And so it begins...
Learning to Fly
"When we walk to the edge of all the light we have and take the step into the darkness of the unknown, we must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for us to stand on or we will be taught to fly."
Severus landed right outside the boundaries of Hogsmeade with a pop of displaced air. He'd actually doubled back to Ollivander's and asked why the wand had been an unexpected choice for the de Brabant boy. The reason was shocking, to say the least. That a foreign pureblood had ended up with the brother wand to the Dark Lord's was information that he knew Dumbledore would want. Of course, the real question was whether or not he should tell the manipulative old man. He knew that as an old friend of Dumbledore's, Ollivander would most likely inform him, which meant that he need not bother to do it. And if Ollivander didn't, well, it wasn't really any of his business, now was it? It was Slytherin business, for Severus was sure that the de Brabant boy would end up in Slytherin. It would be up to him to mentor the boy and subtly keep him on the side of the Light. He had determined a long time ago that he would do his best to keep his snakes from making the mistakes he had.
It would be hard, he knew, mentoring the de Brabant child and Lily's child as well. He owed it to Lily. He owed it to the child that should have been his, but was Potter's instead because he, Severus, had been stupid. He should have never followed Avery and Mulciber into the Dark Lord's service, even with the promise of his grandparents to pay for his schooling if he did. He'd had delusions of power then, virtually no prospects, and nothing to live for without Lily in his life. He shook himself from his reverie, and headed back to the castle. The Headmaster would want to see him, to find out how it went. It was rare that foreign children opted for Hogwarts as they tended to stick to their own language groups. Severus scowled. Most likely, the Headmaster would want to use de Brabant. It would be his job to thwart the old bastard in a way that it couldn't be traced back to him. He followed the Light, yes... but that didn't necessarily mean following Dumbledore.
He hurried into the castle and up through it to Dumbledore's office. “Revels,” he muttered, and the gargoyle jumped aside. He stepped on the circular staircase and moved with it, almost running up the steps. He didn't bother to knock on the door. Instead, he pushed it open and entered.
Dumbledore looked up from his ever-present pile of paperwork and smiled. “Severus!” he said. “I've been expecting you.”
Severus gave Dumbledore a deep nod. “It was not as... unpleasant as I feared it would be. The de Brabant boy is nothing like the Malfoy child.”
The irritating old man had the gall to twinkle at him. “I found his father very pleasant,” he said. “He firecalled me a little later to inquire if his son's music teachers would be allowed to see the boy here.”
That news was a bit surprising. “Music?”
Dumbledore smiled genially. “Apparently, he plays the violin and the piano. To play both at eleven, he must be something of a prodigy.”
The comment irritated Severus. Just because you could play an instrument didn't mean that you'd mastered it. Most likely, Henri de Brabant had had lessons since he could walk. It was the normal course of things for a wealthy pureblood child. “The boy was quiet, very polite, and most definitely not a spoilt brat.” He could wish that more of his Slytherins could be that unassuming. To him, it looked like Henri de Brabant was the kind who could blend into the shadows, should he so desire.
Dumbledore gave him a benign smile that didn't fool Severus at all. “Was there anything... unusual about the visit?” he inquired.
“Aside from the fact that I was leading them around Diagon Alley? No.” Severus said.
“What about Ollivanders?” Dumbledore asked.
Damn. Severus affected a careless shrug. “Ollivander never said exactly what was different about the boy's wand.”
“Ah,” Dumbledore steepled his fingers and his smile widened. “I have filled the Defense Post. Quirinus Quirrell has agreed to return.”
“I have heard some disturbing rumors about the Dark Lord and the Philosopher's Stone,” Severus said.
Dumbledore's expression turned serious. “I have spoken with Nicholas,” he said. “He has agreed to allow me to protect the Stone here.”
Privately, Severus thought that the old man had finally lost what few marbles he had left. The Philosopher's Stone had long been a draw for Dark Wizards, and he was bent on hiding it in a castle filled with school children? Quickly, he excused himself and made his way down to his dungeons. He had much to accomplish before the children arrived on the Express.
LaCroix didn't like the fact that Henri was leaving, at all. Sure, he put up a good front for Nicolas, but he didn't want his innocent grandson out in the world alone without any of them to protect him. He clutched the bundle of Moroccan leather tightly as he made his way to Henri's room. His grandson, the only natural with a blade that he'd ever had the pleasure of teaching, would today receive the means to protect himself physically from those who would wish him harm. It was only a few duplicates from his collection... and one special sword. There was no guarantee that the sword would accept Henri, but he had a better chance of it than most. Wizarding collectors would pay a large fortune for the blade, but it had been a gift from one of the few Mortal friends that LaCroix had allowed himself.
He stopped at the door, knocked, and then entered without waiting for a response. He walked over to where Henri was carefully packing his things hand handed the boy the leather bundle. “Take this with you, Snack,” he said.
Henri looked up at his grandfather as he took the bundle. He stood and bowed, then gave LaCroix a puzzled look. “What is it?” he asked.
“Open it,” he said.
Henri placed the bundle on the bed, untied the leather straps, and unrolled it, his nose wrinkling at the pungent smell of the well-oiled leather. Inside were seven swords, with spaces in the leather for more. The swords themselves were of the best workmanship and varied in age from over two thousand years old to only a few hundred. But the gem of the collection was a silver-hilted sword with an emerald set into the pommel, and the name “Salazar Slytherin” engraved upon the spine of the sword. He looked up at LaCroix, his face shocked. “But Grandfather--”
“I believe the sword will accept you,” he said stiffly. “If the heritage potion you took last year is correct, you will be recognized by it and by Gryffindor's sword, should it ever be found.”
Henri hesitated, and then reached for the sword. He slid it out of its slot and lifted it from the case. The result was disappointing, at first. After a few minutes, his hand was bathed in a soft, white glow.
LaCroix gave his grandson a sharp nod. “Your biological mother was from a squib line,” he said. “She was only muggleborn because her family had forgotten much of their heritage. Most muggleborns are.”
Henri nodded. And put the sword back in the case. “You even put the gladius I've been using in here.”
Though Henri didn't know it, the gladius he'd given the boy was the one he'd used as a brand new legionnaire. It was for luck, as the sword had never failed LaCroix. While he told people he didn't believe in superstitious nonsense, extra good luck never hurt anybody. Instead of answering, he stepped forward and gave Henri a hug so brief it almost didn't happen. Immediately afterwards, still without a word, he left the room and headed back to the library.
Henri followed behind his papa into Kings Cross Station, carrying Hedwig's cage. Tante Janette had declined to come, as had Grandfather and Miss Urs. Both Tante Janette and Miss Urs had cried over him before he left, making him have to go and change clothes so that the spots the blood tears had left on his clothing wouldn't be noticed. “The ticket said Platform Nine and Three-Quarters,” he murmured.
Nicolas nodded. “It won't be visible to Mo-Muggles,” he said.
“Yes,” Henri agreed. Entrances to the Wizarding world were never visible to ordinary humans.
“Luckily, I know where to find it,” Nicolas continued.
Henri shot his papa a puzzled look as they continued to walk. “How?” he asked.
Nicolas smiled. “I slipped a book into your stack at the book shop—So Your Child is a Wizard: A Muggleborn Parents' Guide to the Wizarding World says that the wall between Platforms Nine and Ten is a gateway.”
“And to the Mortals, it looks like a brick wall?” Henri asked.
Nicolas nodded absently as he found a trolley and placed the trunk on it. Henri followed suite and put the cage on top of the large, heavy trunk. “Lean against the wall casually,” Nicolas instructed. “Don't draw attention to yourself.”
Henri nodded again, and they soon reached the entryway. After getting a firm grip on the trolley, both of them leaned casually against the barrier and passed through it, pulling the trolley with them. He almost fell down, but his papa caught him. Henri smiled his thanks and gave his papa a hug before pulling the trolley to the train. He grabbed Hedwig's cage and eyed the trunk, trying to figure out how to lift the trunk onto the train. Fortunately for him, he didn't have to, because Nicolas grabbed the handles of it and climbed onto the train.
They found an empty compartment, and his papa placed the trunk into one corner of it. Henri put Hedwig on the overhead rack and ran over to give his papa a hug. “Do I have to go?” he asked in thirteenth century French.
Nicolas hugged him firmly. “Yes,” he said firmly in the same language. “Do you have everything? Your lunch? Pocket money?”
Henri nodded. “Yeah,” he answered in English. “I do.”
Nicolas kissed Henri on the forehead, and then reached into his pocket and pulled out a brown paper-wrapped package. “This is a communication mirror. You are to use it if you need anything—is that clear?”
“Oui, Papa,” he said soberly. His papa was not to be disobeyed when he used that tone of voice.
Nicolas cupped Henri's cheek in one hand. “I love you, mon fils,” he said. “Never forget that you have given me hope.” His lips quirked into a smile. “Though that won't stop me from punishing you when you do something wrong.”
Henri grinned. He'd rarely been punished, but he clearly remembered the times he'd been spanked for one thing or another. “I love you, too, Papa,” he said, and then hugged his father one more time. “Will you be all right in the sun?” he asked.
Nicolas nodded. “The potion should last long enough for me to get back in the limousine. Be safe, Henri. Don't take unnecessary chances, and don't ever compromise your principles,” he said.
Henri nodded soberly. “Oui, Papa... I promise.”
With that, his papa left. Henri sat down on one of the seats, pulled a book on basic potions ingredient reactions from his trunk, and settled in. It was a long way from London to the Scottish highlands, and he didn't know if anyone would join him in the compartment. It was twenty minutes before eleven when the door opened and a pudgy, sandy-haired boy entered. “Hi,” he said.
Henri smiled at him. The boy seemed shy. “I'm Henri de Brabant,” he said. “Harry to my friends.”
The boy smiled tentatively. “I'm Neville Longbottom,” he said, holding out his hand.
Henri took it and shook. “You're welcome to join me,” he said.
Neville smiled shyly. “Really?” he said.
“'Course,” he said. “I'm in here all by myself, and I could use some company.”
Neville hesitated. “I'd like to,” he said. “But first I have to tell Gran where I am, because she's going to help me with my trunk. Want to come?”
“Sure!” Henri said with a smile. He'd never had a friend his own age before, and so far he really liked Neville. He walked beside his new friend as they left the compartment and Neville hurried over to an elderly woman, who was wearing a tall hat with a vulture on top, a green dress with a fox fur scarf, and carrying a large, red handbag.
“Gran!” Neville called with a big grin. “I found a place to sit... and I made a new friend. This is Henri de Brabant.”
Henri caught up and bowed. “Mistress Longbottom,” he said with a smile.
She looked him up and down, and then nodded. “Just like your father,” she said approvingly, “making friends before the train leaves the station. Now, where are you sitting, Neville?”
With a big grin on his face, Neville offered to show her. The trio started back to the train, but Henri had to stop when he, literally, bumped into a young red-haired girl. He bowed a little. “Pardon me,” he said.
“It's all right,” she said. She held out her hand. “Ginny Weasley.”
He took it and smiled, leaning over to place a small kiss on it. “Henri de Brabant,” he said, straightening up. “If you'll excuse me, Miss Weasley, I need to catch up to my friend.” He was in such a hurry that he missed the flash of anger that had passed over her face at the mention of his name. He raced back to the train and climbed inside, bumping into a set of red headed twins. “Sorry,” he said.
“No problem,” one of the twins said with a friendly smile.
Henri cocked his head to the side and studied them. “Y'know, if I were you two, I'd be playing pranks all the time, 'cause one of you could always pretend to be the other to give both of you an alibi.”
The twins both gave him identical mischievous grins. “It looks like,” one said.
“We've been caught,” the other said.
“Brother dear,” said the first twin.
“Best thing we can do,” said the other.
“Is recruit this one,” said the first.
“As our new apprentice,” said the second one. “I'm George.”
“And I'm Fred,” the other one said.
Henri grinned and held out his hands. “Harry,” he said. “At least to my friends.”
The twins took his hands and shook them vigorously. “Hope to see you in Gryffindor, Harry,” Fred said.
Henri nodded. “Maybe,” he said. “Depends on where I'm sorted, I suppose.” He smiled at them. “I'd better go back to my compartment.”
“See you,” George began.
“Later,” Fred said. “Our friend Lee...”
“Has a tarantula we want to see...”
“Anyway...” With that, the twins left and Henri made his way back to his compartment.
He went inside to find another red haired boy who looked quite a bit like the twins sitting with Neville.
“Hi,” he said with a smile. “I'm Harry.” He sat down just in time so as not to be thrown back when the train started going.
The boy's head shot up. “Harry Potter?” he asked hopefully.
Inwardly Henri winced. The hero worship on the boy's face was why he was glad that his scar and birth identity were both hidden. He was quite used to wearing the blood-based glamour, and didn't even notice it anymore. He smiled instead. “Henri de Brabant, actually,” he said. “My friends call me Harry, though. It's what my mother called me, I'm told.”
Neville gave him a sympathetic look. It was then Henri remembered from his history and politics lessons what he'd been told about the Longbottoms. He gave Neville the same look.
“What happened to her?” Ron ventured to ask.
When constructing his cover story, they'd stuck as close to the truth as possible, as it would be easier to remember. “My mother was British,” he explained. “And she was murdered during the last war.”
Ron looked sorry that he'd asked. “I'm sorry,” he said. “Do you remember her at all?”
Harry shook his head. “Not much,” he said, telling the truth. “I hear her screaming in my nightmares sometimes. I was there when they killed her, but they missed me. My Papa was away at the time, or I probably would have been orphaned.” He turned to Neville. “I'm sorry about your parents,” he said. “I know they were... hurt, and you're pretty much an orphan, too.”
“Too?” Ron said.
Henri shrugged. “I'm half-orphaned,” he said. “I was just lucky that I still had Papa.”
Neville was quiet for a few minutes, and then he changed the subject. “Gran was surprised when I got my letter,” he said. “My family thought I was a squib for a long time, because I didn't show any signs of magic.”
“My mother placed blocks on my magic because it was a bit out of control,” Henri said. “Papa found out when I was four and had them removed. Maybe we should go to hospital and ask the mediwitch to check you, yeah?”
Neville looked thoughtful, and finally nodded. “Yeah,” he agreed. “Maybe that's it.”
Ron seemed to be deep in thought. “Did you say your name is de Brabant?” he asked finally.
Henri nodded. “Yeah...” he answered cautiously. “And your name is Weasley. Grandfather said that they've arranged a betrothal contract between our two families, so I'm to marry your sister.”
The look on Ron's face cleared. “I knew I'd heard your name before,” he said. “I think we're all on scholarships from the de Brabant Foundation, too.”
Henri nodded. “It's possible,” he said. “The Foundation funds lots of scholarships for magical children from impoverished families. Papa says that children shouldn't be denied an education just because their families don't have a lot of money.” He shrugged. “It wouldn't be right.”
Ron looked astonished at the concept that anyone could just give away that much money based upon principle. “You're lucky,” he said. “I'm the sixth boy in my family, so I get all the hand-me-downs.”
“I get some, too,” Neville said. He pulled a wand out of his pocket. “This was my dad's.”
Henri shook his head. “No, I'm not,” he said. “I bet the two of you had other kids to play with.”
Both Neville and Ron nodded.
“I didn't,” he said. “I'm an only child, and Papa moved us back to our ancestral home after Mother's murder. It's isolated, so I grew up without anybody else to play with.”
“But hand-me-downs,” Ron said in a complaining voice.
“Are lots better and more comfortable than what I'm stuck with,” Henri said with a sigh. “I'd love to wear jeans, jumpers, and trainers. Instead, I'm stuck with this,” he said disgustedly, gesturing towards his white silk poets shirt, black linen trousers, and black lambswool cloak. “My family is cursed with really sensitive skin, so even though I'm not, I still have to wear what Papa buys. I've never been allowed out of a grown-up's sight much, so I can't buy my own, either.”
Ron looked sympathetic. “Sorry, mate,” he said.
“Me, too,” Neville echoed.
“Bet you don't have a hand-me-down pet, though,” Ron said with a smile. “I've got Scabbers—he used to be Percy's—and he's pretty useless.” He pulled a fat, grey rat from his pocket and showed it off.
Hedwig opened one eye and hooted. “Better put him away,” Henri advised. “Hedwig thinks that rats are delicious.”
Ron paled and tucked Scabbers back into his pocket.
“Uncle Algie was so pleased when I got my letter that he bought me my toad,” Neville said. He pulled a toad out of his pocket and showed them. “I named him Trevor, but he keeps running away.”
Henri looked thoughtful. “Maybe he's looking for something different to eat,” he suggested.
Neville nodded. “I thought of that,” he said. “I'm going to take him to the Magical Creatures teacher and see if he has any suggestions.”
They were quiet for a little while, watching the fields and hills slip past. Around half past twelve, they heard a loud clank and clatter outside in the corridor, and a smiling, dimpled woman slid back their door and said, “Anything off the cart, dears?”
Henri knew he had a substantial lunch in his trunk, but he'd never been able to share food before, so he jumped up and went over to the cart. Neville followed him. “Three pumpkin juices, um... pumpkin pasties, a few chocolate cauldrons, and some frogs, please,” he said.
The witch smiled at him. “Hungry, dear?”
He nodded in agreement and handed over a galleon and five sickles to cover his order. She handed him his items, and he took them back into the compartment. He put them on his seat, and dug his lunch out of his trunk.
Neville returned a few minutes later carrying cauldron cakes, a few licorice wands, and some Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans. He put them down before digging a brown paper bag out of his own luggage.
“We should pool our lunches,” Henri suggested. “That way, we'll get more variety.”
Ron hesitated. “I only have corned beef sandwiches,” he said. “And they're a bit dry. With seven of us, Mum doesn't have a lot of time...”
“Come on,” Henri said encouragingly. “We can all share.”
Neville grinned and pulled roast beef sandwiches, biscuits, and what looked like a large, wax-paper packet of crisps out of his bag. “Our House-elves made it,” he said.
Henri contributed his sweets, the juice, and some carrot sticks, some chicken salad sandwiches, and some apples to the pile. “Papa convinced ours a long time ago not to feed me sweets,” he said.
Ron looked horrified at the thought as he put his corned beef sandwiches into the pile of food. “Why?” he asked.
Henri pulled a face. “They used to like to stuff me with them, and I kind of got sugar highs and drove Papa barmy. Now I only have them on special occasions. I just hope that our House-elves haven't spoken with the ones at Hogwarts.”
The three of them happily dove into their shared feast, with Henri ending up with all the chocolate frog cards, as his were all in French and Dutch, not English, so he didn't have any of the British cards. The first packet he opened had a Dumbledore. Henri quickly put it away without reading it; he'd been warned to be wary around Dumbledore. His papa had told him that there was something he just didn't like about the old man.
He also got several other cards, including a Morganna, a Merlin, and a Godric Gryffindor. Just then, Trevor made a bid for freedom, but was stopped when Henri caught him and handed him back to Neville.
Ron pulled Scabbers out of his pocket, and absently fed him a bit of bread and chicken from the sandwiches. “Not sure I'd want to keep a toad if I had one,” he commented.
“I didn't really want a toad, either,” Neville said. “But he was a present, and I've grown fond of him.” He stuffed Trevor back into his pocket and buttoned it.
Ron gave Neville a little smile. “Well, it's not like I have the right to talk.” He poked the fat, gray rat who was asleep in his lap. “I did bring Scabbers, after all.” The rat didn't wake at all. “I tried to turn him yellow yesterday to make him more interesting, but it didn't work.” He looked doubtful. “'Course, it could be the spell what was wrong; Fred and George gave it to me, and they love to prank people.”
“You could show us,” Henri suggested. “Grandfather taught me a bit of Old Magic; I might be able to see if it's a spell at all.”
Ron simply nodded, and dug around in his trunk. He emerged a few minutes later holding a battered wand. He sighed. “The unicorn hair's almost poking out,” he said, then pointed it at Scabbers.
“It's okay,” Neville said comfortingly. “I've got my dad's and I can barely get any sparks out of it at all.”
Ron brightened a bit at that. “Mine used to be my brother Charlie's, and I can at least get a decent reaction out of it.”
He leveled the wand at Scabbers again, but just as he was about to begin, the door banged open. Standing in the doorway was a young girl with bushy brown hair who was already wearing her Hogwarts uniform. “Have you seen a little black kitten with white socks?” she asked. “A girl named Hannah lost hers when it escaped from its basket.” She had a very bossy sort of voice, large front teeth, and her arms were crossed over her chest.
“No, we haven't,” Henri said. “The only pets we've seen are ours.”
She must have caught sight of Ron's drawn wand, because her lips tightened a bit. “Are you going to do magic?” she asked. “Let's see it, then.”
Ron grimaced, rolling his eyes at Neville and Henri. He waved his wand over Scabbers, and then jabbed the point of it at the rat. He took a deep breath and then started to recite.
“Sunshine, daisys, butter mellow,
Turn this stupid, fat rat yellow!”
Scabbers stayed grey, and just turned over, snoring. “That wasn't very good, was it?” the girl asked. “I've tried loads of spells since I got my letter, and they've all worked for me. I was ever so surprised when I got my letter. There's nobody magical in my family at all, so my parents were shocked as well. I've already almost memorized my textbooks, I hope that's enough. I'm Hermione Granger, and you are...”
“Ron Weasley,” Ron said.
“Neville Longbottom,” Neville said.
“Pleasure,” Hermione said. She turned to Henri.
“Henri de Brabant,” Henri replied. He stood and bowed slightly. Tante Janette had been a stickler for manners and made sure that they'd almost become automatic for him. If the girl had been holding out her hand, he probably would have kissed it.
“Are you really?” Hermione asked. “My parents received a letter from The de Brabant Foundation, offering help if they couldn't afford tuition, fees, and books for Hogwarts. They're dentists, though, so it wasn't a problem.” Before any of them could say anything, she turned to leave the compartment. “I need to go look for Hannah's kitten. Oh, and did you know that you have some dirt on your nose?” she asked Ron, and then laid her finger on the right side of her nose. “It's right there.” She shut the door on her way out.
“Girls,” Henri said in disgust. He'd never quite gotten over the idea that girls were icky, and after his Papa had showed him some classic, black-and-white horror movies, he was convinced that they came from the Black Lagoon.
Neville nodded. “Are they always that weird?” he asked.
“Always,” Ron said with a firm nod. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and scrubbed it at his nose. “I have a little sister, I should know.”
“Yes, and I,” Henri paused for dramatic effect. “...have to marry her.”
“Hey!” Ron protested, and then smiled. “I don't think I'd want to marry her, either.”
Henri laughed. “I don't know her,” he said. “Papa told me that part of the reason why they chose to send me to Hogwarts was so that I might be able to get to know your sister. Really, we don't have to marry when we grow up if we don't want to. There are a whole bunch of out clauses in the contract.”
“There always are,” Neville said. “Gran told me. Mum and Dad were negotiating a contract for me with the Boneses when they were... hurt.”
Henri nodded. “I was four when Papa, Tante Janette, and Grandfather set mine.”
Ron looked cheerful. “Except for Ginny, none of us have contracts,” he said. “I think Ginny only has one because she's the first girl in seven generations. When I grow up, I can marry who I like.”
“See?” Henri pointed out. “You're lucky.”
“Maybe,” Ron said. “But there are lots of expectations for me. Bill's a cursebreaker, Charlie works with dragons in Romania, Percy is a prefect, and the twins are really popular and funny.”
“Forge your own way,” Neville suggested. “I have to. Gran is always comparing me to Dad... and somehow I always come up short.”
“That's because you're not him,” Henri said wisely. “You're a different person and I bet you're good at different things.”
Neville nodded. “I like Herbology,” he said.
“You'll probably be good at Potions, too, then,” Henri said. “They're related a good bit.”
“The Potions professor is the meanest teacher in school,” Ron warned. “My brothers all think so.”
“Professor Snape?” Henri asked.
Ron nodded. “Yeah,” he said. He was about to say something more, but the door opened and the pale blond kid from Madam Malkin's walked in. He was alone, which struck Henri as odd, as he seemed the type to be backed up by thugs.
“I'm looking for Henri de Brabant,” he said. “Father told me he'd be on the train today.”
Henri crossed his arms over his chest and raised an eyebrow. “I'm Henri de Brabant,” he said.
“I'm Malfoy, Draco Malfoy,” the blond said.
Ron gave a slight cough, which might have been hiding a snigger. Draco Malfoy turned to look at him. “Think my name's funny do you? No need to ask who you are. My father told me that all Weasleys have red hair, freckles, and more children than they can afford.”
Ron turned bright red.
Malfoy held his hand out to Henri. “You'll find that some British wizarding families are better than others. You wouldn't want to make friends with the wrong sort.”
Henri eyed him as Neville put an arm across Ron to keep him from hitting the blond. “You know, I was taught to have better manners, breeding, and class than to insult someone based upon how much money their family has.” He paused, watching as Malfoy turned a pale pink. “Obviously, some people who are currently in this compartment uninvited haven't learned about grace and class.”
“I'd be careful if I were you, de Brabant,” Malfoy said. “Father told me about what happened to your mother--consorting with mudbloods, she was, and that's why she's no longer here. You wouldn't want to end up like her, would you?”
Henri made a show of examining his fingernails, and then buffed them on his shirt. “Some people obviously haven't paid their tutors any mind,” he said. “Because some people who are supposed to know better are acting like common guttersnipes.”
Malfoy's blush deepened and rather than respond, he turned around and left. Ron burst out laughing. “Way to go, Harry!” he said.
Neville shook his head slowly. “You've made an enemy, Harry,” he said. “Though I should congratulate you for your good choice in enemies.”
Henri smiled. “I ran into him at Madam Malkin's. He doesn't seem the kind of person I want to be friends with... though we're only eleven, and people can change,” he shrugged.
“My dad says that the Malfoys are all dark wizards, and that they followed You-Know-Who,” Ron said. “They got off, though.”
“Bought their way out of Azkaban,” Neville chipped in. “At least that's what Gran says.”
Henri opened his mouth to reply, but the door opened again, revealing a fat boy with thick blond hair and small watery blue eyes that honestly reminded Henri of a pig in a wig. “I'm Dudley,” he said self-importantly, “Dudley Dursley.”
The boy crammed his right hand into his pocket self-consciously and Henri caught a flash that he recognized—it was the Traitor's Mark. The name rang a bell, too, but he just couldn't place it. “And you're barging into our compartment because...” Ron said.
The boy's piggie eyes roamed the compartment until they lit upon the small pile of sweets that the threesome hadn't gotten around to eating yet. “I'm here to take a toll,” he said. Dudley reached for the pile of sweets, exposing the Mark on his hand again.
“No, you're not,” Neville said, standing up. It seemed as if making some friends so soon had bolstered the boy's courage.
Henri stood and joined his friend, his arms folded across his chest. “I bet you were a bully at your old school,” he said. “You won't do that here.”
Ron stood up, too. “Dursley isn't a wizarding name,” he observed. “And that means that you're just like anybody else, because your parents won't have much in the way of pull.”
Dudley started to bluster, and it was then that Henri remembered where he'd seen him before—he was the prat who'd pushed him down at the fun park. Another memory surfaced. Dursley. He'd heard the name because it was his former Aunt's and Uncle's surname. “Wait... that's why you have the Mark. Your parents were the ones who sold Harry Potter.” He exchanged a glance with Neville and Ron.
“Out,” Ron ordered. “We won't take any of your bullying, traitor.”
“And you'll find that no one else in the school will, either,” Neville added.
Together, the three of them pushed the boy out of the compartment and closed the door. As they sat down, Ron said, “So, do either of you like Quidditch?”
The three of them spent the rest of the trip talking, laughing, and playing exploding snap until just before they reached the station. Henri peeked out the window, and seeing the station approaching, told the other two boys that they needed to change into their uniforms. A voice echoed through the train: “We will be reaching Hogwarts in five minutes' time. Please leave your luggage on the train; it will be taken to the school separately.”
The three boys packed up the lunch leftovers and disembarked from the train. Then a lamp came bobbing over the heads of the students, and Henri heard an unfamiliar voice. “Firs' years! Firs' years over here!” the biggest, hairiest man Henri had ever seen called. “C'mon, follow me-- any more firs' years? Mind yer step, now! Firs' years follow me!”
Slipping, sliding, and stumbling, all of them, as a group, followed the man down what seemed to be a steep, narrow path. It was so dark on either side of them that Henri was forcibly reminded of the forest near his home where his papa had taught him how to hunt. Nobody spoke much, he decided it was because they were just as apprehensive as he was.
“Yeh'll get yer firs' sight o'Hogwarts in a sec,” the man called over his shoulder, “jus' round this bend here.”
There was a loud “Oooooh!
The narrow path had opened into what appeared to be a huge black lake. The water glimmered slightly in the light from the lantern. Perched upon a mountaintop on the other side of the lake was a huge castle with many turrets and towers, its many windows glinting and glimmering in the light from the windows. As Henri eyed the building set against the starry sky, he wondered what had happened to the castle's fortifications. His castle still had the walls and battlements—why didn't Hogwarts? After all, the Wizarding World, according to his grandfather, was still mired in the past, so why hadn't they kept the fortifications that would protect the school against attack?
“No more'n four to a boat!” Hagrid called, pointing to a fleet of small boats in the water by the shore. Harry, Neville, and Ron were followed into their boat by Hermione.
“Everyone in?” shouted the man, who had a boat to himself. Henri privately though that anyone else in the boat with the man would be sure to founder it. “Right then—FORWARD!”
The fleet of small boats moved off all at once, gliding across the surface of the lake with nary a ripple to disturb the smooth surface. The first years were still silent, staring up at the huge castle overhead. It towered over them, making Henri feel very small and awkward as they moved closer and closer to the cliff on which the castle stood.
“Heads down!” the big man yelled as the first boats reached the cliff. They all bent their heads so as not to knock them on the top of the opening as the boats carried them through a curtain of ivy that hid the opening from casual sight in the cliff face. Henri looked overhead and wondered if there was a grate or something that would come down in case of attack to block entryway into the castle. The boats took them along a dark tunnel, which seemed to be taking them right underneath the castle, until they reached a kind of underground harbor, where they clambered out onto the rocks and pebbles.
They climbed out of the boats and followed the big man up the passage, climbing what seemed to be millions of steps until they reached a large door. “Everyone here? Everyone got everything?” When there was no answer, the man raised a large hand and pounded three times on what must have been the castle door.
Henri held his breath as the door swung open, revealing a stern-looking woman. Her dark hair was pulled into a tight bun and a tall hat was perched on top of her head. She was wearing full, emerald green robes with a swath of tartan across them, and his first thought at seeing her was that she wasn't someone to cross.
“The Firs' Years, Professor McGonagall,” said the big man.
“Thank you, Hagrid,” she said. “I will take them from here.”
She opened the door wider and led them through the entrance hall towards a small antechamber right off the entrance to the main hall. Henri looked around with avid interest; there had to be secret passages around somewhere. There ceiling was too high to see, and the entrance hall was huge! They passed a large, white marble staircase on the way to the antechamber, too. As they came to a halt, he examined the flagged stone floor. He turned his attention to the Professor; there would be time to ferret out the secret passageways later.
The antechamber was small, and all the first years stood, crowded rather closer together than they would usually have done, peering about nervously. Henri, himself, wasn't that nervous—he'd never heard of students being sent home their first day, nor had he heard of first years students being sent to hospital on their first day, so he figured that whatever qualified them for the Houses wouldn't be painful.
“Welcome to Hogwarts,” said Professor McGonagall. “The start-of-term banquet will begin shortly, but before you take your seats in the Great Hall, you will be sorted into your houses. The Sorting is a very important ceremony because, while you are here, your house will be something like your family within Hogwarts. You will have classes with the rest of your house, sleep in your house dormitory, and spend free time in your house common room.
“The four houses are called Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. Each house has its own noble history and each has produced outstanding witches and wizards. While you are at Hogwarts, your triumphs will earn your house points, while any rulebreaking will lose house points. At the end of the year, the house with the most points is awarded the house cup, a great honor. I hope each of you will be a credit to whichever house becomes yours.
“The Sorting Ceremony will take place in a few minutes in front of the rest of the school. I suggest you all smarten yourselves up as much as you can while you are waiting.”
Her eyes lingered on Dursley's cloak, which was so turned around that it was almost backwards, and one boy's hair, which looked as if he'd taken a weed whacker to it, and then slept on it funny. Henri resisted the urge to check his own hair, as he'd tidied it before he'd left the train.
“I shall return for you shortly, when we are ready for you,” Professor McGonagall said. “Please wait quietly.”
She left the chamber. Beside Henri, Neville swallowed. Henri glanced at his friend—the boy looked terrified. “Relax,” he murmured. “It can't be that bad.”
“Let's make a pact,” Neville said in a high, unnatural voice. “That no matter what houses we get sorted into, we'll stay friends.”
“Agreed,” Henri said instantly.
“But, what if one of us ends up in Slytherin?” Ron said uncertainly. “I mean, Slytherins are evil...”
“Not all of them are,” Henri said, remembering stories his grandfather had told him about the founder. “It's true that a lot of them followed He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in the last war, but the house has been around for a long time before that, and not all of them have been dark wizards.”
Neville was nodding, but Ron looked unconvinced. Henri tried again. “Would you really stop being friends with either of us if we happened to be sorted into Slytherin?”
Slowly, Ron shook his head. “No,” he said finally. “I'm not sure how we're even sorted. Fred said it hurts a lot, but I think he was having me on. Maybe it's some sort of test?”
Hermione Granger must have heard him, because she immediately began whispering very fast about all the spells she'd learned and wondering which one she'd need. “I doubt it,” he said. “Wouldn't be fair to the muggleborns and squib borns, now would it?”
“No, it wouldn't,” Neville's voice had returned to almost normal. “But life isn't fair... Dursley's Mark proves that. His parents were the ones who sold the Boy-Who-Lived, not him. He's our age, so he was just a baby at the time.”
“I bet he ends up in Slytherin,” Ron muttered. “Anybody whose parents would sell their own blood for dirty money will come to a bad end.”
As it happened, Henri almost agreed with Ron, so he kept his silence. He knew how lucky he was that his papa had found him that night. Had it been a Death Eater, he would most likely be dead. As it was, he'd grown up in a family, that while odd by some standards, had loved him, and did love him, very much. Aside from Hermione's whispering, the entire group was quiet, waiting to be called.
Several people behind him screamed, making him jump. Some people gasped as about twenty ghosts streamed through the back wall. Pearly-white and slightly transparent, they glided across the room talking and arguing about the fate of someone named, “Peeves”. One ghost, noticing them, swept her skirts aside in an elegant curtsy, then seemed to sit down, still hanging in midair, and pulled out a spectral book and started to read.
“Oh, hello there,” A fat ghost dressed as a friar said. “Are you waiting to be Sorted?”
A few people nodded without speaking.
“Hope to see you in Hufflepuff!” said the Friar. “My old house, you know.”
“Move along now,” said the semi-familiar voice of Professor McGonagall. “The Sorting Ceremony is about to begin.” The ghost all floated through the wall. Even the lady ghost who'd been reading pocketed her book and followed the others.
“Form a line,” she requested. “And follow me. Your name will be called to be Sorted into your house.”
Staying as close to his new friends as possible, Henri lined up with the others and made his way into the main hall, his legs feeling a bit like jelly. It wasn't the largest room he'd ever been in, but it was close. Instead of the torches and Mortal lighting he was used to, thousands upon thousands of candles were lit and floating all by themselves to light the room. He looked up to see a starry sky, as if they were standing outside. Briefly, he remembered his Grandfather telling him that it was charmed to look like the weather outside, and his thoughts were echoed by Hermione's whispers.
Henri looked down again as Professor McGonagall set down a three-legged stool with a patched and frayed black hat on it. He eyed the hat, distractedly thinking that there must be more magic holding it together than fabric. Part of his mind noticed that everyone was staring at the hat, so it must have something to do with the Sorting. Perhaps they had to try it on? He soon found out that he was right as a rip in the brim opened itself up and the hat began to sing:
“Oh, you may not think I'm pretty,
But don't judge on what you see,
I'll eat myself if you can find
A smarter hat than me.
You can keep your bowlers black,
You top hats sleek and tall,
For I'm the Hogwarts Sorting Hat
And I can cap them all.
There's nothing hidden in your head
The Sorting Hat can't see,
So try me on and I will tell you
Where you ought to be.
You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart;
You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil;
Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
If you've a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind;
Or perhaps in Slytherin
You'll make your real friends,
Those cunning folk use any means
To achieve their ends.
So put me on! Don't be afraid!
And don't get in a flap!
You're in safe hands (though I have none)
For I'm a Thinking Cap!”
Henri darted glances at his friends, who looked relieved. “Fred was having me on,” Ron muttered. “He said we had to wrestle a troll!” He took a deep breath and let it out as Professor McGonagall started calling names.
A pink-faced girl with blonde pigtails sat on the stool and the hat was placed on her head. A few moments later, the rip opened again, “HUFFLEPUFF!”
“HUFFLEPUFF!” shouted the hat again, and the girl, who must've been Susan, hurried off to sit next to Hannah.
The table second from the left clapped and several Ravenclaws stood up to congratulate the boy. Henri settled into just listening for his name as “Brocklehurst, Mandy” went to Ravenclaw, but “Brown, Lavender became the first new Gryffindor.
“Bulstrode, Millicent” became a Slytherin, and a few minutes later, Henri heard his name.
“de Brabant, Henri!” McGonagall called.
Henri made his way up to the stool and sat down. The Slytherins were whispering and staring at him as the hat descended over his head and blocked out the rest of the room.
“Hmmm...” a small voice said in his ear. “This is interesting. I've never seen shields so tight on one so young. Would you drop them, please?” Henri didn't want to; Grandfather had told him that he should never, ever drop his guard. Apparently, the hat caught that thought, because it said something. “I won't spill any of your secrets, young de Brabant. I'm magically bound not to. You're safe with me, now please drop your shields so that I may Sort you.”
Henri sighed and complied. “Difficult,” the hat said. “My, I've rarely seen a head like yours in all my thousand years, Mr. de Brabant—or should I say Mr. Potter?”
“I don't use that name!” Henri protested silently.
“True, but it is your name young one, it's all in your head. Three parents? And one of them a vampire? Yes, I see why you would want to keep your secrets.”
“Can we just get on with this?” he asked.
The Hat laughed. “My, you are impatient, aren't you? I suggest that you come to the Headmaster's office to speak with me sometime. Now, let's see. My, my, my,” it said. “The Founders would come to blows over you. I've rarely seen such a balanced individual in all my years of Sorting. You'd do well in any House, young one. Courage you have in plenty, though it's tempered by a desire to always think things through before you act. There's strategy and tactics stuffed into your head with a great desire to prove yourself and make your family proud. And a love of learning I see, though you like your learning to be for a purpose. And loyalty, my, what loyalty you have to those who have raised you. So where to put you...”
“Not Slytherin, please” Henri requested. “Grandfather says we won't be able to keep my birth name a secret forever, and Slytherin would not be safe for me then because it has the highest concentration of Death Eater's children.”
“That is valid reasoning,” the Hat said. “Slytherin though it is. You could do very well there, but you would do equally well in any House. Remember that not all children are willing to follow in their parents' footsteps, and not all Death Eaters were Slytherins.”
“I know,” Henri said.
“Well then,” the Hat said.
“Maybe he's a squib,” a first year yelled.
“Not a squib,” the Hat corrected. “He's very talented, just hard to sort. He'd do well in any of the Houses!” The hall fell silent, as if everyone was holding their breath.
“I see your family in here, and a great love and loyalty to them. Ah, your Grandfather was a Roman General and taught several warlords how to wage war... And your Aunt was a French noblewoman forced into prostitution... Your nanny a pool hall girl with much loyalty to those she cares for... And your father, ah, the father you adore and idolize was and still is very much a Crusader. Yes, you would do well in the House he would have belonged to, had he attended here. It had better be----GRYFFINDOR WITH THE RIGHT TO RESORT AT ANY TIME!”
The Great Hall was silent as the Hat was removed and Henri dazedly put his shields up and made his way to the table that Lavender Brown had gone to earlier. He was sitting before he noticed the absolute silence, and then the Gryffindor table erupted into cheers. “We've got de Brabant!” the Weasley twins cheered.
Another red-haired boy, wearing a prefect badge, came over and shook his hand. “Good to have you here,” he said pompously. “I'm Percy, Percy Weasley.”
The Hall slowly quieted down as “Dursley, Dudley” was called. He, too, sat a long time under the hat until, “SLYTHERIN” was called. The fat boy wobbled his way to the correct table and sat down with the other first years, who moved away from him.
“Granger, Hermione,” was sorted into Gryffindor, as was Neville, who came to sit next to him. “Potter, Hadrian!” was called, to absolute silence. Part of Henri wanted to answer, but he firmly clamped down on the urge until it passed. The Hall was silent for a moment, and then the Sorting continued.
From where he was sitting, he could see the High Table properly. He recognized Dumbledore from the card, and the impression of not being able to trust the man increased as he saw him in person. He did, however, recognize the Potions Master and gave the man a smile and a little wave. It was acknowledged with a small nod.
When his eyes swept over a man wearing a purple turban, he felt a sharp pain in his scar that he did his absolute best not to show. It would look far too suspicious if he were to clutch his forehead when as far as anyone at school knew, there was nothing there. There were only four people left to be Sorted. “Thomas, Dean,” joined Henri at the Gryffindor table. “Turpin, Lisa,” became a Ravenclaw and then it was Ron's turn. From the way his lips were moving, he was begging the Hat to put him in Gryffindor, and he looked a little sick. He was pale and pasty by the time the Hat announced, “GRYFFINDOR!” As Ron's brothers congratulated him, “Zabini, Blaise” was sorted into Slytherin.
Henri was looking at his empty plate, realizing how hungry he was, as Dumbledore stood up. He was beaming, and his arms were spread wide, which conversely, made Henri mistrust him more. “Welcome,” he said. “Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts. I trust that your minds are currently as empty as your stomachs! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!
Dumbledore sat back down and everyone clapped and cheered. Henri was thoughtful. It was obvious to him that the man was putting on an act. He was pretending to be a harmless, slightly barmy old man in order to better manipulate the populace. He shook himself out of his reverie as the tables suddenly filled with food. He'd never seen so many things he liked to eat before in one place, as the House-elves at home usually only prepared enough for just him. They'd kept the portions sizes to just enough for one, too, after his papa had given them books on nutrition a few years ago.
He ignored most of the chatter around him as he strengthened his shields and concentrated on putting food on his plate. He started eating when his shields were sufficiently strong, enjoying the flavors of the food. He glanced up at the table again to see the purple-turbaned man talking to Professor Snape. “Who's the man wearing the purple turban?” he asked.
“Oh, that's Professor Quirrell,” Percy said. “He's the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. Just back from sabbatical to Albania to study vampires. He's a bit of a nervous nellie, but not a bad teacher. A bit short on practical, though.”
Henri nodded as the plates cleared, leaving them sparkling clean, and desserts appeared. He tried a bit of treacle tart, only to find it far too sweet, before settling for a bit of strawberry ice cream. He loved strawberries, and the ice cream had large chunks of the fruit in it.
At last, the desserts disappeared, and Dumbledore got to his feet again. The hall fell silent, for the man had a way of catching the attention of a crowd.
“Ahem—just a few more words now that we are all fed and watered. I have a few start-of-term notices to give you.
“First years should note that the forest on the grounds is forbidden to all pupils. And a few of our older students would do to remember that as well.”
Dumbledore's twinkling eyes flashed in the direction of the Weasley twins. That made Henri smile, because he figured that the twins would be prime candidates for helping him look for secret passageways in the castle.
“I have also been asked by Mr. Filch, the caretaker, to remind you all that no magic should be used between classes in the corridors.
“Quidditch trials will be held in the second week of the term. Anyone interested in playing for their House teams should contact Madam Hooch.
“And finally, I must tell you that, this year, the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side is out of bounds to everyone who does not wish to die a very painful death.”
“Is he serious?” he heard Neville ask.
“Must be,” Percy said. “Though he usually gives a reason why something isn't allowed.”
To Henri, it seemed as if the old man was daring someone to go there, announcing that there was something valuable there to be stolen.
“And now, before we go to bed, let us sing the school song!” cried Dumbledore. Henri noticed that the other teachers' expressions glazed over and their smiles looked forced.
Dumbledore gave his wand a little flick, as if he were trying to get a fly off the end, and a long ribbon flew out of it, which rose high above the tables and twisted itself, snakelike, into words. “Everyone pick their favorite tune,” he said, “and off we go!”
Henri picked a song that his papa had written and the school started to bellow:
“Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts,
Teach us something please,
Whether we be old and bald
Or young with scabby knees,
Our heads could do with filling
With some interesting stuff,
For now they're bare and full of air,
Dead flies and bits of fluff,
So teach us things worth knowing,
Bring back what we've forgot,
Just do your best, we'll do the rest,
And learn until our brains all rot.”
Everybody finished the song at different times, with the Weasley twins being last, because they'd chosen to sing it to a slow funeral march. Dumbledore conducted the last few lines with his wand, and when they finished, he clapped the loudest.
“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here! And now, bedtime. Off you trot!”
The Gryffindor first years followed Percy and his female counterpart through the chattering crowds, out of the Great Hall, and up the marble staircase. Although Henri was sleepy, he paid close attention to where they were going, unsurprised at the sight of moving and whispering portraits, and noting the hidden doorways they were led though. They stopped as a floating bundle of water balloons accosted them, and as they prefects took steps forward, they started throwing themselves at the group. “Peeves! Show yourself!”
A loud, rude sound was all they heard. Henri could have sworn that someone was blowing raspberries at them.
“Do you want me to go find the Bloody Baron?” Percy asked.
There was a loud pop, and a little man with wicked, dark eyes and a wide mouth appeared, floating cross-legged in the air, clutching the water balloons to his chest. He was dressed in clothing so bright and in such conflicting patterns that it hurt one's eyes to look at. In short, he looked like every sufferer of coulrophobia's worst nightmare.
“Ickle firsties!” he said with an evil cackle. “What fun!”
“Go away, Peeves, or the Baron'll hear about this, I mean it!” Percy yelled.
He swooped suddenly at them, chucked the water balloons at the prefects, stuck out his tongue, made a rude noise, and vanished. They all heard him rattling suits of armor as he passed.
“You want to watch out for Peeves,” Percy said as they started walking again. “He only ever listens to the Bloody Baron. Here we are.”
At the very end of the corridor hung a portrait of a fat lady in a pink silk dress. As they drew closer, Henri noted that she mustn't be very old, as she was painted on canvas, and the acrylic gesso necessary to paint on that material was a fairly new invention.
“Password?” she said.
“Caput Draconis,” Percy said, and the portrait swung forward to reveal a circular hole in the wall. They were led through a red-themed room kitted out as a large sitting room, complete with a huge fireplace and cushy armchairs through a door to their dormitory, while the girls were led through another by the female prefect. At the top of a spiral staircase—they were obviously in one of the towers—they found five four-poster beds hung with red velvet curtains. The five of them were too tired to talk much, as it had been a long day. Henri, Neville, and Ron took the first three beds, changed into their pajamas, and collapsed into them, immediately falling asleep.
That night, Henri dreamed of Other Harry's trip on the Express, his Sorting, and even saw the dream that his counterpart had. After dreaming of the Other Harry for so long, it took quite a bit more than that to disturb him, so he simply rolled over and didn't even remember the dream in the morning.
Directly after his Slytherins were settled, Severus made his way to the Headmaster's office for the meeting the old man had 'requested' the Heads of House attend after they'd seen to their Houses. “Minstrels,” he said when he reached the gargoyles. They sprang aside and he hurried up the moving spiral staircase and entered the office without knocking. He made his way over to the bookcase and pulled out the copy of Hogwarts: A History. The bookcase sprang aside, and he entered the conference room. Filius, Pomona, and Minerva were seated along the length, while the Headmaster sat at the head of the table. He nodded to the other Heads of House, completely ignoring the batty old man, and seated himself in one of the empty squashy chintz armchairs. The room was usually used for full faculty meetings, but the Headmaster also used it to call them together for InterHouse meetings.
Dumbledore cleared his throat. “I have consulted the records,” he began, “and there has not been a sorting like de Brabant's in almost eight hundred years.”
Severus couldn't stop himself. “The Sorting Hat made something like that clear,” he said dryly. He pretended not to notice Filus's hidden smile, the twitch of McGonagall's lips, and the way Pomona mysteriously began a coughing fit.
“Nevertheless, we must keep a close watch on young Mr. de Brabant,” Dumbledore said. “Please notify me if he shows any... unusual abilities.”
Privately, he thought that the Headmaster meant that they should notify him if the boy showed any abilities that could be preempted for the war effort once the Dark Lord returned.
Pomona stopped coughing and straightened. “We try and bring out all of the gifts in our students, Headmaster,” she said cheerfully. She brightened up. “Perhaps he will have a talent for Herbology and,” she nodded to Severus, “potions. I have already asked my Badgers to try and befriend the boy.”
“Quite right,” Filius said with a nod. “I have told my Ravens the same.” The little man almost fell off his chair in excitement. “He's a Ravenclaw as far as I'm concerned.”
The last sentence gave Severus an idea and he favored Minerva with an evil smirk. “Then I shall give him points to Slytherin for things he does right,” he said, knowing it would wind her up.
“And deduct points from Gryffindor for what he does wrong?” she inquired.
“Well, he's a Gryffindor, too,” he said slyly. “My Snakes already know that they are to cultivate alliances with him. The de Brabants are a very old family and as close to royalty as the Wizarding World has these days.”
Minerva gave Dumbledore a sharp look. “You should remember that, Albus. Take into consideration that his family is powerful and not one to cross.”
Dumbledore waved away the warning. “He has chosen to attend Hogwarts,” he said. “That means that he has chosen to follow our rules.”
Severus's smirk widened. “He has diplomatic immunity. Please remember that as well, Headmaster. He's a foreign national and a guest in our country.”
Dumbledore waved that warning away, too. Severus briefly wondered what the man had planned, and from the looks on the faces of the other Heads, he knew that he wasn't the only one. He exchanged glances with them that promised a private meeting later, once they'd all had a few classes with the boy.
“I'm sure my Lions will have no problems befriending him,” Minerva said, “especially since they'll be sharing the same dorm and common room. I noticed at the Feast that he's already made friends with the youngest Weasley boy and the Longbottom boy.” She gave Severus a sweet smile. “Augusta says that her grandson is rather dangerous around a cauldron, Severus. Good luck!”
Severus groaned softly and pinched the bridge of his nose. “There's one in every year,” he said. “Perhaps I'll be lucky this year, and he'll be the only disaster.” Everybody laughed. It was true that they all had at least one problem student in every year. Considering the hundreds of students to pass through their classrooms every year, one or two out of every age group wasn't that much. The only problem was keeping disasters to a minimum and surviving said accident prone students.
“Are there any concerns among your students?” Dumbledore asked. “It's a bit early, but...”
Filius cleared his throat. “Sally-Anne Perks,” he said. “I'm far from imposing, but she flinched when I brushed by her.”
“There's something... off about Blaise Zabini,” Severus said, his voice measured and slow. “I'm not yet certain what it is, but there's something not quite right about the boy. And Dudley Dursley concerns me.”
Pomona looked curious. “I haven't heard anything about him,” she said.
Severus leaned back against the padded back of his chair. “He must be at least squib born,” he said. “He has the Traitor's Mark, but I don't think he knows what it means. Sooner or later, it will cause problems.”
Pomona gasped when she heard that and shook her head. “The poor boy,” she said. “I wish there was something we can do, but other than making sure he's not bullied...” she trailed off.
Severus snorted. “You haven't seen him, have you?” he asked dryly. “He's more likely to do the bullying than be bullied. I've informed my first years, as usual, that they're to report to Pomfrey for examinations. The Dursley boy will end up on a strict, house-elf controlled diet, and I'm sure that will cause problems as well.”
Dumbledore twinkled at him. “Are you sure it will be necessary?” he asked.
Severus repressed the urge to laugh. “He looks as if he's well on his way to achieving his greatest ambition—to become as wide as he is tall.” Plump was one thing. As grossly overweight as the boy was, if he continued on, he'd drop dead by the time he was twenty... even with a Wizard's metabolism.
“Pomona?” Dumbledore asked.
She shook her head. “It will take a few weeks, yet, if any of my Badgers have problems at home to come to me or Severus.”
“The rumors have been put out, as usual,” Minerva added. “I haven't noticed any signs of distress among my Lions yet, either.”
Severus rather thought that Minerva, for all of the reputation of her animagus form, wasn't all that perceptive when it came to sniffing out abuse cases. Perhaps she simply had too much to do with her dual roles as Head of House and Deputy Headmistress.
“Very well,” Dumbledore said, standing up.
Severus took that as a dismissal and left as soon as he could. He disliked faculty meetings mainly because he disliked socializing. He was primarily a solitary person by nature, and the only person who'd ever really slipped past his walls was Lily Evans. There was something about the way the de Brabant boy looked that reminded him of her. Oh, the resemblance wasn't close enough for Henri de Brabant to be Harry Potter, but it was entirely possible that he was a distant relation. He could vaguely recall Lily, in later years, telling him that she'd discovered that her parents were squibs, which meant that it was slightly possible that there were Wizarding relations of hers out there. He missed her, and the ache of missing-Lily had never faded. It was made all the worse by the fact that it was his own damn fault that she was dead.
He made his way out of the tower that housed the Headmaster's office and started to go downwards, towards the dungeons and his quarters. He needed to check on his Snakes. He had to make sure that the Dursley brat was still alive. Even as a Slytherin, the boy wouldn't have an easy time with him. Currently, the only person he hated worse than the Marauders, the Dark Lord aside, was Petunia Dursley. She'd sold his Lily's baby, and that he could not forgive. Not that he forgave people much, anyway; he was a master at holding grudges and waiting until the opportune time to get his revenge. It was more his nature to hold to a grudge until after the object of his ire died and then go dance on their graves... and come back every once in a while for another jig. It was also true, he probably wouldn't have been nice to Lily's boy—he couldn't afford to be—but it would have been a relief to watch over him and make sure he was alive and healthy... for Lily. After all, he wasn't Dumbledore's man and never would be; he was Lily Evan's man and always would be.