The night after the flying lesson, Harry was talking with his friends, having called Hermione and Ginny over from the Ravenclaw table for dinner. "So Flitwick talked to the Headmaster," he said happily, "and all I have to do is show him that I can fly a broom properly, then I'll be allowed to try out for the team. They need a new Seeker, you see…"
"So I've heard," Ginny agreed. "Will you be using one of the school's brooms or buying your own?"
"I plan to buy my own," Harry said. "I'm not sure which kind, though. Say, Ron, do you have a broom catalog I could take a look at?"
Ron nodded. "Back up in the dorm, I'll lend it to you after dinner," he said.
"Maybe you should wait until you actually know if you're on the team," Hermione interrupted.
Ron snorted. "There's no chance of that not happening. You didn't see him," he told the brunette. "He dove from nearly forty feet up all the way down to the ground; didn't pull up until he was inside five feet of the ground, and he caught Neville's Remembrall, which is maybe two inches across."
Hermione raised her eyebrows. "I think you're exaggerating, but if you say so. But Harry, do you even know how to play Quidditch?"
Harry chuckled. "That's right, you weren't there when Ron told me about Quidditch on the train. He was very detailed; put Ginny and Nev right to sleep." Ron turned bright red. "But now that I think about it," he continued, "there are probably a lot of other things that I don't know about Wizarding culture. Draco's supposed to be telling me about the upper class culture, but we haven't gotten around to it yet. Ginny, do you think you could?"
The redhead shook her head. "I've always been more interested in history. Mum might be able to help, though. You could send Electrum to her about it," she suggested.
Ron appeared strangely quiet as Harry considered this. "Yeah, I think I will," he agreed after a moment. "He should be back by now; I'll send him after I've shown the Headmaster my masterful broom-riding skills."
The Headmaster didn't seem to want much from Harry; he had to weave through the hoops, accelerate to top speed and then stop safely, and dive as close to the ground as he could before pulling up. After Harry finished the simple tasks, Dumbledore pronounced him fit to join the team.
"Wait, Headmaster!" Harry called as Dumbledore turned to leave.
"Yes, Harry?" asked the old white-bearded man.
"Is it possible to buy a school owl?"
Dumbledore furrowed his brow. "I believe it is, yes. Do you have one in mind?"
"There's an owl who seems to like me," Harry told the Headmaster. "I've named him Electrum; a silver eagle owl with golden-tipped feathers."
Dumbledore frowned for a moment. "We don't have any silver-gold owls," he said slowly. "Or eagle owls, for that matter; just normal screech and horned owls. Unless… do you mean Tantalus?"
"The Potter family's owl," Dumbledore said. "A silver eagle owl with golden-tipped feathers, just as you described. A very fine specimen, as I recall. He has been hiding atop the Owlery, having come here shortly after your parents were killed by Voldemort."
Harry's brows shot up. "Ever since my parents were killed? How old is this owl?"
"Good magical owls can live for a very long time when they're cared for properly," Dumbledore told Harry. "I think that Tantalus is nearing his second century."
Harry considered this for a moment. "Electrum didn't exactly shake his head no when I asked if he had a name," he said slowly. "He just shrugged."
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "I think that your Electrum may in fact be the very same Potter family owl," he said with a smile. "Why don't we both go up to the Owlery and you can introduce us, hmm?"
Back at Gryffindor Tower, Harry told Ron that it turned out Electrum was indeed the Potter family owl, and sent the silver-gold bird off with a letter addressed to Mrs. Weasley. And a few days later at breakfast, Harry was startled by a large, ungainly, old grey owl, which fell from the sky and landed in between him and Ron.
"What's that?" asked Hermione, aghast. She and Ginny had been sitting with Harry and Ron for meals ever since the flying lesson. Harry had noticed, with some concern, that Hermione ate every meal with them at the Gryffindor table now. Ginny, on the other hand, continued to eat breakfast with her other friends in Ravenclaw, Terry Boot and Padma Patil. Harry had asked Hermione why she never ate with her fellow Ravenclaws, but she refused to answer. That worried him.
Harry was dragged back to the present by Ron's cry of "Errol!"
"He's our family owl," Ron explained, untying the letter attached to Errol's leg. "Older than me; he's older than Percy, I think. Hey; why is this addressed to you?"
Harry snatched the envelope from Ron. "Because it's from your mum to me, remember?" he said, ripping it open, while Ron and Neville helped Errol back into the air. "Let's see…"
Of course, I'd be happy to tell you about Wizarding culture. I feel so bad for you that you weren't able to grow up with wizards like you should've. Now, as I'm sure you can tell, Errol is rather old, and I don't want to weigh him down too much, so I'll space it out among several shorter letters.
So, let's start with the Trace. Basically, wizard children aren't allowed to cast magic out of school, so the government tracks the magic they cast with what's called the Trace. No one is sure if it's applied individually or if it's some mass spell, but the Ministry can detect any spell cast near underage wizards. They can't tell who cast it, though, so it's basically useless for people in a wizarding household. They usually come to investigate if it's a muggleborn, but they have to rely on wizard parents to keep control of pureblood or halfblood children. Of course, I don't let my own children practice out of school, but if they did the Ministry wouldn't be able to tell.
Then there's the whole pureblood philosophy. Essentially, it's the idea that Muggle blood dilutes wizard blood and makes people who're descended from Muggles less magically powerful. Proponents of the philosophy will only marry other purebloods; a pureblood being defined as someone with no muggles or squibs within two generations of them, so every one of a pureblood's grandparents are witches and wizards. You would be a halfblood, since your mother's parents were Muggles. The whole thing is completely false, of course, but it's very popular among a certain class of rich pureblood, like the Malfoys and the Blacks.
Otherwise it's mostly just simple rules that are just common sense. Don't cast spells if you don't know what they do, don't try to invent new spells or potions if you're not a Master in the field, that sort of thing.
I hope you're liking Hogwarts. Send me an owl back with any specific questions you have and tell me how your getting along. And make sure that Ron writes, will you?
Harry grinned, tucking the letter into his bags. "What did it say?" asked Hermione.
"More the point," Ron growled, "why are you getting a letter from my Mum?"
"She's writing me about the stuff everyone knows if they grew up with magic. I was raised as a Muggle, after all. I'm sure I've mentioned it. Actually, you were there." Harry added.
Ron threw up his hands, flipping over his plate. "I don't know what's wrong with you!" he shouted, startling Harry. "First we have a good time on the train together, but then it turns out your friends with that git Malfoy, then you have a two hour talk with Snape, then you get Neville's Remembrall back, and now you're moving in on my Mum!"
As Ron ranted, Harry began to get more and more angry. "What's wrong with you, Ron!" he shouted right back. "Are you that jealous, just because I have more friends that just you? Is it the fact that I can fly rings around you? That I'm doing better in class? Or is it the scar on my head? I would give it to you in a second if I could! Do you think I like having people staring at me for something I don't even remember? Do you think that it's fun?" Harry's scar began to burn as he vented, not even noticing Professor Snape and Professor Flitwick rushing from the High Table.
"Do you think my life is all roses?" Ron snarled. "I have five older brothers! Everything I own is a hand-me-down, from my robes to my rat! Even my wand isn't mine! I don't have anything of my own, and people don't even like me! They're all flocking to your side, even my own family!"
Harry opened his mouth to respond, but Professor Flitwick arrived. "Mr. Weasley! My office, immediately!" Both Harry and Ron paused, noticing that the entire Hall's attention was focused on them. Ron went bright red and ran out of the Hall.
"We must discuss the proper punishment, Professor," Snape said calmly. "I think that ten points from Gryffindor for interrupting a meal, along with five detentions for Weasley, would be quite appropriate."
"Severus!" Flitwick exclaimed. "The boy merely lost his temper! He is only eleven! Surely this does not deserve such a severe punishment."
"I think," said Dumbledore, who had somehow arrived without being seen, "that this discussion is best completed in my office." Flitwick and Snape, glaring at each other, followed the Headmaster out of the hall.
"I'll go talk to Ronald," Hermione said, sounding worried.
"Hermione, wait…" Harry called.
"Tell him…" Harry hesitated. "Tell him that I'm sorry… if he'll hear it."
Hermione studied his face. "I will, Harry," she said finally. "But I'm not sure you are, really."
Harry fell silent. He didn't really have an answer to that. After a moment, the brunette left the room.
In Potions class later that day, Harry vented to Draco. "…and then he claimed that his family was abandoning him!" he finished. "He deserves all of the detentions Professor Snape recommended!" Snape, passing by, gave a small smirk as he heard this.
Draco nodded sympathetically as he carefully poured unicorn horn dust into their cauldron. "He's a real git. It's no wonder our families hate each other. But I think that you need to calm down, and not think about him for a while."
Harry ran a hand through his hair absently, causing Professor Snape to stiffen for a moment. "I guess you're right, Draco. Why don't we have some of those lessons about the Noble houses, then?"
Draco shrugged. "Where shall I begin? Rights and privileges? The make-up of the Wizengamot? The distinction between different kinds of houses?"
Harry was bewildered. He had no idea that there were so many things to learn, but he was glad for it. "Start with the different types of houses, I guess."
"First of all are the Noble and Most Ancient Houses," Draco began. "There are thirteen of them, and they were the original noble houses when the British Ministry of Magic was founded. Black, Bones, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Lestrange, Longbottom, Malfoy, Patil, Potter, Ravenclaw, Rosier, Slytherin, and Tau.
"Then there are the Lesser Ancient Houses. There are a lot of them, like the Weasleys and the Crabbes. Most of them date back to around the 14th century, as opposed to the Noble and Most Ancient Houses, which all go back at least to the 10th century, sometimes earlier. Noble and Most Ancient Houses are mostly just called the Noble Houses, and the Lesser Ancient Houses are called the Lesser Houses.
"Now, the four Founders' houses are no longer extant, even though they probably have a few descendants through the female line. I think that the Malfoys have a Slytherin way back, but we're not able to claim to be the head of house; apparently there was some quality each founder had that their heirs would also have. In Slytherin's case, it's being a Parseltongue; the ability to speak to snakes, you know."
Harry started, remembering having spoken to the snake he had freed at the zoo. He had read about this in Professor Flitwick's present, but hadn't connected it to himself since then. Harry wondered for a moment where he had acquired the ability to speak Parseltongue, since the Potters had obviously not had it, or else they would have claimed the Slytherin line.
"Anyway, I don't know about the other three founders," said Draco. "They have equally rare talents, I suspect. And then the last heir of the Tau's left England during the last wizarding war, went to America, and I don't know what happened to her. But anyway, there are also two other kinds of houses. There's the really small houses, called the Minor Houses, and none of them date back to before the 17th century. And finally the muggleborn houses, which are technically called the Young Houses."
"Alright," said Harry, not noticing the angry glares Ron was shooting him, too absorbed in the new information. "And the Wizengamot?"
Draco smirked. "It's 144 members right now, and made of up three main groups. There're the Lords, who're the heads of the Noble Houses. You have a vote, or will once you come of age; but since your father is dead you actually are 'Lord Potter'. I'm only the future Lord Malfoy, and I have to wait until my father either dies or chooses to retire from the position of head of house. Anyway, there are a few Lords who've just done exceptional things for the world; I know that Dumbledore was made a Lord for defeating Grindlewald, for example, and then Lord Flamel has had a seat for centuries, but I don’t know when he got it. There are only nine Lords in the Wizengamot right now, though; Lord Lestrange and Lord Rosier are both in Azkaban, and Lady Tau is either in America or dead. And of course there isn't a Lord Ravenclaw, or any of the other founders."
"The second group is called the Barons," Draco continued, "and is supposedly people and families who've done good things for the Ministry, but most of them just donated a bunch of money. You get a seat there automatically if you get an Order of Merlin 1st class, too. There are a lot of them, 63, I think. And then there are 72 members who can be anyone, as long as they're nominated by a member and approved by a third of the Wizengamot. Well, I say 72, but it’s really just the same as the number of Lords and Barons together. A new Lord comes in, a new member is elected in the half block. There's a lot of competition between various factions for those seats, as I'm sure you can imagine."
"What would happen," Harry asked, trying to make it sound like curiosity about something that would never happen, rather than something that would come up when he turned seventeen, "if someone was the head of two Noble Houses? Like, you have a kid who's a parseltongue, and he becomes the head of Slytherin House, but he's already Lord Rosier. Would he have two votes?"
Draco gave him a long, appraising look. "They'd have two votes," he finally agreed. "Wondering what happens when you become Head of House Black?"
Harry was shocked. "What?" he exclaimed. "Why would I be head of House Black?"
Now Draco looked shocked. "Well, the current Lord Black is incapable of having children, and the only other heir is in Azkaban," he explained. "If you’re sentenced to life in Azkaban, you’re legally dead, so your will is read. I don't know the contents of it, because it had a provision that either his son or you would have to be at least sixteen for anyone to hear it, but… you really don't know this?"
"Of course I do," Harry drawled. "It's not like I was raised by magic-hating Muggles, after all."
Draco sighed. "Black was your godfather. Unless it's otherwise stated in his will, you get to be the heir to House Black."