A/N: Don't own anything here.
I'd like to thank Mr. Skellington for his wonderful work proofreading and tweaking this chapter before it was released. I'll never understand how anyone can be goo enough to proofread, edit, and give suggestions while getting the chapter back to me within twelve hours.
Also I'd like to thank all of you readers who keep coming back to this story. Without seeing the bars of hits, the lines of visitors, or reading the kind words of the reviews I probably would have given this up a month ago. Even if I hadn't given this up it wouldn't be near the quality it is now.
For the four first year Gryffindors the return to Hogwarts brought a new complexity to their education. The first term had been an easing in period where the simplest concepts were explained in the most basic of terms. Concepts were being expanded and combined while the students were also expected to understand and apply which spells would be the best to use and when. Nearly a month had been spent learning to change a match to a needle and back again. Another two months had been spent working the same concept with different materials. Rocks to glass, leaves to feathers, paper to porcelain. It hadn't been till the last two weeks that the classes had started having to focus on changing the shape or size. On the first day back the head of the lions had waltzed in and demonstrated the first year practical portion of their final exams. Now McGonagall was expecting them to manage all three with a single spell. Leaves had to elongate to full blown quills and were graded on their ability to write and how long they lasted. No longer were rocks becoming glass marbles; now the stern professor was trying to drink from the glass cups she wanted them to create. Blocks of wood were expected to become exquisite pieces of silverware and parchment was to impersonate fine china. Hermione couldn't have been happier.
Charms were another matter entirely. As Harry had noted months ago charms were the socket wrenches and tool kits of magical spells. The basic levitation charm lead to more complex hover charms that could be used in the basic's place. Want to have a spoon stirring dinner while you were using the grill? There was a charm for that commonly used by potion masters for simple stirring requirements. The basic wand-Lighting, Lumos, charm gave way to charms that created floating balls and focused beams of light that could be varied in color and intensity. Introduced were charms that created smells and sounds that functioned like a Wand-Lighting spell for the other senses. Hermione's bluebell flames of heat was actually an off shoot of the Incendio spell that was used for lighting candles and fire places or by pyromaniacs for fun. Tickling charms were added to the repertoire as was the ever handy magical fixing abilities of the Mending Charm – Reparo . The unlocking charms demonstration was repeated for the four lions; this time by the charm master. Most importantly covered was the way all these spells could be used and undone. Most of the counters were a simple Finite and Finite Incantatem, although Nox could also be used for any light effects. Professor Flitwik went on to explain that their charms practical test was not just a test of being able to perform the spells, it was a test of knowing what spell, and it's variations, to use and when. In that respect it was also a test of creativity.
To Harry's relief history of magic remained his favorite nap time despite Hermione's protests. History was perhaps Hermione's easiest subject. Her love of reading combined with her near eidetic memory and meticulous note taking prevented even Binns' mind numbing lectures from affecting her grades. While Snape remained less combative than he was at first during lessons he never took to teaching preferring to sit in his chair and glare at anything that wasn't wearing silver and emerald. Harry couldn't even tell if the course work was getting harder in potions between Snape's lack of communication and snide remarks when combined with his own lack of understanding how the ingredients worked together. Herbology likewise became a thorn in Harry's side, even with Neville's help. The older he got the more plants seemed to detest him. Two or three years ago he had been able to walk in the greenhouse and work with the more docile plants when he visited Neville, now he could barely handle a vine or flower without it trying to draw blood or spit something at him. While Harry was consistently scrapping Exceeds Expectations in Herbology and barely missing the same grade in potions, he never really managed to excel in either field. Neville was quite the opposite, any plant he touched yielded to his will with a simple graze. It was stunning for Professor Sprout who very rarely was able to work with a prodigy at all. Unlike her friends who taught the more main stream subjects, green thumbs with natural talent in Herbology who loved the field enough to pursue it with the passion and focus of an artist were exceptionally rare. Neville Longbottom was such a green thumb.
With the lack of ever having a consistent Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher there really wasn't a coherent lesson plan for any year. Most of the time according to the older students the Defense professors were just making things up as they went based on the things they had experienced. For the stuttering fool they were learning from that meant that after the first terms general overview they covered vampires. A lot. Over and Over again. Detecting and identifying the undead. Methods to protect and drive them away. Most disturbing were the more permanent solutions the professor felt necessary to discuss. Fortunately all the beginning defensive spells were referenced in the book assigned to the class and could be found in the standard book of spells. Most of them were primarily harmless hexes or jinxes designed to make running away easier or an attacker less dangerous. Spells like the total body bind, Jelly legs (and fingers), the tripping jinx, the bedazzling hex which left its victims seeing spots, a speech disabling jinx which caused the lips of the target to stick together, and the crazy legs hex, Tarantallegra, which made a person's feet go crazy.
Of the four Gryffindors only Ron was developing any true sense of astronomy. Hermione, in true know it all fashion, had been able to memorize all the charts and movements of the planets, moons, and the positions of the constellations. While astronomy was a predominantly theoretical and knowledge based field the implications and impacts of the planets required a more abstract type of thought pattern that the linear thinking girl struggled with. In contrast that same type of out of the box thinking is what Ron excelled at. Finding patterns and drawing conclusions about what was going to happen next was a key component of any student of chess. Once Ron had the background knowledge and understanding of the material he was able to watch the entire sky the same way he watched a chess board and he began seeing how the planets and constellations affected each other. He wasn't anywhere near understanding the more convoluted theory of astrology and the predictions that followed, but it was a start.
Harry's private lessons with Master Flitwik were far more painful than any other class or quidditch practice he had had to go to. By the same token learning to dodge a constant barrage of silent streams of light made dodging bludgers seem simple. Oddly enough there was actually a science and art to evading and dodging spell fire. The first time Harry spun in a circle away from a spell he received six hexes in his ass as a warning with the piece of advice to keep his eyes on the danger. The first time he locked eye with the charms master he received a pounding headache with the advice to either avoid eye contact or to improve his mental shields. He was instructed on how to lean out of the way of a spell, how to turn briefly out of danger while presenting a smaller silhouette, how and when to duck and roll out of the line of fire while keeping his eyes forward, and most importantly that his greatest defense was his mobility. Offensively Harry had to learn how much of a difference a few degrees makes over the course of a long room. Precision targeting was a matter of practice and learning the fundamentals. Stance, grip, and breath control were among the most important of the basics. Beyond that it was a simple matter of hand eye coordination, something any good seeker had in spades, and practice – something he was rapidly acquiring.
January passed in a flash before leading to a cold and snow filled February which brought the Potter family back to Hogwarts for another quidditch game. This match had always been traditionally the friendliest match of the year. The Badgers against the Lions. Hufflepuff and Gryffindor. Without question the two houses that got along the best always had the friendliest game. While no single house ever got along with the snakes the house that came closest was in fact the Ravenclaws. However, nobody in any house ever expected a clean game from a house whose defining trait was their willingness to do anything to come out on top. By contrast the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff game was always dominated by the Lions' display of honor and the Badgers' display of justice and teamwork.
Oliver believed that the Hufflepuff game would be the hardest, closest, game of the year for his team. Harry's aggressive high speed attacks and the twins barrage of bludgers would have the least amount of effect on Hufflepuff's chaser line. A line that had an unrivaled dedication to formation flying and high speed precision passing. Their level of teamwork allowed for them always pass the quaffle at the last moment and to pass often enough that attacking any one chaser was ill advised. While each of the Lions strongest weapons would be disruptive on their own, Oliver wasn't convinced that they would be able to seize the lead fast enough and strong enough to be safe from Cedric winning the game for the puffs. In Wood's mind the game would be determined by Harry and Cedric's ability to locate and capture the snitch.
The game started much the same way Harry's previous game had and Harry continued his diving spiraling attack from there. What was different was the reactions – first and foremost the larger and more experienced Cedric Diggory was able to fly in Harry's wake and call out warnings to his teammates. Secondly, even with Harry's Nimbus 2000 and his exceptional maneuverability he wasn't able to cause the turn overs he had previously. Simply put ramming and distracting a chaser who didn't hold on to the quaffle was next to useless. The best Harry was able to do was force the puffs into passing faster and removing one of the chasers briefly from their formations and patterns. When the Weasley twins were able to combine their attacks with Harry's strafes it left the one badger fending himself from the lions' own chasing line. While this created a strong defensive line for the Lions, the Badger chasers consistently recovered their own defensive zone preventing the unopposed runs against their keeper that had created the landslide scoring in the previous match.
Oliver Wood was without a doubt correct in his belief that the snitch would determine the winner of this match. After twenty five minutes of play the Lions had a forty point lead; in a game that ended with a fifteen goal shift it might as well have been a tie game. What was worse the Hufflepuff team was getting better as they played; they were getting accustomed to the Lions tempo and style. Harry understood quickly that while professional teams could fly for hours, and some games lasted through a day and a night, they couldn't manage that here at Hogwarts. He couldn't manage the speed and harshness of his flying for much more than 105 minutes of play. And what would happen when he wasn't there performing high G flight moves that were distracting the Badgers? They'd go on the attack and the Gryffindor advantage could be lost. Harry did however have an advantage over Cedric. Cedric, while more than capable of keeping up with and flying on an even footing with Harry, wasn't used to the rapid change in directions or pace. Furthermore he was more worried about his teammates and chasers then the snitch. It wasn't much of an advantage and it wouldn't last forever. But given the experience and size the older boy had Harry was willing to take anything he could get. Harry's advantages unfortunately forced Cedric and Harry into an even faster, more intense, spiraling crisscrossing pattern in and out of each line of chasers. Harry would dive or climb, corkscrewing the entire way before rolling into or cutting off a badger that no longer carried the quaffle.
Cedric was right there in his wake, fighting the buffeting winds Harry was producing, calling out warnings to his teammates while edging every inch of speed and maneuverability out of his broom to try and keep up with the more agile seeker on the faster broom. He wasn't trying to pull the more dazzling maneuvers that defined Harry Potter's flight path. His broom didn't have the speed or maneuverability to manage that; he himself didn't have the stomach for those spins or the control to mimic them. It was a testament to the younger boy's skill on a broom that he could appear totally out of control without ever actually losing control. Cedric also knew that his first and most important job in this match wasn't finding and catching the snitch. There would always be other games to play and win, more importantly at the end of the day it really wasn't anything more than a school game played for house pride. Cedric had seen what the Lions did to the Snakes in their first game, while they weren't playing with that same level of brutality the Lions were still playing to win. Every last Slytherin Quidditch player had been forced to see madam Pomfrey that day. If he lost the game and his team walked away without injury Cedric Diggory would be a happy badger.
Forty five minutes into the game Harry, in the middle of what would be his last strafing run against the 1991-1992 Hufflepuff quidditch team, diverted from rolling over the opposing chaser into an immediate dive. Using the few extra precious seconds that his maneuvering gained him pushed his broom into a full speed gravity assisted feint. Only it wasn't a true feint, Harry had actually seen the snitch. But Cedric playing it safe and trying to avoid eating the grass, held back on his speed expecting Harry to pull out of the dive and back into play. Harry did pull out of the dive but he didn't turn back to the field, using gravity to his advantage he pushed his Nimbus 2000 over its top speed. Cedric never had a chance to even pull even with Harry before the younger seeker had the golden snitch in his hands. As Harry was being surrounded by his fellow lions he found it curiously strange that Hermione and his mother were standing there with oddly serene smiles while his father, uncles, and best mate stood behind them with mischievous smirks.
February also brought with it a holiday. A holiday that often seemed divided down the gender line, Valentine's Day. For the older years it was a holiday of romance and gift giving to loved ones and hoping that special someone might just like you back. For the first and second years it was a wide exchange of chocolate, candies, and cards between friends and classmates with the distant hope that maybe in a year or two some romance of their own might bloom.
Winter faded with the coming and passing of March. The weather turned from blistering wintery cold into a rainy mix of between near freezing and still quite chilly. It was past the Easter break in April before any actual good weather was seen. The kind of weather that was actually made Harry want to spend an entire afternoon on his broom. It was the same month that Hagrid curiously took to inviting the four Gryffindors to his hut on every Friday now that their flying lessons had concluded leaving them with a free afternoon. For Harry his parents had been on friendly terms with the gentle giant and he felt obligated to be courteous even if he didn't agree with the man's tastes in pets. All of Ron's brothers had spoken highly of Hagrid, most of all Charlie, and he was there for similar reasons as Harry. For Neville it was actually far simpler; Hagrid had pictures of Frank and Alice from their school days and was willing to share. If for no other reason Neville would have been there for that and Harry would have followed to support him. Hermione who could have been, and honestly would have preferred to be, studying in the library had also opted to join them. She had become very accustomed to the presence of her three friends and followed them without thought.
It was in late April that one of these visits brought a measure of turmoil back into the lives of the four lions. Hagrid's hut was remarkably warm that day; more so when it was contrasted with the seasonably cool weather of northern Scotland. It wasn't just warm inside the wooden hut; there was a raging fire that could have kept the coldest of winters at bay. Hermione would have likened it to a sauna she had been in once with her mum. As soon as they had opened the door the kids had been hit with a blast of steam and the heat and humidity had never relented.
It wasn't even twenty minutes into what had become a reoccurring visit that the four students as one demanded that Hagrid either kill the fire or open the window. "Can't, y'all, sorry," said Hagrid.
Harry noticed him glance at the fire. Harry looked at it, too. "Hagrid - what's that?" But he already knew what it was. In the very heart of the fire, underneath the kettle, was a huge, black egg. An egg that was creaking, cracking, and shaking violently.
"Ah," said Hagrid, fiddling nervously with his beard, "That's — er…"
"Where did you get it, Hagrid?" said Ron, crouching over the fire to get a closer look at the egg. "It must've cost you a fortune."
"Won it," said Hagrid. "Few weeks ago. I was down in the village havin' a few drinks an' got into a game o' cards with a stranger. Think he was quite glad ter get rid of it, ter be honest."
"But what are you going to do with it when it's hatched?" said Hermione. It was quite clear from the way the egg was looking and acting that such a time was rapidly approaching.
"Well, I've bin doin' some readin'," said Hagrid, pulling a large book from under his pillow. "Got this outta the library —Dragon Breeding for Pleasure and Profit — it's a bit outta date, o' course, but it's all in here. Keep the egg in the fire, 'cause their mothers breathe on I em, see, an' when it hatches, feed it on a bucket o' brandy mixed with chicken blood every half hour. An' see here — how ter recognize diff'rent eggs — what I got there's a Norwegian Ridgeback. They're rare, them."
He looked very pleased with himself, but Hermione didn't. "Hagrid, you live in a wooden house," she said. But Hagrid wasn't listening. He was humming merrily as he stoked the fire watching the egg crack just before a black scale covered head burst through the calcium shell.
It wasn't the first time Harry had called his family on the mirrors he had been given the day he left for Hogwarts. Truth be told he talked to one of the adults in his life at least two or three times a week. Most of the time it was just to keep in touch although he wasn't against asking his mum for help on a homework or the marauders for guidance on a harmless prank. This was, however, the first time he had ever called all three marauders at the same time with a situation as large as what he was currently looking at. Harry withdrew his mirror lined wallet before flipping it open and tapping each of the three communications devices while calling out their assigned names.
"Shadow I just got Rose started on her lessons. What's going on, you almost never call during the middle of the day."
"Shadow, you know me and Padfoot are at work. What's going on that's so important for you to call us when you should be in class?"
"Oh lay off Prongs I don't get to talk to my godson nearly enough these days. Besides the paper work isn't going anywhere and it's not like we have a hot case we're investigating.
"Dad, Padfoot, Moony, I've got a problem that I think I need your help with."
" 'Arry there ain't no reason to get your folks involved in this. Ain't non' of their business I tell ya."
"Hagrid … you know what never mind." Harry spun the wallet that had been facing him so the marauders could see the baby dragon that was now crawling on to Hagrid's oversized table. "You three explain it to him."
There was degree of explicit language that Lily would have taken offense to and Hermione constantly found herself mentally chastising the three adults for. James was without a question not under any delusion to Hagrid's newest pet and was adamant as steel that Norbert was not remaining at the castle. James had been called and accused of many things during his life – not a single person had ever suggested that James was ever accepting or understanding of a threat to his family. The only reason he hadn't freaked in the same manner as Lily over the troll incident was because the danger and threat were already gone. A dragon however, even a baby dragon fresh from its egg, at his child's school was approaching the top of his list of things he wasn't going to take.
Two weeks later may have well been the worst week of Severus Snape's life. A week of planning, communicating, and pooling resources between the marauders and their six young protégés combined in what would be known as the great chaos of 92'. The first day brought a series of balloons that suddenly expanded before they exploded at each meal, showering everyone in their vicinity with disappearing paint -a paint which was a variation of disappearing ink designed to cause twenty four hour stains before vanishing. The second day brought spiked pumpkin juice and milk that had been laced with a babbling potion. All of the students were blurting out anything that came to their mind with such regularity that teachers were forced to silence them during classes to get anything done. On Wednesday the quartz stones that Harry had constructed with his father's help created a series of wards that caused everyone to turn in the opposite way they had intended to go. Only those with uncommonly strong and focused minds were able to walk the halls unaided. The divination teacher ended up in the basement twice every time she left her tower, Quirrell simply refused to leave his classroom or adjoining office, students had to walk to classes hand in hand to with either a teacher leading them or the rare student who was unaffected, and Snape was livid in a way that he hadn't been since James had threatened to debagg* him in their fifth year. Thursday, with the help of Remus and Sirius, the twins unleashed a series of objects that were enchanted or otherwise charmed to transform from things that were perfectly normal into the bizarre – even for wizards. Swamps appeared from nowhere, lagoons filled with willow trees blocked hallways, and magically created snow lead to animated snowman and snowballs inside the foyer leading to the great hall.
After a week of pranks being unleashed the population of Hogwarts was becoming nervous to step outside their dorms. For the first time that week the morning passed in total normalcy. No chaos. No pranks. Not even a peep from the devilish six or their predecessors. Lunch passed and nothing had happened. A handful of the students were slowly starting to relax their guard; most were simply getting more nervous. Like the calm before the storm there was a palpable tension in the air. Then at dinner with all the teachers in attendance and every student situated in the great hall the finale kicked off. All at once every student shrieked as they were yanked upwards by their sockets. The doors leading to the Great Hall of Hogwarts erupted into pillars of blue flames that didn't burn before changing into dragons, phoenixes, and bats that started swooping down at professors table – nobody seemed to notice that the bats had an uncanny attraction for the potion master of the school. As the students were released and started falling towards the floor they landed not on the floor but in alternating patches of snow and water. As the population of Hogwarts was making its way back to their feet Harry looked up into the Headmaster's eyes and felt a cool piercing presence in his mind. Dumbledore simply smiled and nodded at the young man before drawing his wand and taking control of the flames. They couldn't hurt anyone but he didn't want anyone overly scared either. Besides if this was meant to be a distraction than he would make sure he had everyone's attention.
Nobody ever made it to the gates of Hogwarts - so the redirecting wards James had Harry set up were never tested. Nobody ever left the Great Hall until nearly curfew and there was no time for anyone to do anything but go back to their dorms. Nobody not in the know ever suspected that James Potter, Sirius Black, and Remus Lupin helped smuggle an illegally bred dragon out of Scotland.
The next morning six Gryffindors stood in front of their head of house who was wearing an expression she hadn't worn in just over a decade. "What exactly were you six thinking this past week?"
Not wanting Professor McGonagall to get into one of her tirades, Harry thought it'd be best to cut her off at the pass with the truth. "Ma'am we discovered that Hagrid had hatched a dragon in his hut and we were providing cover for my dad and uncles to smuggle it out of the country." After all when the truth was so outlandish that not even the best fiction writer in the world could sell it as an autobiography what better story could be told?
Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizarding, was in in a predicament. Months ago in the heart of summer he himself had accompanied young Mr. Longbottom on his birthday when he went to acquire his school supplies. It was a bit of a tradition in the wizarding world; acquiring the necessary items for a fledgling witch or wizard on their birthday before attending school. There were things that were going to be needed at Hogwarts regardless of what century the student was attending in or who the teachers were. Most importantly was of course a wand. Despite the fact that Neville had chosen to take up his father's wand, irregardless of it being a less than perfect match, Lady Longbottom had insisted that tradition be respected. Just as necessary to be picked up were sets of school robes and uniforms, a cauldron, potion ingredients, a trunk, and protective clothing in the line of dragon hide gloves and boots. Because of the lateness of his birthday Neville had been able to pick up his school books on that particular trip.
The reason for the troubles plaguing the headmaster all stemmed from that day and the events that had followed. He had made such a huge spectacle of acquiring the philosopher's stone for Nicholas from the goblins of Gringotts. There had been many twinkling eyes and winks behind Augusta's back that he was certain Neville had gotten the message or at least enough information to be curious. But Neville wasn't curious at all.
Like all good pure-blood kids from old families Neville had a subscription to the daily prophet that was at least skimmed in the morning. Information and knowledge lead to power and wealth. That was true anywhere in the world; it was simply more true in a society where information and words held magical power. Being aware of the new and current events was a necessary evil. More so for a family with the political connections and leanings like the Longbottom family. There was simply no possibility of Neville not being aware of the break in at Gringotts. But Neville just didn't seem to care - he wasn't curious at all that the vault he had watched being emptied of a single small bag was broken into the next day.
Even when Mr. Longbottom had accompanied Mr. Potter to his "midnight duel" against the youngest Malfoy child their discovery of the Cerberus had evoked more curiosity out of Ms. Granger and Mr. Potter. Dumbledore could see the makings of excellence in the younger muggle born girl. The attention to details that had allowed her to pick up the trap door under the beast's feet combined with her natural inquisitive nature and academic drive were classic components that all witches of her caliber had shared, the most recent of which was Lily Evans. But Neville's curiosity hadn't been peaked in the slightest, as if finding a three headed dog that was over thirty feet tall was an everyday occurrence.
Dumbledore had worked all of this out in painstaking detail in an afternoon in early July. He'd provide all the necessary clues and the young Gryffindor would discover all these tidbits of information before working out the great mystery of his first year. Even the defenses surrounding the fake stone had been crafted to instill confidence in the young lions that would likely accompany Mr. Longbottom to where the mirror was being held. But Neville Longbottom wasn't curious about the Philosopher's Stone, Nicholas Flamel, or anything involving the corridor on the third floor. Sitting in his office the Headmaster of Hogwarts came to the startling conclusion that he'd have to adjust his plans to something more direct.
A/N: I found myself struggling while I was brainstorming for this chapter. In JKR's cannon story she jumped from Christmas to going after the stone in three chapters. For perspective that's 45, out of 309, pages of writing in the paperback version of the story- a rough estimate of ten thousand words. And that included finding out about the stone, smuggling out a dragon, and a detention in the forbidden forest.
In a review that was left a long time ago in an earlier chapter it was mentioned that if I ever did a a rewrite it would be a good idea to bring in more scenes with Harry as a kid. Time spent with Rose, Neville, and more time in general with his family. If you've read my bio than you might recall I asked a similar thing of JKR. I've always intended to do a rewrite to bring more cohesiveness and detail to the story but I'd rather not delete or drastically alter the chapters that are already out there. Instead my intention is that after each book or year is complete I will go back and publish that year as a stand alone with corrections and with any new ideas I have come up with that I'd like to add. To that end I swore I'd never ask for reviews but I find myself disappointed with this chapter; there simply wasn't enough material for me to work with in the second term. What I would ask is that if you have read something, thought of something, or in general would like to see something that you feel is appropriate than to pass it on in either a private message or a review.
To give an idea as to where the story is now the next chapter/update has Lily giving birth to another child, the confrontation over the stone, and ends book one with Harry and company heading home.
I have taken some liberties with the magic they were supposedly learning and using at Hogwarts. Particularly in transfigurartion where they go from working with matches to needles to changing an animal into a snuff box. It seems that it would make more sense to master changing shape, size, and material before moving on to something complex like working with anything having whiskers.