Part 4: September, 1991
Sunday, 1st September 1991
King’s Cross Station, late morning.
“All right,” said Mrs Figg. “Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters is just beyond that barrier. Just run at the barrier and you’ll be through.”
“Thanks,” said Harry. “Er, I mean, you are most kind.”
“I’m not a Fae, Harry! You can say ‘thank you’ to me.”
“Right,” said Harry sheepishly. “Please allow me to express my regret… I mean, er, sorry. It just gets a little confusing, remembering who likes to be told what. The Fae don’t like the words ‘sorry’ or ‘thank you,’ but wizards and Muggles do like them…”
“Well, that’s just something you’re going to have to learn to sort out, isn’t it?” said Mrs Figg, not unsympathetically. “You’ll manage, don’t worry. If people think you’re a little strange… well, you’re the Boy Who Lived. If you’re not allowed to act a little strange, who is? Long as you don’t announce your ties to the Fae to everyone you meet, you’ll be fine.”
“Thank you, Mrs Figg.”
“That’s better. But now it’s it’s time for you to go. Look, those redheads seem like they’re going to Nine-and-Three-Quarters as well, so just follow them. Best do it at a bit of a run.”
”Okay…aren’t you coming?”
“Can’t get onto the platform if you don’t have magic. I’d just collide with the barrier — and I’m not in the mood to get bruises, thank you very much. No, you’re on your own for this one. But you’re hardly the first kid who had to run through that barrier without any adults. Far as I know, they all made it through perfectly fine.”
”All right, then.”
A month ago, Harry would have laughed at the idea of running at a barrier to get onto a hidden platform at King’s Cross, but his life had been well and truly turned upside-down. Fae, wizards, magic, pet owls, wands, hidden London streets… running through a barrier was nothing.
Luckily, the past month hadn’t been nearly as bad as he’d feared it would be, when Mrs Figg had talked about doing things they didn’t want to do. Mostly it had involved moving out of Privet Drive and spending the rest of the month at a small, two-bedroom cottage in a Cornish village called Tinworth — a cottage he had to share with Mrs Figg, Yellow, Magenta, Cyan, Hedwig, and way too many cats.
It turned out that Mrs Figg made a living breeding cats as pets for wizards, which certainly explained why she’d had so many over the years. Her cats were all much smarter and a good deal more magical than your average house cats, which was because they were all crossbreeds — there was a magical, cat-like animal called a Kneazle, which could interbreed with cats and resulted in highly intelligent and resourceful kittens… though Mr Tibbles, Snowy, Mr Paws and Tufty were still very much cats in that they seemed to be everywhere you didn’t want them to be, demanding attention at inconvenient times and thinking it was a hilarious game to lie down on any book Harry happened to be reading at the time.
Hedwig hadn’t been very fond of her new four-legged roommates and spent much of her time perching on top of the tallest shelf in the cottage and giving the cats disapproving looks. The flitlings, however, got along with the cats surprisingly well; particularly Yellow had great fun playing with them and was often a welcome distraction for them when Harry was sick of not being able to read in peace. Cyan had generally stuck with Hedwig and would often go flying with her at night, while Magenta tried in vain to keep at least some of Harry’s belongings free of cat hair.
All in all, Harry had been rather relieved when the 1st of September had finally arrived and the time had come to go to London and take the Hogwarts Express.
Yellow, Magenta and Cyan had not come along. They didn’t want to be parted from him, but as Mrs Figg had pointed out, a school full of wizards was not the right place for three Fae; and anyway Lady Vidia’s letter had stated that they were only tasked with protecting Harry whenever he wasn’t at Hogwarts.
What had really convinced the three flitlings, though, had been a description of the Hogwarts Express; “a beautiful scarlet steam engine that every year transported the students to Hogwarts.” Learning that the train was made of iron had been enough for them to agree that Harry would be better off making that trip alone.
He had caught them whispering and giggling about something a few times, though, and they hadn’t wanted to tell him what they were up to… and when he asked them what they were planning on doing when he was off to Hogwarts, they just giggled even more and refused to answer. So he wasn’t all that certain that the matter was completely settled, and had in fact spent quite some time going through his luggage to make absolutely certain they weren’t hiding in his trunk or something.
“Right,” said Mrs Figg, as the final member of the redhead family vanished through the barrier, hopefully to end up at Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters. “You’d better go next, the train’ll be leaving soon. See you next summer — I don’t know if you’ll still be living with me then or if Dumbledore’s found a better solution, but we’ll see.”
“I’ll write!” Harry promised, and to his surprise felt that he would miss her a little. “Take care of Yellow, Magenta and Cyan!”
“As if those three pests needed me to take care of them,” said Mrs Figg. “Don’t worry about them, you’ll see them again. Off you go now!”
Checking that Hedwig was secure in her cage on his trolley, Harry ran towards the barrier, towards Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters… and towards his new life.
Sunday, 1st September 1991
Hogwarts Express, early evening.
Harry listened in fascination as Ron told him about the game of Quidditch. It sounded confusing, but amazing — just the very idea of a sport played on broomsticks. He hoped he’d get to see a game while he was at Hogwarts.
Just as Ron was explaining about the positions of the seven players, the door opened. It wasn’t the round-faced Neville with the toad, or the bushy-haired Hermione with the books; it was three other boys. And Harry immediately recognized one of them.
“Is it true?” said the pale poy, in the same drawling voice he’d used when Harry met him at Madam Malkin’s. “They’re saying all down the train that Harry Potter’s in this compartment. That’s you, is it?”
“Yes,” said Harry, a little tensely. There was still something about this boy he didn’t like, and then there was his two friends…
“Oh, this is Crabbe and Goyle,” said the boy. “Don’t mind them. My name is Malfoy. Draco Malfoy.”
“Sod off, Malfoy!” Ron had raised himself and glared at the boy.
“Oh, it’s you, Weasley. I didn’t even notice you were there,” said Malfoy, though even Harry could tell this was a lie. “I’m surprised your family still goes to Hogwarts. If you had any shame at all, you’d stay in that shack you call home instead of trying to mingle with decent wizards.”
Ron turned red, opening and closing his mouth. Grabbe and Goyle sniggered.
Malfoy turned back to Harry. “I don’t know what you were doing with this sorry excuse for a wizard, but I take it you’re new to all this… not your fault, of course. But if you want to make it in the wizarding world, you can’t afford to make friends with the wrong sort. Some wizarding families are much better than others. I can help you there.”
He held out his hand for Harry to shake.
Harry looked coolly at it. “I think I can tell who the wrong sort are for myself, thanks,” he said.
Malfoy looked taken aback for a moment. Then a nasty smile spread on his face. “You truly don’t know about the Weasleys, do you,” he said. “Of course not, they try to hush it up. Let’s just say that associating with them wouldn’t be healthy for your reputation among the better wizarding families. Red hair, hand-me-down clothes and no money is just the beginning of it. If you come with me, I can show you what I mean.”
“No thank you,” said Harry. And then, trying to sound braver than he felt, he added: “In fact, why don’t you just get out of our compartment!”
“Your compartment? I don’t see your name on it.” Malfoy wasn’t smiling anymore. “You might want to consider being a bit more polite, Potter. If you’re not careful you’ll go the same way as those parents of yours!”
“You did not just say that!” Ron took a step closer, his face even redder than before.
“Going to fight me, Weasley?” Malfoy sneered. “With those creatures your family associate with, I’m not surprised your first reaction is violence. But you know, I think we’ll stick around for a bit. We’ve eaten all our food and you still seem to have some. Watch it — Crabbe and Goyle are much bigger and stronger than you are, they’ll flatten you if —”
He was interrupted by a howl of pain from Goyle. The larger boy had tried to grab one of Ron’s Chocolate Frogs, but Scabbers the rat had bitten onto his finger and was holding on with his teeth as Goyle furiously shook his hand to get him off. Scabbers finally let go and flew in an elegant arch through the room before he hit the window and fell down onto the empty seat.
Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle hurried off. Maybe they were afraid there were more rats hiding in the compartment… or maybe they’d heard footsteps, because moments later Hermione Granger appeared in the doorway.
“What’s going on here?” she said. “I heard voices — have you been fighting? You’ll get in so much trouble!”
“Scabbers has been fighting, not us!” Ron had picked up his rat and anxiously examined him. “I think he’s been knocked out… no, wait, I don’t believe this, he’s fallen asleep again!”
“So you know that Malfoy boy?” said Harry. “I’ve met him once, at Diagon Alley.”
“Oh, I know him,” Ron growled. “Don’t know the other two, but the Malfoys are nasty. Filthy rich, and love to rub it in your face. They’ve had it out for the Weasleys for ages, always going on about how we’re a disgrace to the wizarding world, calling us paupers and blood-traitors and Muggle-lovers and… a lot of other things. As if they can talk. They sided with You-Know-Who back in the war and then managed to avoid prison by pretending they’d been mind-controlled or something. Pretty sure they bribed half the Ministry so they’d get off.”
Harry nodded. Somehow, he wasn’t surprised to learn any of this.
“What was that about your family associating with creatures, anyway?” said Hermione tactlessly. “I heard him say something about that. Are you Magizoologists or something, I read about that in a book —”
“Dad happens to like Muggles, all right!” said Ron hotly. “The Malfoys think Muggles are no better than animals! Now can we help you with anything, or did you just come in here to snoop?”
Hermione huffed. “I just came in because people are behaving very childishly in the corridor. Racing up and down and acting like hooligans. You two had better get your robes on, by the way, I talked to the conductor and he says we’re nearly there. And you’ve got dirt on your nose, did you know?”
Ron glared at her as she left, but didn’t say anything.
Harry had a distinct feeling that his new friend hadn’t been completely honest right now… even if it was true that his father liked Muggles, Ron clearly had no idea about Muggle life, so it seemed weird that the “creatures” Malfoy would accuse him of “associating” with should be Muggles.
But then, Harry didn’t know a lot about wizarding families. Maybe their definition of associating was different. He decided to let it drop and instead get changed into his robes.
Sunday, 1st September 1991
Hogwarts Great Hall, dinner time.
“I’m half-blood,” said Seamus Finnegan, as he helped himself to some strawberry ice cream. “Dad’s a Muggle who didn’t know Mum was a wizard until after he’d married her. Bit of a nasty shock for him.”
Harry listened with fascination to the stories. Everyone came from different backgrounds, it seemed — Seamus was half-blood, Dean was Muggle-born, Neville had been raised by his wizard grandmother and seemed to have an endless stream of great uncles and great aunts, and Ron of course had his huge wizard family.
For some reason, the girls seemed less eager to share their family backgrounds. Hermione Granger was too busy talking to Percy Weasley about their upcoming lessons, Parvati Patil kept throwing glances over at the Ravenclaw table where her twin sister Padma was sitting, and Lavender Brown was looking around with wide eyes as if she was having problems taking in everything..
“What about you, Harry?” said Seamus. “Damn, I can’t believe I’m sitting here talking to Harry Potter. You grew up with Muggles, right?”
“Well, yeah,” said Harry, deciding not to go into detail. “Until Hagrid showed up on my birthday to deliver my Hogwarts letter, I didn’t even know I was a wizard. I didn’t know anything about magic or Hogwarts or the Fae —”
“Fae?” Several heads turned to look at him.
“What’s there to know about the Fae?” said Seamus. “Other than the fact that they’re all shifty and untrustworthy bastards, and you would be mad to get involved with them?”
“He’s right,” said Neville nervously. “My Gran won’t even have a house-elf. The only Fae she’ll even tolerate are the goblins at Gringotts, and that’s only because she has to. The treaty and all that.”
“Treaty?” said Harry, trying to remember if Hagrid had mentioned a treaty.
“Yeah,” said Ron. “It’s about as old as the Statute of Secrecy. Wizards and Fae don’t act against each other, the goblins get to be bankers and handle all our money and valuables, and house-elves work for wizard families.”
“That part about not acting against each other is rubbish,” said one of the older girls. “The Fae don’t care. They’ll curse you for looking at them the wrong way.”
“And then they’ll weasel out of responsibility by claiming extraordinary circumstances,” said the boy next to her. “Can’t trust them as far as you can throw them.”
“Weasel?” said George Weasley. “Was that supposed to be a dig at us?”
“Sounded like it,” said Fred. “Joke’s on you, McLaggen. Everyone knows you can’t trust us at all!”
“All right, that’s enough,” said Percy, sounding annoyed. “Talk about something else, will you?”
“Seriously, Harry,” said Neville in a hushed voice as everyone else searched for new conversation topics. “Don’t get involved with the Fae. It’s just — it never ends well.”
Harry wasn’t certain how to take this. It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen how the Fae could mess things up for you. But… the image of the green lady flashed through his mind. It often had, these past few weeks. The tone of her voice, the warmth in her eyes… she couldn’t be all bad. Still, he understood better than ever why Mrs Figg had warned him not to mention Yellow, Magenta and Cyan to anyone. Not to mention why Hagrid wasn’t too keen about discussing his own half-Fae status.
He looked up towards the high table, where the teachers sat. There was Hagrid, talking animatedly to a tiny little wizard Harry didn’t know the name of. Did that wizard know about Hagrid? Or about Harry? Did any of them?
Glancing at all the teachers, he saw a familiar face: the nervous Professor Quirrell was at the other end of the table, wearing a ridiculous-looking turban and talking to a black-haired and rather sour-looking wizard. For a brief moment, Harry had an odd feeling… it was as if looking at those two should have meant something. But for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out what it was.
Friday, 6th September 1991
Hagrid’s hut, around teatime
It was a tremendous relief to be done with the first Potions class. Harry had only seen Professor Snape at a distance before and thought he looked a little unpleasant… actually having a lesson with him had revealed that the man was in fact terribly unpleasant. Easily the worst teacher at Hogwarts. Professors McGonagall and Sinistra were strict and haughty, but not terribly unfair; Professors Flitwick and Sprout were pleasant and competent, and Professor Quirrell was a timid and stuttering mess, but friendly enough. Professor Snape, on the other hand… Harry had been thankful that Hagrid had invited him to tea after class; it gave him something to look forward to.
He and Ron had no problems finding Hagrid’s hut. It was a quaint little wooden house located at the edge of the Forbidden forest, surrounded by vegetable gardens and pumpkin patches.
When Harry knocked on the door, they heard a frantic scrabbling and several booming barks from the inside, accompanied by Hagrid’s gruff voice calling “Back, Fang, back!” before the door opened and they were let in.
Fang, who was an enormous black boarhound, jumped on Ron and nearly flattened him trying to lick his face.
“Oh, yeh brought company? Back, Fang!” Hagrid commanded, pulling the dog off Ron. “Don’t mind him, he wouldn’t hurt a fly, he’s just sayin’ hello.”
“Friendly sort,” said Ron, wiping the dog drool off his face with his sleeve, as Fang’s tail wagged so hard it looked like it might fall off.
“This is Ron,” said Harry. “Hope it’s okay that I brought him.”
“Er, yeah, ‘course, more the merrier,” said Hagrid, though Harry thought he glanced up towards the ceiling as if to check for something. “Yeh’re a Weasley, right? Then it’s probably all right.”
“You know my family?” said Ron.
“Er — well, yeah, Charlie’s yer brother, right?” said Hagrid. “I liked him, great with animals. Heard he’s off to Romania to work with dragons? Blimey, I’d like a dragon. Anyway, I know those twin brothers o’ yers pretty well too, seems I’ve spent half me life chasin’ ‘em away from the forest, but they’re all right. Yeah, I know yer family, is all I meant.” He glanced up at the ceiling again. “Why don’ yeh make yerselves at home, tea’s almost ready! Got some news for yeh too, Harry, but, er, all in good time.” This last part, he said in a raised voice.
Harry and Ron looked at each other as Hagrid poured out the tea and laid out some rock cakes that looked a little too much like actual rocks..
“What’s with him?” Ron whispered.
Before Harry could answer, a sound from above caught his attention. A high-pitched feminine giggle, followed by a sharp “sssh!”
And suddenly everything made sense.
“Okay, you can come out,” he called. “Yellow, Magenta and Cyan! I know you’re there!”
“Surprise!” came a chorus of happy voices as the three very familiar figures came flying down from the ceiling, zipping and zooming around Harry with joy.
Ron let out a startled yelp and nearly lost his balance, but Harry only looked at the three flitlings as they flew around him, laughing and chattering excitedly. “I knew you’d show up at some point. When did you get here?”
“The day after you did!” Yellow crowed. “We flew all the way from Cornwall! Who needs that awful iron train? The castle thought it could hide from us, but we’re too clever to fall for those tricks!”
“Of course we wouldn’t really leave you for an entire year!” said Magenta. “We don’t have to watch you as closely now that you’re at Hogwarts, but it’s still an entire year!”
“We would have come to say hello,” said Cyan, “but that Dumbledore fellow didn’t think we should go too near the castle. He said we could stay in the Forbidden Forest, though, isn’t that great? He was very polite, by the way, even if he’s a little odd, he asked us if we knew some girl in your year, but we didn’t.”
“Girl?” said Harry. “Why would he ask —”
“I don’t know!” said Cyan. “He just asked if we knew her, but we didn’t. Anyway, then he said we could stay in the Forest!”
“It’s such a lovely place too!” said Yellow. “Almost like a little piece of Faerie here in the mortal realm! There are centaurs and unicorns and wood nymphs and Thestrals… Is that redhead boy all right?”
“Oh!” Harry looked at Ron, who was staring at the three flitlings with a strange, unreadable expression, and hurried to say: “Ron here is a friend, all right? He’s a friend and an ally! So you’re not allowed to do anything to him! Ron, er, this is Yellow, Magenta and Cyan.”
Ron had gone rather pale. “Harry,” he said. “You didn’t tell me you had Fae friends!”
“It’s okay,” Harry hurried to say. “These ones aren’t — I mean, they won’t hurt you, not if I tell them not to!”
But Ron shook his head. “It’s not that,” he said, clearly trying to keep his voice steady. “It’s just —” He looked at the flitlings, still pale but now with an oddly eager look. “How’s my Uncle Billius? Have you seen him? Is he all right?”
The flitlings looked back in confusion. “Who?” said Yellow.
“My Uncle Billius! Billius Weasley! He saw a Grim and he was going to die, but the Summer Aristocrats took him off to the Summer Lands where the Grim’s curse can’t touch him and —”
“Oh, we wouldn’t know anything about that,” said Magenta. “We’re Spring Court, not Summer.”
“Oh.” Ron’s face had returned to its normal colour. “Never mind then.”
“Er, my fault for yeh bein’ surprised like this, really,” said Hagrid. “Woulda told yeh they were here, Harry. but they insisted on, well, surprisin’ yeh. Didn’t know yeh were bringin’ company along, but since Ron here’s a Weasley, I thought…”
“Everyone knows the Weasleys are friends with the Summer Fae,” Ron sighed. “Yeah, I know. Kind of why our reputation is shot to Hell among the older Pureblood families, but… yeah.”
“Oh!” Harry exclaimed. “Was that what Malfoy was talking about, back on the train? When he said your family were associating with creatures ? And when McLaggen talked about weaseling at the welcoming feast…”
Ron looked a little uncomfortable. “Ages ago, my great-great-great-granddad, Pellias Weasley, saved the life of Princess Elysande of the Summer Court,” he explained. “Ever since then, the family’s… sort of been friends with the Summer Fae? It’s not like we see them often , just… well, like that story with Uncle Bilius. Or that second cousin I told you about, the one I said was an accountant? Well, he is, but I didn’t mention that he’s an accountant at the Fae market in Domdaniel. Things like that.”
Magenta landed on the table, looking up at him. “So your family is an allied family,” she said with great interest. “That’s rare, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, well, not like wizards and Fae get along much,” said Ron, glancing at Harry. “You heard how people were talking at the welcoming feast, right? Can’t trust the Fae, everyone says.”
“That’s what the Fae say about the wizards too,” said Yellow. “But there are exceptions, obviously.”
“I like exceptions!” Cyan chirped. “If you’re Harry’s friend, you’re our friend! Even if we’re Spring and not Summer. The Summer Fae won’t get jealous, will they?”
“Nah,” said Hagrid. “Lotsa friendships between Courts… ‘sides, both Spring an’ Summer count as Seelie. You’ll be fine.” h
“So,” said Ron, “How come you’re hanging around with Spring Fae, Harry? I thought you grew up with Muggles.”
“I did,” said Harry. “Things just got really crazy after I received my Hogwarts letter…”
It was kind of a relief to tell Ron everything that had happened, and an even bigger relief to find out that Ron didn’t freak out about any of it — not about Hagrid’s aunt, not about the seven favours. The only time he frowned a little was when he learned that the flitlings were former Dursleys.
“Thought that wasn’t done anymore,” he said. “Turning people to Fae? Pretty sure that’s against the treaty. I could ask Percy, he’d know —”
“You’re not doing anything to turn us back to those awful Dursleys!” said Yellow hotly.
“Yeah, they’re kind of touchy about that,” said Harry. He looked at Hagrid. “Did you ever manage to get in touch with your aunt by the way? You said in your letters that you were trying.”
“I was,” said Hagrid. “Me an’ Dumbledore both tried ter call on her, but she never answered… wasn’ even at home when I tried ter visit her at Dewberry Grove.” He shook his head. “Love the woman, but there’s nobody like her fer not bein’ available when yeh want a serious talk wit’ her. It was the same back when I wanted ter talk to her about Ab… actually, that don’ have anythin’ ter do with this.”
“Ab?” said Harry.
“Yeah. Well. As for the treaty, Ron, both sides left plenty o’ loopholes in that. Why’d you think the goblins keep rebelling? Or why some wizard families get away with treatin’ house-elves like garbage? Loopholes. This is another one.”
“All right,” said Ron: “But that’s one big loophole.”
“An adorable one, you mean!” Magenta struck a pose, twirling around on the table to show herself off, her wings brushing against the tea cosy.
It was this motion that made Harry notice the piece of paper underneath that same tea cosy; a newspaper cutting with the headline “BREAK-IN AT GRINGOTTS.” Curiously, remembering that Ron had talked about the break-in on the train, he picked the cutting up.
“Wait,” he said as he saw the date mentioned in the article. “That Gringotts break-in happened on my birthday? Hagrid, it might’ve been going on while we were there!”
“Er, yeah, how about that,” said Hagrid. “More tea, Harry? An’ yeh haven’t told me how yer firs’ week o’ school’s bin…”
“Hagrid, why do you keep changing the subject when I ask about something?”
“Lovely weather we’ve bin havin’, innit? Here, try some o’ the rock cakes…”
All in all, with all the new things Harry learned on that visit to Hagrid’s (and how inedible the rock cakes turned out to be), it was perhaps understandable that he quite forgot to ask Hagrid about “Ab” or Cyan about that girl she’d mentioned, the one Dumbledore had asked if the flitlings knew.
He’d wonder, later on, if it would have made any difference if he had.
Friday, 6st September 1991
Dumbledore’s office, just after teatime.
“— mediocre, just as arrogant as his father, doesn’t bother to follow instructions, attention-seeking and impertinent —”
“You see what you expect to see, Severus,” said Dumbledore, without looking up from the stack of papers he was reading. Snape’s rant had gone on for several minutes and was starting to repeat itself. “It’s still only the first week, but so far the other teachers have reported that the boy appears to be modest, likeable, and reasonably talented. And Hagrid has had nothing but good things to say about him.”
“Blinded by their hero-worship, no doubt,” said Snape sourly. “As for Hagrid… I wouldn’t trust him as any judge of character.”
“But I would,” said Dumbledore firmly. “And given that you are the only one who has complained about Harry, perhaps you should allow for the possibility that it’s not everyone else who is blinded by preconceptions. Now, if you don’t mind, right now there is another student who’s occupying my mind more.“
“Who?” Snape peered at the papers Dumbledore was reading. A name caught his attention and his eyebrows raised in surprise. “Her?! What is it about her that puzzles you?”
Dumbledore paused for a moment. “To be honest, I am not certain how much it would be wise to tell you,” he said.
A chilly expression crossed Snape’s face. “Dumbledore,” he said. “If you still don’t think I have proven myself worthy of your trust —”
“This has nothing to do with trust, Severus,” said Dumbledore. “You have proven yourself countless times. But I know you. If you’re presented with a tiny piece of a puzzle, you will dig at it until you have uncovered everything… and, forgive me for saying this, but whenever you find answers you don’t like, you have been known to take your frustrations out on people around you.”
“And this puzzle has an answer I won’t like, I take it.”
“Let us say that I am considering the possibility that it might.”
“I am not a child, Dumbledore. I will not be mollycoddled. If there is something to know about this girl, then tell me. I can manage my frustrations.”
“I wonder,” said Dumbledore. “But, if you agree to take responsibility for your actions…” He looked at Snape over his half-moon glasses. “I began suspecting that something was afoot when the girl’s name appear in the Book of Admittance. Usually, children appear in the Book years before they are old enough to attend Hogwarts. It happens the first time a child displays enough magic that it’s clear they belong here. It’s extremely rare… nearly unheard of… that a child’s name would appear in the Book less than a month before the school year begins. As you can see here, this girl’s name appeared on the 4th of August, after we had already sent out the regular acceptance letters.”
“Hmm.” Snape had calmed down. He looked at the written note with some curiosity. “That is odd, but surely it’s not a great mystery? Children develop differently. This one is simply an extremely late bloomer who didn’t display sufficient magic before now.”
“That would be the obvious answer,” Dumbledore answered. “But there is more going on. I didn’t recognize the family, so naturally I assumed we had another Muggle-born. But when Minerva went to deliver her Hogwarts letter, she found the child staying at a hotel in Somerset, all by herself with no parents or guardians. The room had been booked until the end of the month and paid for in advance, but other than that the staff at the hotel couldn’t say anything.”
Snape raised an eyebrow, interested despite himself. “They couldn’t say why an eleven year old girl was living alone in their hotel?”
“They said they had orders to look out for the girl, make sure she was fed and taken care of until she left the hotel on the first day of September… but they couldn’t say where those orders had come from. The girl herself couldn’t say much more. She knew her name, her age, and that she was a wizard who was supposed to attend Hogwarts this year, but she couldn’t recall anything about her early childhood or her family.”
“Memory Charm?” Snape suggested.
“Perhaps. I do suspect she knows a little more about her situation than she is willing to share, but the memory loss appears to be genuine. She truly has no idea where she came from or who her family are. She is perfectly sound of mind, however; she knows what things are, she does as she is told, and she learns new things quickly enough. Minerva and Filius have watched her, but she hasn’t had any problems in their classes. Did you notice anything odd about her in Potions?”
“Nothing… odd,” said Snape hesitantly. “Frankly, between Potter’s cheek and Longbottom’s dunderheaded accidents, it was hard enough to pay much attention to anyone else in that class. I trust you informed the Ministry of our mystery child?”
“Of course. But they haven’t been able to find out anything either. There are no records of her in Britain, either on the magical or Muggle side. They are looking into the possibility that she is from abroad, but she speaks English like a native. Accents aren’t quite my forte, but I would say she talks like someone who grew up in Hampshire or Berkshire… or possibly Surrey.”
“Surrey!” Snape raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t that where —?”
“That’s where Petunia Dursley moved with her husband, yes,” said Dumbledore. “Where Harry Potter grew up. So naturally I was curious if there might be some link. I still haven’t been able to get in touch with Lady Vidia… and none of the Folk in the Forbidden Forest knows anything about the girl, so it’s possible I’m mistaken… but I have seen enough of the Lady’s handiwork that…”
“The Fae!” Snape spat, his mouth was a thin line of anger and indignation. “Are you saying the girl is a changeling?! I knew it was a mistake to admit Potter to this school! As soon as you learned about his ties to those accursed Fair Folk, you should have refused to accept him! And now look what happens — the moment he shows up at Hogwarts, the Fae infestation starts —”
“Manage your frustrations, Severus,” said Dumbledore. “I would hardly call three flitlings who stay in the Forbidden Forest an infestation. They have a right to be there, as per the treaty. And I told you about Harry’s ties to the Fair Folk in confidence, not to give you an excuse to hurl around undue accusations — but because as one as the boy’s protectors you need to know. Don’t tell me you have forgotten your promise?”
Snape winced as if having been reminded of something unpleasant, but then took a deep breath. When he spoke next, it was in a steely voice, looking straight at Dumbledore. “Never.”
Dumbledore nodded. “Good. You don’t have to like the Fae, but you do have to try and coexist.”
Snape sneered. “Coexisting is one thing. Allowing a possible changeling to attend our school is another.”
“Severus.” Dumbledore’s tone was lightly admonishing. “Hogwarts has never turned away a student. Expelled or suspended, yes — if the student in question broke the rules badly enough. But we have never refused admittance to any wizard. Should we refuse a young girl who has done nothing wrong, because her circumstances are unusual? Because I think she might be tied to the Fae? And to Lady Vidia, at that?”
“I know you have a history. I am merely thinking about the safety of the other students.”
“Yes, I am certain that your infamous hatred for the Fair Folk has nothing to do with it. But we are not dealing with a changeling here. I doubt a changeling would have been able to fool the Book of Admittance, the Quill of Acceptance and the Sorting Hat.”
“All the same,” said Snape. “I am going to keep an eye on her from now on.”
“And this is why I hesitated to tell you,” said Dumbledore. “Severus… tied to the Fae or not, she is still a child. You are not to start hounding her. At least don’t treat her any worse than you do the other students.”
”Though while I remember it… if you can fit it into your busy schedule, would you mind keeping an eye on Quirrell as well? He has been behaving rather oddly.”
“Of course,” said Snape sourly. “Why don’t I keep an eye on every suspicious person at Hogwarts, with the hundred pairs of eyes I obviously have.” He turned and marched towards the door.
“You did want to know about the girl, Severus,” Dumbledore called after him. “But don’t punish before you have evidence of wrongdoing! Treat people like villains, and villains are what they become!”
Snape didn’t answer. He just stepped out of the room and closed the door behind him. He didn’t slam it, but there was the sensation that he would have if he’s had slightly less respect for the Headmaster.
One of the Headmaster portraits on the wall, a middle-aged woman named Dilys Derwent, opened an eye. Seeing that Snape was gone, she stopped pretending to be asleep and shook her head in disdain. “I don’t know why you employ that man, Dumbledore,” she said. “He may be a brilliant potioneer and a skilled wizard, but I swear he’s more childish than the students.”
“I like him,” came the voice of another portrait, Phineas Nigellus Black. “He understands discipline. I have always said that Hogwarts is much too soft on its students these days. Snape is the only teacher here who at least tries to instill some proper respect for authority in them.”
Dumbledore looked up at the portraits. ”Severus has his problems, like we all do,” he said. “But he has my trust. He will do the right thing in the end. Would I have preferred it if he was easier on the students, or his hatred for the Fair Folk didn’t cloud his mind so? Most certainly. But, he has his redeeming qualities. It may not always seem like it, but he truly cares about Hogwarts. All the things he has done for the school over the years, the loyalty he has displayed, and the sacrifices he has made… it adds up. Besides…” Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled. “There is value in having someone like him around.”
“Value?” Dilys Derwent didn’t seem quite convinced.
“Certainly. After all, what’s a magic school without at least one mean and unfair teacher the students can bond over disliking? Many a lifelong friendship has been forged in the rage over Severus Snape’s unfairness.”
There was a slight pause. Finally, Dilys spoke again. “Dumbledore… I have the utmost respect for you and all the good work you do, and I am of course honour-bound to aid and advise you whenever you need it…”
“…but sometimes I can’t decide whether you are the most brilliant man I have met, or just a right bastard.”