Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
A/N: Again, thanks to my beta Lathea.
Chapter 11: Unicorns and First Years
It was the third day since the new school year began. Harry found himself subconsciously waiting for something – anything - to happen. Considering who was sitting among the professors at the high table, everything seemed too… normal, too peaceful.
It had taken Hermione two days to locate the first book in the library that contained information on alternate universe. Apparently, it was not a well-studied subject.
"Because of its limitations," Hermione explained. "There was no proof at all that alternate worlds really exist, so the whole subject was based purely on assumptions. Even all the information we have in this book was taken from myths or rumors. If Professor Kray is really who he claims to be, then he has done what no one was able to do for centuries. Can you imagine-"
"I don't know what you're so excited about, Hermione," Ron cut in, keeping his voice low so as to avoid the group of fourth year walking by from overhearing them. The three of them were sitting near the end of the Gryffindor table. Many other students were already leaving the Great Hall after lunch to prepare for their next lesson.
"I mean," Ron went on, "it's You-Know-Who we're talking about." He sneaked a look towards the high table, where Riddle was talking to Dumbledore. "I have to say, though, the bloke look pretty normal to me."
"That's because it's not him, Ron," said Hermione, exasperated. "Have you been listening to me at all this whole time? It's obvious that he's never become a dark lord in his world."
"That is if he's really from another world," Harry reminded her.
"Well, Dumbledore certainly seems to believe him." Ron glanced at the high table again. "They seem rather comfortable in each other's presence, don't you think?"
Yes, Harry had noticed that too. The thought of Dumbledore letting down his guard around Riddle filled him with uneasiness. Dumbledore had been wrong about their Defense professors before, who said he wouldn't again?
After lunch, Hermione left for Potions while Harry and Ron headed back to Gryffindor Tower. Harry only managed an 'E' in Potions, meaning he couldn't get into Snape's advanced Potions class. McGonagall, who apparently had taken her promise to help Harry become an Auror very seriously, had suggested Harry to study Potions privately and applied for the Potions NEWTs as an independent student at the end of his seventh year. Harry, who had never considered it a possibility to take the exams without attending the classes, had agreed immediately. He would probably get a higher mark without Snape criticizing his every move, anyway.
The Gryffindor common room was almost empty. Neville was tending to a plant Harry couldn't identify near the fireplace. He looked up when portrait of the Fat Lady swung close behind Ron and Harry.
"Harry, Ron, have you heard?"
Ron and Harry exchanged a glance. "Heard what?" asked Harry, taking a seat next to Neville. Ron chose to sit on the floor, facing the two of them.
Neville shifted uncomfortably at the attention. "The first year just had their first Defense lesson before lunch."
"And?" Harry prompted, his interest perking up.
His first Defense lesson wouldn't begin until tomorrow, but he had been trying to gather the other students' comments on Riddle's classes. Apparently, every one of Riddle's classes had spent their first lesson doing quizzes on what they had learned so far.
"I don't know what happened," said Neville, "but the first years all looked scared when they came in the Great Hall for lunch. Didn't you see them?"
"We were sitting at the other end of the table," said Ron with shrug. "What do you mean by the first years looking scared? Was he strict to them or something?"
"I don't know," Neville frowned, "but they looked truly terrified."
"Even more so than after Potions?" asked Ron, chuckling. "They looked pretty shaken last night too, not that I blame them."
Neville nodded. "I think Professor Kray's shown them something in class," he paused, looking troubled. "They mentioned a unicorn."
Images of a dark figure drinking the blood of a dead unicorn in the Forbidden Forest flashed before Harry's eyes.
"Do you know what he showed the first years?" asked Harry.
Neville shook his head. "The second years may know better," he said. Then he grimaced. "Make me nervous about the Defense class tomorrow."
Harry was more curious than nervous. What kind of teacher would Riddle be? Probably another Snape, judging from what he'd heard so far, or worse. Bullying first years certainly sounded like something Riddle would do.
Tom studied the group of students sitting before him. First years, Slytherin and Ravenclaw. From their lack of fear, the story of what he had done to his other class of first years – Gryffindor and Hufflepuff – this morning apparently had not spread fast enough to reach the other two houses, which worked perfectly for him.
"Welcome to Defense Against the Dark Arts," he began, addressing the whole class. "By the end of this year, I expect you to be able to properly defend yourself from, at the very least, everything that a third year can throw at you." That should be a fairly easy task, given how low the standard this particular course had been in this school. "We'll be doing a lot of practical work this year and I expect you to follow every one of my instructions closely. If I ever find you causing harm to your classmates because you fail to do so, be prepared to spend most of your free time in detention with me. On the other hand, if I find your progress satisfactory, we'll be doing an in-class dueling competition later this year." Several students brightened up at the prospect. Tom smiled. "But let's not worry about that for today. This first class is for introduction. All that is required of you is to watch, and remember." A few Ravenclaws picked up their quills, but Tom knew they would forget all about taking notes very soon.
"Now, let us begin. Who can tell me the meaning of Dark Arts?"
Several hands shot up at once. Four Ravenclaws. Tom picked a blonde girl sitting at the front row.
"Dark Arts are potentially dangerous magic that can cause permanent or incurable harm to another being. That is why in most cases, using Dark Arts intentionally on another human is considered illegal."
Tom nodded in approval. "Five points to Ravenclaw. This is the way the Ministry of Magic classifies dark spells and curses – by their effects. But while this simplified form of classification has been used for decades, it is misleading and it hardly does the Dark Arts justice. The Dark Arts are so much more than just their destructive power, so much more than just their effects on the victims. What truly is the Dark Arts? Why do we have to fight against them? These are the two questions that you need to ask yourselves while studying this subject. And today, I hope I can give you a start on finding out your own answers." He paused to allow the students time to think over what he had just said. "But before we continue, let me first introduce you to our guest for this class."
Tom waved his hand to cancel the invisibility charm he had placed on his 'guest'. Several students jumped in surprise as a tall creature materialized in the middle of the classroom.
"The unicorn has always been seen as a symbol of purity and innocence. The one before you now is a unicorn child, no more than four years old. As you can see, it doesn't have a horn yet and it is silver instead of pure white."
The unicorn glanced around the classroom curiously as excited whispers broke out in the room. Tom waited until the students turned their attention back to him before continuing.
"Unicorns are peaceful creatures that live in the forest. They are resistant to most magic, but they are vulnerable to the Dark Arts." The students gasped as he pulled out his wand in a swift movement and leveled it towards the unicorn, which, sensing his intention, started to back away. "Slaying a unicorn is a crime, an unforgivable act that most considered evil." His eyes hardened. With an ease that most would find disturbing, he cleared his mind of all emotions and summoned up just the right one. He spoke the incantation softly, but his voice was significantly colder than it had been moments ago. "Imperio."
The few students who recognized the incantation froze while the others watched in confusion as the unicorn started to pace around the room.
"Intention," said Tom, directing the creature to walk in a large circle, "it is what set the Dark Arts apart from other types of magic. For most spells all you need are the correct incantation and wand-movement. But for the Dark Arts, there is one more requirement - you need to have the suitable intention. The Imperius Curse, what I'm using right now, allows me to have complete control over the unicorn's actions." He slowly directed the unicorn back to its original place at the middle of the classroom. "To use this curse successfully, I need a desire to dictate this creature's every move, to rob it of its free will. Similarly, to torture and to kill, I need to truly wish my victim's pain and death." He released the curse while the students watched in stunned silence. "Intention is what makes the Dark Arts so different, so addictive, and so dangerous." He raised his wand again. "Crucio!"
The effect of the second Unforgivable Curse was immediate. The unicorn's painful whimper shook the students out of their stunned stupor.
"Stop that!" A Ravenclaw girl cried out.
"You can't do that!" A Slytherin quickly followed.
"Stop it now!"
Desperate voices cried out from both the Slytherin and the Ravenclaw side of the room. Tom held the curse a few seconds longer before lifting it, leaving the unicorn child panting helplessly.
He surveyed the class, which was now in complete silence. The students were staring at him with a mixture of fear and anger.
As they should, thought Tom.
"This is what the Dark Arts can do," he said quietly after a few more minutes had passed. "They can torture, they can kill, and they can destroy all that is good and innocent in this world. Countless wizards and witches have stumbled under the power of the Dark Arts in the past. Some lost their lives while trying to protect those they cared for from dark wizards, others lost their souls because they chose to surrender themselves to the power the Dark Arts offered." Tom let his gaze sweep pass each of his students. "I can teach you skills that may save your life one day, but I cannot protect your soul. You may hate me now, you may think of me as evil, but let this be a lesson to you. When you are faced with an enemy much more powerful than you are, when you are cornered and the Dark Arts seem to be the easiest way out, when you have to choose between what is right and what is easy, remember what you've seen today and remember the resentment you feel towards me right now, then make your choice wisely."
He paused for a moment to let his words sink in, then he lifted his wand again. "Defense Against the Dark Arts is a subject that integrates all other disciplines, be it Charms, Potions," he waved his wand towards the unicorn, "or Transfiguration. Given more training, you'll be able to identify a transfigured object, especially a transfigured magical creature, with ease."
The students watched in shock as the whimpering unicorn slowly shrieked and changed back to its original shape, until finally only a small piece of stone stood in its place. Then-
"So that's all just for show?"
Tom raised an eyebrow at the Slytherin who had commented. "I assure you, the effects of those two curses are very real, even though it's 'just for show'. Would you prefer otherwise?"
The Slytherin averted his gaze. Then, when it become apparently that Tom expected an answer, he murmured, "No, sir."
Tom nodded. "Good. And five points from Slytherin for your tone."
The school bell rang. Quite a few students heaved a sigh of relief.
"Class dismissed. There will be no homework for today." Tom smiled wryly. "We'll be going through the theories in your book next time. So rest assured, our next class will be as boring as you wish it to be."
Minerva frowned as their latest Defense Against the Dark Arts professor entered the Great Hall for dinner. The entire hall fell silence at once.
"Good evening, Professor McGonagall." Tom Riddle took the empty beside her. He didn't look at all bothered by the stares the students were directing at him.
"Professor Kray," Minerva returned the greeting stiffly. She never would have believed it possible for Albus to find someone worse than Dolores Umbridge to fill the Defense post, yet…
What was Albus thinking? She wondered not for the first time.
Whispers broke out in the hall again, though Minerva could still see students sneaking looks towards Riddle occasionally. Dinner had not started yet and only about half of the students were present at the moment. Most staff members, including Albus, had not yet arrived.
"I heard of your lesson with the first years today," she began.
Riddle raised an eyebrow. "You disapprove of my teaching method."
Minerva pursed her lips. "We do not show the first year students the Unforgivable Curses, especially not during their very first week of class," she said, keeping her voice low. It was not appropriate for the students to hear their professors arguing among themselves.
"They're going to find out what the Dark Arts are eventually, whether you like it or not. And believe me, the temptation to use the Dark Arts only grows as they learn more about magic and their own power," said Riddle. "Some students from the higher years may see the Dark Arts as tools to gain power, but the first years are still innocent enough to recognize the Dark Arts as something that they should be wary of."
Wary of the Dark Arts? Tools to gain power? "They are only children," said Minerva.
"They are also wizards and witches born with power that many do not have." Riddle countered. "You've never used an Unforgivable before, have you, Professor McGonagall? It's as easy as turning a match into a needle, if not more so."
Minerva narrowed her eyes. "What are you trying to say?"
"I'm merely telling you that age never matters when it comes to the Dark Arts," replied Riddle calmly. "Why do you think the Ministry specifically lists the Unforgivables as such? Not only because of what those three curses can do, but also because they are the easiest ones among all Dark Arts. They feed on emotions instead of magical power. Anyone who can use magic, including your precious first years, should have no trouble casting a successful Unforgivable Curse on their first try, as long as they have the… suitable intention."
Minerva had never heard anyone describe the Unforgivable Curses in such a way. But of course, the man she was talking to wasn't just anyone.
She had known Tom Riddle when he was still a student at Hogwarts. Riddle had been made a prefect the same year Minerva was chosen as the Head Girl, so they had worked together on occasions. Though they could hardly be called friends, it had still come as a shock when Minerva joined the Order of the Phoenix and learned who the Dark Lord Voldemort used to be. And now...
Minerva still wasn't sure if she believed Riddle's story about alternate worlds. But even though Albus' choice of Defense Professor left much to be desired, she knew Albus would never put the students in harm's way deliberately. For now, there was little she could do but trust Albus' judgment.
Looking pass Riddle to near the end of the table, Minerva thought she saw Severus inclining his head in agreement to what Riddle had just said. She had no idea when Severus had arrived, but the Potions Master had obviously been listening in on their conversation. In fact, Severus actually seemed mildly impressed by Riddle's speech on the Unforgivable Curses.
"Maybe you're unaware, Professor Kray," Minerva didn't quite manage to keep the irritation from her voice, "but some of our students grew up in the muggle world. They have just started to learn about the wizarding world, it's not necessary-"
Riddle cut her off in mid-sentence. "It is my job to teach the students, not coddle them and definitely not protect them from what they ought to know just so they can feel better." He stopped suddenly and looked up over Minerva's head. "Isn't that right, Albus?"
Minerva turned around to see the Headmaster standing behind her.
"May I ask what you were discussing before I arrived?" he asked, taking his usual seat on Minerva's other side.
"Take a guess," came Riddle's dry answer. "The entire hall is discussing it."
Indeed, most students had arrived at the Great Hall by now, and they were not trying very hard to hide who they were talking about.
"And before you start accusing me, Albus, may I remind you that you've agreed not to interfere with my teaching method?"
Minerva frowned and turned a questioning gaze towards the Headmaster.
"I agreed that I would not interfere as long as you do not harm the students, and I've seen quite a number of crying first years today, Tom." Albus' tone was light, but it was clear he did not approve of what Riddle had done.
"They'll recover," said Riddle dismissively. "And since we're talking about lesson plans, I'd like to borrow a possession of yours for the sixth year class tomorrow, Albus."
Albus raised an eyebrow at the sudden change of topic. "And what would that be?"
Tom Riddle merely smirked as he named what he wanted.
"What would you need that for?" Minerva asked in surprise.
"Nothing about demonstrating the Dark Arts or torturing transfigured animals, I assure you," said Riddle, looking amused. "You'll hear about it from the students by dinner time tomorrow, I'm sure, if not before."