This is my attempt at an adventure / friendship story, but I know me – sooner or later some romance is going to slip into it. I'm not certain who I'm going to ship – probably Hermione or Ginny with Harry. And maybe Luna with Neville.
Let me know what you think.
Harry potter is a regular teen. Except he still has his 'saving people' thing. And Ron is still Ron (no inordinate Ron bashing). Lily and James are alive, Neville is a ward of the Potters & thinks he's the second coming of James Potter. And there is a marriage contract (gone wrong).
"Anything interesting happen over the summer?" Ginny asked as she slid into the compartment and dropped down onto the seat next to Neville. The train was just pulling out from 9 ¾, and the Weasleys had arrived at the last minute. As always. One year they had missed the train all together, and their father had to Floo them to Hogsmeade (which had been mortifying for all involved). Fortunately, this compartment was mostly empty – Harry and Neville had snagged the one at the very back of the train, as was their wont. It wasn't the best spot but it was theirs ever since first year, and their friends knew where to find them.
"Nothing much," Harry muttered, not looking up from his Quidditch Weekly. It was last weeks issue, but this was his first opportunity to read it: the past week had been crazy - His mother had completely snapped and gone on a last minute shopping binge, buying him and Nev a ton of clothes that neither one was ever going to wear. Most of them had been left behind back at home. It was like she was hoping to cram in an extra month of time with 'her boys' into the space of a few hours.
And she had succeeded – it had felt like a month long ordeal of trying on clothing (none of which fit, and all of which looked alike). It had been torture. The Hogwarts express was Harry's first chance at a little peace and quiet.
A pair of second year 'Puffs went racing down the corridor, yelling something about fanged frisbees.
Well, everything was relative.
"Not much?" Neville snorted, "What, you already forget the marriage contract?"
"What?" Ginny leaned forward expectantly – this sounded juicy. And while she might be a tom-boy – McGonagall had taken points from her 6 times last year: Twice for climbing the Winding Ivy on the outside of the Gryffindor tower, three times for not wearing school robes in class and once for flying a broom inside the Great Hall (in her defense, it had been raining all week, and she had waited until after dinner was done) – but she still liked to gossip. "You're getting married? To who?"
"Nobody." Harry flushed, "Dad will take care of it."
"What do you mean, a marriage contract?" Harry woke up to his mother's shrill scream. She rarely yelled, but when she did, you didn't want to be anywhere within the 'blast zone', as dad described it (but never to Lily's face).
'Well, happy birthday to me,' Harry slipped on his glasses and his slippers and went downstairs to see what the screaming was about. It sounded like something racy.
"Honey, these things happen in the wizarding world. I'll hire a barrister from the Department of Mysteries to reconstruct the contract. They all have escape clauses, even the spontaneous ones."
"What do you mean spontaneous? And why do you need to reconstruct it? Just go to Gringotts and get a copy!" Lily had grown up in the muggle world, and sometimes it showed. She could navigate the wizarding world pretty well, but there were times when something like this came up. It usually had to do with some insanity dreamed up by one of the fruit-loop Purebloods. In Lily's opinion, all Purebloods were a little bit touched in the head, though James was less afflicted than most.
James sighed, "The problem is finding the information: If there even was a written contract, who know who made it, and when? The Potters could have inherited it from some back room deal done centuries ago, involving some family that we married into."
"Hello," Harry shuffled into the kitchen, curiously, "Who's getting a marriage contract?"
Lily turned to her son and pasted her fake 'teacher smile' on her face, "You are dear, but your dad will straighten it out before it becomes a problem." She shooed Harry out of the kitchen, as she shot James a glare saying 'you had better'.
"What this about spontaneous contracts?" Harry asked, stepping around his mother. This sounded bad, but dad would fix it. Harry had great faith in his fathers ability to take care of any problem. James was a senior Auror, and nobody messed with him or his family. He even made other Aurors nervous, which is why there was talk that he was going to be transferred to Internal Affairs.
"Oh, those sometimes happen when a wizarding couple swears to be together forever or some nonsense like that, and then doesn't follow through. That is effectively a magical oath. Then, the next time a witch and a wizard are born into the appropriate blood line, with similar characteristics, the oath creates a contract."
"Oh, that's not so bad," Harry mused. He was just starting to notice girls, but the idea of actually asking one out was an insurmountable challenge, which he saw no way to overcome – not even when he turned 24 instead of just 14. so having Magic find a girl who was almost guaranteed to like him didn't sound so bad.
"What, you want some some horny 8th century teenager that kind of looked like you to determine who you marry?" James frowned at his son, causing Harry blanched. Harry envisioned what men back then thought was attractive – some viking woman with hands like hamhocks and a back strong enough to pull a plow. "Don't worry. There's always an escape clause. And the ministry has wizards trained in reconstructing these contracts. We'll fix this."
"Apparently when the Wizengamot passes a law, it takes on magical force, so even magical marriage contracts from way back when get magically modified so that nowadays they can't be applied to somebody against their will."
"Or to somebody underage," Neville added, "But it would still be fun to see who you got paired with. I bet your great granddad lost a bet to Bulstrode or something." Neville smirked.
"Ew!" Ginny made a gagging motion.
"Anyway, what's going on with you?" Harry quickly changed the topic as the train lurched into motion. Maybe Neville found it 'fun', but this discussion gave him butterflies.
"Not much. The Ponce-Who-Lived had yet ANOTHER interview with the Skeeter woman. Ugh I hate her. She is the most condescendingly fake pond scum ever. Wherever I walk by..."
"So stop walking by," Harry interrupted.
"Ha, ha, funny. It's my house. I'm allowed to go get something from the kitchen if I want. But every time she sees me asks me to get her a cup of water or a tissue or whatever, like I'm a House Elf or something! I don't understand why Dad allows her into the house!"
"Maybe he needs the money," Harry cringed at Neville's reply. The Weasleys were dirt poor, but Ginny hated being pitied, "James was saying that Hogwarts tuition has gotten crazy high, and that many magical families can't afford it anymore." Neville called the Potters 'Lily' and 'James', despite having lived with them almost all his life (except to their faces. Then they were mom & dad. Lily insisted). It was his way of paying his respects to his biological parents.
"Well, I'm going to play pro quidditch, and that will take care of that!"
"You're going to have to make the school team first, runt," Harry retorted, grateful that Ginny hadn't made it into a big deal. Neville had an overdeveloped 'do gooder' streak that he had gotten from James. The last thing Harry needed was for Ginny to wind him up so that he went on another crusade. Last year's attempt to keep Remus on as a DADA professor (once he was outed as a werewolf) had been bad enough. Neville had gotten into so many fist fights that he had almost matched Ginny's record for detentions.
The discussion devolved into an arguments over professional quidditch teams. Harry was practical, as in all things, rooting for Puddlemere United, but for reasons unknown Ginny championed the Chuddley Cannons, who had not won a world championship in almost a hundred years. It made for a lively discussion, with Neville refereeing to keep it from getting too heated (he himself didn't have a favorite – he liked quidditch well enough, but it was just a sport).
They were still at it when George Weasley comes by to check on his sister. "Hey, Ginerva. We're almost to Hogwarts. Don't forget to get into your robes." The somber Hufflepuff managed to look disapproving even now.
George blanched and slid the door shut.
"That wasn't nice," Harry interjected. The Weasley matriarch had given her life trying to save Ron from Voldemort. Arthur had never remarried, being too busy raising 5 boys and one lone daughter as a single father.
"Yeah, whatever. I can't tip toe around him for the rest of my life."
"Hey, at least he's not Ron."
Ginny rolled her eyes. Even she couldn't stand how her older brother always had to be the center of attention. If somebody, somehow ever DID forget that he was the Boy Who Lived, he would be certain to mention it.
Molly was puttering in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on her clock. She knew that it wasn't strictly legal – it used blood magic to tie the clock hands to all of her family, so that she would always know where they were – but it was an old family spell. The Prewetts had been using it for generations. It was perfectly safe.
She sighed and rubbed at her forehead. Right now, she really shouldn't be awake at all – it was almost 2 am, but her youngest – Ginerva – had woken up colicky, and it had taken forever to put her back to sleep. She ended up casting a sound reflection charm on all of the children's rooms, so that no noise from outside would penetrate. Maybe that would let her sleep. And if she didn't, it would at least keep the others from waking up.
But this was pretty much it for Molly – there was no way that she would be able to fall back asleep now, so she might as well get something productive done, instead of laying in bed, worrying.
With You-Know-Who menacing all of wizarding Britain, she would feel much better once she had the clock. Arthur had spoken to Dumbledore: apparently You-Know-Who was now hunting after the Potters and the Longbottoms. Something about their boys being born in the seventh month. Thank Merlin that they had good wards to hide behind.
Molly had just put a drop of her blood onto the small clock hand and recited the next part of the ritual when she heard a crash from the back of the house.
"Arthur?" She knew it wasn't him - Her husband was on a business trip. She had talked to him about transferring to some department that would let him stay home - she hated it when he was away overnight. Even before this craziness, she always worried. Molly headed for the back of the house, her wand in one hand, the clock half forgotten in the other.
The back door was torn off of its hinges.
There was another crash, this time from upstairs.
"Mommy?" There followed a quiet thump.
Molly felt ice pour into her veins. She turned and raced up the back stairs, towards the children's rooms.
To find an unknown man standing with his wand drawn next to Ron's room.
"Stupefy!" Molly didn't bother to ask what he was doing there – he didn't belong!
The man turned and casually deflected the spell. By its light, she could see the lifeless body of one of her twins.
"No!" She attacked with complete disregard for her own safety. The intruder was momentarily taken aback, and was forced up a few stairs. Molly threw herself between Ron's bedroom and the intruder. As she got closer to him, her eyes widened – it was You-Know-Who!
The momentary lapse was enough for him to go back on the offensive.
She tried to block the spell with the the only thing she could, the half finished clock, but the killing curse smashed through it, sending shards tainted by death magic flying throughout the room. One rather large piece lanced into her neck.
Voldemort blinked as a wave of some old magic washed over him, and he felt a moment of nausea. He took a moment to look around. Fortunately, whatever the witch had hit him with hadn't done any harm. He stepped into the 'Chosen One's' room.
'The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches... born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies.'
But the seventh month from when? The modern fools assumed it was based on the Christian calendar, but prophesy didn't know about some false god. It drew on the natural world. Clearly, it was the seventh month from Lughnasadh.
'One more piece of business taken care of. Next I need to dispose of that James Potter.' That hyperactive junior Auror was a disproportionate thorn in his backside. Once he was gone, the Auror's moral would collapse.
Voldemort absent mindedly pointed his wand at the child and sneered "Avada Kedavra".
And something went wrong – the spell didn't emanate from the tip of his wand as it should, but instead swelled outwards, enveloping first his wand and then his whole body in a glowing sphere. He looked like an image that had been cast onto the surface of a bubble. Which popped, sending a wave of magic out into the room.
And Lord Voldemort popped along with the bubble, leaving nary a trace.
The train was rumbling through Hogsmeade as it approached the station when the carriage door slid open again and Luna stumbled in, looking dazed.
"Hey, are you ok?" Neville immediately asked. Luna often walked with mismatched shoes and she wore 'jewelry' made from bottle caps and other odds and ends. Something was off with her, and Neville was pretty certain she was being bullied. He wanted to interrogate her and find out who was doing it so that he could then have some 'words' with them (which would no doubt be immediately followed by a detention, but it would be worth it), but he didn't really know how to ask that of a girl – she hung out with them because she had known Ginny since they were little, but she wasn't really friends with the Potter boys. And Luna wasn't the sort that opened up to people easily.
"Yes, I'm fine, Neville. I just spotted a nest of woolly spiders above one of the doorways, and I got a little distracted. Do you realize the train is actually an entire ecosystem? Completely sealed off from the rest of the word, rocketing across the countryside in its own little world. It's so romantic."
The others exchange knowing looks – Luna was being Luna again.
When the train finally arrived at Hogwarts station, the four friends made their way off the train, or tried to – a bunch of first years burst out of the compartment in front of them, flooding the hallway like a swarm of ants. "Damn. How did they fit so many into one compartment?" Neville grumbled. They must have been packed in like sardines in a tin.
"And the firsties are getting smaller and smaller every year," Harry agreed.
A long minute later, as they finally made it to the entrance, the two remaining first years in front of them were bowled out of the way by Malfoy and his two goons coming from the other direction. Neville lunged forward and grabbed Draco by the shoulder "Oy, Malfoy, watch where you're going, you dumb ass."
"You want a piece of this?" One of Malfoy's hench-trolls(it was either Crabbe or Goyle – Harry could never tell the two apart. Between the two of them, they just about had one regular size intellect.). He tried to sound threatening, but his voice cracked halfway through.
"Nev, let's not do this on the first day of school." With 'this' being getting detention. Harry eyed the half giant directing the first years. Hagrid was pretty easy going, but he was still a teacher.
"Fine, fine. Go on ahead, your majesty," Neville faked a bow to Malfoy. The Slytherin boy fumed but couldn't think of a way to retaliate without losing face, so he just quietly stalked off towards the carriages.
"What's that?" Sirius looked up as a folder dropped onto his desk, next to his feet.
"What else? The Quidditch Cup imbroglio. It went all the way up the food chain and then came back down – apparently Fudge chewed out Bones for not putting enough resources on it and she leaned on Rufus. So he sent it back down to me."
"And now it's my problem?" Sirius took another sip of coffee.
"No, it's OUR problem," James sat down in the guest chair. "We'll split it up like usual – I'll take the hoity toity, and you sweep the streets."
"Do I at least get to finish my coffee first?"
James snorted in amusement. "Aren't you always complaining how the shop-keepers keep foisting coffee and doughnuts on you whenever you drop by"
"I'm not exactly complaining, but this is Starbucks!" Sirius mock-whined.
James smiled at his oldest friends' antics. "Come on Padfoot. When Scrimgeour says jump, he expects to at least see some signs of life."
"Ok, ok. Let me get my jacket." While James was dressed in the traditional Auror's robes, Sirius was wearing well worn jeans and a muscle shirt that showed off the fact that he spent his free evenings at the gym, all topped with a leather jacket.
Sirius was a firm believer that getting older did not mean that you had to grow up. Which the long list of women that he had dated over the past 20 years could corroborate.
"I can't believe that sort of nonsense happens " Petunia exclaimed as Lily finished recounting the salient events of the past month. "I mean, marriage contracts! That's like something out of the middle ages"
The two women were sitting in the tiny garden plot attached to Petunia's condo. As was her habit, Lily had dropped in on her sister after dropping the boys off at King's cross. Petunia's condo wasn't anywhere near, but with magic, that didn't matter. And chatting with her sister took the edge off of the loneliness that she always got when Harry and Neville boarded the train. It was at moments like that she wished she'd had another child.
"It's not so bad. James will have it sorted before it becomes a problem."
"But it's going to cost money. Imagine if you couldn't afford the Ministry fees or the Barrister fees. It's not right!" Petunia knew about not having enough money. Ever since she had divorce Vernon, she had been just scraping buy. Most of the clothes for Dudley came from the thrift store. But it was still better than being married to that man!
Lily nodded pensively, "Maybe there is some way to break the contract without having to spend money." It was worth looking into. Not necessarily for Harry, but it might help other families if she got it published. And it would make her feel better. Not that she didn't trust James (nowadays, he wasn't the devil-may-care Marauder that he used to be. Quite the opposite), but she prided herself on being an independent, modern woman. "So how is your garden doing? It looks pretty good." She changed the subject.
"It's not too bad. The condo association is even considering letting me re-do the flowers at the entrance." The two sisters had become a lot closer after Petunia's divorce, and had bonded over a shared love of gardening, though Lily was more interested in the magically active plants, which she used in her potions.
"Welcome to Pettigrew's pets how can .. Sirius! Come on in!" The stocky middle aged man bustled out from behind the counter and around the display case of mouse cages to give his old school chum a hug. "How are you doing! I don't see you very often.
"I'm good. Unfortunately, I can't say that this is social call. After the World Cup incident, the big boss asked me to make the rounds, see if there were any other incidents."
"Well, I haven't seen anything" Peter denied vigorously.
Not that his denial would be any less vigorous if he HAD seen something. Peter was a spineless wimp, and had been ever since Sirius had known him. 'I don't understand why James had him join our group back in school.' Though that kindness had paid off – Peter was fanatically loyal to James. It was the one thing that might overcome his cowardice.
"Petey, is that one of your friends?" A tremulous voice called from the back room.
"Yes, dear," Peter bustled over to the curtain separating the front of the store from the back and held it out of the way of a short mousy woman as she brought through another box of Kneazle treats, which she promptly started loading onto the shelves. "He was asking if we had heard about any more of that Death Eater nonsense."
"Well, not in our shop, but Harvey - he's the older gentleman who runs a second hand book store at the intersection with Knockturn Alley – might have." She turned and added as an aside to Sirius. "Some of his friends are a rougher sort, but he himself is not like that. Why, he's never said a word about me being a squib. But he was complaining the other day that some boys – I think he said they were the McNair twins - were roughhousing in his his shop. I don't know what they were doing there – they certainly aren't the sort to read for fun. If they can read at all, with them being home-schooled and all. But when he told them to break it up, they threatened him, told him that 'the Dark Lord would serve him'." She tsked in disapproval.
Sirius smiled as the fussy woman complained – she vigorously disapproved of pretty much everything at some point or other. The only person she never complained about was Peter.
"Looks like we scored a good crop of Firsties," Harry nodded towards the steady stream of new students joining them at the Gryffindor table for the Welcome Feast. He always liked watching the Sorting – the muggle-born had such a look of trepidation. Who knows what garbage the older kids had fed them on the train ride. Not that he would ever do something like that. Much. He smirked as he glanced over at the Creevey boy.
And even the wizarding kids looked anxious, as they knew about the house system and many of them were desperate to be sorted into the 'correct house' (whichever that was, for them). Harry thought that it was bogus – every house had their strengths and weaknesses. Yes, the snakes were obnoxious retards, but other houses had their flaws as well. For instance, Gryffindor had to deal with the Boy Who Lived.
Ron was expounding loudly something about house elves to Nearly Headless Nick.
"Ron! You can't be serious!" Harry turned to see Ron's number one frizzy fan looking irate with him. 'This looks serious' Harry turned to watch. Hermione ALWAYS took Ron's side. To see her confronting him like this was novel. And amusing.
"Hermione, they LIKE to work. Paying a house elf is like… like paying for air!"
"Ronald Bilious Weasley, I can't believe, you of all people, would say that. Aren't you the champion of the underprivileged?"
No, he wasn't – that was an appellation that Rita Skeeter had hung on him two years back, when Ron had complained to her about Lockhart's behavior (it had gotten him fired. Well, that was the public reason, but there were rumors of inappropriate behavior with a Hufflepuff 6th year).
"Do you think Hermione will finally realize how much of a prat Ron is?" Ginny took a sip of her pumpkin juice as she watched the slow motion train wreck progress.
"No, she's got too big of a crush on him," Harry countered. Harry considered himself an exceptional judge of people, and it was obvious that Hermione had it bad.
"What? Don't be absurd!" Ginny scowled - There was no way that somebody would have a crush on her idiot brother. She glanced over at George, sitting with his Hufflepuff friends. Not even on the less idiotic one.
Harry shrugged. Ginny was a third year – she would understand about this sort of thing when she got older. For instance, he glanced over at his step-brother: Neville had been watching Luna ever since they got off the train. 'I bet there's something going on there.' But he wasn't about to tease Nev – if he got a girlfriend, good for him.
Neville was watching Luna – the fifth year Ravenclaw siting next to her had (again!) vanished her pumpkin juice when she wasn't looking. His blood was starting to boil – once was funny, but this was too much!
"May I have your attention please" Albus Dumbledore stood up, "I have a few announcements to make." The announcements interrupted Neville's righteous fury before it could find an outlet.
James waited patently in the Malfoy 'smoking' room. He wasn't certain why it was called that – Lucius never smoked – but it was a small, darkly appointed room where the male Malfoy entertained his guests (while his wife would chat with her female friends in the 'parlor'. In James' opinion, a far more welcoming room. One that didn't reek of 20 generations of inbreeding).
"So what brings you here?" Lucius asked as he came in and took a seat in the leather upholstered chair. "Care for a drink? Dobby!" His elf appeared with a quiet pop and reached down a bottle of brandy down from the cabinet, pouring them each two finger.
"What else? That business at the World Cup."
"Oh, that was unsightly. I hope you don't think I had something to so with that?"
"No, of course not. But I had to come and ask, my boss is being a hard ass."
Lucius tisked. "Scrimgeour always was a stickler for the rules. It's why he won't get too far in the Ministry"
They drink their brandy in silence for a moment before James asked. "You had some guests?"
"What makes you say that?" Malfoy asked nonchalantly as he took another sip.
James nodded to a couple of bottles of liquor that were still out on the sideboard, not put away.
"Oh, that. Yes. It was a business meeting. Tedious people, but you still have to smile and serve the good brandy."
James nodded, swirling the remains of his drink in his goblet. '"Yes. This is good stuff."
"Is it? It's a little too fruity for my taste. Why don't you take the rest," Lucius got up to get the bottle.
When his back was turned, James pressed the small detection ward that had been sitting in the palm of his hand into the underside of the table. It wasn't strictly legal, but it wasn't exactly illegal either (seeing as the ministry didn't even know that it existed – his wife had invented it using the blood magic she had been studying). It wasn't a very powerful spell, but it would let him know if a large number of people bearing the Dark Mark were gathering here.
James took the bottle (aka bribe) from Lucius. "I'll make sure to give you a glowing report, Mr. Malfoy," He smiled ingratiatingly.
"What do you mean there's no quidditch?" Ginny demanded. The third year girl had gotten up onto the Gryffindor table so that she could be heard over the hubbub of conversation that had exploded at the announcement of the Triwizard Tournament
"Get down, you're going to get a detention," Neville hissed as he gently tugged at her foot.
Harry watched with a smirk - in which he was joined by most of the students. They had becomes accustomed to the youngest Weasley's shenanigans. The only one who wasn't amused was Ron, who was sitting at the far end of the table, looking furious that his sister was embarrassing him. Again.
If he could disown her, he would have (last year he's asked her to go by 'Prewitt' instead of 'Weasley', but she had just slapped him). As it was he was deeply embarrassed. Even the first year to whom he had been showing his scar (and bragging just a little. He was allowed) was now looking at him and smirking, like his family was a joke.
"Five points from Gryffindor. Please sit down, miss Weasley," Dumbledore responded calmly. "I know that this is a disappointment to many of you, so to make up for it I will try to organize a couple of exhibition matches matches with the other schools."
That started another buzz of conversation. "Isn't Krum still a student?''
"I hear that the Beauxbatons team is lousy. Who ever heard of frogs that fly, after all?"
Ginny finally sat back down with a sulk. "This is bollocks."
Harry nodded his agreement. "At least we can still fly for fun, if the weather is good." He paused and then added, "and maybe we can organize some pick-up matches."
Before anybody could respond, Malfoy sauntered up. "Oy, Potter. Don't bother trying out for the exhibition team. We only need one Seeker."
"And here's the other one," muttered Neville. Draco was the only person more annoying than Ron.
"What do you think you're doing, snake boy? My Gryffindors can fly circles around you on your best day!" Ron had somehow teleported down the table so that he could get into Draco's face and engage in his second favorite pastime – arguing with the Malfoy heir.
"What do you mean 'my Gryffindors?'" Harry demanded. Right, make that first favorite pastime – making an ass of himself.
"All of you please settle down. Our guests will be arriving in a few weeks. Until then, we will be expanding the great hall and several other areas while the Elves prepare some of the unused classrooms for the students. We have not yet finalized their arrival date, but when they do come, Hogwarts will make them welcome."
"I wonder where they're going to put them. Are we going to have to double up?" Asked Harry.
"Well, Lily made us learn French, so it won't be so bad."
This was shaping up to be another interesting year.
The rest of the week passed in a rush as the students had a hard time concentrating on anything except the coming visitors. Even though Dumbledore hadn't yet announced when they would be arriving, the gossip was swirling through the castle like the dark streams running under London (and similarly filled with crap).
Not even their new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor could hold their attention. Alistor Moody was a grizzled ex-auror who seemed unclear on the the fact that he was teaching children and not Auror trainees.
"Ok, children, I am Alistor Moody. I will be your Defense Against the Dark Arts professor this year." His glowing artificial eye scanned slowly across the class, like a missile defense radar looking to lock onto a target.
The room had been magically expanded, and all the desks were clustered at one end, leaving a large open space. "We will begin with an assessment to see what you know. Line up over there and cast whatever defensive spells you know at the far wall."
As the students shifted in their seat, about to get up, Hermione's hand went up, "Professor, How many spells should we cast?"
"As many as you know. If you run out, repeat from the beginning. Keep casting until I tell you to stop."
"Is he for real?" Neville whispered.
"I don't know. But I'm going to stick to the basics stunners and such. Nothing that dad showed us." James and Sirius had demonstrated some advanced spell fighting techniques, as well as some simple Auror spells – Sightblinder, Shrieking Mimi and the gasping hex. The Shrieking Mimi conjured a small doll-like figure that wailed loudly. It was used to get teens to disperse, as adult wizards couldn't hear it. The gasping hex was an area effect spell used for crowd control. Sightblinder did what the name said, but it couldn't be shielded against as long as you could see the target.
Moody paced behind the students as they started casting, taking notes and shaking his head in despair. Both Ron and Malfoy started out strong, casting a stream of powerful stunners, disarming jinxes and similar dueling-style attack spell, each one trying to outdo the other, but after about thirty seconds they began to flag. Hermione cast slowly and methodically, going through her entire (impressive) repertoire of spells with school-book perfection and excruciating slowness. Harry and Neville started casting stunners and such, but when Moody showed no inclination to calling a stop, they switched to tripping jinxes and other primary-school spells so as not to exhaust themselves.
Finally, after five minutes (but which had felt like forever), Moody halted them, "Not bad. But you can all do better. The only one who gave an adequate performance was our Mr. Weasley" He patted the gasping Ron on the back, "Though Mr. Malfoy gave him a close run for his money." Moody nodded at the steaming Malfoy heir. Ron just gave a superior smirk.
"We will start the semester by working on your defensive casting. This is not a dueling club, but if you can't cast your spells in a tense situation, then no amount of book learning will do you any good. We will also cover the Unforgivables, and what to do when faced with those."
Malfoy raised his hand, "Will we be learning to cast those as well?"
"5 points from Slytherin. Don't be stupid, boy. I will demonstrate them. We can start with Imperio. People with a strong will can throw it off, either through brute force or by re-interpreting the command so that it has no effect. Do I have a volunteer to be the target?"
Nobody said anything. Several students quietly slunk back to their seats, so as to be less visible to the intimidating (and slightly crazed) teacher.
"Very well. We will do it next class. I will command you to dance. For homework, I want you to write up a half page on how you will defeat that command. For now, let us turn to dark rituals."
The rest of the class was more traditional, though Moody's lectures were dense in information, forcing the students to write quickly. When the class finished, everybody looked blasted except for Hermione, who looked euphoric – finally a class at her level!
"Welcome to potions," Snape snarled as he dropped onto his stool at the front of the classroom. "This is your fourth year here, so you know what to expect. And unfortunately, so do I." He paused to scan the classroom full of Gryffindors and Slytherins. "You will begin by making the wolvesbane potion. As you no doubt have forgotten, we finished up last year with that, so it will make for a good review."
The students sat like mice watching a snake. Nobody wanted to move for fear of being attacked.
Snape jumped off his stool and began to pace around the classroom. "What are you waiting for? A special invitation? Get started!" He paused and turned to where Neville was sitting, next to Harry, "Oh, and Longbottom? Try not to fail any worse than your peers."
Harry could hear Neville's teeth grinding as his shoulder's hunched. "Nev, relax. You'll mess up the potion if your that tense."
"5 points from Gryffindor for talking in class," Snape materialized behind Harry's shoulder. The oily git always somehow managed to appear whenever Harry did anything outside his strict rules. "And Mr. Longbottom, relax your shoulders – you will ruin your potion if you are that tense."
Draco snickered. Snape's eyes flickered towards the Slytherin boy, but he did not say anything. The Slytherins had a little more leeway in Snape's class, but not much. The greasy potion master ran his classroom like a Korean police state. It was the only time Slytherins and Gryffindors did their best not to antagonize each other.
Well, mostly. While Snape was reminding Tracy of the proper way to slice up the December Fly larva (ie so that their guts didn't end up all over her robes), Malfoy nudged one of his goons and nodded towards the Gryffindors. Harry wasn't certain if it was Crabbe or Goyle. With their crew cuts, pudgy faces, and no necks, they looked remarkably interchangeable, especially in their school robes. He just called them Tweedledum and Tweedledummer.
Whenever he had to interact with one of them, the one he was talking to was always Tweedledummer.
Tweedledummer surreptitiously pulled out his wand and, as Neville leaned over to adjust the flame under his cauldron, gave it a flick. Nobody else was looking in that direction, but Harry saw Neville's cutting board, still loaded with ingredients, start sliding towards his cauldron.
"Hey"!" Harry half dove to grab the cutting board before it could tip into the cauldron.
Snape whirled around and jabbed out a finger like it was a wand casting the killing curse, "Goyle, detention for interfering with Mr Potter's potion!"
"What? But I was aiming for Longbottom's!" Goyle whined. He never was the sharpest tool in the shed.
"And 10 points from Slytherin for lying to a professor." Snape added with relish. He slowly scanned the room, to see if anybody would be willing to argue. Nobody so much as looked up. They all cautiously stirred their potions.
Snape would have made a really good dictator of a small failed state.
Harry was leaning against the dungeon wall as he waited for Neville to finish cleaning up – with all the fires, the potions classroom got really warm, so the cool of the wall felt nice – when one of the Carrow twins strode by, not sparing Harry a glances as she bounced a necklace made from butterbeer caps in her hand. 'That's odd.' But his brain was slightly melted from the potions class, so the Slytherin girl was gone before he could think to ask her about it.
When Neville finally made his way out (he was the last one to finish clearing his workspace - his potion had attempted to escape over the side, coating his cauldron in a foam that hardened to the consistency of taffy), Harry pointed in the direction of the Slytherin dorms. "Hey, Nev. I just saw something weird - one of the Carrows walked by with what looked like Luna's necklace. You know, the weird bottle cap one that she claims has magical powers. The one she's always fiddling with. I don't think she would loan it out."
Neville nodded sharply, his face darkening. "I knew it. She's being bullied." He turned to stride down towards the Slytherin Dorms.
"Hey, hey, hold up!" Harry got in front of him before Neville could go mete out justice to the wicked. "Think for a minute - we have no way to get into the the Slytherin dorms, and even if we did, then what?"
"I guess..." Neville's shoulders slumped as he let go of his righteous anger.
Harry smirked. 'He's so got a crush on Lovebood,' before steering his step brother towards the stairs. "We have to be be reasonable about this, and do it like Da would want us: We'll investigate who's responsible, collect the evidence, and then we'll make them pay."
Neville smiled and nodded. Pranking in the cause of Justice. It didn't get better than that.