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Chapter 5: Song of the Wood
By Tuesday afternoon, Monday’s good mood had yet to wear off. Monday’s Herbology lesson had seen Susan receive one of the best grades she’d ever gotten in the class. As it turned out, Black was perfectly capable of doing excellent work when the mood struck him. At the end of Tuesday’s Transfiguration lesson, Susan was sure that her mood could only improve. Her next class would be Care of Magical Creatures, and after that, she’d heard that her favorite stew was going to be served for dinner.
For years, Susan had been a fervent believer in Murphy’s Law: If It can go wrong, it shall go wrong. This belief had become a sort of psychological shield; she expected the worst, so that when it happened, it wasn’t quite so horrible (being able to say “I told you so” does wonders for one’s mood) and when it didn’t, it came as a pleasant surprise. There were very few instances in Susan’s life where she forgot about Murphy’s Law.
Ironically, things began to go wrong because nothing went wrong. Rienne and Gretchen stayed away, traffic wasn’t as bad as usual in the common bottlenecks, Susan didn’t fall and break something on the way to classes, etc. She was lulled into a sense of wellbeing. It was this sense that caused her carefree mood. And her carefree mood caused her to lollygag.
A brief bit of background on the personality of one Professor Silvanus Kettleburn: More than any other teacher currently presiding over Hogwarts classes, Kettleburn loved punctuality. He lived by it. He breathed by it. It was rumored among the students that he never actually took his pocketwatch off, taking it to bed with him every night. In his mind, “early” was on time, “on time” was late, and “late” was Unforgivable. Instead of the usual detention, he was known to charm clocks to follow tardy students around for days, always floating, ticking, just past the unfortunate soul’s left ear. Susan, unwittingly, was quickly falling into the same lot.
She arrived only four measly minutes late, excusable by the standards of a few, laxer teachers. Kettleburn, however, was more likely to start class four minutes early than four minutes late. Class had very thoroughly started without her. Hoping to escape notice, she crept towards the back of the group.
“Susan Ponds.” Kettleburn’s voice was not loud, but it did have a traveling quality to it that made sure that he was absolutely heard. By everyone. Susan cringed. “You will explain yourself after class,” Kettleburn intoned. “For now, you may get a pair of the boots from the bin at the front. As for those of you who could be bothered to arrive on time today, follow me.”
Susan stumbled into the knee-high rubber boots before catching up to the rest of the class. At only twelve students, the Care of Magical Creatures class had proved unpopular with students of Susan’s year, just above Arithmancy, which could only claim eight. As she hiked further with the class into the Forbidden Forest, Susan saw a strange apparatus, newly built, in a clearing.
“Today, class,” Kettleburn began, “we will be studying dugbogs. My young assistant here, Hagrid, constructed this for us, everyone turn to your right and say ‘thank you, Mr. Hagrid.’”
The class sullenly turned to face the half-giant, who stood, embarrassed, at the edge of the clearing. “Thank you, Mr. Hagrid,” they all muttered with uniform lack of enthusiasm.
“This is a perfectly contained micro-marsh,” Kettleburn explained. “You will, in groups of three, climb in and set about identifying and capturing three dugbogs per group. If you’ve done your reading, this should be a veritable cakewalk. If not, Merlin help you. Now line up.”
A few of the less studious students exchanged nervous glances at the warning. Most had done the reading, but all knew of the painful bites dugbogs frequently inflicted on unwary hikers, even through thick boots. As Kettleburn sorted them into four groups of three, several students tried to charm their boots to be stronger, more sharp-teeth-resistant. Susan was more worried about the humiliating punishment she was sure to endure. She’d seen other victims of Kettleburn’s wrath before, walking into class with clocks hovering over their shoulders, clocks with a tendency to ring in the middle of silent study halls and important tests.
Susan, along with Hannah Scattergood (a Hufflepuff with comedic wit that could elicit a smile from the most stubborn mopers, Susan included) and Delphinus Mackenzie (a less-entertaining but equally goodhearted Hufflepuff), descended into the makeshift marsh. Trudging through mud, grass, and sludge, and three cautiously approached each piece of driftwood. If the log proved only a log, they could temporarily relax. If not, well, that was where the reading came in. While Delphinus levitated each dugbog from the murky water, Hannah held out the assigned cage and Susan bound its mouth and legs (gently), enclosing it in the box. This process repeated twice more, the three waded to the edge of the marsh, hopping over the wooden border and landing once more on solid ground. Each group, finished, then had the remainder of the period to do as they pleased, provided it was within Professor Kettleburn’s sight and did not involve rule-breaking.
“Ponds,” Kettleburn said, summoning her away from the others.
Susan’s boots squelched and squeaked as she approached. “Y-yes, Professor?” she stuttered.
“Detention, six-thirty, sharp. Hagrid’s hut.” He glowered, stern, before breaking into a smile. “This is actually a rare moment that I’m glad for lateness. I was going to ask you to do this, anyway, and now, you can’t say no and I don’t have to give you extra credit!” he chirped, clearly very pleased.
Sirius padded along the edge of the grounds, evening quickly approaching. Turtle’s detention was with Hagrid, if he remembered correctly. He’d overheard her talking about it with that Slytherin, the stony one who was much too tall and imperious for his liking. Slytherins shouldn’t possess such authority and confidence when they talked. They were all weasels.
Despite his attempts to justify the outing to both himself and Remus, who’d caught him sneaking out of the dormitory, Sirius wasn’t entirely sure why he wanted to visit Turtle. Sure, she was a right chatterbox when she thought no one was listening, with weird and amusing things to say. Sure, she knew just where that place was behind his ears where he liked most to be scratched. But Sirius had friends. He had a girlfriend (in fact, Helen was none too pleased with his ever-more frequent disappearances after dinner). In short, he had a life. There was no reason to be following Turtle around on these little excursions that constituted the sad, pathetic scrap of a thing she considered her social life.
He thought back to what he’d overheard Turtle and the Snake discussing at dinner. Kettleburn, despite his attempt to look angry, had been delighted to have the avid creature-lover available for the evening, sending her off with Hagrid to deal with some creature the third-years had riled up. And even with Turtle otherwise occupied, watching her and Hagrid fend off angry flobberworms or whatever creature was almost guaranteed to be entertaining.
In dog form, Sirius smelled the unicorn before he saw it. With that, he also smelled what had upset it. Firecrackers did have a rather distinctive aroma.
“One o’ them boys musta’ left it here!” Hagrid was shouting, frantically trying to contain the beast. It kicked desperately, terrified still by the colored smoke left behind. Turtle was stamping on a small, purple fire in the corner of the enclosure. Sirius slowly came closer, unsure if the unicorn would accept him- technically being a human male, sometimes. Hagrid had his arms out, trying to calm the creature. It beat its hooves, silver and gleaming despite a thin layer of dirt, snorting. It did not, however, charge. “Alrigh’, Su, if you don’ mind,” Hagrid said.
Checking to be sure the fire was thoroughly extinguished, Susan slowly stepped towards the unicorn. One hand outstretched, she approached, kneeling a few feet away. Sirius inched closer. Susan’s robes pooled about her bent legs, melding into the shadows and giving her the appearance of rising from the very ground. Her hand still held towards the unicorn, she began to sing.
Sirius stopped dead. It was some strange language, perhaps Gaelic, that he didn’t understand, that seemed to have been born of the woods themselves. Her voice floated in the air like moonlight on dust, like dye in water. It curled around the branches of trees and embraced all that it touched, enveloping everything with the purity of its sound, ringing like silver. The unicorn became still, its eyes no longer rolling, its mouth closed. Sirius couldn’t move. Both beasts were tamed. The song was sad, a tragedy to bring tears and open wounds, but sweet- a lullaby unlike anything Sirius had ever heard. This was a different kind of magic, that living in Susan. It was wild, not belonging in stone walls and tile floors. The very forest stopped to listen.
As suddenly has it had began, it was over. Susan stood, brushing the dirt from her knees with one hand, the other resting on the unicorn’s forehead. It nuzzled her side before retreating to the lean-to on the other side of the enclosure.
I know! It’s really short, less than half my usual. But as I kept stringing together the next part, it was turning into an obscenely long chapter, and I’d rather just get this up now. It’s been in revision for two months, now. Thanks for reading! Please review!