Harry looked around the Great Hall as he ate his breakfast, casting his magic outwards, working on expanding his range and seeing what he could detect. It was a little draining to do, but he could cast his magic out continuously for about two or three minutes before he felt a strain.
Merlin told him it was also a good way to increase the fluidity of his magic and increase the speed at which he could cast spells.
It had been a week since the start of term and he was finally getting the hang of magic detection. He could feel the magic surrounding him at a distance of about four feet in all directions, and he was slowly recognizing the individual magics of the people he knew.
He could to tell when someone was about to cast a spell by the expansion of their magic and its movement to their wand.
With some time and practice, it would give him a split second advantage over his opponents in a duel. He could even differentiate between the various spells they would cast.
The strange magic he and Merlin were looking for remained elusive. Even after exploring all the common areas of the castle, they still couldn’t find it. Merlin believed someone was carrying the item with them, or it could move on its own.
“Hi Harry, can we talk to you for a few minutes?” Wayne Hopkins asked, getting his attention..
“Oh, sure,” Harry said as he looked up, immediately recognizing the three scholarship students, Wayne, Sally, and Oliver.
“We just wanted to thank you for what you’re doing,” Sally began. “It means a lot to us.”
“I’m glad I could help,” Harry smiled.
“Can I ask you something, Harry?” Oliver asked nervously.
“Sure,” Harry nodded. “You can ask me anything you like.”
“Why?” Oliver asked. “Why us? You don’t even know who we are.”
“I want you to have the same opportunity I got,” Harry answered simply.
“It doesn’t feel real,” Wayne added. “Sometimes I expect to wake up back in the orphanage, and for all this to be a dream.”
“It’s not a dream. No one’s going to pull the rug out from under you. As long as you maintain at least an average grade of acceptable, the scholarship will cover all seven years of Hogwarts for all of you,” Harry promised.
“You’re wondering why you got this chance instead of someone else.” Harry realized, noticing the look on Oliver’s face. It was the same look he had when he first met Ben. “Maybe even someone that deserved it more than you did?”
“I used to think that way too,” Harry admitted. “I know what it feels like when the whole world seems to be against you.”
“What?” Sally asked in surprise. “What do you mean?” How could Harry ever feel that way, especially after everything he had done?
“For a long time I felt invisible, like no one cared, and no matter how hard I tried, it didn’t matter because nothing ever changed.” Harry said, remembering what it was like growing up in Potter manor.
Sally looked at Harry in shock, a look mirrored by both Oliver and Wayne. How could he know how they felt? He grew up in a pureblood house. He should have lived the life every kid dreamed of, but when she looked into Harry’s eyes she saw it, the same pain she felt reflected back at her. “… What happened to you? How did you move past it?”
“… I don’t really like to talk about what happened before, or even think about it, really,” Harry admitted. “It’s a part of my life I’d rather leave behind. But what I can tell you is, I didn’t do it alone. Someone saw me, he could tell I was in a bad situation, and instead of looking away, or pretending I didn’t exist, he took a chance on me. He didn’t ask for anything in return, not even after I opened the vault. He only asked me to help the next person I met who needed it.”
“That’s why I started the scholarships, to pay back the debt I owe him. To make what he said to me real.”
“What did he tell you?” Oliver asked, feeling the weight of each of Harry’s words.
“To treat the world the way it should be, to show it what it can be,” Harry repeated Ben’s words.
The three scholarship students, along with quite a few of the Gryffindor students, felt their eyes well up after Harry finished speaking.
“… How are you settling in at Hogwarts?” Harry asked, noticing the three students had gone silent.
“Everything is great,” Oliver replied with a smile and a renewed sense of purpose. “We’re learning so much. I’ve been making notes about everything the Professors are teaching us. During the summer holidays, we’re going to teach the other kids in the orphanage what we learned.”
“That’s a great idea,” Harry replied enthusiastically. “I didn’t even think about that. If you need any supplies, parchment, ink, let me know, and I’ll make sure the orphanage gets them.”
Sally reached out impulsively, hugging Harry. “Thank you Harry, thank you so much!” She gushed.
Harry stiffened at the unexpected hug, then patted her back awkwardly, feeling a little out of his depth.
Sally blushed as she pulled away from Harry, and returned with the other scholarship students to their house tables. She hadn’t meant to get emotional, and now Harry probably thought she was weird.
Ron, who had remained quiet throughout the exchange, stiffened when he saw the Slytherin girl reach out for Harry. What was she up to? He knew what his brothers said about them, how they lied to and bullied other students, how they followed the dark lord during the war, and his father’s many run-ins with Lucius Malfoy only confirmed it.
He wanted to call her out on it for taking advantage of Harry like that, but as he looked around, he had a moment of understanding. If he said anything now, he would look like the bad guy. He realized that he would have to keep an eye on Perks.
Hermione watched the exchange between Potter and his scholarship students. Listening to what Sally, Wayne, and Oliver said made her realize that the situation with Potter was more complicated than she originally thought.
Potter started the scholarship program to get a tax write off, and the good publicity that came with it, but she had to acknowledge that it wasn’t the sole reason. Regardless of how she felt about him, or his reasons for doing it, he was helping people.
Draco looked on from the Slytherin table. The hall had gone silent, listening in on what Potter was saying, thirsty for the latest gossip about Hogwart’s resident ‘celebrity.’ He already knew what his father would say about all of it, ‘foolish sentimental drivel, a waste of time and money.’
But he knew Potter was nobody’s fool. His top spot on the student rankings was certainly proof of that. He obviously had a reason for doing what he did, and it wasn’t for the sake of helping others. He didn’t know what Potter was up to, but he would find out.
He looked over at Perks as she sat down. He hadn’t even bothered talking to her. There was no reason to. For all intents and purposes, she was a muggle born. She had no family connections or wealth to speak of. Neither did Hopkins and Rivers, but Potter saw some value in them, something that everyone else overlooked.
The Gryffindor’s and Slytherin’s milled about the DADA classroom excitedly. In the previous classes, they learned about Pixies, Banshees, and Ghouls. This would be the first time they would actually cast a spell.
Harry sat down beside Ron as they waited for Professor Green to arrive. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but something about Ron seemed off. He was quieter than usual, distracted. Just as he was about to ask, the Professor walked in.
“Alright, everyone settle down,” Professor Olivia Green said as she walked into the classroom. “I know you’re all excited about casting your first spells, so let’s get started.”
“Everyone, step away from your desks,” Professor Green said, waving her wand and pushing the desks against the far wall. “Now pick a spot on the wall and repeat after me, Flipendo.”
Olivia watched, making a mental note when the students cast their spells. Most of them could only produce a light blue color at the tip of their wand that quickly fizzled out afterwards, all fairly normal for first year students.
Granger, Malfoy, and Weasley were on the right track. They could cast the spell. It only traveled a couple of feet before it petered out, but they were further along than their peers.
The obvious standout was Potter, which came as no surprise. The other professors had already mentioned he was far ahead of the other students.
He cast the spell correctly on the first attempt. His spell grouping was tight, and far more accurate than his peers. “Very well done, Mr. Potter, five points to Gryffindor,” she congratulated him. “Can you share your process with the class?”
“… I just point my wand where I want the spell to land, and concentrate on what I want the spell to do,” Harry explained. He hadn’t really given it much thought before.
“Exactly,” Professor Green agreed. “The difference between a spell that succeeds and a spell that fails is intent and focus. Mr. Potter intended for the spell to hit the wall, and he focused his magic on achieving it. You can all see the results for yourselves,” she said to the rest of the class.
“Everyone, try the spell again. This time, focus on what you want to happen, not just the words and the wand movements,” Professor Green instructed.
“Much better,” she said after Granger, Malfoy, and Weasley all hit the wall on their fourth and fifth attempts. “Five points to each of you. Keep practicing. By the end of class, I expect all of you to cast the spell correctly,” she said to the rest of the class.
Lavender whispered to Parvati, “Did you see that? Harry just cast the spell, without even doing the wand movements that time.”
“I know,” Parvati whispered back, “that’s how they do it on the dueling circuit.”
“What?” Lavender asked. “I thought the spell wouldn’t work without the wand movements.”
“My dad said if you cast the spell enough times, your magic gets used to casting it,” Parvati remembered. “The better you get at it, the less wand movements you need, and the faster you can get the spells off.”
“Remember what he said to Hermione?” Lavender asked, “about exercising? Do you think that’s why he’s learning everything so fast?”
“Maybe,” Parvati thought about it. “Ron started exercising with him last week and his grades started going up after that.”
“That must be it,” Lavender nodded.
“Do you think he’d let us exercise with him, too?” Parvati asked, biting her lip as she watched Harry cast the spell again. He was casting his spells noticeably faster than everyone else now, and on top of that, his spells moved across the room faster than everyone else’s as well.
“Maybe,” Lavender replied hopefully as she went back to casting her own spell. “We should ask him.”
“Mr. Potter,” the Professor said, walking up to him. “I think you’re ready for the more advanced version of the spell.”
“More advanced version?” Harry asked curiously.
“Yes, I want you to hold the spell on the tip of your wand, but don’t release it until I tell you,” she instructed.
Harry nodded. “Flipendo,” he cast the spell, but held it back. He could feel his magic straining, trying to push forward. He could feel the tension increase the longer he held it.
The rest of the class watched curiously as the spell color changed from a light blue to a purple, then slowly turned red.
“Release the spell now!” Professor Green ordered.
Harry unleashed the spell and watched along with the rest of the class as it rocketed across the room, much faster than when he cast it normally and struck the wall with a resounding bang.
“Very good, Mr. Potter, take another five more points for Gryffindor,” the Professor smiled. “For the rest of the class, I want you to work on reducing the time to charge the spell.”
“That was the advanced form of the Flipendo,” she instructed the rest of the class. “Did you notice how the spell color changed the longer Mr. Potter held it?” She asked to the nods of the Gryffindors and Slytherin’s.
“That’s what happens when you charge up your spells. It not only adds more magic to the spell, but it also compacts the magic into a smaller and smaller space, so when you release it, the spell is much more powerful.”
“Keep in mind that it’s a double-edged sword. The longer you hold the spell, the more magic you use, and the more dangerous it becomes to you. The pressure will continue to build and it will become harder and harder for you to control it. If you hold it too long, the spell could backfire, hitting you instead of your opponent.”
“That’s why I don’t want any of you to charge your spells without my express permission and supervision. Is that clear?” She asked the class.
“Yes Professor,” the class replied.
“Good,” Professor Green smiled. “Now off you go, it’s time for lunch,” she dismissed them.
Hermione and Draco watched with no small amount of envy as Harry continued to rack up house points, widening the gap in the student rankings even further.
‘Someone has definitely trained him,’ Draco thought, ‘but who?’ His father had hired the best tutors that money could buy, but clearly, whoever taught Potter was much better. How long had he trained for? Years?
Hermione was thinking along a similar line. She was second place in the rankings, just edging out Malfoy, but as much as she studied, she was still behind Potter. This was an unfamiliar experience for her. Before she came to Hogwarts, she was always at the top of the class. She had thought it would be the same here, but so far, it hadn’t happened. She studied twice as much as she did before, only to get second place.
It would be one thing if Potter worked as hard as she did, but between playing chess with Ron, the silly exercises he insisted on doing, and whatever else he got up to, he spent less than a third of the time studying than she did. It wasn’t fair.
As she walked down the hall with the rest of the class to the Great Hall, one of the older students approached her. “Hello, Hermione Granger, right? Do you mind if we talk for a few minutes? My name is Beatrice Haywood.”
Hermione recognized the name immediately. She was a third year Hufflepuff, and also the top ranked student for her year. “Ok, what’s this about?” Hermione asked.
“I’m a member of a study group of sorts,” Beatrice explained as she led Hermione into an unused classroom. “We keep an eye out for like-minded students who have the same drive and determination to learn and succeed that we do.”
“You’ve really impressed us with how well you’ve done so far,” Beatrice complimented. “I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the pureblood families usually tutor their children for up to a year before they even start Hogwarts, so it’s pretty common to see them take the first five ranks.”
“That explains so much,” Hermione realized. This was why Potter did as well as he did. He knew all the material ahead of time and had an extra year to prepare.
“Yes,” Beatrice agreed. “My mother is a muggle born, and my father is a half blood, so we couldn’t afford the expensive tutors the purebloods like to hire.”
“In my first year, it took me until Christmas before I even broke the top five in the student ranking. That was when the study group took notice of me,” she continued. “With their help, I got to number two by the end of my first year, and I held the top spot for my second and third year,” she finished proudly.
“We want to give you that same opportunity, Hermione,” Beatrice said. “Do you want to take your education to the next level?”
Hermione was so excited she wanted to jump for joy. This is exactly what she needed. She was positive that she could beat Potter in no time, with Beatrice’s help. “I would love to,” Hermione beamed.
“Good,” Beatrice smiled. “Meet me in the library tonight after dinner, and I can introduce you to the rest of the group.”
Hermione returned to her house table for lunch happily. She had a plan now. She would learn everything she could from Beatrice and the rest of the study group, then she would overtake Potter and become the top student for her year in no time.
Harry watched as Ron stumbled through his exercises. He was obviously distracted. When they finished their run around the lake, he broached the subject.
“Ron, what’s going on?” Harry asked bluntly.
“What do you mean, Harry?” Ron asked, pretending to not know what he was talking about.
“You know what,” Harry denied. “You’ve been distracted all day. What’s going on?”
Ron looked at Harry, trying to think of what to say. “… Look Harry, I know you’re doing this scholarship thing to help people… but are you? I mean, how do you know they’re the right ones to help?”
“Right ones to help?” Harry asked, confused. “What do you mean?”
“… That Sally girl, she’s a Slytherin,” Ron replied. “I know when you gave her the scholarship, you didn’t know where she was going to be sorted, but now…”
“So that’s where this is coming from,” Harry realized. “You think because of where she got sorted that she’s going to turn out evil?”
“It’s the same house the Dark Lord was sorted into, and where all his followers came from,” Ron replied.
“Did you know that my mother and father are from Gryffindor?” Harry asked.
“Yeah, of course. Everyone knows that. What does that have to do with anything?” Ron asked.
“… Well, they’re not the people everyone thinks they are,” Harry admitted. “They didn’t treat me very well growing up. The day before I opened Merlin’s vault, they threw me out of the house, and it wasn’t the first time either. For most of my life, a house-elf took care of me,” Harry answered. “Our houses are just that, our houses. They don’t decide who we are, or if we’re good or bad.”
“… Harry, I didn’t know about all that,” Ron replied. “I just think… why take the risk, you know?”
“Let me tell you about Sally,” Harry replied. “She’s a half-blood, on her mother’s side, and muggle born on her father’s side. Her parents were both Ravenclaws, and the Death Eaters killed them during the war. Sally lives with her aunt in the muggle world. They do okay, but they don’t have the kind of money it takes to go to Hogwarts.”
“…” Ron didn’t know what to say to that. It was a lot easier to think of them as a bunch of snakes when he didn’t know anything about them.
“I know you’re just looking out for me, Ron, and I appreciate that,” Harry added. “But if you make judgments about people that haven’t done anything wrong, and then punishing them for it, what do you think they’re going to do?”
Ron looked down at the ground, thinking about what Harry was asking of him. Everything he knew about the Slytherin’s, everything that happened during the war, it was all telling him he shouldn’t trust any of them. “….”
“I’ll tell you what, Ron,” Harry offered. “You make an effort to get to know her, a real effort, and after that, if you still think there’s something wrong, I’ll listen.”
“How am I supposed to do that?” Ron asked.
“That’s up to you,” Harry shrugged. “Talk to her, play a few games of chess with her, offer to study with her. It’s up to you.”
“Alright, alright,” Ron said with a sigh. “I’ll give it a try.” He supposed it wouldn’t be too bad to talk to her for a just a few minutes, if only to show Harry the truth.
Just as they finished up their exercises, they saw someone walking up to them from the castle. It was the Ravenclaw that Ron had a game of chess with last week, Egwu.
“Hello again, Harry, Ron,” he greeted them. “A few of your year mates said that I would probably find you out here. Do you have a few minutes to talk?”
“Sure. What did you want to talk about?” Harry asked.
“I’m part of a study group, and we usually keep an eye out for talented students,” Andre explained. “It was pretty impressive how you got the top spot for your year, Harry, and for you Ron, to climb the rankings as quickly as you did.”
“I wanted to extend an invitation for both of you to join us,” Andre offered.
“So… you all just study together?” Ron asked.
“It’s a lot more than that,” Andre explained. “We’re a group of students from all four of the houses. We help each other with any classes the others are struggling in. Many of our alumni even work in high-ranking positions inside the Ministry, the Wizengamot, and some private businesses. They can help you a lot after you graduate.”
“… It sounds interesting,” Ron offered. He could already see some of the obvious benefits.
“We’re having a meeting in the library after dinner tonight,” Andre explained. “You can meet the other members and we can explain some more about what the study group does. What do you say?”
Hermione walked excitedly to the library after she finished her dinner. She couldn’t wait to meet the other members. This was exactly what she had hoped for when she first enrolled in Hogwarts, finding a group of students that thought the same way that she did about their education.
She made her way to the back of the library, towards the large table facing the window. It looked like the other members had already arrived.
“Hi Hermione,” Beatrice greeted with a smile. “I’m glad you came. The other new members should be here any minute.”
‘Other new members?’ She thought. She hadn’t realized they were recruiting other members.
Before she had a chance to ask, Draco Malfoy walked in, and she realized what was happening. They were offering membership to all the top students, so that meant Potter would definitely be here.
Almost as if she heard his thoughts, Potter showed up next, with Ron in tow. As far as she knew, Ron wasn’t even in the top five, leading her to wonder how he got an invitation in the first place.
“Thank you for joining us today, Draco, Harry, Hermione and Ron,” Andre said. “Now that you’re all here, we can introduce ourselves. I’m Andre Egwu, 7th year Ravenclaw, and top student for my year.”
“I’m Talbott Winger, Ravenclaw seventh year as well, and number two in the ranking,” the blond-haired boy with the slicked back hair spoke next.
“I’m Ismelda Murk, seventh year Slytherin, and number three in the ranking,” the dark-haired witch with the freckles introduced herself.
“My name is Beatrice Haywood. I’m a third year Hufflepuff, and the top student for my year too,” the blonde-haired and blue-eyed girl said.
“Lucian Bole, Slytherin third year, and number two in the ranking,” the blonde-haired boy said.
“Hi, I’m Elspeth MacGillony, Ravenclaw third year, and number three in the rankings,” the red-headed girl said with a friendly smile.
“What’s this all about?” Draco asked curiously. “How come I’ve never heard of this study group before?”
“That’s a good question Draco,” Andre smiled. “We don’t really advertise our existence to the rest of the school, only to new members.”
“Why is that?” Ron asked, surprised that he was agreeing with Malfoy. “What’s the big secret?”
“There’s no big secret,” Andre laughed. “But I get where you’re coming from. It does seem a bit cloak and dagger, doesn’t it? I felt the same way when I joined too.”
“The group has been around in one form or another for a while, almost since the start of Hogwarts actually,” Andrew continued. “When our predecessors founded this group, it was based upon the idea of learning new things, and helping each other become the best versions of ourselves we could be, and we mostly we stuck to that over the years.”
“Mostly?” Hermione asked curiously.
“Some of our members had brothers, sisters, cousins. You get the idea. When they found about it, they wanted to join too. Before long, parents got involved, not letting new members join unless their siblings could as well. Pretty soon after that, the real members were nothing more that glorified tutors, and the group didn’t have much reason to exist anymore.”
“The group disbanded and reformed a few times over the years because of that. After a while, we learned to be a little more discreet with who we recruited.”
Draco nodded along. He could certainly see the sense in that. The idea of spending his free time helping Crabbe and Goyle to pull up their grades from a ‘dreadful’ would be a waste of his time.
“Some of our members went on to do great things and opened doors for the rest of us…” Andre continued.
Harry missed most of Andre’s speech. After almost a week, he felt the buzzing again. It was in the library with them.
“It’s close, whatever it is,” Merlin agreed. “When you get a chance, try standing next to each of them. It could be an item in their possession.”
Harry looked around the library as Ron, Hermione, and Draco started talking to the other members. He did his best not to draw too much attention to himself as he walked around the room.
“You alright there, Harry?” Andre asked, walking up to him. “You’re looking a bit lost.”
“No, I’m fine,” Harry lied. “I just haven’t had a chance to visit the library before.”
“I think I understand Harry,” Andre replied. “You’re already at the top of your class, and you have plenty of things on your plate already. You’re wondering if this is worth your time.”
“No,” Harry denied. “It’s nothing like that. I’m just a little distracted.”
“It’s ok Harry, I felt the same way you did,” Andre smiled.
“He’s clean,” Merlin confirmed. “He doesn’t have the item on him.”
“When I came to Hogwarts, I was the top student as well,” Andre continued. “I didn’t see much point in slowing down my own studies either, especially when I wasn’t getting anything out of it.”
“So why did you join?” Harry asked curiously.
“They gave me something else,” Andre explained. “Growing up, I was alone a lot, the only son of pureblood parents. I didn’t even have any friends until I started Hogwarts. They became my friends, my family. I think you know what I’m talking about,” he said, looking at Harry meaningfully.
Harry looked back at Andre. “it’s not easy,” he agreed.
Andre nodded. “Take some time to think it over. There’s a lot we can do to help with your scholarship program too, and really anything else you want to do to help the less fortunate.”
“Thanks Andre, I’ll think about it,” Harry smiled. It was comforting to know that someone else had been through at least some of what he had to go through and come out the other side.
Hi, thanks for reading! What did you think of the new chapter? With Hermione’s character I’m really trying to thread the needle. She sees Harry as her obvious rival, and the jealousy she feels towards him is clouding her judgement.
Ron is a little closer to canon in his friendship with Harry, but it’s a different relationship than the books. He sees Harry as both a friend and a mentor.
I’m trying to keep Harry from coming off as the all knowing white knight version he was in the original story. If he came off as preachy in this chapter please let me know. My intention was to show him applying the lessons he had learned from Ben.
Also, how do you feel about the concept of the student ranking? It was added with the intention of adding some friction early on with the main characters and establishing some of the plot points for the rest of the story.