Hi, guys! I'm back with my very first attempt at a proper Harry Potter fanfic! Now, you will notice in this fic that a lot is taken directly from the books. This is because I want to make this as canon as possible, and trying to write exactly what the mighty Rowling has written without directly copying it would be extremely hard. So, what I have done is copy the books, and adapt it to fit my style. Please don't hate me for it.

They called him the Boy-Who-Lived, Harry Potter... He was very famous all over the world, for his defeat of the deadly Dark Lord Voldemort. Even at an early age, young Harry was thrust into danger, overcoming many trials of courage and skill. He was, truly, a sight to behold for all who witnessed him in action, wand in hand, taking on any threat that appeared before him, never once turning and running away. This young man was overflowing with courage, and a great power was hidden deep inside his core.

For young Harry's destiny was decided ever so long ago, back in the time of the greatest sorcerer known to man, Merlin Ambrosius, known in his Welsh tongue as Myrddin Emrys.

Merlin was a great man, like Harry overflowing with courage and power, but also great wisdom. But, as it was decreed by the laws of nature, even the greatest of men must succumb to time. On his deathbed, however, Merlin made a prophecy. That prophecy said that his power would be split into nine pieces, scattered around the world, hidden... waiting for generations for its heir to appear. The people who were to inherit a piece of Merlin's power would be known as the Primes of Merlin, and each Prime would bring about a great change to the world.

The First Prime, the great sorceress Elvina, received her power in the year 943, and grew up a famed Seer, known widely as the Prime Oracle. She was the one who established communications with the famous goblin Gringott, and helped him build the Gringotts Wizarding Bank, which would be the first step to coexistence between wizards and goblins. She was also the one who brought Godric Gryffindor, Salazar Slytherin, Helga Hufflepuff, and Rowena Ravenclaw together to build Hogwarts, the greatest magical school in Europe, a school that still stands today, its magic as powerful as ever.

The Second Prime, Selesse, received her power in the year 1782. She grew to be a powerful witch, and she was the greatest Obliviator the world has ever known. In a desperate attempt to prevent the burning of her kin at the hands of the hateful non-magicals, she cast a spell that would take her life. In 1799, she cast the most powerful memory charm in the world, making all the non-magicals in the world forget about the true existence of witches and wizard, leaving them naught but the stuff of myths and legends.

Those are just two of the great Nine Primes, but I won't bore you with their history, as it is the history of Harry Potter you are interested in, the Ninth Prime, the one the prophecy decreed would be the strongest of them all.

14-year old Harry Potter sighed. That strange dream he'd had had felt so real... Coupled with the Death Eaters at the World Cup and the Dark Mark... it left a bad feeling in Harry's gut, and Harry had long since learned to trust his gut. Something bad was going to happen. When, Harry didn't know, but he knew it was gonna happen. He could feel it.

Harry, having left the Burrow for a short time to be alone, wandered the village not far from the Weasley home, and sat down on a bench outside a convenience store. As he sat there, pondering, he noticed in the corner of his eye how someone approached him, and sat down next to him.

"Oh, it feels good to sit down," the man said, sighing with relief. Looking the man over, Harry had to admit that he was reminded of Professor Dumbledore. Long hair and beard, gray, instead of Dumbledore silver, wizened eyes, and a content smile on his face. The old man wore patched clothes, though, looking very much like a bum. In his patched pants, torn shirt, patched coat and knitted, fingerless gloves.

"Er... Can I help you?" Harry asked, getting a hum from the old man.

"Indeed you can," the old man said, and started humming a tune, looking straight ahead. Harry stared at him for a moment, and noticing that Harry was staring at him, the old man glanced at him. "What? You asked a question, and I answered it. Is there a problem?"

Feeling a muscle under his left eye twitch in annoyance, Harry chose to ignore the old man, going back to his musing. The old man kept humming, and Harry felt the twitch again.

"Asante sana Squash banana, Wiwi nugu Mi mi apana."

A complete nutter, the old man was, no doubt. Clearing his throat, Harry turned to the old man.

"Look, will you cut that out, please?"

The old man shook his head. "Not really, sadly," he said. "It just grows right back..."

Harry rolled his eyes and stood up. "Right," he muttered, then walked off. As he left, Harry was annoyed to find that the old man was following him.

"Hey, will you quit following me?" Harry asked, glaring at the old fart. He was in no mood for this. "Who are you?"

The old man laughed. "The question is... who are you?"

Harry stopped and turned toward the old man. "What?"

The old man laughed and waved him off. "Sorry, sorry. It was just a little something I heard in a movie that was released recently. I think you'd like it, Harry."

Harry froze. "How do you know my name?"

The old man chuckled. "Oh, I know quite a lot about you, my boy. I've been watching you since the day you were born... even before that. I have been observing your every move since your mother squeezed you out that night fourteen years ago. Ah, yes, never have I seen a woman curse as much as they do when they give birth."

Harry's arm was tense, ready to reach for his wand. "Who are you?"

"Who am I, you say?" the old man asked, humming thoughtfully. "Well, I have gone by many names, but my favorites are my given name, and my nickname." The old man gave a deep bow, smiling serenely. "Myrddin Emrys, also known as Merlin, at your service!"

This introduction was followed by a long silence as Harry stared at the old man in disbelief. Then, realization dawned on his face, and he nodded thoughtfully.

"Ooh, you're a loony!"

"Among other things, but I assure you, I am who I claim to be," the supposed Merlin said, rising from his bow.

"I don't know if you've been keeping up with the history, Mr. Emrys, but Merlin is dead," Harry informed politely.

"I know I am," Merlin said and reached out. Harry's hand shot for his wand as he saw the old nutter reaching for him, but his eyes widened when he saw and felt the hand pass right through him, leaving an icy sensation in his chest. "I am merely a spirit, who has stayed behind in this world, visible to only a select few people, so I must inform you that, out of the two of us, I'm not the one looking like a nutter, my boy."

Harry blinked at that and looked around. People had started gathering around him, and were staring at him like he was crazy. Feeling awkward, he locked eyes with a man at the front of the crowd.

"What?"

"Er..." the man started, looking uncomfortable. "Who... uh... who are you talking to?"

Realizing that the supposed Merlin, who was now smiling smugly, was telling the truth, Harry blushed in embarrassment, and glared at the man.

"Myself! Is that a crime?"

Grumbling, Harry stuck his hands in his pockets and stalked off, Merlin following happily.

"Alright..." Harry mumbled uncertainly as he'd walked a safe distance away from the village, where he was sure no one would be listening in. "Say you are Merlin's spirit... Say you've been watching me since I was born... Why?"

"Why?" Merlin asked, humming. "Personal amusement." Harry twitched, and the man chuckled. "Well, that, and because I wanted to see if you were worthy of being informed of your destiny."

"My... destiny?"

"Yes, destiny. Your destiny as a Prime."

Prime... That was something Harry had read about before, but he couldn't remember what it was. "Huh?" Harry asked, looking confused. He really wasn't in a mood for this.

"Prime," Merlin repeated calmly. "You are one of my Primes, the Ninth, the last."

Now Harry remembered. He'd read about something called the 'Primes of Merlin.' History had recorded five people who did great things, and claimed to be something called Primes of Merlin. Harry hadn't believed it, though. They were just people with great skills, right? But now...

"What you've read is starting to seem a bit more believable now, isn't it?" Merlin asked with a smug smile, making Harry jump in surprise. "I know what you're gonna say. 'I'm not a Prime!' 'There's no such thing as a Prime!' 'I'm just Harry!' so we can skip that part and head straight to the part where you start embracing your destiny, instead of trying to run from it and be 'just a regular boy,' which we both know is never gonna happen."

Harry closed his eyes and took a deep breath. This guy had apparently been watching him from the day he was born. Therefore, he knew everything Harry had done, everything he'd tried to do, everything he wanted to be... So was there any way out of this? Any way to be just a-

Harry's musings were interrupted by a very real slap from Merlin, who glared at him as Harry rubbed his cheek, staring in disbelief.

"Didn't I just say that you needed to stop doing that?"

"Ow!" Harry exclaimed. "I thought you couldn't touch me!"

"Never underestimate a person's willpower, boy, something that you know all too well. Do you really think that you're just a regular boy, who merely got through all the trials you have by pure luck? One does not stand up to the Eighth Prime and win with pure luck. One does not battle a Basilisk and kill it with pure luck. One does not fend off a hundred dementors with pure luck! Deep down, you know that, but you're just ducking and hiding from what you deep down know is your destiny!"

The man spoke with such passion and power in his voice, that Harry couldn't help but feel a shiver crawl up his spine. Yeah, this was Merlin, alright. A ghost could never exude that much power even when dead.

"And just what is my destiny?" Harry asked, glaring at the old man, who glared right back.

"To be more than what you have become," he said, stealing another line from that Lion King movie that had been released that summer. "You are my Prime, chosen on the day of my death, by me, because of your limitless potential, one who has inherited the biggest part of my magic, who will bring great change to the world, and destroy the Eighth."

"Eighth?" Harry asked, blinking. "Who is that?"

"Tom Riddle, also known as Voldemort," Merlin said, which made Harry's eyes widen. Seeing that Harry was about to ask, he answered before Harry could manage to say a word. "When I chose the Nine Primes, I looked into the future, and I saw potential, great potential, in nine people who would be born. I saw no more, so I chose them, and in the chunks of magic I divided, I gave the second biggest piece to the First Prime, the biggest to you, and the third largest to the Eighth, based on your potential. In my magic, I left a piece of myself, not my soul, but more like an echo, which would be able to manifest itself as I have now. I watched Tom Riddle grow, and even at an early age saw that he had nothing but evil intentions. Therefore, I chose not to inform him of his heritage. I let him be, for the mere knowledge of being a Prime of Merlin will unlock the greater part or the power within you, a power that has now been unlocked for you."

As Harry was slowly letting all that had been said sink in, he blinked. "W-Wait... I don't feel any more powerful than I was before."

"Of course you can't feel it. Sensing magical power is not something you can know from the start. It is something you must learn, and it is a skill that will help you greatly when assessing the threat of opponents that you may come across. This is a skill that Dumbledore knows, and I have no doubt that he would gladly teach it to you if you but ask him. I sense that he has nothing but your best intentions in mind for you. He cares a great deal about you."

Merlin nodded to Harry as the boy noticed his feet start to fade away.

"I have said my piece. The Ninth has been awakened, and my consciousness has no further reason to stay in this world," he said, making Harry's eyes widen.

"W-Wait a minute! You can't just leave after dropping a bombshell like that on me!"

Merlin chuckled merrily. "Still, you underestimate your own worth, Harry. You have a strong body, a great mind, an amazing amount of power, and limitless potential. With age comes experience, my boy. The greatest knowledge and skills are those you have gathered yourself. Don't doubt yourself, Harry, for that will lead to your destruction. Know what you are, Harry. Accept it, and embrace it. Good luck, my boy."

With a bright flash, the old man disappeared, leaving Harry standing alone.

This was a lot of information. Almost more than the fourteen year old wizard could handle. However, like he had done so many times before, Harry showed his courage, and his will, by coping. In merely a few minutes, he accepted what he was. He knew everything Merlin had told him was true, and he finally accepted it. He didn't run away at the responsibilities now placed on his shoulders, but instead accepted it, facing it and standing up to it.

However, he realized that a path had now been outlined for him. The path he needed to walk, the path of a Prime, in which he would discover his power, tame it, and use it. Though the path had been outlined, he still had now idea how to walk it...

The train ride to Hogwarts was spent reading a book for Harry. The book was 'A Guide To Medieval Sorcery,' a book he had purchased on his first trip to Diagon Alley, but that he'd never really gotten around to reading. Now, however, he was paying extra close attention to it. Apparently, medieval sorcerers used not only wands, but the more powerful ones used either staffs or wandless magic. Merlin and Morgan la Fay, among others, used staffs and wandless magic. Apparently, powerful wizards and witches like them were too powerful for a wand, and their wands didn't function as well as they should have, due to the massive amount of magic flowing through them. Merlin, for instance, had been witnessed causing his wand to explode when attempting a simple cleaning charm, which forced him to craft his very first staff.

That could be a good test to see if... Almost sadly, Harry took out his holly wand. Did he dare test it? The wand had served him so well these last few years... He didn't think he'd be able to take it if it exploded like it did for Merlin...

As he absently twirled his wand, he read about Merlin's musings regarding wandlore, being the only man to have really been able to claim to have the most knowledge regarding wandlore than anyone else. According to Merlin, wands were quasi-sentient, and would warn their wielders when said wielders were starting to become too powerful for the wand to handle. Apparently, Merlin's wand had started to shiver just before Merlin tried the cleaning charm, but the wizard had ignored it.

"...ry? Harry!"

Harry looked up from his book, blinking. Across from him, Hermione was giving him a scolding look, while Ron looked confused.

"What?" Harry asked, wondering why he was getting 'the look.' Hermione huffed.

"As much as I enjoy seeing you taking to studying seriously, Harry, honestly, listen to people when they're talking to you."

"I was reading," Harry said, raising an eyebrow. "Did you talk to me despite that fact? I happen to remember a warm spring day in the Gryffindor Tower in first year, when a certain bookworm with bushy hair told me, 'Harry, it's rude to interrupt someone's reading when they're really into it.'"

Hermione opened her mouth to answer, then remembered that she had actually said that, and seeing Harry smirk smugly at her, she lashed out with her leg, kicking him lightly on the shin. "Prat."

This caused Harry and Ron to burst out laughing, as it wasn't every day one could stump Hermione Granger.

"I'm sorry, Hermione. What were you saying?" Harry asked, his voice mirthful as he put away his wand.

"Ron believes that there's going to be some kind of big dueling tournament at Hogwarts this year. I said that was unlikely, then asked what you think."

Harry hummed, then shrugged and went back to his reading. "Hakuna matata, Hermione." Hermione blinked, and Harry sighed, looking up at Hermione. "It's Swahili. Means 'No worries.'"

"You speak Swahili?" Ron asked incredulously. Harry looked at him, smirking.

"You don't?"

Inwardly, Harry was panicking, though. He didn't know he spoke Swahili... How in Merlin's name could he speak Swahili? Then, it came to him. Merlin. Was this a manifestation of his powers? But come on, languages didn't just pop into someone's head! They had to be learned, didn't they? This was all very confusing to Harry. He'd have to get to the bottom of that.

Harry kept his nose buried in his book throughout the rest of the journey, not really paying attention to anything. He hardly even noticed when the Hogwarts Express stopped, and they got into the carriages that took them to the school. Only when they sat down at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall did he look up from his book. The Great Hall looked its usual splendid self, decorated for the start-of-term feast. Golden plates and goblets gleamed by the light of hundreds and hundreds of candles, floating over the tables in midair. The four long House tables were packed with chattering students, and at the top of the Hall, the staff sat along one side of a fifth table, facing their pupils. Harry noticed that he was sitting next to Nearly Headless Nick, the Gryffindor ghost.

Pearly white and semitransparent, Nick was dressed tonight in his usual doublet, but with a particularly large ruff, which served the dual purpose of looking extra-festive, and insuring that his head didn't wobble too much on his partially severed neck.

"Good evening," he said, beaming at them.

"Evening, Nick," Harry said, nodding. Then, he remembered something. "Hey, Nick, you've been dead for a long time..."

Nick nodded, holding his head up high. "Five hundred and two years this year," he said. "Why?"

"Well, you must have seen and heard some very bizarre things, haven't you?" Harry asked, getting another nod from Nick, which threatened to cause his head to fall, wobbling dangerously despite the ruff. "Have you ever heard of magically learning languages?"

At that question, Nick smiled brightly. "Why, certainly, Harry! In fact, one of the students here, I believe it was... oh, around two hundred years ago, actually studied Parseltongue, and tried to find a way to help others to learn it. Magical languages are, after all, magical, and the student believed the idea to have merit. He failed, sadly, but I believe it is possible to learn magically."

"But what about normal languages?" Harry asked, scratching his head. "Like Swahili? I spoke it on the train ride here, but I've never even thought about learning it."

Nick hummed thoughtfully. "Well, I suppose it might be possible to be magically influenced to learn. After all, you can magically cause someone to speak a different language. If it's possible to make someone speak it, it's not impossible to think that one could be made to understand it as well. Have you been hit by any spells lately, Harry?"

Harry shook his head. "No, but I believe it may be inherited magic."

"Ah, yes, inherited magic is powerful, and considering that that field remains very much unexplored, the idea is not, as I said, impossible. I cannot say anything for certain, Harry, but yes, I believe it is possible to inherit a language through your magic. After all, magic is part of the entire body, including the brain. I believe they are studying the brain in the Ministry of Magic. But that field, just like inherited magic, remains widely unexplored."

Not for long, Harry thought. He realized that there were so many fields of magic that remained unexplored, even after this long. But he was going to change that. Merlin had said that he had limitless potential, and for Harry to start embracing who he was, and that's what Harry was going to do.

Harry was broken from his musings by an excited cry.

"Hiya, Harry!"

It was Colin Creevey, a third year to whom Harry was something of a hero.

"Hi, Colin," Harry said warily.

"Harry, guess what? Guess what, Harry? My brother's starting! My brother Dennis!"

"That's good," Harry said, nodding absently. He wasn't really paying too much attention to Colin, instead focusing on the first years that were lined up in front of the stool that they were going to sit on to be sorted. This was the first sorting outside his own that Harry had been to, so he was pretty interested in seeing it.

"He's really excited!" Colin said, practically bouncing up and down in his seat. "I just hope he's in Gryffindor! Keep your fingers

crossed, eh, Harry?"

"Mmhm," Harry mumbled, nodding. He turned back to Hermione, Ron, and Nearly Headless Nick. "Brothers and sisters usually go in the same Houses, don't they?" he said. He was judging by the Weasleys, all seven of whom had been put into Gryffindor.

"Oh no, not necessarily," Hermione said. "Parvati Patil's twin's in Ravenclaw, and they're identical. You'd think they'd be together, wouldn't you?"

The first years appeared to have swum across the lake rather than sailed. All of them were shivering with a combination of cold and nerves as they filed along the staff table and came to a halt in a line facing the rest of the school, all of them except the smallest of the lot, a boy with mousy hair, who was wrapped in what Harry recognized as Hagrid's moleskin overcoat. The coat was so big for him that it looked as though he were draped in a furry black circus tent. His small face protruded from over the collar, looking almost painfully excited. When he had lined up with his terrified-looking peers, he caught Colin Creevey's eye, gave a double thumbs-up, and mouthed, I fell in the lake! He looked positively delighted about it.

Professor McGonagall now placed on the three-legged stool an extremely old, dirty, patched wizard's hat. The first years stared at it. So did everyone else. For a moment, there was silence. Then, a long tear near the brim opened wide like a mouth, and the hat broke into song:

A thousand years or more ago,

When I was newly sewn,

There lived four wizards of renown,

Whose names are still well known:

Bold Gryffindor, from wild moor,

Fair Ravenclaw, from glen,

Sweet Hufflepuff, from valley broad,

Shrewd Slytherin, from fen.

They shared a wish, a hope, a dream,

They hatched a daring plan

To educate young sorcerers

Thus Hogwarts School began.

Now each of these four founders

Formed their own house, for each

Did value different virtues

In the ones they had to teach.

By Gryffindor, the bravest were

Prized far beyond the rest;

For Ravenclaw, the cleverest

Would always be the best;

For Hufflepuff, hard workers were

Most worthy of admission;

And power-hungry Slytherin

Loved those of great ambition.

While still alive they did divide

Their favorites from the throng,

Yet how to pick the worthy ones

When they were dead and gone?

'Twas Gryffindor who found the way,

He whipped me off his head

The founders put some brains in me

So I could choose instead!

Now slip me snug about your ears,

I've never yet been wrong,

I'll have a look inside your mind

And tell where you belong!

The Great Hall rang with applause as the Sorting Hat finished.

"That's not the song it sang when it Sorted us," Harry said, clapping along with everyone else.

"Sings a different one every year," Ron said. "It's got to be a pretty boring life, hasn't it, being a hat? I suppose it spends all year making up the next one."

Professor McGonagall was now unrolling a large scroll of parchment.

"When I call out your name, you will put on the hat and sit on the stool," she told the first years. "When the hat announces your House, you will go and sit at the appropriate table.

"Ackerley, Stewart!"

A boy walked forward, visibly trembling from head to foot, picked up the Sorting Hat, put it on, and sat down on the stool.

"RAVENCLAW!" the hat shouted.

Stewart Ackerley took off the hat and hurried into a seat at the Ravenclaw table, where everyone was applauding him. Harry caught a glimpse of Cho, the Ravenclaw Seeker, cheering Stewart Ackerley as he sat down. For a fleeting second, Harry had a strange desire to join the Ravenclaw table too. Bah! Hormones!

"Baddock, Malcolm!"

"SLYTHERIN!"

The table on the other side of the hall erupted with cheers. Harry could see Malfoy clapping as Baddock joined the Slytherins. Harry wondered whether Baddock knew that Slytherin House had turned out more Dark witches and wizards than any other. Fred and George hissed at Malcolm Baddock as he sat down.

"Branstone, Eleanor!"

"HUFFLEPUFF!"

"Cauldwell, Owen!"

"HUFFLEPUFF!"

"Creevey, Dennis!"

Tiny Dennis Creevey staggered forward, tripping over Hagrid's moleskin, just as Hagrid himself sidled into the Hall through a door behind the teachers' table. About twice as tall as a normal man, and at least three times as broad, Hagrid, with his long, wild, tangled black hair and beard, looked slightly alarming, a misleading impression, for Harry, Ron, and Hermione knew Hagrid to possess a very kind nature. He winked at them as he sat down at the end of the staff table and watched Dennis Creevey putting on the Sorting Hat. The rip at the brim opened wide...

"GRYFFINDOR!" the hat shouted.

Hagrid clapped along with the Gryffindors as Dennis Creevey, beaming widely, took off the hat, placed it back on the stool, and hurried over to join his brother.

"Colin, I fell in!" he said shrilly, throwing himself into an empty seat. "It was brilliant! And something in the water grabbed me and pushed me back in the boat!"

"Cool!" Colin said, just as excitedly. "It was probably the giant squid, Dennis!"

"Wow!" Dennis said, as if nobody in their wildest dreams could hope for more than being thrown into a storm-tossed, fathoms-deep lake, and pushed out of it again by a giant sea monster.

"Dennis! Dennis! See that boy down there? The one with the black hair and glasses? See him? Know who he is, Dennis?"

Harry looked away, staring very hard at the Sorting Hat, now sorting Emma Dobbs.

The sorting continued. Boys and girls with varying degrees of fright on their faces moving one by one to the three-legged stool, the line dwindling slowly as Professor McGonagall passed the L's.

"Oh hurry up," Ron moaned, massaging his stomach.

"Now, Ron, the Sorting's much more important than food," Nick said as "Madley, Laura!" became a Hufflepuff.

"'Course it is, if you're dead," Ron snapped.

"Ron!" Harry objected, glaring lightly at his best friend. He could understand that Ron was grumpy, being hungry and all, because Harry was as well, but that was just rude. "Show some respect for the dead, please."

"I do hope this year's batch of Gryffindors are up to scratch," Nick said, applauding as "McDonald, Natalie!" joined the Gryffindor table. "We don't want to break our winning streak, do we?"

"Pritchard, Graham!"

"SLYTHERIN!"

"Quirke, Orla!"

"RAVENCLAW!"

And finally, with "Whitby, Kevin!" ("HUFFLEPUFF!"), the sorting ended. Professor McGonagall picked up the hat and the stool and carried them away.

"About time," Ron said, seizing his knife and fork and looking expectantly at his golden plate. He hadn't even seemed to heard Harry's request to show Nick some respect.

Professor Dumbledore had gotten to his feet. He was smiling around at the students, his arms opened wide in welcome.

"I have only two words to say to you," he told them, his deep voice echoing around the Hall. "Tuck in."

"Hear, hear!" Ron said loudly as the empty dishes filled magically before their eyes.

Nick watched mournfully as Harry, Ron, and Hermione loaded their own plates.

"Aaah, 'at's be'er," Ron said, with his mouth full of mashed potato.

"You're lucky there's a feast at all tonight, you know," Nick said. "There was trouble in the kitchens earlier."

"Why? Wha' 'appened?" Harry asked through a sizable chunk of steak.

"Peeves, of course," Nick said, shaking his head, which wobbled dangerously. He pulled his ruff a little higher up on his neck. "The usual argument, you know. He wanted to attend the feast, well, it's quite out of the question, you know what he's like, utterly uncivilized, can't see a plate of food without throwing it. We held a ghost's council, and the Fat Friar was all for giving him the chance, but most wisely, in my opinion, the Bloody Baron put his foot down."

"Yeah, we thought Peeves seemed hacked off about something," Ron said darkly. "So what did he do in the kitchens?"

"Oh the usual," Nick said, shrugging. "Wreaked havoc and mayhem. Pots and pans everywhere. Place swimming in soup. Terrified the house-elves out of their wits-"

Clang.

Hermione had knocked over her golden goblet. Pumpkin juice spread steadily over the tablecloth, staining several feet of white linen orange, but Hermione paid no attention.

"There are house-elves here?" she asked, staring, horror-struck, at Nick. "Here at Hogwarts?"

"Certainly," Nick said, looking surprised at her reaction. "The largest number in any dwelling in Britain, I believe. Over a hundred."

"I've never seen one!" Hermione said.

"Well, they hardly ever leave the kitchen by day, do they?" Nick said. "They come out at night to do a bit of cleaning... see to the fires and so on... I mean, you're not supposed to see them, are you? That's the mark of a good house-elf, isn't it, that you don't know it's there?"

Hermione stared at him.

"But they get paid?" she said. "They get holidays, don't they? And... and sick leave, and pensions, and everything?"

Nick chortled so much that his ruff slipped and his head flopped off, dangling on the inch or so of ghostly skin and muscle that still attached it to his neck.

"Sick leave and pensions?" he asked, pushing his head back onto his shoulders and securing it once more with his ruff. "House-elves don't want sick leave and pensions!"

Hermione looked down at her hardly touched plate of food, then put her knife and fork down upon it and pushed it away from her.

"Oh c'mon, 'Er-my-knee," Ron said, accidentally spraying Harry with bits of Yorkshire pudding. "Oops... sorry, 'Arry..." He swallowed. "You won't get them sick leave by starving yourself!"

"Slave labor," Hermione said, breathing hard through her nose. "That's what made this dinner. Slave labor."

And she refused to eat another bite.

"Hermione," Harry said, smiling at his friend. If there was anything he liked the most about Hermione, it was her ability to care. "I'm sure that, if they asked for it, Dumbledore would definitely pay them, give them pensions and sick leaves. But they haven't asked for it. Why don't you just eat now, then ask Dumbledore to ask the house-elves if they want it tomorrow?"

But Hermione didn't want to listen.

The rain was still drumming heavily against the high, dark glass. Another clap of thunder shook the windows, and the stormy ceiling flashed, illuminating the golden plates as the remains of the first course vanished and were replaced, instantly, with puddings.

"Treacle tart, Hermione!" Ron said, deliberately wafting its smell toward her. "Spotted dick, look! Chocolate gateau!"

But Hermione gave him a look so reminiscent of Professor McGonagall that he gave up.

When the puddings too had been demolished, and the last crumbs had faded off the plates, leaving them sparkling clean, Albus Dumbledore got to his feet again. The buzz of chatter filling the Hall ceased almost at once, so that only the howling wind and pounding rain could be heard.

"So!" Dumbledore said, smiling around at them all. "Now that we are all fed and watered, I must once more ask for your attention, while I give out a few notices.

"Mr. Filch, the caretaker, has asked me to tell you that the list of objects forbidden inside the castle has this year been extended to include Screaming Yo-yos, Fanged Frisbees, and Ever-Bashing Boomerangs. The full list comprises some four hundred and thirty-seven items, I believe, and can be viewed in Mr. Filch's office, if anybody would like to check it."

The corners of Dumbledore's mouth twitched. He continued, "As ever, I would like to remind you all that the forest on the grounds is out-of-bounds to students, as is the village of Hogsmeade to all below third year.

"It is also my painful duty to inform you that the Inter-House Quidditch Cup will not take place this year."

"What?" Harry gasped. He looked around at Fred and George, his fellow members of the Quidditch team. They were mouthing soundlessly at Dumbledore, apparently too appalled to speak.

Dumbledore went on, "This is due to an event that will be starting in October, and continuing throughout the school year, taking up much of the teachers' time and energy, but I am sure you will all enjoy it immensely. I have great pleasure in announcing that this year at Hogwarts-"

But at that moment, there was a deafening rumble of thunder and the doors of the Great Hall banged open. A man stood in the doorway, leaning upon a long staff, shrouded in a black traveling cloak. Every head in the Great Hall swiveled toward the stranger, suddenly brightly illuminated by a fork of lightning that flashed across the ceiling. He lowered his hood, shook out a long mane of grizzled, dark gray hair, then began to walk up toward the teachers' table.

A dull clunk echoed through the Hall on his every other step. He reached the end of the top table, turned right, and limped heavily toward Dumbledore. Another flash of lightning crossed the ceiling.

Hermione gasped.

The lightning had thrown the man's face into sharp relief, and it was a face unlike any Harry had ever seen. It looked as if it had been carved out of weathered wood by someone who had only the vaguest idea of what human faces are supposed to look like, and was none too skilled with a chisel. Every inch of skin seemed to be scarred. The mouth looked like a diagonal gash, and a large chunk of the nose was missing. But it was the man's eyes that made him frightening.

One of them was small, dark, and beady. The other was large, round as a coin, and a vivid, electric blue. The blue eye was moving ceaselessly, without blinking, and was rolling up, down, and from side to side, quite independently of the normal eye, and then it rolled right over, pointing into the back of the man's head, so that all they could see was whiteness.

The stranger reached Dumbledore. He stretched out a hand that was as badly scarred as his face, and Dumbledore shook it, muttering words Harry couldn't hear. He seemed to be making some inquiry of the stranger, who shook his head unsmilingly and replied in an undertone. Dumbledore nodded and gestured the man to the empty seat on his right-hand side.

The stranger sat down, shook his mane of dark gray hair out of his face, pulled a plate of sausages toward him, raised it to what was left of his nose, and sniffed it. He then took a small knife out of his pocket, speared a sausage on the end of it, and began to eat. His normal eye was fixed upon the sausages, but the blue eye was still darting restlessly around in its socket, taking in the Hall and the students.

"May I introduce our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher?" Dumbledore said brightly into the silence. "Professor

Moody."

It was usual for new staff members to be greeted with applause, but none of the staff or students clapped except Dumbledore and Hagrid, who both put their hands together and applauded, but the sound echoed dismally into the silence, and they stopped fairly quickly. Everyone else seemed too transfixed by Moody's bizarre appearance to do more than stare at him.

"Moody?" Harry muttered to Ron. "Mad-Eye Moody? The one your dad went to help this morning?"

"Must be," Ron said in a low, awed voice.

"What happened to him?" Hermione whispered. "What happened to his face?"

"Dunno," Ron whispered back, watching Moody with fascination.

Moody seemed totally indifferent to his less-than-warm welcome. Ignoring the jug of pumpkin juice in front of him, he reached again into his traveling cloak, pulled out a hip flask, and took a long draught from it. As he lifted his arm to drink, his cloak was pulled a few inches from the ground, and Harry saw, below the table, several inches of carved wooden leg, ending in a clawed foot.

Dumbledore cleared his throat.

"As I was saying," he said, smiling at the sea of students before him, all of whom were still gazing transfixed at Mad-Eye Moody, "we are to have the honor of hosting a very exciting event over the coming months, an event that has not been held for over a century. It is my very great pleasure to inform you that the Triwizard Tournament will be taking place at Hogwarts this year."

"You're JOKING!" Fred said loudly.

The tension that had filled the Hall ever since Moody's arrival suddenly broke. Nearly everyone laughed, and Dumbledore chuckled appreciatively.

"I am not joking, Mr. Weasley," he said, "though now that you mention it, I did hear an excellent one over the summer about a troll, a hag, and a leprechaun who all go into a bar..."

Professor McGonagall cleared her throat loudly.

"Er... but maybe this is not the time... no..." Dumbledore said,

"where was I? Ah yes, the Triwizard Tournament... well, some of you will not know what this tournament involves, so I hope those who do know will forgive me for giving a short explanation, and allow their attention to wander freely.

"The Triwizard Tournament was first established some seven hundred years ago as a friendly competition between the three largest European schools of wizardry: Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang. A champion was selected to represent each school, and the three champions competed in three magical tasks. The schools took it in turns to host the tournament once every five years, and it was generally agreed to be a most excellent way of establishing ties between young witches and wizards of different nationalities, until, that is, the death toll mounted so high that the tournament was discontinued."

"Death toll ?" Hermione whispered, looking alarmed. But her anxiety did not seem to be shared by the majority of students in the Hall. Many of them were whispering excitedly to one another, and Harry himself was far more interested in hearing about the tournament than in worrying about deaths that had happened hundreds of years ago.

"There have been several attempts over the centuries to reinstate the tournament," Dumbledore continued, "none of which has been very successful. However, our own departments of International Magical Cooperation and Magical Games and Sports have decided the time is ripe for another attempt. We have worked hard over the summer to ensure that this time, no champion will find himself or herself in mortal danger.

"The heads of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will be arriving with their short-listed contenders in October, and the selection of the three champions will take place at Halloween. An impartial judge will decide which students are most worthy to compete for the Triwizard Cup, the glory of their school, and a thousand Galleons personal prize money."

"I'm going for it!" Fred hissed down the table, his face lit with enthusiasm at the prospect of such glory and riches. He was not the only person who seemed to be visualizing himself as the Hogwarts champion. At every House table, Harry could see people either gazing raptly at Dumbledore, or else whispering fervently to their neighbors. But then Dumbledore spoke again, and the Hall quieted once more.

"Eager though I know all of you will be to bring the Triwizard Cup to Hogwarts," he said, "the heads of the participating schools, along with the Ministry of Magic, have agreed to impose an age restriction on contenders this year. Only students who are of age, that is to say, seventeen years or older, will be allowed to put forward their names for consideration. This" Dumbledore raised his voice slightly, for several people had made noises of outrage at these words, and the Weasley twins were suddenly looking furious "is a measure we feel is necessary, given that the tournament tasks will still be difficult and dangerous, whatever precautions we take, and it is highly unlikely that students below sixth and seventh year will be able to cope with them. I will personally be ensuring that no underage student hoodwinks our impartial judge into making them Hogwarts champion." His light blue eyes twinkled as they flickered over Fred's and George's mutinous faces. "I therefore beg you not to waste your time submitting yourself if you are under seventeen.

"The delegations from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will be arriving in October and remaining with us for the greater part of this year. I know that you will all extend every courtesy to our foreign guests while they are with us, and will give your whole-hearted support to the Hogwarts champion when he or she is selected. And now, it is late, and I know how important it is to you all to be alert and rested as you enter your lessons tomorrow morning. Bedtime! Chop chop!"

Dumbledore sat down again and turned to talk to Mad-Eye Moody. There was a great scraping and banging as all the students got to their feet and swarmed toward the double doors into the entrance hall.

Harry stood up immediately, and looked to Ron and Hermione. "You guys go on ahead. I'll be up later. I have to speak to Dumbledore."

Confused, but not asking questions, Ron and Hermione nodded and walked off with Fred and George, while Harry walked over to the Head Table. Dumbledore, who'd been in a conversation with Professor Moody, looked up when Harry approached, and smiled brightly.

"Ah, Harry! How good to see you again. Did you have a pleasant summer?"

"I did, Professor," Harry said with a smile, nodding. "Say, Professor, I was wondering if I could ask you something?" Dumbledore nodded and gestured for Harry to go on. "I've heard that you were a master in the arts of Magic Sense," Harry started, which caused Dumbledore's eyebrows to slowly rise up curiously, his eyes twinkling.

"That's right, Harry, I am, why?"

"Well, sir..." Harry scratched his head sheepishly, feeling weird about asking the headmaster this. "I was wondering... could you... teach me Magic Sensing?"

By now, the other teachers were staring at Harry as well. McGonagall looked very surprised. Then again, Harry had never shown himself to wish to learn more than he had to. Dumbledore's twinkle seemed to increase in power, showing his joy at hearing this.

"Harry, I am thrilled to hear that you wish to explore other areas of magic, but I am sorry to say that I will be far too busy this year to be able to teach you." Harry's hopes were shattered just then, and he couldn't quite hide the disappointment that shone in his eyes. Dumbledore, however, kept smiling. "However, Professor McGonagall also happens to be an excellent sensor. I have little doubt that she would have anything against teaching you. Isn't that right, Minerva?"

Dumbledore glanced at McGonagall, who surveyed Harry over her glasses, her lips pursed as usual.

"Not at all, not if Mr. Potter seriously wishes to learn?"

"I want to learn, Professor," Harry answered immediately, determination visible on his face. "It will help me greatly in the future."

"Very well, then, Mr. Potter. I will give you the time for our first lesson when I hand out your schedule tomorrow. We will discuss the details during the first lesson."

Harry felt a relieved smile break out on his face. "Thank you, Professor! Really!"

"Well then, Harry, I guess it's time for you to run off to bed," Dumbledore said, smiling just as brightly as Harry. "Off you go now, chop chop. The password for the Gryffindor Tower is Balderdash."

Magic Sensing is a less known area of magic. With Harry being a magical sensor, he would hone his concentration, and put him more in touch with his own magic. This was but one goal that Harry had set for himself. That day, when Merlin visited him, Harry had vowed to himself that he would become powerful, and explore every aspect of magic that he could reach. He wished to unveil the secrets of magic, secrets that no one had unveiled before. This was not done out of a lust for power, as was the case with the Dark Lord Voldemort. No, it was a thirst for knowledge, a drive that kept him moving forward, a drive that kept him from going back to those depressing days, when he wished to be merely a regular boy. This was something he had come to accept as impossible, but the wish was still there, and he needed something to replace it with, until he had become accustomed to the thought of being more than anyone else.

First chapter is finished! Woo! Review, please, and tell me what you think!

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