McGonagall sat in her office, staring across at an alcove in the wall.
This alcove was present in the office of every Head of House, and would hold the Quidditch and House Cups that were given out at the end of every year. As she gazed upon the items she so often encouraged her charges to pursue, she thought over the state of Hogwarts.
The school had become quietly mutinous. Students glared at the staff with irritation and suspicion. Points were taken, but no one cared after Neville had pointed out how useless the system was during his dinnertime accusation. Detentions were issued, but a few brave souls refused to attend if it was given for petty reasons.
She had spoken with Filius and Pomona. Both had reported a sharp increase in students appealing disciplinary actions to them. Snape had become intolerable as dozens of his detentions were overturned.
Rather tellingly, however, very few Gryffindors were appealing to McGonagall. Instead, they moved through the hallways in groups, rallied around each other, and generally made it very hard for the teachers to discipline them.
But she received no notifications from them, no protests, no complaints.
The only conclusion she could come to, however painful, was that her students did not trust her to be on their side. Her aid to Mister Potter in the Headmaster's office had softened the glares she received, but receive them she did, nonetheless. Her own house had turned away from her.
She sighed, leaning back in her chair. She had certainly failed that young man. The Dursleys, the bullying, and good gods, in three years and some scant months the poor boy had faced things that even she would balk at. And she had been of precisely no help.
The thought enkindled a spark of proper Scottish defiance within her. Now that she had stopped deluding herself, she had to act. So how could she begin to fix this?
Glancing to her bookshelf, she found her gaze slowly drawn away from the numerous advanced Tranfiguration texts and instead to a worn copy of the Hogwarts Charter and By-Laws.
Deftly flicking her wand, the book soared to her desk, where she immediately opened it and began to read.
Ron Weasley was having a ruddy awful day.
First, all his recent essays came back with Ds and Ps, since Hermione wouldn't do- er, check his homework for him.
Second, Harry still wouldn't talk with him, and Ron was worried he'd actually meant what he said after the first task.
Third, his brothers had pranked his shoes so every time he took a step they would squeak the word 'prat,' 'git', 'tosser', or his least favorite, 'Mo-Ron'.
And finally, he couldn't stop thinking about everything Harry had said in front of everyone in the Great Hall.
Now Ron was many things, including thick, foolish, loud, rude and having the emotional capacity of a teaspoon, but one thing he did know a bit about due to his upbringing was magical oaths, since his dad worked in the Ministry. And he knew that everything Harry had said was true, indisputably so… if he knew what 'indisputably' meant.
He also had enough strategic sense to know that he had bollocked up big-time.
As much as it hurt his pride to admit, Harry had been right. He'd refused to apologize because he hadn't wanted to admit he was wrong about Harry entering the tournament, that he had abandoned his best mate out of petty jealousy when he should have known someone was taking another crack at getting Harry killed, again.
And now he was gonna leave. Ron's friend, his only real friend, was going to leave Hogwarts because of everything that kept happening… and Ron found the idea of Harry leaving hurt more than expected.
Maybe he could apologize? It'd be embarrassing, yeah, but he might get his friend back… but would he keep him?
He paused and thought over the last few years. Frankly, sticking around Harry hadn't been all that good for his health… he'd broken his leg last year, nearly got obliviated and eaten by giant spiders the year before, and gotten whacked on the head by giant chess pieces before that… after dealing with a ruddy big three-headed dog!
And Harry didn't want to play Wizard's Chess or Exploding Snap much anymore, and there was no Quidditch to talk about this year…
Ron's jaw worked as he pondered over it, but it was hard to see the good sides of being Harry's best mate. He was an alright bloke, sure, but Ron didn't get much out of the deal…
Still, he did miss him… maybe they could be friends, but not proper mates?
Ron groaned and shook his head, unused to trying to figure this sort of stuff out like some girl going mental over what one person or the other said! Besides, it was nearly lunchtime. Maybe he could rope Dean and Seamus in for some Exploding Snap later…
Flitwick strolled into the Deputy Headmistress' office, mind abuzz. The last few days had been quite exciting for a number of reasons, but worrying as well.
The debacle of Harry Potter's rant to the dragon had been ill-recieved by the more perceptive staff members who had dealt with tearful, stressed teens. It had been obvious this was something that had been building for years… and frankly, Flitwick was amazed it hadn't happened sooner.
Couple that with his oath, and Longbottom's confrontation in the Great Hall, and now you had a school that was rapidly becoming a powder keg as the students lost faith in their headmaster and his deputy… certainly, it had made him reconsider his own priorities. He'd heard hints of some hazing from his Ravenclaws when it came to younger members, but with all that had happened he resolved to examine them more closely.
After all, life couldn't be all dancing pineapples and colorful sparks.
He was dragged from his thoughts by the sight of Pomona Sprout already sitting in the room. "Pomona? She called you as well?"
The normally cheerful woman was looking surprisingly tired, her happy demeanor nowhere to be seen. "Ah, hello Filius. Yes, she has, and I truly hope it's to discuss these past few days…" she sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "My Puffs have been in an uproar. First, our Cedric gets into the tournament but is upstaged by young Mister Potter. Then, dozens of my students see the same Mister Potter nearly commit suicide by dragon. And then that oath in the Great Hall…" she shakes her head. "How did we not notice, Filius? My house has its fair share of downtrodden and unfortunate souls that crave affection, and I've had to call Magical Law Enforcement far more than I'd care to, reporting signs of abuse. How did I never notice Harry?"
Filius watched the woman and fought back the urge to sigh. Pomona had an enormous heart open to all… frankly, he was certain she could have given Lady Hufflepuff herself a run for her money when it came to compassion. But all the same, she often took blame she hadn't earned.
"None of that, Pomona." He said firmly, conjuring a handkerchief and passing it to the teary-eyed woman. "We could have been more vigilant, yes, and I certainly intend to increase my efforts when it comes to my own house, but we were not responsible for him. That is the fault of his guardians, Albus Dumbledore-"
"And myself." The two Heads of House turned to see Minerva McGonagall stride in, stony-faced. "I have failed that young man more than I can say. I have failed my House more than I thought possible! And I have failed this school, to my shame, for far longer than I can believe!" she intoned gravely as she sat at her desk. "And the time has come to move forward, and if Albus doesn't like it he can go suck a lemon drop!"
Both the Heads of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff watched in surprise and mild worry as their longtime friend worked herself up into a towering, indignant rage. "What, precisely, did you have in mind?" Pomona asked warily.
In answer, the formidable elder witch tossed a small book onto the table, dust flying off it as it landed. "How long has it been since either of you read the Hogwarts bylaws?"
Filius picked up the book and leafed through it with interest. "Oh, years now. At least a decade, and I admit I merely skimmed it at the time."
"The same. To be honest, taking care of my Puffs held priority over some silly rules…"
"Magically enforced silly rules." McGonagall corrected. "We've always believed that the Headmaster has the ultimate last say in everything, but that is not true. If four of the six heads of the school push for something, they can overrule the Headmaster when it comes to discipline or safety of students or staff."
"Interesting… but unless I miss my count, Minerva, are there not only five of us senior staff? You, myself, Albus, Pomona and Snape." Flitwick said with distaste, recalling the man's unpleasant actions over the last few days.
Pomona caught on quickly. "But Minerva is both Deputy Headmistress and Head of Gryffindor!"
"Precisely." Minerva said with satisfaction. "We have an opportunity to change this school for the better, here and now."
"And what of Albus? Can he not undo whatever we decree later?"
"Indeed, but he would need staff support to do so. There is another option, however; to appeal to Hogwarts itself."
All three professors shivered. Hogwarts was their home, and having all lived within the castle for over twenty years at the least, they were well aware that, to an extent, Hogwarts was alive, sentient, and loved its children… and would defend them if asked.
The trouble was that, at the end of the day, Hogwarts was not human, and did not have a human viewpoint. If called to render judgment it would do so… and show little mercy or compassion for those who were not students.
Each of the professors privately suspected as well, that if Hogwarts was called upon it would not hesitate to also judge for the last few years where the staff's security had been… less than stellar.
"In any case, I have some ideas, but I wished to talk to you two first. Albus has given too many chances to the undeserving, and now the students do not trust him, nor myself." McGonagall looked pained to admit that, but carried on. "So let us discuss ideas…"
The students would wonder where three Heads of House had wandered off to between classes all day, until dinner that night.
Harry was somewhat pissed off. This had not changed since he came out of Dumbledore's office about two hours ago and explained the situation to his friends. A combination of classes and sympathetic ears had made it better, and he had decided that the lunch break was the perfect time to go and introduce his friends to the Horntail.
Which led to now, with them right outside the encampment and dealing with a bored-looking wizard in glasses.
"I want to see the Horntail." Harry restated for what had to be the fourth time.
"And I've already told you kid, no. The dragon handlers are busy getting it and the others ready for the flight back-"
"She." Harry corrected with a scowl. "Not 'it'. She."
The man rolled his eyes. "It's a dumb beast. Who cares?"
"I care! And that 'dumb beast' is a hell of a lot smarter than some idiot bureaucrat with a clipboard!" Harry seethed.
Said 'idiot bureaucrat' glared. "Watch it kid, just because you're in the Tournament doesn't mean I have to take this-"
"Oh Merlin, shut UP!"
The assembled teens and the clipboard-wielder turned to see a scarred, muscular woman stomping towards them. "You're pissing off my dragons. Leave."
The bureaucrat smiled triumphantly. "Hear that? Get lost, brat."
"Not them. You." The woman said curtly. "You've been a proper pain in the ass all day and the girls are getting eager to chomp on you for your whiny voice."
Fred and George started laughing as the man reddened. "I am a member of the Ministry of-"
The woman's hand darted forward and dragged him close, cutting his words off with a squeak of fear. "I. Don't. Give. A. Shit. And unless you'd like to find out what being dragon shit is like, I would take your own advice and get lost, because if I hear you harassing one more of my staff, my dragons, or anyone poking around, I will lock you in a feeding pen."
The petty clerk paled and nodded his understanding, fleeing as fast as he could the moment the woman let go.
Fred and George fell to their knees. "Teach us, O bossy one!"
"Teach us the way to properly smite uptight prats!"
Hermione huffed "Honestly…" as Ginny just sighed at her brothers' antics.
The woman glanced at the pair. "You're Charlie's reprobate brothers, hm?"
"Reprobates! She called us reprobates, Gred!"
"She did, Forge! Why, I could just swoon!"
"Me too, brother!"
The pair immediately did so, drawing snickers from some of the other handlers and students watching the scene and a tiny amused snort from the woman. "Cute. Come on then, she's been waiting."
Harry blinked at that. "She has?"
"Kid, when you work with dragons as long as I have then you learn what they want pretty damn quick. Else you end up with less bits than you started. And more burns."
Hermione cocked her head in confusion as they were led through the handler's camp, currently being broken down. "But you don't look that old, Miss."
"I'm no 'miss' girl, call me Wynn. And I've been working with dragons longer than anyone in this camp; two full decades."
"...that's all?" Hermione asked, confused.
Wynn glanced at her incredulously, then seemed to have an epiphany. "Ah, muggleborn, right? You probably haven't heard much about dragon handlers then. Namely, only a few of us live past sixty when most wizards live to be over a hundred."
Every teen's eyes widened at that, save for Ginny, Fred and George who chuckled at the look on their faces. "What, you think dragon handling was safe?"
"Dragon handlers are mental to the last."
Ginny nodded. "Mum had a proper row with Charlie when she found out he wanted to join them."
To Harry, Hermione, Ginny and Neville's surprise, Wynn nodded. "Yeah, sounds about right. We're understaffed, overworked, and constantly in danger. Pay is good, but good luck getting time to spend it."
"Then why bother?" Neville asked, unable to comprehend doing a job like that willingly.
Wynn pointed across the clearing of the camp to where the handlers were slowly coaxing the Welsh Green into its transport cage. "Look at that dragon and tell me what you see."
The teenagers regarded it duly, especially when it let out a gout of flame and flicked a handler with a claw, sending him flying back a few feet.
"A really deadly predator." Hermione whispered carefully.
"A bloody big lizard." George said.
"With a furnace for a belly." Fred added.
"Something I should NOT tickle." Ginny said weakly, trying to joke.
Neville didn't even speak, watching the creature with trepidation.
Harry however looked closer, remembering his encounter in the arena. The way the dragon moved, the way its scales shone and its eyes held a primal awareness…
"...they're magic." he said finally. "I mean, obviously they're magical, but they ARE magic too."
The others looked at him oddly. "What do you mean, Harry?" Ginny asked.
Harry hesitated. "...well… you've seen chickens and ferrets and other animals, yeah? Lions and bears and deadly non-magical beasts too." He gestured vaguely at the Welsh Green as it sullenly entered its cage. "But have you ever seen anything, other than maybe Hogwarts itself, that you could just look at and think 'this, this is real magic'?"
The others looked back at the dragons and seemed to take them in more carefully, while Wynn nodded in approval. "Got it in one, kid. Don't suppose you'd be looking for a job after Hogwarts?"
Harry blinked at the offer. "Er… I don't even know if I'm going to live through this tournament, to be honest."
The woman scoffed and clapped him on the back, nearly sending him tumbling into the dirt. "Please. If you can sweet-talk Spike you can handle a little school competition. Speaking of which…"
Neville gaped. "You named a nesting mother dragon Spike?"
"If it fits." Wynn shrugged. "In any case, here we are."
She pointed to a large pen where the dragon in question was curled up around her nest. "We leave her for last since she's the most ornery about getting put in a cage… and the most deadly. Right bitch, she is." she said matter-of-factly. "In any case, figure you can keep her from eating you all?"
Harry nodded, even as his companions looked less than eager to get closer. Wynn shrugged. "Good enough. See if you can calm her down some too, packing up's a pain without hauling her ass into gear."
She walked off, to Hermione's shock. "Wait, she's going to leave us with no supervision?"
George snorted. "What good would it do if she stuck around? Everyone's too busy packing up to prevent a bunch of wee lickle students from being crisped."
Fred nodded in agreement, but before he could expand upon his twin's words there was a heavy THUD as the lady of the hour appeared.
Now that Harry wasn't looking at her with dread and fear, he could take a moment to truly appreciate the Horntail's beauty. However, his friends were less sanguine, as Ginny, Neville and Hermione all went pale and Fred and George just gaped, speechless for once in their rambunctious lives.
The dragon's yellow eyes passed over the group, taking in each of them, and Harry suspected she was also looking at more than just their surface… but after a moment, she snorted a few wisps of flame.
Harry, remembering the end of the task, waited until the enormous mother looked upon him before bowing respectfully low. After a moment, the dragon inclined its head, and Harry hissed to it;
"Good evening, miss. I wanted to visit one last time before you left."
The matron lowered onto its forward haunches. "Greetings, hatchling. Your wings are not so heavy this evening."Harry blushed a little at that. "Er, yeah. I took your advice and stood my ground that evening.""So soon? Well done, hatchling. Did your enemies burn?"
Harry's eyes widened and he shook his head. "N-no, no… they are not all my enemies."
"Then what purpose did you fulfill?"
Harry thought on that a moment, trying to translate to dragon-speak. "The ones who dismissed me and called me false, they are now shamed. My... 'roar' was heard and some come to my aid now." he gestured to his friends. "These ones however, they stood by me from the start, though I was too busy being a broody git to realize it at the time."
The mother known as 'Spike' craned its neck to survey the group behind Harry. They all flinched, but they were proper Gryffindors, and soon found their spines and gazed back.
"Hmm. A odd brood, hatchling. That one there, he smells of prey." Spike intoned, flicking her neck towards Neville, who blanched but stood his ground.
"Neville? He's… well, timid. I can see why you'd think that. But when my enemies tried to ambush me after I roared my defiance, he stood beside me and protected me when I was nearly injured by then. Then, afterwards, he roared even louder than I to everyone about it, and got almost everyone to rise against my enemies when the elders would do nothing."
The dragon looked back to Neville, eyes glowing as it looked deep into Neville's own. The pudgy boy found himself feeling oddly relaxed… which was crazy, considering there was over ten tons of hot death staring him down.
"A protector of the herd then." She sniffed the air and rumbled. "He smells of trees and soil."
Harry laughed, and the sound calmed the others. "He loves to work with both. If he's not with his… 'herd' he's tending to any plant he can find."
Spike snorted once in affirmation. "...And those two? The ones that are the same?" she rumbled at the twins.
"They…" Harry paused, trying to think of how to describe them. "...they are troublemakers, scoundrels, and bringers of mayhem for the amusement of all."
Spike eyeballed Harry before rumbling again, and Harry knew she was chuckling. "The small female behind them, their broodmate?"
"Yes, and vicious in her own right." Harry stated firmly, remembering how quick Ginny was on the draw, particularly with her infamous Bat-Bogey hex.
Spike turned to look at Hermione last and seemed confused. "...why does she look at me so?"
Harry glanced at Hermione and snorted as she was clearly biting back the urge to ask a dozen questions. "She seeks knowledge and wishes to ask many questions."
"Hmph. Pointless. She would be better served finding the answers herself than asking. A foolish hatchling."
Harry glared at that. "She is the one who has helped me above all others, no matter the cost to her and against my own stupidity. Do not DARE disrespect her!"
The Gryffindors looked anxiously at Harry as he growled something at the dragon and the enormous creature glared at him. A moment later, however, she reluctantly nodded once. "...Very well. I will answer one question from each, if they like, if you will speak to my servant about placing my eggs with me as we travel."
Harry nodded quickly before turning back. "Okay guys, she says you can each ask her one question and I can translate for you."
All the Gryffindors perked up at that, and Hermione leapt forward first… only to be stymied by the limit. "But Harry…"
"Hermione, she's impatient and antsy about the journey. Don't push."
Hermione huffed, but after a moment asked; "W-well, since you're clearly intelligent… why do you allow wizards to treat you like this? Why not attempt to form your own society?"
Harry turned back and relayed the question… and then growled at the dragons answer. There was a quick and grumpy exchange before Harry winced and nodded. "Er… she…" he sighed. "She says you're a foolish hatchling for asking."
"WHAT!?" Hermione shouted indignantly, but a low rumble from Spike had her quickly shrink back.
"Um… and these are her words, not mine… she says that 'We are dragons, foolish hatchling. What care we for society? We are each a nation unto ourselves. We allow humans to treat us so because they offer tribute in exchange.'" Harry shrugged. "I think she means food and care."
"One question, Hermione."
Hermione sighed, but nodded, looking a bit disgruntled.
The others stepped up to ask their own questions. The twins asked about dragon pranks and all were surprised that dragons actually pranked each other and their hatchlings on occasion, as a way to show displeasure or teach a lesson. Of course, being dragons, the nature of the pranks were often more violent and ruthless than either twin was comfortable with…
Ginny asked her how to be a good mother to her… ah, 'future hatchlings.' Spike actually gave an approving nod at that. "Watch this one carefully, young Harry, she knows the important things in life. Tell her, a good mother is one that gives their hatchlings all that they need; but teaches them to EARN what they want."
Harry relayed this dutifully, and Ginny blushed at the mother's praise and frowned at her advice, thinking deeply.
Neville was last, coming forth with a worried face but firm spine. "Mother Dragon… how can I become strong to protect my… herd?"
When Harry relayed the question, Spike gave him a deadpan look before shaking her head. Neville glanced at harry worriedly. "What? Is it impossible?"
"No Neville! Not at all! She… er…" Harry wrestled with his words a moment. "...she says that you're a silly hatchling to even ask."
"Why?" Neville asked, almost hurt by the words.
"Because she says you are already strong." Harry said with a small smile, enjoying the gobsmacked look on the boy's round face. Turning back to the mother, he bowed low. "Thank you for your advice and guidance, Mother Spike."
"Is that what they call me? I like it." the lady in question preened. "Go then, hatchlings. And you, speaker, must come and visit in the future. There is much you could teach my hatchlings."
Harry blushed but quickly nodded his agreement. "One last thing; my friend, Hagrid, the half-giant who aided your servants, hatched an egg some years ago and sent the hatchling to your lands where it could grow. Do you know of them?"
"Ah yes… I know her well. She is looking for a mate, in fact. She is… rather strange though."
"How so?" Harry asked, curious about the fate of 'Norbert', or, apparently, 'Norberta'.
The dragon responded. Ginny, the Twins, Hermione and Neville were all shocked to see Harry firmly clamping down on his jaw with a neutral expression. He bowed to the mother again, who nodded her head in return, and went to speak with Wynn.
A few minutes later, the dragons were moving back to the reserve, and it was only after they were out of sight that Ginny turned to Harry. "Are you alright, Harry? You-"
She was interrupted as Harry took a deep breath and began laughing, uproariously, falling to the ground in a fit of hilarity.
Fred and George looked down at him. "Would you mind,"
"Letting us in on the joke, Harrikins?"
Harry snickered and managed to contain himself. "S-so, remember that dragon we smuggled out in First Year?"
"Yeah, Charlie told us all about it." Ginny replied, while Hermione whispered a shortened version to Neville.
"S-so first off, 'Norbert' is a she." he giggled, drawing smiles from the Weasleys and an exasperated sigh from Hermione. "But apparently, Norberta is considered pretty odd by the other dragons."
"Why, Harry? Is she hurt? Unhealthy?"
"No, no! See, she apparently is curious about humans. To the point where she will, on occasion, fly over to dragon handlers and just… watch them. For hours at a time."
The bewildered faces of his friends made Harry snort in mirth. "And she has been known to prod and poke things that are left around the reserve and has apparently built up a hoard of discarded bottles, used portkeys, and whatever else she can get her hands on."
The Weasleys were giggling now, and Hermione was flabbergasted. Neville had to ask; "Why?"
Harry beamed. "Apparently, she insists that wizards are 'poor, misunderstood creatures' that 'wouldn't hurt a fly' and 'aren't a danger to anyone,' and wants to understand them! Sound familiar?"
Jaws dropped. "You must be joking." Hermione said flatly.
"Harrikins, are you saying," Fred began.
"That there is, in fact, a large, kleptomaniac, female dragon," George continued with an awe-filled tone.
"That thinks the same of humans as Hagrid does of magical creatures!?" Ginny finished in a show of Weasley unity.
"YES!" Harry crowed with laughter. "But that isn't the best part!"
"What could possibly top that?" Hermione asked incredulously, starting to grin despite herself.
"She still cuddles with the same teddy bear Hagrid gave to her three years ago!" Harry finished, grinning ear to ear.
The Gryffindors looked at each other briefly, before falling over themselves, laughing until they struggled to breathe.
Up in the Headmaster's tower, a much less joyful meeting was taking place.
"Minerva, please, this is completely unreasonable." Dumbledore said for what felt like the third time during the conversation, looking at the list of items he had been handed at the beginning of the meeting.
To his dismay, neither her nor the two house heads flanking her budged an inch. "We've neglected our charges too long, Albus. And if you refuse to properly put plans into effect, we will! Or did you forget Mister Potter saying he would leave if things did not change?"
"Harry-" Dumbledore started before wincing, remembering a cold, angry face telling him to never use that name. "Mister Potter is an overstressed young man that is simply having a hard time coping with the Tournament."
"And that is hardly his fault! No, Albus, these changes WILL take effect. In fact, many already have." Flitwick piped up, looking firmly at the headmaster. "I have already set some of the charms in place in the common rooms."
"I'll grant you, the automatic headcount at the start of curfew is an excellent notion, but this other matter is positively draconian! The Board will never allow it!"
"Interestingly, Albus, the Board of Governors has far less influence than they realize." Pomona Sprout said with a smile. "While they can select and fire the headmaster and other staff if there is sufficient reason, as well as provide extra funding for classes and programs, and occasionally ban or restrict materials and classes if there is reason, there is little they can do in the running of the school. The Heads, Deputy and Headmaster have the most say."
"But this…" Dumbledore started, waving away Sprout's words, making her frown. "This could see promising futures ruined because of a few words said in anger!"
"Hardly so, Albus. The policy clearly says that it will be enacted only happen if spells are fired or physical harm is inflicted upon a student, or in the case of confirmed bullying or abuse."
"As if the brats need any more coddling." Snape grumbled from his chair, set well away from the other heads of house.
"And that brings us to another item on the list." Minerva said, turning to the dour man. "Severus Snape, as of now, you are under probation as a Professor and as Head of House for Slytherin!"
"WHAT!?" the man thundered rising to his feet in fury.
"I took a look at the points register today." Filius Flitwick said, scowling. "And found a rather… interesting trend. Did you know that it records not just the points received and taken, but the reasons for doing so?"
Snape paled slightly as Flitwick flourished a scroll and unfurled it, letting it bounce of the floor. "For points taken; ten for breathing too loudly, five for being an insufferable know-it-all, fifteen for failing to answer questions asked to the class at large, five for poorly chopping ingredients, twenty for being a clumsy oaf, twenty for being an utter dunderhead, twenty-five for not reading an unassigned chapter, fifteen for not perfectly reciting a specific sentence from an assigned chapter, twenty for not cleaning their cauldron in under three minutes…"
The list continued until Dumbledore waved his hands. "Filius, I believe I get it."
"Ah, but we haven't covered the points given. Ten for sharpening a knife, thirty for 'proper mixing posture', ten for 'looking keen', five for dodging an exploding cauldron of another classmate…"
Dumbledore sighed. "Filius you cannot simply cherry-pick individual events…"
"Actually, Headmaster…" Filius smirked, showing the Headmaster the dates at the top of the list. "This was last week."
As Dumbledore sat there with a dumbstruck look, the Charms Master continued. "Funny though... looking at the totals, it seems that Slytherin is often the sole recipient of points during the Professor's classes, to the point where they can gain over fifty in a class period. Over the last ten years, Raven claw has earned only 132 points, Hufflepuff 65, and Gryffindor… five. For 'drawing attention to a dangerous nincompoop.' As for points taken, Slytherin has only had 45 points taken in ten years, followed by 208 in Ravenclaw, 567 in Hufflepuff, and one thousand, seven hundred and ninety-two for Gryffindor!"
Flitwick glanced at a fuming Snape. "Anything you'd like to add, Professor?"
"Every single one of those points was fairly given and taken!" the man bellowed furiously.
Filius snorted in derision and took out another list, just as long as the first. "And on this roll of parchment you will find the detention log and the reasons for them… it makes for entertaining reading, if you can look past the blatant favoritism. And this last one is the kicker." Filius said with a scowl as he slammed a final scroll on the desk, much shorter this time.
"What is this?" Albus asked, almost fearfully as he unrolled the scroll. As he read, however, his eyes widened in shock, then narrowed in anger.
"That, as you have read, is an analysis of NEWT graduates in the last fifty years." McGonagall said with a steely voice. "Please note 1981 in particular, when Severus took over for Slughorn."
Dumbledore wanted, desperately, to see anything but the stark evidence in front of his own eyes. In the years before Slughorn had left, the NEWT graduation rate had been around eighty percent. In 1981, however, that dropped to sixty. Then fifty the next year. The rate continued to drop over the next seven years, where it now hovered at a measly thirty percent! And apparently, the amount of students enrolling in NEWT potions in the first place had dropped to three quarters of its original number! And since he knew the Ministry had not changed the exams in that time, that meant the only explanation was the teacher.
"I cannot be blamed if the stupid brats cannot handle simple instruction-" Snape started, before gasping in pain as a fist collided with his nose, knocking back into his chair and flipping it onto its back!
The staff all turned to gape at the normally-placid Pomona Sprout, glaring at Snape in fury as he clutched his broken nose. "Every year, Severus Snape! Every year my new puffs, and even some of the older ones come back to the common room crying because of how you treat them in class! Every year I have to console them while knowing you will continue to speak to them horribly for the next seven years of their life! Well, NO MORE!" Sprout hissed, reminding everyone of how dangerous an angry badger is.
Albus Dumbledore was a very old, intelligent man who had been dealing with children for decades. His patience was legendary. But even the most legendary of virtues can strain with such blatant cause.
"Severus." Albus said, not looking up from the list, barely even. "You are hereby placed on probation for no less than three years."
Snape glared at McGonagall. "Headmaster, do not give in to these pointless complaints-"
The word thundered around the office, magic vibrating to the point where all sounds in the room actually dampened for a moment. All four Heads of House looked at Dumbledore in surprise.
"...I trusted you, Severus. When no other would, I trusted you to see to your students. I gave you leeway due to your past, and to atone for my failings when you were attending school. But this… you have ruined countless careers, over some petty childhood grudge?"
"Headmaster, I only accept the best into my NEWT courses, you know that!" Snape blustered.
"And interestingly, sixty-five percent of all such applicants are Slytherin." Flitwick said. "Twenty-five percent are my Claws, while the remaining ten are Hufflepuffs. Perhaps one Gryffindor applicant gets in each year, and they always seem to drop out, giving the reason of teacher bias."
Snape opened his mouth but was quickly cut off by Dumbledore. "The probation stands. Severus Snape will no longer have the ability to give or take points, and all detentions issued will need to be verified by the Heads of the student's respective house. Furthermore!" Dumbledore said pointedly, glaring at Snape as he tried to protest. "Future classes will be randomly audited to ensure proper teaching and safety practices are in effect. In the event they are not, Severus Snape's employment at Hogwarts will be terminated at the end of the relevant school semester."
Dumbledore tiredly placed the scroll down. "Severus, you are dismissed."
Snape's jaw opened and closed for a few moments before he silently left, past the other three Heads of House.
McGonagall looked at Dumbledore. "I warned you, Albus."
"I know, Minerva. It makes it no easier to swallow." he sighed. "I have much to think on."
"And the other policies?" Pomona pressed patiently.
"Are enacted, with my approval. Shall I make the announcements or would you like to, Minerva?"
"I think, with such significant changes, you would be best, Albus." she replied quietly.
Dumbledore nodded. "Very well. Thank you all for bringing this to my attention. Both these policies, and my mistakes." He shifted in his chair. "Now, if you would please see yourselves out, I have much to think over."
After classes, the Gryffindors spent most of the day discussing what the dragon had told them. Hermione in particular was quite miffed, but Neville pointed out that dragons don't read books, so it probably wouldn't see the point. That mollified her slightly, but not much.
They had visited Hagrid as well, and he had been overjoyed to hear news of Norberta, to the point where he had actually started packing to go visit before remembering it was the middle of the school year, much to the twins' amusement. Harry had left with a promise that he'd write the reserve and ask them if they'd let Hagrid visit.
Harry was a bit nervous about going to the Great Hall for dinner, having blown up at Dumbledore earlier and eaten lunch with the dragon handlers instead (with some house-elf aid). Still, it was futile at this point anyway and as much as he appreciated Dobby, constantly eating in the kitchens was likely to be frowned on.
As he walked into the hall to a few dozen stares, he realized that, now that classes were over for the day, a great number of students would likely be trying to apologize or talk to him.
Indeed, speak of the devil, a few Hufflepuffs led by Susan Bones were walking to the table. To his surprise, and relief, Hermione and Neville blocked their way.
Susan's eyebrows rose in shock, but she stopped in front of them. "Can we talk to Harry?"
Hermione's eyes narrowed. "That depends. What about?"
"Come off it, Granger." Ernie MacMillan huffed from the back. "You know why we're here."
Neville glared at the young man with such ferocity that all the badgers took a step back. "No, we don't. Because you've all had some very choice words for Harry over the last few weeks."
The Hufflepuff's looked quite ashamed at that, though Susan looked Neville in the eyes. "We want to apologize."
"Let them through guys." Harry sighed, just wanting to eat dinner.
Hermione and Neville slowly sat back down, still glaring. Susan coughed awkwardly and stepped towards Harry, who only glanced up from his food.
"Harry?" Susan said.
"Yeah?" Harry replied neutrally.
"We're sorry we said all those things… t-that we called you a cheat."
"Mm." Harry said, just looking at Susan.
Losing her nerve a little, Susann stammered out. "C-can you f-forgive us, Harry?"
Harry sighed and opened his mouth, about to say 'sure, Susan' and just let it go…
But then he glanced over to where Ron sat.
Then to where Dumbledore was sitting, looking quite melancholy as he picked at his food.
Then to the Slytherins, where so many of the students were still wearing those damn 'Potter Stinks' badges.
Hermione turned to look at him in surprise, as did Neville, clearly having both expected a different answer.
"No. I can't forgive you. Not yet, at least." Harry said, his mind working.
Justin Finch-Fletchley piped up from the back. "But you've got to!"
"Why? Other than Cedric, I can't think of a single one of you that really tried to make things up to me."
"But we're apologizing!" Hannah Abbot spoke up next to Susan.
"So?" Harry shrugged. "I already forgave you all once, and you just turned on me despite me assuring you otherwise. My word should have been enough!"
"What are you talking about!?" Justin shouted angrily.
Harry rose from the table with an angry growl. "Lockhart's duelling club, second year, when I saved your judgemental arse from a pissed-off venomous snake, JUSTIN!"
The boy in question paled and rocked back on his heels as Harry glared at the badgers. "I was saving your housemate, and the first thing you all do is go around school crying about how I must be a dark wizard. I had to endure months of whispers, insults, shunning and even hexes and curses before you pulled your bloody heads out of your arses, and only after you got proof I wasn't commanding Slytherin's Monster!" he barked angrily.
"I forgave you all at the end of the year. I'm like that. I don't like shunning people or arguing or… any of that." Harry sighed, before glaring again. "But you didn't learn! Even when I'm saying I didn't enter, even when I say I don't want to compete, even when I'm helping out Cedric with the First Task, you all decide to start wearing those badges!"
The Hufflepuffs winced as one and had trouble looking at Harry. "W-we just wanted our house to be recognized…"
"And I want to be just Harry, none of this Boy-Who-Lived crap, but no-one seems to care about what I want." Harry growled before shaking his head. "You know what, I'm not wasting any more time on this."
"W-wait!" Susan said pleadingly. "H-how can we earn your forgiveness?"
"Why bother, Sue, he's just a stuck-up ponce-" Ernie MacMillan started before suddenly facing five wands from Hermione, Neville, Ginny and the twins.
"You've got some nerve saying that, MacMillan." Ginny hissed. "After everything I heard you say about Harry!"
Harry shook his head. "He's not worth it, Ginny." As Ginny and the others slowly put their wands down, Harry looked at Susan. "If you all really want to earn forgiveness, show me you actually learned your lesson this time. Show some of that 'Hufflepuff loyalty' you supposedly have. Because other than Cedric, I haven't seen much of it."
With that he sat down, and the other Gryffindors did as well. Susan and the other Hufflepuffs retreated to their table, some with tears in their eyes.
"...Harry?" Hermione asked softly.
"I'm fine." he sighed. "Just… if I keep telling them it's okay and I forgive them, why would they learn not to do it? I can't just keep giving them all second chances."
"I get it." Neville replied as he loaded up his plate. "I can think of some who I'd say the same to…"
The Gryffindor group sat in silence through their meal, none really feeling up to conversation after the scene.
Their reverie was broken by a call from the head table. "Attention please."
The students turned to see Professor Dumbledore standing, his usual grandfatherly expression gone. "Due to concerns over school discipline and safety over the last few days, I spoke with Mister Potter and Deputy Headmistress McGonagall this morning."
Harry's eyes snapped to Dumbledore's, but he relaxed as he continued; "Several concerns were brought up, which the Deputy Headmistress investigated with the aid of the Heads of House. They then came to me with their findings and thus, Hogwarts will be immediately enacting several changes in policy."
Dumbledore flicked his wand and a parchment unfurled in the air in front of him. "Firstly, the House Cup is declared defunct for this year. As Neville Longbottom so emphatically pointed out, the points matter little to the students. We will be revising this, and aim to have a new system in place at the beginning of the spring term."
That brought a few surprised looks, but far more agreeing nods from those in the hall. "Secondly, as the disgraceful display from several of our students against Mister Potter and others has come to our attention, the staff will now be enforcing a very low-tolerance bullying policy." he intoned gravely. "Any student found bullying another, on top of the points that will be taken from their house and detentions assigned, will have their wand privileges revoked outside of classes and specific study periods for one week."
That brought a great deal of protest, but a glare from McGonagall settled the hall quickly. "A second infraction will be the same for one month, and the parents of the aggressor will be notified. A third infraction, should any be so foolish, will result in a one-month suspension from the school." Dumbledore said, causing many (including Harry) to cause their mouths to flop open in abject astonishment.
"And finally… for those who do so yet again, for a fourth time bullying other students, they will be expelled and forced to seek their education elsewhere."
The room exploded into shouts, whispers and even a few smiles. Many students across the hall looked quite worried, particularly at Slytherin table. Harry glanced over and noticed with glee that Malfoy was doing a passable imitation of a hooked fish.
"Students may appeal and submit memory evidence, but if they are found to be wasting time they will be rewarded with extra detentions. All infractions previous to tonight will not be included due to no student known of the consequences… but now you are informed and cannot beg ignorance." Dumbledore said gravely. "Thirdly, to assist all Heads of House and prefects, charms are being laid on the common rooms to count the students at curfew." Most of the upper-years groaned at that. "That is all for now, but we will be making further changes as the year progresses. Thank you."
Dumbledore sat back down, and looked over to Harry. The pair held each other's gaze for a moment before Harry gave a slow nod, turning back to his food.
"What do you all think?" Ginny asked, still looking impressed.
"It's brilliant!" Hermione squealed. "I've always thought they should do something like this!"
"The twins will need to cut back though." Neville pointed out.
"What? We aren't bullies!" Fred protested.
Neville raised an eyebrow.
"...Er… though maybe we could afford to scale back our efforts." George admitted.
"What do you think, Harry?"
Harry looked at the staff table, then around the hall to the students who looked concerned… and the ones who seemed to snort in derision. "I think we'll have to wait and see if they back up their words tomorrow."
A/N: Apologies for the weird-as-hell formatting error earlier!
In any case, ta-da! New chapter! Don't expect much more, I'm job searching at the moment and free time, while greater than before, is still quite limited.
So, Dumbledore is finally being brought around a bit. I've always liked Dumbledore, despite my love of Dumbledore-bashing fics (see Dumbledore's Secret for a hint at why) and in this fic he is NOT evil, just misguided, flawed and somewhat manipulative, which is an excellent quality to have in a school full of hormonal teenagers with potentially lethal weaponry. I'm just playing up his biggest flaw, that he sees the best in people even if they are atrocious and acts foolishly because he's a romantic.
And Ron, if you can't tell, is slowly going to be written out most likely. I've never been an enormous Ron fan, but I do like him. That said, he needs to grow up a lot in Fourth Year especially, and I think Harry would break with him like many of us break with friends from elementary school as we move on.
In any case, read, review, rejoice! I think I'll be posting more stories and such that I've been working on soon, though several aren't Harry Potter related.