Chapter 8


Christina Weasley took a deep breath and looked at Hermione.


“Ready to go?” Hermione asked Christina.


They were the last to leave Gryffindor tower, having to fix the last details on their clothing for the day.


Christina nodded and then looked straight ahead, chin pointed up. The door to the Great Hall opened and the girls strode in together.


Hermione and Christina wore cream colored, empire waisted dresses fashioned from fine linen. A Greek pattern edged the neckline and cuffed arms. Christina had shortened her long locks substantially and had dyed her hair raven black.


Heads turned as the girls made their way to the Gryffindor table for their breakfast.


Hermione hazarded a quick glance at the Hufflepuff table. Timothy Owens’ turned around when Hermione saw another student point to them. His face went from a growl to unveiled approval almost instantly when he caught sight of them. He caught Hermione looking at him and he winked at her.


Hermione nearly growled in frustration. If he had anything to do with the attack she’d be surprised.


“Indecent!” Hermione heard a blond Ravenclaw girl whisper to a year mate.


Christina’s footfalls were almost stomps now, but she kept her eyes on Francis and made it to the table without making a scene.


“I think black is quite fetching.” Francis reached up to brush a curl away from Christina’s forehead. “Perhaps I should go dark as well.”


“I think Hogwarts would be a better place if all the girls started wearing those.” James Williams looked positively giddy.


“I doubt they’d get any more work out of you lot if we did.” Hermione snorted.


“So what?” James chuckled.


“I think you ladies both look charming.” Aberforth beamed. “And Francis is right. Christina looks fetching with dark hair. With dark hair she looks prettily flushed and with red she looked…” Aberforth’s voice trailed off when he realized he was better off staying silent.


“Pink.” Christina finished.


“Healthy?” Francis offered.


“A most valiant attempt, Mr. Bulstrode.” Christina teased him as she reached for a small triangle of toast. “But you are not fooling anyone.”


“As I have said many times before.” Francis said grandly as he waved his goblet of pumpkin juice around. “You would look lovely covered in mud with twigs in your hair.”


A steady ringing sound suddenly came from the staff table and the students fell silent and turned their attention to the Headmaster.


“Last night, there was a most vicious, petty, attack on one of our female students.” Headmaster Nigellus spat out the statement as if the words were bitter. “The culprit has been apprehended and expelled. 100 points from Ravenclaw!”


“What?” Aberforth spluttered. “Ravenclaw? Are they joking?”


The name spread like wildfire through the Great Hall as the student’s realized who was missing.




“Quinn?” Albus frowned. “Why Quinn? I heard he had quarreled with you and Aberforth, but that was no reason to go after Miss Weasley.”


“Not Miss Weasley.” A young, dark haired Slytherin boy leaned over to their table. “He broke Allison Bruce’s hand last night.”


“What?” Albus’ face suddenly went dark. “Why?”


“For letting the Snitch slip last night. He lost quite a bit.” The Slytherin boy offered.


“Good grief.” Hermione exclaimed. “The whole bloody world doesn’t revolve around Quidditch, you know.”


“There will always be those who are so fanatical they only see themselves and their desires.” Albus looked disgusted. “Is she alright?”


“Her mother’s come to take her home.” The Slytherin shrugged. “If it was your daughter, wouldn’t you?”


Albus wiped his mouth quickly and threw down his napkin. “I have something to attend to. I beg your leave and will meet you in Transfiguration.”


He quickly got up from his seat and stalked from the Hall.


“What’s got him all in a bother?” Hermione asked Aberforth.


“Miss Bruce should not be going home.” Aberforth explained. “Madame Collins probably fixed it in an instant. Quinn is gone, so he can’t bother her again. There is no reason for her to be punished.”


“Do you think that’s why Christina was attacked?” Francis looked alarmed. “They could not get me alone so they went for her?”


“Outrageous!” Patrick Poole snarled. Hermione could swear she saw something flicker in his dark eyes.


“Unsportsmanlike!” James Williams added.


“There was nothing vaguely clean about last nights game.” Matilda Potter said plainly.


“All right, fine.” James grumbled. “But it’s still underhanded to go after Christina because someone’s got their bloomers in a bunch about Francis.”


“Has anyone seen Charlotte this morning?” Hermione suddenly asked.

The Gryffindors all looked at each other.


John Sterling and Thomas Hewson jumped up from the table. “We’ll take the library!”


Winifred Moss and Amanda Roberts got up as quickly as their clothing would allow. “We’ll check the girls’ bath.”


“We’ve got the infirmary!” Alfred Barker and Patrick Poole quickly gathered their things and went off to search for Charlotte. Patrick moved so fast he was a blur, leaving Alfred no choice but to clatter along behind him.


Hermione felt herself gasp. Patrick had inherited something otherworldly from his parents, although Hermione wasn’t sure what on earth it was.


“Albus!” Aberforth suddenly remembered.


“I’ll go with you to look for Albus.” Francis rose from the table. “The rest of you, stick together until Transfiguration.” He removed a small brass pocket watch from the inside of his robes and opened it. “You have ten minutes of time left at the table. Then a quick trip to the water closet and then we regroup in front of Transfigurations five minutes before class.”


Christina looked amused at his thoroughness. “And what makes you think there was more than one perpetrator?”


“Because when Aberforth and I came back to the common room we heard whispers.” Realization suddenly dawned on Hermione. “No one sits in the dark muttering to themselves.”


“That is not true.” Charity Andersen said, setting down a cup of tea.


“Well, it is certainly not in line with Mr. Quinn’s character.” Christina pointed out.


“That much is true.” Charity pursed her lips in thought. “What about Perpetua Reynolds? She is engaged to Mr. Quinn, is she not?”


“She is.”


Christina looked thoughtful and Hermione snuck a look at the Ravenclaw table. The girl Hermione had seen Quinn talking to the night before pulled a sour, pinched face at her. She was a skinny girl with tight brown curls and large, watery blue eyes.


“I would say that is an intelligent assumption.” Hermione muttered.


“You never know.” Charity sipped daintily from her tea cup. “Weren’t Mr. Bulstrode’s parents also considering Miss Sutter of Ravenclaw and Kensington for their choice of wife?”


“They were.” Christina frowned. “But Miss Sutter is engaged to Mr. Bloom of Slytherin and Bristol.”


“Not any longer.” Victoria Moss said stiffly. Hermione jumped. It was the first thing the girl had said since their grand entrance. Hermione had just assumed Christina’s hair had offended her so badly she had decided to shun the pair. “Mr. Bloom’s father broke off the arrangement Thursday last.”


“What?” Christina blustered. The remaining students at the table started buzzing excitedly. “Why?”


“Miss Sutter’s father has a problem controlling himself at the card tables,” Victoria sniffed haughtily. “Evil pastime.”


“The engagement’s broken just because of cards?” Matilda asked with wide eyes.


“More than that.” Victoria’s eyes sparkled with a vicious glee. “He’s ruined. They’re penniless. They have until the end of the month to move out of the manor before the Ministry seizes it.”


“That’s horrible!” Hermione exclaimed.


“It’s his own fault, acting like a fool!” Victoria snapped. “You reap what you sow!”


“Well, Maddie didn’t sow a damned thing!” Christina exclaimed. “That’s unfair!”


“Most things in our lives are unfair.” A familiar voice drifted over to them.


“What do you think, Miss Black?” Christina inquired.


“I think Miss Sutter is lucky to have found out her future husbands loyalty depended solely on her father’s money.” Rachel said disgustedly.


“You have a point there.” Hermione remarked before anyone else could say anything.


“You’re lucky Francis’ father let him make the choice and he chose you out of respect and affection.” Matilda assured Christina.


“It certainly wasn’t for my father’s money.” Christina chuckled.


“Your family’s better off than mine.” Matilda shrugged. “At least your father has a job.”


“Don’t worry,” Charity assured Matilda as the girls gathered their things for the group trip to the bathrooms. “You’ll be paired off soon enough, like the rest of us.”


“Are you engaged as well?” Hermione asked politely.


The other girls fell uncomfortably silent.


“I… think so. It was not easy for my father to find a suitable mate.” Charity smiled wryly.


Hermione glanced at Christina, but saw Christina was shooting her a warning look. She’d have to ask later.


They made their way to the bathrooms and Hermione waited while the other girls used the facilities, chatting with Christina about what they should wear the rest of the week.


They were getting ready to leave when they ran into Alfred Barker, Patrick Poole, and Charlotte.


“Where were you?” Matilda demanded.


“I slept in the infirmary.” Charlotte yawned widely. “Madame Collins wanted to try to brew a potion to get the ink out of your hair. Took all night and it didn’t work, anyway.”


“Oh my goodness, Charlotte!” Christina exclaimed as her cheeks reddened. “I do feel terrible for coloring it now!”


“Do not think upon it.” Charlotte waved her off. “The color is wonderful on you. They did you a favor.”


“Thank you.” Christina smiled as Victoria threw them a look of disgust.


They all trooped through the halls and met up with the others in front of the Transfiguration classroom. Hermione noticed Francis was there, but Albus was missing.


“Where is Albus?” Christina frowned.


“Headmaster’s office trying to talk to Mrs. Bruce.” Francis shook his head. “Don’t know why he bothers.”


“Because he sees potential in people instead of House placement.” Patrick snapped before turning on his heel and stalking into the classroom.


Hermione gave a quizzical look to Christina but the other girl just rolled her eyes at Hermione.


Mistress Watson ended up being a short, plump, middle aged witch with her brown hair braided and wound around the crown of her head.


She smiled widely when she saw them. After they took their places, and Hermione had found a place behind Christina and Amanda, Mistress Watson went to Charlotte and gave her a tight hug.


“Ten points to our little winner!” Mistress Watson said cheerfully.


Hermione inwardly groaned. Stupid Quidditch. All of this could be avoided by banning the damnable sport for the duration of term.


Albus slipped in halfway through class and sat near Hermione.


She pretended to show him her notes so he could catch up, but at the bottom she had written: How did it go?


Albus quirked his head to the side, picked up a quill, and wrote: I could not promise the girl’s absolute safety. Her mother is hysterical. Her father is upset, but not a little bemused at hearing how fast his daughter was able to go on a broomstick.


Hermione bit the insides of her cheeks to keep from giggling. Did you remind him that if she went home he’d never have a chance to see it?


Albus frowned. I wish I had.


You could always send him an owl later about how her team needs her. He’s a Muggle, right? Mention rugby and football.


Albus seemed to think about this and Hermione was satisfied.


The rest of the class was mostly review, but Mistress Watson hinted at a test the next week and her students let out quiet groans of displeasure.


“Testing your skills is nessisary at this stage in your development.” Mistress Watson went on as if she hadn’t heard the groans. “Especially if we manage to get a representative from the Ministry to visit us before term ends.”


That stopped the groans and the noise of the classroom quickly turned into an excited buzzing.


“That ends our time together.” Mistress Watson said with a satisfied smirk on her face. “Do not neglect your studies over the weekend!”


The students piled into the hallway after the lesson and Francis grabbed Albus by the front of his robes. “I can’t even make a patronus yet! What am I to do?”


“Calm yourself, Francis!” Albus carefully disengaged from Francis’ grip. “We can work on your patronus and even if you’re never able to make it, it will not exclude you from the Animagus program.”


“They do say it is easier if you know what animal you have an affinity for,” Christina said hesitantly.


Hermione said nothing, knowing full well that if one couldn’t tap into their essence far enough to get a patronus, turning into an animagus was near to impossible.


Hermione herself had spoken to Professor McGonagall about the studies and preparation needed to become an animagus. They had decided it was best if Hermione completed her last year at Hogwarts before taking on that venture.


Hermione questioned the usefulness of turning into an otter, but McGonagall had pointed out that the UK was surrounded by water and there were many lakes and streams to explore.


Still, Hermione imagined an otter strolling through the streets of London and had a hard time believing no one would notice.


They discussed different tactics of teaching Francis to make a patronus and Hermione debated whether helping would be changing the course of history or not. They walked through the castle and seemed to be heading towards the same area Household Management was held in.


Hermione thought perhaps they would be going out to the barn. It wasn’t a far fetched idea to keep animals in a barn.


To her surprise, they headed down a well worn path into the Forbidden Forest.


“We’re allowed in the forest?” Hermione asked, her eyes darting around.


“How else are we to study animals if not in the forest?” Christina laughed.


“What about the Centaurs?” Hermione asked. Surely they would have something to say about this.


“The last hunt culled the herd quite a bit.” Francis assured her.


Hermione bit her tongue, but felt completely appalled. No wonder the Centaurs hated and mistrusted wizards so much.


“I know how the French feel about such things,” Christina said soothingly as she patted Hermione’s arm.


Hermione had no idea about the French view of such things at all.


“I know they look a bit like humans and make sounds as if they’re speaking, but they really are just beasts, Hannah.” Francis gave her a winning smile, as if he were patronizing a small, dull child.


“Have you ever tried to speak to one or does that view just come from people that have something to gain from the hunts?” Hermione snapped back.


Instead of the appalled look she expected for being so forward she was met with thoughtful silence.


“I have never hunted myself,” Francis admitted, as if that absolved him from his thoughtless comments.


“He usually only hunts pheasant,” Christina said quickly.


“Have you ever spoken to a Centaur?” Thomas Hewson asked excitedly.


“As a matter of fact, I have.” Hermione said hotly. “He saved me and a friend from a deviant that was chasing us through the woods.”


Winifred covered her mouth and uttered a tiny scream.


“Good heavens!” Albus exclaimed, his eyes roaming over her as if making sure all of her person was still intact.


“You didn’t know about this?” John Sterling looked amused.


“I… thought it best not to tell father.” Hermione said as if she were admitting something.


“Quite right.” Albus frowned. “He would never let you from his sight again.”


“What about the Centaur?” Alfred Barker asked curiously.


“He was very adamant about getting to further safety.” Hermione said. “They have their own form of divination, you know.”


“How long did you talk to the creature?” Winifred asked.


“Just a moment or two.” Hermione said, getting nervous. She despised making up stories.


“And yet you learned about his character and what types of talents they have?” John Sterling looked skeptical.


“He told us the stars predicted discord in the forest.” Hermione said hotly thinking of Firenze. “And that the Centaurs were out on patrols because of this. If not for their precautions one can only imagine what could have happened.”


Hermione had never had a talent for divination the way Professor Trelawny taught the students of Hogwarts, with her crystal balls and decks of cards. When her Arithmancy and Astronomy professors both recommended she take classes with Firenze she was reluctant, but finally caved.


To her surprise, the Centaurian form of divination was more like reading an astronomical code, and although complex it wasn’t impossible to understand.


“Perhaps you found a particularly intelligent Centaur,” Alfred mused.


“Or perhaps there are still things you don’t understand.” Charlotte snorted.


“What do you mean ‘you?’” Victoria Moss narrowed her eyes.


“The Centaurs are intelligent,” Charlotte snapped. “Anyone that’s bothered to pay any attention to them knows that!”


“Genesis 1:28 gives men authority over the creatures of the world!” Victoria said hotly.


“And Genesis 9:2 reminds us to watch over the creatures that serve us!” Charlotte snapped.


Winifred gave her an outraged look and flounced off ahead of the group, into the forest.


“Since when do you read the bible?” Winifred asked Charlotte. Who had her arms crossed and a satisfied look on her face.


“Since it I found how much it bothered that one.” Charlotte nodded in the direction of Victoria.


Hermione chuckled at Charlotte and Charlotte quirked a grin at her.


“Clever,” John Sterling said, giving Charlotte an appraising look.


They rounded a bend in the path and Hermione was startled to see what looked like Hagrid’s hut nestled between two large boulders with a neat stone wall sectioning off a small yard in the front of the house.


Albus reached the iron gate before the rest of them and held it open politely as the others filed into the little yard.


To Hermione’s surprise, they didn’t go into the little hut, but approached one of the boulders. There was a crude carving of a man chasing a stag cut deep into the grey stone.


“Alibi,” John Sterling said to the carving and Hermione gasped as a seam appeared in the rock and a door swung open to reveal a staircase leading down.


Hermione followed John and Alfred down the staircase and listened to the clatter of their shoes on the stone steps as they headed downward.


There was a round classroom, carved roughly out of stone and lit by torches, at the bottom of the stairs. A small, squat man with a horse shoe of silver hair running around the perimeter of his head stood writing on the chalkboard in the front of the room. There were small tables with four chairs around each of them lined up in two rows. Square wooden boxes about the size of a shoebox sat on each table.


Victoria already was sitting in a chair near the front of the classroom. Hermione noticed that no one rushed to sit near her.


She and Albus sat in chairs near the middle of the classroom and were quickly joined by Christina and Francis. Albus tapped the top of the box and the wood turned to glass. Christina shrieked and all but jumped on Francis.


“Good heavens, Miss Weasley,” Professor Jacobsen chuckled without even turning around. “You’re not even handling it yet.”


“She certainly will not!” Francis frowned as Christina swooned in his arms.


“She certainly will, Mr. Bulstrode.” Jacobsen turned and peered at Francis with eyes the dull, brown color of dirt. “They’re quite gentle and their venom is valuable.”


“Venom?” Christina squeaked. She was looking quite pale.


“I’m sure we’ll muddle through class,” Hermione assured her as Francis lowered her to a chair.


Dear Lord, was fear of spiders a genetic trait? Hermione was biting the insides of her cheeks to keep from laughing.


The class was rather simple, Hermione was happy to discover. Their jobs were to milk the spiders of their venom, a task made easier after they had watched Charlotte lift the lid of the box at her table, petrify the spider, and poke it’s fangs through the thin leather lid covering the top of the glass vial they were to collect the venom in.


“I… suppose he really is quite soft,” Christina finally admitted after the spider was milked and returned to his box. She had tentatively reached her hand out to stroke the fuzzy carapace of the spider while he was still petrified.


Francis lifted the charm before Albus closed the box and they all breathed a sigh of relief after the spider was contained.


“She really is quite a sweet thing.” Patrick said behind Hermione and she turned to see one of the huge spiders cuddling up to him and making delicate clicking sounds with it’s mandibles. He picked it delicately up and placed it back in the box. “In you go, sweetheart.”


John Sterling had a screwed up look of repressed disgust and fear, his fingers gripped the tables edge, his knuckles white. His eyes didn’t blink as he watched Patrick fasten the box shut.


“Ten points to Gryffindor for Charlotte’s clever use of the Petrification Charm.” Jacobsen said smiling. “But remember, not all animals can be handled when petrified. In the case of the Blasting Bumblebee, if the valve that controls their venom flow is not open when you petrify them they will be of no use to you. Have a good afternoon!”


Hermione and the others gathered their things and climbed the stone stairs up to the forest floor.


Amanda and Matilda scurried ahead of Hermione, Charlotte, and Christina, talking about the uses of spiders venom in preservation potions.


“I would be quite grateful if we never had to do anything like that again!” Christina shuttered.


“I have a feeling this is just the beginning,” Charlotte remarked as they filed out and the stone door slid shut. “This Professor seems to be a bit more active than the others.”


“He’s new this year?” Hermione asked.


“Oh, yes,” Christina said, an ominous tone to her voice.


“Professor Byron got eaten up by a dragon!” Alfred piped up, ruining the mysterious mood Christina was trying to set.


“You make it sound do vulgar!” Christina complained.


“Well, it’s not like it was pretty.” Thomas snorted.


“Oh…” Hermione gulped and she felt a little faint. “It’s not still… around… is it?”


She knew there was the occasional sighting of dragons during this time, but she didn’t remember any details of an incident near Hogwarts.


“Oh no!” Winifred laughed, looking over at them. “Some brawny wizards from the Ministry came and defeated the beast! It was an exciting thing to see!”


“I can imagine it was!” Hermione said truthfully.


Nothing had frightened her the way the dragons had during the Tri Wizarding Tournament. They were large and fearsome, to be sure, and highly intelligent, but what Hermione had not been prepared for was how fast they were.


They had appeared to be unbeatable by a single person alone and she had been terrified for Harry.


She knew the champions had been quite brave and creative getting past the beasts, but she knew this only from the comments and gasps from the others in the stands. Hermione had screwed her eyes shut, only forcing herself to open them once the cheering had begun signaling the successful completion of the task.


They stepped out of the forest and Albus squinted at the sky. “Lunch indoors today?”


“I think that may be for the best.” Francis admitted. He turned to Christina. “I believe I will have to take you for a stroll some other time, my dear. I fear it may rain in the near future.”


Francis was quite right in that. A fine mist started falling just as they reached the castle, and the girls scurried forward to insure their hair didn’t collapse or turn to frizz from the turn in weather.


They clattered into the castle, quickly casting drying spells on each other. As Hermione reached up and rearranged a curl on Christina’s head Aberforth and James Williams came running around a corner.


“What’s wrong?” John Sterling stiffened defensively.


“There was another attack on a female student!”