Author's Note: I started writing this alternate 5th year in 2003 before the canonical 5th through 7th years were written. Although I completed it after the series was completed, I didn't go back and change the characters and relationships that are now not canonical. In chapters where these "alternate" versions of characters appear, I'll add an author's note. Hopefully, the differences will be acceptable variations on JKR's intriguing original themes.
Harry watched Hermione shift from foot to foot at the front of the class. Abashed, she glanced at the teacher. "What was the question again?"
Her classmates giggled.
Professor Ariel Daine cast a warning look across the room. Not for the first time, Harry thought how little she looked like an expert in Defense Against the Dark Arts. She couldn't weigh more than a hundred pounds. Freckles dusted her cheeks. Her hair—short, blonde and fluffy—reminded him of the down on a newborn chick.
"The question? What animal did I ask you to remember?" American, Professor Daine spoke with a lilting accent she identified as Alabaman. Rumor had it that back at her alma mater, Lost Bayou Institute for the Magical Arts and Sciences, she'd once used that playful drawl to talk seven zombies into returning to their graves.
"Uh," Hermione stammered, darting helpless glances at Ron and Harry. Suddenly, she brightened. "But I do remember we're having sushi and bagels for lunch."
Shrieks of laughter broke out around the room at Professor Daine's demonstration of the art of memory rearrangement. Out of loyalty, Harry bit his lip. Seeing the cleverest pupil at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry forget something she'd sworn she wouldn't just minutes before—then parrot back what she'd been told to say—was rather funny.
"The animal was a blue monkey," the professor said. "And I'm afraid lunch will be beef pie, spinach, and mashed potatoes."
Hanging her head so low that her unruly brown hair obscured her eyes, Hermione slouched back to her seat.
"Don't take it so. Not many can sidestep a Memory Charm." Professor Daine surveyed the room with her wide, hazel eyes. "Is there another volunteer so Hermione won't feel singled out?"
Harry slid low in his seat. Next to him, Ron began pointing at him enthusiastically.
Professor Daine smiled. "Harry?"
"Nice one," he muttered to Ron as he rose to his feet.
When Harry reached the professor, she raised her wand. She'd once told the class she'd made it herself from peach wood and a hair from the head of a Jersey devil. Smiling, she said, "Let's try a different animal—a pink elephant. Take a moment to picture it."
Harry closed his eyes. Soon a pink cartoon elephant materialized in his mind, coyly swinging a long, pink trunk. Picturing things in his head was a familiar pastime—perfected during long hours banned to his cupboard under the stairs at his aunt and uncle's, the Dursleys. Outside the cupboard, he'd even used the technique to blank out particularly infuriating diatribes from Uncle Vernon. In this subject, his rotten home life gave him an advantage over Hermione. Slowly, he nodded.
Professor Daine began with words. "The pink elephant turns its back. No trunk or tusks. All you see is a large pink disk—a pink disk that spreads and spreads . . . ."
After awhile, Harry found himself unaware of her words—only of a feeling of peace, security, and happiness. He found himself mentally turning towards the source of the warmth and away from . . . Pink Elephant! He shouted to himself. Don't lose your pink elephant. Resolutely, he willed it back into focus. When it turned, its tusks looked sharp and its eyes fierce. He forced himself to see the roughness of its hide, the saliva dripping from its mouth.
Faraway, he heard Professor Daine's soothing voice asking him to tell everyone about his animal. As he opened his eyes, he repeated to himself, Pink elephant. But before he said it aloud, he glanced at Hermione. Her stricken look made him say, "A blue monkey."
The professor narrowed her eyes skeptically at him, but the relief on Hermione's face made his lie worthwhile.
Then, beneath the friendly laughter that had exploded at his answer, he heard a different kind of chuckle—low, breathy, and supremely self-satisfied. Turning to the door, Harry saw his nemesis, Professor Snape, slowly applauding. The crinkles around the dark eyes made him look mildly amused, but Harry knew his hidden malice. Why hadn't he just said pink elephant?
Out the corner of his eye, Harry saw Professor Daine stand straighter and smooth a hand down her long, black robes. "We have a visitor. Severus—Professor Snape—has kindly agreed to expand on our topic by telling us about memory potions."
At the name Snape, the roomful of Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs went silent. The Potions master swept between desks to the front, prompting students on either side to draw in their arms and legs as if to make themselves less noticeable. As usual, Snape's black robes were of a higher quality than the average professor's, but they were stained by some potion gone wrong. Hurriedly, Harry skirted the approaching threat and resumed his seat between Ron and Hermione.
If he could block out pleasant Professor Daine, he could surely block out Snape, Harry told himself. But as the wizard's softly menacing voice reached his ears, Harry found himself looking up. Countless tortured hours in Potions had trained him to fear that missing a syllable risked expulsion from Hogwarts.
"I have other tasks I should be doing—would prefer to be doing—right now. But the headmaster, in his infallible wisdom, has declared that fifth year students must gain experience at integrating the different branches of learning into that one, all-encompassing marvel that is the art of magic. When he speaks, we can do naught but obey."
Standing a few feet away, Professor Daine grinned. Evidently, she hadn't spent enough time with Snape to realize his snide tone was completely sincere.
"In the real world a magician with dark purposes will not be gentle. The memories he will want to wrench from you will be more significant than blue monkeys and pink elephants. He will use potions that break your will and lay bare your most crucial secrets. Those that don't serve his purpose, he'll replace. And the only evidence he'll leave of his theft is a mild confusion, an impairment in your ability to govern your own mind."
In the front row, Barden Grandstaff raised his hand. From Hufflepuff, the stocky blond combined unfailing politeness with an easy-going humor that let him shed Snape's sarcasm like water off a walrus. Harry wished he could do the same.
Professor Snape ignored Barden, but Professor Daine nodded at him.
"Doesn't the Ministry of Magic use memory potions for good—"
The Potions master snorted, stopping Barden mid-sentence. "To protect us from the unpleasantness that results when some fool allows Muggles to see what doesn't concern them?"
Barden raised his eyebrows. "Well, yes."
"And what makes you think the effects on the mind are any different when memory rearrangement is used for good purposes?" Snape shrugged. "The deleterious effects of Ministry practices on Muggles are irrelevant to our objectives here."
To his left, Harry caught Hermione glaring so hard he thought her eyes would cross. After all, the rest of her family were Muggles.
"Few of you will ever be called upon to shield your thoughts from an evil wizard—a fact for which we can all be grateful. It takes a certain amount of cunning. Mere bravery won't cut it."
Harry ignored the taunt from cunning Slytherin at brave Gryffindor. He was one of the few students that knew Professor Snape had once faced the challenge he described.
"There are potions that will enhance your memory to the level of inability to forget any detail that passes through your consciousness."
Harry saw Hermione's glare fade into a distant stare. She began scribbling furiously on her parchment.
"I do not recommend them," Snape added darkly. "An overly acute memory can be an unexpected burden." His lips moved slightly as if he were considering saying more.
Professor Daine smiled. "Researchers at Lost Bayou Institute are studying mind techniques that—"
"Lost Bayou. In America." Snape flicked his hand. "I don't have time today to discuss speculative mentalist theories. Suffice it to say, the potion of choice is particularly complex. Anyone but a Grand Master would be a fool to attempt it. It creates a duplicate of one's memories. The invading wizard will destroy one, unaware that an indelible copy is buried underneath."
Without a break, Snape launched into a catalog of various memory-altering potions, listing the composition and attributes of each. Only Hermione took notes. He finished with, "Expect a test tomorrow in Potions." At the collective groans that greeted this announcement, he smiled, nodded at Professor Daine, then began striding back between desks. All the students swiveled in their chairs to watch him, as if counting the seconds until he was gone.
When he reached the door, Professor Daine called out, "Thank you, Severus. I look forward to returning the favor."
Professor Snape paused, then turned. He held her gaze a moment with an expression Harry couldn't read. Then he murmured, "We'll discuss it."
As soon as Snape had left, grumbles filled the room. Apparently, Harry wasn't the only one who hadn't imagined a brief guest lecture would result in a test.
Professor Daine waved a hand for silence, then pointed at her office door, which stood slightly ajar. "I knew Professor Snape would be full of valuable information, so I took the liberty of placing a Quick-Notes Quill on my desk. It's set to make enough copies for all of you by the end of this session."
On one side, Harry heard Ron sigh in relief. On his other, he heard Hermione mutter, "But I've already made notes."
Five minutes after Defense Against the Dark Arts had ended, Harry was still in the classroom, now standing and clutching his copy of Quick-Notes.
"Don't fret," Professor Daine assured Hermione for the sixth time. "When it comes to memory rearrangement, I'm told your O.W.L.s will only cover concepts. You won't be asked to demonstrate auror level resistance skills. Although," she added with a glance at Harry, "that might be useful for the N.E.W.T.s."
Ron cleared his throat, and Harry wondered what was coming.
"Professor Snape certainly took over your lesson, didn't he? You know, he's always wanted to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts himself. It's common knowledge."
Harry grimaced at the collegial tone in his friend's voice. He knew where it came from. When Ron's brother Percy had seen them off to school at train platform nine and three-quarters, he'd advised Ron that to be considered for prefect one should act like one is on par with the administration.
"Common knowledge?" Professor Daine returned her usual friendly smile. For a moment, Harry wondered what a smile so habitual really meant. Then she cocked her head. "He could teach it if he wanted. From what I've seen, Professor Snape can handle all the arts. But nobody matches his skill at making potions."
When Ron nodded knowingly, Harry rolled his eyes.
"Don't forget to review—I mean, revise—your notes. I'm still learning the vocabulary over here. Hurry along now, or you all might miss your lunch," she added.
As Harry trooped out of the classroom with his friends, he heard Hermione mumble, "Sushi and bagels. What was I thinking?"
Author's Note: Please read & review. It means a lot!