Chapter 17 : Exploding Cauldrons
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For the first few days there were no pranks - it took a while for the third-years to get used to lessons again, and now they were beginning optional subjects as well. Severus had chosen Ancient Runes, Care of Magical Creatures, and after a conversation with Etor over the summer had asked to take Arithmancy as well. Apparently it was fascinating, and at the very least is provided a solid grounding in maths. And it could sometimes be applied to potioneering, especially when considering stirring counts and brewing times for less sensitive stages (where ten seconds too long could cause an explosion).
Care of Magical Creatures could be useful too, as not all potion ingredients came from plants. Extracting venom, harvesting eggs without being hurt, and tracking down useful creatures would all be useful skills and would save a lot of money in potions ingredients. Ancient Runes because Severus liked a challenge, and it seemed to be a sensible subject with right and wrong answers instead of opinions and different viewpoints.
Remus was taking Ancient Runes and Care of Magical Creatures with him - they'd decided together. Lyall had taught Remus at home since he'd been bitten and was an expert on the subject. He had taken his son out to observe all kinds of different creatures in the woods behind the house and in remote lakes. Magical creatures were all around, if you knew where to look. So when Remus was choosing he had picked Care of Magical Creatures first, then agreed with Severus that Ancient Runes sounded the most interesting of those remaining.
In fact James, Sirius, and Lily were also taking Care of Magical Creatures. James and Sirius added divination, on the pretext that it sounded easy. Lily chose Arithmancy, and within a week she and Severus had decided that it seemed a more logical alternative to Divination. They were learning to predict the future, and their lessons did not revolve around finding vague shapes in tea leaves.
Severus was the only one to be taking three subjects - the others told him quite clearly that he was mad, but Professor McGonagall had agreed that his request could be arranged. It just meant that he did not have as many free periods, and that he had more homework. At least, having spent the summer learning advanced potion creation and brewing techniques, standard lessons were easy.
He missed the time with Etor. Especially when during potions lessons. For the potions they were set, poor stirring technique or an extra large drop of salamander blood wouldn't cause the cauldron to explode (Etor used a muggle tool called a "pipette" to measure out small volumes, if he didn't do it by magic, but in third year potions lessons that was unnecessary). Severus had started off working with either Remus of Lily, but quickly Slughorn had asked him to partner Peter Pettigrew. Peter seemed to ruin his potion every time, regardless of how closely he was watched, and his friend Greta who worked with him usually was little better.
Peter tried hard; Severus could say that for him. Actually, working with him was rather interesting, Severus decided. Peter did his best, and Severus guided him through each step slowly so that he could manage it. Severus felt he learnt more from teaching Peter than through brewing the potion himself, and decided that if becoming a potioneer didn't work out he could always be a professor. It might be a more stable career, and he could do research on the side.
Of course there were the lessons when he made the mistake of glancing across the room for a moment and taking his eye off Peter and the Potion. The first time that happened, he had his shield charm around the cauldron almost before he realised what he was doing. Well, that kind of thing had been a daily exercise with Etor. The potioneer would throw something at him, or blow something up nearby, when he wasn't expecting it. He barely murmured "Protego" now, and it worked just as well as saying it clearly. In fact he was pretty sure he'd managed to do it silently at least once, but when he tried deliberately it didn't work.
So by the time Slughorn had waddled over to deal with the mess, Severus had almost finished working through the string of clean-up spells. He finally took down the shield charm, turned around, and realised that Slughorn was staring at him. He'd forgotten that they weren't actually expected to do this clean-up work themselves, despite the fact Etor considered it the most important part of potioneering to learn (it was probably too dangerous, in case something was missed, because the spells wouldn't be too hard).
"Could I have a word after the lesson, Severus?" Slughorn didn't sound annoyed, just surprised. Severus said that yes, of course they could, and watched as Slughorn did something with his wand in the air. Probably checking that Severus had actually dealt with everything. "You still have plenty of time, if you would like to try again. Spare cauldrons are in the corner."
Second time through, Peter was rather shame-faced and less willing to do anything without Severus checking and encouraging him. That was good, but time-consuming, and Severus actually did a lot of it himself to save time. Potioneering was something learnt with practise, and he'd had more practise than most.
After the lesson, he stopped by Slughorn's desk as the rest of the class filed out. Perhaps he shouldn't have used the spells - instinct had kicked in, and he hadn't thought about it. A lot of the class probably thought he'd been showing off.
"Why did you react like that, Severus? I have never taught you to clean up after an exploded cauldron."
"Remember the party you held, when you introduced me to Etor Damocles? I spent the holiday with him, and he taught me a lot about potions including what to do if something goes wrong. He told me to learn the spells, so I did, and- I suppose it's just habit."
"He's been teaching you? That explains a lot. Always an exceptional student, and I must say that you are going the same way. That was a perfect run of clean-up spells, something which must have taken a bit of practise to memorise. And those reactions! The quick reaction wasn't really necessary, you know - we wouldn't let third-years attempt that kind of potion."
"Yes sir, I realised afterwards. Etor's been teaching me to react quickly, as that is important for an experimental potion. I didn't think; I just did it. Would you like me not to do it in future?"
"Or course not, dear boy. In fact it could be a good idea for everyone to learn that - as you say, it is important for experimental potions and that just about defines the concoctions some of them create!" He laughed, not caring that Severus did not join in. "I was going to ask whether you would like extra lessons with me, perhaps at the weekends or in the evenings. You don't seem to find anything in class difficult, and it would be a shame to waste that talent."
Severus' heart leapt. Extra potions lessons, privately, doing advanced stuff. "I'd like that, sir. In lessons, we only brew existing potions from instructions and that just takes practise. I can always use more practise. What I'd really like is to learn more theory, like Etor was teaching me - maybe how the potions we brew in lessons actually work. What all of the different numbers mean, and how they're calculated..."
"I will think about it and let you know. I was planning to teach you more complex potions, the OWL level ones then even beyond. But you wouldn't be interested in that?"
"I'd be interested, but I'd do that anyway in the next few years and it is just learning techniques. I want to create potions and do research, like Etor, so I need to understand properly what is going on. He was teaching me muggle science as well, and you'd be surprised just how important it is to brewing."
"I'll see what I can do. Now is there somewhere else you should be?" For some reason, Slughorn now sounded less enthusiastic. Severus took the hint and left quickly, to find his friends waiting for him outside the classroom.
They set on him immediately with questions. What were the spells he'd done, and what had Slughorn said to him. Severus didn't stop walking, pointing out that the break was almost over and they had lessons to go to. Then he explained what had happened, giving those who didn't know a brief overview of his summer.
They had to split up not too long after as Severus and Lily had Arithmancy, James and Sirius continuing up to Divination. Remus had a free lesson, so he would try to get some work done in the library - Severus felt bad leaving him alone, but there was nothing he could do about it.
"I can't believe you learnt so much over just the holidays. Can you teach me some of it?" Lily was sitting next to Severus as they waited for the lesson to begin.
"Sure, just ask me when we're both free. It'd make a nice change from teaching Peter; he tries hard, but-"
"I know! If anything, he's worse than Greta, and it would help if they didn't make gooey eyes at each other across the lab when they're supposed to be concentrating." Lily had been paired with Greta Catchlove, and seemed to have a similar task to Severus. It was a good tactic on Slughorn's part, Severus thought, putting the class into pairs so that the better brewers could help those struggling. And separating Sirius and James was a good move, too.
Perhaps some of the other teachers should have followed Slughorn's example. Mysterious hovering chalk doing its best to avoid Professor McGonagall's grip landed Sirius and James in their second detention of the term - although she did congratulate them on their mastery of the hover charm. It didn't stop them from repeating the prank in one of Kettleburn's theory classes, when the students were rewarded by a rather more agitated response. Unfortunately for them, the pranksters didn't know when to stop and became a little overconfident. Three detentions in the first two weeks of term.
"Probably a new school record," McGonagall made the mistake of saying when she gave them their fourth (rapid hair-growth charms on a couple of fourth-year Slytherins). As might be expected, that got the boys thinking. What was the record for a single year? Obviously Filch would know, but they were hardly going to go up and ask him...
Severus was almost asleep when he was disturbed by movement at the other side of the room. The curtains on Sirius' and James' beds were swaying slightly. The door was open, which was probably what had disturbed him, but as he looked it was pulled closed carefully from the outside. There were footsteps going down the stairs, and a muffled giggle. Severus was tempted to stay where he was, but now he'd been disturbed he'd be wondering what was going on and not be able to go to sleep. Maybe James and Sirius were setting up a prank. Or could they have something more serious in mind?
Careful not to wake Remus - who was feeling the effects of the approaching full moon - he descended to the common room to find the other boys hesitating by the portrait hole. "What about the Fat Lady? Are you sure she won't tell?" Sirius's whisper carried, and he was clearly beginning to lose confidence in whatever plan they'd made.
"She won't; Dad used to sneak out all the time, he says, and she told him off but if he was caught it was only by Filch. He shouldn't be too hard to avoid - come on, we discussed everything. What's the worst that can happen, anyway? Another detention?" James was practically bouncing up and down with impatience, and Sirius took a deep breath. "Not worried about letting the family name down, are you?" James teased.
"Where are you going?" They had been about to leave, but they span at Severus' murmur. "I'll come with you-" If they were going to be wandering round the castle at night, he wasn't going to run scared. He accompanied a werewolf every full moon!
"Not tonight, Sev- we've got something planned and it'll be easier with less of us. Tell you what in the morning. And what if Remus wakes up and sees us all gone?" James sounded impatient, but Severus tried to ignore it. They were talking to him now, and that was already an improvement on last year. He wondered how many secret outings they'd had last year, when he was really asleep. Actually, probably none if Sirius was still worried about the Fat Lady telling.
"OK, maybe another time. Tell be everything in the morning- oh, and don't forget that pesky cat of Filch's." He disappeared back up to bed, resolving to go out on his own or with Remus some time. There was no point in pushing to go now; he'd only sound desperate.
When he woke up, James and Sirius were both in bed and fast asleep. Severus and Remus got up and dressed then turned their attention to their sleeping friends. "I suppose we should wake them up, or they'll be late for lessons," said Remus.
"I'd suggest taking the opportunity to prank them, but-"
"We'd never be safe again! Nah, we'd better be nice." Remus took a deep breath. "MORNING! BREAKFAST TIME!" James opened his eyes at the shout, blinking blearily. Sirius just rolled over and buried himself more deeply in his blankets. Remus continued in a normal voice. "We're going down to breakfast in five minutes. You coming?"
"Go away," came a mumble from under Sirius' duvet.
"OK then, we'll be in the common room. If you're not down in five minutes, we'll go," Severus said brightly. Ignoring the groans, he and Remus left their dorm-mates to do as they chose - they'd done their job, making sure the others were up.
Lily was bouncing on her heels at the bottom of the stairs. "Come on! I'm hungry, if you aren't."
"We said we'd give James and Sirius five minutes. If they're not here after that time, we'll go without them." Severus flumped down in an armchair and they did the same, and after a minute Lily leant forward with an impish grin.
James and Sirius didn't turn up in the five minutes they'd been given, so the three walked down to the Great Hall together still discussing how to cause maximum disruption - and not get caught.
"We could do something to the Slytherins, maybe?" suggested Severus.
Remus wrinkled his nose. "James and Sirius always target them. It's not really fair, is it? How about Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff instead?"
"We can't hurt Hufflepuffs! They're just too-"
"Don't you think they might sometimes get tired of being seen like that?" Lily interrupted Severus. "Maybe they'd enjoy a bit of excitement for once..." she trailed off.
"How is it worse than picking on Slytherins all the time? You know, I bet they get really bored of being the sweet hardworking ones all of the time. Wouldn't you?"
Severus raised his eyebrows at Lily. "It looks like you have, anyway!"
"In two years' time we'll be taking our OWLs. Then NEWTs, then away from Hogwarts to find work. If we don't do it now, when are we going to get an opportunity to, you know- test the limits a bit. And you're as studious as I am! More so, if anything. Who spent their entire holiday studying advanced potioneering?"
The owls had already arrived when they reached the table, and one was hopping on the table at their usual place. It held out a leg and Remus tucked the money into a pouch as Lily picked up the Daily Prophet.
"Come on, Lily, put some food on the plate before you start reading!"
Lily didn't respond, scanning down the page in silence. Her face was pale. "Sev, look at this." She shoved the paper in his direction and he swallowed his mouthful of toast quickly. He pulled it closer, seeing the picture on the front page. The green skull and snake.
They'd almost forgotten with the excitement of the new school year that out there a war was still building. There were more muggle casualties, but the main article was on the death of a pure-blood called Philip Shacklebolt. He'd been found dead the previous night, his body showing signs of the Cruciatus curse. Apparently he'd been Head Auror and had tried to enforce new muggle protection legislation. Had been too active and too vocal in general. So this Lord Voldemort was willing to kill pure-bloods to get his way; he wasn't just focussed on muggles and muggle-borns.
Lily voiced what they were all thinking. "Should we really be pranking when-"
Severus hesitated before answering. "I think we might need some fun in our lives. Something to fight for, to keep us from giving up. And to show You-Know-Who and his followers that he can't scare us that easily."
"You'd be stupid not to be scared," pointed out Remus.
"But we don't need to act it. Still, instead of just making life hard the rest of the school, how about we give them something to enjoy? Something to keep their minds off what's happening- out there. Are there any teachers that no-one likes, maybe?"
Lily shrugged. "It's too early to really say about Professor Arulo. Shall we get a bit more of a picture of her, then decide?" They all glanced up to the top table, where the new defence teacher sat picking at her toast with a sour expression as her eyes roamed the hall suspiciously. The three looked back down at their own food quickly before she saw them looking.
"Maybe not up to Picardy's standards, but I can't see people jumping to her defence," said Severus. "What is it with all these new teachers, anyway? You'd think a school of Hogwarts' prestige could find some decent Defence teachers who didn't have to be replaced every year..."
Professor Arulo paced up and down the room. "I have looked at the work that you have done over the past two years and marked the tests that I set you last week. You have studied magical creatures and basic defensive magic, as well as minor jinxes and hexes. However there are wide gaps in your knowledge, in terms of offensive magic. So you can defend yourself against mild curses. What use is that likely to be? Do you expect attackers to restrict themselves to the spells that you have learnt to block? Creating a flexible defence is NEWT-level work, but to be able to work a flexible defence you must understand the spells that you are deflecting. Of course these spells are not appropriate to teach third-year students, so we will study only the theory. Wands away."
"Wands away" was not a promising start to a lesson, but while perhaps not fun it was certainly an interesting hour. They studied the principles behind various wand motions: the fast "flick" at the end of a powerful spell was to maximise kinetic energy, which at the end of the motion was instantaneously transferred into magical energy; and there were certain forms common to all spells of a certain type, like fire or water.
"At NEWT level you will also study non-verbal spells, and if you are ever faced by a real enemy they will hardly shout out incantations to warn you of what is about to hit you. Instead, you may watch the wand to read the components of the spell and so predict it before it is released."
"Now, does anyone have a prediction as to the result of this motion?" She moved her wand to trace a U shape in the air. After a slight pause, Lily's hand was the first in the air, but the teacher ignored her to focus on Remus. "Yes, Mr Lupin?"
"Is it flight?"
"You could indeed describe it as flight. A crude way to put it; this motion corresponds to weightlessness, or the absence of gravity. Can any of you name a spell in which this motion is used?" Lily put her hand up again, but this time she indicated a Ravenclaw boy. "Mr Shingleton?"
"A basic example. And if I am not mistaken that is the clue which told you that this motion indicated weightlessness, or 'flight'. You see, this is the secret to understanding an unfamiliar motion. Look for a spell you know in which it is used, and that will give you some idea of its identity. Now I will show you the wand movement, or path, for an advanced spell that you will not have encountered and you will see whether you can identify the components and so the purpose of the spell."
They left the lesson feeling that it was a great step up from the previous year - not just learning lists of spells but understanding how they worked. A bit like what Severus had been doing over the holiday, he realised, but with spells instead of potions.
"Well, she's not soft," said Remus on the way out; Sirius and James had managed to earn themselves another detention each for charming balls of paper to fly around the room. Arulo had vanished the paper mid-air and homed in on the culprits before they realised that she'd noticed their prank. The pair had looked strangely unfazed and had shot out of the door and disappeared to somewhere or other the moment the class had been dismissed.
Lily sniffed slightly. "I suppose she knows what she's talking about."
Severus glanced at her. "I was going to ask you - any idea why she was ignoring you?" Lily gave a tiny shake of her head.
"Maybe she realised you knew all the answers so wanted to give other people a chance," suggested Remus.
"But she let Gaspard answer something and that boy is a genius." Severus wondered how the Ravenclaw was doing with his self-stirring cauldron. Lily was right; he certainly was more capable than any of the other third-years. Then she tugged him through a tapestry into a hidden passage, and Remus followed. "Are we going with one of her lessons, then?"
"Um, are you sure that's wise? You saw how quickly she caught on to James and Sirius," Remus pointed out.
"Is there a single teacher who wouldn't have caught James and Sirius?"
"I guess- but I've got an idea for the whole school, not just in a lesson."
"Really? What is it, then?" Lily prompted.
"Maybe not here?"
"OK, we'll find somewhere private later," said Severus. "How about the library? There's hardly anyone in here at the moment, and I've got the key so we can get in outside of opening times."
"I don't think you should abuse your position, Sev."
"I've got the key because I help look after it. We can always do some shelving while we talk!
A/N: I am still working on this fic! Honest! Just slowly.
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