Ace: God...You're still at this? Why can't you just give it a rest?


Ace: I hate snowstorms.

Gotc: Hey, if it weren't for the 16 inches of snow blocking the drive, I would never have finally finished this.

Ace: Which is why I hate snowstorms.

Gotc: Oh whatever. Anyway, as you good people might have guessed, I have yet to let this story die! So here's a chapter to breathe some life back into it while I go burn another piece of furniture to keep warm! Oh and SQUEAKY! DISCLAIMER!

Squeaky: Squeak! (Will you hurry up with that fire already?! Nothing owned here people. We've burned it all to keep warm)

Gotc: Ain't that the truth? Well, here's to hoping you guys are warmer than I am and enjoy this next chappie!

Harry Potter and the Order of the Rising Dragon

CHAPTER 31: Demonstrations

Yugi was convinced that the castle slowed time down on purpose. His classes all seemed to drag on into eternity, despite the subject material. He had to laugh a little at himself, after all, how many people had been through enough in their lives that would make magic boring? Maybe because it wasn't the kind that was threatening to destroy the world, or devour the souls of everyone he held dear.

/You'd think you would know better than to tempt Fate like that, Aibou/ Yami chided his other half with a chuckle.

Yugi rolled his eyes, as he plodded outside with the rest of the Gryffindors for their class with Professor Cooper. Hermione walked alongside him, surreptitiously glancing through the rest of their gathering classmates as they waited out on the lawn for their professor.

"Have you talked to him yet?" Hermione asked quietly, as if she were afraid of being overheard.

"No." Yugi sighed nasally. His nose was hardly as sore as it had been a few days ago, but it had started making him sound like he was talking through a cardboard tube. "He was gone before I woke up today, and I've only seen him in class for a few seconds."

Hermione frowned and took another glance around the area, hoping to perhaps spot their friend herself.

"You know, for as wild as you and Ryou wear your hair, you'd really think he'd be easy to spot…." Hermione trailed off, "Oh no…"

"What?" Yugi turned his head in the direction she was looking. Unfortunately, his stature made it fairly difficult to see just what it was that had caused the look of horror to blossom on Hermione's face. Still, he didn't exactly need a particularly good look to see the flash of bright pink that waddled up to the assembled students from the castle.

"You have got to be kidding me…." Yugi heard Harry groan a few feet away, he and Ron having just caught up to the rest of the class themselves, "As if it isn't bad enough I have to see her every night, now she has to follow me around?"

"It must be Professor Cooper's turn to get inspected," Yugi guessed, dropping his bag.

It had taken the stout professor little under a minute to work her way to the front of the group and stand ever-so-slightly off to one side, already scratching away at her clipboard and only pausing in her note-taking to glance up at the class. Yugi sighed inwardly. There was no chance they'd be able to talk to Ryou or Bakura now, not with Umbridge there to observe their every move.

/Maybe not Yugi,/ Yami said, cutting into his light's thoughts, /She's here to observe Cooper, remember? They may actually be preoccupied enough with one another to give us a chance to talk with him./

/Maybe, but that theory has two big holes in it. Cooper and Ryou aren't-/

Before Yugi could even finish, a booming laugh carried across the lawn. Cooper came striding easily up to the rest of the class, with a sullen looking Ryou in tow. While Ryou's demeanor seemed rather appropriate for the occasion, Cooper's was almost unnaturally bright as he took his place at the head of the class.

"Afternoon everyone!" He addressed them cheerily, "I hope you'll pardon my delay in getting here, I had a few last minute things I needed to attend to before class started, but now that everyone's here we can get started!"

"Hem, hem."

Cooper paused a moment and turned his attention to the class' newest addition.

"Ah, Professor Umbridge!" He greeted his colleague warmly, before she could speak again, "Class, we have a visitor who will be observing us today. Please show her respect while she is with us and help her answer any questions she may have for you, alright?"

There was a murmur of grudging consent amidst the group. Her smug grin touched her lips, and stuck there as she poised her pen above her notepad and addressed the muggle professor.

"Perhaps you could quickly answer one for me, Professor." Umbridge said, not bothering to hide the demeaning tone in her voice, "But I am curious as to how you expect the children to learn anything out here."

"Plenty to learn out in the open air! Never thought much of lessons that had to be taught indoors. Life doesn't take place in a classroom." Cooper said fielding the question with the same unwavering friendliness he'd had since day one, "Although, I will admit you're certainly right about this location in particular. Completely unsuitable for today's lesson. I think we'll be much better suited there on the other side of the lake."

Cooper looked back at the class, and frowned slightly in confusion when they exchanged confused glances with one another. The request wasn't as odd as the fact that Cooper seemed to be intent on leading them all straight to the outskirts of the Forbidden Forest. The professor turned and trotted a few steps, before he seemed to realize that there was no one else following him.

"Well?" He said, folding his arms across his chest, "We're having class over there. I suggest a brisk jog."

Realizing he wasn't joking, one by one, the students filed out and headed out across the span of lawn that separated them from the outline of trees on the other side of the lake. Yugi personally didn't mind running. He was fairly quick, despite his small stature, which was just one side effect from years of being the subject of harassment for every bully in his old school. He had no more taken a deep breath to head off after the rest of his classmates, when he was stopped in his tracks.

"Mr. Motou." Professor Cooper called out to him.

"Yes, sir?"

Cooper said nothing, but beckoned to him with two fingers. Yugi frowned in confusion, as he obediently walked to where his teacher was waiting for him. What could want? He hadn't done anything….Well, Yami had, but he was already being punished for that-

Before Yugi could comprehend what was going on, the muggle professor's hand shot out and got a very firm grip on his very painful nose. Yugi had only enough time to wince before a sharp twisting motion in Cooper's wrist and one loud crack snapped his nose back into its rightful place. It certainly hurt, but after a moment, the acute sting faded to a dull throb and air moved far more freely through his nasal passages than it had in days.

"Next time something like that happens, you should really get it taken care of right away. It hurts a lot worse when you do finally get it put back the way it was." Cooper said, tapping his own nose with a grin, "I've had my own nose rearranged enough to know."

"Sure thing Profess-" Yugi started, then stopped at a disapproving glance from Cooper, "Ace. Thank you."

"No problem!" He said cheerily.

"You let your students address you by your first name?" An overly sweet voice cut in.

The unmistakeable scratching of a quill against parchment punctuated the air, as Ace turned to face Umbridge.

"Of course not!" Ace bellowed with a laugh, "I insist upon it! Now I suggest we get moving, if we want to catch up to everyone!"

"Yes, and how exactly do you propose to do that, Professor." Umbridge sneered with emphasis on Cooper's honorific.

"Same way they did," Ace said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world while he shooed Yugi off after the others, "You honestly didn't expect me to ask them to do something I wouldn't myself, did you?"

Yugi decided to heed Cooper's unspoken advice to make himself scarce, but not before he caught a glimpse of Umbridge's face turning an ashen shade of grey as Ace began to push her along after the class.

Perhaps karma worked in the wizarding world after all.

Yugi might not have minded the run, but the same could not be said of his fellow classmates. There were few in their number accustomed to such an endurance-demanding activity, and at the end of the nearly half mile run, most were ready to collapse. But at least they were faring far better than Professor Umbridge.

Watching her stubby legs hurrying to muster something that could be considered a jog without falling over herself was certainly making it difficult for the class to keep a straight face despite their fatigue, made all the more difficult by the fact Cooper kept a patiently slow stride with her and looked to be having a rather enjoyable conversation. Well, he was talking and she was turning a rather impressive shade of crimson as she heaved for a breath with every step.

Then again, so had most of the class by the time they did finally manage to catch up, but even they seemed to brighten seeing the new 'High Inquisitor' brought down off of her newly appointed pedestal. After all, when would be the next time they would see the woman nearly collapse in class?

In stark contrast, Professor Cooper didn't have so much as a bead of sweat on him as he sauntered easily to the head of the class, leaving Umbridge clinging to a nearby tree to keep herself upright.

"Alright you lot!" Cooper called out, his voice ringing loud and without even a trace of fatigue, "I took it easy on you today! Next class, you will run a full circuit of the lake prior to our meeting, which means two things: One, you'd better not drag your feet, or I'll start class without you, and two, if you plan on making any of my classes on time, then you'll be making that run on your own several times a week to get better at it!"

Yugi was certain he'd hear groans of protest from the class at that point, but most were far too winded to manage it. That detail was not lost on Cooper.

"Most of you are about to keel over," He said surveying the class, "The running will help build your endurance while you learn from me, and I guarantee you'll be glad for it by the end of the term. Defending yourself in this class will be far more strenuous than simply flicking a wand."

A grin curled at the edges of Cooper's face as he snapped his fingers with the force of a command, making the brisk sound echo through the trees at his back. Students shifted uneasily back and forth on unsteady feet, as a light breeze ruffled the branched and leaves. It wasn't for another moment that anyone realized the zephyr was blowing out of the woods, rather than into them and on the breeze a strange sound carried ever so faintly. Little by little the sound grew, like thunder echoing out of the recesses of the forest. It was only then the shifting shadows in the leaves took shape; an entire contingent of suits of armor came striding out of the trees to stand between Cooper and the class. It was an impressive sight to say the least, as the ranks of polished armor took up neat, orderly lines at the muggle's command.

"Meet your new instructors," Cooper grinned, turning from the armor to face the class, "Since there isn't enough of me to go around and teach you all one on one, I've enlisted a little bit of help. Granted, a suit of unfeeling armor is hardly the same thing as a living body, but I feel we'll keep more of you out of the Hospital Wing this way."

He chuckled to himself, obviously thinking the notion was amusing, though the rest of the class held their stunned silence. No one was dense enough to believe he'd only been joking.

"Now," Cooper started, his voice carrying across the class, "All things considered, the class as a whole did rather well during our last meeting. You all seemed to learn something from each of your classmates before you and adapted well to the challenge I presented you with. That flexibility, that adaptation, I will be turning into your greatest weapon in the coming months. We'll start today with dealing with an assailant larger than yourself."

"Why not just plant a foot below the belt?" Seamus called out. He'd been one of the less winded, and had recovered enough to throw the quip out, earning himself a quiet ripple of laughter from the class. "Don't know many who'd want to get back up after their jewels were kicked in."

Cooper turned to face Seamus with a calm, regarding smile and an obviously thoughtful look in his cerulean eyes.

"Mr. Finnegan makes an excellent point," Ace acknowledged, "A well-placed strike to the groin would certainly injure an attacker…" He paused a moment. "….if you are a young girl on her way home from the mall."

Color rose in Seamus' face and he dropped his gaze to the ground as more laughter issued from the class. Cooper even seemed to be lightly amused by the reaction a moment, before the air around all of them seemed to chill slightly while a much darker, more serious look passed across the professor's face.

"Many of you find the notion funny, but what you fail to realize is, all you've managed to do is inflict a bit of pain upon your attacker," Cooper said, rapping his knuckles against the hollow chest plate of one of the suits of armor. The one he'd touched remained still, while the rest all took a step backward. "All you've done is bought yourself a bit of time."

"But Professor!" Hermione's hand shot into the air, even as she started speaking, "Isn't that the idea? Making an opening to get away?"

"To where, Ms. Granger?" Cooper said curtly, "You are operating on the very naïve notion that you will have somewhere to run to. More often than not, you will be on your own with nowhere to run. I suggest you get used to that idea."

"Surely though if you inflict enough pain, whatever's after you will take off on it's own!" Another voice said from the class.

"If your attacker is a petty purse thief, maybe." Cooper acquiesced, though his hard tone never changed, "But you'll be surprised what some people will power through to get what they want. Pain can be pushed aside, especially if your attacker wants to put you in the ground."

A deathly silence fell over the class. Even the sounds of the wind and trees seemed to still at the professor's tone.

"I may not use a wand, but my principles are the same as any magical defense class. You aim to disarm and neutralize. Nothing less."

It was then Cooper fully turned to face the suit of armor standing stoically behind him. In the blink of an eye, Ace spun around on one foot to engage the nearest suit of armor. It reacted instantly, lashing out to knock Ace off of his feet. Instead, Ace rolled just inside of its arm, letting the blow sail right past his head.

"A strike to the shoulder," Ace snarled, punctuating his point by grabbing hold of the armor's arm, and thrusting his palm into the shoulder joint with violent force, "Breaks the collarbone and dislocates the joint, leaving them without an arm."

The suit recoiled backwards, its ruined arm hanging uselessly at its side as it tried to regain its footing. Ace was already on the offensive again, this time, rushing it from the side.

"A blow to the knee," He said as his foot sank into the side of the armor's knee with a sickening shriek of metal, "Shreds the tendons and leaves them unable to walk."

The armor collapsed to the ground, struggling to lift its bulk out of the dirt until Ace planted his foot firmly against its neck.

"And the neck…"

He pushed down hard with his foot, causing its helmet to roll away from the rest of its body. The entire class could do nothing more than gape at the prone armor lying motionless on the ground before them.

"Is always a weak point, no matter how big or strong someone might be."

Any trace of humor and good nature had been wiped clean from Cooper's expression, only to be replaced with something more feral.

"I can already tell what most of you are thinking. Apparently you didn't take me serious last week when I told you that I wasn't going to be teaching you the same techniques you'd get in a women's self-defense course." Ace said, a certain air of finality in his voice, "You do not waste time slowing down your attacker. You take them out of play, or they'll be back for more."

"And you feel that this is a typical situation these students are going to be faced with?" Umbridge's saccharine voice cut in, almost a welcome reprieve from the heavy feeling that had settled over the class. Her face was still a brilliant shade of scarlet, though she'd managed to force enough of her composure into place to speak without laboring to breathe.

"I wouldn't waste my time if I thought otherwise." Cooper replied simply, hardly even looking in her direction.

"And you are aware that every student in this school is able to use magic that could completely neutralize such an assailant?" Umbridge tapped her chin with the quill now back in her hand, "Especially one so daft as to use such…brutish methods-"

"With all due respect," Cooper cut in, irritation finally beginning to rise in his voice, "In my experience, you trust nothing but your own two hands and feet. Putting all of your faith in a stick that can be so easily broken or taken from you is the highest level of idiocy I can imagine."

Even Umbridge seemed to be taken off guard by such strong words, but she was far from letting the subject fall.

"I think, perhaps, being a muggle and living without magic your entire life has blinded you to what a potent tool a witch or wizard's wand can be. In the right hands, of course." Umbridge said drawing herself up to what she must have thought was an impressive height, "No one in their right mind even dare to challenge someone with the proper training…"

Judging by the earlier irritation in his voice, everyone expected Cooper's response to only escalate the budding confrontation. Instead, the tense posture of his body relaxed, and the corner of his lips twitched upward in a thin smile. It wasn't lost on Yugi that a devilish glint shone in the man's eyes as he focused solely on the High Inquisitor.

"That's very true," Ace said, much to the shock of his class, "That wand of yours can be a dangerous weapon indeed."

He ignored the shocked whispers, and spreading grin on Umbridge's face, as he threw a consenting hand up into the air and strolled lazily over to the line of armored suits.

"It's no wonder all of this must seem so absurd," He continued on, shaking his head like he had only just now understood the reasoning behind Umbridge's objections, "Why these tin cans must look like playthings to an accomplished witch like yourself."

Most of the class looked puzzled from one to the other. It was like watching two completely different people inhabit the same spot Cooper now stood in. How could this kind dismissive behavior follow such a brutal display? The Pharaoh chuckled in Yugi's mind, his amusement bringing to light exactly what their professor was playing at.

"A bit flimsy," Umbridge nodded with a disinterested glance at the neat row of polished metal, "But I couldn't have expected someone like yourself to produce much of a challenge."

"Perhaps then you would be willing to give all of us a lesson in proper defensive technique then?" Cooper said, in one sentence pulling tight the noose he'd laid only a moment before.

"Excuse me?" Umbridge stammered, cocking her head to one side as if she hadn't heard him quite right.

The class all looked from one to the other as well. Stunned, was putting their expressions mildly. Yugi cast a glance over to Ryou, who seemed to be the only other person not completely shocked by Cooper's proposal. No doubt he and Bakura had seen the ploy for what it was too.

"A demonstration!" Cooper said again, cheerfully, "Or a favor if you'd like to see it that way, from one professor to another! Honestly, you make a rather compelling point. It would be ridiculous to continue teaching these children this line of reasoning if there's no merit in it! But a competent witch like yourself participating presents a wonderful opportunity! After all, why would a wizard toss aside his wand to attack someone with his bare hands? With you holding the wand, it would make the exercise seem all the more real! We won't bother with the armor though, since it wouldn't be much of a challenge."

"Surely you don't mean to have me attack one of your students!" Umbridge said, her voice on the verge of cracking.

"Of course not!" Cooper said merrily, "I want you to attack me!"

Yugi could practically feel the widening grins spreading on the faces of his classmates around him, despite their apprehension for the situation. Harry next to him was practically beaming, if only because of the look of supreme uneasiness on the toadish woman's face. Umbridge was looking from the faces of several dozen students back to her colleague who was still muttering thoughtfully to himself about whether it would be fair for her to have the aid of several armored suits as well since she had just ran nearly a mile.

Yugi had to give Cooper credit. He'd caught her. He'd managed to propose a challenge she had no way of backing out of without making herself look weak in front of the entire 5th year class of Gryffindors. And that was just the kind of news that would spread faster than knotgrass. All she could do was watch helplessly as Cooper continued to talk and hastily organize the lines for a demonstrative skirmish.

In the end, it was decided that Umbridge would be allowed 4 suits of armor to fight on her behalf as well to make up for her current fatigued state. Her skin had faded from its brilliant pink to a white ash, while Ace leisurely stretched a hundred yards away. She had the bewildered look of someone who had been woken out of a wonderful dream, only to find themselves in the middle of a class lecture. Still, she gripped her wand with a measure of assurance, as everyone else took several steps away from where the bulk of the conflict was apt to take place.

"A galleon says Cooper gets his ass petrified before he makes it three steps," someone whispered in the group, as the four suits took their places around Umbridge.

"Two and you're on." Ron said from somewhere behind Yugi as he urgently fished around in his robes, before prodding Harry to spot him.

No one else paid them any attention, as Cooper seemed to be satisfied with his preparations and took up a defensive stance. Umbridge seemed to have managed to steady her nerves as well, as the surprise of the situation turned into indignation. She glanced around at the suits of armor flanking her on either side with a look of distaste that only deepened as Cooper called out from across the field, "Ready, Professor?"

Umbridge's only reply was to straighten her posture, turn up her nose, and give a sharp flick of her wand.


The spell took hold immediately and the suits of armor all surged forward towards Cooper, looking for all the world as if they existed only to take him apart. The muggle professor didn't match their charge, and instead waited until the group was almost upon him before he finally moved.

The first of the suits to reach him thrust out an arm to reach for his throat, only to have Cooper duck and roll back on his hands, before kicking out a foot to catch the suit where its chin would have been. The momentum carried it up and over Cooper, to land with a crash behind him, as the professor followed through to roll cleanly back onto his feet.

The second fared no better, Cooper catching one of its arms to hurl it into the third, before turning to actively charge the fourth suit. He had just met it head on, when a brief flash of orange erupted in the corner of his vision. He reached for the suit of armor, and hauled it between him and where he'd seen the flash just in time to have a ball of flames crash through the back of the armor. Cooper let it fall uselessly to the ground , as the animation spell melted away and the armor lay still in the grass. The other three were getting back on their feet and heading for him yet again, and Umbridge herself was far from done.

"Stupify!" He heard her shout, and the ground just behind him exploded like it had just been hit with a grenade.

Cooper ran back for the suits charging him again, this time, letting all three converge on him. A flurry of armored gauntlets and grieves danced around him, some colliding with another suit, but never connecting with their intended target. Overhead, a barrage of spells continued to fly, with one occasionally ramming into one of the preoccupied suits.

From the sidelines, it looked as if Cooper had worked himself into a corner as he dipped and ducked to avoid both magical and physical blows.

"She's got him," Yugi heard Dean say, as they continued to watch.

"No," Bakura piped up for the first time in days, "He's toying with her."

"Mate, I don't know if you can tell, but he's in a rough spot-"

"Look where he's at." Bakura interrupted, keeping his gaze fixed on the action, "He's less than 100 feet from Umbridge now. Cooper's using those suits as a shield, rather than run the gauntlet of open space between him and the Toad."

"Not going to do him any good though if he can't get away from those suits though," Ron said sullenly, looking forlornly at the two galleons in his hand.

"He doesn't want to."

Sure enough, try as she might, Umbridge couldn't seem to land a single spell through the weaving shield Cooper had managed to construct for himself. She might have had better luck pitching a ball through the blades of a spinning fan for all the luck she was having. Yugi frowned at hearing Bakura's observation. He'd deduced that much for himself, but there was more to the professor's movements. He seemed to be a step ahead of the witch trying to blast his head off, shifting a half second before she even uttered her spell. Telegraphing the clumsy movements of an untrained student charging him head on was one thing, but embroiled with three other opponents while dealing with a fully-fledged wizard?

/Don't you see it yet, Aibou?/ Yami said, a note of awe and admiration in the ancient king's voice as he too watched the display.

Yugi frowned as he tried to focus on what his other half could be talking about. It all looked straightforward to him. Cooper ducking and weaving like more of a wraith than a man, the armor glinting in the sun around him, and Umbridge's face screwed up in fantastic shapes as she fired curse after curse at regular intervals-

"Oh!" Yugi said out loud in surprise, though he hadn't meant to. Several students looked at him perplexed, including Harry, Ron, Hermione, and oddly enough, Bakura. Yugi coughed, embarrassed at his outburst under all the expectant looks, then gestured out to the on-going demonstration as Cooper ducked another blast by mere inches.

"Ebb and flow." Yugi said, very much impressed with the man, "Watch him as Umbridge throws a curse his way."

Heads all turned to cast a more careful eye on their professors. Almost on cue, Umbridge flung another curse that was just as effective as all the others before it, though this time, they saw the gap between the two close by a few more feet in the wake of the hex.

"He's not just using the armor as a shield," Yugi explained, "Or I guess he is depending on how you look at it. He's using the fighting with the armor as a distraction, and getting closer a little at a time after each spell Umbridge uses. She's so focused too, I don't think she's even noticed him, and he's figured out that she fires a spell almost in exact intervals about 6 seconds apart."

"You're right!" Hermione said, though she seemed a bit begrudging that she hadn't seen it herself first, "But she's a ministry official, you'd think she'd be able to be more varied…"

"She can't." Bakura said gruffly, not looking away from the duel, "She's animating those suits of armor. She can't have a lot of focus to spare on mixing it up."

It was as if a spell had been broken. No sooner had the trick to it all been revealed, Cooper had made it within a few yards of Umbridge. The defensive bobbing and weaving he'd maintained up until that point shifted in the blink of an eye. Momentum that had been conserved from the very start of the demonstration was suddenly unleashed in an almost explosive burst. One blow landed squarely on what would have been the armor's hip, with enough force to leave the imprint of Cooper's shin deeply embedded in the metal as it went soaring into a second suit, sending both to the ground in a tangled heap. The last suit met the ball of his foot as it was caught square in the chest plate, but rather than careening into the already formed pile of metal, Cooper sent it stumbling straight for Umbridge.

She made a noise of surprise as she jumped out of the way of her lumbering minion, but in the moment she took her eyes away from the muggle professor, he seized his chance. Cooper made three quick, powerful strides, almost running on all fours in the shadow of the unbalanced suit of armor. As Umbridge turned back to face him it was already to late. In a single fluid spin, he spun around to the back of her wand arm and grabbed hold of the thin piece of wood, and placed a gentle, yet firm hand on her opposite shoulder for added measure. The satisfied grin on his face couldn't be any more opposite of the horrified look on hers, as he leaned in next to her ear and simply said:


There was a tense moment where the world seemed to freeze in place, until Umbridge, once again a bright shade of crimson with fury and embarrassment, resentfully lowered her wand arm. The stunned silence erupted in a raucous cheer as Cooper bowed politely to Umbridge, plainly ignoring the look of indignation on her toadish face.

"I must say Professor," Cooper said with a kind smile, "That was certainly a wonderful performance. Truly incredible. I can see why you are so highly respected within this Ministry of yours. I think after a display like that, the students will be quite happy to fall in and listen to what we have to teach them, don't you?"

The new High Inquisitor said nothing, the absolute fury exuding off of her in palpable waves that threatened to burn anyone that stood too close. Cooper either didn't notice or care, as he dusted off his hands and returned to the head of his class; cheerful, calm and composed as ever.

"Hopefully you were all paying attention!" Cooper said, looking a bit pleased with himself, "Granted, it will take years of training for you to be able to pull off something like that, but I think it illustrates my point well enough! Now, I want each of you to pick a suit and line up in front of it!

The rest of the class passed without another incident. Everyone was eager to listen to whatever the professor had to say next and fell in without question, no one even noticing when Umbridge decided to take her leave and slink away with the last of her dignity. Cooper had them using the armor to mimic defensive and offensive stances, as well as practice a few disarming strikes. Yugi was taken aback when he first hit his suit, to find that the metal seemed to have developed a strangely springy quality, much like the stands of the quidditch field. He could have sworn Cooper grin at him in passing, but the twitch of the muggle's lips happened so quickly, he wasn't sure he hadn't simply imagined it.

However, he did know he wasn't imagining the fact he was actually enjoying himself. The tension of the last few days seemed to trickle away with every swipe he took at the suit. The straightforwardness of it all was a welcome reprieve from the rest of his classes. No foreign languages, no supposedly famous people he'd never heard of, no plants, herbs or potions to memorize. He only had to trust his body would remember the way a successful strike would feel and let instinct do the rest.

He had a strong suspicion he wasn't the only one enjoying himself either. Yugi glanced over in Bakura's direction, a bit shocked to see Ryou in his place, hitting the armor before he would stare at it with the same thousand yard stare Yugi knew well himself, then make some small adjustment to his stance and try it again, grinning from ear to ear.

An hour later the spell broke when Cooper finally called an end to class, and sent the suits back into the trees where he'd summoned them from.

"Good work everyone!" He called out, regarding them all with a pleased expression, "You did well today, and I expect to see more of the same at our next meeting! Also, Professor Flitwick did a neat little bit of magic, so you won't be able to go and ruin my lesson for the next group. Don't give me that look, Granger. It'll wear off in a week once everyone's gotten a look at them. Now class dismissed, but I'd better be seeing you out running every day or there's going to be hell to pay later!"

"No wonder Kaiba and Malik were so vague..." Yugi muttered to himself, as the 5th years began to disperse and head back for the castle, all discussing the lesson as best they could even as the charm took effect.

/Not to interrupt, Aibou,/ Yami cut into his thoughts, /But if you don't hurry, we're going to loose another chance to talk to Ryou and Bakura.../

Yugi's head snapped up to see the white of Ryou's hair already hurrying for the castle. Determined not to let him get away this time, Yugi sprinted after him, skirting the groups of students all chatting around him.

"Ryou!" Yugi shouted, when he was within a few yards, "Ryou, hold up a second! Please!"

He could see Ryou's shoulders stiffen with defeat, as he came to a stop, before he rounded on Yugi, Bakura very much in control.

"What?" The Thief King snapped, as Yugi skidded to a halt a few feet away from him.

"Bakura, please. I just need to talk to you without you trying to bite my head off, "Yugi said, putting his hands up in concession, "My face still hurts from the last time."

He tried to smile at his own joke, but whatever lightness it brought to the atmosphere was quickly doused by Bakura's scowl. Yugi sighed heavily, running his fingers though his hair as he put his words together.

"Look, there's enough going on right now without us going at each other's throats again. Harry and the others are talking about a...well a club to help teach spells we could really stand to learn." Yugi said, feeling the weight of the worlds start to settle in on him again, "I'll be the first to say that Yami didn't handle things very well-"

"He didn't handle it at all!" Bakura growled, his voice low so no prying ears would hear, "You and that Ra-
be-damned Pharaoh aren't the only ones that have been dragged into this, but maybe he's so used to having the world revolve around him, he doesn't know what to do when it suddenly stops!"

Yugi stood his ground, a hollow feeling in his gut opening up. He'd hoped time and Professor Cooper's class might have helped burn off some of his aggression, but it certainly didn't seem to be the case. Bakura spun on his heel and started to march off, when Yugi felt a tugging sensation pull at him and found himself very much a passenger in his own body. It wasn't often Yami took control without asking, or quite so abruptly, so it felt like a dream looking back at himself as the Pharaoh faced Bakura's retreating form.

"I'm sorry."

Bakura stopped in his tracks, and turned to glare at the Pharaoh, expecting to find some haughty look on his face or a glare to match his own. But he found neither, just the apology hanging in the air between them. For a moment, Bakura looked as if he wanted to say something, a venomous retort hanging off the end of his tongue. Instead, he turned away once again and headed for the castle, leaving Yugi and Yami standing without a single word.

/Great.../ Yugi sighed, defeated, /Should we go after him?/

/No. It's his choice. If this is what he wants, I will respect that./ Yami said, regret thick in his voice, despite the confidence of his words.

"Hey! Yugi!" Hermione ran up alongside him, "Were you able to talk to Ryou about our idea?"

"Yes." Yami nodded, watching as Bakura disappeared again within the castle doors.

"Well? What did he say?"

Yami sucked in a breath and shook his head, a hand reaching up to rub his temples as he followed Bakura's suit and continued to head for the castle.

"I think we're going to have to go forward without him."

Gotc: HA! I can still post! Sometimes. Or whatever. Ok, so I hope you guys know how much of a pain in the neck this chapter was. It's broken my record for "most number of times rewritten". 17 in case you were wondering. Anyway, hopefully now that it's done and out of my hair, I can keep moving forward. As always, I appreciate reviews as they help me refine this story for your maximum enjoyment!

So take a sec, jot down a line, and I'll catch you all next time!