Harry walked into the Alchemy classroom with his notes tucked under his arm. Next to him, Hermione was reviewing her own notes and Ron had an exasperated expression on his face, as though he hadn’t spent last night desperately going through his alchemy notes in an attempt to make up for the fact that he had been so focused on quidditch he hadn’t looked at them all week. Honestly, Harry hadn’t studied that much himself, what with Umbridge’s horrid detentions taking up so much of his time.
As it turned out, Hermione wasn’t the only one doing some last minute reviewing: all of the Ravenclaws and most of the Hufflepuffs, who were already in the classroom, were studying as well. Neville rushed in barely a minute before the time Mustang closed the door, out of breath and with his own notes tucked under his arm. It seemed most of the class had been intimidated after last week’s impromptu exam. Harry had heard many Ravenclaws, fifth years and others, whining about their poor results last week.
Shortly afterwards, Mustang checked his pocket watch, waved his wand to close the door and stood up.
There was a knock on the door before he could say anything. Harry froze, perfectly aware that all the fifth year students were already in the classroom. He exchanged a grimace with Ron and Hermione.
“Come in,” Mustang said politely and, sure enough, the door opened to reveal Dolores Umbridge in all her pink glory, her clipboard in hand.
“Good afternoon, Professor Mustang,” Umbridge greeted with that wide, fake smile of hers. “I trust you received my note informing you of the time of your inspection.”
“I did, yes,” Mustang said, his smile far more sincere and polite than Umbridge’s. He gestured at the classroom. “Take a seat, please, we were about to begin.”
Umbridge did so, taking hold of an empty chair in the first row and dragging it to one of the corners at the front of the classroom. She sat down and ran her eyes over everybody present.
Mustang turned to face the students again, his expression completely calm, as if he had no reason to be bothered by Umbridge’s presence in his classroom. Harry found himself very curious about how this inspection would go. Unlike every inspection before this one that he had witnessed or heard about, he couldn’t so much as guess the result. Mustang was an unknown factor in the school: so far, he seemed stern and unwilling to take any nonsense, but nobody had seen him under any kind of pressure yet. As far as anyone knew, this inspection could take any direction, from the horrible fiasco with Trelawney that Lavender and Parvati had complained about to McGonagall’s spectacular show of disdain towards Umbridge and her so-called power in the school.
“Put everything except your quills away. As I said last class, you have twenty minutes to answer the questions,” Mustang instructed.
“Hem, hem.” Harry had developed a serious aversion towards Umbridge’s fake cough. Much to Harry’s disappointment, Mustang actually turned to look at her. Harry had expected that, as a member of the Order, Mustang might decide to ignore Umbridge in a similar way to how McGonagall had done it. Then again, Mustang wasn’t in the Order because of his bravery or his fighting skills.
“Yes?” Mustang asked with that same pleasant smile. How Mustang could smile at Umbridge as if she was anything but a disgusting person was beyond Harry’s comprehension.
“I was wondering, Professor Mustang, what these questions you have mentioned are.”
Harry exchanged a puzzled glance with Ron. Had Umbridge spent the last week under a rock or something? Harry had heard at least one conversation between students complaining about Mustang’s exams every day since his last class (and he still hadn’t forgiven Fred and George for hiding the existence of the exams in the first place), so he knew those conversations were very common around the school.
“Oh, it’s very simple,” Mustang started in a polite yet conversational voice, as if Umbridge wasn’t disrupting the flow of his class. “Alchemy requires a certain amount of theoretical knowledge before it can be applied in a practical way. To ensure the students truly understand that knowledge before we move on to the practical part of the subject, I have decided to hand out a small test at the beginning of each class to see the level of comprehension they have of what has been explained already.”
Much to Harry’s surprise, Umbridge nodded in what might be approval. She wrote something down on her clipboard.
“Well, then,” Mustang said, turning back to the class again. He flicked his wand and one exam flew to each student. Mustang pulled his pocket watch out to check the time. “You may begin.”
Harry looked down at his exam and held back a grimace. He had hoped Mustang would at least draw the alchemical symbols for some of the elements and ask them to recognise them, but no, he had listed twelve elements and was asking for the students to draw the corresponding symbols. And then, of course, there was the question everybody, even Hermione, had failed in the last class. All is one and one is all.
Harry saw another P in his future. Trelawney would be proud of his predictive skills.
“So, Professor Mustang,” Umbridge started sweetly, “I understand this is your first year at Hogwarts, is that correct?”
Harry didn’t look up, but he kept his attention on the conversation. From the list, he only remembered the symbol for hydrogen anyway.
“Yes, I’ve just started.”
“And how did you come by the position? There has been no Alchemy class at Hogwarts in a few years,” Umbridge said just as sweetly as before, and Harry had the sudden certainty that her objective was to have a repeat of her inspection of Trelawney’s class, a story that had spread throughout the school in a matter of hours. Harry was reminded of Michael Corner’s question about the usefulness of transmutation circles on the first day, and he guessed it wouldn’t be a stretch to think Umbridge’s opinion on the subject wasn’t exactly high.
“I approached Professor Dumbledore a few months ago looking for some input on a project of mine —I am certain you are aware of his impressive reputation in the alchemical field— and after a few conversations he offered me the chance to teach at Hogwarts.”
“I see,” Umbridge said, and Harry risked a quick glance up just in time to see her write something else. “Have you ever taught before?”
“No, this is my first time.”
“I suppose you are a little young for a professor,” Umbridge said, almost casually, and Harry was convinced that was meant to be an offensive comment. “How old are you, Professor Mustang?”
The sound of quills scratching on parchment diminished considerably for a moment before people started to write again.
“Thirty?” someone hissed from the Hufflepuff section, far too low for Harry to recognise the voice. He was sure this information would have spread throughout the school by dinner time. Harry didn’t particularly care about Mustang’s age, but he didn’t look thirty.
He’s probably been using the Stone a few years now, Harry guessed.
Harry caught Umbridge glancing at him and pretended to pay attention to his exam. All is one and one is all... The first thing Harry thought about whenever he read that sentence was the Three Musketeers.
“Would you mind demonstrating your alchemy?” Umbridge asked, but Harry knew it wasn’t a request. This was just like the request for a prediction from Trelawney all over again: according to Lavender and Parvati’s retelling of the event, Umbridge had purposefully flustered Trelawney too much for Trelawney to be able to predict anything. While Harry didn’t doubt Umbridge’s unpleasantness, he was certain Trelawney wouldn’t have managed a prediction even if the nicest person in the world had asked her for one.
“Of course not,” Mustang replied easily, his demeanour completely opposite to Trelawney’s nervousness. “Do you mind if we wait until after the exam has been corrected, though? This way we don’t disrupt the students’ learning.”
Umbridge must have nodded, because there was silence after that.
Harry refocused on his exam, reading the elements again and again. He filled in two more elements, though he was reasonably certain that they weren’t the right ones.
“Two minutes,” Mustang said eventually, much to Harry’s relief. He could already hear Hermione telling him how he should study more for the class.
“Time is up, put your quills down,” Mustang said after those two minutes were over. Harry set his quill on the parchment. “I said quills down, Mr. Goldstein; that last line will cost you the full mark of this exam.”
Harry couldn’t see Anthony Goldstein’s face from his position, but he could read his annoyance from the way his shoulders tensed and he dropped his quill on the parchment. There was snickering from the back of the class, and Umbridge scribbled something on her clipboard.
“Now exchange your parchments with your classmates and bring out the red ink. Who can tell me which is the alchemical symbol for sodium?”
As the correction advanced, Harry started to fear that Hermione, whose frown kept deepening with every answer, would scrawl a large T at the top of his exam out of annoyance. Harry was considering doing the same on Ron’s parchment, which so far didn’t have a single right answer, but more as a joke than as a reprimand.
Just like he did last class, Mustang walked around the classroom and copied each piece of parchment before he let them put their exams away.
“Now, if everybody could stand up,” Mustang said once he was back by his desk, “Professor Umbridge has requested a demonstration of alchemy,” he said, as though the entire class hadn’t been listening in on the conversation, “and I thought we could use it as a bit of a practical test. I want all of you to stand over here,” he instructed, gesturing to the area right in front of his desk. He took a piece of chalk from the desk and walked to one of the empty spaces of wall. “And leave your notes behind, Miss Bones. If you could stand next to them, Professor Umbridge?”
Umbridge moved to stand with the group, her expression reminding Harry of a predator about to corner a prey. Fortunately, she stopped next to Goyle.
“I want all of you to pay attention to the array I am going to draw. Try to identify as many elements in it as you can, no matter how small they are.”
Next to Harry, Hermione was practically vibrating with excitement. Harry remembered her telling him and Ron just how “amazing” Mustang’s transmutations were, and Harry had to admit he was curious to see one. Not only because of Hermione’s words, but because he wanted to know what someone who knew how to create the Philosopher’s Stone was capable of.
Mustang started drawing, and it didn’t take long for Harry to be completely lost. Some symbols in the drawing looked familiar, but the circle was very complex and had far too many different symbols in it for Harry to even know where to start trying to decipher it. At least he knew what the outer circle was for, that was something, wasn’t it?
Once he was done, Mustang pocketed the chalk and pressed his hands to the circle.
Light burst out of it, spreading throughout the classroom in what seemed to be thin, electrical currents that caught on everything and just changed it. The stone on the walls seemed to hollow out, the smooth surface giving way to whimsical carvings reminiscent of the statues outside, the ceiling rising higher and recreating the table of alchemical symbols on its surface. Somehow, Harry expected the floor to shake as part of it was altered, but the area where they stood remained firm and stable. The rest of the classroom didn’t. The lines of desks rose, each taller than the row before it, turning the flat surface into a tiered, classroom-wide staircase. Some of the spare desks sank into the ground only for the wood and metal that made them to rise on both sides of the remaining desks, creating two rows of thin, twisting columns of metal topped by a railing of wood that ran along the steps. The remaining wood settled on the edges of the steps themselves, marking clearly the end of each one. The cabinet that had stood to one side of the classroom now hung from the wall, its legs gone, and the two element tables that had hung on the opposite wall had now sunk into it, the stone protruding around them as if it was a frame.
Mustang lowered his hands and turned around to look at the group. Harry was certain that his wasn’t the only mouth open right then, but he didn’t care. He doubted even McGonagall could transform a room like this with a single spell.
“It’s not a house, but I mentioned in the first class that a transmutation circle can change an entire place as long as it has the proper symbols in it,” Mustang said with an easy smile. “Well then, what did you notice about the array?”
Unsurprisingly, Hermione was the first one to raise her hand. Harry didn’t pay much attention to what she said. Instead, he glanced at Umbridge, who no longer looked like a predator about to get a tasty meal.
“How was your inspection, Roy?” Filius asked that afternoon in the staff room. It had become an unofficial agreement between the staff members that they would leave any remotely sensitive topics, or the Umbridge-related ones, for when they knew that Umbridge was occupied with one of her classes.
The ones currently in the staff room were Minerva, Filius, Roy, Aurora Sinistra and Rolanda Hooch.
“I’d say it went well, given that Professor Umbridge didn’t look particularly pleased with herself by the time she left the classroom.”
“Good,” Rolanda said with a satisfied nod. “She looked like a child about to get her first broomstick when she left the Great Hall this morning.”
“Did she now?” Roy asked with very little surprise.
As the conversation spiralled into a contest to see who could come up with the best complaint about Umbridge and Roy returned to marking his exams, Minerva frowned at him. She had clearly underestimated Roy. Three weeks into the school year and the Alchemy students looked closer to a nervous breakdown than he did. In fact, Roy didn’t seem fazed at all by having to teach the little monsters (and he even had to deal with Fred and George Weasley in his seventh year class), and if he didn’t crack by tomorrow then Minerva would lose the bet. She had been the most generous one when the staff had placed the bet on how long Roy would last before cracking, which meant they had all underestimated Roy’s character. Everybody but Albus, who had simply smiled infuriatingly and said he didn’t see the point of such a bet when Filius had offered him to join.
The students, however, were a different story. Two fourth years had approached Minerva today to ask for a change of class, which increased the number of drop outs to five when she added them to the three third years that had switched to Divination last week.
Filius had jokingly suggested that they could instead bet on how many students would have left Alchemy by the end of the year.
During the following week, a lot of people found one reason or another to poke their heads into the previously bland Alchemy classroom and Roy decided to leave it in all its transmuted glory. If nothing else, it would serve as a reminder to any sceptical students of the usefulness of alchemy despite the existence of transfiguration spells.
“I see there are no gargoyles on the walls.”
Roy raised his head to look at Albus. Roy had decided to use the classroom to deal with the fourth years’ exams because Umbridge was now at the staff room and he didn’t feel like being bothered at his office.
“My taste isn’t so terrible that I’d transmute gargoyles.” That’s more Edward’s style.
“Is that a criticism about the school’s appearance?” Albus asked in amusement, his eyes twinkling.
“Oh, no, I wouldn’t dare,” Roy replied. “I don’t think the stairs would forgive me if I did.” At some point, Roy had decided to simply go with the idea that the school had some level of sentience and didn’t question it. If you could create life using a Philosopher’s Stone as a core for it, why not have a whimsical castle? He imagined Edward’s frustrated groan at that comment.
“Wise words, it’s best not to tempt the castle.”
“Is there anything I can do for you, Headmaster? Or were you just curious about the latest gossip in the school?” Roy asked coolly. Ever since Umbridge’s arrival, he and Albus had settled for polite but mostly impersonal conversations anywhere outside of Albus’ office. You never knew who could be listening.
“As interesting as the new décor is, I was wondering if I could tempt you with a cup of tea and some biscuits. I feel I have been remiss in seeing how you are adapting to life in Hogwarts.”
“That sounds lovely. I could certainly use a break from work at this point,” Roy replied, stacking the corrected exams on top of the ones he still had to go over.
“It can’t possibly be that bad,” Albus said in the amused way of someone who knew it could be that bad.
“Would you like to have a look?” Roy offered as he stood up. “I’m sure you would change your mind by the third exam.” He returned his pens to the top drawer of the desk and tucked the parchments under his arm. He wasn’t leaving any exams where devious students could get their hands on them. “After you, Headmaster.”
“What happened?” Roy asked as soon as they were in the safety of Albus’ office.
“I’m not certain yet,” Albus replied, walking to sit on one of the couches. He waved his wand and a tea tray appeared on the table. Roy settled on what had become his usual spot. “Filius just told me that Miss Granger asked him if students are allowed into the Hog’s Head. That is no place any students usually visit, and I expect she, and by extension at the very least Harry and Ron Weasley, are planning something they know won’t be well seen by certain people. Aberforth has promised to keep an eye on them and I am arranging for another Order member to be there this Saturday just in case, but I believe you should go on a date on Sunday.”
“Any theories on what they might be plotting?” Roy asked. He reached out for the teapot to serve himself a cup.
“Nothing specific, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is related to our esteemed High Inquisitor.”
“I’m surprised nobody has started anything against her by now, to be honest.” Roy stirred some cream and sugar into his tea and took a sip.
Albus had prepared his cup using wandless magic and reached for it.
“So far she seems very selective about who she antagonises and most of the school is still unaware of how dire the situation might turn.”
“True. But I’m waiting for the day Minerva turns that pink cardigan into a straitjacket.”
“A what?” Albus asked, looking genuinely puzzled.
“It’s a muggle thing. A fairly commonly known one at that,” Roy explained. “This shows one of the main failings of the school’s curriculum. If you keep things as it stands, it won’t matter how much you preach acceptance of muggles: there will always be a large breach between muggles and wizards the way things are now. You are too focused on teaching only magic.”
“We have Muggle Studies,” Albus pointed out.
“Yes, as an optional class with a laughable book that at most has a ten percent of correct information in it.” Roy had checked out the official textbook, more out of curiosity than anything else, and had been surprised to find out that he had learnt more about the muggle world in under two months than wizards did throughout their entire education at Hogwarts. “You cannot change a society’s worldview while perpetuating its ignorance at the same time.”
Sirius had tuned Molly out last night and he was in no hurry to pay attention to her any time soon. Unfortunately, Tonks and Roy had just arrived, and that meant Sirius didn’t have a choice in the matter anymore.
“I assume something happened yesterday,” Roy said upon seeing Molly’s stormy expression.
“Something?!” Molly asked, and Sirius rolled his eyes when she started going on about how irresponsible the children were to start a club as dangerous as that one in the current situation and how it was a terrible decision, followed by all of her reasons.
Roy hummed and nodded at all the appropriate points in Molly’s speech, and Sirius would have believed he agreed with her if he didn’t know that Roy was of the opinion that Harry and the others would benefit from some training. Molly seemed to have forgotten that particular Order meeting.
“I can pass the message to them, yes,” Roy agreed when Molly asked him to tell her children she forbade them from participating in this club (as if they would obey her) and to advise Harry and Hermione to stay out of it as well.
Molly sighed and smiled, looking relieved.
“Thank you, Roy. It’s good to have someone who understands,” she said, and threw a pointed glare at Sirius. Sirius rolled his eyes. “I’m going to continue cooking lunch now, it should be done in an hour. Some people are due for a meeting then; we have to plan for potential consequences of this foolishness,” she muttered, standing up.
“I’ll help you,” Tonks offered, like every time, and just as always Molly declined. Instead, she sent them off to work on one of the still dusty bedrooms.
For once, Sirius didn’t complain. Anything was better than waiting for Molly to get worked up all over again because of the defence club.
“So, any ideas of spells that I could recommend to them?” Roy asked when they were climbing up the stairs and away from that damned portrait.
“I knew you would help them.”
“Can you fault me?” Roy asked, turning his head to meet her eyes. Tonks hadn’t taken his side the time Roy brought up the possibility of training Harry, but Sirius knew she didn’t share Molly’s hope that the children could actually be kept away from the fighting.
“No,” Tonks said, shaking her head. “Best to have them get started at a safe place like Hogwarts.”
Roy nodded in thanks.
“If you come up with anything today, tell me. I’ll be talking to Harry’s group tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” Sirius asked. “I thought you had fifth years on Thursday.”
Roy smirked at him.
“You’re underestimating my ability to get others in trouble, Sirius.”
Neville yawned as he walked out of the History of Magic classroom that Monday morning. He, just like most of his classmates, was doing his best to force himself awake for the next class. In his case that was Potions, which Neville would much rather avoid. At least it was a good distraction from the horrid educational decree that had come out this morning, the one forbidding student groups that made the entire defence group fear Umbridge might have learnt about them.
He heard giggling behind him and, curious, turned around to see what the issue was. He shouldn’t have bothered. Since the start of term, it had become normal to see girls giggling wherever Professor Mustang was, especially those who didn’t take his class (Neville had heard that more than one girl had lost their crush on him as, in the words of a particularly frustrated sixth year Ravenclaw, “he’s a slave-driver”). Mustang was walking down the hall, somehow managing to dodge students while he read a thick book with oddly white pages that didn’t resemble those that could be found at the library.
Turning around, Neville continued on his way. Or that had been his intent until he heard a muffled yelp. Turning around again, he saw that Hermione had fallen to the floor and her bag, as full as ever, had split on one side, spilling books, quills and ink all over the floor. Some people giggled and went on, but Neville turned around to go help her. Harry and Ron bent over to start picking things up.
“Are you all right, Miss Granger?” Mustang asked from behind Harry, and Hermione turned to look at him, a book in her hand.
Neville stopped before he could reach them. He wasn’t sure how he felt about Mustang yet, and that meant he didn’t feel at ease around him.
“Yes, I’m fine, Professor,” she said and lifted the book. A piece of parchment fell out of it.
Mustang’s eyebrows went up in his forehead, his eyes fixed on the parchment, and he bent down to pick it up.
“Well,” he muttered, much to Neville’s confusion. “Mind explaining this, Miss Granger?” Mustang asked, turning the parchment around. It had a circle drawn on it, some symbols inside the circle and notes scrawled around in what was very much Hermione’s handwriting.
Neville paled. He remembered well Mustang’s repeated warnings about not attempting to create or use a transmutation circle before he gave his explicit permission, and the threats that had accompanied them. Hermione was smart, smart enough to maybe pull it off, but to be caught like this...
“T-That’s not...” Hermione stammered, her voice faint.
“I believe I was very clear on this subject, Miss Granger. That will be a detention for you. This evening at five o’clock in my office.”
“That’s not mine!” Hermione exclaimed, seemingly gathering her wits. That was an odd reaction for her, Neville thought: he had never seen her deny something once she had been caught.
“No?” Mustang asked, and raised one eyebrow. He turned the parchment to look at it. “This looks remarkably like your handwriting.”
They had gathered an audience by now, and Neville was selfishly glad he hadn’t joined the group. He didn’t like to be at the centre of attention, even if he wasn’t the focus of it, and he would have been now.
“That’s not Hermione’s!” Ron yelled, standing up. He wasn’t as tall as Mustang, but his body language was more aggressive than it should be when directed to a professor. Ron hadn’t been in a good mood since he realised the educational decree banned quidditch teams until Umbridge authorized them.
“Do you mean she was making this for someone else?” Mustang asked, sounding completely unaffected by Ron’s aggressive display. “Maybe you? Or perhaps Mr. Potter?” he added, looking down at Harry.
“No!” Ron exclaimed, indignant.
“Well, whoever this belongs to,” Mustang began, raising the parchment higher for emphasis, “I can’t let it continue. I won’t deduct points, this time, but I’ll see all three of you this evening in my office at five o’clock.” That said, Mustang pocketed the parchment and walked away. The students parted to let him pass, muttering as they thought him out of hearing range.
Neville overheard more than one “bastard” in the whispers, and there was even a mention of Snape’s name. Neville had to agree; that had been harsh and quite unfair.
He finally approached to help Hermione, who now looked shocked more than anything else. Ron and Harry were openly angry.
Today had been an eventful day, and it was nowhere near over. It had started with that awful decree that pretty much confirmed someone present at the Hog’s Head on Saturday had tattled to the Ministry about Potter’s little group. Then Roy’d had to put his plan to give Hermione and her friends detention into action. Making Hermione trip and have her book bag break in a way that would seem natural had been easy enough, but slipping that piece of parchment with the beginnings of an array had required a tricky bit of magic that Sirius had been more than delighted to share with him yesterday.
Word had spread about the incident, of course, and Minerva had cornered him outside the Great Hall before lunch to demand why he had given such an unfair detention to her students. It was a good thing Minerva was part of the Order, because Roy had been able to tell her the truth and pacify her. He wondered what she would have done if Roy hadn’t been able to explain.
Worst of all, though, had been Umbridge. She had approached him after lunch, all sweetness and creepy giggles, to tell him how glad she was to know that there was at least one member of staff willing to deal with troublesome students the way it was supposed to be done. She had then handed him the results of his inspection, congratulating him on a great start. The conversation had left Roy feeling unnerved for well over an hour afterwards.
Then there had been his seventh year afternoon class, and Roy’s first exposure to Fred and George Weasley and the reasons as to why he had been warned about them. They had obviously heard about the unfair detention as well, and had spent the entire class casting annoying spells when Roy wasn’t looking at them: anything from vanishing what he wrote on the blackboard to make the tables fly all over the classroom. Roy had deducted points for the first time since he had started teaching and would have slipped them a note telling them it was Order business if it wasn’t too risky. He would ask Hermione to let them know, because the last thing Roy needed were two inventive brats out to annoy him for however long it took them to get over their indignation.
And now, finally, it was time for the detention. Roy had brought out a couch from his quarters’ sitting room, in part because he didn’t feel like transmuting a third chair and mostly to spare the students the experience of sitting on the deliberately uncomfortable chairs. An apology of sorts.
There was a knock on the door at precisely five o’clock.
“Come in,” he called out and crossed his hands before his mouth.
Hermione, Potter and Weasley trudged in, all three of them showing different degrees of annoyance, indignation and even anger on their faces. Weasley slammed the door shut with far more force than necessary.
Potter opened his mouth.
“Before any of you starts on how that array wasn’t yours,” Roy said, cutting the protest off, “I know. I slipped it there. Now sit down: we have to talk about your little meeting at the Hog’s Head last Saturday.”