Long Author Note & Warning about my Bad Writing Habits:

First, the warning – I'm really bad at finishing stuff, and this story is not yet finished. You have been forewarned.

Okay, next! Welcome to the story that popped up and pulled my attention away from Extended Family, back in December. Yes, so for those of you who are all bummed that I haven't updated that one since before the winter holidays, you can blame this story. It popped into my head while sitting in the car for the long 3-days of travel it took to go from the West Coast to Nebraska; continued to drift through my mind over the break, and then consumed my thoughts on the 3-day drive back.

I've been writing it off-and-on since then. I've started and abandoned 3 other stories since then, and keep coming back to this one somehow. I see that as a good sign that my brain is at least somewhat committed to moving forward with it.

I've got loads of ideas for where I want this to go, and shockingly enough, haven't lost interest in it yet, so here I goes – I'm posting it here.

I've been posting it to my AFF account, but if you're under 18 and don't have an account over there, you can't read it, and of course, AFF doesn't have an alerts / story watch system, which sucks. So posting it here will make it a lot easier for people to follow if they care to do that.

I don't intend to edit this version, so there won't be any difference between the two, until a point in time when someone bitches about sexual content. I've seen way more explicit sex stuff on this site before, I'm not seriously worried. Still – its rated M for a reason.

– – – – –

Title: Professor Monroe

Rating: M

Warnings: Underage (Harry is 15)

Status: Not finished

Pairing: Harry/ (um, it's a surprise ;) - Slash

Themes: Politics, gradual conversion of viewpoint, questionable-ethics-Dumbledore, slight Dumbledore-bashing, slash, male/male

Summary: Dumbledore was getting desperate - if he didn't find a teacher to fill the Defense Post soon, the Ministry was going to place one of their own people in the position, and he knew that wouldn't be good under the best of circumstances. But no one was willing to take the post. At the last minute a candidate appears and Dumbledore accepts him with relief.

But who is Professor Monroe, really?

AN: From first glance, this story appears to go AU during the summer after Goblet of Fire. However that is not entirely true – events prior to that were different from cannon as well and will be revealed as part of the story later on.

– –

Professor McGonagall climbed the slowly spinning spiral staircase and knocked tiredly on the large heavy door that was found at the top. A soft 'come in' was heard from the other side and she quickly pushed the door open and quickly found herself in the chair opposite the Headmaster's desk. Said chair was, in her opinion, far too squashy, but it was Albus' office.

"So what's this about the Defense post? You say you've got a candidate?" she asked, getting directly to the point.

"Lemon Sherbet?" Dumbledore asked with a genial smile as he held out a small crystal bowl filled with yellow and white chandies.

She gave a restrained sigh and politely declined.

"Fine then," Dumbledore said setting the small bowl back down on the desk. "And right to the point, of course."

"It's not like we have a lot of time for pleasantries. Term begins in less than three weeks," she pointed out sternly. "And on top of my normal not-inconsiderable summer duties that I take on because you usually spend the summer holidays focusing on your other responsibilities, I've also had to take on all this work with organizing the Order."

"That it does. That it does," Dumbledore said with a tired nod. "And I do usually have the summer months to focus on my duties to the Wizengamot and the ICW, but alas, even I have had to let some of them slide in favor of calling together the Old Lot, warding headquarters, and getting our old network of information back up and running... it has been a trying summer."

McGonagall nodded tiredly and let out a small sigh. "So have you really found a Defense professor? I was beginning to become seriously worried."

"Ah, yes. So was I, actually. In fact, it was beginning to look like Cornelius was about to do something quite rash if I was not able to fill the post by the end of the week."

"Rash? How so?" McGonagall asked, looking mildly worried. The Minister of Magic had already done a great many 'rash' and honestly stupid things over the course of that summer, ever since Harry Potter came back from where ever he disappeared to during the final task, and informed them all that You-Know-Who was back.

"It appears that he was making moves towards having one of his own people placed in the job under the guise of 'educational reform'. It was quite unsettling."

"Good heavens. One of those sycophantic Ministry horrors, teaching? At Hogwarts?"

"Yes, quite. I must admit that I was becoming nearly desperate to find someone to fill the post, but none of my old contacts were willing to take the post, and none of the Order members were in the position to take it either."

Minerva huffed. "Of course not," she said almost bitterly. "Only a fool would want the post. It's no secret that it's cursed."

Albus gave her a look over the top of his glasses, but it had been a great many years since that look had phased Minerva McGonagall.

"So who is it, then?"

Dumbledore reached into one of the drawers of his desk and pulled out a leather bound file. He opened it and pulled out several sheets of parchment and handed them over.

"His name is Maximilian Monroe."

She skimmed over the sheet, frowning slightly. "I vaguely remember him. Quiet boy. Ravenclaw, as I recall it."

Albus hummed and nodded. "He had very high marks, but as you said – he was quiet. Not many people knew him well. He had a muggle father, a witch mother who died when he was six, so he grew up primarily in the muggle world, isolated from magic until he came to Hogwarts. Aside from that, and his grades, I have found very little information about him. He basically vanished from most people's minds after graduation. He tells me that he traveled abroad – being a half-blood and with the war starting to grow violent as it was at the time, it wasn't entirely safe for him in Britain, so I can certainly understand this. He only just returned to Britain in early spring of this year, and got word of our need to fill the post about two weeks ago and contacted me."

"And you've hired him, just like that?" Minerva asked.

"As I said... I may be somewhat desperate to avoid whatever alternative Cornelius would force upon us otherwise. I have done this initial background check and nothing seems out of place, but as I said, he's been traveling abroad and information is limited."

"Oh, I hope this isn't another mistake," Minerva heaved a sigh.

"We have few other alternatives," Albus said gravely.

"I know, Albus. I know. It just seems like it's been one thing after another these last few years. I mean, the post has been cursed for decades, but it's been so much worse the last few years. And we should have seen it! We should have... noticed, or something. I fear we've been complacent. I've grown to expect incompetence and oddities from the Defense teachers, and I just ignored some of the signs. I mean, we should have paid more attention to Quirinus. I can't help but wonder sometimes if we had perhaps caught on early if we could have saved him..."

"You cannot punish yourself like this Minerva. We never could have guessed what was actually afflicting him. No one would have expected that he was possessed. I feared he had chosen to work for Voldemort, but I had no idea the extent of it..." Dumbledore shook his head sadly and sighed.

"Of course we all knew that Gilderoy was a fool and a fraud, but that was another case of being desperate for anyone to fill the post," Minerva said bitterly, rolling her eyes. "Still, I never would have thought he'd attack any of the children... I knew he was incompetent, but I never thought he'd be dangerous."

"Please, Minerva. You cannot go on like this."

"No, Albus. We need to face facts. We have been negligent, and quite simply, the same student keeps paying the price for that negligence, each year. Harry Potter has nearly died every year that he has been here! That is just not right, Albus! Something is seriously wrong!"

"Yes, well unfortunately, Harry is just exceptionally good at getting himself involved in troublesome situations."

Minerva scoffed and shook her head. "I just hope, for that boy's sake, that there's nothing wrong with this one. With You-Know-Who back and no-doubt rebuilding his power, and now all this rubbish that Fudge and the Prophet are throwing about, Harry has enough stress in his life without having to worry about whether or not his Defense professor is secretly planning to kill him."

– –

Harry followed the crowd of students into the Great Hall for the Welcoming Feast and took in the majesty of the room with a small smile. The comfortable familiarity of the setting was only a small consolation, considering the amount of turmoil he still had bubbling through his head. It seemed as if things had been outrageously hectic the last few days – like it had been some insane roller coaster ride, and he'd just been trapped, riding the rails and not knowing when the next turn would come at him.

Being at the Order's headquarters and getting to see Sirius again had been nice, but not quite as welcoming as he'd hoped for. Sirius was bitter and obviously feeling the effects of being cooped up in his miserable childhood home. And there had been the ever-looming threat of his trial at the Ministry. A trial that he'd almost missed entirely, when Fudge went and changed the time without letting him know. He was fortunate the Mr. Weasley had gotten the message and rushed to the lower level when they did.

It was a relief that Harry had managed to get off on all charges in the end, but the way Dumbledore had basically ignored him, refused all eye contact, and darted from the room as soon as things were over with, had been very frustrating and unsettling.

The ride on the Hogwarts Express had even been awkward, what with Ron and Hermione now being prefects and having to disappear off to their meeting, leaving Harry behind with Neville and that odd girl, Luna. Then when they'd arrived at Hogsmeade Station and prepared to board the carriages, Harry had been faced with the horrific sight of the leather-skinned, blackened, skeletal winged-horses. Winged-horses that neither Ron nor Hermione could see. Luna's insisting that she saw them too, and Harry was just as sane as she was, was very little comfort at all, in the end.

The presence of Professor Grubbly-Plank to guide the first-years, instead of Hagrid had been a source for some unsettled discussion during the ride back while they speculated on where their games keeper might be. That thought snapped Harry's attention back to the Hall and he let his eyes trail over the head table in search of his large friend.

He pointed out to Ron and Hermione that Hagrid was, in fact, missing, and the trio debated for a moment on possible explanations for his absence. Harry ended up leaning in and whispering his own theory – that maybe Hagrid wasn't back yet from whatever mission Dumbledore had sent him on for the Order. Hermione still looked worried and dubious.

"Hey, who's that?" Hermione said, pointing towards the Head Table.

Harry followed her gaze and his eyes fell first on Professor Dumbledore, sitting in his high-backed golden chair at the center of the long head table. Next to him was an empty seat where Professor McGonagall would usually sit, but on the other side of that seat was someone that he did not recognize at all.

He appeared tall, although it was hard to tell for sure since he was sitting down. He had very dark brown curtained hair, parted slightly to the side with the smooth wavy fringe brushed back over his ears, and the ends of his hair waved along the nape of his neck at the back. His eyes were a pale blue – a rather striking contrast to his dark hair – and his face had a sort of aristocratic structure with thin lips, defined cheekbones, and a straight nose. His poise was confident with an air of slightly bored interest while he appeared to converse casually with Professor Flitwick.

Harry felt an odd stirring inside him and found it difficult to draw his eyes away from the man. Something about him just called to Harry. Something... something about him – Harry couldn't put a word or even a coherent thought to what he was feeling, but it was strong. It almost made him felt light headed.

"I dunno... new Defense Professor, you s'pose?" Ron asked and Harry blinked a few times before sluggishly pulling his eyes away.

"Yeah, that's probably right..." Harry trailed off as Professor Grubbly-Plank appeared from the side-door and went over to sit in the seat that should have been Hagrid's. Harry frowned deeply, still feeling rather worried.

A minute later and McGonagall appeared through the same anti-chamber door holding the three-legged stool and the ragged old sorting hat. After setting it up and returning to the anti-chamber, she appeared once again, but this time with a group of tiny first years in tow.

Once they were all in a line and the hall had fallen silent, the rip in the front of the hat opened up, and the sorting hat began it's song.

[AN: sorry – I usually avoid reprinting JK's sorting hat songs, but this one is semi-substantial to story progression, so it's here. It's directly from Order of the Phoenix]

In times of old when I was new and Hogwarts barely started
The Founders of our noble school thought never to be parted:
United by a common goal, they had the selfsame yearning
To make the world's best magic school and pass along their learning.

"Together we will build and teach! the Four good friends decided
And never did they dream that they might someday be divided,
For were there such friends anywhere as Slytherin and Gryffindor?
Unless it was the second pair of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw?

So how could it have gone so wrong? How could such friendships fail?
Why, I was there and so can tell the whole sad, sorry tale.

Said Slytherin, "We'll teach just those whose ancestry is purest."
Said Ravenclaw, "We'll teach those whose intelligence is surest."
Said Gryffindor, "We'll teach all those with brave deeds to their name,"
Said Hufflepuff, "I'll teach the lot, and treat them just the same."

These differences caused little strife when first they came to light,
For each of the four founders had a House in which they might take only those they wanted, so,
For instance, Slytherin took only pure-blood wizards of great cunning, just like him,

And only those of sharpest mind were taught by Ravenclaw

While the bravest and the boldest went to daring Gryffindor,

Good Hufflepuff, she took the rest, and taught them all she knew,
Thus the Houses and their founders retained friendships firm and true.

So Hogwarts worked in harmony for several happy years,
But the discord crept among us feeding on our faults and fears.
The Houses that, like pillars four, had once held up our school,
Now turned upon each other and, divided, sought to rule.

And for a while it seemed the school must meet an early end,
What with dueling and with fighting and the clash of friend on friend
And at last there came a morning when old Slytherin departed
And though the fighting then died out he left us quite downhearted.

And never since the founders four were whittled down to three
Have the Houses been united as they once were meant to be.
And now the Sorting Hat is here and you all know the score:
I sort you into Houses because that is what I'm for,
But this year I'll go further, listen closely to my song:
Though condemned I am to split you still I worry that it's wrong,
Though I must fulfill my duty and must quarter every year
Still I wonder whether sorting may not bring the end I fear.

Oh, know the perils, read the signs, the warning history shows,
For our Hogwarts is in danger from external, deadly foes
And we must unite inside her or we'll crumble from within
I have told you, I have warned you.
Let the sorting now begin

The song came to an end and the expected applause rang out, but for the first time that Harry could recall, it was stilted and interspersed with muttering and heads turned in to whisper.

The chatter was cut short by a hard glare from Professor McGonagall, and once the hall had fallen silent, she called out the first name, and the sorting began. Harry's mind was torn between pondering the Sorting Hat's rather foreboding song and letting his eyes wander back up to the head table to the unknown new professor.

Harry had to shake his head and blink several times on a few occasions as he found himself staring at the man for too long. He ran a hand through his hair, blinking and trying to rid himself of the odd foggy feeling in his head. Finally the sorting ended and Dumbledore stood up gaining everyone's attention.

He welcomed the new comers and welcomed back everyone else. A simple 'tuck in' was all that was needed for the food to appear and Ron eagerly began loading up his plate with chops. Hermione questioned Nearly Headless Nick about the sorting hat's song and previous times when it had made such warnings and the ghost replied that it had happened several times before – always during times when great danger was on the horizon, and always it's advice was the same – pull together and unite, or collapse from within.

Chatter quickly filled the hall as people caught up on summer activities, exclaimed about new hair cuts, and generally got reacquainted with each other after the two and a half month long holiday. Harry had been with Ron and Hermione for the majority of the last month, so there was no reacquainting to be done there, and he couldn't exactly tell any one else about the fact that he'd been living in the secret headquarters of a vigilante group, so he didn't have a lot to talk about to those around him either. Instead he listened as Dean and then Lavender recounted the highlights of their vacations.

After what didn't feel like all that long at all, the puddings had vanished and Dumbledore once again stood up.

"Now that we are all watered and fed, I do have a few start of term announcements to make," Dumbledore began. "Mr. Filch the caretaker has asked me once again to remind you that there is no magic to be used in the halls. Also the list of banned items has once again been expanded and a full copy can be found on the wall outside Mr. Filch's office. Students are also reminded that the Forbidden Forest is named so for a reason, and is forbidden. Those interested in playing Quidditch for their house teams should speak with Madam Hooch. She will be helping the team captains in preparing any tryouts that need to be conducted. Such tryouts will be held the second week of term.

"Now that that is out of the way, I have two notices about staff to announce. First I would like for everyone to welcome back Professor Grubbly-Plank who has been so kind as to come on board again to take over the duties of Professor Hagrid while he is out of the country on personal matters. Professor Hagrid should be returning later this year, but until then, Professor Grubbly-Plank will be handling the Care of Magical Creatures classes."

There was applause at this announcement, and quite a bit of enthusiasm from the Ravenclaws and Slytherins that Harry did not appreciate one single bit.

"Next I would like you all to welcome the new Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor, Maximilian Monroe." Dumbledore waved his hand in gesture towards the man in question and he stood up and gave a quick and simple nod of his head before moving to resume his seat.

This announcement also garnered quite a bit of quiet murmuring around the hall, but mostly because everyone always whispered and wondered about Defense professors. Of course this also once again drew Harry's gaze to the man as he had made his simple gesture of greeting.

He was tall, and Harry still got that powerful impression of calm confidence radiating off the man. It seemed to strike some kind of unconscious chord within Harry. Something was just drawing his interest to the man, and he had no idea why.

Things drew to a close after that and the prefects were instructed to lead the first years to their new dorms, which meant that Ron and Hermione had to separate from Harry. Harry was still stewing rather bitterly over this particular development, if he were honest with himself. He still couldn't understand how Ron could possibly be seen as more deserving or better qualified for the position than Harry was. Even now, Ron was complaining to Hermione about letting the sixth year prefects deal with the firsties. He clearly didn't take the responsibility seriously, and Harry knew that he and Ron's grades were basically the same, so it wasn't academics either.

Harry huffed out a frustrated breath and joined the throngs of people leaving the Great Hall.

The following morning Harry and Ron went down to the common room, were joined by Hermione and then made their way to the Great Hall for breakfast. They got their schedules from McGonagall and made plans to return to the tower in order to get the correct books and supplies for their first day of classes.

First was simple enough – it was History of Magic – but second block was double-potions followed by lunch. Divination and then Defense followed after that. Harry was dreading History and Potions... and Divination, for that matter. The only potential bright spot was Defense, but that would depend entirely on how competent their new professor was.

The day progressed much as Harry had anticipated it to. History was a bore and Ron looked highly tempted to try and use the class for a good nap. Snape had spent the majority of the class doing 'review' questions from the previous term that Harry didn't honestly recall ever having covered before, and then calling them all worthless pathetic dunderheads and taking copious amounts of points from Gryffindor.

Divination was just as much a joke as it had been the previous two years and Harry once again questioned whether or not the supposed 'easy O' was really worth the headache and mortification that came with being Trelawney's favorite target for her foreboding 'visions' of his imminent death.

Finally last block arrived and Harry and Ron met up with Hermione in order to go to Defense.

"So you s'pose this one'll try to kill Harry, too?"Ron asked in a casual conversational tone as the three walked down the halls.

"Ron!" Hermione exclaimed in horror and annoyance. "You cannot just joke around about things like that!"

"Why not? I mean, it's not exactly a great track record, is it?" Ron said. "Quirrell turned out to have You-Know-Who growing out the back of his head. Lockheart tried to Obliviate us and run away when things got dangerous. Lupin, while a nice enough guy most of the time, but he did try to eat us in the end,"


"Whut? It's true!"

"It was hardly his fault, though," Hermione argued insistently. "And he certainly never wanted to hurt Harry."

"Yeah, fine, fine. But then Moody turned out to not be Moody at all, but a Death Eater. That's four Defense Teachers who all tried to kill Harry."

"Lockheart didn't try to kill you, and neither did Professor Lupin – not intentionally," she amended.

"Whatever," Ron said, rolling his eyes.

Harry just sighed in annoyance at their bickering and especially at the subject matter and walked a bit faster.

"In any case, Ronald, I'm sure that Professor Dumbledore was a bit more cautious about who he hired for the post this time," Hermione was saying as Harry got out of ear shot and came to the entrance of the Defense classroom. Harry came up short upon entering the room when he found it considerably altered from any previous years arrangements.

First and most obvious was the size of the room. He would swear that it was considerably larger than it had been in the past. The sorts of desks he was used to finding in Hogwarts classrooms had been replaced with two long curved rows of seats that had those tiny attached writing surfaces on the front side – the sort he'd seen on the telly and in pictures of desks sometimes used in university lecture halls. The desks were close together – the only exception being a small isle down the center of the room from the door.

With only two long rows of desks, it left a very large amount of the room open. There was a tall wooden podium at the center directly in front of the desks, but behind the podium the room continued on and there were rows of mats on the floor, all along one side, and along the opposite wall were what appeared to be practice dummies of some sort, like clothing mannequins used by seamstresses. Harry's eyes widened and his interest was instantly piqued. A grin found it's way onto his face and he eagerly walked forward, sitting in the front-row aisle seat. Ron and Hermione entered behind him and both also paused to take in the space before coming over and sitting next to Harry – Ron first and then Hermione.

"What do you suppose is up with this room?" Ron asked, looking bewildered.

"Isn't it obvious?" Hermione said, sounding exasperated already. "He obviously intends for our lessons to have a more practical aspect."

"Practical?" Ron echoed still looking confused.

"We'll be dueling," Harry said excitedly, and Ron's face lit up with understanding and excitement.

"You really think so?"

"Why else would there be dummies, if not for target practice? And the mats wouldn't be there if there wasn't going to be people falling down, so we'll be shooting spells at each other too!" Harry said, and Ron's grin only grew wider.

It was a double-block period of Gryffindors and Ravenclaws and the room filled up quickly. The chimes in the bell towers rang, signaling the start of class and people were still talking with hushed excitement as everyone speculated about the class.

Finally the door in the back opened up again and Professor Monroe strode in down the center and up to the podium in a confident, powerful stride. Harry's eyes were instantly locked on the man and he felt his chest swelling with something akin to excited anticipation. Even his heart rate raised. The man was wearing all black, but his robes were in a unique style Harry hadn't really seen much. Where as most of the professors wore large billowing robes that flowed all the way to the ground, Professor Monroe was wearing a very form-fitted outfit. The upper torso had a high collar with tiny buttons going down the center until just below his waist where the form-fitting nature shifted into a flared bottom that draped down only about to his knees. He wore fine pressed black slacks and shiny black shoes.

He came off as both somewhat intimidating, but also extremely proper and confident. And yet somehow Harry wasn't put off by the whole thing. He didn't come off to Harry as arrogantly-posh the way wizards like Malfoy's father did. Instead he almost felt like someone who had earned the right to be proud and confident. Harry really wasn't sure where that impression came from though. Especially since he didn't know a thing about the man.

Professor Monroe settled in and set some parchment down onto the podium before looking up at the students who were now all sitting in silence and watching him expectantly.

"I suppose I'll begin by welcoming you all the fifth year iteration of the class known as Defense Against the Dark Arts. I'm Professor Monroe and I will be your instructor for the year. I am not naïve enough to assume outright that I will be returning for next year, although I wouldn't be opposed to the idea. I simply prefer to be practical and realistic, and given history, it doesn't seem entirely likely. As such I am going to do my utmost to try and make sure that you are caught up to where you should be for your year level, and are sufficiently prepared in the unfortunate case that whoever fills this post next year is an incompetent moron."

There were a few snickers around the room at this statement and Harry found his spirits rising with slowly growing hope for this class.

"To begin things, I need to know exactly what level you are presently at, and seeing as how none of my predecessors appear to have left behind any notes or lesson plans, I'm afraid the only way to do this is to give you all a test."

The classroom was filled with groans and Professor Monroe whipped his wand, seemingly out of nowhere and gave it a simple flick sending the parchment he'd put on the podium flying across the room until a single sheet of parchment had landed on each of the students tiny little side-desks.

"This is only the written portion of the test. The other portion will be a practical exam. While there may be some level of value in being able to spout off obscure historical facts and about who created what spell and for what motive, or what obscure object or spell will cause a dangerous creature or plant to submit to you, it does a person no real good if they are put face to face with an opponent and find themselves unable to actually cast an appropriate spell.

"I do not expect anyone in here to be able to answer every question on the test, and the results of it will not effect your grade. You will notice that the written exam in front of you is split into two parts. The first part has questions that the Ministry expects you to know, but that I do not honestly think are all the important or even valid to the subject matter. If it were up to me, I wouldn't even cover some of them at all since I have far more important things to cover and a limited time to do it in, however these questions may also be on your OWL exams, and it is also my job to make sure that you all become qualified witches and wizards. And that means passing your OWLs. If you encounter any of these questions that you do not know the correct answer to, leave it blank. Don't even bother to guess – chances are that common sense and conjecture won't lead you to the Ministry approved 'correct' answer. If they're blank, I know that I need to make sure you learn them.

"The second page are skills and spells that you should be academically familiar with by the time you reach this level in your education. If you encounter one of these questions that you do not know the answer to, I want you to give me your best, educated guess. One thing that I will be encouraging in my class is critical thinking and creative reasoning and problem solving. I suppose that's enough lecture for now, you have thirty minutes. Begin."

And with that abrupt end, everyone scrabbled for quill and ink from their bags and began to examine the sheet of parchment before them.

Harry began writing quickly, feeling an urgent need to do well on the test. He was a bit disheartened early on when he found that he didn't know the answer to about a third of the questions on the first sheet. The number of blanks left him feeling rather pathetic and stupid. Just the same, some of them seemed rather silly. How was anyone supposed to remember which of a Runespores three heads was the planner, which was the dreamer, and which one was venomous? Well, okay, knowing which head was venomous was probably important, so you knew which one to avoid the most, but Harry thought the smartest thing to do when encountering a Runespore would be to just avoid the whole thing all together.

Or maybe in his case, try to convince it to leave him be, but most people didn't have the option of trying that.

Harry finally flipped the paper over, giving up on the first section as a lost cause. His spirits raised instantly as he found he was far more familiar with the topics asked in the second section. He'd done a lot of cramming the previous year for hexes, jinxes, and various defensive spells, in hopes of surviving the last task of the tournament, and for the first time since that awful day, he felt like he could put some of that knowledge to use.

He finished up the last question with a few minutes to spare, and set his quill down feeling better. Even Professor Monroe had said that the first part of the test was less important in any real-world application of Defense. Of course, Harry realized, he would still have to learn some of that stuff since this was his OWLs year, and he wanted to do well on his final exams too. But things were different now. Voldemort was back and there were more important things than passing tests. They needed to learn to fight and defend themselves, and it seemed, so far at least, that this new Professor agreed with that sentiment.

Harry found himself smiling rather widely as he sat back in his chair and let his eyes wander the room until they once again fell on Professor Monroe.

The professor was sitting at a desk that sat against the side wall about ten feet to the left of his podium. He was writing on a piece of parchment with quick smooth flourishes of a black feather quill. There was a little device on his desk that looked like a spinning top. It had been spinning perfectly this entire time but suddenly it stopped and fell to the side on it's point. Professor Monroe set down his quill and stood up. "Times up," he called out and the sound of hurriedly scribbling quills slowly settled down as a few stragglers tried to finish up.

Professor Monroe made a small efficient jerk of his wand and every one of the sheets was pulled off the students desks – even right out from beneath their quills – and flew across the room and formed a neat pile on his desk.

"Next we will have a practical exam, but first I want to have a small discussion. Consider this an exercise in critical thinking. Who can tell me what they think is the most dangerous thing that an adult, qualified, witch or wizard could come across?"

He paused and looked around the silent class expectantly. Slowly a few hands raised into the air.

"Yes you, what's your name?"

"Er, Seamus Finnegan"

"Well, Mr. Finnegan – what do you think might be the most dangerous thing that an adult, qualified wizard could come face-to-face with is?"

"Uhm, well a Dragon?"

"A dragon is quite dangerous, however it is certainly not the most dangerous thing you could come across. Dragons are classified by the Ministery as a class five dangerous creature, but so is a Nundu. A dragon can be taken down by stunners from twenty wizards working together. A nundu has never been taken down by less than 100. Anyone else? Yes, you – Mr – ?"

"Terry Boot."

"Mr. Boot. What do you think is the answer to this question?"

"A Nundu?"

There were some snickers at this.

Professor Monroe smirked in amusement but shook his head. "No, I'm afraid not. While both Nundu and Dragons are horribly dangerous creatures, there is one sure-fire way to escape from both of them completely unharmed. Can anyone tell me what it is?"

There was silence.

"It's the same way to escape from an Acromantula, or a Basilisk, or a Chimera. All level 5 dangerous creatures. No one can guess?

Again, there wasn't a single person raising their hand. Not even Hermione, who looked entirely puzzled and frustrated.

"Apparition," he said finally with a smirk. "You run away. I know that's a concept that many Gryffindors might have trouble grasping, but when it's your life on the line and you're faced with an opponent that you have no hope of defeating on your own, the best option is always to leave. The best thing about all of these creatures it that they are just that – Creatures. They each have magical traits and abilities, but not a single one of them can cast an anti-apparition charm, or establish an anti-apparition ward."

Hermione's hand went up and he nodded.

"But what if you are in an area that already has anti-apparition wards erected?"

"Ah, good question. The answer would be to carry an emergency portkey on you, or make a portkey out of a small object where ever you are that you have encountered the dangerous beast in question."

"But that's illegal!" Hermione gasped. "Portkey use is a controlled form of magical transportation. All portkeys have to be issued and approved by the Ministry."

Harry wasn't sure, but he was fairly sure that the professor had only just barely refrained from rolling his eyes. As it was, Harry didn't refrain.

"I would care less about getting a fine from the Ministry if my life were on the line. Also, despite what certain people would like you to believe, the Ministry cannot track the use of low-powered portkeys within the boundaries of the British Isles. An international portkey requires a significant enough power that their spells can detect that – and chances are that few of you would even be capable of making one – but personal-use portkeys are not traceable, and honestly not all that hard to make, you just have to find someone to teach you since all the materials that explain it have been censored by the Ministry. Portkeys can also work through anti-apparition wards. Even Hogwarts own wards cannot stop a portkey."

Harry felt a sickly chill run down his spine as he was reminded of the last time he'd used a portkey. It hadn't even occurred to him at the time, but the Quidditch pitch, and therefore the maze for the third task, was within the boundaries of Hogwarts wards. He'd been both transported out of the wards and then back into them when he returned.

It made him wonder suddenly why Crouch hadn't simply turned one of his homework assignments into a portkey and just handed it to him in class. Why go to so much outrageous trouble as setting up the whole task just to get Harry to grab the cup? Especially since there was a chance that Harry might not be the one to win and get to it first. He quickly pushed it from his mind, frustrated and upset by the whole matter.

"The catch here is that in order to create a portkey into a warded area, you have to have magical right of access to the wards. So while a portkey can go through Hogwarts's apparition wards, the headmaster of Hogwarts is the only one who can create a portkey that has a destination within the school's wards. Creating a portkey that can take a person from inside the school wards to another location, however, can be done by anyone – although a two-way portkey is one way to get around this limitation," Professor Monroe continued.

"Creating a portkey that will take you into an open and abandoned field with no wards around it at all, can be done by anyone who has ever been to that field. If ever you expect to be going into a potentially life-threatening situation, the most prudent course of action is to create an emergency portkey ahead of time and wear it around your neck with an activation word that you won't say on accident.

"Now, with all of this in mind – can you tell me what would be the most dangerous thing to encounter?"

Again the room was silent as people frowned in thought and confusion.

A thought occurred to Harry and he slowly raised his hand.

"Yes, Mr. Potter?"

"Uhm... is there a spell that can prevent a person from using a portkey?"

Professor Monroe grinned. "There is. But even if you don't know the spell, can you think of any other ways of keeping a person from using a portkey?"

"Summoning the portkey away from them?"

"Yes! Any others?"

"Uh... oh, casting a silencio?"

"Again, yes! Of course this only works if the portkey is a word-triggered one and not a contact activated portkey."

Harry nodded and grinned. "Okay, then it's a wizard. The most dangerous thing you might have to face is another wizard."

Monroe beamed. "Precisely! Ten points to Gryffindor. Mr. Potter has stumbled upon precisely the point I am trying to make. If you are facing any number of magical creatures, there are always several options at your disposal for running away or shielding yourself. You, as an intelligent and creative being, have numerous options at your disposal, while the creature or plant does not. However when you are put face-to-face with another witch or wizard then you are left with pitting your ingenuity and skill against theirs. Can you be sure that you're the better man? Or woman, as it were?

"Fighting against another witch or wizard has the potential of being the most dangerous situation you might find yourself in. Wizards are unpredictable. They can be creative. They can be ruthless. A creatures' motives are usually very simple to work out. Their desire is survival. They want to eat, they want to breed, they want to protect their offspring, they want to protect themselves or their territory. But a wizards' motives can often be far more complex and more difficult to determine.

Now, let me pose you all another question and then we will move onto our practical exam. If another witch or wizard shoots the killing curse at you, what can you do to save yourself?"

There was a pause before Hermione raised her hand into the air.

"Yes, Ms...?"

"Hermione Granger."

"Yes, Ms. Granger?"

"You could transfigure something into a reflective metal surface – ideally polished gold – and summon it into the path of the spell," Hermione said proudly.

A few people in the class looked impressed while a few others just looked surprised, apparently having never heard that something like this could work.

"An interesting proposition," Professor Monroe said slowly. He walked over to his desk and picked up a small smooth river rock that he appeared to be using as a paper weight. He walked over and placed it on the tiny surface of Hermione's desk before walking back over to his own desk. He picked up the spinning top-thing he'd used earlier and began to spin it on his desk.

"Transfigure that into a polished reflective metal, or a suitable equivalent," he commanded.

Hermione blinked in surprise before quickly fumbling for her wand and aiming it at the rock. Before the rock had even begun to change it's color, Monroe had his wand out, aimed it at her and a glowing white light shot out of it, across the room, and impacted Hermione's chest.

Several students gasped or screamed while many others jumped in shock.

Harry nearly jumped out of his seat as he looked over at Hermione who simply looked shocked. There was no obvious sigh of the light having done anything.

"Hermione!" Ron yelled out. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine, I'm fine," she insisted still looking shocked as she checked herself over for any sighs of damage.

"It was just a bit of light. Empty magic. Nothing more," Professor Monroe said and the class slowly calmed down. "However it moves through the air just as fast as the killing curse does." His hand came down and he stopped the spinning top. Harry wondered if it had really been nothing more than a diversion.

"Can anyone else suggest a way to avoid being hit by a killing curse?"

Hesitantly, Harry raised his hand. All eyes turned to him and he felt heat rise on the back of his neck under the intensely uncomfortable scrutiny.

"Mr. Potter," Monroe called on him.

"Dodge? Er, you know – get out of the way."

Again, Monroe beamed rather widely and Harry felt a sense of pleased exhilaration rise in his chest at the apparent approval.

"Again, you've hit it right on the head. Another five points to Mr. Potter. While Ms. Granger's suggest is technically valid – if you have access to an appropriate material and can get it summoned into the path of a killing curse, it can technically, stop the curse before it gets to you – however it is not practical. In fact, many of the supposedly 'correct' answers to the questions on the first page of your exam are far from practical. One question you could potentially expect to see on your OWLs exam is how to best subdue a dragon by yourself. Does anyone know the answer to this question?"

Again, there was silence.

"Pixie dust," he said with an amused little grin. "It will knock a dragon out cold. All you have to do is actually have pixie dust on hand – and it is extraordinarily hard to get in large quantities – and then you have to get the dragon to breath it in without simply burning it into smoke with their fire breath. Technically pixie dust can subdue a dragon. However it is hardly practical. This is a consistent trend among magic users. They find a convoluted but clever way to deal with a problem, and then they're overly proud of themselves for the accomplishment without ever questioning whether or not the thing is even practical in a real-world situation.

"Practicality, efficiency, creativity and critical thinking. Those are the traits that I prize most in my class, and it is those traits that I will reward most. Now, I want everyone to stand up and follow me." Monroe walked into the back half of the classroom and motioned for them all to follow. "Gryffindors along this line facing the wall. Ravenclaws along the wall facing the Gryffindors," he said and everyone had quickly done as instructed.

It did not escape anyone's notice that they were standing on padded flooring.

Harry found himself standing opposite Sarah Fawcett. Ron beside him was opposite Anthony Goldstien and Hermione was opposite Padma Patil.

"You should now be standing opposite your new partner. Each one of you needs to pick a number – either one or two. Decide it between the two of you now," Monroe called out calmly.

Harry blinked and gave a bit of a shrug to Fawcett. "Um... do you have a preference?"

"I'll be two, I guess," she said with a shrug of her own.

"Okay, fine."

Quiet chatter continued on for a minute longer before Monroe called out again. "Everyone ready? Okay, good. The number one's will now try to disarm their partner. Is there anyone who does not know the spell?"

Harry was surprised to see a few hesitant hands climb into the air. Professor Monroe did a quick demonstration for them and they were set to the task. Their test continued on like that for some time longer. The number one's would go for several minutes before it would switch and the other partner would try. Not everyone could do it... in fact, Harry was shocked at just how many people seemed incapable of disarming their partner at all.

After disarming spells were tested, he had them try stunners, then petrificus totalus, then impedimente, then incarcerous, followed by several others. Very little time was given for practice – Professor Monroe was simply testing to see if they could successfully fire the spells within a time limit of three to five minutes so that he would know what areas would need to most focus later on.

Harry was thrilled with the fact that every spell they'd covered so far was a spell he'd mastered last spring or earlier, in preparation for the task. Even after a summer without using magic, he had managed every one of the spells on the first try, and Professor Monroe gave him another five points for his success. Fifteen points on the first day of classes wasn't bad at all, as far as Harry was concerned. It even made up for the ten points that Snape had taken from him for no reason at all in potions that morning.

Hermione had also gotten all the spells, although it had taken her a couple tries to get impedimente to work correctly. She still got five points, as did Su Li from Ravenclaw.

The end of class was approaching and things were settling down. Everyone left the open portion of the classroom to return to their desks while Professor Monroe bent over his desk making notes on a sheet of parchment.

"One last thing before you all leave," he called out, standing up and addressing them all. "I have been granted permission from the headmaster to start a new club."

Several students perked up in interest, Harry was one of them.

"Don't go making assumptions," Monroe scolded gently with a smirk. "It is not a dueling club, but rather a speech and debate club. In this classroom you will hone your magical combat skills, but in the debate club students will hone their verbal skills and their minds. It is an avenue to practice and improve your skills in public speaking for some, but it also poses an opportunity to expand your critical thinking skills, and exercise your mind and spur-of-the-moment creativity. I know it doesn't sound all that interesting to some of you, but I highly recommend any and all of you to come and check it out. Also, for any students who participate in the debates, there will be voting held and the 'winner' of the debate will earn a varying number of house points. Just a bit of incentive for you all to think over. Notices will be placed in each of the common room notice boards with details, later this week."

This got a lot of interested murmuring going around the room – mostly among the Ravenclaws. The sound was cut off by the sound of the chimes ringing in the bell tower and the hustle of everyone standing from their desks and talking excitedly.

"Oh, I'm so excited!" Hermione exclaimed as she, Harry and Ron exited the class.

"Yeah, can you imagine it? A defense professor that seems to know his stuff, and isn't completely off his rocker. We'll even get to practice dueling!" Ron gushed.

"Not that, Ron – although that really is quite exciting too. I was talking about a debate club!" Hermione exclaimed.

Ron gave her an incredulous look. "Are you barmy? Why would you be excited over that? You seriously want to join that stupid thing?

"Oh, you are hopeless, Ronald Weasley!" she exclaimed in exasperation. She turned her hopeful gaze on Harry. "Will you consider attending it with me, Harry? Please? I just have to go, but it'd be so much more fun if you came with."

Harry hesitated, cringing slightly. Public speaking was definitely not something he enjoyed... at all. But maybe he wouldn't have to actually engage in any of the debates and could just watch.

"As long as it doesn't interfere with Quidditch practice," he replied and she beamed and nodded.

"Of course. So what did you two think of Professor Monroe? I, for one, was very impressed."

"Yeah, he was brilliant!" Harry agreed enthusiastically. "He's got this commanding presence and he really comes off as someone who knows what he's talking about. And he really made sense too. It wasn't just rubbish for the sake of grades, but teaching us things that are important for our survival in dangerous situations. Real-life applicable stuff."

"Well, the grades are important too," Hermione said in a reproving sort of tone and Harry just gave her an exasperated nod of his head in resigned acceptance. "This is our OWLs year, Harry. I expect you and Ron to start taking your studies more seriously!" her pointed gaze fell back on Ron again and he flinched and grimaced.

"Well in any case, I've got higher hopes for Defense then I did before," Harry said, grinning.

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