Disclaimer and credits will be found after the end of the chapter.
Drunkard's Walk VIII:
Harry Potter and the Man From Otherearth
by Robert M. Schroeck
3. School Days, School Days, Dear Old Golden Rule Days
Wizardry is choice. All else is mere mechanics.
— Diane Duane, High Wizardry
"It is among children, and as children only, that you will find
your healing and true wisdom for your teaching."
— John Ruskin, from Crown of Wild Olive
Man has always sacrificed truth to his vanity, comfort and
advantage. He lives by makebelieve.
— W. Somerset Maugham, "The Summing Up", 1938
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
2 September 1995
Per your usual request that I keep you informed of matters at Hogwarts, I write to you with my impressions of the first two days of the term.
The ride on the Express was uneventful. As I'm sure you're already aware due to your position on the Board of Governors, Potter's Mudblood and blood traitor friends are the new Gryffindor prefects. Isn't the very idea disgusting? So for the first time he spent part of the ride there without them. Sadly, due to my own prefect duties I was not able to take advantage of this. When I was finally able, as has been my practice, to seek Potter out during the trip, Weasley and Granger had already rejoined him and were sharing their compartment with several others. Still, one does what one must, and after offering appropriate greetings I made another overture of alliance to him. However, he rejected my offer once more.
The start-of-term feast was equally uneventful...
"I don't know, Ron," Harry said softly as they entered the Great Hall. "I think Malfoy was hinting that he knew something about S... Snuffles."
"Even if he was," Ron said, his eyes fixed firmly on the tables before them, "what could he do? It's not like he has proof or anything, is it?"
"Not yet," Hermione hissed at them, "but if you keep talking about it, I can guarantee he will."
Ron glanced at Harry and rolled his eyes, but didn't say another word. Harry felt like chuckling, but suppressed the urge so as not to irritate Hermione further. Although at times it seemed like the entire trip to Hogwarts this year had been calculated to do nothing else, what with meeting Luna Lovegood and learning about The Quibbler, Draco's annual visit-and-threat, and then the strange dragonlike horses hitched to the carriages and having to explain his reaction to those who couldn't see them. Add onto that whatever had happened with Draco during the Prefects' meeting on the Express, and it seemed to him that Hermione was a bit more prickly than usual.
Harry wracked his brains to find a new subject that wouldn't aggravate her. When his eye fell upon Hagrid's oversize — and very empty — seat, he said, "Hagrid's not there," as much out of genuine surprise and curiosity as out of a need to find a less contentious topic.
"Yeah," Ron agreed as Hermione's annoyance visibly drained away.
She craned her neck to look about, almost if she thought that Hagrid might be in a different part of the Hall, his immense form somehow obscured by a student. "Oh, I hope he's not hurt or anything," she murmured.
"He's probably not back yet," Harry said quietly. "From that thing he was doing for Dumbledore."
She turned back to him, worry clear in her eyes. "Oh! You think so?"
"Yeah," Harry said as much confidence as he could muster. "I mean, what could possibly hurt Hagrid?"
Hermione smiled, albeit a bit weakly. "You're right, of course. I'm sure we'll see him any day now, then."
"Right," Ron agreed with an encouraging grin. "Hey, there's Professor Sangnoir, up at the head table next to Snape."
"Professor Snape," Hermione scolded him. "Of course he is, Ron. Where else did you expect him to be?" She paused a moment, and when she spoke again her tone was quieter. "I'm still wondering about what he did to Kreacher and the portrait of Mrs. Black. As soon as he left, the both of them went right back to the way they were before he arrived."
"We know, Hermione," Ron muttered as he rolled his eyes at Harry.
"Professor Sangnoir?" Neville Longbottom's voice came unexpectedly from behind them. Harry'd thought Neville had beaten them into the Hall. "Who's Professor Sangnoir?"
"The new Defence professor," Ginny called back to Neville from where she was walking in front of Harry. With an impish grin, she added, "He's a superhero."
"What's a super..." Neville began, but Hermione cut him off.
"Ginny!" she snapped. Then she took a breath and turned back to Neville. "He's not a superhero, they're Muggle fiction. But he is impressive. He stayed for a week the same place we were at the end of the summer, and we saw him training. He's very good." In lower, more conspiratorial tones, she added, "And there's something really strange about him that we're trying to figure out."
"Again?" Neville demanded in aggrieved tones as they found an open area at the Gryffindor table large enough for all of them. As they took their seats, Ginny joined a group of friends from her year further down the table.
"Yeah, I know," Ron replied sympathetically. "Every year it's the same thing, right? And they usually want to kill Harry, too." Harry resisted the urge to drive an elbow into his best friend's side.
"So what is it this time?" Neville inquired in more conversational tones as he unfolded his napkin and laid it in his lap. Ron shot Hermione an expectant look which, to Harry's private amusement, she failed to notice.
"We'll tell you about it when we get back to the Common Room," Harry said softly. "Better that way."
Baffled, Neville nodded. "All right, then."
"Hey, look!" announced Ron a bit too loudly. "Here come the firsties!"
For the last couple weeks as I settled into the school and got to know the rest of the staff, I'd been bumming around in what amounted to "business casual" robes — the wizarding equivalent of khaki slacks and a company polo shirt. But now that the students had arrived, I actually had to look like a professor, so I broke out the stuff for which I'd paid the big Galleons at Madam Malkin's. Silk and fine linen, mostly in greys or dark blues with subtle trimming. And of course, all the options — leather interior, bucket seats, power windows, the works.
Ahem. I mean, comfort charms, sizing charms, permanent press charms, self-cleaning charms, wash-your-face-and-comb-your-hair-for-you-sir? charms. By the time I'd finished with the interminable fitting session I just threw money at Malkin and took every option she had to offer, simply to stop the sales pitch and get out the door that much faster.
(Charlie had later commented that he'd never seen anyone, not even some of the real upper crust folks his father knew through the Ministry, go that route to get out of the usual presentation. In his experience, no one had ever bought all the options that Madam Malkin offered.)
Showing up in my formal academic attire afforded me more than a few appreciative looks from several of my female colleagues. In addition to an appreciative look, I had to dodge an appreciative butt-pinch by Rolanda Hooch while we were still in the staff room behind the high table. Afterwards, as we filed out into the Great Hall to take our seats for the start-of-term feast, I grinned and wagged my finger playfully at her to show there were no hard feelings on my part. She gave me a saucy little smile and head toss in return.
As I had each dinner for the last two weeks, I took my seat at the far left end of the table, next to Severus. He was more scowly and growly than he'd been at any other meal since I'd joined the staff, and his thundercloud-dark expression only worsened when the first of the returning students sauntered through the huge doors at the end of the Hall. It didn't take much effort to figure out why.
Why am I not surprised that he hates children? I mused to myself with a quick glance to the heavens — or the Hall's ceiling, which was much the same thing. Why the hell is he a teacher, then? "Buck up, Severus," I muttered out of the side of my mouth. "In only ten short months you'll be free of them again."
The sidelong look he shot me mixed equal parts surprise and suspicion. I ignored it and him, and concentrated my attention on the students slowly entering the Hall. Flowing into it like a vast, viscous wave, breaking into smaller streams that swirled and eddied, pooling here and there as groups of friends met up again after two months' separation, the student body gradually filled the Great Hall like molasses pouring lethargically into a bucket. Bit by bit the four long tables filled as the various cliques and gangs of each house settled into either accustomed or newly-acquired spaces, jockeying for position both physical and social.
The Slytherins were clearly more into the "social" than the "physical"; their table was strictly organized by age, with the seventh-year students closest to the High Table, and each year below them taking its place as a bloc in order. Within each class there was oh-so-courteous but oh-so-cutthroat competition for the best available seats. Some students, like the sharp-featured blond kid who looked like a 15-year-old Andy Warhol and his pair of hulking BFFs, obviously dominated among their yearmates and occupied their "rightful" places without dispute; in other years it took longer to ascertain the new pecking order.
By way of a contrast, the Gryffindors were a cheerful, somewhat unruly mob who rolled over and occupied their table like a good-natured army. While they, too, sorted themselves out by year, it was in a broad, general way in comparison to the Slytherins' precise, measured segregation. I saw most of my young housemates from Grim Old Number 12, along with a couple of friends, cheerfully squeeze their way into a block of seats just above the middle of the table, next to Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, the ghostly mascot of Gryffindor. The little redhead — Ginny Weasley — broke off from them to join her yearmates a bit further down, while her twin older brothers headed the other direction and seated themselves closer to the High Table along with a dreadlocked black fellow their own age. One of the main group's friends, a slender girl with long dirty-blonde hair and a strange, drifting walk, didn't join them at all, but instead wandered on to the next group of students to catch my eye: House Ravenclaw.
The Ravenclaws were a strange mix of regimentation and distraction. Many of them were already carrying books — I spotted some of the volumes I'd put on the textbook list — and while they sorted themselves out even more precisely than the Slytherins, it wasn't (entirely) by year. Rather, it looked like they were already forming up into study groups, judging by the books and the parchment sheets they were stacking on the table by their places.
Finally, there were the Hufflepuffs — my house. I watched them perhaps more than the rest combined, simply because in a very real way they were my responsibility. Pomona had described how the house "worked", so my observations were less about discovery than they were about studying how the system, if you could call it that, functioned.
The Hufflepuffs tended to cluster, like the other houses, into groups of yearmates, but every group regardless of its size had one or two older students who kept an eye on them and essentially mentored them. These mentors were members of their own little bands, of course, and were (save for the seventh-years) mentored by the students above them. In turn every group offered mentoring to a younger group, except (of course) for the first years.
To my professionally-trained eye the system looked a little like a revolutionary cell network and a little like a military organization (with each group being a fire team and each year being a squad). The mentoring was completely voluntary — my observations later in the term suggested that second-year 'Puffs gradually "adopted" groups of firsties as they formed during the first few months of school and maintained the relationship until they graduated. Pomona had admitted the process wasn't entirely hands-off — there were always the shy, the terrified and the stand-offish among the first-years, and it took some gentle encouragement on her part for them to bond with both their yearmates and an older student or two. But overall, the process — ingrained after decades of tradition — happened pretty much automatically.
I found myself thinking of the whole arrangement in terms of the "kohai-sempai" relationships I'd seen in the Japans of so many universes, starting with my home Earth. The whole system of informal yet interlocking responsibilities and relationships was deceptively simple but bound the house together into a mutually self-supporting network. You literally could not be in Hufflepuff and not have someone to turn to for anything you might need, be it relationship advice, help with homework, or an extra hand to move an inconvenient corpse.
And I haven't even gotten into the work ethic yet.
I could see this network of mentors and mentored spooling up for the new school year right there on the floor of the Great Hall, with the sempai seeking out and checking on their kohai and re-establishing connections grown dormant over the summer (if, in fact, they had). I was well aware by that time of Hufflepuff's reputation as well-meaning but dull duffers who faded into the background compared to the far more flamboyant Slytherins and Gryffindors and the rather intensely brilliant Ravenclaws, but when I looked at them I saw an army in the making — not of conquerors or invaders, but a corps of engineers who built and maintained the culture that gave the flashier houses a backdrop against which to play their games.
As far as I was concerned, the 'Puffs were ultimately the real movers and shakers of the British wizarding world.
Anyway, in the midst of all the activity in the Great Hall, the translucent grey forms of the various castle ghosts drifted to and fro, holding forth with various students as they passed. The House ghosts orbited their tables and restricted themselves — for the most part — to the students of their Houses, but they were far from the only spectral inhabitants of Hogwarts. Pomona had told me there were dozens, including a few bound to specific locations in the castle, and it seemed like all but those unfortunate few had turned out for the feast. Even Peeves was in attendance, oddly restrained in his behavior according to Pomona; but the little imp caught my eye and waved to me, so I had my suspicions as to the reason for it.
Above this bubbling panoply of pre- and intra-adolescent politicking and socializing, the ceiling of the Great Hall reiterated the starless black of the overcast sky outside. But even if clouds had not been blocking them, I doubt the stars would have been visible past the glare of the hundreds — possibly thousands — of white taper candles that floated about two-thirds of the way up the height of the Hall. It was a veritable swarm of hovering tallow, and it flooded the room with a warm golden light that seemed to creep into every corner and banish all but the smallest and most persistent of shadows.
I had to admit, what the Wizarding world may have lacked in technological sophistication they often made up for in sheer style.
Behind me, I heard the door to the staff anteroom open and shut. Glancing along the length of the table, I saw Wilhelmina slipping into that monster of a chair at the other end. Having been briefed on the script for the evening, I knew what that meant — the festivities were about to begin.
Moments later, the doors from the entrance hall — the same ones through which I had passed with such trepidation only two weeks earlier, and through which the upper classes had just streamed — swung open once more, and Minerva appeared, her posture absolutely ram-rod straight and her expression as severe as I'd ever seen. (Quite a contrast to the Minerva I'd gotten to know in the weeks before school started, a Minerva who liked to put her button-shoed feet up on the table in the staff room and laugh like a braying mule over a tumbler of whiskey and a bawdy story.)
In her hands she held a battered wooden stool, on which rested His Millinery Majesty, the Sorting Hat. Behind her, in two fidgety lines, were forty or fifty eleven-year-olds in plain black robes and pointy hats, looking for all the world like peewee-league participants in some Halloween-themed team sport.
As the chatter that had filled the Hall dropped to nothing with an unnerving suddenness, Minerva marched her tiny charges right up the central aisle between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff, then set them up in a line in front of the high table, facing the rest of the student body. Stepping back along the aisle about three meters, she carefully positioned the stool so that the Hat's "face" was looking at them. Then she stepped back expectantly. A palpable air of anticipation filled the Hall and I wondered what was going to happen next. This was a whole lot more pomp and ceremony than my Sorting had involved, but it was obvious that everyone here save for two score or so eleven-year-olds and Mama Sangnoir's Favorite Son knew what was coming and were eagerly awaiting it.
There was a long, long moment of teasing silence.
Then the rip just above its brim which served the Hat as a mouth opened, and the damned thing began to sing!
The Sorting Hat's song this year seemed normal enough at first — a dozen verses or so retelling the story of the founding of Hogwarts, another dozen describing the Founders themselves and what they looked for in students, and a bit more about the Houses.
And then it got ... different.
"Oh, know the perils, read the signs," the Hat sang as it drew to a close.
"The warning history shows,
For our Hogwarts is in danger
From external, deadly foes.
Beyond them far, though, can be found
Both hope and allies great
And ordered chaos comes to change
What might have been our fate
Though strong and wise, such friends as these
Who're called on in the night
Cannot alone stand forth and hold
Our Hogwarts in the light
Attend their words and learn them well
And by their side then stand
The music of the madness then
Puts power in your hand
Unite with them for Hogwarts' sake
Or we'll crumble from within
I have told you, I have warned you...
Let the Sorting now begin."
The Sorting Hat then went still. The Hall burst into applause leavened with whispers and muttered discussions about the Hat's strange warning.
Her heart pounding a mile a minute, Hermione looked down the Gryffindor table to find Ginny looking back up at her with wide, surprised eyes that Hermione was sure matched her own expression. As Ron turned to Harry and said, "Branched out a bit this year, hasn't it?", Hermione slowly mouthed "friends who're called on in the night" to the younger girl. Biting her lip, Ginny slowly nodded.
"Too right it has," Harry replied as Hermione and Ginny continued to stare at each other, the same thought running through their heads: had their midnight ritual all those weeks ago been more successful than they had thought?
"Tonight," Hermione mouthed, and Ginny nodded again.
I managed to suppress my start of surprise when the Sorting Hat sang out the line about "the music of the madness". Although I chose to spell my codename "Toons" instead of "Tunes" to avoid trademark issues with Warner Brothers, it's pretty obvious what my intent was and still is. Further, the translation that the Japanese of my Earth use instead of lowering themselves to speak English — Kyoki no Kyoku — doesn't beat around the bush: it literally back-translates into "Tunes of Madness".
(I suppose it should go without saying that the very rigid and orderly, not to mention xenophobic, Japanese of my home timeline find my metatalent frighteningly and disturbingly chaotic, almost borderline demonic — the antithesis of everything they believe about the way the world works. Which was one reason that even as a rookie I was never assigned to Beta Team in Tokyo.
The other being that Hexe didn't want her brand-new loose cannon that far out of her sight.)
Anyway, if there was one thing I was intending on doing with my classes, it was putting as much power in my students' hands as I could.
So the Hat was obviously — well, obviously to me (and, no doubt, Albus) — referring to yours truly. I suppose it might have pulled the info it needed for the song from my mind while it was sitting on my head. As far as I could tell, though, it hadn't attempted to breach the mental defenses which Psyche had painstakingly drilled into my thick skull during my first few months with the Warriors. (And thanks to him, I've been able to detect, and repel, some fairly subtle telepaths over the years.) So... was it prophecy? Having been a house guest of the Norns for a year or so, I wasn't about to discount the possibility.
And I have to admit I was curious about what "strong and wise" friends had been called on in the night, and by whom. Because it certainly wasn't me, on either end of that equation. And I wanted to know if it was something that had happened already, or something yet to come.
After all, if they were prophesied allies, I wanted to identify and approach them as soon as I could.
...the Hat recited its usual meaningless doggerel before winnowing the worthy from the dross...
The Sorting itself took a surprisingly short amount of time, compared to my own experience with the Hat. Sure, a few of the forty-odd eleven-year-olds took as long as or longer than I had, but most were Sorted in thirty seconds or less, and a couple were assigned Houses pretty much the moment the Hat landed on their heads.
I suppose it only makes sense. Eleven years of life experience is easier — and faster — to analyze than ten times that.
I made a point of memorizing faces, names and Houses for all the first-years as they proceeded through the Sorting, from fearful little Euan Abercrombie (Gryffindor, despite his obvious terror) through the Martinez triplets (one in each house except for Slytherin) all the way to Rose Zeller (the last Hufflepuff to be Sorted). These were the students I had the most hope for, the ones for whom I would not be a holy terror if all worked to plan. If I could lay the right groundwork with them, then I might be able to ameliorate, if not entirely then partly, the effects any future bad Defense teachers might have on them. "Give me their minds when they are young..." and all that, y'know. Because I wouldn't be here to guide them all the way to their graduation, I had to build a solid foundation on which they could progress, unguided and alone if necessary.
In the course of memorization, I noted one little statistical factoid that I had actually anticipated: the kids were Sorted pretty much evenly between the four Houses. And a quick glance around the Great Hall at the older students confirmed that, more or less, the Houses were all of a size with each other. Which said to me that at least part of the requirements for House assignment were clearly bogus. The Hat had to be jiggering things so the distribution was always equal, or close to it.
I decided then and there that I needed to have another talk with the Hat. On several topics.
"Talbot, Marcia!" Professor McGonagall read from her scroll, and another first-year made her way to the stool on which the Sorting Hat rested.
"Look at him," Hermione whispered to Harry and Ron as the little girl placed the Hat on her head.
"Who?" Ron muttered. "Malfoy?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "No, Ron. Professor Sangnoir. He's so... intense. Like he's studying every one of the first years, memorizing them." She shook her head. "He's nothing like he was back at... at where we were staying this summer."
"Ravenclaw!" the Hat announced, to the cheers of that house and the applause of the others.
"He wasn't a teacher then, was he, though?" Ron observed as they clapped. "It's like Professor Lupin — he didn't act like a Defence professor when he was at... that place with us this summer, right?"
"Walther, Peter," called out McGonagall, and a little boy, dark-haired and slender, approached the stool.
Hermione absently worried her lip. "I suppose. It's just, it's strange seeing it the other way. I mean, after watching him with Charlie and the twins and with S... Snuffles, I kind of started thinking of him as, well, not quite professor material despite all the mystery around him." Focused on articulating her feelings, Hermione missed seeing both Harry and Ron smirk at each over over the latest resurgence of her current obsession. "But now... he looks almost as intense as Professor Moody."
"Slytherin!" And little Peter made his way to that table to the accompaniment of considerably less cheering than little Marcia had received.
"Merlin! I hope not!" Ron declared, scowling after the latest recruit for the house of Death Eaters. "Two professors like that in a row..." He shuddered. Harry suppressed a snicker when Ron's stomach audibly growled, as if in agreement.
Harry snorted. "I think you're both off. We know what he's like. There's no way that Dou..." Hermione glared and opened her mouth, and Harry swiftly corrected himself. "...that Professor Sangnoir is going to be as bad as Moody. Even the fake Moody."
"Hufflepuff!" And they stopped to clap and cheer for the last of the first years.
As the applause faded away and McGonagall carried off the Sorting Hat and its stool, Dumbledore stood up from his seat at the center of the head table. Harry suppressed a surge of anger at the headmaster for ignoring him, barely even acknowledging his existence, once his hearing in front of the Wizengamot had concluded. For a moment he was inclined to forgive Dumbledore for snatching away the care and closeness he'd given Harry for four years; for this one moment, when everything was the way it was supposed to be. He closed his eyes for just long enough to bask in the rightness of it all, then opened them again.
Spreading his arms wide and smiling broadly, Dumbledore looked out over the student body and declared in a clear and carrying voice, "To our newcomers, welcome! To our old hands — welcome back! There is a time for speech making, but this is not it. Tuck in!"
And the food appeared.
"You know," Nearly Headless Nick said not much later, "this is far from the first time the Sorting Hat has issued a warning."
"Really?" Harry asked as Ron mumbled something through a full mouth that was probably the same word.
The ghost nodded — carefully, by bending slightly at the waist, so as not to dislodge his head from the stump of his neck. "Oh, certainly. Whenever a time of great crisis for Wizarding Britain has been imminent, particularly one that threatened Hogwarts itself, the Hat's song has carried a clear warning, and has always encouraged the Houses of Hogwarts to stand together, unified, to face it.
"What is unusual," he continued musingly, "is its mention of allies from outside Hogwarts. Yes." Unseen by Nick, Hermione and Ginny traded meaningful glances once again. "It is the first time, at least in my experience, that the Hat has not only advised that we stand together and be strong from within. I wonder whether it bodes well or ill."
"The first time? Really?" Hermione leaned toward him, intent, Harry thought, out of all proportion to the question.
"In my experience, yes," Nick confirmed.
"How about for the other ghosts?" Ron asked between forkfuls.
Nick considered this. "I'll have to ask," he finally said. "In fact, I think I'll do so now." He drifted up out of the seat he occupied until he hovered well above the table. "I shall return shortly," he called down before floating over to the Ravenclaw table and the side of the Grey Lady.
"So... bad news, you think?" Ron said with a knowing smirk after Nick had left the table.
"Only a little," Harry said with a levity he didn't really feel. It was pretty obvious that the Hat had been referring to the return of Voldemort at the end of the Triwizard Tournament.
Hermione wrinkled her nose at them in disgust. "You two think you're so funny. This is serious."
"Of course it's serious, Hermione," Harry sighed. "But is it so wrong to want to find a little something to laugh at in the middle of it?"
Hermione's pique deflated, and she shook her head. "No, I guess not. I just didn't want you to be making light of, well, everything that happened at the end of last year."
Harry suddenly felt a surge of irritation at that, and tried to stomp it down. "Believe me, Hermione, I haven't forgotten just how awful it was, and how awful it's going to be," he snapped.
She blanched. "I didn't mean to..."
Before she could finish, Nearly Headless Nick reappeared and drifted back into the seat he had been occupying. "That's it, then. According to the Grey Lady, the Hat has never before advocated working with anyone outside of Hogwarts during a crisis."
"The Grey Lady?" Ron asked, looking up from his plate.
"Oh yes," Sir Nicholas replied. "She's been here the longest of any of us, except perhaps for the Baron. She dates almost all the way back to the Founding, I'm told."
"Really?" Hermione's eyes began to shine. "That's not in Hogwarts: A History!"
"Well, it wouldn't be, would it?" Nick pointed out. "It's a very personal thing to a ghost sometimes, you know — when we died... and how. Some of us don't want to talk about it at all."
"And some won't shut up about it," Ron whispered to Harry, who had to stifle a snicker lest he insult Sir Nicholas.
Dinner was, simply put, sumptuous. Within the confines of pseudo-Victorian British cuisine, of course, but jokes about English food aside, that still allowed for quite a number of dishes that were quite good. Of course, the selection was strongly tilted toward the tastes of teenagers, so there was nothing really exotic to hand, but still I enjoyed myself thoroughly.
Suppressing a burp, I wiped my mouth with my napkin then laid it down on the table where my plate and silverware had been only seconds before. I was just wondering what was going to happen next when Albus stood up again.
"Well, now that we are all digesting another magnificent feast, I beg a few moments of your attention for the usual start-of-term notices," he announced, his surprisingly stentorian voice easily carrying throughout the Great Hall. "First years ought to know that the forest in the grounds is out of bounds to students — and a few of our older students ought to know by now too."
Over at the Gryffindor table, some of my young housemates from the summer were sharing smirks — including what's-her-face, the one with the Shakespearean name that started with an H — Hermione, that was it. I'd've thought she would've been a bit more of a priggish swot given the way she'd acted most of the time while I stayed at Grim Old Number 12. But judging from that shared look, she was a secret trouble-maker, along with her two male friends.
To quote Arte Johnson, "Veeeery eeeenteresting."
Albus had meanwhile gone on to relay a number of notices and warnings from Argus — stuff like no magic in the corridors and the existence of a list of banned items pinned to his office door. I suspected that Argus's less-than-sunny disposition did quite a bit to discourage comprehensive awareness of that list's contents among the student body. I had to admit that I was more than a little curious what was among the four hundred and some items on that list myself, though, so I made a mental note to drop by and check out the broadsheet when I was next in that part of the castle.
My drifting attention was suddenly yanked back to Albus' continuing after-dinner speech when he said, "We have had two changes in staffing this year. We are very pleased to welcome back Professor Grubbly-Plank, who will be taking Care of Magical Creatures lessons; we are also delighted to introduce Professor Sangnoir, our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher."
As a rather fragmentary and entirely obligatory-sounding applause dribbled out of the student body, I stood, smiled and gave the room a little wave.
"Tryouts for the House Quidditch teams will take place on the..." Albus droned on as I sat back down, but I tuned him out while at the same time putting on the earnest-new-employee face I used to wear while zoning during Warriors meetings my first year or so on the team. I stayed that way until the feast officially ended — helped immensely by Severus's non-existent social skills on the one side, and Sybill's complete space-out of her own on the other.
Not for the first time I reflected on how I'd had better co-workers in other jobs.
When the rest of the staff took their leave of the table, I followed them out of the room and back to the staff wing, at which time we parted company. In my case, I bid them goodnight, politely declining an invitation to join the latest round of the cut-throat floating poker-like game the staff played at least two nights a week using Tarot cards. Between the old Stephen Wright joke and the simple fact that I had yet to master the blasted game's complexity, I decided I didn't want to risk it — at least not that night.
Besides, I'd already lost my first week's salary to Pomona, who behind her motherly exterior was actually a vicious card-shark. And Minerva was just as bad. I wasn't too keen on losing everything I'd earned so far at Hogwarts.
I also declined Rolanda's offer of a nightcap in her quarters. Retreating to my rooms as quickly as I could politely manage — not that, what with Severus on staff, anything but the most monumental rudeness on my part would even be noticed — I closed and locked the door behind me then breathed a comically-exaggerated sigh of relief at escaping her wiles once more. I simply had to find that woman a romantic interest who wasn't me, if only so I could stop having to dodge her. Even the knowledge that I was married didn't slow her down.
Once safely ensconced in my quarters, I went back to my cultural familiarization efforts. That night's program covered recent Wizarding history, in particular the shadow civil war that Voldemort had prosecuted some two decades earlier.
The books I read didn't actually call it a war, but come on, people. Class conflict, ethnic cleansing, intent to overthrow the legal government, battles in the street, the Ministry of Magic all but recycling old Winston Churchill speeches — it was a war. Calling it anything else was disingenuous at best and deadly self-delusion at worst.
The real kicker was how the whole conflict ended. In an incident that was so unreal as to be practically mythic, Flight-of-Emo basically nuked himself. On Halloween 1981, he went after a family who had gone into hiding, killed the parents, and then got taken out by an unprecedented magical backfire when he tried to kill their toddler with a no-miss, no-fail death ray spell. Of course, because Voldemort had his death-avoidance plan in play — Albus was pretty sure Lord Emo had used partial soul anchors and had made at least two — he didn't die from this, but Wizarding Britain didn't know (and didn't want to know) that. His body got vaped by the backlash and he ended up discorporated in the usual manner for those with partial anchors, neatly terminating (for the moment) his campaign, his threat, and his ability to scratch his butt.
While what was left of Flight-of-Emo's immortal soul buggered off to parts unknown but purely terrestrial, the toddler, one Harry James Potter by name, became the Wizarding World's equivalent of Jesus, Spartacus and Shockwave all rolled into one lisping, diapered package, simply by virtue of having survived where Voldemort didn't. Someone with a good sense of theatre but not much imagination tagged him with the moniker "The Boy Who Lived", but not before the kid vanished into folklore — according to my texts he hadn't been seen since that night.
As I sat on the floor, my back against the side of my bed and all those history books scattered across the throw rug under me, I leaned my head back against my mattress and thought about it. That had happened in 1981, fourteen years earlier. Frowning, I checked the publication dates.
The most recent of my texts was dated 1990.
Hm. A lot could happen in five years. This Harry Potter would be 15 now — I wondered if he was still missing, or whether he'd shown up at one of the Wizarding schools when he'd turned 11. I made a mental note to ask Albus. If he didn't know, no one did.
Oh, and the war? Without its prime mover, Voldemort's army had all but collapsed. A few die-hards apparently kept trying to fight for a few weeks to a couple months more, but without the Big Bad Bogeyman to scare the poor Aurors, the Ministry actually made a decent effort at rounding up Flight-of-Emo's soldiers. Most of them ended up either executed or imprisoned in a place called Azkaban. (Azkaban didn't get much of a description, but from what I could gather by reading between the lines, it apparently made the Bastille look like a luxury resort.)
And the rest? Well, Voldemort's richest, most aristocratic supporters claimed to have been under mind control, the local version of which was a spell called the "Imperius". How successful they were at getting acquitted because of this seemed to have a very odd correlation with how rich and politically connected they were. (Very odd, that is, unless you're a cynical old bastard like yours truly.) Of course, none of the books actually said that, but I'd been living in the Wizarding World long enough now to know the names of the families that the average British wizard crossed at his peril — names that kept reappearing on the lists of Imperius "victims".
In the immortal words of Bill Cosby, "Riiiiiiight. What's a cubit?"
I groaned and rubbed my eyes. I did not want to work myself up into a fit of impotent anger at the rich sons of bitches who had escaped justice by throwing money at the corruptible. If I let myself stew on that subject I'd end up doing something dramatic (or, as Hexe would put it, "grossly stupid") to get rid of that feeling of impotence. I needed to change my focus.
I gathered my history texts up into a neat stack and set them back on the shelf where I'd been storing them between my few chances to read. The same shelf where lived a certain cardboard box with three large, looping "W"s written on it.
I'm sure if anyone had been watching me at that point, they would have seen my face completely recapitulate the "wonderful, awful idea" sequence from "How The Grinch Stole Christmas". I took the box in both hands and, still smiling that wide, evil smile, carried it to the bed, where I carefully placed it on the covers before seating myself before it.
Trusting the twins to be good to their word, I simply lifted off the lid.
And when I saw what was in it, my smile grew even wider.
...that oaf Hagrid appears to have been sacked and replaced for good by Grubbly-Plank, which I'm sure upset Potter and his friends.
As you requested, I have been watching the new Defence professor; Sangnoir is at first glance just another self-absorbed fool like Lockhart, smiling smugly at us while dressed in robes of a quality above his station. I shall give you more of my thoughts about him later in this letter, but first I must ask, can you tell me what more you have learned about him through the Board? Any number of rumors are circulating, from the plausible to the utterly ridiculous. By turns he is supposed to be an American Auror, an escaped convict, an Unspeakable, or even some kind of exotic Muggle adventurer. I have even heard claims that the man killed a dragon with single blow, without magic! Please pass on to me anything you have learned so that I can end this annoying speculation and return my housemates' attention to more important matters.
After the start-of-term feast concluded, we retired to the Common Room, where we ensured that the first years knew their proper place in the House...
Gryffindor Common Room. September 1, 1995, 8:00 PM
Harry, Ron and Hermione chose not to follow the majority of their housemates upstairs and into the dorms upon returning to Gryffindor Tower after dinner. Instead, they took their accustomed places on the loveseat and the pair of armchairs near the monumental hearth which anchored one entire wall of the common room. Neville followed, all but dragged by Ginny, and the two of them sat down as well.
"All right," Neville inquired as everyone settled in, "what's up with the new Defence professor?"
With many false starts, tangents, loopbacks and "hey, you forgot this"s, and many, many interjections from all sides, the four of them eventually told Neville everything they knew or suspected about the new Defence professor.
After they had finished, Neville sat for a long moment, his head tilted to one side, as he considered everything they had told him. "You're serious," he finally said.
Harry briefly considered making his godfather's favorite joke, but realized in time that Neville wouldn't get it. Not without telling secrets he couldn't tell, at least.
"Yeah, mate," Ron said in the meantime. "I mean, Hermione's a bit overboard on it and all, but yeah, Professor Sangnoir's... he's..." Ron searched for the words for a moment before giving up and shrugging.
"Some kind of crippled superwizard from a mysterious land of superwizards nobody's ever heard of, who lives like a Muggle and can't use a wand..." Neville shook his head. "It's only because you guys have hardly ever been wrong before when you said stuff like this that I don't just laugh in your faces, you know?"
Hermione leaned forward, her elbows on her knees, and gazed intently and sincerely into Neville's eyes. "We know, Neville, and we appreciate it, we really do." She sat back and slumped a little. "It's not just that it sounds strange. It's that nothing about him adds up, and there are more than a few blatant impossibilities around him."
"The Headmaster trusts him, though, right?" Neville pointed out. "Surely that must count for something."
All three of them stared at him, while at his side Ginny was briefly seized by a coughing fit that sounded suspiciously like "snapesnapesnape". Not being totally thick, Neville thought about what he'd just said. "Oh, right," he mumbled sheepishly after a moment. "I guess we should keep a close watch on him, then?" he added in a stronger voice.
Ginny elbowed him gently and with a smirk asked, "'We'?"
Neville sat up straighter. "Yes, we," he said with surprising determination. "I mean, we're just going to observe, right? So what could possibly happen?"
As Harry winced and Hermione sighed, Ron slapped a hand over his face and groaned, "Merlin, now we're in for it."
Next to Neville, Ginny just giggled.
Some time later, Ginny and Hermione faced each other from opposite ends of Hermione's bed. The curtains were drawn tightly. Had either of them known any spells for ensuring that they would not be overheard, they would have been cast. As it was, they had to depend on the continued absence of Hermione's roommates for their privacy.
"So," Hermione said as she settled in with her pillow cushioning her back against the headboard, and wrapped her arms around herself.
"So," Ginny replied from where she sat, Indian-style, at the foot of the bed. She closed her eyes, breathed deeply, and then opened them again before saying softly, "'Friends who're called on in the night'. Strong and wise ones, yet." She gave a lopsided grin. "Y'think the Hat's a seer?"
"It could just be a coincidence," Hermione whispered.
Ginny shrugged. "Maybe." She peered closely at Hermione. "But I don't believe it. Even if nothing seemed to happen, I think maybe something did happen — something big."
"But what?" Hermione whispered.
September 2, 1995, 6:48 AM
"It's hard to say what Defence is going to be like," Natalie McDonald, second-year Gryffindor, replied offhandedly in response to a question from one of the first-year Gryffindors she was leading down the stairs to breakfast from their tower dorms. "Hold on." Warned by a faint vibration, she interrupted herself and held out an arm to stop Euan Abercrombie from stepping onto the landing below them. "The staircase is about to move."
Behind the little band, Ginny smiled approvingly. Natalie was a good kid, pure Gryffindor through-and-through. Despite her Muggle origins she had adapted well to life in the castle and now, at the start of her second year, she was the old hand imparting her years — well, year — of wisdom to the newbies. Sure enough, the staircase swung away from the landing and to another. After a moment, Natalie dropped her arm and led her charges along the new route to the Great Hall. "You always have to be careful," she admonished. "If you're not careful, you could fall right off..."
With a loud flapping of cloth, a figure in deep blue robes plunged through the open air next to the staircase.
"...the steps!" Natalie finished with a squeak of surprise and no small amount of terror. She dashed to the balustrade, followed closely by Ginny and the younger Gryffindors. They looked over the railing just in time to see the robed figure spin around a wooden beam and launch itself back up into the air. A moment later it passed the staircase again, where it was revealed to be a blond man — and one Ginny recognized, at that.
Professor Sangnoir grinned and waved at the gobsmacked students. "Good morning, kids! Heading to breakfast?" he asked as he slowed to a halt just above their heads. "Good!" he continued without waiting for a response as he began to fall once more. "Most important meal of the daaaaaaaaaay!" he trailed off as he disappeared below again.
Ginny and Natalie exchanged looks, then stuck their heads back over the balustrade. The first-years swarmed around them to get their own looks, as well, some even sticking their heads out between the individual stone balusters to see.
The professor was proceeding to the ground level in a series of stupendous leaps and acrobatic tumbles. More than once they were sure he was going to miss a grab or a landing and break his neck, but one long, long, nerve-wracking minute later he was safely on the ground floor of the castle. Natalie and Ginny shared a giggle when they saw him bow flamboyantly to the applauding paintings at the base of the stairs.
"Who was that?" Natalie asked as the staircase shivered and then began to swing back to its original position. Around and behind her, the first-years chattered excitedly amongst themselves.
Ginny snorted. "That was the new Defence professor."
Defense Classroom. September 2, 1995, 8:00 AM
Although I'd been coming to it daily for about two weeks now, I still had to stop for a moment upon entering and admire my classroom. It was half miniature cathedral, half Ripley's Odditorium. Stone construction that reminded me again of Princeton, but with a tall, vaulted ceiling, from which hung both an iron chandelier and the skeleton of what looked like a wyvern. The chandelier was a little worse for wear; I suspected it had come falling down, Phantom-of-the-Opera-style, a couple times in its life. Until the next time it did so, though, it held candles that lit the room with magical flames that never consumed their wax. The banks of benches and desks, centuries old and darkened by both design and age, took up most of the floor and — back to the cathedral imagery again — reminded me of pews. And at one end I even had a pulpit.
Well, actually it was a landing of sorts in the middle of a stone staircase up to my office proper, but it projected slightly out over the floor of the classroom and was somewhat cylindrical in shape; it reminded me of more than a few pulpits I'd seen in cathedrals, like Saint Patrick's in New York City.
Huge windows allowed the determined Scottish sunlight to illuminate the room, at least during the scant daylight hours available at this latitude — clear glass, not stained, but made of leaded panes. Again like McCosh 10 in Princeton.
Unlike Princeton or a cathedral, though, was the bric-a-brac that had littered the room when Albus first showed it to me. It had been about as eclectic as might be expected given the annual turnover in the professorship; I suspected that each of my predecessors had left behind at least one item to contribute to the collection. These ranged from optical instruments to African sculptures to seashells to a mushroom-covered skull in a bell jar. Several shelves of ancient, decaying grimoires surrounded the table under the "pulpit" that served as my desk/lectern.
I got rid of most of the junk by the simple expedient of shoving it off on the house-elves to dispose of, but I kept some of the more interesting or decorative pieces. Like the unlabeled marble bust of some ancient Wizarding dignitary, which I'd moved to the table on the day I'd first visited the room and had been using as a helmet perch since.
One thing I didn't keep, though, was a metric crapload of books written by a bozo named Lockhart. (Said bozo having been one of my esteemed predecessors about three years earlier.) I swear, there seemed to be a couple of them in every nook and cranny in the room. They all had titles like Hobnobbing with Hobgoblins, Nattering with Nifflers, and Wallowing with Wombats. After browsing through them a bit I relegated his entire body of work to the same category as Wilbert Slinkhard's treatise on avoiding combat by preemptively embracing defeat. Which is to say, worthless junk completely undeserving of a place in a Defense classroom.
The end result of my efforts was a room that had enough curious doodads to pique the interest of the students, but not so many as to distract them unduly, with enough space available to explore some practical work when needed. And I intended on exploring practical work for every year.
Anyway, I rushed through breakfast that Monday morning, barely trading nods of greeting with those of my fellow educators eating at the same time, before all but running to my classroom to do my last-minute preparations. Don't get the wrong idea, though — I wasn't the least bit nervous about my first day. It wasn't the first time I'd been a teacher, after all. And if you're affiliated with the Warriors and/or have been reading these journals of mine in their proper order, you'll know that. And if you haven't shame on you for skipping.
To start with, at the time of my exile I was one of the primary combat trainers for the Warriors' powered infantry corps. Skilled soldiers and volunteers all, from the militaries of every member nation of the U.N., these were the guys who served as our ground troops, doing everything from security at the Mansion to backing us up on the really big operations. I was one of the Warriors tasked with getting new troops up to speed on using powered armor to combat metas, and with keeping the experienced troops in fighting trim.
In addition to that, like every other Warrior I had taught the occasional class at Warriors Academy, our in-house private school for kids with early-manifesting metatalents. The only real difference I could see between Hogwarts and the Academy was the class size — a half-dozen students at the most in an Academy class vs. twenty or so here. And none of the Hogwarts students would call me "Uncle Doug" like Nina, Ruth and Gracie did.
Okay, and the subject matter was a little different, too.
After being ejected from my home timeline, teaching naturally became one of the ways I chose to support myself. Over the past 75 years, I'd have to say I've been a teacher of one stripe or another more often than any other single occupation. Hell, it was the way I initially earned my keep in Velgarth, the first world I was stuck in after I fell through that damned teleport gate in Piccadilly Circus. Starting with Alberich, their existing instructor at the Collegium at Haven in Valdemar, I taught unarmed combat to Heralds who were interested — and it kept going from there.
So while the particular subject matter may have been new to me, at least in part, the profession certainly wasn't.
Which leads me to my first class.
The voices of children echoing down the hall drew me out of my musings, and I quickly positioned myself behind my desk. I swept my hands down the front of my robes to straighten them, glanced at my helmet to make sure it wasn't going to fall off Old Marble Head, and reassured myself that my wand was still in its holster. Then I smiled as I watched the children stream into the room and take their seats.
When the last 11-year-old (Euan Abercrombie, dashing in all out of breath and toting a bookbag nearly half his size) had found his place, I nodded approvingly. "Good morning," I then said as I strode down the aisle that ran down the middle of the room. "I'm Professor Sangnoir," I added as I gently shut the door. "Welcome to Defense Against the Dark Arts."
Forty-five minutes later, I leaned back against my desk and watched with a little satisfied smile as my students exited the room, excitedly chattering amongst themselves about the first lesson.
That had gone well, I thought. They'd seemed thoroughly engaged with and engrossed by the material. Good. I wanted them thinking and discussing.
Hogwarts had a very simple schedule — the basic layout was three one-hour periods in both the morning and the afternoon, with a longish lunch in between. Some classes — like one of my upcoming afternoon sessions — actually took up two slots and were called, naturally enough, "doubles". According to my fellow instructors, these were intended to be as much labs as lectures (to use college terms). I intended to use them as often as I could for that practical work I mentioned earlier — and it would be very practical work.
Which reminded me that I needed to make a quick jaunt back to London soon to pick up some martial arts training supplies for my upper years — things like padded mats, sparring gear and wooden weapons. With Albus' knowledge and approval I'd been evolving my original syllabi, changing the upper-year programs to be a bit more rough-and-tumble, more challenging, with the goal of actually teaching real combat techniques to the fifth-year and older students. But to do that I needed the right equipment. Chalk up one more thing on my "to-do" list.
September 2, 1995, 12:08 PM
Harry gritted his teeth as he dropped onto a bench at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall. Between embarrassing himself in front of Cho between classes this morning and then Snape being an utter bastard to him in Potions as usual, Harry was hard-pressed not to alternately pound his head against the table and lash out at those around him. His mood was darker than the stormy sky that was mimicked by the ceiling above and visible through the rain-lashed windows.
The relative quiet of the weather was vaguely disappointing; some overly-dramatic part of his mind wanted the rain to be ripped through with lightning and thunder, the better to mirror his anger and inner turbulence.
Some other part of him had the good graces to be vaguely ashamed of the first part and its desire for overblown theatrics. Which just added to his disgust at himself and his life. Which made him want the theatrics all the more. Which made him more ashamed, and so on in an endless feedback loop.
It was a good thing, he thought, that the silverware was stronger than he was, otherwise it might become difficult to eat neatly.
Perhaps fortunately, the other Gryffindors seemed to detect the dudgeon he was in, and gave him a wide berth — when Ron and Hermione finally caught up to him he was alone, with empty seats across from him and for ten or fifteen feet to either side. He all but ignored them as they sat down, preferring to focus all his attention on his shepherd's pie.
Taking her own share of lunch, Hermione tried to console him. "Professor Snape was terribly unfair to you, Harry."
"She's right, mate," Ron said as he took his own share of the shepherd's pie. "I mean, did you see Goyle's potion? It set the flagon on fire when he tried to pour it in."
Harry closed his eyes and counted slowly under his breath before replying. "It's not like he's ever been fair to me, has it?" He stabbed his lunch viciously before scooping a forkful into his mouth.
After a long moment of silence that Harry took as tacit agreement, Hermione looked up from her plate. "I had hoped that he'd be a little better this year," she offered softly, "what with... " She glanced around to confirm that they were still effectively alone. "What with him being in the Order and all."
Ron snorted. "Not bloody likely. Poisonous toadstools don't change their spots." He shoveled another portion of the shepherd's pie into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. "'Course, I've always thought Dumbledore's barmy, trusting Snape. I mean, what proof is there that he ever really stopped working for You-Know-Who?"
"Ron!" Hermione immediately snapped. "I'm sure that the Headmaster..." she began, only to be cut off by Harry.
"Please. Don't," he said quietly. "Just... don't. Last thing I need right now is the two of you going at each other again."
That silenced Ron and Hermione very effectively, and neither said more than a word or two more for the rest of lunch. Finally, Harry finished his meal. Without saying a word to either of his friends, he shoved his plate back roughly, sending his fork clattering away in a thick spray of brown gravy. Then he stood, swung his schoolbag over his shoulder and departed, leaving them sitting there, stunned.
When Ron caught up with Harry in the Divination classroom in the last minutes before the first class of the year was to begin, he hesitated a moment before dropping heavily into the seat next to him. "You all right, mate?" he asked as he stowed his bookbag under the chintz-trimmed chair. Behind them, Professor Trelawney drifted through the room with a stack of books in her arms, placing one in front of each seat.
Harry just looked at him for a second before glancing away.
"Because Hermione and me, we're worried about you. You're not usually this... touchy. Even with Seamus and Snape and everything, it's like you're taking everything harder than last year." As Harry opened his mouth to respond to that, Ron added, "And we're not fighting, her and me. We're trying not to, at least. We know you don't like it."
Harry closed his mouth and thought about that for a moment. "Thanks," he finally said.
"Right," Ron replied, as he picked up the leather-bound book that had already been at his seat. "'The Dream Oracle', by Inigo Imago," he read aloud from cover. "More rubbish. How long d'you figure before she predicts your death today?"
"Not helping, Ron," Harry muttered.
"Come on, Harry, what else can you do but laugh about it?" Ron protested. "It's all ridiculous, anyway." He leaned in conspiratorially. "A Sickle says it's in the first 10 minutes of class."
"Good day," said Professor Trelawney in her usual misty, dreamy voice, and the two of them looked up in surprise. The classroom had filled up while they had been speaking, and the period had obviously begun. "And welcome back to Divination. I have, of course, been following your fortunes most carefully over the holidays..."
"Sure you have," Harry muttered, and Ron stifled a snort.
"...and I am delighted to see that you have all returned to Hogwarts safely — as, of course, I knew you would."
"Sure you did," Ron muttered in return, and despite himself, Harry felt a smile tug at the corners of his mouth. Okay, so maybe Divination wouldn't be all bad.
Several minutes before two, Ron and Harry met up with Hermione in front of the Defence classroom. "I've been listening to people who've already had classes with him," Hermione began without preamble or greeting, "and I'm not quite sure what to make of it all."
"And hullo to you, too, Hermione," Ron said with a smirk at Harry, who looked like he couldn't decide if he was annoyed or amused at this manifestation of Hermione's latest preoccupation. "'Him' who?"
Hermione huffed and rolled her eyes. "Professor Sangnoir! Who else?"
"Who indeed?" Harry murmured, though not too softly for her to hear.
She scowled at him for a moment, then returned to her original topic, undeterred. "What people think of Professor Sangnoir depends on what year they're in. The first years who had DADA this morning love him. He apparently introduced himself to them as the 'Defence Against Boring Classes' professor."
Ron guffawed, and despite his dark mood Harry smiled, as much at Hermione's obvious disapproval of the idea as at the idea itself. With a sniff she continued. "They say he follows the book, but he makes it interesting and engaging, and he already had them doing practical work in their first classes. And he tells funny anecdotes about his own experiences that are obviously made up but have an immediate connection to the material."
"Made up?" Ron asked. "Like what?"
Hermione looked somewhat disgruntled. "Like a story about how he and some of his friends fought a woman who could change into a dragon, and how they defeated her by putting an inverted Bubble-Head Charm on her."
"An inverted Bubble-Head?" Ron asked, his brow furrowing.
"It cut off her air and she passed out," Hermione explained. "He used it as an example of how clever uses of apparently harmless spells can completely turn around a battle."
"Huh." Harry nodded slowly. If it had actually happened, it was a pretty cool stunt.
"Obviously he just made up the story," Hermione continued. "I mean, really, what was she supposed to be, a dragon Animagus? Ridiculous! Still..." Her tone softened. "It's a good way to teach a lesson like that." Then her expression hardened. "Anyway... anyone who isn't a first year who's had a Defence class today isn't nearly as happy about him. Apparently Professor Sangnoir wasn't impressed by the last few Defence professors, and he's determined to make up for all their failures — in one year."
"In one year?" Harry asked, incredulously.
Hermione nodded vigorously. "According to one of the third-years he says he's racing the DADA curse to get us where he thinks we ought to be. And that means he's teaching as much as he can, as fast as he can, and he's not going to be very forgiving."
"Well, isn't that just bloody great," Ron spat.
"It's not like he's as bad as Snape, though, is he, Hermione?" Harry asked.
"Professor Snape," Hermione chided automatically, and then continued, "No, it doesn't seem so. He's not unfair, he's just... demanding," she finally said after searching for several seconds. Then she brightened. "I'm actually looking forward to it!"
"You would," Ron muttered, and Harry stifled a snort of amusement.
"Ron!" Hermione objected.
"Out of the way of your betters, Granger." They turned to see Draco Malfoy smirking nastily. His two goons, Crabbe and Goyle, stood at their accustomed places at his sides.
"Malfoy," Harry snarled and began to lift his wand.
"Potter," snarled Malfoy as he did the same.
"Children!" came a warning voice through the door. Harry glared at Malfoy before turning on his heel and entering the classroom, followed closely by Ron and Hermione.
"Come on in, no need to crowd around the door." Professor Sangnoir's American-accented tenor rose above the noise of the students taking out their books and settling into their seats. "C'mon, c'mon, I don't bite." There was a brief pause, during which Harry caught a glimpse of him through the crowd, and then the professor added, "But while I may not bite, I do claw and scratch when necessary."
Quiet laughter bubbled through the class as they finished seating themselves, and Harry got his first close-up look at Professor Sangnoir since he'd left 12 Grimmauld Place two weeks earlier. He was dressed in deep indigo robes trimmed with a twisting Celtic knotwork design in a darker blue, barely visible from where Harry sat. He was perched rather informally on the desk at the front of the room, which hiked up his robes enough to reveal that he was wearing blue jeans and motorcycle boots under them. Harry briefly wondered if the professor was also wearing one of the apparently infinite supply of T-shirts he seemed to own as well, and if so, what it said on it. To the right of the desk was a largish slate standing on an easel; written on it in white chalk was, not unexpectedly, "Professor Sangnoir".
The professor smiled and nodded approvingly as the class fell silent, then hopped off the desk. His boots made a solid "thunk" against the wooden floor. Harry was not surprised to spot his wand laying on the desktop; if the twins' report on its behavior was to be believed, Harry supposed the professor would try to use it as little as possible in class.
"Good afternoon, everyone," the professor said, "and welcome to Interpretive Dance 101. I'm very pleased to see such a large turnout, and so many young men, too! Far too many teenage boys think that dance is somehow effeminate..."
As a confused murmur rose from the tables, the professor chuckled and raised his hands placatingly. "Just kidding. Welcome to fifth year Defence Against the Dark Arts, double session for Slytherin and Gryffindor Houses. I'm the latest installment of your annual instructor subscription, Professor Sangnoir." He gestured to the slate. "I wanted to start us off with a little humour because, I am sorry to say, there won't be a lot to laugh about in this class." He began striding back and forth. "Your previous instructors have, for the most part, been... inadequate." Harry glanced over at Hermione, who smirked at him. Then he smiled to himself; based on the conversations he'd observed between Professor Sangnoir and Professor Lupin during the time the former had spent at 12 Grimmauld Place, he had a pretty good idea how few had been considered "adequate".
During his distraction, Professor Sangnoir had continued speaking, but his manner had quickly lost its familiar joking tone and grown serious, even harsh. "Compared to what your curriculum should have been, you — and most of Hogwarts' current generation of students — have been cheated of a proper Defence education. I intend to correct that to the best of my ability in the time we have. This is especially critical for you as fifth-year students, since you are facing your O.W.L. tests at the end of the academic year."
He stopped pacing and stood with his arms folded behind his back, looking out over the class. Harry realized with a shock that although his robes hid it well, the professor was standing in a very military — Muggle military — parade rest stance. "Unlike some of your previous years, this will not be an easy course. I will be pushing you to the edge of your ability and beyond. I will be driving you to excel. And I will not accept failure from any of you." He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again. "Because sooner or later, your lives will depend on what I will teach you. And if I do not teach you to my satisfaction, then I will share in the guilt for every one of you who is injured or killed in the coming years."
The room was deathly silent for a long moment.
"If you think Arithmancy is hard," the professor finally said, breaking the silence, "believe me, it will have nothing on Defence as I will be teaching it to you. You will hate me, but perhaps you will someday thank me for it." He clapped his hands suddenly, startling a couple of girls in the row ahead of Harry. "Well, let's get started. As a wise man once said, 'We come into this world naked, covered in our own blood, and screaming in terror — and it doesn't have to stop there if you know how to live right.'" He smiled, not entirely reassuringly. "I'll see to it that you know how to live right."
Harry and Ron traded worried looks.
"But first, I have to take attendance."
So Harry of the messy hair from Grim Old Number 12 was the famous Harry Potter of recent history. As I took the roll, I wondered how I had missed that, but then, thinking back, I realized that no one, not even the adults, had ever used his last name around me. He'd always been just "Harry", just as the brown-haired girl had always been just "Hermione". Come to think of it, I'd only known the Weasley kids' last name because of Charlie. Still, I couldn't help but suspect that maybe they'd deliberately kept Harry's name from me to give him a little privacy. Especially with how he was getting savaged by the Daily Prophet.
And no, I didn't think he was some kind of lying attention-seeker. I know a hatchet job in the press when I see one. And the Prophet might as well have been handing its stories about Harry to little Georgie Washington and pointing him at a cherry tree. Especially since just about everything written about Harry before his return to the Wizarding World had (as I've already noted) painted him as the second coming of Christ, only with glasses and a flying broom.
During the week I'd spent at 12 Grim I hadn't interacted with him very much, but what I'd seen when I had, had been neither a crazed anarchist nor the Savior of the Wizarding World — just a fairly normal teen-aged boy with a pretty loyal gang of friends. And based on the Prophet's campaign against him and a few overheard bits here and there, it was also obvious to me that he was Albus' "young man of impeccable character" who had witnessed Flight-of-Emo's resurrection. I was going to have to have a private chat with him at some point because unless I missed my mark, he was likely to find himself at the center of a lot more attention, much of it even more malevolent than the press was giving him already. And I could offer a little advice on how to cope with it.
"So," Professor Sangnoir said as he closed the book that held the roll. "Let us begin. I will start by noting that much of what you have been taught over the past four years has been reactive." He stepped around the desk. "By which I mean, you have been taught mostly along the lines of 'if in situation X, use response Y'. This is well and good for beginners, but if you want to ever stop being beginners, you need to approach matters from a higher level."
The professor stepped to the slate and picked up a piece of chalk. "What we're going to cover this term starts with these points — you might want to note them down, as they're key concepts," he added in an aside, at which twenty quills hovered over twenty sheets of parchment. "First, the nature of evil, and the difference between 'dark' and 'evil'. Second, evil and magic. Thirdly, strategy and tactics." He scrawled each topic on the slate in an unrestrained hand, underlining each one, then turned back to face them.
"This is not going to be a 'recipe class'. You are not going to learn a list of 'if-thens' here — 'if confronted by a blue-tailed eyebiter, then throw salt at it.' You are going to learn about evil, how it works, how it thinks, why it does what it does. You are going to learn how to identify it at work even when it's disguised, how to spot its tools and deflect or break them. When it comes specifically to evil magic, you will not learn just simple counter-charms. You will learn how to defend against any evil magic, without knowing what it is. You will gain reflexes against it, become able to react and defend before you consciously know you've been attacked." He leaned forward and raked his eyes over each and every one of them in the class. "I will teach you not only how to defend against evil, but how to hunt it down and destroy it."
The room was absolutely silent. Then a single voice in the back ranks whispered loudly, "Cor! All that in one year?" A wave of laughter crashed over the room, releasing the tension that had grown during the professor's monologue. Even the professor himself laughed, Harry noted with some relief.
"I'll try, at least," he said, still chuckling. "Which means we need to get started right away." He clapped his hands together, raising a small cloud of chalk dust. "Right! Before you can defend against evil, you must be able to identify it. So. What is evil? Define it please..." He searched through the students, ignoring Hermione's vigorously-waving hand. "...Mr. Malfoy."
Draco Malfoy smirked. "The opposite of good, sir," he answered, the barest hint of mockery in his voice, and Harry scowled.
Professor Sangnoir apparently caught the faint mockery in Draco's voice. He raised one eyebrow. "I see we're a sophist, Mr. Malfoy. That was a classic no-answer answer. While technically correct, it is devoid of meaning and thus unacceptable." His jovial tone suddenly chilled. "Smart-aleck responses will gain you no favour in this class, Mr. Malfoy. Minus three points to House Slytherin."
The Slytherins in the class fumed, while the Gryffindors giggled, murmured and chuckled among themselves. Behind his glasses, Harry blinked. He glanced at the Slytherin boy. Malfoy's usual reserve cracked and a look of pure fury blazed across his face for a moment; then he noticed Harry watching him and recomposed himself, and returned Harry's interest with a baleful, reptilian stare. Harry snorted and returned his attention to the instructor.
The professor's voice had gone back to being friendly. "You'll find I'm easy to get along with, if you understand this: I am here to teach you things that will save your lives, the lives of your loved ones, and possibly the lives of untold innocents. But I only have a limited amount of time in which to do so. I don't mind wrong answers, if they're sincerely offered. I do mind disruptive behavior, sniping at myself or other students, and bad attitudes. I will penalize these according to the level of disruption, starting with points and ranging up to and including expulsion from this class." His voice went cold again, and Harry realized that his eyes rested solely on Draco Malfoy. "Do I make myself understood?"
"Yes, sir," the class replied in a chorus of desultory murmurs.
"Good. Now, where were we? Right. The definition of evil. Does anyone else have any useful ideas?"
Hermione's hand was waving so hard that Harry thought it could drive a windmill.
"Evil is selfishness," she said primly.
Professor Sangnoir nodded. "Good answer." Hermione sat back, a familiar satisfied look on her face. "Anyone else?"
"People who hate!"
The whole class began shouting out all manner of despicable behaviors, and Professor Sangnoir nodded at almost all of them. Harry kept silent, thinking about the evil he'd come face-to-face with over the past few years, and tried to figure out if there was a common element to it all. Next to him, Hermione hmphed in annoyance as the answers offered began to dip into the trivial and silly.
"Objects," Harry suddenly blurted as something occurred to him.
"What was that, Mister Potter?" Professor Sangnoir asked.
Harry started; he hadn't realized he'd spoken aloud. He tried to ignore the flush of embarrassment he felt climbing up his face. "Um. Objects, sir. All the really evil people and creatures I've ever met treated people like... like things you could use up and throw out like garbage."
An approving smile flickered across the professor's grim face. "Exactly. One key identifying characteristic of evil is that it sees other living creatures — sentient beings or not — as things to use, abuse, and discard in order to achieve its goals. Empathy is alien to it; it has no care for the feelings of other beings except when it delights in their manipulation. An evil person may have exceptions to this general perception, but that's all they are — exceptions. Uncommon cases somehow special and different from the vast bulk of humanity." He looked about at the class. "In any case, most of the other attributes the class was suggesting, especially Miss Granger's suggestion, are symptoms of evil. Very good, Mister Potter. Five points to Gryffindor." Harry couldn't help but smile slightly; Ron and Hermione were less restrained.
"Let me just add here," Professor Sangnoir continued, "that one does not have to be actively delighting in the harm of others to be evil. Evil can be banal and routine, like a guard in a prison camp convinced that an entire group of people are somehow less than human and thus undeserving of basic rights and dignity. He is not a sadist, but he will torture and kill them without a qualm because to him they do not matter — any more than an insect or a stone would."
The professor then asked, "There is another key attribute of evil. Any guesses?"
The room grew silent as twenty youthful faces frowned in intense concentration. Harry, without realizing it, was among them. He dug through his memories of his confrontations with anyone he thought of as evil, from Lord Voldemort in all his guises over the years, to Lucius Malfoy and the other Death Eaters, to even someone as petty in their evil as Rita Skeeter, and tried to find something all of them had in common.
"Anyone?" the professor asked of the quiet classroom.
Harry bit his lip as he thought of a possibility. Hesitantly, he raised his hand.
"Mr. Potter?" The professor's tone seemed slightly amused, but not mocking.
Harry swallowed. His answer didn't seem to make sense, but it fit the facts... well, some of them. "Evil... it seems to think it's Good, sir." He winced. That hadn't come out the way he wanted it to.
To his surprise, the professor gave him another approving nod. "Very good, Mr. Potter." He turned his attention on the rest of the class. "Evil — true Evil — is very often convinced it is Good or acting for the good of others. It is, in fact, far more certain that it is Good than Good is — and that's how you can often tell the difference. Good doubts itself and the means it uses to accomplish its goals — it's a necessary mechanism that keeps it Good. Evil never doubts itself, its motives or its methods. It deludes itself, or lets itself be easily deluded by others, that it is always in the right, and that whatever action it chooses to take can be justified by its goals or its ideology. It is always convinced that what it does is Good. Of course, it usually redefines 'Good' to mean whatever it wants."
He sat back down on the edge of the desk. "If you ever have doubts about the rightness of a course you have set yourself on, you are at the very least redeemable. Only the irredeemably evil are ever absolutely sure of their actions." He held a finger up to his nose for a moment, an odd gesture in Harry's opinion. "Now some of you will object that you have read about villains who delight in their villainy, who rub their hands and cackle about how eeeeeevil they are." The professor suited action to words, hunching over and miming so stereotypical a villain that Harry had to join his classmates in laughter. "Ooooh, arrrrr, I'll be eatin' me some babies this mornin', I will, an' then at 10 o'clock I have me weekly oppressin' o' the peasants."
The professor straightened, shedding the persona instantly, and the laughter evaporated into an uneasy quiet. "They do exist, but such behavior is more a symptom of insanity than of evil. The two do intersect, but we'll cover that in a bit more detail later in the term. True evil rarely gloats about how evil it is. It's more likely to sound like this."
Again he changed his posture and bearing, and for a moment Harry was sure he was looking at Lucius Malfoy in the hallway outside Dumbledore's office, two years earlier. "You must understand," the professor said in cultured and sophisticated tones that sounded completely unlike his American-accented speech, "that these are dangerous times. Certain... concessions must be made to guarantee the safety of the average witch and wizard in the street. Mandatory weekly Legilimentic examination of every adult in Wizarding Britain is the only way to guarantee that the disruptive elements among our population are identified and... rooted out. No, no, of course members of the Wizengamot will be exempt." Then with a faint, not-quite-smug smile he added, "As a matter of fact, I have several associates quite skilled in Legilimency who would be willing to act as examiners for only a token fee."
Harry shivered, and risked a glance across the classroom at Malfoy. The Slytherin was absolutely stock-still, his lips pressed into a tight line and his eyes narrowed. This, Harry thought, is going to be interesting.
"Finally!" Hermione exclaimed as they left the classroom almost two hours later. "A decent Defence professor. Another," she hastily amended herself when Harry cleared his throat. "Another decent professor. The first since Professor Lupin," she added with an apologetic look at Harry.
"Decent?" Ron stopped and stared at her. "We didn't do anything the whole class other than listen to him talk about philosophy. Now, I'll admit he made me laugh here and there but, bloody hell, woman..."
"Language, Ron!" Hermione snapped reflexively.
"He did say we'll be starting practical work in the next class," Harry pointed out. "And he'll be evaluating our wandwork during the next double class on Thursday."
"What I want to know is what happened to the bloke who spent his time drinking and joking with S... Snuffles," Ron grumbled.
"He flew away on his motorcycle and we haven't seen him since," Hermione sniffed, then strode off.
Ron stared after her, and then turned to Harry. "Did she just make a joke?"
I must agree that despite his foppish demeanour at the start-of-term feast, Professor Sangnoir does appear to be as troublesome as you had indicated to me the night before I left. He is clearly hostile to the Dark Lord's cause and given to mocking his betters. Combined with his inexplicable charisma and skill at holding a class's attention, this makes him potentially very dangerous.
His hostility to our cause may be in part because I suspect he is a Squib. Although his wand was visible on the desk at the front of the class, I have yet to see him even touch it, let alone cast a spell with it.
For that matter, have you been able to find more information on his family history and blood status yet?
September 2, 1995, 4:28 PM
"You wanted to see us, Professor?" one half of FredAndGeorge Weasley said after knocking on my open classroom door.
It was a few minutes after the last students from my final class of the day had finally departed. I was beginning to wonder about my assumption that my second-years and above would hate me. Some very definitely did not like the intensity at which I was teaching, but others seemed to warm to the challenge — mostly Ravenclaws, which from what I'd been told was practically a foregone conclusion. But there were a few in every House who seemed to come alive in my classes, and who hung around at the end of the period to ask questions.
I'd just shooed the last of the most recent bunch out of my office, almost half an hour after the final period of the day had ended, and had been shaking my head at the incredible enthusiasm they'd shown. I was going to be putting them through something almost as challenging as a Warrior's probationary period, and they were looking forward to it. Weird.
The arrival of the twins (in response to a request I'd passed along via their brother Ron) was what I needed to kick me out of my mental loop. "Come on in, guys, and shut the door behind you."
They traded raised eyebrows but did so. "So, what can we do for you, Professor?" said the other half of the pair.
I looked up at the arched stone ceiling with a grin. "Word on the street says you two are the ones to go to for certain... wagering opportunities." Said word being uttered with fond exasperation by Minerva and a few others on the staff.
"A lie..." said one.
"...and a base canard," said the other.
"What's a canard, anyway?" muttered the first.
"A lie, or a small wing on a Muggle aircraft," I said. "It's also French for 'duck'."
"Right," said the first. "It's a lie..."
"...and a base duck," finished the other. They shared a grin and a nod. "I like that. Has style."
"Ducks are always in style," I agreed. "So, then, no truth at all to the rumor. Pity." I took out a Galleon coin, flipped it into the air with my thumb, and caught it when it came back down. "I had some money with nothing to do with its time but ride on a wager. It'll be so disappointed."
Thing Two held up a finger. "Now wait a moment, let's not be too hasty here." The pair of them then shared another look, this one longer than the first. The hell they didn't read each other's minds.
Thing One disengaged and switched his gaze to me. "We do sometimes facilitate practical research into probability distribution for select members of the student body."
"Ah," I said, flipping the coin again. "You do. In that case, I'd like you to facilitate research into the chance I'll last all the way to the end-of-year feast in June. 20 Galleons' worth of research."
"Sold!" they said in unison.
I dug into my sleeve and pulled out a sack of Galleons I had bagged earlier in the day. "Oh, and five more on 'Fired by Halloween'."
And after they gave me the stubs for my wagers and took off for dinner, I cornered Minerva and placed the same bets in the faculty pool.
September 2, 1995, 7:33 PM
"Professor?" Harry Potter said as he entered the Headmaster's office. "Professor McGonagall said you wanted to talk to me?"
Professor Dumbledore looked up from his desk, but his gaze never came near Harry's face. "Yes, Harry, please come in and take a seat."
Harry did so, taking note of the objects that occupied the center of the Headmaster's desktop. The large, low stone bowl with runes engraved around its rim was familiar enough from his experience with it just a few months ago, although today it was empty, no silvery contents emitting shining white light; it merely garnered a curious glance. The blackened, ink-stained book with a hole more than an inch wide punched neatly through it, however, actually caused him to falter and nearly miss his seat. "Is that..."
Dumbledore nodded without looking directly at him. "Voldemort's diary, yes." He sighed. "I have been studying it in order to answer a question of grave importance. But I find that in order to determine that answer, I must ask a favor of you, Harry."
"Anything, sir. I'm happy to help in any way I can," Harry said, frowning at the way that the Headmaster refused to meet his eyes. "Professor, is there something wrong? Why aren't you looking at me? Ever since the hearing last month..."
The Headmaster sighed again. "I mean no insult to you, Harry, nor should you take it as anger or disapproval on my part; it is merely a... precautionary measure that I'm afraid I cannot explain to you at the present time. I do promise that I will explain as soon as it becomes safe; will that satisfy you for now?"
Harry's brow furrowed in confusion. Was half an explanation better than none, if it left him just as confused? "I suppose so," he said doubtfully after several moments' thought. "I was just worried that... well, with the hearing and the dementors and all..."
Dumbledore shook his head, a sad smile flitting across his lips. "No, Harry, you need not fear any growing distance in our relationship. In fact, I am extremely proud of how well you have held up under the stresses of the last few weeks."
"Thank you, sir." Partial relief, if not total, washed over him. He'd been worried that he'd been losing the closest thing he had to a grandfather; Dumbledore's reassurance dispelled that fear. "So, what is it that I can do for you, Headmaster?"
Dumbledore smiled and gestured at the stone bowl. "I'm sure you recall my Pensieve."
Harry returned the smile. "Yes, sir, I certainly do." Then he made a sudden, intuitive leap, and asked, "Do you need to see a memory of mine, Professor?"
"Indeed I do, Harry, although you may of course choose not to share it with me." Dumbledore's eyes grew distant. "It is, I am sure, not one of your happier memories, and I would not blame you if you did not want to revisit it even to the minor extent that is needed to transfer it to the Pensieve."
Harry frowned. "Which memory is it? If it's to defeat Voldemort, I'll help any way I can."
Dumbledore closed his eyes, then opened them again. "If you would be so kind, Harry, I would like to see your memory of Voldemort's resurrection."
"Certainly, sir," Harry said without hesitation, though the thought did fill him with some trepidation.
The process, Harry discovered, was simpler than he had feared — visualize the memory then draw it out of one's mind with the tip of a wand as though it were a string pulled by a buttonhook, and then deposit the memory within the Pensieve. The Headmaster then gave Harry the option of not viewing the memory along with him, but Harry refused, and they both plunged their faces into the silvery contents of the bowl at the same moment.
Some time later, they returned to the Headmaster's office.
"My dear boy," the Headmaster said after they spent several seconds recovering. "I must apologize profusely for my part in what you experienced."
Harry shook his head. "You didn't have anything to do with it, Professor!"
Dumbledore chuckled sadly, still not looking at Harry's eyes. "Oh, but I did. Had I tried harder to find a way to release you from the hold of the Goblet, or had I noticed my old friend Alastor was not quite himself, I might have been able to spare you the horrors of that night." He shook his head. "Instead I doomed you to suffer through so much last year, and helped bring Voldemort back to the ranks of the living as surely as though I performed the ritual myself."
Hesitantly, Harry laid a hand on the older wizard's arm. "I think you're being too hard on yourself, Professor." Desperate for something to change the mood, he asked, "Did you find what you were looking for in my memory?"
"What?" Dumbledore looked up, almost meeting Harry's eyes before wresting them away again. "Oh, yes. Indeed, my boy, I did, and I thank you."
"What was it you were looking for?" Harry asked as he drew back his hand.
"Ah." The Headmaster nodded, more to himself than to answer, Harry thought. "I had thought I'd known the means by which Voldemort had managed his resurrection, but Professor Sangnoir offered other possibilities and thus raised some doubt in my mind. Being able to see the exact ritual used on that terrible, terrible night... I am glad to say my original suppositions were correct."
"And that's good, sir?" Harry ventured.
Dumbledore smiled sadly. "It is perhaps not the best of the possibilities, but it is the one about which I know the most, and consequently with which I am best prepared to deal. So yes, it is good, Harry, for a cautious sense of 'good'."
After dinner I had another tutoring session with Septima Vector. As I had feared, I had been finding that anything beyond basic schoolboy Arithmancy was annoyingly difficult; I'm not all that mathematically-inclined, which made it worse.
"But you're a programmer and an engineer," I hear you, O Hypothetical Reader, objecting. "Not to mention a mutant genius with semi-eidetic memory. How can you not be a master of the most complex mathematics?"
Because I'm not, okay? Despite my general genetic awesomeness, there are more than a few things I suck at. Among other things, I can't surf (yeah, California boy, go figure), I can barely swim, and I don't do math. I only learned as much as I needed for my chosen profession(s) as of my college years — which is to say calculus and just a bit beyond.
Arithmancy firmly trod on ground more than just a bit beyond, and that made my lessons with Septima more than just a bit interesting. But I will gladly acknowledge that she was a very talented teacher and quite gifted in her chosen field of study; she did more to lead me into advanced mathematics than any professor I ever studied under at Princeton. I was learning far more than I had expected from her, and not just about the mathematics of Wizarding magic.
Then again, as little as I wanted to admit it, Septima was learning as much as — and arguably more than — I in return. She had (as I've noted) decided to take up what she thought of as my personal notation system for mathemagics, and for those first couple weeks, at least, it had been giving her fits — because in order to really grasp it she had to abandon all pretense that the wizards and witches of this world possessed the Ultimate Truth of Magic, and she still hadn't realized that.
I would have been more comforted by the feeling of smug superiority this could have given me if she still hadn't been picking it up a whole hell of a lot faster than I was picking up Arithmancy.
That evening's lesson was the turning point where she left me behind in the dust, and at the same time blew all my own pretense out of the water.
"So," Septima said as she settled into her seat at the table where we held our tutoring sessions. "You've been hiding something from me, Doug."
Well, yeah. Got something specific in mind? "I have?"
She looked at me through narrowed eyes. "I know your level of mathematical skill, Doug. Our work over the past couple weeks makes it pretty clear what your limits are." She pulled out the bound stack of parchment sheets in which she had made all her notes. "And this 'personal notation system' of yours extends into areas that are far beyond your capabilities. Once I saw that, and applied certain Muggle mathematical principles to it, I had a moment of epiphany. And that led me to a quite comprehensive understanding of the system. At which point I realized two things."
Ah, shit. I tried to look nonchalant. "What're those, Septima?"
She flipped open the crude "book" and paged through it. Damn. The last time I'd seen it, it hadn't even been a third full. Now well over half the sheets in the bundle were covered with Septima's elegant longhand. On both sides. "First, that this 'personal notation' of yours is too complex and too complete to be the ad-hoc creation of an Arithmantic innumerate like yourself."
"Hey!" I protested, only half-seriously.
She ignored me. "Someone else — someone far more skilled in far more abstruse mathematics than you have demonstrated yourself capable of — created this system you've claimed as your own." She paged further through the book. "Secondly — and I found this almost impossible to believe at first — it is ultimately not for describing Wizarding magic. Or at least not only Wizarding magic." She held out the book to me, and I looked at the page she'd chosen.
It was a generic description of a basic light spell — the spell designer's equivalent of "Hello World" — in her handwriting. Following it were translations into executable spells for Wizarding wand-magic (with the incantation "lux" instead of the usual "lumos"), something that looked a little like a Hermetic ritual, and something that seemed to be utterly random and based on the stuff you might find on a teacher's desktop. Next to each one was one word — the same word, three times, in her elegant writing: "Works".
"Um," I said, completely flabbergasted. The woman had to be a genius, maybe even on my scale. How else could she have gotten that far in the two days since our last session? Especially with all the start-of-term stuff going on? She'd taken what I'd been able to teach her about the UTM and its notation, and raced far ahead of me, reconstructing the parts I didn't know and couldn't use from what I'd given her combined with sheer mathematic inevitability.
"This notation system can't possibly be your work, Doug. So please tell me," she continued in low, silky tones, "where did you find a system that describes magic using Muggle mathematics in such a way that it can be used to define not just Wizarding magic, but any other kind of magic one can imagine — and make it all function?"
I sighed, rubbed my hand down my face, and said, "We need to talk to Albus."
Long story short, we told Septima where I came from. It took both Albus confirming my story and me demonstrating some of my metatalents to convince her, but with the evidence in front of her she was quite rational about the whole thing and didn't freak out about it. On the contrary, she just nodded and said, "Well, that makes perfect sense."
And since she was in on the ... well, it wasn't really a secret so much as just a thing I wasn't talking about, but once she was in on it, there was no reason not to bring her in on the dimensional magic research as well. So now there were three of us working on getting me home, one of whom now had the dual grasp of both Wizarding magic and the UTM which Albus and I had been working toward. Which was very good indeed.
...all in all, Father, I feel the prospects for our cause are excellent this year. Of course, I shall continue to watch both Potter and the Defence professor, and will report to you anything that strikes me as significant about either of them or their actions.
Give my love to Mother, and please reassure her that I am eating properly.
In the service of our Dark Lord, I remain
END OF CHAPTER THREE
This work of fiction is copyright © 2014, by Robert M. Schroeck and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.
The Harry Potter universe and the settings and the characters thereof are the property of J.K. Rowling, Bloomsbury and Warner Brothers, and are used without permission.
Some of Dumbledore's dialogue during the start-of-term feast along with several lines from the Sorting Hat's song were taken verbatim from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling; I do not believe the selections I employed were beyond the bounds of Fair Use, but if someone more knowledgeable than I in the legalities of the matter says otherwise, I will gladly correct it.
"Douglas Q. Sangnoir," "Looney Toons", "The Loon" and any representations thereof are copyright by and trademarks of Robert M. Schroeck.
For a full explanation of the references and hidden tidbits in this story, see the Drunkard's Walk VIII Concordance at:
Other chapters of this story can be found at:
The Drunkard's Walk discussion board is open for those who wish to trade thoughts and comments with other readers, as well as with the author:
Many thanks to my prereaders on this chapter: Christopher Angel, Kathleen Avins, Nina Avins, Nathan Baxter, Ed Becerra, Andrew Carr, Kevin Cody, Logan Darklighter, Shaye Horwitz, Helen Imre, Eric James, Josh Megerman, Berg Oswell, Peggy Schroeck and Amanda Stair-Duran.
C&C gratefully accepted.