Chapter 13 : Making Fire Out of Clay
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No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello teacher tell me what’s my lesson...
-Mad World, Tears For Fears
Chapter Thirteen: Making Fire Out of Clay
Remus Lupin decided quite firmly that Miss Hermia James was a kindred spirit. That she had acted as a kind of guardian angel for he and his friends twice so far didn’t hurt, either. The genius of it all was that she didn’t appear to need or even particularly want any credit for her actions. He’d watched her face after her spell had prevented the dungbomb from going off in Professor McGonagall’s classroom—she had seemed almost angry that she’d been awarded House points for what she’d done. Her apparent close friendship with Lily Evans was the icing on the cake—Slytherin or not, she was ‘good people.’
“I wonder if all Slytherin students would turn out that well if they weren’t exposed to six years of indoctrination,” he wondered aloud as the four boys walked to their Herbology class.
“‘Well?!’” protested James. “She got House points for ruining our project!”
“How many House points would you have lost if she hadn’t?” Peter pointed out astutely.
“It still got ruined,” Sirius said, fairly disappointed at the way it had turned out.
“I’m just saying it seems pretty out of character for a Slytherin,” Pettigrew persisted.
“What are you trying to say, Wormtail?” Remus asked, the shorter boy’s point being of particular interest to him.
“Uh…nothing, really,” Peter backpedaled quickly, not yet willing to voice his suspicions. “I mean, she could very well have done it because she wanted to ruin a Gryffindor’s project.” He didn’t sound very convinced, however, and Lupin decided he’d ask his friend what his suspicions might be after class.
“She hasn’t been a Slytherin for very long, either,” James emphasized, his eyes following Lily as she walked right past him without saying a word.
“I guess you’d better hope it’s not her influence that’s keeping your girlfriend from talking to you, Prongs,” Sirius said ominously, the effect somewhat marred by his rapidly moving eyebrows.
“I’m sure it has more to do with how close she came to smelling like dung for the rest of the day,” James assured his friend.
“You’re probably right,” agreed Sirius.
The four of them trouped into the greenhouse with the rest of the Gryffindors and Slytherins, most of the students chattering and laughing as they arrayed themselves around a long trough of dirt. Remus made sure not to stand very close to the edge, and he stood very still with his hands behind his back—he knew that in magic, it was always the most innocuous looking things that were the most deadly. He could hear a group of Slytherin boys to his right talking to each other in low tones, even though they were many yards away. His transformation was coming this weekend, the nearness of it causing all of his senses to be heightened. By Saturday morning, Remus would be able to hear every bite the students in the Great Hall took at breakfast.
Lupin’s hearing wasn’t the only sense affected by his condition—both his eyesight and his sense of smell improved in the days before the full moon. Right now a deep breath told him that not only was he in a room with twenty-odd teenagers, but that there was more than just dirt in the wooden trench in front of them. The scent itself was acidic, but more than that, it set off a strong warning in his animalistic self—whatever was buried here, nothing in the wild would come near it.
“What’s wrong, Remus?” the speaker was Stephanie—Steffie, as she liked to be called—Kirke, one of Lily’s friends and another Seventh Year Gryffindor. As she laid a gentle hand on his shoulder in concern, her long brown hair swung out and he felt it tickle the hairs on his arm. Looking down, Remus saw in surprise that every single one of them was on end. Way to be inconspicuous, Lupin, he admonished himself. The werewolf in him really disliked the planned lesson for today, it seemed.
“I’m fine,” he forced a smile. “Did you ever just get a sense that something isn’t quite right?” Steffie squeezed his shoulder as she let go and smiled in return.
They both turned then to devote their attention to Professor Sprout, who entered the greenhouse in her normal cheerful manner.
“Oh, Circe!” she exclaimed when she saw where they were all standing. “That was supposed to be covered.” The diminutive professor spoke a quick incantation and the top of the trough enclosed itself in glass.
“I wonder if that one would work in the lavatory,” James said under his breath to Sirius. Lupin just shook his head in disgust.
“Now then! Welcome to Advanced Herbology!” their cheerful professor said with enthusiasm. As she spoke, Sprout began to fill a basket with protective clothing, which she enchanted to slide along the top of the glassy surface in front of them. “Everyone take a set, please.” Then, in a more commanding tone, “This class is required for your year because there are certain things that we in the faculty wish you to learn, but are too dangerous for any but the oldest of students at Hogwarts. Therefore, I expect you to be mindful of your surroundings at all times—” her voice softened here, “and don’t worry, there are no tests or exams in this class. It is informative only.”
“But—Bella said that she nearly failed—” protested Bertram Aubrey, a Slytherin boy.
“Ah yes. I tell each graduating class to inform their successors of the extreme difficulty of this class,” Professor Sprout chuckled. “Anticipation sharpens the senses!” When she saw that they were all dressed in the safety outfits, she began their lesson.
Hermione stood on the lawn with the assortment of first years and wished with all her might that she had Harry’s invisibility cloak. She supposed that ‘Accio Invisibility Cloak!’ would be too conspicuous an action to warrant trying, and instead spent her time waiting for Madam Hooch admonishing herself for putting her hair up so that she couldn’t even hide behind it. The last time she’d been in high wind with loose hair could hardly have been termed as ‘inconspicuous,’ however—for all that afros were still in style in 1977. As it was, every giggle or whisper felt as though it was about her, and when the flying instructor finally arrived, she marched over to the woman to have a word. Luckily their position was too far away for any of the First Years to overhear them.
“Excuse me, Madam Hooch,” Hermione said timidly. Hooch had always intimidated her in a way that Professor McGonagall should have but didn’t—but then, Hermione was good at Transfiguration.
“Yes, dear?” Somehow when she said it, it sounded less endearing and more like an interruption. Hermione pressed on, however.
“I was wondering—I’ve been in a similar class elsewhere, when I was younger,” she said, trying to couch her terms in a manner that sounded believable, “and I’m sure that my presence here is probably a waste of your time—”
“It’s no bother,” Hooch said brusquely.
“It’s just that I’m so much older than they are,” Hermione faltered; she hadn’t intended to explain her real reasoning. Madam Hooch looked at her with true compassion showing in her dark eyes.
“I do understand,” she said kindly, “but it’s important to us that everyone go through the same training, so we as educators feel we’ve done the right thing.” She reached for the parchment in Hermione’s hand and made as if she were marking something off on it. Hermione felt a rush of gratitude—by doing so, the professor was giving the other students the impression that she’d come over here for some other reason than to beg off. “You’re welcome,” the older woman said to her unspoken thanks. “In any case, it’s only one class—and no one will probably even see you out here!”
Hermione felt a lot better as she moved back to stand with the younger students—until she looked around. Not only were the greenhouse windows (that she knew for a fact were filled with Gryffindor and Slytherin students in her own year) facing them, but their lawn lay in front of an entire wall of the castle itself.
“So much for that idea,” she said under her breath. Hermione wondered if there was a spell specifically for fogging up windows as she watched shapes moving around inside the greenhouse.
The lesson was truly fascinating, Sirius had to admit. Living in the dirt was a kind of plant whose sap had a very specific effect on the nervous system. ‘Corpsesito’ sensed its prey by weight displacement above it, and dug into its victims with fast-growing appendages that injected sap much like a spider’s stinger. These specimens were very young, but still quite potent, they were told. They generally lived in cemeteries or battlefields, but this particular strain had become quite aggressive due to the lack of food.
Sirius wondered how many wizards had ‘discovered’ these plants before one lived to make the find official.
After stressing the need to be confined in the gloves and aprons—due to the nature of the venom-type sap, one wouldn’t even realize they’d been effected, and could hurt themselves quite badly without nerve response to alert the pain centers of the brain—Professor Sprout gave them their assignment and split them into groups. Each team of students was to collect sap that would later be sent to St. Mungos for use in treating Cruciatus victims.
Sirius’ mind wandered—they were taking turns in baiting the plant to attach to the collection vial, and it wouldn’t be his turn for quite a while. His eyes traced the various outlines of plants in the greenhouse until movement behind them caught his eye. It took Sirius a minute or two to figure out what was going on until he saw a larger figure holding a broomstick move in front of the others.
“Ohhh, poor Hermia,” Lily fretted, having followed his gaze to the window. At his confused look, she explained. “She’s got to take the flying lesson with the First Years—school policy.”
He shook his head, perplexed. If it had been him, he’d have loved the chance to show off his skill at—
“She doesn’t like flying,” Lily interrupted his thoughts, knowing him well enough to guess what they were.
“Well, that’s a shame,” Sirius said, feeling genuine sympathy for her. Flying was the one time he felt free, in charge of his own destiny. “She’s not bad at it, is she?” he wondered. “I mean, bad enough that she’d worry how she looked in front of the little ones.”
“She didn’t say,” Lily shrugged. “I hope not.” Each of them took one last look through the windows at the people outside before focusing on the task at hand.
I hate flying.
I know that you knew that already, but I felt that the point needed to be stressed.
Stressed, now there’s a good word. I am stressed out from spending an hour or more with a group of snickering First Years trying to look like I know what to do with a broom besides use it to clean the floor. At least I don’t have to spend the rest of the day hearing about broom theory from Harry and about Ron’s delight that I’m bad at something.
You know, I was ok with having the whole Slytherin House hating me; I was dealing with that. But now I’ve got all the First Year Hufflepuffs thinking I’m mental, and the mini-Slytherins are all going to go gloat about how they showed me up to their brothers and sisters.
At least I didn’t fall off.
Oh, and Madam Hooch goes on my list of really good teachers, for all that she nearly scares the curl out of my hair—which come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind in the slightest. She didn’t let me out of class but she made it look like I wasn’t trying to do just that so the First Years only had my behavior on a broom to laugh at instead.
I think I’ll go to dinner early. I never see Malfoy there until it’s nearly over, and I really don’t think I can deal with him today. I will say, however, that my plan seems to be working almost too well; I’m almost afraid of what his reaction is going to be. Hopefully he says something that will give me some kind of clue as to his behavior…
Hermione set her quill down and sighed. She hadn’t really bargained on the fact that Lucius was quite a bit more aggressive than his son would be. The look on his face in class this morning was almost murderous… She stood up and locked her diary with a word, resolving to spend the time after dinner in the library. Maybe she could ask Lily what they’d done in Herbology and look up the plants they’d studied so she could be on the same page for the next class.
It was nearly 10:30 when she finally put all of the books away and started for the dungeons. Her initial research into the ‘Corpesito’ plant had led her into a fascinating amount of information about the Cruciatus Curse. She’d learned exactly how much poor Neville’s parents must have taken to have gone mad, and the nasty things the curse did to one’s pain receptors. Hermione walked faster, her mind focused on what she’d read and what Harry had told her about experiencing the curse for himself. She was trying to figure out exactly how long he must have been under it when she finally realized she was being followed. Instead of stepping up her pace, she turned to see who it was, and found herself facing the very person she had hoped to avoid.
“Thought you could hide in the library, did you?” Malfoy said, still walking toward her.
“It would be just like you to see it as a place to hide,” she said scornfully.
“I don’t know what you thought you were doing today in Charms—” Lucius said with narrowed eyes, stopping about three yards away from her as if she had some sort of disease he didn’t wish to catch.
“I wanted to show Lily how to do it properly—not you or the rest of the class,” she protested. It was the wrong thing to say.
“We do not fraternize with Gryffindors!” Malfoy spat, seeming almost livid, as though the mere thought of speaking to someone from that House was a crime.
“Oh, please,” she scoffed, backing away from him even though her words were brave. “We’re an entire school, not just four houses!”
“I think someone needs to teach you what we do with Slytherin traitors,” Lucius said, the coldness in his voice more frightening than his previous fury. He slowly advanced toward her, and Hermione moved away from him until her back hit the stone wall, debating to herself what the best course of action would be. Running away was not an option, but she had a full (and heavy) bag of books—or her wand. Given her talent at magic, the decision should have been a no-brainer, but Hermione knew things about Lucius Malfoy that gave her pause. As a man, he had no qualms whatsoever about using Unforgivable Curses, and all evidence showed that he wouldn’t really change much after graduating Hogwarts. Hermione didn’t know if she would be able to force herself to retaliate in kind, however—even after what he’d done to Ginny—and she had learned quite well that when dealing with a Death Eater, it was play dirty or play dead.
The simple truth was that if she reached for her wand, Malfoy would reach for his—and though it was silly of her to be upset over it, she wasn’t sure if she knew enough of the same sort of magic to repel him. Hermione had an advantage, however; she could think like a Muggle. Beaning the foul git in the face with a bag full of books would feel all the more satisfying with the knowledge that Malfoy would have been offended by the mere thought process that came up with the idea.
Hermione learned another thing about Lucius that night—he did not like silence.
“I’m going to enjoy teaching you a lesson,” he said, the candlelight reflecting eerily off of his light-colored eyes and hair. The look of satisfaction on his face told her that he assumed she’d been cowering in the corner waiting to see what he would do to her, rather than coming up with plans to attack or escape. As it turned out, she didn’t need to do either.
“I wouldn’t try that if I were you,” a voice said from behind Malfoy. Hermione didn’t recognize the voice at all, and neither, it appeared, did Lucius. They both peered into the darkness of the hallway, looking for the source—a boy stepped into the moonlight with his wand at the ready and spoke again.
“She’s way out of your league,” Peter Pettigrew said.
If someone were to ask me right now what the worst experience in my life was up to this point, Hermione thought to herself in a state of shock, I might just pick ‘Having my life saved by Ronald’s traitorous pet rat.’ It would certainly have won the oddest, but feeling odd was only one of the masses of emotions that were running through Hermione right now. She didn’t know whether she wanted to laugh, cry, or run away screaming—and knew that she could do none of those things.
“Run along, Pettigrew,” Lucius said derisively. “This is a Slytherin matter.”
“But should it be, Lucius?” Peter said in matching tones, choosing to refer to the other boy by his first name as a sophisticated insult.
Why did it have to be YOU?! She screamed at Peter in her head as Malfoy retrieved his wand and the two boys faced off. I want to HATE you! She wasn’t even sure which one she wanted to root for…
“What in Merlin’s name is going on here?” Professor Dumbledore sounded actually upset, something Hermione had thought was impossible. At the sound of the Headmaster’s voice, Malfoy immediately thrust his wand into his pants pocket, while Pettigrew stood his ground. Neither of them said anything, and Dumbledore stepped forward to address her directly.
“Can you shed some light on this, Miss James?”
Hermione just wanted to go away and forget everything, but that was a coward’s way out, and she was certainly not one of those—no matter what House she was sorted to in whichever decade. Instead, she sighed and stepped forward, looking for the least inflammatory way to describe the past five minutes.
“Mr. Pettigrew was responding to a perceived threat against me by Mr. Malfoy,” she said in a small voice.
“Was it more than ‘perceived,’ my dear?” the old man said in a gentler voice. Hermione’s chin jutted out slightly as she nodded. Professor Dumbledore reached into his pocket and put something into his mouth (probably a piece of candy, Hermione thought with a tiny smile) before turning to face the young men in the hallway.
“Mister Malfoy,” he said in a forbidding voice that brooked no argument, “while I am aware that your father is a very powerful man in his circle of influence, I fear that you have picked up some very bad habits at home.” Lucius opened his mouth as if to speak and then wisely thought better of that decision as the Headmaster continued to speak. “I suggest, therefore,” he said in a tone that did much more than that, “that you reevaluate your behavior this year. Most Ministry jobs require graduation rather than just attendance at Hogwarts.”
Malfoy’s face was alternately bright red and deathly pale during the admonition from Dumbledore, and his body seemed to slump as if he were trying to collapse in on himself.
“Please continue to your dormitory,” the professor said to him in closing, “and consider my advice.”
Lucius looked as though he would have dearly wished to defend himself vehemently, but one raised pair of bushy grey eyebrows changed his mind for him. He fled.
“Now, Mr. Pettigrew,” Dumbledore turned to Peter, his voice a little less harsh but still very much the disciplinarian. “Dueling on school grounds is a serious offense.”
“Please, sir!” Hermione had to speak up, even if she did hate the grown-up version of the boy under scrutiny.
“Allow me to finish, please, Miss James,” the Headmaster said to her without turning around. He smiled at Peter, something that the distraught Hermione couldn’t see from her vantage point—though she did see the boy’s relieved response as his body relaxed slightly.
“Yes, sir,” Pettigrew said in a surprisingly strong voice.
“Defending one’s schoolmate takes courage, however—particularly when they are not of your House,” the old man continued. Hermione saw Peter’s body tense up at this, and mistook the reason for it. “The only thing you are truly guilty of, young man, is a lack of restraint. Therefore, I charge you to complete your self-assigned mission to protect Miss James and escort her to the Slytherin dungeons, and then yourself to bed. “Dumbledore held up a hand, adding a condition to his ‘punishment:’ “You are not, however, to engage in any confrontation on the way, no matter who you encounter in the hallways. Is that clear?”
As Peter nodded, Hermione stood with her mouth half open, having experienced a new level of respect for her Headmaster after listening to his speech. The subtlety of his admonition was simply brilliant. She moved to stand next to her assigned guardian, mouthing a heartfelt ‘thank you’ as she did so. His response was to turn away from her quickly and call out to Professor Dumbledore in a strong voice.
Once again, however, her assumption as to the reason for his behavior was blown straight out of the water.
“Headmaster Dumbledore, sir?” Peter cleared his throat and drew himself up quite rigid as he continued, “I believe Lucius Malfoy tampered with the Sorting Hat when Miss James was sorted!”
As the older man turned on his heel to ask Peter more about his allegations and the young boy at her side trembled with a strange sort of purpose, Hermione once again quoted her grandmother, this time in her own head. Saints preserve us…
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