AN: rowanlyn-mirrim, thank you for the poking.
Kudos to anyone who can see you the spell Harry cast's relates to his animagus form!
Chapter Twenty-Six: Beginning the year
Neville and Luna were out of the train first; neither had luggage with them in the compartment, like Harry, who had sent everything but Hedwig ahead with Dobby. The snowy owl had already headed off, opting to fly from Hogsmeade to the Owlery, so he just had his rucksack and her cage to worry about. Hermione and Ron both had animal cages and trunks and bags of their own, leaving Harry to help the little firsties. They had returned to the compartment from their explorations just as the train pulled into the station. The louder of the two looked a little angry, while the other (Isaac?) was polite but stiff and, apparently, equally upset. After handing them off to Hagrid, and getting a bone crushing hug off the half-giant in return, he bolted to catch up with his friends. Buckbeak would be arriving by portkey on the weekend; he'd have time to catch up with the gameskeeper then.
He greeted their Thestral briefly and then climbed into the open carriage; for once, it wasn't raining. Their number had grown with the addition of the other sixth-year Gryffindor boys and the chatter was light, if not a little raucous. It wasn't until they reached the Entrance Hall that Harry's thoughts were once more tainted by war; Draco Malfoy stood, foul tempered and snarling, talking to Pansy Parkinson about something called the 'Slug Club'. This recalled an incident on the train, where Ginny and Neville had gone off on the invitation of the new potions Professor, an invitation that Harry had politely declined; his interest in potions was incidental at best and he couldn't bring himself to go. Perhaps playing hard to get would work in his favour anyway; Dumbledore hadn't exactly specified how Slughorn was involved in the search for the Horcruxes.
Ginny had said nothing about Malfoy being there, which she would of if he had, so Harry could only assume that Draco, once the treasured pupil of the previous Potions Master, was feeling spurned. The young heir was already on the anvil, waiting for the hammer, and Severus' support in his favourite subject was now gone. As Harry lingered by the student trunks that were piling up in the Entrance Hall, he caught a hint of the bitterness in the blondes' voice. Anger too, and fear; because that was just what they needed, an angry and impotent Malfoy clattering around a school full of children.
Harry made a show of spotting his trunk and putting his school bag with his muggle clothes and chess set away in his trunk. Dobby popped it upstairs, then, integrating seamlessly back into the workforce of Hogwarts.
"C'mon, Harry! Hermione wants to sit near the first years." Ron called, and Harry followed them in. It was a break in tradition for non-prefects to trouble themselves with first years, but Harry and Ron hadn't sat apart from Hermione in a long time.
As they strolled up the space between Ravenclaw and Gryffindor, leaving Luna behind at her table and Neville and Ginny with the other Fifth and Sixth years, Harry had eyes on the Teachers table. Dumbledore looked healthy enough and Severus was glaring down at the rabble like he always did. McGonagall was already striding towards the side entrance; the one that came up from the docks, so Harry hurried to tuck himself onto a chair. Once she was half way across the floor, Hagrid's booming knocks silenced the assembled students and sent the last few to their seats.
The Hat's warning was stark to those paying attention and the Sorting was as quick as always. The two boys from the train were sorted into Gryffindor and Slytherin, unfortunately enough, and the louder one, Tristan, (Gryffindor, shock, horror) seemed angry at that, but otherwise, the feast began without incident.
There was a great deal of greetings and catching up to do that evening, settling first years for Hermione and Ron; Prefects both. Harry let the war lie for the entire evening as he chattered and laughed with friends not seen for the whole holiday.
When he Occluded that night, he felt a frisson of unease; his mind was peaceful, and that could be very, very dangerous. It was with much regret that he deliberately brought to mind his Godfather and his body wept silently and in perfect stillness until he fell into a turbulent sleep.
When he woke up for his first day back at Hogwarts, the sky was still dark and his nightmare thrummed through him; Dementors again. He'd have thought that being back would help, but no, Dementors and Sirius. His throat wasn't sore and no one was waking so he hadn't screamed at least. Small mercies. One benefit was that he could have as long a shower as he wanted without getting squawked at. There was another bottle of shampoo in his trunk that he hadn't packed, labelled in Severus' handwriting, which made him smile.
When he emerged from the shower, smelling like cinnamon and with a ridiculously soft but equally ridiculously messy mop on his head, the others were starting to wake up. Ron snored on, but Neville was dressed. Seamus claimed the bathroom and Dean had flopped back onto his bed with what looked like a last minute bit of homework.
"'morning," he mumbled, dumping pyjamas on the bed and his towel on the rail around the stove.
"'morning Harry." Neville replied in a normal voice; no one whispered for Ron's benefit anymore, he could sleep through just about anything. "Sleep alright?"
He shrugged and leaned over his bed to pick up the plant pot Neville had given him for his birthday, "Look, I told you I wouldn't kill it!"
"'m glad. Has it started glowing yet? I'll give it a feed later." The budding Herbologist said, touching one of the lighter leaves gently.
"Not that I've noticed, maybe it just needs a bit of a boost, right?" Neville nodded and Harry put the plant back where Dobby had put it; it'd catch the light there. Since they didn't have their timetables yet, it was one of those days where they had to pack all their books so Harry went rummaging. Since Dobby had insisted on doing his packing, he had no idea where anything was, and his trunk seemed bigger inside than usual; it'd have to be if the elf had actually packed all the robes he'd bought.
By the time he was levering a stack of parchment into his groaning bag, Ron was beginning to mumble; a sure sign he was about to wake up. "OI RON. BACON."
The red head shot up with an undignified snort and then fell out of bed when his legs got caught on the edge of the mattress.
He should have known that they'd have potions first thing. It was practically inevitable. He seriously hoped Severus wouldn't mind that he'd pinched his copy of Advanced Potions Making, but his explanations were just better than the 'official' ones.
The class was laid out differently, and the drapes were open for once, which was just wrong (he hadn't realised that the Dungeons were in the cliff face over the lake), and there weren't any potions ingredients on the racks around the walls. AND it smelled like Severus, Harry hadn't realised how much he liked that smell until it his him full in the face.
There was a row of cauldrons, ranging from the size of a fist to two feet across with, and he frowned as he walked past the middle one; the smell of Severus seemed to be coming from the potion inside. He leaned over and took a deep breath; yeah! Whatever the smell was, it was thick, and rich and heady.
"Careful now, Mr Potter; you wouldn't want to be dosed with that particular potion!" He jerked away from the shimmering pink gloop, startled by how close he had gotten.
"Professor! Um, nice to meet you, sir." He said, slightly dazed and still surrounded by the potion's fumes.
"Indeed, Mr Potter, thank you kindly for your letter. Perhaps I will be able to show my gratitude by the end of the lesson, ei what?" He said with something that, in a decidedly disturbing way, could be described as a wink.
Harry backed away with an awkward smile and turned to join Hermione. He was nearly the last in but she had kept a seat for him. She wasn't exactly pleased that he was using Snape's old book; unfair advantage, and all that, but Harry had countered with the idea that if it wasn't for his notoriety, everyone else would be using these recipes and such it was everyone else who was at an unfair disadvantage. She had frowned and bickered at that, but Harry wasn't about to give it up.
"As you have all noticed, the classroom smells particularly fine this morning! Mr Crabbe, what do you smell?" Slughorn was starting, so Harry got his cauldron out as quietly as he could and turned to the page listed on the board.
"Uh, grass. 'n broom polish." The hulk grunted from beside Draco.
"Mr Thomas, what do you smell?" The class were starting to frown in confusion a little, and Hermione had that Look, when she knew what was going on, but hadn't been asked anything for it to be an answer to.
"Uh," he was actually blushing, "Flowers. I guess?"
"Yes, yes, Mr Thomas, flowers it may be. Do any of you smell the same scent as either Mr Crabbe, or Mr Thomas?" Harry realised that he must have taken roll before he arrived, which made him just a little irritated; he didn't want special treatment, but couldn't protest because of Dumbledore's request. Slughorn was still talking; it took him whole minutes to say things that Snape would bark out in single sentences. Harry realised that he was being biased, but was suitably grumpy that he didn't care.
"-so the antidote to Amortentia is of particular use to have in the stores here at the school!" There was laughter, which Harry didn't join in on; he just flicked the page over and read through the list of appendices on the potion instead.
"The base is Amortentia itself, and this will be our task for today. I myself will be completing a batch so do not be concerned if yours goes awry, you will not be penalised in the next class." The pudgy, balding professor clapped his hands loudly and made a 'shoo'ing gesture. "Off you go, then! The finest example of the potion will be awarded the Felix Felics!"
Perhaps he should have been listening more closely; he had meant to look up the potion after it was mentioned back at Grimmauld, but had never got around to it. A flick to the index and he had his definition; certainly something worth working for.
Severus' instructions were almost as good as having the man in the room, well... better, really; there was an intimate quality to the little notes and scathing comments that made them more like listening to thoughts than speech. Nearly an hour into the lesson, when his potion started smelling like the man, he knew he had it right. It was worth the irritated huffs from Hermione as she followed the instructions precisely and it still went wrong. Harry hadn't asked, but he was pretty sure her potion didn't smell like Ron, and he was equally sure it was supposed to.
Later, walking up from the dungeons with his prize in hand and Hermione muttering angrily about damp ingredients, he wondered about what, exactly the potion would do. 'most fortunate day of your life' was one thing, but he wasn't entirely sure what that meant.
It was a perfectly clear potion that tinted the light gold and, if you caught the angle right, looked like the metal itself; the effect was mesmerising and he put the tiny vial away before he tripped and made an arse of himself.
He announced the return of the DA at the first practical opportunity; dinner after the first day of classes. Dumbledore's stipulation that he work with the Defence Master gave him an in with the Slytherins that wouldn't cause friction with the Gryffindors and Severus took full advantage by glaring at him and adding, in a ponderous voice, at the appropriate moment; "ALL Students."
It was enough.
A sign up sheet was put up in each common room and Harry quickly realised that he wouldn't be able to handle the sheer size of the classes on his own and that to give everyone a Protean Charm would cost nearly two hundred galleons. Meetings would have to be announced at dinner or by posted notice instead. The original DA still had theirs and a good number of them carried them around out of habit.
Luna's was on a necklace, next to the butterbeer corks.
The biggest problem was clashes with Quidditch; each team had seven players and at least five or six reserves, times that by four and there was a group of over fifty people who had practice once or twice a week. If he split the groups by House it would cause all sorts of problems, though, and he grumbled angrily throughout his meeting with Severus, despite the fact that he had wormed his way into Severus' outer robes and was leaning against his chest.
"At least there aren't any second years on the teams this year, or at least there shouldn't be, it's pretty obvious who's going to try-out." Severus wasn't paying much attention anymore, and 'hmmed' to keep Harry going until he worked it out. "The first and second years can have Tuesday evening, I think, with me, Neville and Luna. Ron and Hermione will probably come too, anyway."
He huffed and squirmed a little so that he could rest his head more comfortably against Severus' shoulder. The Defence Master lifted his arms and potions journal out of the way for the duration, well used to Harry's wriggling by now. "Sixth and seventh can be one group; NEWTs, there's fewer of them, and they'll pay better attention. Anyone who's not taking Defence at NEWT level but comes anyway can go in with the middle years..."
Severus kept on his reading, 'hmm'ing and permitting Harry's restlessness and need for closeness well into curfew, becoming increasingly aware that Harry had him snared like a rabbit.
Excerpt from the notes of Harry Potter regarding the re-establishment of "The Defence Association":
Spoke with other Captains; seven evening practice slots, Captains agreed to take only one each (suggested using weekend mornings for additional practice. Went down well.) leaves Slytherin Cap't said little but consented.
Tuesday SlytherinFirst & 2nd
Wednesday Middle years (345?)
Saturday NEWT years (afternoon)
Should probably have meeting with Defence Professor, Thursday.
First meeting; all attend? Tuesday, Firsties still finding way around; lead the way after dinner?
Also, open RoR for practice Thursday & Monday.
"RIGHT THEN, YOU LOT!" Harry shouted over the over-excited babble of well over half the school.
There was a sudden out-break of snakes as neighbours hissed at each other to be quiet, particularly amongst the younger ones. Harry, Hermione and Ron were standing, sitting primly and lounging, respectively, at the front while Neville, Madam Pomfrey and Luna stood to one side. They had a tacit agreement that Severus would attend the older meetings, while Madam Pomfrey would give up two of her evenings a week; the younger students would benefit massively from her experience, while the older ones would get a feel for working under the threat of surprise attack. Severus was... covertly eager to hex students at random intervals.
"Thanks. Now, this is just a prelim! The first and second years meeting will take place after this, third, fourth and fifth will be with me on Wednesday, NEWT years; Saturday afternoon, barring Quidditch matches." He yelled straightforwardly. "Last years members; you've got an important job to do! We have to get everyone up to scratch by the end of September, that is FOUR SESSIONS, people."
"What's important about October?" Someone yelled from the back, sounded like Seamus, but he couldn't be sure,
"The Weasley Twins are coming to visit!" There was a ripple of good natured swearing and laughter, "Expelliarmus, Protego, Jelly-Legs; all that stuff you pretty much can already do, you need to be able to do it faster, then resist it when it's cast on you. Secondly; you're all going to learn a couple of colour changing hexes: we will be having mock battles, called skirmishes, and you will end up looking like a rainbow so grab a hold of your pride and hide it!"
He had to wait for the ribbing and giggling to die down again; "Some of you might end up as officers; Luna is the only person I know who knows any healing; she and Madam Pomfrey are going to be teaching us a few things. If you're the best at a particular spell, or particularly good at teaching it, you might just find yourself press-ganged into an Officer rank." He noted with private amusement that several people were listening more closely, now.
"Those of you who've had Professor Snape already might know this, but there is a lot more to self-defence than foiling the Dark Arts. A good ward can keep your house safe, and the right potion can make you immune to certain spells and the only thing that blocks the Unforgivables is transfiguration; we won't just be hexing, cursing and shielding here, people."
"In my first year, I was almost caught in a Devil's Snare! Trapped, in the dark and barely keeping a hold on my wand. What saved me wasn't some special spell or amazing strength, it was knowledge, Hermione's knowledge that they hate heat and light. Those of you who had Professor Lupin will know about Kappa's and Grindylows, Boggarts in particular, and that knowledge is invaluable; Hermione will be filling any gaps there. The same applies to certain plants; imagine you could plant a Devil's Snare or a Venomous Tentacular where your enemy was going to walk into it? Neville Longbottom will be working with that, as Fortifications Officer."
"I'll be working to bring your spell work up to speed; if someone knows a spell you think we should know, either tell me or get it written down and give it to Hermione." He glanced at Ron, who shrugged slightly, "Ron will be handling tactics; once the skirmish teams are set, he'll be talking strategy. If anyone thinks they can do better, bring your chess board next meeting." He paused and scanned the crowd again. "Right then! That's it for most of you. If you can't cast a Patronus, or can but want to help out with the first class, stick around! First and Second years, to me." He finished, waving the littlest people over. They followed him to one side quickly enough while Hermione fielded questions and got a list of helpers.
There were more second years than firsties, but that was understandable and whoever turned up would be welcome, even later in the term. The boy from the train who'd ended up in Slytherin, Isaac, was there with three other snakes. They looked, frankly, ridiculously small, all of them.
"Ok, we're going to start with the Disarming Charm; it's fairly simple, but you have to power it right,"
Once they were all practicing and he had a minute to step back, the tingling rush of pride made itself known. Even the Slytherins and Gryffindors were getting along; well, the first years anyway. There was cold hostility amongst the older ones, but it hadn't broken out into anything more.
Draco Malfoy, who so far had remained quiet and unobtrusive, was watching with a scrupulously blank face. With the majority of the elder years gone or practicing the Patronus charm at the other end of the Room, barring a few members from the old DA talking to Hermione, he was standing out a bit and Ron was watching him like a hawk.
"If you hold your wand a little lower, yes, like that, you've got a better angle for quick casting, and you can manipulate the tip better." Harry said, moving a little wrist through the movements. A half-raised voice from the other side of the group drew his attention and he gave the little girl a pat on the head before heading over to arbitrate. Malfoy had tensed, too, and Harry spotted why; a first year Slytherin was involved, on the receiving end.
To Harry's disappointment, it was the boys who had sat with them on the train. The Gryffindor, Tristan looked angry and hurt, and the Slytherin was calf-eyed, eerily calm.
"Stop, Tristan. This is neutral ground; I thought I made that clear at dinner the other night." He said, conjuring a stern voice he hadn't known he had and pulling the tense kid back half a step to diffuse the situation. "House doesn't matter here."
The whole group of students was watching him in incomprehension, making him sigh heavily; "Draco Malfoy is my biggest rival in this school; we fight over the Snitch at least once a year, often twice, we've had our fair share of arguments, it's practically legendary. But he's still here, isn't he? We haven't hexed each other yet, have we? If we can manage it, you bloody well can too." He said definitively, catching Malfoy's incredulous stare and holding it even through Madam Pomfrey's scolding for his language. After a long moment, the aristocrat turned his nose away in what could be called a nod and Harry tuned in to Madam Pomfrey with an apology.
They didn't have another incident after that, and when the first years were dismissed, Malfoy gathered up his Housemates and took them home without a word. The rest trickled away, chattering excitedly, over the course of five minutes, leaving Harry, Ron, Hermione and Madam Pomfrey behind to mull the lesson over.
"Scrimgeour is inheriting a broken ministry, look at this," Harry grumbled three weeks later while he and Severus lingered in the Defence classroom under the guise of organising the next skirmish. The newspaper held an article citing arrests, but giving only a few names, most of whom Harry didn't recognise. More significantly, Severus didn't either.
"I saw this morning; Dumbledore is looking into it, but Scrimgeour is strong willed. With Fudge run out of office, the Headmaster won't be so often attended to." He said, frowning and, oddly enough, staring at Harry's feet.
"He was a bit of a push-over, I suppose. Malfoy and Umbridge are proof of that." Harry replied, shifting lightly on his toes, each joint in his leg from toe to hip slightly bent and his heel off the ground. "Is this an attempt to get public support back then?"
"Undoubtedly. A crude but effective technique- will you stop that!" Severus bit out, interrupting himself. Harry looked up at him, wide eyed and questioning. "The bouncing, Harry; it is about time, but in all honesty I can do without the fidgeting."
"What... oh. Oh... I'll just go talk to McGonagall then, shall I?" He was already edging away with a, frankly, ridiculous grin on his face, Severus pulled him back by his wrist and kissed him soundly, in congratulations.
"Quite, now go, before I hex you to the floor."
Harry's grin broadened and he was gone, turning quite automatically on the balls of his feet and racing out the door. Once he was gone, Severus spelled his door closed again and sighed; he'd have to get the ingredients together for the Disambiguo himself, he wouldn't trust Slughorn with gossip like that.
Harry would have to do his own brewing though or it would be Snape's Animagus form it'd exemplify, if it worked at all without the basal cognitive access Harry had been cultivating.
McGonagall, who had been waiting for Harry's visit for the last three weeks, was wholly unprepared for the sheer excitement of one Harry Potter, freshly uninhibited by months of Animagus meditation. He bounced into her office; her first impression was of taut, sinewy muscle and her second was of cheerful menace. She had been watching for this change but interpreting it was beyond her, as it always was; he was walking on his toes, but then birds, horses, wolves, cats, a whole plethora of animals did, so that narrowed it down not at all. His reaction to being turned into a heron had been demonstrative so probably not a bird... and lizards are plantigrade and walk on their heels, so a mammal.
"Professor, I think I've done it!" He was saying and she pulled her thoughts back,
"I would say so, Mr Potter. You've made good time; you will be on the next stage by January." She said, shifting her glasses down her nose slightly and peering at him over them. "How is your Charm coming along?" She asked sternly; he was still bouncing slightly and grinning from under that messy hair.
"Well enough Professor, it's not exploded anything since that first time," he said, glancing at the table he'd been working at, despite the lack of visual evidence for the minor fireball.
"I should certainly hope not!" Professor McGonagall replied, pulling her shawl more securely over her shoulders. "Well, you may as well cast it. Show me the wand movement again, Mr Potter."
He obeyed, his wand falling neatly into his hand. Its tip inscribed a sinuous horizontal line, ending in a turn and a half of spiral, and he followed it with a sharp flick and a circle around where the magic would rest when he was casting. He paused at that point and looked to his teacher; she nodded,
"Simply place it on your chest, once the spell clings to your wand. Go on, now." She said, giving him a tight smile.
He spoke the incantation so softly and deeply that it sent a shiver up her spine; a predator, definitely. The trail of magic pouring from his wand flowed into the path left behind his wand tip, was broken by the flick and coalesced into the shining point of a star when he circled it. He tapped himself on the chest and the magic sunk in with a deep hum, making him glow dimly for a heartbeat.
"Well done, Mr Potter; all that remains is the potion and the hard part." She commented with a small, but proud smile on her face. "Professor Slughorn would, no doubt be happy to supply you the ingredients,"
Harry was rubbing his chest with a peaceful look on his face and spoke rather absently; "I think I'll ask Severus... even Sirius couldn't make that bit sound easy..."
Minerva was rather surprised by Harry's use of the Defence Master's first name and narrowed her eyes, but said nothing and resolved to speak to the boys' adopted mother. "Go, Mr Potter, meditate, sleep, or do nothing but sit; give the charm time to settle and enjoy the feeling."
She remembered performing the fixing charm herself; it spread throughout your body like drinking hot chocolate after a snowball fight. She had dozed for hours as it settled into her skin, remembering what her human form looked like and how it worked.
"Thank you Professor, for all your help," Harry said with an open and honest expression of satisfaction. She just nodded and waved him off; he gave her a grin that reminded her so strongly of Lily that she smiled quite unconsciously and then he was gone, heading back to the Tower. She graciously ignored the fact that it was long past curfew.
Harry beamed the whole way back to the Fat Lady, a little dazed and very pleased with himself. It was getting late, so there weren't any students in the corridor to see but it was a spectacular smile; pride and warmth and perhaps even a hint of smugness. He'd been working on that charm in every quiet, private moment for the past three weeks, since they had arrived at the school, and had had to build it himself. He had no real idea of where the spell had come from in the end, but the movements had felt so right, after so long, that he hadn't been in any doubt that it would work. It was anyone's guess what the gestures meant for now, but he was sure it'd be glaringly obvious once he knew what he was.
"Kharlisi" he told the portrait, who took one look at him and giggled behind a pink, feathery fan. He looked at her strangely, but she just swung open obligingly and he mentally shrugged.
Ron and Hermione were still up, at their usual table. It was a little far from the fire for Harry's current tastes, but he went over to speak to them anyway; he suspected that once he flopped down, he really, really wouldn't want to get up again.
"I did it! I really actually did!" He exclaimed, and it took Hermione only a few seconds to work it out.
"You mean 'stage two'?" she asked, giving Ron the hint he needed. The ginger perked up excitedly;
"Oi, does that mean we can have the book, now?" He asked in that conspiratorial hiss that somehow carried across the entire room. The few remaining Gryffindors, mostly DA members who were still buzzed after that evening's meeting, looked up with curiosity; it was practically unheard of for Ron to want a book so eagerly.
"Yeah, I just have to scribe out the next stage; I wouldn't want to have the original with me anyway." He said, finally conceding to Ron's eager desire to get started on his own Animagus attempt.
"Don't worry, Harry we'll keep it safe for you," Hermione said with the air of one who knows how to look after books.
"Thanks; I wouldn't expect anything less from you," he replied, still grinning, and headed over to the hearth. The rug in front of it was looking particularly appealing and he nabbed a cushion off a sofa on his way past, Engorgio'ed it and dumped it on the rug. It was squashy, warm and wonderfully comfortable as he curled up on it, tucking his arms and legs up close to his body then relaxing into the warmth of the fire.
Had he paid a little more attention, he would have heard Hermione talking to Dobby and asking him to keep the fire going, but as it was he just stared into the flames until his eyes closed of their own accord.