A/N: Thank you to my beta.
Book I: The Bringer of Lightning
"Do you know why most people fail the first time around? It's because they're weak…they're scared…they're unable to face the fact that there might be someone better than them. That's what you have to understand. That's what you need to know when you enter Hogwarts Battle School. Everyone here…Muggleborn, Half-Blood, Pureblood…can beat you. Once you accept failure, then you will realize what it takes to achieve perfection. That's when you will realize that you might not win and that you will probably lose. Only then will you lose the fear of failure."
Headmaster Snape delivered the succinct speech gloomily, his scowl seeming to drop lower and lower on his face as he spoke with a quiet ferocity that silenced every single student at Hogwarts Battle School. There was no special garnishing or instructions for the school year. Everyone already knew the rules.
Win at all costs.
Harry Potter eyed the Headmaster approvingly, replaying the words over and over in his head. True, it was melodramatic and heavy-handed, but Snape had a part to play, and he played it to perfection. It was the third time Harry had heard the Headmaster's beginning-of-the-year speech, and this one was by far the best.
"Heavy as it always is," said Blaise Zabini, Harry's best friend.
"Well you know how the Hufflepuffs are. Scared shitless, the lot of them. It's a surprise they haven't all dropped out," Harry answered.
"They have to stay. Where else would they go?"
This was true. There was no school like Hogwarts Battle School.
According to some of the more tenured professors, Hogwarts was not always this way. Harry had researched it in various books in the library and found that the Hogwarts had been a mostly academic institution for the majority of its lifetime. Sure, there were little changes from Headmaster to Headmaster, but nothing as militaristic as this. But Harry knew why Hogwarts had become the way it was: the death of the great Albus Dumbledore at the hands of the self-styled Lord Voldemort.
The night before Lord Voldemort, originally Tom Riddle, made his way to Godric's Hollow, he had killed what many thought was the only defense against the malevolent wizard. So when a green-eyed baby deflected the Killing Curse and vanquished the Dark Lord, there was obviously much hubbub about the little boy.
That little boy would grow up to become Harry Potter of House Slytherin.
"Where do you think you'll end up in the pre-year rankings?" asked Tracey Davis, a pretty yet combative Slytherin.
"Me? Top twenty, to be honest. Of course, nowhere near Harry." Blaise smirked, his eyes sparkling against his dark complexion.
"What you think, Harry? Top spot this year?" Tracey asked with a wink.
A voice suddenly cut in. "The Mudblood will probably take it."
Draco Malfoy could be heard clear across the table,and Harry was sure that the nearby Ravenclaws had heard the slur. He didn't blink as his eyes flicked towards the blond boy. The arrogant smirk that Draco wore so well infuriated Harry to no end.
"Ranking Granger ahead of yourself? Did someone take a pin to your inflated head?" Blaise asked cheekily. Unlike some others, he wasn't afraid of the rich boy.
"Father wasn't too happy when Headmaster Snape visited some time ago. Surely it must be the Mudblood."
"I think Harry deserves it," Tracey said.
Draco looked at Harry with an arched eyebrow and an ever-growing grin. "What do you think, Scarhead? Snape going to give you top spot?"
It was a trick question and Harry knew it. Claim that he should have the top spot, and others would see him as arrogant and be less likely to fight for him in classes when the time came. Answer that Hermione Granger, the talented Muggleborn from Gryffindor, would place above him and everyone would see that as a sign of weakness. But Harry had sparred with Malfoy before, with words and with spells.
"Snape will give who he wants top spot. Doesn't matter, though. I'll have it at by the end of the year."
Draco snorted, a smile on his face but a disappointed glint in his eyes. "We'll see about that."
Truth be told, Harry expected to be top five at the very least. Every year, before classes officially started, an enormous ranking would be posted. There was the Master List, a list that categorized every single student of Hogwarts, no matter the year. Most Fifth Years and below didn't even bother looking at that list. None of them would crack the upper third.
Then there was the Years List. In each year, all the students were ranked from one to forty. Headmaster Snape had standardized the acceptance letters, so there were five boys and five girls accepted every year with no deviation. Spread throughout the four Houses of Hogwarts, each student would be ranked; the rank would change throughout the year depending on their performance in class and in solo and House duels.
The children that did not receive a letter to Hogwarts would be redirected to other magical schools such as the Wolping Institute in Liverpool or the Fendon Academy near Manchester. Neither of those schools held the prestige of Hogwarts, but they were options for those who had not be accepted at the revamped academy.
The Houses List was yet another metric. Each House would compete against the others for points. At the end of the year, the top House from each year would compete in a free-for-all at the end of the year in an event called the House Match. After the House Match, the top twenty students in the school would compete for the Hogwarts Trophy. The battlegrounds and conditions changed from year to year depending on how cruel the teachers wanted to be.
Harry concentrated his efforts on the House Match. There was almost no chance he would compete for the Hogwarts Trophy. The top twenty students were almost always Seventh and Sixth Years,with the rare Fifth Year thrown into the mix. If he could lead the Third Year Slytherins into the House Match, anything could happen.
At least, anything would be better than the disaster of his First Year.
"What do you think of the new Creatures teacher?" asked Theodore Nott, a taciturn but cunning boy.
Harry looked up to see the disheveled Creatures teacher. The Creatures teacher taught the students how to defend themselves against dangerous magical creatures and, in rare cases, convince those creatures to fight for them. This teacher, a Professor Lupin if Harry recalled, was looking at Snape with something akin to loathing. Then again, that wasn't new. Headmaster Snape hardly inspired love among his students or his teachers.
"Looks like a bum, to be honest." Harry chewed his meal thoughtfully as he examined the Professor's worn clothes.
There were seven classes on their class schedule. The aforementioned Creatures class was unpopular amongst students, mostly because it didn't deal with direct conflict against other wizards. There was Potions, taught by a bumbling mass of flesh called Professor Slughorn. Then there was Charms, taught by previous Dueling Champion and dwarf, Professor Flitwick. Transfiguration, by the stern and sometimes nasty Professor McGonagall. Dueling was taught by the aptly named Mad-Eye Moody. Strategy was taught by the alabaster Wendell Trow, a professor so pale that some people likened him to the now departed Professor Binns.
The remaining class was the one most people simultaneously anticipated and hated. Battle class was where all of the competitions that affected ranking and the House list took place. True, one's performance in the rest of the classes dictated a small portion of your ranking within the school, but nothing like Battle class. In Battle class, one could rise high above one's peers and even climb the ladder of the Master List. In Battle class, students were pitted against one another in various scenarios with different stipulations and restrictions. Battle class was taught by Headmaster Snape.
It was unusual for any Headmaster to teach a class, but Snape had made it his personal agenda to oversee this Battle class and keep a personal eye on the progress of his students. It was known that the top students were recruited heavily by not only the Ministry of Magic in Britain but other Ministries abroad that sought their talents. Well-trained and exceptionally good at dueling, graduates from the Hogwarts Battle School had no shortage of offers on their table, some not even associated with any form of dueling.
Harry looked up and spotted a mass of bushy hair, spotting the devastatingly clever Hermione Granger. Her claim to fame was that she was the first Muggleborn to have ever held the number-one ranking in her year for nineteen weeks straight. So strong was her grip on that top ranking during her Second Year that even Hufflepuffs had begun teasing her in the hallways in an attempt to throw her off her game. Still, she was undeterred, and by the time Hermione was toppled from the top of the list, there was no doubt she was the "Muggleborn Champion."
Of course Draco had to have his own special name for her as he couldn't accept a Muggleborn being so dominant. He referred to her as the "Mudblood Champion," but Harry recognized that even Malfoy was aware of her abilities.
As it happened, Granger looked up to catch Harry's eye. They held each other's gaze, green versus brown, for just a few seconds. Granger broke it off first with a curt nod. Not knowing what else to do, Harry nodded back. Though he had never spoken to Granger personally, he knew and respected her talents. Anyone who could hold the top ranking of her year for nineteen weeks straight was someone to pay attention to.
Maybe one day, we'll meet each other in a duel.
"Bets on the Master List?" offered Adrian Pucey, a Slytherin a year older than them, as he went down the table shaking a bowler hat.
Each year, everyone took bets on who would crack the top fifty of the Master List. Of course, lesser odds were given to older students and few people bet on them because the line was so flat, but around the Fifth and Fourth Years, there was plenty of action. On the rare occasion that a Fifth year cracked the top fifty in pre-year rankings, lots of money was to be made. Once, a Fourth Year had managed himself into the top fifty, but of course, no one bet on him.
"You, Potter? Bet on the Boy-Who-Lived?" Pucey smiled, showing his crooked teeth, as he shook the bowler hat in Harry's face.
Harry pushed the hat away. "No, thanks, Pucey."
"I'll put one in." Blaise grinned and produced a pouch of Galleons. "Ten Galleons on Potter."
Harry rounded on his best friend. "Blaise! What are you doing?" Harry hissed. "Don't light money on fire."
"Fire melts gold and then I'll still have gold anyways. What does it matter?"
"Fifty to one ain't bad odds, Zabini. But you're a stupid bitch." Pucey chuckled as he took the money and wrote down the bet.
"He is right, Blaise. You are stupid. Not even Harry will crack the top fifty as a Third Year." Tracey shook her head, pretty dark ringlets swaying about her heart-shaped face.
"And if he does, I'm pocketing five hundred Galleons. I'll take my chances on the Boy-Who-Lived."
Harry could only sigh, used to Blaise's gregariousness. He was rich through his mother, who always somehow married a rich bloke on the verge of death. To Blaise, money was an abstract, numbers he could throw around because he wanted to. But then again, much of Slytherin was like that, born to old, rich, Pureblood families that had more money in their vaults than other wizarding families.
For a moment, Harry wondered what his life would be like if Hogwarts was just another normal school. The previous Headmaster Dumbledore had named Snape the Headmaster in a will created not so long before his untimely death at the hands of Voldemort. Some say that it was the death of Albus Dumbledore, the man who gave Snape a second chance, that fueled the scowling, hook-nosed man to reform Hogwarts into this battle school. The whispers in the hallways were that Snape feared the return of Voldemort and trained his students so if the Dark Lord or any of his Death Eater minions returned, England would not be so caught out.
Still, the Dark Lord was dead; everyone knew that.
But if the Dark Lord was dead, why did Snape send Harry to his vile aunt and uncle? When Harry was picked up at the age of eleven to attend Hogwarts Battle School, Snape had explained to him that he was sent to his only blood relatives because of the dangers of retribution from Death Eaters and to avoid anyone that sought to take advantage of his popularity when he was just a child.
He claimed no knowledge of the abuse at the hands of the Dursleys, and Harry never asked him if he knew. He wondered if Snape knew about the multitude of scars on his back.
Dinner suddenly ended although Harry could have sworn that Snape's speech was not so long food vanished and the students waited on the edge of their seats in anticipation. Everyone knew that once the opening feast ended, the lists would be unraveled in huge banners in the Great Hall. Harry spotted the green of the Slytherin banner and counted until he found the Third Years. While he didn't want to be too arrogant, he hoped that he was on the top of the list. After all, he was the one that finally wrestled first from Granger at the end of their Second Year by dueling two Ravenclaws at one time.
"Let the year begin."
The banners unraveled, rolling downwards in a carefully managed magic. Some of the students hopped on top of the benches to get a better look. Some even stood on the tables and whooped or hollered when they saw their name at the top of the list.
Harry concentrated on Third Year Slytherins and smiled when he saw himself ranked as number one. Quickly, Harry scanned the list for some other names he could recognize. Draco Malfoy was third, which would rankle the aristocratic boy. He spotted Blaise as eighteenth, and though his best friend had predicted himself in the top twenty, Blaise's grumbling revealed his discontent with the ranking.
Surprisingly, Tracey was ranked ninth, and Harry congratulated his other best friend.
Tracey blushed. ''Thanks, Harry.''
A quick scan of the list found nothing out of place from the rest of the Third Years, and predictably, Neville Longbottom was last. The awkward, buck-toothed boy could always be counted on to bring up the rear. Harry sat down, fighting back a grin as he thought the year was starting off just right. He didn't notice the sudden hush as the Master List unfurled from the rafters. Harry never paid attention to the Master List.
Most of his friends weren't really looking too, except for the ones that had placed bets on older Slytherins. Harry turned to chatter excitedly to Blaise, trying to divulge some sort of tactics to keep himself on top and raise his best friend's ranking in turn. But Blaise's mouth was hanging open as he stared at the Master List. Harry shook him on the shoulder to get his attention but Blaise was just dead weight.
"Zabini. What are you gawking at?" Harry demanded.
Blaise turned to him with eyes as wide as saucers and it was only then that Harry realized others were looking at him the same way. He looked at all of them in confusion, wondering why he was receiving those kinds of stares again. He remembered when he first entered Hogwarts and when the Hat sorted him into Slytherin. True, he was the Boy-Who-Lived and defeated Voldemort, but he thought they were all over that already. In Hogwarts Battle School, everyone started as an equal.
"Harry," Blaise croaked out as he pointed a shaky finger at the Master List.
Harry raised his eyes, the light glancing off his glasses as he looked at the black banner of the Master List. The names were tiny at a distance but magically enlarged as one's eyes roved over them. Harry started near the bottom of the two hundred and eighty students, expecting his name to at least be in the top one-fifty.
But it wasn't.
Harry kept scanning upwards, higher and higher on the black banner with the gold writing.
125. Hermione Granger
100. Cho Chang
75. George Weasley
50. Penelope Clearwater
25. Cedric Diggory
10. Harry Potter
"TENTH?" Harry managed to choke out.
The rest of Hogwarts was looking at him, the Boy-Who-Lived, with an amalgam of expressions. Most were in disbelief, some were in awe, and a select few were angry. Harry gulped and looked towards the Head Table to see the damning stare of Headmaster Snape. Harry swore that he could see a ghost of a smirk on Snape's face.
They would be coming for him. Not only the kids in his year but everyone above him, taunting him and bringing him down in the hallways. Harry was the first Third Year to ever to crack the top ten of the Master List at the beginning of the year. That sort of recognition did not come without a price, and he fully expected to be targeted by those who wished to disprove his ranking.
"Guess you won your five hundred Galleons, Blaise."
A/N: This story was inspired by a huge host of other works. You'll recognize some of them within this very chapter (Let the year begin!) and as this story goes on, but it's an idea I've been playing around with for a while.
A little background. The Sorcerer's Stone never happened. The Chamber of Secrets never happened. The Potters are dead (I promise). Everything is canon up to and through the Maurader era. I made a rather grave error in this chapter and wrote the future chapters in such a way that made several of my readers facepalm, so I'll get this out of the way – yes, the Slytherin boys have 6 people. Damn Crabbe and Goyle.
Thoughts? Questions? I really like what I've written so far with this story and I hope the rest of you feel the same.