Title: Genius Does What it Must
Characters: Harry Potter, Severus Snape, Millicent Bulstrode.
Summary: Growing up, Harry Potter became a smartass. Now he's starting Hogwarts, with trusty sidekick Millicent Bulstrode, a question for everything, and a cheerfully sarcastic demeanor that makes everyone want to smack him.
And apparently there's death lurking in the third floor corridor. That's gonna end well.
Warnings: Alternate Universe, with intelligent!Harry, Slytherin!Harry... but hopefully in a slightly different way than normal. Possibly mentor!Snape, we'll see how it goes.
CHAPTER ONE: If at first you don't succeed... you probably suck.
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley were perfectly normal, thank you very much. Their house was kept perfectly, they doted on their son, and Mr. Dursley had a perfectly normal job selling drills. The only mar was their orphaned nephew, Harry Potter.
Because Harry Potter was not a normal boy. Oh no. He was smart – very, very smart. Or, at the very least, slightly above average with nothing to do with all of his free time except chores and reading. And thinking – he thought a lot. About a good many things; his mind would start listing the reasons he detested the Dursleys, his only living relatives, and then it would be off, hopping from topic to topic. When he was young, he thought about topics that Vernon and Petunia mentioned at the dinner table; as he grew older, and started school, the topics had no end, fueled not just by school but by books.
By the time he was eight, he had worked his way through most of the school library, and had started again, re-reading for the hidden truths rather than the surface knowledge. He taught himself French, and then learned different ways of writing, and combined them into his own language, so he could write down his thoughts and not fear that anyone else could read them.
When he was nine, he perfected what he called 'Harry Dursley' – an obedient, rather naïve and stupid boy, who hated and feared anything 'unnatural'. It was a good identity, because it convinced his relatives that their twisted plan had worked; that he was now just a normal boy, forever indebted to them for their defeat of his freakishness.
He moved into Dudley's second bedroom under this new persona – he still did the bulk of the chores, but for once he wasn't punished if he didn't complete them all in time. Instead he got disappointed looks, and he pretended to be so wrecked by that disappointment that his aunt and uncle thought it had worked; and he got normal amounts of food and clothes that fit, so when he stopped at the library the adults stopped thinking he was a street kid who was going to curl up in the corner of the bathroom and wait out the winter.
At ten, Harry made his first 'friend'. Dudley still enjoyed gathering his friends for a game of Harry-hunting, but since Harry had turned into a proper Dursley (and got far worse grades than Dudley), he'd stepped off the intimidation keeping classmates away from Harry.
Harry, by this point, was well used to not having friends, and didn't particularly want to be friends with the kind of person who liked Harry Dursley. So he had friends for the sake of appearance, and for something else to do, and occasionally refrained from bashing his head into a wall repeatedly.
When he turned eleven, Harry got a letter.
He didn't completely believe the words written on the rough parchment, but Harry had raised himself on storybooks and fairy tales, so it was impossible to silence the small but persistent voice piping up, "What if?"
So he wrote a response, and handed it back to the owl that had found him at the park.
To Whom It May Concern: (He'd seen letters in books written like that, and thought it looked rather professional.)
I would appreciate further proof that the incredible claims you make are, in fact, true. And should they prove real, I would like to know why I should be schooled at your institution rather than seeking alternative education.
PS: Why owls? Everything I've read says that owls aren't particularly intelligent birds; ravens would have been a far better choice.
When Headmaster Albus Dumbledore finished reading the response of one Harry James Potter, there was a certain amount of stunned (or at least surprised) silence in the Headmaster's office.
The Headmaster, of course, was twinkling away, not the least because it was always amusing to find a preteen who knew what a semicolon was. His deputy, Professor McGonagall, had latched upon the fact that Harry didn't believe in the magical world – she'd known leaving him with those Muggles was a bad idea.
Professor Flitwick, who taught Charms, was mentally rubbing his hands together evilly. This level of vocabulary surely spoke of a higher intellect and love of learning! The Boy Who Lived being a Ravenclaw would finally get his house the recognition it deserved.
Professor Sprout, who taught Herbology and was head of Hufflepuff house, had acknowledged the response, been rather surprised by the phrasing (wondering whether or not an adult had helped him phrase it), and then gone back to sipping her tea.
And the final member of the cabal, Professor Severus Snape, Potions master, immediately started sneering as soon as the Headmaster mentioned who this response was from. His sneer and distaste just increased as the letter was read – just as he'd thought, the Potter boy was as arrogant as James Potter had always been. And if he'd also inherited his mother's intellect, well, so much the worse. There was nothing worse than a know-it-all who knew it.
"Severus, dear boy, I have a task for you," Headmaster Dumbledore stated, eyes twinkling like the night sky (Snape further sneered at that analogy).
"No," he snapped instantly, because he knew what the Headmaster wanted. And there was no way he would ever do it.
Except, a few arguments and attacks of eye-twinkles later, he was.
It had been a week since the Owl Incident (Harry blamed the numerous dramatic fantasy books he'd read for the mental titling and capitalizing of certain events in his life), and life continued as normal. His Harry Dursley personality had finished his breakfast and was cleaning the living room while the rest of his 'family' finished, so he could wash the dishes.
There was a knock at the door – which was strange, everyone used the doorbell these days, it was far easier to hear – and Harry quickly called out, "I'll get the door, Uncle Vernon!" before setting the duster down and crossing to open the door.
It was a man. In a dress. Well, a robe, but Harry Dursley wouldn't realize that. And this wouldn't do, wouldn't do at all! A Dursley wouldn't be a fan of drag, Aunt Petunia didn't even like to watch such things on the telly. So he was sure to place a childish sneer on his face while looking the man up and down, and then asked "Yes?" in a tone bordering on completely, out-right rude.
The look he got back was a thing of beauty, and Harry took a few quick mental notes on how to sneer effectively, should he ever need them. (He couldn't use them as Harry Dursley, because he was far too immature and stupid.)
"Where are your guardians?" the man snapped at him, his own tone bordering on complete loathing. The words and the tone gave Harry a few key pieces of information: first, the man knew his parents were dead – no one ever thought of saying 'guardians' instead of 'parents'; second, as he'd never seen him before and he made sure not to be known very well, it was likely that the man had known Harry's parents – and hadn't liked them; and finally, he was underestimating Harry.
So Harry gave him a childish look of dislike – everything always had to be childish, because Harry Dursley was nothing more than a child – and walked to the kitchen (they didn't like it when he yelled) to fetch his uncle.
"Uncle Vernon, there's some weird guy in a dress asking for you," he said fairly loudly. It was a calculated gamble; his aunt and uncle didn't like it when he was rude to strangers, but they liked freakishness even less, and he was guessing that whoever this man was, he wasn't anything normal.
Like most of his 'gambles', he was correct, as Vernon quickly turned a fierce purple shade that a corner of Harry's mind was fascinated by. More surprising – as Vernon frequently turned purple from many things, including attempting to run up the stairs – Petunia blanched white and went stock-still.
"I am here to take Potter shopping for his school supplies," the tall, dark and scary (or so he'd like to think) man said. Or, well, glowered, if glowered could be used as a tone of voice.
Vernon looked like he was going to burst, which just wouldn't do: Harry had long since decided that it would be him and none other to drive Vernon to apoplexy; time for a distraction.
"You- you mean that letter was for real?" he asked in his best confused and possibly scared voice. He then turned desperately to his aunt. "I thought it was a prank! Nobody real-" Real was a good synonym for normal, and it changed his speech enough that it didn't sound like he was mocking the Dursleys (Petunia could be worryingly bright on occasion, and he was sure she'd already caught on to a few things). "-uses owls for letters," he finished with mixed disgust and disbelief.
"Unfortunately," Petunia spat, " That is exactly what some freaks use."
Harry was visibly upset. Snape was annoyed and confused, which in turn made him more annoyed, because who was confused by Muggles?
At the end of his patience (which was possibly larger than an amoeba, if enhanced by fun house mirrors), Snape snapped. "Potter, come."
Bristling at being commanded about like a dog – one of few reactions shared between Harry Dursley and the real Harry – Harry glanced at the other adults in the room. "Best do as he says, boy," Vernon managed. He looked ready to add another comment about 'freaks', but Snape was fed up with waiting and had grabbed Harry's arm, yanking him backwards to the door.
With his free hand, Harry quickly checked to make sure he had his paper and pencil – memory was all fine and good, but unless you were one of the lucky bastards blessed with photographic memory and perfect recall, it was highly fallible. So he stuck with his notes for the most important things – and his first foray into the magical world definitely counted.
"So, do you actually have a name?" Harry asked sarcastically when they got down to the walk. Because honestly, he was running out of thing to call the man mentally – and had a feeling that if he used any of them aloud, he would be... whatever the magical equivalent of 'shot' was.
The man sneered at him. "Severus Snape, Potions Master. You will refer to me as Professor Snape," yet another sneer, "Or sir."
"Call me Ishmael," Harry muttered in response. All he got for his efforts was a suspicious look (well, sneer, but he'd decided it was just a given that this professor would be sneering). Maybe wizards didn't read the same kinds of books as the non-magical. Not that Harry himself had actually read the book – Melville was disturbingly long-winded when it came to whales. Almost made you think he had a fetish or something.
"Where are we-" Harry started to ask, when Professor Snape stopped, grabbed him by the arm (rather annoying; the man had only dropped his arm about five seconds earlier).
And then, suddenly, Harry was being turned inside out by his toenails – or that's what it felt like, anyway. Suddenly, he understood many rather confusing descriptions in a number of books – he'd always been annoyed that the authors couldn't explain things better, but the truth appeared to be that there was no way to describe it, not without having lived it.
Nauseous from the rapid rearrangement of his molecules, Harry fell to his knees on cobblestone that definitely did not look like the road in front of Number Four Privet Drive. There was a rather pointed clearing-of-the-throat from above him, but Harry steadfastly ignored it in favor of trying not to lose his breakfast all over the cobblestones.
Another throat-clearing, however, and and Harry pulled himself together (just barely). "So sorry that being pulled apart and put back together with no warning has slightly affected me. I'll soldier through, don't you fret," he muttered – he was forever muttering because he'd never actually voiced his sarcastic thoughts out loud before. It was a rather bracing experience.
As was the vision that awaited him. Now, Harry was a boy from Surrey, and from a mostly planned community. He hadn't been outside Surrey as far as he could remember. So the cluster of shops on top of shops and running into other shops with no breathing space between, and a small, winding alleyway choked with people (all wearing dresses – er, robes), well, it was a bit of a shock.
"Problem, Potter?" the professor spat at him.
"Do I have to sit up front in your class, because if I do I may want to invest in a spit-shield," Harry responded absentmindedly, barely noting the way that the originally quite sallow man was quickly turning a great number of colors. He was far too interested by the crush of humanity before him.
"Twenty points from Gryffindor, Potter!" Snape finally managed. Harry gave him a strange look in response – who or what was Gryffindor, and what were points? He knew about demerits, of course, although his school didn't give them, because they were in a good number of books about boarding schools and the like.
Which, good question. "Is Hogwarts a boarding school?" he asked curiously, not aware that it appeared he was dancing from topic to topic with no connection between. Harry was just too excited to think about what he said – and excitement was another feeling he wasn't used to, had no defenses against.
It didn't take long for him to remember himself – the first glance of the strange short creatures with elongated fingers and ears that were called goblins, and they acted nasty enough that he was knocked out of the astounded state he'd been in. Had he really been just asking plain questions? Not tricking people into giving him information without realizing it? Damn. Good thing that this guy appeared not to think much of him anyway, he could change his behavior and hopefully the man would just dismiss it because of his dislike.
(Harry had learned an important lesson a few years back: hatred and dislike made you blind, most especially when you couldn't afford to be blind. This realization didn't keep him from getting angry and disliking people, but he did make an effort not to.)
Now, however, who should he be? The naïve (albeit in a different way from Harry Dursley) boy, astounded by everything he saw? Or the arrogant brat that his escort appeared to believe him? Maybe he could strike a balance – the boy astounded by the existence and wonder of magic, and now believes the world makes sense, because all this is coming to him, who deserves it. Yes, that worked. Just enough of everything for others to see what they wanted to see: the innocent boy or the arrogant brat.
It was always important not to defy expectations. Defying expectations made you unpredictable, and that scared others. And scared people were dangerous.
So when he saw the massive piles of gold (and silver, and bronze, but those weren't near as impressive looking – no one ever mentions piles of silver when describing the booty that pirates loot), he allowed his shock to show, as well as pleasure. "Finally!" he muttered, low enough to seem like he was talking to himself, but loud enough for Snape to actually hear. And then, louder, and seemingly eager (which he was; but between his own mindset and the previous comment, the professor would imagine undertones to his voice), he asked, "All this is mine?"
Unsurprisingly enough, a sneer was his response, and then a command to hurry up. Harry refrained from helpfully pointing out that cursing was a good way to let anger out, instead of letting it build into ulcers, and gathered a large pile into the sack he was provided. More than he'd likely need for school (not that he knew what he'd need; what was the exchange rate for gold, anyway?), because he was planning on gathering a large number of extra supplies, if he could slip them past the sharp black eyes watching his every move.
After Gringotts (he wondered if it was named after the founder of the bank, or if meant something like 'idiot humans' in whatever language the goblins spoke), Snape informed him that he had to pick up his own supplies, and that 'Potter' would be quiet and not touch anything. As they made their way to the apothecary, Harry had a thought.
"How about you go and get your supplies, and pick up what I need from there, and I'll go get my books. That way we get things done faster?" he offered. Because honestly, he didn't particularly want to spend so much time with Snape, either. Or that much time in the magical world before he actually knew things about it – right now, this was completely uncharted territory.
Snape agreed rather quickly, and they parted ways – after Potter had been given strict orders not to even think about leaving the bookstore. Snape may have hated all Potters and everything to do with them, but he wasn't about to let the Boy-Who-Lived get kidnapped right from under him.
Harry refrained from rubbing his hands together and saying, "Excellent...", but only just barely. Because now he was left alone with books, and more than enough money to purchase a large number without Snape being any the wiser.
First things first. He made his way up to the cashier (carefully keeping his scar covered; a few people had seen it in the Alley, and had freaked out for some reason. Until he found out what the reason was, he wanted to remain incognito), and politely asked if there was some way to get his purchases shrunk, and make it so that he could shrink and unshrink them himself without using magic – one of the few things Snape had told him was that underage wizards could be expelled for using magic outside of the school, and he'd rather avoid that for now.
The clerk told him to try a squib bag – Harry wondered why he should get a bag for gun blanks, but didn't ask. They were sold at the luggage store three shops down, he was told.
Harry made a quick decision – along the lines of 'what Snape doesn't know can't hurt me' – and dashed out to the luggage shop and got a squib bag. The guy who sold him the bag eagerly informed him about the specialties of the bag – it wasn't bottomless, that was far too expensive, but it had charms on it that made things being put into the bag shrink rather extensively, and other charms that regrew the items as they were removed. In short, exactly what Harry needed.
Harry picked out one that was in a style that would actually fit the non-magical world (Muggle, perhaps? He'd heard the word bandied about, and it seemed to be used to describe non-wizards), paid, and quickly return to the bookstore. He gathered the books listed on his supply sheet, carefully set them on the counter, and then got to the fun part.
Books were Harry's trusted companions, and he did indeed love them. He picked up a large number – over ten – of magical novels, because those were what he enjoyed the most. An interesting story to wrap your mind around, and you could pick up details and facts without even realizing it.
However, he knew he'd need more that that. The 'Muggle' world, well, he'd been raised in it, so he'd picked up the culture and history and vocabulary without even being aware of it. He'd need some help with the magical world.
So he picked up even more non-fiction books; practically one for each of the subjects present in the bookstore. A large number of what must've been the magical equivalent of sociology texts. And, of course, history books. And a dictionary, because he was only recognizing half of what was on the first page of the books he'd cracked.
When all was said and done, he had enough books to start his own small library. He was incredibly glad that he'd thought to bring huge amounts of the gold, because otherwise he'd be completely out of money after just stopping at the bookstore. And Snape would probably find that peculiar.
He got his school books packaged separately, but placed the package in with his other books in the squib bag. His relatives would expect him to come back with some books – even a freak school used books – and he didn't want to make them suspicious by coming back with no books.
With that addition, the squib bag was pretty much full. Everything else, he was going to have to carry.
Snape still wasn't back, so he grabbed a piece of the wall close to the door to lean against, and pulled out the wizard dictionary. It had a function where you could write a word on the first page, and the book would flip to that entry in the dictionary and highlight the word, but instead Harry selected the 'magical dictionary' option – that is, editing out those entries that were common between both the magical and Muggle world – and began reading (after, of course, jotting down a page or two of notes on his paper; he hadn't really had much of a chance to take notes yet).
Harry had reached the entry for 'billiwig' by the time Snape showed up, and was rather involved in the text. There was so much to learn! And term started on the first of September? God, one month, and he had to become proficient in all this, while carrying on the Harry Dursley persona. This was going to be a pain in the arse.
"Potter!" Snape half-shouted at him. "Did I or did I not instruct you to stay at the bookstore, no matter what?"
Oh, right, that's what he'd been forgetting. The fact that Snape would be observant enough to notice the brand-new bag. Ah well, he'd have to go with it (another rule: you never make mistakes; just unplanned opportunities). "Calm down, the store was a few shops over and I kept my head down the whole way. And since I'm obviously unmolested, I'm going to mark this one up as a success."
A snarl that reminded Harry of the one time he'd had an experience with anything resembling wildlife (which had ended with twenty-two stitches) was his only response, and the professor grabbed him by the arm and dragged him out of the shop and down the alleyway. And man, wizards were either very harsh, or very self-absorbed, because no one seemed to care about the rather evil-looking man dragging a small boy down the street.
Snape had actually gone out and gotten everything else on Harry's list that Harry himself didn't need to be there for, so their next stop was a shop called Madame Malkin's. "Ooh, I get a dress too?" he asked sarcastically.
"What, too good for robes, Potter?" Snape spat at him. Harry rolled his eyes, and continued into the shop.
Harry, contrary to most kids everywhere, rather liked having his things come from thrift shops. Clothing that fit, if not perfectly, then at least decently, and pre-worn so there was no uncomfortable starchy feeling. Sure, the trade-off was paranoia about whether or not someone had died in your clothes, but he still liked them. For another reason: no fittings. You just run into the shop, grab whatever looks like it'll fit, and take them.
Quite unlike his current situation of being used as a dress-up doll, while the proprietor of the shop chattered at him endlessly. He tuned her out with experience born of many years of enduring the dubious company of Mrs. Figg, a neighbor with far, far too many cats.
He couldn't even read a book, because of the stupid way he had to stand! God, this was endless.
Thankfully, a girl entered the shop not long later, so Malkin's attention got split. The girl looked a bit like a female Dudley – well, no, that was unfair. She was big enough, sure, but Harry could tell that quite a bit of it was muscle. And the uncertain expression on her face would never appear on Dudley, Harry was sure.
She was placed next to him, and Harry gave a small wave (and even that slight motion got him a light smack for moving around). She nodded back, still looking rather uncertain about everything, which was a mark against her in Harry's mental tally (showing weaknesses like that). On the other hand, she wasn't looking shy or scared, just uncertain, so that was a mark in her favor.
"'Lo, I'm Harry," he offered, pretending to put a hand out to shake (they were placed too far apart to make that a reality, plus the movement of shaking hands would definitely get them smacked).
The unfortunately-shaped girl gave a rather interesting blend of grin and smirk in response. "Millicent," she offered back, mock-shaking his hand.
They both got their hands slapped for moving around, but they just grinned at each other in response. From there, they had a nice, if short, conversation, where they quickly figured out that neither of them knew near enough about the magical world to cut it – Millicent mentioned that her father had been a wizard, but he'd also been dead since she was four, so that wasn't much help, and ever since then her mother and pretty much steered clear of magic.
Harry offered that he had grown up with Muggle relatives, not even knowing he was a wizard until a few days earlier. This was safe information to give, because he'd already decided that would be perfect for his Boy-Who-Lived cover, in addition to being true (another rule: keep your lies as close to the truth as possible). All the heroes in fantasy stories came from humble beginnings, thrown unknowingly into their destiny, and people always enjoyed it when real life played into the cliches of stories.
Soon, however, Harry's fitting was done – it figured, just when things were getting interesting, or at least not boring, it was time to go.
Snape (who had somewhat just disappeared during the fitting, Harry was now realizing) managed to restrain himself from dragging Harry out, but only just barely. Harry called a good-bye over his shoulder to Millicent, promising to find her on the train, before following in Snape's wake across the busy street.
Approximately fifty wands later, all given to him by a rather creepy looking guy (honestly, he'd seen the specials on telly about pedophiles, and this guy was pinging all sorts of radar), Harry found his match. And, of course, even that couldn't be normal, oh no, it had to have the same core as whoever had given him his scar. He was starting to have some serious suspicions about that scar, between the pedophile's words and the stares he'd gotten from it. He'd long since known that it wasn't from a car crash, as his relatives attempted to get him to believe, because there wasn't enough damage for that to be true. Honestly, a car crash that kills two full grown adults, and leaves the toddler with only a single, oddly shaped scar? Come on. Harry figured even Dudley could see past that excuse.
So, he thought as he paid for the wand, it had come from a wizard. So, most likely, his parents had been killed by one too. Still didn't explain the stares, though – unless the scar was some sort of, he didn't know, heir mark from the killer? It made some sense, although Harry didn't remember seeing fear in anyone's eyes when they stared. Just awe, and excitement.
Perhaps his parents had been evil, and this wizard had killed them and rescued him, and now he was the heir of this great, good wizard? Or perhaps Harry had read far too many fantasy books over the years, because this was just getting ridiculous.
In any case, he (or his scar) appeared to be very well known; perhaps one of the books he'd bought today would mention him (or it). In the meantime, he had another task to complete.
"What about a pet?" he piped up, as it looked like Snape was heading to the end of the alley.
He whirled around (ah, so that was what robes were useful for, looking dramatic!). "What?"
Harry shrugged. "The letter said that we could have a pet. I was thinking a cat would be nice." Actually, he thought a cat would be a pain in the ass, given his experiences with Mrs. Figg and her approximately fifty trillion cats, but he had a feeling that if he asked for a toad, Snape might actually turn him into one.
(His logic: he wasn't fond of cats, and owls were just a bit strange – their main purpose appeared to be to deliver mail, and who was he going to be sending letters to? The only other option given was a toad, which Harry may not have any liking for, but wasn't against them either. And, he figured, if he was bored he could always let it loose in the girls' dorm.)
Snape stood by the door, refusing to come any closer to the animals that he was looking at as if they were already chopped up as ingredients. For their part, the animals seemed to be just as fond of him as he was of them. Harry quickly gathered all the toad supplies he'd need, and then turned to the toads themselves. Ah, perfect. It was perhaps the most typically toad-like of them all – no interesting colors, like most of them (he may not know much about the magical world, but he kind of figured those were spells or something – or selective breeding, which, if done just for colors, probably increased the likelihood of weird diseases in the toads).
He got the attention of a clerk, got the toad, and quickly paid for everything before bouncing over to Snape. "I'll call him Sir Hop-a-long," he said decisively.
Snape looked rather surprised (and a bit confused) by Harry's choice. "What happened to the cat?" he snapped.
Harry shrugged. "Cats smell weird," he responded before pushing past Snape and out into the alley. He didn't get far, though, before Snape grabbed him by the shoulder, and they got turned inside-out again before appearing on Privet Drive.
"Some warning would be nice, you know," he muttered. Snape, unsurprisingly, ignored him.
The dour professor pushed an envelope into his hand. "Your ticket. King's Cross on September 1st," he snapped, and then disappeared.
Harry glanced at the envelope, shrugged, stuffed it into a pocket, and made his way back to Number 4, planning how to spin this.