The Many Faces of Harry Potter 24

“The Many Faces of Har—er, Adira Potter: Chapter 24”
By = Fayanora

Chapter Twenty-four: School Daze

Note 1: Text in 'Italics and British quotes' is Parseltongue.

Note 2: Once more, I apologize for the bits and pieces of canon dialogue/narration here and there.

Note 3: I have different styles for the internal speech of Alastair, Adira, and Zoey, and now #Iliana (bold, italic, underlined, and now between hashtags/pound signs because some people's computers don't do the B.I.U.).# and {Tier} if I ever get around to it.

Note four: This chapter contains descriptions of two boys snogging (“making out”). Nothing terribly graphic, just sweet and romantic. Just thought I'd give you a heads up.

Note five: I want to point out that Javier has Asperger's syndrome. I think that's important to know. I don't know if he knows yet or not, probably not. But I hope to bring a diagnosis into the story at some point. I've done this because our own collective has Asperger's as well, but I didn't really want to go out of my way to give the Potters that in this one, too, especially since my other HP series – Harry Potter and the Trouble With Neurotypicals – centers around an aspie Harry. Of course, I probably accidentally give all my characters autism, because I'm autistic, just as characters by allistics tend to be allistic by default. I can never be sure how well I'm doing at trying to write an allistic character, especially when autistic people come in many varieties, too. (Not all aspies are super-smart nerds, and not all aspies are introverts, as a couple examples. I live with a very extroverted aspie. I haven't met any stupid aspies yet, to my recollection, but I know they exist.)

I bring this all up because at least one commenter had some feelings about Javier that were likely caused by Javier being an aspie. In our culture, allistic (non-autistic) people tend to view things like 'not making eye contact' to mean the person is lying or untrustworthy, when the opposite is true for most aspies. Being an aspie doesn't automatically make you a good person, but we do tend to be honest to a fault, and bad at lying.

Also, aspies and auties tend to give allistic people an 'uncanny valley' type sensation. Being aware of this possibility helps. Oh, and something I want to point out before I get off my soapbox, something very few people take into consideration: allistic people give us aspies and auties the 'uncanny valley' sensation as well.

Or maybe it was just anti-Slytherin sentiment. I dunno. But I like covering all possibilities.

Note six: Last note, I promise. Anyway, I was planning on the Triwizard Tournament starting here, but it got a bit long, so I split this chapter into two.

*FAYANORA*

The dramatic weather was back to its normal calm the next morning as Al got out of bed, glad to see he was still himself. He went down to the Great Hall for breakfast and found Ron and Hermione looking over their new course schedules. As he sat down, McGonagall handed him his schedule.

“Today’s not bad … outside all morning,” said Ron, who was running his finger down the Monday column of his schedule. “Herbology with the Hufflepuffs and Care of Magical Creatures … damn it, we’re still with the Slytherins. Er... not that all Slytherins, I mean...”

Al waved his concern off airily. “Javier is in the year below us. I don't know what the Slytherins in our year are like, but they can't be too great if they don't tell Malfoy off.”

“Ah, okay.”

“Ugh. Double Divination this afternoon,” Al groaned, looking down. Despite having found out he was a seer – or maybe because of it – he still hated that class and found it largely useless, as the teacher had all the talent of a teaspoon, except for two real prophecies in her entire lifetime, one of which they were still trying to puzzle out.

“Useless, the way that woman teaches it,” Al said before Hermione could say anything about it. “I need to find an actual seer – one who knows what they're doing – to learn from.”

“You’re eating again, I notice,” said Ron, watching Hermione adding liberal amounts of jam to her toast too.

“I’ve decided there are better ways of making a stand about elf rights,” said Hermione haughtily.

“Yeah … and you were hungry,” said Ron, grinning.

“What's all this, now?”

“Oh yeah, you were snoozing last night. Well, at the feast last night, Sir Nicholas mentioned house elves in the castle, and Hermione here nearly had a fit, since they're slaves, apparently. She didn't eat all night, like she thought eating their food would reverse the fact they worked hard at it anyway. Which she's plainly given up on, now.”

“Ah, that explains it.” He thought for a moment on that. There was some thought there struggling to get out, but he couldn't work it out, so he gave up.

Their first class was Herbology with the Hufflepuffs. They arrived in greenhouse three, and soon Professor Sprout was showing the class the ugliest plants Al had ever seen. Indeed, they looked less like plants than thick, black, giant slugs, protruding vertically out of the soil. Each was squirming slightly and had a number of large, shiny swellings upon it, which appeared to be full of liquid.

As it turned out, this liquid was pus, that smelled highly of petrol. They were expected to collect this weird pus so it could be used to treat acne, even though it seemed to cause the skin to erupt in boils when undiluted.

The pus was disgusting, of course. But it gave him an idea. He surreptitiously conjured a vial and cork, and squirreled away a sample for later. Sure, she'd said it was valuable, but he had plenty of money, so that's not why he wanted it. He had an idea that it might be useful against Malfoy.

When Herbology was done, they went to Hagrid's for Care of Magical Creatures. Al was dreading this class. He loved Hagrid, he did, but the man had a penchant for the monstrous. It had been mostly okay last year, when Hagrid had been worried about the health of one of his hippogriffs that Malfoy had attacked, and thus had switched to animals that Hagrid thought were boring, but who knew what fresh horrors they'd have to face this year?

Hagrid was standing outside his hut, one hand on the collar of his enormous black boarhound, Fang. There were several open wooden crates on the ground at his feet, and Fang was whimpering and straining at his collar, apparently keen to investigate the contents more closely. As they drew nearer, an odd rattling noise reached their ears, punctuated by what sounded like minor explosions.

“Mornin’!” Hagrid said, grinning at Al, Ron, and Hermione. “Be’er wait fer the Slytherins, they won’ want ter miss this — Blast-Ended Skrewts!”

“Come again?” said Ron.

Hagrid pointed down into the crates.

“Eurgh!” squealed Lavender Brown, jumping backward.

Al looked at the skrewts. He could see what Lavender meant, they were hideous. Like deformed, shell-less lobsters, pale and slimy-looking. Their legs were weird, too, and they didn't appear to have heads. But then, earthworms didn't appear to have heads, either.

There were about a hundred of them in each crate, each about six inches long, crawling over one another, bumping blindly into the sides of the boxes. They were giving off a very powerful smell of rotting fish. Every now and then, sparks would fly out of the end of a skrewt, and with a small phut, it would be propelled forward several inches.

“On’y jus’ hatched,” said Hagrid proudly, “so yeh’ll be able ter raise ’em yerselves! Thought we’d make a bit of a project of it!”

“And why would we want to raise them?” said a cold voice.

The Slytherins had arrived. The speaker was Draco Malfoy. Crabbe and Goyle were chuckling appreciatively at his words.

Hagrid looked stumped at the question.

“I mean, what do they do?” asked Malfoy. “What is the point of them?”

Al had some possible answers for that question, but as that might tip Malfoy off, he said nothing.

Hagrid opened his mouth, apparently thinking hard; there was a few seconds’ pause, then he said roughly, “Tha’s next lesson, Malfoy. Yer jus’ feedin’ ’em today. Now, yeh’ll wan’ ter try ’em on a few diff’rent things — I’ve never had ’em before, not sure what they’ll go fer — I got ant eggs an’ frog livers an’ a bit o’ grass snake — just try ’em out with a bit of each.”

Al hesitated. He didn't know if he loved Hagrid enough to stick his hand in gross things to try feeding the skrewts. He wasn't even sure if they could eat, as they didn't appear to have any mouths. There was a suspicion deep inside him that the things just ate magic. Magic could add mass or volume to things that were transfigured, after all; maybe the skrewts added mass and/or volume to themselves magically. But he tried to feed them anyway, just in case they did have some unidentified means of eating.

It soon became apparent that their names were well earned; every now and then, their ends exploded, which could get you a nasty burn if you weren't careful. Luckily, they'd just come from herbology, and Al was able to put his dragon-hide gloves on, protecting him from burns.

“Eurgh!” said Lavender Brown again. “Eurgh, Hagrid, what’s that pointy thing on it?”

“Ah, some of ’em have got stings,” said Hagrid enthusiastically (Lavender quickly withdrew her hand from the box). “I reckon they’re the males. … The females’ve got sorta sucker things on their bellies. … I think they might be ter suck blood.”

Al thought about that. He didn't know what made Hagrid think that, but Al thought it might be backwards. What if the suckered ones were the males, using the sucker to stick to a female? The stinger could be to protect the young, which would naturally go to the mother. Or maybe they didn't have a clear gender binary, or were just all weird mutants.

“Well, I can certainly see why we’re trying to keep them alive,” said Malfoy sarcastically. “Who wouldn’t want pets that can burn, sting, and bite all at once?”

“Just because they’re not very pretty, it doesn’t mean they’re not useful,” Hermione snapped. “Dragon blood’s amazingly magical, but you wouldn’t want a dragon for a pet, would you?”

Of course, Al and Ron knew Hagrid did want a pet dragon; he'd had one once. But this shut Malfoy up.

“Well, at least the skrewts are small,” said Ron as they made their way back up to the castle for lunch an hour later.

“They are now,” said Hermione in an exasperated voice, “but once Hagrid’s found out what they eat, I expect they’ll be six feet long.”

“Well, that won’t matter if they turn out to cure seasickness or something, will it?” said Ron, grinning slyly at her.

“You know perfectly well I only said that to shut Malfoy up,” said Hermione. “As a matter of fact I think he’s right. The best thing to do would be to stamp on the lot of them before they start attacking us all.”

“Or better yet, smuggle some into Malfoy's bedroom and dump them on him,” said Al.

At lunch, Hermione hoovered her food up with remarkable speed, to give herself time to go to the library for some side project of her own. Al didn't ask; he wasn't sure he wanted to know, and he had a suspicion this had something to do with her sudden obsession with house elf rights.

When the bell rang to signal the start of afternoon lessons, Al and Ron set off for North Tower where, at the top of a tightly spiraling staircase, a silver stepladder led to a circular trapdoor in the ceiling, and the room where Professor Trelawney lived.

The familiar sweet perfume spreading from the fire met their nostrils as they emerged at the top of the stepladder. As ever, the curtains were all closed; the circular room was bathed in a dim reddish light cast by the many lamps, which were all draped with scarves and shawls. Al and Ron walked through the mass of occupied chintz chairs and poufs that cluttered the room, and sat down at the same small circular table.

I'm gonna smell like a French whorehouse after this class, with all this perfume, Al thought.

Don't be crass, Adira answered him.

“Good day,” said the misty voice of Professor Trelawney right behind Al, making him jump.

A very thin woman with enormous glasses that made her eyes appear far too large for her face, Professor Trelawney was peering down at Al with the tragic expression she always wore whenever she saw him. The usual large amount of beads, chains, and bangles glittered upon her person in the firelight.

“You are preoccupied, my dear,” she said mournfully to Al. “My inner eye sees past your brave face to the troubled soul within. And I regret to say that your worries are not baseless. I see difficult times ahead for you, alas … most difficult … I fear the thing you dread will indeed come to pass … and perhaps sooner than you think. …”

He was going to snort with laughter, but then he thought about his worries about getting caught up in the Triwizard Tournament somehow, and that stopped him. She was just guessing, of course, but just because she wasn't a seer didn't mean she couldn't also be clever. It wouldn't take much to fake a good guess like that; talk to some of the portraits about things they'd overheard, then take a bet that your dire predictions might turn out to be true in the end. So no, he decided to pay her no heed unless she started talking in that weird voice that signaled a real prophecy. He didn't need any more detentions with her, so he just glared at her.

Professor Trelawney swept past them and seated herself in a large winged armchair before the fire, facing the class. Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil, who deeply admired Professor Trelawney, were sitting on poufs very close to her.

“My dears, it is time for us to consider the stars,” she said. “The movements of the planets and the mysterious portents they reveal only to those who understand the steps of the celestial dance. Human destiny may be deciphered by the planetary rays, which intermingle …”

Al let his mind wander as he tuned her out. But as it turned out, his mind was feeling too lazy to wander, and just sat down and stared off into space along with him. Between the bubotubers and the skrewts, he was kind of tired, and the hot perfumed air wasn't helping. To give himself something to stare at, he was staring at the fire in the grate, watching the colors as it flickered. His brain unfocused, and images started to dance at the edge of his thoughts---

“Al!” Ron said, jerking Al out of his trance.

“What?”

Al looked around; the whole class was staring at him. He sat up straight; he had been almost dozing off, lost in the heat and his thoughts.

“I was saying, my dear, that you were clearly born under the baleful influence of Saturn,” said Professor Trelawney, a faint note of resentment in her voice at the fact that he had obviously not been hanging on her words.

“Born under — what, sorry?” said Al.

“Saturn, dear, the planet Saturn!” said Professor Trelawney, sounding definitely irritated that he wasn’t riveted by this news. “I was saying that Saturn was surely in a position of power in the heavens at the moment of your birth. … Your dark hair … your mean stature … tragic losses so young in life … I think I am right in saying, my dear, that you were born in midwinter?”

“No,” said Al, “I was born in July.”

Ron hastily turned his laugh into a hacking cough.

“Yes, perhaps your body was born in July, my dear,” she said, recovering quickly, “but who's to say when you were born? You and the others, I mean. You could all have different star signs, you know, depending on what time of year you came into existence.”

“You might have a point there,” he said, leaving out the thought of 'And if you part your hair just right...' before continuing. “But first of all, there's not really any way of knowing when each of us came into being. Secondly, your prediction sounded like it applied to the whole lot of us in general. So pardon me if I take it with a whole salt lick of salt.”

This didn't seem to affect her, for she still smirked at him, which was annoying. But that wasn't his only reason for being annoyed. As they got their assignments – a complicated star chart – he was angrily thinking about why he was annoyed. He'd nearly had another vision, he knew it. He'd somehow stumbled back into the mentality needed for a vision, again. It was something he'd been trying to re-create for months, and he'd found it again, only to be woken up. And now he was sure it wouldn't happen again, since part of him would be trying for it, and it seemed to be one of those things like an image in the peripheral vision that disappeared when you tried looking right at it.

What was even more annoying, was the thought of 'Maybe there's something to the mystic atmosphere in this room after all?'

The star chart was dull work, requiring much consultation of timetables and calculation of angles.

“I’ve got two Neptunes here,” said Al after a while, frowning down at his piece of parchment, “that can’t be right, can it?”

“Aaaaah,” said Ron, imitating Professor Trelawney’s mystical whisper, “when two Neptunes appear in the sky, it is a sure sign that a midget in glasses is being born, Al.”

Seamus and Dean, who were working nearby, sniggered loudly, though not loudly enough to mask the excited squeals from Lavender Brown — “Oh Professor, look! I think I’ve got an unaspected planet! Oooh, which one’s that, Professor?”

“It is Uranus, my dear,” said Professor Trelawney, peering down at the chart.

“Can I have a look at Uranus too, Lavender?” said Ron.

Most unfortunately, Professor Trelawney heard him, and it was this, perhaps, that made her give them so much homework at the end of the class.

“A detailed analysis of the way the planetary movements in the coming month will affect you, with reference to your personal chart,” she snapped, sounding much more like Professor McGonagall than her usual airy-fairy self. “I want it ready to hand in next Monday, and no excuses!”

Ron was complaining about Trelawney, and Al was ignoring him. The near-vision was still heavy on his mind. Hermione was talking, too, but he didn't hear her, either.

They reached the entrance hall, which was packed with people queuing for dinner. They had just joined the end of the line, when a loud voice rang out behind them.

“Weasley! Hey, Weasley!”

Al, Ron, and Hermione turned. Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle were standing there, each looking thoroughly pleased about something.

“What?” said Ron shortly.

“Your dad’s in the paper, Weasley!” said Malfoy, brandishing a copy of the Daily Prophet and speaking very loudly, so that everyone in the packed entrance hall could hear. “Listen to this!
 

FURTHER MISTAKES AT THE MINISTRY OF MAGIC

It seems as though the Ministry of Magic’s troubles are not yet at an end, writes Rita Skeeter, Special Correspondent.  Recently under fire for its poor crowd control at the Quidditch World Cup, and still unable to account for the disappearance of one of its witches, the Ministry was plunged into fresh embarrassment yesterday by the antics of Arnold Weasley, of the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office.”
 
Malfoy looked up.

“Imagine them not even getting his name right, Weasley. It’s almost as though he’s a complete nonentity, isn’t it?” he crowed.

Everyone in the entrance hall was listening now. Malfoy straightened the paper with a flourish and read on:
 
Arnold Weasley was yesterday involved in a tussle with several Muggle law-keepers (“policemen”) over a number of highly aggressive dustbins. Mr. Weasley appears to have rushed to the aid of “Mad-Eye” Moody, the aged ex-Auror who retired from the Ministry when no longer able to tell the difference between a handshake and attempted murder. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Weasley found, upon arrival at Mr. Moody’s heavily guarded house, that Mr. Moody had once again raised a false alarm. Mr. Weasley was forced to modify several memories before he could escape from the policemen, but refused to answer Daily Prophet questions about why he had involved the Ministry in such an undignified and potentially embarrassing scene.
 
“And there’s a picture, Weasley!” said Malfoy, flipping the paper over and holding it up. “A picture of your parents outside their house — if you can call it a house! Your mother could do with losing a bit of weight, couldn’t she?”

Ron was shaking with fury. Everyone was staring at him.

Al felt his wand hand itching to wield his wand.

“Malfoy, if you're going to be an insufferable little shit, I think I'll transfigure your hair into horse shit.”

“Oh yeah, Potter, you've stayed at his house before, haven't you? Tell me, is she really that porky, or is it just the picture?”

“You know your mother, Malfoy?” said Al — both he and Hermione had grabbed the back of Ron’s robes to stop him from launching himself at Malfoy — “that expression she’s got, like she’s got dung under her nose? Has she always looked like that, or was it just because you were with her?”

Malfoy’s pale face went slightly pink.

“Don’t you dare insult my mother, Potter.”

“Oh, so you're free to make fun of other people's mothers, but yours is off limits? I don't think so. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. If you go low, I'm going to go low too, maybe even lower. So you ought to keep your big fat mouth shut, you little worm.” Al said, then turned around dismissively.

BANG!

Several people screamed — Al felt something white-hot graze the side of his face — he had his wand out so fast it was in his hand before he consciously recognized this fact. But already there was a second loud BANG, and a roar that echoed through the entrance hall.

“OH NO YOU DON’T, LADDIE!”

Al spun around. Professor Moody was limping down the marble staircase. His wand was out and it was pointing right at a pure white ferret, which was shivering on the stone-flagged floor, exactly where Malfoy had been standing.

There was a terrified silence in the entrance hall. Nobody but Moody was moving a muscle. Moody turned to look at Al — at least, his normal eye was looking at Al; the other one was pointing into the back of his head.

“Did he get you?” Moody growled. His voice was low and gravelly.

“No,” said Al, “missed.”

“LEAVE IT!” Moody shouted.

“Leave — what?” Al said, bewildered.

“Not you — him!” Moody growled, jerking his thumb over his shoulder at Crabbe, who had just frozen, about to pick up the white ferret. It seemed that Moody’s rolling eye was magical and could see out of the back of his head.

Moody started to limp toward Crabbe, Goyle, and the ferret, which gave a terrified squeak and took off, streaking toward the dungeons.

“I don’t think so!” roared Moody, pointing his wand at the ferret again — it flew ten feet into the air, fell with a smack to the floor, and then bounced upward once more.

“I don’t like people who attack when their opponent’s back’s turned,” growled Moody as the ferret bounced higher and higher, squealing in pain. “Stinking, cowardly, scummy thing to do. …”

The ferret flew through the air, its legs and tail flailing helplessly.

“Never — do — that — again —” said Moody, speaking each word as the ferret hit the stone floor and bounced upward again.

“Professor Moody!” said a shocked voice.

Professor McGonagall was coming down the marble staircase with her arms full of books.

“Hello, Professor McGonagall,” said Moody calmly, bouncing the ferret still higher.

“What — what are you doing?” said Professor McGonagall, her eyes following the bouncing ferret’s progress through the air.

“Teaching,” said Moody.

“Teach — Moody, is that a student?” shrieked Professor McGonagall, the books spilling out of her arms.

“Yep,” said Moody.

“No!” cried Professor McGonagall, running down the stairs and pulling out her wand; a moment later, with a loud snapping noise, Draco Malfoy had reappeared, lying in a heap on the floor with his sleek blond hair all over his now brilliantly pink face. He got to his feet, wincing.

“Moody, we never use Transfiguration as a punishment!” said Professor McGonagall weakly. “Surely Professor Dumbledore told you that?”

“He might’ve mentioned it, yeah,” said Moody, scratching his chin unconcernedly, “but I thought a good sharp shock —”

“We give detentions, Moody! Or speak to the offender’s Head of House!”

“I’ll do that, then,” said Moody, staring at Malfoy with great dislike.

Malfoy, whose pale eyes were still watering with pain and humiliation, looked malevolently up at Moody and muttered something in which the words “my father” were distinguishable.

“Oh yeah?” said Moody quietly, limping forward a few steps, the dull clunk of his wooden leg echoing around the hall. “Well, I know your father of old, boy. … You tell him Moody’s keeping a close eye on his son … you tell him that from me. … Now, your Head of House’ll be Snape, will it?”

“Yes,” said Malfoy resentfully.

“Another old friend,” growled Moody. “I’ve been looking forward to a chat with old Snape. … Come on, you. …”

And he seized Malfoy’s upper arm and marched him off toward the dungeons.

Professor McGonagall stared anxiously after them for a few moments, then waved her wand at her fallen books, causing them to soar up into the air and back into her arms.

“Don’t talk to me,” Ron said quietly to Al and Hermione as they sat down at the Gryffindor table a few minutes later, surrounded by excited talk on all sides about what had just happened.

“Why not?” said Hermione in surprise.

“Because I want to fix that in my memory forever,” said Ron, his eyes closed and an uplifted expression on his face. “Draco Malfoy, the amazing bouncing ferret.”

“Yeah, something new to threaten him with,” Al said. “And here was me thinking about using bubotuber pus on him.”

Al could hear Zoey laughing fit to burst in the back of their shared mind. It made him smirk.

“He could have really hurt Malfoy, though,” she said. “It was good, really, that Professor McGonagall stopped it —”

“Hermione!” said Ron furiously, his eyes snapping open again, “you’re ruining the best moment of my life!”

Hermione made an impatient noise and began to eat at top speed again. It seemed she was going to the library again.

Curious, Al shoveled down his own food and took off to follow her, leaving Ron behind. It took him some work to find her in the library, but soon enough he did, and he sneakily got to where he could read over her shoulder with some difficulty, without being spotted. What he saw made him decide to reveal himself. He stepped forward and gave a slight cough. She jumped, and spun around.

“Al! What are you-- are you spying on me?”

He shrugged. “I was curious. S.P.E.W., eh? You do know that sounds like 'Spew,' right?”

“I--”

“Perhaps you should change it to...” he pondered a moment, before continuing. “I dunno... H.E.L.F.? - House Elf Liberation Front. A group that sounds like vomit isn't going to be very popular, whereas H.E.L.F. is one letter away from 'help.'”

“Oh. Yes, that does sound better. Good thing I haven't finished the badges yet. I think I can fix them easily enough.”

There was that nagging thought that was struggling to find words for itself again. It was rather annoying. But he was missing some vital piece of the puzzle, some key that would unlock the struggling thought, so he ignored it again.

“So, house elf rights, eh?”

She nodded. “Yes. They cook our food, clean our laundry, do a load of other cleaning and stuff, and they aren't paid! They're slaves! It isn't right!”

“True. But, well... they are rather small creatures. And domesticated creatures tend to get bigger than their wild counterparts unless specifically bred for small size. Anyway, I've found from reading about history that enslaved peoples usually find a way to fight for their freedom. I suppose magic probably complicates that, but... well, I have to wonder if elves started working for humans to get protection from the dangers out in the wilderness.”

“Al! Are you defending their enslavement? After Dobby?”

“I don't know. But you've never even met Dobby. And I only know one house elf.” AHA! There was that thought, finally! “We should probably speak with the elves before presuming to speak on their behalf. Find out what they want. After all, they're not humans, and while they can think as well as humans, they might not think the same way we do, or value the same things. Not even all humans think the same way as most other humans. The centaurs are obsessed with star-gazing and don't much make sense to humans. I think I read somewhere that Goblins consider art or craft work to be owned by the artist, even when humans think they've bought it, kinda like copyright, but extending to more things.

“Then the, er... the basilisk doesn't think like humans, either,” he continued. “I just think it's a bit... misguided... to presume to speak for a species neither of us knows very well. We don't know how house elves think, or what they value. The ones in the fairy tales I remember liked working for people, as long as they were treated well.”

“Yes, Al, but the ones in the fairy tales were paid.”

“Right. With cream, was it? That's what you give elves and fairies in the folklore, anyway. Also they made clothes for the elves in the stories. But here, giving clothes to a house elf frees them. A sock was all it took to free Dobby. I think they can handle clothing as long as it isn't handed directly to them, or left as a gift. A lot of magic is about intentions. Anyway... didn't the elves in the stories get upset if they were insulted or mistreated, and leave?”

“I think so. But that's stories, not the real thing.”

“Yes, but a lot of Muggle stories of magic are pretty close to the truth. Anyway, maybe we should find some, and figure out what insults them, get to know them. As well intentioned as you are, speaking for someone you've never spoken with before is a good way to accidentally insult them. Also, it's always best to give the oppressed an opportunity to speak for themselves.”

“That all makes sense, Al. But how do we speak with them? They're very good at remaining unseen.”

“Well I'd start by finding out where the kitchens are. There's a lot of them working down there, right? Ron filled me in earlier.”

Hermione smiled. He guessed she was glad to have someone on her side of this business.

“So does this mean you'll join S-- er, H.E.L.F.?”

“Sure, why not? I like house elves. I want to get to know more about them.”

“Oooh, thank you Al! I'll get you a badge once I've fixed them.”

“About that, I've had another thought. Maybe S.P.C.H.E. would be a better name. You know, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to House Elves?”

She considered that, the feather end of a quill being worried along her lips as she thought.

“Hmm... I'll consider both names before I make a decision. They're both very good names.”

“Cool,” he said. Then he sensed something and turned to look at the source of the sensation. “Ah. Well I'll leave you to that, Hermione. Javier has found me.”

“Mmm hmm,” she said absently as he sauntered over to his boyfriend.

'Howdy,' Al hissed in Parseltongue at Javier, who stared blankly back at him.

“You know I don't understand that language, Al,” Javier said. “I wish I could, but I can't.”

“I was just saying hi,” Al said. “Let's take a walk.”

The walk they went on took them to an unused classroom, where they sat down on the teacher's desk together and held hands, talking.

“So I have an idea. It involves you borrowing my invisibility cloak and either sneaking into my dorm later, where I have a private room, or sneaking back to your own dorm later. Or both.”

“Oh my,” Javier said, turning red. “Inviting me to your room already?”

“Yes. Just for snogging, of course. For now, that is. If you want to.”

“I very much want to. I just don't know if I should. What if we get caught?”

“That is a valid concern. Maybe you should just spend the night at my place. If you don't want to sleep in my bed, I could make you a sleeping bag. And if I snore, you could sleep in my trunk to escape the noise. I wouldn't lock it, and anyway there's a handle for getting out if you accidentally get locked in.”

“You're very forward,” Javier said.

“Am I going too fast? We could just, you know... well, my main concern was not getting caught by Peeves, a teacher, or a prefect.”

“I didn't say I minded you being forward. Sure, I don't know what I want to do, but I don't mind you asking. And, well... there's the possibility of getting caught by other Griffindors. A snake amongst the lions and all. Also, you know, even if we were both Griffindors, me going into your private room for the night could be misinterpreted.”

“You raise an excellent point. And as to sleeping, you know, in the same bed... apart from the other concerns, with my luck I'd wake up having turned into Addy or Iliana during the night. Which would be awkward for everyone involved. Or worse, wake up as Zoey.

“Still,” he continued, “better a snake among the lions than a lion in the snake pit. Especially with Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle down there.”

“True.” Javier sighed, thinking. Then he turned to look Al right in the eyes, a first for him.

“I want to take the risk,” he said.

“What excuse are you going to give your dorm-mates?”

“None. I doubt they'll notice me. If they do, it'll be a surprise.”

Al nodded. “Okay, stay here, I'll go get my cloak.”

Javier nodded, and Al took off, walking as fast as he dared, almost a run, to the Griffindor common room, up to his room, and back down with the cloak in his pocket. A short time later, he was back in the spare classroom, and putting the cloak over Javier.

“Follow me, okay?”

“Okay.”

They walked, more sedately this time, back to the portrait of the Fat Lady.

“You again so soon? In or out, boy, make up your mind.”

“Balderdash,” he said, and she opened with a sigh.

He held the door open without making it obvious that he was doing so, so Javier could get in behind him and still allow him to close the painting, in case anyone inside was watching. He could still sense Javier behind him, invisible. It occurred to him, then, that this empathic power was more useful than he'd realized, if it gave him the ability to sense invisible people.

Carefully they made their way up the stairs together and up into his room. Once they were both in, he closed the door, and sound-proofed it with a spell.

He turned around. Javier had taken the cloak off and draped it over a chair. The younger boy was suddenly looking nervous and unsure.

“Er... I guess we sit on the bed together?”

“We don't have to. This chair here will hold us both if you sit on my lap.”

“Oh it will? Good.”

Al sat down on the reclining chair in the corner and patted his lap. Javier turned red and giggled, sitting carefully down on Al's lap, his feet hanging over the side of the chair. He leaned up against Al's chest, his head missing hitting Al's chin by a centimeter.

The two boys sat there like that, chuckling at the situation for a few minutes before settling down some. Al ran his fingers through Javier's hair, occasionally stopping to gently caress his ear. As the minutes passed, his boyfriend's ear became more and more interesting, until he gently lifted Javier up to look at his other ear, Javier's face full of amused confusion. The fact that Al was caressing his other ear didn't help clarify anything for him.

However, the kiss on the earlobe certainly did. His face turned bright red at the gentle act of affection, and grew even redder as Al made more kisses to the ear, slowly working his way up and down the ear. But it was a pleasant feeling, and his eyes began to close as he focused on enjoying it.

It was a very pleasant surprise when Al took the bottom of his earlobe in his mouth, sucking on it. He was certain you could cook an egg on his face at this point. He hadn't been sure what to expect with this whole 'snogging' thing, but he hadn't expected this. It was better than he'd imagined it.

While sucking on Javier's ear, Al was holding hands with him, Al's thumb stroking the soft skin under it. Javier responded by clenching his hand briefly and making a small moan of pleasure.

To his slight annoyance, Al left his ear and began kissing his jawline. But it was plain Al was going in the direction of his mouth, so he didn't complain. This would be his first kiss, and he was looking forward to it, even if his face looked like it had been badly sunburned.

But, as though to spite him, he suddenly remembered the others in Al's collective, and realized they were probably feeling the same things Al was. It shook him out of his reverie and made him jerk his head back.

“Did I do something wrong?”

“No. I just... I had an upsetting thought.”

“Nobody's going to get in. I have the door warded.”

“That's not what I mean. Er... are we... I don't know how to word this...”

Al waited.

“Um... are we alone?”

“Well, yeah.”

“No, I mean... are the others, um...”

“Ah. Would it bother you if they were... well... 'eavesdropping,' for lack of a better word?”

“A little, yeah.”

“Well there's a place they can go to get away. They'll get a memory update later, but it won't be the same as being there live, trust me on that. I can make them clear off if they haven't already.”

“Er... you don't know?”

“It can be hard to know without looking closer.”

“Well, okay.”

Okay you lot, anyone here spying on us? Hello?

Al poked around inside for the others. It was a bit like fumbling in a dark room for people hiding in the darkness, but different. Still, if they were there, he'd soon know. He felt around in every corner of their shared space. All he found was a message left behind. 'We cleared off as soon as you decided to have him sit on your lap,' the message said. So they were down in the Basement, then; good.

“They've been gone since before we sat down. Hiding out in the Basement until it's safe to come out. You'll be my first kiss, and mine alone. The others will have to get theirs later.”

“The Basement?” Javier asked, curious.

“That's what we call it. One or more of us goes down there, and they basically disappear. It's like we shut off for a time, or something. Anyway, that's where they are. They'll turn up later.”

“How will they know when they can come back?”

Al shrugged. “No idea. They just know, somehow.”

“Ah, okay. Well, er... continue, I guess.”

“Goody,” Al said, and started kissing Javier's jaw again.

To his mixed feelings, Al went back to his ear, kissing and sucking on it again. He had to admit, it worked well to get him into the mood. He supposed just mashing lips without preamble might be boring. Not that he'd know from experience. But enough of those thoughts; he pushed them aside and focused on the bliss at hand.

After a time, the kisses went back along his jaw and meandered toward his mouth. Al was doing a good job of building up tension; delicious, delicious tension. He was excited for it to happen at last. The tension kept building. Al kissed the corners of his mouth, and around the outside of his lips. Javier was practically about to weep from the tension. He suppressed the urge to shout 'Kiss me already, damn you!' But it wasn't easy.

Then, finally, blissfully, their lips properly locked together. He felt Al's tongue on his lips, prompting him to open them. He did, and Al's tongue slid in, and he tasted the other boy.

At this point, Javier's entire body was as hot as his face had been earlier, and he was shaking a little. He was more excited than he'd ever been before. He knew he would remember this for years to come.

~

Javier had slept in a sleeping bag on the floor that night. He wasn't ready to share a bed with Al, even if they were both doing nothing more than sleeping. Not that much would have happened; the kiss alone had made Javier so warm all over that he thought anything more than kissing would make him spontaneously combust. In fact, it had been Al's hand moving a little too close to his hip that had ended their kissing, by getting Javier so excited that he'd passed out. Al had needed to wake him up with a spell. They'd spent the rest of the night before bed just cuddling in the chair.

It turned out that getting back to the Slytherin common room was easier if you left Griffindor around dawn. He'd woken Al to tell him he was going; Al had sleepily acknowledged him, and told him he could return the cloak later, before rolling over and going back to sleep. But Javier had left the cloak in Al's room. His Disillusionment Charm wasn't anything to write home about, but it got him out of Griffindor and away from the sleeping Fat Lady. He was perfectly within his rights to be up and wandering around at dawn, after all.

He'd been very tempted to write someone about the experience, but he didn't want his parents to know he'd spent the night with his boyfriend in the boy's private bedroom, and he didn't have any other friends to tell, yet. So he just wandered around, eventually going out onto the grounds for a walk. He didn't have his cloak, but it was just warm enough that his robes were sufficient.

It had been a surprise to him when he found someone else out there. It had been more of a surprise that he'd recognized her. She was standing at the lakeside, tossing bits of bread in the water for the ducks. Her blond-ish hair was messy, like she hadn't bothered to comb it when she woke up.

“Luna Lovegood?” he said, unsure he had the name right.

“Yes, that's me,” Luna said dreamily, turning her protuberant eyes on him. “You're Al's boyfriend.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Er, yeah. My name's Javier Mendoza.”

“Ah yes, I remember now.”

He stood there. It occurred to him that this girl was weird enough in her own right that she probably wouldn't mind his own weirdness. He could have another friend, someone other than Al.

“Er...” He struggled to speak. But you couldn't just ask someone to be friends, could you?

Almost as though she'd read his mind, she said, “Don't worry. If you want to say something, say it. Plainly. You don't have to avoid saying the first thing you think, even if most people do. I won't be offended.”

“Okay. Um... wanna be friends?”

“Oooh, yes! I love having friends. I don't have many. Iliana is a friend of mine. Some of the others in her collective, too. I don't think I've met everyone.”

“What about Ron and Hermione?” he asked, though he thought he knew what she'd say.

“They're nice enough. But I don't know them well enough to know whether or not we're friends. I'd like us to be, but I don't know.”

“You could ask them.”

“Yes, I suppose I could. Maybe I will. Want to help me feed the ducks?”

“Oh yes, I would.”

She handed him a few slices of bread.

“Where'd you get this? Breakfast hasn't started yet.”

“I asked the house elves for some. They're happy to give it to me when I ask.”

“Did you know that ducks really shouldn't eat bread? It's junk food for them. Their version of deep fat fried food, maybe worse.”

“Oh. In that case, I'll have to look up what they eat and see if I can find some.”

That took Javier by surprise. The usual reaction to him correcting people was annoyance, or worse. He smiled; if this was what Luna was like, he thought he'd really enjoy her company.

They stood there in silence for a time, just feeding the ducks. Finally, she spoke again.

“What does the Griffindor common room look like? I've never been there before.”

“Wh-what? How did you know?”

“Oh, it wasn't hard. I saw you coming down from Griffindor tower earlier. And that was when I remembered Al and the others have a room all to themselves.”

“We didn't... we just snogged. And I slept on the floor, in a sleeping bag.”

She shrugged. “That's none of my business.”

“Oh. I just thought... well...”

“I'm not concerned with what others do, as long as they're not hurting anyone.”

“Good to know. Likewise.”

“So what does the Griffindor common room look like?”

He thought for a few moments, then started to describe it as best he could from his quick journeys through it on his way in and then out. He didn't think it was a great description, but she smiled and seemed satisfied anyway.

“Well,” she said, clapping crumbs off her hands. “I'm going to go to the library before breakfast. What about you?”

“Is it open?”

“Yes.”

“In that case, I'll come with you.”

“Is Al coming, too?”

He shook his head. “He's asleep still.”

She nodded, and they made their way to the library.

~

The next two days passed without incident. Neville almost melted the cauldron he and Al were using, as he was partnering Neville to help him out, but he avoided catastrophe and set Neville to preparing ingredients and listening to him when he gave pointers and so on, relayed from Iliana. Snape looked like he was angry enough to spit nails, and kept giving the two of them enraged glances, but as they weren't doing anything wrong, that was all he could do. Even if he was still angry about missing out on the DADA job again.

Al – who was frankly astonished to have remained himself for so long – had noticed, though, that Snape was scared of Moody for some reason, and was avoiding the ex-auror. He somewhat understood this, though; Moody was one of only three people now who Al couldn't read with his empathic powers. He'd figured out Snape by direct observation, though; it was damn near impossible to hide the little body-language tells that people gave away without meaning to. Al made a note to do the same to Moody, if he could.

When the class finally came up, they were all so excited that only Hermione was almost late, having been doing her house elf stuff in the library again.

They hurried into three chairs right in front of the teacher’s desk, took out their copies of The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection, and waited, unusually quiet. Soon they heard Moody’s distinctive clunking footsteps coming down the corridor, and he entered the room, looking as strange and frightening as ever. They could just see his clawed, wooden foot protruding from underneath his robes.

“You can put those away,” he growled, stumping over to his desk and sitting down, “those books. You won’t need them.”

Excited, they hastily obeyed.

Moody gave a speech of sorts. He mentioned Lupin's notes on their progress with Dark creatures, saying they were very behind in curses, and made a lot of excellent points about that; that fighting for your life wasn't like a duel. In a real life or death fight, the only rule was 'survive.' You had to do anything you could think of to survive.

Where it began to get worrying, though, was when he started talking about the Unforgivable Curses, curses that were highly illegal.

“So … do any of you know which curses are most heavily punished by wizarding law?”

Several hands rose tentatively into the air, including Ron’s and Hermione’s. Moody pointed at Ron, though his magical eye was fixed elsewhere.

“Er,” said Ron tentatively, “my dad told me about one. … Is it called the Imperius Curse, or something?”

“Ah, yes,” said Moody appreciatively. “Your father would know that one. Gave the Ministry a lot of trouble at one time, the Imperius Curse.”

Moody got heavily to his mismatched feet, opened his desk drawer, and took out a glass jar. Three large black spiders were scuttling around inside it. Al felt Ron recoil slightly next to him — Ron hated spiders.

Surely he's not going to... demonstrate them? Adira said in his head.

#Yeah, that would be madness! Performing an illegal curse in front of kids, even if it is on a spider.#

I dunno, Iliana, he's said to be mad.

Moody reached into the jar, caught one of the spiders, and held it in the palm of his hand so that they could all see it. He then pointed his wand at it and muttered, “Imperio!”

As the spider danced and more for the delight of the class, Al just stared, dumbstruck. Moody was mad!

Everyone was laughing, except for him and Moody.

“Think it’s funny, do you?” he growled. “You’d like it, would you, if I did it to you?”

The laughter died away almost instantly.

“Total control,” said Moody quietly as the spider balled itself up and began to roll over and over. “I could make it jump out of the window, drown itself, throw itself down one of your throats …”

Ron gave an involuntary shudder.

“Years back, there were a lot of witches and wizards being controlled by the Imperius Curse,” said Moody, and Al knew he was talking about the days in which Voldemort had been all-powerful. “Some job for the Ministry, trying to sort out who was being forced to act, and who was acting of their own free will.

“The Imperius Curse can be fought, and I’ll be teaching you how, but it takes real strength of character, and not everyone’s got it. Better avoid being hit with it if you can. CONSTANT VIGILANCE!” he barked, and everyone jumped.

#Teaching us to resist the Imperius curse? I wonder what that involves?#

They went through the same thing again, with the Cruciatus Curse. Moody turned his wand on the spider, said the incantation, and it curled up in agony. If it could have screamed, Al was sure it would be.

“Stop it!” Hermione said shrilly.

Al looked around at her. She was looking, not at the spider, but at Neville, and Al, following her gaze, saw that Neville’s hands were clenched upon the desk in front of him, his knuckles white, his eyes wide and horrified.

What the...? Adira wondered.

Al felt fury rise up in him on Neville's behalf. He didn't know why Neville reacted so strongly to this curse, but clearly it was triggering the poor boy.

Moody stopped, shrunk the spider back to normal size, then asked for another Curse. Hermione was the one who supplied the name: Avada Kedavra, the killing curse.

Moody put his hand into the glass jar, and almost as though it knew what was coming, the third spider scuttled frantically around the bottom of the jar, trying to evade Moody’s fingers, but he trapped it, and placed it upon the desktop. It started to scuttle frantically across the wooden surface.

Moody raised his wand, and Al felt a sudden thrill of foreboding.

Avada Kedavra!” Moody roared.

There was a flash of blinding green light and a rushing sound, as though a vast, invisible something was soaring through the air — instantaneously the spider rolled over onto its back, unmarked, but unmistakably dead. Several of the students stifled cries; Ron had thrown himself backward and almost toppled off his seat as the spider skidded toward him.

Moody swept the dead spider off the desk onto the floor.

“Not nice,” he said calmly. “Not pleasant. And there’s no countercurse. There’s no blocking it. Only one known person has ever survived it, and he’s sitting right in front of me.”

Us, obviously.

Al and the others stared at the dead spider, their thoughts focused on wondering if that was how their parents had died. Until, from what felt like a long way away, Moody spoke again.

Avada Kedavra’s a curse that needs a powerful bit of magic behind it — you could all get your wands out now and point them at me and say the words, and I doubt I’d get so much as a nosebleed. But that doesn’t matter. I’m not here to teach you how to do it.

“Now, if there’s no countercurse, why am I showing you? Because you’ve got to know. You’ve got to appreciate what the worst is. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you’re facing it. CONSTANT VIGILANCE!” he roared, and the whole class jumped again.

“Now … those three curses — Avada Kedavra, Imperius, and Cruciatus — are known as the Unforgivable Curses. The use of any one of them on a fellow human being is enough to earn a life sentence in Azkaban. That’s what you’re up against. That’s what I’ve got to teach you to fight. You need preparing. You need arming. But most of all, you need to practice constant, never-ceasing vigilance. Get out your quills … copy this down.”

They did. They spent the rest of the class dutifully taking notes as Moody lectured. No one spoke until the bell rang — but when Moody had dismissed them and they had left the classroom, a torrent of talk burst forth. Most people were discussing the curses in awed voices — “Did you see it twitch?” “— and when he killed it — just like that!”

They were talking about the lesson, Al and Adira thought, as though it had been some sort of spectacular show, but they hadn’t found it very entertaining — and nor, it seemed, had Hermione.

“Hurry up,” she said tensely to Al and Ron.

“Not the ruddy library again?” said Ron.

“No,” said Hermione curtly, pointing up a side passage. “Neville.”

Neville was standing alone, halfway up the passage, staring at the stone wall opposite him with the same horrified, wide-eyed look he had worn when Moody had demonstrated the Cruciatus Curse.

Al watched curiously as Hermione tried to comfort Neville, who was clearly in an emotional shock; he didn't need his empathic sense to know that. The demonstration had left Neville in quite a state.

An odd clunking noise sounded behind them, and they turned to see Professor Moody limping toward them. All four of them fell silent, watching him apprehensively, but when he spoke, it was in a much lower and gentler growl than they had yet heard.

“It’s all right, sonny,” he said to Neville. “Why don’t you come up to my office? Come on … we can have a cup of tea. …”

Neville looked even more frightened at the prospect of tea with Moody. He neither moved nor spoke. Moody turned his magical eye upon Al.

“You all right, are you, Potter?”

Al glared at him. “Yes,” he said calmly, with a touch of ice in his voice.

Moody’s blue eye quivered slightly in its socket as it surveyed Al. Then he said, “You’ve got to know. It seems harsh, maybe, but you’ve got to know. No point pretending … well … come on, Longbottom, I’ve got some books that might interest you.”

Neville looked pleadingly at Al, Ron, and Hermione, but they didn’t say anything, so Neville had no choice but to allow himself to be steered away, one of Moody’s gnarled hands on his shoulder.

“What was that about?” said Ron, watching Neville and Moody turn the corner.

“I don’t know,” said Hermione, looking pensive.

“Some lesson though, huh Al?” Ron said. But the look Al gave him made Ron go pale and turn away in a hurry.

After dinner, Al followed Ron to the dorm Ron shared with Neville and the others, his mind too preoccupied to notice he was in the wrong place.

He looked up to see Neville there alone, sitting on his bed, reading. He looked a good deal calmer than at the end of Moody’s lesson, though still not entirely normal. His eyes were rather red.

“You all right, Neville?” Al asked him.

“Oh yes,” said Neville, “I’m fine, thanks. Just reading this book Professor Moody lent me. …”

He held up the book: Magical Water Plants of the Mediterranean.

“Apparently, Professor Sprout told Professor Moody I’m really good at Herbology,” Neville said. There was a faint note of pride in his voice that Al had rarely heard there before. “He thought I’d like this.”

Telling Neville what Professor Sprout had said, Al thought, had been a very tactful way of cheering Neville up, for Neville very rarely heard that he was good at anything. It was the sort of thing Professor Lupin would have done.

The book also sounded interesting. He made a mental note to borrow it from Neville, later, when he was feeling better. Wait at least a week before asking him, he decided.

He sat down with Ron to do their Divination homework together, but Al couldn't focus. He was too lost in thought. Too late, he realized that such unfocused thinking, trying to split his attention, might--

Sure enough, they transformed, and Iliana took Al's place. Al shrugged mentally, and went back to getting lost in thought, while Iliana and Ron thought up made-up predictions, since they couldn't figure out how to do it for real.

After a time, his attention changed focus. Iliana was still focused on homework with Ron, but Al was free to peek through the peripheral vision at Fred and George, who were being secretive about some kind of document. It was unlike them, within the castle, since Lee Jordan wasn't with them. The twins, working on something secret together without Lee? It was weird.

As Al watched, George shook his head at Fred, scratched out something with his quill, and said, in a very quiet voice that nevertheless carried across the almost deserted room, “No — that sounds like we’re accusing him. Got to be careful …”

By this point, Iliana had noticed, too, and was looking at them. They cut off. She smiled at them, not wanting them to think she was spying, but they got up and left anyway.

Fred and George had been gone ten minutes or so when the portrait hole opened and Hermione climbed into the common room carrying a sheaf of parchment in one hand and a box whose contents rattled as she walked in the other. Crookshanks arched his back, purring.

“Hi there, Iliana,” she said, “I’ve just finished!”

Al waited as Iliana, Ron, and Hermione had a talk about the fake predictions. The way she'd come in, and said she was finished, made him think she had come in with a specific purpose in mind. He thought he knew what that purpose was, and waited.

Sure enough, when Hermione finally found an opening in the conversation, she revealed to them that she'd finished the H.E.L.F. badges. Al was annoyed to find out that Iliana was less than enthusiastic about the group. But she played along for Al's sake, taking a badge.

He was glad, though, that Hermione was taking his earlier words to heart. One of the first things on her to-do list was to find a way into the kitchens to talk with the elves. The other was to try to find a way to get more members.

Al was also dismayed at Ron's perspective on the issue. Iliana was going to let it slide, but when Al began threatening to take a page out of Zoey's book and start singing the Hogwarts school song until they all went mad, she relented and told Ron off.

“Ron, your family doesn't have any house elves,” Iliana said. “How would you know if they like it or not? The only house elf you've ever met is Dobby.”

There, that got through to him. Ron went silent, a little pouty, but clearly he knew they had a point. The rest of the conversation went a lot more smoothly after that. Al checked out of the conversation entirely, his wandering thoughts sinking him down, down, down into the Basement.

~

One of their favorite classes now was History of Magic. Taught by Professor Lupin, the class was much more interesting. Nobody fell asleep in class now. Just as with DADA, Professor Lupin mixed lecture with practical aspects of the class. Their first class, Lupin had brought a goblin to class. The small being told them about the goblin rebellions from the goblin point of view, and captured everyone's attention with reenactments of some of the battle moves and war cries of the goblins. But he also told them what the goblins had rebelled for, and that they were still not happy with how things had turned out. They wanted wand magic, as well as their usual magic, to expand their powers. But it was illegal for anyone but a human (or someone who was at least part human) to have a wand. It made Al think, made him wonder if he could go into wand-making.

Their next class was more sedate by comparison. To test them on how well they'd done the assigned reading, as well as to teach, Lupin mixed lecture with asking questions of random students, or having them finish his sentences. He ignored raised hands (like Hermione's or Iliana's) unless three people in a row had missed the question.

A few classes later he changed things again for one period, going for a class debate style instead, about goblin rights and whether or not they should be expanded. When it got a bit too heated, Lupin calmed the class down by having them all rest quietly for ten minutes before giving them their new assignments for next time.

And so it went for two weeks, their two very interesting classes making up for the badness of some of the other classes. Iliana was annoyed that Quidditch was canceled for the year, but it did give them more time to do homework.

To their surprise, Professor Moody had announced that he would be putting the Imperius Curse on each of them in turn, to demonstrate its power and to see whether they could resist its effects.

“But — but you said it’s illegal, Professor,” said Hermione uncertainly as Moody cleared away the desks with a sweep of his wand, leaving a large clear space in the middle of the room. “You said — to use it against another human was —”

“Dumbledore wants you taught what it feels like,” said Moody, his magical eye swiveling onto Hermione and fixing her with an eerie, unblinking stare. “If you’d rather learn the hard way — when someone’s putting it on you so they can control you completely — fine by me. You’re excused. Off you go.”

Nobody in the Potter collective knew what to think of that. On the one hand, it was illegal. On the other hand, Dumbledore trusted Moody. Was it always illegal? After all, some potions were illegal for anyone but the ministry to use, but there were times when Snape still taught how to make those potions – mostly in N.E.W.T. level. So they decided to roll with it for now.

Whether these thoughts occurred to Hermione or not, she nonetheless stood down, and Moody began to line them up one at a time to see if they could resist the Imperius curse. Iliana and the others watched as, one by one, their classmates did the most extraordinary things under its influence. Dean Thomas hopped three times around the room, singing the national anthem. Lavender Brown imitated a squirrel. Neville performed a series of quite astonishing gymnastics he would certainly not have been capable of in his normal state. Not one of them seemed to be able to fight off the curse, and each of them recovered only when Moody had removed it.

“Potter,” Moody growled, “you next.”

Iliana moved forward into the middle of the classroom, into the space that Moody had cleared of desks. Moody raised his wand, pointed it at Iliana, and said, “Imperio!”

For a brief moment there was a wonderful feeling of floating, as their worries were wiped away, before the feeling broke and they blinked at the world around them.

“Hmm... interesting. Maybe it's those extra minds inside of you, girl, but for whatever reason, that spell wasn't strong enough. I'm gonna try it again. Imperio!”

The floating feeling persisted for longer, long enough that they heard a new voice in their head that said 'Jump onto the desk.'

She bent her legs to obey, but then she collapsed on the ground in pain, clutching her head. She was glowing, and shrinking. They were Zoey now.

“Fascinating,” Moody growled. “You're a hard lot to reign in, I see. This is good news. One more time, shall we? Imperio!”

'Jump onto the desk. Jump onto the desk.'

I don't bloody think so!

When they woke up, they were Al again.

Moody tried a few more times. They shifted to Iliana again once more, but then stopped changing. But Moody had no better luck controlling them with the spell.

“Well, seems you're naturally resistant to the Imperius Curse. Excellent! They'll have a hard time controlling you! Still, not very instructive for the others.”

~

The fourth years were beginning to note a huge uptick in the amount of assigned work they had to do, in every class. Even Lupin was giving them a lot more work than he had as DADA teacher.

“This is an important year,” Lupin explained. “Your O.W.L.s are coming next year, and you are very behind in this class, thanks to Professor Binns. I have a lot to teach you before then. Just be glad you're not fifth years, yet; they're doing three times what you're doing in this class. Why, we spent twice as long on the Goblin rebellions in this class than they did, and they had more homework on it than you've had from me this year and the prior year combined.”

Professor Trelawney was, of course, thrilled with the fake predictions Iliana and Ron had made together, but nobody was much thrilled when they were asked to do it again. Al was annoyed because here he was, a legitimate seer, being taught by a fraud who only had visions when the Powers That Be saw fit to give her one, and she didn't even know it!

Professor Snape was forcing them to research antidotes. They took this one seriously, as he had hinted that he might be poisoning one of them before Christmas to see if their antidote worked. Professor Flitwick had asked them to read three extra books in preparation for their lesson on Summoning Charms.

~

Alastair knocked on Professor McGonagall's office door.

“Come in,” she said.

He did, and closed the door behind her. She looked up at him, surprised.

“Did you need something, Mr. Potter?”

“Yes. I was... well, for all that he was a horrible teacher, Lockhart had one good idea.”

She raised an eyebrow. “He did?”

“Yes. The dueling club. Run by a competent teacher, it would be a great idea. God knows we could use something to compensate for our spotty Defense training, with a new teacher every year. I know Moody is great, but he's not teaching dueling so far, and as far as I know he doesn't have any plans. I'd suggest he teach the dueling club, but between the curse on the position and him saying he was only staying a year anyway... well, it would be best to learn dueling from someone we know is going to be around next year.”

“And who did you have in mind for that, Mr. Potter?”

“There's you, or Flitwick, or even Dumbledore. Or you could all take it in turns.”

“Me? Oh I don't know about that. I'm not as young as I was...”

“Perhaps, but you and Dumbledore both radiate this aura of well-controlled power. And Flitwick is rumored to be a dueling champion.”

“I don't know. What about Professor Snape?”

“How about no,” he said as a statement. “That didn't go so well the first time, and not many people like him. But we all do like you and Flitwick, and I think most people like Dumbledore. I know I do.”

“Well you are very good at flattery, Mr. Potter. I shall run the idea past Dumbledore, with my recommendation that we proceed with it.”

Al blinked.

“You look surprised. All that careful flattery, and you didn't think you would succeed?”

“Uh, I did have my doubts. Since, you know, it didn't go so well last time. But I know there's a lot of students who are woeful at Defense spells, and with Moldywart--”

Professor McGonagall choked with frightened shock, but then actually chuckled.

“--er... yeah, with Moldywart still something like alive, it would be a good idea for everyone to be able to defend themselves, so I thought 'why not ask?'”

McGonagall smiled at him, looking barely able to control her mirth.

“Yes yes, you already made your point. Now, if you would please leave before I -” (snerk) “lose my composure.”

“Yes, Professor,” he said, grinning. He left the room.

After closing the door, he walked away loudly but then crept back, just in time to hear her laugh in quite an undignified manner.

~

On September 19th, Zoey came Out and ran off during dinner. As dinner was finishing, she showed up at Hermione's side.

“You done eatin'?”

“Yes. But I wanted to go to--”

“Good, you can come with me now. To Griffindor tower!”

“Why?”

“You'll see. But I think you know why.”

“Oh, yes, it's my birthday. You got me something?”

“Yes indeedy. Come on!”

They went as fast as they dared back to Griffindor tower, and into the common room. As soon as they came in, they saw Ron, Ginny, Dean Thomas, Neville, and the Weasley Twins standing around a table with a birthday cake on it.

“Happy birthday!” they all said.

Hermione blushed. “Thank you, everyone, thank you. Oh Zoey, where'd you get the cake?”

“With some help from Fred and George,” she replied. “Don't worry, it's carrot cake. Sugar free, with sugar-free icing.”

Hermione gave the small girl a big hug. Then they all sat down and went about the normal birthday party things like the birthday song, blowing out the candles, and Hermione opening her presents, as well as a lot of pumpkin juice and a wide variety of snacks. And presents, of course.

~

The next day, there was an announcement hung on the notice boards, which announced that the Dueling Club was being reinstated starting tonight, and would be overseen by Professors Flitwick and McGonagall, with occasional visits by Dumbledore and Moody.

“Well let's hope it goes better this time around,” Ron said.

“Yes, quite,” agreed Hermione.

“I wonder why they've brought it back,” Ron said.

“Er,” said Adira. “I know why. Alastair asked for it.”

Ron gaped at her. “He did? Why?”

“Because he's kinda getting paranoid, plus some students are pants at dueling.”

Ron snorted, grinning. “Like Javier?”

“Among others,” she said coolly.

“Why're you getting defensive? He's not your boyfriend.”

“Er... yeah. Sorry. Emotional spillover from Al.”

“Forgiven. Hey, I wonder what Dueling Club is gonna be like, now. You joining up, Hermione?”

“Yes, I think so. It sounds fun, as long as I don't get stuck with Millicent Bulstrode again.”

“I'll take her if I have to, Hermione,” said Adira.

“Thanks, Addy.”

Adira's left eye twitched. “Not a problem, Hermy.”

“No,” Hermione said, in a voice like arctic seawater. “Don't call me Hermy again.”

“Er... alright then,” Adira said, backing up carefully.

“Good. Glad we've settled that.”

Adira was surprised by how many people turned up for the reinstated Dueling Club, given how poorly it had gone last time. Everything was set up similarly, only the stage was plain wood, not golden. She noticed Flitwick and McGonagall up there, waiting for the top of the hour to arrive.

While they waited, Adira looked around at the other people. It was a good mix of people from all the Houses, which made sense, since there was no Quidditch this year.

She was just wondering how they'd get partnered, when Javier came up to her. He looked carefully at her face, then held out his hand.

“Adira Potter, I presume?”

“Yes, that's me,” she said, shaking his hand.

“Javier Mendoza,” he said.

“Yes, I know. Glad to, er... glad to meet you,” she said, suddenly remembering him and Al kissing. She hadn't been there at the time, but still... the memory was vivid.

“Sorry about that,” she said, “I was just taken off-guard a little.”

“Understandable,” he said. “Is... er... is Al, um, present?”

“Hmm... no, not at the moment. Should I call for him?”

“No no, that's okay. In fact, I'm glad it worked out this way. I don't know if I could focus as well with him around. But, er... you and he know the same kinds of magic, right?”

“Yes. Why?”

“I mean, I know you're not the one teaching, but if you could give me some hints, that would help me a lot.”

She opened her mouth to speak, but McGonagall was calling for attention, so she closed it.

“Welcome, everyone, to the reinstated Dueling Club. Since someone pointed out it was Gilderoy Lockhart's only good idea, if run by a competent teacher, we decided to bring it back. Professor Flitwick and I expect you to behave yourselves in this club. There are to be no spells we do not approve ahead of time. No dark spells, no summoning snakes, no casting any spell we have not given express permission to use. Violate these rules, and you will be dismissed from the club immediately. Do I make myself perfectly clear?”

“Yes, Professor McGonagall!” everyone said in unison.

“Now the first spell we shall work on is the disarming charm, expeliarmus. You will get to see competent teachers cast this spell first. Professor Flitwick, if you would show them the charm?”

The two teachers got into position on the stage, bowed to one another, and got into a proper dueling stance. Then they counted down from three, and began. Professor Flitwick shouted, “Expeliarmus!” and McGonagall's wand flew out of her hand. She hadn't even attempted to defend herself.

They switched places, and this time she disarmed the smaller professor.

“Now that you have seen it demonstrated, we shall pair you up and have you take turns practicing it on each other. And I repeat again, anyone using any spell other than expeliarmus will be banned from attending this club for the rest of the school year.”

Adira stood awkwardly by Javier, since he wanted to partner her for this activity. It was weird looking at him, because seeing him brought to mind pale memories of Al's feelings for the boy, but Adira had no interest in him herself. It was a strange feeling. She readjusted her glasses to give her hands something to do while she waited.

To his credit, he barely looked at her, and their empathic sense told her that he had no feelings about her beyond what might be expected of two people who'd basically just met for the first time. But there were other emotions floating around the room that concerned her more; clearly their attitudes toward one another were confusing some other people, who – she guessed – still hadn't quite become convinced of her and Al being different people entirely.

As she pulled her just-past-the-shoulderblade length hair into a ponytail with a pink and green scrunchy, she felt someone's gaze on her, and turned to look. It was Millicent Bulstrode. She glared at Millicent.

“What are you looking at?” she asked the bigger girl.

Millicent smirked, opening her mouth to answer.

“Never mind, I can feel the answer well enough,” she said. Another one of those people. This was going to be very annoying.

Professor Flitwick came around then.

“Ah yes, Potter and Mendoza, that will be acceptable. Ah, Miss Bulstrode, without a partner, I see? Well here, Mr. Finnigan doesn't have one either, you can partner him.”

Adira smirked back at Millicent, then focused on Javier.

“Okay, do you want to go first, or should I?”

“Um... you first. I want to see it done again.”

“Fine by me.”

They got into position, bowed, and Adira shot the spell at him. “Expeliarmus!”

His wand soared through the air at her, and she caught it. She tossed it back at him, and he fumbled it and dropped it.

“Sorry about that, Javier. I won't do it again. I'll just hand it back next time.”

“It's my fault,” he said, picking it back up. “Don't worry about it.”

When he tried the spell on her, she didn't feel anything.

“You should try it again, I felt nothing.”

He nodded, and tried again. This time, she felt a tug, but not enough to pull her wand from her.

“Er, Professor Flitwick?” she asked, since he was nearby.

“Yes, Miss Potter?”

“What's he doing wrong? I barely felt anything, and I don't really know how to correct him, even though I managed the spell fine.”

Professor Flitwick walked over to Javier and did his best – being short – to correct Javier's stance and wand movements, and gave him advice about how to put more power into the spell. Then he stood back to watch Javier try again.

When Javier tried again, her wand flew through the air, and its tip hit him square on the nose, leaving a red boil behind. Flitwick healed the boil quickly, and returned Adira's wand to her.

“Maybe practice a few more times, see if you can catch it this time,” he suggested. “Call on Professor McGonagall or myself if you get hit with the wand again, okay?”

They nodded, and he walked off to help others.

When Javier next tried the spell, Adira's wand flew so far away that they had to enlist several peoples' help to locate it before they could continue. He tried again, and ended up fumbling her wand and dropping it and his own wand. She put her face in one hand and groaned.

“S-sorry, Adira, I've just never been any good at catching stuff.”

“That's alright. At least you're doing the spell. Er... maybe we should try it with us both moving, since rarely are you going to be facing a stationary opponent,” she suggested.

“Er, alright then.”

They moved around this time now, like a real duel. He tried the spell several times, and she ducked each time. He finally got her the fourth time around, but was so surprised that he was too slow looking up to track her wand, and it poked him in the eye.

Oh wow, Al said to her, back from wherever he'd been, as Professor McGonagall helped a tearful Javier to the hospital wing. He's worse than Neville at this.

She picked up her wand and turned to where she'd spotted Neville. He and Ernie McMillan were busy looking for Neville's wand.

Yeah, you're right. He's gonna need a lot of help.



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