Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter. Also, this fic is based on Aya Macchiato's story 'Harry Potter and the Gift of the Morrighan'. With permission.
A Necessary Gift: A Harry Potter Story
The winter holidays finally arrived to the delight of all the Hogwarts students, but Harry most of all. As good as it was to see the castle undamaged by spellfire and all its inhabitants alive and well, Harry did not enjoy being back at school. Lessons, homework, rules, teenage melodrama – all combined to make Harry bored out of his mind. No matter how amusing Draco was in his childish arrogance, or how rewarding it was to watch Neville developing his magic and Hermione finding her place in Slytherin, Harry felt very much like an adult being forced to babysit a bunch of children.
So it was with a sigh of relief that Harry stepped off the Hogwarts Express and began eagerly searching through the milling crowd for Sirius. His good mood faltered, however, at the sight of his Great-Aunt Cassiopeia standing at the far end of the platform.
Harry dragged his trunk and Hedwig's cage over to her. "Aunt Cassie! What are you doing here? Where's Sirius?"
Cassiopeia smiled and patted him on the cheek. "Lovely to see you too, Orion dear. Sirius is in Saint Mungo's, so I've been sent to collect you instead."
"W-what?" Harry's heart clenched. "Why?"
"Well, Arcturus is busy with his Wizengamot duties and Melania is off shopping, so I was the only one free," Cassiopeia explained.
If Harry hadn't been so worried, he would have rolled his eyes at this. Cassiopeia, while very clever and one of his favourite relatives, was rather emotionally disconnected from other people. She spent so much time reading old tomes and experimenting with dangerous magic up in the attics of Black Manor, that she sometimes went weeks without talking to anyone at all. She was not the sort of person Harry would have chosen to deliver bad news.
"Why's dad in Saint Mungo's?" Harry specified.
"Oh, he's been poisoned," Cassiopeia told him. At Harry's look of horror she seemed to realise some added words of comfort were needed. "I wouldn't worry too much, Orion. It's been a week and he's still alive after all."
Harry was not reassured. "A week! Why didn't anyone tell me? And how did he end up poisoned in the first place? How ill is he? What did the healers say?"
Cassiopeia patiently answered his barrage of questions, but wasn't able to tell Harry what he most wanted to hear – that Sirius was all right and would soon be discharged from Saint Mungo's. Nor did she have any information to share on how Sirius had gained his injury. "He is being oddly secretive about the whole thing," she said. "Perhaps you will manage to get more out of him – you can visit him yourself tomorrow."
Harry calmed slightly when he heard that Sirius was awake and able to receive visitors. His relief was short-lived, however, with Cassiopeia's next words. "Do you need anything from Grimmauld Place, Orion, or should I apparate you straight to Black Manor?"
"Black Manor – why would I go there? I can visit Grandmother Melania and Grandfather Arcturus some other time, surely," said Harry.
"Honestly, Orion." Cassiopeia shook her head at his apparent stupidity. "You'll be staying with us while Sirius is in Saint Mungo's, of course."
Harry really hated being eleven years old again. No matter how much he argued his case, he couldn't get Cassiopeia to agree to him staying at Grimmauld Place alone. According to her, if left without adult supervision Harry would end up eating nothing but sweets and crying himself to sleep every night. Without human adult supervision, Cassiopeia ended up specifying. House-Elves, she told him, didn't count.
Harry grumbled as he picked up Hedwig's cage after having been forced to concede defeat. He was worried about Sirius, frustrated at having to act like a child for the whole holidays, and dreading more lectures on the joys of arranged marriages from his Grandmother Melania. Ignoring his bad mood, Cassiopeia wrapped an arm around his shoulders and apparated them both far away from London to where Black Manor stood overlooking the sea.
Harry's first few hours at Black Manor lived up to all his worst predictions. Melania greeted him with a warm smile and a bony hug, then immediately began lecturing him on proper behaviour.
"I have heard things that cause me concern, Orion," Melania said, settling herself down in a wing-backed chair in the front drawing room. "Not only has Lady Greengrass informed me that you have spent hardly any time at all with her daughter Daphne, but also according to Phineas Black's portrait you have yet to distance yourself from that muggleborn housemate of yours."
Harry resisted the urge to fidget as he sat on the edge of his chair, not wanting a lecture on proper posture on top of everything else. "Daphne and I don't have much in common," he said. In truth he had done his best to avoid the girl, which had resulted in Daphne dismissing him as a typical immature boy. He hoped if she thought he was simply oblivious to her hints of romance, instead of outright unwilling, she wouldn't be too offended by his behaviour. Since she remained on good terms with Hermione, his strategy appeared to be working.
Melania frowned. "Nothing in common? Nonsense! Might I remind you that you are both Slytherins of impeccable lineage and are the same age. I expect you to make more of an effort in future, Orion. It would not do to offend the House of Greengrass. You are after all only an illegitimate son - if Sirius marries and fathers another child, you will lose your place as his heir. Think of your future."
"Yes, Grandmother." Harry thought of the future almost incessantly - what he wanted to achieve, what he needed to do differently, what he couldn't change. When it came to marriage, however, his only thoughts were of ways to avoid it.
"Your continued association with that muggleborn girl does you no favours," Melania told him sternly. "Blacks do not befriend Undesirables, Orion, remember that."
"I will do my utmost to uphold the honour of our House and to follow the wishes of my Paterfamilias," Harry said. He knew the formal words would both please Melania and annoy her since much to her displeasure, Arcturus had yet to object to the friendship. Of course, Harry had no intention of listening to anyone, his Paterfamilias included, who ordered him to stay away from Hermione, but thought it best to at least pretend otherwise.
Harry hastily changed the subject before Melania could say anything else. He had no patience for one of her lectures, he was too worried about Sirius. "How's dad?" he demanded.
Unfortunately, Melania didn't have anything to add to Cassiopeia's airy report. Sirius was being very secretive and the Healers were bound by confidentiality rules, so Harry was forced to wait until he could see Sirius in person. Harry managed to extract a promise from his Grandmother to let him visit the hospital first thing the next morning, but that still left him with a whole evening to think up more and more grisly scenarios of what he'd find there.
Harry didn't know what he'd do if Sirius died. They'd become a family and for the first time in his life Harry had an adult he could truly rely on. The idea that he might lose that support, lose the man he was slowly beginning to think of as his father, frightened him. He was distracted all through dinner and his sleep was interrupted by nightmares of Sirius falling through the Veil in the Department of Mysteries. By the time he flooed to Saint Mungo's the next morning, Harry had pretty much convinced himself that he'd find Sirius gravely injured and on the verge of death. Therefore he was greatly relieved to see Sirius sitting up in bed and eating a hearty breakfast.
"Dad!" Harry cried, rushing forwards. "You're all right!"
Sirius seemed rather taken aback by Harry's extreme reaction, but reached over to give him a comforting hug. "Of course I'm all right!" he said. "A little bit of poison is hardly going to stop me."
"It was rather more than a bit, Mr Black," Healer Aberworthy, the same witch who had treated Sirius after Azkaban, said as she walked into the hospital room. "You were clinically dead for a whole three minutes - we had to restart your heart twice!"
"What!" Harry yelped.
"Oh," Healer Aberworthy said, obviously not having realised just who Sirius' visitor was. "Sorry, dear, I didn't mean to worry you. Your Da will be just fine, I promise."
Harry was unconvinced. He looked at Sirius, taking in his pale face and the dark circles underneath his eyes, and became even more worried. "What happened?" he asked Sirius. "How ill are you really?"
Sirius sighed. "Mind giving us some privacy?" he asked the Healer. He waited until she'd left the room and cast several secrecy spells, before turning back to Harry. "I'm all right, Orion, I promise. Yes, it was touch and go there for a while, but the Healers got to me in time."
"But what happened?" Harry asked again. "Aunt Cassie said you were injured on a case?"
"Uh, not exactly." Sirius shifted uneasily. "I wasn't on Auror duty at the time, I just said I was to stop people from asking too many questions. I actually, um, went after the ring."
Harry stared blankly at him for a moment, not understanding. "What ring? Wait, you don't mean... You went after a Horcrux? Alone? The same Horcux that almost killed Dumbledore? What the hell were you thinking!"
"Now, Orion, calm down," Sirius began, but Harry interrupted him.
"Tell me you didn't put the ring on," he demanded. "Sirius, tell me you didn't!"
"Relax, I never even touched it," Sirius said. "I remembered what you told me about how Dumbledore was injured. I destroyed the Horcrux using Fiendfyre without ever going near the ring itself."
Harry breathed a huge sigh of relief and sat down with a thump on the edge of Sirius' hospital bed. "Thank Merlin," he said. "But wait, then how did you end up injured?"
"A snake bit me," Sirius said, looking rather embarrassed. "I hadn't counted on Voldemort using animals to guard the Horcrux and, well, the Fiendfyre took all my power to control. By the time I managed to end the spell, I'd already been bitten. And let me tell you, it hurt. I barely managed to apparate to Saint Mungo's before I passed out."
"But you're healed, right? The poison's gone?" Harry checked.
"Um, not quite," Sirius said. "Voldemort must have done something to the snake, since it took a lot of magic for the Healers to counter the venom. I still have some poison left in my bloodstream - that's why I'm stuck here in hospital for a while longer. The bite wound is taking a long time to heal."
Sirius pulled back the bed-covers and showed Harry his foot. It looked swollen and painful, and was covered in blood-stained bandages. It reminded Harry of Mr Weasley's injury back in his fifth year; enough so that Harry wondered if the snake that bit Sirius had the same magic-resistant venom as Nagini.
"See, this is why we agreed to go after the Horcruxes together," Harry said. "So things like this wouldn't happen. You could've died!"
Sirius sighed. "It's just… I feel we're moving too slowly. We can't count on your knowledge of events from your old world. Voldemort might return at any moment and we need to be prepared."
"Yes, but we also need to be careful," Harry said, despite knowing it was rather hypocritical of him to say so. "Going after the Horcrux alone was a huge risk to take. Getting yourself killed won't do us any good, you know."
"Yes, I know, Orion." Sirius was beginning to sound a bit fed up. "Look, everything worked out all right. The Horcrux is destroyed and I'll be fine in a week or two. No harm done."
Harry was tempted to keep nagging Sirius about his reckless behaviour, but was distracted by a sudden realisation. "Wait, you destroyed the ring? It's gone?"
"Yes, I told you," Sirius said. "I burnt it just as we did the Diadem."
Which meant the Resurrection Stone - one of the three Deathly Hallows - was destroyed. There was no chance of Harry ever again becoming the Master of Death. With the Horcrux in his scar also gone, and without his mother's protection, there was no way he'd ever survive being hit by another killing curse. Even if he wanted to, Harry wouldn't be able to recreate the way he'd defeated Voldemort in his old world - it seemed things would have to happen differently no matter what.
"Orion, is everything all right?" Sirius asked.
"What? Oh, yeah, I'm fine," Harry said, shaking off his thoughts. He'd never told Sirius the whole truth about the Ring and now with it destroyed there was no reason to. "Another Horcrux down, four more to go."
"Exactly," Sirius said, looking pleased with himself. "Really, we should celebrate! I just wish I wasn't stuck in hospital for the next few weeks. This isn't how I planned to spend my first Yule out of Azkaban."
"Well I hadn't planned to spend my whole holidays at Black Manor." Harry crossed his arms and frowned. "If dinner last night was any indication, it's going to be a nightmare. Grandmother Melania spent the whole meal lecturing me on proper table manners, Grandfather Arcturus droned on about the Wizengamot, and Aunt Cassie said I'll be having daily lessons with her on Black Family magic."
Sirius winced. "Yeah, you have it worse than I do," he agreed.
Harry's lessons with his Aunt Cassiopeia started as soon as he came back from Saint Mungo's. He wasn't pleased to be back in the schoolroom at Black Manor, especially since, unlike during the summer, he didn't even have any friends to suffer along with him. The first thing Cassiopeia did was stress the importance of absolute secrecy.
"The spells I'll be teaching you are only to be shared with other Blacks, never with outsiders," Cassiopeia told him. "Not even those who marry into our family are taught Black family spells, which means you must keep what you learn a secret from everyone, including Melania."
"Yes, Aunt Cassie," Harry said in response to her stern look. "I promise I won't tell anyone."
Cassiopeia nodded approvingly. "Good. Unfortunately, it is not enough to be willing to keep these spells a secret. You must be able to protect your mind so that no one can read your thoughts, especially considering how much time you spend with young Draco - the Malfoys have an affinity for the Mind Arts, you know. Fortunately, it is unlikely Draco will be instructed in Legilimency for at least a few years yet, so you will have plenty of time to become proficient in Occlumency."
Harry didn't think it would be a good idea to tell her that he already knew Occlumency - or at least enough of it to notice if someone were to read his mind. "Er, right. Maybe Dad could teach me," he suggested.
"Really, Orion, I hardly think a young boy like you could have any thoughts to be shy about," Cassiopeia said. "But very well, Sirius can handle your Occlumency lessons if that is what you prefer. I myself am more interested in teaching actual spells in any case."
"Great! Thanks!" Harry smiled in relief.
"Well then, on with the lesson," Cassiopeia said. She waited until Harry had a quill and parchment out, ready to take notes, and then began. "All the old Pureblood families have spells only known to them, passed down and added to from one generation to the next. These spells are usually connected to the family's magical affinity, so for example the Malfoys would have magic that deals with the mind, while our Black family magic consists mostly of offensive spells."
"You mean spells that could be used in a duel?" Harry asked.
"Yes, precisely," said Cassiopeia. "With that in mind, can you tell me what advantages such spells give our family?"
"Well in a duel, using a curse your opponent doesn't know would make it more difficult for them to properly shield or counter it. You'd be more likely to win," Harry said, beginning to feel more enthusiastic about the lesson. It would be very useful to know more spells to cast in a fight, and duelling was an area of magic Harry was actually interested in.
"Correct." Cassiopeia nodded. "I myself have invented several new curses that require an advanced shield charm to deflect. There are also other advantages, however. Several family spells I'll be teaching you are variations on known dark magic. By using slightly different incantations to achieve similar effects, the spells are not technically illegal - nor will they be recognised by any priori-incantatem cast on your wand."
Harry could certainly see the benefit in that and despite, or even because of, the dubious legality of it all he was eager to begin casting. Ordinarily he would avoid using dark spells, but during a fight for his life his scruples fell to the wayside. Harry was willing to learn anything that might help him protect himself and his loved ones.
To his disappointment, it quickly became clear that he wouldn't be learning any actual spells in the near future. First Cassiopeia made him cast a few simple charms he already knew, only silently - which made sense since the incantations for family spells had to remain a secret. It was frustrating for Harry, though, since he had to hold back a lot in front of Cassiopeia. He'd practised enough while at Hogwarts to manage all first year spells wordlessly, but an eleven year old mastering silent-casting on his first try would be simply too suspicious. Purposefully making mistakes was surprisingly tiring, but Harry kept at it over the next few days, spurred on by the tantalising hints Cassiopeia dropped about what he'd eventually learn. By the time the Yule celebration arrived, however, Harry was very glad to have a break.
Harry was surprised by how much he enjoyed the holiday, despite Sirius being in Saint Mungo's. As an old Pureblood family, the Blacks insisted on celebrating the Winter Solstice instead of Christmas - not that Harry saw much of a difference between the two. Melania decorated the manor with holly and mistletoe, and a yule log burned in the fireplace, supposedly bringing good luck and prosperity for the coming year. There was no Christmas tree, but there were presents and cake and carols playing on the Wizarding Wireless. Dinner was delicious; Harry ate until he was stuffed, then watched in amusement as the adults became steadily tipsier as a bottle of Firewhisky was passed around the table. Harry managed to sneak a glass for himself and laughed along with the others at Cassiopeia's increasingly off-colour jokes.
"Deck the halls with boughs of holly, tralalaLA lalalaLA!" Harry sang happily as he staggered upstairs to his room, carrying a mound of presents in his arms. He felt warm and pleasantly sleepy, and his last coherent thought before nodding off was that all Black Family gatherings should include large amounts of alcohol - there hadn't been a single mention of pureblood etiquette or arranged marriages all evening.
One drawback with staying at Black Manor was that Harry was hesitant to visit Hermione or the Weasley twins, and the Tonks family was certainly off-limits, though Draco was considered a suitable companion. Harry received an invitation from the boy a few days after Yule, and Melania was so eager to promote the friendship between the two Noble and Ancient Houses that she practically shoved Harry through the floo to Malfoy Manor.
It didn't take Harry long to discover the motive behind the invitation. Draco had received the pair of Abraxan horses he'd demanded for Yule, and clearly wanted to show off his ridiculously expensive and exotic present.
Harry leaned against the fence around the paddock, staring up at the winged palomino horses that towered over the two first year boys. "Incredible," Harry said, causing Draco to puff up proudly. "I didn't think anyone could be quite this spoilt, but you've proved me wrong. Can you even ride them?"
Draco scowled at him. "Of course I can! Here, I'll prove it to you."
Harry watched as Draco climbed over the fence and carefully approached one of the horses. He had to admit Draco seemed to know what he was doing - the blond boy was soon cantering across the grassy field, a small figure perched on top of the massive beast. The Abraxan built up speed and then spread its wings and launched itself up into the air.
Harry was itching to follow Draco into the sky. He would always prefer flying his Firebolt, but until the racing broom was back on the market a flying horse would have to do. Watching as Draco swooped overhead, whooping in delight, Harry made up his mind.
"It's just like a Hippogriff. It's just like a Hippogriff," Harry muttered to himself as he swung himself into the saddle of the second Abraxan. The gigantic horse reared up, causing Harry to cling on to its mane for dear life until finally its hooves hit the ground with a thud and it took off in a gallop. Harry had only time to think that maybe the whole thing was a bad idea, before with one sweep of its feathered wings the horse surged up into the sky.
Somehow Harry managed not to fall off and he joined Draco in circling ever higher over the grounds of Malfoy Manor. They stayed in the air for hours, the horses not seeming to tire in the slightest as they swooped through the air with the two boys on their backs.
"All right, I admit it - I'm a little bit jealous," Harry said once they'd finally landed, windswept and smiling.
"Amazing, aren't they," Draco said, patting his mount on the nose. "Ernie has already sent me several letters begging me to let him ride them."
But it seemed Draco had asked Harry first. Harry was surprised, but welcomed all such signs that Draco considered him a friend. He hoped that under his influence Draco would grow up to be slightly less insufferable, since he really didn't want any cousin of his ever to become a Death Eater.
"Crabbe and Goyle are coming over tomorrow for a look," Draco continued. "And I'm sure Pansy would like to see them, too. She loves horses."
Harry rolled his eyes. Draco constantly moaned about how much he disliked Pansy, but still couldn't resist showing off to an audience. "Why don't you just invite the whole school over and be done with it," Harry said.
Draco took the half-joking comment seriously and launched into a soliloquy on just which of their classmates would be honoured with a glimpse of the Abraxans. "None of the Gryffindors, obviously. Maybe some of the Hufflepuffs - Ernie of course, and Susan Bones comes from the right sort of family. I don't think I'll invite any of the Ravenclaws though, since they're all either bookworms or mudbloods or both. They wouldn't know how to properly appreciate such rare magical horses. You know, I must say the Ravenclaws in our year are a sad bunch - Su Li is foreign, Padma is related to a Gryffindor, and Michael Corner is an idiot."
"Mhmm," Harry mumbled, busy stroking the horses and trying not to listen as Draco prattled on about the shortcomings of their classmates.
"… and that Sally-Anne girl has dropped out of school entirely," Draco finished at last.
"Wait, what?" Harry's head snapped up. "Why?" He searched his memories of his old world for any information on the girl, but he couldn't remember anything except a vague memory of Sally-Anne Perks being sorted into Ravenclaw.
"Oh, haven't you heard?" Draco looked pleased to know something Harry didn't. "Rumour has it she was being bullied - though really as a penniless half-blood what else could she expect - and her parent couldn't afford the school fees in any case."
Harry frowned at the news. Ravenclaw House had a terrible record when it came to bullying. At least Slytherins put on a united front in public, if only due to a sense of self-preservation. The Ravenclaws, however, competed constantly for top marks and popularity and could get very nasty towards their own housemates. Harry still felt angry whenever he thought of how cruel they'd been to Luna, hiding her belongings and calling her names.
Harry was distracted as he headed home after saying goodbye and thanking Draco for letting him ride the Abraxans. The bullying he couldn't do much about at this stage, since he didn't have any influence over Ravenclaw House. It was Sally-Anne's other reason for leaving that Harry decided to concentrate on. He didn't know exactly how much Hogwarts cost, but he remembered the discussion at the Slytherin table at the beginning of the year - wizard-raised students had to pay significantly higher fees than muggleborns.
Harry could understand the reasoning; if muggleborns stayed in the muggle world and weren't trained properly, they could endanger the Statute of Secrecy. Yet he didn't think it right for pureblood and half-blood children to be denied a Hogwarts education either.
The next time he visited Sirius in Saint Mungo's, Harry raised the topic. "Something should be done about it," Harry said after he'd explained everything. "There must be some way to send more wizard-raised students to Hogwarts."
"Sure, sure." Sirius said. "And where's the money supposed to come from?"
"I don't know. The Ministry?"
Sirius' snort made his opinion clear and Harry had to agree with his scepticism. "You're right, it wouldn't work," Harry admitted regretfully. "The Ministry would never agree to hand over so much as a single Knut. And even if they did they'd just use it as an excuse to meddle in the running of Hogwarts."
"Exactly." Sirius sighed as he leant back on his pillows. He looked pale and exhausted, but according to the Healers he was on the mend. Harry hoped he'd soon be out of hospital and back at home.
"The current situation is dangerous though," Harry said. "It's another reason for people to dislike muggleborns, which just feeds the ideas of Pureblood Supremacy. Not to mention it would be a good idea for everyone who's magically strong enough to get a Hogwarts education - the more people who can defend themselves the better."
"I agree with you, Orion, but it's all very well to say something has to change - in reality Hogwarts can't lower its fees just like that."
"Why's it so expensive in the first place?" Harry wondered. "I mean, the castle's upkeep is taken care of by House Elves, who work for free. Yes there's food and teacher salaries, but that can't amount to that much, surely?"
"Well that's easy to answer," Sirius said. "First of all, you have to realise that the wars with Voldemort and Grindlewald have killed off a lot of wizard-raised children, so there are fewer students paying full fees. At the same time there are loads more muggleborns, since the muggle population has grown so quickly. So the wizard-raised have to pay more to allow the muggleborns to pay so much less. Then there's also the problem of Hogwarts being rather heavily in debt."
"In debt? Really?"
"Oh yes." Sirius nodded. "A headmaster back in the seventeenth century managed to gamble away huge swathes of land belonging to the castle, as well as the east wing of the castle itself. Hogwarts was forced to buy it all back at an exorbitant price - they even had to borrow money from the goblins to afford it."
Harry gave an incredulous laugh. "How could any headmaster wager parts of Hogwarts?"
"Ah well, back then the headmaster had full control of the castle. After the debacle new rules were brought in, and it was around that time that the Board of Governors was set up. Unfortunately, Hogwarts still has to pay off the debt, which is why the school has to demand such high fees."
"Huh, I never knew any of that." Harry smiled as a thought struck him. "If Hermione were here she'd tell me I should've read Hogwarts a History."
Sirius shook his head. "How did that girl not get into Ravenclaw?"
Harry just shrugged, not letting himself be distracted. "All right, so lowering the fees for everyone wouldn't work. What about a scholarship though? Every year one or two students could be sent to Hogwarts who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford it - it would be better than nothing, at least."
"Again, where is the money supposed to come from?" Sirius asked him. "I'm on an Auror's salary, which believe me isn't much. Yes, I got quite a bit from the Ministry in compensation for being chucked into Azkaban without a trial, but most of that is going to helping the werewolves. That Wolfbane potion of yours is turning out to be pretty expensive - Snape has been sending me updates on his progress and requests for more funds almost every day. So unless you've got a Philosophers Stone tucked away somewhere, I don't see how we can afford it."
"I don't suppose Grandfather Arcturus could be talked into donating a few galleons?" Harry asked hopefully. Sirius just looked at him. "Yeah, that's what I thought." Harry sighed, but then perked up as another idea hit him. "How about we use the Boy Who Lived angle? You inherited the Potter vault, after all, which is enough for seven years at Hogwarts. You could use the money and your status as Harry's godfather to set up a Harry Potter scholarship fund. I bet loads of people would donate to it - there's a bloody statue of the Boy Who Lived in the middle of Diagon Alley for Merlin's sake."
Sirius appeared to think it over. "I suppose it might work," he said at last. "I'll look into it - maybe we can organise something for the next school year."
Harry was disappointed by Sirius' lack of enthusiasm, but had to admit he hadn't considered the more practical aspects and had instead got a bit carried away. If they set up a Harry Potter scholarship to send a few half-bloods to Hogwarts every year, it might lessen the anger and resentment over muggleborns getting in for free. It would also remind people that their precious saviour was a half-blood, which might help to decrease society's prejudice a bit. On top of that, since half-bloods were less likely to join Voldemort, Harry thought giving more of them a Hogwarts education would be a good idea.
Visiting hours were almost over, however, so Harry decided to drop the subject for the time being. Instead he asked Sirius about how the werewolf project was going, something he knew Sirius was always keen to talk about.
The end of the holidays arrived far too soon, as was always the case ever since Harry had stopped living with the Durselys. Sirius had only been released from Saint Mungo's two days before term started, meaning that he and Harry had spent hardly any time at all in Grimmauld Place. Living in Black Manor had turned out to be more tolerable than Harry had expected though, and he would happily have stayed longer if it meant he didn't have to go back to Hogwarts. Since that was impossible, Harry reluctantly joined everyone else as they returned to the castle, trading stories about their holidays and boasting about the presents they'd received. Hermione had gone skiing with her parents, Zabini had visited relatives in Italy, and Draco told anybody who would listen about his pet Abraxans.
Their first Potions lesson brought them down to earth with a thump and destroyed any residual holiday cheer. Professor Snape was more vicious than ever, sweeping through the dungeons spitting venom and spewing out insults at his hapless students. Gryffindor lost over eighty house points and Neville was reduced to a quivering wreck. Harry patted the boy on the back and glared at Snape, getting a flash of knowledge as he met the man's dark gaze. His Assessor talent still wasn't under Harry's control, only giving him glimpses when he least expected it, but it was enough for Harry to realise that Snape's research into the Wolfsbane potion had given him a renewed sense of purpose. Watching the Potions Professor gleefully give Ron a detention for breathing too loudly, Harry was by no means convinced that was a good thing.
Snape wasn't the only teacher who had begun acting oddly. Trelawney had emerged from her tower sometime during the holidays and had taken to lurking around corners, lying in wait to ambush Harry whenever he passed by.
"My poor boy, I know what a heavy burden you bear," she said, looming over him in a stinking cloud of incense. "The Inner Eye sees all! Let me guide you."
"Er, no thank you, Professor," Harry said. He had a Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson to get to and wasn't interested in listening to Trelawney's predictions of doom.
The Divination teacher didn't pay any attention to his refusal, however, and continued following him down the corridor while giving him unwanted advice. "Venus is in the eighth house - danger looms!"
"Right, Professor," Harry mumbled.
"Beware! The tarot cards warn of disaster approaching. That which you fear is almost upon us!" Trelawney dramatically pointed a finger in Harry's face, her eyes glinting behind her enormous spectacles.
"I'll keep that in mind," Harry said, dodging round her and quickening his step. He sighed in relief when Trelawney didn't chase after him. He himself was too used to her morbid predictions to pay her any attention, but the other first years were less sanguine.
"What's that old bat on about?" Draco demanded as soon as they rounded the corner.
Harry just shrugged in reply.
"It sounds serious, Black. Something bad is going to happen to you," Pansy said, looking rather pleased at the prospect.
"Oh dear. Orion, you will be careful, won't you?" Daphne edged closer to him with a look of concern on her pretty face.
Harry rolled his eyes at them all. "I'll be fine," he said.
"But what does she mean by 'that which you fear most'?" Hermione wondered. Harry was surprised to see her taking Trelawney's words at all seriously. It seemed Hermione was prepared to believe in divination, probably because of Harry's own Assessor ability.
"Who cares? I'm sure she was making it all up," Harry said impatiently. His housemates weren't ready to drop the subject, however, and continued debating Trelawney's words all the way to the Defence classroom. For once Harry was actually relieved to start a lesson with Footswitch, although that feeling lasted only as long as it took for the Professor to introduce his next topic.
At some point during the Yule holidays Footswitch must have heard the rumours Arcturus had started spreading about Voldemort's muggle ancestry, and had obviously taken the news badly.
"Shocking information has come to light that changes our whole understanding of the war. It seems the self-styled Dark Lord was no other than Tom Marvolo Riddle, the son of a muggle and a near squib!" Footswitch spat, his nostrils flaring in outrage as he paced up and down behind his desk.
Harry wondered whether his indignation stemmed from a longstanding hatred of Voldemort or disillusionment over having considered him a worthy pureblood leader. Either way, Harry was dreading the rest of the lesson.
"But, sir?" A Ravenclaw student waved their hand in the air.
"Yes, Miss Fawcett?" Footswitch acknowledged her.
"Has it actually been proven that You-Know-Who is a half-blood? I mean, whoever said so could be lying, couldn't they?" Samantha Fawcett pointed out, glancing around at her housemates for support.
"I have been assured that the discovery has been made by a highly respected Paterfamilias of a Noble and Ancient family," Footswitch told her. "I hope you do not intend to call the word of such an honourable pureblood into question, Miss Fawcett."
"No, Professor." A muggleborn student would have had points taken off, but since she was a pureblood Footswitch continued on with the lesson without further comment.
"This new information not only sheds light on You-Know-Who's heritage, but also on the mystery of his downfall," Footswitch lectured. "Small wonder that he was defeated by a baby - and a half blood one at that - when he himself was of muggle blood. No doubt he miscast the Killing Curse and caused his own defeat. Given his heritage the only surprise is that such a thing had not happened long before that night. A wizard or witch of muggle blood has no business casting advanced magic."
"Sir!" Hermione's hand shot into the air in protest.
Footswitch ignored her. "Indeed the whole notion of Harry Potter somehow surviving a Killing Curse is obviously flawed. I am surprised no one questioned it before. The son of an insignificant muggleborn witch ever managing to defeat a true pureblood wizard is highly unlikely."
"You're wrong-" Terry Boot began angrily.
"Ten points from Ravenclaw for interrupting," Footswitch said and continued relentlessly on with the lesson. "As I have told you all before, Muggles care only for their pursuit of logic and science, with the subtlety of magic remaining far beyond their limited understanding. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that their offspring are equally unsuited to the magical arts. Muggleborns have only a shallow grasp on spellwork, and their magic is rough and uncontrolled. Such flaws are passed on in the bloodlines - in the case of young Harry Potter, his mediocrity was no doubt a result of his mother's muggle parentage."
Harry listened with gritted teeth, becoming more and more worked up while beside him Hermione was practically vibrating in outrage. For once some of the purebloods in the class joined them in their disgust, although for very different reasons. Either they had grown up hearing stories of the heroic Boy Who Lived and didn't like to hear him insulted, or their parents were supporters of the Dark Lord and they were angry at having his heritage called into question.
The lesson only got worse. Footswitch went on to imply that no pureblood would ever be so crass as to become a mass-murdering Dark Lord, ignoring the fact that almost all Death Eaters were from prominent pureblood families. Then he moved on to covering Voldemort's tactical mistakes during the war, attributing them all to his weak mind and muggle blood.
By the time the bell rang, Footswitch had made it sound as if anyone could have dealt with the Dark Lord and that actually his immense power must have been a sham - since, of course, only Purebloods could be magically powerful.
"I can't believe that man! How dare he imply that muggleborns are weak!" Hermione shrieked as she stormed out of the classroom.
"Never mind that," Pansy said impatiently. "Didn't you hear what he said about the Dark Lord? He insulted the noble line of Slytherin!"
"Did you see the Ravenclaws? They were taking notes!" Hermione snapped back.
"No true Slytherin would ever marry a muggle," Pansy insisted. "Footswitch was talking complete rubbish, I know it."
"Someone should do something about that man," Hermione said darkly. "He can't be allowed to get away with spewing such hateful drivel."
Harry listened as the two continued to talk at cross-purposes; both were outraged, but for very different reasons. The other first years soon chimed in with their opinions, creating a cacophony of prejudiced remarks and angry tirades. Harry himself stayed silent, but seriously considered begging Sirius to think up a reason to arrest the bigoted Professor. True, the curse on the Defence position made it unlikely Footswitch would last the year in any case, but Harry dreaded how much damage the man could cause before then.
The Defence Professor delivered the same lecture in all his classes and didn't seem at all inclined to move onto another subject. Any restraint he'd had was gone; he discussed the evils of muggleborn magic and the barbarity of the muggle world in excruciating detail. Within the castle tensions rose between purebloods and muggleborns, and the words 'mudblood' and 'inbred idiots' were tossed around as frequent scuffles broke out in the halls.
Hermione decided to organise a boycott of Footswitch's lessons and began urging all muggleborns to not turn up to class. Harry rather thought it must be a sign of the coming apocalypse - Hermione Granger telling people to skive off? - but considered joining in. He didn't think he could take another so-called lesson with the man.
When Footswitch had so contemptuously dismissed Voldemort as a threat, he had insulted everything Harry and his friends had fought and died for. Voldemort was an immensely powerful wizard and pretending otherwise was pure idiocy. It had taken all of Harry's self-control not to stand up and describe to Footswitch in great detail all the atrocities Voldemort had committed and the innocent people his Death Eaters had killed. Harry longed to wipe the look of smug superiority off Footswitch's face; half-blood or pureblood, it didn't matter - Voldemort was just as dangerous either way.
It turned out that Harry wasn't the only one who hated the Defence Professor, nor was Hermione alone in wanting to 'do something' about the man. A week after the disastrous Defence lesson, a commotion at the staff table during lunch drew the attention of the chattering students. Footswitch was hunched over, gasping and clutching at his throat as if choking. Then he began coughing up blood. Seconds later he collapsed onto the floor, blood trickling from his mouth and his limbs twitching grotesquely.
Several people screamed and pointed, and soon students were standing on their chairs to get a better look while the more sensitive among them began crying hysterically. The teachers rushed Footswitch off to the hospital wing, ignoring the excited whispers and panicked demands to know what was going on.
"What happened?" asked a Ravenclaw.
"The food - it's been poisoned!" a Gryffindor shouted.
"We're all going to die!" wailed a Hufflepuff.
The Slytherins quickly reassured themselves of their own safety (with the more paranoid among them even summoning Bezoars from their private potion supplies), then sat back and watched as the Great Hall erupted into chaos.
"Honestly!" Hermione huffed in disapproval at the panicking students. "That was obviously a fast acting poison - if anyone else had eaten it they'd be dead already."
"You're right, Granger," Draco said. "From the way his arms and legs were twitching, I'd guess someone slipped Footswitch a vial of Baneberry Poison. Professor Snape taught us about it the other day, remember?"
Nott frowned at him. "I thought it was supposed to cause almost instant death? He was still alive when they were bringing him to Madame Pomfrey."
"It can't have been brewed properly," Draco said with a shrug. "Whoever made it must've been an amateur."
"I wonder who it was?" Hermione said thoughtfully.
That was the question everyone was asking, including the Aurors who arrived the next day to investigate. Unfortunately for them, they soon discovered they had a whole castle full of suspects to deal with. Footswitch had made a lot of enemies; muggleborns were offended by his pureblood bigotry, purebloods disliked him for insulting either Harry Potter or the Dark Lord, and everyone was unhappy about the incredibly long essays he set as homework. In the end the Aurors gave up in disgust and declared it an accidental poisoning.
"Accidental, my foot!" Hermione said. "Somebody tried to kill him!"
"Why do you care?" Harry asked her. "I thought you hated the man."
Hermione looked uncertain. "Well yes, but… I don't want him dead."
Harry considered pointing out that Footswitch would certainly not have shed any tears if Hermione or any other muggleborn died, but stopped himself. Hermione was really only a child and had never seen such violence before. "Don't worry," he said instead. "I hear the healers got to him on time. He'll probably make a full recovery."
He wasn't just being comforting. Footswitch had somehow survived the poisoning, although his internal organs had to be almost completely regrown and he would be staying in Saint Mungo's for the next several months at least. It was actually his survival that gave Harry a suspicion as to the culprit. The poison used was very complex, with the smallest mistake in the brewing usually leading to an explosion. To create a flawed potion that was enough to hurt but too weak to kill would require either a huge amount of luck or a lot of expertise.
Harry could only think of one person in the castle with both the skill and the ruthlessness necessary to poison a Professor. Snape had even mentioned the potion in class, making the Aurors suspect one of the students - the perfect double bluff. Snape's expression didn't give anything away, but Harry knew the man was capable of such a thing. He had once been a Death Eater after all, and Harry could sense the determination and controlled viciousness present behind Snape's mask.
In the end Harry supposed he'd never know for sure, and wasn't certain he even wanted to. Poisoning someone was of course a dreadful crime, but given the choice Harry didn't know whether he would denounce the culprit. Footswitch was a small and petty man who clung onto Pureblood ideology to give himself a sense of importance. He had been an awful professor, made more terrible by the insidious nature of his teaching. He had presented his beliefs with such calm rationality that he'd managed to convince many of his students to accept his bigoted statements as the absolute truth. All things considered, Harry was glad to be rid of him and shrugged off any guilt he felt. If Snape was indeed the one responsible, Harry trusted that he wouldn't begin a murderous rampage. After all, Footswitch was still alive, if barely, and none of the other teachers in the castle would dream of insulting Lily Potter's memory.
Defence Against the Dark Arts ended up being cancelled for the rest of term and life in the castle eventually settled down to normal. Exams were looming in the distance and the teachers were piling on the homework, leaving no time to think about anything except studying. Harry was well ahead of his classmates when it came to casting spells, but he still struggled to write boring essays and memorise the dates of all the Goblin rebellions. Harry knew it was important to get good marks in order to please his Black relatives, but he couldn't resist procrastinating by writing letters to Sirius and playing chess with Draco.
Hermione was very disapproving of such behaviour. She'd drawn up a revision timetable months ago and was following it fanatically, determined to do well and prove herself to her housemates. Since Harry was counting on her to win his bet against Draco, he let himself be talked into a few study sessions in the library with Hermione, Neville, Ernie, and Nott and a few others. Harry was well known for being able to cast almost every spell perfectly, and so spent a lot of time tutoring the other first years in proper wand-movements and incantations. Whenever he offered to help Draco, however, the blond waved him off.
Draco was hardly doing any studying and didn't appear at all concerned about the coming exams. He seemed to think that he'd get top marks simply by virtue of being a Malfoy. He was already gloating and possessively eying Harry's augerey feather quill, as if Draco winning their bet was a foregone conclusion.
Harry found it all rather amusing, since he was sure Draco would soon be forced to restructure his ordered view of the world. For Draco it was inconceivable that a muggleborn could possibly outperform him at magic. His world was a simple one; Malfoys at the top, various other purebloods only a little lower (they got points taken off for not being Malfoys), then came poor people, half-bloods and magical creatures. At the very bottom of society were muggleborns, who were inferior to the purebloods in every way. Muggles didn't even make it onto the list.
It was that sort of thinking that Hermione was clearly so desperate to disprove. As the exams neared she became increasingly short-tempered, spending almost every waking moment in the library surrounded by books. Harry did his best to help by offering encouragement and advice, but Hermione remained stressed and snappish no matter what he did. In the end Harry just handed her books when she needed them and tried to make sure she stopped to eat occasionally. He'd never seen Hermione quite so worked up before - even after the exams were finally over she remained a nervous wreck.
"What was your answer for question eleven on the Charms exam?" Hermione asked him.
Harry shrugged. "I can't remember. I'm sure you got it right though."
"But what if I didn't?" Hermione gnawed anxiously on a fingernail. "Oh, I just know I'm going to fail everything. Malfoy will be so smug!"
Harry continued reassuring her, but Hermione only calmed down once she got her results back and found out she'd got over one hundred percent in every exam. All the first year Slytherins had done reasonably well, with even Crabbe and Goyle scraping by, and Harry was pleased to hear that Neville had passed everything. The Gryffindor boy had spent many hours practising spells in the Room of Requirement and had made a lot of progress, though his magic still reacted oddly at times. Harry hoped that passing his exams would give Neville the boost of confidence he needed.
Harry himself had done very well, certainly far better than the first time round. He didn't take much pride in it, however, since he had ten years more experience than any of his classmates. He was proud of Hermione though, and was both pleased and unsurprised to hear she'd beaten Draco in all her exams.
"Go on then, Draco," Harry said as they sat in the Great Hall for the leaving feast. "You lost the bet, now it's time to pay up."
Between Footswitch taking points from muggleborns and Snape taking points from every house except Slytherin, their winning the House Cup had long been a foregone conclusion. Green and silver banners hung from the ceiling and the members of Slytherin House were looking smug in the face of yet another triumph - all except Draco, who was focused on a more personal failure. "It's not as if Granger actually got top marks," he complained. "You outperformed her in a lot of the practical exams - and who really cares about History of Magic and Astronomy anyway?"
"The important thing is that she got higher marks than you, Draco," Harry reminded him.
"Hermione, you're being very quiet," Daphne spoke up, setting down her goblet of pumpkin juice. "Are you quite all right?"
Hermione stopped staring at the table-top and looked up distractedly. "Oh, everything's fine. I'm fine. It's just…"
Harry immediately turned to her in concern. "What's wrong? Did something happen? Did someone say something to you?" He cast a suspicious glance at the older Slytherins sitting farther down the table.
"A group of Ravenclaws cornered me in the library before lunch," Hermione said, blinking back angry tears. "They were angry that I outperformed them in the exams. They called me a mudblood and accused me of cheating - can you imagine? As if I would ever cheat!"
Harry switched to glaring at the Ravenclaw table. "Are you all right? How did you get away?"
"I hit them with a stinging hex," Hermione admitted. "But it's just so unfair! I've worked so hard to get good marks and prove I belong here, and now people are saying I cheated. I just can't win."
Harry patted her gingerly on the back. "I can set the Weasley twins on them if you like," he offered, winning a watery smile from Hermione.
He wasn't the only one offended on Hermione's behalf - none of the Slytherin first years looked pleased at the idea of the Ravenclaws attacking one of their own.
"Pay no attention to them. Their jealousy and uncouth manners are a sign of their inferior upbringings. They are beneath your notice," Daphne told her primly.
Nott nodded his agreement. "Ravenclaws! Who cares what they think? You're better than them - you're a Slytherin!"
"Thank you," Hermione said quietly, looking touched by their support.
Harry was still angry and struggled to resist the temptation to hex a few Ravenclaws. "Draco, I think it's time for you to fulfil our bet," he said firmly.
"Do I have to?" Draco whined.
"Scared, Malfoy?" Nott smirked at him.
Draco scowled furiously at them both before pasting a pleasant look on his face and clambering to his feet. "Attention! Oi, everybody listen up! I have an important announcement to make." All around the hall heads turned, wondering what spectacle they'd witness next. "My fellow Slytherin Hermione Granger has received perfect marks in every single one of her exams. I am very impressed by her tireless hard work and hereby admit that my muggleborn housemate is a better student of magic than I am. That is all."
The Slytherins gave a small round of applause as Draco bowed and sat back down. Harry shook his head at the boy. "Impressive," he said.
"Thank you." Draco smirked back, clearly pleased with himself. He'd put more emphasis on Hermione being a Slytherin than a muggleborn, casting the whole house in a good light. He'd also made it clear she got full marks, so just because Hermione did better didn't mean Draco himself did badly. And by drawing attention to her hard work he'd reminded people she was obsessive about her studies and so hinted that he could have outdone her if he'd really wanted to.
Trust a Malfoy to turn the situation to their own advantage, Harry thought with an exasperated smile. The terms of the bet had been fulfilled, however, so he joined the others in congratulating Hermione. She was flushed and smiling, clearly pleased by the public recognition of her achievements and the support of her housemates.
With the school year drawing to a close, Harry was filled with the satisfaction of a job well done. Footswitch was gone, the Slytherins were slightly more tolerant than before, two Horcruxes had been destroyed, and no one had uncovered Harry's identity. He'd successfully established himself as a clever and magically powerful student with a circle of friends from all Houses. Both he and Sirius, who by now was a well-respected Auror, were fully accepted by Pureblood society (with the downside that they were being hounded to marry). Not only was Arcturus willing to help undermine the support for Voldemort, but also Snape was close to a breakthrough with the Wolfsbane Potion. To top it all off, Harry had a whole summer with Sirius to look forward to. All in all it had been a very good year.
Which was why the news, when it came, was so very unexpected - someone had stolen the Philosopher's Stone.
End of Year One
A/N: I'm alive! Real life was a chaotic mess for a while, but I'm back writing again. I promise I'll keep plodding along until I finish the story. All the wonderful reviews I've got have helped me immensely, giving me the needed kick up the backside to keep working. So thank you!
Since my last update I've rewritten chapters one and two. No huge plot changes, but I hope they're more interesting and readable now. For those who can't be bothered to reread them, all you should know is that Harry didn't tell the goblins about his identity as Harry Potter. So as of this point, only Sirius and Harry know the truth - I thought it was better that way.
Oh, and that bit about a Headmaster gambling away land belonging to Hogwarts is actually inspired by a real life story. Luxembourg, a country I lived in for several years, has a royal family and gossip has it that one of the Grand Dukes bet a huge plot of land in a high-stakes card game. He ended up losing the whole forest of Grünewald and the government had to buy it back at considerable expense. So yeah, that sort of thing can happen!