Rain pounded on the windowpanes as Harry sat in the almost empty Gryffindor common room. Nearly everyone else was still at dinner. Right now, he was gazing into the flames, feeling drained and exhausted.
He had excitedly informed his friends of the different things that the TAs would have, the duties and the like. Hermione had been worried about him keeping up with his grades, which had made him smile.
But Ron had... the look on his friend's face had made him wonder if that was how he had looked when Ron had gotten the prefect badge. It was as if he was forcing himself to look pleased for his friend. And he had said, "So you and the twins and Neville... seems like a lot of Gryffindors. You and the twins on the Quidditch team too, and they're always nice to you. Makes me wonder who's their brother sometimes." And he had stood and abruptly left, still munching on his apple pie, leaving both Hermione and Harry staring after him for a few seconds. Hermione had given Harry a shrug and a smile before telling him again how glad she was for them and she'd talk to Ron.
Harry had been too stunned to really do much else. But his mind had caught up with him as he had taken a piece of treacle tart and he hadn't been able to stay in the Great Hall with all the people staring at him. He had to leave.
So he had returned to the Gryffindor common room, to think. Why would his best friend be jealous? Hermione was so happy for him, why couldn't Ron be? He was a prefect! They all had different duties now, they all stood out for things on their own merit, their own skills and responsibilities.
But the comment about Fred and George made Harry wonder. They had gone with Ron to rescue him with the flying car, had given him the Marauder's Map, trusted him with things-but only because he had been their financial backer. Mrs. Weasley would have destroyed any mail-order business they made, so Harry's help had gone a long way with them. From Ron's view, Harry realized, it must have seemed that they did not trust him as much as they trusted Harry.
He sighed and decided to walk as the common room grew more crowded with people. Hermione had given him the notes and assignments from the day. Perhaps he could find a book about moonstones in the library or something. He knew Snape wouldn't care if he was a TA. If anything, Snape would be determined to prove Harry didn't deserve to be one.
Harry walked, having the library in mind as a destination, but paused on his way there when he saw Professor Hat chatting politely with a portrait.
"I think that Muggles have it right, truthfully. Mozzarella would be the best for what you have in mind, Professor," the portrait was saying, beaming at the teacher. "Oh, hello!" This was said to Harry, who had just come towards them.
Hat turned and smiled, "Hello there. This is Greta Catchlove. Greta, this is my assistant, Harry."
"Hello," Harry said politely. "Nice to meet you."
"Greta here is the author of Charm Your Own Cheese," Hat explained. "I was asking her opinion on cheese toppings for pizza."
Harry blinked, a bit surprised. He had never seen pizza for... well, for any meal at Hogwarts. And with the Dursleys, they had never allowed him to have any when Dudley got to have the whole pie, practically.
"I didn't think we had pizza here," he said quietly.
Hat gave him a smile. "We don't, and that's a shame. It is quite delicious. Perhaps tomorrow I shall bother the house elves to see if I can have some in the kitchen, if you would like to accompany me?"
"Sure," Harry said, nodding. He was sure that it would be delicious.
"Thanks again, Greta," Hat said, smiling. They watched the portrait smile and leave. "So where are you headed?"
"Oh," Harry said, reminded of the reason he felt a bit miserable. "I don't know, to the library. Need to do my essay for Snape."
"Professor Snape," Hat corrected , giving him a smile. "Come on, I have a few potion books in my office. I'll lend them to you, though you may have to ignore the scribblings in the margins."
Harry smiled and followed him to his office, sitting on his desk while Hat rummaged through the various bookshelves. "Ah, here we are, potions books. Moonstones, you said?"
"Yes sir," Harry confirmed.
"I think this might be best then." The man pulled out a massive book, holding it with both hands.
The Grimoire of Gemstones for Potions was the title of the massive tome. Harry nearly stumbled under its weight, it was so heavy.
"I opted for the magical index in most of my books," Hat said off-handedly, grabbing some parchment. "So it should be easy to find."
"... The magical index?" Harry asked, looking at his teacher with a strange look.
The man took a piece of candy from the dish on his desk, eating it before speaking. "Open the book to the table of contents and tell it what you need. I believe the universal word for magical indexes is Quaerere. Say that and the item you're looking for and the book will open up to that section or the main article with it."
"I never knew that," Harry said, thinking of all the times a quick search could have helped him in the library. "Do you think the library books have that?"
"This is a school of magic," Hat said quietly. "I have no doubt that they are. If not, inform the librarian and she will renew the charm." The teacher was about to write before he paused. "They don't teach that? About the indexes?"
Harry shook his head, "I've never heard of it before now."
"So the librarian probably gets irritated if you ask questions... thinking that you're being lazy and not bothering to use the indexes. Might explain a bit about the attitudes towards the library." Hat nodded and began to write something on his parchment.
Harry, meanwhile, was thinking about what the man had said. Could it be true? Could Madam Pince just be annoyed at the fact that she was bothered when a simple spell could eliminate all misunderstandings regarding the library?
He didn't know if it would or wouldn't, but he would definitely tell the other TAs and he'd mention it to every student he could. Between all of that, Harry was sure more people would know about indexes and at least nobody would have excuses for shoddy research work anymore.
"Quaerere moonstones," Harry said to the book. Immediately, it flipped open to an entire chapter on the gemstone. He began to read it for the twelve inch essay Snape had assigned.
Moonstone is a sodium potassium aluminium silicate, with the chemical formula...
"Wait," Harry said, staring at the words. "Professor, this has... it has information from... well, it's saying formulas..."
Hat smiled, "Yes, the book's a collection of all information regarding the ingredients, including from the non-magical world. Knowledge is knowledge, regardless of the source."
Harry nodded. It was true. "I just wanted to check. Thank you."
A nod from the teacher and silence reigned in the office as Harry read and Hat worked. Soon, Harry finished the rather long chapter on moonstones and began to write his essay for Snape. It was a little bit before Professor Hat came over. Harry stopped and allowed the man to read what he had written.
He could see that Hat was trying hard to not look at the work horribly, but it was a close thing. "That bad?" Harry asked, his heart sinking. If Professor Hat, who was nice, was looking at it that way, then Snape would have a great time ruining it.
"No, the knowledge is good," Hat said, looking over it. "But the writing structure... hold on." He went to his desk and came back, smiling. "I have an associate that teaches at an university across the pond. He once made a how-to guide for essay writing." Hat muttered a copying spell and handed the parchment to Harry.
"Dr. B's 'How to Write an Essay (the quick and easy way),'" Harry read aloud. He began to read the little guide, wondering what some of the words meant and he was glad they were explained. Thesis statements, opening paragraphs, all of that. With the guidelines and Hat's assistance, Harry had an essay that went over the limit a bit, one that had quotes and details about things he hadn't bothered to think of on his own.
It was longer to write, but Harry found that the work wasn't as boring with someone to make it a bit more interesting and point out things for him. Hat even insisted on him doing the essay about giant wars while he was there and getting books for it. Much like the Potions essay, he had helped Harry with it, insisting on quotes and the like.
A fair amount of time later, Harry reread the essays and shook his head, "Professor Snape is going to think Hermione wrote this for me or something. Professor Malfoy probably won't even notice much though, since I haven't had her before. She'll think it's normal for me."
"It's all in your handwriting and if questioned, you will be able to answer anything that a teacher asks," Hat replied.
Harry smiled and put the essays away and looked at the clock. It wasn't past curfew just yet and he was curious about what they would be doing. Hat gave him a Muggle binder, stating it was easier to keep things organized that way, and Harry was making notes about what he'd like to show the younger students.
"Don't forget you're a student too," Hat said, making Harry look up. "Your OWLs are coming up and people will put a lot of pressure on you."
"What do you recommend?" Harry inquired, curious.
"I have a study guide for my subject," Hat murmured, thinking. "Check the library for the books, use the Quaererespell on the sign of the section."
"So at the sign for the Charms section say Quaerere OWL study guides?" Harry inquired.
Hat nodded and Harry stood up. "I made some notes, for the younger years."
"I'll look over them and let you know what I think tomorrow morning at breakfast," the man said, making Harry grin. "Now off you go. Though might I recommend if you find the books useful, use mail order to buy them?"
That seemed pretty smart. "I didn't think of that. Thanks, Professor," Harry said, leaving and going to the library. At the sign to the Charms section, he was surprised when, after the Quaerere spell had been performed, a little whisp of an arrow appeared. He followed it and was soon holding a book that reminded Harry of cliffnotes for a book. He did this for all his subjects, finding that, to his surprise, there was even a guide for Divination.
Madam Pince was glowering at him and Harry realized he was the last person in the library. Perhaps seeing that he was wondering why she wasn't complaining, she snapped, "You're an assistant."
Oh, right... curfew didn't apply anymore, but Harry didn't want to make Madam Pince upset at him. "Sorry," he said, holding up the study guides. "I was just grabbing these."
A few moments later, Madam Pince checked the books out for him and Harry made a stop in the assistant staff room, putting a note about the Quaerere spell on their bulletin board before he returned to Gryffindor Tower. He didn't see Ron or Hermione, but he did see Neville and the twins talking.
"Hey Harry," Fred and George said. Neville smiled at him.
"Hey," Harry said, sitting with them. He told them about the spell he had learned and Neville seemed interested in the study guides as well due to the fact that he was pretty nervous about his OWLs.
The two studied Charms and Transfiguration for a bit, the twins helping them with Charms. Harry had always thought of them as pranksters, but while being helped, it was easy to see why Flitwick picked them. They were good at explaining things and made it pretty fun to learn and review.
Finally, exhausted, Harry went to sleep, trying to clear his mind as he did so. He would have to see if Professor Hat would practice Occlumency more with him.
The following day dawned just as leaden and rainy as the previous one. Hagrid was still absent from the staff table at breakfast.
"But on the plus side, no Snape today" said Ron. He glanced at Harry, "He was horrible as always."
Harry just nodded, quiet. He wasn't sure how to approach Ron about the situation from yesterday, but it seemed his friend had gotten over his jealousy, which was nice.
Professor Hat approached, greeting everyone and handing Harry the binder. "Seems good. You get the first years tomorrow morning."
Harry's eyes widened, nervous, but he nodded, "Yes sir. Thank you."
Hat just smiled and walked away. Harry noticed Professor Sprout approaching Neville and stating the same thing, making the other boy look at Harry just as nervously as Harry was sure he felt.
Hermione yawned widely and poured herself some coffee. She looked mildly pleased about something, and when Ron asked her what she had to be so happy about, she simply said, "The hats have gone. Seems the house-elves do want freedom after all."
Harry didn't really know what they were talking about, but he was a bit distracted by his breakfast.
"Excuse me," a voice said quietly. "Apprentice Potter, Apprentice Longbottom, may I have a word?"
When Harry looked, it was Theodore Nott standing there. Neville and the twins gave him a grin and he nodded and returned it.
Ron shrugged and looked back at Hermione. "I wouldn't bet on it," Ron told her cuttingly. "They might not count as clothes. They didn't look anything like hats to me, more like woolly bladders."
Hermione looked irritated and Harry thought it would be good to leave. "Sure, Apprentice Nott, let me just finish my tea." He quickly did so, leaving his friends and going to the Entrance Hall with Theodore and Neville. "What is it?"
"Professor Snape has a shipment in Hogsmeade," Theodore explained. "It's pretty large, but I figured since we're the few fifth years, we could get it together, if you'd like. He'd normally get it, but he's got a bunch of things to brew for Madam Pomfrey."
Neville smiled, "I don't mind, if we can have a little detour and get some butterbeer."
Harry smiled too, thinking that he could get some things while there too, "I need to visit the bookstore, but that'd be great. Thanks for thinking of us."
The Slytherin boy looked a bit older than his years, "You stood with me yesterday. It's the least I could do."
"We're all in it together," Harry said, realizing that Theodore was really trying to reach past the boundaries of Houses. "That's what we assistants are supposed to do."
Neville nodded and said, "We'd better get going to Charms. Thanks again."
"I have to run to Defense myself," Theodore said, nodding. "If I need help though, be ready to be bothered." This was said to Harry, who just laughed.
"Trust me, it'll go both ways. I need all the help I can get in Potions."
They left, all going to their classes.
Double Charms was succeeded by double Transfiguration. Professor Flitwick and Professor McGonagall both spent the first fifteen minutes of their lessons lecturing the class on the importance of OWLs.
"What you must remember," said little Professor Flitwick squeakily perched as ever on a pile of books so that he could see over the top of his desk, "is that these examinations may influence your futures for many years to come! If you have not already given serious thought to your careers, now is the time to do so. And in the meantime, I'm afraid, we shall be working harder than ever to ensure that you all do yourselves justice!"
They then spent over an hour reviewing Summoning Charms, which according to Professor Flitwick were bound to come up in their OWL, and he rounded off the lesson by setting them their largest ever amount of Charms homework.
It was the same, if not worse, in Transfiguration.
"You cannot pass an OWL," said Professor McGonagall grimly, "without serious application, practice and study. I see no reason why everybody in this class should not achieve an OWL in Transfiguration as long as they put in the work."
Neville made a sad little disbelieving noise.
"Yes, you too, Longbottom," said Professor McGonagall. "There's nothing wrong with your work except lack of confidence. So… today we are starting Vanishing Spells. These are easier than Conjuring Spells, which you would not usually attempt until NEWT level, but they are still among the most difficult magic you will be tested on in your OWL."
She was quite right; Harry found the Vanishing Spells horribly difficult. He stopped for a bit, thinking about the guide he had read some of. Transfiguration was about focus and intent.
He breathed in deeply, undergoing the same routine he was doing nightly to clear his mind.
Thereisnosnail. He said this firmly to himself repeatedly and did the spell once more, at the same time as Hermione.
"Excellent, Potter, Granger. You each earn ten points."
Harry was grinning at this and Hermione beamed at him. "Great job, Harry."
"Thanks," Harry said quietly.
They were the only two able to successfully Vanish their snails and therefore, the only two not given homework that night.
Lunch was a calm affair, Ron spending it in the library doing homework. Harry didn't understand why their friend hadn't done it yet, but Harry was determined to keep up with his studies this year. He was a TA and he was going to show that it wasn't just a fluke.
And the fact that that horrible Umbridge woman from his trial over the summer was at the staff table, glowering at him and the other teachers.
What she was doing there, nobody had explained. Harry knew she hadn't been there at breakfast.
"There was something about a Ministry Inspector on our bulletin board this morning," the twins said when they heard Harry ask. "Umbritch or something like that? She's just supposed to offer advice and sit in some classes, things like that."
"Oh, thanks," Harry said to them, finishing his lunch and going to Care of Magical Creatures with his friends.
The day had become cool and breezy, and as they walked down the sloping lawn towards Hagrid's cabin on the edge of the Forbidden Forest, they felt the occasional drop of rain on their faces. Professor Grubbly-Plank stood waiting for the class some ten yards from Hagrid's front door, a long trestle table in front of her laden with twigs. As Harry and Ron reached her, a loud shout of laughter sounded behind them; turning, they saw Draco Malfoy striding towards them, surrounded by his usual gang of Slytherin cronies. He had clearly just said something highly amusing, because Crabbe, Goyle, Pansy Parkinson and Millicent Bullstrode continued to snigger heartily as they gathered around the trestle table and, judging by the way they all kept looking over at Harry, he was able to guess the subject of the joke without too much difficulty.
Theodore rolled his eyes at them, as did Blaise Zambini. Both boys nodded to Harry, who smiled at them and the other two Slytherin girls that were determinedly ignoring Malfoy and his cronies.
"Everyone here?" barked Professor Grubbly-Plank, once all the Slytherins and Gryffindors had arrived. "Let's crack on then. Who can tell me what these things are called?"
She indicated the heap of twigs in front of her. Hermione's hand shot into the air. Behind her back, Malfoy did a buck-toothed imitation of her jumping up and down in eagerness to answer a question. Pansy Parkinson gave a shriek of laughter that turned almost at once into a scream, as the twigs on the table leapt into the air and revealed themselves to be what looked like tiny pixieish creatures made of wood, each with knobbly brown arms and legs, two twiglike fingers at the end of each hand and a funny flat, barklike face in which a pair of beetle-brown eyes glittered.
"Oooooh!" said Parvati and Lavender, thoroughly irritating Harry. Anyone would have thought Hagrid had never shown them impressive creatures; admittedly, the Flobberworms had been a bit dull, but the Salamanders and Hippogriffs had been interesting enough, and the Blast-Ended Skrewts perhaps too much so.
"Kindly keep your voices down, girls!" said Professor Grubbly-Plank sharply, scattering a handful of what looked like brown rice among the stick-creatures, who immediately fell upon the food. "So - anyone know the names of these creatures? Miss Granger?"
"Bowtruckles," said Hermione. "They're tree-guardians, usually live in wand-trees."
Harry perked up; he had read a little bit about them in his study guide last night.
"Five points for Gryffindor," said Professor Grubbly-Plank. "Yes, these are Bowtruckles, and as Miss Granger rightly says, they generally live in trees whose wood is of wand quality. Anybody know what they eat? Yes, Mr. Potter?"
"Woodlice, but fairy eggs if they can get them," Harry said, earning a smile from his friend and a slightly surprised look from Ron.
"Good, another five points. So, whenever you need leaves or wood from a tree in which a Bowtruckle lodges, it is wise to have a gift of woodlice ready to distract or placate it. They may not look dangerous, but if angered they will try to gouge at human eyes with their fingers, which, as you can see, are very sharp and not at all desirable near the eyeballs. So if you'd like to gather closer, take a few woodlice and a Bowtruckle - I have enough here for one between three - you can study them more closely. I want a sketch from each of you with all body-parts labeled by the end of the lesson."
It was an easy assignment and when it was finished, they headed to Herbology. To nobody's surprise, Professor Sprout started their lesson by lecturing them about the importance of OWLs. Harry wished all the teachers would stop doing this; even the essays were a bit much. Though luckily, he was caught up and only had the one to worry about now. Tired and smelling strongly of dragon dung, Professor Sprout's preferred type of fertilizer, the Gryffindors trooped back up to the castle an hour and a half later, none of them talking very much; it had been a rather long day.
Harry showered in the Assistants' bathroom and went to dinner. After the meal, he, Neville and Theodore left the school, walking down the path to Hogsmeade, talking about their assignments and the classes.
"Nervous about tomorrow?" Theodore asked as they went into the Three Broomsticks.
"Extremely," Neville confirmed.
"So am I, but Professor Snape just keeps saying that I'll be fine," Theodore said, sighing.
"You will be," Harry said, buying some butterbeer for himself and his friends. "Professor Snape wouldn't have picked you otherwise, his standards are insanely high."
"What did you get on the ICW test?" Neville asked.
Theodore blushed hotly and murmured, "They invited me to join the Most Extraordinary Society of Potioneers. Professor Snape said that made me the youngest person so far, he was invited when he was sixteen."
"That's great," both Neville and Harry said, astonished. Theodore had always been so quiet in class, they never would have expected that he was so excellent at the subject. Perhaps he just liked staying out of the spotlight.
Soon the three were at Honeydukes, where they each bought some sweets, and then to Tomes and Scrolls where they all bought study guides and other books that were recommended by the others for their subjects and just for fun. Harry hadn't read much for fun since he had begun Hogwarts, but even he had to admit some of the books looked interesting.
Finally, they picked up Professor Snape's shipment from the Hogsmeade Post Office and returned to Hogwarts. Together, since it was a bit before curfew, Neville and Harry went to the library, Neville suggesting books that Harry could use for their essay. Soon, they returned to the Gryffindor Common Room and began to work on their Herbology essay, Hermione joining them while Ron frantically began doing other homework.
Finally, Harry picked up his dream journal and stared at it. He finally decided to be a little honest. He didn't really remember his dreams usually, but his nightmares, he could vividly recall. He wrote about one of the dreams he had had in the summer, about the corridors and dead ends. It would probably end up being something about his death, knowing Professor Trelawney, but maybe his tester, Mr. Dawson, would be able to shed some light on them. Harry made a mental note to write to the man and hope he'd answer.
The next morning arrived quickly, and a nervous Harry was eating breakfast when an owl he had never seen before approached him.
"A great horned owl?" Hermione asked.
"I don't know..." Harry answered, confused as it stared at him. There was a child-like scrawl on the envelope, stating Mr. HarryPotter.
He opened the envelope and blinked as dandelions fell out of it. He glanced at the signature before he smiled and read the letter.
Dear Mr. Harry,
We had a picknik. It was nice. I ated a apple. Mommy has plants. They are nice. I had dandeelion salid. It was yummy. I gave you some. Now you can have it too!
Thank you for being nice. I am happy we are friends.
Underneath this, there was a stick figure drawing of presumably Harry and Cecilia, the little girl from his Herbology ICW test.
Hermione chuckled when he handed her and Ron the letter. "That's adorable!"
"Yeah, I wrote to her because she wanted a pen pal," Harry confirmed. "Thanks." He gave the owl some bacon and it flew off. "I want to write to Mr. Dawson too, he was my Divination tester. I'll have to do it after this morning's lessons."
Hermione nodded and soon, a very nervous Harry was making his way to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. He would be teaching the first-year Hufflepuffs and the second-year Ravenclaws today before going to his classes, including the first one he would have with Malfoy's mother. Would she be like Snape was to him? Harry didn't want to deal with two horrible teachers this year, after all.
Clutching the binder with the lesson plans like a lifeline, Harry entered the empty classroom and waited for his first class to arrive.