Chapter 21 3/4: Playing with Fire
It was late September and the students had largely acclimated to the strange school. There was no quidditch game for this weekend and no extra-curricular activities had started up yet. It was Saturday, so there was, of course, no danger of anyone attempting to do homework. They were, in a word, bored.
"Even my first memory is my mother yelling", Ron continued. "Small objects around the house would always disappear, like one of a pair of shoes or socks, or some silverware. They'd eventually show up somewhere weird like the back of a random closet or on the roof. This started before Fred and George pranked everyone all the time, so my parents had assumed it was a ghost. Eventually, my parents figured out it was the twins' accidental magic. After that, everyone would yell at them every time they couldn't find something."
"So why don't you tell them about the first time you used accidental magic?" Fred asked from behind Ron, making him jump in surprise.
"It's an amusing, though not unexpected, story for anyone who knows you" said George.
"It's not that amusing" Ron protested.
"As I recall, he was about nine..."
"More like eight."
"...when we were eating dinner, like any other evening."
"And then mum noticed he hadn't finished any of his meat or vegetables..."
"Even though he'd been eating..."
"...the entire time we'd been sitting down."
"It was quickly discovered that his chicken was spontaneously leaking chocolate sauce."
"And he'd been spooning it into his mouth as fast as it appeared."
"Apparently producing food is really rare for accidental magic..."
"Unless someone is malnourished or starving."
"...otherwise most kids would always have sweets."
"We learned this after a medical person told mum to make sure he was eating enough..."
"After she told the story at our next checkup."
"It's the only time I've ever seen her embarrassed."
"What about you Neville?" Ron quickly tried to change the subject.
"Uh, my story's not that interesting."
"Mine is," Dean jumped in excitedly. "We were at the zoo and my annoying cousin was being annoying. Then while he was leaning against the glass watching a snake, the glass became intangible, so he fell through it, and then it restored itself with him trapped inside. The snake had wrapped around him a few times before the zoo people got him out. And then the ministry had to obliviate soooo many people. Like a couple dozen people were watching, and then they called in like half the employees when he was in the cage. And then they all wandered off and told other people before the aurors got there about ten minutes later. But it was awesome and my cousin wasn't as annoying after that."
"Harry, Hermione, hey!" called Fred.
"We wanted to ask you something...", George added.
"We were talking about everyone's first accidental use of magic. What were yours?"
Harry slowed down and answered "I've never used accidental magic."
Hermione quickly added "neither have I."
"You're both lying" George accused.
"Guess how we know" Fred challenged.
Harry stopped and made eye contact with both of them while responding. "If muggleborns didn't use accidental magic then no one would ever know about them, and I wasn't lying."
"Well, half of that is true..." George began.
"But we'll come back to that in a moment. Hermione, spill." Fred interrupted.
"And we have auror connections, so if you don't tell us, we'll find out anyway. And then so will everyone." George added with an evil smile.
"Ugh, fine. The first day of second grade, someone started making fun of me, then suddenly stopped talking. They had to take her to a hospital after they realized her lips were super-glued together."
"So you literally shut her up; that's actually pretty cool", Harry said. "And super-glue is the perfect weapon for bullies: it's non-lethal but can still be a serious deterrent."
Ron frowned at Harry and opened his mouth but Ernie spoke first, "Why would muggles do that; it's not like they know about blood purity- Ow! Don't kick me under the table, you... freckled chocolate sucker."
"You were being a bloody- wait, what did you call me?"
"It's a Hufflepuff insult" Fred replied.
"They pretty much all sound like that" George added.
"And now it's your turn, Harry."
"You want me to make something up? You probably wouldn't believe it; my life's typically weirder than any story I could tell."
"Alright, Harry. If you're sticking with that story, we'll just tell everyone what we know," Fred shrugged
"You can jump in whenever you're inspired," George encouraged.
"No, go ahead with your story. I'm sure it will be entertaining, though fictional."
"You were going to a muggle school, like Hermione."
"Until you almost burned it down."
"The muggles sent five big, loud, red things that spit water and carry fire-stopping people."
"Which is apparently a big deal. Normally one is supposed to be enough."
"And then the aurors had to modify their memories so the fire didn't look magical."
Harry sighed. "Surprisingly, about half of that is true," he began. "I went to a muggle school, there was a fire, and they did send five fire engines before getting it under control. And everyone blamed me, even though it was, at most, 10% my fault. I was a lot younger then and nowhere near as knowledgeable or responsible as I am now."
He paused briefly as everyone around the table smirked or snorted. "It all started when the teacher announced that we were having a 'science fair', which basically involves everyone doing a project and explaining it to random people. The normal intention is for students to pick a topic they want to understand better and answer some related question using the scientific method. Unfortunately, we were considered too young for that, so we were assigned pre-determined projects. Not that I knew all of this at the time."
He looked around and saw mostly confusion. "The projects were things like connecting potatoes together with bits of metal to make electricity or doing pointless things with magnets or other things that sounded vaguely sciency. Then the teacher mentioned something about volcanoes and I had to interrupt, because the only thing I had known about volcanoes was that they erupted molten rock and destroyed everything around them. This sounded quite dangerous to me, so I pointed that out and asked where this science fair would take place. Her response was that they would put down a tarp and everything would be okay. I noticed I was confused, but didn't press the issue. Unfortunately, she decided that I would be assigned the build-a-model-volcano project.
"So I did what anyone rational would do: I read about volcanoes. I learned a lot about the inside of the earth and what causes volcanoes. But I was basically left where started: I needed to build something that looked like a mountain and leaked red-hot liquid rock. So I needed some rock to melt (I figured any gravel would be good enough), a powerful enough heat source, and something capable of containing the heat source and directing the liquid rock.
"I ended up deciding to use an electric igniter to light a flare which then started combustion in some thermite. I decided to build the mountain out of sand, with a thin layer of quick-dry cement to hold it together. The base of the mountain curved up into a bowl to catch the molten rock. I figured the sand inside would slowly melt, but contain the thermite until it burnt out. And I put a steel pipe from the top of the mountain to the center where the gravel and thermite were. I also poured some water into the sand, figuring it would evaporate to provide enough pressure to move the molten rock out of the volcano and prevent the sand from melting for a while.
"On the day of the science fair, I asked the teacher, again, if this was really safe, and she said something affirmative but dismissive. That was the last time I trusted an adult to be responsible for anything important: I triggered the igniter from what I considered a safe distance. I'd never heard of a steam explosion before, but of course that didn't stop one from happening. The steel pipe embedded itself in the ceiling, and the thermite scattered and fell and set everything it touched on fire.
"Amazingly, everyone got out safely, and a fire engine arrived a few minutes later. They put out much of the fire, but unfortunately there were a few metal fires so when they sprayed then with water, everything got much worse. So they had to call for backup. Eventually they got it under control. I was later informed that my project was actually intended to involve reacting a weak acid with a weak base, which would have been harmless. I was apparently expected to know that somehow despite the complete lack of relevance to volcanoes.
"Afterwards the school sent out three pages of items that were now banned from the school. In the name of safety, of course. And again, everyone blamed me, even though I'd never brought or planned to bring a single item from their list. I mean, water guns and water balloons? Either they were already looking for an excuse, or the people working at muggle schools are the only people less sane than those working at magical schools. Or both.
"But the fire wasn't magical. It was absolutely 100% a natural chemical reaction," Harry concluded insistently.
"The aurors responded to an underage magic incident. They reported that the fire didn't look natural," George said.
"It looked like it was intended to do as much damage as possible, but left clear paths for everyone to escape," Fred added.
"They concluded that you clearly wanted that building gone, but didn't want anyone to get hurt."
"If you'd tried to hurt people, they'd probably have brought you back to be adopted into a magical family. Muggles wouldn't be able to deal with that safely."
"But they probably warned your parents to keep you away from that building if you ever got angry there."
"That... explains a lot, actually," Harry said thoughtfully.
"That it was a magical fire?"
"No, some stuff about how my parents acted after that."
"So you were the only wizard there, there was underage magic, and there was a big magic-looking fire. What do you expect us to believe?" Ron demanded suspiciously. Harry just glared at him.
"What if all of that is true?" Neville asked. "If the fire did start naturally but Harry's accidental magic controlled its spread. You might have saved everyone."
Ron scoffed loudly but Harry cut him off, "that's consistent with everything I know and what Fred and George said. But it's also something I'd really like to be true, so I'm biased toward believing it. I'll have to think about it later in more detail."
"Hermione, I hope you've seen how dangerous that fire-starter is and aren't planning on hanging around him so often now", Ron announced gravely.
"Ron, the fire was an accident and he probably saved everyone from it." Hermione calmly lectured.
"Yeah, according to HIM."
"Whatever. I'm going to the library." Hermione stated, thinking about how convenient it was that Ron wouldn't follow her to the place she'd intended to go before being pulled into this conversation.
"Yeah, me too" Harry called, getting up and following.
"What is WRONG with them?" Ernie asked, disgusted.
"Isn't it obvious?" Ron spat, "He's evil and he's turning her evil."
"I think she's always liked libraries, Ronnie" Fred started.
"And I think you like her. You're jealous aren't you?" George teased.
"Gah, I'm going... to the library" Ron announced, getting up. "Or somewhere more believable", he amended to the others, who were laughing hysterically.
[disclaimer: I have neither attempted nor done calculations on the science project described. Only an idiot would try it without doing careful analysis, having relevant prior experience, and having adequate safety precautions in place. That said, if anyone is inspired, please video and leave a hint to the Youtube link in the reviews (i.e. video oHg5SJYRHA0 is the first rickroll result for Youtube).]