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Chapter 9 : The Scent of Jasmine Heather
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The Scent of Jasmine Heather
The Scent of Jasmine Heather
That night, Liam had an anxious dream. He was on a ship at sea, and the deck at his feet rose and fell with the waves. He was gazing apprehensively at the horizon. The dark shape of a bird was visible against the grey, pre-dawn sky.
Liam awoke with a start. His heart was racing. It took him a minute to remember where he was. To his left, he could see the flicker of Philip's night light. He rolled over, away from it, and thought about his dream.
When was the last time he had been on a boat? Uncle Charlie had taken him on a boat ride on the Thames once, when Patrick was sick with the flu. The river had been pretty placid that day, though. Liam had never been out in the Channel. So what am I remembering? What was it about that bird that was making me afraid?
Slowly, he calmed himself back to sleep. In the morning, he had forgotten about the dream, and it did not shadow his sleep again for several days.
Randal, the prefect, came 'round at seven o'clock to rouse them up. When Liam reached for his cloak, he found that it now had a badge on the left breast, a picture of a badger against a black and yellow field, with the word "Hufflepuff" below in fancy letters. Someone must have sewn it on in the night.
He got dressed and met Michael and Philip in the common room. The rug that they had all been sitting on the night before was now full of furniture. A large sofa, worn but still plush, sat right in front of the hearth. Beside and around it were several other chairs and sofas, each with their own side tables.
"Are we going down to breakfast?" asked Philip.
"No," said Michael, "we're going up to breakfast. Three flights of stairs, back up to the dining hall."
"And then what?" asked Liam. "Do we have classes today?"
"Meadows seemed to think so," answered Philip. "Though, we haven't got our schedules yet."
When Fortney was ready, they followed a group of Fifth Years up to the Great Hall and had a hearty breakfast of eggs, ham and French toast. While they ate, Meadows came around with the schedules.
"Let's see," she said pleasantly, "you look like First Year boys." She flipped through her stack of schedules, then called each boy by name. "Not that there's any difference between them. It won't be until your third year that you start to take electives."
"Do we have school today?" asked Michael.
"Well, it is Thursday," said Meadows, "so you'll be taking your Thursday schedule."
Liam looked down at his paper. There were seven classes listed, but only three were down for Tuesdays and Thursdays. They would have History of Magic and Potions in the morning, followed by Herbology in the afternoon.
Archie was sitting next to Michael. He said, "What you got this morning, Mikey? Eight o'clock, History of Magic, Binns, Room 428. Starting your career off with a bang, aren't we?" The boy across from Archie laughed. "Binns is the worst teacher on the staff. He bored himself to death about 20 years back, but he's still teaching. And after that you've got DeVere, who hates Hufflepuffs, generally."
"Where's room 428?" asked Liam.
"I bet it's on the fourth floor," said Michael.
"Yes it's on the fourth floor," said Archie. "It's the big lecture hall right off the main staircase. All of Binns classes are there."
"Look," said Liam, "there's twenty minutes passing period between classes!"
"You'll need it," said Archie, "'specially when you're huffing it out to the greenhouse for Herbology."
As they got up to leave, Archie said, "Oh, one more piece of advice: Don't sit between the Gyrffindors and the Slytherins. It's pretty early in the year for shenanigans, but you can never be too careful! You don't want to be caught in a crossfire."
"What about the Ravenclaw boys?" asked Liam.
"I saw the lot of them," said Archie, contemptuously. "They won't get their noses out of their books long enough to bother the likes of you."
The boys went back to the common room after breakfast. Liam loaded his books for Potions, Herbology and History of Magic into his bag, plus his scales and potion kit. It made for a heavy load, especially once they started hiking up seven flights of stairs. By the second floor above the entrance hall, Philip was really struggling.
"Come on," urged Liam. "Almost there, just two more flights."
"Yeah, said Michael, "it's all downhill from here." He and Fortney had taken Liam's hint the night before. There would be no teasing of Philip.
Outside of the classroom, a crowd of students were already gathered. Liam picked out the tall Gryff boy, Roan, then Vanessa, the beautiful blond from Slytherin, before settling his eyes on Cyrus. The two boys stared crossly at each other. Liam was the first one to look away.
The door opened, and the students began to file in. Girls from Ravenclaw and Slytherin filled the first row. Lara and her friends sat in the second row, in the middle of the auditorium, and Liam and his friends took seats behind .
The five Gryffindor boys headed straight for the back of the room. Roan stuck his feet up on the chair in front of his, as did another boy. The Slytherin boys took seats in the back as well, but across the room from the Gryffindor boys.
Here we are, right between the two groups, thought Liam. Well, if there's any shenanigans, better it hit us than one of the girls.
Right away, Liam understood Archie's joke about Binns boring himself to death. He was, apparently, already dead. The class was taught by a ghost who droned on in a sleep inducing monotone. After a few minutes, Liam slipped the text book out of his bag and started reading it.
Unfortunately, the book was dense with detail and thick with names. He stopped after reading the same paragraph over three times, and spent the rest of the period making doodles on his parchment.
This was not a complete waste of time, however. Unlike his grade school classes, in which he used pencils and ball point pens to write with, students at Hogwarts were expected to write with feather quills and ink wells. Nor did Hogwarts students write on ruled paper. They wrote on sheets of parchment which never stayed all the way flat once they had been rolled. Liam spent his time pressing flat his parchment and making lines with the quill pen without blotching the ink.
Finally, the period was over. Liam gathered up his things and filed out of the class with the other students. The Gryffindor boys ran down the stairways for their next class. Everyone else walked. The Gryffindor and Slytherin students had Herbology together out by the greenhouse while the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw First Years headed for the dungeon for Potions.
The dungeon had been re-made into an auditorium style classroom, with all the seats in an arch around the front podium. On a large chalkboard was written in a flowing hand, "Beginning Potions, Edward DeVere, Potion Master."
The class split down the middle, with the Ravenclaws on one side of the room and the Hufflepuffs on the other. The Hufflepuffs were further divided, with the girls in the front row and the boys behind them. The Ravenclaws, however, were mixed. None of the Ravenclaw boys were too cool for the front row.
DeVere entered from his office, off to the left. He was an average sized man, less than six feet tall by the look of him. His hair was brown, and there was a thin mustache on his upper lip. All of the students on Liam's right leaned forward as the professor entered. Before he even spoke, DeVere had the Ravenclaws waiting to hang on his every word. He surveyed the class briefly and then took roll, something Binns had not bothered to do.
"This class," he began, "for most of you, will be an exercise in following directions. You follow the recipe and in the end, you have the desired potion. But for the rare few, this class will be the beginning of something special, something magical. There is power in your cauldrons and in your fingertips, if you have what it takes.
"Did any of you bother to open up your texts or look at your potion kits before you got here?" All of the hands on the Ravenclaw side of the room quickly shot into the air. DeVere smiled at then and said, "Oh, I know you did. I want to see if anyone over here made the same effort."
No one on Liam's side of the classroom had as much as moved. Liam spoke out without raising his hand, "I did, sir."
DeVere fixed him with a stare and said, "And you are, again?"
"Well, Mr. Wren, why don't you tell us some of your observations?"
The whole of the class was staring at him now, but he did bring this on himself, the self-proclaimed Defender of Hufflepuff Honour. And, he actually had an answer ready. "Well, I did take a fancy to this sweet smelling stuff, Jasmine Heather. I had half a mind to put a pinch of it in my stew."
Beside him, Michael was doing a very poor job of trying not to laugh. He was snorting and trembling all over. There were titters of laughter on the other side of the classroom as well.
DeVere ignored all of this, his eyes fixed on Liam. "Did you, by chance, put any of it in your stew?"
"What stayed your hand?"
"The fact that Jasmine Heather is a main ingredient in about a half dozen poisons."
The laughter was louder now. With a wave of his hand, DeVere hushed it. "All right, Mr. Wren, now for the hard part. Given my utter lack of surprise that you are still with us, tell me what purpose does Jasmine Heather serve in poisons?"
There was no laughter now, only the sound, an "oo-oo-oo," coming from one of the Ravenclaw girls, who was popping up and down on her chair, her hand as high in the air as she could put it. DeVere turned to her and said, "No, no, let him work it out."
Liam lowered his eyes and pulled in a deep breath. He ran DeVere's hint over in his mind. . . . utter lack of surprise . . . still with us. Jasmine Heather, then, wouldn't have hurt him. So, what purpose does it serve? He thought about it some more, about the sweet smell that first drew him to it. "It's a mask," he said finally.
To his right, the girl slumped in her chair. "A mask," said DeVere. "Yes, that's close enough. Five points to Hufflepuff.
"Jasmine Heather absorbs some of the bitterness of the other, more harmful ingredients, and masks the odors with its pleasant scent. The Potion Master, detecting the scent of Jasmine Heather in his food or drink, should at once be on his guard. But, if you are foolish enough to use it in your cooking, to acclimate yourself to its smell and flavour in your every day dishes, you could be putting yourself at grave risk.
"You are getting all of this down, aren't you?"
There was a quick scramble for parchment and quills on the Hufflepuff side of the room. Liam was thinking that DeVere wasn't so bad after all, but Michael hissed, "All that, for five lousy points? Told you he favours the Ravenclaws."
DeVere lectured for a few minutes more on the properties of Jasmine Heather and the functions that it serves in poisons before moving on to the topics to be covered in the class and the grading policy.
The Beginning Potions class was divided into two parts, an hour lecture followed by a lab. For the first day, their lab assignment was deceptively simple - he asked them to divide into pairs and, in one of their cauldrons, boil water. The trick to the assignment was this: there was no stove, nor was there a source of water in the room. The students would have to conjure both fire and water to complete the task.
DeVere was kind enough to write the incantations on the chalkboard, Aguamenti for water and Incendio for fire, but that took the students only part of the way. Water and Fire are both difficult for the inexperienced to control.
Liam had paired with Michael. Michael worked on starting the fire while Liam worked on coaxing water out of Hexwood's wand. His left hand cramped and ached with the magic backing up into it, but the wand would not let it flow out. He had better luck when he switched to his right hand. That way, he was able to get a steady trickle of water spouting from the tip.
On the Ravenclaw side, Ronald Reuel, paired with Sadie Thompson, sprayed their table with water, soaking his notes and cloaks of the pair in front of him. Thompson shouted at him, her voice high and shrill, before drawing her wand to mop up.
Lara and Stacy, who both grew up in magical households and had been assisting their mothers in the kitchen for some years now, completed the assignment with ease. They finished before any of the others, Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw.
Michael could not get a steady flame under the cauldron, even when he offered it a scrap of parchment for kindling. Liam, who had some experience with cooking, remember that it is quicker to boil a small pot of water than a large one, stopped his flow of magical water at a quarter cauldron-ful. Sticking his wand in his belt, he focused his warming spell on the water. To urge things on, he held his left hand above the water. Out the magic came in a great flow, sloshing the water around the base of the cauldron.
"Blimey, mate, you're doing it," whispered Michael.
After a few minutes, Liam slumped back in his chair. "I can make it warm," he said, "but I don't know if I can boil it." The effort had exhausted him. Air bubbles had formed in the water, but there was no steam yet.
Michael continued to work on the fire. With ten minutes left in the period, they got a little flame burning under their cauldron, and they finished the assignment with a few minutes to spare.
The long class took them right up to their lunch break. Liam and his friends made a quick stop at their dorm rooms to ditch their History book as well as the Potion book and supplies, before heading upstairs for lunch. As the four Hufflepuff boys crossed the Entrance Hall, they stopped at the giant hourglasses that recorded the points earned for each house.
Ravenclaw had jumped to an early lead with 60 points on the day. Slytherin was close behind at 55. The Gryffindors had earned 40, while the Hufflepuffs had only managed a mere 15 points.
Fortney, Michael and Philip looked dejectedly at the hourglasses. Liam, though, broke out a grin and shouted, "Fifteen points! and five of those are mine!"
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