Sappho asked if it was really a smart idea to being just after lunch, when everyone was too full, but it didn’t matter much to Hannah; when they went down for lunch Saturday she could barely eat. All four of Alfred, Max, Fran, and Sappho walked her to the practice room saying encouraging things all the way, like how much she knew, and how impressed they all would be, which was all very well, but it didn’t explain how she was going to even speak when she got there. Her hands shook as she opened the door.
Her first thought was a stab of disappointment. There were only three other people there.
Her second thought was that they all looked older. “Okay,” she heard herself saying. “What do all of you know already?”
The other seven looked at each other. Were none of them even sure of what they knew? That was kind of weird. When an uncomfortable minute of silence had passed, Hannah decided to just go for it, “Do you all know the Disarming Charm, maybe?”
It was as she’d feared; several of them frowned, and one of the two boys in the room already said scornfully, “Of course we know that!”
But there was something about the blustery way he spoke that made Hannah strangely suspicious, and she found herself asking him. “Are you sure?”
He swaggered over and stood quite a bit taller than her, as he said, “Of course I am.” It should have intimidated her. But somehow Hannah found herself feeling less than impressed. She’d been sneered at by Severus Snape, Dolores Umbridge, and Desmond McMillan, after all. All she could think was they’d all been much more scary than him.
She even got an idea that seemed crazily a good one. “Do you know how to be prepared for it?” she asked, as within her robes she closed her hand around her wand.
“This is stupid!” he exclaimed; that he didn’t say he did was too telling to Hannah. He swerved away from her. “I told you, Ashley, this was a big fat waste of...”
“Expellimarmus!” It was ridiculously easy; his wand flew right out of his pocket and into her other hand. “What do you do without your wand?” she asked him.
“Wow!” said one of the other two girls. “How did you do that without even seeing where it was?”
“A Disarming Charm’s not like a Summoning Charm,” said Hannah. “It’s not the wand you focus on; it’s the wizard. It may seem like a little thing, but get someone’s wand away from them and the battle becomes a lot harder for them. Would you like to try it?”
They all wanted to, and Hannah felt herself settling down as one by one she set them against each other. In the process she discovered the boy’s name was Merlin Hersh, Ashley Covrobias was his girlfriend and one of Sappho’s teammates, and the third student was Josephine Shriggle, and she was the oldest of them in her seventh year. Yet she took the longest with what ended up being their first exercise, where one student hid a wand with their back turned to another student, who tried to get at it.
When at last she got Sappho’s wand to fly out of her belt and into her hand, Hannah felt a pleasing amount of accomplishment, but now she didn’t know what to do next. What had Harry done next? She couldn’t remember for the life of her.
It was Josephine who saved her, saying, “You know, I think, if maybe you know a bit about anti-jinxing and counter-jinxing...it’s just that Mr. Jess,” Mr. Jess was the name of their Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, “has always been a little weird about them, and I don’t know, but he just doesn’t make them that easy to understand.”
For a moment Hannah thought of that terrible book Professor Umbridge had made them read; she thought it might have said something about one of those, but she really hadn’t been sure. Then she remembered what they’d learned from the man at the time she thought to be Alastor Moody, and that was still very hard for her to think about.
But at any rate, Harry had covered the subject pretty well, and recalling his words about it, she said, “The two are actually quite different. Anti-jinxing is done before you’re jinxed, and counter-jinxing is done after, and the technique for counter-jinxing is actually a lot like the technique for jinxing, while anti-jinxing works completely differently.” She found it hard to believe none of them knew that already, but no one said anything; maybe they’d been grateful for the reminder. “I know Max is good at jinxing, right, Max?”
“Yes,” sighed a long-suffering Alfred, while Max just grinned.
“So what’s your best jinx?”
“That would be the Sea Crawler Jinx,” said Alfred.
“Hey,” protested Max, “I only did that once!”
“Which ones has he done more than once?” asked Hannah. From what she understood, the Sea Crawler Jinx turned the victim into some sort of sea creature, and she didn’t want to have to worry about how anyone was then going to be changed back.
“Mostly he tends to use Impediment Jinxes,” said Alfred. “Of varying strength.”
She’d have to use that; it was one of still too few jinxes where she was perfectly confident in her ability to both prevent and counter it. But it was one for which she’d had both Harry Potter and her half-Uncle for teachers, and when she looked at her memories, she remembered the latter’s teaching her about dealing with it better than the former’s.
“In that case,” she said, trying to keep her voice from shaking, because she knew that would make a bad impression, “why don’t you try an Impediment Jinx on me?”
It was almost scarily easy. She thought Max’s jinx was a relatively weak one when it hit her; the anti-jinx she’d done for them to see would have bounced off a far stronger one. She barely even felt the tingling that was the jinx trying to take effect. “You need to work on that,” she found herself commenting; she remembered how Harry had run them through some defensive jinxes as well as official counter-jinxes in the DA. “But first try it on me again.”
The second one was stronger, and a bit more sudden, too. But nonetheless she sent it back, and she even managed to get it on Max a little; she saw him stiffen from his own impediment as he tried to stride forward towards her. It was enough to make her feel a little proud. “Let’s see what the rest of you can do. We’ll take turns doing the jinxes.”
They were still working on it an hour later, when a tired Francesca pointed out the time, and Josephine Shriggle asked through panting breaths how long their sessions were going to be. That was one thing Hannah hadn’t properly thought out; the length of DA sessions had usually depended on when it was safe to slip through the corridors to the Room of Requirement and when it was then safe to leave. Harry had even brought an enchanted map of Hogwarts, apparently a hand-me-down from someone(what a hand-me-down!), which had showed where everyone in the castle was; Hannah remembered where they’d all gaped at their names crowded together in a room labeled Sometimes existing room.
“I think an hour and a half to two hours is a good length,” said Alfred, who was pretty sweated on his long brow, with his thick hair undone from its ponytail and scattered about to frame his face in wild chestnut waves.
“It is,” Hannah was happy to agree. “So,” she said, “next Saturday, here again, same time?”
“Can’t,” said Sappho immediately. “Quodpot practice. Maybe a little later, at four?”
“I think this room’s booked by then,” said Max.
“I can book another one,” said Hannah, but that was another thing to think about, and she added, “What about the weekend after? If everyone can tell me when they’ll be available, I’ll book for then too.”
That worked even better then she’d hoped; she soon had times written down for the next three weeks, and some notes about possible meeting times for the following two. Though that made her feel more anxious, because it made it feel real that she wasn’t just doing this for a couple of hours one day, but that she had to keep on doing it, had to keep figuring out how and what to teach next, with no clear end in sight. “I’ll go to Mrs. Hesselwin right away,” Hannah told them, “before all the rooms get booked.”
“I’ll go with you,” said Alfred.
Ashley and Josephine exchanged one of those looks Hannah had seen on the faces of quite a few girls in company of herself and Alfred from elementary school onward. “Don’t,” she snapped at them, and regretted it a moment later when Josephine just grinned wider and Ashley giggled.
And Sappho, that traitor, merely lightly commented, “Now, now, let’s not go giggling at the lovebirds, Ashley.” Hannah threw her a dirty look that she was sure a good teacher would never be caught dead giving to anyone in front of her students, and tried not to stomp too much as she walked out, Alfred having to scurry to keep up with her.
The morning of the lesson, after breakfast, found Hannah sitting on her bed, a piece of parchment in front of her on which she had written Lesson Plan, staring at The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection and two of Lockhart’s old books, which had mostly been about dark beasts & beings, which she was not ready to deal with. After two weeks of trying to write down everything she remembered over five years, she’d realized she’d learned almost nothing about Defense Against the Dark Arts her first two years at Hogwarts. Third year had been mostly dark creatures too(which seemed weird, after it had come out the teacher was a werewolf; maybe it took one to know them). After that she’d had two informative, if unusual, teachers(Umbridge didn’t count, obviously). She had a weird urge to owl Harry Potter and ask him for help, but surely he had more important things to worry about.
Even though it was possible half the class that would be there that afternoon wouldn’t have been there for it last week, Hannah decided eventually to continue where she’d left off. If anyone was confused, she was sure, they could ask her to explain things.
She was flipping through her spellbook after that, looking for any counter-jinxes they hadn’t at least touched on the previous week, when Fran came in; she’d been working on a Transfiguration assignment that Hannah had been neglecting for this, which might just be a problem; the thing with Mr. Rivers’ assignments was that she never knew beforehand how easy or how hard they were going to prove for her. But then again, she first thing Francesca said was, “Don’t worry; I found the Transfiguration work fairly easy.” Francesca actually was much better at Transfigurations than Charms, but that was encouraging. “How’s it going?”
“Not sure,” said Hannah, and she let Fran see her blank parchment. “Was there anything you wish we’d gotten to where we didn’t?”
“Actually,” she said, “I wish we’d spent more time on the anti-jinxes. We kind of got caught up in the counter-jinxes, which of course are a lot more fun and interesting. It might work to help introduce the newcomers to the course too.”
“Thanks,” said Hannah as she wrote down Anti-Jinxes. From there it was surprisingly easy to start writing down types of anti-jinxes, and soon she had the parchment half-full.
She was so absorbed in writing that she didn’t notice at first that Fran, after getting up, didn’t go back to her own side of the room, but instead restlessly walked to the window and then to the door, then around and around. Her shoes clacked on the floor until it got annoying, and Hannah bit back the urge to tell her to quit it. Finally when the noise stopped, she looked up, almost as a reflex action, and saw her roommate staring down intently down at her, and before she could stop herself she snapped, “What?”
She regretted it when Fran nearly jumped back, but then she asked, “What was Harry Potter like? I’ve always wondered.”
“Like?” It was weird, but Hannah had stopped thinking about him along those lines long ago. He had been their teacher. “He was all right. His lessons were very good. He seemed a little impatient at first with us, especially when people were asking him about his adventures and I don’t think he liked to talk about those much, maybe sometimes you were worried he was going to lose his temper,” and oh dear, she was feeling like giggling, “but I think he got a little better about that eventually.” She paused for a moment, then, when she thought about he had at the same time gotten a little scarier, she wasn’t even sure how, but it was like he’d been grimmer as time had gone on, more driven, even as she and the others in the DA had actually felt themselves grow less scared, feel they were getting away with it, and getting more able to protect themselves, even though Hannah knew, realistically, that if she ever ran up against Death Eaters it would probably still end with her dead. “That’s all I can say about him, really; I don’t think I’ve ever talked to him too much outside the DA. Sorry,” she added, because she was sure that disappointed Fran.
“Well,” said Fran softly, “I’ll keep him in mind during my prayers anyway. I’m sure he needs it.”
Hannah was getting used to biting her tongue by this time. Francesca seemed to like to pray about everyone, maybe because they didn’t themselves.
To ignore it, she focused back on her parchment. She had just written Anti-Explosions, one of those spells that prevented a whole category of jinxes, but didn’t necessarily do so very well. She wondered if there was any information anywhere on which spells it protected from better than others. She asked Fran.
“Probably a book in the library,” suggested Fran. “Have you been to the library yet?”
Actually, Hannah hadn’t yet. It was a little weird, considering she’d practically spent every spare second in the Hogwarts library after the DA had been discontinued. “It’s on the fourth floor,” she said, “right?”
“Let me show you,” Fran said, and took her hand. Hannah nearly protested; she needed to get this done and she didn’t have time to root through ten different books. But the other girl was pulling her to her feet, with more strength than Hannah had thought her to have, saying, “Come on. You look like you could do with the walk too.”
They were out of the girls’ dorm and heading down one of the “flat” staircases, a staircase closer to horizontal than vertical that took all of a long corridor to get up or down one floor; one of New York State’s unique architectural quirks, when the building began to shake. “Don’t mind that,” said Fran. “It does that every month or so.”
“I don’t mind,” said Hannah. The castle had never done anything like that, but it still reminded her of Hogwarts.
It was done shaking by the time they reached the bottom of the stairs, and it turned out the entrance to the library was right next to that. It was a fancy archway, the broadest Hannah had seen at New York State, carved up with serpents & a pair of phoenixes at the top.
Inside it was much like the Hogwarts library; Hannah suspected all wizarding libraries were pretty similar places anyway. That made it a lot bigger than it had looked from the outside; they had come in on a mezzanine that wound its way around all four walls, large enough that Hannah had to strain her eyes to get a good look at the lines of bookshelves that stood there. Below them far more spread out were more shelves; lines and circles and even a couple of corkscrews worth of books probably held most of the collection. She could spot an enclosed area under the far side of the mezzanine that she supposed might be a restricted section. Access was provided by a staircase attached to the railing that slid up to them as they entered, then when they made no move towards it headed on to the far side of the mezzanine.
“Hope we didn’t need that,” Hannah commented as she watched it go.
“Don’t worry,” said Fran. “We just need to get to those windows over there. Turn right, two of the bookshelves on the left occasionally like to block people. I wonder what books are in them sometimes, but then I’m afraid to find out.”
Books on jinxes, anti-jinxes, and counter-jinxes turned out to be near the first of the blue stained-glass windows, and as Hannah looked through the collection of volumes, thankfully the memories of trying to figure her way through them the previous years came back, and she remembered two of them that had actually helped her a lot with that part of the O.W.L. She pulled out the smaller one, where she could remember exactly where she’d reach about Anti-Explosions. It was much easier, she thought, reading through something a second time. She should’ve done that more at Hogwarts.
Next to her, she heard Francesca sigh, “Oh no...”
She looked up, then towards where the other girl was looking. There were two boys there; they looked like seniors. They were both vaguely handsome, though their expressions weren’t; they were both wearing smirks that Hannah knew immediately were trouble.
Suddenly, she was indignant at having to deal with it. There she was, trying to help a few people in her home country fight against one of the worst dark wizards of all time, and these two boys wanted to bug her too. She didn’t have time for this.
“Who are you?” she demanded, surprised by how rough and hostile her words sounded.
“My name,” drawled one of the boys, he sounded too much like Draco Malfoy, except somehow he didn’t frighten her as much as the other usually had, “is Romulus Metlik. This is my friend, Avidus Monk. He’s the best at Transfiguration in the entire school.”
“Is he?” asked Hannah, not trying to hide her skepticism.
“Wanna test it?” Avidus asked her, leaning over and getting too close, but Hannah was too aggravated even to step back.
“No,” she said, “not against me. But I’d be interested in knowing if you’ve ever proven that.” It did occur to her that he might have, but she hoped he hadn’t.
Romulus, obviously displeased she wasn’t playing along, stepped in between them, and he did intimidate Hannah enough she stepped back, and hit the table, which really made her anxious, but also made her truly angry. “You, young lady,” he said, “are attracting a lot of attention, claiming to be so puffed up and important.”
“I’m claiming nothing of the sort!” Hannah yelled in protest. “I’m teaching important things, and I’m not sorry they’re important, and that’s all!” She bit back the temptation to yell at them to bugger off. She knew more than enough about bullies to know exactly how they’d react to that.
“Oh, really?” started Romulus. “Shall we-”
“Expelliarmus!” He stopped and whirled around as he wand flew out of his robes and into Francesca’s hand. Hannah briefly wondered if they were allowed to do magic in the library, but when Avidus pulled out his wand, she hastily grabbed her own and yelled the charm herself; it flew into her hands.
There were things the boys could’ve done even without their wands, at least in theory, but one look at their panicked expressions and Hannah knew they didn’t have it in them. “Shall we escort you out of the library?” she asked, trying to sound tough and dangerous. She didn’t very much, but the two boys seemed to quail anyway; looked like there really wasn’t much to them at all.
They tossed their wands back to the boys at the entrance; there was the worry they’d attack then but they didn’t, just scrambled away as fast as their legs could carry them. When they were gone, Francesca actually grinned, and said, “That was fun.”
That hadn’t been the word Hannah would’ve used for it, but she didn’t entirely disagree with her either. Instead she just said, “We have work to do, though. There are wizards in the world much, much more dangerous than those brats.”
“Romulus one of the school’s worst, though,” Fran continued as they headed back to jinx section. “I think Al can tell you plenty about him; he was actually partnered with him for a project when he was twelve. From what I heard, he ended up doing all the work and everybody knew it expect the teacher, who was an idiot. One would think that would change Romulus’ view of Muggle borns, since he owes his butt to Alfred, but, well, it didn’t.”
Hannah now recalled Alfred tell her that story the summer after her second year, how Romulus had continually insulted his work after ordering him to do things, how he’d first tried to be friendly but finally even stopped asking him for help and just done everything himself to avoid talking to him, and it seemed not one thing Alfred did could make one bit of difference in how Romulus acted or viewed him. It was something she would never understand, how people could be so prejudiced they refused to believe the truth even when it was put out right there in front of them.
The books proved very helpful, and Hannah checked out a more general defense book as well. She might still have to play things by ear, she thought as they left the library sometime later, but she was as prepared as she could be.
As they entered the dining hall, several people Hannah had never met called a hello. One of them asked her when the DA would next meet and Max called back a response, since his voice was the loudest of all of theirs. By the time they sat down, Hannah had a bigger smile on her face than she’d had that entire week.
But the smile faded when they saw the looks on the faces of several of the people sitting near them. One hastily got up and moved to another table.
Once again it was Max who spoke, “What is it?”
A girl who had to be in her seventh year but Hannah didn’t know the name of said harshly, “Why are you doing this? Why are you risking attracting attention to our school from people who wouldn’t care about it otherwise?”
“Hey, we wouldn’t be safe,” protested another girl. “Remember what happened to Adeline.”
“But she was up by the Lakes,” pointed out a boy. “You know there are old broomstick routes from there to the lakes in Northern Scotland that some wizards still take. If there are still no deaths away from the Lakes, why should we think there will be?”
“It’s not too far from us,” said the first girl.
“All the more reason to learn to defend ourselves,” argued Sappho, just as they were interrupted by the arrival of three owls at the table. It was common for the owls to drop in at all three of the day’s meals, and Hannah was only relieved for the distraction-until a fourth arrived she recognized as Eldred, Ernie’s owl. The letter he carried was a thick one; Ernie might have spent a week writing it before getting it off.
The seventh year girl had also gotten a letter, and she noticed how anxiously she grabbed and it and tore it open. The girl sitting next to Francesca, who was in one of Hannah’s classes and she believed was called Eve, leaned and whispered something to her, which Fran herself muttered to Hannah and Alfred: “Berenice’s parents are constantly traveling overseas, especially in Europe. Though I’m not sure their employer didn’t pull everyone out of Britain and refuse to send anyone else in after You-Know-Who was discovered to be back.”
“Are you going to read that letter?” Sappho asked from over on her other side, because Hannah was putting it in her pocket.
“No,” said Hannah. “Not out here. When I get back to the dorms.”
The letter did burn in her pocket like a Howler, though, all through dinner. Berenice didn’t bother her any further, and nor did anyone else, at least while she ate. Sappho talked a lot about the upcoming Quodpot match with Susquehanna River School, which apparently had a really strong team, and Max complained way too much about the Transfiguration homework, which made Hannah worry again, since she still hadn’t gotten a chance to look at it, and now probably wouldn’t until Sunday; Ernie’s letter would probably take up her entire evening.
But as they were finishing up, Sappho suddenly nudged them, and said, “Look over at the staff table.”
They looked. At the head of that table, Mr. Bobwhite was seated, but looked like he might be about to get up, and Mrs. Hesselwin was so close there was no way she was seated, though their view of her was partially obscured by those teachers seated at the opposite side of the table. From the way they were talking, and the two teachers on each side were leaning in and one of them looked like he was trying to ask a question, something important had to be going on.
“Is anybody else dead?” wondered Max in a very tiny voice, and Fran promptly moved her hand over her chest and stomach in her religious manner.
“I don’t know,” said Sappho. “It looks more like they’re arguing; see how Mrs. Hesselwin’s hands are moving?” They did, now that she pointed that out, and also how she was shaking her head and partially scowling. “They might be arguing about announcing what’s going on to us or not; surely if it was just a death, they’d go ahead and tell us.”
“Do you have any idea of what else might be going on, Hannah?” asked Eve.
“How should I?” was Hannah’s simple reply.
But another student made a skeptical noise, and he wasn’t the only one, several of them looked angry at her. Hannah wondered if maybe she should yell at them that she didn’t know everything, but she was saved the need as Mr. Bobwhite rose and tapped his glass with his wand, generating a low chord that silenced the hall.
“As I believe just about everybody is here,” he said, “I have another announcement to make. First I would like to urge you not to take any extra undue anxiety from what I am about to say; these measures are to some extent precautionary.”
“Bullshit,” Hannah heard someone mutter, and then she was very anxious indeed.
“We are putting some new rules in place,” Mr. Bobwhite was continuing. “The curfew time is lowered to 9 PM, and furthermore, in between the hours of seven in the evening and nine in the morning, no one is to leave the building alone. At all times, students are not to travel more than one mile out. If for any reason anyone is required to go out of the valley, you must provide to the main office a signed letter from a parent or guardian. Also, we are imposing new rules about spells to be performed outside the classrooms; certain spells will require permissions.”
“I wouldn’t worry about getting that; you will,” Alfred whispered to Hannah, who had already figured as much.
“I repeat that these are mainly precautionary measures,” Mr. Bobwhite was wrapping up. “There is no cause for any immediate alarm.”
“I bet he’s picking his words carefully there,” Sappho murmured to the others. “How do you think he’s defining immediate?”
“Obviously Death Eaters aren’t going to swoop down and attack the school tomorrow,” Max murmured back. “But I think you’re right. Something’s happened, something that’s making them think we’re in more danger than they previously thought.”
A terrible thought occurred to Hannah: what was someone was after her? What is she really was putting the school in more danger by being there? But surely, she told herself, if she was in any particular danger, someone would tell her.