches of his cheeks that were visible were bright red at Harry's praise.
"Go on, ya little scamp. Head on over to the boats and I'll gather the rest of the firsties."
Harry nodded happily and took Hermione's hand. "Come on. The boats are over here."
Hermione allowed herself to be dragged along. It seemed to be Harry's usual mode of travelling - grab a nearby female by the hand and haul her along. For now, she decided not to resist. "Boats, Harry?"
"Yeah, first years all go to the castle in boats. The first time you see Hogwarts is from the shore of the lake."
"Really? How did you know that? I didn't read that in Hogwarts: A History."
"'Swat happened last year and the year before that. I first came to Hogwarts when I was eight. The Professors brought me here 'cause I couldn't live with my Aunt and Uncle anymore. But that's all right, because I didn't really like it there all that much," he said and he led her down the rocky path towards the lake. With a theatrical wave of his arms, he said, "Ta da! There you go, there's Hogwarts!"
Hermione blinked at the magical vision before her. Hogwarts castle glittered like a tiara on the early evening skyline. Turrets and towers touched the sky while the castle itself spread out, encompassing a truly enormous area.
But the castle's beauty was duplicated by the mirror image off the lake's glass-smooth surface. With the undisturbed water pitch black in the low light, there were two Hogwarts Castles in view, and the young witch could not decide which was more beautiful.
"'Snot bad, eh?"
"It's incredible. It's beautiful."
"Come on, let's grab a boat."
Hogwarts. The Great Hall. 1st September, 1991
Abigail pushed her way through the press of bodies. She was proud to have been selected as a prefect last year, and was determined to do whatever it took to ensure that she was selected as Head Girl next year. Once free of the densest part of the crowd of students, she hurried up to the staff table, where Professor Snape sat patiently waiting for the first year students to arrive. "Excuse me, Professor Snape?"
Snape glanced down at her, his dark eyes flickered over her, noting the glittering new addition of the prefect badge. "Yes, Miss Abercrombie?"
The witch looked up at her Head of House. "Sir, there was an incident on the train. Flint was injured, and I escorted him to the infirmary. Madam Pomfrey instructed me to inform you that she was certain he would be fine in a few hours, but would not be able to attend the Feast tonight."
"I see. Thank you for your diligence, Miss Abercrombie. Was there anything else?"
Abigail blinked at the lack of surprise. "Er, there was a centaur on the train. It kicked him."
Snape looked at her without changing expression. After a moment of silence, he asked, "And?"
Abigail shifted a little defensively. "Um, I didn't think that they were allowed, sir. I thought the Express was reserved on the 1st for students only."
There was another uncomfortable silence. Her Head's monosyllabic answers weren't particularly helpful in terms of conversation flow. "Er, the centaur can't be a student, can it sir? In Care of Magical Creatures, Professor Kettleburn said that centaurs are inherently magical due to the creation of their species, but are unable to channel wanded magic."
A thin smile appeared on Snape's face. "Two points to Slytherin for your applied knowledge of centaurs, Miss Abercrombie. That will be all." He turned back to glaring out over the student body, which was slowly separating itself into the four Houses.
Abigail frowned in surprise at the dismissal, but nodded and stepped backwards. The Professor obviously knew about the centaur, and appeared to have no objection. There was something odd though. Professor Snape had confirmed that the centaur maid was not a student, but was not concerned that it had been on a train exclusively set aside for students.
It was a puzzle she would unravel at a later date. For now, it was time to take her seat and wait for the sorting to begin.
After nearly ten minutes, all the students drifted apart and sat at their house tables, waiting for the Sorting Ceremony to begin. The Hat had already been placed on its stool.
The double doors to the Hall opened, and Professor McGonagall strode in, her eyes everywhere, ensuring things were ready. She and the Headmaster conferred for a few seconds about something, getting his affirmative nod. She turned to face the students.
"Please settle down, the Sorting is about to begin."
With that, she made her way purposefully to the doors to let the first year students in.
The student body hushed as the name echoed throughout the hall. All eyes turned to the messy-haired lad as he almost skipped down the aisle between the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables. He nodded to Professor McGonagall and sat down.
The Sorting Hat dropped onto Harry's head.
Almost immediately, the Great Hall was filled with a truncated, echoing scream of pure astonishment. "WHAT THE FU—," the Hat screamed aloud before catching itself. The small figure sitting on the rickety three-legged stool was already the focus of attention of every member of the student body, but at the Hat's aborted expletive, each and every eye widened. Snape covered his smile by snatching his glass and taking a sip of wine. The hat's reaction had been everything he had hoped. The other three Heads of House reacted as expected. Flitwick had covered his mouth in astonishment, but his eyes were lit with amusement. Sprout's eyes were wide, but her cheeks were tinged red at the inappropriate behaviour of the Hat.
McGonagall's lips were pressed together so hard they resembled nothing less than a bloodlessly pale measuring stick.
Harry looked up as far as his eyes could go, even slightly tipping his head back, just able to make out the brim of the Sorting Hat. "Is there something wrong?" he asked.
In his thoughts, the hat sounded as though it were hyperventilating. Oh... oh my! You're a, a… I've never... Oh my!
Harry reached up with his human arm and patted the hat on the, well, the head. "Are you all right?" he asked. Around him, wide eyes were joined by open mouths as jaws dropped. Harry thought they all looked jolly silly, but the Hat had nearly said a very bad word. Harry supposed that it was quite unusual.
I AM MOST CERTAINLY NOT ALL RIGHT! THAT BAST—er, never mind. Oooo, the Headmaster deserves… Argh! The Hat paused, and seemed to collect itself. My apologies, Mr. Potter, and you don't have to speak out loud; I am quite capable of communicating with you via your thoughts.
Harry closed his mouth and thought really, really loudly. Oh, okay then. Is this loud enough?
I er, yes. Yes indeed. My goodness. I've never had to sort a, a d-d-dragon before.
Not even like, a really, really long time ago? Back when there were lots of knights and damsels with ice-cream cones as hats? Weren't there any dragons around back then?
Um, no. I mean, yes, there were dragons around, but no, I never had to sort one. Goodness, you've got me in a right state. In the last few decades, I have sorted a werewolf, a half giant and a quarter-goblin, but I have never, in my entire existence, been obliged to sort a dragon. Honestly, the Headmaster might have warned a hat.
Well, it's supposed to be a secret. Some of the glowy people wouldn't like it if they found out that I was a dragon instead of a person. Well, I'm still a person, obviously, but I'm a dragon too, I'm just not a person-person, if you know what I mean.
I don't care if it's supposed to be a state secret, that old bastard should have told me. Erm, excuse my language please, I'm a bit overwrought.
Harry screwed his face up. Huh? Why did he need to tell you? Does it make a difference in where you're gonna send me?
No, it was more along the lines of not scaring the living enchantments out of me. I mean, ugh. I'm too old for this.
That sounded interesting. How old are you exactly? I mean, Mr. Hagrid says that I might be able to live for quite a long time because dragons can live for hundreds of years so I might even be able to live long enough for…
Yes, well, perhaps we should get on with things? As intriguing as your observations are, I fear that if we take too long to sort you there may just be a riot after my little outburst. Now that I know what to expect, feel free to visit me during the year. I'm sure the old b- er, the Headmaster wouldn't mind. It would give us a chance to converse at leisure, and I might even get you to play a prank on him in response. Well, onto the job at hand. So, let's see here. Hmm, interesting. Most interesting.
The chance to have a talk with a Hat sounded like it could be quite fun, especially since it had apparently sorted other glowy people who weren't, strictly speaking, people-people either. Your song said that you put all the clever glowy people in Ravenclaw. I love reading, can I go there?
So I see. However, I suspect that your powerful intellect, phenomenal retention and memory would earn you more resentment than fellowship there. It is one thing for students to engage in friendly competition with others of similar ability, but quite another to be effortlessly outclassed. Your time in Ravenclaw would be troublesome. And while character-building, I dare say that annoying a dragon would turn out to be a little too exciting for the usual inhabitants of that House.
Harry considered that. Er, okay, if you say so. I don't want to annoy anyone if I can help it. How's about Gryffindor then? I'm brave! I've even got a damsel!
Mr. Potter, courage is a little more subjective than that. You are fearless, and for good reason, I might add. But courage is not at all the same as being unafraid. Courage is acting despite your fear. Yes, Gryffindors as a group tend to leap into dangerous situations readily. But a situation that is dangerous for a wizard would pose little trouble for an all-but-indestructible creature of immense power such as you. I shudder to think what would happen should your housemates leap into such situations after you. I dare say that my sorting of you into Gryffindor would cause a severe decline in that House's population via attrition.
That didn't sound good at all. Oh. All right, Suze's daddy was angry at me one time and I almost fried him until Suze asked me to stop. Um, Hufflepuff then? That's the only one left, right? Mr. Snape told me that I wouldn't make a very good Slytherin.
Professor Snape's opinion is of no concern to me, Mr. Potter. And I don't necessarily sort people to into the House that mirrors their personality the most.
Really? I thought you said in your song that that was your job.
It usually turns out that way, yes. But my secondary role is to place students where they would best succeed. When a student has the relevant attributes of several houses, I try to place them where they would be the most effective. Now, Hufflepuff would be delighted to have you as a member.
Wicked! So I'm going to be a Badger?
You would certainly fit in there quite well. Hufflepuff itself would fare even better. The honour and prestige alone would do wonders for that house's image.
Harry frowned; the Hat seemed to be stalling. But where else could I go? You don't think I'd be any good with the sneaky people in Slytherin, do ya? Mr. Snape thought the idea was pretty funny when I asked him.
The hat mentally sighed in Harry's mind. Mr. Potter, Professor Snape was correct to point out that you are not really cunning, or sneaky as you would call it. You are arrow straight in a reality of curves. You have a child's view of the world; one which would attract quite some ridicule from the other Slytherins. I wouldn't even consider putting you in that house. The hat paused for a moment before continuing. Well, except for one thing.
That sounded interesting. Really? What's that?
You have an ambition Salazar himself never dared consider. You wish to change the world.
Harry mentally shrugged, finding the unusual action to be oddly natural despite only talking to someone with his head once. Oh, that. Well, Mr. Snape and Suze and me have all been sitting around plotting on how to overthrow the glowy people in charge. When we're not learning potions that is. Mr. Snape gets really loud when I try talking about overthrowing when he is showing me how to make a potion. He's a really good growler.
The hat seemed to pause. Yes, well, you see, Professor Snape's protestations aside, that's my dilemma. I could put you in Hufflepuff, where you would be welcomed, but the major beneficiary of my decision would be Hufflepuff House itself. Or I could put you in Slytherin, where you would no doubt struggle to find acceptance, but you would be forced to develop some more subtle skills; influencing others, diversions, persuasion, essentially you would cultivate a more delicate touch. Topics that would stand you in good stead to accomplish your most ambitious goal.
You know, from the reading I've done, I'd have thought it was odd to be deciding between Hufflepuff and Slytherin. Those two don't really have a lot in common.
Ah, but a good Slytherin knows that it will take hard work to achieve his goals, though there are precious few such individuals in that house these days. And few Hufflepuffs work hard for the sake of the toil; they work towards a goal; something important to them. Dare I say it, an ambition.
Oh. Okay. So where am I going?
Yes, where. Hufflepuff, where you would do well, but the House would be great. Or Slytherin, where the House would do well but would help you take the path to true greatness.
Harry held his breath. This was quite possibly the defining moment of his childhood. Well, except for the whole Turn-Into-A-Dragon episode. It would be pretty hard to top that one.
Harry sighed a bit wistfully at the thought of not being in the same house as Mr. Snape. Not Slytherin?
No, Mr. Potter. If placing you in Gryffindor would cause a decline in House population, placing you in Slytherin would almost undoubtedly result in almost complete genocide. Good luck to you in Hufflepuff, and don't forget to visit me again!
He took off the Hat, patted it down with a quick, "Thanks, Mr. Hat!" and trotted over to his new family, a table of Badgers.
The Welcoming Feast drew to a close as the enormous, calorie-dense banquet induced a welcome, school-wide lethargy. Snape placed drained his goblet and daubed his lips with his napkin. Placing the linen cloth next to his empty plate, he leaned towards his Hufflepuff colleague. "Pomona, the Headmaster's office is on my way to the dungeons. If you like, I can escort Mr. Potter there if you wish to accompany your students."
Sprout nodded. "Thank you Severus. I shall see you later this evening."
Snape rose and descended from the High Table. He passed by the Slytherin Table, ordering, "Prefects, escort our new brethren to the common room." He moved quickly to stand behind Harry at the Hufflepuff table, much to the discomfort of the nearby students. "Mr. Potter, the Headmaster would like to speak with you before you head home for the evening. Please follow me," the Potion Master said before striding off.
Harry nodded at his Almost-Head-of-House's back, turned back to his friends and waved good bye. "I'll see you tomorrow guys."
The other first year students gave him a chorus of farewells which varied in both intensity and sincerity. Harry dropped his napkin, rose to his feet and trotted off. Once level with Mr. Snape, he slowed to a fast walk. "Did Mr. Dumbledore tell you what he wanted to talk to me about?"
"The Headmaster does not confide in me the tedious details of running the school, though a bit of thought on your part could infer the most likely reason for this requested interview."
Harry considered this. "Okay then. Um, when do you teach us first years?"
"Your timetable for all classes will be issued at breakfast tomorrow, but traditionally I teach the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff first year students on a Thursday morning."
Harry nodded happily. He was very pleased to finally be a student here in the castle where he could talk to his professor friends more often. Of course, it meant that he wouldn't be able to gallop around with his centaur friends as much. He hoped that Firenze and the others would understand.
The pair continued walking down Hogwarts many corridors. After a few moments, Snape asked, "Out of morbid curiosity, how many students did your Centaur damsel's hooves injure on the Express?"
Eyes wide with awe, Harry said, "How did you know Suze kicked someone?"
Snape was disciplined enough to keep his expression neutral. Rather than cynically retort that, as Harry's surname was Potter, injuries were to be expected among innocent bystanders, he simply said, "I am a student of human nature."
"Um, okay," Harry replied, sounding dubious. He described the incident to the professor.
Snape sighed. "As you were not sorted at that point, I shall hold off on deducting points. In future, try using your usually considerable intellect to predict such events and take steps to mitigate them accordingly. I'm not so naïve as to believe that you will be able to keep completely out of trouble, but if you at least promise to do your best to avoid being discovered and keep the inevitable collateral damage to a minimum, I believe I shall survive."
"Okay, Mr. Snape!" he said, the blasted, weaponized level of cheer once more coming to the fore.
"One of your classmates or a prefect will be able to lead you to the Hufflepuff dormitory and show you how to access to the common room in the morning. My office is in the dungeons near the Potions Classroom, though I can be contacted through the fire in the common room in emergencies." They reached the stone guardian that acted as the Headmaster's doorkeeper. "Lemon Drops. Now, off you go you blasted reptile. Our Thursday night tutoring sessions shall continue, but in the Potions Classroom. Good night to you. Sleep well, you have a big day tomorrow."
"Good night, Mr. Snape. See you tomorrow."
Harry bounded into the Headmaster's office after Mr. Snape left to head down to the Slytherin dorm rooms. The large office was full of the most interesting things, little magical devices that emitted puffs of multi-coloured smoke at irregular intervals, pots of powders that could be used in the fireplace or to spice up a soup, books on all sorts of subjects, not to mention Fawkes.
Harry really liked Fawkes.
He and the phoenix had started playing chase over parts of the forest during the summer. More than once during their enjoyable escapades Harry just about tagged the phoenix when Fawkes would do something dastardly devious, like change direction. In straight lines, Harry could easily outrun or catch up to the firebird, but when it came to turning corners, even with his innate magical abilities, Fawkes had him bang to rights.
Some nights, Fawkes would visit Harry's lair and sing to him and Suze, and Harry would use his dragon breath to make a really hot flame for Fawkes to bathe in. Apparently normal fire wasn't hot enough; Fawkes always seemed chirpier after a dragon-flame dip.
"Ah, Mr. Potter, it is an absolute delight to finally welcome you to Hogwarts as a student," the Headmaster said, stepping into the office from one of the adjoining chambers. He'd divested himself of his official robes and was now wearing a much more lurid set.
"Hi, Mr. Dumbledore, and thanks! It was fun on the train; I sat with the witch I met in Diagon Alley and we read a lot of books, but Suze had to take the portkey back because we couldn't get her out of the compartment."
The Headmaster nodded sagely. "I suppose we should have anticipated that. Though it does beg a certain question on how you managed to get her in the compartment to begin with. An enigma I shall enjoy attempting to unravel at a later date. As it was, there was no harm done. Please, take a seat; there are a few things I need to discuss with you. Lemon drop?"
"No thank you. Hagrid has left a couple of Toyotas on the cliff above my lair and I don't want to ruin my appetite."
"Quite responsible," Mr. Dumbledore said, popping a lemon drop in his mouth. "Now, did you read the rule book I left for you?"
Harry nodded. "I did. Hermione and I laughed a bit about some of the sillier rules though. I hope you don't mind."
"Of course not. Some of the rules in there are indeed quite silly. I myself find some of the rules instigated during the twelfth century about the etiquette of bearing swords and wands concurrently quite amusing. One would need a minimum of three hands to obey them all."
Harry grinned. "Yeah, well, I've been thinking them. Remember how the goblins helped with Suze and me getting away that first time in Diagon Alley? All those laws with numbers after their names?"
"I have a passing familiarity with the legal code, Mr. Potter. It is my privilege to hold the office of Chief Warlock."
"Right! Anyway, the rule book sort of reminded me of them, so I wondered if I could get a copy of the rule books with the laws to read. I don't want to have to bother the goblins every time someone tries to be a poo head, so I figured that if I knew all the laws I could make sure I only did things that were allowed, even if everyone thinks that they're not allowed."
Dumbledore paused as he mentally waded through the stream of dialogue. "I see. Are you thinking of practising law when you graduate from Hogwarts? Do you wish to become a solicitor or a barrister? With your eidetic memory you would be a truly formidable opponent in a courtroom."
"Ugh, no way. They sound like really boring jobs. I just want to know."
Mr. Dumbledore sat back with a small smile on his face. "Well, more people with knowledge of our laws and the intricacies of our legal framework would certainly be welcome. I can certainly authorise the expenditure from your trust account to purchase a copy of the current codified laws on your behalf, though keeping up with the never-ending additions, modifications and, dare I say it, contradictions can be somewhat tiresome and expensive."
"Thanks, Mr. Dumbledore!"
"And that brings me to the first item I need to discuss with you. I understand that several members of the Hogwarts faculty are your friends, but during term, you should address all members of staff by title; Professor Snape, for instance. When in your lair and during the term breaks you may of course refer to us however you wish. Indeed, whilst there you may refer to me as 'Barmy old codger' should it tickle your fancy."
"Er, okay, Professor Dumbledore."
The Headmaster smiled. "Excellent. Now, there are a few things I wish to discuss with you regarding how you interact with your peers…"
Snape strode purposefully down the corridor leading to the Slytherin dormitory. His little prank on the Sorting Hat had worked better than anticipated. It was profoundly satisfying to fluster a thousand-year-old artefact.
Arriving at his destination, he whispered his override password and entered the Slytherin common room. Immediately, all conversation in the room ceased, every head turned to face him.
Snape took his time looking around the room at the faces of his charges. "I have some announcements to make. Prefects, summon our wayward serpents."
All six of the prefects nodded and bolted towards the various dormitories. Snape's eyes narrowed at the remaining student body. Once the prefects had assembled the entire Slytherin population, Snape crossed his arms threateningly and spoke softly, but clearly, with no room for misunderstanding.
"This year, things have changed."
The students knew better than to interrupt.
"Historically, punishments for rule infractions have only been dispensed when there is prevailing evidence to support such action. There have been instances in the past, several in fact, where rules have been broken, yet with limited or contradictory evidence, any punishments have been avoided.
"This state of affairs is no longer in effect."
Several hushed whispered conversations began within the group of students. Snape let them go on for a few seconds before he hushed them with a sharp gesture.
"The unofficial rule – no witnesses, no crime – should be considered obsolete. If an allegation is levelled at you, you shall be punished. If, on investigation, you are deemed innocent, your accuser shall be doubly punished. This is a warning that is being passed on to every single student in the school. There will be no bullying, no intimidation, and no extortion. There will be no accidental spell-fire in the hallways when no witnesses are present, there will be no sabotaging of equipment or schoolwork when no one is watching. The rules have not changed, but the level of evidence required to dispense punishment has. Neither I nor my colleagues will protect any student from the consequences of their actions.
"Are there any questions?"
A few hands rose. Snape mentally sighed and gestured to the hand closest to the front of the group. "Mr. Flint?"
"Does that include the Express, sir?"
Flint grinned. "I was attacked by a centaur on the train, sir. Whoever owns it is responsible–"
Snape kept his face deliberately blank as he interrupted the student. "Have you been practising Quidditch over the break, Mr. Flint?"
Flint blinked. "Er, yes sir."
"Did you sustain any injuries to your eardrums?"
"Sir?" Flint asked, confused.
"Is your hearing compromised?"
"Did your head by chance happen to be struck by a rogue bludger? Repeatedly?"
"Er, no sir."
"Curious. You appear to be rather more idiotic than I recall. Did you not hear me say that false accusers will be doubly punished? Detention, Mr. Flint. With me, tomorrow and next Friday with Hagrid."
"But I was kicked—," Flint objected.
"You stormed up behind a centaur while screaming threats to her master," Snape shouted, interrupting the boy. "Had that particular centaur been armed with her customary arsenal, either I would be spending my evening filling in the reams of tedious paperwork your gruesome death would require, or you would have been spending the first of a great many nights at the tender mercies of our resident Healer."
Snape turned his intimidating expression away from the suddenly-pale Flint and glared around the room, causing nearly every student to quail back. "How much clearer can I make myself? Every student in this school is being told the exact same thing. I suspect that it will take quite some time for the many, many dunderheads among you to come to grips with what is admittedly a simple concept, but the few of you blessed with the gift of critical thought should comprehend it quite easily."
One trembling hand rose amid the pressing silence.
"Yes, Mr. Smith?"
"Why, sir? I mean, why the change?"
Snape stared at the sixth year. "The reason matters not. I am not interested in your objections, only your compliance. Is that understood?"
A chorus of agreement rippled through the assembly.
"Good. Now, there is one final thing that needs to be drilled into your thick heads." Snape took a deep breath and sighed. "Potter is to be left alone."
That pronouncement sent the whispers into overdrive. Abigail Abercrombie raised her hand. "Professor?"
"Yes, Miss Abercrombie?"
"Do you mean Potter is to be… alienated?"
Snape took a sharp breath, ready to berate her, but stopped and thought about what he had just said. His temper was a little frayed; his control was beginning to slip. "No. No, by all means, associate with him, befriend him, do your homework with him, or ignore him as you will. In that respect he is to be treated as any other student of this school. But he is not to be targeted for any prank, bullying or scheme. Leave. Him. Alone," he ground out from between clenched teeth.
"Sir? You just said that any bullying will be punished."
Snape closed his eyes and wondered if he could get away with some targeted bullying of his own. "Do not assume that I am an imbecile. I am fully aware that even now, many of you are mentally replanning your schemes in the hope that they cannot be traced back to you. I shall expend no energy in an effort to dissuade you; the consequences shall be yours to bear alone. Once enough of the more cerebrally challenged of you are permanently dispatched home the rest of you should get the hint and fall into line. But beyond that, I am giving you one warning, and one warning only. Leave. Potter. Alone."
Glaring around the room, he noted that nearly all the terrified faces were nodding their acceptance. Whether or not they acted on that would remain to be seen.
"Very well. If there are no more ludicrous objections, that will be all. Prefects, drill the usual expectations into the new students. The rest of you, off to bed."
With that he turned and exited the common room amid billowing robes. He was almost to his quarters when a voice from behind him called out his name. He turned to see his sixth-year female prefect jogging to catch up, her face flushed red and her breathing mildly laboured.
"Yes, Miss Abercrombie?" Snape snapped scathingly.
The young prefect swallowed. "Sir, many of the students are talking, wondering why Potter is getting such favourable treatment. I'm afraid I overheard the first year Malfoy already planning a prank on him."
Snape closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Surely Lucius drilled at least a modicum of subtlety into his only son? As a Slytherin, being overheard planning rule-breaking was even more unforgivable than actually breaking the rules. "Very well, I shall take Mr. Malfoy aside and attempt to educate him by another means. Perhaps having him dodge conjured bludgers with the words 'Leave Potter Alone' for several hours will suffice. Is there anything else?"
"Yes sir," Abigail said. "Um, is Potter going to be a problem to the school?"
Snape's eyes flashed up and met Abigail's. For a long moment he regarded the young witch. "What makes you ask that?" he said in a monotone.
Abigail fought to keep herself from biting her lower lip. "Well, such a fundamental rule change would logically only happen after a major incident in the school; probably something happening to a student from a powerful family, or if someone was especially at risk. I cannot think of an incident last year that could force such a change. So logic dictates that the change must be due to a new student. Only one of the first years has a name of someone powerful in the Ministry or Wizengamot – Bones." She paused and added, "I suppose at a stretch, Malfoy, as his father is a Governor."
Snape nodded. "Continue," he drawled, finding himself quite pleased at the logic employed.
"Neither of those students are in any particular danger; certainly not enough to effect such a massive culture change. But ignoring politically-powerful names, there is one other first year whose name could carry enough cultural weight – Potter." She paused, waiting.
"Continue," Snape urged, wondering how much she would deduce.
"Er, well, I only really worked it out after you told us about the changes. You said that there would be zero tolerance to any intimidation, even assigning Flint a couple of detentions for claiming he was attacked on the train. But even after that, you singled Potter out and warned us away. If Potter was such a precious snowflake and needed that level of protection, that would be one thing, but I met him on the train. He seemed unconcerned by the stares he got at dinner and he stared me down on the Express after Flint got kicked. I was going to lecture him on respect, but I, I couldn't meet his eyes."
She nodded. "He… there's something about him. Something... powerful? And I think you know what it is too, and that's the reason for your warning."
Snape leaned back, his face expressionless for a long moment. Finally, a large smile appeared on his thin lips. "Miss Abercrombie, I am delighted that someone in Slytherin with the ability to use their brain is actually doing so. In the few hours since you have been back at Hogwarts, you have shown that my decision to make you a prefect was correct. Take twenty points. Continue as you have been, and there is no doubt in my mind that you will be Head Girl next year."
Abigail brightened inwardly at that, but like any good Slytherin, she showed nothing of her delight in her expression. "Thank you, sir."
Snape nodded. "Good. Keep an eye on things. I won't ask you to snitch, but if Potter ever looks to be losing his temper, get a staff member, any staff member. The portraits will help."
"Yes, sir. Um, if he's so dangerous, should he be here at all?"
Snape gave her a smile of pure satisfaction. "Oh, yes. That is unquestionable. Tell me Miss Abercrombie, have you ever heard of the supposed oriental curse, 'May you live in interesting times'? With Potter here at Hogwarts, our lives are going to be very, very interesting indeed."
Uncertain how to respond, Abigail nodded. "As you say, sir. Good night, sir."
Snape nodded. "Good night, Miss Abercrombie." He turned to continue back to his quarters, but said over his shoulder, "It is a pity you did not follow your train of thought through to the final station."
Abigail fought down a flush as the Head of Slytherin strode away in a cloud of billowing robes. What had he meant?
She strolled back to the dormitories, pondering his parting words. What conclusion could she draw? She was certain that the change of rules had occurred due to Potter's arrival; Snape had all but confirmed it. What else was there?
She absentmindedly answered some questions from the new students, shooed them off to bed, and settled into her own private room.
What had Snape meant?
What was the rule change meant to accomplish? Originally, she had assumed that a particular student had required extraordinary protection. As Potter was the student whose presence had forced the change, that assumption was incorrect. Clearly Potter needed no protection. She had almost quailed under the emerald gaze of an eleven-year-old, and the boy had just been mildly put out by her.
If the rule was not in place to protect Potter, what was it for?
The epiphany struck.
It was not meant to protect Potter; it was meant to protect the students from Potter.
Abigail swallowed as the realisation set in. The professors had instituted an incredible change – of rule, tradition and culture – to protect the student body from one, single, first-year student.
Just how powerful was Potter?
Abigail licked her lips. Add a few years, several inches and a number of pounds to Potter's frame... She found the image of such a dangerous individual intoxicating.