AN: Wow it's been long since the last update! I started writing this chapter all the way back in August, but then I couldn't get anything done during vacation, then prep for exams, then Corona stress. Every time I got some time for writing I didn't really know how to continue where I left off, so I ended up rewriting the entire chapter. Also there's a slight error on my part: Turns out Terry isn't actually a muggleborn Star Wars fan in canon. He is here. Should I add a time travel plot later on that accidentally causes this discrepancy?
Homework, organize supplies for a vigilante group, classes, plan for emergencies, homework, refresh my knowledge of muggle science, classes, asking Moody for dueling training, homework, exchange letters with Nicholas Flamel about cutting-edge subatomic alchemy, classes, discuss rumors about the Dark Lord's return going around Knockturn Alley, homework, keep an eye on Draco Malfoy, classes, participate in the Hogwarts dueling club, homework, work on my hobby project with Fred and George, homework, occlumency lessons, classes, help Lockhart not make an idiot of himself teaching Defense, homework, try to make sense of the mess that is the Hogwarts budget, classes…
And the entire time I've had this nagging feeling that I've forgotten about something important.
"Hey, you look really tired. Did you stay up all night studying for the exams too?", asked Lisa Turpin as we made our way down the stairs to breakfast.
Ah, right. Exams.
"No, I haven't done anything for the exams yet."
Lisa almost stumbled. "You're kidding. We've got one week left. I've been studying since May."
"No. Honestly, I don't think I'm going to do any studying for the exams at all."
Terry must've overheard that, because he touched my forehead to feel my temperature and asked only half-jokingly whether he should take me to the hospital wing.
Word spread between the other Ravenclaws in our group. When we arrived in the Great Hall, Terry sat down next to Michael Corner and asked:
"Do you know if the Sorting Hat gives refunds? I think the Harry it gave us might be a bit defective."
Thanks a lot. Just because I don't care much about first-year exam grades.
"I'm not sick or crazy," I decided to defend myself. "I paid attention in class throughout the year. I should know enough to get a passing grade, easy."
Hermione had gone to breakfast a few minutes earlier so she just now heard about my controversial statement. "Is that all you care about? A passing grade? Really?"
"It's a first year grade, not a N.E.W.T.! Who's ever going to care about it? The thing is, if you cram like crazy in a short timespan before an exam, you'll know it during the test, but forget it all the day after. So I'd rather have a low grade that tells me something about how much I really know than a perfect grade that gives me no useful data."
"So what, you think studying before exams is bad?"
"Yeah. If the exam is an experiment to measure my knowledge, cramming is just fudging data to get a desired result. Not really the scientific method."
Hermione nodded. "Of course you'd think of it that way."
Also a great excuse to spend my time doing other things. Although while it's a good habit concerning proper experimental procedure, it's a terrible habit to have once you get exams where the grade is actually meaningful…
Truth is, I never really got around to learn how to properly study for a test. I wonder if I'd not ended up in here, how would my school graduation grades look like?
AN: Did you really have to bring that up?
Fred and George cast shield charms.
I said "Three - Two - One - Go!", pulled and wandlessly flipped a small lever on the other side of the (very large this time) Room of Requirement.
In a matter of seconds, the mess of transfigured brass tubes held together by spellotape and bubblegum that we'd spent the last few weeks building came to life.
The sound of water sizzling. A wheel started spinning, first slowly then faster and faster. Steam escaping from imperfectly closed gaps.
Then, WHAM!, and all three of us were very happy to have cast shield charms as the air was suddenly full of drops of boiling-hot water, shrapnels of brass and glass shards flying off the test stand.
Fred was the first to point out the obvious. "Ouch. That doesn't look good."
"It's just a Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly. Was to be expected. It'll take a while to get it right", I replied. "If it works, it'll be so worth it, trust me on that."
George seemed less than convinced as he inspected the wreckage, but his objections were interrupted by Ron arriving.
"Sorry I'm late, you won't believe what happened today… Bollocks. What happened here?"
I answered: "We didn't know where you were, so we went ahead with the test. Didn't go as well as we hoped. But it's not as bad as it looks, I think most of it can be repaired. We'll need a new bottle, but that's no problem."
"What I want to know is what our little Ronniekins was up to to miss our big day", Fred asked.
"You'd never guess it. Neville Longbottom of all people dragged me off after charms class. He knew a tunnel out of the castle and we went to Diagon. He bought me a new wand, look.."
Seriously. How did I remember the tiny detail of Neville having a mismatched wand but completely forget that Ron Weasley, one of the MAIN CHARACTERS, had the exact same issue?
What other really important detail could I have forgotten?
My confidence of winning this thing just dropped by roughly 38%.
Maybe I should worry more about grades. I mean, I spent two years before Hogwarts already learning and preparing, but with how leaky my memory apparently is and with how busy I am right now… It's 1 in the morning, I really should be getting some sleep, but I can't skip today's Order meeting and for some reason they had to put it on a Tuesday.
"..and finally, fifty more doses of Skele-Grow.", Snape finished his list of potions he'd brewed.
Sirius clapped. "Great! Now that we're done with the boring stuff, I've got a bit of an announcement to make! Tomorrow is the Summer Equinox Wizengamot Session!"
"Ah, yes", Snape answered. "The Equinox Session is on the equinox. What an incredibly thoughtful observation."
Luckily, Dumbledore interrupted Snape and Sirius before it could get worse. "What Sirius wanted to tell us is that we have achieved a significant breakthrough on the political side. Given the number of individuals we suspect of ties to Voldemort who have managed to gain significant power in our government, I found it necessary to arrange it so the seat of the late Mister Bole would be granted to someone from our group. Someone to whom the Ministry owes a significant debt."
Snape's jaw dropped. So did mine. And pretty much everyone else's.
"Sirius Black on the Wizengamot?"
"You're kidding, right?"
"It's true", Sirius said. "It wasn't really our idea. I just mentioned that I currently don't have anything to do. Didn't expect that kind of job, but I'll gladly do it. Beats patrolling Knockturn."
Then Arthur Weasley spoke up: "Once you're sworn in and everything, could you maybe help me a little bit? I'm working on a new bill together with Thornbury and Krepp. Muggle Protection Act. It's supposed to help against muggle-baiting."
"Sure, why not?"
I decided to preemptively prevent some trouble. "You know, if you're already going for a major re-write to the laws regarding muggle artefacts, maybe you could find a spell that detects if there's a magical person nearby and require all enchanted muggle artefacts to have it? That way you could, let's say, completely hypothetically, have a perfectly legal magic flying car, where if it somehow ends up in muggle hands all the enchantments become inert?"
After the rest of the Order kindly interrupted our ongoing discussion on the technical details and potential wartime applications of flying invisible vehicles and returned to normal boring talk about securing potion ingredient supplies, Remus - sitting next to me - quietly asked if we should best Sirius's announcement with his project.
I didn't want to reveal that until it was done, but ok. We can finish it later.
"There's another thing we got," Remus announced. "Over the past few months, every full moon I've portkeyed with the British Lycanthropy Association to the other side of the world to avoid transformation. I didn't want to be useless, so I was busy over there. Long story short, we got another secret base, pretty much as far away from here as possible."
"So that's what you did with those tents?", Sirius replied. "Built a secret base?"
"In a worst-case scenario, if nowhere in the country is safe and we need a place to regroup, it'd be useful. So far it's ten enlarged tents in the middle of nowhere, hidden from muggles and with some other spells to avoid detection. We could stash some supplies there, maybe add a Fidelius if we can find another trustworthy secret keeper."
Snape didn't seem impressed. "So, you built a campground. On the other side of the world. Would you mind telling us how we are supposed to get there?"
"Oh, that's actually not a problem." Remus got some small credit card shaped objects from his bag. "The BLA gets top range portkeys at a discount price. I got the destination modified on a few of them."
Not exactly perfectly legal, but modifying an existing portkey is surprisingly easy compared to making one, especially when the destination is in roughly the same area.
Dedalus Diggle examined one of the portkeys and grew concerned as he noticed the picture of Uluru on it. "Don't tell me you put it in the Outback."
"No, of course not," I replied. "It's in New Zealand. Pretty close to the location the werewolves use. The design was my idea, a distraction. We need to add an identifier charm so each portkey can only be used by one of us, but in case one falls into enemy hands, they might still be able to analyze the magic to figure out the rough location. Given how far it is they'd probably be off by thousands of kilometers, and the logo might get them to start looking for us on the wrong continent."
Plus it'd be some extra deterrent to prevent Voldemort from searching for it.
Small history lesson, back in the late 1600s the first european muggle expedition to set foot in Australia got into a bit of a fight with some natives, and one of them happened to be a wizard who scared the invaders away. Today that'd be a minor secrecy violation that obliviators would fix in a matter of minutes, but the incident had the bad luck to be one of the first secrecy incidents after the law had been put into effect. Back in Europe, the magical governments that had just gotten finished with the logistical nightmare of erasing all evidence of magic from the muggle world freaked out when they heard about the incident, and completely overreacted by sending a small army to Australia to deal with it. The sad end result of the Australian Secrecy War was several hundred casualties, including the muggle expedition which was completely erased from the muggle history books, and it left the magical world with extremely strained relations with the Aboriginal wizards. Really understandable, if a law that a bunch of British wizards came up with banned you from helping your nonmagical folks who got mistreated by British criminals, you'd be angry too.
Long story short, British wizards in combat robes wouldn't be very welcome in the middle of the Australian Outback, regardless of whether they'd be Order members hiding or Death Eaters looking for us.
Meanwhile in New Zealand it was almost the exact opposite. About a century later and with a lot more experience in dealing with secrecy issues, Maori and British wizards got along pretty okay, and today the international relations are so good that we can portkey in a dozen werewolves on a full moon. Couldn't do that in most other countries. It's actually a bit of a problem for werewolves in countries that aren't on good terms with another place on the other side of the planet.
"Hey, can we ask what you're up to?", Terry asked as we were leaving Transfiguration.
Huh? "What do you mean?"
Lisa replied: "Come on, you're sneaking away all the time. You're almost never in the common room. Nor in the library."
"I'm sure if he wants you to know he'll tell you," Hermione interjected.
"Okay, you got me. I'll admit it, I've been busy with a secret project."
Hermione looked at me questioningly. "I don't think you're supposed to tell them about your beating Voldemort thing, right? The Order?"
"True, but I do have another thing going on. A bit of a hobby. Probably should have told you."
Now I had three very interested classmates, so we went to the Room where Fred and George were busy transfiguring a complicated brass part. After quick hellos they went back to their work and the Ravenclaws looked around.
"Nice place you've got here", Lisa remarked, completely oblivious to how awesome the Room really was.
"Yeah, I'd greatly appreciate it if you could not tell the entire school about our lab."
Hermione inspected the many parts and items strewn across the floor and the shelves. "Are you building some kind of muggle machine? I thought technology doesn't work here?"
"Electronics don't. Mechanics do." And our project is pure steampunk.
"What is this thing?", Terry asked about the big brass piece in the center of the room.
"Okay, I think it's best if I explain from the basics. Do you know what this is?", I asked while taking a bottle from a shelf.
Hermione recognized it. "That's your self-refilling water bottle, that you got for Christmas?"
"Almost. That original one got rapidly deconstructed a few weeks ago. We got a bunch of replacements from the same store."
I put the bottle back and removed a small metal tube from the brass assembly.
I opened a drawer, took out some glasses and a dark bottle and drank a bit of the potion. "For safety reason, it's better if you drink this before I demonstrate."
Terry recognized something. "Is this some sort of fire resistance potion?"
"Exactly. A very specific one."
After making sure everyone had a dose, I took the metal tube and touched it with my wand. Immediately a pitch-black flame the size of a bunsen burner flame erupted from the tube.
"Schwarzflamm torch", I explained. "I asked Snape, he got Professor Babbling to make it for me. Doesn't radiate light, but it's really hot. If you touched the flame without the potion your finger would be vaporized in a fraction of a second."
"How did you get Snape to give you that?"
Lisa guessed where I was going. "So you've got a source of water and heat. You're making something steam powered? Like the Express?"
"Correct. Ten billion points for you. This thing will have several bottles as propellant sources. This part here that looks like a car's turbo, because it is based on a car's turbo we got from a scrapyard and modified, is actually a water pump. The water goes through these tubes into the boiler chamber. Here the stream should hit the torch and instantly get turned to steam. Some of that steam goes through the tap-off and into this turbine, which drives the pump. The rest goes through this throat section, then out this nozzle which should theoretically turn the pressure and temperature into velocity."
Even though Hermione should've known me pretty well at this point, she was still pretty surprised at the realization. "You're building a rocket engine."
"Bingo. A water monopropellant thaumothermal engine with a hot bleed cycle turbopump. Basically the same design as the NERVA, but we replaced the nuclear reactor with the magic fire."
"And what do you want to do with a ROCKET ENGINE?"
At this point Fred and George had stopped transfiguring the replacement turbine parts and joined the conversation. "We're going to make the world's fastest broom." "The original plan was to put something like a muggle firework on one but Harry then decided against that."
I nodded. "Solid rockets are simple, but you can't control them very much, they have limited fuel and I don't trust them at all. After the Challenger, you'd have to have way too many letters in your initials to think that strapping a SRB to a broomstick would be a good idea."
Hermione asked: "So after correctly figuring out that riding on a solid rocket would be a terrible idea, your first thought was 'let's build a liquid rocket'?"
"That's pretty much what happened", George said. "And with the conjured water, we don't have to worry about fuel. The sea is the limit!"
"Why would the sea be the limit? Does it not work over water?", Terry asked.
"I don't know. That's just something Harry said all the time."
"Not the sea," I clarified. "Given the constant thrust of the engine, the theoretical limit of velocity as t goes to infinity is c. Now that should break some records."
I looked at her with pleading eyes, desperate for help. "Hey, can you please tell me the name of that Goblin king from the 1347 war?"
"I'm sorry, Harry, but I'm afraid I can't do that. This exam is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it."
…I really should've studied more.