Title: That Glorious Strength
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Pairings: Background canon couples, otherwise gen
Content Notes: Massive AU (no Voldemort), blood prejudice, mentorship, angst, drama, violence, torture, gore
Rating: PG-13
Summary: AU. Instead of becoming Voldemort, Tom Riddle established a school of "secondary importance" for Muggleborns, half-bloods, and Squibs. Since the school frees Hogwarts to continue drifting more towards the purebloods' whims and wishes, they haven't raised any large fuss. Besides, everyone knows that half-bloods and Muggleborns don't have any real power. Just look at Riddle, who had ambitions that outpaced his magical strength. They don't see the revolution coalescing under the surface.
Author's Notes: This is a story idea I've been brewing in my mind for a long time, and finally decided to write. I don't have any idea how long it will be at the moment. The title is a twist on "that hideous strength," used as a title by C. S. Lewis and from a poem by David Lyndsay.

That Glorious Strength

Chapter One—Home Visits

"I only want you to understand the kind of world that you will be coming into if you choose Hogwarts."

It had been hours since Mr. Malfoy left, and still his words were echoing in Hermione's head. She sat at the table in the dining room and shivered, her eyes locked on the pamphlets about Hogwarts.

It had sounded so wonderful when Professor McGonagall came to talk to her several months ago. The best magical school in Britain! Small classes! A House that would be like your family, and traditions of many wonderful witches and wizards growing up there and going on to be a credit to the school!

And best of all, the chance to leave behind schools where she had always been ostracized for her intelligence and find a whole new system where people wouldn't care about that because they were there to study magic just like she was, and what could be better than that?

And then Mr. Malfoy had come in and told her that because her parents were Muggles, she would never find social acceptance.

"Hermione? Are you all right, dear?"

Hermione swallowed the tears and glanced up with as brave a smile as she could at her mum, who was standing in the doorway of the kitchen and staring at her worriedly. "I'm fine, Mum. It's just…the fees for Hogwarts are going to be really expensive."

"We can afford it, don't worry." Mum came over and hugged her. Hermione leaned into her arms and felt a little calmer. "And I'm sure that you'll make all sorts of friends once you're around other people like you!"

"Yeah," Hermione whispered, and kept smiling until her mum went back into the kitchen. Then she closed her eyes.

She didn't want to tell her parents what Mr. Malfoy had said. They might not let her learn magic at all, and Hermione wanted to. Even knowing that she was going to be different and looked-down on…that wasn't all that different from the rest of her life, right? She could still go, and learn magic, and even if she had to leave the magical world after Hogwarts and get a job in the Muggle world, she could do it. She was smart. She could study for her Muggle exams at the same time as she working on her magical homework.

But it still made Hermione's chest feel as if it was filled with snow. She had so hoped Hogwarts would be different, and she'd feel comfortable there and have friends. She had hoped.

"Maybe it's time to put away childish things," she whispered to herself, and wiped some tears off her cheeks.

She'd just started to stand up when someone knocked briskly on the front door. Hermione glanced into the kitchen, but her mum didn't react. Maybe she hadn't heard it. And Dad was probably still at the office.

Hermione went to the door and opened it.

And her life changed, although she didn't know it at the time.

"Miss Hermione Granger?" The man standing in front of her was tall, with dark hair that he kept short, and he was wearing a quietly good suit, the kind that some people wore when they dropped their spouses off at her parents' office. But looking into his eyes, Hermione was suddenly sure he was a wizard.

"Yes, sir," she said, since the man looked like he was at least in his forties. "Can I help you?" She hoped it wasn't another scolding about Hogwarts and how much people would hate her. This man didn't look as rich as Mr. Malfoy, but he had money to buy a suit like that.

"I have a message for you about another school besides Hogwarts that you could attend. May I come in?"

Hermione snapped her gaze up to his face again. He had dark eyes, grey, she thought, and he was looking at her with a faint smile. She took a deep breath and said, "I'm sorry, sir, but I don't want to go out of the country."

"Oh, this school is in Britain. In London, in fact." The man seemed to enjoy Hermione's staring at him, from the way his smile widened. "It's a rather different school than Hogwarts, which is probably why they haven't mentioned it." He looked into the house, then looked back at Hermione with his eyebrows raised.

Hermione knew she was bright red, but it was hard to stop staring and step aside. "Sorry, sir. Come in."

The man strolled in and nodded at the neat, understated wallpaper and the seascape on the wall with the same amount of attention that Mr. Malfoy had sneered at them. Or so Hermione thought. She supposed that she didn't know a thing about what wizarding homes looked like, so she couldn't be sure. Maybe their walls were all marble and the pictures all talked back. That had been something Professor McGonagall had mentioned.

"Um, did you want something to drink?" Hermione glanced towards the kitchen. It was strange her mum hadn't come out to see who was in the house.

The man followed her gaze. "I put up a charm to keep this conversation private," he said quietly. "I assume that you've already received the official Hogwarts visit as well as the unofficial one?"

Hermione swallowed and nodded. Then she blurted out, because she had to ask someone, "Sir, is what Mr. Malfoy says really true? Do people hate students with Muggle parents at Hogwarts?"

"Not everyone," the man said. "Professor McGonagall, for example, if she is the one who made the first visit to you?" Hermione nodded. "She does not. But her father was a Muggle, and she is unusual among Hogwarts staff. Many of them are either purebloods or half-bloods who violently hate Muggles because they were abused by them. And the children follow what their parents tell them."

Hermione closed her eyes. "So I would suffer there."

"Yes. And—forgive me, Miss Granger, but I've looked up your academic record. I think you would suffer regardless."

"Because I'm not good enough for Hogwarts?" A whole new worry gripped Hermione's throat.

The man smiled and shook his head. "Because you have the kind of marks that would place you above ninety-nine percent of the purebloods you'd encounter there. And that means they would despise you. Try to hurt you."

Hermione stared at him. "Physically hurt?"

"Yes, I'm afraid so. If you've purchased one book already, it's probably Hogwarts, A History, and you'll have heard about the trick steps and the hidden rooms and the staircases that switch destinations?" The man waited until she nodded, then pulled out a chair at the dining room table and took it. "It's so easy to hex someone else and blame their falls or stumbles or any physical damage on the structure of the school. And with your parents back in the Muggle world and unable to learn of what happens to you except by owl, who can say whether they would be informed at all?" The man studied her, then nodded. "And you would probably still want to attend Hogwarts, even so. Even if it meant you had to lie to your parents. Our kind want magic, need it and deserve it. You probably haven't told your parents about what Mr. Malfoy said at all, have you?"

Hermione clasped her hands together and whispered, "You're starting to scare me with how accurately you can predict this, sir. Or were you watching the house?"

"Closely enough to see Malfoy's visit," the man agreed, with a shallow nod that made him look like he was keeping his eyes up to watch for danger. "But forgive me, I haven't even told you my name. I'm Headmaster Thomas Riddle of the Fortius Academy. I teach Defense, as well."

"Fortius? Is that like Forte?"

"Close." Professor Riddle smiled at her and leaned forwards in the chair. "It's the Latin word for 'stronger,' as well. And I'd like to offer you a place at the Fortius Academy, Miss Granger." He pulled a letter out of his robe pocket and held it towards her.

Hermione took it slowly. The parchment felt like the one that her Hogwarts letter had come on, but less thick. She turned it over and saw what was presumably the seal of the academy, a silver wheel split into four sections with different animals on them. Hermione squinted a little, and made out a winged horse, a snake-like dragon, a bird that seemed to have pointed feathers all over it, and a creature that looked like a cat with a bird's head.

"What are these creatures? And why do they allow you to have the Academy if you take students from them? And why do you want to invite me? Is it just my marks?"

Professor Riddle held up his hand to stem the tide, which made Hermione apologize, but he just shook his head. "No, it's natural for someone as smart as you are, Miss Granger. To take your questions in order. The creatures are the symbols of our four Houses, which are based on but different from the Hogwarts ones. You'll be Sorted based on your magical affinity. The winged horse indicates those whose affinities tend towards air, Herbology, and mind magic. You'll Sort into the House of the Dragon if your affinities lead you towards water, Divination, and offensive spells. The House of the Phoenix—" Hermione reckoned that must be the bird with the pointy feathers, which weren't feathers, but flames "—is for those associated with fire, Charms, and the magic of creation. And the House of the Gryphon represents the earth, Transfiguration, and defensive magic.

"Hogwarts wants you to attend because they want your tuition and fees." Professor Riddle sighed. "It wasn't so, always, but the purebloods took control of the Board of Governors and began to change things to their liking. They tolerate my academy's existence because they think it skims off the undesirables, so to speak. They'll tolerate your leaving because you're Muggleborn. They'd fight harder to keep a half-blood, and I've been warned never to approach pureblood students."

Hermione nodded quietly. "And do you invite every Muggleborn in the United Kingdom, sir?"

"The ones whose mindset is conducive to Fortius and who show the power to attend, yes."

"I hadn't considered there might be different levels of magical strength. Can you tell me how strong I am? How strong are you? Mr. Malfoy said something about how purebloods are always the strongest."

Professor Riddle considered her closely, as if the question covered more than Hermione knew. Hermione bit her lip but maintained the stare. It sounded more and more like she would be better off going to Fortius, but she didn't want to attend a school where she would be afraid to ask questions.

"I am going to have to ask you to swear an oath not to reveal the results of what I'm going to show you, Miss Granger."

"Why not?" Hermione demanded. She had managed to read all her schoolbooks between Professor McGonagall's visit and Mr. Malfoy's, and she didn't want to swear an oath that could literally kill her.

"Because a great deal of pureblood propaganda is based on the idea of their having greater magical strength. Therefore, I pretend that I only take the weak students—"

"And you pretend to be weaker yourself than you really are!" Hermione said triumphantly, before she clapped her hands across her mouth. Her primary school teachers had always hated it when she interrupted.

Professor Riddle only smiled, though. "Indeed. I think Fortius will be very lucky to have you, Miss Granger."

"Will you show me how strong you are, sir?"

Professor Riddle considered her closely enough that Hermione began to feel that she shouldn't have asked the question. But then he nodded and sat back, and when he held out his hand in front of him and closed his eyes, Hermione gasped a little. The feeling of magic bearing down on her was overwhelming. It was a feathery, tickling pressure that crowded the edges of her eyes and filled her nose and made her want to sneeze.

Professor Riddle's fingers flexed, and suddenly the skin on his palm slid aside and a vine grew up from it. Hermione stared in awe as it turned a little, and flexed, and opened silver leaves and a silver flower and swayed back and forth in a wind she couldn't feel.

Then Professor Riddle snapped his fingers and the vine and the flower crumbled into shining dust that flew over and seemed to meld into the walls. Professor Riddle shook his hand and silently turned his palm towards Hermione. Hermione leaned closer, not sure what he wanted her to see.

Then she saw. There were small dents in the center of his palm where the vine's roots had been.

Hermione shivered. It hadn't been an illusion, like some of her magical books had talked about. It had been real. She looked at Professor Riddle with wary respect, and found him studying her with raised eyebrows.

"Some Muggleborn children would run in fear after seeing that display," he said. "Do you want to come to Fortius?"

"Can you teach me to do that?"

Luckily, he got the spirit of her question rather than the literal meaning. "Yes. I think your magic will be strong enough to create any alterations you want, although some have magic more attuned to alterations of objects, some to the alteration of the body, and some to altering animals…"

Hermione settled down to absorb all the information she could, determined that she would attend Fortius and swear any oath she had to. She would have to tell her parents something about Hogwarts that wouldn't alarm them so much they wouldn't let her go to Fortius, either.

But she was going to go. And it wasn't just that Professor Riddle had a school specifically for Muggleborns. Hermione was smart enough to know that he must have a reason for establishing Fortius, that he wouldn't have done it out of the good of his heart.

That reason had to be change.

She wanted to be a part of it.

Tom Riddle smiled slightly as he marked Hermione Granger's name off his list and stepped briskly to the side of the thestral he'd left eating a mouse under a Disillusionment Charm in a Muggle garden. There was little chance that anyone else magical who had seen death lived in the street, but Malfoy might have left a spy behind.

For a moment, Tom let his hands clench in the thestral's mane, causing the reptilian horse to lift her head to stare at him. Tom got himself under control a second later, and nodded his apology to the mare, slinging a leg across her back. The thestral snorted but stood placidly. For the most part, the Hogwarts herd had accepted Tom's invitation to come with him when he established Fortius, and the fact that he treated them like the intelligent creatures they were was the main reason why.

The next child on his list wouldn't have received a visit from Malfoy or a Hogwarts letter yet, and so would perhaps be a bit harder to deal with. But Tom knew some of the reasons that that child was living in the Muggle world, and he thought he could exert the right amount of pressure and persuasion.

He touched the thestral's neck and whispered the destination, and she stretched her wings and sprang into the air. Tom Disillusioned himself, as well, as she rose high and fast and turned to the southwest.

London passed under him, a tangle of buildings that Tom loved to watch. There had been a time he was desperate to escape it, but, well, the war had been over for a long time. He had lived. He had survived being a supposed Mudblood in Slytherin House.

He had survived the revelation that being the descendant of Slytherin meant nothing to the majority of purebloods in the same House, not with his Muggle last name and Muggle living situation. He had shown off his Parseltongue by then, but luckily not his magical strength.

Malfoy's father had laughed at him, and told him that descending from an inbred Squib and a Muggle man negated any supposed influence of Slytherin's blood. Then he had led two other boys in beating Tom nearly hard enough to break his legs. They wouldn't waste magic on a Mudblood.

Tom went still and cold when he thought of that, but the thestral was hardly unused to that sort of thing. She continued her steady flight, and soon she was swooping down towards one of those unimaginative neighborhoods that always made Tom wonder if he wouldn't succeed in charming the Muggleborn children who lived in them. Someone who had grown up in an area like this might have an imagination as narrow as the streets, might not want to come to Fortius and study magic.

But he would not wish defeat on himself before he had begun. The thestral landed in the right place—they had the genius for places that post-owls did for names—and screeched softly. Tom patted her and dismounted, gazing at the large house in front of him.

He glanced down at the list in his hand. Yes, the address matched.

He crossed the neat garden, knocked on the door, and asked for Harry Potter.