"See you in potions!" mouthed Ginny to Harry as she backed away down the school corridor performing a cauldron-stirring mime. Twenty paces away, Harry's eyes widened and he instinctively started to reach out to help as she tripped over an old broken stone, no doubt dislodged during the fighting a couple of months ago. She sat down heavily and rather foolishly on the floor. Harry laughed partly from relief that she was alright as Ginny got clumsily to her feet, rolled her eyes to dismiss her embarrassment and scurried away down the hallway.
Because of the special arrangements, many older students were effectively taking their seventh year again - albeit a modified form of it. This meant merging lessons with normal seventh year students and several classrooms had been enlarged to accomodate more. This was a big factor in Harry's decision to return to Hogwarts for another year; he would be sharing many lessons with Ginny. In addition, these normal seventh year students were also taking extra lessons as needed to make up for failures of the Carrows curriculum. At the end of the previous school year, after the Great Battle, many of them had also been given special homework studies to do over the holidays to prepare them.
So in the first of Professor Slughorn's potions classes this year, Harry and Ginny were elated to be teamed up together at the same table and of course, Ron and Hermione were also paired at the next workbench. The sound of stirrings and bubblings; the mix of strangely-coloured smokes and equally odd-looking steam, the changing light glows from different parts of the otherwise gloomy room, all gave the place a hazy, dreamy quality. The varied pungent smells now included some rather dubious organic odours from left over food samples that were being used for testing. Harry had never been more at peace within himself and certainly never been this happy in a potions class. He had wondered if he would be able to focus on lessons with Ginny to distract him but in fact it relaxed him. He also no longer had the burden of worries that had troubled him over the last few years.
Ginny, seeing how happy he was, felt reluctant to remind Harry about his concerns earlier that day over Malfoy. She had kept silent on the matter all through the lesson. Inwardly she had been thinking that now Harry had vanquished the dreadful threat of Voldemort from his life he would surely feel free to... Well, he had already made clear his love and affection for her but she ached for him to voice his commitment to her. It's true that Harry was now with her every moment that he was able. Surely there could be no doubt. As she slowly stirred her steaming potion she did not need to keep specific count of the stirrings with this particular brew. She only had to glance at the clock regularly so her mind was free and wandered off to her hoped-for future.
There was something homely about their working together here preparing potions - like being in their own kitchen. She paused in her stirring for a moment. 'Their' kitchen she had thought. She had already dreamed of their setting up home together one day. Was it this new secret that was holding Harry back from asking her? Did he not know she would accept him at any cost; whatever the risk? Perhaps she should tell him. Perhaps she should ask him. But she wanted it to come from him. Almost annoyingly she began stirring more vigorously and slopped some mixture onto the old bench top where it added to the years, maybe centuries, of multi-coloured stains that, along with knife cuts and scratches, already marked it clearly as a potions work table.
Within moments of feeling mildly frustrated at Harry she became angry with herself. How dare she feel this way? Harry had died - and something inside her had almost died too. All that kept her from madness at that time was the hate and anger which she poured into her attacks against the Death Eaters in that last Great Battle. She simply had not had time to dwell on the inner numbness of her apparent loss. She had not the opportunity to grieve properly and realize how worthless her life would be without the one she loved. She had not fought to stay alive; she had fought with hate and anger and for revenge; she had fought with supreme ferocity. She did not know if she had killed any of her opponents. Perhaps that was a blessing. She did not care to know.
Then Harry was alive again! How her heart had soared. How her emotions had performed acrobatics of astonishment and delight. He had come back to her! She had no right to be annoyed and frustrated. Every minute now with Harry was a gift.
"Gin?" It was Harry gesturing to her to look at the time.
Startled, Ginny looked at the clock. She stopped stirring this current batch, added a spoonful of dried, ground Synsepalum dulcificum berries, chanted "Gusto Excultus" softly four times while stirring slowly again. She then sprinkled it with common dittany and left the mixture to cool and settle while she began preparing the filters.
They had both achieved several good brews of Golden Flavour and tested it with various food snacks both bitter and dreadful. The potion was intended for consumption before partaking of any meal that was expected to taste bland or awful. It was ideal for use before going to the house of a relative or friend with poor culinary skills and was part of a course of practical everyday potions.
"How's your cooking, Gin" asked Harry impulsively and perhaps revealing something of his own train of thought.
"You should know - you ate most of my biscuits and buns last holiday."
"They were yours?" asked Harry sounding impressed.
"Yes. Why are you asking anyway?" grinned Ginny, somewhat flushed and averting her gaze.
"Oh, no reason. Just in case... erm You know. Just curious. It's good to be erm... cooking ... to be a cook ... In case you er... needed to cook something." He was keeping one eye on the approaching teacher.
"Mmm... rather domestic, Harry." said Professor Slughorn as he came round checking the students' work. "It's good but not quite up to your usual inventiveness. Remember, Don't be afraid to spice it up a little. Look at, smell, and taste Miss Weasley's brew for inspiration; it's excellent." He beamed at Ginny as he munched a small test piece of dry bread, added more to his notes, and wandered off.
Ginny stuck her tongue out at Harry in mock superiority. "Now I don't need to cook. I'll just serve up Golden Flavour and stale bread." She threw a piece of dry crust at Harry which started a furtive silent bread fight back and forth tempered with glances at which way the teacher was facing. Ron and Hermione both grinned.
"First years, eh Ron?" she whispered.
"Just kids really. I see now why you fell for the more mature type." replied Ron.
"I'll fell you in a minute, grandad." Hermione vigorously shook a vial at him and the cork shot out, hit Michael Corner on the head, and fell into his bubbling potion on the next bench. He glared and wasted away a couple of minutes trying to fish it out with a grubby stirring stick. Hermione was laughing and waving a spoon at him to suggest he try with one. This he eventually did then he used it like a catapault to flip the cork at Ron. Ron ducked and Harry snatched it skilfully out of the air and tossed it to Hermione who was still giggling. The difficult experiences of the last year had taken something of the stiffness out of Hermione's personality and Ron was pleased to see she could lighten up much more readily these days.
After inspecting everyone's results, Professor Slughorn was allowing those with working potions to take them home for their own use in the future and most of the students were bottling the contents of their cauldrons into small vials.
So in this happy atmosphere, Ginny glared at her brother when, leaving Hermione to finish the bottling, he whispered to Harry to remind him about his earlier worries over Draco Malfoy.
"We've got a short break after this, Harry. ... You know ... I was wondering if..." said Ron, hoping Harry would understand to what he was inferring.
Harry paused for a few moments, then replied. "Do you remember the old classroom on the first floor where we had the mind sessions with David a year or so back?"
"Yes, of course."
"Can you get word to Luna and..." Harry turned and with his hands full of old bread and a couple of utensils. He gestured with his head towards Neville to signal him to come over, "...and we'll all meet up there this evening. It will be like old times."
"Harry, we no longer have permission..." began Hermione, who was listening in between corking and labelling. She had multiplied the cork with a transforming spell but was struggling to cork the vials by reducing then enlarging them after they were in the bottles. Some corks had fallen inside before she had restored them to normal size. After using Accio a few times she was beginning to think it would be easier to hammer the corks in. She looked around in exasperation. Everyone else seemed to be corking easily.
"Since when did that stop us?" smirked Harry, "and anyway, Dumbledore's permission has never been actually revoked to my knowledge."
"Sure, I'll get word to the DA..." started Ron.
"Is this about Muggle Studies?" whispered Neville as he came close by their benches and pretended to return some ingredients to a cupboard.
"No, Ron, just us six; the original six. I'll explain when we get there." said Harry to Ron. He then turned to Neville, "No. What about Muggle Studies? I don't think there is any such class this year."
"Exactly. It's all wrong. The Carrows were giving out all sorts of evil nonsense last year and some of the kids were taking it in, believing it!" replied Neville. "It's kind of offensive to drop it now - like they've won and especially after what happened to Professor Burbage."
Hermione was now muttering and cursing under her breath and becoming rather flustered. She tried to reason out some sensible method of getting the corks into the bottles. Perhaps she should expand the vials first then reduce them when the corks were inside.
"Well ... have a word with Dum... Have a word with the headmistress." suggested Harry. "Listen, we want to meet in the old first floor classroom this evening - you know - Er... better make it 9:00pm - I've got so much homework to do first. Can you get word to Luna?"
"Well not really... Erm..." Neville hesitated nervously like his old self, then hardened his face again, "Yes of course. No problem."
"I can tell Luna if you want. I'd rather." said Ginny. "I'll be seeing her later anyway." she saw a momentary glimmer of gratitude on Neville's face and an "OK." that confirmed what she suspected but she still underestimated Neville.
"On second thoughts, No. I should speak to her..." began Neville.
"Speak to her at the meeting then." advised Ginny. "I'll tell her the time and place in defence class this afternoon." She was eyeing Hermione who was still struggling with her corks. Hermione had tried wrapping both string and spello-tape around them and was now using pliers but the corks were splitting into more and fragments each time she tried something new. Exasperated, she picked up a cork and threatened it with her wand.
"Your corks are too moist. They've swollen up. You'll never get them in." She lobbed a new dry cork to Hermione who stared wide-eyed for a few moments then screwed the cork in easily.
Neville nodded at Ginny and went back to his workbench deep in thought.
"By the way, don't forget to multiply it before you stick it in the bottle." said Ginny with a grin at Hermione.
"Ginny!" Hermione stood with her hands on her hips glaring at Ginny who winked back at her and threw her another cork. She had always wanted a sister to play jokes with and had no doubt that Hermione would be just that one day.
"Oh yeah - I meant to tell you about the corks." said Ron.
When Ginny and Hermione went up to take their History lesson, Harry went with them to the first floor. He was going up to the Gryffindor reading room to study and finish a charms paper. He left them near the door to Binns' class.
"I'm just going to check that the seals on the old classrom are still working or we'll be back to using keys and I doubt anyone kept theirs." he told them as he wandered blindly off around the corridor, his attention deep inside his charms book. Harry was vaguely aware that this section of the corridor was deserted so he was astonished when he felt someone blunder into him so hard he staggered sideways against the corridor wall, dropping his books and papers.
"Ow! ... Wha..!" he cried, as he looked around to confirm there really was nobody about.
Sharpened reflexes drew out his wand in an instant. "Homenum Revelio!" Then, when nobody was revealed, "Specialis Revelio!"
Harry stared up and down the corridor rubbing his arm where he'd received the painful collision. "What was that?" thought Harry to himself as he gathered up his scattered books. "I'll have a word with George next time I'm in Hogsmeade to see if it's one of his joke spells."
Harry used his wand again and found the old classrom wards were still working fine. The room looked cold, dusty, and deserted. A chair was overturned. The unlit candles were burned down to stubs and needed replacing. A lot had happened since the last time they had used this room. He gazed around, remembering David Grey and all that had happened here. Harry pointed his wand at the fireplace.
As a nice fire sprang up to warm and cheer the room he did the same to light a few candle stubs. He dragged six chairs around to complete the rough semi-circle in front of the hearth as they had had them before and finished off with "Scourgify!" addressed at the whole room. He watched as the gathered dust rose into the air like a dirty cloud for a few seconds then vanished. Dull brass candlesticks began to gleam in the candlelight and the colour of the upholstery of the old chairs suddenly became a more vivid red as the grime departed the fabrics into the void.
Harry noticed that some little pottery figures of unicorns and dragons and other creatures were stood upon the mantelshelf and paper cutout animals decorated the wall around it. He looked to the chair that Luna usually sat in - the second nearest to the mantelpiece on its right. There was a little table there and some scraps of parchment and a couple of books on top. Harry didn't disturb them. He knew they and the animals had not been present the last time they had all gathered together in this room. He pictured Luna coming up here all alone during the reign of the Carrows and Snape last year. He recalled his visit to the Lovegoods earlier that year and the fine gold writing on Luna's bedroom ceiling, 'friends . . . friends . . . friends'.
Harry felt sad that Luna's eccentric ways kept her somewhat apart; she had a good heart. His spirits were lifted a little when he recalled how she and Neville had been drawn together in their mind sessions. He pondered how that relationship was working out now. "They hadn't been actually hanging out together had they?" he wondered. He had been so pre-occupied with his own problems leading up to the destruction of Voldemort he had no idea. Perhaps this evening's session would shed light on how well they were getting along. She deserved someone to share her life and care for her.
Harry looked around, satisfied now that all was in order for the evening's meeting. He sighed and hoped that his suspicions were groundless and the room would not be needed again as he left. He had time to spare for some more study before this afternoon's defence class.
Neville hesitated. As he descended the worn stone steps leading down into Room 3C he gazed outwards expecting bitter memories to arise. Here, the fraud Lockhart had swaggered. Another pretender, Crouch junior had deceived them and shown them cruel curses. Snape had been ... well, Snape: mysterious, bullying, terrifying. The blinkered, arrogant Umbridge had uselessly mis-taught her students and Carrow's dark attitude had taught the arts to match his sick mind. Only Lupin had inspired and helped his pupils. But none of those recollections came to Neville's mind. The room was bare, empty of furnishings except one old cabinet at the far wall and thus 3C seemed much larger than before. The few students already ahead of Neville: Seamus, Luna, Harry, Ginny, and others, were gazing around looking puzzled. Others, led by Ron and Hermione, coming down behind Neville were first pushing to get in, then themselves holding others up as they looked around at the unfamiliar layout.
The scrubbed light grey stonework arching overhead did not oppress or confine as it had seemed in previous years and the polished floorboards in the big open space seemed ready to dance upon. Indeed, Luna and Ginny were mock-waltzing together to Luna's "Tra-Lah-Lah, Lah-laaaaah." Ginny had just told her about the meeting of the six in the old classroom later that evening and Luna was excited and happy. Her blonde hair flung wide as she spun around and her odd taste in jewelry tossed and turned.
"Neville - think we might be doing some duelling?" called Harry from the middle of the floor, waving and thrusting a wandless arm to demonstrate.
"Looks likely" Neville shouted back amidst the growing hubbub and chatter as he went over to join him. He looked at Ginny and Luna dancing and wondered if he'd perhaps get a chance to speak to Luna here. Probably not. He wanted privacy and time. It would be awkward enough to explain his feelings had changed towards her. He still cared for Luna very, very much but his love for Hannah was ever-growing. "Where is Hannah?" he asked himself, turning around and looking at all the faces.
As the last of the students filed in, Neville saw Hannah amongst them. He had intended to save her a seat next to him but there were no seats - not even any desks but he gave her a wave to draw attention and she headed towards him. He began to realize this might be awkard with Luna in this same class.
Luna, seeing Neville meeting up with Hannah, fell silent, slowed her dance steps and hesitated. Ginny turned her away trying to think of something to distract Luna with. "Tonight..." she had begun but a new interest came at just the right time to produce a diversion. There had been speculation as to where the teacher was. Little knots of friends were calling to other groups to find out if anyone knew what was going on.
"It's an initiative test." proclaimed Seamus, "What's in the cabinet is obviously what we have to work out."
"Wait!" shouted Hermione as the nearest, Dean, was already slowly opening it.
A snarl immediately followed by a loud roar that they all felt bodily as well as heard, rumbled around the room as a great striped tiger burst from the cupboard pushing by Dean, knocking him to the floor and scattering screaming students in surging waves of confusion through the crowd. Huge jaws opened to threaten with its great white fangs - terrible ripping teeth to chill the heart of its victims. The cat's vivid orange and black striped body trembled with the shaking of its powerful muscles and its amber eyes glared and dominated. Shocked, Dean half lay, close to its awful claws. He could feel its body-heat, smell its odour. The cat's great head slowly turned back in his direction. It took a supreme effort of will for Dean to reach for his pocket as the beast roared again directly at him. It's hot breath stank; the mighty gape widened.
Then it was gone. As quickly as it had appeared it had vanished and there was stunned silence for a few seconds.
"Attention! All raise your wand arms please!" was voiced loudly from the doorway at the top of the stairs.
Professor Worley stood there arm outstretched, pointing, and visibly counting. Most of the former DA members had their wands raised; others had been still grasping them in their pockets but raised them when asked. Dean feebly held his wand up from the floor. It would have been shaking if his limbs had not gone numb with fear. Yet others had simply never thought of their wands. There was a tug on the closed door then a couple of loud knocks. Worley ignored it. Louder, heavier bangs sounded more angrily; someone was kicking the door now. Worley's counting arm jabbed wandlessly towards the door and a whispered spell silenced it.
"Nobody will come late to my lessons." she announced, then continued after a few seconds, "Well done, class. You've handled a bad scare very well. I wanted to test unprepared reflexes to extreme danger and I see many of you have had good practice. Lower your arms. Thank you - and ten points to Gryffindor for Mr. Thomas' immense self-control." She was genuinely pleased. Worley had heard good things about the DA and Harry Potter's on-the-ground instruction. She knew that few ordinary wizards, let alone schoolchildren, would have shown the presence of mind that most of this class had just shown.
She continued to survey the class from the top of the steps. Harry could see her short dark hair was rather scruffy and her face rather mannish - but she wasn't too unpleasant to look at. He estimated she was not as tall as himself or Ron and in her mid-thirties but there were plenty of tough worry lines in her face despite her smile. "A lot of people are like that these days" he reflected.
Worley stood squarely and returned everyone's stare without flinching. Very quickly she had established command and control of the class. She was always in control of herself too. She had found that tolerance, friendliness, and courtesy worked well to get the results she wanted with those she was instructing. Whether she was falsely manipulating people she was not sure herself.
"Can anyone tell me what that creature was?"
Hermione's hand was up first but Worley picked the only other one on offer.
"It might be a faux-boggart," suggested Luna, "but I don't know why it behaved itself so nicely."
"Nicely?" whispered Dean to Seamus as he dusted off his cloak, "I'd hate to see it when it's nasty."
"Correct. It is a faux-boggart that I have trained myself - or some of you would not be still in one piece." She eyed Pansy Parkinson and others who were nearest the door having been the quickest to stampede wandlessly in a panic.
"And what do we know about these creatures?" Worley looked around and seeing only the same two raised hands she selected Hermione this time. Was showing fairness just another aspect of her manipulativeness or was it natural to her? Or had it started as the former and ended as the latter over time? She scrutinised her own behaviour as strictly as she did her students.
Hermione recited what she knew, "The faux-boggart or stealth-dragon is neither a true boggart nor a dragon but its magic works in a similar way to the boggart. However, it does not respond or adjust to its victim's fears. Instead it can assume the form of almost any non-magical creature it feels will give it an advantage. It is a predator and it's natural shape is something like a large stocky hound with tusks and a mouth full of triangular, serrated teeth that inwardly is almost like a shark's."
"Thank you. Be prepared, I'll be using Fobey in different forms from time to time in training. Dark wizards can summon dark creatures so we need to have defences planned. But be assured that although normally very, very, dangerous, this one is always well-fed, magically restrained, and trained to feign attacks not to actually harm anyone - and I also have shields up - not only for your extra protection but so you don't injure or kill the creature itself. They are not easy to replace and train and I think judging from your lightning responses that another second or two and I'd be minus one faux-boggart." Worley smiled. As she descended the steps she flicked an arm and the rest of the furniture, old, time-worn desks and chairs, all creased and blackened by years of off-target spells, started to appear, jostling students aside as they moved into position.
"As you can see I'm using various charms and spells to make the most of this room. It's just about adequate for some physical duelling practice and the like when it's empty. Any questions?" she moved to her desk at the head of the class, "Yes Mr. Potter?"
"Can that creature assume human form?"
"Yes indeed, although not magical. Let me explain. We have heard from... Miss Granger isn't it? - that it can only appear as a non-magical creature. That is true in a manner of speaking. It can actually form itself as any creature but without the magical properties. It's only magical ability is to change physical shape and use the physical properties of that shape. So it might transform into a hippogriff but it cannot fly because a hippogriff relies on magic to fly. Similarly it might appear as a wizard with a wand but it could not cast a spell. Also its intelligence is limited to the animal - about that of an ape - so it cannot converse or interact in a humanly intelligent way. It simply mimics any creature it has ever seen to attack its intended prey. Now watch your fingers!"
As she was finishing speaking she was magically guiding some books and documents from the pile on her desk towards all the students. Some of these were thumping down rather heavily onto desks in front of students and it wasn't clear if the dust raised was from the desks or the old books. Pansy Parkinson sneezed as an extra set of books hovered for a moment over the empty desk beside her then moved over and dropped in her lap. She pushed these aside to the empty desk beside her with some annoyance.
"Where's Draco?" whispered Ron to Hermione at his side and Harry and Ginny at the next desk.
"I'm not sure whether he still goes with Parkinson. Must be he's growing up." snorted Ginny as she fumbled through the pile of books on her desk.
"I think this year he needs all the friends he can get. Beggars can't be choosers." said Hermione as she scrutinised some old yellow pages, "- as we muggle-borns say." she added to Ron's puzzled look, "Anyway, trust the books."
"Trust the books? Trust the books? What does that mean?" asked Ron.
"The guidance spell - clearly it is designed to reach its intended user so it must know Pansy will take the books to Draco."
"I wonder if that was him knocking on the door?" suggested Harry.
Ron digested this suggestion, "Hope he's always bloody late then."
"The dull yellow pamphlet is an overview of the classwork for this year and the big dark leather book is our main seventh year reference for defence against the dark arts. You can see it has sections for duelling, stealth, shielding and other protective measures; detection, deception, avoidance, counter-poisons, temporary field healings, and many others. Today we'll make a start with property-protecting wards: two-way, one-way, blockers, alerters, defenders, from simple to complex. This subject alone is extensive and there is more detail in that dark purple-like booklet." announced Worley. "You'll need to supplement this work in your spare time studies. Ask, ask, and ask me again, if there is anything you need help with. You will need a good grasp of each section by the end of the school year if you are to pass your NEWTS exams."
The rest of the lesson was not quite so exciting as the start but interesting enough. One highlight was that most of the pupils' faces temporarily turned blue - especially pansy's which practically glowed - and Worley explained about how even something as innocuous as dust might harbour dark magic. Clearly the new teacher liked to use demonstration to make a point rather than just words.
"We have five minutes. Any more general defence questions?" asked Worley, then seeing Ron's raised arm and his red hair, "Yes - Mr. Weasley is it?"
"Yes Professor. Is there any way to defeat fiendfyre?" asked Ron, "you know, to overcome it, block it, remove it or anything really?"
"No, I don't believe it's possible - you mean as a defence against a dark wizard? A very great wizard might possibly deflect it temporarily but fiendfyre is so dangerous that even the caster of the spell usually cannot control it very well if at all. A dark wizard would normally only use it if he himself can be sure of stopping it or at least be able to get well out of the way." Worley spoke thoughtfully, "Fortunately it's not often used because it is so unpredictable. I recommend the best defence is to get the hell away if possible."
The class half-smiled grimly and murmured somewhat worriedly.
"I once saw Professor Dumbledore rebound a fiery creature which I think was fiendfyre." said Harry solemnly without thinking, "It looked like it might be. It certainly came from a dark wizard."
The class fell silent. They knew which wizard he was talking about and some still shuddered a little to hear about him.
"Yes, Professor Dumbledore was a very great man and if anyone knew how to handle fiendfyre, it would be he."
"That's all for this lesson. Next time we shall be focusing on anti-apparition wards and alarm wards and hopefully a bit of duelling practice."
As the students walked out there was a general feeling among them that the defence class teacher promised to be one of the best they had had.
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