Chess boards of Light and Dark (1/)

By Phoenixgod2000

Authors note: Finally I finish this chapter. During my move I lost the notebook that had all my notes for this story in it. Finally found it and I was able to finish this chapter. Hopefully it'll go a little faster now. As always this story is a response to Drake's challenge on Pottersplace3 that also led to the story Harry Potter and the Dark Lords Blessing—a story worth checking out.

Once again I have a challenge up on my account called Seven Queens in Darkness, Seven Ladies in Light. Check it out. I think its one of my best challenges. I know of two people already writing responses to it. But more is always better.

A lot of people ask me to tell them about responses to my challenges. I only know of a few and all of them are linked in my favorites list. I get sometimes fifty emails a day about my challenges and I can't respond to them all.

The Hogwarts dungeon was a decidedly creepy place, thought Harry Potter as he walked along a dank corridor. Smokeless torches cast flickering shadows along the walls that seemed to dance to tunes beyond human hearing. Darkened alcoves and branching passages disappeared into shadows that even the magical light didn't pierce. He clutched at the small scrap of paper in his hand containing directions to the room where he was supposed to meet Professor Snape.

His new friend Ron had begged him not to go, telling him horror stories about the terrible things Snape had done to his brothers when they had gone to Hogwarts and explaining that Snape hated all Gryffindors; any meeting with him in a side room in the dungeons could lead to nothing good, but Harry had made up his mind to go anyway.

For all the stories Harry had heard about Snape, his first Potions lesson had gone as smoothly as his other classes. Snape was strict and a little scary, but he was no worse than any of the muggle teachers Harry had experienced and was actually better than many of them—especially the ones who believed the lies the Dursleys told about him.

Besides, he was curious.

He finally found the correct door and opened it cautiously. The room he stepped into wasn't small, but it felt that way because it was so crowded. Long tables filled the room, most of them covered with the glass and metal implements of potion making. Only one table was bare of equipment and it was piled high with parchment and books. Severus Snape stood next to a petite Asian girl that Harry didn't know. Her skin was smooth and pale, like perfect porcelain and her glossy black hair flowed down her back in a loose waterfall, a lotus blossom in Ravenclaw colors nestled over her ear. Rather than school robes, she wore a pair of loose blue cotton pants and a short sleeved white shirt cut in a Chinese style with a high, stiff collar.

"Potter. On time I see. Welcome." Snape said abruptly in a tone indicating anything but welcome. "You are the first to arrive, besides Miss Chang." Professor Snape added in what Harry imagined was his best attempt at a kindly tone.

The young girl stepped forward gracefully and extended her hand. "Cho Chang," she said in greeting.

"Harry Potter." Harry replied back reflexively.

"I know who you are, Harry." She said with a smile that transformed her face from gravely attractive to stunningly beautiful in the blink of an eye. "After your sorting, I doubt there is anyone in school who doesn't know you on sight."

Harry was saved from responding by an opening door behind him. He turned, seeing two students in black robes with Slytherin highlights enter the room. The lead Slytherin was a girl with thin, almost sunken features and a sharp nose. Her rich auburn hair set off a pair of cobalt eyes that watched from her pallid face, missing nothing. She was attractive, but she also looked sickly – as if a stiff breeze could knock her over. Still, she walked purposefully and without fear, like a lean and hungry wolf searching for its next meal.

The other Slytherin was a young, mocha-skinned boy with longish hair and almond shaped eyes. Taller than his companion, he moved with the easy grace of a dancer and possessed a delicate bone structure that wouldn't have been out of place on a muggle fashion model

"The others are behind us, Professor." The skinny girl told the teacher after he raised an eyebrow at her.

The truth of her words was shown as three more people spilled into the room. The first was an usually tall, willowy girl with skin the color of coffee and long brown hair tied in a braid. Her face was attractive: large, expressive eyes peered from beneath long lashes and full lips rested beneath a button nose. Harry recognized the very pretty Parvati Patil from his own house.

The next student to enter was Parvati's fraternal twin Padma, a Ravenclaw first year. Where Parvati was tall, Padma was short. Where Parvati was slender and graceful, Padma was heavy and awkward. Padma had small eyes and a broad face that smiled rarely while Parvati wore a grin constantly. The shorter sister moved to the Chinese girl's side the moment she saw her.

The last student to enter the room wore her dirty blond hair in a tight plait that reached halfway down her back. She had the least boyish body of all the girls present – Susan Bones could have passed as a fourth year girl without any difficulty. Despite her physical maturity, Susan moved into the room on unsure feet, lacking the innate confidence an older witch would have already cultivated.

"I'm glad you all decided to take this opportunity." Severus Snape moved around. "This is Cho Chang, a second year Ravenclaw who will be joining us."

"What is this, Professor?" Parvati asked with a wide-eyed stare.

"Isn't it obvious, Pa? He wants to tutor us." her sister admonished in a cold tone.

"Your observant sister is indeed correct." Snape said. "I wish to tutor all of you."

As he spoke his gaze drifted towards Harry, lingering there for a second before looking at the others. "Those of you with elder siblings might know that on occasion I form study groups from those in my house and teach them the ways of advanced magic. Today, I intend to break with that tradition. Miss Chang is the best potions student in school and she is a second year from a different house, so because of her I have decided that I will accept students from several houses into my group, students with power and potential beyond that of ordinary wizards so that I might nurture you, regardless of your house."

His silken tones wrapped around Harry and the Boy Who Lived couldn't help but feel inspired. This had been what he'd wanted since he heard about his fame: ability that showed that he deserved his acclaim, that he was worthy of the reputation fate and his parents had imbued upon him. He found himself standing straighter.

"What are the sorts of things we can learn if we want to be in this club?" Padma asked.

Snape let out a genuine smile. "Most wizards, for all they might crow about their superiority to muggles, drift through life using only the barest essentials of the power they possess." Snape caught the gaze of each student. "Each and every one of you has it in you to be different. To be more. Most of the students here will never be anything more than the meanest of wand wavers. They will learn household charms and the basic things they need to live their lives but nothing more. They will know nothing of what magic is really capable of. They will understand the science of it, the process, but nothing of the heart and spirit of magic." The dark teacher met the gaze of each student.

"Parvati, you desire to be a Seer more than anything else in the world. If you possess the innate talent, I can help you to cultivate it. You can become exactly what you want."

"Padma, you want to be beautiful and powerful as well. You desire knowledge and respect. There are rituals that can make a woman as stunning as a veela. They could be yours if you desire them." Harry watched naked desire flare in Padma's eyes, only to be hidden a moment later.

"Miss Greengrass, I know of your passions. I know that you wish to recapture the druid magic of your bloodline; the ancient secrets of Stonehenge and the barrows of the eldest magi from this island are there if you wish to seek them. Do you?" Snape asked.

The wordless nod he received from the emaciated blue-eyed girl confirmed his assumptions.

"Susan Bones, last daughter of the Bones line. Your family has produced gifted necromancers and spirit-speakers since before the time of the Founders. I have sensed the power within you. I can help you channel it."

Susan fell backwards and her eyes widened in terror. "N-N-No! I don't want to be a necromancer. They're awful and evil. If you want to help me… take it OUT!" She screeched.

"Miss Bones. If you master your powers you could provide much for your family, and for yourself: closure for your Aunt who misses her husband and brother so terribly. What would it be worth to you to speak to your parents? You could bring so much happiness back to your family if your necromantic powers were in full bloom." The hypnotic sound of Snape's voice filled Harry's ears – he could only imagine what Susan must be feeling at the full receiving end of his voice.

Finally Snape turned to the only other boy in the room. "Miss Zabini… you are a most interesting case."

Miss Zabini? Harry looked at the boy and blinked. The boy's features shifted, and although Harry couldn't explain exactly what had changed or how, suddenly he wasn't looking at a slimly built young man, but at an equally tall and slimly built young woman. A stunning young woman that seemed to before his eyes become too mature , too sensual to possibly be only eleven years old.

"You use your Metamorphmagus powers to conceal that you are, in fact a girl. How did you hide from the Sorting Hat?"

The now dark skinned and almond-eyed young woman smiled seductively. "I didn't. He almost put me in Gryffindor out of sheer nerve, but being raised by Magdalene Zabini leaves one best suited to life as a Slytherin, no matter how much moxie I might have."

"And what is it that you desire, Miss Zabini. What wonders can I teach you?"

The girl lost her smile. She leaned forward and in a fierce voice whispered. "Make me stronger than my mother."

Snape smiled. "Done."

Finally Snape focused his gaze on Harry. The Boy Who Lived felt the weight of the wizard's stare on him and he shifted uncomfortably, suddenly feeling wholly inadequate. He briefly wondered how Snape would try to entice him to join the club. During Snape's sales pitch Harry had decided that he wasn't going to join. There was something so… theatrical about the whole thing. Too showy for Harry's taste.

"And finally, we have Harry Potter." Snape's eyes glittered in the darkness. "The Boy Who Lived. The baby who killed the Dark Lord. What is it you want, Mister Potter?"

Ignoring the question for the moment, Harry looked around the room. "Why didn't you invite Hermione to join your club? She already knows more than the rest of the Gryffindor first years combined. She'd be perfect for this."

"Because, Mister Potter, I choose who I associate with during my own time and I don't wish to associate with Miss Granger."

The ugly look that passed on Snape's face turned Harry off. The emerald-eyed boy spun around, looking for the door. "I don't think I want to be here anymore." he said quietly.

Harry was halfway to the door when the dark professor's words drew him back. "Your parents would be disappointed in you for turning your back on this opportunity. They didn't."

Harry spun around; his eyes were wide and everyone could see how pale he'd become. "You knew my parents?"

Snape nodded. "Quite well, in fact. I am not the only teacher to have ever run a private study program. The last Potions professor was well known for his personal tutelage of wizards with exceptional talent. All three of us were in his group." Snape gave Harry an assessing gaze, and Harry felt as though he was laid bare before the glittering eyes of the Potions Master, as though the dark man could see directly into his soul. "You do not know the power you possess, Mister Potter. I do. I can feel Hogwarts itself groaning beneath your unsure steps. You have so much potential, Harry. It is your duty," he emphasized, "to live up to it. You can be great if you choose to be. And I know that you wish it. You ache to prove that you are worthy of the attention you receive, that you are your parent's child." Snape dropped his voice to a low whisper. "I can grant you that wish—and all the other wishes of your heart that you haven't given voice to. All of them."

Harry opened his mouth, unsure of what he would say until he heard the words from his own mouth. "Okay. I'll join."

He hated himself for it. He hated that he could shove what Snape had said about Hermione into the back of his mind because he wanted this so much. He wanted to be the best wizard he could be, prove to his parents that he was worth saving, that he was as special as everyone seemed to think he was.

Snape seemed satisfied now that the last person had agreed to join his group. His low voice grew louder and more intense as he spoke to everyone.

"I can show you the words of creation, potions to give you power and fortune, the secrets of sorcerers staves, spells that haven't been cast in centuries, and the mysteries of rituals to bend the universe to your will. In short," he whispered with a strange gleam in his eye, "I can show you to be worthy of the name wizard."

One by one, each student stood up a little straighter and glanced at the others sideways. Snape walked over to the desk piled high with books, selecting a stack and passing one to each student. Harry turned his over in his hands. "Artes Astralis." He murmured.

"You will learn these books and then you will take turns teaching them to the others. You will also meet me on the back grounds of the school tomorrow morning one hour before breakfast." When none of them moved, Snape snapped. "Go!"

As one body the students moved towards the door. Harry was the last one out and he turned back just before leaving.

"You were friends with them?" Harry asked hesitantly. "My… parents?"

Snape smiled grimly. "Friends… no, not friends."

"Did he show you anything gross?" Ron Weasley said excitedly. "Cause I heard that some of the things he uses are disgusting."

Harry laughed and turned in his bed to face his friend. "Sorry mate. All he did was tell us the rules for this study group. Don't do this; don't tell that, that kinda thing."

The redhead shook his head. "You're mental. Extra studying, you're going to end up best friends with Hermione at this rate."

Harry shook his head. "Yeah right." He turned back around. "I have to get some sleep mate. Snape wants us to meet him first thing in the morning—before breakfast."


Harry lay in bed and closed his eyes. As he did so, the whisperings of his new advisor flowed into his mind.

Tell no one of what you learn; it is too dangerous for those possessed of weak minds.

Keep your grades up. You will all maintain top positions in each class. These powers are not for the sloppy.

You all have the potential to be great. If you wish to be great, you will have to suffer for your knowledge…

Harry yawned. He stood bleary-eyed along side the rest of his study group while Snape paced in front of them.

"I cannot begin to teach you all that you must know. I have other duties and other students that I must attend to. You must all learn from each other as well as from me. You must learn to rely on the others in your group, no matter their house." Snape stared hard at each of them. "You are all above the points system. You are here to learn power, not accrue trophies."

One by one they mumbled their understanding. Harry could barely follow the conversation; the morning hour was entirely too ungodly for him to be fully conscious.

One thing he was aware of, though, was Cho Chang standing beside the grim teacher wearing loose cotton pants and top. Her pale skin glistened in the morning light and she fiddled with the long bamboo wand that decorated her belt.

"I did not give Miss Chang a book because she is going to teach you something that cannot be found in manuals. The art of Tai Chi Chuan." Snape gave a short bow to the girl at his side and she returned a deeper one back.

"What is that sir?" Blaise asked politely. The dark haired beauty standing next to Harry had reverted back to her slim masculine form.

"It is exercise." Cho answered softly. "It channels the body's magic along its meridians—which are like magical nerve endings."

"It will strengthen you." Snape answered. "You cannot study the higher mysteries until you learn to control the magic you already possess. The discipline will help to prepare you for the time when you are ready to perform magical rituals." He smiled. "Now I must take my leave – my breakfast is getting cold."

Harry had never been much for exercise – other than running from his cousin – even so, he was surprised by how much trouble he had imitating the slow, languid movements Cho led the group through. He found himself wanting to speed the movements up or do them sloppily, but every time he found himself starting to go wrong Cho would gently correct him.

He wasn't the only one having difficulty. Padma was even more unused to physical effort than Harry and she constantly grimaced at how easily her sister, a gifted dancer, found the whole thing.

Blaise also wheezed as she worked out. The young girl was plainly too impatient to enjoy the slow movements of the Asian art form and rushed through each form despite the fact that her natural grace should have held her in good stead.

When Cho stopped them just before they had to get inside for breakfast, Harry found himself drenched in sweat. In fact, everyone other than the Chinese witch and Parvati had damp hair plastered to their heads and wore tired expressions. Cho grinned at all of them in an offensively chipper manner. "So how do you all feel?"

"Tired." Padma bit out. The heavyset girl spun around and moved towards the castle doors, not waiting for her sister or anyone else.

"Did this accomplish anything at all besides making me miss more sleep?" Blaise spat. Daphne looked at her friend and arched an eyebrow. Harry guessed she didn't often see Blaise get emotional.

"It will take time to work." Cho said softly and not a little sadness.

Harry felt bad for her and blurted out. "I feel it—or at least I think I do."

Cho smiled excitedly. "Describe what you feel." She ordered.

Harry blushed. He didn't really want to say anything, since what he had felt was pretty minimal. "It was… sort of tingling… I guess. A couple of times I felt like I lost myself in the movements."

"I felt that too." Parvati agreed. "I thought I could have kept going forever. It felt like I was floating."

"That's good. Both of you." Cho encouraged. "The feelings will only get stronger as your skills improve."

"This can really help us become better wizards?" Parvati asked doubtfully.

Cho nodded. "Every wizard in China studies it."

"Then I suppose I'll stick with it too." the slender Indian said with a tired smile.

The group split up as they took off at various speeds for the Great hall. The Patil sisters matched each other and talked in low voices. Cho and Susan both walked slowly, meandering toward the greenhouse. Apparently they had Herbology at the beginning of the day. Blaise walked alone, and as she did so her posture and body shifted until she was moving with a decidedly more masculine gait.

"How does she do that?" Harry marveled.

Daphne snorted. "That isn't the question you should be asking, Potter. The real question is why does she do that? The how is the easy. She's a metamorphmagus."

"What's that?"

"Some wizards and witches can shift their bodies around and make themselves resemble anything they want." The cold, aristocratic redhead answered. "The really good ones, like Blaise," she motioned, "Can do a lot to their body. They can make themselves stronger, tougher, faster; change their hair, eyes, skin, even their gender. I've heard of male metamorphs who've had babies and females, who sired them, they were so good. Never heard of one as good as Blaise as young as she is, though."

"Can I ask you about what Professor Snape said to you?" Harry asked politely.

Daphne was quiet for a second. Her deep blue eyes danced over to Harry for a little while. Eventually she answered.


"What's a druid?" Harry asked.

"The oldest wizards in Britain." Daphne answered. Her voice warmed noticeably and she spoke candidly. "Before the Romans came, the Druids used nature magic to provide for the people and control the elements. When the Romans came they fought the druids and killed most of them. The greatest of the druid lords hid their spellstaves and herb magic in secret groves. The lesser druids married Roman witches and wizards and over time they became one people. My family is one of the purest druid families around." Blaise said proudly. "I want to learn Druid magic so I can return it to the world."

"Sounds important." Harry said sincerely.

Daphne nodded. "It is." She looked down. "It's… it's important to my parents." She said quietly. "They've been training me my whole life to learn druid magic."

The young girl stopped and held out her hand, blocking Harry.

"What?" he asked confusedly.

"Potter… Harry," she corrected, "I know Snape wants us all to be friendly and everything, but don't tell anybody what I just said." The sharp-featured girl smiled ruefully. "I don't even know why I told you. Must be another mysterious power of the Boy Who Lived."

With that the girl left.

The Great Hall was filled by the time Harry reached the Gryffindor table. Ron was already down and stuffing his face with breakfast. Hermione sat beside him with a book propped open as she attempted to balance bacon, eggs, and heavy reading. Ron grumbled a greeting.

Harry grinned. "Hey mate."

Hermione looked up. "Hello Harry." She said gravely. "Ron said that you got into some kind of extra study club?"

Harry glanced at Ron; the taller redhead looked like a sheepish squirrel as cheeks filled with food flushed red. He shrugged slightly.

"Yes." Harry answered cautiously.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Well," she asked, "Can I join? Is it open to the school?"

"Not for Mudbloods." Draco answered for her. The blond teen was passing by the table and overheard the question. "Those powers weren't meant for muggles playing at being witches."

Ron stood up and whirled around before Harry could stop him. The ever-present Crabbe and Goyle, however, were fast enough and the two hulking boys grabbed Ron by the arms.

Harry stood up slowly. "You didn't get invited into the group either, Malfoy. What does that say about you?"

"Nothing at all, Mister Potter. Except he won't have the opportunity you are about to destroy for yourself."

Snape's silken tones ended the argument as soon as it began. All of the adolescents present glanced around at each other, abashed.

"You are dismissed." The sallow teacher hissed, his gaze traveling over Draco, Crabbe, Goyle, and Ron. "Five points from Gryffindor for responding to provocation."

"What about them?" Ron cried out.

"Ten Points, Mister Weasley. Would you like to try for twenty?"

Ron flushed. "No."

"Then you are dismissed."

Ron left and Snape turned to Hermione with a sigh. "Ask what you would, Miss Granger."

"Why can't I take the class?" Hermione asked plaintively. "You let Harry in, and I know way more magic already and I've read Hogwarts, A…"

"Because," Professor Snape interrupted casually, "You do not possess the power necessary to learn what I am teaching. Not all witches are created equal, and you are decidedly unequal. Not because you are muggleborn, but because of the vagaries of fate. I'm sorry." he said flatly.

Hermione blinked. Her eyes welled with tears and she raced off.

"Did you have to do that?" Harry said.

"What I am trying to teach you cannot be shared with everyone, Harry. Knowledge is for those strong enough to master it. Miss Granger will never be that person—even if not for the reason I told her." Snape looked down at Harry. "You must watch out for Mister Weasley if you choose to keep him as a friend – such a person can be a distraction."

"He's a good person." Harry answered back stubbornly.

"Then speak with him, make him master his temper." Snape said. "Because I will not teach someone who allows their peers to infect them with chaos."

Despite its poor beginning, the rest of the day passed normally. Harry paid close attention in his classes but noticed that neither Ron nor Hermione paid equally close attention. Ron appeared to be an ordinarily distracted boy, but Hermione was different. The bushy-haired girl seemed defeated, the fire had fled her eyes and she worked robotically through her lessons.

Harry also noticed that in every class his club mates were among the top performers. Harry even noticed that his own performance was better than he thought it would be, once he applied himself. Whenever he found his mind wandering, he focused on his parents and his desire to be the best wizard he could be.

The day passed quickly and Harry found himself rushing toward the dim dungeon room where he was to have his first study group lesson with the others. He entered the room to find that he was once again the first student there.

But not the first person there.

Professor Quirrell stood in the center of the room conferring with Professor Snape. The two had their heads close together in whispered conference.

Not wanting to be nosy, Harry walked to a different part of the room and stared at the bubbling potions being distilled.

"Welcome Harry."

The Boy Who Lived turned around to look at the turbaned wizard. "It's nice to see you, Professor." He said politely.

"And you as well, Harry."

Just then the rest of the class arrived. As always, Parvati sashayed into the room a few moments before Padma, the heavier sister deep in discussion with Cho. Susan scampered in with downcast eyes and Blaise and Daphne entered as though the pair owned the entire castle. Blaise was once again in female form and she walked in as she always did—with a guarded expression.

With a few waves of their wands, Professors Snape and Quirrel conjured thick pillows for the group to sit on.

"Welcome to the first meeting," Snape said to the class. "Professor Quirrell asked to be allowed to address you tonight and the Headmaster tomorrow, so we will begin official studies two nights from tonight." Snape bowed to his coworker and took his leave.

The turbaned teacher paced back and forth. Finally he stopped and held up his wand. "What do you feel when you hold this?" he asked abruptly. Harry noticed that he was far more confident in the small group than he was in normal classes.

"Nothing." Blaise said. The dark-haired beauty looked bored. "A wand is a wand is a wand."

"No," Harry said looking around, "I felt something when I tried out my wand. It felt warm in my hand. It felt like magic." The boy who lived looked down, thinking his answer silly.

"I felt the same thing." Cho said. "My mother took me to a master wand maker in China and I felt it right away. I knew my wand right away, it was just…right."

Quirrell listened to their answers. "Very good, Mister Potter and Miss Chang – you are listening to your cores. Miss Zabini, you exhibit the classic problem of the pureblood. Magic is ordinary to you so you no longer wonder." He looked around the rest of the class. "That is what this club is for. Making you all less ordinary. Making this," and he held up his wand, "something to be respected, not simply a tool to be used."

"We are wizards." He said intensely. "We can create Ex Nihilo – from nothing. We can change the world with our will and a few words. Then why are wizards poor? Why do the Weasleys struggle with seven children when they can conjure anything they want from thin air? Why do other wizards spend their wealth to buy robes of expensive hides, when you can fetch them from nothing? Why do we not all live in luxury with our every want taken care of?"

Blaise straightened up. "Well, it's not that easy is it?" She countered. "Yes, you can make anything you want, within reason, but you couldn't conjure Hogwarts with a few shakes of your wand. You'd still have to cut and fit the blocks, weave the wards, and paint the paintings. You can conjure food, but it's not nutritious. You can't live off it. Magic can do many things but sometimes it's still easier to do it the muggle way. And nothing is permanent without a lot of magical power. True Creation isn't even taught unless you apprentice with a Transfiguration Master—and most wizards can't learn it even then."

Professor Quirrell smiled. "Yes. You are right—for everyone else. That is the purpose of this class. You will learn to be unlike everyone else. You will become powers unto yourself with proper training. You make jokes about the Conjuring of Hogwarts out of thin air, but how do you think it came to be? Not just Hogwarts, but that's how the crystalline towers of Atlantis were created. Some say that the world awaits only wizards powerful enough to summon the island back from the seabed. Maybe you will be those wizards." The turbaned wizard passed back and forth in front of the students. "The Headmaster has a friend, Nicolas Flamel. Flamel is an alchemist of great skill – such great skill that he created the Philosopher's Stone, some say the greatest magical talisman on the planet. With it, a wizard can live forever and transmute lead into gold—real gold, not conjured gold which the ministry can detect." He smiled. "Imagine a world where you had limitless wealth and magic enough to ensure you never grew sick or got old. How mighty could you become? How much could you learn?" Quirrell looked around the room.

"That is what this class offers you. The chance to become the next Nicolas Flammel. I realize you are all too young to understand the appeal of eternal youth." He grinned wolfishly, "Eventually though, you'll understand it."

Harry looked around. Every student sat a little straighter, their eyes gleamed a little—they were all just more… aware. Aware of what they could know, of what they could do. Blaise spoke up again.

"Are we going to get to use our wands in this magic class," she asked petulantly. "Or are we just going to talk?"

Professor Quirrel smiled. "Take them out now."

Harry wandered back up the stairs slowly, his mind twisting around what the professor had said to him. He had never thought of himself as a person obsessed with power

But there was something about the way his professor spoke about what he could do with power that appealed to him. The story of Flamel and the Philosophers Stone struck particular resonance with him. The Dursley's had always lived well. They always had enough to eat, to clothe themselves, to keep up with the others on the block. But they had never shared any of it with Harry.

He always got the cast-offs, the leftovers, the smallest room in the house. His presents were pathetic offerings, designed to placate their middle class perception of each other.

When they had gone on trips around the world, Harry never went. He could remember being very small and peeking through their photo albums of trips to Paris, Madrid, Venice, even Greece and Disneyworld. He had wanted more than anything else to see those places, to go there and see something different than what had come before.

But with the Philosopher's Stone, he would have the wealth to go wherever he wanted, do whatever he wanted. He would have eternal health, as well. The Elixir of Life would give him all the time in the world, all the time to go places, learn new things, experience a life the Dursley's could have given but instead denied him.

And a small, bitter part of his being enjoyed the idea of being able to do those things long after the bones of Vernon, Petunia, and Dudley Dursley were dust in the ground.

The next few days passed much like the previous day: Harry and the others got up and practiced Tai Chi Chuan before breakfast, then went to their classes and practiced their magic. Harry noticed Ron watching him and Hermione. The redhead plainly felt bad about the girl getting turned down for the study group.

He should have.

Hermione had deflated. The girl seemed to have lost her fire. She had wrapped so much of her ego; her sense of self-worth in what teachers thought about her that when one finally didn't like her she just lost it.

She waved her wand half-heartedly in every class. She still performed well, but her progress had dropped steadily since the first day. At the beginning of the school year she had exhibited expert knowledge and great faculty with magic; that had slowly faded until she hovered near the middle of the class. She still read, but it wasn't for joy, it was from something that stank of desperation and pain. A vain attempt to recapture something that she didn't realize she had lost.

Harry wanted to go to her, to tell her that she did have the power, did have the ability to be in the club and that Snape just didn't like her enough to invite her in.

But he didn't.

Instead he kept his head low and did his own work. He wanted to do well, to prove to everyone that he was worth all the attention, the acclaim that people shoved onto him.

The night of the next group meeting Harry was given instructions at the end of the class by Snape that they would be meeting in a new place. And that Professor Dumbledore would be there to give a talk to the class as well as demonstrate a few higher level Transfiguration skills.

This time Harry wasn't the first one to arrive. The idea that the Headmaster himself was speaking to the group seemed to have lit a fire beneath the students and all of them arrived well before the appointed time.

In fact, by the time Harry showed up everyone else was already present. The new room was a bare stone room similar to the room where Snape kept his alchemy and potions equipment, except that it was empty. The other students were arrayed in a semicircle around the headmaster. The elderly wizard wore robes of silver and blue and a long, pointed hat. He twirled his wand absently in his hand as he shared an anecdote with Susan. The normally serious girl was laughing as the grand wizard gesticulated wildly. He stopped when he saw Harry enter the room.

"Welcome Harry," he said boisterously. "I was just telling Susan about some of the pranks her Aunt played on me when I was teaching her Transfiguration, many years ago."

Harry smiled and nodded nervously. Honestly, the ancient wizard intimidated him. He could feel the power radiating from Dumbledore and it scared him. Dumbledore was what he was trying to eventually become. He recalled tales of Merlin and Arthur from his primary school days, and Albus Dumbledore resembled nothing so much as Merlin incarnate to the young wizard.

"Thank you all for coming," Dumbledore said with a smile. "I'm sure you all have something better to do on a weeknight than sit here listening to the ramblings of old man."

"It's an honor for them." Snape told the headmaster. "Every student should be so lucky."

"Indeed." Dumbledore answered with twinkling eyes. "Now, I'm told that we have some transfiguration to work on. I hear you are studying the art of True Creation?"

Padma spoke up. "Yes Sir, but none of use can make anything that lasts longer than a few hours."

"Even that feat is quite impressive for ones as young as yourselves." Dumbledore admitted. "True Creation is difficult, and not every wizard is capable of performing it at all."

"But we aren't every wizard, are we?" Padma asked. "We should be able to do this, that's why we were chosen."

"First, Miss Patil, you need to perfect the transfiguration matrix." Dumbledore said. "You're attempting to create something that lasts forever. That's not a few mere threads of magic woven together; you must understand its place, its role in the world. You need to understand that once you create something, it cannot be unmade. Ever. It is forever, it is True. Fix what you desire in your mind. Know it. Love it. Understand it."

"But I don't understand," Padma said frustrated.

"I know that you don't," Dumbledore answered with a small smile. "Ravenclaws are peculiar that way. You wish to learn so much, but your logical mind won't allow you to understand the spirit of magic. So here is what I wish for you to do. Tomorrow, go outside and find a flower, a perfect specimen. Pluck it from the vine and study it. Know its veins, its petals, and its pollen. Know it until you can picture it in your head. Know it until you smell it your dreams. Then, and only then, try to conjure it. If you succeed, that flower will last until the end of days."

Daphne shook her head. "But that doesn't make any sense. We can't do that for everything. No one can do that for everything."

"To know the world is to shape the world." Dumbledore said wisely. "Do you know who coined that phrase?"

"No sir."

"Merlin." Dumbledore answered. "He understood that wizards could not change anything without first truly understanding it. It's the difference between creating the illusion of something and creating it in truth." He surveyed the room. "Learn this lesson well. Magic is for those that understand the world. It is spirit and knowledge in equal measure."

The old wizard smiled. "Magic isn't about what you can do with it; it's about what you should do with it. I hope that's one thing you learn from this class. Not the how of magic, but the why. The why is what separates wizards from mere wand wielders, and Great Wizards from Dark Wizards."

"You haven't been around much, mate." Ron said quietly.

"I know." Harry answered back guiltily.

The Boy Who Lived sat in front of his first wizard friend, practically his first friend in the world, and he couldn't meet the redhead's gaze. Ron had been nothing but good to him and he had repaid that by avoiding him. Didn't want to be embarrassed by his friend that hadn't been chosen by Professor Snape for the elite club.

Ron ordered the animated knight into position. The small figurine shouted obscenities at Harry's queen. The gowned miniature clutched her heart before gesturing rudely at the knight.

"Snape is on my back, mate." Harry answered. "He got really mad when you got in that fight with Malfoy. He said he might kick me out of the group if I couldn't control my friends."

Ron snorted. "I have five older brothers; I've heard more terrible Snape stories than you can imaging. He hates my family, hates everything about us. He's just trying to scare you."

"I can't risk it." Harry said guiltily. "I want this."


Harry waved his hand around the empty common room. "Because. I have this stupid scar and everyone thinks I'm some great wizard. But I'm not. I'm just a kid who grew up with an Aunt and Uncle who hated me, who hit me, who thought that I was a freak that would be better off dead. Then I come here, and I'm this big hero, 'the Boy-Who-Lived' and everyone sees me differently. Maybe I want to be who those people think I am." Harry said intensely, "Instead of who my Aunt and Uncle think I am."

Ron nodded and focused on a spot over Harry's shoulder. "I understand, probably better than you think. You're looking at the guy with a classic case of a 'lot to live up to'. My Mum and Dad were Head Boy and Girl. My oldest brother, Bill, was Head Boy. Now he's a Gringott's curse breaker who makes tons of money and gets girls. He's rich and a big success and my parents are really proud of him. My next brother, Charlie, was Captain on the championship Quidditch side, now he works with Dragons in Romania and gets tons of girls. They say Percy is a shoo-in for Head Boy. Fred and George made the Quiddich team as second years. Do you know what it's like to be the youngest son in a family where your older brothers have earned every award and nothing you do will ever be special? They're good people, Harry, and a proud name, but I'm still just the sixth son. I'm invisible to my family." Ron smiled sadly. "I just hoped that I wouldn't be as invisible to you."

Harry flinched. "I'll work harder to be a better friend, Ron, but you have to control yourself so Snape won't get on my back."

Ron nodded and the two new friends continued to move pieces back and forth as the game rapidly swung between the two first years.

"The most important thing we are going to study this year is ritual magic," Snape said. "Many wizards know only a few minor ritual spells, used for healing, childbirth, naming ceremonies and so on. What we are going to study are True Rituals, and they are much more difficult. Failed Tue Rituals can kill the casters, or strip them of their magic. But their benefits are equally great. They can grant special abilities like Miss Zabini's Metamorphmagus or Miss Bones' necromancy. They can increase your raw magical power or physical powers. There are almost no limits to True Rituals when they are performed correctly."

"So why don't more Purebloods do them?" Daphne asked.

"Because they are expensive and dangerous. Not many purebloods want to risk their bloodlines on rituals to increase their power… not to mention the cost of the rituals themselves." Snape answered.

"So who is going to pay for ours?" Padma asked. "We aren't all as rich as Harry."

"I and the school will assume the costs of the necessary ingredients for the first few rituals. Any that you choose to participate in outside of this class you will have to find funding for yourself." Snape's gaze narrowed. "I am here to teach you self sufficiency, not handholding."

"I thought you were here to teach us magic." Padma muttered.

Snape smiled sinisterly at the less attractive Indian sister. "Thank you for volunteering to go first for the pre-ritual examination Miss Patil. Strip."

Harry flushed. He stood before the sharp-faced professor in his y-fronts as Snape ran his wand up and down his underdeveloped body.

He was the last to volunteer. He had watched uncomfortably as each of the girls stripped down to their underwear in front of their teacher so that he might assess their body and magic.

Padma nearly burst into tears at the idea of revealing herself so personally to the other students. Only her sister standing by her side whispering into her ear allowed her to complete the process. By contrast, Blaise removed her clothes defiantly, altering her body outrageously so as to leave Snape the uncomfortable party.

"Mister Potter, how is your diet?" said Snape, frowning. He passed his wand over Harry's thin ribcage.

"I eat well here." Harry said cautiously. He had no intention of explaining about his relatives to Snape—especially in front of the girls.

"You do not look well and your musculature is far underdeveloped for a boy your age." Snape said clinically. "I don't think that your body is capable of bearing the strain of a Ritual. Perhaps after a few months of Tai Chi and a steady diet, but not now."

The teacher plucked Harry's glasses off of his face. "These are appalling. When were your eyes last examined?"

"When I was eight." Harry admitted. He studiously ignored the girls, praying that they were doing the same.

"We shall have to do something about that." Snape wiggled his wand and the lens changed slightly. "There. These should work better for you." He handed them back. "Your turn."

"My turn for what?"

Snape let out a long-suffering sigh. "You are going to change the frames. Make them something not held together by tape and prayer."

"But I…"

"You know how to do it, Harry." Snape said quietly, for once neither sarcastic nor cold.

Harry was strangely comforted by the words. He drew his wand and pictured a pair of stylish, golden frames that he had once seen in an optometrist's window and coveted secretly ever since, knowing that the Dursleys would never buy them for him. He held that image, adding details until he could them perfectly in his minds eye.

"Now, say Occulus Transfiguro." The command was given in a feather soft tone.

"Occulus Transfiguro."

Harry was amazed to see the glasses transform in his hands. He felt the metal run like water and take on a new shape beneath his closed hand. When opened his fist a few seconds later, a perfect replica of the glasses from his mind rested in his hand. They looked new, as if they had just come from the box. Harry slipped the glasses over his eyes and the entire room snapped into sharp focus.

More amazing than his transfiguration was the image of Snape standing in front of him—smiling. It was a small smile to be sure, but impressive given the rarity of any display of pleasure on his stern teacher's face.

"Very good, Mister Potter. You may put your robes back on." Snape instructed quietly.

Harry slipped his robes back over his head and took his seat. Snape paced before the students. "Although several of you are not physically ready for the rigors of True Ritual, we can still begin with the preliminary process." He looked up. "That means finding your true names."

Cho raised her hand. "What is that, Professor?"

Snape shrugged. "No one knows exactly what True Names are. Some wizards say they are the words God himself spoke to bring your soul into existence. Aborigines from Australia believe that True Names are simply the names of the dark creatures whose dreams give us our form. More scientifically minded Muggleborn or Half-bloods believe that they are simply the quantum frequency our souls and magical cores vibrate at. Whatever they are, knowledge of your true name will grant you great power over yourself. You will be able to alter you mind and body in profound ways—ways beyond simple magic. Such transformations are permanent and cannot be dispelled or countered. Many of them actually change your true name, forcing wizards to constantly seek self understanding."

"So how do we find our true names?" Susan asked softly. The timid girl could barely meet her teachers gaze and she blushed as she spoke.

"You will meditate. Train your mind and listen to your core." Snape answered. "We will practice every night until everyone finds their True Name. When you find it, you are to learn to write it, for doing so will be key in true ritual magic."

"Very good." Snape breathed out.

He sat cross legged in front of the students and had just finished leading them through a series of exercises designed to help them peer inward and discover their own true names.

He unfolded his legs, rising in a smooth motion and watched his students attempt to do likewise.

"Now that we are finished with the exercise we can move on to something else. How are you faring in your independent studies? Have you all finished the tomes I lent you?"

Harry traded sheepish glances with the other students but only he was brave enough to answer. "Umm… no sir. We haven't started that yet."

Snape's eyes grew cold. "Why ever not?" he asked in a low dangerous tone.

"Because this is the first week of school and we've had a million—

"Miss Patil," Snape snapped at Parvati, the unfortunate sister who had spoken. "I have placed my faith in you. Was that faith misplaced?"

"No sir."

"I have placed my faith in all of you." Snape said. "And you have broken faith with me. This is a school and your home for nine months out of the year. There will always be something else for you to do. Prioritize your life. You will not succeed here if you do not make this club the most important thing you do." Snape stalked toward the door. "You will all remain here three hours more hours and study with each other. And you will do this each night until you have mastered each art." He waved his wand and the pads and pillows disappeared.

"Where are we supposed to sit?" Daphne asked.

"You're wizards." Snape snapped. "Create something."

Final advice given, he swept out of the room. The group stared at each other. "He's right," Harry offered. "We haven't been taking this seriously." He pulled out his book. "I have something called Artes Astralis. Seems like some kind mind magic. Looks hard."

"I have a book on the Animagus transformation and personal transfiguration." Blaise said with a smile. "Right up my alley."

"I have a book on elementalism." Daphne said. "I think it was written by a druid family."

"My book is on scrying." Parvati said. "And Astrology."

"Ritual magic and runes." Padma added.

"Spiritualism, exorcism, and ritual light side magic." Susan offered.

Daphne sighed. "I think we should get started." She looked around at the bare floor. "And this is going to be uncomfortable. Luckily I brought some inducement. A bottle of my father's favorite wine."

She popped the cork and passed it around. Everyone took a drink directly from the bottle and eventually it made its way to Harry. He smelled the mouth of the bottle. It had a strong, cool alcoholic scent. The Dursleys had never had let him drink wine, ever. He had snuck a few drinks in private, but this was much stronger. Probably made magically.

Shrugging his shoulders he tipped back the bottle and took a long drink before settling down to read.

By the end of the month the small stone room was decorated with pillows, chairs, and wall hangings.

None of the decorations was permanent of course, but the artwork and furniture lasted for days before fading away.

They all got better at decorating what they created as well. The first pillows were rough and lumpy and the first wall hangings had crude caveman drawings, but over the days and nights of studying they grew more skilled at conjuring items in ever greater detail. In particular Blaise proved exceptionally artistic when it came to details, probably due to her skill at visualizing her metamorphmagus changes.

On any given night most of the group could be found lounging on conjured pillows or blankets, reading or helping each other with their homework. Padma could be found staring at rich red rose for hours at a time, brow furrowed. Someone usually had food or drinks smuggled in from dinner, and on many occasions Blaise or Daphne brought bottles of wine – although neither would say where they were getting them from. Harry admitted to himself that he had a fondness for the light, pleasant fog that alcohol provided him; it was different than anything else he had ever experienced. On the nights when wine flowed the group often spent half the night in conversation with each other.

Soon, it was Halloween.

Harry hadn't spoken with Ron in nearly three weeks.

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