Chapter 4 — Oribel the Whimsical
After being told by Ron that Light Arts was for girls, Harry was relieved to see a decent representation of boys outside the classroom. Michael Corner was there, and he was all right — Neville, Dean, and Seamus, too, though Seamus didn’t look entirely happy about it.
Right on the bell, the door opened to reveal tiny Professor Oribel, fear in her eyes and a hand clapped tight across her nose. Muttering apologies, the stinky students filed past and into a large, airy classroom. Long windows flooded the room with light and revealed dusty corners full of half-painted portraits, half-carved statues, and boxes that trembled, as if anxious to be opened. One whole wall was lined with pigeonholes stuffed with dusty scrolls tied with faded pink ribbons. Tottering stacks of art supplies were scattered about as well as glass cabinets full of weird instruments. These were to be expected, but one thing was not — a rather large one thing. Embedded in the far wall was an enormous Giant Clam.
Still smelling of death, Susan took the liberty of opening the windows wide. Harry helped. Musical chimes sounded. Startled, they looked up to see an avant-garde chandelier constructed of silver knitting needles high above them (no doubt the major work of some past student). Harry eyed the dangling needles warily but none fell; they seemed to be rather enjoying the breeze.
While her students found seats around a circle of tall, slanting desks, Professor Oribel lingered at the door, peering outside and frowning. Meanwhile, Harry gave Michael a nudge and quietly offered to purify him (Harry knew that a bloke would not be offended by such an offer). Harry was correct and once Michael was done the rest of the students pleaded for the Purgo Charm, too. With Harry concentrating hard on his spell work, the fetid odours filling the room were soon replaced with an intoxicating melange of fragrances. The dreamy scents quickly dissipated on the breeze, but the happily vacant expressions lasted a while longer. It became obvious people were unable to smell their own scent, and Harry was forced to conclude that he probably did, indeed, smell of peach pie. It could be worse; Neville got garlic and Seamus got corned beef. Working his way around the circle, Harry did Susan, seated to his left, last and was just enjoying a most delicious whiff of vanilla — and forgetting why he ever thought giving up on girls was a good idea — when he realised Michael was poking him in the shoulder — hard.
“Greetings, Hogwarts students,” said a husky voice. Professor Oribel stood inside the circle of desks on a platform raised for her to meet her student’s eye-lines. Today she wore simple brown robes, over which was tied a crisp white work-apron.
“Greetings, Professor Oribel,” the class returned politely.
Her elongated fingers trembled slightly as she unfurled a scroll and took the roll, stumbling over some of the more difficult names (and feeling the need to consult prefect Hannah Abbott before calling anyone a Longbottom). There were a number of missing students — all Slytherins. Harry thought the class was well rid of them, but Professor Oribel looked uncertainly towards the open door.
“Should we wait …?” she asked no one in particular.
“Nah,” Harry said lightly, drawing his wand before anyone could object. “Allow me. Colloportus!”
The door swung shut and locked with a satisfying squelch.
“Thank you, Mr Potter,” said the young professor. She leaned forward a little and added, “May I give you points for getting rid of that smell?”
The class laughed and clapped appreciatively. Professor Oribel smiled shyly back at them.
“Absolutely,” Harry said, adding helpfully, “I’m in Gryffindor.” Professor Oribel nodded. Uncertain again, she scurried over to Hannah.
“I’d say about twenty points,” suggested Hannah in a stage whisper. “We were pretty rank.”
“Yes, you were,” the little goblin agreed guilelessly. “Twenty points to Gryffindor!” She looked around hopefully for a moment, as if to hear the rubies falling in the Gryffindor hourglass, but it was only the tinkling of knitting needles on the breeze.
Finally, the class was ready to begin. Professor Oribel lifted her delicately pointed chin, took a deep breath, and said, “Inside your desks, you will find some of the tools we will be using this year.” The students lifted the lids of their desks to find well-worn sets of artists’ tools: paintbrushes, chisels, hammers, sculpting knives, and the like. “You are responsible for ensuring that your equipment is kept clean and in good repair at all times. You must treat your tools with respect, or they will —”
“OW!” cried Lavender. She jumped off her stool and flung a chisel at a wall, where it stuck, quivering. Harry watched, astonished, as the chisel wriggled free and then disappeared deep into a pigeonhole.
“... Or they will not let you use them!” finished the professor, hurrying across the room. Muttering in Gobbledegook, she coaxed the chisel out of its hole, stroked it gently until it calmed down, then somewhat reluctantly returned it to Lavender, who was still sucking her thumb. “It would be wise,” Professor Oribel said sternly, not looking quite so whimsical now, “for you to introduce yourselves to your tools before you touch them.”
Embarrassed laughter travelled around the room as the students held up the lids of their desks once more and started greeting their tools.
“Um, hi,” said Harry in a low voice, thinking that this was about the stupidest thing he’d done in a very long time, “my name’s Harry. Erm ...” Harry glanced across to Michael, who was already having a good chat with an excitable little hammer.
“I’ve got my own sculpting set at home,” Michael told Harry. “Took me ages to break them in.” Harry could well believe it.
Turning back to his own tools, he blew out his cheeks before whispering into his desk, “Right, well, nice to meet you all. I hope — um — you know — we can do some good work together ... um ...”
A sable paintbrush nudged at Harry’s fingertips. Harry risked a gentle touch. The brush growled and quivered contentedly, bringing a rather silly smile to Harry’s lips. Susan was also smiling sheepishly into her desk.
She caught Harry’s eye and whispered, “Is this the daftest thing you’ve ever done?”
Harry’s mind went blank. He started to smile back, but Susan had already turned away to deal with a pair of duelling putty knives. Harry’s eyes narrowed with dislike when Justin, one seat further along, leaned over to help her.
Professor Oribel called them to order. “Tools such as these can help bring your creative visions to life, but they take a great deal of time and effort to master. In fact, it is not so much a question of mastering the tools, as creating a partnership with them.”
She jumped, startled, at a knock on the door. Harry resignedly issued an Alohomora Charm, and two Slytherin girls, Daphne Greengrass and Millicent Bulstrode, poked their heads into the room.
“Sorry,” Daphne said lightly, “got a bit lost.”
Susan rolled her eyes at that and Harry concurred; the Light Arts classroom, located on the sixth floor — not far from the Katsura terrace — had not been that difficult to find, not for sixth years. Professor Oribel, however, was sympathetic and waved the girls to a pair of empty stools. A horribly cloying perfume (which failed miserably in masking the stench of Little Prince) wafted across the room and made Professor Oribel’s slanted eyes water. Millicent Bulstrode, who Ron and Harry privately rated as being well capable of snapping most sixth year boys in two, pointedly moved away from Daphne to a seat next to Neville.
“It’s not me,” grunted the heavy-set witch — which was true; she did not take Herbology.
Daphne just rolled her eyes. Slightly built with dark-blonde hair and sloe-shaped eyes, Daphne was definitely one of the prettier sixth-year girls (and she knew it), but right now, Harry thought she smelled like something Hagrid would dab on in an effort to attract Thestrals whilst on a date with Madam Maxine. The smell was clearly too much for Professor Oribel.
“Mr Potter? Would you mind ...?”
Ordinarily, there was no way Harry would do a Slytherin a favour, but then again, he didn’t fancy spending the afternoon smelling her stink, either. Resignedly, he rose to his feet and walked around the circle to take a good shot at her. Daphne leapt from her stool in alarm when Harry drew his wand. Professor Oribel rushed forward.
“You smell very bad,” she assured the girl. “Mr Potter will cleanse you.”
“Like hell he will!” Daphne declared over cackles of laughter from the rest of the students (including Millicent Bulstrode).
Harry just smiled sweetly and twirled his wand in his fingers, thoroughly enjoying the Slytherin’s discomfort. Daphne looked ready to flee and Harry was of a mind to help her along. He remembered only too well what a hard time she, along with the rest of Pansy Parkinson’s gang, had given him when he and Cho tried to go out. He started conjuring evil thoughts so he could skunk her good and proper; it wasn’t hard.
“It’s all right, Daphne,” Justin assured her. “Harry did all of us. He’s got this brilliant purification charm.”
Harry groaned inwardly. Trust a Hufflepuff to ruin a perfectly good opportunity for some well-deserved payback.
“Oh, well, if you say so, Justin,” Daphne said coyly, surprising Harry. A Slytherin fancying a Muggle-born? Susan was rolling her eyes again, perhaps annoyed to discover she had competition for Justin’s affections. Harry decided he’d always liked Daphne.
“It’ll be fine,” he promised her. He fully intended keeping his word, but there was just one hitch. Despite his newfound fondness for the girl, Harry just couldn’t bring himself to think positively about a Slytherin witch and his mum in the same breath. Instead, he closed his eyes and carefully conjured a warm memory of Frank Longbottom cuddling baby Neville. It then took Harry longer again before he was confident he’d managed to eject all the gratuitous and negative thoughts from his mind.
“Are you just going to point that thing at me all day?” Daphne drawled sarcastically, breaking Harry from his positive frame of mind.
“It’s harder than it looks for some people,” he said sourly. Daphne just stood there, cross-armed and bored. Harry shut his eyes tightly and started clearing his mind all over again. He kept reminding himself that the girl hadn’t done anything to him lately; she hadn’t been in Umbridge’s Inquisitorial Squad like the Bulstrode hag; she only stank because of him in the first place; she’d been putting up with the smell all day; she deserved to be clean; she deserved to be ...
Harry’s heart just wasn’t in it. He tried another tack: She had a point about Cho.
The worst of the smells faded away, though not completely, and there was no telltale whiff of something tasty left behind. Daphne, however, was pleased enough and skipped around the circle to claim a vacant seat next to Justin without even thanking Harry. Professor Oribel clapped her hands in relief and gratefully awarded Gryffindor another 1.34 points. Harry blinked, bemused.
Professor Oribel explained. “Twenty points for fifteen students; one point three-four points for one student. I rounded up,” she added helpfully.
Harry thanked her but tried to explain that they didn’t really do decimals at Hogwarts. Professor Oribel didn’t quite seem to believe him.
“Imprecision in gemstones is most unwise,” she assured him very seriously. Harry could only agree.
Professor Oribel went on to announce in her low, breathy voice that Light Arts was a vast subject, encompassing Art, Sculpture, Music, Literature, Philosophy, Healing, Communication, Poetry and much more, though she said the best they could hope for in just two years was to create what she called ‘a few toys’.
“But if you are adept,” she added encouragingly, “we may be able to explore a little. If you will all follow me, please.”
The students followed and gathered curiously around the Giant Clam. Professor Oribel gently tickled the underside of the scalloped shell, and the students jumped back as the clam creaked open to reveal a tiered orchestra filled with musical instruments: lyres, guitars, violins, bagpipes and such but also some weird Wizarding ones that Professor Oribel invited them to examine. The girls squealed in fright, and the boys laughed, when they realised that the xylophone Millicent Bulstrode was slamming with a thighbone was actually made of shrunken heads — and the heads weren’t looking at all happy about it. Professor Oribel, showing impressive strength in her slender arms, wrestled the thighbone from Millicent and ordered the students back to their desks. After calming the snapping, biting heads, she gave the clam another tickle and it creaked shut. Thoroughly rattled, she dallied by the clam for a moment to calm down, smoothing her shiny apron and shock of white-gold hair.
“You may now take notes,” she suggested firmly. Disappointed sighs accompanied the rustling of schoolbags as quills and notebooks came out; Harry wasn’t the only one who’d been hoping they’d get to try out their new tools straight away. Heading for the other end of the room, the little professor called out, “We shall now look at some of the materials with which you will be working.”
While she gathered some boxes from a far corner, Michael leaned towards Harry and said, “So, how long is Weasley gonna make you wear that thing?”
Harry glanced down at his MORE CLUELESS badge and blew out his cheeks. “Well, if I can behave myself, he may let me lose it in time for Potterfest seventeen.”
“I like that you’re wearing it,” decided Susan and Harry smiled at her. “I mean it was pretty rough what you said,” she added bluntly, squinting with annoyance as she tried to pick some shrivelled rubber off her sleeve.
Harry’s face fell, but he could hardly blame her for thinking him an arrogant bully: frightening little kids, dangling them over balconies, hissing at them in the dark in Parseltongue.
Professor Oribel returned and passed around numerous specimen boxes containing a great many rocks and metals: granite, marble, copper, tin, and crystals of every shape, size, and colour. There were knobbly nuggets of emeralds, hematite, calcite, Labradorite, magnetite, Sunstone, and many more. There was even a Merlinite. As the stones travelled around the Light Arts circle, Professor Oribel encouraged the students to examine them closely.
“Can you feel the vibrations?” she prompted hopefully.
Harry closed his fingers around a piece of polished onyx, straining to feel something other than a small, hard rock. The rest of the students were doing the same with whichever crystals were in front of them. Across the other side of the circle, Harry heard Seamus muttering under his breath, “Why am I here?”
Dean scowled at his best friend, but Professor Oribel was delighted.
“You must be holding Luvulite,” she declared happily, and explained to the class that Luvulite prompted the bearer to ask himself such questions. She took the pink and violet-striped stone from Seamus’s hand and walked around with it to show to the class. “Luvulite is one of the major loving stones. It focuses spiritual love and wisdom. It can help bring light and love to the very darkest of times. It is also helpful for beings who feel they are misfits and do not find it easy to call the Earth their home. Luvulite can also inspire beings to defeat obstacles to learning.” She handed the stone back to Seamus and suggested most gently, “You should keep this.”
Seamus went very red and Dean failed spectacularly to hide a toothy grin.
Daphne held a tourmaline wand to the light and observed in a bored voice, “Crystals are a bit old-fashioned aren’t they? Professor Snape says they’re very unreliable.”
Professor Oribel inclined her head thoughtfully. “Crystals possess their own powerful magic, but the magic is not easily bent to the will of the wizard, which can make them seem unreliable to those who crave dominance over their Art.”
“Like Snape,” Michael whispered to Harry, who smirked his agreement. Harry couldn’t see Severus Snape swapping his beloved cauldron for a handful of whimsical rocks anytime soon.
Taking measured steps around her circular platform, Professor Oribel said, “Crystals are imbued with the most ancient of earthly magic.”
Harry’s ears picked up at that. Lord Voldemort might not have much time for Ancient Magic, but Harry knew its protective power. A question burned unspoken on his lips: was this Ancient Magic the power that he had that Voldemort had not at all? Dumbledore implied the power was love. Crystals that possessed some kind of Love Magic for defeating obstacles didn’t seem quite so silly now, but Harry wondered how such magic could be used by him to defeat Voldemort. He, Harry, was hardly some kind of crystal bullet to shoot at the Dark Wizard. Professor Oribel reached into one of the boxes, looking for something, and pulled out two small stones.
“These are Boji Stones,” she announced huskily, holding up two metallic-brown stones, one in each hand. “Boji Stones are natural aural energisers. In art, we use them to re-energise holes in a subject’s aura when donations are made for portrait animations.” She handed one stone to Neville and the other to Hannah to pass in opposite directions around the circle. “They are as old as the Earth itself and can be used individually or in pairs of male and female stones. You will see that the male crystal has square protrusions and the female is smooth. Your subject should try to carry one or more Bojis to boost their aura prior to sitting for their portrait. The male stone exudes solar energy, which gives a being solidity, the female lunar energy, which enables transfiguration. The stones will know what your subject lacks.”
“They have intelligence?” Mandy Brocklehurst, a Ravenclaw, ventured sceptically.
Professor Oribel considered the question. “Not intelligence — more that the power within the Boji is drawn to holes within a being’s aura. Like water poured over uneven ground, it will find its own level.”
“Why don’t people use them all the time?” Susan asked curiously.
Professor Oribel smiled a little. “There are — side effects. Boji Stones have excellent healing applications in clearing blocked emotions and dealing with painful memories, but this can be — distracting. And since the Boji is so full of earthly forces, it also means that it is a very powerful grounding crystal, which can sometimes be — inconvenient.” The little goblin paused and added confidingly, “I suggest you do not carry one in your pocket if you are taking your Apparition Test. You will fail. Badly.”
The class chuckled at that, but everyone was careful to note it down since they would indeed be learning to Apparate this year.
The two stones had made their way all around to Harry and Susan by now. Harry’s was round and smooth — clearly a female Boji. He went to swap stones with Susan, but Professor Oribel stopped him.
“Alone, each Boji exudes a certain primordial power, but when used together ...” and here she placed both stones in Harry’s upturned palm and then closed Susan’s hand over his, “two Boji Stones together, in the right hands, are capable of wondrous things.”
Harry and Susan glanced awkwardly at each other, not sure what they were supposed to do; Professor Oribel was just standing there, watching them expectantly. Then it happened. The stones started vibrating inside their clasped hands. The vibrations merged into a single thumping heartbeat, and a heavy, warm sensation swept over Harry, as if he was being wrapped in a soft embrace. Everything went dim, dark. Then he was falling — no, not falling, sinking — softly, deeply, safely. Lily whipped out her wand; she was furious with James.
“You’re just an arrogant, bullying toerag, Potter!”
Harry whipped his hand away. The stones clattered across the desk and onto the floor. Harry dived under the desk to retrieve them.
“Grounding usually takes much longer,” Professor Oribel said approvingly.
Harry wasn’t nearly so pleased. Why did that memory have to surface? Why now? Did Susan see it, too? He risked a sideways glance. Susan’s cheeks were flushed and her eyes firmly fixed on her desk.
“Boji Stones are very rare,” Oribel was telling the class, “and very valuable. The stones can be recharged by exposure to the rays of the sun and the moon, but if the energy within is allowed to completely deplete, they will crumble to dust. They are best stored on a windowsill with good light.”
Harry hunched over his desk, taking notes and feeling rattled about what the stones made him see.
“But whilst the brown Boji prevents movement through the astral plane,” continued Professor Oribel, “the blue Boji actually aids lost souls in finding their way back into their bodies.” Harry looked up with interest. That had been the hardest thing when he was outside his body: getting back in. But Professor Oribel said no more about Boji Stones. She turned, instead, to talking about goblets carved from single crystals for binding ceremonies, such as for weddings and truces, and most of the remainder of the lesson was spent discussing the kinds of metals and stones that were most magically receptive to sculpting, engraving, and animating.
“But the most vital ingredient in art,” she said breathily, as if revealing a great secret, “is the concept and emotion of the work. Do you have your mythology texts?”
Another rustling of bags sounded as the students each dragged out a weighty tome, Magical World Mythology, by Sophia Demiurge, a red leather-bound book full of elaborate moving illustrations and fables from all over the world. Professor Oribel encouraged her students to flick through their books.
“You will find tales that have inspired Light Wizards for thousands of years.” The young goblin’s eyes misted over dreamily and she rocked a little on her heels. “Myths of creation, like the Great Sneeze of Nostrilamus. Legends of great travellers, like Lug the Legless. Gods and goddesses, like Zeus and Hera. Folk tales, hearth stories, nymphs and satyrs ... so much to capture the imagination and inspire the soul. And all of these tales carry ancient truths about —”
“Not gods and goddesses,” scoffed Daphne. “I mean they’re not real.”
Professor Oribel’s head tilted a little. “The pantheon of the Earth’s gods and goddesses is certainly immense, and it is true that many stories can be — elastic — with the truth and grow even more fanciful with the telling. Take Zeus, for example, who could punish people with bolts of lightning and disguise himself as swans and bulls and golden showers. Some believe he was an Olympian god, others believe he was an avaricious Metamorphmagus with a wandering eye and delusions of grandeur.”
There were chuckles at this from around the circle. Oribel the Whimsical ran an elongated finger lovingly along the edge of Neville’s textbook.
“But true or not,” she said, dreamy-eyed again, “such tales are rich with intriguing characters. Characters full of courage, revenge, jealousy, rage … love. And these things are very real for all beings. Without an investment in profound emotions, your works, no matter how finely carved or painted, will be no more than pretty paperweights and wall coverings.”
The final bell rang, leaving Harry disappointed. He hoped to do more than just sit around talking about rocks. It had practically been a Hermione lesson. The students packed up to leave, but Harry was in no hurry to go downstairs and resume being the laughing stock of the school. Instead, he went to ask Professor Oribel if he could try out the instruments, but Susan beat him to it.
“Oh,” said Susan, backing off. “No, you go ahead, Harry — I need to go get my music anyway. I can come back later. If that’s okay, Professor?”
Professor Oribel was quite amenable and re-opened the Giant Clam for Harry. He picked out the most normal-looking guitar and sat down at the piano to tune it. Professor Oribel perched on a stool nearby and didn’t hesitate for a moment in correcting his mistakes. Harry was quite happy to take her advice, and the better he played, the happier she grew.
“You need more practice, much more,” she observed, “but you have grace in your fingers. It is pleasing.”
Harry would take her word for that. “Do you play all these instruments, Professor?”
“Oh no,” breathed Professor Oribel, “the harp is my pleasure. Other strings from time to time, but I like the harp. It has the most wonderful mathematics. So pure — so articulate. The precision within your fingertips,” she said, curling her elongated fingers as if plucking at strings, “is most exhilarating to explore.”
“And the piano?” Harry asked, thinking of Susan.
“The piano is but a harp trapped inside a box,” she replied. Impishly, and she stretched out her long feet and confided, “And my toes do not reach the pedals.” Climbing down from her stool, she said, “I am sorry, Mr Potter, but I must return to my workshop now. My tools will be anxious to continue. I promised I would not be gone long. We are at a most delicate point,” she assured him.
Standing at the edge of the clamshell, she lingered a moment to look around her empty classroom. The late summer sun was sending lazy sunbeams creeping across the empty circle of desks, but none reached the cool interior of the clamshell; only Oribel’s delicate profile and shock of white-gold hair were illuminated in silhouette.
“You did really well today,” Harry offered unthinkingly then bit his tongue; he didn’t know why he said that.
“Thank you, Mr Potter,” she said shyly. She rocked a little on her heels and confided that it had been her first class ever.
“I would never have guessed,” Harry lied gallantly.
“Oh!” she cried. “I forgot to set homework!”
“We hardly ever get homework the first week,” Harry lied comfortingly and his teacher nodded.
“It is very — new, being here,” she admitted hesitantly. “So many beings — all at once. Mealtimes are very … loud.”
Harry nodded sympathetically. “You know, the teachers don’t always come down to the Great Hall to eat. I bet the house-elves would be happy to bring you your meals. I can pop by the kitchens on my way to tea. Shall I tell them to take your dinner to your workshop?”
Professor Oribel nodded gratefully. As a thank you, or perhaps just because she wanted him to practice more, she gave him permission to use the Light Arts classroom when it was not otherwise in use.
“You will need the password for the door,” she said. She looked around before confiding in a whisper, “Bacioni.” Then she spelled it for him, just to be sure. “Oh, and Miss Bones, too. You will pass that on?” Harry nodded. “But you must be very careful — there are many valuables in this classroom.”
“We’ll be careful,” Harry promised her.
Professor Oribel was not gone long when Susan returned. Harry swiftly surrendered the piano seat.
“Thanks,” panted Susan, climbing into the shell and dumping a heavy portfolio on the closed lid of the piano. “I was just in the Great Hall,” she offered helpfully. “Ron and Hermione are doing prep down there.”
Harry didn’t imagine that was Ron’s idea. In no hurry to referee a row over Muppets, he dallied at an open window, staring down to where a group of first years were tumbling around on the grass. They looked so tiny and happy, not a care in the world. Two of the little girls, Amanda and Willow, were doing handstands and trying to hold up each other’s legs and robes. They were making a terrible meal of the job and looked for all the world like a pair of baby bats. Hector and Brutus weren’t helping matters. They’d dash forward to tickle the girls and then get caught up in a tangle of legs and robes when the girls collapsed, giggling, on top of them.
“Sorry,” Susan called out, noticing Harry loitering, “I’ll probably be a while — did you want to keep practicing?”
Harry waved her to sit back down. “No, no. I had my turn. I just didn’t really fancy ...” Harry shrugged, “... I dunno ... Great Hall gets a bit noisy when I’m around.”
“Ah,” said Susan understandingly, making Harry feel like an idiot. Why on earth had he said that? “You’re welcome to hang up here,” Susan offered, “if you can put up with me being all stop-start on the keyboard.”
Harry didn’t need a second invitation. He found a sunny spot beneath one of the windows and lay down on his stomach with his copy of Magical World Mythology. The Great Sneeze of Nostrilamus was just too tempting not to look up, but the hot sun across Harry’s back, and the knitting needles tinkling musically on the breeze, provided stiff competition. He didn’t even make it past the first Handkerchief of Doom.
“Wha —” he mumbled.
Someone was nudging him awake. He twisted around and gazed blearily into a pair of clear hazel eyes.
“Teatime, sleepy,” Susan said, grinning. Harry hurriedly swiped the drool from his mouth with his sleeve and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Come on,” she said, offering him a hand up.
They closed up the clam and classroom and headed downstairs through the mad maze of hundreds of stairs and passageways that was Hogwarts Castle. There were plenty of shortcuts Harry could have suggested, but speed was the last thing on the lad’s mind. He knew very well just how rare it was to get girls completely on their own and he racked his brains for something clever and witty to say. Clever and witty? Harry would settle for simple and sane but his mind was a complete blank. In an effort to buy more time, he led Susan down several sets of trick stairs that landed them back on the floors above.
“Are you okay, Harry?” prompted Susan quietly as they strolled down the old forbidden corridor on the third floor.
“No, I’m good,” he said quickly. “Why?”
“You just seem a bit distracted,” she observed mildly. “And this is the third time we’ve come down this corridor. Evening, Ethelred.”
Ethelred the Ever-Ready, looking as vexed as ever, deigned to give Susan a curt nod.
Harry grimaced ruefully and said, “I was kind of hoping you wouldn’t notice.”
Susan said nothing to that; she just strolled to the end of the corridor and sat down on a short set of steps. Sprung, Harry sat down too and waited resignedly for whatever lecture was coming. Susan fidgeted for a bit, straightening the music in her lap.
“Those Boji Stones were something,” she said finally. Thrown, all Harry could manage was a nod. “Harry, I saw something ... a kind of daydream, I guess.” Slumped over his knees, Harry toyed unhappily with his frayed shoelaces. “There was a girl with red hair, like me,” said Susan, “and you were there, but our features were all mixed up. I was calling you a bully.”
Harry’s flinched at that, but he could hardly explain that it wasn’t him but his father, James Potter, being told off by the red-haired, green-eyed Lily Evans.
“Harry, I might be wrong,” Susan said delicately, “but I don’t think the vision came from me.”
Harry’s face grew warm. “No, it didn’t. Look, it’s nothing. It’s stupid. Please, just forget it.”
Hugging her portfolio to her chest, Susan’s eyes clouded over with concern. “Harry, I know you’ve been getting a hard time about last night, but I’m sure it’ll all blow over. And Ron’ll come around,” she added encouragingly.
Feeling humiliated all over again about the way he’d mouthed off so arrogantly about his best friend, about scaring little kids, about all the other stupid things he said, Harry had nothing to offer in his defence, not a thing, and it was with a strained kind of laugh that he said, “You must think I’m completely mental.”
“Well, yeah,” Susan said frankly. She smiled at the look on Harry’s face. “In a good way,” she assured him. “Too many people just accept things as they are. I think it was really wonderful how you stepped up and refused to take any of that pure-blood nonsense. I was really proud and impressed with what you did. More people should be so mental. And it certainly didn’t hurt to have the rest of the school listen in as well. People are finally ready to hear what you have to say, Harry, and it was a really good and powerful message.”
Harry was ill-equipped to cope with compliments. She was impressed?
“But,” he started uncertainly, “about Ron ... you said how rough it was, what I said about him.”
“Well, it was,” Susan said unflinchingly. “But did you really mean it?”
“Never!” Harry said vehemently. “I don’t even know how it came out like that; it was never what I meant to say.”
“Good,” Susan said simply, and relief washed over Harry; she understood, she really understood, and it was okay. “I don’t think you’re a bully, Harry,” she added softly.
“No,” said Harry. “I mean that’s good. I mean ...”
There was an odd little smile on Susan’s face as she leaned closer and whispered, “Do you reckon we can go downstairs now?”
Smiling sheepishly, Harry helped the girl to her feet. They walked on in silence, but it was a deliciously comfortable silence this time, and Harry was obliged to restrain a definite spring in his step. Susan paused to tickle a cherub engraved on a thick oak door; the cherub giggled and the door swung open to reveal another set of stairs.
“You know,” she offered conversationally, as they automatically stepped over a trick step, “the kids were so excited about their grand adventure; it’s all they could talk about last night. They were so proud of themselves for standing up for that little Mallory girl. You gave them that pride, Harry.”
“Nah, it was all their idea; all I did was rouse on them.”
“Well, sometimes people need a little telling off. Do you reckon they’ve got a crystal for that?”
“They do indeed,” Harry invented. “Disappointite: Guaranteed to defeat your inner idiot.”
“Oh, I so need to get one of those. I bet Professor McGonagall’s got a few.”
“Yep. Got a great boxful of them in her office. She shares them with me all the time, you know.”
“Well, I’m special.”
They had just reached the entrance hall when Susan turned to Harry and observed, “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever called anyone a toerag before; mind if I use that?”
“It’s all yours. Just not on me, okay?”
“Spoilsport.” Susan headed for the Great Hall, but Harry held back.
“I’m coming in, I just need to run an errand for Professor Oribel,” he said and Susan nodded.
“See you later, Harry.”
“Yeah, see you. Oh, Susan,” Harry rushed forward to whisper a word in her ear. Startled, Susan fell back, confusing Harry no end. “It’s the password to the Light Arts classroom,” he explained. “Professor Oribel said we could use the clam for practice after hours.”
Susan was turning very pink. “Oh, thanks. Bye.”
Mystified, Harry watched as the girl practically run away from him.
Harry’s quick errand was foiled by Dobby and the other house-elves, who all made a great fuss over him. It seemed that Harry Potter telling the whole school that the Hogwarts house-elves were fantastic cooks went down exceedingly well in the kitchens, and Harry was obliged to smile through gritted teeth as Dobby led his fellow house-elves in rousing rendition of For He’s a Jolly Good Wizard. The elves were quick to assure Harry that they would take very good care of Professor Oribel, since, as a friend of Harry Potter, she was clearly ‘no common goblin’. Harry felt annoyed at that, thinking that they should be treating her well for her own sake, but decided to leave well enough alone. He was, however, forced to have a word when Dobby tried to alter his MORE CLUELESS badge to say MORE WONDERFUL.
Propped up in bed that night, Harry took up his quill to write to his guardian. Faced with a blank sheet of parchment, Harry pondered just how much he wanted to tell. Remus certainly didn’t need to hear about what an idiot his ward had been at the welcome feast, nor how he’d managed to putrefy everyone in Herbology. Nor did Remus need to know how the corridors filled with taunts and giggles every time Harry Potter passed by with his MORE CLUELESS badge flashing. And he could hardly tell him about the Purgo Charm, because he might recognise it as a spell of Lily’s since James and Frank Longbottom clearly hadn’t learned it at Hogwarts. On a more positive note, Harry contemplated telling Remus about his escape from Flamel’s bubble trap, but he didn’t want to look like he was bragging. The truth of the matter was that there was only one thing Harry really wanted to tell him.
Hope you and Elizabeth are both well and that she wasn’t too cross about the last ten years.
First day back was pretty full. Ron got into Potions after all. Snape is being a complete prat as per usual. Nothing we can’t handle.
My new teachers aren’t bad. Professor Perenelle Flamel is teaching DADA. She’s not as good as you, of course, but she’s a vast improvement on the troll. I’ve got Professor Oribel for Light Arts and she gave me a guitar lesson after class, which was really good. Not urgent, but I need to get some Boji Stones. A blue pair and a brown pair (males and females). Do you think the Apothecary would stock them?
Nothing much else to tell. There’s one thing I wanted to ask you, though. You’re good at languages, right? Do you know what ‘bacioni’ means? It’s probably Gobbledegook, so Bill might know if you don’t (if you happen to see him).
Thanks a lot,
P.S. I made captain. In case you wanted to know.
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