Chapter 7 : The Howler.
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The following day, Rose entered the Potions dungeon with some trepidation. Fairfax had seemed so annoyed when he’d caught her hexing Dora. It wasn’t exactly the best way to make a good impression on a new teacher.
He seemed, however, to have forgotten all about it. At any rate, he treated her no differently than any of her classmates.
Not that he made much effort to interact with any of them. They spent the class working on their Shrinking Solutions, while he walked around the room, a roll of parchment in one hand and a quill in the other. Unlike Slughorn, he made no conversation with them as they worked, instead concentrating on making what looked like detailed notes on their work.
“He’s making me nervous,” she heard Nathan mutter to Albus. “Oh no.”
Rose waited for the bang or splash that always seemed to follow an exclamation from Nathan, but nothing happened.
Curious, she turned around. His potion, which should have been green and smooth, appeared to have turned purple and was bubbling furiously.
Fairfax raised an eyebrow and made a note on his parchment when he passed Nathan’s cauldron, but said nothing.
“All right,” he said finally. “Ideally, you should all have completed your potions by now. How many of you have?”
The vast majority of the class raised their hands, Abric being the only exception. Nathan raised his hand, then lowered it again, clearly unsure whether his counted as completed.
“Very good. Now, how many have a smooth acid green surface?”
Nathan, Derek, and Scorpius lowered their hands.
Professor Fairfax nodded.
“Derek, you need to follow the instructions about stirring more carefully. When you’re told to stir slowly or quickly or in a particular direction, it does matter. I’ve noticed you’ve been stirring haphazardly, completely disregarding the instructions given.
“Scorpius, you added the leech juice too early. Never rush a potion. Patience is probably the most important quality for an expert potioneer. It’s not like other branches of magic where you can just wave a wand and get your result. It takes time and dedication, but once you’ve put that in, the results can be absolutely marvellous.”
He paused for a moment before looking at Nathan.
“Honestly, Nathan, I’m not quite sure exactly what you did.”
“I dropped a couple of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans into it,” he admitted miserably. “I didn’t mean to. They must have fallen out of my pocket.”
Professor Fairfax’s face darkened. “You should never bring foodstuffs into a Potions classroom. Quite apart from incidents such as this, it is neither safe nor hygienic. What if you’d spilt something poisonous on your robes? Five points from Ravenclaw.”
“Sorry Professor,” Nathan muttered.
Professor Fairfax nodded at him. “You’ve learnt something today, I hope. In fact, I hope you all have. Now, for homework, I want you to research the various uses of the Shrinking Solution and write me an twelve inch essay on them, with emphasis on the ones you, personally, think most important. Good day to you.”
“This actually sounds like an interesting assignment,” Rose said.
Albus groaned. “It sounds like it’ll take a lot of research and I’m not sure I can even write twelve inches just listing the uses of something.”
“He wants more than just a list, Albus. We’ve to say which uses we consider most important and explain why.”
“Do you think that if I do a good job, Fairfax might forget what a mess I made of that potion?” Nathan addressed his question to nobody in particular.
Rose turned and smiled at him. “I wouldn’t worry about it. He caught me hexing Dora yesterday, remember, and he complimented my potion today. He doesn’t seem the type to hold a grudge. It looks like he treats every incident separately.”
A smile played on Nathan’s lips. “I do hope so. I could do with a few more teachers who don’t hold my stupidity against me.”
“You’re not stupid, Nathan,” Rose exclaimed. “I bet you learnt the instructions for that potion quicker than any of us.”
“That’s not much good, though, when I can’t actually brew it.” He sighed deeply.
“Well, at least you’ll have no problem with this assignment,” Albus said.
Nathan brightened slightly. “Do you think he’ll give assignments like that often? I really hope so.”
Although still looking tired and occasionally rushing a sentence rather breathlessly, Professor Blackburn was now clearly far more in control of things than she’d been the previous day and the lesson, where they were attempting to turn footballs into balloons, was an enjoyable one.
The footballs’ refusal to stay where they were supposed to made the task more difficult, but also more entertaining.
“Sorry, sorry,” Nathan apologised and attempted to retrieve his ball from under Rose’s desk. He stumbled, upending her desk and knocking her football to the floor.
“Oh God, Rose, I’m really sorry.”
He reached out to grab her football and ended up dropping both.
Professor Blackburn raised her wand and stalled them both.
“Sorry, Professor,” Nathan said sadly.
“It’s all right, Nathan. It was an accident. And hardly surprising considering the room’s full of footballs.”
Nathan smiled with relief as Rose retrieved her football and returned to work on it with even greater gusto.
Though she didn’t blame Nathan – as Professor Blackburn had said, such accidents were inevitable – she was a little annoyed. She’d really felt she was on the verge of mastering the spell before he’d broken her concentration.
She knew it was childish, but she was determined to master it before Rasmus did. After their argument, she really didn’t want him getting one over on her.
Gradually her football began to change shape and the distinctive black and white pattern started to blur, until it was clearly a grey balloon.
Picking it up to display it proudly however, she realised with dismay just how heavy it was. It still felt like a football.
She sighed with disappointment.
“Well done Rose.” Blackburn smiled at her, having noticed her apparent achievement.
“It’s not a proper balloon,” she admitted. “It’s still as heavy as a football.”
“It’s still an excellent first attempt. Ten points to Ravenclaw.”
Rose looked around to see how the rest of the class were doing. To her delight, all Rasmus had managed was to add a string, which looked completely out of place dangling from his football. Albus and Angie had removed the football’s distinctive pattern and Albus’s had stretched a little into a more balloon-like shape, but it was still nowhere near completed.
Derek, Nathan and Dora appeared to have had no success whatsoever. In fact, Rose got the impression Dora wasn’t even trying. Her wand was discarded on the table beside her and she seemed to be reading something under the desk. Blackburn didn’t appear to have noticed or if she had, she was choosing to ignore it.
Suddenly Fionnuala tossed her football up in the air. Though it still looked exactly like a football, she appeared to have achieved the opposite feat to Rose, making it as light as a balloon should be.
“Well done Fionnuala,” Professor Blackburn said. “Another ten points, I think.”
The class came to an end without any more successes and Angie kicked her football across the room.
“GOAL,” she cheered.
The class laughed and even Blackburn smiled.
“All right, it’s lunchtime. I’m not saying anything. Just remember we will need those again for our next class, okay?”
“O.K., sorry Professor.” Angie was still half laughing as she apologised.
“You’re lucky Professor McGonagall isn’t still teaching Transfiguration,” Rose said as they left the classroom. “Somehow, I don’t think she’d have seen the funny side.”
“God, no. I probably wouldn’t have done it if she’d been teaching, but Blackburn didn’t mind. At least, I don’t think so,” she added more doubtfully.
“No, I don’t think she did, really.”
“She is nice, isn’t she? I’m glad she wasn’t fired.”
Rose nodded. “And we do learn a lot, even if Transfiguration is a lot more relaxed than say Defence Against the Dark Arts. It’s like you don’t realise how much you’re learning. Herbology is like that too.”
Albus grinned. “I think that’s why I like those classes. You don’t have to worry so much about making mistakes. I like Defence best though. It’s just so…impressive.”
“What’s your favourite subject, Angie?” Rose asked as they entered the Great Hall.
Angie thought for a moment. “Probably Herbology, but I really like Transfiguration too. What’s yours?”
“I don’t know. I like Astronomy and Defence and Transfiguration and Charms and I could like History of Magic if Binns wasn’t so unbelievably boring.”
“I like it anyway,” Nathan said, sitting down next to Angie at the Ravenclaw table. “At least it doesn’t have any practical stuff.”
“I prefer practical stuff,” Albus said quietly. “I don’t know how you can just learn stuff, Nathan. Things always make so much more sense to me when I actually do them. The instructions often seem like just so much gobbledygook until I do. Does that make sense?”
Before anybody could answer, a woman's voice, many times louder than any human being could speak filled up the Great Hall.
“MONSTERS LIKE YOU SHOULDN’T BE ALLOWED ANYWHERE NEAR CHILDREN.”
Rose’s eyes, along with most of those in the Hall turned to the staff table, where Professor Blackburn was staring at a red envelope. Her face was pale and there was a blank, stunned look on it.
“Oh God,” Rose muttered.
Around the Hall, some students began to giggle. Dora, of course, was laughing openly and she also noticed Eleanor Lockhart stifling her laughter. Loud guffaws erupted from what Rose assumed was the Slytherin table.
Albus, Angie and Nathan, on the other hand, looked as uncomfortable as she felt. Albus looked close to tears.
Little Felicity King was watching the proceedings, looking almost frightened, of what Rose wasn’t sure.
“IF YOU’D ANY DECENCY AT ALL, YOU’D HAVE RESIGNED,” the Howler continued, “BUT I SUPPOSE THAT’S MORE THAN WE COULD EXPECT FROM A CREATURE LIKE YOU. EVERYBODY KNOWS WHAT WEREWOLVES ARE – DARK, EVIL CREATURES. IF I HAD MY WAY YOU’D ALL BE LOCKED UP SOMEWHERE YOU CAN’T ENDANGER INNOCENT PEOPLE. BUT WE’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO SAY THAT TODAY, ARE WE? WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BE TOLERANT AND SILENT AND CONTINUE TO ALLOW YOUR KIND TO INFILTRATE DECENT SOCIETY.
“EVERYBODY’S AFRAID TO SAY WHAT THEY REALLY THINK, BUT I KNOW WHAT THEY’RE THINKING AND SO DO YOU! NO NORMAL PERSON WOULD WANT A CREATURE LIKE YOU HAVING ACCESS TO THEIR CHILDREN.
“I DON’T KNOW WHAT MCGONAGALL WAS THINKING WHEN SHE HIRED YOU. EITHER SHE’S COMPLETELY LOST HER MARBLES OR YOU’VE MANIPULATED HER SOMEHOW. WHO KNOWS WHAT KIND OF DARK MAGIC YOU’VE ACCESS TO?
“EITHER WAY, I’M NOT GOING TO SIT BACK AND STAY QUIET. I’M NOT AFRAID TO SAY WHAT I’M THINKING AND I’LL BE OWLING THE MINISTER AND LETTING HIM KNOW WHAT I THINK AS WELL.”
As soon as the shrieking stopped and the Howler burst into flames, Blackburn got up and hurried out of the Great Hall.
Both Neville and McGonagall rose from their seats. McGonagall nodded at Neville and sat back down, while he left the hall.
Rasmus caught Rose’s eye.
“All right, Rose,” he said quietly. “I see what you mean.”
Awful though the scene had been, Rose couldn’t help giving him a slight smile. She hadn’t liked fighting with him.
Conversation, however, didn’t resume too easily, at least among Rose and her friends. None of them were quite sure what to say about what had just happened, yet talking of anything else seemed awkward too. All in all, Rose was happy when lunchtime came to an end and it was time for afternoon classes to begin.
“What do we have next?” she heard an older student ask another.
“Transfiguration,” the other replied rather uncomfortably.
Rose looked up. She thought the second guy was the other new Ravenclaw prefect. Maybe she’d ask Lucy that evening if she’d had Transfiguration after lunch and if so, how Blackburn had been.
She’d almost forgotten her intention to do so, until dinner time, when Blackburn was noticeably absent from the staff table.
Had she turned up to afternoon classes at all, Rose wondered.
“Lucy?” She hurried after her cousin as they left the hall.
“Did you have Professor Blackburn after lunch today?”
Lucy’s face grew serious. “Yeah.”
“How was she?”
Lucy sighed. “I think she was pretty upset, to be honest. She looked rather as if she’d been crying. I went up to her at the end of class and asked if she was all right. I sort of thought I should, you know, being a prefect and all.”
“What did she say?”
“Said she was fine, but I don’t think she was really. I wasn’t sure what else to say to her, so I just said the people who send those things are just weirdoes and not worth taking any notice of and she thanked me and said I was kind. I felt really sorry for her.”
Rose bit her lip. “How can people do things like that? Send people those kind of messages, I mean.”
Lucy shrugged. “Weirdoes. Trying to make themselves feel important or make their point at all costs or something, I suppose.” She looked at Rose closely. “Look, don’t you start worrying about it. Professor Blackburn is a teacher. I’m sure she can take care of herself.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Rose said doubtfully.
She couldn’t quite get the look on Blackburn’s face as she’d stared at the Howler out of her head. It wasn’t so much that she looked upset as that she’d looked so totally stunned, as if she was at a total loss for how to deal with it.
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