Whispers followed Harry from the moment he left his dormitory the next day. People lining up outside classrooms stood on tiptoe to get a look at him, or doubled back to pass him in the corridors again, staring. Harry wished they wouldn't, because he was trying to concentrate on finding his way to classes.
There were two hundred and forty-four staircases at Hogwarts: wide, sweeping ones; narrow, rickety ones; some that led somewhere different on a Friday; some with a vanishing step halfway up that you had to remember to jump. Then there were doors that wouldn't open unless you asked politely, or tickled them in exactly the right place, and doors that weren't really doors at all, but solid walls just pretending. It was also very hard to remember where anything was, because it all seemed to move around a lot. The people in the portraits kept going to visit each other, and Harry was sure the coats of armor could walk.
The ghosts didn't help much, either. It was always a nasty shock when one of them glided suddenly through a door you were trying to open. Nearly Headless Nick was always happy to point new Gryffindors in the right direction, but Peeves the Poltergeist was worth two locked doors and a trick staircase if you met him when you were late for class. He would drop wastepaper baskets on your head, pull rugs from under your feet, pelt you with bits of chalk, or sneak up behind you, invisible, grab your nose, and screech, "GOT YOUR CONK!"
Even worse than Peeves, if that was possible, was the caretaker, Argus Filch. Harry, Ron, and Neville managed to get on the wrong side of him on their very first morning. Filch found them trying to force their way through a door that unluckily turned out to be the entrance to the out-of-bounds corridor on the third floor. He wouldn't believe they were lost, was sure they were trying to break into it on purpose, and was threatening to lock them in the dungeons when they were rescued by Professor Adams, who was passing.
Filch owned a cat called Mrs. Norris, a poofy-haired, bright red creature with bulging, lamp like eyes just like Filch's, and three tails. She patrolled the corridors alone. Break a rule in front of her, put just one toe out of line, and she'd whisk off for Filch, who'd appear, wheezing, two seconds later. Filch knew the secret passageways of the school better than anyone (except perhaps the Weasley twins) and could pop up as suddenly as any of the ghosts. The students all hated him, and it was the dearest ambition of many to give Mrs. Norris a good kick. Neville swore that he would train Kamno to chase cats once he was large enough.
They had been given one day before classes in which to familiarize themselves with the castle. So the next day, after dinner, Harry went in search of Professor Snape. Ron warned him against it ("Fred told me, unless it was George, that Snape hates all Gryffindors. We'll have to deal with him in class, but don't go looking for him!"), but he waved it off. Harry hadn't learned the twisting shape of Hogwarts yet, but eventually, asking help from portraits, he found his way into the dungeons and to the professor's door.
It was made of some sort of smooth black wood, with the grain barely visible, and marked with a simple 'Snape', written in silver letters. Harry hesitated for only a moment, admiring the lettering and wondering how it opened without a handle, before he knocked on it. There was a moment's pause, presumably while the professor wondered who was there, before a curt voice said "Enter," and the door swung open.
Professor Snape was sitting in wooden armchair, reading a book that appeared to be in Latin; Harry wondered what the title, Omnem Effugiat Venena, meant. His eyes narrowed when he saw Harry in the door. "Potter," he snarled. "Why are you here?"
"Professor I… I heard that you were close to my mother," Harry said carefully. The professor was clearly in a bad mood, and he didn't want to make it any worse. "I'd like to know about her. Could you… could you tell me…" his throat seemed to block at the thought, that maybe, just maybe, he could know where he came from. Harry wanted to know about everything, though he tended to hide how much he did, since people were often put off by it. And now, with such a powerful subject, his voice failed him.
Snape's eyes softened slightly as Harry spoke. "Tell you about her?" he finished when it was clear that Harry was unable to, and the boy nodded. "Hm… very well.
"First, I should tell you that while I was Lily's friend, perhaps her best friend, for almost eight years, we had a great argument at the end of our fifth year, for which she never quite forgave me. We eventually reconciled; she wanted me to be your godfather, in fact; but I can't tell you much about her personal life after her fifth year. Is that understood?"
Harry nodded, and the professor seemed to notice that he still stood in the doorway. "Oh, sit down!" he snapped, waving his hand carelessly and conjuring another armchair which Harry sat in. "Now then…
"Your mother was remarkable in many ways. She was wonderful at potions, and one of the best at charms work I've ever met. I think that if she had lived, she could have surpassed even Filius; Professor Flitwick; who is currently the accepted authority on the subject…"
Harry had a lot to think about as he crept back to his dormitory two hours later, clutching the note Professor Snape had given him. His mother had been brilliant, it seemed, at nearly every subject. The only place she had real trouble with was Transfiguration, which worried him. But Mum had truly excelled at Charms and Potions, so much that she was considered a prodigy at both, even more so than Snape. The professor had mentioned that he was one of the three most prominent potions masters in the world at present; the other two were his own teacher, Professor Slughorn, and an Italian woman called Mistress Pozione. However, he claimed, Mum could have surpassed any of them.
Harry had decided that he had better put forth real effort into both of those subjects. When he had told Professor Snape this, just before leaving, he had been delighted, and given him several books on potions which weren't course books. The Ingredients Guide was the definitive work on the properties of various potions ingredients and how they interacted, while Small but Important was a book Snape himself had written about how things like the direction of stirring and other such minor parts of potions were fundamental.
The professor had, however, been unable to help much with charms work, confessing that he had never been much better than average at it. Professor Flitwick, however, would surely be willing to help a member of his own house and especially Lily Evans' son, as she had been a favorite student. Harry would ask after his first Charms class the next day. As for his worries about Transfiguration, it turned out that his father had been excellent at it. Harry had, however, not failed to notice the hate behind Snape's eyes when he spoke of James Potter. He decided that Snape had probably been his dad's rival, and would therefore not be a good source of information for him. His argument with Mum had probably been over Dad, in fact.
He stifled a yawn, and froze as he saw Mrs. Norris staring at him. She whisked away a moment later, which meant that Filch couldn't be far behind. He had a note, of course, but that might not mean anything to the grouchy caretaker. Harry broke into a run, and just barely managed to step through the Fat Lady's portrait before he saw Filch through the portrait hole. He couldn't hold back a grin at the expression of rage on his face when the Fat Lady closed on the irate caretaker, and refused to let him in. Pleasant thoughts in his head, Harry began to compose a letter to the man mentioned by Professor Flitwick, Remus Lupin.
Dear Mr. Lupin,
My name is Harry Potter. I have heard that you knew my parents, particularly my father. I hope that you will be willing to tell me about him; anything you wish to tell me, anything at all. Also, as I grew up with Muggles, any books you can recommend to me with things it would be useful to know, especially about Transfiguration. I'd also like to know more about my dad's other friends; are any of them still around, so I could write to them as well?Harry Potter
Harry held the letter up and eyed it critically. It would probably be all right, he decided eventually. Lupin wouldn't refuse it, hopefully. He would send it off from the Owlery sometime the next day.
Of course, the next day Harry was rather distracted by the classes. There was a lot more to magic, as Harry quickly found out, than waving your wand and saying a few funny words.
They had to study the night skies through their telescopes every Wednesday at midnight and learn the names of different stars and the movements of the planets. Three times a week they went out to the greenhouses behind the castle to study Herbology, with a dumpy little witch called Professor Sprout who was the head of Hufflepuff, where they learned how to take care of all the strange plants and fungi, and found out what they were used for.
One of the classes was surprisingly interesting: History. While Harry had liked reading about history in his textbook, he had expected the actual class to be just lecturing. However, the teacher, Professor Silas, had an enchant blackboard which could show pictures of whatever he desired. He told the class about the founding of Hogwarts, animating it on the blackboard, but didn't give any detail on what they Founders looked like, instead showing simple figures of the appropriate colors. Their homework was to find out, and use the simple illusion spell he showed them to present how they imagined the Founders to the class. Harry left feeling quite hopeful; he had mastered the spell quickly, trying to create the image of his parents.
Their first class with Professor Flitwick was also fun. He gave a lecture about why a charm was different than a transfiguration, a jinx, a hex, or a curse, but Harry had trouble following it. Nevertheless, at the end of class he showed them how to perform lumos¸ turning their wands into bright lights. "It's technically a second-year spell," he informed them after they had all mastered it. "The Ministry thinks that first-years need to master the basic wand movements before learning any spells. I think that really, the best way to learn is to do, and this is the best way to demonstrate the wind-up movement that's the basis of the spell. Besides, it's a wonderful confidence booster." Harry approached him after class to ask about good books on Charms, explaining that he wanted to live up to his mother's memory, and received enthusiastic recommendations for books called The Art of Charming and A Guide to Spell Interactions.
Professor McGonagall was again different. Strict and clever, she gave them a talking-to the moment they sat down in her first class. "Transfiguration is some of the most complex and dangerous magic you will learn at Hogwarts," she said. "Anyone messing around in my class will leave and not come back. You have been warned." Then she changed her desk into a pig and back again. They were all very impressed and couldn't wait to get started, but soon realized they weren't going to be changing the furniture into animals for a long time.
After taking a lot of complicated notes, they were each given a match and started trying to turn it into a needle. By the end of the lesson, only Hermione and Ginny had made any difference to their matches; Professor McGonagall showed the class how they had gone silvery and gave them both rare smiles.
The class everyone had really been looking forward to was Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Adams didn't disappoint. He taught them all the simplest hex that Harry could imagine, maharu. It was just a twist and a point towards the target, and caused a not-very-painful jab.
Harry was very relieved to find out that he wasn't miles behind everyone else. Lots of people had come from Muggle families and, like him, hadn't had any idea that they were witches and wizards. There was so much to learn that even people like Neville didn't have much of a head start. And thanks to Professor Flitwick's recommendations and, he suspected, his desire to live up to his Mum and Dad's legacies, he did quite well in Transfiguration and Charms.
Harry eventually managed to get up to the owlery after dinner Wednesday night. As he stepped into the chilly tower, avoiding the scattered piles of owl dung, he was immediately met by a handsome eagle owl. The owl was silver, but the tips of its feathers were golden, making it shine golden in the light.
"Hello," Harry said, reaching up to stroke its head. "Would you like to take a letter?" The owl nodded regally, and willingly took the letter he presented. "That goes to Remus Lupin. I don't know where he lives, but–" the eagle owl head-butted him, somehow telling him that he shouldn't doubt. Harry snorted. "All right, I won't question your skills." Harry watched as the silver-gold owl flew off, then began trudging the three floors down and four up to Gryffindor Tower.
Friday was an important day for Harry, Neville, and Ron. They finally managed to find their way down to the Great Hall for breakfast without getting lost once. Hermione and Ginny had of course gotten it by Wednesday, but Harry suspected that the route from Ravenclaw Tower was simpler.
"What have we got today?" Harry asked as he poured sugar on his porridge.
"Double Potions with the Slytherins," said Neville. "Snape's the Head of Slytherin House. They say he always favors them - we'll be able to see if it's true."
"I'm sure that's not true. He seemed okay when I talked to him on Monday, anyway. Still, I wish Flitwick favored us," said Harry.
Just then, the mail arrived. Harry had gotten used to this by now, but it had given him a bit of a shock on the first morning, when about a hundred owls had suddenly streamed into the Great Hall during breakfast, circling the tables until they saw their owners, and dropping letters and packages onto their laps.
Harry hadn't gotten anything yet. The silver-gold eagle owl, who seemed to like him, occasionally flew in to nibble on his ear and steal bacon, but today flew right over Harry, dropping a note right into Harry's outstretched hand as he reached for a plate of pancakes. Harry tore it open at once. It said, in incredibly neat handwriting:
I know you get Friday afternoons off, so would you like to come and have a cup of tea with me around five? I want to hear all about your first week. Send us an answer back with your fine feathered friend here.
Harry borrowed Neville's quill, scribbled 'Yes, please, see you later' on the back of the note, and called for an owl to come take it. Immediately the silver-gold owl arrived to take it. "Hold on," he said, catching it gently by the beak. "I still don't know your name."
Ron paused in his ravenous shoveling of food. "What're you about, Harry?"
"This owl seems to like me," he told Ron. "But I don't know what his name is. Do you have one?" he addressed to owl. It shrugged; wings were clearly pretty good for that. Harry pulled his face, trying to think of something.
"Hey, Ginny!" Harry called to the Ravenclaw table. Ginny and her friend Hermione looked over. "Can you think of a name for this owl?"
Ginny muttered with Hermione for a moment, then the brunette called back "How about Electrum?"
Harry glanced at Ron. "Electrum?"
"It's an alloy of silver and gold!" Ginny called. "Seems fitting, don't you think?"
Harry nodded. "What do you think?" he asked the owl. The newly dubbed Electrum nodded, then snatched up the note to Hagrid and carried it off.
"I think I'll ask Professor Flitwick how you go about buying a school owl," Harry mused. "Electrum seems like a good owl. I wonder why I haven't gotten a reply from Mr. Lupin yet, though."
"Did you tell him to wait for one?" asked Neville. "Owls won't normally. Wizarding eagle owls are very fast fliers; if Mr. Lupin only has a screech owl or a barn owl, for example, it would take a while to get a long distance."
Harry considered this. "How far can an eagle owl go in a day?" he asked. "Electrum left Wednesday night and came back Thursday night."
"I would guess all the way across the Atlantic, a fine specimen like that," said Percy, who was passing. "So your recipient could be just about anywhere."
Harry sighed. "Well, I guess I'll have to wait. So, where's Potions, Percy?"
Potions lessons took place down in one of the dungeons. It was colder there than up in the main castle, and would have been quite creepy enough without the pickled animals floating in glass jars all around the walls. Snape started the class by taking the roll call, and like Flitwick, he paused at Harry's name.
"Ah, yes," he said softly. "Harry Potter. Do you suppose that you will do as well as your mother, Potter?"
Harry had read through most of both books Snape had recommended, as well as all of his textbook, and smiled. "Yes, sir," he said. "I'm quite confident." To his right, Ron flinched, but Snape just smiled coldly, and moved on.
Snape finished calling the names and looked up at the class. His eyes were black like Hagrid's, but they had none of Hagrid's warmth. They were cold and empty and made you think of dark tunnels.
"You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion making," he began. He spoke in barely more than a whisper, but they caught every word - like Professor McGonagall, Snape had the gift of keeping a class silent without effort. "As there is no foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don't expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses... I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, and even stopper death - if you aren't as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach."
More silence followed this little speech. Harry and Ron exchanged looks with raised eyebrows. "Potter!" said Snape suddenly. "What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"
Harry strained to remember this. It was a draught, not a normal potion, he knew that. And it had something to do with death... or was it sleeping? Ah ha! "The draught of living death, sir," he said, and, remembering another tidbit from Small but Important, added "but if you pour the infusion onto the asphodel rather than adding the asphodel to the infusion, then it'll be poisonous unless you add unicorn horn as well. But that would make it basically colored water."
Snape nodded approvingly, and Ron looked flabbergasted. "Perhaps you might amount to something after all, Potter. Where would you look for a bezoar?"
Bezoars, those were stones that could serve as antidotes, right? But he couldn't remember where. "In the potions cupboard," he said cheekily, and most of the class chuckled, though they were silenced instantly by Snape's glare.
"If you did not have access to the school's supplies. Or your own," he added as Harry opened his mouth to say his bag.
Harry thought about this for a moment longer, and remembered. "The stomach of a goat."
"What is the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane; Weasley?" Harry had been about to answer that they were the same, but fell silent when Snape turned to the redhead.
Ron seemed aghast to be put on the spot. "Um, I, um…" he stammered, and Professor Snape sneered.
"Does anyone know the answer to Weasley's dilemma? Malfoy?"
Draco smiled widely. "Monkshood and Wolfsbane are the same plant, sir, and are also called aconite."
"Weasley, give your seat to Malfoy," Snape ordered. "I will not have the only two people in this class who might possibly be competent hampered by working with idiots. Malfoy, you and Potter will work together throughout the year. Weasley, you will work with Finnegan."
Things went badly for the rest of the Gryffindors as the Potions lesson continued. Snape put them all into pairs and set them to mixing up a simple potion to cure boils. He swept around in his long black cloak, watching them weigh dried nettles and crush snake fangs, criticizing almost everyone except Draco and Harry, who he seemed to like. He was just telling everyone to look at the way they had stewed their horned slugs when clouds of acid green smoke and a loud hissing filled the dungeon. Neville had somehow managed to melt his cauldron into a twisted blob, and their potion was seeping across the stone floor, burning holes in people's shoes. Within seconds, the whole class was standing on their stools while Neville, who had been drenched in the potion when the cauldron collapsed, moaned in pain as angry red boils sprang up all over his arms and legs.
"Idiot boy!" snarled Snape, clearing the spilled potion away with one wave of his wand. "I suppose you added the porcupine quills before taking the cauldron off the fire?" Neville whimpered as boils started to pop up all over his nose. "Take him up to the hospital wing," Snape spat at Parvati Patil, who he had been working with. Then he rounded on Seamus Finnegan and Ron, who had been working next to them. "You; Weasley; why didn't you tell him not to add the quills? Thought he'd make you look good if he got it wrong, did you? That's a point you've lost for Gryffindor."
This was so unfair that Harry opened his mouth to argue, but Draco kicked him behind their cauldron. "Don't," he muttered. "Snape is always in a bad mood right after someone messes up."
As they climbed the steps out of the dungeon an hour later, Harry's mind was racing and his spirits were bouncing. Snape seemed to like him; but he clearly hated the rest of the Gryffindors
"Don't worry about it," said Ron, "Snape's always taking points off Fred and George. Can I come and meet Hagrid with you?"
At five to three they left the castle and made their way across the grounds. Hagrid lived in a small wooden house on the edge of the forbidden forest. A crossbow and a pair of galoshes were outside the front door.
When Harry knocked they heard a frantic scrabbling from inside and several booming barks. Then Hagrid's voice rang out, saying, "Back, Fang. Back." Hagrid's big, hairy face appeared in the crack as he pulled the door open.
"Hang on," he said. "Back, Fang." He let them in, struggling to keep a hold on the collar of an enormous black boarhound.
There was only one room inside. Ducks and chickens were hanging from the ceiling, a copper kettle was boiling on the open fire, and in the corner stood a massive bed with a patchwork quilt over it.
"Make yourselves at home," said Hagrid, letting go of Fang, who bounded straight at Ron and started licking his ears. Like Hagrid, Fang was clearly not as fierce as he looked.
"This is Ron," Harry told Hagrid, who was pouring boiling water into a large teapot and putting rock cakes onto a plate.
"Another Weasley, eh?" said Hagrid, glancing at Ron's freckles. "I spend half my time chasing your twin brothers away from the forest."
The rock cakes were shapeless lumps with raisins that almost broke their teeth, but Harry and Ron pretended to be enjoying them as they told Hagrid all about their first lessons. Fang rested his head on Harry's knee and drooled all over his robes.
Harry and Ron were delighted to hear Hagrid call Filch 'that old git.' "An' as for that cat, Mrs. Norris, I'd like to introduce her to Fang sometime. Do you know, every time I go up to the school, she follows me everywhere? You can't get rid of her; Filch puts her up to it."
Harry told Hagrid about Snape's lesson. Hagrid, like Ron, told Harry not to worry about it, that Snape hardly liked anyone.
"But he seemed to really hate the rest of the Gryffindors, and not me."
"Rubbish!" said Hagrid. "There’s no reason for it! There'd be more reason for him to hate you specifically; he never liked your dad, you know." But Harry couldn't help thinking that Hagrid didn't quite meet his eyes when he said that.
"How's your brother Charlie?" Hagrid asked Ron. "I liked him a lot - great with animals."
Harry wondered if Hagrid had changed the subject on purpose. While Ron told Hagrid all about Charlie's work with dragons, Harry picked up a piece of paper that was lying on the table under the tea cozy. It was a cutting from the Daily Prophet:
GRINGOTTS BREAK-IN LATEST
Investigations continue into the break-in at Gringotts on 31 July, widely believed to be the work of Dark wizards or witches unknown. Gringotts goblins today insisted that nothing had been taken. The vault that was searched had in fact been emptied the same day. "But we're not telling you what was in there, so keep your noses out if you know what's good for you," said a Gringotts spokesgoblin this afternoon.
Harry remembered Ron telling him on the train that someone had tried to rob Gringotts, but Ron hadn't mentioned the date. "Hagrid!" said Harry, "that Gringotts break-in happened on my birthday! It might've been happening while Professor Flitwick and I were there!" There was no doubt about it, Hagrid definitely didn't meet Harry's eyes this time. He grunted and offered him another rock cake. Harry read the story again. The vault that was searched had in fact been emptied earlier that same day. Hagrid had had something to do, the 'you-know-what' in vault 'you-know-which'. Had that been what the thieves were looking for? As Harry and Ron walked back to the castle for dinner, their pockets weighed down with rock cakes they'd been too polite to refuse, Harry thought that none of the lessons he'd had so far had given him as much to think about as tea with Hagrid. Had Hagrid collected the you-know-what just in time? Where was it now? And did Hagrid know something about Snape that he didn't want to tell Harry?