Chapter Seventeen (Or: One Foot in the Door)
September 28th was a Saturday, and Snape actually let up on James' detention for the day. Because apparently James had missed the first flying lesson when he'd been knocked out after Flint's attack. He hadn't even known there had been a flying lesson until Snape sent him off to meet with Madame Hooch.
He would have liked a little warning.
It wasn't that he was scared, persay. It was just that he'd spent his entire life with his feet securely on the ground – he'd never even flown in an airplane. And those brooms people flew on? Flimsy little sticks is what they were. Flimsy little sticks with magic coursing through them.
James could feel the enchantments in the rough, wooden handle of the school broom he was holding. They felt fluid – like water flowing through something that in any other circumstance would be completely boring and ordinary.
Plus, the magic seemed a little frayed around the edges.
Neville Longbottom was also attending the flying lesson. The round-faced boy was wide eyed, holding his own broom like it was a noose that would wrap around his neck at the first provocation.
And to make matters even worse, the Slytherin quidditch team was practicing on the far end of the quidditch pitch. Flint kept staring at him, and James was feeling more than a little twitchy with the added scrutiny.
"Do I have to do this?"
Hooch stared at him hard, eerily bird-like yellow eyes measuring him from head to toe before the woman snorted at him. "You don't have to, Mr. Potter. But I think you ought to give it a go – your father was a superb flyer."
"Right." James scrunched his nose at her. "Course he was raised around magic and probably started flying as soon as he could hold on to a broom."
"You have no reason to be nervous, Mr. Potter. So long as you keep your head and follow my instructions you will be just fine."
"I'm not nervous." James argued, but Madame Hooch ignored him and instead started rattling off about the proper way to grip the broom.
James followed instructions silently and to the letter, though a bit of his unease melted away during the few minutes he was allowed to hover in the air. It was easy enough to direct the broom, and while still strange he wasn't actually in danger of falling off. Until his third trip into the air when he was supposed to complete a small, slow circle about fifteen feet above the ground.
Out of nowhere, a ball came barreling towards his head – only instinct made him jerk the broom out of the way and saved him from a broken nose. The black ball whistled as it whipped past his head, missing by inches. A second later, there was a shriek immediately behind him and a dull thud as something heavy hit the ground.
"FLINT!" Hooch screamed. "Keep better control of your bludgers! Potter! Back on the ground, now!"
James did as he was told, landing easily and frowning at Neville, who was curled up on his side on the ground and whimpering, arms wrapped around his stomach while Hooch leaned over him.
"You're not having any luck with this, are you Longbottom. Honestly, this doesn't normally happen." Hooch muttered quietly. "Potter. Our lesson is done for today. If you'll return the brooms to the broom shed, I'll be taking Mr. Longbottom up to the hospital wing. We've already covered the first lesson, so you can continue with the rest of the first years as scheduled."
James nodded, but Hooch was already leading Neville away and didn't spare him another glance. He was left with two brooms to deal with and acutely aware of the Slytherin quidditch team's doubled interest in him as he was left alone.
"Hey! Potter!" Flint yelled. "Let's play a game!"
"Let's not." James muttered angrily, but didn't waste any words before leaping out of the way when a bloke who looked more ape than man hit another one of the black balls in his direction. His aim was true, and if James had been just a little slower, he'd have a broken arm.
"It's simple, really. Let's see how many times you can dodge!" Flint was laughing, and so were the rest of the team. James growled, but didn't have another second to think, let alone throw around insults before they were on him - at first just aiming at him with the balls, that he barely dodged until he was backed against the side of the stadium – the only way left to go was up.
So that's what he did.
The second he was in the air, everything turned into a blur – he was dodging, ducking, weaving and trying to keep as much distance between himself and the seven older boys while they tried their damnedest to knock him out of the air.
And at well over 30 meters over the ground, that would do some damage.
It seemed to go on for ages before James hit that point – he was out of breath and getting tired and one of the black balls hit the back of his shoulder, spiraling away before Caveman knocked it back his way with a smirk.
"Fuck you!" James growled, carelessly throwing out his hand. "Accio!"
The short bat flew from Caveman's hand, smacking hard into James' a second before the screaming black ball pummeled towards him. He hit it back with all his might, laughing uncontrollably when it hit Caveman right in his stupid, smirking face.
If it had been a free-for-all before, James didn't have words for the new levels of crazy of the bloody 'game' reached once he started fighting back. All he knew was that his very life was on the line as he dodged tackles and sent every ball hurled at him soaring back at the older boys swarming around him.
He got Marcus Flint in the nose – three times. He'd even be proud of that fact later – if he didn't end up splattered on the ground, that is.
The loud bang startled everyone, drawing their attention to the ground where a lone figure was standing in the middle of the pitch, wand pointed upwards.
"What is going on here!?" McGonagall's voice was loud, echoing. Obviously she was using magic to make herself louder. She sounded furious. "All of you! Ground! NOW!"
James was more than a little relieved when he set both feet on the ground, dismounting the rickety broom and trying desperately to catch his breath.
James winced at her tone of voice, but it wasn't directed at him. It was directed at Flint, her lips pressed so thin he was surprised they weren't rotting off because of lack of blood flow.
"You see, ma'am. . ." Flint started nervously.
"What I saw, Mr. Flint, was the seven of you viciously attacking a first year student, who was on a broom without supervision. I do believe there are a half-dozen reasons why I should be marching the lot of you up to the headmaster's office to demand your expulsion!"
"It was a tryout." Pucey suddenly butted in. "Potter had a flying lesson today – we noticed he handled the broom well, and Flint wants to recruit a few reserves this year because three of us will be gone next year."
McGonagall's eyebrows were already near her hairline, yet they managed to shoot impossibly higher. "A tryout?"
"Yes ma'am." Flint nodded vigorously, then ducked his head in apparent embarrassment. "Though we probably went a bit overboard – but he performed so well, we just kept stepping it up a notch and before you know it. . . Well, you know how it is with quidditch, right professor?"
"Indeed." McGonagall's nostrils flared as she turned her stony gaze to James. "You were trying out, Mr. Potter?"
James nodded, glancing down at his feet. "I was – I don't really know a whole lot about quidditch, but it sounds like fun. And I had a great time flying with Madame Hooch today, so when Marcus asked if I fancied giving it a go I couldn't resist. I know I shouldn't have – first years aren't allowed, right? I'm sorry. Please don't punish the team, Professor. If anything, it's my fault. I kept begging them not to go easy on me." He slowly looked up at her through the fringe of his hair, blinking owlishly and biting his lower lip nervously.
The lie left a bitter taste in the back of his throat, but it would be worth it. Not that he really cared to get his fellow Slytherin's out of trouble – they had been caught – but it was something he could hold over their heads. It was leverage.
"They certainly weren't going easy on you." But the edge had fled from McGonagall's voice, and the slightest smile was quirking the corners of her lips. "You were certainly holding your own up there – it's obvious you inherited your father's talent. Very well – I will let this slide this once." She turned back to Flint and her gaze was hard once again. "You better start controlling yourselves better. If I find you've been so cavalier with other students, there will be no more second chances. Do you understand?"
"Yes ma'am. Thank you. It won't happen again." Flint nodded solemnly.
"Very well. Put your equipment away and head back to the castle."
James moved with the team, picking up the extra broom he hadn't managed to put away before. Under McGonagall's scrutiny, no one said a word as they shut the brooms away and locked the balls into their trunks.
The walk back to the castle was long and tense, and James followed the rest of the team down the stairs towards the dungeons, leaving McGonagall in the entrance hall.
As soon as they were out of earshot, Pucey spoke. "How do you do that?"
The rest of the quidditch team remained silent, apparently waiting for an answer from James. "Do what?"
"Work McGonagall like that – you have her eating out of the palm of your hand. Even the kids in her own house wouldn't have been able to get us all out of trouble like that."
"What can I say? Some people have it. Most people don't." James snickered, refusing to give any more away as he started to slip down a side hall that led to a short-cut back up to the fourth floor.
James scowled over his shoulder at Flint. "What!?"
"Five o'clock tomorrow at the pitch." Flint demanded. "So I can teach you the rules of the game."
"Fuck off, Flint."
"She wasn't wrong, you know." Flint pushed. "So it would be suspicious if we didn't make you a reserve player now."
"That's your problem. I just saved your sorry ass from getting expelled – you know all I would have had to do was cry a little and tell her how scared I was of the 'big, bad quidditch team' and the lot of you would have been out on your asses."
"You wouldn't – rule 3 – "
"I think it would have been worth it, to have you out of my hair." James drawled. "Don't ever think I'm so attached to Slytherin that I would follow those rules if something else is in my best interest."
"So how was lying for us in your best interest?" Pucey demanded.
"Now you owe me." James smirked. "And since you said it yourself, it would be suspicious if I didn't make it after a tryout like that – what's in it for me?"
Flint stared at him blankly for a long moment before he abruptly started laughing. "By Merlin – if you were any more Slytherin at heart you'd be able to talk to snakes."
James arched an eyebrow at that, but didn't say anything.
"Fine." Flint ran a hand through his hair. "There's certain perks to being on the team. We take quidditch very seriously. If you're on the team, you can be guaranteed a certain amount of respect from the rest of the house."
James pointedly crossed his arms, tapping his toe as he waited for Flint to continue.
Flint did so after glaring at James for a long moment.
"There hasn't been a first year on reserve for a house team in twenty years. So that will impress the rest of the school."
"You ought to have figured out that I don't give a rat's ass about my reputation." James snapped.
Flint scowled. "Just tell me what it is you want!"
This gave James pause – for one, he didn't actually want anything specific. For two, he didn't want to throw away this opportunity on something stupid. "I'll get back to you on that."
"And the team?"
"I'll go to your stupid practice." James scrunched his nose. "But when I call in my favor, I expect you to deliver. If you don't. . . Well, let's just say I have a way of dealing with people who don't hold up their end of a bargain."
Flint growled. "I'm not scared of you."
James went very still for a second, his eyes narrowed dangerously before he crossed the short distance between him and Flint, staring unflinchingly into the older boys' eyes. His voice was cold as ice when he said, "You should be. Don't make a deal with me and then try to break it. That never turns out well for anyone."
He waited, his glare hard and unyielding, exactly as he did when making deals in the muggle world.
Flint finally looked away. "Fine. I owe you. You show up to practice tomorrow."
"Fine." James didn't wait around for anything else. He turned on his heel and walked away, refusing to glance back at the still unmoving quidditch team. He could feel their glares on his back until he disappeared around the corner.
Severus glowered at Marcus Flint. The boy was standing in his office, expression carefully schooled.
"Let me get this straight. After Potter's flying lesson, the entirety of the Slytherin quidditch team attacked the boy – don't even try to deny it, Mr. Flint! Professor McGonagall told me what it looked like, and I highly doubt it was anything but exactly that."
Flint snapped his mouth closed and remained silent. Severus glared at him for a moment longer. "Three seventh years, a sixth year, two fourth years and a third year – all with years of flying experience – decided it would be fun to play 'let's knock around the first year who has never been on a broom in his entire life.' And you got caught. Then, in the face of your imminent expulsion, the very same first year got you out of trouble without so much as ten points taken from Slytherin. Only after he had successfully fended off the worst of everything the team could throw at him, of course."
Severus resisted the urge to sigh and pinch the bridge of his nose. "And now you expect me to give my permission and get the headmaster to agree to make an exception to school rules so that Potter can be a reserve on the team?"
"Yes, Sir." Flint said quietly.
"You are out of your mind if you think I will actually agree to let that boy anywhere near the pitch with you." Severus sneered. "Don't give me that look, Flint. I am well aware of the animosity between Potter and yourself."
"It's not like that, sir." Flint argued. "I really – I'd be a fool to pass him over for the team just because I don't like him. You know I wouldn't jeopardize the team because of a grudge, sir! That's why you made me captain over Pucey!"
"I am not inclined to believe you, Flint."
"I'm not lying, sir! Just consider it! If that was Potter's first time on a broom, then the boy's a natural! And yes – I can't stand him, but that doesn't matter if he can win quidditch games for us! He already agreed to it."
"And how did you get him to do that?"
"I owe him." Flint said simply. "I owe him one favor that is yet to be determined."
"That is dangerous." Severus stood from his desk, pacing a slow circuit around the room. "This afternoon, I will sit in on practice while you give Potter another tryout – a real tryout. If I am satisfied with his abilities and the entire team can convince me that they can control their urge to cause the boy harm during practice, I will allow him to become a reserve on the team."
"Thank you, sir." Flint nodded quietly. "You won't be disappointed."
Severus wasn't disappointed.
James was absolutely fearless in the air, pushing the school broom he was using with no hesitation as he pushed through the course Flint had plotted for him. It was quickly apparent that despite his natural affinity for flying, he had no real understanding of the mechanics.
It made for a show that was completely exhilarating and utterly terrifying as the boy threw himself about on the broom with no reservations, pulling stunts that came not from skill and experience but from naivety that the things he was trying were not safe, standard methods.
Severus nearly had a heart attack the first time the boy took both hands off the broom, using only his knees to steer it while he was trying to get the quaffle past Flint and Pucey at the same time, going into a miniature dive to try and throw them off and nearly unseating himself before he managed to take the shot. He wasn't large enough to be a Chaser – maybe in a few years if he managed to hit a growth spurt or six, but in the meantime he couldn't compete with other players, couldn't stay on course when jostled.
James' build meant he might be an excellent Seeker.
For one brief second, Severus was reminded vividly of the boy's father.
However, unlike his namesake, present day James was vicious – aggressive. James was small – smaller than his year mates and positively dwarfed by the older boys on the team, but like in everything else he did, his giant attitude more than made up for it. And while he was physically more suited to seeking, James seemed destined to be a Beater.
The boy was ruthless, darting in and out of the other players with reflexes that would make catching a snitch a cake-walk, attacking the bludgers ferociously and his accuracy was eerie – the smile that bloomed on his face every time he hit his intended target was nearly feral, he cackled like a maniac every time he managed to break someone's nose – a total of four times this practice alone.
The boy was a bloody menace on the field. Maybe quidditch would be good for him, let him work out some of his frustrations in a setting where violence was somewhat acceptable.
Plus, with every passing moment of the 'tryout,' Severus got the strong sense that the rest of the team was developing a very grudging respect for Potter.
Severus would be a fool to say no to James becoming a reserve for the team.
The official 'tryout' was eons away from the chaos of the day before – it was alternately a great deal more boring and, if he were being honest with himself, fun.
Not what James had expected after the blitz attack the previous day.
After Flint explained the rules and the roles of the different players, after the run-of-the-mill tests to prove he could handle the broom, quidditch was a blast. The flying was exhilarating, and working the bludgers was grotesquely satisfying – much in the same way he used to love wreaking havoc with Thomas back in London.
He had been given free rein to attack people, to hurt them, to vent his frustration without fear for the consequences.
After the tryout was over, and he was back on the ground, James was pleasantly tired and not at all angry for the first time since – well since a few weeks before he got on that blasted train.
He hadn't had that much fun since being neck deep in cat-and-mouse with Snape and Barbie.
James frowned then, listening intently as Snape agreed to talk to the headmaster about letting James on the team as a reserve player. For once, his housemates weren't glaring at him – instead they were considering him with as close to a neutral expression as he had seen on their faces.
"You did good out there, Potter." Flint had finished his negotiations with their head of house and had walked over to where James was waiting for further instruction. "We're going to train you up as a Beater and a Seeker – if we need someone to fill in either of those positions, you're it. We'll probably choose another reserve for Chaser – just to have our bases covered."
James shrugged. "Right. What now?"
"Now, we go to dinner and discuss what's expected of you." Flint shrugged, going through the process of gathering the equipment – the rest of the team had already put away the brooms and was headed back towards the castle. Flint gathered the balls into their crate with a flick of his wand and motioned for James to follow as he walked towards the equipment shed. Snape was hovering on the edge of the field.
"You'll need to get yourself a decent broom, for starters. And we'll have to order you a uniform – all the ones we have will be too big."
James scrunched his nose. "How exactly am I supposed to get a broom? Aren't those expensive?"
Flint scoffed. "What's a few hundred galleons?"
"Something I don't have." James snapped. "A few hundred – really?"
Flint frowned heavily at him as he carelessly shoved the ball-crate onto a shelf in the shed. "You're joking, right? You don't honestly expect me to believe you can't afford to buy yourself a halfway decent broom."
"Doesn't matter whether you believe it or not. Unless there's some way to magic up gold out of nothing I can't buy a broom – I don't know how I'm going to manage my books next year."
Flint was just staring at him like he was mental, like he was completely ridiculous. "What!?"
"Really? The great Harry Potter is poor? That's a laugh. What? Did you already blow through your trust fund?"
The sarcasm melted away from Flint's voice at that, though the sneer deepened. "Your trust fund – you know. An account that parents set up for their children to use before they're of age?"
"I know what a trust fund is you ponce! I don't have one!"
"Really – you're the sole heir to the Potter line, and you don't have a trust fund? Didn't mommy and daddy think to set you up one before they keeled over?"
James snorted. "How the bloody hell should I know – I'm awesome, I know, but even I can't talk to the dead. And if I could I'd have more important things to discuss with them than finances. But I'll put that on my list of questions to ask my dead parents once I make contact with the other side. Right after 'Why the fuck does Voldemort want me dead?' but somewhere before 'Which came first? The chicken or the egg?'"
Flint flinched spectacularly at Voldemort's name, and continued to scowl down at James. "So you're telling me that the Potter fortune is going to rot away, unused until you turn seventeen?"
"What I'm telling you is I didn't even know there was a Potter fortune you twat! It's not like they give out brochures on this crap! 'You're new to magic – make sure to ask if your family was loaded and find out if you have a trust fund or you might be missing out on tons of gold.' Why the fuck does everyone expect me to just know these things!? How would I even find that out!?"
Flint took a step back, completely losing all semblance of anger. "New to the wizarding world – you were raised muggle!?"
"One hundred percent. Imagine my surprise when a bloody owl came crashing through the window with a letter inviting me to some crackpot school that shouldn't exist. I thought it was a joke."
Flint stared at him for a few seconds longer before he burst out laughing.
"Yeah, well fuck you!" James turned on his heel, walking quickly away and ignoring Snape where he was still keeping an eye on them.
"Go to hell!" James kept marching towards the castle, ignoring Flint when the older boy jogged to catch up with him.
"Where do you think you're going!?"
James didn't answer, instead using a thought to trip Flint, grinning to himself when the pompous ass planted face first in the muddy grass with a shout.
"How would I go about finding out if my parents left me any money when they died?"
Hermione started when James planted himself into the seat next to her in the library. "Pardon?"
"It's been pointed out to me that my parent's might have left me some money. How would I find that out – you got the full, guided tour when you got your Hogwarts letter, right? What do I have to do to find out something like that?"
Hermione blinked at him slowly. "I did – I have a bunch of pamphlets and brochures – but – shouldn't you have gotten all of those as well?"
"I ought to have." James said shortly. "But I didn't. No one came to explain to me what was going on – I've been figuring out everything on my own. Now, I need to figure out this. Could I borrow them?"
"Sure – but I can tell you right now that you'll have to go to Gringotts – I imagine you could write them a letter to ask, but you'll need to visit in person to sort it all out."
"Bullocks." James scrunched his nose. "And that's assuming that Flint isn't just pulling my leg going on about trust-funds and the like."
"I don't think he's pulling your leg." Hermione said briskly. "The Potters are a very old wizarding family – they've always been very influential and fairly wealthy from what I understand."
"How do you know that?"
"I read a few genealogy books." Hermione shrugged. "It seems so important to people, I figured I'd best be familiar with it at least."
"Right." James huffed. "So I just write a letter asking if I have a boat-load of money?"
"No!" Hermione shook her head frantically. "You have to make a formal request to the goblins requesting an overview of your assets, then you have to sign and seal the letter with a verification that you are truly you."
James blinked. "How the bloody hell do I do that?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "I'll find you the right books – but you're writing your own letter, I'll have you know. And while I'm doing this, you get working on our Transfiguration essay. Don't look at me like that! I know you haven't started it."
"Fine." James stuck his tongue out at her, but obligingly headed in the direction of the Transfiguration section while Hermione disappeared towards the opposite side of the library. He got the books he needed and stole some parchment and a quill from Hermione so he didn't have to go rummaging through his bag.
Explain your understanding of the beginners transfiguration process.
"Bloody fucking hell. Can this be any more ridiculous?"
"I assure you, Professors. There are no Kappa in the lake."
Severus kept his expression carefully neutral while the representative from the Ministry of Magic explained the findings of the investigation to the staff.
"But the scales! And the tracks!" Professor Kettleburn protested. "They were real! And fresh!"
"My analysis of the scales showed they were genuine." Severus offered drawling, hiding his amusement at the befuddlement of his colleagues.
"Indeed – I believe they are real kappa scales." The representative shook his head. "However, I fear this was nothing more than a very elaborate hoax – none of the other species in the lake show signs of being affected by an infestation from any foreign species, and we were unable to recover any living or dead specimens. I can assure you, there are not and were not any kappa in this lake."
"It was a hoax?" Flitwick frowned. "But we had a kappa attack – there are two students that witnessed them first hand!"
"Then perhaps you should be questioning their stories." The official was looking annoyed. "Our investigation is conclusive. Good day, Professors."
"Why would someone fake a kappa infestation?" Sprout asked quizzically. "It caused a panic! It wasn't a very tasteful prank."
"Indeed it wasn't." Minerva was frowning severely, and Severus could almost see the route her mind was taking.
"Very well." Albus stood sagely. "I believe it is safe to remove the restriction from the lake – just in time for the weather to cool off, of course. How disappointing. Rest assured, if the culprit – or culprits – are discovered, you have my assurance they were be punished accordingly. A prank is harmless enough, but this one cost the school heavily."
The teachers were grumbling heavily as they dispersed, and Severus almost made a clean getaway. But Minerva was deceptively quick, and was at his elbow in a matter of seconds, following him towards his office.
"It is curious – that someone would fake a kappa infestation, of all things." Minerva started slowly, gazing sidelong at Severus to gauge his reaction. "Of all the pranks – why kappa?"
Severus remained silent as he unlocked his office door and motioned the other professor inside.
"Unless, of course, it became imperative that everyone believed that kappa were in the lake. Perhaps to cover a certain lie as to why someone was lacking his homework."
Severus didn't react at all, and that just caused Minerva's eyes to narrow.
"Severus Snape! I know you know what is going on here! You would be much angrier if you were in the dark like the rest of us – so whatever it is you know, you will tell me right this instant! Potter did this, didn't he!?"
A smirk slowly made its way over Severus' face, and he arched an eyebrow. "Why Minerva – I have absolutely no idea what you're rambling on about. What exactly do you think Potter did?"
"I think he faked this infestation to cover for the fact that he didn't have his homework!"
There was silence for a long moment while Minerva seemed to carefully consider what she'd just spouted. "Oh, it seems so ridiculous when I say it out loud! But I'm certain it's true! This whole thing started with that ridiculous excuse of his!"
"I'll admit it is a possibility." Severus drawled slowly. "However, there is no proof that he was involved. Besides, I highly doubt he could have done it alone. I do wonder who his accomplices are – after all, it is no secret that the boy doesn't have any friends, aside from the strange truce between himself and Miss Granger."
Minerva scowled at him. "You're not honestly suggesting Miss Granger had a hand in helping with this!"
"No!" Severus scowled. "However, I would be wary of the liaisons Potter has forged with a couple of members of your own house – I'm sure you'll agree that a friendship between Slytherin's most cunning and Gryffindor's resident trouble-makers is a terrifying prospect."
Minerva frowned in concentration before all the blood rushed from her face. "You're not saying – not Fred and George Weasley?"
Severus didn't answer, just lifted his hands and applauded slowly.
"Merlin!" Minerva pressed a hand over her heart. "I am getting too old for this. How on earth did this happen?"
"I haven't the foggiest. I simply have knowledge that the three of them are conspiring to wreak havoc on a level Hogwarts hasn't seen in years. If the kappa infestation is how they're launching their alliance, I shudder to think how much worse the castle is in store for."
"They don't warn you about this when you apply for the position." Minerva groaned piteously. "Those twins are a right handful on their own – I am truly terrified that Potter has joined their ranks."
"Not just joined." Severus chuckled darkly. "He's in charge."
Transfiguration was fairly high on the list of classes James hated the most. Right up there with History, Charms, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Potions, Herbology and Astronomy.
Alright, so Defense Against the Dark arts sucked because Quirrell sucked and History was boring and completely pointless – he learned more from fifteen minutes with a book than from a week of sitting through Binn's class. Transfiguration and Charms were pretty awesome as far as the practical work went, but all the bloody homework made James crazy.
"This is the third time in a row you haven't finished your homework, Mr. Potter." James had detention with McGonagall, and she was hovering over him while he tried valiantly to finish the first of the three essays that were past due for her class. He kept pouting at her, but it seemed she was temporarily immune to his charms, and her usual soft-spot hadn't made an appearance this time around.
"I don't get it. What's it matter if I don't do the written work so long as I do good with the spells?" James grumbled.
"The written work is important, because as you progress in your studies the spells will become increasingly complex – without a solid understanding of the underlying theories, you will be unable to perform the spell work." McGonagall explained briskly. "Less complaining, more writing."
James scowled down at his essay, where he had only three sentences messily scrawled out. "But I do understand the theory, Professor!"
"Really." McGonagall drawled slowly, arching an eyebrow and pointedly tapping at the nearly blank parchment in front of him. "Then prove it."
James tossed his quill down on the desk, ignoring that it skidded over the edge and landed on the floor. He crossed his arms over his chest and glared up at her defiantly, scrunching his nose in irritation before he took a deep breath and started talking.
"The reason we started out by trying to transfigure matches into needles is because they are close in size and shape – starting out, most of the changes we try to make are going to follow this rule because our understanding of transfiguration is visual. If we can picture one thing turning into another, it will be easier to make it happen. To take it up a notch, I'm not only supposed to focus on the look of whatever I'm transfiguring, but what it's made of – still sticking with the match and the needle, I have to focus on changing from wood to metal. Until I understand that, I'll just be stuck with a grey needle that's made of wood."
McGonagall remained silent, and James was encouraged to continue.
"A needle is simple. It would be loads more difficult to change a needle into a match – it might be easy to change the appearance and even the metal to wood, but without understanding what makes the match-head, it wouldn't be a working match. Now – if the needle in question is actually a match that's been transfigured, it becomes much simpler because instead of trying to force the thing to change, it's just a matter of undoing a change that has already been made by reversing the magic."
That was the gist of the first paper he'd been struggling over, and he thought he'd covered it fairly well. Still, McGonagall didn't respond, so he ploughed on.
"That leads us to untransfiguration – which we'll be learning as we learn transfiguration. Every time we learn to change something, we learn to unchange it. So long as we know what the thing used to be before it was changed, we can unchange it. For now, that means we should be able to unchange anything we've already changed. Even if we don't know what the thing was before, we can learn how to follow the magic that was already cast on it to undo it. Which is wholly different from a new transfiguration because the magic needs to be pushed where there isn't any already, and that takes visualization, understanding what you're trying to change and how, and making that change happen even with whatever object you're trying to change resisting being changed."
James was on a roll, was getting away from the assignments and wasn't really focused on McGonagall any more. "Magic works to either change nature or to make it more, really – in Transfiguration, in Charms – even in Defense Against the Dark Arts and especially in Potions – your either try to make something happen that isn't supposed to happen, or you try to make whatever is supposed to happen bigger. In Charms and Transfiguration you're making changes to something, making it do something or be something unnatural – or reversing that and making things go back to what they're meant to be. In Potions' you're trying to take what something already does and make it happen more than it would if you left it alone – which is changing it too, really."
"I see." McGonagall's lips were twitching, like she was amused. "And how does that property apply to Defense Against the Dark Arts?"
"Defense Against the Dark Arts is a mix of Transfiguration and Charms that are used for fighting, right? Incarcerous is a Transfiguration spell – conjuring ropes out of thin air. Stupify, Furnunculus, Petrificus Totalis – those are all Charms, which are nothing more than forcing an action on something else that wouldn't be taking that action on its own. Either way, you're using your own stubbornness to make something happen that would never happen on its own, using your magic to make something unnatural happen."
James leaned back in his chair, frowning at McGonagall as she studied him closely.
"Your understanding of the theory is certainly impressive, Mr. Potter. I wouldn't expect my third years to grasp some of the concepts you just discussed."
A grin broke out on James' face.
"However, that just makes the missing homework assignments all the more despicable. There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn't be able to complete them easily and in a timely manner." The amusement was gone from her face, to be replaced by thin-lipped disappointment that she never directed towards James. "So tell me – is it laziness, or do you simply think yourself above the homework?"
"No!" James threw his hands up in the air. "I just – I can't write with these bloody quills, and even if I could I can't seem to make it work because my thoughts go so fast and I don't know how to write them down without them being all jumbled, and I don't know what's wrong with it, but Hermione say's my grammar is bloody awful!"
"Five points from Slytherin for your language, Mr. Potter." McGonagall quipped lightly, crossing her arms over her chest. "So all this grief over the homework is over your poor essay skills?"
James scowled at her. "Yes."
"Why haven't you said anything before now, Mr. Potter? We could have been addressing this weeks ago – there are always students who flounder in their writing. The beginning of every year I always offer tutoring to students who need a little extra help to get on the right track, as do Professors Flitwick, Sprout and Snape. You should have gone to Professor Snape about this."
"He's not exactly a fluffy bunny of goodness and helpfulness." James grumbled.
McGonagall's lip twitched, but she didn't quite crack a smile. "He doesn't seem approachable at times, but I assure you Professor Snape would be more than willing to help you if you simply asked him. However, I am also more than willing to help, and you are also welcome to approach Professor Flitwick or Professor Sprout."
James grumbled out a 'that would be great' while keeping his head ducked so McGonagall hopefully wouldn't see how embarrassed he was.
"There is nothing wrong with needing help, Mr. Potter, unless you let your pride keep you from asking for it. Do you not think it's foolish to remain deficient simply because you won't allow yourself to ask for help?"
"I have asked for help!" James defended. "From Hermione and that pompous red-headed prefect!"
"Perhaps there is hope for you after all." McGonagall deadpanned. "Now that I know the problem, shall we get started?"
"Yeah." James pouted, but paid attention when the Professor slipped into lecture mode, going over some of the stuff Hermione had already gone over with him.
Strangely enough, McGonagall was easier to follow than Granger. Who could have figured?
"One last thing, Mr. Potter." McGonagall called as James was getting ready to head down for dinner. "In the future, do not make up outrageous lies to cover for your missing homework. Should we have another kappa infestation I will have you in detention until you graduate. Do I make myself clear?"
James blinked at her, mouth opening and closing before he nodded sharply. "Yes Professor McGonagall."
"Very well." McGonagall waved a hand in dismissal. "Two points to Slytherin."
"For what!?" James scrunched his nose.
"For being the first person to pull one over on me in twenty years." McGonagall explained, a gleam in her eye. "It would have been more, but it is somewhat less impressive since you're spending so much more time and effort on getting out of the homework than it would actually take to sit down and do it like you're supposed to."
James grimaced. "Yes, well. . . Homework is the devil."
"Go to supper, Mr. Potter."
"Of course, Professor." James grinned cheekily at her. So she'd figured it out. It just meant he'd have to step up his game the next time around. And he had a feeling her giant soft-spot had shrunken to something the size of a freckle. He could work with a freckle.