Everyone makes their first moves at Hogwarts; not all are successful.
"Come in, Harry."
Harry walked carefully into the office, almost overwhelmed by the ambient magic. Almost, but not quite. "You wanted to see me, Headmaster? Or did you just want to test my Occlumency shields?"
"My apologies, Harry," Dumbledore said. "You cannot be surprised that I would test you."
"I suppose not," Harry allowed. "Was that all, since I am not going to tell you anything about my summer and I’ve shown you can’t steal the information? Or did you want to talk about our 'Visitor'?" Harry almost spat.
"There is little we can do about her," Dumbledore pointed out. "Granted the Ministry has not recently exercised this authority. . . ."
"Nearly a hundred and thirty years is longer ago than recently," Harry pointed out. "And the fact that you can say that points up something many Muggle-raised people point out as one of the most common faults of the magically-raised."
"And what are those?" Dumbledore asked, honestly curious.
"The arrogance of magic users, and their general intellectual laziness," Harry retorted, "which combine to form the overall bigotry."
"Do I have to illustrate the arrogance?" Harry asked.
"No, nor the overall bigotry. Elucidate the intellectual laziness."
"Laziness and poor attention span, actually,” Harry retorted. He then explained, “Other than the total reliance on Muggle advances in astronomy, the ignoring of advances in chemistry and physics, and the complete ignorance of technology, even by the Muggle Studies instructor?"
"Yes, as I sense you are trying to tell me something specific."
Harry had to nod as he continued. "You weren't at Hogwarts when the reforms happened back in the 1860s and 1870s, correct?"
Dumbledore smiled. "I am very old, Harry, but not that old. My father was a student when they started, and told me of the scandals which caused the Ministry’s actions and the improvements."
Harry nodded. "And therefore, since you are generally aware of what happened, you haven't actually read the agreement, have you?" Dumbledore blinked. "If you read it, you will see that the adoption of the O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. system, the prefects, Muggle Studies, and so forth was part of what Hogwarts had to accept, along with the general oversight of the Ministry." Dumbledore nodded. "However, the Purebloods of the time had to be bought off, unsurprisingly. All the above is paid for via the Hogwarts Trust, which is what we pay our tuition and fees to, correct?"
"And that includes paying the examiners."
Dumbledore nodded again.
"However, you'll see the acceptance of the general Ministry oversight, including the appointment of a Visitor or if necessary a resident Inquisitor, was traded off for the Ministry providing at least thirty full scholarships for totally-indigent Purebloods. For those connected to the Muggle world, the Ministry arranged for special grants, which is how Tom Riddle was supported. But there are numerous poor magical families, like Riddle's mother's family, the Gaunts, who could not afford an education. His grandfather was your near-contemporary, wasn't he?"
"You are amazingly well-informed," Dumbledore admitted. "Yes, Marvolo was a student here, a few years older than I, through his Fifth year. He did not fit in by any means."
"The scholarships were only through the fifth year," Harry agreed. "However, when many of those poor families had members recruited by Grindelwald, the Ministry cut back, and then suspended the scholarships in the 1930s."
Dumbledore nodded. He had forgotten most of this, but recalled it now.
"Don't you get it? The Ministry broke the contract by doing so, and therefore gave up the authority of imposing either a Visitor or an Inquisitor."
Dumbledore sat up straight, blinking in surprise. "I must find our copy of the agreement," he said.
"Happy hunting," Harry said, leaving. It was only five minutes later that Dumbledore realized that Harry had not only answered none of the questions he had planned, he had not even been asked them. "I believe young Harry might be right," Dumbledore muttered. "Ah ha!" He pulled out the agreement in question, and read it quickly, smiling in satisfaction. Further searching found the notices of the 'temporary' suspension of the scholarships. By midnight, Dumbledore would correctly decide that he had ample ability and evidence to remove Umbridge, and most Ministry supervision, other than over O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s, which he did not wish to suspend in any case.
While Harry was meeting with Dumbledore, Snape was starting a meeting of his own with the children of his 'associates'.
"Things are changing," he started off.
"Never mind that! Where's my wand?" Draco demanded.
Snape instantly petrified him. "Watch your mouth," he snarled. "If you hadn't acted like the spoiled little brat you are on the train, some of this would not be necessary."
Snape turned to the others. He had been torn as to how to handle the situation, as four years of heaping abuse on Potter had been satisfying to a degree. Still, given the choice of revenge on the long-dead James Potter and revenge on Voldemort, who had perverted the Pureblood ideals Snape still mostly held on to, the choice had to go in another direction, now that it looked like Lily’s son might survive and even win. "I spent the entire summer convincing the Headmaster that despite your family associations, none of you were dangerous and were not even likely to be spies. Malfoy here ruined all that work in less than a day because of his usual petulance. I had worked very hard to insure that the Headmaster's attention has been spread evenly throughout Hogwarts. Do not mistake his kindness for other weaknesses, nor expect his mercy to be limitless, nor believe his power within the school minor. Thanks to 'Mouth' Malfoy here, most of the Headmaster's attention will be on you, especially you fifth years. Any bullying, any stepping out of line, may be met with harsher punishments than you are usually subject to, including expulsion."
Snape turned on Malfoy. "It took a great deal of argument on my part to save you from be expelled. You are in House confinement for the month of September and on probation for the rest of the year. That means, if you accumulate a deficit of minus fifteen House points you are back on suspension until you even the points out; while if you gather a score of minus fifty or a detention, you will be before the four Heads of House and the Headmaster, who will decide if you should be expelled. The Headmaster made it clear that no positive points from me will be counted, and the vote on expulsion is made by a majority decision."
Snape pulled the prefect's badge off of Malfoy's robes. "He has also removed you as prefect." Dumbledore actually hadn’t, although he did suggest it might be necessary. Snape now decided it was. He handed the badge to Nott, who made a show of distaste before taking it, mostly so that Malfoy would blame him less. "I have also just finished firecalling your parents. Your father emphasized that he had directed you to keep your eyes open and your mouth shut, and he is most displeased you ruined your chances to collect information for the cause. You are nothing to the cause except a possible recruit. Places are earned, not given, and you are no longer in a position to earn your place." Snape had just dropped Malfoy's status in the group from top dog to lowest mutt, although he would likely be treated much as he had been -- for a while at least, in case he rapidly recovered.
Snape looked at the group. "Unless you have a direct order, not just from outside but from the highest authority," and there was no doubt in any of their minds who that highest authority was, "you are all to behave yourselves. Most of you are Slytherins, the rest Ravenclaws. You are supposed to be cunning and intelligent. Make the rest of Hogwarts see you as good citizens; trustworthy, open, friendly, and unbiased against mongrels and Mudbloods. Only then will you find it easy to accumulate information, to become useful while you are here. Lull the opposition into thinking all is well. Do not disparage wizarding culture, but defend it with tact. Be helpful, get the others to know what our culture should stand for. We are the elite of humanity; make the others see the glories of magic, so that when the time comes He will have an even greater following. In short, be the House of Cunning, not the House of Loudmouths." Snape saw he at least had their attention, and hopefully most of their cooperation. He had long hoped they would come to similar conclusions about their tactics by themselves, but they had not; Snape was incapable of understanding that his divisive treatment of the students, indulging his Slytherins while abusing most of the others, could have had results different from what he had created – a group of spoiled, arrogant brats. To himself, the furthest he would admit was, ‘The Headmaster had been right; it was time to stop coddling them’. "You are dismissed."
When they were gone, Snape released the seething but frightened Draco from the hex. "If you ever speak to me that way again, you will suffer," Snape told the boy, and Draco believed him. "In addition to your other punishments, you will not be Quidditch captain. You are still on the team, but if you manage to put yourself in a future Confinement, you may be off the team as well. Oh,” Snape said with an evil smile, “your father told me to give you something in private."
"What's that?" Draco asked, brightening.
Harry swung by the kitchens to talk with Dobby and Winky and then headed directly back to the common room. He was unsurprised to see that Hermione was one of the few people still there, obviously waiting for him.
"What's up?" Harry asked.
"There was quite a rumpus . . . well, several," Hermione admitted.
"About what?" Harry asked, sitting next to her.
"You," Hermione said frankly. "You implied before that you know what they have been saying about you in 'The Daily Prophet'?"
"Oh, yes," Harry replied, making a face.
"Well, Seamus' mother believed most of them. Seamus was a bit loud about it, and Ron and Neville nearly hit him."
"Oh, yes," Hermione said, nodding. "Anyway, Dean straightened the three of them out before they got TOO loud. Well, that did cause a lot of discussion, and Lavender started attacking you. I started defending you when Ginny tackled Lavender and they had a regular cat-fight."
That surprised Harry. "Really?"
"Oh, yes. Kicking, screaming, scratching, biting, and lots and lots of hair-pulling. McGonagall got here before we could get them separated. . . ."
Harry noticed Hermione was sitting very stiffly.
"Are you hurt?"
Hermione nodded, and seeing they were now alone in the common room, she half-slid off her robe and unbuttoned her blouse. She showed the startled Harry her bra-covered cleavage, and then Harry realized that she was actually showing him a nasty bruise, which was developing right below the front of her left shoulder and collar bone.
Hermione nodded, and was startled when Harry placed his right hand over the bruise. A wave of warmth ran throughout Hermione's body and then back to the bruise. Harry removed his hand, and Hermione saw the bruise was healed. "How. . . ?"
"One of the tricks I learned this summer," Harry answered. "It isn't really wandless magic as such, and I didn't really heal you. In a sense, I used you as a wand, sending out a spell that collected your own magic, which then came and healed you. It’s similar to, but not as effective as, a ‘mother’s kiss’, but. . . ." Harry blushed slightly.
"Thank you," Hermione said quietly. She also blushed as she buttoned her blouse back up.
"What happened to Ginny and Lavender?" Harry asked to cover up his own slight embarrassment.
"They are both in the Infirmary for bruising and to have their hair fully regrown. Ginny nearly scalped Lavender, and Lavender got more than a tuft or two out of Ginny. They'll be alternating detentions with McGonagall every night for the next four weeks."
"Why would Ginny do that?" Harry asked.
"Harry," Hermione said, as if talking to a child, "she's had a crush on you since before she ever met you, plus you saved her life."
"Ah. . . ." For the first time that day, Harry looked uncertain and a bit confused.
Hermione leaned against Harry and exhaled. "Don't worry about them, Harry."
At that moment, Dobby appeared, making both Harry and Hermione sit up straight. Dobby was hopping up and down in his excitement.
"You actually found one?" Harry asked, surprised.
"Winky found!" Dobby said quietly but ecstatically. "Dobby was called to doggies. They also found one." Dobby held out his hand and two boxes appeared.
"Good work, the pair of you. Do you have a piece of parchment?" Harry asked Hermione as he relieved Dobby of the boxes.
"May I know what's going on?" Hermione asked as she handed some parchment to him.
"I'll ask the Headmaster if you can join us," Harry said. "You'll take care of everything?" he asked Dobby.
"Yes, Harry Potter, sir, and we thank you." Dobby disappeared.
"What are they thanking you for?" Hermione asked suspiciously.
"I don't believe in slavery any more than you do," Harry replied. "Other places don't either. Elves have been free in the Americas, for example, since the late nineteenth century. They are bound to their families by contract, however. It really does strengthen them. Dobby and Winky are in my employ as a supplemental employer until I leave school, then they'll work for me full time."
"Not an ideal solution, but a much better one than slavery," Hermione commented.
"I agree," Harry said simply. He smiled at Hermione and gently squeezed her now-healed shoulder, and then went to bed.
Hermione frowned a bit, shrugged, and did the same.
The next morning, when Seamus woke up, he was confronted by the sight of a fully-dressed Harry Potter staring at him. Harry was not the short, skinny ragamuffin of previous years. He would never be tall, but he was now average height for his age -- about the same height as Seamus, had he been standing. He was again dressed all in well-fitting black -- dragon hide boots, black jeans, a black t-shirt with the logo of a European wizarding band called 'Death Angels', and a black silk shirt currently unbuttoned and hanging out. "I hear there's something you want to say to me," Harry said quietly.
Seamus flushed. "Me Mam thinks you're dangerous to know, and worse. I know you're not a liar, Harry, but I really don't know what to think."
"Fair enough," Harry said. "How about a useful neutrality?"
"Watch my back in public and keep my secrets, but at the same time feel free to keep your distance, so nothing will get back to your mother."
"Sounds doable," Seamus said in relief. "Thanks."
"No problem." Harry buttoned up his shirt and tucked it in. He grabbed his school robe and tossed it on.
Harry found Hermione down in the common room with most of the first years. "Isn't Ron awake?" she asked.
"At seven thirty on a Saturday morning?" Harry asked, amused. "Hardly."
"Could you please round up the other two first year boys?" she asked. "I want to show them the way to the great hall and then to the classrooms after."
"Not a problem."
There weren't many at breakfast, and Madams Hooch and Pomfrey were the only staff members. Harry had barely seated himself when, unusually for the weekend, Dumbledore appeared and signaled to Harry. When he got back, he whispered in Hermione's ear, "Meet me at the entrance to the Headmaster's office at ten twenty."
Hermione merely nodded as she finished peeling an apple, and then cutting it up into her oatmeal as well as into a second bowl for one the first chattering first years and some into one for Harry as well. Harry just rolled his eyes but said nothing, taking only one deviled kidney and two poached eggs for the rest of his breakfast. He ignored Hermione's dirty look as he prepared a cup of milky sweet coffee, a habit he had picked up over the summer.
Hermione showed up to the gargoyle guardian exactly on time. "I assume you wanted to talk to me before we meet with the Headmaster?"
Harry nodded and pulled his wand. He laid down several detection spells and seemed satisfied. "Did you ever wonder how Voldemort survived being disembodied?"
Hermione gave Harry a crooked smile. "His pseudonym means something like 'Flight of Death' and he calls his minions 'Death Eaters. . . ."
"'Minions'? I don't think I ever actually heard someone use that in a spoken sentence," Harry teased.
"Hush, you. From what you learned down in the Chamber, Tom Riddle grew up a frightened and abused orphan. He obviously had no religious beliefs, and probably believed that death is the end. He would have undergone some sort of dark ritual or rituals to anchor his soul in this world."
"Exactly. When you kill a sentient being in hot or cold blood -- for any reason other than a genuinely compassionate mercy killing and true self defense -- you damage your own soul. It's possible to split your soul if you've prepared yourself before hand and store it. He had done it five times, into two artifacts of Slytherin, a pocket diary, and one artifact each of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, before he attacked me. He planned on a total of six. He didn't realize that my scar was one, and he's made one more. He's very lucky he didn't so split what was left so much that he couldn't be reanimated. The diary Ginny had was one piece and I destroyed it. My scar was exorcized and that Horcrux broken. Slytherin's ring and Hufflepuff's cup also have had their Horcrux broken."
Hermione nodded. "That leaves three."
"Exactly. Let's see the Headmaster."
"Miss Granger," the Headmaster said politely. He turned to Harry. "Do you really think it wise to involve another student?"
"I think I need at least one person at Hogwarts I can fully trust," Harry answered simply, making Hermione blush in pleasure and the Headmaster flush in shame. "And yes, I know enough not to tell her anything I don't want you or Professor Snape to lift from her mind."
They saw Dumbledore wince at that thrust, but he did not deny it.
"I presume Professor Snape still has your full confidence?"
"He does,” Dumbledore acknowledged, “and he has agreed to crack down on the Slytherins, provided others do not initiate trouble."
"I certainly shan't," Hermione said, "and we both know Harry won't."
"I'll speak to the Weasleys brothers, but I don't know how much influence I really have," Harry added. "I will try to set a good example."
"Excellent. What did you wish to talk to me about?"
"Horcruxes." That shook Dumbledore. He had not really expected Harry to mention those in front of Hermione. Harry pulled out two boxes. "We've eliminated two more."
Harry nodded. "I asked Dobby to check around Hogwarts to see if Voldemort had stashed any here. Another elf found it and gave to Dobby. I broke the Horcrux last night. . . ."
"That is incredibly dangerous, Harry!"
"Not for me," Harry corrected, before Dumbledore could try and guilt-trip him. "Even with the Horcrux on me broken, I retain a certain sympathy with Voldemort's magic. In fact, I'm even more sensitive to it. For example, I can now detect the Dark Mark within sixty feet or so, although I would not try to command it, even with Parseltongue."
"You're still a Parselmouth?"
Harry merely nodded. "In any case, here is Ravenclaw's diadem." He slid a box over. "Strangely enough, Remus found another." Dumbledore's eyebrows went up in surprise. "It turns out that Sirius' brother Reggie took the family house elf to some cavern or other and liberated Slytherin's locket." Harry slid the other box across. "That's what killed Reggie. Sirius is reconsidering his opinion of that elf, I can tell you, as well as his brother. In any event, that means we have six down, but have no idea what the seventh is."
"We do," Dumbledore said. "Voldemort's familiar."
"Nagini?" Harry asked, surprised. "You mean the Horcrux is in the snake, right?" Dumbledore shook his head. "But that's stupid! Even if we don't kill the snake it will die soon er or later. Making it a Horcrux doesn't make the snake immortal, does it?"
"I wouldn't have thought so, but I suppose it might be possible," Dumbledore answered. "It may also be that Voldemort believes it to be so and is mistaken, or that he merely had no other choice when he made it. Still, that is the final Horcrux."
"Great! Even though the snake can move and even defend itself, it's not going to be easy for him to hide a bloody great snake. . . ."
"Language!" Hermione scolded.
"May I borrow your pensieve, Professor?" Harry asked.
Dumbledore blinked at that, and then asked, "For what purpose?"
"I want to show Hermione a memory of Nagini." He turned to Hermione. "Trust me, when you see it, you'll say, 'that's a bloody big snake'!" Dumbledore smiled while Hermione rolled her eyes.
By the end of the meeting, Dumbledore was frustrated that he could not tease any additional information from Harry. He had agreed that Professor Snape would investigate the possibility of poisoning Nagini.