Classes continued through February into March, the weather stubbornly cold and wet, but with more daylight as a minor concession to the calendar. Divination continued to annoy to Hermione, who was frustrated with the unpredictable nature of it all, but Arithmancy remained a highlight in her schedule. Professor Vector had moved into teaching them how to construct basic Arithmantic Queries.
"This is not easy, but this is the most crucial part," she warned her students. "This will be especially difficult if you're not taking Ancient Runes. I've had some students get mixed success with using their own variables in place of runes, but it takes a lot of extra work and power."
Harry had grumbled something and sunk lower in his seat at that. Hermione wondered if he wished he'd taken Ancient Runes.
"An Arithmantic Query is a question you are throwing out into the universe, asking Magic to reply," she told them. "For the Muggleborns among you, think of an Arithmantic Query like a command line in a computer program – you are querying the database of the world."
Hermione practically vibrated in her seat at the comparison, but she could see among her classmates that none of the others understood what their teacher meant.
Using Arithmantic symbology, Professor Vector taught them the essential 'command operators', which were the symbols that told the query what to do. They had simplistic meanings like 'find' or 'from' or 'where' or 'and' or 'sum' or 'if'. Symbols for specific variables were harder, as they depended on what you were trying to find out.
"If one wanted to know what the weather was, for example, without going outside," Professor Vector said, chalk clacking rapidly on the board, "you could use Kenaz here, to seek the level of heat outside, against Othala, representing the general state of being of the world."
She paused to tap the query with her wand, and the chalk turned to golden lines before flying off of the board.
"Alternatively, you could use Jera here, meaning 'comfort', and put in an actual figure here," she said, filling in 20°C in the equation. "People have used the degree symbol and this method of temperature measuring for so long that it has gained a symbolic meaning of its own."
She tapped this equation too, and it changed color and flew off into the world.
"Answers you get will be factual, but they may not always be the easiest to understand," Professor Vector warned them, as the queries came back, splashing answers on the board where their equations had once stood. "Here, in the first, we have gotten back Isa, which tells us that it is cold outside. That one is fairly straightforward, if we understand Ancient Runes."
She moved on to the next one. "Here, though, we have gotten back what appears to be Gebo – which, if we understand Ancient Runes, represents, gifts, relationships, sacrifices, exchanges, contracts, and partnerships," Vector told them all, tapping the board with one eyebrow raised. "What sense of this can we make?"
The class glanced around at each other, stumped, while a few brave Ravenclaws ventured guesses, all of which Professor Vector countered and dismissed.
Hermione bit her lip, thinking hard. Maybe with secondary meanings, the query had gotten confused. Jera could also mean 'a promise of success realized', and in comparison with the weather…
To her surprise, it was Harry who got it in the end.
"We're not only using runes," he said, rewriting the query on the board. "We use one here, sure, but 20°C isn't runic – it's just… I guess 'modern symbols'?" He faltered for a moment, before carrying on. "So this isn't as general as the other one. The other one asked if it was warm out compared to the world, and Arithmancy basically answered 'no, it's cold'. This one asks us if it's warm out enough to be comfortable, defining 'comfortable' as 20°C; and we didn't get a rune back, we got an X – another modern symbol, one that just means 'no'."
Professor Vector gave him a rare smile, warm. "Excellently done, Potter! Take 20 points for Gryffindor."
Harry returned to his seat slightly shaky but triumphant.
"Well done, you!" Hermione whispered, nudging him with a smile.
Harry grinned back at her, pleased.
"I feel like I cheated," he told her quietly, and Professor Vector started writing on the board again. "I knew it wasn't 20° out, so the answer had to mean 'no', and worked backwards from there."
"That's more than I figured out," Hermione admitted. "I was trying to analyze the secondary meanings of the runes."
Harry gave her a commiserating glance before looking back up at the board to take notes. Hermione sighed, resuming her own note-taking. She suspected she'd be a bit hung up on secondary meanings of runes for a while, now, given what had happened when she hadn't considered them ahead of time.
Their homework assigned them construction of a few basic queries relating to their own life. They had ten minutes at the end of class to start work on it, and at the end of the period, Hermione was amused to see Harry's was full of not runes, but the arithmantic command operators interspersed with tiny drawings.
"Look at all your pictures!" Hermione said, laughing. "Were you doodling?"
"No, it's my homework," Harry said, defensive. "I can't get to the library to find an Ancient Runes book yet, so I was filling it in with—with, well, what I knew…"
"What is this?" Hermione said, looking in more closely. "You've got a little happy face here, and… is this a thermometer? Queried against… a broomstick?" She glanced at him over the parchment. "So… you're asking if it's warm enough to play Quidditch comfortably?"
Harry snatched it back.
"You don't need to be snide," he said, face reddening. "I don't know runes like you do."
"On the contrary, I think it's rather brilliant," Hermione told him honestly. "Does it work?"
Harry blinked. "Err—no idea."
"I bet it would," Hermione told him. "Before you finish, I would copy it down again and tap it to see what kind of answer you get."
Harry looked fairly stunned at the idea that his little drawings might actually work, but it made sense to Hermione. Happy faces and broomsticks were symbols, after all, albeit ones not ingrained into society for quite as long as Elder Futhark runes.
History was also interesting. Professor Lockhart had decided to do a unit on mythic figures and legends of wizarding society, in absolutely no relation to anything they'd studied so far, but it was fascinating to hear stories about the sorceress Circe and how her history had warped into myth and legend.
"Most of the witches and wizards we swear with and curse by, you will notice, have certain common elements," Lockhart announced, drawing a giant chart on the board. "First! They are usually some of the rare true magical figures known by muggles,"
"How are we supposed to know what muggles do and don't know?" Draco grumbled aloud, and Hermione rolled her eyes.
"Second! They are more than just a wizard or witch," Lockhart proclaimed. "Circe was more than just a sorceress or an expert in human Transfiguration. Who can tell me why?"
"She had a power over time, of sorts," Hermione offered. "Time passed differently on her island, for the people who ate the foods she offered them."
"Exactly!" Lockhart said, beaming. "Through a scholarly lens, Circe's unusual abilities mark her as having powers similar to those of the Fae. Merlin is very similar – his shapeshifting abilities and gift of prophecy are well known – though muggle legend tells us he was a 'cambion', born of a druid sleeping with a muggle demon." Lockhart paused, looking torn for a moment. "Err—we can probably interpret this as a druid sleeping with a magical being from another dimension, so this is likely indicative of Fae ancestry as well…"
It was odd and unsettling to hear about the Fae being referred to factually in History class, and she could tell that her classmates were also unsettled by it. The Fae were usually relegated strictly to legends and myths; Hermione only knew otherwise from her interactions with the House Elves.
She wondered if the Fae still interfered with this world like they used to. It seemed like they hadn't bothered with it in a while – centuries, even – or maybe they'd just grown more careful than they'd been before. Which was probably a good thing, she reckoned – old legends of the Fae had them as powerful, unpredictable beings with an entirely different moral compass than those of mere mortals.
After class when she was gathering her books, she was caught off-guard by Neville.
"Do you think magical affinities modern people have came from the Fae?" he asked her, eyes wide. "Like Animagi – they can kind of shape shift, right? Do you think the people who can do that have Fae ancestry somewhere?"
Hermione stared at him.
"Neville," she said slowly, "what are you doing here?"
"What do you mean?" Neville asked, confused.
"This is History class," Hermione told him slowly, puzzled. "Which Slytherin shares with Hufflepuff, not Gryffindor."
Neville turned red.
"I wasn't paying much attention this morning," he admitted. "I overslept, and when Wayne woke me up, it was all the time I had to throw on my robes and rush to classes, and I just—followed Wayne and Justin, really…"
Hermione's eyebrows rose. "And you're just going with it?"
"Well, it's a little late to change now," Neville admitted. "If I keep at it, then it seems purposeful, right? Whereas if I change halfway through the day, everyone will know I forgot that I—err—"
Forgot you were a Gryffindor, Hermione's mind supplied, but she daren't say it out loud.
"Professor McGonagall will wonder where you are for Transfiguration," she warned him, and Neville's face darkened.
"We'll see," Neville said, his voice flat. "She hasn't noticed I've been missing from my dorm for a fortnight, now. If I get Harry to hand in my essay with the others, I bet she won't notice I'm gone."
Hermione bit her lip but said nothing, merely gesturing for him to give her his essay instead.
"What's up with Longbottom?" Tracey asked her later, as they made their way to the Transfiguration classroom. "Did… did he just desert Gryffindor and join Hufflepuff? Can you do that?"
"No one told him he couldn't," Hermione muttered, dropping Neville's essay into the basket by the door along with hers. "And Professor McGonagall hasn't seemed to notice one way or the other yet."
Tracey looked alarmed and concerned by this, but she was quickly distracted upon seeing Millie already seated in the classroom. She was staring at the ceiling with a serene smile on her face, a very unusual thing for her to do, and Hermione was oddly reminded of Luna Lovegood.
"Millie! Where've you been?" Tracey exclaimed. "You missed lunch again!"
"Hospital Wing," Millie said dreamily. "Got a pain potion."
"Again?" Hermione said, alarmed. "Millie, your cycle really shouldn't be lasting this long or causing you this many problems. We should go to Snape—"
"Nahhh," Millie dismissed, shaking her head slowly, exaggeratedly. "'M fine now. Got a nice potion from Madame Pomfrey. 'S got poppies in it." She gave a very slow, wide grin. "It's lovely."
Hermione's eyes went wide in horror, while Tracey's brow furrowed.
"Poppies?" Tracey repeated, confused. "What's that got to do with anything?"
"You're all doped up," Hermione said, with growing alarm. "Millie, we're practicing transfiguration on live porcupines today."
"I'm fine," Millie insisted, slurring slightly. "I'm not stupid – I won't cuddle one or something dumb. Though I've always wondered what it'd be like to pet one…"
Exchanging a look of alarm with Tracey, Hermione and Tracey sat on either side of Millie, throwing off the usual seating arrangement of the room. Blaise sauntered in and took the seat at Hermione's other side, raising an eyebrow.
"This is new," he commented. "What's happening now?"
"Millie's high," Hermione told him quietly. "We've got to keep her from getting caught or destroying the classroom this period."
Blaise laughed, settling back in his chair with ease.
"At least it'll keep things interesting," he said, smirking. "Got to keep Slytherin up in the House Points."
Between the three of them, they managed to keep Millie's transfigurations from wandering all over the place, stop her from petting her porcupine, and hid her crying when she wept over the tragic beauty of the porcupine's plight.
"They can never hug anyone," Millie cried into Tracey's robes. "They'll always be so lonely, unless they shed their quills. And if they do that, they'll be eaten. It's so sad!"
A strategic hex (courtesy of Blaise) across the room saved them from detection, as Seamus jumped and yelped, messing up his wand movements and promptly setting his desk ablaze with his porcupine running for the door.
"We've got to get a handle on this," Hermione hissed to Blaise. "We can't let her become addicted to narcotics because her period hurts so bad."
Blaise shrugged helplessly.
"Talk to her about it, then," he said. "Maybe you can help her. But maybe not now," he advised, watching as Millie rubbed a writing quill all over her face, humming lightly. "She doesn't quite seem in her right mind just yet."
That, Hermione thought, watching as Millie tried to eat her quill and made a face when she realized it wasn't a sugar one, was a massive understatement.