Chapter 15 : Ups and Downs
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My face turned beet red when Sirius snuck up behind me and kissed my neck as Remus and I talked about our most recent Potions assignment. Though he had done an excellent job of pretending like nothing had happened between us, I had had a harder time: I blushed whenever he said 'hi' to me or even glanced in my direction. Luckily, since I already had the habit of blushing at the drop of a hat, nobody questioned it, but Remus' actions had made me second guess all of my choices since the beginning of the school year.
Regardless of my unease, I allowed Sirius to wrap his arm around my waist and steer me away from our group of friends. I smiled apologetically at Remus as Sirius led me away; his return smile was filled with bitterness and I tried to mask my guilt--it wasn't hard when Sirius kissed my temple and whispered sweet nothings into my ear, but even so, I found myself only half listening to what he was saying.
"--and it is going to be incredibly hard. At least that's what Roddy said… do you know what kind of grades he gets?"
"What?" I asked, snapping back to reality in time to hear the end of Sirius' rant.
"The surprise test we're about to have in Transfiguration," he said emphatically, "haven't you been studying for it for a month now?"
"Oh, right," I shrugged, "I'm sure you'll do just fine. You're almost better at Transfiguration than I am."
"Almost," he rolled his eyes and gave me a squeeze, "the only subject I have bragging rights in is Defense Against the Dark Arts, and that's only because Professor Vaughn terrifies you."
"You have to admit he's kind of terrifying," I pointed out defensively.
"You say terrifying, I say experienced," he shrugged nonchalantly.
Before I could respond, Professor McGonagall emerged from the Transfiguration classroom and cleared her throat; Sirius' arm immediately dropped from around my waist.
"Miss Montague, your presence in my lesson for today is not required. Professor Dumbledore requests an audience with you in his study," she told me curtly, not sparing a glance for Sirius.
"Wh--oh, yes Professor," my heart rose to my throat as McGonagall nodded and retreated back into her classroom.
"Dumbledore?" Sirius asked dumbly, "why does he want to talk to you?"
"I don't know," I squeaked, barely able to breathe. I was almost sure it had something to do with the large stack of assignments I'd given to McGonagall, which I still hadn't told Sirius about.
"Well, you better get going. He doesn't like to be left waiting," there was a definite edge in his voice I couldn't quite place.
"Where…. where do I go?"
"The entrance to his office is behind the gargoyle on the seventh floor," he crossed his arms.
"Right," I whispered, glancing around nervously. I'd never been to Dumbledore's office before.
"See you," his lips brushed my forehead and he punched the heavy door to McGonagall's classroom open and disappeared inside.
I stood cowering on the spot momentarily, but then slowly made my way down the corridor to the flight of stairs up to the seventh floor, given the staircases decided to behave today. My ascent was slow and hesitant. I had never so much as exchanged a greeting with the headmaster, and my imagination was running wild with thoughts of why he meant to talk to me now. Had I completely overestimated myself and failed every assignment? I would be out of Hogwarts, no questions asked.
My heart was pounding by the time I reached the gargoyle, and only then did I realize I didn't know the password to his office. Not a soul was in sight. I contemplated the gargoyle as I chewed my bottom lip, having no idea what Professor Dumbledore's password might be.
As fast as my heart had been hammering, it ceased completely when the gargoyle suddenly leapt aside and a figure clad in all black emerged from the passageway.
"Miss Montague," Professor Vaughn looked down his nose at me, "what are you doing here?"
"I--I have a meeting with Professor Dumbledore. Sir," I whispered, looking at the floor.
"Up you go then," he stood aside to let me pass, eyeing me curiously.
"Thank you, Professor," I breathed, hurrying through the opening. I almost lost my balance when my foot landed on a stair that was slowly spiraling upward. Clinging to the railing was the only thing that kept me upright, and I could've sworn I saw a smirk on Professor Vaughn's face right before the stone slid back into place.
Up and up I went, each rotation of the stairwell churning my stomach even more. At the very top was an ultra polished oaken door with an ornate knocker in the shape of a griffin. I noticed my hand was paler than death when I reached up to knock once.
"Enter," came a slightly muffled voice from inside.
The headmaster's office was magnificent. Every wall was lined with books, and a collection of odd things--some I recognized, some I didn't--littered the many spindly tables I had to weave through to reach his immaculately organized desk.
"Ah, Miss Montague," he smiled warmly, "I've been expecting you. Please have a seat."
"Th-thank you," I squeaked as I slid into the plush seat across from him.
"Would you like some tea?" he asked politely.
"No-no thank you," I stammered. Surely he could hear my heart beating out of my chest.
"There is no need to be frightened, Jane," he smiled at me and his electric blue eyes twinkled at me behind half moon spectacles.
I didn't know what to say, so I turned a furious shade of red instead.
"I'll get right to the point," he said, and with a wave of his wand conjured a steaming cup of tea in front of himself, "Professor McGonagall informed me of your situation immediately after you turned in your formidable stack of homework. I hope you don't mind, but I've been personally reviewing all of your work, so the grading process may have taken a bit longer than necessary."
"N-no, professor, I don't mind at all," I was aware of the fact that my mouth was hanging open, but could do nothing to remedy the situation.
"Needless to say, each assignment I received was better than the last. Without any direction, you seem to have grasped everything your professors have been planning to teach you this year. Surely you know, very few young witches and wizards are able to self-teach advanced magic. Your insight and understanding of each subject without formal education on the topic has all been given top marks. I'm wondering if you're able to perform the magic you've been studying. Would you be willing to show me a few spells?"
It was all I could do not to faint; I gaped at him and my sweaty hands gripped the edge of the chair I sat in. "P-perform magic… f-for you, sir?"
"Certainly. It is one thing to do the formal research, but quite another to actually perform the spells."
"Y-yes, sir, Professor. I can perform the magic," I felt like I'd just been hit with a stunning spell.
"Very good. Don't be nervous," he winked at me, which was successful in making me even more shaky. Nevertheless, I raised my wand, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath.
As quickly as I could, and silently--for I doubted I would be able to speak properly--I performed every bit of practicable magic we were supposed to have learned that year, from disarming to the shield charm to small bits of human transfiguration. As my spell work progressed, Dumbledore's eyebrows rose and his eyes widened. By the time I finished, I was spent.
"My, my," Dumbledore retreated behind his desk and gestured towards the plush armchair opposite him, "that was quite impressive, Jane. There are seventh years who couldn't perform the magic you've just shown me. You taught yourself all of this?"
"Yes, sir," I blushed and looked down at my lap.
"Very good," he smiled and his eyes twinkled, "now, let's discuss where your magical education will go from here. I personally see no reason for you to continue going to lessons for work you've already completed, and I fear you would be much too behind if we attempted to implant you into classes with the seventh years this late in the game. What you you like to do?"
"I--wh--" his asking me what I wanted to do caught me so off guard I couldn't speak. His bright blue eyes were so penetrating, I completely clammed up. "I don't know," I finally managed to squeak out.
"Really, Miss Montague, there's no need to be so nervous. Have some tea, and relax. You are quite gifted," he said amiably.
"Thank you, Professor," I could still feel myself blushing, but I was floating on a cloud to have received such a compliment from such a great wizard.
"Perhaps to start, I'll have Professor McGonagall draw up a syllabus of sorts for what might be covered the first half of seventh year. You could meet privately with Professors Flitwick, McGonagall and myself, say, once a week each so we can stay updated on your progress?"
"I--that sounds great," I breathed, hardly believing my ears.
"I'd also like to give you full access to the library--I'll instruct Madam Pince to direct you to anything you desire within the restricted section. With all the extra free time you'll have with no lessons, we expect you to excel just as quickly as if you were attending your classes."
"Yes, professor, of course," I nodded a little too vigorously. I wanted to run down to the library that instant and begin pouring over all the new books available to me.
"Very well. When everything is in order, I'll send you a new schedule. And please, don't hesitate to come to me should you have any problem at all," the look he gave me made me feel as though he could see right through me into my deepest, darkest secrets. "Until next time, Miss Montague," he nodded dismissal and I had to try very hard to keep myself from running to the door. Halfway down to the Transfiguration classroom, I realized that my attendance there was no longer required. I wheeled around and went back towards the library instead, wondering how quickly Dumbledore would communicate my full access pass to Madam Pince.
"Ah, Jane. I was wondering when you'd turn up," Pince smiled when I bounded into the library five minutes later, "I just received word from the Headmaster. Go on back, but be careful. Some of those books have personalities all their own."
"Thank you, Madam Pince," I knew I was positively beaming at her despite her warning. It was difficult not to run on my way to the back of the library. I took a deep breath before crossing the threshold to the restricted section. For awhile, all I could do was wander around aimlessly taking in titles and authors I'd never dreamed I'd get to read while still at Hogwarts.
Finally, at random, I pulled a book from the shelf and opened it. A bloodcurdling scream filled the air causing me to drop the book. When I got over my temporary shock, I picked the volume up and closed it.
"Sorry," I called quietly in the direction of the front desk. I carefully placed the book back on the shelf, deciding I'd tackle that one later. When I decided on the next book, I breathed a sigh of relief when I cracked it open and met only silence. I settled back for a nice long read.
Too long of a read. The book, titled "Forgotten Things," had been so interested, I'd been sucked right in. When I looked up again, night had fallen and the library seemed almost deserted. Scratch that, the library was completely deserted. It seemed that, yet again, Madam Pince forgot I was here and shut things down without ushering me out first.
It seemed that I had stayed out even past curfew, as once I got out into the corridors, those were completely deserted as well. By the time I was halfway up to Ravenclaw tower with the intention of finding Octavius, my heart was racing. Why hadn't anyone gotten me for dinner? Or brought me dinner? Even if everyone else forgot, either Tavi or Sirius at least would have remembered.
"Well, what do we have here?" the cold, menacing voice from behind caused a shiver to run down my spine. I stopped dead on the spot as goose pimples raised on my arms. My first thought was of my wand buried underneath five books and unspeakable amounts of parchment at the bottom of my bag. I slowly turned on the spot to face him.
Regulus Black was almost as tall as his brother, and I supposed some might say almost as handsome. His reputation, however, made his appeal drop a rather large amount of rungs on the ladder. His piercing grey eyes were precisely the same color and shape as Sirius', but that was where their likenesses ended. Everyone knew Regulus was destined to be one of Voldemort's Death Eaters, while Sirius had spoken to me fervently of Dumbledore's Order of the Phoenix.
"What are you doing out and about this late on your own?" he taunted in my silence, "such a pretty little mudblood should be more careful. We wouldn't want you to get hurt, now would we?"
He advanced just as quickly as I backed away. I glanced around, but there was no sign of anyone else in the area.
"You would do well to answer when a superior is speaking to you," he hissed, now close enough to grab me. His wand was held low, but trained on my heart.
I swallowed, seconds away from hyperventilating, and backed myself into a wall. Within seconds he was on me. He grabbed me by the hair with his free hand and turned me so my back was too him--pressed between him and the wall with no escape. His hand left my hair and travelled down my side to grope me from behind. Something cold and wet touched my neck; bile rose in the back of my throat.
"You like that, whore?"
When I didn't answer he flipped me back around to face him, his hand pressing hard on my neck, making me gasp for air. His face was contorted with fury.
"Why don't you answer me, mudblood?" some spittle landed on my face.
Before he could further his assault, however, the sound of footsteps echoed down from the stairs to our right. Just like that, he released me and disappeared into the shadows. I took off full speed for the safety of my room, one hand clutching my aching throat as I gasped for air.
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