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Act One: snitch.

Chapter One: letters

23 July, 1991

I’ve been reading a lot of Greek mythology lately. It’s an interesting subject because it punishes the heroes for being heroes, for being special. Most of them don’t deserve it, but it happens. Arachne was turned into a spider for daring to have the superior weaving skill in a contest against Athena, cursed for eternity. Heracles was punished by Hera for his very existence, a constant reminder of Zeus’s infidelity, forced to atone for the unimaginable crime of being born.

My favorite, though, is Orpheus.

Orpheus was such a good musician that he could literally affect the weather, for no particular reason. He could play the lyre so beautifully that the trees would dance and bloom, that even the most fearsome beasts would calm from the melody. He worked hard for this ability, trained under the god of music, Apollo, and honed his craft over many years.

One day, his wife, Eurydice, was almost raped by a satyr (those whacky satyrs), and she died while trying to escape because she fell into a pit of vipers.

Clumsy.

Not one to let his wife go and die like that, Orpheus went to the Underworld (which was apparently just accessible if you found the right cave) and walked right up to Hades and Persephone and played them a sad little song. Persephone was so moved by it that she told Hades to give back Orpheus’s wife. Hades was in a good mood that day, I guess, and he agreed, but he told Orpheus that he had to lead Eurydice out of the Underworld and absolutely could not look back to check on her until they’d exited the cave entrance.

Again, no explanation given. Listen to Hades, Orpheus.

But he didn’t, because it’s called a Greek tragedy and not a Greek happy ending. Right at the end of the cave, the dummy looked back to see his wife standing just inside the mouth of the cave, literally one step from freedom. His last glimpse of Eurydice was seconds before she was whisked right back to the Underworld. Orpheus died later, sad and alone.

The end.

Orpheus was a young man of talent and hard-earned success, who had dedicated his life to becoming an excellent lyre-player. His diligent work was rewarded in the form of his wife dying painfully while escaping a rape attempt and his one rescue effort ending in vain inches from success. No lesson, no takeaway, life just isn’t fair. Go die sad.

I love that story.

--H

***

It was an auspicious day at Hogwarts Castle, one Albus Dumbledore always found himself looking forward to. Today, under a pearlescent white sky and amid the humid air of a Scotland midsummer, a fleet of owls would be unleashed into the world, all laden with letters and all winging toward the homes of the various new students to be welcomed into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry this year.

The bustle would begin soon after, the school shopping, scrambling to get everything packed and ready, and then the adventure would start anew (or for the first time ever for the lucky first-years). Watching all of the young lives changing before his very eyes—seeing them grow from wide-eyed children to able and capable witches and wizards year after year—was the single most rewarding thing about his job as headmaster.

Though, the office was lovely as well.

As the muted light grew bright through the clouds, casting the occasional shaft of sunlight down over the trees and hills in the distance, Albus stood before the high windows of the headmaster’s office, listening to the many portraits of the previous headmasters snoozing away behind him. A few were starting to stir, quietly greeting each other as they woke and making plans for the day. To be a portrait at Hogwarts was no doubt a fascinating life, Albus thought. There were plenty of famous historical figures decorating the halls, as well as some breathtaking tableaus and colorful characters. Some of the headmasters pictured even had paintings hanging in distant family homes or buildings they had helped establish. Dylis Derwent could disappear from her frame and the castle entirely to go visit her portrait in St. Mungo’s Hospital, and Ewan Everard was able to keep tabs on the Ministry of Magic, a quite useful ability.

Yes, at times, it felt like Albus had a hand steering the entire wizarding world of the British Isles from this very office, watching things fall into place, seeing people act and react exactly as he anticipated (and often intended). It was hard not to feel very Machiavellian while doing so, and he could understand why to some he looked the part of a sinister puppet master pulling strings and keeping his pawns in line.

To a degree, he was, but more often than not, his machinations ended in a situation that was beneficial to all. Schemer or not, he was building a better tomorrow, was he not? Often all that was needed was to convince someone to accept his role. Thus far, he had had a rather easy time of it. His status in the wizarding world and way with people ensured that most everyone could be convinced to see things his way or at the very least tacitly leave him to his plans.

With luck, this trend would continue.

Albus was just pondering a second cup of tea when a knock sounded at his door.

“Enter,” he said in pleased tones. Visitors were often a joy. Although, Albus mused as his door opened to reveal his deputy headmistress striding in with an obviously irritated expression on her face, that sentiment didn’t always ring true.

“Albus,” Minerva’s voice spoke crisply as she made her way to his desk and settled into a seat. “Potter isn’t on my list. Why isn’t Potter on my list?”

“His letter is going out today with the others,” Albus told her, seating himself across from his second-in-command and surveying her. Minerva McGonagall was, at a glance, not a woman to be trifled with. Her steely demeanor and severe bearing brought to mind the schoolmarms of old, who brooked no foolishness and kept order with militaristic efficiency. She was exactly the sort of rigid authority figure Albus needed to serve alongside him, but Albus knew that beneath that stony exterior was a woman who cared deeply and passionately for her students.

This worked against him from time to time.

“And what, do you think, are the odds that that…family of his has told him anything about our world?” Minerva asked. “About his role in it? You know the sort of people they are, Albus.”

“They are the only family he has left,” Albus told her. “It is imperative that Harry stay with them.”

“Then let me be the one to bring him his letter,” Minerva insisted. “Or do you really expect Petunia Dursley to sit Harry down and tell him about his heritage? To bring him to Diagon Alley and see to his shopping?”

“We will give Harry’s family a chance to do the right thing,” Albus said. “If it becomes necessary, I will entrust Hagrid with Harry’s introduction to the magical world.”

“…I could visit him myself and ensure that his introduction is more structured, that he learns all that he must in order to – “

“That,” Albus cut smoothly across her, “is my final word on the matter, Minerva.”

And that was all that needed to be said; Minerva still seemed quite ready to argue, but not only was Albus her superior and thus able to make such a call, he was happy to embrace the trope of the stubborn old man when it suited his needs.

“Of course, Headmaster,” Minerva said. She always referred to him only as his title when agreeing to a decision of his that she’d much rather not be. Someday, when Albus retired (or, more likely, some tragedy befell him), she would be a fine Headmistress in service to this school. But for now, she needed to understand when it was prudent to fall in line.

“Was there anything else, Minerva?” he asked into a tense silence, and Minerva shook her head, standing with a quiet scrape of her chair.

“No, Headmaster,” she said. “I’ll be leaving to distribute the letters to the muggle-born first-years.”

“I wish you luck, then,” Albus said, smiling at her. “Hopefully no toasters come flying your way this year.”

“You’ll never let that one go, will you?” Minerva shot back with a thin-lipped smile in turn. With the tension between them at least lessened, the Deputy Headmistress took her leave, and Albus was once again left to his own devices.

He could understand Minerva’s qualms with the way he was handling Harry Potter’s acceptance into Hogwarts. The boy was very much at the epicenter of a number of threads weaving their way through the wizarding world and would need help to cope with such a thing. That was exactly why his situation needed to be handled with care, lest he become too willful and not accept his role in the grander plot.

Some would call him cruel for his treatment of Harry, uncaring for the way he pulled and steered the various lives involved in this plot. But to Albus, the ends justified the means, and the lives a few could never measure up to the lives of all.

Unfortunately, as Albus would come to find out, not everyone could be brought to heel. Some were so determined, so utterly defiant in the face of any attempt at control, that to even try to wrest their path out of their own hands would result in chaos, as they took such measures to seize control that it resulted in nothing less than disaster for everyone involved, including themselves.

Harry Potter, he would find out, was one of those people.

***

On the morning that Hermione Granger’s life changed for the weirder (and the admittedly fantastical, but also so, so weird), she started her day off in a bizarrely typical fashion. One always imagined, no doubt, that some strange event would herald the coming change, that an encroaching storm or lucky omen would act as the harbinger of this great new bit of news. Sadly, the real world was often disappointing, and the only odd happenstance was the absence of her favorite flavor of teabag over breakfast. Well, Earl Grey was always a good standby when English Breakfast was unavailable, and as Hermione sat in the kitchen (recently-remodeled to include all-new appliances and faux-granite countertops) and sipped at her tea while taking in a bowl of oatmeal, she mused that life really couldn’t get much better for an eleven-year-old.

Well, she would come to find out that it at least couldn’t get any simpler.

It was midsummer, July, the point where days blurred together and school still felt so far in the past yet so distant in the future as to be nonexistent. To most children, this was a joy, the peak time to really kick back and enjoy the time off. To Hermione (who rather enjoyed school but still had enough sense in her to take full advantage of leisure time afforded by summer break), the gorgeous blue sky and gently wafting breeze made the only reasonable course of action to sit outside and read a book. While her peers would probably prefer to frolic around and climb a tree or play tag, she much preferred to spend her lazy summer days enjoying the weather while venturing to Middle Earth.

Yes, it was a Hobbit sort of day, she decided. Rinsing out her cup and bowl and placing them in the dishwasher (a new addition during the remodel), Hermione made her way upstairs to her room to change into some outdoor clothes and grab her worn and beaten copy of Tolkien’s story.

As she pulled a cozy sweater on (midsummer though it may have been, it was still an English summer and a bit brisk), she caught sight of herself in the full-length mirror hanging on the back of her bedroom door. A plain, pale girl with mousy brown hair and eyes to match, as she often described herself. Eleven and going on twelve in only two months, she was young enough that adolescence could still hold some manner of “ugly duckling” transformation, but she didn’t have her hopes set particularly high for such a thing.

Still, Mum and Dad had instilled in her an iron sense of self-confidence, so remarks about her overly-bushy mane of hair or her larger-than-average front teeth were brushed aside with ease, and though they stung, she was able to continue about her day without letting them get to her.

Most of the time.

Downstairs and out the back door, Hermione picked out her favorite spot under the aging oak tree in the spacious and perfectly-kept backyard, enjoying the way the grass tickled at her legs as she sat and opened to the first page. And in the quiet tranquility of a summer day, with only the sounds of birds and the distant rush of passing cars, she read while enjoying what she would come to reflect on as the last peaceful day she’d have for some time.

By the time Bilbo was hiding himself away in a barrel to escape the Elvenking, she felt herself starting to doze a bit and figured a cuppa tea would do well, and so she marked her page and made her way into the house. The Granger home was quaint but surprisingly spacious. Mum and Dad were both dentists (Mum specialized in orthodonture while Dad was in pediatrics), so they were quite well-off and able to afford a somewhat privileged lifestyle. There was even talk of Dad having a swimming pool put in, though Mum was balking at the loss of space for a potential garden.

Hermione was sure the swimming pool would win out; Mum liked to pretend, but she was not the outdoorsy type.

The sound of a whistling kettle soon rang through the kitchen, and Hermione was just warming her favorite teacup when Mum’s voice called from the sitting room.

“Hermione, love, are you in there?”

“Having some tea, Mum!” she called back, filling the mug with piping hot water

“Would you come in here for a moment, first?” Mum said, her voice sounding…odd in a way Hermione had never heard before. A bit worried, Hermione dipped a teabag into her cup, leaving it to steep and making her way down the hall to the sitting room. Mum and Dad were both sat on a loveseat in front of the bay window, and perched primly on the divan across from them was a woman Hermione had never seen before.

She would have definitely remembered meeting her.

The woman wore a long, deep red tartan dress with a black cardigan pulled over it. On her head was perched an actual bonnet hat that would have looked perfectly ridiculous on anyone else but only served to add to the impression that this stranger had walked straight out of the pages of Pride and Prejudice. In Dad’s modern sitting room with its white carpet and beige aesthetic, she looked comically misplaced, like a seamlessly done photo editing job.

“Good afternoon, Miss Granger,” she said in a voice as crisp as a newly-printed book. She had a stern look about her, like a Victorian schoolmarm that was not averse to using the cane on a disobedient student.

Not surprisingly, those were the teachers that Hermione often got along the best with.

“Have a seat, dear,” Mum said, patting the spot next to her. Dad got to his feet quickly, as if he’d been looking for an excuse to begin pacing the length of the room. Hermione tentatively took a seat next to Mum, who reached up and began to rub at her back. “Hermione, this is Minerva McGonagall. She’s a professor at the, um…”

“The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry,” Minerva McGonagall said with a perfectly straight face. After the fact, Hermione would reflect that choosing this strait-laced picture of poise to impart such unbelievable news was a perfect choice. After all, why would such a woman waste her time on a silly, seemingly made-up story?

For the moment, though, she was just utterly confused.

“School of…what?”

“Miss Granger,” Minerva McGonagall said, and as she spoke, Hermione picked out a subtle Scottish brogue that gave her words a perfectly unnecessary amount of severity, “you are what is known in my society as a witch. You possess inborn magical powers that have likely already begun to manifest, and with training and dedicated study, you could become a fully-fledged magic user and a member of a community you can scarcely imagine.”

“I’m…magic?” Hermione spoke after a long pause. She looked at Mum and Dad, desperately hoping that this wasn’t some sort of elaborate prank. But Mum wore the same sad smile she had the first day Hermione had started primary school, and Dad hadn’t stopped his agitated pacing. They were no actors; perhaps the professor had shown them some sort of magic that had convinced them? “Could…could you do something to show me? Some kind of magic?”

The professor nodded, favoring Hermione with a small smile. She likely took a bit of joy out of showing up in a young child’s life and literally bringing magic to their world. Taking out a long and ornate-looking stick that Hermione guessed was a magic wand, she flicked it in the direction of the teapot. An instant later, the century-old Granger family heirloom was a small turtle, looking quite confused at the fact. It took one look at the woman brandishing a wand at it and ducked into its shell.

“Oh my goodness,” Hermione whispered slowly.

“My grandmother gave me that teapot,” Dad said in a feeble voice, speaking for the first time since Hermione had sat down. She looked up to see her father staring fixedly at the teapot, his logical worldview likely crumbling around him. “Bloody hell, is she going to be able to do that?”

“In time and with practice, she’ll be able to do significantly more,” Professor McGonagall said, idly returning the teapot back from its brief foray into sentience. “If she attends Hogwarts School, she will be instructed by the most brilliant minds of the magical world.”

“And…she won’t be at a disadvantage?” Mum asked, now hugging Hermione closely and bringing the subtle flowered scent of her perfume to waft at Hermione’s senses. “Because she’s…from non-magic parents?”

“Oh, heavens no,” Professor McGonagall assured her. “Plenty of the most brilliant minds I’ve had the pleasure to teach come from muggle parents. To children raised in magical families, this is a part of life. It’s rather boring, run-of-the-mill to them. But a child from a muggle family is often so fascinated by the world they’re to be a part of, they study all they can of it and end up being ahead of the curve, so to speak.”

“Oh, that will certainly be our Hermione,” Dad said with a weak smile. “I bet she’s already itching to get her hands on every book she can in that school library.”

“Maybe,” Hermione huffed, and even Professor McGonagall shared a laugh with her parents at that. Taking a prim sip of her tea, she reached into a small handbag at her side, producing a large and ornate-looking letter in a parchment envelope. An actual wax seal held it shut, pressed into place with a shield set with a letter ‘H’. Holding the envelope out to Hermione, the professor eyed her.

“This is your acceptance letter,” she said. “Feel free to take some time to think about it, but term starts on the first of September. You’ll find a pamphlet in there as well, explaining many of the most common questions muggle-born students and their families have.”

Hermione took the envelope, which was heavy and bore her name and address along the side in emerald green ink. While her parents and Professor McGonagall said their farewells, she broke the seal and pulled out a precisely trifold letter in similar yellow parchment paper. When she unfolded it, she was greeted by more green lettering, so perfectly neat and precise that she wondered if it wasn’t the work of some sort of magical printing press.

Dear Miss Granger,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted into the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.

Term starts on 1 September, 1991. We await your response no later than 31 July, 1991. Students from muggle families shall be provided with an Owl-Friendly Envelope in which to enclose their response, should no means of owl post be readily available.

Yours Sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall

Deputy Headmistress

Unearthing a few more papers, Hermione found the aforementioned pamphlet (‘The Wizarding World: A Primer for Muggle-Born or Muggle-Raised Children!’), the list of supplies, and another slightly smaller envelope preaddressed to the school. She was a little surprised all of this could fit into such a slim-looking envelope, though there was very likely some magic at work to allow room.

The front door shut, and Mum and Dad sighed in unison as they turned to regard their daughter, who stared back at them with longing.

“Mum, Dad,” she said. “I want to go.”

***

Dear Professor McGonagall,

Your letter was received on 23 July and thought at first to be some kind of cruel joke. Only after meeting a kind man named Tom who runs the Leaky Cauldron (really good bangers and mash) did I come to believe the truth.

I eagerly look forward to pursuing my magical education at your institution.

With Humblest Regards,

Harry Potter

***

Tuglotar was happy with his work. He didn’t have a large number of clients, but those that he did have paid him handsomely for his work, which benefited from the personal touch afforded by his decision not to expand his business. A goblin solicitor was a boon to any wizard with the gold to drop on such an expenditure, and with his ability to suss out whether a new client had the potential to evolve into a longstanding working relationship within minutes of the first meeting, Tuglotar earned all he needed to live comfortably and keep Mum happy in her twilight years.

Yes, Tug (as Mum affectionately called him) was a family man, with a wife and two rotten little blighters running around at home. Goblins were all about family, and any of their kind who didn’t take care of his own was considered wanting by goblin society, ostracized until they came around to accepted way of things.

It was a trait that was all too rare among the wizards they worked with.

Speaking of wizards, Tuglotar was hard-pressed to believe that name that had just scribbled itself into the blank ’11:00 a.m.’ slot of his appointment book. It was a name well-known among the magical world even to goblins. Reaching for the intercom button on his desk, he pressed it with a long-nailed finger.

“Bethesda,” he spoke, “is my eleven o’clock correct?”

“I’m looking at the letter as we speak, gov’na,” Bethesda’s voice sounded from the speaker mounted to his desk. “Sent from the Head of Gringotts’s desk. Looks like you’ve got friends in high places, eh?”

“So it would seem,” Tuglotar spoke. “Bagman’s on for noon?”

“Ludo Bagman, gov, that’s right,” Bethesda said. “Then you’re free and clear until four.”

“Push Bagman back to one,” Tuglotar said. “I have a feeling I’ll need some time with this one.”

When eleven o’clock rolled around, there was a knock on the door, and Tuglotar sat up straight, folding his hands pensively over his desk.

“Come in,” he said. The door opened, and a boy strode in.

Immediately, Tuglotar knew that had a good one.

Harry Potter, despite being only ten years old, was far from the snot-nosed brat most were at his age. He looked the part age-wise, but his pressed slacks and button-down shirt had been custom-tailored (and looked fresh from Madame Malkin’s), his shoes shined to a gleaming finish. Most telling of all, though, was his bearing. He carried himself with care and caution a child his age had no business displaying. The way he slowly made his way into the office, the blazing alertness to his eyes; Tuglotar was reminded of a rattlesnake, poised to strike.

“Mister Tuglotar?” he said, his voice muted and flat but nonetheless audible. He spoke like someone who had grown tired of being ignored but nonetheless had plenty to say.

“Come in, Mr. Potter,” Tuglotar said. “Please, call me Tuglotar. Goblins don’t waste time with titles.”

“That’s refreshing,” Harry said, making his way into the office and taking a seat across from Tuglotar. “I had hoped you could help me with consolidating some holdings I’ve only recently found out I have.”

Right to business. That was refreshing as well; too many wizards loved to waste time exchanging pleasantries and small-talk, something goblins had no patience for but suffered in the name of their work. Harry Potter had already elevated himself above half of Tuglotar’s clients.

“Got thrown in the deep end, have you?” Tuglotar asked.

“The deepest,” Harry said, producing a file and placing it on Tuglotar’s desk. “Aside from Vault 687, I’ve also inherited the Black family’s Vault 711, a cottage in Godric’s Hollow, a townhouse in London, and I apparently own several shares of the Sleekeazy Haircare Company which return a substantial percentage of the company’s revenue per year. I’d like to know how I can access all of this. How I can use it.”

“To what end, Mr. Potter?” Tuglotar asked, reaching out and dragging the file toward him. He slid free several official Gringotts documents, which only corroborated everything Harry Potter had told him. If this was leading in the direction Tuglotar believed, he owed the goblin that had referred Potter to him a massive favor, one which he would return gladly.

“All my life, I’ve never had anything,” Potter told him, still in that same flat tone of voice bordering on emotionless. “Now I’ve been told I have money, vaults full of it, a couple of properties, and a steady stream of income each month. I’m just a boy, Tuglotar. I’m ten, going on eleven in a month. I want to know how to make this last, to make it grow. Do I own enough shares in this company to influence their direction? Can I sell or rent these properties or just move into them? How long will the gold in these vaults last me? Can I purchase shares in other companies and turn a profit with those? What can I do, Tuglotar, to make something happen? What can I do to shake things up? How do I do something?”

Tuglotar stared at the boy for a long moment, reaching out and pressing the button on his desk after several moments.

“Bethesda,” he said.

“Go on, gov’na.”

“Reschedule Bagman for tomorrow,” he said. “No more walk-ins for the day, either.”

“Can do, gov,” Bethesda said. “Tea?”

Tuglotar shot Potter a questioning look, and the boy gave a dubious nod.

“Tea,” Tuglotar said, releasing the button and peering across his desk at what looked to be his new favorite client. “Now, Mr. Potter. Let’s talk, hm?”

***

The Wizarding World:

A Primer for Muggle-Born or Muggle-Raised Children!

Introduction: So, What Does This All MEAN?

Congratulations, HERMIONE GRANGER! You’ve just become part of an amazing and exciting new world!

No doubt you’ve just seen off Hogwarts’s Deputy Headmaster or Headmistress (or a duly-chosen representative) and are now wondering to yourself: “What on Earth just happened?”! Don’t worry, it’ll sink in! In the meantime, here are the answers to the most commonly asked questions about our world, curated and made easily understandable by Hogwarts’s muggle-born population under the guidance of Charity Burbage, our very capable Muggle Studies professor.

Feel free to browse the pamphlet in whatever order you please, as each section is designed to be comprehensive all on its own.

Setting the pamphlet aside, Hermione stared unseeingly up at the ceiling of her room. Though her curtains were drawn, a sliver of moonlight streaked across the off-white stucco. From outside, the soft rush of passing cars drifted in through the open window, mingling with the quiet sounds of nighttime. Tomorrow was the day she would embark on the first step of her new life. Tomorrow, her parents would take her to London, and she would purchase all that she needed to begin her magical education.

And it would be her first glimpse at the magical world itself.

How was she supposed to sleep!? Despite feeling utterly exhausted from the day’s revelations, she simply couldn’t shut her brain up long enough to actually drift off. All the possibilities were buzzing around in her head, millions of questions she couldn’t wait to answer. What sort of fantastical creatures inhabited this world? Would she get to see one? Did wizards use staves or wands or some sort of magical medallion to channel their magic? Professor McGonagall had used a wand, but was that one of a few options or the norm?

What if she was rubbish at it? What if she was absolutely terrible? Mum and Dad had insisted that she would excel at this as she did in all other things, but she couldn’t help a niggling worry that she would arrive in the magical world to find that she was hopelessly outclassed. Could she return to her normal life, magic-free, knowing what she would be leaving behind?

Actually, there was more likely than not some manner of magical memory erasure that would leave her none the wiser and going about her mundane life like none of this had ever happened.

That, somehow, was a more depressing prospect.

Rolling over, she stared at the pamphlet on her bedside table. It was apparently charmed to look like a vacation destination advertisement to any muggle (non-magic person) who looked at it. Even Mum and Dad, having been told of the deception, had idly wondered what such a pamphlet was doing in their eleven-year-old daughter’s room.

Was she really so…apart from them? To her, the pamphlet looked like nothing more than what it was, but to know that they saw something so very different… It was such a small thing but extremely indicative of how alien Mum and Dad would likely be considered in the magical world, which she was to be a part of. She would have to make extra sure to include them as much as she was able going forward; she loved Mum and Dad, and to imagine having to leave them behind to be part of this wonderful new life was…painful. Not having parents—not having a confidant that always unquestionably had your best interests at heart—had to be such an awful feeling.

She didn’t envy the sort of person that had to deal with that.