How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't."
- William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene I, ll. 203–206
Ten Internet Brownie Points to those who figure out what that quote has to do with this chapter.
In other news: life… If only each day had like 48 hours… Sorry for taking so long to update. This story is definitely not dead.
A heads up: I posted an update in my Outtakes folder a while ago. It's a mostly boring inner monologue which I decided to cut from the actual story. There's also a bit of fluff of the blue-skinned girl-on-girl type. Nothing explicit though.
To be honest, I'm slightly anxious about this chapter. Some of you might not like where I'm going. I still believe the framework I'm building is sound, just slightly unorthodox maybe.
Those who catch the Flitwick reference (one of the two actually), I salute you! For everyone else there's the bottom AN.
Huge thanks to Majerus for his recommendation of this fic in his own awesome story Jean!
Also many thanks to my brilliant beta Aella!
(Who stubbornly tries to insert self-depreciating comments into MY ANs :P)
Last time: Boxing Day, Yule Holiday
This time: Return to Hogwarts, The Dangers of Magic, Of Dragons and Unicorns
However, it was more than being questioned: he had been challenged, doubt was cast at his school and him by association. He wondered if there was some truth to it. In the magical world, nobody questioned the safety of his school, but the T'Sonis wouldn't know that. They didn't know about the danger magic posed. They didn't know that Hogwarts was the safest place to learn magic. He would have to rectify that. Perhaps they could find a compromise, but that meant he had to be open to constructive criticism. His reputation alone wouldn't carry him very far in this matter.
For now he would wait until the new term started. The new rules for the House Cup would go a long way to show his general willingness to listen. If Harry wasn't on the train, then he would react, but he didn't want to appear too desperate.
Chapter 17: Answers Part 2
Tuesday, January 7, 1992
Great Hall of Hogwarts
"And finally, the box in front of my office where so many of you deposited your thoughts concerning the House Cup will remain there. Any of you who wish to offer any kind of suggestion may make use of it - funny jokes and limericks are also always welcome." The revered Headmaster finished his introduction of the new rules he hoped would revitalize the House Cup and make it fairer. There was a scattering of applause, but after the feast welcoming them back from the Christmas holidays the students were lethargic and keener to be off to bed than listen to the ramblings of an old man.
Still, most students reacted positively to the new rules, with the notable exception of the Weasley twins when they realized that point deductions were a thing of the past and that they would get more detentions instead, cutting into their free time.
The changes weren't perfect but Dumbledore was actually looking forward to working out the remaining kinks. He was already contemplating a ledger that tallied all points awarded for later perusal, listed by teacher, student and reason. It was quite an intriguing challenge, tying an enchanted book to the pre-existing magic on the point hourglasses that reacted to the teachers' commands.
This kind of magical thinkering was one of Albus' passions, but sadly one that he didn't get to exercise nearly as often as he liked. He wouldn't pass up a reasonable excuse to combine it with his regular duties - just like he had done with the Mirror of Erised.
Wishing everyone a good term Albus dismissed the students. Without seeming to hurry - one must keep up appearances after all - but taking full advantage of his long legs he exited the Great Hall through the antechamber near the head table, bypassing the usual press of students. His efforts were not in vain, as only a few students had reached the entrance hall before him and his target was not yet among them. In fact, he had to wait for several minutes for Harry to appear, surrounded by his friends and chatting excitedly with them.
Gaining the boy's attention and motioning to join him, Dumbledore couldn't fail to see the awestruck expressions on the faces of Harry's peers; all except for Hermione Granger, who gave him a measuring look. It was a neutral look, not hostile nor friendly, the kind of look Albus had come to expect from mostly the older Slytherins.
"Professor?" Harry asked him, after he had left the press of students, some of whom were openly staring at the two of them.
"Ah, Harry, I'm happy to see you back in these halls," the ancient Headmaster greeted his student kindly. "I was worried that after our last meeting your guardian would make a rash decision."
"Liara's only looking out for me," Harry replied, suddenly on the defensive.
"As well she should," Dumbledore nodded sagaciously, hoping to put the boy more at ease. "I admit that the last few months didn't show Hogwarts in her best light and I realized that it was unfair of me to expect someone foreign to our world to simply accept my word."
Harry merely nodded in response. To Dumbledore it looked as if his attention wasn't completely on him, which struck him as odd, but the boy's eyes quickly focused on the scroll Albus pulled out of one of his many pockets. It was held closed by a simple ribbon with no seal.
"I was wondering if you were willing to relay a message to your guardians," Dumbledore asked, offering the scroll. Harry eyed it a bit suspiciously. "I decided against sending it with Fawkes, as I did not know if his intrusion on my behalf would be welcome. The letter proposes a meeting between her and myself to further discuss your future education, as well as make her aware of some facts concerning magic."
"I'll let her know," Harry replied, taking the offered scroll. His purpose accomplished, Dumbledore raised his hand in salute and strolled towards the stairs and his office, whistling a jaunty tune.
Later that night Harry, Liara, and Benezia had a small conference during which Harry read them the Headmaster's letter. After some flowery speech he invited Liara and any company she cared for - an offer to Benezia they suspected, who of course had no intent to accept - to a meeting in early February. While something similar had been expected, the location came as a bit of a surprise.
Liara had half resigned herself to make her first official visit to Hogwarts. Instead Dumbledore proposed they meet up in Diagon Alley where he would show her around the ministerial school there and have a long overdue talk over brunch at Fortescue's - according to Dumbledore they served the most delicious hot ice cream during wintertime that was simply magical.
The discussion went on for some time. Harry worried that Dumbledore would simply use magic to get his way, while Benezia thought that such an action out of character for him. Manipulative he might be, but such a drastic measure was too soon with too many complications and consequences unpredictable to the Headmaster. His logical next step would be regular persuasion. It was clear that he wanted Harry to attend Hogwarts, and this gave them leverage.
It was finally decided that Liara would accept the invitation alone. Harry of course had classes which Dumbledore was well aware of. Since the Asari didn't have eye contacts like Harry did surveillance would be problematic. They couldn't just make them on board, as the Alexandria's nano assembler lacked the necessary sophistication. In the end it was decided that Tika and Benezia, should she be available, listening in would have to be enough. If there was a radical or simply unexplainable shift in her behaviour afterwards, Dumbledore would pay.
Saturday, January 11, 1992
Gryffindor Common Room
"No, Ron, the dark orange ones are the five hundred pound notes. Each player gets three of them," Hermione said through gritted teeth, watching as her ginger classmate made a complete mess out of distributing the Monopoly money, a task she had considered beyond trivial. Whyever had she thought that introducing muggle games to her wizarding peers would be a good idea? Oh right, because Harry got bored, she thought sarcastically.
"Blimey! How're we supposed to keep them all straight? Why do those muggles use silly paper whipes as money anyway? Couldn't they just use coins like regular folk?" Ronald Weasley whined. Hermione contemplated hitting him. "Wait, if this' muggle money, can't we exchange it for sickles? How many would I get for one of these orange ones?"
"The exchange rate is one galleon for five pounds," Hermione replied, falling back into her know-it-all mode in order not to scream in frustration. Ron's eyes grew huge, converting how much the 'orange ones' were worth in galleons and coming up with too big a number for his tiny head. No! Mustn't be uncharitable. He really isn't that bad, Hermione reminded herself before nipping the idea that no doubt formed inside Ron's mind in the bud, "But this isn't muggle money, Ron. It only vaguely, very vaguely, looks like it. So no, Ron, you can't exchange it for sickles. Honestly!"
She briefly considered getting some real pound notes from her dormitory - her mother had given her a purse 'just in case' - to drive the point home, but decided against it. There was no sense further derailing what she quickly came to consider a social experiment she had been unwittingly pulled into.
On the other hand there wasn't really that much else to do. Term had just started and even she couldn't do more than finish her assignments the day they were issued - which she had already done. Outside it was cold and dreary, the snow piled up higher than some first year students; it was a day to be spent inside with a steaming mug of hot chocolate and a book or, she supposed, some sort of game. She really didn't mind despite Ron being a clueless git, but then she had a short fuse as far as her ginger classmate was concerned. He just rubbed her wrong.
Finishing her explanation she decided that the group about to play Monopoly would be fine. Dean and Seamus knew the game - Why couldn't they have explained it? she suddenly wondered - and Neville, Lavender, and Parvati had all been cooperative, even eager, so far. Returning to the rest of the Gryffindor first years she hoped they would select a simpler game to explain - perhaps Scrabble. That could actually turn out hilarious since both worlds had words and terms the other didn't.
Harry was explaining the various games they could select from to Faye and Alice, despite the fact that he had never played most of them himself.
Hermione had coached him beforehand, explaining how the various games were played, determined to help him blend in better. Many expected him to know the muggle world and for the most part it was true making her work far more simple than it could have been. The few mistakes he did make were small and easily corrected or at least masked - like his preference to sleep in the nude.
She had advised him that he probably should make a habit out of being seen in the library more often. For now his knowledge could be explained by having prepared himself beforehand but if he wasn't seen studying in the future, people might start to wonder how he managed it - and go looking for answers where they didn't want them to.
As a side effect it prompted more of his friends to join them on occasion. It wasn't really a study group, at least not yet, but it served to bring their group closer together.
Another problem she had noticed was that he was very physical. He would often touch her arm lightly while talking and greet her each morning with a friendly hug. It was mostly innocuous and when she asked he explained that it was a common thing among Asari friends. That made her feel warm inside and she was quick to assure him that she certainly didn't mind, but others might see it as an invasion of their private space and even respond negatively. She also explained that others might interpret their closeness as something more.
He was slowly learning discretion.
"Hi Harry, what are you doing?"
Hermione was startled out of her woolgathering by the arrival of Katie Bell, one of Gryffindor's quidditch chasers and Harry's teammate, and another second year girl whose name escaped her for the moment.
"We're playing some muggle games, do you want to join in?" Harry offered.
"Sure, why not!" Katie exclaimed, quickly pulling up another chair. "So what are we playing? Oh, this is my friend Leanne by the way."
After a short round of introductions, the debate on which game continued for a few more minutes as the new girls got another overview of the selection. Faye, whose father was an auror, prevailed with her choice of Scotland Yard. Of course the magicals were baffled why buses could only travel along continuous, predetermined lines and not all over the map. When Hermione pointed out the absurdity of that idea, they informed her that the Knight Bus did exactly that - she barely refrained from pulling her hair out.
"What in Merlin's name is going on here! I can't even hear my own thoughts over the ruckus you lot make!"
A few looked up from their game board to see an apoplectic Percy Weasley standing near the common room door, eartips Weasley-red in irritation. He had dropped his bookbag and was fumbling for his wand as soon as he realized that nobody was really listening to him.
Things had gotten a bit out of hand over the last couple of hours, Hermione was ready to admit that.
It had started with Katie and Leanne and spiraled out from there. First were the Weasley twins and their friend Lee who had approached Hermione to lend them a game - Lee could explain it, they claimed. Other curious groups were soon to follow. Apparently not only Harry felt that being cooped up in a castle in the Scottish winter wasn't very exciting.
By now most of Gryffindor House was busy playing all kinds of muggle board games - and making quite a racket as they cried out in glee or dismay.
Those noises weren't all that uncommon in the Gryffindor Common Room. Much the same could be heard during a game of Exploding Snap after all - with the occasional explosion thrown in obviously - but usually there were at most two groups playing at the same time. Now there were at least a dozen; the noise level reflected that.
A loud bang from Percy's wand caught everyone's attention, but held it only for a moment. Most people just shrugged their shoulders and went back to their games. Before Percy could explode however, Joan Bones the female sixth year prefect who had been playing charades with some of her friends headed towards him to see what all the fuss was about.
Things got a bit heated between the two prefects. Percy just came back from the library after Madam Pince had closed it for the night and wanted to do some additional studying in the Common Room - he had his OWLs this year after all. Obviously the current loud environment was unacceptable to him and he wanted everyone to stop playing. Joan informed him that what they did was not against the rules and it was a case of one person against many; he could always go upstairs and study in his dorm, to which he countered that with the current ruckus it wouldn't make much difference.
A few others - mostly fifth and seventh years - joined Percy's side but they were still vastly outnumbered. However, Percy felt they were in the right and decided to involve their Head of House.
Professor McGonagall was anything but happy for being dragged into this mess. In her opinion the gamers displayed a lack of decorum, however there wasn't really anything wrong with what they did and the usually stern Professor remembered that she too had played many games in that very same room. Granted it had been chess and a card game called staff and not those strange muggle games, but the principle remained the same.
Still, since they were in a school academic pursuits should take precedence in her opinion. She ordered everyone to quieten down and simply coexist at a reduced noise level.
The truce held for less than half an hour.
Voices grew progressively louder as the players lost themselves in the games again or tried to talk over those from the neighbouring table.
McGonagall was summoned again but before a solution could be found it was time for bed anyway and so everyone was simply ordered there. Naively the Professor believed this crisis resolved.
Her Gryffindors had had a lot of fun while it lasted and went for a repeat performance the next day, Sunday, with the same issues still in place. The next weekend started much the same and McGonagall saw no other option as to involve the Headmaster.
Dumbledore invited the two ringleaders that had emerged the first night for a spot of tea to his office. He calmly listened to Percy and Joan's arguments, nodding, smiling, and with his eyes twinkling merrily. In his presence both students were far more subdued, even if neither backed down. Then he offered a rather simple solution.
Those interested in playing games after the library closed - a time that coincided with curfew for the younger years - could form a club, which he would gladly sponsor. He would then be able to grant them a room or two for their use; personally he was glad to have an excuse to install a tenpin bowling course under the auspices of this club. He would even relax the curfew for the younger students so they could take part, as long as they did not abuse this privilege. This club would have to be open to everyone, of course.
His announcement the next day at dinner introducing the Game Club was met with much more enthusiasm than the reinstatement of the House Cup.
Over the next month the new club experienced the usual ebb and flow as the initial allure of novelty faded. While at first the three rooms set aside for the club's use overflowed with students, by the end of the month it became more manageable; at least when there weren't any tournaments scheduled.
After a rather chaotic start the club's identity settled, too. While in the beginning people believed that the club was focused on muggle games that wasn't really the case. Slowly wizarding games came out of the woodwork as more and more students owled home for their favourite games.
Due to the much smaller demand most wizarding games were hand-crafted and unique and while inferior to muggle games from a purely technical point of view they often had a charm of their own. After all it was always funny to see your opponent chewed out by his own playing piece in creative and colourful language.
Also, some creative and industrious students - like the Weasley twins - began creating magical variants of their favourite muggle games, often with a twist; for example, the Monopoly board was now charmed that those that were sent to jail suddenly found themselves in appropriate clothing and manacles until they were released.
It wasn't just traditional board games either. One Ravenclaw muggleborn had received several books from home which of course drew much interest from his housemates. They quickly set up a group on Friday night which included Professor Flitwick to explore Dungeons and figure out what muggles knew about Dragons - and if the Statute had been breached.
Flitwicks half-mad, high-pitched cackle which he let loose every time his halfling ranger went on one of his frequent murdering rampages soon became a common sound when the Order of the Wand was playing.
It was a nice contrast to Fred and George Weasley crying for more Dakka when they were on one of their WAAAGH!s - by late May they were even accompanied in their warcry by their enchanted figurines.
Monday, February 10, 1992
"Bloody buggering shite!"
The twin cries of 'Harry! Language!', one coming from the sofa, the other only heard by him over radio, were summarily dismissed as a furious Harry continued reading the Daily Prophet. Rita Skeeter had finally published her article about him. Not wanting to cause a scene after he read the headline 'Potter's Dark Secrets' he had dragged Hermione to their hideout in the history wing for some privacy and an urgent conference call into orbit and to Thessia.
"I should never have agreed to this interview," Harry complained. "Listen:
But what really happened in 1987 when Harry Potter vanished? Potter claims to have left his muggle relatives for a new set of guardians on whom he is suspiciously silent. Some argue that he is being secretly trained but to what end?
'Potter's always the first one to show off a new spell. No way he didn't learn them before. He's a real show-off,' one of his classmates told this reporter. 'He's really disrespectful in class. Always asking dumb questions and the professors eat it all up,' another student who wants to remain anonymous confided in this reporter. Have we exchanged one Dark Lord for another? Has the Ministry under Minister Bagnold been too lax in its vigil over our saviour? Or does the blame rest with the esteemed Headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore, under whose care Harry Potter has been in danger twice already?
You've got to be kidding me!"
"Calm down Harry," Matriarch Benezia tried to soothe the boy. "I admit this is worse than I expected, but it's not as bad as you make it sound either. Someone like Rita Skeeter will always try to give a story the worst spin possible. I wouldn't worry too much about it. It's going to blow over soon."
"Yeah, right," Harry grumbled.
"It's one of the downsides of fame, Harry, and you better get used to it," the Matriarch continued. "I believe your interview did help. It's obvious that she had decided on the substance of her article long ago and would have published it with or without your interview. However, since your words gave her precious little fuel, she's floundering in the eyes of those with enough intelligence to see through her gossip mongering. There will still be people who believe her, but reporters like this Skeeter person usually are disregarded by most people.
"Besides, if you read more carefully, it becomes more of a political piece, targeted at the Ministry."
The Matriarch's words proved partially true. Not very many students subscribed to the Prophet in the first place, except for a few older students. Some of those gave him suspicious glances but Harry had little contact with them. If his yearmates in the other houses knew about the article only Draco Malfoy commented on it and he was laughed at for his trouble by the Gryffindor first years who were nearby. They surely knew that Harry was anything but dark. In fact the entire house of the lions knew him as an approachable and easygoing person, even if he was rather tightlipped about his home situation and could be reserved at times.
In the end things quieted down soon enough, at least at Hogwarts. Harry received a few letters from readers of the Prophet, some obviously believing Skeeter's allegations, but a fair share were in support of Harry. Benezia once again advised him to ignore the former, as they more than likely were only the unproportionally loud representatives of a small minority. The latter received a nicely worded letter in return, thanking them for their support.
The Prophet, seizing on this schism, published a selection of letters to the editor with a small bias towards positive correspondence as a counterpoint to Skeeter's article. They had no particular interest in dragging Harry through the mud, but a good controversy was always good for their sales figures. It was also a welcome diversion to the currently tumultuous Wizengamot politics that still couldn't decide on leaving Minister Bagnold's replacement.
Wednesday, February 19, 1992
When Liara entered the Leaky Cauldron no more mind was paid to her than to any other gorgeous woman. For her of course this was entirely too much, although she kept her composure well enough. She wasn't precisely stared at, but more than a handful of male patrons shot her appreciative glances. Then again, the robes hid most of her figure.
'Wow, this place looks so… ancient and retro! And are these people serious about their robes or what? Not a single one is wearing pants!' came Tika's comment over the radio. It made Liara chuckle despite her nervousness.
Dumbledore's letter indicated that she should ask the publican to guide her to the backroom he had rented and after a quick glance around she approached the bald man behind the counter. Tika kept up a steady stream of commentary, pointing out the goblins sitting in one corner and the hags comparing warts in another.
Liara tried hard to ignore her but was still comforted by her soothing presence. She wished her mother would be with her as well, but the Matriarch was currently on a business trip to Illium and their times didn't line up. In an emergency she was still available, but for now Liara was mostly on her own. She wondered if that was by design; if her mother wanted her to gain experience. It was as likely as not.
After some quiet words Tom the Barman guided her into one of the rooms in the back without fuss and Liara was grateful for being out of the public. Unlike most Asari maidens she wasn't particularly fond of being on display.
The room the headmaster had reserved for their use was comfortable in a well worn manner with its dark furniture, paneled walls and a small fireplace. There was a single window looking out into a dark alleyway that Liara suspected was one of the side streets of Diagon Alley.
She realized that she knew very little of the daily life of the wizarding world. Where did the regular wizards and witches live? It was unlikely that they all had manor homes like Harry's family did.
When she had been to Diagon Alley in the summer with Harry they had kept to the main street, only peering into some of the backstreets but never checking them out. Apparently, somewhere out there was at least one other magical school and it was reasonable that there would be residential areas as well. She doubted that the Leaky Cauldron was the only pub or restaurant, yet on the Alley itself she had only seen Fortescue's ice parlour and a small tea house near Gringotts; there had to be other restaurants, especially more sophisticated ones, she thought.
"Ah, Dr. T'Soni! Welcome!" The old wizard she was here to meet was back to his grandfatherly self, full of kind smiles and twinkling eyes.
"Thank you, Tom. Could you bring us a cup of tea and some crumpets, please?" the Headmaster asked the innkeeper before inviting Liara to sit.
After a bit of bustling about the innkeeper was gone again, leaving the requested food and beverage behind. Dumbledore poured for them both.
"As I wrote you in my letter, I have planned for us to visit the Wenlock Academy today," the Headmaster told Liara. "It's the oldest Ministry school here in Britain and what you will see there today will hopefully convince you that Harry's place is at Hogwarts."
"Academic excellence is only half of our complaint, Headmaster," Liara explained. "Harry's life has been at risk far too often at your school. That is our main concern. Showing me around an inferior school isn't going to make that worry go away."
Dumbledore nodded in apparent understanding. "That is not my intention. It is my hope that at the end of our visit you will understand," Dumbledore replied crytically. "After our last meeting I realized something: you are no muggle, at least no ordinary one. Had Harry been hiding in the muggle world, we would have found him long ago. Yet, from what I observed, you are no witch either. You are something new - it is most curious. I admit myself clueless."
Liara shot him a calculating look, "I hope you remember your promise to respect my family's privacy. There are reasons for it; important reasons."
"I gave Harry my word and I intend to keep it," Dumbledore replied. If he was affronted by her rebuke he didn't show it. "But I can't simply stop being curious just as I cannot keep my head from thinking."
Liara inclined her head, conceding the point. She knew curiosity well and she really couldn't fault Dumbledore for being the same. As long as there was a point of contact there was the risk of discovery. They had accepted that before they even left Thessia.
"As I was saying. You are not a witch and from what I understand you know little of our world. If you wish to guide Harry properly, there are things I will have to show you; things you need to understand."
"Professor, we are aware of that. We were also aware from the beginning that Harry's education would be different from what he's used to. I'm certain Hogwarts is an excellent school in your magical world; what worries me is that its headmaster thinks so little of his students lives that he would deliberately put them at risk by hiding that item in his school."
Dumbledore's sigh was artfully done and conveyed both his disappointment and resignation. If Liara had been a blushing maiden from one of the backwater colonies, unused to the political games of the more important worlds, she might have fallen for it. Dumbledore had planned this little meeting and would have known that she would ask this question.
"Do you think so badly of me that you believe that I would deliberately put my students in harms way?"
"Perhaps not deliberately," Liara said. "But after what you let happen to Harry, leaving him at those abominable relatives without ever checking up on him, I simply must question your judgement."
This time the Headmaster's sigh was less artificial and carried a hint of defeat with it. "Believe me, I have done little more since the start of this whole sorry business. I deeply regret that Harry has been caught in the middle of it. For that I want to apologize."
"So you will remove the Stone then?"
"If it were only that simple," Dumbledore replied, and a bit of tiredness showed on his face. "I recognize now that perhaps I shouldn't have brought the Stone to Hogwarts, but there was - is - a pressing need. Could I have hidden it somewhere else? Certainly, but I felt it was safer under my direct care. Sadly, now I am committed; removing the Stone might not be as easy as I would like and might do more harm than good."
"But Harry and the other students…"
"Are safe. Please, trust me on that." Dumbledore insisted. "Arguably they are now safer than ever thanks to our thief."
"I find that hard to believe," Liara commented skeptically. "You will have to explain your reasoning to me."
"By releasing the troll - and because of the incident with Harry's broom - the public eye has focused on Hogwarts," Dumbledore answered with a chuckle. "I've been able to divert an official investigation for now, but another incident would inevitably bring Aurors - our policemen - to the castle, at which point I would have no other recourse but to remove the Stone - something our thief will try to avoid at all costs. Whatever happens the Ministry can not be trusted with it. They would ruin our world through careless use. There are many good people working in the ministry, but collectively the ministry isn't known for its common sense."
"Why…?" Liara started to asked but before she could finished the penny - or the galleon in this case - dropped. "The Gold Standard; you're still operating under it. The sudden introduction of an infinite supply of gold would cause a hyperinflation and lead to economic collapse."
"Precisely, which is why Nicolas was always very careful whom to trust with even the barest hints how the stone works. He once told me that he only shared the full secret with three of his apprentices."
"And you are one of them. That's why he trusts you with the Stone." Liara stated.
"There's another reason why the students are now safer than before Hallowe'en," Dumbledore continued, choosing not to confirm or deny her insight. "Severus was able to intercept the… well, the thief's agent at Hogwarts might perhaps the best way to describe it. He has since then established himself as a rival who is keeping a close eye on the competition, so to speak. He has left no doubt that he would expose the agent given the slightest proof of any wrongdoing. The man has been especially light footed since then."
"But if you already know who's after the Stone, why aren't you acting against them?" Liara asked confused.
"I fear I have given you the wrong impression. We only know the identity of the thief's agent, who so far he has done nothing illegal. Besides, involving the Ministry could be disastrous, as I've already said.
"Please believe and trust me when I say that I will do everything to keep Harry and the other students safe. I promise you that as long as I remain at Hogwarts, no lasting harm will befall its students if I can help it.
"While I admit that the situation is not perfect, preventing the Stone from falling into the wrong hands is in everyone's best interest. I wish that circumstances were otherwise, that I had come up with a better plan, but I can't risk the thief slipping away, only to emerge again in a few years and bring ruin to our world."
They both fell silent for a few minutes, busying themselves with their tea. Finally Liara broke the silence, "You are playing a dangerous game."
"The magical world - magic - is dangerous, as I hope to show you today," Dumbledore rejoined. "It's not a perfect world, but each of us must strive to make it better."
By silent mutual agreement they let the matter of the Stone drop. Truthfully, Liara didn't care too much if the Stone continued to be kept at Hogwarts, only that Dumbledore took Harry's safety seriously.
Dumbledore told her some inane facts about the school they would visit, but nothing that would explain his last cryptic remarks. He stated that he wanted Liara to find out for herself.
While Liara could certainly appreciate the value of this teaching method, she didn't appreciate being patronized by the Headmaster. She kept her tongue though, realizing that to the ancient - by Human standards - wizard she would appear as barely more than a child - which was not far from the truth by Asari standards. Still, she was nearly as old as he was and considered herself a successful academic; part of her demanded to be treated like an equal.
Also while his words were joval his eyes were shrouded in an indecipherable sadness that gave her pause.
Thankfully, it didn't take long to finish their tea. Dumbledore led her out into the Alley, turning into one of the side streets almost immediately. Compared to the main alley Wenlock Way was quieter. There were still businesses here, their displays less prominent and the offered articles more mundane. Liara even saw what she assumed to be a grocer, which answered one of her many questions.
Unlike Knockturn Alley, arguably Diagon's most infamous side street, Wenlock Way was clean and the shops and shoppers respectable, however it lacked the Dickens' flair of Diagon Alley. The street wasn't particularly long, perhaps half the length of Diagon's four hundred strides, and ended in a cul-de-sac formed by the school they were about to visit. Liara once again wondered how exactly this place - it had to be several hectares big! - remained hidden. Was it a pocket dimension like the inside of Harry's trunk?
They would have to test that theory but that was for another time.
Wenlock Academy wasn't what she expected. The first time Liara had been on Earth she had taken an interest in the state of education on the planet; after all, education was one of the prime indices of development. She was aware of the wide gap in quality, not only between rich nations like the United Kingdom and poor regions like most of Africa, but between individual schools inside countries as well. Wenlock wasn't a rundown big city state school or even an older, if well maintained, school in the suburbs.
The building itself was imposing, majestic even. Perhaps it wasn't Hogwarts, but it was a visible reminder that the British Empire was once the mightiest nation on Earth. It was obviously quite old but not build or maintained on a shoestring-budget. The materials used - solid stone, wood and fine glass - were of good quality and richly ornamented.
"Are they just going to let us inside?" Liara questioned her companion.
"Of course," Dumbledore replied easily. "We - or rather I - am expected. I usually give a lecture on advanced spell casting twice a year. Our visit simply coincides with my usual appointment."
"That covers you, but not me," the Asari in Human disguise pointed out.
"True," Dumbledore nodded as he advanced towards the closed portal. "But no matter. The Headmaster is an old student of mine. Just don't speak too much and you won't give yourself away; do you perhaps speak another language besides English?"
Suspicious of this seemingly random question, Liara eyed the wizard walking beside her wearily. "Latin and Ancient Greek, but not very well," she replied, having learned them the last time she had been on Earth. Obviously they weren't the only ones she knew, but she could hardly admit to being fluent in Salarian and Ancient Krogan. Languages had always come easy to her. "Oh, and some Mandarin."
"That will do. Don't speak English unless we are alone."
Entering the school was surprisingly simple. Dumbledore knocked on the door and they were admitted with much bowing by a doorman who scurried off to fetch the Headmaster of Wenlock Academy. Five minutes later they had been ushered into the Headmaster's study where they politely accepted the offered tea and biscuits even if they just had some. Their host, Horace Worblehat, was a bit surprised by the unexpected early arrival of Dumbledore and his equally unexpected companion, but he entertained them with all the unflappability of an English gentleman.
Liara was introduced as a prospective apprentice to Dumbledore from some unspecified place on the continent, whom he was showing around Britain. She sent him a glare behind their host's back for that. Since Dumbledore claimed that she didn't speak English, he merrily 'translated' for her into Latin, still something of a lingua franca in the magical world, and apparently a language Horace had to struggle with to even follow his fellow Headmaster. Mostly however, Dumbledore kept the attention on himself.
Their visit with the headmaster was as brief as propriety allowed, barely long enough to exchange the expected pleasantries and to ask and receive permission to tour the school and assure the man that they didn't need an escort. With a final promise to stop by again after Dumbledore's lecture, they left the headmaster's study again.
They had a few moments before second bell and Dumbledore decided to lead his guest around the school. Since they were alone Dumbledore decided to volunteer a little more information.
"There are four other ministry schools in the British Isles, all of them similar to this one, but with a different focus. Wenlock mainly educates future merchants and craftsmen," he told Liara. "Magical education is compulsory for muggleborns, but magical parents may elect to homeschool their children. It happens sometimes, especially in pureblood families lacking the means to send their children to Hogwarts, but it's generally not advisable."
"How do you find muggleborns?" Liara asked; it was something she hadn't been able to figure out.
"Mostly through acts of accidental magic," Dumbledore replied. "Untrained magic leaves a trace behind, almost like a beacon which is easy to pick up. We usually identify them by the age of four. Until they can be invited to join our world we keep a close eye on them."
"Why not tell them as soon as you know?"
Dumbledore chuckled, "Were you able to keep a big, interesting secret like magic from your friends at such a young age? Children are wonderfully honest and innocent. Of course they would tell all their friends; especially since muggleborns tend to have so few they are very close to those they do have. Something about magic keeps muggle children away, it seems."
The bell rang, preventing any additional conversation for a moment. Unlike at Hogwarts, here the teachers moved from class to class, not the students. As a result the duo wasn't almost trampled by students but rather encountered mostly adults, not counting a disproportionate amount of students who had need of the facilities.
Dumbledore confidently strode up to one of the teachers, greeting the young woman with her given name. Liara was by now almost used to this. Dumbledore was apparently a natural at shock and awe, overwhelming any opposition by sheer force of personality, much like her own mother was able to when she wanted to. It took the old wizard no time at all to gain them permission to observe the teacher's next class.
As the two guests observed the charms class from the back, Liara had to admit that Dumbledore had been quite crafty. The lesson was not bad, yet it was clear that Hogwarts was superior at least as far as she could tell. She had to admit though that her own personal experiences with schools were no big help as Asari education was radically different because of the widespread use of personal VI tutors. Asari teachers were more guides and supervisors than lecturers, at least until university. Other fields required 'organic' instructors, like physical education, biotics, and the proper use of the Asari meld, but even there Liara had received personal training by either her mother or one of her mother's acolytes.
At first glance Wenlock seemed to put more emphasis on theory than Hogwarts, but Liara soon discovered that was not entirely true. While less time was spent actually casting and more on lecturing on the dangers of magic, actual magical theory was even less covered than in Flitwick's class.
It wasn't until they joined a different class during the next period that Liara noticed that something was off in this school.
Asari were generally very perceptive of emotions, even outside the meld. It was this more than anything that made them perfect counselors and mediators. Liara had visited other Human schools, although not recently; she knew how emotions ran high in the adolescent students. Joy, fear, anxiety, hate, confusion, love, lust, and many more surged around the young Humans, in a manner not dissimilar from Asari children and maidens.
At Wenlock this cacophony of emotions was missing.
Or rather, the hotter emotions were unnaturally muted, drowned out by a curious mix of apathy and content boredom. It wasn't just during the lesson where such a state of mind would be somewhat understandable; rather it persisted well through the small breaks that happened between the old teacher leaving and the new one arriving.
Then came the great recess.
Students were allowed into the school's enclosed courtyard and as if the large mass of students reached some sort of critical mass, little squabbles began to break out. A bit of shoving, some posturing, a couple of laughs - all the things expected in such a situation, only muted.
The teachers didn't help either. They were quick to break up anything that looked as if it had even the slightest possibility of breaking out into more - and were instantly obeyed.
They didn't hand out draconian punishment. They barely raised their voices, but commanded the students with a firm hand.
Liara became very concerned. Something definitely wasn't right.
As if sensing her disquiet, Dumbledore put a hand on her elbow to get her attention and shook his head. Later, was the unspoken message.
Near the end of recess, the school nurse appeared with several trays of small phials filled with a milky-white potion of some kind. The students obediently formed lines without being told. This was obviously a routine procedure.
The students that had drunk their dose left with an almost vacant expression on their faces. Liara could hear the gasp from Tika as she too realized what was going on.
"What are they giving them?" Liara hissed at Dumbledore, dreading the answer. Only the sure knowledge that nothing like this had happened to Harry kept her from physically lashing out.
"Just a simple calming draught most likely," was his soft reply. He seemed old and sad, plagued by regret.
"Later. It would take too long to explain."
After the great recess Dumbledore held his lecture. Liara had to admit that he was a very good teacher, even if she knew little about the subject and probably wasn't the best judge. Either by coincidence or design, Dumbledore spoke about magic and emotions and how combined they could produce truly wondrous but also the most dangerous magic. To Liara it seemed logical. They had known even before Dumbledore had contacted them that strong emotions triggered Harry's special abilities, yet to the students it seemed a revelation. When Dumbledore summoned a ethereal, silvery phoenix that oozed positive feelings, Liara saw the first real, unrestricted smiles on the teenagers faces.
Later it was unavoidable that they joined Headmaster Worblehat for tea. Thankfully, the gathering was cut short by some emergency that rocked the whole building and set the china rattling. Worblehat seemed remarkably calm and unconcerned, merely muttering something about upping the dose on someone called Pike again. It was clear he was torn between investigating the incident and his duties as their host. Dumbledore made his decision easier by proposing they leave to which the headmaster agreed gratefully.
As promised in his letter, Dumbledore invited Liara to Fortescue's ice parlor after their business at the school was completed. The Asari was deeply troubled by what she had seen at Wenlock Academy: the more she saw of this secret magical society, the less she liked it. It took all her willpower not to act rashly. She needed to speak with her mother, urgently, but it would have to wait. Besides, there was still more to uncover.
Now not even the truly delicious icy creation in front of her would dissuade Liara from finally getting answers. Before she could voice a demand however, Dumbledore set aside the spoon with which he had attacked his fancy lemon sorbet like a boy a hundred years his junior. He fished out his wand from his sleeve and made a circling motion. Suddenly the noise coming from the Alley was muted and Liara noticed that the infrequent glances they had received previously skipped over them.
"Just a little spell to ensure our privacy," Dumbledore answered her unvoiced question with a kind smile. "Now then, I think I promised you answers earlier today."
"You did. Quite frankly, what I saw at that school disturbed me greatly. I hope you have something more than showing me the alternative to Hogwarts is brainwashing!" Liara replied with some heat.
"Do you believe magic to be dangerous?" Dumbledore asked, sidestepping the accusation.
Liara blinked, wondering where the old wizard was going with this. "Yes."
"Ah, but how is it dangerous? Is it dangerous like a firearm, only because of the one using or misusing it? Is it dangerous like a difficult potion that may explode when mishandled? Or is it dangerous like an enraged mother-dragon when all you have is a silly stick of a wand?"
"I would have said the first two, but the way you phrased your question suggests the third is also true," Liara answered. She always hated it when teachers basically gave the answers away and patted you on the back if you got it right. A few of her university professors had been that way, devaluing a sincere question as a rhetorical one.
"Quite so. Before you came here, did Harry sometimes cause strange things to happen? Accidental magic is what we call it. What was the most impressive event you can remember?"
Liara didn't have to think very long on it, "He once turned several men into pigs."
"Did he now? That's indeed very impressive! He must have felt quite threatened or disgusted by them," Dumbledore replied, only mildly shocked by what he had heard. Liara was a bit disappointed. She had hoped to get a raise out of the old wizard. "As you probably already guessed, emotions play an important role in magic. However, they are not always easy to control and thus the magic performed through them is not easy to control either. It takes years to learn the necessary skill as well as reach the maturity to not let ourselves be governed by emotion. Once we have though, we are capable of truly wondrous feats that make ordinary magic look like parlour tricks in comparison.
"Alas, the other side of the coin is that adolescence, especially while learning magic, can be quite dangerous for everyone involved."
"I fear I don't quite understand," Liara asked as Dumbledore took his time to elaborate, occupied as he was once again by his sorbet. "I understand how magic can be used to cause harm and that accidents may happen, but that still doesn't explain why you are doing this to your children!"
"I may have given you the wrong impression," Dumbledore said, shaking his head. "When we are children, our emotions are intense and quick to surface, but they are also quickly forgotten. It's hard for children below a certain age to hold onto any strong feelings for very long, especially negative ones. They are rarely capable of the true, lasting hatred necessary to truly wish permanent harm on anyone. They rarely truly want to hurt anyone. As we grow older however, our emotions settle. We aren't as quick to anger but once we are we can be quite stubborn. This change is tempered of course by our maturity. We may be angry, but we are also able to restrain ourselves and not act on our baser urges. Also, those around us become more capable of handling unfocused outbursts.
"There are of course those that never develop this maturity, and they can be quite dangerous. Thankfully our society is well equipped to handle them."
Dumbledore paused to savour his desert again before continuing.
"However, we do not suddenly stop being children and become adults; there is a transition between the two, usually starting shortly after age eleven." Another spoonful vanished in the old man's mouth. "During that period our emotions still run hot and fast, but they also remain more permanent and we become capable of true hate. Meanwhile we are still learning to control ourselves. A very dangerous mixture, because where the earlier accidental magic remains innocent, reflexive and mostly defensive, now our deeper emotions may trigger much more devastating magics. To put it bluntly, while childhood accidental magic may at times be annoying, later it is often deadly to everyone in its way - including the poor caster."
"So your solution is to drug your children up to the point where they can hardly feel anything?" Liara exclaimed. "That can't be the only way! There has to be some other solution!"
"I agree that our solution is hardly ideal, however…" Dumbledore tried to placate the irate Asari.
"Ideal!? What you're doing is monstrous!"
"Perhaps," Dumbledore conceded, but his voice had become hard. "Would I like for every child to grow up happy, free to express itself? Yes. I consider myself a lenient headmaster, but then, Hogwarts is unique."
"But how? How is Hogwarts different?" Liara asked. "You seem to do pretty well without accidents or brainwashing your students."
"Have you ever wondered why the four founders of Hogwarts are revered akin to muggle saints? Why Hogwarts is such a central fixture in our world?" Dumbledore countered. "Hogwarts is far more than a simple school. It's the only place on Earth where accidental magic simply does not happen. It's the only truly safe place for magical children to learn magic without fear."
"Then why aren't you sending all magical children there?" Liara exclaimed exasperated.
"Sadly, even Hogwarts has her limits. Even now it's still possible for some... leakage - for want of a better word - to occur, if the emotion is just strong enough. We have tried to take in more students, but it seems as if the more young people are at Hogwarts, the less effective the Founders' Enchantment becomes. Yes, we could take in more, maybe twice or even thrice the current number, but not nearly enough.
"When I started as a transfiguration professor long ago, there were three of us teaching only that subject, now we have but one," the bitterness in his voice was now an almost physical thing.. "I fight a constant battle with the governors to get them to approve a higher budget to hire more teachers and thus admit more students, but so far they did not see fit to follow my wishes. They argue that the ministry schools are sufficient; that there are hardly any deaths these days. They feel that a Hogwarts education is wasted on most witches and wizards anyway. The future leaders need someone to lead, they say. That, I feel, is the truly monstrous thing, but even that pales in comparison to what happens in other countries or how it used to be before Hogwarts.
"Because the magical communities of the Orient lack the means or the will, muggleborns are largely left to fend for themselves. A fourth of them are condemned to die! Another fourth grow insane, mad with power, or so fearful of magic they will never be able to express their magic again, permanently broken. Yet another fourth is put to death by their neighbors and family because they fear their gift. The rest eventually make their way either east or west in hopes of finding acceptance, not always finding it."
The two were silent for a while, both troubled by the subject of their discussion. Liara didn't know what to think, that she had missed this before seemed unlikely, yet when she looked at Dumbledore listlessly poking his dessert with his spoon she believed him. More importantly she believed that he didn't like it either, that he would like to change this world but couldn't; or believed he couldn't which was the same thing really.
"If there is a better way, we have yet to find it," Dumbledore said after a while. "We tried to recreate what the Founders did at Hogwarts but we have not succeeded so far. I myself have spent countless days trying to decipher the magic behind Hogwarts. I have discovered many things but sadly not what I was looking for.
"There are others that try to recreate the enchantment through experimentation, but the magic involved makes it terribly dangerous. Only a few years ago a young witch, a teacher from the very school we just visited, died because of it; she was not the first. I sincerely hope that someone, someday succeeds, but complacency has turned away interest from the problem.
"This is why I think it's best for Harry to remain at Hogwarts, despite the earlier incidents. He will be safe there, as safe as any of us can be. In time it is my hope that Harry can bring change to our world where I couldn't. People will listen to him because of who he is and what he stands for, but he'll always be in danger because of that, no matter where he goes. I give you my solemn vow that I will do anything in my power to keep him safe, but I implore you not to act rashly and consider carefully what is best for Harry."
It had taken all of Liara's resolve to remain relatively calm throughout the flight back to the Alexandria. Her mind was racing, analyzing what she had learned, trying to reconcile it with what she knew, trying to come up with a solution.
It evaded her.
At first she had thought - hoped almost - that Dumbledore was making it all up, that it was all a sinister plot to… No. If he simply wanted Harry to remain at Hogwarts there had to be simpler lies. Drugging up a whole school or even country would be too hard to keep up. She cursed herself for not looking up information about raising magical children. There hadn't been any helpful, concise guides like in the muggle world so she had concentrated on textbooks for the various branches of magic. No 'Raising your Wizard for Dummies'.
After a quick search she realized that what Dumbledore had only hinted at was much worse than she had originally thought. It was a grim sort of satisfaction for Liara to have confirmation from multiple sources that the Headmaster's claim of Hogwarts' uniqueness seemed to be true at least - it was even briefly mentioned in Hogwarts, a History.
The subject of violent accidental magic during puberty and the teenage years instead had been buried in specialized texts and studies, but there was still plenty of material. It was undeniable that this was a dangerous and potentially fatal period for young wizards and witches.
It made a certain kind of sense now that Liara thought about it. Wizards were far more robust than normal Humans, had had access to advanced medicine since long before the middle ages, and were generally slightly more peaceful than their non-magical siblings - Dark Lords notwithstanding. There needed to be a higher mortality rate before they entered reproductive age that prevented a booming of the wizard population.
Liara's new findings also brought home the limitation of VI-summarized searches through unconnected information: If you didn't specifically ask for it, you ran the risk of missing potentially important links. They would need to tweak the parameters of the search-VI and make a habit of checking the references more deeply.
That's why the Asari archaeologist liked to study dead societies. There was less stress involved and an amazing new discovery like this would have been welcome, not dreaded.
Honestly though, Liara wasn't too worried about Harry's emotions going haywire to the point of selfdestruction. She was confident that between herself and her mother they could keep his emotions in check easily, if it came to that. Through the various forms of melding and the joining problems could be easily spotted and deescalated before they had any chance of bursting. It was actually a necessary part of Asari childhood and an integral part of Asari culture, although usually not done with other species' children. Meddling frequently with the still developing minds and personalities of children other than Asari could be detrimental to their normal growth as a person, but with a soft hand it was possible.
What worried her about the situation was the callous disregard the wizards showed, how easily the shoved aside their children's emotions without really resolving them.
The sickening accounts of what happened to muggleborn witches and wizards in other regions of the Earth were even worse. How wrong she had been to simply assume a mostly uniform magical world when there was plenty of evidence even in the non-magical world that it simply wasn't so? Hadn't she herself commented in her final official report to the Matriarchy that one of the greatest strengths but also one of the greatest hurdles of Humanity was its division, its diversity; cultures and populations clashing, constantly reinventing themselves, constantly doing one step back for two forward - but also going further sideways than was seen in the other species of the galaxy.
A large part of her wanted to take Harry and simply leave, but she held back.
It was clear that the magical world was truly rotten, yet removing him from Hogwarts might also endanger him and deprive him of a great oppurtunity. At the same time she knew that her own and her mother's projections had to be adjusted.
She needed to talk to her mother, desperately.
She looked at the time. It was still night in Nos Astra, the capital of Illium where her mother was currently, and Liara forced herself to wait, using the time to get a better picture of the situation.
Tika's presence helped to keep her calm but the Quarian was equally disturbed by what they had discovered.
Three hours later the young Asari judged that it was safe to call her mother without waking her. Benezia was an early riser and was probably already finished with breakfast. Liara entered the command that would establish a secure connection to her mother.
She waited as the space age equivalent of the ringback tone indicated an established but as yet unacknowledged call. It was actually very similar to those that Human telephones employed.
She frowned, checking the time again, confirming that it was indeed late enough. She wondered if her mother had a lie in but dismissed the idea as ridiculous.
"'morning," her mother finally answered, immediately followed by a yawn. Her voice was throaty and the connection was audio only. Was she sick?
"Is everything alright, mother? Are you feeling well?" Liara asked concerned.
"No, no, everything is alright, it's j…" Benezia trailed off as she moaned. Liara could hear some sort of scuffle, and it suddenly dawned on her that her mother wasn't alone. Confirmation came in form of a sharply exclaimed, "Stop it!"
"Is this a bad time? Should I call later?" Liara asked awkwardly. Despite being much more open about sex in general than every other species in the galaxy, even Asari didn't enjoy walking in on their mothers.
"No, no, it's fine Little Wing," her mother assured her. There was a muffled smack and throaty laughter. "Your father's just feeling frisky."
Liara froze. Her mother was together with her father again?
The young Asari honestly didn't know what to think. Had she been younger she would have been happy. As a pureblood whose father had vanished into thin air before she was even born she had gotten much grief over the years. It was always veiled of course, but Liara had still been hurt deeply by the sometimes snide remarks.
The return of her father would have meant an end to those taunts.
But now? She had developed a rather thick hide over the years; the taunts and snide remarks meant little to her anymore, and she knew why her parents had broken off their relationship and kept it a secret.
How would her family change now that they were back together? She didn't know her father, had barely exchanged a dozen words and without knowing their true relationship, yet thanks to their short joining on her coming of age in summer - was that really only a few months ago? - she felt close to Aethyta.
Would she like to meet her father who had done nothing to make contact before?
It was all too much and it left her dazed.
"Oh dear," her mother's voice startled her out of her funk. By now the video feed had been turned on and she could see Benezia resting against the headboard of a strange bed. It was clear that she was naked and while normally that wouldn't bother Liara in the least, now it was just another reminder of the sudden change. Her mother looked a little guilty which was a look Liara had never seen on her mother before - several obvious love bites trailing down her neck didn't help either. "I probably should have told you, you know, about me wanting to get back together with your father, but I wasn't sure... I hadn't planned... Oh this is ridiculous!"
Liara started to laugh. It was a laugh between honest mirth and desperation - either laugh or cry. She was joined in her laughter by a muffled voice from her mother's side of the call - her father apparently found the situation just as funny.
Today was not Liara's day, but damn if it wasn't funny to see her mother guilty and admitting being unsure and unprepared, swept up in the moment. Usually Benezia was anything but spontaneous and always in control.
Liara knew her mother; she would have planned out everything carefully - sex would probably have been step ten on the list after lots of talking.
"Well, yes…" Benezia huffed. "Liara, why did you call this early? Is something wrong?"
The young Asari sobered immediately. "Yes. Something is very, very wrong with our project."
Liara started to fidget. She had expected to talk to her mother alone - not even the Matriarch's acolytes knew about magic, even if they knew about Harry - but from her mother's expression of undivided attention it was clear she wanted her to speak - in front of her father.
"I had planned to take Tya into our confidence anyway, Little Wing," Benezia said, seeing right through her hesitancy. "Perhaps this way is even better as you are certainly more knowledgable. Please continue."
Three hours later Liara flopped down on the lounge in the common living area of the Alexandria.
"That was probably the weirdest report I have ever given," Liara stated. "No, not probably - definitely."
"Didn't go well?" Tika asked from the small kitchenette where she prepared herself a meal, probably some instant-package gruel. While Tika could eat some Asari and even Human levo-food without getting sick, doing so on a regular basis would deprive her of essential nutrients.
"Yes and no," Liara said, scrunching up her face a bit. "I essentially walked in on my parents after a night of rough sex, talked to my father for the first time - at least knowing it was my father - and had to explain all about magic and Harry and what we are doing here. Oh and trying to make decisions that might change the galaxy forever."
"So, are we going to pack up?" Tika asked, after blinking in astonishment at her friend's uncharacteristic snarkiness.
"Surprisingly no," Liara sighed. "At least as long as Harry is not directly in danger or he wants to return home, we'll stay."
Tika munched her dinner in silence for a moment. Liara had found out that her Quarian friend took her eating very seriously, a reminder of the difficult times that had plagued the Migrant Fleet in her childhood. It was easy to forget that her friend had basically grown up in a refugee camp, complete with food rationing and cramped living space. Only about a decade ago the last of the three lifeships had come fully operational, making the Quarian exiles independent of external aid - at least for the day to day necessities like food, clean water, and oxygen.
"I'm surprised. When you came back from the surface, you seemed ready to storm Hogwarts to get Harry," Tika said after several minutes.
"A significant part of me still thinks that would be best," Liara admitted. "But there are more things to consider. It's not that simple. Matriarchs are very good at reminding you of that, especially when they team up on you."
"What's so difficult?" Tika asked with a frown. "The magical world is crazier than a Hanar on Hallex."
"Well, yes, but it also offers an opportunity that we are loath to pass up," the Asari archaeologist explained.
"No kidding, magic is awesome!" the Quarian agreed. "But haven't you copied all the books we came across? Might take a bit longer to teach Harry on Thessia, but shouldn't be too much of a problem. I know you Asari are good with emotions and the mind, calming people down and all. I doubt Harry's going all person of mass destruction on you."
"True, but it's not that simple," Liara said, shaking her head. "And it's not just that either. For now there are only four people that know about Harry's magic, but about four to five dozen know about his existence and the fact that he's Human. We've tried to keep a low profile, but as my father has proven a few months ago, Harry's identity as a Human is not entirely safe. The other Matriarchs that know about Humanity might figure it out sooner or later; initially we weren't too worried, as it would hurt the Matriarchy as a whole if the secret got out. They all have a vested interest in keeping the secret.
"But if Harry's magic was discovered by others - and it would - it wouldn't be just a potential embarrassment for our family any more."
Tika wasn't naive and far from stupid. She realized that if the galaxy became aware of magic anyone would try and take a slice for themselves. Her own people would probably too, if they didn't lack the resources. The Quarian machinist wasn't a fool; she knew that was one of the reasons Liara had hired her.
"So teach him in some isolated place," she offered. "With no one around the secret can't come out."
"And cage him even further?" Liara asked bitterly. "He's already practically a prisoner back home. Do you have any idea how difficult it was to arrange for him to play skyball? Concealing his nature will only become more difficult as the differences between our species will become more evident as he ages. It's a wonder we are so similar in the first place. It might have been doable if he were female, but he isn't.
"If I take Harry away from Earth again he'll be doomed to spend the rest of his lonely life at the edge of civilization. He'll never get to see all the wonders of the Galaxy for himself. He'll probably still be happy and I will not abandon him, but his potential would be wasted. Harry is ambitious; he wants to do so much and it would hurt him if he can't even try. I can't do that to him.
"Magic might be the solution to our troubles. It seems as if anything is possible with magic! Harry's transfiguration teacher can turn herself into a cat at will, for Goddess' sake! There may be spells or potions that will let him walk down the Presidium on the Citadel without anyone noticing. It's going to be a long and dangerous way, and we'll probably need all the help we can get."
"So it's the old dilemma between happy and safe," Tika nodded to herself. "But what about keeping Harry away from Earth for a few more years? At least until he can better protect himself."
"We thought about that, and if we have to we will go that route," Liara admitted. "If Harry wasn't who he is in the magical world, if he could simply vanish in the masses, we would probably be packing already, but with Harry's fame it might not be prudent to do so. We would only delay the problem and passing up the relative and temporary safety Hogwarts provides. Despite everything I still believe Dumbledore tries to protect Harry but he can only really do so in his school.
"I've read about the war Harry ended and the aftermath. I doubt it was as clean cut as some people like to believe. There's still so much we don't know, we don't know who our enemies are, what their true capabilities are and how to protect ourselves from them effectively. It's going to take time and we'll need someone to guide us. For now Dumbledore is our best bet, even if I don't trust him completely."
Tika only nodded, taking her plate and putting it in the dishwasher. When she turned back, she caught Liara's eyes who was leaning forward in her seat. Her gaze was intense, eyes shining with a fire that took Tika aback.
"There's something else. What happens down there is wrong. Horribly, sickeningly wrong, and I will not stand idly by!"
After Dumbledore's revelations winter term went by without incident. There were fewer barriers between at least three of the four houses which improved the overall climate, especially since it looked as if Slytherin would finally going to lose the house cup the first time in seven years. Now that the rules made it difficult for Snape to favour his own house - not for lack of trying - Ravenclaw led the running with Gryffindor a close second.
In the Quidditch championship it was the reverse. Ravenclaw had won against Slytherin, but it had been close. While the Claws dominated the quaffle, they lost the snitch and won only with a twenty points lead. Gryffindor however completely demolished Hufflepuff who demonstrated that sometimes loyalty was a bad thing.
Ezekiel Smith, the Puffs' captain had filled his team with mostly his friends - who while not altogether bad, weren't really house-team material. In any other house the captain would have been called out on his favouritism right after the first game or even before that, but not in Hufflepuff.
With Snape hovering impotently outside the playing field to keep watch, Harry had an epiphany. While the match might usually be decided by the seeker catching the snitch, in the championship only the points mattered - and each snitch was always worth 150 points. In a single match that was a tall order to overcome by scoring goals, but over three matches it was doable.
So knowing that the Badgers were inferior to the Lions, Harry ignored the snitch when it presented itself in the fifth minute and instead successfully concentrated on distracting the enemy seeker. After four hours of humiliation, Harry decided to put Hufflepuff out of their misery and caught the snitch, ending the game 510 to 50, one of the biggest point differences in Hogwarts' history.
Ravenclaw would need to win spectacularly against Gryffindor with a 200 points lead before catching the snitch to still win the cup.
The only thing marring this great victory was Harry's discovery after the game when he followed Snape and Quirrell into the Forbidden Forest - on his broom of course - and overheard them talking about the Stone. Harry had to hand it to Snape: he played an excellent menacing blackmailer - which was rather unsettling, actually.
Also unsettling was how apparently the only remaining obstacle to the Defence against the Dark Arts Professor's goals was Fluffy the not-so-friendly Cerberus and possibly whatever Dumbledore had cooked up to protect the Stone.
Of course Harry didn't tell Liara, as she was sure to scold him for risking getting caught. He did tell Hermione though.
As winter gave way to spring the teachers put on more pressure. Harry didn't care as he still easily kept pace, and while Hermione worried about the end of year exams and drove everyone around her to distraction months before the actual exams, it was more of a reflex for her. Both of them were often found in the library as Harry had taken Hermione's advice to heart even if he did little of his actual studying out of the books there. They were usually surrounded by other Gryffindors and occasionally Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws they had come to know from the Club, which lead Malfoy to sarcastically comment on 'Potter holding court'. Besides Ron, who was quickly pulled back by Harry before he could run his mouth, nobody outside Slytherin listened. They all knew Malfoy would give everything to be in Harry's place as the most popular student in their year by a wide margin.
Other than his normal interactions with the other students Harry kept his head down. Snape still tried to get him into trouble but his credibility had taken a steep dive. He was basically impotent to do anything worse than assign a few lines of detention; anything more and either Dumbledore or one of the other professors would step in. Harry was safe from the dour potions master unless he were to really break a rule, which he was careful not to - at least not when there was a slight possibility of getting caught.
Potions class was still dreadful, but Harry cheerfully ignored Snape and always managed to brew his potion perfectly and in time, which infuriated Snape to no end.
The other subjects continued much in the same vein as before, just slightly more demanding. Transfiguration was comparatively hard work under a strict but competent teacher; Charms was slightly easier but with a much cheerfuller Flitwick instead of stern McGonagall. History of Magic more and more became something of a student favourite; Astronomy and Herbology were a nice change, but Harry still didn't see much use in how they were taught.
Defence against the Dark Arts was probably the second worst class. Quirrell made a valiant effort to bring his stutter under control, but he still slipped frequently, which didn't help. At least compared to Snape he was halfway competent at teaching - not that this said much about his ability. Still, Harry had a hard time ignoring the man's nefarious schemes.
It was surprising how normal and boring the day-to-day business of a magical school could be, even with the new Game Club. By late April the first year Gryffindors were ripe for some exciting distraction.
Therefore the unusual appearance of Hagrid the Groundskeeper in the library obviously piqued their curiosity. Most of them knew Hagrid through Harry and quite a few had been down to the groundskeeper's hut for tea and biscuits. He was odd in some ways but generally well liked. He could tell the most fantastic stories about various exciting beasts, so when it was quickly determined that he had just left the row dealing with dragons it was clear that they just had to find out what was up with him.
That afternoon most of the Gryffindor first years wandered down to Hagrid's hut for a surprise visit. At first Hagrid seemed reluctant to let them in but in the end opened the door for them anyway. It didn't take that many pairs of eyes long to spot the dragon egg in the fireplace.
Friday, April 24, 1992
It was a very excited gaggle of kids that ran over the gently sloping fields separating the castle from Hagrids hut. At breakfast Harry had received a note, simply reading 'It's hatching'.
The boys - except for Neville - were really excited and could barely sit through Herbology, while the girls showed less interest. Hermione complained about the rules and the missed time that she felt should be spent revising but ultimately was easily swayed to come along. Deep down she wouldn't let the experience slip past her and was just as swept up in the excitement as the boys, just better at hiding it.
Faye and Alice weren't interested in the dragon and nobody was surprised that Sally-Anne didn't follow them either. Parvati and Lavender however were curious enough to follow the rest to Hagrid's hut.
When they arrived Hagrid quickly ushered them inside where it was still boiling hot. The dragon egg was already lying on the table with several deep cracks crisscrossing the surface. After half an hour there was a sudden scraping noise and the egg split open, revealing a rather ugly, spiky bundle with huge - for its size - wings, a leathery snout and an amazing instinct at setting Nevilles robes aflame with his first sneeze.
Well, it was more like they were barely smoldering than anything, like he stood too close to a crackling fire and got a few sparks on them, but Neville still jumped back in fear and ran around like a headless chicken. Hagrid interrupted cooing over his dragon just long enough to pick up Neville by the scruff of his robes and pat out the smoulder.
Then he went pale, took two long strides towards the closed window and threw it wide open. Harry and his friends quickly crowded the window to see what had spooked the gamekeeper so: It was Malfoy, running away from the hut.
The next week was tense. Malfoy just smiled nastily, which unsettled and confused them, until Faye explained it: For now, they hadn't done anything wrong and therefore he was biding his time. Malfoy could only hurt them by making problems for Hagrid whom he considered beneath his notice. He was waiting to catch a bigger fish: Harry.
That only emphasized the urgency to get rid of the dragon. Sadly, it was hard to reason with Hagrid who had developed motherly feelings for his baby dragon. He was convinced that without him Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback would surely die.
It was Harry who came up with the solution: Ron's brother Charlie, the dragon handler. However, since he worked in Romania it would take Hedwig several days to deliver the letter and return with the response. In the meantime they had to help Hagrid care for his dragon.
The N Team - as Dean liked to call the group - had shrunk again since Norbert had escaped his egg. Neville, who had been reluctant in the first place, wanted nothing more to do with the dragon that had singed his robes and Lavender and Parvati declared after their first shift that they would stick to bunnies and cats in the future, thank you very much.
Therefore it was only four people that huddled together Wednesday evening the week after The Hatching to discuss the situation. Ron was still missing from the group as he was currently helping Hagrid but they expected him to be back soon. He was cutting it close, as dusk was almost over and curfew was upon them.
They all saw Percy glance at the clock, mounted above the fireplace, a sure sign that he was about to make his rounds to check if the first and second year boys were all inside the tower. They were afraid that Ron might not make it this time - but then the portrait opened and Ron stumbled in, puffing and sweating from obviously having run all the way from Hagrid's to the tower. Percy sent his brother a chiding glare. Thankfully the fifth year prefect decided against berating his younger sibling.
A moment later Ron let himself fall heavily into the remaining seat. "The bloody d… thing bit me!" he hissed at his friends. He showed them his hand, wrapped in a bloody handkerchief.
They all winced at the sight, remembering how the baby dragon liked to snap at the hands that fed him.
"Ron, language," Hermione scolded him for his swearing, although it was mostly out of reflex.
"And Hagrid… he tried to blame me for upsetting Norbert! Can you believe it? Started to sing it a lullaby, he did! He's completely off his rocker, I tell you!" Ron muttered, ignoring Hermione's scolding as usual.
Before they could further speculate on Hagrid's mental health, there was a slight tap on the nearby window. With a muffled cry of 'Hedwig!' Harry dashed over to open the window for his owl. After showering her with the affection she richly deserved, Harry rolled open Charlie's response that hopefully held the solution to their woes.
It did… but there were complications.
"You know that's exactly what Malfoy's waiting for?" Seamus said after reading the letter, obviously referring to the problem that getting Norbert to the Astronomy Tower at midnight would present.
"Seamus is right. He tried to lure you out after curfew before," Hermione agreed. "If he gets wind of this…"
"Then we won't let him!" Ron exclaimed, making to grab the parchment with his uninjured hand and already turning towards the fireplace that still held a few embers.
"Now let's just wait a minute," Harry said, holding Ron's hand in place, grinning widely. "Maybe we can use this. Ron how… no wait, wouldn't work with your hand… Dean, you're good at drawing. You think you can imitate Charlie's handwriting? Hermione can you cast that duplication spell you told me about?
"I think I have a plan; we only need a way to get this to Malfoy without him realizing we want him to have it," he finished, indicating the parchment.
Saturday, May 2, 1992
Gryffindor Common Room
Harry let out a relieved sigh when the last Gryffindor left the common room shortly after eleven thirty on Saturday night, leaving him and Hermione the last two souls left in the room. It had taken some convincing to get the others of the N Team to leave earlier, but a whole bundle of first years attracted more attention than just two; particularly if one of them was Hermione Granger grilling her best friend about potions in order to prepare for a test. Even Percy hadn't glared at them. Much.
As soon as they were certain nobody would come back down because they forgot something, Harry pulled out the invisibility cloak Liara had sent him earlier this week. Of course she had been very interested to know why he wanted it, but he was able to lie convincingly that it would be a valuable asset in case there was trouble.
Right now however he was rummaging around for something in the flowing, silvery cloth.
"I'm still surprised that you didn't tell anybody about your cloak," Hermione said from across the table.
"Really?" Harry replied, rolling his eyes at her naivety. "As if I'm going to tell just anyone that I possess a legendarily powerful magical artefact. It would be gone before the year's over. Gotcha!" he suddenly cried, fumbling around for a moment and then holding up something small and silvery in triumph. It was a delicate safety pin.
"What's that?" Hermione asked suspiciously, narrowing her eyes a bit to see the tiny thing better.
"That, my dear partner in crime, is a highly advanced device known as a safety pin," Harry replied with a grandiose sweep of his arms, holding it in front of her eyes.
"No, really?" Hermione squealed in simpering, fake excitement. "Is it another powerful magical artefact? Did it hold up Merlin's nappies?"
Harry grinned. Hermione didn't exercise her dry wit nearly as often as he would like but he was getting better at teasing it out of her. "Oh, it's magical alright. It's… well it's a backdoor, I suppose."
"A door? I know the magical world is sometimes strange, but… No, you're pulling my leg, aren't you?" the witch asked, now skeptical.
"Well, not a literal door of course," Harry scowled and shot a quick look at the strange clock hanging over the fireplace. It had almost a dozen hands and it had taken a while to learn to read it. The trick was to ignore all the non-pertinent information like the cleanness of ones underwear or the presence of a handkerchief in ones pocket. It still boggled Harry's mind how not only did the clock know that but it also managed to project that information to the one person who happened to look at it out of the dozens in the room at times. Deciding he had a few minutes before he had to go, he launched himself into an explanation.
"Anyway, I went over my father's notes again because at the time I read them the first time most of it didn't make much sense to me. He figured out what the cloak was in his fifth year when he and his friends discovered that the cloak was just a bit too perfect. You see, they made this map of Hogwarts that showed anyone on it so they could sneak around at night."
Hermione huffed in annoyance but remained silent. She still didn't like pranks and rule-breaking all that much. Harry himself had almost completely stopped, mostly because Liara's admonishment over the winter holidays, but once the novelty had faded he didn't care as much about random pranking anyway. Once in a while it was good for a laugh, but he simply couldn't muster the same dedication as the Weasley twins.
"However, when one of them was under the cloak, they didn't appear on the map. Dad was surprised by that because he went a bit overboard with the map; it actually scans for souls so it can show ghosts and McGonagall in her animagus form. It should have seen right through a regular invisibility cloak. That was his first clue by the way.
"Anyway, while having a perfect invisibility cloak is nice and all, it hurts your operation when you have to know where your second team is. Besides, dad realized that it would be bad to draw too much attention to one of the Deadly Hallows. So he put in this easily removable, hard to find, silver safety pin."
"And silver is an almost perfect magical conductor," Hermione cottoned on, eyes alight with understanding. "It would give most spells a way to bypass the cloak."
"Elementary, my dear Watson," Harry said, striking a pose as if he was the Great Detective himself, making Hermione giggle. "It's also the metal most closely associated with the soul according to some books."
"You're such a goof, but you better go now. The sooner we get rid of Hagrid's little monster, the better."
"As my lady commands," Harry replied with an exaggerated bow after which he picked up his Nimbus 2000 - he had made a show of polishing it earlier - and threw the invisibility cloak over his shoulders. Hermione had already opened the window. A sudden gust of air was the only sign telling her that Harry had left.
She only needed to wait for a short time, little more than a quarter hour, before there was a short rap at the window. Quickly glancing around, making sure that the room was still empty, she opened the window again to let Harry back in.
"Everything went well?" she asked.
"Without a hitch. Well, aside Hagrid not wanting to part ways with his baby, but I got him convinced in time. Norbert was a bit active in his crate, but nothing I couldn't handle."
"And nobody saw you?" she continued anxiously.
"Nope. They might have seen the crate swinging around, but I was careful staying in the shadows."
"I still can't believe Malfoy didn't turn us in right away," Hermione said.
"That's not how he thinks, Hermione," Harry replied. "If he had shown Charlie's letter to a professor as soon as he got it we would have been easily able to wiggle out of punishment. After all we were only helping Hagrid, a member of staff and the gamekeeper. All we had to do was lie that we didn't know Hagrid wasn't supposed to have that dragon and that we thought it was part of his official duties. Of course we would have never been out after curfew, not when Hagrid could have done it without breaking the rules. That's what Malfoy would have done and expected to get away with it. He had to catch us, or let the professors catch us doing something clearly punishable, like being out after hours."
"That's why you had Dean change the date from Saturday to Sunday," Hermione nodded in understanding. "He's going to wait till the last minute to tell the professors tomorrow evening and by the time Norbert will be long out of the country."
"Yep, and I doubt he's going to show them the letter because he would have to explain how he got it which would land him in trouble as well. Only thing left to do is destroy the original letter tomorrow night so the magical copy you made vanishes too. Malfoy's going to look like a fool and hopefully get detention for his troubles."
Sunday passed without incident. Harry still felt slightly smug that everything worked out so well. In the end Malfoy had even helped them by grabbing the book Ron had stored the doctored letter in when he came to the hospital wing to taunt the ginger whose dragonbite had turned a nasty shade of green.
All that remained was keeping up the charade that Norbert was still there, that they still planned on getting rid of him that very night, despite knowing that Malfoy knew. It wasn't easy, but they managed to look suitably worried and fearful of the blonde Slytherin.
Helping Hagrid cope with his grief was a vast improvement over feeding a snapping Norbert at least.
Monday at breakfast they could finally savour the fruits of their labour as they were all smiling smugly at a fuming Malfoy. Just moments ago the grapevine gossip had reached them, confirming that some students had been caught out after curfew last night.
It had prompted Harry to stick a bit of sausage into the corner of his mouth rather like a cigar and declare to 'love it when a plan comes together,' which set off Dean and made Hermione shake her head in amusement. Sometimes she wondered how Harry could not know the most basic of social norms but quote pop culture trivia like nobody else.
The good humour was brought to an end when Ron asked, "Where's Neville?"
A quick look around spotted the blond boy at the end of the table, looking forlorn. The other Gryffindor first years glanced at each other in question. While Neville was still rather shy and didn't often contribute to the discussion he nevertheless always sat with them.
Wordlessly they got up and relocated to see what was wrong with their friend.
"Neville, mate, what's wrong?" Seamus asked, sitting down to the boy's right.
"Harry… you… Malfoy… h-he said... about Norbert last night. H-he wanted to catch you and I couldn't find you!" Neville stammered.
The conspirators gave each other wide-eyed looks. By keeping their plan to themselves it seemed that they had forgotten to tell their friends who weren't as involved with Operation Norbert.
"Don't worry about it, Neville," Ron said with a bit of forced cheer, slapping his dorm mate on the back. "Malfoy can only dream about getting one over us. From what we've heard he and his gorillas got caught out after hours last night."
But Neville just shook his head. "Only Malfoy. A-and me."
"You!?" they exclaimed in disbelief.
"How did you manage that, mate?" Seamus, like the rest of them stared in shock at Neville.
"I-I was coming back from the dungeons, you know, the cauldrons Snape made me clean," the sandy haired boy explained, his head bowed in shame. They all knew he had again failed to make an adequate potion on Friday and the dour Head of Slytherin was only to happy to assign him some demeaning work - one of the few things he still could do. "I overheard Malfoy talking to Crabbe and Goyle about No… You-Know-What. He said he was going to send Filch after you but this time he wanted to see for himself. I-I wanted to warn you, but couldn't find you!"
"Oh Neville," Hermione gave him a pitying look. "And you didn't think to look for us in the Game Room? We were all there the entire night until curfew."
Neville just let his head drop further. He hadn't thought about that possibility at all. He just went into a panic when his friends weren't in Gryffindor Tower.
A person standing behind you, clearing their voice in such an obvious manner was seldom a good sign and judging by Professor McGonagall's expression this time was no exception.
"I suppose you find it funny that Mister Longbottom was caught in the same trap you put out for Mister Malfoy?" her tone was icy as she glared at each of them in turn. Only Harry managed to not flinch away from her scrutiny.
"No, Professor. We are not happy that Neville got dragged into whatever lies Malfoy sprouted," Harry replied confidently, eliciting a narrowing of the Professor's eyes.
"So you did not tell Mister Malfoy some cock-and-bull story about a dragon on the grounds?" her tone made it clear that she had already made up her mind.
"No, ma'am, we never told Malfoy anything like that. I don't know what Malfoy's game is, but if that's the best story he can come up with… I mean, a dragon? Really?"
McGonagall's mouth thinned until her lips were just two faint lines.
"Unfortunately, since unlike Mr. Malfoy and Mr. Longbottom you haven't broken curfew, you will not have to serve detention," she stopped as most of her first year students let out a sigh of relief. After renewing her glare at them she continued, "However, I expect an essay from each of you, at least a foot in length, on the importance of rules and the dangers of exploiting them; to be delivered by the end of the week. You should be ashamed of yourselves."
"Sorry that you got dragged into this, mate," Ron huffed and slapped Neville on the shoulder after McGonagall had left. "At least it's not detention with Snape! A foot writing isn't so bad though, could have been worse."
"That was completely unfair," Hermione complained, looking outraged. "She's the one that should write that essay!"
"Will you relax? It's not detention, just an essay - don't you love writing those?" Ron tried to soothe her and failing spectacularly.
"That's not the point Ronald! She had no proof that we did anything wrong but punishes us anyway. What happened to innocent until proven guilty?" the irate witch rounded on her housemate.
"But she knew we tricked Malfoy," Seamus put in.
"No she didn't and we didn't!" Hermione hissed. Seeing the perplexed looks on her friends faces, she elaborated. "She doesn't know anything, she's just assuming. And we didn't really trick Malfoy. We told him nothing, gave him nothing, he took the book by himself, we just let him come to his own conclusions. Malfoy tricked himself. We did absolutely nothing wrong."
"Well, except for Norbert and me flying around after curfew," Harry quipped after making sure nobody listened in.
"Not the point either, Harry," Hermione huffed.
"What's the point then?" Ron demanded.
"The point is that all it took was Malfoy telling McGonagall some story and she punishes us," Hermione explained, patience wearing thin. "If he finds out he can do that, in the future all he has to do is accuse us, even if we really don't have anything to do with whatever he's involved in. We could get in trouble for doing nothing at all! It's the same as when she tried to punish us because we got attacked by that troll! She's the one ignoring the rules, not us.
"And that's what I'm going to write in that essay."
Saturday, May 9, 1992
Entrance Hall, Hogwarts
"What are you lot doing here? It's past curfew," Filch spat at them as soon as the group that had come to support Neville stepped into the entrance hall. Neither of them had received a detention so far but had heard plenty of horror stories.
"No it's not, we still have more than five minutes and the game room is just two flights up," Harry countered, looking pointedly up at the great clock that was a centerpiece of the great hall, above the hourglasses that counted the house points. Strangely it was a completely normal clock that only displayed the time.
"Bah! You'll get yours soon enough," Filch groused. "Just too bad they let the old punishments die out… Let's see if you still talk back after hanging from the ceiling by your wrists for a few days. Still have the chains in my office, all oiled up, just in case…" he finished with a nasty leer, obviously enjoying the paling faces of the children in front of him.
"But maybe you would prefer that," he grinned evilly at Neville. "After all, it's off into the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid for you."
Neville was shaking like a leaf. Lavender tried to assure him with a hug, but it didn't help much. Harry glared at the odious caretaker, before placing a hand on Neville shoulder in support.
"Don't worry about it Neville," he tried to reassure his friend. "You'll be with Hagrid. Nobody knows the Forbidden Forest better than him. He won't let anything happen to you."
"But there are werewolves in there!" Neville cried in despair.
"Rubbish, and even if, it's not even a full moon tonight," Harry countered. That seemed to calm Neville at least enough to stop shaking and he gave both Lavender and Harry a weak smile of thanks.
With only two minutes left before curfew, the supporters decided not to push their luck with Filch and trotted off towards the game room, just passing by Malfoy who stared at them venomously as he ascended the steps from the Slytherin dorms.
While they felt slightly guilty of being able to enjoy a relatively carefree evening while their friend was in detention, there wasn't really anything they could do. Even more so since McGonagall was still peeved at them. They had delivered their essays - most of them could be called rebellious - and judging by the stern glare and thin lips she hadn't appreciated them. Thankfully there had been no further punishment.
Harry woke to a crash and a bang, followed by loud swearing in Irish and Irish accented English - Seamus. Throwing open the curtains and lighting his wand revealed Neville on the ground next to the wash basin that he had bowled over. His face was as white as when they had left him in the entrance hall and he stared at Harry as if he had seen a ghost.
Well, not a ghost as those were pretty common in these parts and even Neville had gotten used to them. It was still a very unsettling stare that made Harry want to turn around and look if some unspeakable monster was behind him.
"H-Harry," Neville stammered, a sure sign that he was nervous, upset or frightened. Neville didn't really stutter, otherwise. "I-It was Y-You-Know-W-W-Who!"
Magic in this story is dangerous. Anyone else think that children/teenagers with reality warping abilities is a Bad Thing? Especially considering the emotion fueled accidental magic? And then throwing all those hormone-crazy adolescents together into a school with minimal adult oversight (student to teacher ratio is something like 1:30)? To me that sounds like a recipe for disaster.
In many fanfics that explore the political side of things magical society is a dictatorship run by the purebloods for the purebloods. Everything is biased towards them and it's basically impossible for muggleborns (and sometimes even half-bloods) to advance past a certain relatively low point.
Not so in this story. It's less 1984 and more Brave New World; though it's in the beginning stages and therefore might show characteristics of both. There's still a certain bias, but it's less about blood and more about money, connections, and where you went to school (and with whom). Hogwarts graduates form Huxley's Alpha- and Beta-castes, while the rest fill the lower ranks.
I don't want to give you the impression that nobody cares what they do to their children, just accepted as a necessity.
Don't want to go into international magical politics just yet, but I'll probably need to say this: Britain is one of the most advanced magical nations - and one of the more tolerant and comparatively well integrated in modern muggle society to boot. Don't expect any other magical nation to come to the rescue out of any high minded ideals and with some overpowered magitechnical gizmos. If they do get involved it's out of selfish interest and might even help the blood purists.
Sucks doesn't it?
I don't particularly like McGonagall. Sure, she's not nearly as bad as Snape, and I don't hate her, but in canon she has proven time and time again that she's not someone her students can depend on. I don't mean to imply that she doesn't care for her students - she does - she just doesn't seem to get them. She's also not very perceptive to their problems.
I still enjoy fics where she's one of the prominent good guys though (e.g. Jean or Harry McGonagall)
Technically this chapter branches into AU territory, but I would argue that it's a possibility not contradicted by canon (for the most part at least). Since crossovers are by definition AU it's not that important anyway.
I know there is circumstantial evidence in the books that Hogwarts is indeed the only magical school in Britain, but it's also way too small for what we see of magical society.
Anyone else thinks Neville was really stupid about it when he went after Harry and Hermione? He had all the time in the world to talk to them between curfew and midnight but instead he decides to go after them in the middle of the night? And what was Malfoy thinking going after Harry and friends alone? What would he have done if he had caught them? He might have been able to alert someone to them, but he would have been in trouble too.
The cloak in canon was underwhelming in my opinion. Apparently everyone plus their cat could see through it. Pretty lame for a legendary artefact of incredible power. So I buffed it a bit. Dumbledore and Moody will still see through it, for obvious reasons that have been explained in the last chapter.
Flitwick and his Ravenclaws play Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and Flitwick's character is a reference to Halfling ranger Belkar Bitterleaf from the webcomic Order of the Stick (which I highly recommend by the way). I simply love the idea of genuine wizards playing a fantasy game with magic and dragons.
The twins play Warhammer 40k; obviously they like the Orks. That doesn't bode well at all...
I believe games are ideal to bridge the culture gap between muggle and magical, at least to get the ball rolling.
(Honestly though, I just set that up to get away with them calling Harry the God-Emperor of Mankind)
Anyway, enough showing that Harry is actually part of Gryffindor/Hogwarts and not just that scruffy, weird kid in the corner. Next chapter's going to be the conclusion of Year 1 and then we are back to space.
P.s.: First year is a pain. The whole plot hinges on important but utterly random encounters. I've seen other authors try to drastically deviate from the canon events and it never really works in my opinion. Harry has to know about Fluffy, they have to get into trouble because of Norbert, they have to go into the Forbidden Forest and meet Quirrellmort and Firenze… If one of these events doesn't happen, first year becomes pointless or implausible. And most importantly Harry doesn't realize that Voldemort is still around.