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Chapter 5: Lessons
Among the hoots of the morning owls, Harry heard a definite honk.
"Spielberg! Over here!" Before Harry could clear a space on the table, a gray goose landed with a disgruntled squawk in his oatmeal. "It's the Coven's transatlantic delivery goose," he explained to Hermione while he cleaned Spielberg off with a napkin, and the goose nipped his fingers happily and then loudly greeted Hedwig.
Harry untied a parcel from one web foot and undid the waterproofing charm on it.
Har, you doofus, Kat's note said, did you really think we'd let you get away with leaving all your letters behind? You want to neglect your friends, fine, but leave us out of it. And if you're not going to read these, for goddess' sake put them someplace safe till you come to your senses. Miss you -- say tally ho to them all for me and owl us if you find out you can't live without Twinkies.
Harry looked at the thick bundle of letters with distaste. The one on top of the pile was folded with the message out; he could see the Ministry crest and a few words: In accordance with the terms of the will of Sirius Black ...
But he couldn't quite bring himself to burn them, and given the way Hermione was trying to look over his shoulder, someone would surely snoop if he threw them away.
Eventually he took them back to his room and put them in the very back of the spare wardrobe, behind his trunk and his suitcases.
He really didn't have time to look at them.
"For the second time," McGonagall announced wryly, "I'd like to welcome you all to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry." There was a small patter of applause from the student tables.
"I trust," she went on, "that you've made yourself as comfortable as you can manage in the rather tight quarters available in the dormitories. As the staff continue to remove spells, more space will become available. And finally, I'd like to announce that tomorrow we will finally begin classes --" a groan from some of the students -- "and Quidditch practice." At that, the groan changed to a cheer, which went on for several minutes and then broke off abruptly when the food appeared.
Harry sighed in contentment. Hot food, for the first time in days -- and the house elves had outdone themselves with things that couldn't be eaten off the sideboard in the common room. The table was laden with roast beef and vegetable soup and mashed potatoes.
Harry dug in, ignoring Malfoy's lazy drawl from the other side of Hermione. Now things could start going back to normal.
"Got room for another?"
He looked up -- and then up again. "Ron? Ron!" He dropped his spoon into his soup with a great splash and stood up to fling his arms around Ron's shoulders as far as they would go -- surely he hadn't been this broad the last time they'd met. "What on earth are you doing here? The last time you owled me you were in Bulgaria!"
Ron squeezed him back. "Ran into a mate of Wood's in Morocco. Said they'd had a bit of trouble back here, so I thought I'd see if you could use a hand. Got a bit of a knack for fixing things, I have, and it looks like there's a bundle here that needs fixing." He tugged the lock of hair behind Harry's ear -- the same one Hedwig liked to nibble, with much the same meaning. "Y'look rough, Harry -- what, no barbers in America? Or were you too busy taking midnight swims with Tuesday or whatever her name was --"
"You look fantastic," Harry said hastily. He did, too. He was even taller than he'd been the last time they'd met, and he'd filled out considerably, too. He'd finally managed a tan under his freckles, and the sun had lightened his hair to the color of a freshly polished American penny. A battered dragonhide backpack hung over one shoulder with the hilt of a large knife emerging from the top. "Wait till Hermione sees you."
"Wait till I see wha -- " Hermione came to a full stop in mid-word. "Ron?" Her eyes got wide.
Ron grinned shyly. "H'lo, Hermione," he said.
"But -- last time you owled me you were in New Zealand! And -- but I -- " At last she got up and gave him an awkward hug, still looking very flustered. Ron was blushing. Harry hid a smile.
"Ron," Hermione said rather pointedly when they separated, "you remember Draco, of course."
Harry went very still, watching them. If Malfoy said one word out of line, he would --
Malfoy stood up slowly. "Weasley," he said in a slow, musical, completely unfamiliar voice, and Harry could see his eyes going down to Ron's sunbleached blue sweatshirt and back up to his sunbleached hair. "Good to see you back." He offered his hand.
"Malfoy," Ron said cautiously, and let go of his hand a little too soon for real politeness. He looked from Malfoy to Hermione and his eyes narrowed a little. But by now Charlie had come over to greet his brother, followed by nearly everyone at the staff table, so Harry only had time to give Ron a silent "Tell me about it" look and be glad that it all looked as strange to Ron as it did to him.
"Like a land what?" Ron frowned from the couch in the staff common room.
"It's a Muggle weapon," Harry said. "An explosive, and they bury it, and it can sit there for years until someone happens to step on it and set it off and get killed by the explosion. Or in this case, get hit by a spell and sent into magical convulsions or something."
Ron nodded. "A spell that could do the same thing -- that'd be a hell of a weapon." He frowned again. "But if you could do that, why settle for this small stuff? Convulsions, fires, explosions, pain -- why not just plant one that'd blow up the whole place and be done with it?" He scooped another spoonful of sugar into his tea.
Harry glanced at Hermione, who was watching Ron's hand on his spoon. Malfoy, in his usual perch on the arm of Hermione's chair, grinned slyly and poked her. "Got an answer to that conundrum?"
"Hm? Oh -- right -- actually I was thinking about that, because of something Phoenix and Ursa found. Let me show you." She summoned a scratch parchment and drew a somewhat familiar knot. "Now, you recognize this, right, Harry?" Harry looked at her blankly; all the knots still looked alike to him. She sighed. "Draco?"
"It's one of those swelling-in-the-joints spells, isn't it?" The show-off.
She nodded, beaming, and then drew a long curve hanging from the knot, ending in another knot. "What would you make of this?"
"It's an If clause of some sort ... no, wait, it isn't, is it. It functions as a direct object, but I can't tell what it says."
"What it says," Hermione said grimly, "is, 'Minister of Magic.' "
They all stared at her.
"That," Malfoy said, "is astonishing." He took the parchment out of Hermione's hand. "A trigger in the halls of Hogwarts to get to people who are miles away, even years after the spell was cast -- the caster could be dead, even -- seven hells, that's elegant." He traced Hermione's drawing with a long finger. "An enduring legacy of chaos and ruin. Whoever made this spell was definitely a Slytherin."
Harry looked at him, sickened. Malfoy gave him a challenging stare. "Well, Potter?" he said. "Wouldn't you rather have that sort of mind on your side?"
At midnight Malfoy, with more swirling of robes than could strictly be explained by physics, swept off up the wide staircase to his rooms. For a moment or two after he left, the common room was silent, and then Ron turned to Hermione and said, "If you were that hard up for friends, you could've owled me. I'd have dropped by for a visit." Harry snickered.
"Ron," she said.
"Fine, then, explain it to me, Hermione," Ron said irritably. "How'd you go from --" he stumbled slightly over the word -- "from 'Mudblood' to 'Mione' in such a short time?"
"It wasn't that short a time," she said. "We've been working together since not long after we left Hogwarts, when Draco contacted Professor Dumbledore from the Death Eater camp and offered his services as a spy. I had just worked out how to set up a Transauditum link, and since it doesn't require the person on the other end to do any magic, it was perfect for staying in touch with him without putting him at too much risk."
"Because heaven forbid Malfoy put himself at any risk," Harry said.
Hermione gave him a look of pure disgust, but didn't respond. "He fed us information for about a year -- he's the one who overheard the discussion about the Fratrium spell, Harry, the bit that got me started doing research on how to lock your wand up with Voldemort's."
Harry had known his duel with Voldemort was a group victory -- research from Hermione, the potion from Snape to keep him going despite his body's exhaustion, Ron and Sirius and Dumbledore all but holding him up at the end while everyone else held off the Dementors and the Death Eaters -- but it irked him that Malfoy had had a part in it. "I thought you came up with that on your own."
She shook her head. "Anyway, eventually he was discovered, and it wasn't safe for him to stay with them any more. This would have been shortly before your duel, Harry. So Minerva got him out of the camp somehow, and I got him at the other end and sent him right into the Wizard Protection Program."
Ron laughed out loud. "You didn't!" he said. "No wonder he's stopped all that 'Mudblood' nonsense!"
Hermione smiled. "Yes. Now he says we're --" she mimicked Malfoy's lazy drawl -- " 'no worse, on the whole, than most wizards. Though that's not saying much.' "
"What is the Wizard Protection Program?" Harry asked.
"You've never heard of it?" Ron said. "No, I suppose you haven't -- it isn't as though you grew up listening to 'Aloysius Grimble, the Scrying Eye.' Always reckoned it was just stories, though."
"No, it's real," Hermione said, "though it's a lot more difficult than it sounds in the wizard detective stories."
"What exactly is it?" Harry said again.
"Well, we made him into a Muggle temporarily."
Harry nearly spilled his tea. "You what?"
"It was the only way to protect him," she said earnestly. "Of course you knew that magic draws power, right, Harry? And the Dark Mark draws its power from the person who wears it, everyone knows that. So as long as Draco had magic, Voldemort could trace him magically everywhere he went. But if we used an Emagium curse to separate him from his magic, it was nothing but an ugly tattoo. He could hide out for as long as he needed to, until the Dementors were gone and we were fairly sure that the Death Eaters who were still around weren't a threat to him."
"But what did he do?" Harry tried to imagine Malfoy working in one of Uncle Vernon's drill factories or trimming Aunt Petunia's hedges.
Hermione grinned. "He was the worst office assistant my parents ever had." She shook her head. "You'd think any intelligent person could put paper in a file, wouldn't you? Just last week Father found Anson Durham filed under L, and when he posted to Draco to ask him why, Draco said, 'Isn't that where you put the loud ones?' "
"Are they all right?" Harry said. "Was he just awful to them?"
She frowned at him. "Surely after all this you're not still thinking he's evil, are you, Harry?"
"Maybe not, but he's still obnoxious." Harry liked the Grangers very much. "Hate to think of him ordering them about and calling them 'Mudblood.' "
"He calls Mother Prudence, actually," Hermione said, smiling. "Some joke between the two of them. They've never explained it to me."
"What does he call your father?"
"Papa," she said.
"Reckon that's what happens when you travel," Ron said later as he spread out a blanket on Harry's couch. "You lose track of your friends, and then they get involved with weirdos." Harry snickered and handed him a pillow. "Guess if I have to, I can be civil, even to Malfoy. But if he hurts her, I'm going to rip out his spinal column and strangle him with it."
Harry sat down beside him. "Er, I don't think you have to worry about that."
"I dunno. He may not be a traitor any more, but he's still a smug, selfish, good-for-nothing ferret."
"Of course he is," Harry said, "but he's -- I mean, they're just friends. I mean, he's a. He's not interested in girls." He was irritated to realize he was blushing.
"Oh. Oh. One of those Malfoys." Ron didn't look as surprised as Harry expected. "Should've guessed, only he made such a production of always having a girlfriend at school. Well, all right, then, I'll rip out his spine if he hurts you." After watching Harry sputter for a moment, Ron nudged him. "Harry. Joke."
"Right," Harry said, glaring at Ron, "really funny."
Ron grinned at him. "Brain's slowing down, Harry. Better get some sleep or your first class will transfigure you into a blotter by mistake."
Harry looked out over his Gryffindor first-years with something close to despair.
Hogwarts had been closed so long that a first-year could be anywhere from ten to sixteen. Some of them had been receiving private tutoring, some of them had been left to their own devices, and the Muggle-born ones had never seen a wand until Ollivander put one in their hands a month ago.
And they were Gryffindors. Bold and chivalrous and -- well, stupid. No more basic common-sense caution than the overfed squirrels at Disney World.
There was Steele, repeating the first word of the spell without waiting to hear the second one. There was Jones, who had mis-heard the spell, but would rather make up an approximation than ask for clarification. There was Osborne, who already knew the spell and was transfiguring random objects with a bored expression.
A few matchsticks turned into needles, while others burst into flames or melted into puddles or began to attack other matchsticks. Harry groaned; he hadn't had enough sleep to deal with this. Five silver needles rose up in formation and flew toward Harry. There wasn't enough sleep in the world to deal with this.
"Wait," Harry said, holding up a hand, and the needles all dove for his palm. "Ow! Wait! Commutati rescendeo! Mr. Osborne, put that down -- Miss Rainbird, stop that at once -- finite incantatem -- will y'all just sit down and shut up!"
The classroom fell silent as the students stared at him, and Harry realized that in scrambling for an authoritative inner voice, he'd ended up channeling Kat Bonifay.
He sighed. They were lucky he hadn't completed the sentence with " 'fore I jerk a knot in each and every one of you."
Harry met Ron on the way to the Great Hall for lunch. Ron wasn't limping, exactly, but he was walking very gingerly.
"What's wrong?" Harry asked.
"New feet," Ron said. Harry looked down. Ron's feet were bare, and as pink and soft as a baby's.
" 'Stromkarls,' Charlie says. 'Musical spirits,' he says. 'C'mon and watch, it'll be a nice safe first lesson.' But they're Ravenclaws, and they can't bear it if there's anything they aren't allowed to know."
"Banks-Martin asked the stromkarls to play the Forbidden Measure."
Harry frowned. "Forbidden what?"
"Seemed like hours we spent casting an Auremclaudium over and over before we could break the enchantment so the students could stop dancing." Ron sighed. "Sofia thinks she'll be able to re-grow all their feet in time for classes tomorrow."
Hermione was already at the table. There were faint traces of blue ink all over her face and hands. "What a disaster. Quills flying everywhere. It took me an hour to uncharm them." She laid her head on the table. "Slytherins," she said. "If they can't use a skill right then and there to get what they want, they can't be bothered to learn it at all."
"Malfoy must've had Hufflepuffs for Muggle Studies," Ron said. "Wonder how he made out?"
The hall door opened and Malfoy walked in. There was a Styrofoam cup stuck firmly to the middle of his forehead.
"About as expected, then," Ron said.
By dinner Harry's other hand was bandaged, too, and two quills pierced the sleeve of Hermione's robe, still quivering and attempting to get free.
"Are they unusually terrible students, d'you think?" Ron asked.
"Worse than Fred and George?" Harry said.
"Maybe we're unusually terrible teachers," Hermione sighed.
Malfoy dropped down beside Ron. He'd broken off most of the Styrofoam cup, but Harry was maliciously glad to see the base still stuck to his forehead.
Malfoy glared at Hermione, who'd been unable to stifle a giggle. "Not one word, do you hear me?"
"What are we doing wrong?" Hermione moaned.
"It's the mix," Harry said. "You just can't mix up the ages like that without trouble."
To his surprise, Malfoy agreed with him. "Not to mention the different ability levels. I have students in my class who've lived with Muggles all their life, and students who've never heard of an automobile. How can I teach them all at once?"
Hermione nodded. "Osborne has had a private tutor since he was six, and he wants to teach all his advanced charms to Jones, only Jones has never spoken Latin before and keeps slipping into French ... and 'noster' and 'notre' mean the same thing, but in a spell the effect is entirely different ..."
"We're going to have to split up the houses," Malfoy said. "What we need to do is test them out and then place them in classes based on ability instead of on house." He rubbed irritably at the bits of Styrofoam on his forehead.
"Want a hand with that?" Ron said.
"I already tried the unsticking spell," Malfoy said. Ron, ignoring him, picked up something with his left hand, gripped Malfoy's face with his right, and began murmuring the spell for taking things apart. "I mean, by all means, you wouldn't be the first bloke who couldn't keep his hands off me, but ..."
The pieces of the cup fell to the table in front of him. He stared at Ron.
"Sometimes you need an unsticking spell and a butter knife," Ron said.
The students began arriving at their tables just as most of the teachers finished eating. "Well," Malfoy said, "Potter, I suppose it's time you and I went and started unspelling dormitories." The first day of teaching had been so eventful Harry had almost forgotten that there were more magical mines to disarm. "Otherwise -- well, the whole of the student body is crammed into two rooms per house -- I shudder to think. Don't know which would be worse, the rivalries or the romances."
Harry nodded stiffly. "We'll start with more bedrooms in Gryffindor."
"I hardly think --" Malfoy began, but Hermione glared at them and handed Malfoy a pyramid-shaped coin. "Very well," Malfoy said, giving Harry a suspicious look. "Weasley, you toss."
The coin fell on its red face, and Harry couldn't resist a grin. Another small victory for Gryffindor.
The occupying Death Eaters had destroyed a good bit of the furniture, and what was left looked rather smaller and dingier than Harry remembered.
They disarmed a few small curses there and in the two rooms where the students were currently sleeping, then broke the black ribbon on the first of the closed-off rooms. It was strange to see the room so empty; it had belonged to Angelina, Alicia, and the rest of their year, and last time he'd been inside, he hadn't even been able to see the walls.
When they lit the candle, they found the room bright with hidden spells. After the first four times Malfoy beat him to identifying them, Harry grudgingly admitted that Malfoy was better at that part than he was, and began letting him handle it.
"Explosion, pain, pain, and mumps -- a rare one, that." Malfoy's long hair divided at the back of his neck as he bent over Hermione's scroll, but he was too vain to tie it back. "Ready? Nodu'stinguo."
Harry had to admit it was satisfying to remove the row of spells in perfect rhythm, especially after the chaos of the day. Malfoy wasn't too bad to work with as long as he didn't say anything that wasn't Latin.
They unspelled the girls' room from Ginny's year without episode, and after a bit of a rest back in the common room -- which very nearly turned into a nap -- Harry could no longer avoid his own room.
It looked the same and yet different -- no football posters behind Dean's bed, no Remembrall glowing red on Neville's nightstand, no Firebolt leaned against the wall. Just wallpaper torn down in strips and a great gouge taken out of the floor. Harry dressed the candle with a lump in his throat.
His old bed was so heavily mined that the light made him squint. "Your popularity doesn't seem to be waning with the years, Potter." Malfoy's usually silky voice was rough.
Harry sighed, pushed up his glasses to rub his eyes, and sat heavily on one of the beds. "If anyone had slept in that bed, it'd be a wonder if he survived the term." One of the curses was sleepwalking, and another was aggressive impulses. "And didn't kill all his friends."
"And I'm certain," Malfoy said with deceptive mildness, "that this would the first time anyone ever suffered because of being associated with Harry Potter." He peered more closely at the spells. "We're going to have to ward this one and come back to it later."
"Found something else you're scared to take on?" Harry glared at him. "And what's that remark supposed to mean?"
"Aren't you used to it yet, Potter? Didn't you get two of the Weasley litter in trouble before they even had a chance to finish puberty? Not to mention Dig--"
"Even you couldn't be enough of a jerk to suggest I'm putting my friends in danger on purpose, Malfoy."
"I'm suggesting nothing of the sort." Malfoy looked surprised. "It's the price of power, Potter. Those who are close to the powerful person will be targets of his enemies, everybody knows that. I'm sure even the Weasleys figured that out eventually. If they wanted to warm themselves in the light reflecting off the great Harry Potter, they'd no one to blame but themselves."
Malfoy must have managed to convince McGonagall that the age mix was a problem, because she canceled classes again for two weeks so the students could be sorted by ability. Oliver Wood put together a sort of tournament, with students matched against one another in trials of skill created by each teacher. So instead of the tense and nervous feeling of exams, Hogwarts had the slightly chaotic high spirits of an extended holiday.
After the fourth piece of furniture was pulverized by a misdirected spell, though, McGonagall suggested that they carry out the testing outdoors as long as the good weather held out. And as there were still parts of the grounds that even the birds wouldn't fly over, this meant that Harry and Malfoy had to spend several days together squinting to disarm mines that barely showed up in the sunlight, with the oil-dressed candle spelled to float nearby.
Hermione followed close behind them, levitating half a library's worth of books, ready to look up any spell they couldn't recognize. "That one's in Chinese, hang on, I've got it right here," she'd say, or, "You'll have to ward that one -- look, there's a bit of it that's charmed to be unreadable except when the moon is new."
Harry couldn't escape from Malfoy when they weren't working, either, because Ron made excuses to be where Hermione was, and Hermione was never far from Malfoy. Harry watched him out of the corner of his eye as he stole food from Hermione's plate and made terrible jokes and generally behaved like a small, spoiled child at a family party who knows that everyone in the room thinks he's adorable. It made Harry sick.
Since the episode with the Styrofoam cup, Malfoy seemed to have decided that Ron was his personal servant, too. He was forever tugging Ron aside to ask him if there was a way to re-weave the couches in the Slytherin common room or rebuild some of the staircases destroyed during the Death Eater occupation or silence the squeaky hinges on the Great Hall door or tighten a shaky banister.
"Tightening spell's good as far as it goes, but nothing beats a tightening spell combined with some wood glue and a couple of matchsticks," Ron said, digging them out of his dragonhide backpack, and Malfoy beamed at him as though he'd just uttered a line of poetry.
"Think Malfoy's got a crush on you," Harry told Ron as they parted at the door of Ron's new rooms.
"Course he has. Toffs always have," Ron said. "I don't mind. He mostly keeps his hands to himself."
Harry dreamed of a sheet of paper, folded three ways, lying on a table. The paper was thick, and the top fold was lifting, as though the paper were on the verge of unfolding by itself.
He woke up panting with terror. "What is the matter with you?" he said to himself. "What on earth is so scary about a sheet of paper?" But his hands continued to shake.
Hermione dropped her spoon when he came into the dining hall. "Good lord, Harry, what happened? You look terrible."
"Oh, thanks, Hermione, that's good to hear." He shook her hand off his arm and pushed his chair in, wincing as he bumped the edge of the table and made all the glassware rattle. "I'm fine. Just had trouble sleeping, that's all."
He pushed a plate of sausages further away -- he could still smell them, but at least he couldn't hear them popping and sizzling. Nothing on the table looked even remotely edible.
"Rough night, Harry?" Ron sat down beside him and gave him a quick pat on the shoulder. Harry nodded morosely and began peeling an orange. The back of his neck still felt clammy and cold.
He was forcing down his third orange segment when Malfoy sat down across the table. He braced himself for a sneering comment, but Malfoy only gave him a long, narrow-eyed look. Then he pointed his wand at Harry.
"Hey!" Harry said, going tense all over. "What --"
"Finit'incantatem," Malfoy said. "No, no, too obvious. All right, how about this: Noloconturbo."
Harry was suddenly warm all over. It felt like eating chocolate after a brush with a Dementor. He stared at Malfoy, who shrugged.
"Someone tripped a paranoia mine with you as the direct object, obviously," Malfoy said, putting a disgustingly large blob of marmalade on his toast. "You were jumpy as a cat yesterday."
"Ooh, Draco, I can't believe I didn't think of that!" Hermione said. "I'm sorry, Harry."
Harry felt off-balance. "You don't just throw a Finite at somebody like that," he mumbled. "You knocked the anti-smear charm off my glasses."
One corner of Malfoy's mouth quirked. "How careless of me." He reached across the table, took Harry's glasses off his face, and polished them with a cream-colored handkerchief. "There you are."
Harry took the glasses, feeling much less exposed when they were back on his face. "Uh, thanks." He made himself look Malfoy in the eye. "I mean -- thanks."
Malfoy took the rest of his orange off his plate. "You're quite welcome."
"Good morning. Wands on the table, please." Harry had a mix of three houses in his first Level 1 Transfiguration class. All the Slytherins had tested into Level 3 or better, and Malfoy's gloating was almost intolerable.
"On the table, not in your hand, Mr. Chun." Chun, Chun ... Ravenclaw? Or perhaps Gryffindor? Harry couldn't remember, but he sighed with relief when the boy finally stopped pointing his wand at books, quills, and classmates, and dropped it to the table.
Harry didn't allow them to pick up their wands until they proved they had memorized the words properly, and then he let them loose on the matches-to-needles transformation. Osborne had sorted into Level 5 in Transfiguration, and Jones turned out to be quite a good learner when taken out of the bigger boy's shadow. And he really would make a good Seeker. Harry hoped he wouldn't be one of those boys who went home for summer holidays and came back a foot taller.
"How did everything go?" Hermione asked at lunch.
"Much better," she said. "Draco? How about yours?"
There was nothing stuck to Malfoy's forehead, but he looked a bit frazzled. "I'm going to have to split Level 1 into two classes, I think," he said. "I've got all the new Slytherins, every single one of them, and the little fools are proud of how ignorant they are about Muggles."
Hermione's hand came down on Harry's arm, hard. "What?" he said. "I wasn't going to say anything."
"Right," she said.
On to Chapter 6
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