Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, it's characters, or anything associated with it. I'm not making any money from this story, and I don't intend to. I'm writing it purely for the satisfaction of it, and because several people warned me that there would be dire consequences if I didn't finish it. Please don't sue -- I don't own enough to make it worth your while.
The Mirror of Maybe
Chapter Five - First Lessons
By Midnight Blue
Harry sighed. Why did he have to deal with this *now*? If he'd given the situation even a little bit of thought, he would've held back out of sight until Severus had entered his rooms, after which, Harry could have made his way to bed without any more confrontations or surprises.
//On the other hand,// Harry thought, //this is *my* home now too -- and I'm damned if I'm going to sneak around pretending I live somewhere else...// so he calmly answered Severus' question with the simple statement: "I'm going to my rooms, Professor."
"Well, if you thought you would find them by following me," Severus snapped, "then it's my sad duty to inform you that my quarters are *not* located near the other staff suites, and you are heading in the wrong direction entirely."
Harry resisted the temptation to sigh again.
"My quarters are *also* in this corridor, Professor," he replied. "I asked for rooms in a quiet and isolated location. Given tonight's 'demonstration', I'm sure you can understand why."
Severus blinked, "There must be some mistake..."
"I moved in two days ago." Harry assured him. "I should think I know the way by now."
"No, no -- you *must* be mistaken -- I would have seen you -- I would have been informed..."
Blandly, Harry replied, "An oversight on Albus' part, I'm sure..."
Severus frowned at the mention of the Headmaster's name. "An oversight..." he repeated slowly. His eyes narrowed.
"Perhaps," Harry suggested lightly, "it would be easiest if we simply went and looked. Then, if I'm mistaken, you can point me in the right direction -- and if I'm not, you'll be able to see for yourself which door is mine."
The potions master could obviously find no fault with such a simple solution, and so -- with a look of faint dread on his face -- he followed Harry silently down the corridor.
Harry knew that the few other doors in this corridor opened onto bare, cold, musty spaces with no water, bathrooms, heating, or other amenities. They were simply used for storage, and often not even that. Some of them were completely empty except for the occasional cobweb. Severus' rooms were by far the largest of them, and Harry was pretty sure it had taken a lot of effort some years ago to make them habitable. Right now, Severus was undoubtedly thinking that similar work would also have had to be done to make any of the other rooms liveable -- and surely he would have noticed *that*, since it was only a few doors away.
Harry, however, was quite certain that Albus had ordered the work done behind a sound-proofing spell -- and if Sev' were to corner the Headmaster about it, Albus would undoubtedly claim that it was done that way purely so that his temperamental Potions Master would not be disturbed.
Harry doubted Severus would believe *that*, any more than *he* did.
Three doors down from Severus' apartment -- and on the opposite side of the corridor -- Harry stopped in front of a plain, but solid, wooden door.
"Open," he said, and then stepped aside, gesturing for Severus to enter.
"Open!?" Severus exclaimed in astonishment. "That's your idea of a *password*?"
Harry snorted in amusement, "Well, of course, it won't work for *everybody*," he replied. "A student could stand here yelling 'Open!' at the top of their lungs all night, and it wouldn't do them any good."
"A claim I devoutly hope you will *not* be testing," Severus said sourly.
"I dare say that I would probably answer the door after a couple of minutes," Harry mildly agreed. "Would you care to reassure yourself that I have not simply unlocked a storage cupboard? You are more than welcome since we have, in effect, become neighbours."
As the older man turned to look through the door, it almost seemed as though he was drawn in by a kind of horrified fascination -- one that was entirely dredged up by the word 'neighbour'.
Once Sev' had passed him, Harry quietly followed. He stopped just inside the door, allowing other man to have an unrestricted view of the entire room.
Harry, of course, had brought very little with him. All the furniture in sight belonged to Hogwarts, as did the few rugs, tapestries, and pictures adorning the floor and walls. The only thing he'd really indulged himself in was the bed, which was not visible from this room, and which he had purchased himself because there were just some things he wouldn't compromise on if he had a choice. Elsewhere in the main room, there was also a bookcase with Harry's few novels and spell books on it, as well as a pair of battered and overstuffed armchairs in front of the fireplace. With a gesture and a soft murmur, Harry unobtrusively lit a small spark in the hearth, and allowed it to build up gently to a soft glow.
Harry's apartment was an odd combination of lighting effects -- the traditional sconces hung on the walls, but many of them were unlit. He only needed a few of them scattered throughout the room to provide enough background light for general purposes. For more intense work lighting -- or to create a pleasant decorative effect -- Harry preferred the small globes of directed light that the Elves commonly used. They were partly chemical in nature, but the light they emitted was considerably enhanced with the use of spells. Harry had scattered a dozen or so of them around the room, and several of them were actually on the floor, pointing upwards so that objects above them were lit from below. It was a lighting effect that Severus was unlikely to have seen before.
The potions master himself was now carefully studying the various knickknacks and furnishings. They were all old, and somewhat the worse for wear. Harry had only asked Albus for the absolute minimum in furnishings -- but he had also requested free access to the many storage areas around the castle. As soon as he'd arrived and unpacked his few belongings, Harry had then gone down to the kitchens and secured Dobby's assistance in rummaging around through room after room of discarded and broken property. The enthusiastic house elf had been only too happy to help, and together, they'd found all kinds of interesting odds and ends with which to fill Harry's quarters. Of course, most of it was damaged in some way -- but it served to fill up the empty places on the shelves and bench tops, and gave the place that lived-in look that, by rights, it should not have had.
While Severus was studying Harry's decor, the War Mage was studying *him*. Standing by the door, watching Sev's silent examination, Harry momentarily felt the ridiculous urge to call out: 'He followed me home, Ma -- can I keep him?' But at this stage in their tenuous relationship, he knew that doing so would probably alienate the other man for life -- if not longer.
So instead, Harry simply soaked up Severus' presence, and enjoyed the opportunity to stare unreservedly at the man in the middle of his living room. With a sense of contentment, Harry leaned against the edge of the open door and studied the long planes of Sev's face; the way he stood; the slope of his shoulders; the motion of his long, elegant hands; and the way his robes draped themselves down his body.
Severus was taller than Harry by several inches, and he moved with a graceful economy that Harry knew had been hard won. Harry could recall Severus telling him that as a child he'd been clumsy -- the result of growing too fast, and having to constantly remind himself that he was taller than he thought he was -- with both a longer stride, and a greater arm-reach. Sev' had also admitted that at the time, it had seemed to take forever before his elbows and knees were finally where he expected them to be.
No wonder the man habitually strode everywhere with such force and speed -- he had probably begun the habit simply to enjoy the feeling of balance and agility after being heckled as a 'klutz' for so long. Then, as time progressed, it would've slipped easily into his unconscious as his usual walking pattern.
//And, of course,// Harry smiled, //with his height and that 'glare' -- the way he moves is also quite useful for intimidating people -- his students not least among them.// And then Severus turned, and Harry found that *he* was now the one being stared at.
After a moment, Severus Snape grudgingly admitted, "It would seem that *I* was the one who was mistaken -- you do, indeed appear to have quarters in this corridor."
"Are you sure?" Harry teased, "You haven't seen the kitchen or the bathroom yet," and then some fragment of deviltry made him add, "Oh, and of course, there's a bedroom you should most definitely have a look at, too."
Severus blinked, looking momentarily non-plussed. Then he frowned slightly. "I see no need for sarcasm," he said resentfully, "I was in error -- I have admitted it -- let that be the end of it." and he abruptly headed for the door.
"What?" Harry asked, "No, wait -- look, I'm sorry -- I didn't mean it like that," and he barred the exit with an upraised arm. "I just... I know you've had this place to yourself for a long time, and... and I just wanted you to know that I'm not going to be... well... blowing things up, or developing experimental weapons in here, or anything like that. I value my peace an quiet just as much as you do, and I'll do my best not to disturb you."
Poised in front of Harry's upraised arm, Severus Snape raised a disdainful eyebrow at him. "As you have already stated that you moved in here two *days* ago -- a fact I was completely unaware of until tonight -- I see no problem with continuing as we have begun -- in which case, *both* of us should achieve as much peace and quiet as we might wish." Then Severus glanced down at the arm barring his exit, and then back up at Harry. The eyebrow raised itself again in an unspoken question.
In reply, Harry reluctantly removed his arm and watched as Severus strode quickly back down the corridor to his own rooms. Feeling like he'd seriously screwed something up -- but couldn't tell quite what it was -- Harry decided that he really needed a hot bath followed by a good night's rest. He'd figure out all the rest of it tomorrow.
Hagrid's warm touch in his heart a few minutes later, only served to relax him further into the hot, soapy water.
It was an irritated and confused Severus Snape who arrived back in his own apartment.
He was irritated because his much-valued privacy was apparently of so little account that nobody had even bothered to *tell* him he was getting a 'neighbour' -- and he was confused because he couldn't understand why Albus would *do* this to him. There was no doubt in his mind that the Headmaster had deliberately 'forgotten' to tell him about this, and also no doubt that it was much too late to change it now, and he would just have to live with it.
But if he was honest with himself, Severus Snape was also confused by the man who was now living just down the hall from him.
Ash -- a War Mage.
Severus had not missed the little thread of magic that had so skilfully lit the fire in the hearth. With no wand in his hand, and hardly a sound to activate the spell, Ash had worked a very subtle and useful bit of magic. Severus was intensely curious to know just what species he'd learned it from.
Humans needed wands to properly focus their magic. Without a wand, they still had magic, but it was unpredictable and impossible to control properly. Children were taught to channel their magic through their wands so that as they grew older, the habit would become ingrained, and they would no longer cause impulsive bursts of capricious magic whenever they felt strong emotions -- be it happiness, sorrow, fear, or even love. In this way, an adult wizard or witch would have full and conscious control over their magical ability.
How then, did someone learn to think enough like a non-human -- *any* non-human -- to be able to use other forms of magic? And where would he have met non-humans who were willing to teach him? Who *was* this man living virtually next door to him?
Severus had expected the Mage's apartment to give him a few clues with respect to these questions. But instead, he'd been greeted by a room that gave absolutely nothing away.
The Mage's apartment had been full of mis-matched and damaged cast-offs. Taken individually, each one was a piece of junk that should have been thrown out. Yet when viewed all together -- and especially under those odd little directed lights -- the total effect was one of warmth and colour. The scruffy odds and ends all blended smoothly together to create a welcoming home that looked as if its owner had been living there for a number of years.
But upon closer inspection, *every* piece of furniture and decorative memento had obviously come from the school. There was absolutely *nothing* of the man's personal history or experience in *any* of it.
Staffroom gossip held that the Mage had arrived in Diagon Alley with nothing but the muggle clothes on his back -- and it appeared from the look of his rooms that this might well be the case. Another man -- faced with the same situation -- would probably have bought new things, even though they wouldn't have had the same worn, homey feel to them. Or else, he might have chosen to leave the walls bare until time and experience naturally accumulated whatever was missing.
But the War Mage had done neither of these things.
Instead, he had chosen to submerge himself in the lengthy and very personal history of Hogwarts itself.
Each worn out tapestry -- each dented knickknack -- had its past use and abuse clearly stamped upon it's surface. There was even an old cauldron on one of the tables -- punched inwards on one side -- that Severus himself had used as a student -- and that had been wrecked when the potion of a neighbouring boy had exploded next to it. Severus had been surprised to see that old cauldron, and strangely pleased that it was once again in use -- even if Ash *did* only keep rolled-up parchment in it.
But the point was, that like everything else in the room, you could tell that the cauldron had been *used* -- that it had a history -- and lieu of his own past, the War Mage was using the accumulated experiences of each item to embed himself into the *school's* history.
Any student who walked into Ash's apartment would not feel like they were in the company of a man who had simply appeared out of nowhere and taken up residence. Rather, they would feel like they were with someone who *belonged* at Hogwarts -- and who had been there for quite some time.
They would be much more inclined to *trust* him in such surroundings.
Severus wondered whether that result was intentional, or merely a side-effect.
Looking around his own quarters, the potions master noted that even *his* furnishings -- while of impeccable quality -- did not exude the same sense of welcome, or of being so very much tied into the school's daily life -- and *he'd* lived here a lot longer than two days!
Severus pondered all of these things as he got ready for bed, and made a mental note to see the Headmaster as soon as possible tomorrow. Since Albus had seen fit to dump this mystery next door to *him*, then he was most definitely owed at least *some* explanation for it.
As he lay on his bed in the darkness, Severus found that his half-asleep brain began to imagine the most unlikely things about the man with no apparent past. Old wives tales sprang to mind, wherein babies were kidnapped and raised by faeries -- and foolish impossibilities flitted through his thoughts -- such as tales of human-elf half-breeds who looked like ordinary wizards but were proficient in both Elven *and* human magics.
But as he drifted further away from consciousness, one thing kept coming back to him...
...that almost ...flirtatious... comment that Ash had made about Severus viewing his bedroom.
For a moment, Severus had almost imagined...
And then sleep claimed him, and the impression was lost to dreams.
Harry's first day of classes did not start a well as he'd hoped.
To begin with, when he entered the dining hall that morning, he was greeted by the sight of a temporary barricade that had been erected over the two knives he'd left embedded in the floor. People had apparently been tripping over them.
With a face that would have put a muggle fire engine to shame, Harry immediately pushed the barricades aside and bent down to retrieve them. //Ly'haniir would have my head,// he cringed. His old teacher in the circle had endlessly drilled him to the tune of 'always know where your weapons are'. And yet, here Harry was -- with two knives that had spent the entire night in the middle of the dining hall!
Harry was acutely conscious of being watched as he quickly murmured 'let go' to the floor. A dwarf would have spoken to the stone itself, but then, a dwarf would not have been able to speak to the castle as a whole -- and Harry had always found it easier to get Hogwarts to assist him, than it was to think in dwarven before he'd had his first cup of coffee.
The castle obliged him, and Harry easily slipped his first knife out of its prison. The stone even flowed like water for a split-second afterwards -- healing the small hole in itself, before returning to its more durable form. There was no longer any mark to indicate where the knife had once been. Harry quickly repeated the procedure on his other knife, and then made his way to the teachers' table for breakfast.
Severus had apparently decided to eat in his rooms this morning -- but several other teachers were already there, and Harry made small talk with them -- doing his best to alleviate their obvious nervousness over the 'demonstration' of the night before. He wasn't certain how much success he was having, but nobody ran screaming from his presence, and shortly thereafter the morning post arrived.
Harry had re-directed his Daily Prophet subscription to the castle three days ago, so when an owl from the local Hogsmeade postal service dropped the morning paper in front of him, he was already expecting it. What he was *not* expecting, however, was the flashing headline in two-inch high print declaring 'Boy Who Lived Missing!'
This was followed by lurid speculation about whether he was still alive at all, and if so, whether You-Know-Who had kidnapped him and was even now torturing him to death. The article ended with a couple of small paragraphs on the second page -- and it was here that Albus' assertion that Mr Potter was 'safe and well' was buried in the last few sentences.
Harry felt ill. Those idiots at the paper were going to cause a panic! What would his friends think? At least Ron and Hermione had Albus' personal assurance that he was all right -- and they would undoubtedly be pestering the Headmaster for more information as soon as they could get to him. Sirius, of course, would be here as soon as he heard -- and woe betide even Albus if Harry's godfather didn't get a straight answer! But Molly and Arthur Weasley -- Ron's mum and dad -- were going to be worried sick!
The only people who really knew anything at all, were Hagrid and Albus -- and Harry had made sure that even *they* didn't know very much.
For a few minutes, Harry seriously debated revealing himself to a limited number of key people -- if only to provide some reassurance to those who did *not* have Albus' personal reassurance that he wasn't dead, dying, or the victim of some madman's gruesome plot. But in the end, Harry remembered that hasty decisions often made a bad situation worse -- and he ultimately decided to consult Albus, and see what the wise master of human behaviour had to say about the newspaper article, *before* he committed himself to any irrevocable action.
Somehow Harry managed to sit calmly through the rest of his meal, but aside from the paper's sensational headline, the only other thing he could later recall was Professor Flitwick's fascinated voice asking "How do you *do* that?" when Harry automatically used a hand gesture to send his cup off for more coffee. Levitation was a speciality of the diminutive Charms teacher, and watching Ash fly his cup across to the coffee pot without a wand in sight, was almost enough to send the man into paroxysms of delight.
But it was *after* breakfast that Harry had more immediate things to worry about.
It was time for his first class.
Patiently, Harry waited while the second-year Ravenclaws assembled.
They seemed to be making an inordinate amount of noise as they entered the classroom, and Harry was surprised to note the amount of clinking jewellery and the number of rattling chains that everyone seemed to be wearing -- although most of the girls had apparently settled on little bells, which were at least musical. One girl even had bells on her earrings!
In a flash, Harry realised that some bright spark among the students had come up with a way to ensure that he would *always* hear them coming. The rest of the school had then slavishly copied the idea, and from the look of it, Harry was almost *guaranteed* to be hearing bells all day -- if not all week!
He nearly laughed at the thought of all those bells and rattling chains -- but stopped himself, since it obviously made his students feel safer, which could only be a good thing after Albus 'demonstration' last night. Hopefully, the fad would die off as the term progressed, and they came to realise that he wasn't actually paranoid or crazy -- just very well trained.
The students were soon seated, and with only some minor jingling and clinking among the ranks, Harry got his first lesson underway...
Two days later...
"Ron, what on earth are you doing?!" Hermione asked in exasperation, "We're going to be late to our first Dark Arts lesson if you don't hurry up!"
"That *is* what I'm doing!" Ron replied, "-- hurrying to get ready for it!" and he finally extracted a length of steel chain from his book bag, and then proceeded to wrap it loosely around his neck and shoulders. "Now, I'm safe!"
Hermione made an exasperated noise. "You look like you're trying to impersonate a muggle ghost."
Surprised, Ron asked, "Muggles have ghosts?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "They have ghost *stories* -- where every ghost drags chains around and moans hideously to scare people -- and are you ready *yet*?"
"Yeah, yeah, let's go -- and muggle ghosts don't sound all that scary to me..."
Together they pelted off towards their next class, and when the steel-banded doors of the classroom came into view, they were relieved to see that they weren't the only ones running late.
But for some reason, the other students weren't going in...
"What's happening?" Ron asked the nearest person.
"There's a note on the door," Dean Thomas replied, "It says we're all supposed to go to the Quidditch pitch."
"Oh, no!" Hermione exclaimed, "Now we're *really* late!"
The straggling students -- Ron and Hermione amongst them -- arrived on the large grassy oval only to find that they were by no means the last to arrive. Several other students were also streaming across from the greenhouses -- and belatedly, Ron realised that Ash was not the only teacher waiting for them. Standing next to the imposing War Mage, with her patched hat and a cheerful smile, was the Herbology teacher -- Professor Sprout.
Puffing, and feeling the extra weight of the chain he was wearing, Ron looked around and saw that Professor Sprout's sixth-year Herbology students were unfortunately all Slytherins!
Catching Hermione's eye, he whispered, "Just great! -- as if it wasn't bad enough having to share double Potions with that lot."
Hermione shushed him, and then pulled him down towards the Gryffindor end of the loose semi-circle that had formed around the two teachers.
There was some nervous shuffling and a few coughs, and then everyone fell silent.
"Are we all here, yet?" Professor Sprout asked.
"I believe so," Harry responded. "Shall we get started?"
"By all means," the other teacher smiled, "and since *you're* the one who needs the introduction..." She gestured courteously for Harry to lead off.
Taking a small step forward, Harry raised his voice and clearly announced, "Good morning everyone, and welcome to a combined Herbology / Defence Against the Dark Arts class. My name -- as you already know -- is War Mage Ash, and I'm here to teach you the basics in defending yourself against some of the nasty little surprises that the wizarding world has in store for you."
"As you probably all know from the students who've *already* had their first Defence class, we're going to be doing things a little differently this year. For classes like this one -- where we only have a single-period lesson -- we'll be following the traditional format of identifying a dangerous creature, spell, or situation, and then practicing the counter spell or action that will save you."
"However," Harry continued, "in the classes where we have a *double* lesson, I'm going to introduce a new structure, which I call 'Survival'." There was suddenly a lot of nervous shuffling and more than a few indrawn breaths. They'd all *heard* about this new lesson plan, but since nobody had actually been through one yet, nobody could say for sure what it was all about.
Their DADA teacher suddenly smiled and reassuringly added, "Don't panic -- I'm not going to make you run through a field of man-eating manticores! It's called 'Survival', because there are *going* to be times when you *will* run into something that you haven't learned about in Defence Against the Dark Arts. New hexes, monsters, and curses are being discovered every day -- and with wizards like Voldemort in the world --" and the entire combined class -- Gryffindors *and* Slytherins -- gasped when he said the Dark Lord's name, " -- you can bet that seven years of this class is *never* going to cover everything you might run into."
"So," Harry finished, "my new 'Survival' class is going to teach you a *system* that will give you a reasonable chance of *surviving* when you come up against something that you've never even heard of."
Then Harry finished with: "Are there any questions?"
A Slytherin boy raised his hand.
"Yes?" Harry asked, "Mr Goyle, isn't it?" -- which Harry knew perfectly well that it was.
"What's your *real* name, Professor?" Gregory Goyle asked, and there were a number of surprised looks from the other students.
Harry was surprised as well, and somewhat amused by Draco's cheek -- because it was inevitably Draco who would have planted the question in Gregory's mind. "And what makes you think 'Ash' *isn't* my real name?" Harry asked.
"Oh," Goyle shrugged, "I've just heard -- you know... other people saying it -- that you got here without even a suitcase, and are probably running from someone."
"*Mr Goyle!*" Professor Sprout exclaimed. "Ten points from Slytherin --" but a hearty laugh from Ash derailed her train of thought.
For himself, Harry couldn't believe how incredibly stupid Gregory Goyle really was. The boy was currently standing almost completely alone, since his classmates had all slowly drawn away from him in anticipation of their teacher's anger.
//Amazing,// Harry thought, //Draco must have done some *really* subtle work to make this idiot open up his mouth like that.// Goyle himself still appeared to have no inkling that he'd just accused his DADA teacher of being either a coward, or a criminal on the run.
Still chuckling at Draco's sneakiness and Goyle's idiocy, Harry replied, "Actually Mr Goyle -- 'Ash' *is* my real name -- although you're right in assuming that it isn't the name my parents gave me." Out of the corner of his eye, Harry could see Draco's attention sharpen. Harry wondered whether the boy was under orders from his father to find out as much as possible about him, or whether this was all Draco's own idea. "'Ash'," Harry continued, "is my War Mage name." The entire class looked confused, and so Harry elaborated: "That means it's the name I earned when I performed my first bit of non-human magic. War Mages take their names very seriously, you see, and our true names -- what we call our 'private names' -- are strictly reserved for our closest family and friends. Our 'public name' -- 'Ash' in my case -- is what everybody else uses. Thus, I can assure you that I am not presently 'running' from anyone."
"Oh," and that seemed to be the end of Goyle's thoughts on the matter. Draco looked faintly disappointed.
"Now," Harry continued, "Are there any questions relating to the *lesson* that anyone would like to ask?"
Hermione stuck her hand up. "Please sir," she said, "why is our class combined with Herbology?"
"Ahh," Harry replied, "I'm glad you asked." Stepping back, he turned and gestured towards Professor Sprout, who pulled a small box out of her robes.
The Herbology Professor then announced, "Today's class is a joint one because it involves a very dangerous plant. Before I can show it to you however, we will need some restrictions put in place. Gather 'round, everyone!" and she waved for them to come closer. The two classes shuffled in, looking curiously at the box in her hands. "Are they close enough?" Professor Sprout asked Harry.
"No problem," he replied, and then he raised his hands up over his head. A few muttered words -- and an odd twist in his voice -- and there was suddenly a shimmering dome spreading over their heads and racing down into the earth. "All done," Harry said once the dome was complete.
"Good, good," Professor Sprout nodded. "Now," she said as she opened the small box, "what I have here is commonly called 'Leech Root'," and several students gasped.
"But -- but that's *illegal*, that is!" Dean Thomas called out.
"It's illegal to *import*," Harry countered, "but Professor Sprout and I took this cutting from a live plant in a suburban muggle garden -- although it certainly wasn't alive *after* we were through with it."
"Dear me, no," Professor Sprout agreed, "awful things in the wild -- although, very beneficial under certain controlled circumstances." Then she removed a small cutting from the box in her hands, and bent down to bury one end of it in the ground. "Stand back, now," she commanded, and then took out her wand and said "Alesco Sero," and the tiny twig began to twitch and grow. After a minute or so, there was a small bush with the most lovely little white flowers on it, sitting in the middle of the Quidditch pitch.
The class eyed it nervously.
"Thank-you, Professor," Harry said as the Herbology teacher lowered her wand and stepped back. "You have a real gift for that. Personally, I have no talent for gardening, whatsoever."
Professor Sprout smiled -- pleased with the compliment.
"Now," Harry said, "Leech Root is a native of certain very limited areas of South America. As you can tell from its name, its roots can actually 'leech' magic from anything they manage to get hold of. At the moment -- if you look down -- you will find that that includes all of *you*."
Several students screamed and jumped as they all noticed little grey rootlings twined around their shoes and ankles. The tiny roots snapped easily as soon as a student moved, and the broken-off bits shrivelled and died instantly.
"As you can see," Harry continued, "the simplest defence against a plant this size, is to just keep moving. You will also note the reason for our protective dome -- which is actually a complete sphere that continues underground -- and is preventing the root system from spreading any further."
"Unfortunately," Harry added, "Leech Root doesn't *stay* this size," and Professor Sprout once more waved her wand. This time the bush expanded until it was waist-high and about three-feet wide. The cute little plant now looked a lot more sinister. Its delicate white flowers were still there, but there also appeared to be some kind of vine tangled in amongst the dark green leaves.
"Muggles," Harry said conversationally, "are completely immune to Leech Root, since they have no magic of their own, and thus, the plant has no interest in them. To the non-magical world, Leech Root is no more than a nice bush with pretty flowers." Then he shook his head in disgust. "This has made it very difficult for the authorities to control its spread, since Muggle gardeners don't understand *why* it's been banned from importing into this country -- and what's worse -- those with a preference for exotic shrubbery are seldom deterred by mere 'laws'. I expect that since Professor Sprout and I found this one growing unrestrained in a Muggle garden, that it's only a matter of time until we start seeing it more frequently in the wizarding areas of Britain."
"All true," Professor Sprout concurred, "However, it's not quite as bad as all that. Being a native of the southern regions of South America, Leech Root is more suited to temperate climates, and so it tends to die off during our much colder northern winters. This means that unless it's cultivated in a greenhouse -- or unless it gets a good, solid hold on a fair-sized magical creature -- then you're unlikely to see it as big as *this* anywhere in Britain."
The students -- who were all shuffling back and forth trying to keep the horrid little roots off their feet -- didn't look too impressed with all the explanations. One of the more cynical Slytherin boys asked, "Professor Sprout? Why are we studying this thing? It hardly seems useful to Herbology -- *or* very dangerous."
"Twit," Hermione muttered under her breath. Ron silently agreed.
Harry could feel a smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Well, then," he said to the boy, "why don't you step up and smell the flowers?"
"Umm..." Apparently the lad wasn't quite as stupid as all that, and wasn't going to let his mouth get him any further into trouble.
"Would anyone else like to try?" Harry asked after a moment, "No? I can assure you that the flowers have a very pleasant aroma." Nobody volunteered. "Ah, well," Harry sighed theatrically, "I guess we'll just have to use our guest 'victim'."
Harry then pulled on some heavy gloves and turned to open a box that had been sitting on the ground behind him. He reached inside and pulled out a Quolla. The cute, furry little beast reminded everyone of something a bit like a rabbit -- except that Quollas were widely known for giving people a nasty magical zap when they felt threatened. It wasn't fatal, but it hurt like hell for several minutes afterwards. Their teacher's gloves were obviously insulating him from the Quolla's magical defence.
Harry released the Quolla onto the ground.
Seeing itself surrounded by shuffling people, the little beast immediately ran for the security of the leafy green plant in the middle of the encircling students.
As soon as the Quolla got within two feet of it, vines from the Leech Root shot out and wrapped it up in a tight embrace. Screaming piteously in a high-pitched voice, and scrabbling a bit as it tried to get away, the little Quolla was swiftly pulled into the bush, and instantly disappeared from view.
A moment later, there were no more screams.
"As you can see," Harry said into the horrified silence, "a *mature* bush is a bit harder to get away from than those itty bitty roots you're all avoiding so easily. In fact, if this bush was just a little bit bigger, it would be quite capable of pulling one of *you* in as well."
"Now," Harry added in a business-like manner, "How do we defend ourselves against something like this? Any ideas?" After several suggestions, such as 'burn it', 'poison it', and 'hex it', Harry pointed out that all of these things would only destroy the *visible* part of the plant. Even poison would not reach the roots -- which stored the plant's stolen magical energy -- and were thus protected from most form of attack. Given a few days, the unaffected root structure would soon be pushing up new leaves right where the old plant had been.
After *that* bit of information, Hermione came up with the most creative suggestion so far -- which was: 'get a muggle to come and dig it up'.
Feeling *very* peculiar about saying it, Harry opened his mouth and replied, "Very good, Miss Granger -- five points to Gryffindor." And then he thought, //Did I really just *say* that? Ugh -- I won't *ever* get used to this!// He didn't know what disturbed him more -- calling Hermione 'Miss Granger', or being able to add and deduct points from any House he chose. //This is *so* bizarre!// he reflected. Then he got his attention back where it belonged.
"Unfortunately," he stated, "that solution won't help you if you're already *in* the grip of a Leech Root. Can anyone think of anything else?"
Having determined that the students had run out of ideas, Harry explained that the plant itself could be killed very easily with a simple little spell called 'Adflicto'. "The trick is," Harry explained, "*not* to cast it at the part of the plant you can *see*." He then walked up -- just out of range of the Leech Root's vines -- and said, "You have to cast the spell at the ground *under* or *around* the plant, so that it hits some part of the root system." Then Harry pulled out his wand, pointed it at the ground, and said "Adflicto".
Instantly, the ground trembled, and little puffs of dirt made popping noises all around them. By the time it stopped, the grassy area inside the dome looked like it had a bad case of the pox. The green bush in the middle of it all didn't look any better. It was even now turning brown, and dropping leaves like rain.
"This spell," Harry explained, "works by momentarily disrupting the roots' ability to store magic. Once freed, the stolen magic is not compatible with the root's natural magical signature, and it immediately begins to destroy that root. This, in turn, sets off even *more* of the stolen magic, and eventually the entire system is destroyed as the magic cascades through every part of the root structure." Then Harry turned towards the centre of the circle and eyed the visible, leafy part of the Leech Root in anticipation.
Suddenly, the Quolla -- looking stunned and much the worse for wear -- staggered out from underneath the dying bush.
"Look!" Pansy Parkinson called out. "It's not dead!"
"Oh, I'm so glad!" Hermione exclaimed. "I felt awful about it being killed just for a demonstration."
Ron looked at her strangely. "Sooner *it* than *us* I should think!" he said indignantly.
"Well, yes..." Hermione reluctantly agreed, "but I'm still glad it's all right."
Actually, several students seemed greatly relieved to see the Quolla, if only because it meant that being pulled in by a Leech Root, might not be as fatal as they'd thought. Harry soon disabused them of the notion.
"The Quolla," he said as he picked it up and deposited the animal back in its cage, "naturally discharges all of its magic in one quick burst. After that, it's really very much like a muggle, in that it has nothing left for several hours afterwards. This is the *only* reason it's still alive."
"For wizards, witches, and other magical beings," he said as he turned to face them, "the plant will continue to leech magic from you at a rate that will send you into shock after only a few minutes. So, it's not the energy-loss that kills you -- it's the systemic shock to your body as it tries to prevent the loss of any more magic."
"However," Harry finished, "you *will* have a few minutes before that happens, so as long as you keep a solid grip on your wand, and remember to cast the spell at the *ground*, you should be all right."
Then he stepped back and let Professor Sprout take over.
The Herbology professor explained that -- under certain carefully monitored conditions, it was possible to harvest roots from a living plant, which could then be made into a potion for temporarily boosting the energy levels of a wizard or witch who was ill, or who had been caught in a Leech Root.
"It actually comes with its own cure," she noted in passing.
After that, she pulled out several more little boxes from her robes and went around planting Leech Root cuttings all over the ground inside Harry's protective dome. She then grew them all to the size of a very small and mostly harmless bush, after which she started explaining to her students how to safely obtain roots from the living plant.
While she was doing that, Harry's class began practicing their Adflicto's, and Harry moved among them, pointing out their mistakes and helping them reduce each little shrub to a burnt-out pile of twigs.
By the end of the lesson, the Slytherins all looked as if they would *much* rather have been in Harry's class than Professor Sprout's.
As soon as Ron and Hermione finished their morning classes, they rushed off to find the Headmaster. He'd managed to avoid them all day yesterday -- and last night Professor McGonagall had shooed them away from his office with the words, 'I'm afraid he can't see you now -- he's been absolutely *inundated* with owls since Mr Potter's disappearance.'
When they tried to explain that Harry's absence was *why* they wanted to see the Headmaster, McGonagall had merely re-iterated Dumbledore's assurance that Mr Potter was fine, and that they should go and have some lunch before they ended up in the hospital wing, fainting from hunger.
So today, they were going to try and see the Headmaster again.
Unfortunately, when they arrived at his office, they quickly realised that they were not going to be seeing Dumbledore this time either.
The hallway was *packed* with people! Some of them were obviously reporters, while others had the look of Ministry officials. One or two -- who were being given a wide berth by the others -- even looked like they might be Aurors.
But *all* of them wanted to see Albus Dumbledore about Harry's disappearance!
When the door opened and Dumbledore and McGonagall finally emerged, the uproar and noise was almost deafening. The reporters yelled about 'freedom of the press', while the Ministry officials countered with 'official government business', and the Aurors tried to use 'national security' -- and all of them intent on getting in to see the Headmaster.
After a few moments -- and a lot of shouting -- Professor McGonagall managed to convince everyone to wait their turn, and then a few people -- it looked like the Ministry officials -- were admitted to Dumbledore's office. After *that* the door slammed shut, leaving the rest of the crowd to grumble and argue amongst themselves.
"Come on," Hermione said to Ron, "There's no point in staying here."
"Yeah," Ron morosely agreed, "We'd be the *last* people in line today." Then he burst out, "It's so *unfair*! They don't really care about *Harry* at all! They just want the 'Boy Who Lived' to came back and save them from You-Know-Who! *We're* his friends! *We're* the ones who deserve to know what's going on!"
Trying to cheer him up, Hermione suggested, "Well, maybe we could start our own investigation -- you know, try to find out what happened by ourselves."
"How?" Ron asked bluntly. "He disappeared ages ago! Where would we even start?"
"With the people who last saw him, of course," Hermione replied. "That's where *all* missing persons investigations start!"
"But we don't *know* who last saw him."
"Then we'll find out!" Hermione said, "Come on -- we have people to see!"
It wasn't much to go on, but suddenly Ron felt more hopeful. At least, he could do *something*. //And who knows,// he thought optimistically, //maybe we *will* find something!//
A few days later, Ron was no longer so optimistic.
Between them, they had talked to just about every student in the school except the first years. They had even swallowed their pride and asked the Slytherins! But nobody had *any* idea as to what might have happened -- and although several people remembered seeing Harry at the end of last term on Platform Nine and Three Quarters -- it very much appeared that Ron and his mum were the last people to actually *speak* to Harry.
"I wish we could ask Sirius," Ron said wistfully. "He *is* Harry's godfather, after all -- maybe *he* knows something." Then Ron looked surprised as the thought crossed his mind: "You don't suppose Harry's with *him* do you?"
Hermione nibbled her lower lip and considered it. "No," she said slowly, "after all, Sirius is still wanted for murder. Until he can clear his name, it wouldn't be safe for Harry to stay with him. But," she finished, "we can probably ask him whether he knows *anything* after he gets here. Since *everybody* now knows Harry's missing, I'm sure he won't be far away."
Ron snorted, "He'd be mad to try and see Dumbledore right now -- what with all the Aurors hanging about."
Hermione agreed, and then doubtfully suggested, "We could owl the Dursleys..."
Ron quickly scoffed at that idea. "As if those bloody great *Muggles* would accept a letter by owl post," he said, "-- they've probably laid out poison baits by now!"
"The *owls*!" Hermione suddenly exclaimed.
"What about them?" Ron asked.
"If Harry's missing," Hermione said excitedly, "then *where's* *Hedwig*?"
Sitting up in his chair, Ron blinked, and then asked, "How do you find a missing owl?"
"You can't," Hermione said, "Same as an owl can't find a missing person -- they can only find people who *want* to receive owl post, or who aren't being magically hidden from the owl network. Otherwise, an owl can only go to the last place the person was known to be, and see if they come back."
"Well that's not much use is it?" Ron grumbled.
"But Ron," Hermione said patiently, "what if Hedwig *isn't* missing?"
"What if she's *fine*? What if Harry sent her away or something? Where would she go?"
"Well, to my place I expect, or else..."
"The owlery!" they said in unison, and then together they raced off to the tower where the Hogwarts owls lived when they weren't delivering mail.
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