Title: Smoke and Mirrors
Author: Izzy Hound
Fandom: Harry Potter
Content Rating: PG13
Warnings: mentioned Abuse – Child, Death – Minor Character, Violence – Canon Level, Threats to Children-Hostage Situation.
Beta: Seren and Andy
Word Count: 63727
Summary: Abandoned at Kings Cross Station, Harry’s plan to escape life at Privet Drive and learn magic was at risk. With no one to turn to, help comes in a surprising form: Trevor the toad, escape artist extraordinaire
As he was abandoned, by his relatives, inside the front entrance of Kings Cross Station, Harry had a great many regrets. Chief of which was, why hadn’t he questioned Hagrid more thoroughly. Although, that particular regret had been with him since he had discovered his unfortunate fame within the magical world.
While shopping in the alley, he’d managed to sneak a few extra purchases past Hagrid. The Dursley’s favourite punishment of limiting his food had made him better at getting things past adults, especially those who weren’t aware they should be on the look-out; it wasn’t stealing he’d paid for everything just in a sneaky manner. Although it wasn’t even that sneaky, after all, Hagrid had wandered off and left him alone to do some errands for the Headmaster and to get a drink. Amongst buying some new clothes after the blond boy had left, he got a few history books about the magical world. He’d wanted to know all about his magical heritage, the Dursleys had denied him so much and he wasn’t going to let that stand. Wanting to get some background information, he’d decided to read the books before his school textbooks.
Back at Privet Drive and settled into his new bedroom, which he’d been allowed to keep, he’d been amusing himself as he’d read with the fact that it appeared some type of literary imbalance afflicted the magical world. Why else would the books have an extremely liberal use of the hyphen? It was like the Welsh with all those odd “dd” and “ll” letters. He’d pictured a fussy looking government official working at the Ministry that Hagrid had mentioned, whose job was to distribute punctuation in an attempt to reach a national quota. There was a He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, otherwise referred to as You-Know-Who, as well as, The-Boy-Who-Lived? However, his humour about the vagaries of wizarding vocabulary had died as quickly, as Harry himself was supposedly meant to have, he was The-Boy-Who-Lived.
It was all very well telling Harry that he was a wizard and that his parents were murdered. But Hagrid really should have mentioned that it was a significant event for everybody, not just him and the Dursleys. His introduction in the pub may have clued him in if he hadn’t been so overwhelmed by magic and the overly friendly strangers. If there had ever been a moment for an adult to understand stranger danger, that had been it.
Although Harry couldn’t completely blame Hagrid for the lack of information, it seemed to be part of a wider magical problem. His books, although insightful into the way a wizard or witch viewed the world, were in many cases less than useful in actually imparting hard facts. Hence, Harry’s current predicament, he couldn’t find his way onto the train platform.
Furthermore, the Statute of Secrecy, which was detailed extensively in his books, indicated that any attempt to locate the platform with magic would end badly for him and the surrounding Muggles. Having several hundred Muggle minds wiped was not something Harry wanted to be responsible for.
He would have to figure out which of the various and convoluted methods of concealment and transportation the wizarding world had decided to use in this situation. After half an hour of subtly humming tunes, hopping in patterns and tickling the fixtures and fittings, Harry was beginning to move beyond worry and into the early stages of panic. Taking a minute to collect himself and his increasingly disgruntled owl, Hedwig, Harry moved into an out of the way corner by one of the pillars. In an attempt to further calm himself he fell back to his old pass time of people watching. He hoped he would detect something unusual. He’d gotten good at spotting those unusual incidents so that he could stay away and not be blamed. Although, it didn’t help that those odd incidents often involved strangely dressed people coming up to him.
As he watched the crowds ebb and flow with the arrival and departures of the trains, he started to notice that a few of the people passing through the platform didn’t quite fit in. Some of them looked like they were highly uncomfortable in the crowd and looked in a different sort of confusion at the arrival and departure boards as well as the trains. Others seemed to be dressed in out-dated or unexpected combinations of clothing. They also had similarly out-dated luggage, much like his own trunk.
Shifting to the side slightly Harry tracked a group of two adults and two children who were, he assumed, magical people, attempting to be Muggles. As they drew closer to the pillar between platforms nine and ten, Harry sidled further to the left ready to catch them on the other side. A crowd of Muggles streamed past exiting a newly arrived train, blocking his view of the family. Only once the Muggles had gone did Harry realise the family had too. Shifting back to the right Harry checked to see if the family was there only to be disappointed. Somewhere near where he was standing was the entrance. But he couldn’t find it.
Frustrated Harry slumped back against the wall. How was he going to make it away from the Dursleys, if he couldn’t get into the magical world? Staring at the surrounding platform and hoping it would give him the answer Harry spotted something small moving around by his trunk, a largish toad.
The creature was hopping around on the platform without any care for the people walking or the wheels on luggage passing close by. Deciding to go rescue the toad which had no survival instinct rather than witness it’s death, he was rather surprised to see the toad hop towards the pillar. As he drew closer the toad hopped further towards the stones until it was backed up against the wall. As Harry stared at the animal, he got the distinct impression it was staring back at him, what’s more, he was certain it was judging him; he’d had similar looks from Mrs Sands who lived at number eleven.
As the stare off continued Harry thought that he felt his magic stir. Not as much as when he’d bonded with his wand, or even as much as he’d felt when he got Hedwig. It was more like a subtle vibration; probably more akin to what spiders feel when something touches the outer threads of their web. Maybe all magical things would make his magic tingle. But at least it was confirmation this was the right way into part of the magical world.
‘What am I supposed to do?’ Harry whispered at the toad. The animal blinked back at him and its tongue darted out before letting out at deep croak. ‘I hope that means feed me because there is no way I’m going to kiss you.’
He was starting to attract attention hunched over and talking to an amphibian. Maybe he had to catch the toad and then it would be able to help him, at the very least it wouldn’t be trapped in the middle of a busy station and in danger of being squashed. As he reached for the toad it slipped from his grasp and hopped back unfalteringly. So unfalteringly that it hopped right through the pillar.
Disconcerted by the disappearance of the toad Harry flinched back. It would appear, that toad had shown him how to get to the platform, unsure if it was the toad’s job or just luck that he spotted it, he was nonetheless grateful he now knew where to go. After inspecting the stonework for a moment Harry decided to return to his luggage rather than experiment, description of floo mishaps coming back to haunt him.
Instead, he chose to hang back and watch hopefully for another family to approach. Unfortunately for him, time was still passing and there was no sign of any wizards on the platform. Rather than miss the train and have to go back to the Dursleys, he decided to attempt passing through the pillar on his own. It couldn’t be too hard if a toad could manage it. As he got closer, he inspected the pillar for any further clues on how he could gain entry, maybe you had to hop.
Unlike the entrance to Diagon Alley, the stones didn’t seem to need to be tapped in a pattern, which Harry could see the benefit of. If everybody had to wait for the person in front to tap out a routine it could cause a queue and attract attention. Unfortunately, as he thought this Harry realised, he was drawing the attention of one of the station guards. Rather than attract further interest, he decided to casually lean against the pillar as if he was waiting for somebody. As his shoulder connected to where the pillar should be Harry noticed the guard’s eyes glaze over slightly and look away. However, his attention was immediately focused on the fact that he was falling over, backwards. The pillar’s solid appearance had betrayed him and now he was falling onto a platform which had not been there a few seconds ago.
Glancing upwards, Harry, spotted a cast iron sign proclaiming that this was platform nine and three quarters. Grinning he picked himself up from the floor and got himself clear of the entranceway remembering the earlier frequency of its use. He didn’t particularly want to be involved in a pile-up with late minute students. Moving away from the entrance also gave Harry the chance to take in the platform. It was crowded with people, animals and noise; so much so that he doubted anybody had noticed his tumble. With his pride once more intact, Harry moved forward, towards a large red steam engine the like of which he had only seen in a class on the Victorians.
The engine at the front of the platform was followed by numerous carriages with old-fashioned compartments, unlike those he had just seen on the trains on the other side of the pillar. Grabbing a firm hold on the luggage trolley, Harry started down the platform looking for an empty compartment or at least one a little less occupied. Figuring it would be a bit like supermarket car parks, the further from the door you were the fewer people were going to be about. He headed down towards the far end of the platform and as he wove through the crowd he kept an eye out for the toad but it had vanished.
As he walked across the platform, he found himself eavesdropping on the different people he passed. People were bustling about calling out to friends and acquaintances while others were standing in groups. Many of the conversations seemed to be saying good-bye and checking that everything had been packed which really was a bit late to Harry’s mind.
One group of blonds Harry passed were discussing how their son must not bring shame to the family; Harry thought it might be the boy from the robe shop but wasn’t certain. He heard a boy called Neville get scolded by an older woman about how he was always losing Trevor and wasn’t he lucky that they had found him before it was time to leave; but he couldn’t see them to find out who Neville and Trevor were.
Once at the far end of the train, Harry was pleased to have been proven right about there being more space and he proceeded to plan how to get his trunk onto the train. As he attempted to leaver the trunk up the steps an older student on the train grabbed the end and hauled it up the rest of the way. Before Harry had a chance to thank him the boy was off the train and greeting what appeared to be friends and helping them with their luggage.
Rather than get in the way, Harry quickly unloaded Hedwig’s cage and moved both of his items into an empty compartment. As he went back to move his trolley out of the way he noticed that the older student had already pushed it away and it was now in the company of multiple other abandoned trolleys. Continuing with his earlier supermarket car park analogy Harry assumed that it would at some point be gathered up with its brethren and returned to the Muggle world. Otherwise, somebody was going to start questioning why every few months they lost a load of luggage trolleys in a single day.
As he settled back into the bench seat Harry was surprised by the comfort of the old seat. He had been expecting it to be like his old mattress in the cupboard with protruding springs and areas of stuffing compressed into nothing. However, he realised that he’d underestimated the prevalence of magic in the everyday life of the wizarding world and the depths they would go for their comfort. Although Harry supposed they were less concerned with the bigger and harder to solve problems, hence the issue with two Dark Lords in the last century.
Relieved at getting on the train, Harry decided to observe the wizarding world through the glass feeling like the boa constrictor at the zoo, hopefully without any unexpected glass removal. As he watched, he saw a tall, older woman with the most impressive stuffed vulture hat Harry had ever seen, although it was also the first, help a boy who looked about his age wrangle his trunk and a frantically wiggling toad onto the train.
His attention was soon distracted from the boy and his relative by a burst of movement behind them. A family of red-haired children and a lone adult were rushing around the platform in a frantic manner although it seemed less about getting on the train and more as if they had lost a family member. Harry cast his eye over the platform to see if he could spot another red-haired person who was without any family, but he was unsuccessful.
As his attention went back to the red-haired family Harry could see that the mother was flustering the children more than assisting them in getting on the train. The family seemed to consist of a little girl, a boy who looked to be Harry’s age or a bit older and then a pair of twins who were putting the luggage aboard. The frantic glances by the matriarch seemed to calm down as she rubbed at the youngest boy’s face with a lace hankie. While this was occurring, yet another red-haired child came towards her. Although he was most certainly older than all the rest, he was treated in much the same manner as the youngest.
A whistle managed to pierce through the noise on the platform, creating a moment of stillness in its wake before the activity on the platform increased as the last few belongings joined their owners aboard the train. As Harry grinned in anticipation for the upcoming journey his eyes drifted once more to where the red-haired family had stood. Rather than the ever-shifting hoard of children only the woman and little girl remained. Instead of focusing on her children on the train the matriarch’s eyes were once again frantically darting around the platform looking for somebody who didn’t seem to be there.
As the train jolted into motion Harry let his focus expand to take in the whole of the platform. He was witness to families waving goodbye with both happiness and the tinges of sadness, which seem to happen when people who care about each other part ways. He felt a pang of grief that he was alone, that nobody seemed to care for him despite his multi-hyphenated title. To distract himself from his rather morose thoughts he decided to watch the world go by through the window. As the city gave way to the countryside a few people stuck their heads around the compartment door, but none came in, so Harry found himself dwelling on how he’d gotten into such a lonely situation.
Up until his eleventh birthday he hadn’t really had the best of lives. Living with the Dursleys in a cupboard under the stairs really wasn’t anybody’s idea of an idyllic childhood. If he were to divide his life into a timeline, like they were always doing in history at his old school, the first part would be his life with his parents, which, he couldn’t remember. That led to the first major turning point in Harry’s life, the death of his parents. They had died on Halloween in 1981, just shortly after his first birthday, and this had led him to the Dursleys. This was not in Harry’s opinion a good thing for him. It was also probably not a high point in the lives of the Dursleys either.
The Dursleys were, Harry often mused, a caricature of the perfect family. They had all the right people and all the right things and yet they did not quite fit into the mould they were so desperate to be part of, although the two male members of the family often failed to fit into many things due to their ever-increasing waists.
It had been the Dursleys who had unintentionally given Harry his hobby of people watching which had helped him out earlier. The Dursleys weren’t much in favour of imagination. Harry could see now that it was an attempt to stifle his magic. But as a child, he’d been frustrated with the way they limited his access to toys and books especially as they took them from him as punishment. So instead he’d come up with other ways to keep himself entertained.
At school, they’d shown them an animal documentary where people spent hours sitting in little rooms waiting for the chance to observe animals, while, a soft-voiced man called David Attenborough narrated.
They weren’t meant to watch the film but after all the lights blew during a lesson on the persecution of witches they were moved to the library. Unable to continue with the lesson they were instead put in front of the documentary to keep them quiet and out of the way. Looking back, it was probably his magic that broke the lights, luckily it was written off as a power surge due to strong winds and he got away without being locked in his cupboard, unlike most other incidents he could recall.
However, the next time he was locked in his cupboard Harry had felt a sense of connection with those people trapped, although willingly, in the little dark rooms. His cupboard under the stairs had become his hide and Aunt Petunia and her friends his wildlife. He didn’t have David Attenborough available to narrate, so instead, he made up stories to fit their behaviour. The best part about this game was it couldn’t be taken away from him even if he was locked in the cupboard. Often it made it all the better as they didn’t know he was there, and it wasn’t like Aunt Petunia was going to point out his existence to her guests.
All in all, people watching allowed Harry to keep up with the motto of his existence in the Dursley household to be neither seen nor heard. Unfortunately, it didn’t prepare him how to interact with people himself and he was rather dreading that part of school. Dudley had kept everybody away at his primary school, so it wasn’t like he could draw on experience from there. He also doubted that people raised with magic would be interested in the things he did know. Magic was far more interesting than cleaning or gardening.
The only advice he had, to face the situation, was that which had been given to him unintentionally by Uncle Vernon. Nobody would ever say that Uncle Vernon would be known for his great intellect or even his personality skills. However, Harry concluded that Vernon was not completely off the mark with his assertion that first impressions matter. If he were feeling generous, he would even admit that Uncle Vernon knew what he was talking about, on this subject at least. After all, Uncle Vernon was a director at Grunnings, a job that Harry was certain must involve meeting people for the first time and being pleasant enough to convince them to buy drills.
In fact, Aunt Petunia also stressed the importance of first impressions. They were so important to his aunt that she had willingly taught both Dudley and him to, as Aunt Petunia put it; speak properly so as not to be considered commonplace or delinquents. Dudley had taken this information and then promptly done the complete opposite when he was out of her sight. This was partly the reason that he was considered the head of the local gang. That and the fact he was the biggest and the smarter members of the gang probably figured that their misdeeds would be eclipsed by Dudley’s bulk and Petunias strident denials. Her precious Duddykins could do no wrong.
He feared that his lack of socialisation was going to be the problem when making friends. He was famous and everybody had wanted to be near him in The Leaky Cauldron. He wrinkled his nose at the unintentional arrogance of his thought. But The Leaky Cauldron had made him cautious about revealing his identity. He’d been mobbed by all and sundry, been jostled through the crowd so everybody had a chance to shake his hand or at the very least greet him, like Professor Quirrell. While Hagrid had claimed that the man was stuttering in excitement, Harry didn’t believe it. But it did mean that some people might be that excited by his presence. Harry wanted friends, not fans. However, his attempt at talking to a potential schoolmate without revealing his identity hadn’t gone well, and he was sure the blond boy from the robe shops thought him an idiot.
He wanted a family too, but that was also looking less likely. He’d tried to ask Hagrid at the bank if he had any remaining family. But hadn’t met with any success. Instead, he’d been told by Hagrid how the giant had been there when he was given to the Dursleys. Harry hadn’t been endeared to the man at this discovery but decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s not like the man had known how bad it would be and Hagrid had baked him a cake, defended the cake from Dudley and got him Hedwig. Hagrid might even have gone against the Headmaster’s plan to leave Harry with the Dursleys if he’d known what it would be like, possibly. Harry didn’t intend to push his luck there, but Hagrid was at least one friendly contact he had at the school.
Harry had even asked the man about guardianship options so that he could stay in the magical world, but he’d been rebuffed. Apparently, Privet Drive was under wards designed to keep him safe as long as he and Aunt Petunia lived there. So, he was stuck with the Dursleys, with no option out. It wasn’t great but he wasn’t sure if he would be any better off with a magical adult, they seemed a bit flighty so far. At the very least he and Aunt Petunia had a mutual pact of survival going on if Hagrid’s ward story held any truth. That was more than he had with anybody else.
As the train travelled further from London it brought Harry closer to his biggest and current problem and the cause of his current anxiety, school. Friends and family were a nice but distant issue, mainly because of their absence. School, however, was something that he wasn’t going to be able to avoid. Learning itself wasn’t an issue. Harry quite liked learning and going to school offered a great reprieve from the Dursley’s. But, more than that, it was a place where everyone, at least within the classroom, was theoretically equal.
However, the staff at Hogwarts had not presented themselves well in their initial impressions: hounding them with letters, breaking down doors and doing illegal magic as well as loitering early in pubs and stuttering in excitement at children. Although only three out of the whole staff it did set a worrying precedent to Harry. Was the rest of the staff equally as atrocious or had he just had bad luck in his initial acquaintances? He didn’t want to judge. He had been subject to that too many times at Privet Drive to ever be comfortable writing people off. But still, this school was meant to be the best of the best.
His primary school teachers weren’t considered the top of their field like the Hogwarts Professors were, at least according to Hagrid who Harry would admit was beginning to sound rather biased, but they ran a tight ship. Not that they were always the calm bastions of education and order that they were meant to be, just take the blue wig incident as an example. But they were sounding a lot better than those at Hogwarts.
He was also concerned about the subjects. It didn’t appear he would be continuing any of the classes from his primary school. The only thing slightly familiar was astronomy, which they’d covered during science. Potions may be a bit like chemistry, but his limited experience of baking soda and vinegar volcanoes wasn’t likely going to help, he had the distinct impression explosions were to be avoided. He’d given up on history after his unsettling discovery; he didn’t want to risk any more startling revelations about himself. Charms and transfiguration were so much further outside of his comfort zone that he felt he’d likely fail. Would they send him back to the Dursleys if he couldn’t keep up? herbology might be okay after all the practice in the garden so maybe he could ask Hagrid if he could stay on as an assistant if he got kicked out too.
He felt a bit better with a plan. It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t his first option, but he wasn’t going back to the Dursleys. He’d find a way to get away. He fished one of his textbooks out his trunk. The more he studied the less likely it would be that he would become the schools’ handyman.
As lunchtime approached Harry realised he was growing hungry but, due to the pettiness of the Dursleys, he had nothing to eat. Hunger was nothing new to Harry and he consoled himself that there would hopefully be food waiting at school. Plus, there would be no Dursleys to say what he couldn’t have while flaunting their meals at him.
Buoyed by this thought Harry was therefore rather shocked that shortly after a cheerful, old lady pushing a trolley of snacks came by asking if he wanted anything. Reaching for his leftover change from the shopping trip in Diagon Alley Harry suddenly realised his dilemma. This was wizarding food and not what he was used to, he didn’t know what to get. Rather than let an opportunity for food pass him by, the Dursleys had taught him well if unintentionally, Harry approached the cart.
’Umm, what would you recommend Ma’am?’
‘Muggle-born, are you dear? Don’t you worry there’s plenty to like here? Now then a few cauldron cakes will suit you and maybe some pasties it’s a long journey and you look like you need some filling. Chocolates you can’t go wrong with them and few other bits on this shelf will introduce you nicely. And a drink can’t forget that now can we. Let’s see pumpkin juice, gillywater and butterbeer are all available.’ She advised while pointing him towards the safest options.
Following her advice, he gained a mixture of cakes and sweets, which would be the least shocking but still new and magical to him. Putting the book away after thanking her Harry decided that instead of reading about the magical world as a distant academic he would start immersing himself and what better way than with food, sweets at that.
After discovering that Bertie Botts every flavour beans were in no danger of a false advertising lawsuit, because, there were quite literally every flavour, even those you didn’t want. He decided to put them aside and try potentially safer options. Washing the flavour of tripe from his mouth was his first move and he took a sip from the drink he got from the trolley. Pumpkin juice was not as bad as Harry had been anticipating. Initially, he was not going to get it, but the alternative was gillywater and that sounded rather fishy to him or butterbeer, which rather concerned him. Why on earth would they sell alcohol on the train to school? It could be like root beer or ginger ale, but unsure he decided not to risk it. If anybody else offered him any alcohol he’d be pragmatic and take up the advice from primary school about drugs and just say no.
The pumpkin pasties were like the juice a pleasant surprise and filling in a way the Bertie Botts beans were never meant to be. Feeling more adventurous after his relative successes in wizarding food so far Harry went for the chocolate frogs. As he opened the packet he was taken aback as the food quite literally launched itself at him. Harry quickly caught the frog before it collided with him before putting it down on the seat to observe. He wasn’t overly keen on eating it if it was a real frog.
The chocolate was the size and shape of the real animal, but it had finger marks melted into its surface from where Harry had gripped it, checking his hand he noticed that it was covered in chocolate in a corresponding pattern. Deciding to risk it, Harry lifted his hand to his mouth and was relieved that, as he licked, the taste was just chocolate.
Reassured by this turn of events Harry went to regain his chocolate and figure out how to humanely eat the frog, even if it wasn’t alive. However, as he was contemplating dismemberment versus beheading the snack, it took a final leap for freedom towards the window, but, fell short and hit the floor and instead shuffled underneath the opposing seat. Perhaps, most people would have at this point written the food off as contaminated or at the very least not hygienic but the spectre of the Dursleys once again raised its head and Harry had no issues with eating the frog despite its adventure.
Dropping to his knees he reached underneath the seat to retrieve the errant chocolate. As he drew back his hand he glanced down and was immensely relieved that he hadn’t gone with his first impulse of biting the head off without looking and giving a quick and clean death to the frog. In his hand was an amphibian but it was not a frog nor was it made of chocolate. A fairly disgruntled toad stared back at him before attempting to gain its freedom.
As he stared at the toad Harry wondered how it came to be there. He also thought it looked vaguely like the one from earlier, but he was by no means a toad expert. It also was unlikely that the toad lived under the seat all year round so it would have to have turned up today with the students. Therefore, by Harry’s reckoning, somebody would want it back.
Not keen to release the unexpected creature to the mercy of the train, Harry needed somewhere to keep it. Hedwig seeing the struggling animal hooted hopefully at him. Although she had shown preference to rodents, amphibians obviously weren’t off the menu. Carefully he let his owl out and put the toad into the cage, without letting them get too close. He doubted the owner would appreciate his owl eating their pet. The toad was either somebody’s pet or it was possibly needed for ingredients if what he saw in his potions textbook was correct. However, he was sort of hoping it was a pet.
Hedwig stared long and hard at the new occupant of her cage from where she was perched on top of it before she ruffled her feathers and decided that she would accept the change in her circumstances. Still, on the floor, Harry reached once more under the seat to retrieve the chocolate, which had now lost all of the magic making it move. Brushing it off Harry noticed that there was no fluff stuck to it, no doubt due to magic. Breaking a piece of the frog off Harry ate it only feeling slightly guilty, more from the unblinking almost expectant stare of the toad than the dismemberment of the frog shaped chocolate.
Getting back on his seat Harry saw the abandoned chocolate packet. As he gathered it up to put with the other used packets a card fell out from inside. Picking it up Harry saw a moving picture like a mini film of an old man in startlingly hideous robes, on the other side to the man was a name and description. The famous Albus Dumbledore Headteacher of the school he was heading to. The description of the man was an impressive account of his achievements until the last line describing his enjoyment of chamber music and ten-pin bowling. Neither of these were major character flaws but that niggle of doubt about the suitability of his teachers stirred once more. Why was it so important that the world know this about him?
Harry was drawn out of his contemplation of the teachers by a clearing of a voice in the open doorway of his compartment. Glancing up Harry spotted a girl with bushy hair who looked to be about his age. This was confirmed when he saw that her robes were without the coloured edges of the older years. As he looked at her she cleared her throat again.
‘Excuse me but have you seen a toad? It’s just that Neville has lost his and we’re trying to find him.’ As she said this, she waved her hand towards a figure behind her. The boy was the same one from the platform with the vulture hat-wearing lady who, even then, was struggling with the toad.
Strangely pleased that he was right that the toad was a pet, not a future potion Harry stood up and smiled at the new people in welcome.
‘Yes. What?’ was the reply from the girl.
‘Yes, I have seen a toad. I caught it and put it my owl cage so it couldn’t escape. I was going to ask a prefect or teacher to help me return it when I found one.’ This seemed to greatly please the girl and she came fully into the compartment bringing Neville in behind her.
‘It’s a good job you put him into the cage Neville says that Trevor, the toad, is quite the escape artist and who knows when you would have seen a prefect. The other children are being dreadfully silly rushing through the corridor, they are probably all terribly busy and there are no teachers on board. In fact, the only adults are the driver and snack trolley lady.’ This all came out in a well-meaning rush from the girl.
‘Oh dear, I’ve forgotten to introduce myself and I introduced Neville and Trevor in a very havey cavey manner. I’m Hermione Granger and I’m the first witch of my line.’ Turning to the side she directed her next statement to Neville.
‘I did do that properly didn’t I?’ At his smile of encouragement, Hermione turned back to Harry expectantly.
Put on the spot Harry smiled nervously at the two and took a deep breath he prepared himself for possible reactions. If this went well, he might have a friend, possibly two.
‘Hello Hermione, Neville I’m Harry Potter um … I’m the last of my line, I think.’ He mumbled the last part into silence. None of the books he’d read had covered introductions and he was cursing himself for not considering there would be differences. His possible faux pas had, however, seemingly gone unnoticed, eclipsed by the first part of his introduction and the associated fame.
‘Are you really? I read all about you in Modern Magical History as well as a few others,’ Hermione exclaimed, and Harry couldn’t help but think that so had he.
While Hermione awkwardly stuttered to a halt, realising that perhaps bringing up somebody’s orphaning might not be the best way to make friends, Neville stepped up to fill the breach.
‘Heir Potter, I apologise that I did not immediately greet you as I should, and I thank you for the protection you have offered my familiar. Long have the Potters and Longbottoms’ stood side by side and aided the other during times of need I hope that between us as godbrothers we can continue in this fashion.’
Unfortunately for Neville, his speech left both Hermione and Harry looking at him in confusion, which, in turn, caused him to turn red and stammer out the last of his declaration in a manner that robbed it of gravitas.
‘You don’t have a clue what I’m talking about do you?’ Neville whispered breaking the silence, which had gripped the three of them.
‘Oh no, Gran didn’t cover what to do in this situation. Are you sure you don’t have a clue?’ Neville pleaded while Harry and Hermione mutely shook their heads.
‘This is going to be a disaster; do you know how many people you could offend by not knowing. You haven’t spoken to anyone else have you?’ Neville asked panic filling his eyes. As Harry shook his head still unable to articulate any of the questions on his tongue about what was going on Neville visibly drew himself together.
‘Hermione you said that there would be about four hours until we get to Hogwarts, yes?’
‘Yes,’ she confirmed.
‘Good,’ turning his back on them Neville closed the apartment door and then turned again to face them his face now full of resolve.
‘Harry, I am going to teach you everything I can until we arrive. It should be enough to get you through the evening and tomorrow morning. It will have to be.’ Neville said making contact with Harry’s eyes, although Harry thought the last part was meant more for Neville than him.
‘Can I stay?’ turning towards the third occupant of the compartment they saw a dejected looking Hermione as if she believed that she wouldn’t be allowed to.
‘Of course, you can Hermione, that is as long as Neville doesn’t mind.’
‘I don’t.’ With that decided, Harry gestured the others towards the seats.
‘Well there you go; you better sit down you too Neville if we’ve still got four hours to go.’
‘Right, what do you know about magical Britain?’ Harry and Hermione looked at each other before they turned back to Neville.
‘Not a lot by the sounds of it. I read the book Modern Magical Britain like Hermione but mainly I read my course books.’
‘I mean I read that as well as the Rise and Fall of Dark Lords of the 20th Century but I couldn’t really say that it gave much information on the magical world.’ Neville gathered himself for his next question.
‘What about the blood status of wizards?’
‘Professor McGonagall explained it to me when she introduced magic to me. I am a Muggle-born, which means, I am the first magical person in my family; my parents are Muggles. Harry, you’re a Half-blood because your mum was Muggle-born and your dad a Pure-blood. While Neville here is apparently a Pure-blood because he has no Muggle blood introduced for several generations.’ Hermione jumped in looking pleased that she was back on firmer footing and knowing the answer to the question.
‘That seems kind of racist and divisive, doesn’t it though, like what people have been arguing against in South Africa?’ Harry had heard about it on the news and from the Dursleys.
‘It does, doesn’t it? I hadn’t thought about it like that before Harry.’ Hermione agreed turning to Neville. ‘Is the magical government working on improving things in Britain too?’
‘So neither of you know much about the magical government?’ Neville asked while avoiding answering Hermione’s question.
‘Hagrid mentioned that there is a Ministry of Magic led by a Minister of Magic, but he said that he wasn’t very good. That he was always asking Dumbledore what to do,’ Harry offered.
‘Several of the books I read mentioned the Ministry of Magic and another government office called the Wizagamot, no Wizengmot, or however you say it.’
‘Wizengamot,’ Neville pronounced. ‘It’s our Parliament for the country; it has inherited and elected representatives. They help define and introduce laws as well as judge on the serious criminal offences.’
‘So it’s the House of Parliament, the House of Lords and the Crown Prosecution Service rolled into one? Doesn’t that create a conflict of interest? And how do you get elected into it? Is it the same as how you become the Minister of Magic? Are there political parties? And at what age are you allowed to vote? I mean if you become an adult at seventeen in the magical world does this mean you are allowed to vote sooner? Do you have voting restrictions on who can vote? How does the government know who’s in the country do you do a census?’
Neville was looking a bit startled under the rapid-fire questions Hermione was throwing at him. Deciding to help out his potential new friend Harry stepped into the breach to direct Hermione’s questions into an answerable setting.
‘I think, that this is what Neville is going to explain to us. Isn’t it?’ Harry directed the last part towards Neville.
‘Yes. Yes, it is. Umm to answer some of your questions the Wizengamot seats tend to be given to certain people who work in the government in certain offices such as, you know the head of the DMLE,’ seeing their blank looks, ‘The Department of Magical Law Enforcement.’ At their looks of comprehension, Neville continued on. ‘Other people get seats such as those who are heads of the Guilds, like the Potion Brewers Guild or the Healers Guild. They get elected internally.’
‘How do you get into Guilds?’ inevitably came Hermione’s question.
‘You tend to need a Mastery in the subject or work within the profession for five years and be vouched for by a member to get in.’
‘What about the other seats in the Wizegamot?’ asked Harry.
‘Wizengamot, they are inherited and that means they go to the heads of families which tend to be old and Pure-blood, however, you can’t hold a Guild seat and an inherited seat as that is seen unfair but you can have a Ministry and inherited seats. The types of seats also have different amounts of votes attached to them. The inherited seats have the most votes, three while the Guild seats have two and the Ministry seats the least with one.’
‘But that means that the government is completely biased in favour of the Pure-bloods,’ was the indignant exclamation from Hermione.
‘It’s worse than that the Ministry tends to only employ Pure-bloods and the occasional Half-blood,’ commiserated Neville.
‘Well that does sort of explain the issues with the Dark Lords they have had recently,’ Harry commented. His opinions on the magical world were not being improved by the information that Neville was giving him.
‘Not really, the wars are slightly more complicated than just Pure-blood bias,’ said Neville interrupting Harry’s train of thought. ‘The arguments are also around the differences in magic use, dark versus light magic and the connected issues of traditionalists against the more progressive members. Those in favour of dark magic tend to be more traditional, there are exceptions to these rules as well. Some people are neutral and they tend to vote depending on what they want rather than staying in a voting bloc.’
‘So it’s sort of a two-party political system and the neutrals are courted to swing votes?’
‘Yeah, pretty much, Hermione. The problem is, that since the last war the divide between the two parties is a lot harsher and there’re ugly feelings on both sides because everybody lost somebody in the war.’ At this Neville looked a bit upset so Harry tried to push the conversation away from this slightly perilous topic.
‘So your family is part of the Wizengamot then?’
‘For nearly a thousand years, the Longbottoms came over with the Normans and got their seat about then too,’ Neville replied somewhat gratefully. ‘Your family has been part of it for about as long Harry.’
‘It has?’ Harry’s exclamation of shock over this did little to comfort Neville if his expression was anything to go by.
‘You mean you don’t know about your family either?’
‘No I mean I know that they were called Lily and James and I only just found out that they didn’t die in a crash but that they were killed by Voldemort.’ At the mention of the name, Neville flinched while he and Hermione looked at Neville in confusion.
‘We don’t like saying his name,’ was Neville’s response to their unasked question. Hermione sensing that Harry was trying to collect himself decided to give him more time by questioning Neville on his fear.
‘But he’s dead and I don’t think you were talking at the time of his terror so why do you fear it?’
‘It’s sort of a taught thing you didn’t say his name in the war because of the curse.’
‘The curse?’ Hermione echoed eyes alight with curiosity.
‘Yeah, he put it on his name so if you said it, then he or more likely the Death Eaters would turn up and kill you.’
‘Oh. I guess I can see why you wouldn’t want to go around saying it.’ Harry followed the conversation between the two of them but decided not to participate beyond an apology for distressing Neville.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ Neville waived it away. ‘You didn’t know and that’s why we are here, so you do know, and you don’t upset anyone. Your family’s old and it has a Wizengamot seat and people will judge you because of this.’
‘I can see why you were so alarmed earlier Neville,’ Hermione consoled. ‘Although, I do wonder why you don’t know this Harry; you’d think somebody would have prepared you?’
‘Exactly,’ Neville exclaimed. ‘My Gran spent the whole summer getting me ready and making sure that I know who is who and how not to go about starting a family feud. She was concerned I’m rather forgetful, so she wasn’t going to take a chance.’
‘Why are family feuds so bad, I mean besides the whole feuding thing can’t you just ignore it?’
‘Not really. I mean maybe Muggles can, but the old magical families have Family Magic. It’s a bit of a legacy from every family member who has come before which resides in them. It’s not sentient or anything, it just sort of binds you and other family members together, to a common cause. It can also give you a bit of a magical boost and protection. It’s why Pure-bloods tend to want to preserve their bloodlines to keep the magic safe.’ Neville pre-empted Hermione this time, evidently having caught on to her inquisitive manner since they’d met this morning. ‘So if you feud, your magic will push you to act on it, I mean the Weasley and Malfoy families have been feuding for a few generations now. The initial feud has died back but they are still antagonistic towards each other and probably will be for another few generations.’
‘Really, so it doesn’t last forever then?’
‘No. They tend to be for about three generations but the really bad ones are impacted for seven.’
‘Three and seven. Those are strange choices.’
‘Not really,’ Harry found himself answering unsure why he knew this. ‘I mean my teacher at primary school said they were magical numbers, but I really don’t know why I think it’s more than that.’
‘It is, but we won’t learn about that until our third year if we pick Arithmancy,’ was Neville’s response. ‘Also, your Family Magic may have helped you with retaining knowledge which will be beneficial to you.’
‘You said it wasn’t sentient though,’ Harry wasn’t sure he wanted to be influenced into things he didn’t want to do because of magic.
‘It isn’t, honestly, it’s just, Family Magic doesn’t like feuding so it’s probably trying to make you less inclined towards it. Plus you are the last of your family so you probably feel the magic stronger than other people.’ Neville said this last part apologetically without eye contact.
‘So I have a family legacy of magic and a government seat which I know nothing about.’ Harry summarised the problem while also moving the conversation past the awkward reminder of his parents.
‘Pretty much, you don’t really have to worry about the government seat yet, as, like your inheritance, you don’t get control of it until you’re fifteen. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore it either.’ Once again Neville realised he had dropped a bombshell on Harry.
Hermione watching the interplay between the two also reached the same conclusion.‘You don’t know about that either do you?’
‘Maybe I mean when I went to the bank there was a vault with money in so I think I do,’ Harry attempted.
‘What about the rest?’
‘The rest of what, Neville?’ said Harry feeling more and more lost.
‘The inheritance?’ explained Neville.
‘Did the Goblins mention anything else to you when you went to the bank? They weren’t very chatty with me but then I don’t have a vault,’ Hermione interjected.
‘I mean Hagrid gave them my key and we went to a vault. I think that they called it a trust vault.’
‘If it’s your trust vault then it likely means you have something else if it’s anything like the Muggle system.’ Hermione looked to Neville for confirmation.
‘You should certainly have more than just a trust vault. Most families with Wizengamot seats have a family vault and some properties as well. The Longbottoms have shared ownership in several businesses with the Potters so you have income coming from them and I think you own some of the Alley itself.’ Neville’s gave him an apologetic look. ‘I don’t know that much about your family financial affairs, it’s not what you really talk about. But I do know that sometimes after the war people left you bequests. It would be published in the paper and not everything they left you was money, so somewhere is a vault with all of that in.’
‘Don’t apologise about not knowing all the details Neville. You know more than me so that is something. I’m also really creeped out by the thought of strangers leaving me stuff,’ Harry smiled rather wryly at Neville. ‘Are those shared business interests what you meant earlier when you said that our families stood together?’
‘Not exactly it’s more that historically Potters and Longbottoms have been political allies and often fought together as brothers in wars or as partners in the Aurors if there was no war.’ Neville explained. ‘It’s part of the reasons we’re godbrothers, well that and the fact we were born a day apart.’
‘So does that mean you are older or younger than me?’ Harry teased trying to lighten the mood. He had so many questions about what was going on and why he didn’t know about any of this and despite his best efforts, Neville wasn’t going to have all the answers.
‘Older,’ was the reply with a grin. ‘Gran has photos of us playing together before well you know,’ he waved his hand euphemistically conveying the murder of Harry’s parents and possibly Neville’s own. Harry had noted that it seemed to be Neville’s Gran who was raising him, as she was likely the one on the platform with him earlier. He, however, didn’t know how to ask about Neville’s parents without upsetting his new friend. Harry was pretty certain that he was a friend with Neville now, Hermione too.
‘Wait you have pictures of us as children, are my parents in them too?’ The implication of Neville’s comment was finally hitting home.
‘Yeah, why?’ responded a bemused Neville.
‘I’ve never seen a picture of them.’ Harry was ashamed by this. When he thought that they had died in a crash his lack of information about them upset him but with his new found knowledge it was a lot worse. They had died protecting him. Hagrid had said that his mother’s sacrifice powered the wards; so not knowing what they looked like was rather horrifying.
‘You don’t know what they look like?’ screeched Hermione. She had been sitting back letting the boys bond but this news was beyond her ability to contain. ‘That’s barbaric. How could your guardians not let you see even a picture?’ Rather than try to explain the Dursleys Harry looked down.
‘I’ll ask my Gran,’ Neville offered. ‘She may be able to send some photos for you to look at. She might have some of your grandparents too; I think she went to school with them.’ With a grateful smile at Neville, the three of them settled back into their seats to digest what they had learnt since the start of the conversation.
‘I think,’ Neville finally began, ‘that we should just focus on the basics of etiquette for the rest of the trip. We’re first years so nobody should really bother you about politics unless you offend them, which hopefully you won’t.’ This seemed to be a solid plan and Hermione and Harry focused on their teacher.
‘The first thing you should be aware of is at school it’s more relaxed, so you don’t have to worry about calling people heir or scion as the idea is, we are all equal when learning.’ This was a relief to Harry who had had previous concerns on equality in the classroom. ‘I was really formal earlier but it’s because I didn’t want to embarrass you, but seeing as you don’t know what I was talking about I managed to anyway. It seems I’m just meant to be an embarrassment.’ The last part was mumbled, and Harry wasn’t sure he was meant to have heard it. Hermione, apparently having heard it too, smiled at Neville and patted his leg comfortingly.
‘You’re not an embarrassment Neville. You saved me a whole load of embarrassment by teaching me how to introduce myself and now you’re doing the same with Harry. Plus you seem to know loads of stuff not in books.’ Hermione’s speech summed up Harry’s thoughts too, so he caught Neville’s eye.
‘She’s right. Just think of all the damage I could have done without your help.’
‘Thanks, it means a lot. What was I talking about before?’ this was said with an all-encompassing hand wave.
‘Etiquette and school power structures,’ Hermione supplied. ‘Although before we get into that, why it is important?’
‘Oh yeah, thanks, it goes back to the whole names having power thing. If you call somebody by his or her name it creates a connection, just a tiny one, and if you’re arguing against them it’s not something you want to do. So titles help keep distance.’
‘Names have power. Is that how the whole curse thing worked then?’
‘Exactly, you should also look out for magical contracts they’re really hard to break. Not all of them are written either some of them are done by swearing on your name while invoking magic.’
‘It’s a bit like the folklore tales of elves then isn’t it Harry? How you shouldn’t eat with them or tell them your name?’ Harry found himself agreeing although Hermione obviously knew more about folklore than he did. The Dursleys hadn’t tolerated anything like that.
‘The Muggles have elves too?’
‘Wait. Elves are real in the magical world? They’re just pretend in the Muggle world. Although it could be they’re remembered from before the statute of secrecy was introduced. I wonder what other fairy tales have their original basis in the magical world?’
‘Umm probably a lot of them but we have house elves. They’re smaller than humans and really enjoy being helpful about the house and in turn they get some of the Family Magic to keep them going.’
‘Will we see any at Hogwarts? They weren’t mentioned in Hogwarts a History.’
Neville shrugged, ‘I don’t know. Most wizards wouldn’t bother writing about house elves; they either know about them already or aren’t interested. Power is important either magical like Dumbledore or financially like some of the old families. So, the focus is on them.’
‘But that’s awful.’
‘Yeah a little bit but power is important to most wizarding folk. You should definitely be aware of who’s who. In our year it’s a bit weird as there are a whole load of heirs starting at once.’
‘It’s probably a reaction to the war and people trying to secure the Family Magic you mentioned earlier,’ theorised Hermione.
‘You’re probably right about that. So, there’s you and me,’ Neville gestured between himself and Harry as he said this. ‘There’s also Nott, Crabbe and Malfoy. The Crabbes’ were a vassal family to the Malfoy’s but, they now qualify by themselves to hold a seat but I think the vassalage hasn’t ended yet. The other vassal to the Malfoy’s is the Goyle family but they need more prestige to gain a seat, the war cost them a lot. Then there is the Bones family and the Boots and finally Smith. There is also a member of the Li family coming but they’re from an offshoot branch of the major international magical family. I also think that the Patil family will be sending their children here, at least according to gossip.’
Harry couldn’t help but think that Neville had understated quite how many important people were going to be in their year. As if sensing how overwhelmed this was making him, Neville stepped in to reassure him.
‘I know it sounds a lot, but they aren’t all going to be in the same house as you. So there shouldn’t be too much interaction for you to worry about before you get the hang of things.’
‘Houses, is that like Slytherin? Hagrid mentioned that during my shopping trip.’
‘Yeah, there’re four houses and they’re named after the founders of Hogwarts, Helga Hufflepuff, Godric Gryffindor, Rowena Ravenclaw and Salazar Slytherin. It says so in Hogwarts a History. Each house favours different attributes and we will be sorted into one tonight, but the book doesn’t say how,’ Hermione answered. Glancing at Neville to see if he knew the method, her shoulder slumped slightly at his negative response. ‘Well, I have been practising my spells and reading up so that hopefully I manage some type of practical test without any embarrassment.’
‘Are those their real names?’ Harry blurted out before he had time to dwell on the possible different methods of sorting and how he could publicly embarrass himself.
‘What?’ asked Neville?
‘Well, what are the chances that four people with alliterative names all got together to build a school? Also, I don’t think second names were invented at that time.’ Harry’s question seemed to stump Hermione.
‘You’re right, second names didn’t exist, people were named for attributes. Like Æthelred the Unready or Alfred the Great. But I have no idea what Hufflepuff could be describing, even considering variations in language.’
‘Maybe the founders are named after the houses. Also, alliterations aren’t that uncommon in wizard names at least up to the last generation it happened a lot.’
Once more Harry found himself vaguely amused about the literary ways of wizards; hyphens and alliterations it seemed would have to become his new norm.
‘Well, anyway, I hope that I get into Ravenclaw or Gryffindor they are for the wise or the bold.’
‘My Gran wants me to go to Gryffindor. But I’ll probably end up in Hufflepuff.’ Neville looked downhearted as he admitted this.
‘Oh, Neville there’s nothing wrong with Hufflepuff or hard work. You were very brave in offering to teach us about the magical world, even if it is harder work than you expected. What about you Harry?’
What about him indeed. Harry wasn’t sure which house he wanted to go into although Slytherin wasn’t sounding very appealing. Then again how much could he trust Hagrid’s opinion when he hadn’t been the most reliable of guides to the magical world?
‘I think I won’t mind, as long as, maybe I’m in a house with either of you.’ Harry shrugged as he said this. Both recipients of his reply grinned at him in response.
‘Well, in that case, I think we should all try for Gryffindor,’ Hermione declared looking incredibly pleased. ‘Oh, goodness have you seen the time. You boys better change into your robes before it’s too late.’ After this Hermione got up and pulled Neville to his feet.
‘Harry you stay here and get changed. Neville and I will head back to his trunk for his robes and then we can come back. You should probably leave Trevor here while he’s contained, Neville, we don’t want him escaping again.’
Once Hermione and Neville returned to the compartment the three of them settled in to learn from Neville how they were to greet heirs and scions as well as how Harry should comport himself. Lucky for Harry it wasn’t too different to what Aunt Petunia had taught him when he was younger. Harry did wonder whether she had been subtly trying to prepare him but decided manners are universal and she wouldn’t be so helpful. Even if she did know magical mannerisms she would never admit it.
Hermione and Harry practised their greetings on each other until Neville decreed that they were going to be as good as they could get and they settled back to chat for the remaining time about less serious matters. The boys also encouraged Hermione to try some of the sweets Harry had bought. Neville’s promise to teach her the teeth-cleaning spell was all the encouragement she needed. Far quicker than Harry imagined the train began to slow and a small town, more of a village really came into sight.
They heard an announcement come from seemingly nowhere, ‘Please leave all luggage and animals on the train when alighting.’ They were here.
The three of them stood up and moved out of the compartment and off the train onto a packed, smoky and rather damp platform. As the sea of students moved around them Hermione linked her arms through both of the boys.
‘Let’s not get separated now.’
As the three of them drifted with the flow of students unsure of where to go they heard a voice calling out.
‘Firs years over ere, that’s it doesn’t be fraid now.’
‘That sounds like Hagrid. We should head towards him,’ Harry suggested.
‘What does he look like?’ asked Hermione.
‘Tall, very, very, tall and kind of hairy.’ replied Harry.
‘A bit like him then.’ Neville pointed towards Hagrid who stood like an island surrounded by a small pool of students. Hermione turned them toward the group, and they had to swim against the current of older students to reach him.
Once they reached Hagrid and the rest of the first years, Harry found himself singled out for a personal greeting from Hagrid. Causing the rest of the students to turn towards him.
‘Four to a boat now, mind how yer go, plenty of space for yer,’ Hagrid ordered, thankfully distracting the other students from observing Harry.
Still clinging to Harry and Neville and seizing on the confusion of the rest of the students Hermione managed to manoeuvre the three of them into a boat. After the trio of them were settled, the rest of the boats filled up too and they were ready to begin their journey to the school.
As the boats crossed the lake, the view of the school, lit up from within appeared and the doubts and nerves Harry had been feeling settled at the sight. Why he felt like he was coming home to a place he had never been before he didn’t know. But it was a comforting feeling.
The boat docked at the foot of the hill leading to the school and the three of them disembarked silently. Walking up the hill, with Hermione in the middle, still holding hands the three of them could feel their rising anticipation and nerves. Hagrid led them to a door, which managed to dwarf even him, and knocked three hard raps. The door opened to reveal a severe older witch.
‘Ere yer are Professor the new firs’ years.’
‘Thank you, Hagrid,’ She ushered them into the castle. The group huddled together in the Grand Entrance Hall, which could completely engulf the Dursley house.
‘Welcome to Hogwarts.’
The Professor introduced herself although in some cases, such as Hermione’s, it was more of a reintroduction. Professor McGonagall was far more like Harry had pictured a teacher; she was older and sterner than the other staff he had met and she most certainly inspired respect. As she led them into an antechamber before the sorting, she explained to them the houses and how they would influence their time here at school.
Glancing to Hermione and Neville after Professor McGonagall had left, ‘We go for Gryffindor then?’ Harry sought confirmation for their plan to sort together.
‘We can do this,’ Hermione affirmed. ‘And even if we don’t manage to be in the same house, we can still be friends, can’t we?’ The last part was whispered as if Hermione dreaded the thought of losing their new friendship.
‘Of course, we will still be friends Hermione, won’t we Neville?’ Harry quickly offered up realising that actually, he was just as worried as Hermione and Neville, if the other boy’s frantic nods were anything to go by. However, before he could come up with anything else to comfort the other two, several screams echoed from the crowd.
Startled by the noise Harry glanced around to try and find the cause and was shocked by the appearance of several translucent people in period costumes.
‘Ghosts, they’re Ghosts. Oh, I read about them in Hogwarts a History. But I didn’t realise they would be so, well, ghostly,’ came the exclamation from Hermione, who had also spotted the intruders.
‘They aren’t very common. Hogwarts is quite unusual for having so many. Most people prefer to have their relatives laid to rest more thoroughly; it can make things awkward enough having them running around in portraits let alone in person.’
Nodding their heads at the piece of wisdom Neville had imparted, the three of them listened to the ghosts end their debate on the fate of the being known as Peeves and instead greet the children closest to them. One of them, the Fat Friar, was the ghost for Hufflepuff and encouraged them to join his house.
Before much longer Professor McGonagall returned and after a brief inspection of their appearance led them into the Great Hall to be sorted. The term Great Hall Harry felt, didn’t quite manage to capture the atmosphere of the room.
It was huge, made of carved stone with decorative finials and large windows and fireplaces down the two longest walls. At the far end was a raised dais where sat a table which seemed to hold the teaching staff if Hagrid, Quirrell and Dumbledore’s presence was anything to go by. In the main part of the hall were four tables filled with students and besides the door, they entered through were huge wall hangings for each house, two on each side. The ceiling was perhaps the most spectacular part of the room. It was as if it wasn’t there and instead, the night sky was above them filled with suspended candles throwing light on everybody below and the stars above.
‘It’s bewitched to look like the sky outside,’ Hermione explained upon seeing his fascination, ‘I read about in Hogwarts a History. But it is far more impressive than they described, and this is what we’re here to learn,’ the last part came out breathless in excitement.
As they were herded down the middle of the room between the tables Harry’s attention was caught by something else. There before the teachers’ table was a small stool and a faded black, pointed hat. In the grandeur and size of the room, the stool and hat should have been completely overlooked. Something about the hat drew Harry in. As he glanced to his side he saw that Neville and a few others were also drawn to the battered thing. Before he had a chance to ask Neville about it, the brim moved unaided and then, the hat started to sing about the houses and sorting.
As the older students applauded Harry found himself feeling relieved. They weren’t expected to perform in front of the crowd. Instead, he was slightly more anxious about how the three of them would remain together. Focusing back on McGonagall he watched her produce a scroll.
‘When I call your name, you will sit on the stool and put on the hat to be sorted.’
The first to be called was a girl called Hannah Abbot who went to Hufflepuff. The second was Susan Bones.
‘Is she one of the heirs you mentioned?’ Harry whispered to Neville as the girl approached the stool.
Like Abbot, Bones went to Hufflepuff with great applause. Harry also noted that both of them had been the ones talking to the ghost earlier, hopefully, he would be pleased with his recruitment campaign. The next to be called was Terry Boot who like Bones got a significant look from Neville. Boot, however, went to Ravenclaw.
‘I think it’s going to be alphabetical so I’m going first,’ whispered Hermione.
After another few names, Hermione’s prediction came true and she was called to the front. Shortly after having the hat put on her head Hermione started frowning. Catching his eye Neville looked at him worriedly.
‘Gryffindor,’ the hat finally shouted, and Hermione smiled at them before heading off to the cheering table wearing red.
A few more students went up to the stool and were sorted into the houses before it was Neville’s turn. Neville nodded to him before walking deliberately to the stool and sitting down with the hat on. The hat sat silently on top of Neville for longer than it did with Hermione before it sorted him into Gryffindor as well.
Neville pleased with the turn of events stood up and saw Harry watching before turning to the cheering table. Thankfully out of the corner of his eye, Neville saw Harry’s frantic gesturing that he was still wearing the hat. Quickly taking the hat off and giving Harry a thankful smile he headed off to sit by Hermione.
As Harry was left standing amongst the unsorted students he started to worry, what if he didn’t get into Gryffindor with the other two? What if he didn’t get sorted at all? Would he be sent home to jeering Dursleys? As his thoughts spiralled, he missed his name being called by the Professor.
‘Where is he?’
‘Look there he is The-Boy-Who-Lived.’
‘That’s him, by the redhead.’
‘Move over let me see.’
It was only the excited whispers of the students that stopped him completely missing his turn. As he walked to the stool Harry could feel the heightened interest that not even the other heirs had received. Quickly getting the hat on and sitting on the stool Harry was rather relieved that it was so big the brim dropped down so he couldn’t see all the watching eyes.
‘You’re not the only one you know,’ a voice whispered not into his ear, but his mind. Harry startled but managed to keep his exclamation of shock internal.
‘It’s just me the Sorting Hat no need to worry,’ was the slightly amused reply.
‘You can hear my thoughts?’ Harry directed the thought towards the hat.
‘Yes. And you’re not the only one pleased about not to be able to see. But let’s not leave you sitting here too long, or else they will speculate, now where to sort you?’
‘Gryffindor,’ was Harry’s immediate response.
‘Are you sure now, you could be great elsewhere.’
‘Yes please Gryffindor with my friends.’
‘Ah yes, Miss Granger and Heir Longbottom both explained your plan to me already,’ the hat interjected. ‘Well then if you are so sure, who am I to deny you. It better be Gryffindor.’ The last word although said in his mind was definitely said aloud and the thunderous applause to this indicated his new house approved of his sorting. Getting off the stool and remembering to take the hat off as it chuckled at his thought and he made his way to his two friends who were waving madly at him. Sitting down beside Neville he smiled at the two of them.
‘We did it. Oh, we did it. I’m so pleased, I explained everything to the hat but it told me it couldn’t make any promises. But never mind we did it.’ Hermione’s welcome was accompanied by her bouncing in her seat with delight at the turn of events.
‘I know you did Hermione, the hat told me while I was being sorted.’ Neville laughed turning to Harry more fully. ‘Thank you for reminding me I had the hat on, it would have been really embarrassing to have walked off in it.’
‘Think nothing of it Neville, and Hermione, the hat mentioned it to me too, so you certainly got our hopes across to it.’
‘It’s a fascinating process, the sorting. I think that it must be some sort of name-based contract like you mentioned on the train Neville.’
Professor McGonagall called another name and Harry turned to face the rest of the table and the last of the sorting. The final few students were sorted gaining a few new students for Gryffindor one of whom was the red-haired boy from the platform.
After the last of the group had been sorted, Dumbledore stood up.
‘Welcome to the students, new and returning, to the start of a new school year. It is, as ever, a delight to have you here. Now before the feast please think on this, nitwit, blubber, oddment and tweak.’ After the strangest speech Harry had ever heard, the Headmaster sat down to applause from the school that Harry uncertainly joined in with.
However, before Harry could ask his housemates whether they thought the Headmaster was sane enough to be running a school, the plates in front of him filled with food. A feast was most certainly the most suitable way to describe what was before him. Not even at the Dursleys had Harry seen so much food, let alone in such variations. Different types of roasts, heaps of veggies and potatoes, cooked at least five different ways. Dotted across the table between the food, in boats and jars were sauces, relishes and gravies of all kinds. As he wondered how they would get through it all he realised his sweets and snacks were a long time ago and he was starving. So, without much more thought, he filled his plate.
After the initial wave of eating had slowed down, among the new first years, they began to introduce themselves. Neville went first introducing himself to Parvati Patil who along with her sister was apparently coming to Hogwarts after all. Sitting beside her was another girl who cheerfully introduced herself as Lavender Brown. From there Harry introduced himself to the girls, as did an unexpectedly shy Hermione.
Noticing the introductions occurring, Seamus Finnegan who was a Half-blood and Dean Thomas who introduced himself as a Muggle-born joined in. At this Hermione suggested that Dean refer to himself as the first of his family like she did. Her suggestion seemed to please Dean and got signs of approvals from the others. However, the redhead who had yet to introduce himself snorted, spraying food across the table.
‘Really, how long have you been in the magical world and they are already making you buy into that rubbish? Don’t listen to her mate, be proud of yourself and don’t let no slimy Slytherin rubbish in. We’re Gryffindors, we got Potter after all.’ All this was said around the food in his mouth and after nodding his head in satisfaction at his statement he returned to his plate.
Hermione had gone red during the boys’ denouncement of her idea and Harry found himself angry with the boy. First, he hadn’t introduced himself to them and then he had insulted Harrys’ friend and used Harry as an excuse to do so.
‘Hermione I think it’s a nice way to introduce yourself. Muggle sounds vaguely insulting after all and calling yourself Muggle-born is like you’re saying you’re different to everybody else in the magical world. So I think your method is brilliant.’ At this Hermione perked up a bit and smiled at Harry.
‘Oh, I agree too. At home, we don’t separate new magical families as they do here, so I also approve,’ Parvati chimed in.
‘It’s also a good method for a formal introduction like we were doing, Muggle is slang after all,’ Lavender added smiling across the table at Hermione. Despite the ringing endorsement for the idea, it appeared the redhead had failed to listen, as he was so engrossed in his food. Shrugging a little the group decided to leave him to it and get to know each other less formally while finishing their own food.
‘Does anybody know what subject they will enjoy, it’s all new to me and very exciting?’ asked Hermione.
‘I’m looking forward to herbology,’ said Neville.
‘Ah, but you’re a Longbottom it’s in your blood,’ Parvati said with a teasing smile. ‘I’m looking forward to divination but that’s not till our third year, but I’m also looking forward to astronomy.’
‘Really, cool,’ Dean thought for a moment before adding. ‘I think potions sound great, a bit like cooking and chemistry.’
‘Sorry to burst your bubble there,’ one of their older housemates butted in. ‘But Snape, the head of Slytherin, hates Gryffindors and potions is terrible with the greasy bat.’
‘Katie, you can’t say that. Potions will be fine as long as you’re respectful.’ This was said by the oldest of the redheads from the station before his attention was diverted by his twin brothers, who were in the process of building a catapult for peas.
‘Which one do you think he is, Snape that is?’ Dean asked. They all turned to look at the staff table and near the end where the Slytherin table was, Harry saw a sallow and greasy looking man.
‘There at the end sitting next to Professor Quirrell.’
‘Quirrell, Harry, which one is that and how do you know them?’ was the rapid interrogation from Hermione.
‘I met Quirrell at the Alley when I was shopping; he’s the one in the turban.’
The group turned back to the head table and as Harry looked at the back of the turban he felt a prickle in his scar. Scrunching his eyes together Harry looked away and the pain lessened and then faded as quickly as it had come on.
‘Well, Katie isn’t wrong he ain’t half greasy looking. Me Mam would say he’s got a face that could sour milk. Bet he’s a right git to us no matter how good we are. I’m surprised he’s that greasy though potions can be right dangerous. Me dad startled Mam making one once an it blew up everywhere, was how he found out she was a witch too, a right old mess.’
‘And look at what he’s wearing I mean potions are made on fires and long robes with so much grease, he could go up like a candle wick.’ Harry hadn’t ever considered fashion and his recent clothing choices had been based on the question ‘do they fit?’ Yes, then they will do. However, he could see Lavender’s point and decided to wear close-fitting clothes in potions.
Sensing the attention from the Gryffindor table, Snape turned to glare at them. They all quickly glanced away but those facing him saw a sneer pass over his lips.
‘Well that’s scuppered any chance of him liking us,’ Dean observed and the rest of them could only agree.
After the mains had turned to dessert and they were well and truly filled the food had finally disappeared. At this, the Headmaster once more stood up.
‘Ah, just a few more words now.’ The Headmaster started to give a series of announcements about the school. Some of them were understandable the prohibited material and the out of bounds areas all made sense to Harry, the same was done at his primary school. However, the notice that the third-floor corridor was also out of bounds and would lead to painful death was in his opinion rather alarming. The fact that it surprised the older students did little to comfort him.
After a truly awful rendition of the school’s song, the feast was over. The oldest child of the platform redheads who introduced himself as Ron’s brother, Percy, rounded up the first years. Leading the first years to conclude that Ron was their as of yet un-named final member. Percy led the group out of the hall and up a series of stairs towards the house common room and dormitories.
‘Percy, the Headmaster said the corridor on the third floor was out of order is that common?’ queried Hermione as they stood waiting for the moving staircases to align.
‘No it’s not. Normally we are given a reason why we aren’t allowed somewhere but this is the first we’re hearing of this. Not even the prefects were informed beforehand.’ As he said this last bit Percy frowned as if he believed that he, as a prefect, should most certainly have been informed even in they, the lowly first years, weren’t.
Before any other questions could be asked Percy strode on to the staircase causing all the first years to scramble after him in case they were left behind. Eventually, Percy led them to a corridor with a portrait of a woman in a pink dress. Once he reached the picture he turned to the group.
‘The password is Caput Draconis. It is not to be shared with anybody outside of Gryffindor house.’ As he said the password there was a click and the picture swung away from the wall revealing a hidden entrance into a cosy looking room.
As they all followed Percy into the room, Harry saw it was a large round sitting room with a fireplace and plenty of squishy chairs arranged in groups and a few tables scattered amongst these. There were also two doors in the room’s far wall.
‘The door to the right leads to the girl’s dormitories, boys are unable to enter. The door to the left is for the boys.’ Percy declared before walking off and leaving the new students to their own devices.
‘I don’t know about you two,’ said Hermione, ‘but that was a rather unsatisfactory introduction. I mean we don’t know how to get anywhere or where anything is.’
‘I know, it was really the bare minimum of information but just think we will be able to find it out ourselves soon enough,’ Neville consoled.
‘But not tonight,’ they both looked at Harry as he said this, ‘I’m exhausted enough to head to bed, and as they say, tomorrow is a new day.’
‘You’re right Harry lets head up and settle in. Can we meet up in the morning?’
‘Sure Hermione, let’s say about seven. Here in the common room.’
‘Brilliant,’ she gave them another bright smile. ‘Sleep well boys.’ Harry and Neville echoed her goodbye and they separated at the doors.
Beyond the doors was a spiral staircase, that when followed, led to a door marked first years. Going in Harry and Neville found a room with five four-poster beds in it and the three other first-year boys.
‘Your beds are over there. Our luggage was here when we arrived so we’re going with how they set it up, but we can always swap round later if need be,’ Seamus explained to them.
With words of appreciation to the other boys, Harry and Neville changed into their pyjamas before heading to the bathroom. Once in the room Neville stopped and groaned.
‘I forgot to show Hermione the teeth-cleaning spell.’
‘Don’t worry about it, you can show her in the morning I’m sure she won’t mind. Although if you could show me that would be great.’
After learning his first spell, Harry was delighted even if it was just for cleaning his teeth, he decided it was time for bed. However, on his way past Ron’s bed, he was accosted by the occupant who chattered away to him as if they were life-long friends rather than strangers who still hadn’t been properly introduced. Harry managed to extract himself from Ron with arguments of how tired he was and after agreeing for a final time that the food was great Harry got away.
As he settled into his bed Harry called goodnight to the others and received the same in reply apart from Ron who was busy trying to extract his rat, Scabbers, from his bed after it started chewing the sheets. Harry was pleased that he hadn’t let his doubts sway him away from Hogwarts. He was here and magic was real plus he had cast his first spell today taught to him by a friend. And with those happy thoughts, Harry fell asleep.
In the morning Harry woke up and, checking the clock on the wall, saw that it was still early, although later than he was allowed at the Dursleys. As he lay in bed, he had the vague notion that he had a bad dream but as he couldn’t remember, he shrugged it off and thought he had eaten too much before bed. Deciding that he should get up Harry gathered his things and wandered into the bathroom so as not to disturb the other sleeping boys. Although considering they were managing to sleep through the snoring he shouldn’t have to worry about creeping through the room.
Taking his time in the bathroom and enjoying the hot water, Harry was looking forward to his day. As he came back into the dormitory, he saw that Neville was also awake and they grinned as they passed each other. Rather than wait in a dark room, Harry headed down to the common room.
When he reached the room Harry was pleased to see Hermione was already awake and waiting for them. Upon seeing Harry she started to bounce on the chair she had commandeered by the fire.
‘You’re awake. Oh, I’m pleased to see you. I only got up a little while ago, but I was too excited to wait, and I know we agreed to meet later. But it’s all too exciting,’ was Hermione’s rather rushed greeting.
‘I know what you mean, Neville’s up too, he should be down soon. Do you know what time breakfast is served?’
‘No, I don’t, but I think that it should be fine. It will probably take us a while to find our way there so even if we are a bit early now, we should be okay. Do you think it will be in the Great Hall or is that just for feasts?’
‘It’s probably going to be in the Great Hall and if not, it’s likely to be nearby. I haven’t heard any mention of a breakfast room.’ Harry pondered.
‘Oh good point Hogwarts a History didn’t mention such a room either,’ Hermione agreed just as she was finishing her sentence Neville turned up.
‘Morning Neville, did you sleep well? We’ve decided to try and find our way to breakfast before we do any major exploring though it’s likely to be a bit of an adventure as it is’ came Hermione’s greeting. Giving his assent to their plan, Neville and the other two set off.
After managing to find their way to breakfast, the three of them settled down to eat. While they enjoyed the food, the room began to fill and several more of the first years made it to the table. Soon they were all at the table although in different states of wakefulness. Ron, the sleepiest of the lot, had only been tempted out of bed with the promise of food. The other boys hadn’t felt it was fair to leave him behind, which Harry had to agree with. Maybe Ron was just as nervous as the rest of them, Harry felt a bit bad about his earlier reticence where Ron was concerned.
While they were enjoying their tea Professor McGonagall came over to them and introduced herself to them as their Head of the House and told them to come to her with any concerns that the prefects couldn’t handle. Harry couldn’t help but feel, it would help to know who the prefects were apart from the less than helpful Percy.
However, he was soon distracted from this by the delivery of his school schedule. After a quick comparison, Harry was pleased to see that his was the same as Neville’s and Hermione’s. It appeared they wouldn’t be split up by previous school attainment or even blood status but by house. The three of them decided to take the schedules back to their rooms and spend the rest of the day exploring so they could find their way to classes the next day.
Classes were everything and nothing like Harry expected. Transfiguration was taught be McGonagall and she had control and respect of the classroom, which Harry appreciated. The lessons themselves were mainly theory to start with, which made sense to Harry. After all, transfiguration did come with the potential for terrible disasters.
Although McGonagall did let them have a go at transfiguring a match to a needle. Harry had to smile about being allowed to play with matches in the first week when before teachers had done everything possible to keep them away from the students.
At the end of the lesson, Harry’s match was slightly pointy and silver but still mainly a match; he was nonetheless rather pleased with himself. Hermione had managed a complete change and Neville’s match had developed a slightly wonky eye so they seemed pleased too. However, McGonagall appeared to have concerns about students playing with matches outside of her supervision and confiscated them so they couldn’t continue their practice.
Harry’s presence seemed to excite their diminutive charms Professor to the point he fell of the stack of books he was using to see over the lectern. However, he soon pulled himself together and their class got off to an exciting start. Flitwick seemed a fan of the practical application of knowledge in class and self-study for homework. This, according to Hermione, fit in with the Ravenclaw ethos and he was Head of that House. Another fan of practical teaching was Professor Sprout, the Head of Hufflepuff who seemed to thoroughly enjoy imparting her knowledge of herbology. Harry enjoyed this class, but it was Neville who truly shone in the subject to even his own surprise. He later admitted to Harry and Hermione that it was partly due to the lack of actual wand waving magic which he struggled with.
Astronomy was an interesting subject and Harry was pleased that his Muggle primary schooling had set him up so well for the subject. The class had a mixture of scheduled daytime classes and night classes. The night-time classes had yet to start up as the school wanted the students settled into their routine before keeping them up. Hermione also pointed out that it would allow the nights to draw in, although she was concerned about how they could see the stars, Scotland could be notoriously overcast.
Harry wasn’t sure why they were so concerned about students falling asleep in astronomy when they employed Professor Binns to teach history. Being taught history by a ghost should have been fascinating. With any other ghost, it may have been. But Binns’ had a voice so monotonous that it quickly started to drone and everybody, even Hermione struggled to focus. Unlike Hermione, most people didn’t attempt to keep their focus and instead used the lesson time to do other things, mostly sleep or play around. It wasn’t the most productive class Harry had ever been in but at least he got some things done. Just not necessarily what the teacher intended.
The class with Quirrell was a disappointment. The stutter Harry had first heard in the summer was still there and Harry was not egotistical enough to believe that it was due to his presence. Nobody that flighty should be teaching defence and Harry said as much to his friends after the lesson. Feeling rather downhearted about this class the first years soon perked up when one of Ron’s twin siblings pointed out that defence built off transfiguration and charms and if they read their books they weren’t likely to fail the class.
However, the greatest disappointment came in the form of potions. Despite being pre-warned by the older students the first years were not prepared for Snape. Snape seemed to have a deep dislike of Gryffindor’s and the staring incident hadn’t endeared the latest batch to him. He started off mocking Harry on his fame and then proceeded to quiz and belittle him. While McGonagall’s lessons were theory based and Flitwick’s and Sprout ‘s practical, Snape’s teaching method was non-existent.
Things took a turn for the worse while making the potion. The Slytherins, who shared the lesson with them, were receiving praise and actual advice while the Gryffindors were sneered at. Snape standing behind them and going ‘hmmm, I wouldn’t do that,’ even if it was correct, or looking into their potions and tutting threw them all off their stride. In the end, it was Seamus who broke the building pressure by accidentally blowing up his concoction. Luckily none of them were close enough to be hurt but Snape delighted in blaming them all for the accident and taking points from them for not doing his job.
‘I mean, really, how does he expect us to learn when he’s like that?’ Hermione ranted in the corridor after class. ‘I have never seen anything so unprofessional.’
‘Written out recipes and insults are not a way to educate or motivate. Just think we’re paying that man to do it to us too. Surely there is something we can do about it?’ Harry agreed; Snape was far too much like Aunt Petunia for Harry to ever like.
The three of them complained about the situation to Percy, the only prefect they had identified. However, he shrugged it off and said no complaint had ever been taken seriously. In the end, Hermione had pragmatically pointed out that at least they were learning magic and Snape wasn’t the one who would set their OWL exam. Neville’s more pessimistic point that they still had to survive five years with the man only received a helpless shrug.
Hermione’s birthday, the boys discovered, was very early in the term. This created a bit of a problem for them as they didn’t have anything to give her but at the same time, they didn’t want to make their new friend think they didn’t care about her. In the end, Harry gave her an unused eagle quill with a nice blue tint to it, which he’d bought at Flourish and Blotts. Neville gave her a leather journal he had in his trunk so she could keep a diary of her time in Hogwarts. They also managed to get the Weasley twins to provide them with a birthday cake. Hermione was thrilled with her gifts and waved off their promise to get her something else, as this was more than she had ever expected. Harry had also promised her the use of Hedwig to contact her family whenever she wanted.
‘Harry, there you are,’ he looked up from his breakfast to see Hermione had arrived. ‘Neville and I are going to do our charms homework and get it out of the way before flying lessons. We are going to meet in the corner of the common room.’
‘Thanks for telling me, Nev mentioned it before bed.’ Harry said gesturing at a pleased-looking Neville, the nicknames were new, but it made all of them feel as if their friendship was solidifying. They had also realised that the name “Harry” wasn’t easily turned into a nickname, “Potter” was even worse. He wasn’t disappointed about the lack of a nickname, he was sure he would get one in time, something special which would be just for him and his friends.
Over the past month, Harry had found out the other two were new to having friends too. Hermione had been too smart for the other children and they could sense something different about her. While Neville was physically isolated due to his Grans overprotective nature, that and people thought he was a squib so they didn’t want to get attached to him. Harry had to agree with Hermione that it was a cruel thing to do to a child and they both promised Neville that they weren’t just friends with him just because he had magic, but because they liked him as a person.
‘What time were you thinking and which corner?’ As he said this, Harry’s brow wrinkled, and he looked back at Hermione. ‘We’re in a tower, a round one, there are no corners.’
‘Don’t be pedantic Harry you know what I mean, to the left of the stairs and by the window. The older years prefer by the fire, so we have plenty of space.’ Grinning at her, Harry went back to his breakfast.
He understood why she was pushing him about his homework. It wasn’t that he wasn’t doing it on time, unlike Ron and Seamus who were often seen writing it in the corridor just before it was due. The un-predictableness of the Dursleys had taught Harry it was better to get it done quickly before something, not normally his fault, took it out of his control. It wasn’t that he found the amount too much like some of the students raised in the magical world complained about. Muggle primary school had prepared Harry and the other students, raised in the Muggle world for homework. Dean had told Seamus that the amount expected was less than he had been doing before which Hermione agreed about.
No, the problem was, Harry wasn’t used to doing well. Petunia and Vernon had objected when Harry had done better than Dudley at school, so he had done the least work he could to keep his grade below his cousins. Five years of deliberate underperforming was hard to overcome. Harry was also hesitant to do well in case others started to resent him. Ron had shown his temper a few times when other students did better than him in classes.
‘Harry.’ Hermione interrupted his thoughts, sensing the direction they were going. ‘I know you have issues about doing well. But from what you have said, do you honestly believe that your family would care how well you do, even if they understood the grading system. I hate to say it, but from what you’ve said, and well, haven’t said, I think they would be thrilled if you told them you were getting E’s.’ At Neville’s confused look she expanded on her point ‘It’s a failing grade in the Muggle system.’
This lead to a discussion on how Muggles graded their students compared to the Wizards. While this was going on, he considered her point. Uncle Vernon would crow in delight if he thought Harry was failing all his classes. Aunt Petunia, who may know more about the way things worked, would be unlikely to say anything that could show Dudley in a negative light.
The debate on schooling and Harry’s thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of the rest of the other first years who were excited by the newly announced flying lessons. The notice had only been up a few hours but had already resulted in tales of aeronautical daring and prowess as well as pitying looks towards those who had yet to have a chance to fly.
Hermione was torn between correcting the obviously exaggerated and false tales involving Muggle equipment and trying to learn everything she could about flying. It appeared to Harry that his two friends weren’t looking forward to flying.
‘Neville do you have any advice on flying?’
‘Umm Mione, I’ve never actually flown on a broom.’
‘You haven’t? Really, that’s rather unusual, isn’t it? Not that there’s anything wrong with you not flying.’
‘Thanks, it’s a personal choice, I have a bit of a fear of heights. My Uncle Algernon accidentally dropped me out of the window once. Luckily, I bounced, first time I showed accidental magic.’
‘He did what? Neville, that’s horrifying. What did your Gran do?’
‘She was really pleased I showed magic, didn’t let Uncle Algie round for a couple of years though.’
‘I should say not.’ Hermione retorted looking offended on Neville’s behalf.
‘Didn’t you say he was the one who bought you Trevor?’ Harry asked.
‘Yeah, he did. They’ve gone out of fashion; people want the more cuddly or flashy familiars. But toads make great familiars, they’re also meant to bring luck and detect evil presences.’
‘It worked for you, Nev. He brought both Mione and me into your life.’
‘He did, didn’t he; I’ll have to get some treats.’
The morning of the flying lesson dawned dry and still, which relaxed the less experienced fliers. Nobody wanted to be cold and wet or get swept away on a gust of wind. The first year Gryffindors all went down to breakfast together due to a lively debate on different broom brands, which had sprung up in the dorm room. It was only interrupted by the morning postal delivery. Harry had yet to receive any post apart from a note from Hagrid hoping he was settling in well. Hedwig often came to visit in the morning but was away at the moment visiting Hermione’s family. Neville got far more regular correspondence from his Gran and today was no exception.
‘Come on, no point putting it off any longer, your tea’s gone cold and you’ve shredded your toast.’ Hermione smiled at that.
‘What’s the worst that can happen?’
‘Ron, don’t say that, you’ll jinx us,’ Lavender had become interested in divination after talking to Parvati. ‘It’ll be fine, children fly all the time.’ The housemates got up and headed down to the open grounds where the flying lessons were being held.
When they got there they saw the school brooms laid out in two long rows and that the Slytherins had chosen their side already. Whatever broom hopes, that had been discussed earlier, Harry was certain, were not fulfilled by the schools offering. They looked like the broken one in the back of the Dursleys shed with wonky bristles and an air of general instability. They didn’t inspire confidence.
‘The twins said that some of them vibrate if you fly too high and tend to swing to the left unexpectedly. I hoped they were joking, they said we had to wrestle a troll to be sorted.’
‘Hate to break it to you mate but I think they might have been telling the truth this time.’ Seamus muttered as they stood staring at the brooms in front of them.
‘What was that? Looking a bit surprised there, Weasley. Well, I imagine your family has never owned a broom as good as these. Mind you, the rest of us wouldn’t be seen dead on them.’ Malfoy, the favourite pupil of Snape and thus hated by all the Gryffindors, decided to start the almost routine volley of insults between the two houses.
‘It’s our lucky day then, ain’t it Malfoy, seeing as you have to get on one too, don’t worry I’ll even go to your funeral.’ Harry had to appreciate the wit in Ron’s reply. The boy had started off just insulting the Slytherins for their sorting. But his brothers had taken him aside one afternoon to educate him on proper insult giving. Apparently, they couldn’t allow such formulaic and unimaginative insults to stand. Ron’s taunts were now becoming less repetitive. Mind you, he’d had plenty of practice with how often they were paired with the Slytherins, Harry just wished he didn’t practice on them.
‘You would think that somebody would have realised how badly our houses get on. Snape must have ranted about it the staffroom. So why keep pairing us together especially in subjects where things explode and gravity is an optional extra’ Hermione snorted.
‘But Harry, just think. The school would have to employ more staff to do all the cleaning and prep work normally done in detentions. There’s no way they’re going to give up their free labour.’ Harry and Neville ended up snickering at Hermione’s’ jab at the school. When they had first met her, she had seemed to be infatuated with authority figures. But over the past few weeks, she had become more critical of them Snape being a leading figure in her disillusionment. Unfortunately, though the Slytherins though they were laughing at the latest insult from Ron.
‘Nev, if this is a family feud petering out I’m amazed any of them survived it in full force.’ Harry said as they watched Draco draw his wand.
‘I think the war made it worse again,’ was all Neville could say before Madam Hooch turned up. The two groups stopped their burgeoning fight and focused on the more exciting prospect of flying.
Holding his hand over the broom and saying ‘up’ felt vaguely ridiculous to Harry but he did it anyway and was surprised that the stick obeyed him straight away. Other people were having less luck but eventually, Madam Hooch deemed them all ready for take-off.
Harry loved flying, at first he had stuck by the other two, but seeing how much he was enjoying it, they encouraged him to spread his metaphorical wings. He soon found himself flying amongst the more seasoned fliers out of Madam Hooch’s gaze.
‘Hey, Weasley. Surprised, you managed to get off the ground, weasels normally scurry about in the dirt.’ Malfoy evidently decided they were far enough from the teacher to reignite hostilities. Harry wanted to groan, couldn’t they have just half an hour of peace. He was tempted to find the graves of the relatives who had started the bloody feud and set them on fire to vent his frustration with their actions.
‘Shut up you git, Peacocks are flightless birds, maybe you aren’t such a good Malfoy after all.’
‘Shut up. I challenge you to a duel for the insult.’
‘Who’s your second then?’ Ron demanded without actually accepting the duel. Not from cowardice Harry thought but more from ignorance about how these things happen. Malfoy glanced around only to find Crabbe and Goyle doing a remarkably good job as bookends despite the altitude. Clearly not seeing a worthy second for his duel and realising Ron hadn’t actually accepted his earlier challenge, Draco changed his plan.
‘Why bother wasting magic on you, Weasley. No, I think we should have a race, you’ve been boasting how great you are at flying. Well, prepare to lose.’ Ron went red at the insult.
‘You’re a coward, Malfoy, and you’re the one going to lose. Your Daddy can’t buy you victory here, can he?’
The two had flown up to each other and then suddenly they turned around and flew off towards the lake. There was no set course as far as Harry could tell and he didn’t want to become involved with the drama, so he flew back to Neville and Hermione.
‘What’s that all about?’ Hermione enquired when he reached them.
‘Malfoy challenged Ron to a race.’ They looked over at the racing duo and their cheerleaders. Lavender was supporting Ron while Malfoy had Crabbe and Goyle valiantly keeping in their bookend positions. Pansy Parkinson was also there, to cheer on Malfoy.
‘You know,’ mused Neville, ‘I think Pansy’s winning.’ Looking back at the group that was drawing closer, Harry had to laugh at how true the statement was.
Unfortunately, Ron apparently had a previously unknown gift for divination. The worst did in fact happen and not only did Malfoy nearly die on the broom but so did everybody else. The brooms did pull left unexpectedly. Goyle, while attempting to stay close to his patron lost control of his broom and flew into Malfoy. Then, like dominos, Malfoy hit Crabbe who then took out Ron who managed to save himself momentarily and instead collided with Lavender. Somebody took out Parkinson. The group plummeted to earth, some landing well and others, not so well.
The screams from the falling students rippled through the class leaving disaster in their wake. Some of the more anxious students panicked and let go of their broom causing them to topple off and their screams further added to the chaos. Neville attempted to stand up and run to help, forgetting they were in the air and started to overbalance.
‘Neville.’ Hermione and Harry cried both trying to grab him and missing. Hermione in her desperation overbalanced too and fell alongside Neville. Harry managed to keep hold of his broom and dived after his friends hoping to catch them only to find himself dodging out of control brooms. The pair hit the group before Harry could get to them. Suddenly Harry realised that the ground was rushing towards him. Or rather he towards it at an alarming rate and they hadn’t covered landing yet.
Harry waited to get closer to the ground before he threw himself off the broom hitting the ground softly, courtesy of Dudley’s unwitting training. Once on the ground, Harry joined the other students in avoiding being squished by the last few falling students or more likely skewered by the crashing brooms. It was carnage the like of which hadn’t been seen since the end of the war.
‘Mione, Nev,’ he called as he crawled across the grass to them and was pulled into their arms. Battered and bruised they clung to each other thankful they weren’t alone in this. Across the field, children clutched each other close as fellow survivors of the disaster regardless of their houses. As Madam Hooch started triaging the more seriously injured, back up was beginning to arrive. Professors McGonagall and Sprout, as well as several upper years, arrived, brought running by their screaming poured on to the grounds.
‘Potter, Longbottom, Granger. Are you alright? Nothing too serious?’ they shook their heads still holding on to each other. ‘Come on then let’s get you off the ground and to the infirmary. Hathaway, over here, get them to Madam Pomfrey.’ She then helped them to their feet and passed them off to an older student. As they walked back to the castle they saw Professor Sprout levitating a stretcher.
Once in the Infirmary, they saw a woman bustling around the beds on which their classmates lay.
‘Oh, dear, more of you, brooms, whoever thought of such nonsense. You don’t look too badly off. Pop on a bed over there, will you?’ The three of them climbed on to a bed together and sat watching the drama unfold. Harry noticed that his hands were shaking and he was feeling bruised where he had hit the ground.
‘You two okay?’
‘Yeah, but I’m never getting on a broom again.’
‘Agreed Neville, do you think everybody will be okay?’
‘Magical healing’s amazing, Hermione, there’s not a lot it can’t do.’ Neville swallowed, his eyes looked a touch wet before he took a breath and continued. ‘Everybody will be fine just you see.’
In the end, the trio only spent a few hours in the infirmary while others less fortunate had to have wounds closed or bones regrown. Professor McGonagall had turned up and checked the three over, as Madam Pomfrey was still busy with the more serious injuries.
‘You’re lucky. It could have been worse,’ was her assessment before giving them a calming draft and something for the pain. ‘Madam Pomfrey will check you over before you’re released but wait here till I escort you back to the house. I’m sure you’ll be relieved to hear that flying lessons are cancelled, indefinitely.’ Giving them a tight-lipped smile before turning to the next bed Harry heard her mutter. ‘Maybe that old codger won’t twinkle at us when we ask for new supplies now.’
As promised, they were checked over by Madam Pomfrey who agreed with the earlier assessment. She gave them a dreamless sleep to take before bed.
The trio along with Parvati were released from the Hospital wing that evening. Professor McGonagall, as promised, walked them back to the common room.
‘Now if you wish, an older student can stay in your dorms tonight in case you have a bad dream.’
‘Thank you, Professor. I think Neville and I will be fine though.’
‘We will ma’am.’
‘And what about you girls?’ Parvati and Hermione had a brief discussion before they answered.
‘Hot chocolate and then dreamless sleep should be fine for us too, ma’am.’
‘I’m glad to hear that. If you change your mind at any time call for Finky the house elf and she will summon me. All of your year mates will be fine and hopefully, we can put this terrible day behind us.’ They had reached the portrait and she opened it for them before bidding them goodnight. Harry was rather pleased by the concern shown to them by the Head of House.
Up till now, she had been a bit distant. The older years had said she was swamped with work as not only a core subject teacher but also Head of House and Deputy Headmistress. The fact that the Headmaster was so busy with all his roles made it even worse according to some of the more critical upper years.
Despite the Professors hope that they could all put it behind them the school talked of nothing else for a week. Finally, gossip moved on to the relief of the first years who hadn’t enjoyed being reminded of the lesson.
However, the unseen and unexpected benefit of the situation was that Ron and Draco had seemingly managed the impossible, house unity at least amongst the first years. The shared trauma of the flying lesson had done something that years of lectures and speeches had failed to achieve. The first year Gryffindors and Slytherins were not openly antagonistic to each other. The early name-calling was considered less fun when it had resulted in a joint near-death experience and so a truce had been unofficially drawn up. Hermione had summed the situation up as something between live and let live and mutually assured destruction.
Despite the flying lessons Harry was quite settled into Hogwarts and had found a routine. He enjoyed his classes, both good and bad, and he was learning magic. Harry had eventually decided that Hermione was right, he should try harder on his work, his relatives wouldn’t care but his friends did. He didn’t want to feel like he was holding back Hermione or Neville, who turned out to have a firm grasp on theory even if his casting was a bit weak. Harry’s improved performance in class seemed to please his teachers who were soon returning his work with those anticipated E’s and even occasionally an O, apart from in potions. Harry also found that he enjoyed working with others and having the ability to ask questions and to have them answered.
The other first years were on the whole eager to join Harry and his friends with their work. Dean, who like Harry and Hermione was still excited to explore magic, would work with them and this, in turn, brought Seamus along who decided to work at the same time as his friend so they could play at the same time too. Parvati didn’t want to disappoint her family, especially her sister who was in Ravenclaw, and decided to join them as she found having someone to talk to help. Lavender, not wanting to be left behind, also took part from time to time.
The only person who didn’t approve of their study group was Ron, who didn’t see the point in stressing about work when his method of homework had yet to see him fail. Hermione had pointed out it had yet to make him succeed either, but he hadn’t liked that and decided to go off in a huff and play chess with a second year.
This method of work and play seemed to suit the Gryffindor’s well and soon they were two months into the year and the school was throwing a Halloween feast. Harry was torn by this, on one hand he was looking forward to the feast he had heard described by older years. The Dursleys were opposed to Halloween, it was too magic for them and even Dudley wasn’t allowed to take part in dressing up as fantastical beings, although superheroes were allowed so Dudley wasn’t denied completely. Harry wasn’t allowed at all and was often locked up all day; even if he had been let out of the cupboard, he doubted that he would have been allowed to eat any sweets. So he was looking forward to the opportunity as well as the chance to see the allegedly amazing decorations. However, it was also the day that his parents died, and Harry felt a bit bad about being happy on the day considering this.
‘I’ve been reading about magical creatures, did you know, Harry, that most of the magical creatures in Muggle fairy tales are real. The stories continued after the statute of secrecy and were actively encouraged to help hide the magical world, just like we thought on the train.’ Hermione had decided that Harry needed distracting and had chosen the most neutral topic she could.
While this discussion was going on, Neville was dealing with a post owl which, while seemingly proud of reaching its recipient, wasn’t so keen on actually giving over its burden. In the end, Harry and Hermione decided to help Neville and after some distraction and bribery, Neville had his parcel. However, unlike normal Neville decided to open it at the table.
‘Harry. I know that you mentioned on the train you hadn’t seen your parents’ picture and I mentioned that my Gran had some pictures. Well, she’s sent them.’
At this, Harry’s heart soared and then started beating as if he had just run from Dudley’s gang. With a shaking hand, Harry reached out for the offered pictures. Once in his grasp, Harry’s hand shot back to his chest with his precious cargo. Hermione and Neville just smiled at him.
‘You don’t have to look at them now, you can take your time,’ Hermione comforted.
‘They’re yours, mate. Gran had copies made so you can keep them, it’s why it took so long to get them to you.’
‘Thank you, Nev, and please tell your Gran thanks. I should probably write to her too,’ Harry added. He didn’t want to seem ungrateful and she could possibly tell him stories about his family.
‘Do you want to keep them in your bag or put them in your dorm?’
‘Keep them.’ He blurted out. The thought of separating from the pictures caused Harry’s gut to wrench; they were his link to his parents. Especially today the anniversary of the day they died; nothing would get him to let them out of his sight. The three of them sat at the table for a while longer until Hermione gently ushered them off. The teachers were not likely to be sympathetic to them missing class.
The day passed in a daze for Harry he was simultaneously happy and sad, excited and anxious. He hadn’t looked at the pictures yet. But he had them. He just had to be ready to look at them and he didn’t want to rush and expose himself to public scrutiny when he did. Harry had overheard Neville at lunch whispering to Hermione, asking if he had done the right thing in giving the pictures to Harry today. Her assessment was, that it was the best thing Neville could have done.
In the last class of the day, Harry was disturbed out of his internal musings when Ron started shouting at Hermione. The levitation charm was the focus of the lesson and it had been receiving a mixed response. A few students had gained some slight movement, while others hadn’t. Harry was among those, which hadn’t, his distraction stopped him from casting with any success.
Luckily, Professor Flitwick hadn’t called him on his lack of focus today; instead, he just gave Harry a tight smile. Neville’s feather was rocking on the desk; any flight had failed due to the distraction. Flitwick hurried over to the disturbance but was ignored by Ron who was quite invested in his rant and in no mood to be silenced, only to be stopped at a loud bang. The class turned to the new source of disturbance to find Seamus mildly stunned and Dean attempting to extinguish a burning feather in front of his friend.
‘Oh dear, you forgot to end your spell,’ came the exclamation from Professor Flitwick, as he left the now silent Ron to assist Dean in his endeavour. ‘You shouldn’t leave a spell unfinished, no matter what distraction is going on or else you will have these accidents.’ At this pronouncement, several students, including Neville, promptly finished their casting on some now violently twitching feathers.
‘Now then, a new feather for you Mr Finnegan,’ Flitwick floated a new one across the room to Seamus. ‘Mr Weasley, what was it that you so desperately wished to share with the class.’ The last part was said with a disapproving lift of an eyebrow. Whatever Ron had wanted to say was apparently less important to him now as he mumbled his response, while, his face turned redder than the trim on his robes.
‘Hmm, if it was so important that you had to shout about it, it must be important to you. Please stay behind after class, Mr Weasley. Enough idle chit chat, back to work. If you can get your feather up you may be excused from homework.’ With proper motivation and caution about miss-casting causing explosions, Harry as well as the rest of the class set to work on levitating their feathers.
Shortly after this Hermione managed to get her feather in the air first, for which she was awarded 10 points. After that, she came to sit with Harry and Neville to help them. By the end of the lesson Harry and Neville were also excused from homework and in a good mood, they left the class.
‘Harry,’ came the cautious utterance from Hermione as they walked down the corridor later that day. ‘If you want, we can skip the feast if you’re not feeling up to it, that is.’
‘You don’t have to do that. I know you were looking forward to it.’
‘Really it’s nothing. You’re our friend. You mean much more than some sweets. We can get them at another time if we want.’ As she said this Neville nodded his head in agreement. Harry couldn’t help but feel deeply pleased by this.
‘It’s okay. I think we should go. I mean my parents would probably want me to be happy and in the dorms, I would probably just mope.’ At this, the other two nodded, although Harry couldn’t help but think they would agree to anything he suggested today. ‘Anyway, we should be asking how you are after having Ron shout at you.’
‘Oh, that’s nothing, he was just upset that I corrected his pronunciation. That’s the last time I help him unprompted.’
After putting their bags in their rooms and slipping the photos into his robe pockets the trio headed down to the feast with the rest of their year. Once in the Great Hall Harry was pleased with his decision. The room had been decorated with bats and floating pumpkins all carved with different designs.
‘Hey, I bet they are held up with levitation charm,’ was the delighted exclamation from Lavender.
‘Hopefully, none of them explodes, ey,’ came the cheeky response from Dean as he nudged Seamus in the side. Laughing the whole group settled down by empty bowls and ignored the scowling Ron who didn’t seem to want to recall the lesson.
As the feast started the bowls filled with sweets, iced buns, toffee apples and other puddings. Hermione’s dentist upbringing seemed to baulk at the amount of sugar before she was convinced to dig in. Eventually, the food managed to lift Ron’s spirits and he was joining in with the good-natured teasing in the group. However, the feast was interrupted as the large doors banged open and Professor Quirrell staggered into the room.
‘Troll in the Dungeon, thought you should know,’ came the breathless yell culminating in Quirrell fainting dead. There was a moment of stunned silence before chaos descended. Students were screaming and standing up trying to spot either the unconscious teacher or their relatives. In all this confusion Hermione sitting beside him latched on to Harry’s arm.
‘I’ve read about Trolls they’re terribly dangerous. What’s one doing here?’
For the second time that day the first year Gryffindor’s witnessed the silencing of a room via a bang. Although in this case the explosion was controlled by Dumbledore as he attempted to regain control over the situation.
‘Prefects please lead your houses to your common rooms, where the feast will continue,’ Dumbledore ordered the stunned room.
Percy noticeably pleased with such trust but worried about his siblings rounded up the first years and escorted them personally into the common room. Once there, Hermione finally released her grip on Harry. Rubbing his arm Harry checked on her and seeing how pale she was grabbed a handful of sweets and offered them to her.
‘You look like you’re in shock. Giving people sweet things to eat is meant to help. I asked what to do in situations like this after the flying accident. Hermione took it shakily and started to eat.
‘Sorry, Harry, it’s just I’ve been reading about the more dangerous creatures and to have one in the school… It’s meant to be safe here.’ Hermione shuddered after getting some colour back in her face.
‘It’s okay Mione; you’re not the only one concerned about the troll.’ The troll was, in fact, the main topic of conversation in the room as various different theories on how it got through the wards were debated.
Taking some iced buns for himself, Harry decided that maybe he should go up to bed. The drama of the troll was unsettling and really he didn’t want to listen to a discussion of death and dismemberment, not tonight.
Catching Neville’s eye, he indicated he was going upstairs. Sitting on his bed Harry finished off the last bun and went to wash his hands. Returning, he wiped his fingers on the pillow and took out his pictures.
Harry didn’t know what he wanted to see when he looked at them. Several people had told him he looked like his dad but had his mum’s eyes. Hoping it was true that he had some part of his parents with him every day, but fearing that people were projecting romantic ideals on him, Harry turned over the top picture.
There were three figures in the picture, a man, a woman and a little boy. All three of them looked so happy, like a family. They moved too; Harry had forgotten about that. But there they were, three people caught in their own private, little movie. The man had dark hair and glasses and well, he looked like Harry, not exactly alike, but enough. The woman had lovely red hair, not ginger like the Weasleys but warmer. Most startlingly of all were her eyes, a bright green that was mirrored in the baby’s eyes. The eyes that had now grown up and were behind glasses looking down on them.
Harry didn’t know how much time had passed but he heard the door of the room open. Glancing up from the entrancing image, Harry saw Neville come into the room. Wiping a tear from his face that he had only just noticed Harry nodded at his friend, trying to convey his gratitude without words. His mouth was caught in a jaw-splitting grin so wide that his cheekbones ached but unable to stop. In the end, Harry fell asleep still clothed clutching the photos.
The next morning, still delighted with his photos, Harry woke up to find Trevor on his pillow croaking encouragingly at him. With Trevor returned to his owner and his photos tucked into his robes again, Harry and Neville headed down to the common room. Hermione came down shortly after and promptly threw her arms around Harry. She didn’t say anything, but Harry understood she was pleased for him.
Rather than head straight down to breakfast the trio were told to wait for the rest of the year so that they could be escorted down as a group. Not even the older years were allowed to go down without an escort. In the end, several envoys were sent into the dorms to rouse the still sleeping students so they could all get to breakfast before classes started.
‘Is the troll still at large?’ The question came from somewhere in the room after most of the house was gathered. At this most of the conversations stopped as the answer was anticipated.
‘No. It was dealt with last night. Unfortunately, there was a bit of damage to some corridors so we have to be escorted till it’s cleared up.’ At this excited discussions spread across the room as the damage was speculated on. By the time the last stragglers were in the room, it was an accepted fact that there was a hole in the floor down to the dungeons and they were going to have to walk across a narrow plank over the abyss to get to breakfast. Hermione upon hearing the latest theory and somebody exclaiming how they’d nearly plummeted to their death rolled her eyes.
‘We’ve been trapped in here all night and they were too busy stuffing themselves on sugar to go out. There is no way there’s an abyss. Plus, how would the troll make it to the 6th floor.’
‘Weren’t you listening, Hermione? The troll made the hole as it climbed up in an attempt to escape the castle,’ was the joking reply from Neville.
‘Well really, don’t they know anything? Trolls can’t climb. That’s giants,’ was all the response he received. Before the debate could escalate the house was granted permission to head out. If Harry had been anticipating a death-defying morning stroll he would have been disappointed. Instead, all he found was a corridor on the second floor out of commission due to fallen masonry and some broken furniture lying in the corridor they passed. Things, however, did slow down as they passed the corridor.
‘Rubber necking,’ observed Hermione.
‘Like a car accident.’ Harry agreed with Hermione. At Neville’s quizzical expression the pair explained the term.
‘We use the term broom accident.’ Neville offered before the three shuddered at the memory of their disastrous flying lesson. Finally, they reached the Great Hall and descended on breakfast. Unlike on normal days, the whole staff was in attendance and as they were eating Dumbledore stood up.
‘Now, if I may be so bold to interrupt your eating I have a few announcements. Firstly, the troll has been dealt with. However, the second-floor corridor is, as some of you have seen, out of bounds until it is repaired due to fallen masonry and the risk of further collapse. As such the corresponding corridor above is also no longer in use. All lessons in that hall will now take place on the fourth floor. Any questions?’ said Dumbledore with a benevolent smile.
‘Will we have to be escorted every morning?’ A voice called out from the vicinity of the Slytherin table.
‘No, no, that is just until this morning, we shall put up wards on the damaged corridor to keep you out shortly.’
‘When will the corridor be repaired?’ A Hufflepuff this time, shouted out.
‘Ah, good question, unfortunately, due to the nature of the wards and magic involved this will not be possible until the school is emptier. As such it shall be done at Christmas.’ After this several other questions were asked mostly about the fight to which Dumbledore gave no great detail.
‘Now the day grows ever older. I bid you return to your meals as morning lessons begin soon and you must fuel yourselves for a day of learning.’ Dumbledore sat down closing the discussion on the matter.
The excitement of a troll attack, like all gossip, faded away and Quidditch fever soon overran the school. The game between the long-term rivals Gryffindor and Slytherin was greatly debated among the whole school apart from the first years of the two houses. They found the idea of deliberately trying to knock people of brooms slightly horrifying.
Running slightly late, the trio hurried out from breakfast to find the corridors empty. Unfortunately, the stairs were against them and they got trapped between the first and second floor. Peeves the poltergeist had spent the last few weeks at the area of the second-floor corridor drawn there by the chaos according to Professor Flitwick. As they used their bags as shields from a bombardment of chalk and board erasers the three of them jumped onto the next staircase and ran to avoid the poltergeist. Luckily Peeves soon lost interest in them and returned back to his haunting of the corridor.
‘Well, how annoying was that? We look a mess and we’re going to be late for transfiguration. Quickly, we have to run down the corridor to the classroom or we will be late and lose points from our own Head of House.’ By the end of the sentence, Hermione was sounding a bit shrill so the boys took off after her.
When they reached the door Hermione was dismayed to realise the class wasn’t in sight so instead knocked on the door. Without getting a response she tried to open it only to find it wouldn’t open. So distraught at the thought of missing class she didn’t question why the room would be locked she raised her wand and cast a spell.
‘Alohamora, I’m so sorry Professor we got ambushed by Peeves,’ Hermione apologised while ushering the boys in. As they came in, she closed the door and trailed off.
‘Hermione, that’s a dog.’
‘Yes, Neville it is.’
‘Professor McGonagall turns into a cat, doesn’t she?’
‘Yes, Neville, she does.’
‘Hermione, that dog has three heads.’ Harry couldn’t fault Neville’s observational skills. The dog larger than Uncle Vernon’s new car had three snarling heads, all staring at them.
‘Yes, Neville it does.’
‘Hermione, how many stairs did we run up?’
‘Not enough,’ at this, the three-headed dog decided that it should start growling. Reaching behind him Harry flung open the door and scrambled backwards promptly followed by Neville and Hermione. At their rapid movement, the dog lunged forward and tried to follow them out of the room. The three of them with a strength born of fear managed to force the door closed on the beast. Panting the trio stared at the now sealed door, which concealed the still snarling creature.
‘We’re on the forbidden third-floor corridor. The original one mentioned in September, not the new one,’ she realised.
‘Yeah, Hermione I think we got that bit what with the whole die a nasty death part.’
‘Dumbledore really wasn’t exaggerating,’ Neville muttered.
‘Oh no,’ Hermione gasped.
‘What?’ Harry asked frantically looking about for any sign of another way to die horribly in the corridor.
‘We’re late for class; McGonagall is going to kill us,’ was the despondent response.
‘Well, at least it will hurt less than being eaten by that thing.’
Harry didn’t think Hermione appreciated Neville’s point, even if he personally agreed with it, as he watched her glare at the other boy.
‘What are we going to do?’
‘I think, and Hermione please forgive me for saying this, I think we should skip class.’ At this Hermione gasped and Neville’s eyes widened. ‘Before you say anything, I think, I should point out we have had a shock and so we should go to the infirmary.’
‘Sugar and rest, you mentioned that the other night,’ came Neville’s support of Harry’s argument.
‘Oh, Harry I wish we could but what would we say, that we got attacked by Peeves ended up in a forbidden corridor and nearly eaten by a monster. They would expel us.’ The last part was said in a shrieked whisper, which really shouldn’t have been possible. Neville turned pale at the idea.
‘I don’t want to be expelled. Gran would never forgive me.’
‘I think,’ Harry stated again. ‘That whatever we do we should get out of this corridor or else we really will be expelled.’
At this Hermione seemed to gain strength and bolted back the way they had come, once more leaving the boys to follow behind her. When they were back at the junction of the stairs the three of them quickly got on the next stairs that came to them and ran up the whole flight.
‘We’ve done this once already today. Let’s think about where we get off.’ Neville suggested. After some debate it was decided that they would head to the infirmary it was the only place that would calm Hermione down, they would come up with an excuse when they got there.
In the end, Madam Pomfrey took one look at them listened to a garbled retailing of Peeves attack and concluded they had taken a tumble. With this in mind, she hushed them and herded them into beds before going to get some potions.
‘We just lied to an adult. Oh, we will be in even more trouble now.’
‘Not necessarily, Mione,’ Neville’s use of her nickname bringing a brief smile to her face.
‘Nev is right. I mean we were attacked by Peeves and we did tumble, we just don’t have to mention that both happened elsewhere and at different times.’ Harry’s idea seemed to comfort both his friends and by the time the matron returned they were content to be fussed over by the woman as she tutted about the foolishness of moving stairs and poltergeists not to mention trolls and Quidditch.
‘Mione, trolls can’t play Quidditch, can they?
‘Of course not Harry,’ snapped Hermione.
‘They can do ballet though.’ At this, both Harry and Hermione stared in horrified silence at Neville. ‘There’s a tapestry on the seventh floor.’
The three of them were kept in the infirmary for the rest of the day and Professor McGonagall came by and reassured them that their housemates had taken notes and they weren’t in any trouble but to be more careful in the future.
This seemed to be all that Hermione needed and she finally relaxed. They were let out after dinner, which they got to have in bed. The trio traipsed back to the common room where they met their year mates and gave a very adulterated version of events. Finally sitting in their corner, the three of them had caught up on the missed work, then they reflected on the day’s events.
‘You can see why that corridor is forbidden, can’t you? I mean who would want to tangle with a beast like that. What was it?’ Harry asked.
‘A Cerberus, my Gran gave me a book on magical beasts when I was younger; they’re meant to be only found in Greece.’
‘Well that’s one place off my holiday list,’ Harry muttered but saw the others smile in agreement.
‘They’re said to be really rare.’
‘Not rare enough.’ Hermione retorted ‘I mean this is a school in Scotland.’ There was nothing any of them could say to that.
‘Why’s it here then?’ Harry wondered.
‘Well it’s not for a class or else Dumbledore would have said something and so would some of the students who do care of magical creatures.’
‘It was guarding something,’ Neville said.
‘Really?’ asked Harry.
‘Yeah, they were used as guard dogs in the past.’
‘Well, what was it guarding the room was empty?’
‘Didn’t you see?’ asked Neville.
‘See what, Nev? I was a bit distracted by the three heads trying to eat me.’ By the look of it, Hermione was also trying to recall anything beyond the dog’s three heads.
‘There was a trapdoor under the dog’s paw, didn’t you see?’ at the two negative responses, Neville looked down. ‘Maybe I was wrong.’
‘I doubt it, Nev. In fact, it makes sense that the guard dog was guarding something. Good on you for spotting it.’ Harry added the last part and was pleased to see his friend perk up at the praise.
‘It’s a good job the troll attacked the other corridor, could you imagine if it brought down the forbidden corridor. There would have been a troll and a Cerberus on the loose.’ The thought of such a thing was more terrifying than Harry wanted to imagine so he decided to divert the conversation into less potentially deadly subjects. Finally, the three decided to turn in, despite having spent most of the afternoon lying in bed.
It was decided by the three of them that even if the Cerberus was guarding something, they didn’t really want anything to do with it. Nobody would be foolish enough to go against that beast, so whatever was hidden was safe.
As November continued Harry was facing a dilemma he hadn’t had to consider before. Christmas and Christmas presents weren’t something, which he had to deal with when living with the Dursleys. They hadn’t given him presents and certainly wouldn’t have accepted anything from him, no doubt convinced it would contaminate them somehow.
Although rather ironically, they didn’t mind eating the food he cooked which surely came with a higher chance of contamination. Hermione and Neville, however, were likely willing to accept a gift from him. So, he needed to find them something and that was his current problem. Never having given a gift before was something Harry didn’t think he should bring up when asking about how to source presents; it may give people the wrong opinion of him.
Harry had managed to get cards for nearly everybody, Dean had obviously had a similar gift problem but being artistically inclined he had been drawing packs of cards and selling them for money or goods. Harry had bought some from him with the guarantee that nobody else would get the same design. All he needed now was some presents and a card for Dean, Harry thought it would be bad manners to give Dean one of his own works, a bit like re-gifting something which Aunt Petunia always sniffed about.
Instead, Harry decided to reach out. He’d been in contact with Madam Longbottom since shortly after Halloween when he sent a thank you letter for his photos. The first letters had been overly formal and slightly stilted, Neville had been coaching him in letter etiquette and Harry hadn’t wanted to show his tutor up to his Gran. However, Harry also couldn’t ask his friend to help him write a letter to his Gran asking her what to get him and how to get Christmas presents.
As Harry hoped Madam Longbottom did have a solution and sent Harry a catalogue that came with the ability to owl order. She also congratulated him on thinking ahead apparently some people left it too late and they couldn’t get what they wanted. The biggest problem Harry had now was slipping away and figuring out what to get his friends. He figured sweets would probably work for most of his year mates but he wanted to get something extra special for his two closest friends.
He could get them a plant or a book but Harry felt that while they would like them it would be a bit predictable. Instead, Harry wanted his first gift-giving experience to truly reflect how he knew and valued his friends. In the end, he decided to get Hermione a book on magical stories figuring she would appreciate it, but he also got her some stationary embossed with her name and the Gryffindor house emblem. Hermione had been interested in the letters Harry had been getting from Madam Longbottom but didn’t seem confident enough to contact the lady and he hoped the stationary would encourage her.
In a moment of inspiration, he asked Hermione if her parents could buy some Muggle seeds for him, which he would pay for. Neville had a gift for plants so he hoped to give him something that he hadn’t come across before. Delighted with the idea Hermione asked if she could give Neville the books on their care, which Harry agreed with. He also asked her if her parents could source a card for Dean who Harry didn’t want to be left out.
As the month progressed and December grew closer spirits in the school were high. Snow fell, the proper stuff not the damp slush that occasionally graced Privet Drive with its presence. The students were looking forward to the break and the teachers were still trying to hold them to reality. For a brief moment, the antagonism between the first years reappeared in a potion class when Draco taunted Ron about staying over the break; however, an unexpected exploding potion courtesy of Neville, who was startled by the situation, quickly ended it.
Harry wasn’t exactly looking forward to staying in the castle at Christmas, he felt it would be a bit boring especially as the school would be a building site. Nonetheless, Harry had to admit it would be better than going back to the Dursleys. He had noticed that Neville and Hermione hadn’t been talking about going home as much as they had been before the unfortunate potions lesson.
‘Guys, I know you are trying to hide your excitement about going home from me, please don’t.’ Harry didn’t want to ruin anyone’s excitement just because the Dursleys were terrible people. Realising this the two of them started talking more about their plans. Neville was having a quiet time at home while Hermione was going on a skiing holiday in the Alps which Harry had to admit sounded like great fun.
At the start of December, the school was treated to more snow and the decoration of the school for the festive season. Hagrid brought in several large trees to line the Great Hall as well as smaller ones for the common rooms.
‘Hermione, you know the school rules don’t you?’ Harry queried at breakfast looking at the decorations.
‘Yes Harry, I got a booklet from Professor McGonagall, I think it’s meant for the prefects but it has a list. Why?’
‘Are we allowed to have a tree in our dorm rooms?’ At this, an excited murmur came from the rest of the first years sitting at the table and they all turned expectantly to Hermione.
‘It doesn’t say anywhere that we can’t. We are allowed to decorate our dorms within reason so I can’t see why we couldn’t, but the only problem is where would we get a tree from?’
‘Hagrid,’ at this everyone turned to Dean. ‘Well he supplied the rest of them so he’s got to know where they come from and if we ask, he can get one for us.’
‘Two trees,’ Lavender corrected. ‘One for you and one for us.’
With the plan made the first years set off to Hagrid’s hut to inquire about trees. Once there he invited them all in and gave them a cup of tea before asking them about their visit. That afternoon Hagrid came through for them and two small trees were delivered to the first years along with a standing invite for them all to come for tea.
After realising they had no decorations for the trees Hermione taught them all the colour changing charm so they could make festive paper chains to festoon the trees and dorms. Other decorations soon followed with bows made from Parvati’s and Lavender’s ribbon collection. The boys determined not to be left out turned ink jars into baubles. Although not traditional and up to Aunt Petunias standards Harry thought it was brilliant and was looking forward to Christmas. However, a few mornings later Harry received an invite from Madam Longbottom that meant Harry wouldn’t have to stay at Hogwarts.
‘Neville, your Gran’s invited me over for the Holidays.’
‘She has? Brilliant, I kind of hoped she would but didn’t want to say anything in case she didn’t.’
‘Really, you wouldn’t mind if I came over. Christmas is supposed to be family time and I don’t want to intrude.’
‘I really want you to come, and you aren’t exactly going to interrupt family time. There aren’t that many of us left and most of them are really old so it would be great to have somebody my age over. That’s if you want to?’ The last bit was said much quieter than the rest. Neville had become so much more confident over the months but the shy boy with no friends did occasionally still appear. Hermione and Harry understood though it was the first time they had friends too, so they were all still figuring out how it worked.
‘I want to come, Neville, really.’
‘We better let Gran know then and McGonagall so she can take your name off the list.’
‘Will I need permission to do that?’ asked Harry.
‘Possibly, I mean my parents haven’t said anything but maybe you should write to the Dursleys. Don’t look at me like that Harry. Tell them due to the building works you can’t stay over the holidays, but you have been invited to be a companion to some elderly citizens or something, sorry, Neville.’
‘Nah, from what Harry’s said they would cut off their nose to spite their faces and inflicted Harry on themselves rather than let him go to a friend’s house.’
‘Sounds like a plan. I’ll write it now, so they have time to respond and still let your Gran know in a decent manner.’ Harry got out his parchment and with Hermione and Neville’s help wrote a note. Hedwig was out on a delivery for Hermione, so they decided to use the waiting Longbottom owl.
‘Oh, no,’ exclaimed Harry.
‘Nev, I haven’t got your Gran a present, I can’t turn up empty-handed.’
‘Do you still have the owl order catalogue?’ Hermione enquired and at Harry’s positive response continued. ‘Good that means you can get something. Neville, what does she like?’
‘I don’t know, I always get her favourite perfume and a book on things like poetry.’
‘What about wine for when you arrive as a ‘thank you for having me gift’ and then something like Muggle poetry for Christmas. Would she like that?’ Hermione interrogated Neville and with his affirmation, she turned back to Harry. ‘There you go, problem solved.’
‘Apart from the fact that I can’t buy wine and there’s no Muggle poetry books in the catalogues.’
‘Oh, that’s a good point. How about I owl mum and dad and they can get that stuff and then we can slip it to you on the platform?’ came Hermione’s response.
‘Brilliant, you’re utterly brilliant, Mione. Are you sure your parents don’t mind doing all this for me and please tell your parents I’ll pay them back.’
‘It’s okay Harry. They’re thrilled that you let me use Hedwig to contact them all the time. That and the fact they’re so happy I have friends. I’ll do it now so they’ll have plenty of time too.’ Hermione quickly scribbled a note and left for the Owlery. At the table and the two boys set about planning their activities for the holiday.
The night before they were to go, Harry, packed and made sure that he had given his gifts to his housemates so they could pack them away. In return, Harry received several presents and was amused to note that Hermione’s colour changing charm had been used in the various different wrapping papers. The only downside to the night was a sulking Ron who was disappointed that Harry wouldn’t be staying with him in the castle. Harry didn’t particularly want to upset Ron but at the same time he didn’t want to stay either and Ron would have his brothers for company, so he wasn’t going to be as alone as he kept implying.
Unlike their journey to the castle in little boats, the trio headed to the station in carriages pulled by something invisible. At first, Harry thought there was nothing pulling the coaches until he saw footprints turn up in the pristine snow. The journey to Hogsmeade was filled with a debate on what the creatures could be, but no answer was reached and instead the three were grateful they didn’t have to wade through the snow to get to the platform or try to cross the partially frozen lake in little boats.
The train ride home was much more relaxed than the one to the castle although Neville once again tested Harry and Hermione on etiquette. The platform was heaving with people, animals, noise and smoke. It hadn’t changed since their departure. However, instead of the frantic packing and sad goodbyes, there were excited greetings and careless unloading of luggage.
‘That’s my parents there,’ Hermione pointed and started waving at them. ‘Let’s head over and you can meet them and get the gifts from them, Harry.’ Agreeing with the plan the trio managed to make it to the pair standing where Hermione had pointed. When they got there Hermione surged forward into their waiting arms.
‘Mum, Dad, I’ve missed you so much, but I’ve learnt so much and I have friends,’ As she said this, she gestured towards Harry and Neville who hesitantly waved from where they were hanging back. ‘I have so much to tell you it’s so magical and we’ve been learning how to…’ Before Hermione could launch into a detailed description of each class’s syllabus, her dad gently interrupted.
‘Shush now poppet, we have plenty of time for that later, why don’t you introduce us to your friends.’
‘Oh, of course, this is Harry and this is Neville, I’ve written to you about them.’ As she said their name she indicated which of them was which and they waved in response to the hellos from Hermione’s parents.
‘Ah, Harry. We have something here for you,’ Hermione’s mum said with a smile while picking up a shopping bag beside her.
‘Thank you, Mrs umm I mean Dr Granger,’ Harry had nearly forgotten that Hermione’s parents were dentists. He was certain that you called dentists doctor but now he doubted himself. Before he could become anymore distressed that he had insulted his friends’ parents Hermione’s mum laughed.
‘Call me Anne please and this is William,’ she said indicating her husband. ‘We feel like we know you, from all Hermione has written about you.’ Harry didn’t think that he could call an adult by their first name and by the look of it Neville felt the same.
‘Thank you again. It’s lovely to meet you and Hermione’s told us about you too.’ Before the conversation could go much further Neville spotted his Gran approaching, the vulture on top of her hat was a giveaway and Harry decided to stow the bag of gifts and get out the money for the Grangers. He had been concerned about only having wizarding currency but Hermione reassured him that it was fine. Her parents had taken out a subscription of the Daily Prophet and needed change to pay for the delivery so it worked for everybody after they had figured out the exchange rate.
Neville’s Gran was a rather imposing woman, but Harry supposed that you had to be in order to carry off a vulture hat. She was older than expected but there was strength in her posture that spoke of loss and perseverance. It wasn’t too far from the truth as Neville had told them the fate of his parents shortly before school broke up. They were hopefully going to see them in holidays. Unfortunately, most of the rest of Neville’s relatives were too elderly to visit often so wouldn’t be seen; they preferred the warmth of the French properties in winter. Despite her initial reserve Madam Longbottom greeted the Grangers cordially enough and smiled approvingly over the three of them when they greeted her.
‘Ah, very nicely done my dears. Neville, you have done your family proud,’ at this Neville’s face split wide with a grin. ‘Now shall we make a move? This drafty platform isn’t for old bones.’ At this, there was a polite outcry over Madam Longbottom’s age, which seemed to please her. ‘Nonetheless, we should make a move; there are more enjoyable places to get to know one another. Will you be staying longer, or must you be off?’ The last part was directed to the Grangers who sadly had to admit they had plans and wouldn’t be able to meet up until the start of next term due to their skiing holiday. With a quick embrace and a promise to write, the boys waved goodbye to Hermione and her parents before turning back to Madam Longbottom.
‘Well, boys, shall we?’ Madam Longbottom indicated a row of fireplaces along the far wall. ‘Now Heir Potter, have you ever flooed?’ Harry hadn’t but he had read about it and had to admit he wasn’t looking forward to the experience. Before he could say any of this Neville’s Gran sniffed ‘I thought you hadn’t. Never mind you shall learn now, and we will have to work on keeping your every thought off your face young man.’ Blushing a little Harry followed Neville to the wall of fireplaces.
‘Put your trunks down boys, I’ll shrink them, no need for you to try and wrestle them through the floo, especially on your first go, it’ll throw you off balance and Neville your balance has never been the best.’ At this Neville started to blush as well but didn’t argue as his Gran shrunk the trunk and passed the smaller version to him to put in his pocket before she did the same for Harry.
‘Now Neville you go first to show Heir Potter what to do and then he shall go next.’ Harry watched Neville take a pinch of powder and throw it into the fire. When the fire turned green he stepped into it. ‘It is very important you speak clearly at this point so magic knows where to take you, there’s power in a name.’ As she said this to Harry, Neville called out for Longbottom Manor and disappeared in a swirl of green fire. Then it was his turn.
Copying what he had seen his friend do, Harry stepped into the fire. It was one of the more difficult things he had ever done, every part of him cried out that fire was hot and dangerous, stepping into it was the opposite of wise. And yet the fire didn’t burn but instead licked over, winding about him so he was bound in a curious green cage. As he spoke the name of his destination the cage tightened and the curiosity turned to intent. Moments later Harry found the magic release him as he was spun out of a different fireplace to the one he had entered. Before he had a chance to take in his surrounds Harry became acquainted with the floor as it rushed up to greet him.
‘Don’t worry about it, Harry I’m always falling out of the floo too.’ As he was saying this Neville helped him up of the floor and began brushing soot off of him. While the two boys put themselves to rights Madam Longbottom strode out of the fire unfalteringly. Running her eyes over the two of them she sighed.
‘At least you both got here even if it was done slightly inelegantly. Neville why don’t you show your friend to his quarters before your trunks resize.’ With a shy smile, Harry was led through the house. Harry had never been to a mansion before. His primary school had been planning a trip to one belonging to the National Trust, but it caught fire and they hadn’t bothered to go to another. Harry wished they had so he was a least a bit prepared for staying in one.
Despite its size, the house was homely and felt lived in more than number four Privet Drive ever had. It also felt like magic. The suite of rooms Harry was staying in was vast and put Dudley and his spare room to shame. There was a bedroom, a sitting room, a dressing room and a bathroom. When Harry asked if it was all for him, Neville grinned and said it was because of the alliance. Other people only got one room. Feeling slightly overwhelmed Harry settled in and changed out of his school clothes into something he hoped would suit dinner at a mansion.
Although Harry found staying at Longbottom Manor slightly intimidating, he found himself enjoying his time there. He had never been in a magical household before and he kept being amazed by the smallest thing. House elves were, however, something that Harry found slightly unnerving; it was he thought the big eyes and their tendency to speak in the third person. The elves at the manor were so eager to help that they had kept suggesting things they could do to help him until Neville eventually rescued him by finding them all tasks in the family kitchens and greenhouses.
‘Now boys are you all settled in?’ Neville’s Gran inquired over dinner.
‘Glad to hear that. I think it would be best for us to retire to the parlour afterwards. You’ll forgive us Heir Potter for not standing on ceremony with few in attendance.’
‘Of course not ma’am, that is to say, I have no complaint.’ He was blushing and cursing internally the fact he’d got caught in a double negative.
‘Ah, we may have to work on that as well as your poker face. You tend to rush into things I see.’
‘Not at all, you are not the first young man I have known to rush into things. It is a Gryffindor trait, my dear son, Frank was one and so is my Neville. Your father James spent a summer with us as well, when he was slightly older than you are now that I think on it.’
‘Really ma’am?’ asked Harry.
‘Oh, yes, we fostered him when your grandfather, Charlus, fell ill with Dragon Pox the first time.’
‘Fostered, what’s that?’
‘You haven’t covered that yet? Ah well, don’t worry it is not as urgent as what you’ve been focusing. Neville, I’m pleased with your maturity and prioritising in what you’ve shown Heir Potter.’
‘Thank you, Gran.’
‘Now, fostering. It is an old practice one that goes back further than the founding of the Wizengamot and was done between the lords of the time. Those who came later, including the Longbottoms, adopted it. In essence, it’s a way to strengthen alliances. There’s a lot of trust involved in handing the care of your child over to others. It also allowed the fostered child a sense of freedom, a chance to spread their wings free from the familial gaze. Although that’s merely an illusion, the fostering family is just as proactive in their care if not more so.’
‘And the Potters and Longbottoms still continue this practice?’
‘Indeed they do. There has been a least one fostering every generation. Your father and my Frank were the last, although before tragedy befell us all in 81 the paperwork was in place to allow a fostering between you boys.’
‘Really Gran, they drew it up so soon?’
‘Indeed. Your parents, both sets of them, had no doubt you two boys would be great friends. And they were right, despite everything that happened, they were right. We tried to use the fostering paperwork and Alice’s connection as godmother to gain custody of you Harry. But then they couldn’t find you. You were hidden away already. Still, we tried and then the attack came. But still I tried, I felt Neville would only benefit from another boy in the house. Frank did when your father came. I can tell you more about them this evening if you would wish.’
‘Yes please ma’am,’ Harry eagerly replied.
‘Excellent. We have an accord, stories and poker face training after dinner.’
Poker face training was a very literal description for the activity. Madam Longbottom set out a pack of cards and swiftly dealt the two boys in. Over discussions of Frank and James adolescent hijinks, she fleeced the pair of them. Eventually taking pity on them she let them play ever more competitive games of Go fish and Gin rummy.
Madam Longbottom was daunting or rather Harry was daunted by the prospect of disappointing her expectations. She put aside a few hours every day to teach Harry what she felt he should have been taught before starting school. He could after the first few days understand much more about Neville’s personality when he first arrived at school.