'Raw livers,' said Professor Quirrell. He pointed at a series of portraits hovering behind him, each one with a pale-skinned wart-faced woman hopping up and down while holding up a four-toed foot. 'I n-n-never gave them much th-thought when I f-first used to t-teach at Hogwarts. D-d-disgusting. But… they are an important t-t-tool.'
The portraits turned in the air and clattered against each other as a thick ribbon wrapped around them and they floated over to an open storage area. The class turned to watch Professor Quirrell as he walked from one end of the room to the other.
'As some of you kn-know, I used to teach M-muggle Studies. It was th-then that I met P-professor Rakepick and was inspired to go on my Grand Tour. It was then that I learned f-first-hand how important it is to have raw liver to hand.' He reached up and adjusted his turban and muttered, 'or at least in your bag.'
'What was it like fighting a zombie, sir?' asked Seamus.
Seamus stuck his tongue out as some of the class groaned and some muttered, 'Not again.'
'That's for l-later in the year, Mr Finnigan,' said Professor Quirrel, dismissively. He drew out his wand and tugged on his sleeve so the students could have a better view of the position of his fingers on his wand. 'N-now,' he said, 'something a little p-practical.' He performed a circular motion with his wand and drew a small swirl in the air. 'The smokescreen charm.'
'Too many fliers,' muttered Filch as he stomped through the main door. 'Too much mud and too many brooms. It's not even Quidditch time yet.'
Mrs Norris sidled up to him and placed her paw on his leg. He looked down at her and watched as she darted towards a corridor.
'Again?' he snarled. 'Those blasted twins.'
'There are many, many nuances to this charm,' said Professor Flitwick, 'and it is very, very useful. Although the basic form is a first-year spell, it is one I generally teach after Christmas. This year, with the increased number of airborne incidents, I felt it best to start teaching it to you now.'
He silently gestured and a disembodied voice said 'Reh-PAH-roh'.
'The Mending Charm,' he said, cheerily.
'I don't think I'm ever going to get used to flying with a broom,' said Hermione, as she walked away from the training ground. The bottoms of her robes were caked in mud and she casually gestured with her wand and continued walking as the mud sloughed off them.
'You've had three lessons,' said Ron, 'give it a chance.' He looked down at the trail of mud and then pulled his robes up and peeled off a few large pieces of mud. He shook as head as he wiped his hands along the sides of his robes and ignored the muddy streaks.
'A magic carpet makes far more sense,' said Hermione. 'Easier to sit on. More comfortable-'
'Yeah, but they're banned and you can't do anything to change that.' He stopped and frowned. 'Hermione?' he said, pensively. She turned to look at him. 'Why do some of the Muggle-borns ask about flying beds?'
Hermione opened her mouth to answer but then laughed and, singing something about "the age of not believing", carried on walking.
Ron shook his head and muttered, 'She's so strange.'
'One of the beauties of the night sky, when you get to know her, is that you can and are looking back in time. Everything you see up there now is from long ago, but we can map how things used to be. Ten years, a hundred years, a thousand years to the past and the future, too.'
Professor Sinistra plucked up a parchment that was being fussed over by a couple of students and glared at it. She sniffed, shook her head and then handed it back to the students.
'Again, I remind you that astronomy and astrology are not the same thing. We are not here to look at potential influences of the heavenly bodies upon terrestrial affairs.'
'My parents didn't believe me when I told them the broom-rule had changed,' Harry heard a first-year student say to another.
'Same here,' said the other student.
'Did you get a howler, too?'
The student sighed and nodded. 'Even after Professor Flitwick wrote to them,' she said.
'They said you forged it, didn't they?'
'From the look of things,' said Professor Snape, 'many of you are going to be in need of the Wiggenweld Potion, if only so that Madam Pomfrey can keep her sanity. I hope you'll learn it better than some of your seniors.' He cast a disgusted look to the back of the classroom where several older students were seated, hunched over and desperately avoiding Snape's glare.
The upheaval from the new timetable resulted in something Harry concluded had likely been unexpected by most of the teachers: a number of older students in each House had taken it upon themselves to mentor the younger students in some of the academic areas. Although there were prefects in each House, whose duties included watching over the younger students when bad weather kept them indoors, most shied away from mentoring other than, occasionally and intensively, for Quidditch.
That sounds like quite a change, wrote Uncle Vernon, in his reply to Harry's letter. I've mentored a few people through my years at Grunnings, so I suppose mentoring is probably something your teachers usually do. Your Aunt said that one of your mother's teachers had a strange interest in a number of students, but that may be because she found the name of his group quite icky: The Slug Club.
Harry made a face as he read the name.
The Weasleys are a fascinating family – although we definitely cannot have them ever meet Marge. It's astonishing that they don't have televisions. I noticed that when we were in Diagon Alley but didn't give it much thought at the time. I have some theories about that, which we can maybe discuss when you're home for Christmas – although Mr Granger shares some similar views.
'This month has been crazy,' said Ron, as he and Harry left their dormitory.
'Percy said that there have been all sorts of meetings,' said Harry. 'He seemed really annoyed.'
'Percy loves meetings and organising stuff. Trust me, he's been enjoying this.'
Harry and Ron stopped and stared at Hermione. She was sat on a large red armchair at the far end of the circular room that served as the common room for the students residing in Gryffindor Tower, as she flicked through the pages of a large book. Beside her, hovering in the air, a pair of scissors snipped away at some paper.
'What are you doing?' asked Harry as they approached.
'Collecting stories,' said Hermione. She didn't look at either of the boys.
Ron poked at the stack of newspapers on the table and said, 'You read The Daily Prophet?'
Ron's mouth twitched as he held back a bemused smile and said, 'Why?'
'No one tells us things here. There's no television so we can't watch the news.'
'Why would you want to watch the news?' asked Ron. He made a disgusted face.
'To know what's happening in the world.' She looked at him as if he had said something ridiculous.
Ron frowned, confused, and gestured with his hands. 'Why?'
'There are more things in heaven and earth, Ronald Weasley, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.'
'Nevermind.' She patted the open page and smoothed a crease on the article she had pasted on to it. 'My parents can't get The Daily Prophet. It's not allowed to be delivered if I'm not there.'
'That sounds stupid,' said Harry.
Hermione nodded and said, 'So, Professor McGonagall and Professor Flitwick said I could have their copies so I could make scrapbooks from the articles I think are interesting and can show my parents when I see them.'
'Two newspapers?' asked Harry. 'Why?'
'… Because I wanted a scrapbook of my own.' Then, as she gestured for the scissors to cut away at another article, she muttered, 'And it's three newspapers. I have a subscription.'
'You are so strange,' said Ron. He looked at the scissors a little warily and stepped back.
'What have you chosen so far?' asked Harry, as he pulled up a chair and sat down.
'You really want to see?' said Hermione.
'Yes,' said Harry.
'No,' said Ron, at the same time.
'Fine,' said Hermione, and she turned back to the book in front of her.
Tentatively, Harry reached out and picked up the leather-bound book Hermione was not pasting anything in to. A large golden feather poked out from between the pages, so Harry opened the book there and read the headlines of a few of the articles:
Queen's corgi turns into hamster
Oldest Wizard is 755
'Are these real? I've never seen anything like this in the newspapers my Aunt and Uncle get. Wouldn't someone notice if a dog turned into a hamster?'
'Someone did notice, Harry.' said Hermione.
'Wait,' said Harry, his eyes wide, 'does that mean there's someone from the wizarding world in Buckingham Palace?'
'Probably,' said Ron, looking a little bored. 'I think my Dad said something about that to Bill a couple of years ago.'
'Like… a spy?'
Ron shrugged. 'It's a longstanding tradition,' I think. 'I mean, she's our Queen, too, so we need to look out for her, right?'
'Does she know?'
'Probably. I mean, she's the Queen.'
'Aunt Marge would have a fit,' said Harry. He turned the pages towards the front of the book at saw that they were empty.
'I've only got them from August,' said Hermione. 'I wrote to them and asked if I could have some back issues but they haven't replied yet.'
'How far back do you want to go?' asked Harry.
Hermione sat back and looked at the piles of newspaper stacked around her. 'At least the day I received my Hogwarts letter.'
'Why?' asked Ron.
'We didn't all get them on the same day?' asked Harry at the same time.
'I think you get them around your eleventh birthday,' said Ron before Hermione could answer.
'So some of us knew about Hogwarts before others?' asked Harry.
'You mean Muggle-borns?' asked Ron. Harry nodded and Ron shrugged again and said, 'Probably. Never thought about it. I thought you knew about everything because, you know, you're Harry Potter and famous and stuff.'
'Hardly,' said Harry, dismissively. He turned back to the scrapbook and looked at the article about the "oldest wizard". 'This can't be true,' he muttered.
'I had my doubts, too,' said Hermione, 'but Professor McGonagall said that it's true.'
'So he's like Professor Binns? A ghost?'
'Wizards have pretty long lives,' said Ron. 'It's not always fun at weddings, mind you, 'cos some of them are really boring when they're old, but I've met a few who are over a hundred years old.'
Hermione leaned forward a little and said, 'Professor Dumbledore's around a hundred and ten.'
Harry gaped. 'That's… he's older than the Queen,' he hissed. He sat back and said, 'He doesn't look it.'
'I don't know,' said Ron, smiling, 'it takes a while to grow a beard as long as his.'
'Plenty of ways to grow hair, Ron,' said Harry, and Ron frowned and stroked his chin, pensively.
Harry turned a few more pages and then stopped and stared. He looked at Hermione and then back down at the book.
'Why have you got a birthday card in here?' he asked.
Hermione quickly stood up. 'It's mine,' she said and held out her hand.
Harry poked at the card. On it was a picture of a green-skinned witch, with a bright green curly wig and wearing a witch's cape and hat. She had one tooth blacked out to look like it was missing and her right eyebrow was shaped like a triangle. Harry poked it again and then picked it up. 'But… wait, when was it your birthday?'
'Last week,' said Hermione. She flicked her hand a little and Harry reluctantly handed the card to her.
'Why didn't you say anything?'
'What was I supposed to say?' said Hermione as she tucked the card into a stack of newspapers. 'We hadn't even been here for three weeks.'
'Yeah, but… your birthday, Hermione.'
'It doesn't matter.'
'Of course it does.'
'Yeah,' said Ron, 'we could've had cake.'
Hermione rolled her eyes and turned her attention to the hovering scissors and sheets of newspaper.
'This one,' said Harry, as he looked through more of the scrapbook, 'why is it here?'
Hermione looked over at Harry and her cheeks reddened a little. 'I sectioned my scrapbook. That part's my "Crime" section.'
'What does it say?' asked Ron.
'Attempted Break-In at Gringotts,' Harry read out. He held up the book and showed them an article that had a number of arrows drawn around it and was surrounded by Hermione's handwriting.
'No way!' said Ron.
Hermione frowned. 'You didn't know about it?'
Ron shrugged. 'Why would I know about it?'
Hermione's frown deepened. 'It happened in July,' she said, as if that answered everything.
Hermione gaped at him and then looked to Harry for some help. 'So, Gringotts is supposed to be impossible to break into, right?'
'Exactly,' said Ron, snapping his fingers as he did so. 'That's why it's no big deal. No one actually broke in.'
'That's not what the article says, Ron,' said Harry.
'Someone got into a vault,' said Hermione. 'It was empty but someone got in.'
'No one said anything at home? Your Dad?'
'Maybe. I didn't pay any attention.'
'What do you pay attention to?' asked Hermione. She looked a little annoyed.
Ron counted off on his fingers: 'Quidditch; meal times…'
'There are other things in here, too,' said Harry. He set the book down and turned a few more pages and showed Ron a couple of articles. One was about wildlife returning to a forest in Albania and the other was about two unicorn foals feared missing from a forest in France. Like the Gringotts article, Hermione had made various notes on the pages.
'I just like trying to figure things out,' she said.
'Maybe we can do that together?' said Harry.
'What do you mean?'
'Like…' Harry looked at the pages in front of him again and leaned forward, conspiratorially. 'Okay, there are these books I used to read. Dudley and I started with these ones about two brothers who wanted to be detectives like their Dad, but then we also had ones about three friends who-'
'You mean The Hardy Boys and The Three Investigators?' asked Hermione.
'You've read them?' said Harry, surprised.
'Them and Nancy Drew and Sherlock Holmes.'
Harry smiled and sat back. 'So maybe we could be like them? The Three Investigators?'
'Since you're the famous one, you'd be Jupiter Jones, right?' said Hermione.
Harry's ears reddened and his scar itched. 'Actually, I thought that would be you.'
'Me?' Hermione frowned.
'He's kind of like an encyclopaedia and you pretty much know everything and-'
'I know nothing, Harry,' Hermione interrupted.
'Hermione,' said Harry, 'even the fourth years are coming to you for answers and tips, and we've barely been here a month.'
Hermione smiled at that. 'That's true, but it's only because I just want to know more and keep reading ahead.'
'There's rumour that Madam Pince wants to give you free access to the library.'
'Ridiculous.' Hermione said, dismissively.
'Okay, so not Jupiter Jones, then. Bob Andrews? He's studious-'
'But he wears glasses, like you.'
'So you think I should be Bob Andrews, then?'
'No, I'm just saying it doesn't quite fit.'
'Plus, you're a girl. Does Nancy have any partners?''
'She teamed up with the Hardy Boys a couple of times.'
'So maybe we could do it like that. You can be Nancy and Ron and I can be Frank and Joe.'
'Merlin's nightgown!' interrupted Ron. 'What are you two talking about?'
'Muggle stuff,' said Harry and Hermione in unison.
'All I know,' said Ron, 'is that you two want to explore mysteries.'
'You were listening,' said Hermione.
'I pay attention sometimes,' Ron mumbled.
'He can't be Peter, though,' said Harry. 'Not athletic enough.'
'Excuse me,' said Ron. 'I'll have you know I might be shortlisted for the House C team.'
'There is no C team, Ron,' sighed Harry.
'For now,' said Ron, 'for now.'
'So,' said Harry, turning to Hermione, 'what do you think?'
'Us being a team of investigators?'
'What would we investigate, though, Harry?' asked Hermione. 'How?'
She took the scrapbook from Harry's hands, turned a few pages and pointed at the article about the break-in. 'We can't go to Gringotts and look at the vault. We can't ask around. We're here, in Hogwarts.'
'Yeah, but,' said Ron, 'Hogwarts has its own mysteries. Secret passages and vaults and chambers and stuff.'
'It's not really the same, though, Ron,' said Hermione.
'I suppose you're right,' said Harry, glumly.
'It has been brought to my attention that, at the very least, three attempts have been made to enter the, currently, out-of-bounds corridor on the third floor.' A soft murmur flitted across the room and Professor Dumbledore waited for silence to return. 'I am well aware,' he continued, 'of the adventures one can find here at Hogwarts but I remind you that there are dangers, too. In light of this – and for the safety of students and teachers alike - the school ghosts will be patrolling the corridor and reporting any incidents directly to me.'
Professor Dumbledore looked out over the students and then glanced over his shoulder at the teachers seated behind him.
'I trust that there will be none for them to report.'
He stepped away from the lectern and held out his right hand as he walked along the stage.
'As mentioned before, I am a strong believer that flying on a broom is an essential skill for each of you to learn. There are times when a person is not well enough to apparate, or will not have access to the Floo Network. The Ministry has, for many years now, been reluctant in allowing us to teach you anything beyond the basics – a decision many of our Quidditch teams have found most frustrating – holding to the belief that if you're "good enough" then you will fly well yourself.
'Over the years, I have seen many… prodigies. Skilled herbologists and potion masters, nuanced geniuses of transfiguration, enchanting charmers and the mindboggling calculations of astronomers and arithmancers. There are sections of the library where some of us do not go not because the knowledge is dangerous but because it is beyond us.
'And I have, I must say, seen a fair few prodigies of the broom. Nevertheless, amongst all that, I have seen, time and time again, lost opportunities. Whether from noble families on hard times or Muggle-borns being shunned and overlooked, it has pained me, repeatedly, to see so much loss.
'Now what, you may wonder, does this have to do with my standing here with my hand extended?' A silver broom dashed through the open door and into Dumbledore's hand. He angled the broom and placed his foot on 'brush' end. He then let go of the handle and rose up into the air. Madam Hooch grinned while Hagrid chuckled and clapped.
'Brooms have been used for over a thousand years – I will leave the details of the history to Professor Binns.' A moan cascaded through the room. 'Some of you may have played shuntbumps as children – perhaps those skills will serve you well in the upcoming team try-outs – and I have found it to be very… heart-warming, to look out of a window and see you learning to fly. Very heart-warming.'
He set the broom on the floor and rested his hands on the pommel as he leaned forward a little.
'Another thing that has been heart-warming is how some of you have started helping each other. It's not a new thing, no, but it is a good thing and I hope it will continue and grow.'
Some of the students smiled, others looked embarrassed, while others rolled their eyes and made faces.
'Now,' said Professor Dumbledore, as he stood straighter and started walking again. 'Much to the annoyance of some, the formation of new House Quidditch teams has meant additional responsibilities and increased competition. That last element is something certain others have embraced. As word spread about our new initiative, I am quite pleased to inform you that we have been approached by representatives from the Montrose Magpies, the Ballycastle Bats-'
A huge roar erupted in the dining room and students of all ages jumped up and down and cheered. Professor Dumbledore held up a hand and waited for the excited crowd to quieten down.
'The Wimbourne Wasps.' Another roar erupted, joined by black and yellow streamers suddenly leaping from some of the tables.
'The Appleby Arrows.' Arrows soared into the air and red and green sparks exploded over the dining tables.
'The Holyhead Harpies.' Hermione frowned as the pitch of the cheers shifted and a number of female students jumped up and tried to out-cheer the rest of the dining room.
'What's wrong?' asked Harry.
'What's so special about them?' she whispered.
'They're the only all-female team in the league.'
Hermione mouthed 'oh' and smiled.
'The Chudley Cannons.' Ron gaped.
'And Puddlemere United.' Oliver Wood slapped his hand on the dining table and grinned.
'Seeing your excitement – and some amusingly impressive displays of magic – I think it's a good thing that I have asked them not to tells us which of their members will be attending and on which days in order to make this somewhat fair for everyone, but I stress –' his voice grew louder and deeper and the students immediately fell silent – 'that you are all to be on your very best behaviour.'
The broom vanished from Professor Dumbledore's hands as he stepped back to the lectern and held on to its sides as he looked around the room.
'The final announcement,' he said, and he glanced back at the teachers again, 'is that the Forbidden Forest remains forbidden.'
Professor Dumbledore gestured and platters of food appeared at the tables as he stepped away from the lectern and left the hall. Immediately, the students and teachers began talking amongst each other about which players they were hoping to see and what tricks and tips they might try to learn.
Hermione sat back and frowned. 'Something's rotten in Hogwarts,' she whispered.
'What are you saying?'
She turned to him and held out her right hand. 'I'll be Jupiter Jones.'
Harry grinned and shook his head. 'No, you're Hermione Granger.'