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Chapter 12 : Hello Teacher, Tell me, What's My Lesson?
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I won’t weigh you down with good intention
Won’t make fire out of clay, or other inventions
-Witness, Sarah Mclachlan
Chapter Twelve: Hello Teacher, Tell Me What’s My Lesson?
When Peter made it back to the Gryffindor common room, he’d found that his friends had all turned in for the night save James, who was occupied in a corner with Lily. The conversation he’d overheard wasn’t quite enough to spur him into interrupting that, so he decided to think on it and headed upstairs. While settling into bed, he decided that the best course of action would be to find more evidence on which new Slytherin they could have been speaking about. After all, he had no proof that the Malfoy git was referring to the transfer student, and Peter didn’t relish the idea of confronting someone like that only to be proven wrong.
As Peter drifted off to sleep, he reflected that the conversation he’d eavesdropped on was the first time he’d ever seen Severus Snape sticking up for anyone in his life.
On Monday morning, Hermione checked her magic course schedule and found something she hadn’t bargained on. Each student was given an enchanted paper with their classes on it that updated for them weekly. During her first year at Hogwarts, she’d carried hers with her every single day (including weekends), even after she’d memorized her schedule. It was one of the first tangible examples of magic she’d ever seen or held in her hand, her wand being the first of these of course. A wand required direct action from her in order to cause anything magical to happen, however; the course schedule changed even in her sleep. That first year’s parchment still lay as her bookmark in her own copy of Hogwarts, a History—but it wasn’t what she had her so concerned right now.
This one listed a flying lesson in the afternoon.
She hated flying. Not that she couldn’t do it; Hermione was perfectly capable on a broom, but she always felt as if there was something terribly unnatural about it. Harry and Ron always tormented her about it unmercifully when the subject came up, particularly pointing out that Hermione had unusual talent at performing ‘unnatural’ things like magic. Still, she’d had more of her fair share of nightmares about taking that class again…sometimes she could never manage to get off the ground, sometimes she couldn’t land, and the worst ones always included her falling off in midair. Those lovely thoughts accompanied her to breakfast, and after eating she sought out Professor Slughorn to see if there was something he could do about it.
At the sight of her, the portly Slughorn beamed delightedly and allowed her to pull him aside for a short chat. Hermione winced inwardly at his obvious regard for her—she’d resigned herself to the knowledge that some of the faculty would remember her (Professor Snape undoubtedly would be one of them), but she’d counted on Horace Slughorn’s nature as her ticket to anonymity in his case. After all, he barely knew what House she belonged to in her own time, as he was typically preoccupied with the students from well-known families or those who had displayed particularly good talent in his observation.
It turned out that he couldn’t help her: ‘They like to keep a certain standard at the school, you understand—you’ll do just splendidly, my dear, I’m sure of it.’ At the look of disappointment on her face, his had lit up as though a thought had just occurred to him, and it was all Hermione could do to excuse herself before he offered her a place in his ‘Slug Club’ to mollify her. Hermione had heard enough from Ginny about those meetings to know that she wouldn’t enjoy them in the slightest.
When she got to class, she disappointed Lily with her news; it turned out the only non-N.E.W.T. classes that the Seventh Year Slytherins and Gryffindors had together were Care of Magical Creatures and Herbology (both of which they had once a month in Seventh Year, excepting the students that had chosen to take the N.E.W.T.-level versions), which Hermione would be missing to embarrass herself with the First Years in front of Madam Hooch. Hermione stopped herself at the last minute from describing her new plan to anger Lucius Malfoy, realizing that although it would cheer her friend up slightly, Lily would have wanted to know the reasons behind it all, and Hermione didn’t think she could come up with a viable lie.
Malfoy had something to do with her being sorted to Slytherin, Hermione was certain of it. His behavior and the things he had said to her all indicated guilt of some kind, especially his snide references to Ravenclaw when he spoke about how smart she was. She had to admit to herself that she was mostly at a loss to determine exactly how to investigate the matter, so her current option was to goad him into divulging something. She most wanted to know why he’d chosen her—if indeed he’d managed to bewitch the Sorting Hat at all—without knowing beforehand that she had any value to Slytherin. Hermione thought she had a perfect plan to figure this out, however.
Lucius clearly had a healthy amount—if a somewhat warped sense—of House pride, as evidenced in his statements about House points to her. So, she decided, she wouldn’t earn any. Malfoy wouldn’t be able to stand it, if she knew him as well as she thought she did, and she hoped that in his anger, he might divulge something that would explain his odd behavior. Hermione knew that her personality would work against her in this scheme, as she truly did enjoy doing well in class. She simply did not have the inhibitions that many other students had about speaking up, which meant she tended to be called on in class quite a bit more.
Hermione’s resolve was severely tested in that morning’s Charms class, however. She and Lily had arrived early, seating themselves and chatting animatedly before the rest of the class arrived and Professor Flitwick began the lesson. She couldn’t have been more excited to discover that they were being taught the Protean Charm. Hermione had used it extensively in her Fifth Year, charming the coins each DA member was given so that they could coordinate their meeting times. Flitwick had barely enough time to describe what the charm did, however, before the door at the back of the classroom opened and someone strolled in to hand him a note. It was Lucius Malfoy.
Something clearly upset the professor about this new development, but the good-natured little man simply gestured the blonde boy to a seat and resumed his lesson. The rest of the class looked shocked, and as Malfoy seated himself, he remarked loudly that he’d known his father would be able to clear ‘it’ up for him. The whispers started immediately, and Lily took out her quill and wrote an explanation of what she knew of the situation for Hermione.
Malfoy, it seemed, was not very good at Charms. Like his son would do in the future, however, he relied on his family connections to get what he wanted—and it had apparently worked in this case. ‘It,’ Lily wrote, was most likely his poor performance on his Charms N.E.W.T., something that normally precluded attendance in the Seventh Year course—unless one had influence in some circles, that was.
Hermione wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or frustrated. The Protean Charm was exceedingly difficult, but she’d mastered it long ago. If she were to keep with her earlier plan however, she couldn’t let on that she knew anything about it, or she would certainly garner recognition for it. She looked over at Lucius who, true to form, sneered at her and looked away.
When the time came to practice the charm, it took all of her concentration not to perform the wand movements properly. Hermione took a few minutes to observe the rest of her classmates, and in doing so she finally understood the reaction of the Ravenclaw students in her Fifth Year—no one had even come close to mastering it yet. Professor Flitwick moved through the class, correcting pronunciation here and wand movement there, and finally assuring everyone that he didn’t expect anyone to manage it on their first day trying.
Hermione could see that Lily was quite close, but was attempting something a little too difficult with no need—she had two coins in front of her and was trying to change the entire face of one by altering the first one. The combination such an effort was requiring far too much concentration. Hermione found Professor Flitwick’s choice of material ironic. She still had her coin from Dumbledore’s Army, though when they met nowadays they had no need for the secrecy that had given her the idea to use the Protean Charm in the first place. Every time she changed the date on Harry’s coin, all of the other members’ coins had changed as well. That Professor Flitwick would choose to hand out coins as the means of teaching the same charm…
Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore. She had to help Lily, as the other girl’s difficulty wasn’t in casting the charm, it was in overreaching herself. Hermione conjured up six identical coins and, gently, reached out to stop Lily’s wand hand.
“I know why it’s not working,” she said in a low voice. At Lily’s quizzical look, she elaborated, “You’re trying to do too much at once, Lils—you don’t have to change a whole side to learn the charm!” Lily blushed.
“I didn’t think of that,” she admitted.
“Here,” Hermione said, quickly arranging five coins in front of Lily, picking one up and placing her Charms book in front of them, hoping that Flitwick wouldn’t notice that it blocked his view. He was on the other side of the room, anyway. She pointed at the coins.
“The dates are all the same, right?” Lily nodded. Performing the intricate wand movement, Hermione cast the Protean Charm, then pointed her wand at the coin in her hand and changed the last two digits of the date. Her friend’s quickly indrawn breath told her she’d done it correctly.
“They all just changed!” Lily said admiringly.
“Professor Flitwick,” said a voice behind them, “I think Miss James has gotten it!”
Hermione could have kicked Malfoy, except that he’d just contributed to his own unhappiness—she still had no intention of showing any outstanding work in class. Before he even finished the sentence, she cast an Obliviation Charm on the five coins in front of Lily. They disappeared.
“Well, let’s see here,” Professor Flitwick said, reaching for the coin in Hermione’s hand. She could feel Lily trembling beside her after her friend had looked to see who had spoken, and knew that Malfoy must be nearly beside himself with anger.
“I don’t think it worked quite right,” she said quickly, as Flitwick cast a charm on the coin to discover what other spells had been attempted on it.
“You’ve definitely cast the charm correctly,” he said with pleasure, “but you’ve forgotten to link it to another object. Would you like to—” Before the older man could suggest she reattempt the charm, however, Lucius Malfoy spoke up in a agitated voice.
“Sir, she must have destroyed them by accident—I saw her change some other coins!”
Professor Flitwick did not like being interrupted at all, Hermione saw. Nor would the boy’s explanation have made any sense to anyone but herself and Malfoy, but just as she would have expected, the snobbish young man had forgotten that fact entirely.
“Young man, I suggest that you find your seat and worry about your own work,” Filius Flitwick said in an uncharacteristically hard voice. “You may have chosen to force yourself into this class, but angling for House Points will not win you any favors from me!” The entire classroom fell silent—the Head of Ravenclaw House did not get angry very often, but it appeared that when he did, he was a force to be reckoned with.
“I’m sorry sir,” Hermione said, not having intended to create a scene at all and more than a little worried at the thought of Malfoy’s retaliation. “I’m sure I’ll get it by Wednesday if I practice…”
“Don’t worry, my dear,” Flitwick said kindly, his anger quick to dissipate. “The changes don’t need to be very obvious for your first try.” She was certain that he was going to insist on watching her next attempt, but instead the professor simply patted her hand gently and moved away to the next group of students. Class would be over shortly anyway, Hermione knew, and she was already looking forward to Transfiguration. There was still Malfoy to deal with, however.
“I don’t know what it is that you thought you just did,” he hissed at her, clearly furious as they all stood up to exit the room for the next class. Hermione didn’t even let him finish, planning to let him stew in his own juices for a while.
Squeezing Lily’s shoulder for support, she turned to face the fuming Lucius and said, evenly, “I am not your circus monkey.”
Hermione laughed almost all the way to Transfiguration at the look on Malfoy’s face, wondering as she did so if the wizarding world even had a circus.
The lesson plan for Transfiguration that day had quite a bit of potential, Sirius decided. Professor McGonagall had taken only a short time to explain the plan for the day: each student and their partner chose a pair of items from a basket at the front of class. Using these items, they were supposed to spend the rest of the class period transfiguring them into useful and complimentary objects.
It would have been a brilliant plan normally, but the professor had seemed to forget that the students in this particular year were experts at causing trouble. Still, Sirius had seen many groups of students coming up with brilliant couplets of items so far—Lily and her partner had pleased the professor greatly with their teapot and self-warming tea cosy that informed the drinker when the tea was nearly gone. He’d observed that Miss James had managed to find or conjure up a hair tie, and the braid in which her hair was confined looked inviolate.
He was disappointed—he rather liked the idea that it could burst forth at any time and cause her to get frustrated—he thought she looked quite pretty when she was frustrated. Sirius didn’t quite care to examine this conclusion very closely; he’d decided that she didn’t seem like his type at all. She seemed to enjoy studying almost too much, and the last thing he wanted was a girl that nagged him to do his homework. He had to admit, though—he had never figured out exactly who had managed to foil his seemingly brilliant plan in Potions class last week. Any girl who could do something like that and get away with it was definitely his type, no matter how much she studied. He watched as Hermia studiously transfigured her teapot into an inkpot and shook his head—no truly mischievous person could ever choose such an item without intending it for some nefarious purpose. When nearly five minutes went by without the ink spilling or staining anything, he concluded he was right in the first place. It couldn’t have been her.
“I’ve got an idea,” Prongs said, pulling at his friend’s sleeve. Sirius dismissed Hermia James from his mind and focused on wreaking havoc in class—otherwise known as learning.
“Is it bigger than a breadbox?” he joked.
“Nope,” Prongs said with a grin. “Next question!”
“Is it going to get us out of class early?”
“Undoubtedly,” James said, nodding.
“Will we ever be allowed back in?” Sirius asked next. James’ face fell.
“Never mind,” he said, adjusting his glasses and scratching something out on his parchment.
“Better luck next time,” Sirius said encouragingly, leaning his chair back to see what Moony and Wormtail had come up with.
Both boys had their hands over their ears and Peter appeared to be counting down from a stopwatch. Sirius quickly nudged James and the two of them covered their ears just in time. Pettigrew and Lupin had chosen to transfigure an alarm clock into a gavel, which rapped loudly on a piece of hard wood when it went off. Professor McGonagall could barely conceal her smile as she told the young men they’d done a good job and that the alarm meant it was time to choose their next pair of items.
Their contraption gave Sirius an idea, and he turned to his partner with a grin, detailing the specifics in an excited whisper.
“‘Saints preserve us,’ as my grandmother would say,” Hermione said with a groan, causing Lily to look at her in alarm. “I think your boyfriend just transfigured a dumbbell into a dungbomb,” Hermione explained.
“Oh, Merlin, what are they up to now?” the redhead said with a groan.
“Well, at least you know he’s talented—that’s a pretty complex object to get right,” Hermione offered in consolation.
“He’s too clever for his own good,” Lily said begrudgingly. “The only way to know if he did it properly is for it to go off!” They laughed. “Goodness knows what Sirius came up with to go with something like that,” she added.
Hermione turned to watch them as her friend went back to perfecting the self-blotting quill she was working on. James Potter was admiring his own handiwork as it sat in front of him, and Sirius Black was crouched next to his friend, fiddling with something under the table. At this angle, she could only see his face, and she permitted herself the rare luxury of examining it. His brows were furrowed in concentration, but his eyes were sparkling with delight and anticipation. As she watched, he lifted his head to ask James something, and at that moment Sirius looked almost exactly as he had when they’d stayed at #12 Grimmauld Place for Christmas and he’d gotten to spend a lot of time with Harry.
She could almost feel her heart break right then. The situation was so untenable that she wasn’t sure she would be equal to the promise she’d made to herself not to change anything. His life after the tragic events in Harry’s babyhood would be so horrifically difficult, and just as he had finally found happiness again, that life would be taken away. It was, and had been, too much to bear—and seeing Sirius as a vibrant young man brought it all back to her harshly.
Hermione decided that no matter what happened, she couldn’t allow herself to get so close that she’d break her vow.
Just then, the object of her scrutiny picked something up and set it atop his desk. It was so odd-looking that she thrust aside her morbid thoughts and caught Lily’s attention, hoping that maybe her friend knew what it was. She did.
“Oh, Merlin,” she said again, closing her eyes for a long moment.
“What is it?” Hermione asked, thoroughly confused.
“They made one of those in Fifth Year,” Lily said, starting to pack up her things. “They used it to fling dungbombs into Filch’s office from down the hall.”
Hermione started to put her things away as well.
“They wouldn’t possibly—” she began, cut off by a polite male voice coming from behind her.
“Launch sequence commencing in three minutes. Have a nice day!”
“Does that answer your question?” Lily said, trying not to laugh.
“Mr. Potter, dare I ask what you are planning to launch into my classroom?” Professor McGonagall asked acidly from behind her desk.
“You’re a Gryffindor, ma’am,” he said respectfully, “I’m sure you would.” The class erupted in laughter, and even McGonagall’s lips twitched slightly.
“In that case, young man—what are you intending to launch?” she asked, interrupted by the same cheerful voice coming from the device in front of Sirius.
“Launch sequence commencing in two minutes. Please clear the area.”
The students seated in front of the boys’ table immediately stood up and began to comply with the polite suggestion, in some cases not even bothering to take their belongings with them. Lily and Hermione took their already packed bags and moved to the side of the room, Miss Evans choosing not to even make contact with her boyfriend.
“I suggest that we all assume your…invention…works properly?” the professor’s voice faltered on the word, clearly wishing to deny even that kindly a word for it.
“Don’t you even want to see if it works?” asked Sirius with a perfectly straight face.
“Not particularly.” Professor McGonagall answered in kind.
“Thirty seconds until launch,” the device supplied helpfully.
Hermione could see it now—the professor as well as the two boys whose contraption it was seemed to want to play chicken with the thing until it went off—but she knew first-hand how horrible a smell that would result if they took too long.
“Tego texi tectum!” she chanted, stepping from against the wall and casting the protection charm. A few seconds later, the device shook slightly and the air within the protective bubble turned misty.
Fully half of the students in the room looked disappointed.
“Thank you, Miss James,” the professor said, sounding quite relieved. “Five points to Slytherin.”
“Ruddy hell,” Hermione said under her breath, uncharacteristically. Well, she’d tried.
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