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Chapter 17 : Galatea Merrythought
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By: Mrs Insane One
Chapter Graphic: Mrs Insane One
Beta Read By: Bellas blanky and Jessi_Rose
Title: A Matter of Age
Rating/Warnings: 12+ (none)
For the staff: I would like to dedicate this story to the staff and
volunteers at HPFF for all of the hard work that they have done
to make HPFF the outstanding site that it has become. Their efforts
have made HPFF a place where Potter fans can gather to read and
share their stories, ideas, and opinions. Through all of the years
and upgrades they have doggedly remained patient and understanding
(providing there were donuts and coffee enough) to the complaints,
comments, and suggestions of the many members that frequent the
site. Thank you - Jenn
Professor Merrythought stood poised on one side of the dueling platform that had been erected in the middle of the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. Her long black hair, streaked through with grey, was swept into its customary bun. Her eyes were wide and alert as she focused entirely on the nervous sixth year twitching at the opposite end of the stage. She could practically smell the fear rolling off him in waves, the glistening sheen of sweat upon his brow a silent testimony of how scared the student was.
“Relax, Mr. Carter, you need to keep your wits about you,” Professor Merrythought instructed the boy. “A sweaty hand can’t hold a steady wand.”
“Yes’m, Professor Merrythought,” Derek Carter responded automatically as he took a moment to wipe the sweat from his hands and drag the sleeve of his robe across his brow. “I’m ready now, ma’am.”
Merrythought’s only reply was to fire two jinxes at the boy in rapid succession. The first one he barely managed to block and the second one missed only by a hair’s breadth as he dropped to the floor and rolled to his left. He was just raising his wand to shoot a hex of his own at her when he was hit with the full body bind. The whole duel lasted less then a minute and the other children gazed up at their aged teacher in shock.
“Finite Incantatum,” Merrythought rasped, slightly winded by the short exercise.
Derek dropped his wand and let his head fall to the floor as he let out a loud groan. Professor Merrythought walked over to him and helped him to his feet before handing him a small square of Honeydukes’ chocolate. He gave a mumbled thanks and quickly left the stage as the professor began speaking to the class.
“Can anyone tell me what Mr. Carter did wrong? No? Let me tell you then,” Merrythought lectured as she stood on the edge of the stage facing the students. “Mr. Carter underestimated his opponent and he left himself open to an attack. In a civilized duel, there are rules that must be followed and customs must be observed by the participants. This class is not about rules and customs. This class is about teaching you how to survive out in a world filled with death and deceit.” Professor Merrythought paused here to let her words sink in before she continued. “There are evil wizards walking the streets of our world, Grindelwald has attracted a huge following of witches and wizards that will kill without a second thought.”
Many students paled at the mention of the dark wizard that terrorized the wizarding world. Chairs could be heard scarping against the stone floor as the young witches and wizards shifted uncomfortably in their seats while Merrythought gazed sternly down at them.
“You must be on your toes at all times! Never – and I mean never – give your opponent an advantage over you. The minute you do, you are as good as dead in a duel. You must remain conscious and aware of your enemy’s position at all times, use your surroundings to the best possible advantage, and keep your thoughts to yourself. Remember, a wizard or witch bent on defeating you will try to distract you by talking to you. They will tell you lies, taunt you, and trick you into making a mistake. It will be hard, but you must ignore them, don’t play into their hands.” Merrythought stated firmly. “Now, that said, who will be my next volunteer?”
The students all shifted in their seats once more and averted their eyes, several even dared cast a sideways glance at Derek whose head was firmly nestled between his legs – clearly he hadn’t yet fully recovered from his short duel with the professor. One brave girl dared to lift her hand a few inches before it was grabbed by her two friends that were sitting next to her. A short whispered argument ensued as they desperately tried to talk her out of volunteering.
“Ah, Miss Meadows, step up on the stage,” Merrythought encouraged when she caught sight of the near silent struggle between the trio of girls.
Dorcas Meadows eagerly complied despite the horrified looks of her companions. Once she’d scrambled up onto the stage she wasted no time in bringing her wand up to the ready position.
Merrythought smiled encouragingly at her and lifted her wand up as well; she was just leaning forward to bow slightly when Miss Meadows shot a stunner at the elderly professor. Only Merrythought’s quick reflexes and dueling instinct prevented her from being hit by the sizzling red light as it bounced of her hastily charmed shield of air. Adrenaline rushed through her veins as she jumped forward and sent two quick jinxes back and the presumptuous student.
Spells flew violently around the room as the two of them danced gracefully across the length and breadth of the stage. Their feet rarely resting in one place for more then a second as they dodged, ducked and dove out of the way of each other’s spells. They heard and saw nothing but each other and the multicolored glare of numerous hexes bouncing off the walls.
The other students had quickly scattered after two unlucky boys had been hit by a stray spell early in the duel. They could be seen huddled behind tables, under desks, and tucked behind bookshelves as they cheered loudly at the fast paced exhibit of teacher and student.
Several minutes into the staged match, Merrythought felt her strength flagging at an alarming rate - her face dripping with sweat as she gasped lightly for breath while her heart raced faster and faster. She refused to back off from the challenge though, and pushed harder. Her charms and curses began flying slightly off mark, most of them bouncing harmlessly off Dorcas’s charmed shields as others fell shy of their intended target.
Two seconds before the duel ended, Merrythought knew she’d lost when she tripped over the hem of her robe and fell heavily on her right side – spraining her wand-wrist. She tried feebly to block the final spell, but her reflexes had slowed drastically and the last thing she saw as the red light of the stunner engulfed her, was the shocked expression on Miss Meadows’ face.
When she was revived, mere seconds after she’d been hit with the stunner, she opened her eyes to find a ring of worried students hovering over her as she lay on the stage. Merrythought waved away their concerned questions as she climbed shakily to her feet and ordered them to return to their seats. Once the stage was cleared, she spotted a pale and nervous Dorcas Meadows still rooted to the spot where she’d thrown her last spell from.
“You may take your seat, Miss Meadows,” Merrythought prompted when the girl showed no signs of budging.
“Professor, I... I...” Dorcas began.
“If you are thinking of apologizing, for a duel well fought, I will begin deducting points.”
“I’m not... I didn’t mean...” Dorcas stammered.
“Child, you are the first person in nearly fifty years of teaching, to best me at my own game. You have the makings of being one of the greatest witches of our time. Do not apologize for having skill and quick head on your shoulders. You should be proud of yourself,” Merrythought rebuked gently. “Now, be seated.”
“The rest of you should take note of Miss Meadows’ gumption. She wasted no time on pretty words or fancy displays, but dove right into the fray wholeheartedly. She displayed a well balanced center of gravity throughout the duel and her spells were well timed. I expect each of you to write a two foot essay about dueling techniques to be handed in at our next meeting. Class dismissed.”
Dorcas was swarmed by her fellow classmates as the sixteen year olds gathered up their belongings and headed towards the door. Merrythought could hear the excited whispers of gushed compliments as she frowned down at her wand a few feet from where she’d fallen at the end of the duel. She waited until the last students had filed out before walking wearily over to her wand and scooping it up from the floor.
“I never thought the day would come when I was too old to duel.” Merrythought mused aloud as she glared at her wand.
“I wish I could have been there to witness the grand event that has the entire student body in an uproar.” A voice called out from behind Merrythought.
“I should have known you’d be the first to come mock me in my defeat, Albus,” Merrythought snapped moodily back as she turned to look at her fellow colleague over her shoulder.
“No, not to mock you Galatea,” Albus countered as he joined her on the stage. “But to witness the rise of a young witch who will one day surpass her teacher.”
“How do you do it Albus? How have you managed to escape the same trap that has ensnared the rest of us? You’ve aged so little in the past thirty years, while I am old and wrinkled. One would think I was your senior instead of it being the other way around.” Galatea demanded as she allowed Dumbledore to escort her from the dueling stage. Dumbledore didn’t answer, his face unreadable as they walked arm in arm towards her office.
Galatea let her thoughts wander as the silence lengthened and by the time she’d Floo’d to the Hospital Ward to have her wrist looked at; she’d made up her mind. A deep sadness swept through her at that moment and a single tear trickled down her face as she faced the cold hard truth. She was old. She had tried to hide that truth behind her wand for several years and though she’d fooled herself and others for some time, she could no longer deny that the years had taken their toll.
Her wrist was healed by the resident Healer with two flicks of her wand and Galatea returned to her office with a small jar of healing salve that she’s been instructed to rub into her wrist twice daily for the next two weeks. Dropping the small bottle on her desk she sank into her chair and stared up at the pictures that lined the walls of her office. There were hundreds of smiling students waving down at her, their faces full of excitement as they left Hogwarts for the last time.
Forty-nine rows of gay faces representing forty-nine classes of seventh year students that she had taught in her years at Hogwarts. A sigh escaped Merrythought’s lips as she pulled her gaze away from the happy faces and pulled out a single roll of parchment from her desk. She reached for her favorite quill and lifted the lid from the ink well before dipping the tip of the feather in the dark liquid.
A scratching sound filled the room as she gracefully drew the quill across the paper, her long elegant strokes filling the paper with her flowing script. Tears filled her eyes once more as she signed her name at the bottom of the letter and magically dried the ink before rolling the parchment tightly and applying the sealing wax. She hesitated for a heartbeat, her heart torn between wishes and truth before quickly pressing her ring into the cooling wax.
Climbing to her feet once more, she lifted the sealed letter and reluctantly left the sanctuary of her office to find Headmaster Dippit. She was nearly to the stone gargoyle that guarded the Headmaster’s office when she ran into Ogg, Hogwarts’ Groundskeeper. They walked side by side in gloomy silence, both of them content to leave the other to their thoughts.
It wasn’t until Galatea gave the gargoyle the password that Ogg spoke up gruffly as he pointed to the scroll that Merrythought held in tightly clasped hands. “That what I think it is?”
“Yes,” Galatea replied tersely.
“Sad business,” Ogg stated in his rough voice as he started walking away from the depressed Defense Professor.
“Indeed,” Merrythought whispered as she stepped passed the gargoyle and climbed the stairs that led to Dippit’s Office. “Indeed it is.”
“Galatea, what a pleasant surprise!” Headmaster Dippit exclaimed as she stepped inside the room. “What brings you up here in between classes my dear?”
“I’ve come to deliver my letter of resignation,” Merrythought announced calmly.
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