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Chapter Nine—Classes and Professors
"Welcome to your first Defense class at Fortius."
Harry tried not to wriggle in his seat. He knew that he had a talent for defensive magic, and he couldn't wait to see how they would practice. His holly wand, which lay next to him on the desk, hummed a little as if it was wriggling for him.
Professor Riddle gestured with his wand, and the long spread of writing on the blackboard appeared. Harry leaned forwards and studied it. He had better glasses now, which meant he could actually see it, but it was still pretty small and long.
"You don't have to copy these notes down word-for-word," Professor Riddle said, greatly relieving Harry. "This is the background that I expect you to know by the end of this week, however, so you will need to have notes on the general concepts by then. Some of it rephrases the material in your book. Some of it is from my own experience."
Hermione's hand was in the air a second later. Harry held back a chuckle when he saw the patient expression on Professor Riddle's face. "Yes, Miss Granger?"
"How are we going to know the difference between what's in the book and what's your personal experience, sir? And how can we be sure that we understand if it we don't have it word-for-word? And when should we be copying it? And what kind of parchment—"
"One question at a time, Miss Granger."
Hermione snatched her hand down again and bowed her head. Professor Riddle sighed. "It was not meant as a degrading comment, Miss Granger. Only that I cannot answer your questions when you don't pause for breath between them."
Hermione peered up from underneath her eyelashes as if she thought Professor Riddle was making fun of her. Harry didn't think he was, though. He'd seen his share of teachers who made fun of students at his primary school. Professor Riddle was just smiling at Hermione as if he thought the whole thing was funny.
"You should know the difference between what's in the book and what's my personal experience when you read the book, Miss Granger, and then come across something unfamiliar in the notes. You may copy the notes word-for-word if it helps you, but it won't help every student, and I don't want you to become so consumed in copying them that you neglect other topics."
Hermione blinked as though that made sense and she was stunned that it did. Harry wondered what her teachers had been like.
"I will give you time in each class to work on your notes, usually when I pause to give students a time to reflect and think. The kind of parchment that you bought in your shopping should be more than sufficient."
Professor Riddle folded his hands behind his back and considered them for a moment. Harry found himself holding very still, and wondered if he was hoping that the professor would call on him or not. It was weird. He couldn't tell.
"What do you think of when you hear the word defense, Mr. Potter?"
Harry took a deep breath and sat up. He wasn't exactly used to his primary school teachers calling on him, but he already knew that Fortius was going to be different. And the Headmaster knowing him so well had to have drawbacks as well as advantages.
"I think of protecting myself, sir."
"From everything?" But Harry already knew from the expression on Professor Riddle's face that that wasn't a good answer. "People hitting me, sir. People chasing me. People throwing things at me. Maybe even people insulting me, although I don't know how you would do that with magic instead of walking away from them."
Professor Riddle looked at him with those intense eyes that sometimes seemed to throw back the light like a cat's eyes, and then he turned and looked around the classroom. "How many other students think of defending themselves from people first?"
Several other hands rose. Hermione's didn't. She was studying Harry as if she thought that he was a locked box and he'd given her the key. Harry smiled weakly at her. It wasn't like he'd told her about the Dursleys in any detail.
Professor Riddle nodded and turned back to Harry. "People are not the only ones you need to defend yourself against, Mr. Potter."
Harry nodded, back on familiar ground. He'd rarely got the right answer in primary school, either. At least Professor Riddle was being nicer about saying that he was wrong than his teachers had been.
"But they are the primary antagonists you will face," Professor Riddle added unexpectedly, and then drew his wand. The first row of desks floated out of the way. "Mr. Potter, come up here and draw your wand."
Harry stood up slowly, feeling his pulse beating in his temples like it used to do when Dudley held him upside-down. He drew his wand and walked to the front of the class, but he didn't know what he could do against Riddle. He understood better now, from reading books in the library, how lucky he had been to slam Riddle against the wall when he used his own wand against him.
Riddle smiled at him and gestured with his free hand. "You need not look so nervous, Mr. Potter. We are merely going to give the other students a little demonstration."
That only made Harry more nervous. Sometimes his teachers in primary school had said something like that right before asking him a question about maths or grammar that they knew he didn't know. It was a way to make sure that the class would have someone to laugh at, before the teacher came in with the right answer and told Harry off for being "stupid" or "lazy" or "not studying."
"Calm down, Harry."
Harry blinked and stared at Professor Riddle. He had thought first names were only for outside the classroom. But the professor was smiling slightly at him, and he nodded, as if to say that he understood Harry's nervousness and empathized with it.
He can't possibly. But Harry's shoulders dropped from their tight position near his ears nevertheless.
Professor Riddle moved a little, so that his back was to the set of huge windows that looked out over the grounds of Fortius. Harry instinctively moved to the side, so he wasn't directly across from him. Professor Riddle, who had started to open his mouth, shut it again and tilted his head a little.
"Can you tell us why you did that, Mr. Potter?"
"Because I can't see your face if your back is to the sun," Harry said. "I have to see your face so I'll know when you're going to attack. Sir."
He worried that he hadn't sounded respectful enough, but Professor Riddle only chuckled. "Good defensive instincts," he said, and glanced at the rest of the class, although Harry didn't dare turn his head in case Professor Riddle chose that moment to send a spell at him. "Remember that your environment may cause you advantages or disadvantages. But there is another, more important lesson here. Who can tell me what it is?"
The silence went on long enough that Harry glanced at the other students. Hermione was chewing on her lip, frowning in the way he already knew meant she got when she didn't know something. Dean slowly raised his hand at last.
"Yes, Mr. Thomas?"
"You don't have to stay right across from a professor just because they put you there, sir?"
Professor Riddle chuckled again. "Phrased in the specific rather than the general term, Mr. Thomas, but yes. You don't need to do what seems to be required—in this case, standing directly across from an opponent—simply because it seems to be required. If you aren't sure whether something is required, ask me. But don't go along with the seeming."
Hermione's hand was in the air again. Professor Riddle nodded to her, and she said, sounding slightly scandalized, "But what about the rules, sir?"
"What rules are those, Miss Granger?"
"The rules of the school, sir." Hermione's eyes were huge and deep, and Harry thought that he'd never seen her look so distressed. He hadn't even known she could. She had always seemed so calm and collected, and more mature than he was. "How can we obey the rules and still do what you say?"
"You'll have to use your best judgment in some situations, Miss Granger. The way Mr. Potter showed some good judgment by moving so that my face was no longer obscured by the sunlight."
Hermione looked as if she wanted to ask another question, but Professor Riddle turned back to face Harry. "Now, Mr. Potter. I want you to cast the strongest spell you can directly at me."
"A spell, sir?" Harry asked, thinking of how he had pushed the professor across the room at the Dursleys' with nothing more than his will.
Professor Riddle narrowed his eyes. "Yes."
Obviously, this is a rule that he doesn't want me to dodge around, Harry thought, grumpy, and then focused his wand and his will and his attention on the professor. "Lumos," he said, which was sort of pathetic, but was the spell he had managed best in his mostly solitary practice.
A welling light struck from the tip of his wand, but Professor Riddle had already moved a little to the side. "A good first try, Mr. Potter. But why would it not make a very good defensive spell in a situation like this? Can anyone tell me?"
"It doesn't hit anybody," said Finch-Fletchley, leaning forwards in his chair as if he was about to get out of it and charge Harry and Professor Riddle.
"True, but defensive spells are meant to defend, not necessarily lash out. Can anyone else tell me?"
Hermione raised her hand while Harry fumed a little to himself. Riddle hadn't specified that it had to be a defensive spell, just a spell. The strongest one he could cast.
Well, Harry would choose a better one the next time Riddle informed him that he should cast at him. The next second.
Tom kept a close eye on Harry as he listened to Granger's answer about how the Lumos Charm probably couldn't do much except blind an enemy, and then only if aimed in the right place. That was one of the many answers he would have accepted, that this spell depended too much on circumstances, and wasn't flexible enough.
The boy bore watching. Anyone who could use Tom's own wand to push him across the room did.
But right now, he seemed angrier than he should be. And that meant that he might attack any second.
Tom would have to teach him the consequences of his own disobedience and lack of thinking if he did that. But carefully. Tom himself was all too well-aware of what had happened to warp him and other Slytherins at Hogwarts when certain professors didn't handle their emotions the right way.
Harry was no Slytherin, of course, but Gryphons sometimes had the characteristics of one. And he was proud, and hot-tempered, and touchy.
"Very good, Miss Granger," Tom said, when she had finished. "Yes, that is one reason. The Lumos Charm will not work very well to do anything except blind, and it will usually be a temporary effect." He swung back to Harry as the boy opened his mouth and then shut it again. "Is something wrong, Mr. Potter?"
"You said for me to cast the strongest spell at you that I could, sir. You didn't say that it had to be the strongest defensive spell."
"No, I didn't," Tom said, smiling a little. "What spell would you have used if I had made that particular request in those particular words, Mr. Potter?"
Harry looked a little uncertain now. Then he said, "I would have turned the floor to ice, sir."
"Can you manage that reliably?" Tom asked in interest. The books in the library that the boy had been studying weren't organized in the way that books in the Hogwarts library most often were, by skill level, and they didn't offer much commentary on whether a spell "belonged" in the first year, or the second, or the seventh, either. That had been a deliberate choice on Tom's part. Students who were racing ahead of their expected level rarely benefited from being told they were; they would hesitate and grow less confident, expecting difficulties they hadn't encountered. But Tom hadn't been aware that Harry was using battle Transfiguration with any level of success.
"I think so, sir."
The boy's chin was proudly uplifted, and Tom gave in to his own curiosity as well as what he hoped would be a gentle lesson for the boy. "Let's see it then, Mr. Potter."
Now Harry hesitated one more time, but not for long. He made an unusually precise sweep with his wand, left to right, exactly the way he was supposed to, and then muttered, "Glacies belli."
The floor sparkled and turned to ice about half a meter in diameter in front of Tom. Tom nodded. "Well done, Mr. Potter. Why not choose that the first time?"
Harry tilted his head at the small patch of ice. "It's not strong. That spell should have created a huge patch of ice right under your feet. But it didn't."
Tom smiled. "True enough. Well, I will remember to phrase my questions and requests more carefully, and let students demonstrate their skills more often." He turned and waved Harry back to his seat, while looking from face to face. "Who would like to come up here for the next demonstration?"
Hermione settled back into her seat with a little tremble of excitement. Apparently, Professor Johnson didn't teach every single History of Magic class, but she did teach at least the beginning ones that all the students from the Muggle world had to take. Which meant basically everybody, Hermione thought. There might be some half-bloods who were raised by purebloods here, but she hadn't met them if they were. Even the half-bloods grew up in the Muggle world, like Harry.
If they grew up in the magical world, they've probably been convinced of all that nonsense about purebloods being superior. Or harvested.
Hermione swallowed, and her wriggling slowed a little. Harry had told her in more detail what had happened to his parents, and she'd met a few people in her new House whose parents or other relatives had been harvested, too.
It was the most horrible thing Hermione had ever heard of. She'd read a lot of history and about how bad things got back then, but those were things that had happened a long time ago. This harvesting was real and it was happening all over the place. Today.
"All right there, Miss Granger?"
Hermione blinked and looked up. Professor Johnson was standing by the side of her desk, studying her with worried eyes. Hermione swallowed and nodded, then looked around the classroom again. It didn't actually look much like a classroom. It looked more like a greenhouse, with huge glass walls that poured sunlight in, maybe helped a little by magic, and flowering plants everywhere.
"Why are we having history in a classroom like this, Professor?'
"Oh, the plants are participants in some of the demonstrations I'll be giving." Professor Johnson winked and smiled at her, and then turned and walked to the front of the room. Or the center, rather, Hermione corrected herself after a moment. The desks were in a circle in the middle of the only clear space in the greenhouse, and the professor stood in the middle of it, watching as the other students filed in.
Hermione took the chance to close her eyes and lean back for a moment against the hum of the warm magic that had surrounded her since she was Sorted. For a moment, she thought she felt the brush of feathers against her cheek.
Yes, being in the magical world and having the protection of her phoenix was a wonderful thing, even with harvesting and horrible purebloods and all the other reasons that she didn't feel safe among most witches and wizards.
Harry sat next to her the way he had in Defense class, and Hermione beamed at him. It was wonderful to think she already had a magical friend.
Harry smiled back, looking a little puzzled, and then they both turned and looked at Professor Johnson as she began.
"You probably wonder how we got into this position," she said, sweeping her gaze back and forth across them. Hermione had the impression that she was struggling to keep some great emotion at bay, but Hermione didn't know what that was, excitement or anger or something else. "After all, there are more Muggleborns and half-bloods than there are purebloods. How did we lose out to them? Why do the purebloods, not all of whom can be evil, go along with what the more vocal members of their group want? Why do they have the control they do?"
From the books she'd read in the last few weeks, Hermione knew some of those answers, but she held still. She wanted Professor Johnson to answer these questions. She would only help when the professor started asking questions of her own.
The professor drew her wand and gestured to the side. Hermione wasn't the only one to gasp as the dark green colors of the hanging vines near them sparkled and twisted, forming into a depiction of a muddy, snowy field. Hermione blinked when she saw that there were two wizards in the middle of it. They were small at first, but the vision zoomed nearer like a camera, and Hermione could see that one of them had long blond hair and one long ginger hair. They both had long beards, too.
Professor Johnson whispered another phrase, and the plants began to shift and move behind the vision. They were giving the figures movement, Hermione figured out after a moment of watching. It was apparently simpler to do that than to enchant the figures into moving.
Or maybe it was just that it would have been hard to make them move that fast. Hermione watched with her mouth open as the wizards dueled back and forth, spells flying that she had no idea about and no way of recognizing, except that they scorched the earth when they landed, or made it explode. At last, the wizard with the ginger hair cast a spell that launched the thin wand the blond wizard held into the air and towards him.
When he caught it, the blond wizard fell to his knees. Professor Johnson waved her wand again, and the plants went still.
"This was a famous battle at the end of World War II," Professor Johnson announced. "Along with the Muggle side of it, there was a magical side." She gestured with her wand, and a leafy tendril reached down in front of the illusion and encircled the blond wizard. "His name was Gellert Grindelwald, and he cooperated with Hitler."
Hermione shivered a little. She had seen the name in her history books, but she hadn't read much about him, being more interested in recent events.
"He was a Dark Lord," Professor Johnson went on in a quiet voice. "It's a term that has no exact Muggle equivalent. The mythology of a Dark Lord states that he is powerful—of course—and that he represents forces greater than himself. The Dark, variously defined."
"What does the Dark mean, Professor?" Finch-Fletchley asked, his voice subdued.
Professor Johnson shook her head. "It's something we'll discuss in more detail later, but honestly, it's meant so many different things that it's impossible to offer one answer. Pureblood politics, separation from Muggles, hatred for magical creatures, focus on particular magical gifts above others, liberation of all magic so that there are no laws against spells like the Unforgivables…" She grimaced at the last, and Hermione wondered if she was thinking about the fact that there weren't laws against curses like the Unforgivables for the vast majority of people favored by Malfoy's Ministry. "But Grindelwald in particular was on the side of dominating Muggles and fighting for pureblood rights."
"That's Albus Dumbledore fighting him, right, professor?" Hermione asked quickly, to show that she understood.
Professor Johnson graced her with a small smile as she nodded. "Yes, it is. And a half-blood defeating a pureblood is one of the reason that our politics took the turn they did."
"You say it like it wasn't a good thing, professor?" Harry asked.
"It was a good thing," Professor Johnson said quietly. "But it was a direct refutation of theories circulating in some British publications, and the Ministry of the time, and Slytherin House, that only pureblood wizards were capable of that level of power. Eventually, they decreed that the reason Grindelwald lost was that his wand betrayed him, preferring another master."
"So they could just shrug everything off?" Hermione drummed her hand indignantly on her desktop.
Professor Johnson nodded to her. "That was what they decided to do. At first. But then other theories started to spread." She faced the illusion and performed several more complicated wand movements.
The illusion rippled and changed, and so did the plants behind it, squirming like worms under a blanket. This time, Hermione was looking at the inside of a chamber with a huge round table in the middle of it, a black table that had a polished gleam which made it shine like ebony. Tall wizards and witches in black and blue robes stood around it, plants making it look as though their heads bobbed and their lips moved.
"This is the signing of the Treaty of Understanding in 1974," said Professor Johnson, and changed her illusion again so that a tall ginger-haired wizard with a long beard walked into the room. This must be Albus Dumbledore, Hermione thought. The defeater of Grindelwald and the man who had been Headmaster of Hogwarts for a long time.
"What's the Treaty of Understanding?" Thomas asked.
"What was supposedly a means of settling peace between advocates for Muggleborns and Muggles on one side, and conservative purebloods on the other." Hermione saw Professor Johnson's lip twist as she stared at the illusion. "It would say how many students of each group could attend Hogwarts, and it was supposed to make provisions to bind Muggles who were aware of the magical world from talking about it."
"That doesn't sound too bad," Harry ventured.
Hermione glared at him, but Professor Johnson was the one who answered. "It might not sound too bad, Mr. Potter. But consider what would happen if there was a greater number of talented Muggleborns than there were spots at Hogwarts. What would happen to them?"
Harry gnawed his lip. Then he shook his head. "I don't know, professor."
"In fact," Professor Johnson added, "the treaty restricted Muggleborns to no more than a quarter of available spots at Hogwarts. Half-bloods took another quarter, and purebloods fifty percent."
"How could they do that, though?" Hermione demanded. She felt as if someone had lit her blood on fire. "There aren't that many purebloods! So how could they take fifty percent of spots?"
Professor Johnson nodded to her. "That is one reason they've studied and legalized a great many fertility spells and potions in the past few years. But in practice, what happened is that they looked at the number of pureblood children who would be attending Hogwarts in any given year and multiplied that by two to say how many students would be admitted."
Hermione had to prevent herself from hopping in place and waving her hand around. It wasn't like Professor Johnson didn't know. It wasn't like she didn't share Hermione's outrage.
"And no one protested this?" Harry had his arms folded now and a scowl on his face. "Didn't Dumbledore protest it?"
"He felt that he couldn't. He carried a great burden of guilt."
"Why?" Hermione couldn't imagine winning that duel and feeling guilty, unless it was that (her books said) it had happened fairly late in the war, and he might have saved more lives by confronting Grindelwald earlier.
"He was the half-blood that purebloods, and even some of our own people, chose to blame for bringing down the yoke on our necks, for showing off and winning that duel against the most powerful Dark Lord of the twentieth century." Professor Johnson shook her head. "It was misplaced guilt, but the results were horrendous. Headmaster Dumbledore made more and more concessions, seeking to keep the magical world from falling into civil war. He believed, having seen one war, that anything was better than that."
Hermione was inclined to agree, but then she thought of the harvesting and the Sacred Hunts, and changed her mind again.
"The treaty was written into laws, and whenever someone protested that a pureblood shouldn't be the only one allowed to become Minister, or more Muggleborn and half-blood children should be allowed at Hogwarts, our enemies just pointed to Dumbledore." Professor Johnson sighed. "They said that he could have revealed us to Muggles with his duel with Grindelwald, right out in the open where anyone could have seen it. They also hinted that he was a Dark Lord himself, waiting to take over Britain when the time was right."
"Where is Dumbledore now, professor?" Hermione asked. She couldn't imagine that he was content to stand back and simply let things happen like this, not when he had felt responsible enough in the first place to sign that stupid treaty.
Professor Johnson bowed her head. "He was subjected to the Antigone Punishment."
Hermione blinked. She had heard the name before, she knew she had, from some of the books she had read on Greek mythology. She just couldn't remember who Antigone had been, other than someone's daughter.
"What's that?" asked Terry Boot, a shy half-blood Hermione had only met properly last night after they were Sorted into Phoenix House.
"He was buried alive," Professor Johnson answered quietly.
Several people in the class gasped, and Hermione winced herself. She wished she didn't know that. She was almost sorry she had asked.
But not really, because it was history, and history was important. "And he just let them do that?" she asked.
"They told him that he was responsible for everything that had happened, and I truly do think he believed it." Professor Johnson shook her head. "And they threatened the safety of children at Hogwarts. They fed him the Draught of Living Death and buried him."
"So he's still alive, then?" Harry asked, his face intent.
"In a sense," Professor Johnson said, and grimaced. "They snapped his wand, and bound his magic. If he ever wakes or is woken, he will die instantly. The Draught of Living Death they gave him is also rumored to have been modified, so that he is tormented by nightmares in his sleep."
Hermione stared back at the ginger-haired wizard in the illusion of the treaty signing. He had made mistakes, that was obvious, but she didn't think anyone deserved that.
Professor Johnson let them sit in silent contemplation a moment. Then she dismissed the illusion and stood up from where she had been leaning against the desk. "Now on to the requirements of the class, such as the essays you'll have to write…"
Hermione listened, and took lots of notes. She didn't think she needed to take notes on the lessons that Professor Johnson had given them about the duel with Grindelwald and the treaty signing, though. She was fairly certain those were going to be seared into her brain.
"And you're sure this will work?"
"How much do you know about burial traditions in the House of Black?"
Tom grimaced despite himself at the word "traditions," which was one that purebloods used to justify a great deal of their nonsense, but forced himself to shake his head and lean calmly back in his chair. "Nothing."
"They cremate the body. I'm going to use spells that feign Sirius's death, which will set off an alarm somewhere in the Ministry, I'm sure." Lupin prowled back and forth restlessly in front of Tom's desk, his steps as light and graceful as a ghost's. "But I'll also set it up to make it look as if Sirius killed himself and used his own wards to cremate his body, in accordance with tradition. There'll be a note."
Tom narrowed his eyes. "Malfoy isn't one to stop hunting unless he sees an enemy's body."
"I have a plan for that, too—"
A white owl winged its way through the window before Lupin could finish the sentence. Tom stared at it. It clutched a paper in its talons, but that only made it more unusual. The Daily Prophet usually had no more than one edition a day; the Evening Prophet would take over on occasion, and neither made a practice of reporting news in the middle of the day.
Tom stood up and retrieved the paper. Beside him, Lupin had gone taut with the wariness of a predator who knew any change from routine was a bad sign.
Tom slid the paper out of the tight roll it was in and shook it onto his desk, then stared at it. The blazing letters at the top made so little sense to him that he actually read it three times before holding it out to Lupin.
SIRIUS BLACK ESCAPES HOUSE ARREST!
Lupin blinked a few times, then tilted his head back and laughed.
Tom would have liked to share his amusement, but his mind was now spinning through a chaos of plans, wondering how to use this, how Black had done it, why he had waited until now to do it, and whom the Ministry would blame.
And when Black would make his way, as he undoubtedly would, to Fortius.