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Chapter 3 : 2.1: Athena
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“How was rounds?” Michael asked, waving a hand in greeting as she entered the room. The quill still grasped in his hand spilt ink across the table and onto his shoulder, and he cursed as he cleaned it up.
“Pretty good,” Athena replied, taking a seat. Padma, Terry and Anthony were all still up, surrounded by crumpled Honeydukes wrappers and half-empty bottles of Butterbeer. She took a sheet of parchment, glanced at the textbook on the table – they were working on their Herbology essays– and scrawled a title as she continued. “Amelia’s really cool, she’s excellent at Transfiguration so I’m sending for some of the old Transfiguration books we have at home for her – ”
“Oh no,” Michael groaned.
“Here we go again,” Terry added.
“What?” Athena asked, irritated.
“Poor girl, there’s no escaping her fate – ”
“She’s on the list now.”
“She doesn’t know what the list is,” Terry stage-whispered.
“Amelia’s on your role model list,” Michael concluded.
“I don’t have a role model list.”
“Athena,” Michael began patiently, “You hoard mentors the way third years hoard Honeydukes.”
“I do not – ”
“You do too and you know it.” Michael began ticking names off his fingers. “Your mum, your dad – ”
“They’re my parents. Show me someone who doesn’t look up to their parents.”
“Nymphadora Tonks – ”
“She’s the first new Auror in a decade, and one of the youngest ever – ”
“Professor McGonagall – ”
Athena pointed a stern finger at him. “I am not alone in that.”
“Professor Flitwick – ”
“Oh, come on. We all adore Flitwick.”
“Your aunt Julia – ”
“Fine. But you guys can’t say you don’t have role models.”
“Role model, singular,” Terry said. “My mum.”
“Yeah, my mum too,” Padma agreed.
“Maybe my brother…” Anthony mused. “No, actually, just Mum.”
“Mum,” Michael agreed, with the air of a man delivering his trump card.
Athena sighed exasperatedly. “Amelia’s not on any list. Who’s got the Companion to Plant Studies?”
The next morning Athena sat at the Ravenclaw table in a sleep-deprived daze, dreading first period Transfiguration. They had ended up going to bed around four in the morning, having finished their Herbology essays and made a good start on History of Magic – and while they had trained themselves to run on ridiculously little sleep since third year (when their optional subjects had both addded to their workloads and proved fascinating enough to warrant extra-long study hours) they had gotten out of the habit over summer, and she wasn’t the only one slumped over her breakfast.
“Try coffee,” an impossibly cheery voice told her, and she looked up to see Amelia across the table from her, one arm propped on Oliver Hobbs’ shoulder. “Fifth year’s as good a time as any to pick up the habit.” She took a long gulp from the huge, steaming mug in her hand and sighed contentedly.
“I’m not a coffee person,” Athena replied dubiously. She didn’t know enough about coffee to know whether she was a coffee person or not, but she knew it smelled bitter and tended to be favoured by Muggleborn sixth and seventh years. Then again, she also knew that those Muggleborn sixth and seventh years swore by it during the essay and exam seasons.
“Nobody starts out as a coffee person. You just drink it till you become one.”
She must have looked unconvinced, because Amelia fished some lint from her pockets and turned it into a large mug not unlike the one she was holding, tossing it casually in the air while she reached across the table for a strange contraption Athena had never noticed before.
“That was amazing,” she blurted. “The magic, I mean. Non-verbal Transfiguration.”
“Would you believe me if I said I wasn’t showing off?”
“Not in the slightest.”
“Good.” Amelia slid the mug over to her, now filled with milky coffee. “Three sugars, by the way. Two because you look like a sugar person anyway, and another because you’re new to the world of coffee.”
“How do I look like a sugar person?”
“I have an unparalleled ability to read people’s hot beverage preferences in their eyes,” Amelia deadpanned, draining her mug and scooping her bag from the floor. “Enjoy the coffee. Oliver, you still wanting to bug Binns before class?”
“Always,” Oliver responded, and the two of them left.
Michael caught her eye. “Role model,” he mouthed, but Athena ignored him and took a cautious sip of the coffee. It was surprisingly good.
Transfiguration was, unsurprisingly, an unmitigated disaster. It had never been Athena’s strongest subject, and though she had practiced Vanishing Spells before rounds the night before, any progress she had made was gone. She succeeded only in turning her snail slightly more translucent than it had been at the beginning of the lesson, and as her classmates filed out into the hallway looking a mixture of relieved and disappointed at the end of the lesson, she pulled Professor McGonagall aside.
“Professor – I’ve been having some real problems with the Vanishing Spells, though I have been practicing outside class, I’m just having some issues with the mechanics of the spell itself, and I was wondering if you could – ”
“I’m afraid I can’t give you any additional help, Miss Selwyn,” Professor McGonagall said firmly, cutting her off. “I have a thousand students to teach, and simply to not have the time to individually assist anyone outside class time – particularly not students who are already gaining acceptable passing grades. Perhaps you could seek help from a fellow student – Hermione Granger, I’m sure you’ve noticed, mastered the spell on the first day.”
Athena nodded, though she had no intention of asking Hermione Granger for help.
“Alternatively, you could ask an older student,” McGonagall continued shrewdly. “If your competitive nature stands in the way of seeking help from your peers.”
She thought briefly of protesting that, but had no convincing arguments against it. McGonagall was absolutely right, of course, and maybe she should ask Hermione (to prove a point, admittedly, but she didn’t think Hermione would mind) before remembering Amelia’s mug at breakfast that morning.
“I think I’ll ask Amelia Greenslade.”
“She would be a good choice,” McGonagall said thoughtfully. “I’ve often referred struggling students to her, as a matter of fact – not that you fall into the struggling students category, Miss Selwyn – but bear in mind she has a very full timetable this year.”
“Right, of course. I’ll talk to her.”
“I have a proposal for you,” Athena said by way of greeting, sliding into the seat opposite Amelia at the Ravenclaw table – briefly realising she hadn’t seen her with the Slytherins for days – and pouring herself a glass of pumpkin juice. “You know those books I was telling you about?”
“In return for them, you tutor me in Transfiguration.”
“Deal,” Amelia said immediately. “What do you need help with?”
“Vanishing Spells, at the moment. But I’ve never been strong at Transfiguration, so this isn’t the last of it.”
“By ‘never been strong,’ do you mean that you get Exceeds Expectations but being in the presence of a master such as myself makes you second-guess your abilities, or do you mean that you’re actually legitimately terrible?”
“Actually profoundly average, and as you’ve probably guessed, that’s not what I’m about.”
“Funnily enough, I had gotten that impression from you. When are you free?”
She shrugged. “Tonight?”
“No time like the present. I’ll go have a word with McGonagall, see if we can use her classroom. Meet me outside the library though – we can hunt for somewhere else if she says no. Say seven-thirty?”
Within twenty minutes of their lesson Amelia had proven herself to be an effective and encouraging teacher, immediately pinpointing Athena’s weak spots – “You’re very…instinctive with your wandwork. You use it like an extension of your arm, which is great, by the way – I wish I had that kind of – natural ability, if you know what I mean? – but Transfiguration is less about instinct and more about precision. No matter how good a witch you are, or how powerful, or how natural your wandwork, you’re not going to get anywhere with Transfiguration unless you concentrate on what you’re doing and make everything as deliberate as you can. Also – forget snails for now. Living things are always harder to Vanish than inanimate objects, and it’s more encouraging to see your progress. We’ll start with this button.”
Athena attempted the spell again, concentrating hard on the wand movements Amelia had taught her, and the button turned almost invisible.
“Good, good! See the difference that concentration makes? Though you need to work on your incantations as well – remember Latin is a foreign language, and you should treat the incantations like that. Pretend I’m Caesar and impress me with your mastery of Latin pronunciation.”
“No no, the V is a W sound. E-wan-es-co. Don’t go church Latin on my ass.”
“Evanesco.” This time the button disappeared, and Athena turned, beaming. “How did you know to do that?”
“The Classical pronunciation.”
“Honestly? It started with me being pretentious. I studied Latin at school – I went to a posh primary school, and just kept teaching myself after I came here – and of course I insisted on using correct Classical pronunciation with my spells. It definitely works better with the more precise wandwork, but I didn’t know it actually made a difference until I told a couple of classmates to try it. So – never be afraid of innovation, γλαυκῶπις.”
The epithet – it could hardly be called a nickname – sent a rush of warmth through her as she tucked her wand back up her sleeve. She could feel her cheeks growing pink – they had a tendency to do that, of course, and it usually meant nothing by itself – but she felt slightly light-headed as well, and was incapable of not smiling.
“You’re an excellent teacher,” she said at length, in an attempt to attribute her uncharacteristic giddiness to Transfiguration success.
“You reckon?” Amelia looked pleased. “It’s all I want to do with my life, to be honest – but that would involve taking McGonagall’s job, and I’d feel awful – not only for job poaching, you know, but depriving hundreds of students of learning Transfiguration from the best of the best – but then again, she could take Dumbledore’s place. Whenever he retires or pops his clogs, whichever comes first – was that insensitive?”
“I want to be a teacher too,” Athena blurted, shocking herself with the words. It was one of those unspoken truths, one that she never wanted to actually speak aloud because as long as it remained unspoken, it couldn’t be all that true –
“Really?” Amelia asked curiously, oblivious to the bombshell Athena had just dropped on herself. “I got the impression you wanted to be an Auror.”
“I did – well, I do – it’s always been my ambition – ”
“Ambitions and dreams aren’t necessarily the same things. What would you teach? Defence Against the Dark Arts?”
“Yes. And therein lies the problem.”
“Maybe you’ll be the one to break the curse,” Amelia suggested. “Maybe it was cursed by some dedicated DADA prof back in the day, who decided nobody should hold the post if they were unworthy…” She trailed off.
Athena shook her head firmly. “No. It’s one of those – stupid dreams, even if I did manage to hold the post for a year, it’s become a joke now – they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel for anyone to teach it, and there’s no honour in that – and whatever eventually kicks me out of the job might affect my chances in the Auror Office – it’s just unrealistic. I’ll be happy as an Auror, and it’s a secure position that’ll bring honour to the family name – what?” she asked, seeing Amelia’s incredulous look.
“Bring honour to the family name?” Amelia repeated. “What is this, the eighteenth century?”
“What does the eighteenth century have to do with anything? We’re an old family, we’ve been held in high regard by the wizarding world for generations – I can’t do anything to jeopardise that. Don’t you have the same concerns?”
“Given that my family name belongs to the biggest piece of Muggle shit to walk God’s green earth, no.”
“When did your father leave?”
“Oh, seriously, you have got to stop doing that.” But Athena had learned the previous night that despite Amelia’s bluster about how do you know that stuff and okay someone must have told you, she was grateful for the opportunity to talk about things without ever having to say those big opening sentences – Isla Turpin broke my heart, my parents are divorced, my dad left. While Athena couldn’t quite empathise – she had an enduring fear of any kind of mind control or reading, even Amelia’s comment about the sugar that morning had thrown her – she could at least sympathise with that need.
She waited patiently now, and Amelia ran a hand through her hair –a nervous tic Athena hadn’t noticed before – and said quietly, “When I was ten. Mum put her foot down about me going to Hogwarts, so he put his foot out the door.”
“He doesn’t like magic?”
“He despises it.”
“It must be – freeing, in a way.” She was throwing caution to the wind now, and she knew it. “To not…have to conform to his standards, because you can’t conform to the biggest one, so you might as well…fuck them all.” The profanity tasted strange in her mouth, and she added hastily, “Not that it’s not awful, what he did. But you’re…free. Does that make any sense, or was that the ultimate spoiled rich girl speech?”
“It was a bit of a spoiled rich girl speech,” Amelia conceded, “But I know what you mean. And to be honest – I’d rather be poor and fatherless and free than a rich, confined daddy’s girl.”
“It’s not that bad,” Athena said firmly. “I can still choose my own path, I just – I guess I know my responsibilities, and what I owe to the family.”
“You don’t owe your family jack shit.”
“Maybe I’m just not phrasing things right. I’m proud of the family name, and I want to live up to it.”
Amelia frowned. “What are you dancing around? And it’s not being DADA teacher at Hogwarts, because curse or no curse that’s still going to make your family look good. I’ve seen this dance before.”
“I’m not dancing around anything.”
“You are. Maybe not consciously, but some nugget of truth has slammed into your subconscious like the goddamn Hogwarts Express.”
“That’s a real mixed metaphor.”
“Stop dodging the question. I get that you’re a private person, and I barely know you – but you know my deep dark secrets, so if you want to even the score a little, opportunity’s right there.”
Her heart was racing, though the nugget of truth Amelia had mentioned was still dancing out of the grasp of her conscious mind – even as she thought this, bits and pieces began slotting together, forming an impossibly familiar picture which she realised had been lying dormant, forgotten, ignored, hidden for a long time (now she was mixing the metaphors) but still did not translate itself into a coherent sentence.
She didn’t need coherency, though. Driven by instinct, impulse and an impossibly familiar truth, she slipped off the desk she’d been sitting on, pulled Amelia close and kissed her.
A/N: γλαυκῶπις (glaukopis) meaning "bright-eyed" is a common Homeric epithet for the goddess Athena.
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