Chapter Three: The Project
The next day as they climbed down into the cool, glowing yet dark, glass-walled Basement, Harry's group of five moved in a tightly knit pack, trying to find everything together.
Breakfast in the breakfast room, once they'd gotten dressed and found the main stairs - a small sunny room full of windows with longer white-clothed tables - had been nice. Again, they had sat with Astrid and Vincent's quiet, dark yet fashionable group, Astrid and Vincent cool and together in their center. The older kids smiled good-naturedly and teased the somewhat shy younger kids about their first day.
But then it was time for daytime academic classes. So they had to go past the entrance hall staircase, through the little door, down the narrow cold stairs, and into the many glass glowing floors of the dark Basement.
Luckily, all their academic classes took place with their year and set in the same classroom. The older kids took other classrooms. Harry could just see Astrid and Vincent through the glass panels, sitting in a class down hall, from his position in his own classroom.
The academic classrooms were elegant, chic, and modernistic. There were little sleek, curved, movable white desks and attached chairs, and a glowing digital screen for a blackboard. Teachers came in turns, one teacher assigned to each subject and period, and taught the class for their period.
Harry sat with his new friends: Edgar, Teagan, Clover, and Josephine. He tried to pay close attention to his lessons, and Teagan would help him during free periods, or during evening homework times in the upstairs den full of sofas and armchairs and televisions at night.
Teagan was a good teacher. He brightly and enthusiastically showed Harry why different things were interesting, the philosophical aspects of what learning was really all about and why it was important, and he gave him quick shortcut techniques to memorizing as much and getting as good grades as possible.
"This is so you don't have to put endless hours into your studies in order to get good marks," Teagan explained.
Harry was surprised that none of his friends ever seemed to slack off.
"We all have to do well here. It's an important and expensive school," said Josephine seriously, surprisingly never making rude comments or protesting the work. She may have been tough, but she was also frowning and quietly dedicated. She furthermore demanded that anyone worth associating with show the same initiative.
Clover seemed like she should have been an airhead, but in reality she got amazing marks, proving once again that she was more dangerous than she appeared. She would smile airily and pull Harry back to earth when he seemed to be drifting off in class, tugging kindly at his sleeve.
Edgar was the quietest, most easygoing of the lot, hunched over in dark clothes in his seat. He would lean over his desk and seem to be scribbling idly, but then Harry would look over and realize Edgar had just written in the last hour five whole pages of complex notes. It was intimidating at first.
He tried to keep up with his new friends, and in this way they were all good for him. Harry's academic mindset slowly improved from "not bad" and into better territory.
He had been worried he would encounter Dudley out in the courtyard, but this also didn't happen. Lunchtimes did take place upstairs and out in the sunny, cold central courtyard, accompanied by food produced by the cook and set up in the inside kitchen, but all the sets were rotated through 45 minute lunchtimes at different times throughout the day.
"You probably won't see your cousin until our first school shopping trip," Clover told him gently.
Ms Mindy and Mrs Crawford could often be seen bustling around set one, and they always stopped him to ask him how he was getting on - not threateningly, but with genuine interest.
So Harry's first few academic days went very well. But meanwhile, he had three short specialization sessions per day after lunchtime and academic classes, before dinner and evening homework times upstairs in the den.
On Harry's first day of figure skating, everyone sat on benches and strapped on skates from the nearby cart, sitting around the ice rink. Curvy little blonde woman Sam Taylor stood in front of them.
"We are going to play this first session by ear," she said. "I will set you some exercises, and for the ones who complete those before the period is over, I will set further exercises. Got it?
"Now, before you go on - I know you can do well at this. And you'd damn better believe I expect you to achieve your full potential. Even and especially if you're a boy. Boys can do this just as well as girls. Never let anyone shame you into thinking differently.
"I will also be giving you all dietary specifications, and I expect you all to both exercise and eat well.
"Now. Let's head on out there."
The first exercises Harry finished easily. They were supposed to skate once around the edge of the rink, learn to start and stop, and then skate out into the center if they felt they could.
Most of the kids were slipping and sliding, clinging to the edge of rink, terrified of doing anything but hobbling along. Harry was out in the middle of the rink very quickly. Sam Taylor had them purposefully fall over onto their butts, to get over their fear of doing it.
This, Harry also did easily. He teetered right over and fell onto his butt. It was an unpleasant surprise, but nothing more than that. He quickly got back up again.
When Sam Taylor saw him skating out in the middle of the rink, she told him, "I want you to start doing turns, curves, little loop the loops. Practice skating around and turning in specific shapes. Okay?"
"Alright," said Harry, and he set to doing this.
To his surprise, only two other students ended up doing the same out in the middle with him.
One was another boy - slim, elegant, and Asian, with black hair and eyes. He had a reserved sort of aura to him. He was skating around very artistically, with great flare and drama.
"Good job," Harry told him. "Are we… supposed to be doing it like that?" His eyebrow arched in amusement as he paused to look at the boy.
It was the wrong thing to say. "Figure skating is both an art and a sport," the boy said coldly, snobbish, and he skated away. Harry looked in dismay with his mouth open after him.
"That's Sebastian Sousen."
Harry looked around. The brunette girl, pretty with long straight hair, the other skater, had stopped beside him quietly. She seemed nearly as reserved as Sebastian himself.
"And he may be a snob, but he's very good. He's right. Never be afraid to be artistic in figure skating. It's almost like dancing - one of the most graceful and artistic sports available. You're supposed to flow into the moves. He's just… starting early and with great drama," she added dryly, rolling her eyes. "But it doesn't make him wrong. Most figure skating moves could almost translate into a flowing, on-ice dance routine. Both partners and singles do it, like a dance."
"... Thanks," said Harry curiously. "I don't suppose I know anything about it. Who are you?"
"Madeline Alanza." The girl looked away. She seemed almost afraid of getting too close to anyone. She was very quiet.
"You know," said Harry, "I heard quiet people like us are supposed to show themselves best on the ice."
Madeline looked up in surprise, and held his gaze for an indefinable moment.
"... Maybe," she admitted, smiling slightly, and she skated away.
Sebastian spent the rest of his time seeming to be in a personal one-way competition to outskate and outperform Harry, with increasingly graceful histrionics. But Harry was more interested by Madeline, pretty but silent and determined to keep everyone including Harry at an arm's distance, despite their moment of connection.
In baking, everyone was set up with partners before a workstation down one of the long counters in the kitchen. Marcus Billaneous, the large round-faced Black man from before, partnered them up. Harry was set with a big, burly boy with an open, friendly smile.
"Everyone listen up!" said Marcus, clapping his hands. "You've all heard from me by now that baking is both an art and a science. And that's the truth. But," he said in his deep voice, smiling kindly and cheerfully, "it's also supposed to be fun! You're supposed to love baking, and even tea-brewing and cooking, just as much as you love food.
"So let's all try to have fun!"
He gave them some rules, including for kitchen safety, and then set them to a simple recipe to make biscuits. Harry had to brew his first tea to go with what he was baking - "No matter how badly it turns out, you have to try," said Marcus seriously on his way by. "Trying and experimenting always come first."
Once Marcus had walked away, Harry's partner grinned and stuck out his hand. "Max!" he introduced himself. "Max Shirden!"
"Harry Potter," said Harry, smiling and shaking the hand.
"My full name is Maxwell." Max made a face. "Please never call me that. You're in luck. I come from a sporty family and I'm good at sports myself, but I also love cooking and baking."
This was Harry's first introduction to the idea that someone could be both - macho and girly. Max seemed completely cheerful and at ease with his own contradictions.
Harry and Max had fun making awful tea and overly baking the biscuits, making a massive mess and laughing all the while. Making something like that had never been fun for Harry before. And Marcus didn't seem angry - he expected them to be artists, and he expected them to experiment first.
"If you don't have it in another few months, I'd be more worried," he said jokingly.
The rest of Harry's lessons were taken in art and music classrooms.
His drawing teacher was a bit different.
A thin and balding man, his name was Pierre Johan, and at first he looked more like a maths teacher than an artist. He stood in front of them and said, frowning, "I have high standards in this class and at first none of you will pass them. Let me make that absolutely clearly.
"But hopefully you will start to over time.
"I see cartoonist drawing as a sort of study in geometry, and I'm very precise about things like shading, foreground and background, and shapes. I'm strict, but if you're good I'll acknowledge it. Let's get started."
He seemed rather forbidding. He took them first through some basic art terminology, and then set them to draw something. "To see how much you already understand. This will not be graded," he explained.
He walked around, looking at what people were drawing, and he paused by Harry's table.
"A poor drawing," he said mercilessly, "but it has a lot of spirit. No technique, but good spirit."
It was Dudley as a spoiled pig surrounded by endless piles of wrapped gifts.
"There is a lot of anger," Pierre commented. "Do you feel better, after drawing these?"
"... Yes," Harry admitted, confused. "Why?"
"This is known as catharsis," said Pierre. "It is a word that describes releasing emotions, and feeling better because you released them. The trick is to release them in a safe and silent way - like drawing.
"I will bring this anger and sarcasm out of you," he decided. "You will be very good at caricature when drawing cartoons in this class."
And he walked away.
"Iris!" he snapped back over his shoulder. "You are as angry as Harry! Help him!"
And so over came a girl with a ponytail in a big black leather jacket - well, big for a child. She sat down next to him. "Iris Hitchcock," she said without preamble, holding out her hand to shake Harry's.
"Harry Potter," said Harry, taking the hand.
"Can I see?"
Harry tentatively showed her the drawing, nervous.
"Is this someone in particular?" she asked curiously.
"My cousin," said Harry, nodding.
"Ah. Awful family. I'm the same," she smirked. "But you seem hesitant in showing your work. You don't like how angry your family makes you?
"I do," she said bluntly, nodding, surprising Harry. "You have to learn to exist inside that anger, Harry. Look it in the eye. Channel it. Keep it from ruining your life.
"Don't worry," she said, smiling toughly. "I'll help you."
And stoically, she drew alongside Harry for the rest of the session, giving him pointers.
This was Harry's first three-day session. The other lessons came the other day.
For painting, Harry sat in the art classroom and watched his new teacher uncertainly. The man was rather airy, humming to himself as he worked around at the front of the classroom, wearing a scarf.
"That's Nyx Kylen," said a voice. "He buys into all the gay stereotypes to tell everyone how openly gay he is. He calls it 'an act of artistic defiance' which my parents say is a nice way of telling everyone to go fuck themselves."
Harry looked around. Sitting there, smiling mischievously, was a pretty girl with wild curls in her bun of hair wearing a flowery blouse.
"What's… gay?" said six year old Harry curiously.
"It's when a man falls in love with other men," said the girl matter of factly, sitting beside him. "Some people don't like it, but my family doesn't think there's anything wrong with it. Falling in love with anyone should be a good thing.
"Gay men fall in love with other men. Lesbian women fall in love with other women. Bisexual people fall in love with both," she finished proudly. "And then straight people only fall in love with their opposite."
"And… people think all gay people… look like that?" Harry asked uncertainly.
"Yes," said the girl. "So Nyx Kylen pretends to act that way just to make the people who don't like gay people - homophobes - really uncomfortable."
"That's… cool," Harry admitted, looking up at the front again with a new admiration.
The girl laughed. "Yeah!" she admitted. "It is! Hi, I'm Lizzie Jensen." She held out her hand, grinning openly.
"Harry Potter," Harry introduced himself yet again, smiling and shaking the hand.
Nyx Kylen soon called the painting class to attention.
"I want everyone to have an equal opportunity to show their true selves here," he said, "but it has to be within the confines of certain rules. You will be learning how to paint real landscapes, people, and objects, with different styles and thus different set rules. So your paintings have to be based on something, and they have to follow the rules of whatever particular painting style you're studying at the time."
He then took them through some basic art history, with real life examples up at the front to analyze through different lenses, and through the different kinds of paints and brushes.
One kid who raised his hand obnoxiously often was a pale and aristocratic boy named Ian Sabbatic. Once, he got an answer wrong while analyzing a painting and flushed red. Harry noticed a detail he hadn't, raised his hand, and gave the correct answer.
Nyx Kylen smiled at him and Ian Sabbatic gave him a dirty look.
"Ian's from a a big, strict, high-pressure art family," Lizzie murmured to Harry. "He won't have liked that at all."
Music was taught by a hippie sort of female teacher, with little Lennon glasses and a long ponytail. She sat students in a big circle around her, and Harry was sat between two families: a pair of twin girls and a set of three triplet boys. All were rowdy, joking and jostling with each other, feeding off of each other's jokes.
The boys were Axl, Creed, and Cooper Moxley. The girls were Daisy and Jane Treesome.
When the teacher wrote her name on the board, one of the Moxley boys muttered to Harry, "She changed her name. It was originally Susan Colburn. She didn't think it was romantic enough."
The name on the board said Lorelei Joplin.
"So." Lorelei clapped and turned to them, surprisingly focused. "Music has two elements. The artistic part is the more obvious one, but music also requires incredible intensity - great dedication."
And one could see that intensity - in her eyes and her voice.
"I will be trying to teach both elements to you," she finished.
And that first day, she taught them to tune their guitars, had them sing different notes and get down their vocal range - Harry could sing higher and lighter better than he could sing lower or deeper or louder, even for a young boy - gave them some finger exercises and breath support exercises to practice, and then she gave them some sheet music lessons to look over for homework.
"I will be teaching you how to both read and write music," she said. "Doing all this is the kind of dedication I expect from any musician. It will just get harder when you learn how to play and sing together, so be prepared."
But counterculture fashion was perhaps one of the most interesting first lessons.
It took place in an art classroom, except the classroom was filled with huge, life-like mannequins decorated in fanciful outfits. Their teacher, an Asian woman with short dark hair in an eccentric outfit herself, had them walk around and look at what was on display while she gave her introductory talk.
"Fashion is about more than things like color, shape, and cloth. Fashion says something. It gives off ideas. This includes hair, accessories, makeup - the whole routine. These things tell us more about the person wearing them. I will teach you how to 'say things' through fashion outfits - as per this class, in counterculture, or rebel and alternative, style.
"On that note, you should know: I myself used to be an avant garde fashion designer in Paris. My name is Bijou Lark Hanakari. Yes I expect you to call me by both first names."
She seemed exacting, severe.
"Avant garde art of any kind, including fashion, learns all the rules and then purposefully breaks them to say something - to have an unusual effect. I believe in both learning and then breaking all the rules of established conventional fashion.
"And be warned, to those who thought they could slack off and this would be easy: I am just as exacting in learning the rules as I am at learning how to break them."
Bijou Lark set them in pairs to talk with each other of what they already knew about shopping and clothes.
"Soon after this," she announced, "I will change your perceptions by beginning to teach you the rules: by revolutionizing the way you look at conventional fashion."
Harry was paired with a girl named Junia Spirit, who was cheerful and mischievous. She was dressed in an outfit almost as odd and artistic as their teacher's, very colorful, and she had a confident, headstrong stance with chin lifted and head held high. When Harry admitted he didn't know much about clothes, Junia announced, "Well I know lots about both clothes and being different. So I'll help you until you know a lot about the same.
"You're my fashion 'project.'"
"You have two older students to help you," said Harry dryly, thinking of Vincent and Astrid's promise. "They're the cool, weird, dark glamor fashionable type."
Junia's eyes narrowed in a grin. "Excellent."
Harry was now a project - a work in progress, taken on by many friends and teachers. His change into a confident, artistic, athletic, fashionable, and academic Vituperan student had begun.
Harry wasn't perfect, of course - never would be. But, he was starting to realize, neither were any of the other talented people around him.
So he wondered just what kind of a talented person he would become, out of the ashes of all that quiet uncertainty.