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Chapter 2 : A Bunch of Crushing Disappointments
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Seventh year class (plus an extra).
Four students (plus an extra).
How bad can it be?
The trouble with Archibald Penrose’s seventh year classes was that it was more or less a concentrated and shrunken form of all his other classes. The usual class dynamic tended itself towards a few muggle-fanatics who lapped up every word Archibald said, a few Muggleborn students who liked to point out that they knew more than he did, a few shockingly lazy students and a few students who were truly and utterly thick.
By the time these students reached NEWT level a large quantity dropped out, favouring to study more important subjects that actually might get them a job. The only exception to the rule was his sixth year class, which remained one of his biggest – although he suspected that was because Dom and Fred Weasley had an innate ability to make every class ‘interesting’ and nobody wanted to miss all the fun. Normally, with his calibre of students, most of his class were either pregnant, in prison or unemployed somewhere other than Hogwarts by the time Seventh year rolled along.
Thus, the register for his seventh year group had dropped down to four pupils. It had begun at six at the beginning of the year, but one girl had unexpectedly and prematurely given birth to twins in the boy’s toilets (Archibald hadn’t bothered to question the location) at the beginning of September and another had dropped out to join the family business of organised criminality.
Ronald McDonald was one of Archibald’s favourite students because his name was so ridiculous and amusing that it kept him truly entertained for hours. It helped that in the entire time he’d taught Mr Ronald McDonald, and this was the fourth year he’d seen his ugly mug in his classroom on a regular basis, the only question he’d ever asked in class was whether he could go to the bathroom.
Victoria Thickey (thicky-Vicky, as Hogwarts had dubbed her after the third time she’d entirely fallen through the trip staircase in her second week of school) was unbelievably dim. She was one of the few students that Archibald would be able to give something of a positive character reference, because it was true that she was a very nice girl with very good intentions – it was just the cogs in her brain seemed to turn so slowly that more often than not people gave up waiting for an answer and had left before she’d had the chance to speak up. She tried hard and worked laboriously slowly throughout all of his lessons, something which he found slightly disconcerting, and continually asked questions until she fully understood everything.
Unfortunately, this meant Archibald sometimes spent entire lessons trying to explain the origins of electricity only to have to back step and explain, once more, how exactly electricity worked. Not that there was anything wrong with that, because he’d could put up with repeating himself like a broken record (Archibald loved muggle idioms) but the obnoxious third member of the group made Archibald feeling like ripping apart one of his novelty pens and throwing the little spring at him in a fit of rage.
Elliot Cooper. The most loathsome student he’d taught. It was a close competition when you factored in Reece Hickenbottom, who’d been perversely interested in bodily functions and had spent a year talking about defecation and showing off his only two talents – burping and farting. That, combined with the complete ignorance when it came to muggle made Archibald dread every the moment he’d next walk into his classroom, surrounded in a cloud of something that usually smelt fowl. In the end, Hickenbottom had reached his demise when he’d been unable to take the end of third year Muggle Studies exam due to being bedridden in the hospital with severe... stomach issues.
It was the singular time that Archibald had ever believed in a God.
(Later, he’d come to different conclusions due to Neville’s sheepish expression and the fact that later that day his Herbology students were studying Skunk’s roots, so called for the odious odour it produced. He’d never mentioned anything. He couldn’t begin to image what the vile creature would have done when presented with bags of dragon manure and told to use it as fertilizer).
Still, Elliot Cooper piped the potty-mouthed toilet-talking Reece Hickenbottom to the post by being a right twit. He was muggleborn and continued studying NEWT Muggle Studies as an extra, unnecessary subject so he had a chance to revel in how he was more intelligent than Ronald McDonald, Thicky-Vicky and Simon ‘Squeaky’ Fawcett.
“Sir,” a voice said from the doorway, and Archibald looked up to see Miss Barbie/Shelly Skively framed in the doorway looking slightly distressed. Miss Barbie was one of his old fifth year students who’d dropped out of Muggle Studies after OWLS to take some more serious, more helpful subjects and Archibald couldn’t think of a single reason why she would be stood in his doorway ringing her hands and looking slightly desperate, “Professor Longbottom sent me to talk to you, I want to take up Muggle Studies again.”
“Why?” A voice asked, and Archibald was quite stunned that he, himself hadn’t said it. And, if he were to guess at the second owner of such a rude statement he would have gone for Cooper... but instead, Simon ‘Squeaky’ Fawcett had been the one to speak (it was quite easy to tell due to his freakishly deep voice; post-puberty, Squeaky’s nickname had become even more ironic).
“Yes,” Elliot Cooper added, and Archibald suspected that Elliot was surprised it hadn’t come from him too, “you can’t possibly have missed it?”
Miss Barbie flushed slightly, her well made up cheeks not quite hiding her embarrassment. “I don’t like Charms,” she said, “and so I was going to... swap.”
“Swap Charms for Muggle Studies?” Cooper demanded, his greasy voice speaking so Archibald didn’t have to. “Are you mad?”
“No,” Miss Barbie said, turning towards Cooper and glaring at him, “is it any of your business?”
Archibald repressed a smile. He loved it when other people found Cooper as annoying as him, it made him feel like he wasn’t simply an irritable woe-filled wrench, but a normal human subjected to extreme frustrations.
“Well you’re interrupting our lesson.”
“Squeaky, do you mind that I’m asking Archie a question during your lesson? Vicky? Ronald? No, so actually the only person I’m bothering is you and quite frankly I don’t care -”
“Professor Penrose.” Archibald interjected.
“You can’t call me Archie,” Archibald said, “Shelly, are you sure about this? You’re a bright girl; you’d probably do very well in charms.”
“Are you calling us thick?” Squeaky demanded. Oh, hell.
“No, not at all Sq... Simon,” Archibald said, “I’m merely suggesting that -”
“-that we’re not clever enough to do charms,” Squeaky said, his face crumpling slightly.
“In his defence,” Elliot Cooper said, “I think what Professor Penrose is trying to suggest is that Charms is usually valued more highly by employers and not that you’re all a bunch of dunderheads sitting around being taught by an incompetent teacher who can’t tell the difference between a netbook and a notebook and no Vicky, I’m not talking about pads of paper.”
“Oh my God,” Barbie/Shelly said, holding out her usual, long fuchsia nails, “these nails are reinforced by three different spells, do you want them in your eyeballs, Cooper?”
“Skively, Cooper – no rude or threatening behaviour in my classroom, please.”
“He’s acting like they’re stupid!”
“Her nickname is Thicky-Vicky, for Christ’s sake!” Elliot Cooper said. “He’s named after an icon for a fast-food joint and -”
“I don’t think you’re stupid, Vicky.” Ronald McDonald said firmly, although Archibald suspected that this comment would only speed up the process of Vicky realising she’d been insulted, rather than making her feel any better.
“Me neither,” Archibald lied (all part of the training). “And Cooper, ten points from Ravenclaw and a detention next Saturday. I won’t have obnoxious behaviour towards other students,” Silently, Archibald added ‘just towards me.’ “And no degrading nicknames.” Archibald added, struggling not to crack up with the irony of that one.
“Sir.” Shelly said, and Archibald was relieved to see her high polished nails were no longer poised for attack (he might have got in the way and he certainly didn’t want any of Barbie’s charm work near his eyeballs – particularly if she was dropping the subject). This and the fact that he’d been given another excellent excuse to punish Cooper for being a little brat made Archibald feel slightly empowered and, for once, good about his job.
Apparently, punishing students paved the path to job satisfaction and a positive mental attitude. Until, of course, the student either didn’t turn up for the detention or Archibald realised that detention meant he had to spend more time in the same room with another moronic teenager.
“Right,” Archibald said, “you four get on with what you’re supposed to be doing and then -”
“-but, Sir,” Vicky said, looking up at him with her wide, slow eyes, “you haven’t set us any work yet.”
“Well,” Archibald said, thrown for a minute, “look over the course outline I gave you a couple of weeks ago... make sure you’re familiar with all the components. Think about which novel you’re going to write an essay on for the ‘muggle culture, entertainment and leisure’ coursework. Okay? Right, Shelly... is it because you’re finding charms difficult?”
“No,” Shelly said, glaring at Elliot Cooper’s head, “I just... I don’t want to study it.”
“Do you want to go into a job where Muggle relations are important?”
“Well then, I’m just struggling to see why you’d want to continue studying it?”
“Don’t you want me?” Shelly said, ringing her hands. Archibald backed away from her nails slightly. It wouldn’t be the first time he was scared Barbie’s nails had been about to pierce his flesh. Students were terrifying, particuarlly when he’d inadvertently offended them (so, all the time – essentially).
“Of course it would be a pleasure to have you back again,” Archibald said (ah, today was a good day for dishonesty), “but you never appeared to have any particularly enthusiasm from the subject. In fact, the only lesson you appeared to enjoy yourself was with the space hoper – ”
“Wasn’t my fault,” Shelly said, “Fred pushed me.”
“Shelly, why do you want to study Muggle Studies?”
“You just don’t want another student! You don’t care about us!”
“Skively, if I didn’t care deeply about both my pupils and teaching then there would be little reason for me to remain at Hogwarts. It’s not like anyone is going to thank me for teaching them how magnets work.”
“Yeah,” Shelly said, looking down at her hands again. Although Archibald had to admit that as Shelly was in a class with Dom Weasley she’d probably never had a chance to shine as a mouthy-argumentative-type, but he wasn’t accustomed to have Barbie being quite so on edge. This was the sort of thing that set his teacher-instincts alight... warning him quite clearly to send her back to Neville so she could have her teen-breakdown in his office, rather than in his classroom.
He didn’t want to be the one who had to clean up.
“So, is there a reason?”
“Yes.” Shelly admitted, not looking at him.
“Is it something you’d rather not talk about?”
“Can... can we go outside?” Shelly said, her mouth tilting downwards as she continued to ring her hands. Archibald’s inner alarm system (he usually likened in to smoke detectors in his mind) was screaming in warning, but for some reason he offered her a nod.
“Just... talk amongst yourself.” Archibald told his seventh years, as what damage could two slow students; one lazy student and one horrible student do in ten minutes? Well, he supposed he’d see as no doubt they’d do their best to test out the possibilities themselves.
“Shelly,” Archibald said when they were both outside his classroom (he’d almost forgotten what life looked like outside those four walls, it was quite nice really), “what on earth could be wrong with Charms?”
“It’s the teacher.” Shelly said miserably, putting her hands in her pockets.
“The new charms teacher?” Archibald questioned. “She seems... well, charming.”
“You don’t like her?”
“No, it’s not that I don’t like her,” Shelly said, “I just don’t want her to be my teacher.”
“You can talk to me, you know.” Archibald said carefully, although he wasn’t entirely sure why anyone would want to. Or why he was actually suggesting that they should. He’d always thought the muggle system of having someone employed to deal with these sorts of things had a lot going for it – pastoral care and all that.
“Sir,” Shelly said helplessly, so quietly he could barely hear, “I’ve got a crush on her.”
Well that was new.
Inside, Archibald was flailing in a sea of confusion, a slight desire to laugh and complete bamboozlement. There were too many things to take in at once. The first being that he really wasn’t equipped to deal with these sorts of issues. The second was centred around various ‘soaps’ (and by that, he didn’t mean the stuff you put in the bath) he’d watched back to back during the holidays and was vaguely reminded of some lingering trace of a ridiculous storyline.
“It’s not a big deal,” Shelly said, her face a magenta to match her bright nails or a random Barbie doll’s dress, “I just thought it would be better if I... just, moved out of her class.”
“Er, yes, okay,” Archibald said, “well that’s fine with me then. If you’re sure.”
“Yeah,” Shelly said, beginning to ring her hands again, “can I go now?”
“Feel free,” Archibald said, blinking repeatedly at her retreating black. Dear Merlin, he wasn’t cut out of this. It would have taken years of training to be cut out for this.
Archibald Penrose paused, turning back to his classroom and entered with a degree of trepidation: not even Merlin could predict what the four nut jobs inside his room might have achieved in his absence. Probably some sort of weapon; a nuclear bomb, or something of that calibre.
Elliot Cooper was calmly explaining how ‘The Lord of the Rings’ had changed his life and how he thought that might be an interesting take on the coursework criteria to cover a muggle Fantasy.
Archibald was so shocked he had to sit down for the rest of the lesson. It went against the way of things, for students to actually be productive.
It wasn’t natural.
I'm really intrigued to see how many people are going to be confused by the fact that the new chapter is number two. It’ll be testing to see if any of you have been reading my authors notes, at any rate! I wasn’t expecting to be updating so soon, but I’m really excited about the reception this story has been getting. Thanks everyone for your lovely reviews and feel free to keep them coming! They really make my day :)
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