Chapter 10 : Professor Gilbraith
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Some people are a little confused about the mailing list, so I am going to spell it out again. If you want to be on the mailing list for this story, just send an email to Agatha_OGrady(at)yahoo.com (replace (at) with @). Put "mailing list" in the subject line. If for some reason that doesn't work, then leave your email address in a review, but please try emailing me directly first.
Anyway, as you can probably tell from the quick lagtime between my last post and this one, this chapter practically wrote itself. I can't promise the next one will come as quickly (in fact, it probably won't), but I hope you like it anyway. Thanks!
Harry didn’t taste a bite of his dinner (“Are you kidding? You had three helpings of trifle!” Ron told him later), nor did he remember a word of Dumbledore’s welcoming speech (“Nothing important, I think he toned it down after how people reacted to the Sorting Hat,” Hermione had said), and he had no idea what the Gryffindor password might be (he did hear Neville muttering “Buttered crumpet” to himself all the next day, though he might have just been hungry). All the way back to the tower, Harry heard nothing but the Sorting Hat’s declaration of “Slytherin,” over and over again.
“How could it do that?” he asked for the umpteenth time. “How could it make such a huge mistake?”
“Dunno, man,” Ron answered. “Maybe it was still ticked it didn’t get to finish its song.”
“Oh, please,” said Hermione impatiently. “I don’t think it would put people in the wrong Houses just because it didn’t get to sing a stupid song.”
“Well, then what other explanation is there?” Harry snapped, throwing himself into his favorite armchair next to Serious, who yawned at him in annoyance. All the new Gryffindor first years were milling around, staring at the tapestries with interest or waiting for Ginny Weasley and Colin Creevey to show them the way to their new dormitories. Ananda should be here, he thought angrily.
“Maybe you’re slightly overlooking something, Harry,” said Hermione sarcastically. “She might just belong in Slytherin.”
“What?!” Harry stood up quickly, yelling so loudly many of the first years backed away in alarm. “You met her, Hermione, she’s not a Slytherin! She’s…she’s a Muggle-born for one thing—“
“So is Blaise Zabini, so are a lot of other Slytherins,” said Hermione calmly. “You-Know-Who himself was a half-blood. Besides, you said she was Mrs. Figg’s great-niece. There’s got to be magic blood in her somewhere.”
“Yeah, well, Ananda is nice, Ananda would never—“
“Never what? Never provoke bullies just so she could attack them later?”
“What’s your problem with her anyway? Little bit too much like a certain Miss Know-It-All I know?”
“If you’re suggesting I’m jealous of Ananda—“
“What? Is it beneath you to be jealous of a Slytherin?”
“Guys, calm down,” Ron said quietly. Ginny was trying to herd the transfixed first years up the stairs and away from the scene Harry and Hermione were causing. “Why’re you even mad anyway?”
“Because—“ Hermione stopped and caught her breath. “I’m not, I suppose. Though that jealousy comment was a little below the belt.”
“Sorry,” said Harry grudgingly. “I just don’t think Ananda is cut out for Slytherin.”
“Well, there’s nothing you can do about it now. But don’t let it make you treat her differently.”
“I wouldn’t do that! I just…want to make her understand what Slytherins are, is all.”
“You can’t…” Hermione trailed off. “Oh, never mind,” she said. “I’m going to bed.” She stomped up the girl’s stairs.
“You teaching tomorrow?” Ron asked on the way up to the boy’s dormitory.
“Yeah.” Harry knew Ron had gained more OWLs than he had, but his schedule would still be much fuller than Ron’s, as he was attending every Defense Against the Dark Arts class he could cram into his spare moments. So far he hadn’t looked at the schedule copy Lupin had given him; he supposed he was postponing the moment of panic for as long as he could.
In the boy’s dormitory, Seamus, Dean, and Neville greeted Harry warily, as they had witnessed the fight in the Common Room. Harry was too tired to talk much, and didn’t really want to answer summer questions, so he pulled the curtains around his bed closed after exchanging minimal pleasantries. Soon everyone else settled in. The last thing Harry heard, before the soft snores of Neville, was Dean saying:
“What I can’t wait for is when more DA meetings start.”
Silently, Harry groaned into his pillow. DA meetings. That was another thing he would have to fit in. Harry set his glasses on the small ledge above his bed, hoping no more unexpected obligations would creep up.
The next morning, at breakfast, Ananda came rushing over to the Gryffindor table the moment Harry sat down. Oblivious to the stares she was receiving from the other Gryffindor students, which ranged from surprise to downright hostility, she took the seat next to him and began a steady stream of chatter about her new house.
“…and our common room’s in a dungeon, Harry, seriously, it’s the coolest thing, and last night when I was reading by the fireplace I felt this really cold hand on my shoulder, and when I turned around, it was a ghost! I mean it, a real live ghost, well, not a live ghost obviously, but you know what I mean…he said his name was the Bloody Baron, and he and I were talking, and…”
“Morning, Ananda,” said Hermione, taking the next seat down. “What do you think of your new house?”
“I was just telling Harry, I think it’s great.”
“Imagine that,” said Hermione in a sweet voice, giving Harry a significant look.
“What classes do you have?” Harry asked, keen to change the subject.
Ananda reached into her rucksack, pulling out an ordinary homework binder into which she had neatly filed all her school papers. Hermione seemed grudgingly impressed. Opening to the first page, she said, “I have Potions first, then Defense Against the Dark Arts and History of Magic, then lunch. After that I have Herbology, Transfiguration, and Charms.”
“Not a bad day,” said Ron, who had just entered and overheard the end of the conversation. “Potions first thing in the morning though, that’s rough. I usually like a few hours to mentally prepare for being in the same room with Snape.”
“Professor Snape?” asked Ananda, her eyebrows raised. “He came in last night, he’s our head of House. I thought he was a little…intimidating. But he seemed to really know his stuff. He told us all about Potions, I’m actually looking forward to it. I liked chemistry best in school before.”
“Yeah, didn’t you want to be a doctor?”
“Yes, but I’ve changed my mind,” she said seriously. “Now I’m going to be a Healer and then Headmaster, just like Dilys Derwent. Maybe I’ll work for the Ministry too.”
“Sounds good,” said Ron, grinning. “Well, you’d probably better get going, Snape’s dungeon’s a ways away.”
“Okay. By the way, Harry, I forgot to tell you before, I like your glasses. See you at lunch!” said Ananda, smiling as she hauled her rucksack, which was many times bigger than she was, through the massive double doors.
“Don’t say a word,” Harry growled, as Hermione opened her mouth with a smug look on her face. She shot dagger eyes at him and stalked out of the Great Hall as well. Harry looked down at his still-full breakfast plate.
“I’m not hungry anymore,” he said, sliding off the bench. Ron stared longingly at his kippers and bacon, but followed.
“What class have we got first?” Harry asked as they made their way past the great staircase.
“History of Magic,” Ron said glumly.
“Oh, that’s to the…what? History of Magic? We both failed that OWL.”
“Yeah, us and everyone else. There was a special note on your schedule, didn’t you read it?”
Harry dug around in his bag until he found his crumpled schedule. Sure enough, there was a small asterisk next to History of Magic, 9 AM Monday. At the bottom of the parchment, a note read:
Due to exceptionally poor test performance, everyone who achieved above a T on their OWL will be placed in a History of Magic remedial course. Students with an E or better will take the standard History of Magic NEWTs preparation course; however, class size limitations force us to combine both of you with the remedial course.
“Two more years of Binns!” Ron moaned as they turned the corner with other sixth years, all of whom looked exceptionally woebegone. “Just when I thought I was free…”
“It’s not going to be Binns anymore,” Harry said.
“What do you mean? We have a new—”
At that moment they entered the History of Magic classroom, and Ron’s question was answered for him.
The plump, curly-haired woman from last night was sitting at a new desk in front of the room; Binns had obviously not needed one. She was wearing a suit again today, which was made of a nubbly sort of material woven in black and white; Parvati and Lavender were eyeing it with interest. The rest of the room was different as well. It was decorated in a way Harry normally associated with the professor’s offices rather than their classrooms, and the style seemed to be a combination of Professors Moody and Umbridge. Like Umbridge, this woman had covered nearly every square inch of the room with colorful things; however, as with Moody, all these things seemed useful.
Around the perimeter of the room, above the casement windows and large door, stretched two timelines that appeared to contain the entire history of the world squeezed into tiny columns and printed in bright colors. The top one was all Muggle events—the building of the pyramids, the Hundred Years War, and so on—while the one below it showed Wizarding history; it was even harder to read because the little soldiers used to indicate battles kept brandishing their swords and the sacked cities appeared to be actually on fire. They were fascinating to look at, and many students were standing up on chairs to squint at the tiny letters. Below the timelines, the walls were covered with three-dimensional maps which had arrows squiggling across them to denote the progress of major battles, large, complicated family trees, and pictures of knights in armor and women in tight corsets. Some of them were magical, and their occupants preened and pointed out the function of their various costumes, but others, like the pictures in Neville’s gardening books, were stationary and attracting curious stares from their magical counterparts.
At the front of the room, the woman was rapping a ruler on her desk. “Could everyone sit down, please? The lesson’s about to start, I promise there’ll be time to look at the walls later.” She had a strong Welsh accent. Harry and Ron found Hermione agog on the other side of the room at a poster showing the mechanics of a trebuchet in slow motion, and they all took seats near the front.
“Good morning, class. My name is Professor Gilbraith and I’ll be your new History of Magic teacher. Actually, that’s a bit inaccurate. It would be better to say I’m going to be your History teacher, because it’s impossible to understand the history of the magical world without understanding non-magic history as well.”
Everyone silently digested this, and Harry could tell a few students were very skeptical. He himself couldn’t imagine what Muggles would have to do with giant wars and goblin uprisings.
Professor Gilbraith continued. “Your previous professor’s notes were a bit…patchy,” she said delicately. “It seems he stopped changing his lesson plans in 1811, which obviously leaves out a few important details. But it doesn’t matter, because you guys didn’t learn anything from him anyway, right?”
A few of the students chuckled at this.
“I had a look at the OWLs, and they don’t focus on the Muggle side of history at all. So I’ve decided to go back to square one. For some of you—“ and here she looked at Hermione and a Ravenclaw Harry thought was called Tabitha Stevens, “this will mean a lot of old news. However, I think learning the events in context will make them easier to remember, as well as make them more meaningful to all of you. So, let’s begin. Mr…”
“Good God, don’t call me Ma’am. My ma’s a Ma’am.”
Neville was staring at his desk, his ears red. “Sorry,” he said.
“So, what should we call you then?” Dean asked from the back.
“Umm…how about Cerys?”
Everyone looked uncomfortable.
“All right, no first names. I guess we’ll just stick to Professor Gilbraith then. Anyway, Mr. Longbottom, could you please dim the lights for me?”
“What? Oh, sure,” said Neville, waving his wand in the air. The classroom lights went nearly dead, leaving only a pale glow to write by.
“Thank you,” said Professor Gilbraith, walking behind her desk and through the door to her office. Whispers began to fly throughout the room.
“What do you think of her?” Harry asked Ron quietly.
“Well, she beats Binns,” he answered. “At least she has a pulse. Better get the Hangman ready, though, just in case.”
“Right,” said Harry, drawing a little Hangman stick figure at the side of the parchment. Hermione crossed her arms in annoyance as Professor Gilbraith came back in wheeling a slide projector. She stood on her chair to pull the white screen down, and asked Ernie MacMillan to operate the projector for her. He tapped it with his wand and it flickered to life. The first picture was of a piece of stone covered in a tight pattern of tiny triangles.
“All right, who can tell me what this is?”
Harry looked to Hermione, expecting to see her hand fly into the air as it always had whenever anyone asked her a question. But she was squinting at the stone with a look of complete confusion, tilting her head as though sure inspiration would come if the triangles were viewed on their side.
“Um…maybe it’s some kind of fossil?” said Justin Finch-Fetchley.
“It kind of looks like armor,” said Padma Patil.
“Well, this isn’t a great slide,” said Professor Gilbraith. “Actually, it’s cuneiform.”
Complete silence filled the room.
“Cuneiform,” she repeated, as though she students hadn’t heard her properly the first time. “You know, cuneiform. The writing of the ancient Mesopotamians.” Again, no one said anything. “Surely you know who the Mesopotamians are?”
Someone in the back asked, “Didn’t they live in South America?”
“No, they lived between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in what is now Iraq, you’re thinking of the Mayans, and they were in Mexico anyway.” Professor Gilbraith massaged the bridge of her nose with her two index fingers. “Okay, let’s back up. The Mesopotamians. Right. Make sure you get this down.” She shut off the projector and pulled up the screen, reaching into the chalk tray, which had been empty for as long as Harry had been in this classroom. “Didn’t your last professor use chalk?” she said desperately.
“Well, he was a ghost, he couldn’t pick it up…”
“Right, of course, I forgot.” She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “This is worse than I thought,” she muttered under her breath. Opening her eyes, she said, “All right. I’m just…going to head next door and find some chalk, and, um, you stay here and…I’ll be right back.” She went towards the door in the back on the classroom, but her hand never made it to the handle.
“Looking for this???”
It was Peeves, floating in midair and holding the sock full of chalk he had used last year to whack Professor Umbridge.
“Who are you?” asked Professor Gilbraith, looking up at the tiny man in the lurid orange bowtie who had just materialized in her classroom.
“Oooh, doesn’t know me, does she, didn’t anyone tell her about Peevesy?”
“Nope,” she said calmly. “Must have slipped their minds.”
Peeves looked a little taken aback by the news. “They hasn’t told you to watch out for Peeves? Peeves the Poltergeist?”
“Oh, you’re a poltergeist then? That’s interesting, I was under the impression that they were frightening.”
Peeves definitely seemed wrong-footed now. “Peeves is frightening! I’m ferocious and terrifying and the bane of Hoggywarts! Aren’t I?”
“You don’t seem ferocious to me,” said Professor Gilbraith, a small smile playing around her lips. “You look a bit ridiculous, if you want to know the truth. I mean come on, a bowtie? How can you expect to be taken seriously with a bowtie?”
In the air, Peeves seemed to deflate. “Peeves likes his bowtie,” he said petulantly. “Better than your silly duds.”
“To each their own, I suppose, but I’m not trying to scare you,” she said. “Anyway, did you want something?”
“What? Oh—yes. Wanted to…um…do…THIS!” Peeves smacked the chalk sock, though with none of his usual cackling aplomb; a small, dejected cloud of dust billowed out of it, smattering Professor Gilbraith’s black pumps like a snowfall on asphalt.
She raised her eyebrows. “Well, that was fairly immature,” she said. “What was the point of that?”
“Um, I thought it would be funny,” Peeves said, looking at the floor.
“Sorry, not laughing,” said Professor Gilbraith. She waited a beat, but Peeves obviously had nothing else to say. “Well, if that’s all, why don’t you be on your way?”
Peeves looked toward the door and at the room full of children, their desks covered with inkbottles to upset, their heads covered with hair to pull, and Professor Gilbraith standing there, looking at him like a rather pathetic puppy dog who had soiled her pant leg. “Going ‘cause I want to,” he finally spat, throwing the sock at the closed window and zooming huffily through the wall.
Harry was gobsmacked. Until now, he had never seen Peeves listen to anyone except the Weasley twins, who had ordered him to make Professor Umbridge’s life miserable when they escaped from Hogwarts last year. How on earth had Professor Gilbraith managed that? Around him, the other students had similarly shocked expressions.
“Wow, nice one,” said Dean.
“Cool!” squeaked Lavender from the side of the room.
Professor Gilbraith walked back to the front of the room with a small bounce in her step. Neville passed her the chalk sock, which had landed by his desk.
“Thank you, Mr. Longbottom.”
“Um, it’s Neville.”
She smiled. “Neville then,” she said. “All right, here we go.”
And she wrote MESOPOTAMIA in large letters on the chalkboard, which Harry, Ron, and everyone else in the room hastened to scribble down.
“That was a really good lesson!” Hermione raved after the bell rang, echoing a sentiment Harry heard out of a lot of other students as they walked down the hall.
“Yeah, she’s cool,” said Ron. Harry agreed; it had been a very interesting lesson, but his head was so full of bizarre names and places he was sure he’d never keep them all straight. It helped that he had actually taken notes this time; when he remembered writing the odd-looking words down, they seemed to make more sense.
“That homework’s going to take a while, though,” he said. Ron and even Hermione nodded emphatically; Professor Gilbraith had broken the class up into four groups, each of whom had to read a quarter of The Epic of Gilgamesh for next lesson and summarize it, paying special attention to what “the gods” did, as Professor Gilbraith said it could be the Muggle writer’s attempt to make sense of magical activity.
“Where are we next?” Harry asked.
Hermione and Ron looked at each other. “Uh, we have Potions,” said Ron carefully. “So you should probably go find Lupin.”
Except for one letter in which Hermione had pinned him down to say which OWLs he gained and which he didn’t, Harry had never discussed the impossibility of his dream of becoming an Auror with either of them. Yet, now that they were here, attending their first Potions lesson without Harry in six years, suddenly all the disappointment in himself rushed back.
“Are you all right?” Hermione asked. The bell rang, but neither Ron nor Hermione moved.
“Yeah,” said Harry heavily. “You’d better hurry, you don’t want Snape breathing fire at you the first day back.”
They both chuckled, but looked after Harry worriedly all the way down the hall. Harry turned and walked up the many flights of stairs to Professor Lupin’s classroom. Looking at his schedule, he checked to see who would be his first lesson. First Year, Ravenclaw and Slytherin, the parchment said. Harry sighed. Now he’d have to face Ananda in the company of her housemates for the first time. It was looking like the best part of the whole day was already behind him.
The Ravenclaws seemed like a nice lot, if a bit quiet and serious. The Slytherins, however, buoyed by a lesson with their head of House who, Harry was sure, had favored them to the exclusion of whatever House was unfortunate enough to share their class, sauntered in looking as though they owned the place. Harry noticed a group of three boys pointing to Lupin and giggling behind their hands. One of them howled softly. Harry’s fists clenched. Snape had certainly lost no time informing his students of Lupin’s condition.
To his credit, Lupin ignored the boys entirely. Tapping his wand on the podium, he said, “All right, may I have your attention? I would like everyone to put their books away, take out their wands, and come to the front of the room.”
Since the new objective of Defense Against the Dark Arts, Harry and Lupin had decided, would be to prepare the students for serious Dark attacks at as young an age as possible, the curriculum focusing on Dark creatures Harry had learned from Lupin in his third year was now being pushed into first. Therefore, the first lesson would be the boggart-in-the-wardrobe, though they had decided to have the students practice the charm without the boggart for at least two periods. This was good, as Filch hadn’t been able to find them a boggart yet.
Most of the students were milling around Professor Lupin’s desk hesitantly. Harry scanned the small faces for Ananda, but she wasn’t there. Where could she be? Suddenly Harry felt nervous. Perhaps some of the Slytherins had realized she didn’t belong in their House and ganged up on her…she could be in the hospital wing right now…
At that moment, the door opened and Ananda walked into the classroom, uninjured but slightly flustered, a piece of parchment in one hand and a quill in the other. “Sorry I’m late, sir. I got a little lost.”
“That’s all right, Miss…Hill, is it? Please try to be more punctual in the future.”
“Yes, sir,” said Ananda, blushing. She set her massive rucksack and the piece of parchment down at an empty table in the back. Looking at it, Harry could tell she’d been trying to draw a map of the castle corridors. She fished out her wand and stood with the others. Catching Harry’s eye, she mouthed, I’m sorry! Harry grinned quickly, then looked around at the other students to see if anyone saw him.
Meanwhile, Lupin was explaining the nature of a boggart to the students.
“A boggart is a creature which takes on the shape of whatever a person viewing it most fears. For instance, a person who is arachnophobic, like a good friend of mine, would open a drawer containing a boggart and see an exceptionally fearsome spider staring up at them.”
Many of the students gulped.
“However, it is important to remember that this is only an illusion; a boggart spider could no more give you a poisonous bite than—well, than Harry here could. Any questions?”
One of the giggling boys from earlier asked, “So, if I were afraid of bees, it would turn into a giant bee?”
“Or possibly a swarm of bees, but yes, that’s the general idea.”
“And if I were afraid of rats…”
“A very large rat, yes.”
One of his friends chimed in. “So, if I’m afraid of werewolves, will it turn into you then?”
The three boys exploded with laughter; many of the other Slytherins, and even a few Ravenclaws, joined in. Lupin was momentarily dumb with shock.
Harry, however, wasn’t. “Detention, all of you!” he snarled.
Everyone got quiet, the three Slytherin boys glaring mutinously. “Who’re you to tell us—“
“I’m a teaching assistant. Now shut up or I’ll give you another.”
The boy’s mouths hung open.
Lupin cleared his throat. “Well, I think you’ve all got the basics of the boggart down. I’d like you to go back to your desks and look up the exact definition in Gravely and Ghast’s Compendium of Dark Creatures. Harry, could you help me in my office for a moment?”
Once the door was closed, Lupin turned on him. “Harry, I know we decided this was going to be an equal partnership, but we never discussed you giving out punishments. If you start doing that, it’s going to cause a lot of resentment which won’t be good for either of us.”
“But they were mouthing off to you!”
“Yes, and the appropriate response would have been to take points away from their House.” Harry opened his mouth to argue, but Lupin cut him off. “It doesn’t matter what they said to me; detentions are meant to be saved for serious misbehavior. This was first-day jitters, nothing more. I’ll back you up on this one because I don’t want to undermine your authority, but I don’t want you to do that again. All right?”
Harry scuffed the floor. “All right, Pro—Remus.”
“Thank you.” Lupin stopped, listening. “We’d better get back out there, I think I hear something.”
Lupin opened his office door. Most of the students had sat down and opened their books as they had been instructed, but Ananda was still standing, along with the three giggling Slytherin boys from before. They were shouting at each other, red in the face.
“Don’t talk about Harry like that, you were the ones being idiotic, sassing a teacher like a bunch of grammar-school—“
“Who’re you calling idiotic, you stupid Muggle?”
“You and the two baboons next to you, see anyone else standing here?”
“Did you just call me a—“
“Quick on the uptake, aren’t we? Maybe baboon was too high on the food chain for you.”
“Why’re you defending Scarhead anyway? Is he your boyfriend or something?”
“Why, you slimy little—“
Fortunately, Ananda was never permitted to finish that sentence. “Quiet, all of you!” shouted Lupin, startling everyone. “How dare you row in class? That’s five points from Slytherin for each of you.”
“But I was just—“
“Miss Hill, arriving to class late and then fighting is no way to start your first day. There is no excuse for bad behavior. Please take your seat.”
Ananda turned to Harry beseechingly, but he made no move; he’d already overstepped his bounds once today. Fuming, Ananda took her seat in the back of the room, crossing her arms, and refused to look at Harry for the rest of the lesson.
Fortunately for Harry, the rest of the day was quiet and Ananda-free; she never showed up to lunch. Hermione and Ron entered the Great Hall and saw him, sitting alone and eating his sausages and mash with a distracted look, but the phoenix tears must have interceded for him; they never asked any questions. Instead, they complained in such lurid detail about Snape and the incredibly complex Cleverness Concoction he had made them brew that Harry soon regained his happiness about never having to take a Potions class again.
They had a double period of Charms in the afternoon with the Hufflepuffs; in some cases, where few students had obtained an OWL, all four Houses were combined into one class, but Professor Flitwick generally got so many students through to his NEWT level that he needed to have two classes. They were starting work on the Incantatus Levitatus, or Flying Charm, by folding paper airplanes, enchanting them, and using their wands to steer them through a complex obstacle course which included hoops, tight corners, and fire. Harry had a very rough time with the Flying Charm, but he concentrated deeply nonetheless; if he ever finished repairing his dad’s Nimbus Five Series he would need to know how to make it fly.
The last lesson of the day was Transfiguration. They were beginning to work on human transfiguration, but only in very basic forms; McGonagall said they would be lucky if they could do serious human transfiguration by the end of their seventh year.
“No, the most common applications of human transfiguration are in concealment and disguise. All-Seeing Eyes and Subterfuge Sensors can detect most disguises, but both are foiled when the essential nature, rather than the appearance, of a feature has been changed. This is easiest to accomplish with hair; as the color, length, and texture of hair can be changed with non-magical means, using magic to accomplish the same purpose is quite simple.”
Parvati and Lavender giggled. Harry knew they were thinking of Professor Gilbraith’s bleached hair.
“Please separate into pairs. We’ll begin with color today, and I ask you to stick to colors found in nature, please, no purples or blues—they are easier to do, and, if for some reason cannot be undone, will leave your partners looking much less silly. The incantation is ‘Dechromatus.’ Begin.”
It was a fun lesson. Ron and Hermione partnered each other, so Harry worked with Ernie MacMillan. Hermione, as was her way, got the hang of the Dechromatus charm quite easily; soon Ron had blond hair (which all four of them agreed looked horrible), then black (which wasn’t as bad but made his freckles even more noticeable than they had been), then brown (which Hermione quite liked, but Ron said he could never get used to). Ernie wasn’t as good; he’d been going for red, but for some reason the spell had only worked on about one in every three hairs, giving Harry an odd piebald look which resembled that of a teenager with a boombox and skateboard he’d once seen on the Underground. Worst of all, Ernie couldn’t seem to make it go away, and Harry endured a few seconds of agony imagining himself going through the rest of the day like this before Hermione took pity on him and disenchanted it seconds before the bell rang.
As they were gathering up their books, looking forward to dinner, Professor McGonagall called after them, “Potter, Weasley, Granger, a word please.”
They walked back to McGonagall’s desk, wondering what this was about. She made small talk, complimenting Harry’s new glasses, until the last student had left the room, before leaning over and whispering seriously, “Professor Dumbledore has asked me to give you your first assignments for the Order.”
Harry’s heart began to pump fast, adrenalin coursing through his veins. Next to him, he could feel the same change in intensity from Ron and Hermione. Since being inducted, Harry had done no more for the Order than his disastrous mission to Hyde Park. But this was something real. He was excited, but the memory of Cassius Goyle bearing down on him came flooding back, fighting the adrenalin with bile until he felt as though his stomach was an explosive chemical soup.
Professor McGonagall continued. “This should be right up your streets. You’ve probably noticed a few students haven’t returned to school this term.”
“Malfoy and his gang,” Hermione said grimly.
Professor McGonagall nodded. “We think they are searching for the means to free the captured Death Eaters. On their own, this will be impossible; our concern is that they might come into contact with Voldemort. Malfoy in particular has long ears, and it would not be beyond Voldemort to torture him to get information on Hogwarts or any other subject—if, indeed, Malfoy required convincing at all.” Her mouth was a thin line. “I want you three to find out any information you can about when they were last seen, where, and in whose company. It is essential we track them down before they harm themselves or fall into enemy hands.”
“Professor, I don’t know what we can do,” said Hermione. “The only people likely to know that are in Slytherin, and we have no way of finding anything out there.”
“What about Ananda?” said Ron. “We could ask her to get information for us!”
“The Slytherin first year?” asked McGonagall. “Impossible. We have no way of knowing whether or not she’s trustworthy, we cannot possibly allow her into our confidence.”
“I do know her, she’s—“ At the look on McGonagall’s face, Harry desisted.
Ron said, “Well, if we can’t tell her what we’re doing, maybe Harry could—you know, question her, without her realizing what’s going on.”
“I won’t do that,” said Harry flatly. Ron opened his mouth to argue, but Harry cut him off. “Besides, anyone who knows what Malfoy might be doing isn’t likely to say anything in front of Ananda. Everyone saw her talking to me today.” And heard her shouting about me in Defense Against the Dark Arts, Harry thought.
“Well, I know you three will figure something out. In the meantime, Harry, Professor Dumbledore wishes you to recommence Occlumency lessons. And don’t worry, not with Professor Snape,” she said, raising her hand to forestall objections. “He will coach you himself.”
Harry clenched his teeth. Given a choice as to who he’d rather be alone in a room with, Harry didn’t know who was worse, Snape or Dumbledore. He tried to argue. “But I haven’t had a dream about Voldemort in months…”
“And we have no idea why they’ve stopped. Until we find out, you must continue learning to close your mind or you’ll be vulnerable in the future. No arguments, Potter.”
Harry’s shoulder’s sagged. Professor McGonagall turned to Hermione.
“Miss Granger, it is the Headmaster’s belief, and mine too, that you might demonstrate a talent for Legilimency. Since Professor Dumbledore and myself are the only full Legilimeni in the Order, it is our wish that you learn this skill. You’ll be training with me from now on.”
Hermione’s eyes shone with excitement. She nodded.
“All right, you may go to dinner now. But Mr. Potter, don’t forget to practice closing your mind every evening. Miss Granger, will tomorrow night at eight o’clock work for our first lesson? Good. Oh, and one more thing. Mr. Weasley?”
Ron, who had looked a little pouty that he was the only one who hadn’t received special orders, turned back to Professor McGonagall expectantly.
She grimaced. “Shave,” she said, shuffling papers on her desk.
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