Mmm. Soft.

A content yawn broke free; she rolled under smooth sheets and sat up blearily. Rubbing her eyes, Ginny blinked at the window. Sun spilled, warming the floor, and one of her roommates must have left it open because fresh air was still wafting in.

A sound, slightly out of place, caught her attention.

'You. . . –ate! You. . . –ate! You. . . –ate! You. . . –ate!

Ginny frowned. Where is it – Crouched on hands and knees beside her nightstand, foreboding struck. She knew that sound.

The alarm clock pulled from under her bed, where she must have knocked it in her sleep, was screeching with panic. 'You're late! You're late!'

Merlin's beard!

The dorm was entirely empty – her Housemates knew nothing short of an explosion could wake her, and usually didn't try. Oh no, oh no, oh no – It's only the second day, the first full day of classes, and I'm already behind!

Robes askew, Ginny didn't bother to pull up her socks. Hopping into a shoe, she grabbed a tie for her hair and snagged her patchwork bag, rushing for the stairs. Maybe I'll have time to get something to eat before -

Students were wandering out of the Great Hall as she made her way in, but there were familiar forms at the Gryffindor table.

"Oh, you're finally up!" Sarah grinned, still combing wet hair. "Grab something, or we're going to be late!"

"What's first?" Please don't let it be Potions. Crumbs hit the table as Ginny tried to talk past her toast and reached for an orange. No time for porridge, or eggs. . . but there were always lots of pastries she could wrap up and munch on until lunchtime.

Sarah grabbed an apple for herself. "Muggle Studies."

"Thank Merlin," Ginny sighed, slowing enough to swallow. Food and Potions was never a good combination.


They joined the last few students trickling from the Great Hall; the staff table had been emptied long since. Ginny led the way to the stairs, watching the moving flights carefully and only just remembering to skip the second step. Sarah was right behind her, and they managed to get through the door to the fourth-floor classroom before the Professor shut it.

Ginny slid into a bench, looking around the desks lined between stone walls. Double class, with the Ravenclaws.

"Welcome to Muggle Studies." The woman smiled, robes a businesslike charcoal over what Ginny recognized to be a suit of some sort. "I'm sure that many of you heard about this class from older students. I am Professor Erin Galway. Last year, I taught this course with quite a lot of assistance from Peter Pevensie. Unfortunately, Mr. Pevensie will be unable to assist us as frequently this year as he did in the past."


Ginny blinked at Sarah, but her friend kept brown eyes straight ahead.

One slender brow arced as Professor Galway glanced their way. "But today, to introduce you to the main point of this subject, we're going to have a practical class."

Huh? Professor Lupin did those . . . but this was Muggle Studies. There weren't exactly any Muggles here to study. Well, the Pevensies, but they're not really Muggles, are they.

Professor Galway was standing by the door. "I'd like you all to leave your books and wands here, and follow me."

Leave our wands? Ginny found the surprise she felt mirrored on almost every other face in the room. Well, except Loony Lovegood, but she doesn't count.

"Leave our wands?" hissed David Brinkerhoff, dark eyes narrowed above the Ravenclaw badge sewn on black robes. "She's joking, right?"

"Come along," Galway said over the startled murmurs. "You needn't worry about your belongings; I'll be locking the door."

That's not what we're worried about. Ginny left her wand, though everything in her told her not to do it. Witches and wizards needed their wands! It's too early for this. Whatever's going on, I hope it's worth it . . .

"Follow me," Galway instructed, "and keep your voices down. Classes are in session."

They were forced to wait patiently for half the class when the stairs decided to change midstream, and that gave Sarah a chance to poke her. "Where do you think we're going?"

Really good question. "We'll find out when we get there," Ginny shrugged. She was starting to be glad that Professor Galway had made them leave their things in the classroom; they'd been walking for awhile.

It was when they arrived in the entranceway and bypassed the Great Hall that her suspicions congealed. We can't be going –

Galway pushed one heavy oak door and stood by it, waving them on.

- outside.

They were a good distance from the school before their Professor called them to a halt. Ginny joined the half-circle as Galway surveyed them all. "Now, close your eyes." Mystified, Ginny glanced at Sarah, who shrugged, and both obeyed. Professor Galway's voice was soft and reached them easily. "I want to you imagine, for a moment, that Hogwarts isn't there. You have no magic. You are on a moor with nothing, and all you have is your mind and body to aid you."

No wand, that part's easy enough. Except for the bit about Hogwarts not being there –

"Open your eyes."


"What -"

Ginny's jaw dropped. Merlin.

"What happened to Hogwarts?" Sarah sounded scared.

Is the spell on the castle . . . or on us? Either thought was enough to get Ginny mad enough to forget her shock.

"Interesting." Silver eyes sharpened as Loony Lovegood appeared to wake up.

Brown grass stretched for miles, dipping and rolling treacherously in every direction, all the way up to the edge of the Forbidden Forest. The moors. But – not quite. "Everything looks . . . dead."

The dark, chic bob nodded as Professor Galway walked a few steps toward what had been the lake and was now a dank marsh. "This is what Muggles see when they look at Hogwarts. Wasteland. What does that?"


Mosquitoes. Ugh.

"Magic," Loony Lovegood seemed to be fascinated by their surroundings; Ginny's nose wrinkled. The bog was a perfect illusion, complete with stink. She was suddenly glad that she'd left the rest of her breakfast in the classroom. Hungry or not, that smell would put anyone off their feed.

"Exactly." Professor Galway was wearing sturdy boots, Ginny noticed. I wonder why – "Tell me, what is the difference between Muggles and wizard-kind?"

Huffing a put-upon sigh, David Brinkerhoff opened his mouth. "We have magic, and they don't."

But Professor Galway didn't seem angry at his this-is-so-obvious-it's-ridiculous tone. "Which means that they need to solve all their problems with only what is in the world around them, and in their own minds. As you must now do."

Brown eyes narrowed, Ginny turned in time to see –

Galway was gone.

And in the next instant, it was raining.

Thick, drenching droplets turned Loony Lovegood's hair a bedraggled brown and David Brinkerhoff's face sour. Clustered together with the rest of the Gryffindors, Ginny heard one of the six Ravenclaws shout over the noise of the downpour – she couldn't tell who.

"Where's Professor Galway?"

Book-smart, Ravenclaws, but no one ever accused them of having their feet on the ground. "Gone," Ginny called back.

Sarah's irritation had clearly overcome the confusion she'd battled; Ginny's fellow Gryffindor was glaring at the cloudy skies that hadn't been there a minute ago. "What say we get out of this rain?"

"How do you propose to do that?" David Brinkerhoff, futilely trying to shove sopping hair out of his eyes. And his foot in his mouth.

It looked like they only had one reasonable option. Better the danger we know than the moor we don't. Ginny shouted loudly enough for everyone to hear. "What about the Forest?"

Immediate opposition from Frances Robynson, a small, stocky girl who hid behind glasses and kept her dark hair boyishly short. "We're not allowed in there."

"Do you see a school anywhere? We won't go far in, and at least we'll be sheltered a bit from the rain." Sarah's support wasn't a surprise; Travis, Kelsey and Weyland, Gryffindors all, were nodding as well.

"Come on, let's go."

Another Ravenclaw spoke up, a tall brunette who dwarfed all the other students in their year. "This isn't a good idea."

"What's our other choice, Wanda? Stay here and soak?"

"Hey, what's that?"

Ginny's eyes followed Ryan Bathurst's finger out into the marsh; his eyes were the sharpest in the group. A light?

Bobbing and glowing warmly, like comforting rays from a carried lantern, she could only just see it past the curtains of rain.

"There's someone else out here." Travis Cole, fellow Gryffindor who had been the first to head toward the Forest. He sounded relieved. "Maybe they can show us someplace to -"

"Hold on a second and just think, will you?" Laurence Astley was typically Ravenclaw in that he snapped at people he thought were being stupid on purpose. One hand waved at the drenched, desolate landscape. "This – this moor is an illusion. Hogwarts really is around here somewhere, probably back the way we came. So what's that?"

"Maybe it's a light from the castle," suggested Frances hopefully. Both arms were hidden in her robes as she pulled them tight around herself, shivering against the chill wind. Ginny's own feet were getting mired in the sucking mud that had been solid ground only a few minutes ago.

"It's moving," Luna pointed out, her vague demeanor seemingly washed away by the rain. Of them all, she seemed the least concerned with the fact that she was soaked through.

Good point. Unease curled in Ginny's belly. She knew this feeling; the same one she'd had the night of the World Cup, with the mob – Stop it. It's not the same. You're in control, now.

And I know I've seen that light before - "Will o' the wisp!" Ginny blurted.


But memory had already sparked in the others' brains; the Ravenclaws more quickly than her own House, but still.

"It's corpse candles," gulped Wanda Hudson, hazel eyes wide and locked on the bobbing light. "And you wanted to follow -"

"Look, there's another. Two more." Nervousness in Ryan's shaking finger. "That's three, now."

Raw fear radiated from Wanda; the tall girl shifted away from the lights, feet squelching in thick mud. "We should get away from them."

Travis scoffed. "It's just an illusion, remember? It's supposed to work on Muggles, not wizards."

"It's working on us," Luna said, calmly squeezing out a swathe of hair before tucking it under her robes. "Unless you can see Hogwarts while the rest of us can't."

"What do you know," Ginny heard Travis hiss under his breath. "Loony Lovegood. Geez!" He slapped at a mosquito.

"Wait a minute," said Laurence, consternation in blue eyes that bobbed over each of them, counting. And coming up one short. "Where's Weyland?"

The chestnut-haired Gryffindor was nowhere to be seen.

Babbling Beverage . . . Backfiring (see Jinxes) . . . Bagman, Ludo (see Quidditch & / Magical Games and Sports, Department of) . . . Bamboo, uses . . . Banishing (see Charms) . . . Bank, Gringotts . . . Baobab, uses . . . ah! Barriers, magical. T16.J36x1107.

Maybe this would at last yield some results. Searching 'walls, magical' had been useless, and 'protections' had given her everything from Expelliarmus to the Restricted Section. But Hermione knew the Hogwarts Library card catalog better than the back of her hand.

And . . . it's on the top shelf. Staring upward, Hermione heaved a sigh. Wingardium Leviosa only really worked when you had a specific target in mind. She went searching for the stepstool.

A few short minutes later, on eye level with well-dusted spines, she started scanning titles for anything that looked like it might be useful.

Keep It Out! Magical Walls, Wards, and Barriers Against Pests. Maybe not. But she hadn't thought to search under 'wards' yet. The next three books were all in the same vein, before brown eyes came to Shielding For Squibs. That doesn't look very promising, but it wouldn't hurt to skim. A Guide to Britain's Magical Barriers and Boundaries. Zen and the Art of Aversion. Hermione blinked at that one.

Spelles Fore Ye Prewention offe Intrusion, right next to Powerful Protections. Oooh! And what looked like a misplaced copy of Hogwarts, A History.

These look good. And maybe –

Cradling the last five books, she hopped from the stool and nearly collided with another student. "Oh, sorry, I didn't see -"

Icy blue flicked over her in a freezing glare. White-blond hair scraggling over his forehead, Draco Malfoy sneered, grabbing up the step-stool. "Watch where you're going next time, Granger."

Wha –

Quick as that, he was gone.

Hermione frowned. He really hasn't changed at all. Malfoy'd been much less overtly nasty last year after she'd seen his run-in with Peter Pevensie. He lost Slytherin one hundred points for that.

The whole incident had been unforgettable; Hermione grinned with the secret knowledge of how the Malfoy heir turned beet-red when embarrassed. He wasn't going to stop being a jerk. At least we didn't run into him much last year. I hope the trend continues.

Spread out on a table, Hermione started at the indexes and chapter summaries, working forward. Descriptions . . . nothing like that blue wall. I wonder if –

Spelles fore Ye Prewention offe Intrusion had her eyes straining past archaic English and tiny print for almost an hour before she could safely conclude that it was all anti-burglar charms of the pre-sixteenth century.

Three hours and four books later, she was left with Hogwarts, A History, and no clues as to what type of magic Dumbledore had used to protect the students. The papers had been annoyingly ignorant of the whole incident, and she didn't have any other place to start. It looked like her only recourse was going to be the Restricted Section.

Maybe it's time I asked to borrow Harry's Invisibility Cloak.


"Professor Snape, could I talk with you for a minute?" Peering around the doorjamb, she could see black eyes flick up from the pile of parchment thickly stacked before him.

"Miss Needham. If this is about your assignment -"

"No, Professor. Well, not entirely." Taking his attention as permission, Cecily walked up to the desk. "You see, I was thinking about the assignment, and I -"

"Move," her Head of House ordered, turning back to his papers.


Snape waved a hand back at the classroom and the shivering student wielding a shaky scalpel over amphibious bodies. Cecily's lips shaped an 'o' as she got it. Disemboweling horned toads – oooh, there's a whole barrel. Wonder what he did? Moving obligingly out of the Potions Master's line of sight on the hapless Gryffindor, Cecily grinned. "Anyway, I was looking up the Draught of the Living Death, and it looked like a variant on the Tranquility Tincture, and I was wondering if we'd be covering anything more of those types of potions in class."

All she could see was oily black locks; Snape's quill darted over parchment, leaving red scratches and a quick grade before moving on to the next. "Advanced medicinal potions? Those are too specialized for the Hogwarts curriculum."

Brown eyes narrowed. Ooooh, I don't think so! "But the Tincture has many ingredients we're familiar with from the Strengthening Solution we brewed last year, and we already know how to extract two solutions and purify the -"

That got black eyes piercing up at her from a pile of assignments, Snape's expression blank as ever. "Those are several advanced potions. None of which I have taught in this class."

"I like medicinal potions," Cecily flared, a little defiantly. No one ever said we couldn't do more research if we were interested.

"Do you. What do you know about Cuckoo pint?"

He wasn't giving her the attention it would take to flick lint from one immaculately black sleeve. Teeth ground; she unclenched her jaw. Fine. I'll show you. "Anything you want to know."


Great. Well, you wanted him to take you seriously. Mum had always told her to be careful what she wished for. Cecily hadn't listened then, no reason to start now. "Cuckoo pint, also known as Lords and Ladies. Used alone as a vulnerary – to draw out abscesses and heal wounds. Powdered, it can be used as a catalyst for potions containing fennel, but is only effective when sifted into the potion in small amounts in a ratio of four-to-one to fennel, by weight. Also -"

"Tola Bona."

Tola Bona – oh! Cecily bit back a grin. "Tola Bona, also known as Smearwort, English Mercury, Mercury Goosefoot, Allgood, Fat Hen, and Fette Henne. Its primary name is Smearwort, coming from its use in poultices. Primarily used in heavily viscous potions or creams, boiled to extract the juices and then added to -"


"Many varied uses," Cecily's head tilted as she wracked her brain. "And its preparation for potion-use changes depending on what's being treated. It's pulverized and added to water with sugar and chamomile as a tea to reduce fever, typically. Treatment of arthritis involves finely slicing the petals and mixing them into the antidote for the Swelling Solution, and -"


Nothing, in that black gaze. Beat you at your own game, didn't I? Cecily allowed herself a grin.

"You completely ignored the use of Smearwort in curing boils – a potion I would expect a first-year to be proficient in making. Feverfew is also an essential ingredient in the Pepper-Up Potion for curing the common cold; something that you, with your professed interest in medicine, should have noticed." Disdain curdled every word. Cecily felt shock start as a heavy tingling in her gut, rising upward to heat the space behind her eyes. "Your focus on each of these herbs entirely ignored aspects of magical use, centering on the physical. Whatever knowledge you might have gathered outside the assigned curriculum has been poorly memorized, and by rote, apparently."

A tear made it out before she realized she was crying. No!

"However," Snape's eyes were determinedly glaring at the Gryffindor, who was hunched over his barrel of toads, "given the state of the Hogwarts Library's Potions sections, such massive gaps in your knowledge are only to be expected."

The office wavered a little; Cecily blinked hotly. "Professor Snape -"

"Why are you still here, Miss Needham?"

Anger chased the last of the tears away. That's it! "I want you to teach me."

"Your class is with the Hufflepuffs every Wednesday -"

"No," she cut him off, taking a determined step toward the desk and ignoring the sudden black glare. "You say I don't know enough, that my knowledge isn't adequate. So teach me."

"You want me to tutor you?"

He couldn't have sounded more shocked if she'd got down on bended knee and proposed. Cecily banished the wayward thought, meeting his eyes. I want to become the best there ever was. "You're the greatest Potions Master of our age, Professor Snape. I want to know everything you know. I want an apprenticeship."

I don't think anyone recently has made their Head of House's jaw hang open in shock. Cecily didn't let his impression of a stranded fish faze her. Even though I wasn't going to ask until he agreed to tutor me . . . Sometimes her mouth ran away with her.

"You . . . want an apprenticeship."

Didn't you hear me the first time? "Yes." Not backing down now, not when she was so close

Gathering himself, Snape rose from behind cluttered oak. Took a breath. "You're in the beginning of your sixth year, Miss Needham. You have two more years of education before you will be eligible for an apprenticeship -"

"Before I qualify for a Ministry apprenticeship," Cecily corrected. "I checked. But there're no laws or regulations about private apprenticeships; only that they extend for a minimum of five years and that I pass government tests before being raised to Journeyman."

"This is hardly the usual procedure."


Black eyes narrowed. Cecily didn't waste her time wondering what he saw when he looked at her; she was a sixth-year, from a relatively solid Wizarding family when it came to blood-status. Average height and passably pretty, with tight black curls, brown eyes, and the drive to succeed as a Slytherin. She saw it every day in the mirror. So what else is new?

"Do you have your parents' permission to enter into such a magically and legally binding contract, Miss Needham?"

Crisply folded parchment, waiting in her pocket for that very question. He's considering it, then! Snape broke the seal, scanning the letter for a moment before setting the paper carefully off to one side.

"It's been years since I had an apprentice."

Bad, she scolded her tongue, biting down to keep her next remark inside. Don't blow it now.

"Probation," was the next word her potions teacher pronounced, black eyes hard as marble. "Four weeks. Then I'll consider taking you on for a full apprenticeship."

Yes! "Thank you, Professor Snape." Try as she might, excitement still quavered the vowels, speeding her words along a bit quicker than usual. So much for appearing professional -

"Come back here at the conclusion of your afternoon classes tomorrow. I'll want to discuss broadening your knowledge, what your first assignments will be, and working around my schedule."

"Yes, sir."

"Is that all?" He was eyeing her warily, as if she might then demand that he perform a jig on top of one of the stone-topped tables in the next room. Cecily stifled a giggle. Calm. Stay calm. "Yes, Professor Snape."

"Good. Good evening, Miss Needham."

"Good evening, Professor."

Walk. No running. Calm, past the Gryffindor who was barely a third of the way through the barrel of horned toads. Hand on the knob, out of the dungeons and into the hall.

She made sure that oak panels swung securely closed behind her.

And pumped a fist into the air, giddy exultation flooding every vein and letting loose the war-whoop. "Yes!"

"The incantation is Scourgify." Hermione's wand was gently aimed at Neville's trembling right hand, the charm cleaning frog guts out from under his fingernails.

"What was it, cauldron number four?" Ron eyed his fellow Gryffindor, who even a morning later looked like he was about to collapse.

"Six," Harry winced. "Melted the bottom clean away."

"You know why Snape's in such a foul mood, don't you?" Though it was nothing compared to Ginny's anger a few days ago after her first Muggle Studies class. Apparently Professor Galway had pulled some impressive spellwork to leave them without wands and faced by a perilous bog – and then one of the Gryffindors had been caught by will'o'the'wisp, and they'd all had to go into the marsh to get him out. Yikes. Ginny was still steaming at the ears over the way some of the Ravenclaws had tried to stay behind.

"Yeah," said Harry, jerking his mind back to the present. "Remus."

Everyone knows Snape really wants the Dark Arts job. Ron frowned; Snape was even more unpleasant than last year. Probably because Lupin's the only one to have the job for more than a year since . . . "How long's it been since anyone held the Dark Arts job for more than a year?"

"Forty years," Hermione answered.

Dean and Seamus muttered over that; most of the fourth-year Gryffindors had overheard, queued up as they were outside the classroom door, waiting for Professor Lupin to show.

Quick steps sounded against the stone; Ron looked up. Huh. Guess he managed to get himself some new robes. He knew patching spells better than Hermione, but steady income looked like it meant new clothes for their Professor.

There was amusement on Lupin's face as he took in the line of students whispering outside his door. Ron frowned; he'd seen Lupin's lips move, but couldn't hear –

The classroom door swung open, letting the first of the horde rush in. Must've been the password.

"C'mon," Harry grabbed Hermione by one arm; Ron took the other, ignoring a little flush of heat that started where their hands joined. "Quick, or we won't get decent seats."

Ron bounded forward, dragging Hermione, and managed to claim three seats right in front of Lupin's desk before anyone else managed to grab them. Brilliant! Slipping into his chair, Ron's copy of The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection thudded to the desk.

In the corner of his vision, he saw Hermione roll her eyes. Ron stuck out his tongue. As soon as the scuffling of bags being opened and shut died down, their Professor spoke. "Welcome to Defense Against the Dark Arts," he smiled. "It's good to see you all again this year. As I hope you all remember," one brown brow quirked in their direction, "last year we covered the defenses against a wide variety of magical creatures."

There was a general murmur of assent. Boggarts, Red Caps, hinkypunks, grindylows, Kappas, werewolves, poltergeists . . . Merlin, but it was great seeing Peeves get his!

Lupin continued, an intent determination on his face that Ron remembered from the World Cup. "This year, we will be studying what wizards can do to one another. The School Governors have decided that as fourth years, you're ready to move on to more advanced forms of Defense – namely, curses." Disgust filled their professor's voice.

"The Governors?" muttered Hermione, a frown creasing her forehead. "What's that got to do with -" One hand went up, with a definite decisive air.

Ron rolled his eyes. Here we go again.

"Yes, Hermione?"

"Professor," Hermione leant forward in her seat. "You said the School Governors had decided. Is this – because of what happened at the World Cup?"

Breath caught in Ron's lungs; he wasn't the only one to suddenly sit up, attention riveted to the front of the room. Bloody hell. She's right!

Lupin's face went blank, unreadable. "No," he said evenly. "As you are all aware, the teaching position for this class has been in flux for the past fifty years or so. After about ten years of continuously switching professors, the Governors set up teaching plans for each year to make sure that as students you received a rounded education. You are due to start learning proper dueling defenses this year. However." Tiny lines drew tight around blue eyes. Lupin's hand rubbed gently against the spines of several books resting on his desk. "Across the years, the various professors have had a certain amount of . . . latitude . . . in what they've been able to teach and how they have gone about doing so."

Ron blinked. Latitude? Quirrell had been an idiot for all he was sharing a body with You-Know-Who, and Lockhart was an ass. I guess you could call it that . . .

"The recent events you mentioned, Miss Granger, mean that the Governors have become stricter in enforcing those guidelines." Blue eyes scanned the room. "Miss Brown, Miss Patil. Put that away, please."

Lavender jumped and blushed, Parvati close behind. The two of them had been whispering over the Bat's latest assignment – their Divination horoscopes.

Ron smirked. Real smooth.

Wait a minute. When's that due?! Gulping, he wrote off any free time he might have had after dinner tonight. Bloody hell.

Lupin's voice was clipped now, and Ron pushed his unfinished assignment to the back of his mind. "Due to the reappearance of Death Eaters at this past World Cup, I have been instructed to take this defense a step further. You are not supposed to learn about illegal Dark curses until sixth year. But we will be overviewing them today, and covering them in more depth next week."

Moving to the other side of his desk, their professor asked the first question of the day. "Does anyone know which curses are most heavily punished by Wizarding law?"

Hermione's hand shot up; Ron frowned. What was that one that Dad was on about? Imperative, or no, it was Imperial? His hand went up as well, and Lupin nodded at him.


"Er," he said tentatively, still grasping for the curse's proper name. Got it! I think. "My dad told me about one . . . Is it called the Imperius Curse, or something?"

"Yes," Lupin nodded, leaning against the desk's rounded corner. "Your father would know about that one. The Imperius Curse," he eyed them in a way that told Ron he should be reaching for a quill. "One of the three Unforgivable curses. This particular spell gives the caster control over their victim, body and mind."

Scratching filled the air; Ron blotted his own quill, scribbling notes quickly as Lupin continued. "Complete control." Grave silence crowded into the room, adding weight to the air. Ron worked his tongue, trying to swallow. "During the Dark Lord's rise in the 1970's, it was difficult to know who to trust. Even if someone wasn't a traitor, they could be under the Imperius – and many witches and wizards were. The Ministry's procedures were inadequate to tell who was acting of their own free will and who was under the curse. And it extended further than the casters just forcing their victims to become unwilling spies. On two separate occasions, victims of the Imperius were forced to torture and kill their own families as sport for watching Death Eaters."

Someone gasped – Parvati, Ron saw. Hermione's face was leeched of color, and Harry's mouth a thin line. He had to force unwilling fingers to loosen their grip on his quill as bile rose in his throat. Merlin.

But horrific as it was, it made sense. Commanding fear, demonstrating the power He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named holds – and building the image higher and higher. Easier to detach and think of it that way than to think about Bill and Charlie and Ginny, Mum and Dad, Fred and George and Percy.

"But this curse can be fought." One hand rubbed briefly at a gray-flecked temple; Lupin reached for his wand and flicked rowan toward the board. Notes appeared; Ron checked them against his parchment and scratched out a misspelled word. Fought? How? "It takes strength of character, but more than that it takes will, purpose and determination. The incidents I just mentioned occurred only twice in the past thirty years – and both times, the curse was employed by Voldemort himself."

A shiver brushed the ranks of students at the Dark Lord's name.

Wha – Jaw brushing his collar, Ron popped his eyes back into their sockets. What does he think he's –

"It is more a battle between the strength of the caster and the victim than anything else." Their professor's face was quite calm, and Ron managed to scramble past his shock enough to take down the words writing themselves in shimmering lines across the chalkboard. "Does anyone know another one?"


Ron turned to look and saw, past Hermione's hand that was always up, fingers pointed hesitantly toward the ceiling. Neville? He never tries to answer questions in class. Well, except Herbology. Huh.

"Yes, Neville?"

"There's one. The Cruciatus Curse." His fellow Gryffindor's voice was low but distinct.

"Very good," Lupin nodded, but the grim expression on his face didn't match up. I'm not going to like this, am I? He'd never seen Lupin look that grim, not even when they'd thought they'd failed to catch Pettigrew at the end of last year. Ron tried to brace himself.

"The Cruciatus Curse is the most potent torture curse known to modern witches and wizards. It allows the caster to inflict agonizing pain on their victim, acting on every nerve ending across the entire body for immediate effects. It also creates somatic pain, emanating from muscles, bones, tendons and cells." Lupin's voice was scarily clinical; Ron kept his eyes on his paper. "The internal organs are affected as well, leaving the victim experiencing a deeper-seated visceral pain for hours after the curse is lifted. Luckily, these lingering symptoms can be alleviated through an Anti-Cruciatus potion."

Ron winced in the direction of his notes. Ouch. That's bloody awful.

"The Cruciatus Curse is like the Imperious Curse in several ways. Firstly, the power and emotions of the caster have a significant effect on the spell, magnifying or diminishing its impact. Secondly, the curse can be resisted."

No way.

"Resisted?" Harry's voice, a frown in it.

Professor Lupin nodded, gray eyes serious. "It is, of course, very difficult, but in theory not much different from resisting the Imperius Curse. There are other ways around it, as well – resisting or repulsing the curse takes strength of will, which can be fueled by powerful emotion. But the Cruciatus is does not remove volition as the Imperius does – it aims to incapacitate the victim. The curse can be dodged or blocked, and it is even possible to work through it. Above all," Lupin's voice was the sternest they had ever heard it. "Do not drop your wand."

A tense moment passed. Ash pressed comfortingly into his palm; Ron glanced at the board and swallowed. How can people do that to each other?

But he'd known ever since first year that You-Know-Who didn't care what he did. He'd kill a kid, just to win.

"Does anyone know the last curse?"

For the third time, Hermione's hand went up. This time, it shook just the smallest bit. "Avada Kedavra," spilled from her lips in a whisper as Lupin nodded in her direction.

Ron glanced uneasily her way. You had to say the incantation?

"The Killing Curse." Lupin folded his arms tightly. "It is the most efficient and Dark means of murder available to anyone who dips into the black magics. It literally breaks the bond between body and soul, forcing the victim into the Realm of Death. It is the worst of these three Unforgivable curses, and distinctive because of the bright flash of green light it emits. There is no known way to counter or block the Killing Curse, though it can be dodged like any other spell if the target is quick enough."

Blimey. Ron could see sweat shining on Seamus' face, and Dean's eyes were wide. Harry – Harry? A frown creased his forehead. Under shaggy black bangs, Harry's face was pale and empty, almost like when the Dementors had searched the train –

"These are widely considered to be the three worst curses available in the arsenal of Dark magic, though there are many, many others. What distinguishes these curses is that they take a good deal of magic and, unfortunately, practice, to get the desired result." Disgust was loaded in every syllable; their Professor's usually kind face was smooth as stone. "Use of an Unforgivable on another human earns the caster an automatic life sentence in Azkaban."

The room was then silent for so long that he risked lifting his eyes from his parchment. Lupin was gazing at them all, and Ron could see that everyone looked as unnerved by this as him.

"Very well," their Professor said quietly. "I think that's more than enough for one day. You're dismissed early. Please read the first fifteen pages in the text for next lesson."

Scooping his book back into his bag, Ron shoved away from his chair. No wonder Fred and George were on about this. It was the most blunt discussion he'd ever heard of –

Over the rustling of papers and the door, Professor Lupin approached, stopping by Neville for a short moment before turning to his best friend. "Harry, I'd like to speak with you a moment after class."


Then Ron saw dull green eyes, and thought he knew why. Swallowing hard, he tugged Hermione out when she cast a sharp look at Neville, who was shivering just a bit. The other boy held a horror deep in his eyes. Ron paused for a minute, swallowing when Harry and Neville showed no signs of leaving.

At his elbow, Hermione sighed. "Come on," she shut the door carefully behind them. "Let's go."

Casual. Nothing to see here.

He kept his head level, walking as if he had every right to be leaving the Great Hall early. He'd managed to slip Crabbe and Goyle with the excuse of going to the library.

They wouldn't be caught dead in there.

He might sneer about their ability to read, but those two were more cunning than they let on. Let them think I underestimate them. Dodging a giggly group of Ravenclaws, Draco slipped as quickly as possible down a side corridor.

Dim light and dank stone relaxed him, even as one hand drifted into the small kit concealed in folds of black cloth. Snape had been sitting at the teachers' table in the Great Hall, and for once had been involved in conversation – with Edmund of all people. As soon as the 'Muggle' proved himself worthy of Slytherin. . .

The dungeon was unlocked, as expected. Draco stepped past the heavy oak doors, already pulling free the small packet of tools he would need to continue testing Snape's wards.

Hair prickled on the backs of his arms.

Oh, no.

Magic tingled as it swept over his skin, the watching wards marking his presence. Damn!

A record-keeper.

Icy eyes scanned the room, but nothing looked different. Where would he put the focus? He couldn't do anything tonight except try to wipe his entrance from the ward's log before –

Shoes, ringing against stone. Muffled by the door, but –


Draco darted toward the table and knee-level cabinet where he sat in class, stuffing away the kit as he did so. Two steps away, one –

"Mr. Malfoy."

Fingers clenching on the open cabinet door where his cauldron, scales, and ingredients were stored, Draco stood up smoothly. "Professor Snape."

Black eyes tried to probe his own, but Draco kept his gaze fixed in the middle of Snape's chest; giving the appearance of eye contact without leaving himself open to it. Voldemort's greatest prize – the Occlumens who could fool even Dumbledore. One of the many things he'd never been meant to hear, but Draco put the knowledge to good use.

"I expect you have a reason for your presence in my classroom after-hours?" Little leniency in that voice, but more than any other student could expect. And why is that? Draco thought bitterly. My father, and the Lord you both share?

No hate – not now. He couldn't afford it tainting voice or expression. "Yes, sir." Draco held up a sheaf of parchments, hidden behind the low door by his foot. "I forgot my notes in my locker during last class."

One black brow arched. "Is that so."

He suspects.

Panic churned his belly; Draco resisted the urge to swallow. Snape might be dangerous, but he wasn't Father – though trouble here would lead back home with enough force to destroy him.

Calm. And the arrogance of pure breeding saved him again; Draco hefted his bag onto the table, replacing the papers from where he'd carelessly jerked them free only seconds before. Straightened to face Snape once more. "May I be excused, sir?"

"Go." Smooth and low, his Head of House's voice still carried across the deathly stillness of the lower dungeons. "I trust I will not find you in here again outside of class?"

Draco was at the door. "Of course not, sir."

You won't catch me again. Determination lined every stride he took away from this setback. I swear it.

Books from their dormitory in hand, Ron's steps were loud as he crossed the common room to a long, flat table near the fireplace. Perfect for chucking scrap homework in. Which was why Harry'd grabbed it, even if it was too hot for a fire.

Weight pressed on the back of his chair. "What's that?"

Reading, Harry kept one eye focused across the room on Neville; whenever he was casting, it was best to keep some attention free for whatever might come from his direction. "A letter from Sirius."

"Another one?"

Harry grinned. "Yeah. He said he'd write me regularly. I didn't think he meant every day." Especially after today's Defense class . . . After giving Neville a few Herbology textbooks and several soft words that made his fellow Gryffindor nearly glow with pride, Remus had suggested that he talk to Sirius about it.

I'm fine. I am.

"What's he say?"

"Just that he's trying to find a new house-elf for Grimmauld Place," thin shoulders shrugged, green eyes scanning down. Battles with Kreacher. Harry swallowed a snicker. "And Aurors are investigating the wizard who showed up at the Welcome Feast. He says to check tomorrow's Daily Prophet."

"Nothing else?" Plopping into the seat opposite him, Ron blinked at the owl digging it's talons into the plush arm of Harry's chair.

Harry shrugged. Well, yeah, but it's – it's personal stuff. Ron couldn't possibly –

"Of course he can't talk about it," Hermione didn't even glance up from her Transfiguration. "He works for the DMLE, Ron. You know that."

Oh. Right.

Quill between his fingers, Harry reached for a clean sheet of parchment as Ron grumbled over Unfogging the Future.

Dear Sirius,

Thanks for your last letter. Everything's going fine so far, though Professor Trelawney tried to predict my death again, and Potions was horrible as usual. Between the Triwizard Tournament and the impostor who showed up at the Welcome Feast, it feels like everyone's forgotten about what happened at the World Cup. I've heard a lot of people talking about trying to get into the Tournament. It sounds exciting, but I still can't believe they cancelled Quidditch!

Remus' class is still the most interesting, though our first topic is the Unforgivable Curses. I couldn't help remembering what I heard and saw because of the Dementors last year, though – Mum and Dad's voices, and that flash of green light – when Remus was talking about the Killing Curse. Neville wasn't too happy with the class either, but Remus talked to us after the lesson. You don't need to worry – I'm fine.

Remus told us about the new History of Magic professor over the summer, but we haven't had him yet. Classes were cancelled the morning after the Welcome Feast, and Hermione's worried that we're going to be behind all the Ravenclaws and Slytherins in our year.

Our first Hogsmeade weekend isn't until the first weekend in November. I was wondering about that too, since it's supposed to be closer to Halloween. But everything's all jumbled up this year because of the Tournament I expect. I'm really looking forward to seeing you then.

Good luck with Kreacher! I hope you find a new house-elf soon.


Folding up the letter and jotting down the address for Grimmauld Place, Harry turned to the white-and-brown barred owl gripping plush leather. Dark eyes regarded him solemnly.

"Hey Osiris," Harry reached out a careful hand, smoothing the feathers on the raptor's breast. "Take this to Sirius?"

Talons shifted; Osiris stretched out a leg sporting tiny feathers all the way down to one three-toed foot. A slender, curved beak gently nibbled at strands of his hair as Harry tied the letter to his godfather's owl. The bird waited politely for an arm to be held out, and then climbed on to be borne to a window. He weighs less than Hedwig. Osiris was a good deal smaller than her as well, though of average size, he supposed – nowhere near Pigwidgeon's miniature stature.

Harry waited until twilight swallowed up the ghostly feathers. Can't put it off any longer. Sighing, he headed back to the table where Ron and Hermione were bent over homework, and reached for Unfogging the Future.

An hour later, seventeen scraps of parchment were crumpled across polished wood, and more were scattered around the hearth. Harry's fingers found a crumpled ball that had bounced his way from Ron's mess of parchments, and pried the folds open. Okay. Venus is retrograde. p(n) d(n) / (1.361)n × 0.2863 − 0.337. . . Um, right. He reached for another parchment, crushed even smaller.

r 1.5236365 (1 - 0.09342312) / 1 + 0.0934231 cos (244.921657) 1.57261067

The rest of his parchment was full up with that jumble.

So . . .

No help for it. "I haven't got a clue what this lot's supposed to mean."

Ron ran his finger through his hair one more, standing orange strands on end. "Y'know, I think it's back to the old Divination standby."

"What – make it up?"

Hermione lifted her head out of her Arithmancy at that, and snorted. The look she shot them was very disapproving, but after last year she'd given up trying to get them to do Trelawney's homework properly.


Orange fur wound between Harry's ankles, then planted itself down by his foot and stared inscrutably up. Harry shook his head down at the cat. It's no good, Crookshanks. He was not giving Hermione's pet a chance to jump up on the table and make a mess of everything. Again.

"Next Monday," Ron scribbled, clearing scrap notes from the table with the sweep of one long arm, "I am likely to develop a cough, owing to the unlucky conjunction of Mars and Jupiter. You know her – just put in loads of misery, she'll lap it up."

Thick waves shook in disapproval, but Hermione didn't say anything.

"Right." His first attempt hit bright coals and caught almost immediately. "Okay . . . on Monday, I will be in danger of – er – burns."

"Yeah, you will be. We're seeing the skrewts again on Monday."

Harry winced. I'd forgotten about them.

"Okay, Tuesday. I'll . . . erm . . ."

Unfogging the Future was bound to have at least a few suggestions. Ah! "Lose a treasured possession," he suggested.

"Good one," said Ron, copying it down. "Because of . . .erm . . . Mercury. Why don't you get stabbed in the back by someone you thought was a friend?"

Nice! "Yeah . . . cool . . . because . . . Venus is in the twelfth house." Whatever that's supposed to mean. Dipping his quill again, Harry thought a second. I could get in a –

"And on Wednesday, I think I'll come off worst in a fight."

"Aaah, I was going to have a fight. Okay, I'll lose a bet."

A snicker sounded across from him. "Yeah, you'll be betting I'll win my fight . . ."

"What about a toothache?"

Ron flapped a dismissive hand. "Nah. Break a bone, Harry."

Oh, eww! Gaping at the page, Harry made a deal. "If you lose an eye."

"That takes care of Thursday, then. I think I'll get poisoned on Friday."

"We have Potions Friday," Harry snickered.

"Which just goes to show how good I am at this prediction stuff," Ron was scanning the index of their text. "And then I suppose I could drown . . ."

"Sucked under by the giant squid?"

"Grindylows, more like."

"You two are hopeless." But Hermione was smiling.

Harry grinned back.

"You know she'll never know the difference," Ron snorted. Paused, one finger skimming down the page of Unfogging the Future. "Oh! Hey, I could get swallowed by a python!"

"What do you think?"

"I think it's a good thing Mum never heard about this." Fred scowled at the parchment. Plan B.

Lucky for him the Ministry's fire-calls were tied up after the Cup. Were still tied up, even if they had a way to use the fire without all Hogwarts finding out.

And the last thing we need is Ron or Percy finding out and telling anyone, and it getting back to Mum somehow. Because it would, especially if Perfect Prefect Percy got wind of it.

"It might have been an accident." George didn't sound like he believed it either.

Fred kept his voice down; Gryffindor common room or not, it was getting late and the only people left were their younger brother, Harry and Hermione. "It was almost thirteen hundred Galleons." No one collects thousands of Galleons in Leprechaun gold without knowing they're doing it. Even if he meant to pay us with real money. "We'll let it sound like we think it was a mistake."

"Alright," his twin sighed. "'Dear Mr. Bagman' . . ."

Fred crouched lower, methodically cracking each knuckle and letting George's quiet words wash over him. He's better at this kind of stuff anyway. And did his best to keep the temper bubbling under his skin from erupting. I'd send a Howler if we had two Knuts to rub together to pay for it.

Which we don't. Bastard!

"Can't be confrontational," George was muttering, thoughtfully fluttering the feathered end of his quill across his nose.

"Tell him," Fred hissed, losing the fight against anger, "that we would like our full sum of one thousand, two-hundred seventy-eight Galleons, six Sickles and three Knuts. And that we want it immediately."

His twin wrote it, and looked over the words. George shook his head, scratching out the sentence. "No. That sounds like we're accusing him. Got to be careful . . ."

Keep your voice down. Don't need to wake the whole House. But the anger inside wasn't the useful kind that could be twisted into a prank or new product; it was the unrelenting burn of injustice. At least it's my turn to lose my temper. "Bloody well right we're accusing him!"

Pressure, squishing his toes.

"What!" Fred followed blue eyes as they flicked to the three finishing their homework by the fire.

"Not going to have a very good month, are you?" Hermione had one hand resting on yellow-orange fur. Sardonic humor lilted across easily to his ears, even though she was speaking quietly.

"At least I'm forewarned," Ron yawned.

"You seem to be drowning twice."

Fred humphed, shoving back the younger voices that carried across the empty room. They can probably hear us just as easily. Damn.

"Come on." George fought friction, shoving wooden chair legs across thick red carpet. "We're not going to get anything more done tonight."

"Tomorrow," Fred agreed. Blue locked on the half-finished letter George was carefully tucking away. "If we send it at lunch it won't get 'lost' in the morning delivery."

"Good idea. And if it does . . ."

Fred knew what his own face looked like when he had mischief on the brain, and he could see it in George's expression. An altogether wicked grin split his own anger right open. Don't get mad. Get even. "Yeah."

A/N: I'm not going to med school, therefore, while all the herbs abovementioned are medicinal, please don't take my descriptions on how and why to use them as anything but fiction generated in the depths of my mind. This is the realm of: Don't try this at home, folks!