The morning after that first night, Harry got up early and went downstairs – first to the common room, checking to see if there were any lost-looking First Years, then down the stairs to breakfast.
He wasn't quite the first person down there – Draco had already arrived, for one, along with one Smith twin (a sight which immediately made Harry wonder where the other one was, no matter which twin was visible) and a scattering of other students at the different tables.
Nothing special turned up on his plate when he sat down, so Harry contemplated what was available before electing to have a Danish pastry.
"Mr. Potter," Professor McGonagall greeted him. "No problems last night, I trust?"
"A bit of one," Harry replied. "It's hopefully sorted out, though."
"Good news, if so," the Transfiguration teacher told him, then gave Harry his timetable.
Scanning quickly through it, Harry found that he had Defence first – meaning a lesson with the mysterious Aberforth Dumbledore – and then in the afternoon there was his Alchemy lesson with Albus Dumbledore. That latter one was a double period, and he had double Runes on a Thursday, but apart from that his other classes were scattered about as single periods.
"Thank you, Professor," he told her.
"My pleasure, Mr. Potter," McGonagall replied. "I trust you and Miss Granger are on top of the Prefect assignments?"
"Not just yet, but once everyone's got their schedules we will be," Harry said. "That's more Hermione's doing than mine, she's going to get everyone to say what days they'd prefer, or can't do because of lessons, or both, and then sort them around until it lines up. Then when the clubs and societies and so on are organized we'll have to re-organize."
Professor McGonagall told him that it seemed like a clear-thinking plan to her, then went to hand out the timetables for a gaggle of Second-Years who'd arrived all at once.
Twenty minutes later, the discussion about timetables was going full swing.
Harry sometimes thought that he and his closest friends didn't really have discussions, as such. They just had one discussion, which had been going on since the First of September Nineteen-Ninety One and had never actually stopped… just switched topics every so often.
"This is new," Neville reported, tapping his timetable. "I don't think any of us have had one of these before."
"One of what?" Ron checked.
"A day off," Neville clarified. "I've got nothing at all on Thursday."
"That does mean your other days have more stuff in them, though, right?" Dean checked. "Please tell me that's the case…"
"Well, yes, I've got a full day on Monday," Neville confirmed. "Which is going to be kind of painful. Charms and Defence and a double Arithmancy in the afternoon?"
He shrugged. "Still, it means I've got a heavy start to the week and a light finish. Which is fine by me."
Dean groaned. "Oh, no, you're all going to be sleeping in on Thursday, aren't you? I've got Divination and Creatures Thursday morning, and I'm the only one here who does those."
"Probably," Harry agreed. "I might pop down to help with Creatures some weeks though, that's going to be the one I'm more able to fit it in."
Ron finished his last piece of sausage. "You think you've got problems?"
"Well, yeah, actually," Dean agreed. "Not as bad as Hermione's, though."
"I've got Astronomy, remember?" Ron asked. "That's tonight. I've got Charms the next morning… I'm probably going to have to go to bed early tonight or nap in the afternoon or something, and then wake up for Astronomy."
"And we'll all have problems if we don't hurry up," Hermione told them. "It's still twenty minutes until Defence class, but we still need to go up to get our books and things."
"That's a good point," Harry agreed, and looked back and forth until he spotted the places where there were First-Years gathered together – not just at the Gryffindor table but the other ones as well.
Standing up, he quickly reminded both the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws about how far it was to go to their dorm room, and how they should make sure they went up to get their things in good time before setting off.
It seemed only polite, even if there wasn't as much chance of getting lost any more with so many people having Hogwarts Maps.
Professor Aberforth was already waiting in his room when Harry got there, and – as had been a theme with Defence teachers – the way the room was laid out was different again.
While Professor Diggle had gone in for a large central duelling area, Professor Aberforth (which was his first name but it was really the best way to distinguish him from the other Professor Dumbledore) had arranged the desks in three inwards-facing clusters – which still left some space at the front for spellcasting, but not nearly as much as Professor Diggle had provided.
The décor was different as well, and surprisingly subdued. The paintings along the walls showed landscapes – Wizarding landscapes, with corn gently swishing in the breeze and a flight of Hippogriffs eternally circling over a distant forest, but still landscapes – and there were things on the wall which Harry didn't think had ever been strictly relevant to Defence Against the Dark Arts.
There was even a dartboard.
Professor Aberforth asked them all to sit down, and once everyone was seated he called out the register.
"Good," he said. "You're all here."
There was a moment of silent contemplation, then he nodded.
"Every second person, stand up," he asked. "Work out for yourselves who does, but I want everyone either standing up or standing next to someone who's stood up."
Ron immediately stood up, next to Harry, and so did Neville on the other side of him.
"Now, everyone who's standing up, go and sit at a different table," Aberforth went on. "Doesn't matter where, so long as it's not the table you started at."
Harry was now quite confused, and wondering why they were doing something like this, but after a moment longer he realized that it had to be something relevant to the first Defence lesson.
Even if he was the headmaster's brother, or perhaps especially because he was the headmaster's brother, Aberforth wouldn't just have them do something for no obvious reason… though there might be no obvious reason and the reason was hidden.
So if he was mixing up where people were sitting, it was probably something to do with making sure people weren't just gathering in the same groups every time.
Once they were all sitting down, Aberforth stood.
"I'm Aberforth Dumbledore," he said, without preamble. "My older brother's the one with all the magical skill, but less of the sense, so luckily for you he's had enough to get me to come in to teach you."
His eyes swept the classroom. "By now you've been learning magic for six years, and I've read the reports and test results. You're pretty good at magic, as a general rule, and while I'll be polishing some rough edges that's not my main concern. My main concern is something else."
Harry was sure he wasn't the only one waiting to hear what that concern was, and after a few seconds Aberforth waved his wand at the chalkboard.
The words When To Use Magic appeared.
"When to use magic," Aberforth summarized. "And, more specifically, when not to use magic."
He smiled, and there was the same twinkle that Harry had seen so often in Albus' eyes. "It's harder than you'd think."
"What gets taught at Hogwarts is how to use magic," Aberforth said, then corrected himself. "Or, most of it. If you're doing lessons like History of Magic, or Care of Magical Creatures, then not everything you learn is directly connected to using magic. But most of what we learn is how to use magic."
He put his wand down on the desk with a twik, and clasped his hands. "And that means it's only natural to try and use magic – or, to think first of the magical solution for a problem. And usually, in your daily life, that's just what you want to do – but not always. Sometimes it's better not to first think of the magical solution."
"That would explain the smell in his pub," Draco said softly, next to Harry. "If he doesn't think of a simple Scourgify, that is."
A hand went up, and Aberforth called on Ernie MacMillan.
"Why did you assign those books, Professor?" he asked.
"Good question," Aberforth told him. "You might all have noticed that one of the books I asked for was by a Muggle. And not just a Muggle, but one who spends all his time talking about war. Right?"
There was a murmur of agreement.
"It's to get you thinking," the Defence Professor explained. "Take this bit. 'Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape, and they will prefer death to flight. If they will face death, there is nothing they may not achieve. Officers and men alike will put forth their uttermost strength.'"
He regarded the class. "What's the lesson, there?"
Harry's paw was the first to go up, and Aberforth nodded to him. "Mr. Potter."
"If someone is cornered, they'd rather go down fighting than try and fail to escape," Harry said. "But it only really applies when they can't surrender to escape."
"Well spotted," Aberforth told him. "The point is, I want you to think about these things from different directions. If you read it simply enough, it's telling you to put your own men into terrible danger – but you also need to think about it from the other side. If you corner someone else, and make it so that they have no way out, then you'll end up dealing with someone desperate and with nothing to lose."
He picked up his wand again, and pointed it at the blackboard – making a new set of chalk words appear. "It's generally better to offer someone a way out. That helps you not only in situations where you need Defence Against the Dark Arts skills, but in making sure that you won't need them in the first place."
Harry had to admit, he hadn't been thinking of it quite like that.
"Let's try another," Aberforth suggested. "'If your opponent is of choleric temperament, seek to irritate him.'"
This time several hands went up, and Su Li got called on.
"That's saying that if someone's prone to getting angry, you should make them angry, so that they're not thinking straight," she summarized. "But it's also that you should try and notice when someone is doing that to you… and if you don't want a fight, then you should avoid doing it."
"That's the sort of thing I like to see," Aberforth nodded.
By the end of the lesson, Harry was sort of getting the idea of what Aberforth wanted to teach them.
After six years learning how to do magic, to the point where you could do it without thinking, he was trying to teach them that you should try not to do anything without thinking – but particularly anything related to Defence Against the Dark Arts.
They read a bit of the other book on the list, as well, The Four Directions, and again Aberforth pointed out different ways to think about some of the quotes in the book. Like the one about how a teacup was to a Muggle a piece of work that might take days to create, but to a wizard was simply a teacup… that was about (or you could think of it as about) how using magic to make something happen quickly and easily could make it so you didn't really think about how valuable it was.
And, at the same time, how being able to make things with magic was also positive because it meant that you didn't have to worry so much about something being broken. But that taking it for granted would be to lose some of the wonder involved.
"I think I'm going to come out of that class with a headache," Ron said, over lunch.
"You mean Herbology?" Neville asked, who'd just been doing Herbology.
"No, you know, Defence," Ron answered, who hadn't just been doing Herbology. "Only class I've had, so far."
Harry cut himself a slice of garlic pizza – a particularly thick garlic pizza, about an inch deep, so that he wasn't really sure if it counted as pizza at all or something else. "I wonder what it's going to mean for the NEWTs," he announced, before taking a bite and enjoying the taste of the soaked-in butter.
"He did say he was going to clean up anything missing," Hermione said. "I wonder how that's going to work out."
"Could be anything," Ron judged. "Oh, hold on, is that a plate of pies? Just a moment – anyone else want some?"
Dean raised a hand in signal, and Ron went and got two pies before returning to his seat.
"Anyway," he went on, extracting his pie from the dish. "The way I see it, he's a Dumbledore, and he grew up with the Dumbledore. So either he's as weird as the other one, just to keep up, or he's gone really sensible just to make himself different."
"Probably the first one," Neville said.
"Probably," Ron agreed. "But like I was saying, either way it'll sort of work itself out."
He paused. "Just, you know. With a headache."
"It does kind of seem to be the class for overthinking things," Dean voiced.
Harry gave him a glance.
"...admittedly, that is my thing," Dean conceded.
"I wonder if it's to do with how… a lot of the time, it's obvious you should be using your Defence Against the Dark Arts skills," Harry pointed out. "Like with, oh, a Lethifold, or a Red Cap. And then Professor Moody was about making sure we realized when you should when it's not obvious, and Professor Aberforth is about making sure we realize when we shouldn't."
The afternoon brought with it the first Alchemy lesson of the new year, and while Harry was sure he wasn't the only person to enter the lesson with a new perspective on Albus Dumbledore – simply from meeting his brother – to all appearances it was as if nothing had happened at all.
The room was the same as before, scattered with alembics and retorts and reagents, though there was an extra cupboard in the corner as well.
"Ah, I see we are all here," Albus said, once the last Alchemy student had filed into the room. "Excellent."
He paused for a moment, considering, then began.
"Since I am quite a discerning sort, and, more importantly, I was involved in the creation of the timetables, I gather that many of you will have recently had your first lesson with Professor Aberforth Dumbledore."
Harry silently revised his estimation about whether it seemed like nothing had happened at all.
"Since today's main field of focus will be on the action of faster alchemical transmutations," Dumbledore continued, "ones which may be useful when for some unknown reason you do not have the time to conduct a full work-up with alembic and retort and such other instruments, I feel that I should address the inevitable questions."
With a smile, Dumbledore began to tick off the points on his fingers. "Firstly, yes, he is quite an unusual choice, but he came highly recommended – from his brother, as it happens."
Harry did his best to stifle a giggle, and he could hear he wasn't the only one.
"Secondly, it was a little more complicated. Third, yes. Fourth, no."
After that statement, Dumbledore let the silence hang in the air for several seconds.
Eventually, Blaise coughed. "Professor, you didn't mention what the questions were to those answers."
"Well, I do believe on leaving a few little puzzles," Dumbledore told him. "I feel that you know the questions you wish to ask best, so you should be able to line them up quite nicely with the answers without any trouble."
With that, he walked over to the extra cupboard.
"One of the properties of most alchemical reactions, as you will have noticed," he said, returning to the topic of the actual lesson, "is that they are quite slow. They are perhaps fast by the standards of Muggle chemistry, and quite middling by the standards of Potions, but compared to Charms or Transfiguration or similar matters they are slow indeed. Who can tell me what the remedy to that slowness might be?"
Harry put his paw up.
"Mr. Potter," Albus invited.
"Patience, in most cases, Professor," Harry answered. "But if patience isn't an option, I think you'd want to bring in the properties of a very fast reaction."
"Good answers, both of them," Albus told him. "I must admit, I personally find that when you are one hundred and sixteen years old patience is something which you get quite used to; I quite recommend living to a hundred and sixteen, or possibly more if you can manage it. However, for this lesson we will indeed be bringing in the properties of a very fast reaction."
He opened the cupboard and brought out some vials of powder. A little of the first one went on a heatproof pad, and was then joined by much more some of the second.
"This is an example of the first type of accelerated alchemical reaction," Dumbledore explained to them. "The first powder is powdered glass, the second is iron, and-" he sprinkled some of a third powder into the pile, "-the sensitization agent will be transferring the transparency of the glass into the iron – resulting, of course, in iron which is transparent like glass."
Dumbledore looked up, and his eyes twinkled with humour. "However, and since I do not wish to bore you by heating this with a flame for half an hour through a heatproof mat, all three reagents have been given a specific alchemical property of magnesium."
He touched the end of a lit taper to the pile of dust, and there was a sudden whoosh and a bright flash.
When it faded, there was a little puddle of clear liquid in the middle of the heatproof mat.
"The first type of accelerated alchemical reaction is where the reagents are prepared for faster action ahead of time," Dumbledore told them. "This means that just about any reaction can be sped up, but it also means you have to spend more time on it – a delightful paradox, I must say."
He turned away from the pad. "We will however be focusing mainly on the second type of accelerated alchemical reaction today, which is the type where we construct a single alchemical reaction that happens quickly because of the elements involved."
Mandy put her hand up, and Dumbledore called on her.
"How fast do you mean, Professor?" she said. "A lot of the alchemical reactions we've done have taken hours, so five minutes would be fast, but that one you just showed us took seconds."
"Quite correct on both counts," Dumbledore complimented her. "And either of those would qualify as fast. However, there is only so fast that we can make things, in many cases, because of the possibility for secondary interactions that would not be desired… not to mention other dangers, which you should never discount, though I am sure the word 'danger' should have given you that warning anyway."
He retrieved another set of vials from the cupboard. "For example, mercury is also known as quicksilver and it is associated with speed – so that is one way to speed things up, but of course mercury is not to be trifled with."
At that, Dumbledore winked. "And you should probably not put it in custard, either."
Harry wasn't the only one who groaned.
The picture Harry got from the lesson was that… well, it was sort of a matter of tradeoffs, like a lot of things in alchemy.
You absolutely could design an alchemical reaction which was catalyzed to happen faster, but there were plenty of ways in which simply adding catalytic reagents could go wrong. Every reagent could potentially react with any other, and sometimes the very same catalysts which would make a transmutation go fastest were the ones which would react adversely – it was no good having a transmutation adding hardness to tin wire if it also made it so that it was so brittle it would crumble to dust, to say nothing of accidentally making the wire melt at any temperature above the freezing point of water. So you had to take what you could get, and Harry felt that it would have to be a true master of alchemy to be able to do something both quickly and without working it all out ahead of time.
All the ones Dumbledore did in the lesson worked just fine, for him at least (though the fast transmutations were even fiddlier than normal, and nobody managed to pull them all off when it was their turn to demonstrate even if they did everything just the same) but that could have meant Dumbledore worked it out for the lesson in advance or was just doing the whole process ad-hoc.
With Dumbledore, it could be either. Or both.
After dinner, Harry went down into the dungeons, to one of the places where people didn't normally go, and got three books out of his bag.
They were nothing like he normally read these days, but that was because they weren't really meant for him anyway, and he duplicated each one with a tap and a muttered Xerographia before expanding it out to be much bigger than normal.
Conjuring a folded piece of paper asking the House-Elves to please leave them where they were, Harry looked over his handiwork again before heading back upstairs to the common room.
There was homework to do, after all.
As a concession to the fact that Ron wasn't available, Hermione and Harry did their Alchemy homework instead – writing out some of the problematic interactions that could come from accelerating an alchemical process, as well as a few of the other side-effects.
One of them was that if you were doing an accelerated process you often didn't have time to set up all the glassware, which meant you were doing the reaction in the open, so fumes could be a much bigger problem. In fact, a lot of things could be a much bigger problem, but Harry could still see how that kind of thing could be useful.
He was thinking specifically of curse breaking sorts of things, and (because it was similar) also the sort of things you could do to break into vaults. If you could put together a quick alchemical transmutation which reduced the melting point of stone, it was a way you could make a wall sort of dissolve and flow away instead of breaking into it.
It also sounded like quite a nasty trap, though. Sure, molten stone at room temperature wasn't as dangerous as molten stone at lava temperature, but it was still molten stone, and it was a lot heavier and denser than water.
Or would it be more dangerous to have a trap full of a liquid that was less dense than water, so you wouldn't be able to float in it? That was something you could do with alchemy as well…
Harry decided to focus on the actual homework – or, at least, on Neville's comments on his Herbology homework – rather than coming up with dangerous tomb traps. And to never mention his ideas to any ancient Egyptian tomb designers he happened to meet.
Then he and Hermione had to work out interim patrol schedules for the Prefects.
"This is basically just a big logic puzzle, isn't it?" Dean said. "You know, line everything up so that you're not breaking any of the rules."
Harry nodded absently, checking his scribbled notes. "Sixth and Seventh years only on Thursday, that's Fifth Year astronomy."
"Right," Hermione agreed. "And, um… who's doing astronomy in sixth year?"
"I know June is," Harry supplied. "So she can't do Monday."
"Pity you can't just look to the back of the book," Neville said, which Harry thought was quite unhelpful, and which earned him a stuck-out tongue.
They eventually got it sorted out, though, which led to Ernie and Derek handling the first patrol night of the year.
Later that evening, after Ron had yawned his way past en route to Astronomy and the common room was all but empty, Harry got out the Marauders' Map.
The first thing he did was to check the patrols, and both Prefects were out where they should be, so that was good. Then he spotted Taira, creeping along very close to a wall on the fourth floor.
Not far from the Alchemy classroom, in fact.
"Expecto Patronum," Harry said, twirling his wand. "While I appreciate your interest in study outside class time, Taira, I think you'd better do it when you're allowed to be out in the corridors; it's less trouble for everyone involved. Back to bed."
Ruth vanished with a flicker of white, and a few seconds later Taira's dot began hurrying back towards the stairway en route to the Slytherin common room.
He was probably imagining that the hurry was sullen.
There didn't seem to be anything else wrong, so after a minute or two Harry turned his attention to the books he had on the desk.
"Empress," he said, activating the blacked out mirror. "Good evening."
"Good evening," the ancient basilisk replied. "Are you well?"
"I'm dealing with the extra work of being Head Boy," Harry replied. "That's a bit tricky, but apart from that everything's fine. How are you?"
"You mentioned that, yes," Empress agreed. "And, well, aside from my recent teaching job – and what you've said – one year is much the same as the next for me."
Harry nodded, though he knew that Empress couldn't see him.
"I had an idea about that, actually," he said. "Or, at least, something you could do which might help. I left some things back where your Christmas present was last year."
"Intriguing," Empress said, and then for the next few minutes there was the sound of slithering scales over stone.
Then she spoke again.
"They're the sort of books which Muggles use to teach children to read," Harry explained. "It might be how Wizards learn as well, but I could make duplicates of Muggle books more easily."
He stretched, flaring his wings out a little. "I'm not sure if this is going to actually work, but I thought maybe we could try and see what happens."
"I have to admit, I'm curious," Empress said, slithering off the Map again and back into what was presumably the Chamber of Secrets. "How do you expect this to work, Harry?"
"Well, Hagrid and I have been teaching Nora a bit, and it seemed as though teaching her the letters directly worked… one of the books has an apple on the front," Harry said, getting out his own non-enlarged one. "I… hope you have an idea what an apple looks like."
"There's one with some sort of animal on the front," Empress reported.
"That's a dog," Harry told her. "An apple is a red globe with a stalk on top."
"Yes, I see it."
Harry nodded. "Okay. You've got enough light, then?"
"Your fire-lizard present for me is perched atop my head," she told him. "I can see well enough."
"Good," Harry told her. "Okay, so, if you can open it to the first page, there should be another picture of an apple on the left side."
Empress confirmed that that was what she was looking at.
"There's two symbols on the top left on the same page, one of them with only straight lines, and the other one with a circle as part of it," Harry said. "Those are the upper-case and lower-case letter A."
After hesitating for a moment, Harry decided to go on – Empress was much older than most people who were being taught to read, and he thought she'd be able to get a good idea of some of the concepts. "Individual letters can be sounds by themselves, but they can also represent sounds when they're put together into groups called syllables. And writing is representing something on paper instead of by saying it out loud, so that's how it gets started."
"I can see that the straight line symbol is underneath the apple, as well, along with four others," Empress noted. "Most of them look a lot like the smaller – the lower case – A, but not exactly."
"Right," Harry agreed. "That's the word Apple. It's made up of five letters grouped together in that order."
"Does the difference between the upper-case and the lower-case you mentioned matter?"
Harry hummed. "Not for which word it is, but it matters for other reasons."
The lesson went sort of okay, Harry thought, for the hour or so that it went on.
Teaching Empress how to read had been a strange mix of some things being easy to explain because of Empress being mature – adult in mindset, in fact – and quite intelligent, while other things had been very hard because of how cloistered almost her entire life had been.
It was all well and good to explain how you could turn sounds into words, and Harry had been glad to discover that – like with Mermish – some of the magical properties of Dragonish meant that you could ascribe syllables or phonemes or whatever the exact term was in a one-to-one comparison between English and Dragonish, and that the relationship also held when you were working with written language.
Moving on to how the same letters could represent different sounds was quite a bit harder, as was explaining how different letters could represent the same sounds – C, K and S had been a bit of a problem there, with Empress musing that maybe it would be easier to learn to read if they got rid of the letter C entirely – and Harry suspected that that was far from the last time that the English language and its peculiarities would trip them up.
The hardest thing, though, had been actually going through what the things in the pictures were. A Car was hard enough to explain, but the concept of a moving vehicle had come up in some of the books Harry had read for her; explaining what a leaf was to someone who'd never actually seen a tree, however, had been even harder.
Still, Harry was sort of optimistic. By the end of their lesson Empress had been able to identify all the letters in the word Banana, and observe that the words in the book always seemed to start with the upper-case symbol.
Which was good.
"So something occurred to me after hearing what you were doing last night," Ron said, in the common room after their first Charms lesson of the year.
Dean was out doing Care of Magical Creatures – they were looking at Erumpets because it was warm enough for them for once, being September – and Harry wiggled his eye ridges at Ron to encourage him to keep going.
"It's the spaceship thing," Ron explained. "It'd be really helpful if we had the same sort of thing that they have with Muggle spaceships, you see – you know, mission control, that sort of thing. Where you on the ground can see how I'm doing, and tell me what's a good idea or a bad idea… and, ideally, when I should turn around and start using the engines the other way so I won't run into the moon at high speed."
"That would be quite a bad thing to happen," Hermione agreed, with a nod. "It'd make a real mess of your Runes NEWT project."
Ron huffed, and Harry caught Hermione's little almost-smile.
"So, what's the idea, then?" Neville said.
"Basically, you'd start with a Protean Charm," Ron explained. "Doing that thing that the maps do, where you make it similar to reality instead of making one enchanted thing similar to another enchanted thing.And I might need your help with a lot of this stuff, guys, but the idea I had was that… well, those calculations about where a rocket's going aren't actually hard, really, not intrinsically. It's just that you have to do those calculations fast enough to know what it's going to do before it actually happens."
Neville held up a hand. "Point of order, I think Dean might be needed for this one. He's the one doing Divination NEWT."
Ron frowned. "Yeah, I guess, but you two are doing Arithmancy NEWT, and that might be needed too."
"Actually… we might need to get Sirius involved, too, or instead," Harry guessed. "And Remus, too. They're the ones who know how the Marauders' Map got made, and those show all the students in Hogwarts plus a map of the school. And that's obviously zoomed out, so… you could do one which is a map of the whole world, and the Ratatoskr, but you can zoom it in or out."
"It'd be a bit tricky doing it on parchment," Hermione pointed out.
"Yeah, but we don't need to do it on parchment," Ron said. "Do we? I didn't think the Protean Charm had to involve parchment."
Neville nodded. "If you do it so it's a representation, you need to define the area it tries to draw on, and it can't be too big or it sort of fuzzes out trying to draw everything. But there's no reason you have to do it on parchment, or even make it flat at all… I think?"
He puzzled for a moment, then shook his head. "I can't think of a reason it has to be flat, but I'm not sure. Hermione?"
"Well… I need to look this up, I think," Hermione began. "But… you still need something to draw it in. The ones we used for the timetables draw it in ink, but you can make it draw by moving metal around instead – there might be others, but I know you can use metal."
"Alchemically altered silver, or maybe gold or platinum," Harry pronounced, as his thoughts from last night suddenly combined with what Hermione was saying to make something just fall into place. "You can transmute a metal so it's got a much, much lower melting point, and those metals are the least reactive – and they're not poisonous, not like mercury. So room-temperature liquid silver would be able to move like needed… right?"
"It'd be a really expensive display," Ron sniggered. "But… well, you don't really need colour mostly, do you?"
"The protean charm can add colour," Hermione reported.
"There we go, then," Harry said. "That's going to be a fairly simple transmutation, at least, we could probably do it over the weekend. If we had enough silver… what do the goblins think of melting down Sickles?"
Neville frowned. "From what I've heard, they're not fans, but how much silver do you really need for this? It's not like silver is going to be more expensive than the same amount of silver in Sickles, is it, so you could buy quite a lot from them for a few galleons."
"This is starting to sound worryingly plausible," Ron said, frowning. "Hold on… this doesn't have to be for space travel stuff, now I think of it. You could do the same thing with the dragons, or with a Quidditch game. Might even be a good test."
Harry sort of wanted to get up and get started right now, but instead decided that they should think about it properly first – write it up, and then do a test.
Probably involving the Quidditch tryouts, actually, since Ron was going to need a replacement for Cormac.
As interesting as the idea was – and it was – Harry knew they couldn't just spend all their time focusing on it, because normal school work came first. They all had a period of Transfiguration that afternoon, in fact – which was mostly more work on Free Transfiguration and visualization – and that evening there was Charms, Defence and Transfiguration to work on all at once.
Really, Harry sort of wondered if one of the plus sides of the first year out of Hogwarts was being able to work on ideas like this without having the inconvenience of homework and regular lessons, though that was just a side thought.
Then it was Thursday, which saw nothing in the morning and Runes in the afternoon, and unlike with their OWLs it was expected that a NEWT project came out of the Runes course. They spent some time discussing that, and the upsides and downsides of using different rune languages, and Harry contemplated his own thoughts about what to work on.
One idea was that he came up with something to finally free Empress from the Chamber of Secrets, by shutting down her gaze. The problem wasn't so much the idea of convincing her not to use it – Harry was quite sure that Empress would be willing not to use it – but in convincing everyone else that she was safe, which was why they'd been thinking about ideas involving blindfolds and visors and things like that.
But they all had two problems in common, or most of two problems at least. Firstly, there was that they almost all would rob Empress herself of her sight, which would be a dreadful shame, and secondly that they were almost all things which could theoretically be removed again. So they wouldn't really resolve the problem.
What Harry was thinking about, though, was a kind of rune matrix that could be etched on Empress' scales – or something, he wasn't sure of the details yet – which would make it so that her killing gaze simply didn't work at all. That wouldn't be removable (if Harry got the as-yet-unworked-out details right), or certainly wouldn't be removable in a hurry, and that would help to ensure that people began to think of her as a safe serpent to be around.
The downside of that idea, though, was that it was nearly impossible to actually explain to the examiners what he was doing. And there was a question mark over whether it could be done at all, which wouldn't play well in the Rune practical exam.
Then there was the idea that Ron had had, of the Apparition matrix, which was something that Harry thought could be really useful if it worked. But that was more Ron's thing and Hermione's thing than his own, and while he'd be willing to help with it it just didn't quite seem like it fit.
The third idea Harry had, though, was to simply make a really good telescope. It seemed like something you could actually do, and it was different from the sword he'd already made, and he could probably do it in a different runic language if he really wanted to stretch his wings.
None of that was anything like final, of course. Even if Harry did go for something completely different, the only really limiting thing on what he worked on was time to work on it, and Harry felt quite capable of making things in a fairly short time.
"What do you think?" he said, out loud. "Gathering light, I mean – the big problem most telescopes have is that they're only so big, and you need at least a certain amount of light to be able to see something. But if you made it so that the things it was looking at seemed brighter? And… I suppose, if you made it so it magnified more?"
"Rather you than me," Ernie replied, shrugging. "But I concur, I don't think it'd go wrong."
Harry nodded. "Right, that might be a good one. You?"
"A fan which cools down the air it blows," Ernie said, simply. "I know you're a dragon and you're perfectly fine with tremendously high temperatures, but this last summer has been atrocious and sometimes you just don't want to keep casting Cooling Charms."
He smiled. "Besides, Justin could have one in his house and call it air conditioning."
"I wonder if the Egyptians had any of those?" Harry asked. "It seems like the sort of thing they'd need."
"Well, I suppose so, but Muggle Egyptians had to get by without them, so maybe they're more used to it," Ernie frowned. "But I'm British. I'm not used to heat."
Friday, when it came around, was a day that Harry had almost entirely free. There was one Transfiguration period right after breakfast, and then the rest of the day was lessons which Harry wasn't doing.
It would have meant he could start the weekend before eleven in the morning on Friday, except that he had a meeting with Dumbledore scheduled for after dinner. That was the same one Hermione was going to be in – though she was also doing Potions, so wasn't available that afternoon – and Harry decided that maybe what he should do over the course of the day was try to list some of the steps needed to make that silver display idea.
It gave him a bit of a smile to realize that it was almost like what a liquid-crystal display sounded like, but without the crystal.
As he was writing out a list in the library towards the end of the lunch hour, though, he overheard Draco explaining something to someone in tones that made it clear he considered them to be a complete idiot.
"In the first place," he drawled, quietly, but still just about loud enough for Harry to hear, "saying that about Potter implies that you think he shouldn't have defeated Voldemort, which in turn implies that you're in favour of Voldemort. Which would be the wrong thing to imply, even accidentally."
He paused. "And secondly, even if you were in favour of Voldemort, it wouldn't be very Slytherin to admit it, now, would it?"
Harry didn't know who Draco was talking to, and honestly when he thought about it he didn't think it was worth finding out. Either Draco had got his point across to them and they wouldn't think that sort of thing any more – whatever that sort of thing was –which would be best, or he'd got his other point across and they'd stay quiet about it.
People staying quiet about having the sort of views Harry didn't like wasn't exactly ideal, but it was something he could live with all things considered.
And if Draco hadn't got either point across, well, Harry would probably be finding out who they were sooner or later anyway.
The only thing that was really bothering Harry was wondering whether Draco had meant him to overhear it. But that was something you could wonder about for months, so he shrugged it off and carefully noted down the list of ways it would be good to be able to direct the focus of the Protean Charm.
So far he had being able to rotate it in three different axes, to zoom it in or out, and to move it in three different axes, but there were almost certainly more and thinking about it for a bit might bring one up.
It was a pity you couldn't just do the sort of thing that happened in some books, where the magic did whatever it was you were thinking of even if you hadn't thought of that when you cast it. But then again, real life was a bit more fiddly than that sometimes.
The password to Dumbledore's office that evening was 'Rainbow Rizzlers', which admitted both Harry and Hermione to the stairway.
"Ah, excellent," the Headmaster said, as Harry came over the lip of the stairs with Hermione just behind. "Do please take a seat, though not all the way out the door as I only have a few."
His beard was back to silver, and somehow Harry was a bit disappointed.
"It was an International Confederation of Wizards meeting this afternoon," he said, by way of explanation – without Harry having to ask, so it must have been something about how he reacted. "One of our Australian cousins asked me if I was some sort of poof, which I took to be a comment about my resemblance to a cushion, and after a series of rather confusing misunderstandings I was able to assure him that the colouration of my beard related primarily to a sweet I had had back in July."
Fawkes whistled something, and Dumbledore nodded. "Any truth in what he was actually saying was quite coincidental. At least as far as he knows."
He steepled his hands. "Now, to the important part of the meeting. Would either of you like a biscuit?"
"Professor," Hermione said, a little uncertainly. "Do you mean that the important part of the meeting is the biscuits? Or that we should talk about the other important things while having a biscuit?"
"I think you should believe whichever answer makes you feel more comfortable," Dumbledore told her.
He placed one each of three different biscuits on a plate, and held it out, and Harry let Hermione take her own choice – a Rich Tea – before selecting a normal digestive biscuit.
Dumbledore reclaimed the remaining one, a chocolate biscuit, and favoured them both with a twinkle. "When you are as old and – dare I say it – famous as I am, you spend quite a lot of time thinking about how you would like other people to think of you. In my case, I tend to prefer people to be too busy trying to understand what I am doing to remember my inordinately long and quite tedious list of titles."
Harry nodded, absorbing that – and thinking about how much it fit with what he'd already sort of guessed about Dumbledore.
You couldn't really avoid people thinking something about you, but you had a lot of scope for what you did and said to alter the way they thought. And if you approached the whole thing as a way to find as much humour as possible – in others, but also in yourself – it could only help people feel at ease, because you were so obviously not angry or annoyed.
"In any case, Harry, Hermione, I would not want these meetings of ours to be too formal," Dumbledore went on, twirling his wand to bring over a steaming teapot and pour each of them a cup of tea. "To remove all ambiguity, the intent of these is not for me to tell you off, or even for me to rate you on how well you are doing as Head Boy and Head Girl. It is so that we can talk about what you feel needs to be talked about, without feeling any pressure."
He smiled. "If neither of you feels there is anything important to bring up, and we spend the whole time discussing Quidditch, that would be quite pleasant."
Harry nodded, marshalling his thoughts.
"What do you think the most important advice for a Head Boy is, sir?" he asked. "Or a Head Girl, since I assume they're more or less the same."
"An excellent question," Dumbledore complimented him. "I think there are perhaps two pieces of advice, and which one matters more depends on your circumstances. Perhaps working out which applies will be a nice learning experience."
He snapped his biscuit in half, and dipped it in the tea for a few seconds before biting the end off. Hermione looked slightly impatient in the pause, but controlled herself, and Harry tried to relax like Dumbledore had advised.
"The first piece of advice is that you should take care that you do not miss anything obvious," Dumbledore told them both, once the half-biscuit had disappeared. "By which I mean that if there is some sort of problem that the students are talking about, it would be best if you noticed it – I do not expect you to know everything that goes on within these walls. Even I do not know everything that goes on within these walls, and in particular I remain singularly ignorant as to what is being taught in Muggle Studies. I never seem to have the time to find out."
He held up a warning finger. "At the same time, my second piece of advice is that you should not neglect anything else. This is the final year of your time at Hogwarts, and the final year of your education – and if you ever do return to these halls we love so much, it will not be as students but in some other role. So do not neglect your friends, and give your classes all the time they deserve, and do make sure not to overload yourself with stress – to not enjoy your year would be a dreadful waste. If you do find yourself struggling, I would simply ask you bring it up in one of these friendly chats, and I will do my best to find a way in which we can relieve your stress with as little disruption as possible."
Hermione blew on her tea and took a drink, then put it down on the saucer. "And how do we know which is the one we should do more of, Headmaster?"
"An excellent question, Hermione," Dumbledore said. "And, please, call me Albus. Everyone knows my name but so few choose to use it. But as to your question, I would say that only you can answer that… but if you want my advice, if you think you need to do one more, then that is the one you need to do more, but if you worry more about one then it may be a sign that you actually need to do the other one more."
He smiled again. "Unfortunately, there is no one answer. Though you could always ask a friend."
This is an interesting year because it's the first year where canon is functionally no guide; canon Harry was living in a townhouse, or possibly a tent or cottage depending on the time of year.
That's on top of how Alchemy and Runes are subjects we don't get shown in canon, of course. So really I'm almost completely off the reservation at this point.
If the idea of the Protean Charm doing that is a bit confusing, just remember that the Marauders' Map uses something to display reality on a parchment so it's clearly possible. I just like the idea of it being the same charm.
Also, ceiling dragon is watching you infiltrate.