Chapter Three: The Future Apprentices
"Oh Merciful Lord!" Petunia Dursley groaned, looking out her front window at the sound of honking. There, for all the neighborhood to see, was a bus. A brilliant scarlet bus with the Hogwarts School Crest on the side. "Whatever are we going to tell the neighbors? Vernon is going to be quite put out by this," she snapped crossly at Harry.
"Tell them--tell them I've reformed and am being sent to a very strict, very exclusive school for genius recovering drug addicts or something."
Petunia raised her eyebrows sharply, her bony, horsey face twisting into a scowl. "And just how much practice have you at making up tales, young man?"
"Less than Dudley!" Harry snapped, suddenly infuriated at his Aunt for saying something even remotely maternal sounding to him. Especially after hearing about Rose, and, well ... like she did such a shining job on Dudley. And now after nearly fifteen years of living in her house, years that she ignored or insulted him and worked him like a house elf, now when he'd likely never return ... NOW she dared try to go all motherly on him?
"None of your cheek." Petunia scowled viciously. "Remember your promise."
"I will," Harry agreed, swallowing. He would; if he lived long enough, he'd keep that promise.
"And if you would be good enough to let me know you are among the living, without my house being invaded by owls."
"I'll send post through Mrs. Figg, I asked her about it yesterday. She doesn't mind the odd owl."
Petunia simply nodded, then shuddered as the horn outside blared once again. "Go," she said simply. The horn blared again. "NOW!" She shoved him out the door muttering about the neighbors and how furious Vernon was going to be.
Harry managed to drag his trunk down the walk to the bus. He had to do a double take at the tall man who stepped off the bus to help him with his trunk. Black trousers, black high-necked, long sleeved shirt ... it was JULY. Another massive heatwave to rival the record breaker of the summer before! And there was Snape in a long-sleeved turtleneck-style black shirt on Privet Drive. Thank Merlin Uncle Vernon was at work.
"Hurry up, Potter. We haven't all day to wait on you," Snape growled. "You are not the only student we must collect. Nor are you any more important than any of the others."
Harry glared and clenched his teeth but managed to bite back any retort as Snape helped him load his trunk onto the bus.
Milicent Bulstrode was the only occupant, other than the driver (Merlin help them, it was Mundungus Fletcher, from whom Harry took his cue and acted as if he didn't recognize the man) and Snape. Milicent glared suspiciously at Harry, who secured his trunk in one of the areas. He didn't have to worry about Hedwig's cage at least; it had been shrunken and placed in the trunk, since Dumbledore had kept Hedwig when he decided the mail arrangements two days after school had ended. (Hedwig was too distinctive and noticeable for Harry to even consider using this summer, or even have flying about Privet Drive for exercise).
Harry really hadn't thought on it, but if he had, he would have thought no driver could be worse than Ernie, the Knight Bus' driver. He would have been dead wrong too. Mundungus was a much worse driver than Ernie.
He shot a quick glance at Milicent, then at Snape and quickly decided no conversation was probably the wisest course of action. He looked at the enchanted window instead. The window did not show the muggle neighborhood but some sort of battle between goblins and dragons? Each window seemed to have a different view playing various scenes out rather like movies or something, rather than showing the passing countryside.
A couple of hours after Harry had gotten on board the Hogwarts Bus, it stopped again. Blaise Zabini was helped with his trunk by Snape.
The two Slytherin students acknowledged each other with no more than nods and curt greetings of "Bulstrode" and "Zabini". About ten minutes after Zabini boarded the bus it stopped again.
"Neville," Harry greeted the newcomer warmly, more than a little relieved at a friendly, familiar face.
"Hello, Harry." Neville managed a nervous smile, hurrying to keep up with Snape who had the leading end of Neville's trunk as they made thier way down the aisle of the bus.
Neville sat down on the squashy armchair next to Harry's own.
"Alright there, Neville?" Harry asked, half worried.
Neville swallowed and nodded, a true Gryffindorish display. Neville looked ready to pass out to Harry. "Yeah. Just a bit nervous. Gran's absolutely tickled pink. We went and--visited mum and dad and told them. I think Mum might have understood for a second or two."
Harry forced an awkward smile. "That's good. Right?" He remembered that Neville had said something about a new potion treatment that had just been approved for those like Neville's parents, driven mad by the Cruciatus Curse.
Neville nodded. "Yeah. The new treatment seems to be helping them ... not that they'll ever ... well, be completely alright. But..." Neville trailed off with a shrug. "So, you--the muggles weren't too bad?"
"Nah, not too bad." Harry shrugged. "My aunt was rather strange, but in a mostly good way actually. Vernon and Dudley weren't too bad. No worse than usual at any rate."
"That's good. Too bad you can't hex them," Neville said supportively.
Harry shrugged. "Can't hex every creep in the world."
"I suppose. Still, though..."
Silence reigned more often than not on the journey to pick up the next of the students. The Slytherins were not speaking, and Harry and Neville were both reluctant to break the strained silence and bring Snape's wrath down on their heads.
"Sir, how many of us will there be?" Harry finally dared to ask.
"Apprenticeship Studies were offered to thirteen students, six accepted," Snape answered curtly. "However, the sixth won't be joining you for another three weeks."
The fifth of their number being picked up turned out to be Seamus Finnegan. The uneasy quiet was broken by the boisterous Irish boy, who greeted Harry and Neville heartily, asking Harry if the "Bloody arseholes that gave all muggles a bad name" were okay to him. He then immediatly shot a horrified look in Snape's direction; he'd been so relieved and happy to see Harry and Neville that his mouth got far ahead of his mind, and the Hogwarts potions master was glaring at the three of them.
"No worse than usual," Harry shrugged. "How was your summer?"
"Not bad, not bad at all. Got a stinking howler from Ron though."
Harry grinned. "Why, Seamus, don't tell me you're one of those ruddy perverts after Ginny."
"Too right." Seamus grinned unrepentently, causing both Neville and Harry, who knew far better than that, to laugh.
"You think it's funny to make sport of your friend's sister, Potter?" That deadly silk baritone interrupted the boys' amusement.
"We're not making sport of Ginny. We're amused by Seamus getting a howler from Ron." There was a huge difference, though Harry doubted that would matter a whit to Snape.
Black eyes narrowed. Neville shrank back in his chair. "And why is that so amusing, Mr. Potter?"
"It just is," Harry said firmly. He was not about to point out the hypocrisy of Ron going absolutely raging over any boy even speaking to Ginny, while he was on a quest to get any girl he could as soon as he could. (The twins had made a crack about "sweet ickle virgin Ronnikins" last Christmas, which had had Ron on a quest to get shagged that got derailed by all the goings on last term, but it had not been forgotten). Nor was he going to out Seamus to Snape. Though, in Ron's defense, Harry and Neville were the only two who knew that particular secret, and it had been a rather lucky accident they'd found out.
"Potter?" The controlled, low voice was practically murderous now.
"Ginny is not in the least interested in Seamus, she's dating Dean. Seamus is not in the least interested in Ginny ... not sure who his crush of the week is, and it doesn't matter. Ginny and Seamus are just friends."
Snape glared even harder for a moment, then snorted. His dark glare landed on each of the five students in turn. Personally, he thought Albus had lost his blasted mind. Apprenticeships still existed in modified ways; Severus himself had served a modified apprenticeship during his last three years of school under Nicholas Flamel that had been arranged by Albus. A handful of others in the past century has served modified apprenticeships in their last years of Hogwarts and just after ... Minerva McGonagall had been another, apprenticed to Albus himself when she'd still been a student because she had such a talent with Transfiguration. Mediwitches and Mediwizards went through a specialized apprenticeship at St. Mungo's, as did most Potions Masters. This foray into revival of tradition and utter insanity that Albus had set into motion was something else entirely. Classically trained and Apprenticed Wizards were almost extinct. None had come from Hogwarts in well over a century, nor Beauxbatons. Durmstrang, even with its emphasis on all aspects of magic including the Dark Arts, as well as its Pureblood traditionalism, had produced exactly two in the past 130 years.
At least Albus hadn't gone as far as attempting to modify the requirements to allow muggleborn in; that would have brought far too much outcry from the Old Families. Not just Slytherin families, not even just families whose politics put them behind the Dark Lord. Many were concerned about their heritage being lost to 'muggleborn-coddling'. Some would consider it bad enough that a half-muggle like Finnegan and Potter, whose mother had been muggleborn, were Apprenticed. Severus shuddered to think about what would have happened if Dumbledore had gone so far as to make a muggleborn a Classical Apprentice.
The bits on Ancestral Magic and Magical Geneaology were quite important, both nearly lost arts, and for those one must have a magical ancestry. There was not a thing wrong with being the first of a magical line; however, one simply could not be first and study Ancestral Magic at the same time.
While a Classical Apprenticeship was not restricted to wizards, precious few witches had ever been apprenticed even when the practice had been common. After all, a sixteen year old witch was more likely to have her mind set on finding a husband, or learning what she needed about the husband selected for her by her family if she came from one of the upper class families in centuries past. Even now, it was rare for a witch to be unmarried by her twenty-fifth year. A Classical Apprenticeship lasted until the Apprentice's thirty-first year, another reason it fell by the wayside almost completely. Even with a wizard's long life span and the fact that thirty-one was still quite young for a wizard or witch, scarcely a fifth of their likely lifespan lived, the muggle rush of this century had invaded the wizarding world at least just slightly.
When they were nearly to Hogwarts, Snape glared at the five students in silence for long minutes, Longbottom was the first to squirm. Not surprising.
"When we arrive at Hogwarts, you will be taken to your tower. Dinner will be brought to you by the house elves, tonight only. You will be responsible for the upkeep of your rooms and indeed the entire tower; how you decide to split the work is entirely left to you. House Elves will not be entering the tower again. Your rooms will be entirely unpacked, organized--neatly--the entire tower spotless and put to rights. It will be inspected at 7 AM sharp tomorrow. You will be up, dressed and reporting to your personal advisor no latter than 7:15. Mr. Longbottom, you are to be in Greenhouse 5, Professor Sprout will be waiting for you. Miss Bulstrode, you will report to Hagrid. He'll be waiting outside his hut. Mr. Zabini, you will report to Professor McGonagall in the transfiguration classroom. Mister Finnegan, you are to report to Professor Tonks in the Defense Classroom. Potter, I expect you in the potions classroom, at exactly 7 sharp."
The bus lurched to a stop, tossing them all--including Snape--to the floor.
Harry didn't give Mundungus very good odds of leaving Hogwarts grounds without needing to see Madame Pomphrey after that.
"GO! MOVE! PROFESSOR MCGONAGALL IS WAITING!" Snape bellowed at the students, his eyes never moving from Mundungus Fletcher. That unfortunate was cringing back in the bus' driver's seat trying to stammer out an apology as Snape got himself to his feet, moving from the aisle to allow the students and their trunks to pass.
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