Hogwarts, A Home
Harry reached for his stomach instinctively, and the Headmasters office burst into view around him, trying desperately to repress the urge to throw up whilst avoiding thinking about the unpleasant sensations that seemed to come with disappearing from one place and reappearing instantly in another.
"Did we just... Apparate?" Harry asked, only having heard the term in a discussion between some of the older Gryffindor students.
"A rather good deduction Harry, considering you have only completed your first two years. You did indeed just apparate with me - quite impressively too, most vomit on their first time. Now please, take a seat. Before we do anything, I would like to speak to you."
Harry could see why people were sick. Being apparated by Dumbledore had felt like getting washed down some kind of plughole, getting spun round and dragged headfirst through a pinhole. With any luck, it would be much better by yourself, or Harry would be sticking firmly to muggle transportation. Either way, he sat down. It was fairly unusual to see Dumbledore so matter of fact and straightforward in his experience, and Harry hadn't forgotten how Dumbledore had looked at Privet Drive just a few moments prior, no matter how well the headmaster tried to hide it.
"Harry, before I say anything else, are you aware of a kind of magic called 'legilimency?" At Harry's curious shake of the head, Dumbledore wasted no time in launching into an explanation. "I'm not surprised, it is am incredibly rare, and also quite difficult art. In essence, it is the art of reading another persons mind with magic. Those who master it can do so just by making eye contact, and even do it unconsciously, without even realising they are. This, if you will forgive me such immodesty, is the level I am at; and while I try my level best not to do so, I do on occasion find myself reaching into the minds of others without realising."
"Normally, this ability only ever amounts to what I refer to as 'skimming' - picking up the occasional surface thought or image, which is, might I add, particularly useful for being able to read somebodies intentions or mood. What you may not know, is that one's magic acts instinctively to protect it's owner, making it much harder for me to accidentally pick up more complex or intelligent surface thoughts without actively delving into the mind of whomever I am speaking to. Muggles, unfortunately, do not have that defense."
And with that final sentence, Harry felt his stomach clench together in a painful mix of dread and shame. He knew exactly where this conversation was heading.
Of course, it wasn't as though he hadn't had to answer questions regarding his home life before. Ron and Hermione being his best friends, had realised within a few months of knowing him that something wasn't quite right with him and his muggle relatives; and when Ron and the twins had essentially been forced to break him out of his own home, it had been all but confirmed. Ron had not said anything overtly, because though Ron lacked tact and subtlety, he understood to an extent Harry's thinking. He had simply laughed and joked as they normally did at the Burrow and then at Hogwarts; though it had not escaped Harry's notice that for a few days, Ron's laughing and joking had been slightly forced, and when he thought Harry wasn't looking, his red headed best friend regarded him with a mixture of sadness and anger at the way he had apparently been treated. Ron had put in the extra effort to make sure Harry had enjoyed his time at the Burrow, and Harry had appreciated it more than he could really express.
The twins had their own way of dealing with the issue, both, like Ron, understanding that they would not be able to elicit the story from Harry. The simply went the extra mile to keep him laughing. Percy and Ron, Harry suspected, were pranked last summer more than they ever had been in their entire lives; and on top of that, it did not take a genius to realise that all through that Summer, and the subsequent year - even at the height of the Chamber debacle - Harry had never once been the victim of one of their pranks. Not only that, but at the height of the rumours that Harry himself was the Heir of Slytherin, the twins took it upon themselves to vocally announce their support for him (in their own unique way, of course), and made a point of not allowing him to be in the corridors without support wherever possible.
There was, after all, a reason Harry felt so incredibly indebted to the Weasley family. They had universally and unconditionally accepted him in a way that Harry had never experienced before, and their support even in the short time he had really known them, was something Harry knew he'd never really be able to repay.
Hermione on the other hand, had not seemed to realise that Harry did not want to answer questions about his less than stellar home life. She seemed committed to making him talk, dropping in questions and comments of varying subtlety, in order to get him to open up. She was one of his best and only friends, and Harry was starting to think of her as the sister he had never had; but Harry still wasn't willing to talk, and he had become rather adept at dodging and deflecting such inquiries, much to Hermione's chagrin.
He suspected however, that Dumbledore would not be so easy to evade.
"I did not mean to, but before I came up to your room; I caught a glimpse of what was going through your Uncle's mind, and what I saw gave me no other alternative to delve deeper." Dumbledore paused momentarily, his eyes meeting Harry's, glittering softly with tears that he felt far too old to shed. "And, I saw everything. I looked through the man's entire set of memory's associated with you..."
Harry sucked in a breath, and he felt certain his heart had stopped beating. He couldn't breath. This had been his closest, most fiercely guarded secret, despite that his friends had already begun to guess.
When he was younger, he used to be scared. The memories and nightmares, the possibility of what his Uncle would do if he stepped out of line terrified him.
Harry was not sure exactly when, but a few years ago, the fear had turned into something else. He didn't quite hate the Dursleys. Rather, he hated the idea of appearing weak in front of them, and despised the idea of ever being seen to have given up, to have stopped defying them.
But with that, had come the shame. Every time his Uncle would strike and beat him, or starve him, or even just spit vile insults into his face; the sheer disgust that he felt with himself because he was too weak to do anything about it burned away at him on the inside. In the face of his family's vitriol, it stoked and fueled the flames of his defiance, his refusal to be crushed.
Once locked away by himself however, it gnawed away at the back of his mind. Picking and clawing at his self esteem, making him feel worthless. His sole refuge had been that no one else had seen that side of him. The weak side of Harry Potter.
"What they did was foul, Harry, and would have left many older and wiser in an emotional mess. And yet, here you are; stronger and more impressive than any I have seen at your age, despite all of the hardships that have come your way."
Harry allowed himself to breath again, just long enough to protest the man's words, "strong- No, I- I let them..." He stammered, desperate denial tainting his protests; but they were cut off by hands grasping at his shoulders, and Dumbledore kneeling down in front of him, gazing intently into his eyes.
He hadn't even noticed the man get up.
"It does not make one weak when they are unable to stand up against those much stronger than themselves. You never submitted, remained defiant, and emerged at Hogwarts standing tall. No weak person could have reached the Stone in your first year, no weak person could have slain the Basilisk in the Chamber in your second. You are a person that nobody could call weak. I can not begin to tell you how proud I am at the person you are becoming, and I don't need to have been as close to James and Lily Potter as I was to be able to say that they would have been immensely proud of you too."
Dumbledore stood and looked away from Harry, a gesture for which he was immensely grateful for, as several of the tears he hadn't been able to contain slid down his cheeks.
It was always something he'd wondered, a question he feared the answer to; would his parents have been proud of him? Given his recent reflections on his school performance, and the way he felt he had allowed the Dursley's to walk all over him, he had just assumed...
But hearing that there might be a chance that they would be proud, especially from someone like Dumbledore, lit a spark of hope within him.
Family had played heavily on his mind ever since he had started reading about the Potter family history. It's glorious past, and prestigious reputation, one of the last truly Noble families. He wanted desperately to make his parents proud, but after reading about his family history... It just seemed outrageous that a family like the Potters had fallen away in the way it had. He had found himself wondering more than once, whether he could do anything to rectify that, to restore his family to the way it had been before.
Surely that, would make his parents proud.
Not only that, but it would pull together with the rest of his goals. The Potters were famous for their role as guardians against the dark arts, so Harry would have to be sure to become the best wizard he could be in order to be able to fulfill that role - in other words, he would have to really work on his grades and studying. This meshed perfectly with the recent revelation that he had been severely handicapping himself by not studying, and the subsequent resolution to do something about it.
Harry wasn't aware of it, and looking back in the years to come, he probably wouldn't be able to pinpoint the moment when it happened; but right there and then, something fundamental changed within him. He had always been rather good at identifying his failures and weaknesses, but now, he felt a resolve to do something about them that he had never had before, a will to succeed and meet the rather lofty goals he had just begun to map out in his head.
"I- I don't want to revisit what the Dursleys are like," Harry began, his voice a touch distant as his mind continued to conjure images and plans of how he could go about reaching his goals. "I feel... At peace with what happened there, with how they are. I'm not even angry, I just want to move on from it. Will I- I mean, do I have to go back there next Summer?"
"No, and never again, if you do not wish to." Dumbledore stated firmly, a small smile gracing his face as he watched the emotions play out across the boy's face. His words regarding the Dursleys were true, he was at peace with it, though not fully healed - mentally or physically. Such things would take time, but the mental strength it would take to come to terms with it in the way Harry had was just something that most did not possess. It gave the Headmaster great hopes for the future, and was one more subtle indicator that Harry was a suitable candidate for a position that Dumbledore had been looking to fulfill since he himself vacated it. But that was an issue for later, Harry had more pressing concerns, and Albus needed time to see Harry learn and perform magic himself in order to judge his readiness.
Still, the thought - the very possibility excited the aging wizard more than anything.
"That is one of the main reasons I have taken you here with all of your belongings. Hogwarts is a rather unique castle, in that it can change itself to accommodate the needs of those who reside within it." He stated, resting his chin upon steepled fingers, having returned to his seat. "However, for you, as a descendant of Gryffindor himself, the Castle is even more impressive.
"In short, as an heir of Godric himself, the Castle will readily provide you shelter, since you do not have a home of your own to return to. I believe, the magic the Founders instilled into the building has allowed it to open personal living quarters close to the Gryffindor Common Room. I believe it is the same as what the teachers are allowed - A bedroom, a living area, bathroom, and a study. And, considering my own, I have to say I believe it will be rather cosy." Dumbledore finished, smiling warmly over his glasses at the ever so slightly shell shocked boy before him.
"I can live here?" He asked incredulously, not sure whether or not he believed what he was being told.
"Indeed. Obviously, during term time you will be expected to sleep in the dormitories, and access to your private quarters should be used... Responsibly; but, outside of term time, yes, this is now your home until you are old enough and able to find a house of your own. If you like, I can also arrange to have a floo connection opened so that you may have your friends visit... I imagine the Weasley family in particular would enjoy having the run of the Quidditch pitch, correct?"
"Really? That would be brilliant!" Harry practically cried out in response, the excitement coming off him in waves at the prospect.
"Excellent. Now then, how about we spend some time on the reason you asked for my help in the first place, hmm? Defense. Then, you can get down to the important business of exploring your new quarters."
For a first lesson, Dumbledore hadn't actually gone over anything new. He had wanted to see Harry's current knowledge; what spells he knew, how good he was at casting them, how well he understood them. Understanding what he was casting, seemed to be the focal point of the lesson. For a second, going on third year, his actual knowledge of spells was relatively weak. Possibly because of a slightly tame curriculum, possibly because of two years worth of shoddy teaching, his list of spells learnt in Defense lessons was pitifully short. Lumos, Flipendo, and Expelliarmus were all he had picked up from Quirrell and Lockhart - with only the latter two being much use in a duel, and his Charms lessons had provided him with Incendio to use as well. He had, however, been certain to learn Serpensortia after the dueling club incident with Malfoy; and Hermione had taught him both the Leg-locker curse, and the Full Body Bind.
It was, he realised, more than many; but also not as much as it could or should be - he was after all, painfully aware that Hermione had been developing an extensive repertoire of minor hexes and jinxes (that she naturally would never use).
However, Dumbledore didn't seem to be disappointed. Conversely, he was quite pleased that he couldn't find a fault in his wand movements and casting; and was especially delighted that he had managed to learn Serpensortia, and cast with enough power to summon a 6-foot python. Dumbledore, after having seen him cast each spell several times, sat him down and asked him questions regarding the spells. In what situations could they be useful? How easy is it to vary the power, and what effect would that have on the spell itself? How could one vary the spell itself, tweak it if you will, so that it could accomplish a variety of things?
Harry had never found a discussion on what was technically magical theory so engaging before. They ran through and discussed a multitude of different scenarios and how the few spells Harry knew could be used; and he had been invited to make small changes to how he cast certain spells in order to see the effects. By the end, he had managed to figure out how to cast Serpensortia and have the spell summon multiple snakes, rather than just a single one.
It had been, to be frank, one of the most enlightening lessons he had ever had; and had been more than a little disappointed when Dumbledore called a halt to the session after two hours. Dumbledore's final lesson was that 'a spell is never technically mastered; there are always new ways in which a spell can be modified, advanced, or used for a different purpose; and there are always refinements to be made in one's casting of a spell. Therefore, one must never stop practicing or experimenting with the spells they know - never become complacent in your knowledge.' It stuck with him, buzzed around in his mind, resulting in him being incredibly eager to continue experimenting in his own time. Which was just as well, since Dumbledore had also informed him that the ministry would not be able to detect his magic within the castle walls, and therefore inside, he was free to practice as much as he liked.
For now however, he was still trying to get his head round his living arrangements. It would seem that Dumbledore was a master of understatement, if his quarters were anything to go by.
He managed to gain entrance through a portrait a few feet away from the Fat Lady - a portrait of Godric Gryffindor no less (though it claimed that the magic that created of it forbade it from recounting detailed history or any of Godric's actual magic, hence why it was safe enough to be out in the corridor) - and after a small stairway, the room opened up into a central chamber. It was large and round, and decorated much as the Gryffindor Common Room was, with a desk at the far end, and several comfy looking deep, red chair and sofa's throughout; and, of course, a roaring fireplace on the East Wall, leaving the room comfortably warm and glowing from the firelight.
It was the study that really took Harry's fancy however. It was as far away from how Dumbledore had made it seem, when he mentioned in it in a sort of casual, off-handed sort of way. It, to be blunt, was huge - nearly as big as the main chamber of his quarters in fact - and rectangular. One side was clearly cut out for more academic purposes. The three walls were lined with large, oak book cases, currently empty of course; and on the far wall next to one of the cases, was a good size set of drawers for storing work and supplies. In between the three cases, was a large desk, clearly designed for group work, but also comfortable enough for just one person, with three chairs already in place ready for use.
The other side though, was a potions lab, of really quite impressive quality. Already set up, was a pewter cauldron, ready to begin brewing; and the shelves on the walls were stocked with the more basic, and easy to preserve ingredients, and a cursory glance led Harry to notice that it was mostly stocked up with items Harry recognised, which meant that it was pretty much tailor made for a third year potions student to practice and use everything they had learned up to that point.
Harry made a private oath that he would practice enough that he would be able to knock the sneer off of Snape's face with the quality of his potions.
The bedroom was rather similar to his dorm room in Gryffindor tower, a large four poster bed, with a desk and comfortable chair, shelves for personal effects, a wardrobe and space for his trunk; it was comfortable, and cosy, and Harry was quite sure it was a million times better than anything at Privet Drive.
But more than anything, overwhelmingly so, for the first Summer of his life, Harry was struck with the incredible sensation of being home. That was what Hogwarts - and by extension the wider Wizarding World - had come to mean to him in the short few years he had known it. Easily more so than Privet Drive ever had been, and the people he had come to know since that fateful day when Hagrid had burst into a rickety wooden cabin on his eleventh birthday were more like family to him than the Dursleys had ever been.
And the thought of family brought him full circle to his own, new found sense of purpose. It was two-fold, really. First, he needed to become a good enough wizard that his parents would be truly proud of him. He wanted to exceed them, be the best for them - no small feat considering exactly how talented the Potter's had been - and in the shorter term, be good enough to keep himself alive; both from the threat posed by Sirius Black, and from the general madness that seemed to assault his life on a near constant basis.
And secondly, he wanted to build the, as he now knew it to be named, Most Ancient and Noble House of Potter, back into the famed wizarding family it had been in the past. But, obviously, how to go about achieving this goal was something that Harry still hadn't figured out yet. Obviously, his most pressing concern was that all the notable Wizarding Houses seemed to have land, wealth, and properties. He was aware that the Potter's had once owned a great mass of land all the way across Europe, but it had been all gradually sold off until there was practically nothing remaining. Acquiring the substantial amounts of gold required to rebuild an entire Noble House's status would both be one of his most difficult, and important tasks.
He supposed, a good starting point, would be to hit the books - and his inner Hermione agreed vehemently. He needed to know ways the wealthy Wizarding family's made and maintained their fortunes, how they were supposed to function and operate in society, he needed to know about customs, and traditions, the way the government worked, the way the banks worked. In short, he knew nothing that he needed to, and he needed to know a lot.
The other slight quirk was he needed to know what he actually already owned as a Potter. He knew he had a trust vault, and that it was not his actual vault; and, not only that, it was filled with enough money to see him through until the end of his time at Hogwarts. He didn't know however, if his family had owned any land, or any property, or even what was in his main vault, if anything.
As such, the very first thing he did, was write several letters. The first, to Gringott's, requesting either a written statement of everything he owned and the extent of what wealth he had; and a letter each to Ron and Hermione, explaining what had happened, and that they would be able to visit once his Floo connection had been sorted.
And then, he hit the library. He sought out as much as he could on the Ministry, and the Wizengamot, of the other Noble families and their history's, on the way the banking system worked.
Naturally, he also managed to seek out a tome of defensive magic, but that was neither here nor there.
The only other thing he did that day, besides reading and trying to formulate his plans, was visit Dumbledore once more, for a rather more ordinary conversation than they were accustomed to having. Simply put, he wished to change his electives for the coming year. Suddenly, taking Divination didn't seem like quite such a good idea.
The headmaster, much to Harry's pleasure, was all too happy to acquiesce to his requests, and even helped offer up advice on which electives he should be looking at.
He stated that, since Harry possessed no seer powers that he was aware of, Divination would be rather pointless; however, it would be counter productive, in Dumbledore's opinion, to dive into heavily academic subjects, when Harry himself did not learn best in an academic environment, and was not likely to enjoy such subjects. Therefore, Harry's initial reaction to take up Arithmancy and Ancient Runes over Divination and care of Magical Creatures was advised against.
Dumbledore then went on to point out, in light of Harry's recent interest in his family's history, that the Potter's had traditionally kept and managed a large amount of magical creatures on their lands, which were subsequently harvested for materials to sell and craft with - therefore Harry might well enjoy and largely benefit from taking Care of Magical Creatures. His second suggestion was frustratingly cryptic, which was a return to the Dumbledore of the past two years, over the refreshingly straightforward Dumbledore that he had spent time with this summer.
He had advised that Harry took Ancient Runes, a heavily theoretical subject, despite his previous advice to try and avoid such subjects, stating only that while he couldn't force Harry to take it, and it wasn't vital as such, he strongly believed that Harry would find it incredibly useful, especially in the coming year, and left it at that.
Despite his reservations, and exasperation, Harry decided to take the Professor at his word. Care of Magical Creatures and Ancient Runes it was. Hermione would be delighted with the latter, at least. Dumbledore's cryptic and unclear advice had come through more that once now, and Harry wasn't about to ignore it now.
It looked like he would be needing to pick up a book or two on Ancient Runes. A head start couldn't hurt at all.
Hermione would be proud.
A week passed, and increasingly, Albus Dumbledore found himself being taken aback by Harry Potter; his drive, his attitude, his talent, his personality - well, just about everything, if he was being honest.
Not for the first time, he promised that he would grovel out an apology to Minerva for not listening to her sooner about Harry's maturity and mental state.
Of course he knew the boy was incredibly kind and noble, after all, it's not everyday somebody will venture knowingly into a confrontation with a Basilisk to save the life of someone they barely know. But Harry wasn't just noble, he was driven almost entirely by his love for his friends, and his need to ensure that they weren't at risk. Of course, he had his own goals and ambitions, and had over the last few days confided and discussed them with Albus as part of their daily sessions; yet, at the same time, everything he did subconsciously seemed to come back to keeping the people he cared about safe and happy. He practiced his defensive magic not to keep himself safe from Sirius Black, but so he could defend his friends from him, should he appear. He wanted to restore his house, yes because he was proud of his family history and wanted to honour it, but mostly, it was so his future family could enjoy and experience it in a way he never had.
His maturity was also astounding to Dumbledore, mainly because he was accustomed to generalizing for entire age groups. He was mature and responsible far beyond his years, just as Minerva had said, and after his probe at the Dursleys, he knew why. He didn't exactly have any kind of a childhood, and that was before Hogwarts came along, and started doing it's level best to kill the dark haired Gryffindor. It actually made Dumbledore a little guilty, because he had tended to speak to Harry as a child, rather than who he actually was; not to mention, the information about Harry's life that Dumbledore had not yet revealed, for fear of spoiling what remained of his childhood. The headmaster's excuses for not telling Harry were beginning to get flimsy - and he knew it.
However, all these things Dumbledore was at least somewhat prepared for, given his interactions with Harry, and his rather... colorful history. What he was unprepared for however, was the rate at which Harry Potter was learning.
Quite simply, Harry after motivating himself properly, was a machine. He absorbed and understood lessons and words like a sponge, and was an incredibly quick thinker, able to hold discussions on topics he had only just learned about. Dumbledore had only taught him two actual spells in the short week they had been working together at this point - dueling fundamentals by anyone's measure; the Stunning Spell, and he Shield Charm, spells that any duelist would know and be able to use perfectly. Harry was casting nigh on perfect stunners - a fourth year spell - after an hour, and after another short 30 minutes, was casting solid Shield Charms. By the end of his second two hour session on the subject, he was learning how to vary the power put into each spell and play with the size and angle of the shields.
They had begun work on a very great many topics, from dueling, to practical Herbology, and Harry had drunk in everything Dumbledore had to say. The Headmaster couldn't quite pin down a reason for Harry's improvement, whether it was proper motivation with the threat of Sirius Black, and Harry's new found goals; an improved attitude, or even just the individual attention for a boy, who most teachers claim rarely gives any answers or asks for help in his classes. Either way, even a wizard such as Dumbledore found himself impressed by the child's rate of learning.
And this wasn't even taking into account the work Harry was doing by himself. He was clearly brewing, refining his knowledge and working ahead for Severus' Potions class; and Hagrid had reported that Harry had found himself spending at least an hour a day with the Half-Giant, asking questions and learning from the man's surprisingly considerable knowledge of magical creatures. Not only that, but Harry had spent a good many hours in the Library, attempting to learn all he could about wizarding government and culture mainly, and as a result had also begun to probe Albus himself for his rather vast knowledge of how the Wizengamot functioned.
But, most of all, more important than any of the above to Dumbledore; was how happy Harry had become. Once Harry had gotten past his unease at living in the castle, he had rather come alive as a result of being away from the Dursleys. It didn't take long to notice the increase in smiles, and confidence; the extra energy and drive that he had begun to develop. That Harry could feel so much better away from his relatives was both wonderful, and incredibly painful to Dumbledore to see. He loved to see the boy happy, but the improvement was a visible reminder of how he himself had been the cause of Harry's unhappiness in the first place.
A combination of all these things, and the confirmation that Harry was indeed the heir of Gryffindor, was all the confirmation that Albus Dumbledore needed to take this next step - one that he had been pondering since the very start of the summer. The last person to try and take this step, was one Tom Marvolo Riddle, the boy who became Lord Voldemort; and before him, it was a young and prodigious Albus Dumbledore. Both had been rejected, their spirit and heart deigned unworthy by the magic in place. Albus had managed to cope with his disappointment, move past it. Tom Riddle's rejection had led to an unhealthy obsession with locating artifacts related to the founders.
Both had been in their final years, much more mature and complete than Harry was at this point, and to put him through it was a calculated risk - but one that Dumbledore felt was worth it.
What he had in mind would not hurt Harry physically, indeed, the experience was rather fascinating, and enlightening regarding oneself; but rejection in any way hurt, and rejection in something so important hurt that much deeper. Either way, the chance would be offered to Harry as it had been offered to him, and that was why the child had been called to his office today.
"Harry, the reason I have requested that you meet me here, is to offer you the chance to learn magic in way the very few before you have ever managed to learn - not to mention that you'll learn kinds of magic that nobody alive today knows."
"Not even you, sir?" Harry asked, his curiosity clearly piqued by the unusual opening statement, "and if nobody alive knows it - how am I going to?"
"Well, as with all good questions such as yours, the answer is not as simple as you may have initially imagined, and begins, if you'll permit me to ramble as old men are wont to do, with a story." Dumbledore stated, a soft smile appearing at Harry's obvious desire to hear more. "You see, when the Founders built the castle and began to teach, they realised that even if they picked an apprentice to teach, they would not be able to pass on all of their considerable knowledge of magic down to the next generation. If they tried - much would have been lost; so instead, they took a different approach."
"They wrote journals and manuscripts, and a many great books; and crafted magical items, weapons and jewellery, with the intention that a worthy successor could locate them, and discern their secrets, and allow their knowledge to be passed on. Of course, not everyone is worthy of such knowledge, of wielding the power that it would bring, so they put their brilliant minds at work to devise a test, which naturally with four of the greatest magical minds in history working on it, became a long series of tests and trials in order to allow a potential candidate to prove their worthiness."
"The first is perhaps the hardest to pass, yet it is also the simplest. It is a judge of character if you will, an examination of whether or not you fit the characteristics that the Founders required in choosing an Apprentice."
"Like the Sorting then, Professor?" Harry interjected, glancing sideways at the ragged and tattered sorting hat resting on a shelf across from him."
"Yes my boy, yes! Exactly like the sorting - moreso, than I think you are imagining now. You must wear the hat once more, and it will judge you based upon whether or not you have enough of the qualities of each of the four Houses; but most of all, you must be deemed pure enough of heart to be able to handle the knowledge responsibly. I myself, unfortunately, was rejected by this process - but you I believe Harry, are a much better man than I, I do not doubt you."
Harry fought not to scoff at that - Dumbledore was kind and forgiving to a fault, and serene in temperament. If he wasn't pure enough, there was no way that Harry was. "I'm still not sure exactly how this works, or about what this is, sir..."
"In short Harry, should you be accepted, you will become the Founder's Apprentice - their heir in all but blood. This in turn, will allow you access to the trials the Founders have created. Should you succeed in passing the trials, you will be rewarded by something from one of the founders - a journal, a tome, an item - that will allow you access to magical knowledge that nobody has been able to access in a thousand years. Obviously, they will not have made such an undertaking easy. The Founders were well travelled, and long-lived; I have heard from the last known Apprentice that there were locations scattered across almost all of the magically significant places on the planet - Britain, Europe, Egypt, Africa, South America - and it will be down to you to locate these, pass the trials, and obtain the knowledge."
"Practically speaking of course, this is a little trickier to organize. Should you be accepted, you will be allowed to organize your expeditions and research alongside your usual classes, and if you desire, your sessions with myself; however, it is likely for the best that your role as the Apprentice take a backseat to your basic education, at least for a while. The Founders Apprentice is a position, albeit an ancient one, that is recognised by the Ministry. Being accepted would result in you being recognised as of age, and all the responsibilities and requirements that accompany that will fall upon you also - I believe you are aware of them as a result of your reading, yes?"
Harry nodded slowly, still a little stunned at what he was hearing. "Yeah, the Potter seat on the Wizengamot is activated, I have to manage my own accounts, I can apparate and perform magic legally, get a job, and a whole bunch of other things that come with reaching the age of majority." Harry stated in slow murmur, trying desperately to process everything he had just been told. "So, what kind of trials are there, besides the Sorting; and who was the last Apprentice?"
"Your second question is a rather easy one to answer, for I was well acquainted with him - the Last, and only Apprentice of the Founders was one Nicholas Flamel, who was actually my own mentor for a time, as I intend to be for you. However, he was not as desperately thirsty for knowledge as some, and only completed a few trials, though the ones he did complete contributed massively to his work on the Philosopher's Stone. As for the trials themselves, this is a little more difficult to answer because so few have actually been undertaken. As I understand it, they are tests of not only magical skill, but also of traits the founders held dear. As such, a Gryffindor trial may be some sort of test of bravery. Nicholas tells me that they are charmed to eject you should you become wounded in order to prevent loss of life, and also trials that are beyond your magical ability will be beyond your access - though exactly how this magic works eludes even my mind. You can be hurt, quite severely I would think, but the Founders made every effort to ensure that those who were worthy would not be killed needlessly."
Internally, Harry started weighing things up in his mind. These would be dangerous, and a lot of hard work for sure, especially with him technically coming of age as part of the process; but, at the same time, Harry couldn't help but feel a slight thrill at the idea, a slight buzz of adrenaline at the prospect of an adventure. The knowledge he could gain would be invaluable of course, and it was almost worth it simply to be able to travel to all the places where the Founders have been, possibly even to learn magic in other wizarding cultures. After talking briefly to Ron's eldest brother, Bill Weasley, who worked as a curse breaker in Egypt, Harry knew that magic varied massively from culture to culture.
Not only that, it seemed like an ideal way to gain experience and allies, and find ways to raise funds; all vital things for rebuilding his family into what it once was. Oh, and he was pretty sure Hermione would flay him alive if he turned his nose up at the opportunity to learn things that no-one else had. That was some pretty heavy motivation right there. All in all, it seemed that it was too great of an opportunity to pass up; and he had nothing to lose by at least seeing if he would be accepted as an Apprentice.
"Okay, I'll take the first test. I want to at least see if I'll be accepted."
Dumbledore simply smiled widely, and wandlessly summoned the Sorting Hat into his hands, and passed it to the raven haired boy sitting in front of him, so that he may be judged.
"Ah, Mr. Potter. I wondered if I would be seeing you once more as part of my duties. Not much has changed in here, yet, everything is different. Interesting, very interesting. A thirst to prove oneself has become a thirst to succeed; a good mind has become a keen and eager one, that is growing all the time; you have started to learn the true value of hard work, and I have to say, you have always been wonderfully loyal to those whom you give your trust to; and of course, only a true Gryffindor could pull the sword from me Mr. Potter, as you well know. You are Godric's blood, and his spirit. You were brave at eleven, but now, two years later; that bravery has blossomed into a mighty courage, that you spread amongst those around you. There is a reason of course, that your two friends would follow you into battle as they do, believe in you as they do... But how about the true test, the test of heart, of purity?"
Harry's breath caught, he had he supposed passed the initial test, though he wasn't sure with how much he agreed. He didn't feel he had much of the qualities the hat listed at all.
"You have a strong temper, and a lot of anger within you, that much is clear - but that does not necessarily mean you are impure of course. Quite the opposite in fact, I would be worried if you did not hold any anger within yourself, given what you have experienced. Your actions I believe, speak louder than any of my words can. You will act simply because it is right, you need no other motivation. At eleven, you fought a mountain troll because it was right, you sought the Stone, but not to use - it didn't even tempt you- because it was right. You ventured into the Chamber to save a life, despite a year of being slandered, simply because you would not have been able to live with yourself if you hadn't. Yes, Mr. Potter; imperfect you may be, but you are pure in spirit."
He didn't dare believe what he thought the Hat was saying - that he was passing a test of spirit that Dumbledore had not.
"A worthy successor I think, child. I once said that you would be great in Slytherin - and I was right! But for you, it shall be so as a Gryffindor as well! I hereby name you as an Apprentice of the Four Founders, Rowena, Helga, Godric, and Salazar; and as such, I have one final message for you: Helga's first has not one key, but three, strewn amongst the Quoits of Kernow. Locate them all to gain entrance and face your trial, and once successful - be rewarded, with the knowledge, of that ancient tongue. Now then Mr. Potter, good luck - I look forward for seeing just how great you become."
And with that, the Hat returned to it's lifeless state, waiting for the next Sorting to occur. "I... Was accepted..." Harry trailed off, simultaneously not quite believing that he could have been accepted, and trying to work through the Hat's final message in his mind.
"Congratulations Harry - I had no doubt in my mind!" Dumbledore's words were genuine, as was the delight and pride on his face. "Did the Sorting Hat provide any guidance for how you are supposed to proceed?"
"It did, Professor. Kernow... That's Cornwall, isn't it? I remember hearing about it, perhaps in History of Magic. The Hat's message said I would have to go their for the trial - one of Helga Hufflepuff's trials - to be rewarded with the 'knowledge of that ancient tongue', which would mean an old Cornish language."
"Indeed it is - Kernow is the County's name in Cornish. Cornwall, in times past, was once a place of great magical significance; and for a long time, played host to much of the country's magical population. The Founders were alive for much of this period, so it does not surprise me that there would be a trial there at all; not only that, but Godric himself was born in the West Country - Belerion, or Land's End, if I'm not mistaken. Helga Hufflepuff would have been well-versed in the Cornish language at the time, as the language of her birthplace in Wales was vastly similar. I have to say, that though the Cornish language certainly still exists today, and I know for certain that Godric and Helga both used it for spell craft, there are almost no magics I can think of remaining that use the language - if that is to be your reward, than it is immensely valuable, both academically, and in terms of practicality."
Harry thought over Dumbledore's words carefully. He still had a great many questions of course - What were Quoits? What would the keys look like, or be? Where would the final location of the trial be? Asking Dumbledore would likely at least get him as close to the answers as he could without Dumbledore actually doing the trial for him, but did he really want Dumbledore to do that? To just hand him the answers? In his opinion, that would rather defy the point of it being a trial in the first place.
"So, I'll have to do some research into Cornwall, and Helga Hufflepuff then - figure out where I'm going to have to go. I would assume it would be a good idea to actually learn Cornish as well; is there anyone who can teach me?"
"You could of course learn through a tutor, and I do in fact know of a few; however, there are several magical ways you might consider utilizing before you rush out to hire one. Firstly, there is a charm that will allow you to understand, read and speak different languages temporarily. It is however, rather difficult, and tracking down the specific spell for Cornish may be a struggle. Another is a Language Lozenge, which is essentially the same thing in sweet form; a temporary measure that tricks the brain into speaking, reading and understanding a language - of course Cornish ones, like the spell, are very rare and only temporary. The final option open to you then, is the Draught of Language - a fairly rare potion, that is particularly hard to brew. It essentially makes you more receptive to learning and understanding a language. You could drink a dose, and for several hours, you will be able to read in Cornish, and understand it spoken. However, the potion allows your brain to internalize the information - essentially, if you were to spend a few days studying Cornish, it would be simple for you to learn the language."
Harry was of course, astounded. "If it's that simple, Professor, then why doesn't everybody use it? Especially for languages such as Latin, and Egyptian - languages with real practical magical use."
"Many in fact do use it, Harry. I myself know over thirty languages, and only learned Spanish the conventional way. However, the ingredients are fairly rare, and usually only a potions master would be capable of brewing it. Buying the potion off the shelf in quantities enough to learn several languages would cost a small fortune. It just so happens that Hogwarts has a good supply of ingredients, and a live-in potions master."
"Do you really think Professor Snape would brew the potion for me?" Harry asked, being careful to use Snape's title since it looked like the greasy-haired bully might end up doing him a favor.
"He already has, Harry - admittedly, I was required to impress upon him the importance of such an undertaking, but I digress. I have here a supply of enough of the Draught for you to learn Cornish, and three other languages of your choice." Dumbledore stated, carefully lifting a large glass cylinder of emerald green liquid from somewhere underneath his desk. "Your suggestion of Latin and Egyptian were rather practical and well thought out; perhaps Greek, or Ancient Norse, considering your choice of Runes as a subject for the coming year. However, I must state unequivocally that Professor Snape will not brew this on my behalf for you again. If you desire more, you must discover your own source I'm afraid."
Harry didn't doubt that. His Potions Professor, one Severus Snape, had loathed Harry since day one for absolutely no discernible reason. The man never missed an opportunity to insult Harry and/or his brewing ability, or make crude digs about his parents. Initially, Harry had looked forward to Potions - it had seemed like something he could be good at, given his experience in the kitchen. But Snape had dismantled that particular day dream thoroughly on the first day, and Potions had become synonymous with the misery that Snape seemed to delight in causing.
The thing that annoyed Harry most of all, as he sat there thinking about his experiences with the man, is that he was clearly a masterful brewer. He was blatantly talented, had an unbelievable depth of knowledge, and was one of the very few true masters of Potions in Britain, if not the world. Yet, the man was not fit to teach a thing. He was abrasive, and unwilling to help any who needed, and unwilling to explain the complexities necessary to become truly talented. He wrote set instructions on the board, and left the class to it; as such, the best any of his students could do, was mechanically churn out standard potions. The best Snape would ever produce would be good, but not exceptional students.
To grow into the same calibre of Potions master that Snape himself was, you needed a teacher who could bring that out of you. Most magic could be learned effectively from text, with enough practice; teachers sped up the process and made it easier, but were not entirely necessary. The notable exceptions for this rule amongst the Hogwarts curriculum were Care of Magical Creatures, Herbology, and finally, Potions. They were all subjects where success was not determined by set knowledge and then practice; but by watching, and experiencing through actually doing. Herbology and CoMC required you to see what you had to do, and be guided through it, and shown how to deal with the infinite possibilities that came with dealing with things that were as unpredictable as living creatures.
Potions, was somewhat comparable to cooking - yet at the same time, utterly incomparable. Harry likened it to learning to cook, without the opportunity of second chances f you mess up. Mixing ingredients, and the brewing process was rather like brewing; in that in fact, there was no actual set amount, or precise rules; it was all about balancing the flavors, so to speak, and intuitively knowing enough about your ingredients that you know how they will react with each other. This was something that could never be taught by Snape. When cooking, it is possible to learn by yourself, to experiment without any greater risk than spoiling the dish. However, with Potions, exploding cauldrons, poisonous fumes, acidic failures and many other incredibly dangerous results for otherwise small or innocuous mistakes. The risk was so much greater - there were no second chances, and thus, it was stupendously difficult and risky to try and teach oneself.
Care of Magical Creatures, for Harry as a Potter, was key; but as he was taking it as an elective, he would not worry until he had gotten a measure of the teacher for the subject. If all was well, then he would be set. Herbology too, was important. Being able to produce ingredients and useful plants would not only be a good source of income, but would be incredibly useful for undertaking the trials, and the traveling that went with it. Potions then, was the only real problem - one he had already vowed to rectify...
"...Sir," Harry said, finally, "is there anyone of Professor Snape's skill who would be willing to tutor me at Potions - and maybe willing to brew for me too; come to think of it, would my Vault be able to cover that? Is that a route I can explore?"
Needless to say, that Dumbledore was a little taken aback by Harry's suggestion, after such a long pause whilst the boy mulled things over in his mind. In actual fact, the suggestion made sense - Potions was an incredibly useful area of knowledge, and Dumbledore was well aware of Severus Snape's deficiencies. Trouble was, in the entire country, there were only two Potion's Masters of Snape's quality. One was Snape, and the other had retired, though he might be convinced if he were asked by someone famous enough, or perhaps had something of sufficient enough value to him...
Suddenly, Dumbledore had an idea.
"I believe, young Harry; that I might just know somebody. He in fact used to teach here, but retired to make way for Professor Snape. He might take some convincing of course, but I believe I have a way to do so without spending any gold whatsoever - in fact, you will likely be quite a bit better off than you were before you started, when all things are said and done. Any way, the man's name is Horace Slughorn, Harry. I believe he taught your mother..."
Well, a lot of build up in that chapter, introductions to what Harry will be working on in his free time and such. Most importantly, it sets us up for the main point of divergence with Canon - Harry's role as the Founder's Apprentice. One of my gripes with Canon, is that of all the potential in the world to create magical communities and cultures and see different locations, the books remained mostly within a set few. I mean magical Egypt and South America, places in Africa, and Greece; all places with potential for different kinds of magic, creatures, people and adventure. yet really, almost the entire series is at Hogwarts. Even Britain itself, which has so many places with some really cool folklore and stories to exploit, barely gets a look in.
I chose Cornwall for the first, because I'm studying there at the moment, and so have a pretty intimate knowledge of a lot of folklore, and it's culture. I know that witchcraft was a big thing here, and is reflected massively in Cornish culture today. The actual folklore is great too; Pixies, fairies, giants, Cornish Knockers, Old Hags, evil witches, ancient burial sites - there's loads of cool stuff, and makes a pertty cool place for Harry to cut his teeth at, with regards to his magical adventuring.
The Summer will likely last another few Chapters. Harry will head out on his own for the first time in search of the keys he needs to access Helga's trial; he'll also find out exactly what the Potter family has left in terms of items and money - not much at all when you consider their former glory; and he'll (with the help of the ex-potions professor) take his first major step into re-building his family as a prominent one, by securing his first large financial windfall.
Also expect Ron and Hermione next chapter. They're both there for keeps; and while Hermione can keep up with Harry well enough, expect Ron to require a little more help from the other two at first. He will come into his own though, I fully intend to forge him into a character worth being allied to the House of Potter :p
Terms and Definitions:
A quick moment to define some terms that were not explained as of yet, and explain some spells and incantations that weren't explained in the chapter itself:
Quoits: Quoits are essentially, Neolithic (4000 - 2500 BC broadly) period burial chamber tombs; and 'Quoit' is the Cornish term for such sites. There are a fair few in Cornwall, and are pretty significant archaeological sites. Theorised to also be ceremonial sites, or to have been built in areas that had a high ritual, religious or spiritual significance - hence being perfect as locations for magical objects.
Obviously, for almost all the spells I mentioned, they're fairly well known amongst the fandom (Leg-locker, body-bind, disarm, serpensortia, stunner etc). The one I will mention, is Flipendo, or the Knock-back jinx. It's a spell taught in Quirrell's first year class (if you can believe that) that can be used to physically repel an opponent. It's assumed that this was the spell that Lupin used on Harry silently at Grimauld Place after their argument in the final book.