Cho Chang/Harry Potter Hermione Granger/Viktor Krum Original Female Witch/Ron Weasley
Harry Potter
Action Suspense
The Harry Potter at Hogwarts Years
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire
Published: 02/06/2003
Updated: 02/18/2003
Words: 264,404
Chapters: 34
Hits: 87,813

Harry Potter and the Flying Squad

Horst Pollmann

Story Summary:
Fifth year in Hogwarts. Even before terms start, Harry is involved in the defence against an evil attack from the Dark Forces, something which ``later will be called 'The Hogwarts Express Accident' ...``In Hogwarts, many things are different - most of all, the joining of all four``Quidditch teams in the 'Flying Squad', for patrol and exploration services.``For Harry, this looks like a path toward Cho Chang, except that - well, ``maybe this should really be left to the story itself ...``At any rate, expect Giants, Goblins, and house-elves to play their roles in ``this fic - as well as some new characters.

Chapter 21 - Private Conversations

Chapter Summary:
It's time to sign for O.W.L.s. Of course, this includes short conversations with the teachers of the particular course. For Harry, this means talking with Drilencu - after weeks of frosty weather between them ...
Author's Note:
If this fic is truly English, then it's thanks to the efforts of two people:

21 - Private Conversations

Harry asked himself whether he should tell Ron and Hermione about the Parseltongue case study. He didn't feel like it; publications about his person usually had unpleasant side effects. Sure, the study was something totally different from an article in the Daily Prophet, Almyra wasn't Rita Skeeter - by no means, heehee, but still ...

Not yet, he decided. There would be a better opportunity. And his fifth O.W.L. had to come as a surprise; when announcing it, he wanted to see Ron's face. Well, maybe Ron would be just happy with him, maybe that streak of jealousy was playing only in Harry's own head. At any rate, he couldn't help it - somehow he had the feeling this news about the Parseltongue study would destroy the harmonic balance that had been built from office for Ron, potions for Hermione, and Flying Squad for himself.

On the other hand, his decision made Almyra's study another secret to hide, another trapdoor to invite him, the expert spy. True, it wasn't the first time - as if he'd been that successful in the Goblin issue ...

Then he registered a significant difference: he was hiding something from both Ron and Hermione while Cho knew all along.

When he told them, or if they found out - how would they take it? Did Hermione share things with Viktor without telling him and Ron? Certainly - but then, Hermione had used a time-turner for a full year without telling them a word. She could keep secrets, in contrast to himself.

One way or the other, he had to talk with someone about the case study. Cho? Not yet; they could talk once he knew more, once he had a grasp on what it meant to be the subject of Almyra's Graduate Work.

Almyra herself - that would happen automatically, and of course, Almyra wasn't neutral. Fleur? Not his first choice, maybe if there wasn't anyone else. Suddenly Harry became aware that all people he checked off in his mind were girls - funny, wasn't it, him and ... Well, he would discuss it with Sirius right away, only Sirius wasn't around. Then he knew whom to talk with: Lupin, of course! Except that Lupin wasn't around either, although it had been quite a while since he'd seen him the last time, so he might expect him soon.

Then the case study was thrust aside by a topic less elaborate while more urgent - O.W.L.s. They had to deliver their signings, thereby fixing themselves to the chosen O.W.L.s by number and topics.

Sitting in the Gryffindor common room, Harry took a parchment and started writing. Sure enough, right as he got to the last line, he made a mistake. And then again ... When he was done, his parchment looked good.

O.W.L. Signings for Harry Potter
1. Care of Magical Creatures
2. Charms
"Unforgivable Curses and the Effect of Sibling Wands"
3. Defence against the Dark Arts
"The Patronus Spell"
4. Flying
"Flying Techniques - Broomsticks vs. Flying Carpets"
5. Transfiguration
Signed: Harry Potter

He turned to Ron. Any moment now, he would have a look at Ron's signing and Ron would see his own, so in a few seconds, Ron would know about Harry's fifth O.W.L. Harry's heartbeat came a little faster than normal.

"Hey, Ron, can I see your signing?"

"Just a second, Harry ... Done. For once, it's something short."

Ron presented his own parchment.

O.W.L. Signings for Ronald Weasley
1. Astronomy
"Distances in Star Constellations"
2. Care of Magical Creatures
3. Care of Magical Creatures
"Domestication of Dragons"
4. Flying
"Quidditch - The History of Game Tactics"
5. Politics and Management
"Reorganization of the Hogwarts Administration"
Signed: Ronald Weasley


"Yes, that's my name." Ron didn't look overly happy. "My birth name ... if you want to do me a favour, forget it immediately."

"It's okay, Ron - I just didn't know."

Ron sighed. "It wasn't by accident that you didn't. Nobody calls me that, and they know why - anyway, lemme see yours, shouldn't be a surprise of names, right?"

Not with names, thought Harry. He passed his parchment over and then watched Ron's face aa he read, so he saw his friend's eyes go wide for an instant.

Ron looked up, smiling. "Harry, you brat - all that time, I was thinking, isn't it strange, me with five, and Harry with just four, can't he find something else with all his weird gifts? And you knew it all along!"

Harry blushed - from guilt because he'd expected another reaction, from more guilt because he was hiding something, from anger at himself, having been jealous for no reason at all.

"No, I wasn't ... I thought, you would - "

Ron looked surprised. "Don't tell me you thought of it as some competition between us?"

"Not really ... Only it felt like that for a while - anyway, I found the fifth one only day before yesterday, so I didn't hide - "

Ron laughed, then shook his head. "What nonsense, with Hermione around running for eight ... Let's see what our champion has scribbled."

They went to Hermione's table.

"Hermione," chirped Ron, "may we have a look at that grandiose parchment, that endless list of deep, daring, demanding - "

Hermione felt too good, nothing Ron could say would disturb the moment for her. "Here," she said, "look at that ... and live to tell."

They examined her parchment.

O.W.L. Signings for Hermione Granger
1. Arithmancy
"Magical Numbers"
2. Care of Magical Creatures
3. Charms
"Combat and Duel Spells and Curses"
4. Herbology
"Medical Plants and Herbs"
5. History
"The Goblins Rebellions"
6. Muggles Studies
"Medical Science of the Muggles"
7. Potions
"The Wolfsbane Potion"
8. Transfiguration
"Levitation and its Role in the Muggles World"
Signed: Hermione Granger

"Wow. Hermione," said Ron, looking serious, "we're proud of you. Eight - that'll remain unchallenged for a while."

Hermione's face was shining. "Thank you. By the way, do you know already whom to ask to be Trustee?"


It was Ron's question but might have been Harry's all the same. Ask who? For - what had Hermione said?

She rolled her eyes. "I knew it - you don't know anything, don't know what's expected of you - if you didn't have me around, you'd be lost."

Ron smiled sweetly. "But we have you around, dear Hermione, and in a moment or two, we'll listen breathlessly to your explanation who's Rusty, and why to beat him."

"Hehehe ..." Next second, Hermione was rolling around, fighting a bad fit of laughter.

Harry and Ron looked at each other, waiting for her to calm down.

Eventually, Hermione had gathered herself sufficiently to explain what she was talking about, although still interrupted by chuckles. It had to do with the O.W.L. review.

An O.W.L. was presented to a jury of three teachers, the course teacher plus two others. The student, as they learned from Hermione, was entitled to specify one of the other two - provided he could find a teacher who agreed to the duty. That teacher's role was called Trustee.

"The later you ask them," said Hermione, "the more likely they'll refuse. At this time of the year, their list of scheduled O.W.L.s is almost empty, so when asking them now, we aren't likely to be told no. What's more, in the signing interviews, the teachers will ask us whether we have a Trustee. If we know it already, we save them time and effort; that makes for a nice atmosphere later in the review."

Signing interviews ... It reminded Harry that soon he would have to talk with Drilencu.

A signing interview was a short conversation with the course teacher for an O.W.L. If the teacher knew already, as in the case of Ron's Astronomy O.W.L. and Professor Sinistra, the interview was a formality that might be finished after ten seconds. The Patronus O.W.L. in Harry's list had been planned and discussed at a time when Lupin was the course teacher, now he would have to discuss it again with Drilencu. What a wonderful prospect ...

Drilencu and Harry, that was a state in suspense, more precisely, in deep-temperature suspense. Not finding anything better, Harry's technique since the exam had been to call him Pro-fessor Drilencu, as often as possible in every answer given, ignoring the 'Prof' standard Drilencu had brought to Hogwarts.

It was correct, it wasn't objectionable, and best of all, it was a permanent reminder for everybody that there was still something hanging between them that needed to be cleared some day.

Drilencu had reacted by ignoring Harry's raised hand. For compensation, the teacher had started asking him questions for which he expected Harry would not know the answer, or would be embarrassed because they had to do with matters as delicate as sex.

In return, Harry had started working hard for Defence against the Dark Arts, that way corrupting Drilencu's first move, and speaking with a stoney face about things that might have unsettled him with any other teacher. In short, there was a deep, heart-felt hostility between him and Drilencu, and everybody in the class knew.

Ron took all three parchments and headed off. He would be involved in writing the course lists and teacher lists - another long thing to write, although Ron had to blame himself, at least partially. His generous offer to take over organizational work from the teachers hadn't been left unheard, so much so that recently some teachers were developing a tendency to "let Ron do it".

* * *

The first response to Harry's signing was a bad one: he got his parchment back. Unforgivable Curses, no matter in which context and from which perspective, counted as Defence against the Dark Arts.

Wasn't it wonderful? He had to write the thing again, and afterwards, he would have to talk with Drilencu about two O.W.L.s. Which meant he had to get prepared and find some armament - er, argument. He expected trouble of the worst kind, but he already had an idea, causing another office visit.

That done, he felt ready to talk with Drilencu.

But Drilencu took his time.

Harry's first interview was with Professor Grubbly-Plank about the Giants O.W.L. She knew already; Hermione had been there earlier and had explained the joint project.

The interview was over within five minutes. Grubbly-Plank very nicely and unmistakably hinted that Harry, Ron, and Hermione would be expected to have their best knowledge in the parts they'd contributed to the project.

"Mr Potter," said the witch, "your interview with the Giant chief is outstanding. None of the other O.W.L.s about Giants can offer something like that. So I won't be surprised if the jury asks you to tell them that story again, with all the details that aren't found in your paper."

Next came Madam Hooch for the Flying O.W.L. She asked him what he had in mind with his comparison of broomsticks and flying carpets.

"I'm thinking of a split into three parts," explained Harry. "One part is about techniques that are only possible with a broomstick. For that, the Steel Wings are the best example. Another part is about techniques that are only possible with a flying carpet, like mass transportation, for example. The third part is a real point-to-point comparison. I know that there are family broomsticks which can - "

"Mr Potter," interrupted the teacher, "how are you going to gather information about flying carpets? They aren't allowed here."

"Well - erm, I have one."

The witch laughed. "I should have known ... All right, Mr Potter, do it on the paper while for the review" - she winked - "be prepared for Steel Wings as the main issue. After all, we shouldn't grill our main expert on those devilish toys."

So his plan worked out, much as expected, although Madam Hooch could have caused another problem. But in contrast to somebody else, no bad feelings had been left on her side.

Drilencu still had time.

Harry's next interview was with the Transfiguration teacher about the Parseltongue O.W.L.

"Mr Potter - er, Harry," McGonagall smiled, "what exactly do you want to present in your review?"

"Oh - what it means, how it works, background ..." She had caught him off balance. A few days ago, he hadn't even known that it would be an O.W.L.; today, he still lacked a clear idea what Almyra might deliver.

McGonagall seemed hardly surprised at his vague answer. "Is this a spin-off, Harry?"

"Huh? Sorry, Prof, I don't know what you mean."

"Are you working on the topic alone?"

The moment of truth. "No, Prof. I'll cooperate with another student who's working on something similar."

"From Gryffindor?"

McGonagall looked like the animal of her transformation, with a mouse within leisurely reach. So she knew ... Of course: a Graduate Work about Transfiguration wouldn't be planned without her knowing. How stupid of him not to think of it.

"No, Prof. I guess you know her - it's Almyra Benedict."

McGonagall's lips twisted. "A spin-off, Harry, is a by-product that is created more or less automatically, as the result of some process that creates something else. That's what we're talking about, right?"

Caught. "Yes, Prof."

"Well ..." McGonagall thought for a moment, then her expression lighted up.

"Conceptually, an O.W.L. should be some hard work, not the easy profit from an ability nobody else can offer. At least that's my opinion, although I know that most teachers consider that old-fashioned. For your O.W.L., I just realized that you will have to do work, simply by being the subject of Miss Benedict's study. So it's acceptable, and for the details, I'll ask you again in a month or two."

What was wrong with playing to your strengths? Other people recommended it, seeing it as an advantage if you didn't need to work hard ... Anyway, she'd accepted it, making clear that she would demand more than just a few words from a Parselmouth.

Three done, two to go. Drilencu didn't move.

Then Harry saw Lupin. His favourite teacher looked horrible: hollow cheeks, dark shadows under his eyes, the eyes themselves looking as tired as Harry had felt after his exam.

"Professor Lupin - Prof!"

Lupin bared his teeth, apparently the best he could manage for a smile. "Harry ... wait for me in my office." He didn't even ask whether Harry wanted to talk with him.

Harry had to wait a quarter of an hour, then Lupin came in. "Sorry, Harry - at least, now we have time to talk. A cup of tea?"

Harry nodded, then watched the familiar non-ceremony.

Lupin raised his cup. "To better times, Harry."

"Prof, you ... you look awful."

"Harry, I have a surprise four you: I feel awful."

At least, this time he could smile, deepening Harry's concern. That man was one of the four ill-fated ex-students from Hogwarts who had called themselves Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs - Lupin, Pettigrew, Black, and his father. His father was dead, Wormtail worse than dead, and Lupin and Black risked their life every day. Maybe -

"How's your Patronus?" Harry asked.

"Still the same as before, I have to admit." Lupin sounded exasperated. "I wish I could tell you something better; God knows I could use it. But I'm not going to give up." His eyes met Harry's. "How's yours?"

"Good, I think. By the way, that's one of the things I wanted to talk with you about. Prof, I have signed for two O.W.L.s in Defence, the Patronus and Unforgivable Curses."

"What did Drilencu say about them?"

"Nothing yet."

When Lupin's eyebrows arched up, Harry explained the situation between him and Drilencu, how it had started, and why he expected trouble. Then he asked, "Prof - would you be my Trustee for the Patronus O.W.L.?"

Lupin weighed his answer. "Harry, the last thing we need at Hogwarts are fights between students and teachers. You have to get that straight ... I guess the first step should be taken by the other side, I'll talk with Dumbledore about it. Then, if there comes a hand to shake, you have to take it! Do you hear me?"

"Yes, Prof."

"Do you promise, Harry?"

He didn't want to; still, he couldn't say no to that face, looking like a skull with skin, except for the eyes.

"All right, Prof. I promise."

"Good. In return, I'll be your Trustee."

"And what if Drilencu doesn't accept the O.W.L.?"

"Why shouldn't he?"

Harry shrugged. "Our feelings are mutual, so - "

Lupin laughed bitterly. "Harry, you're the only known person who can do a Golden Patronus. If Drilencu doesn't accept, I'll ask Dumbledore for a one-day appointment as a teacher for some new course, and we'll run it under that roof. That's ridiculous, I'm biting my nails to - "

Lupin stopped himself. "Harry, you'll forgive the unforgivable, and Professor Drilencu will forget the insulting defeat he had to suffer. If that doesn't happen soon enough, we'll do it as I said."

Harry felt better.

"What about your other O.W.L.s?" asked Lupin. "I hope there are still some others."

"Yes, Prof, five altogether. There's still another one I wanted to talk about."

"Another problem?"

"No, not at all. The topic is Parseltongue."

Lupin looked appreciative. "Yes, of course. But why are you asking me? I don't know anything about Parseltongue, Harry."

"Well, I had the idea only recently, after I've been asked about - er, there's a student who's going to write about it, as a case study, and - "

Lupin's eyes widened, then he grinned. "Does that student happen to be a girl? Perhaps by the name of Almyra Benedict?"


"Clever of her - fast on track for something worth the effort. Harry, you beat me again!"


"For the study. Can't you see it? I'm just an ordinary werewolf, easily found around the next corner, while a Parselmouth - "

Harry laughed, probably just as Lupin had intended. There wasn't a werewolf around the next corner; even so, it wouldn't be someone like Lupin, educated at Hogwarts thanks to Dumbledore's interventions, and specialized in the fighting of Dementors.

"Okay," said Lupin, "I guess your questions deal more with the case study. What do you want to know, Harry? About me? About you? Or about Graduate Work?"

"Oh, nothing special, it was just - I haven't talked about that with anyone, so I thought ..." Harry let himself trail off, and Lupin got the clue.

He explained what to expect from a case study. As he told Harry, there would be interviews, some of them boring, others still less agreeable because the questions would be quite intimate. He speculated that Almyra might try some experiments, in Harry's case certainly with snakes.

"I agreed for myself because I know she's not fishing for sensations. Almyra is serious about her research." Smiling, Lupin added, "So we suffer a bit for science and education. But it's nice to be in good company."

* * *

Harry's conversation with Lupin couldn't have been better timed. The next day, Drilencu asked him into his office.

Harry didn't know whether Lupin had already done some talking; at any rate, he couldn't detect an outstretched hand. Fine as well - in a way, it would make things easier.

Drilencu held Harry's parchment in his hairy hands. "Mr Potter, you signed up for two O.W.L.s in Defence Against the Dark Arts."

"Yes, Professor."

If he changed to 'Prof' now, it would make him look frightened. At least he'd stopped the awkward pronounciation and left out the name.

Drilencu's face showed no reaction. "Two O.W.L.s in the same course needs special permission, Mister Potter. Would you please have the kindness to tell me why that permission should be granted here?"

"Yes, Pro-fessor Drilencu." It came more by reflex than from intention. "It seems as if that course - your course - brings out my best - er, qualities."

Drilencu's face reddened.

Well, thought Harry, that was hardly what he'd promised Lupin - on the other hand, Drilencu's remark wans't exactly an offer of peace.

"Even assuming that's correct, Mr Potter, I'm afraid it's not reason enough." Drilencu looked at him expectantly.

If you're waiting for pleading, Harry thought, don't hold your breath ...

A second later, he knew what to say. "Okay, Prof - drop the Patronus."

Drilencu looked very much like he had in the exam, except that this time his face turned from red to pale. He grabbed a quill, obviously to cross out the entry on Harry's parchment.

"Wait a second, Prof - what I meant was drop it from the Defence course, but it's not going to be dropped from the list."

"What course - never mind, not my problem."

And none of your business, Harry thought.

The teacher had regained his balance. Harry realized that Drilencu must have encountered more conversations of that kind than he himself.

Drilencu now seemed prepared for everything. "Coming to the other topic, Mr Potter, Unforgivable Curses." - Drilencu was examining Harry's list - "it's a pretty narrow one. Just three spells, known in every aspect - I'm not sure whether that's sufficient. It's certainly not an O.W.L. I'd call outstanding."

Calmly, Harry said, "It doesn't need to be outstanding."

"If you're satisfied with less, fine, Mr Potter. But it needs to be sufficient for qualifying as an O.W.L., which is a bit more than homework for next Monday."

"I think that it will meet the qualification, because there are some details that are outstanding. The Killing Curse - I survived two, one of them under the special conditions of sibling wands. Imperius - nobody managed to curse me successfully, not even Voldemort. Cruciatus - well, there's nothing special, except maybe that I know quite well what I'll talk about."

"Special details - unique aspects - and they give you the right to say, 'My O.W.L. is narrow-minded but qualified nonetheless'?"

It was time for the final blow. "I know someone who'd be very interested to hear that review. He volunteered as my Trustee."

"I'm sure, Mr Potter, you'll tell me his name."

"Professor Dumbledore."

"Indeed ... And that's of course reason enough to agree and to say, Yes, Mr Potter, very well, Mr Potter, what a pleasure to be of assistance, Mr Potter."

Harry stared. Drilencu's head had been bowing up and down at his last words.

The teacher laughed up humourlessly. "What a bad joke ... At Durmstrang, we fight the Dark Forces, try to live with their nepotism, their hidden menaces, their open menaces, finally find a way to escape, come here to Hogwarts, and what do we find? Nepotism, hidden menaces, open - "

"That's not true!"

"No, Mr Potter? Then please explain to a dumb Bulgarian what's the difference between that and your last statement! Somehow, I missed the finer shades."

Harry opened his mouth to answer, couldn't think of anything, and closed it again.

Drilencu waited a moment, then said, "So there are none, and I didn't miss anything. We seem to agree on that, Mr Potter. What I didn't miss either were your insults since the day of your exam, starting at the exam, to be precise - "

Harry started hotly, "You cruciated - "

"I KNOW WHAT I DID! I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I DID! Yes, I cruciated your girl, I know how it feels - that knowledge is more common among Durmstrang people than here at Hogwarts, Mr Potter - yes, there are differences. I did exactly what I was asked to do: a hard, realistic trial. My victim had to be the one coming down to the hut, and it was her; it's as simple as that! Actually, Miss Chang has no problem with me, while you, Mr Potter ..."

Drilencu's fists pressed the table. "First you wanted to cruciate me yourself. Okay, I would have survived it. But then you insulted me once by not returning my wand. You insulted me again by declaring you don't trust me. Since then, you play the Noble Prince of Revenge in Defence classes. In my own country, Mr Potter, people have killed for minor insults."

Harry felt at a loss to speak. A mix of protest, shame, rage, and guilt kept whirling through his mind.

Almost dismissively, Drilencu said, "I know about your special abilities, Mr Potter. When Mr Krum returned last year from his visit, he described you as a student who hadn't lost ground under his feet, hadn't developed an attitude of showing everybody how special he was ... My experience is different."

A deep, burning red was on Harry's face. "I don't ... I didn't ..."

"Wrong, Mr Potter: you did."

Harry swallowed, swallowed again. "I'm sorry, Professor - Prof ... I didn't want to insult you."

A moment of silence passed.

"Accepted, Mr Potter." Drilencu exhaled. "I will summarize that episode as follows: I intended to cruciate you, as part of your exam. You intended to cruciate me back, in the heat of the fight, but - by some accident, we both failed. Do you agree on that?"

"Yes, Prof."

"Good. Then let's start this interview again. Just to mark our new beginning, would you please come in again?"

Harry stood up, stepped out, closed the door, and waited some seconds, if only to calm his pounding heart. Then he knocked again.

"Come in."

He opened the door.

Drilencu showed a little, but a smile. "Mr Potter - please sit down. Under Defence against the Dark Arts, your list of O.W.L. signings shows two entries - quite remarkable ones, actually. I'm very interested to hear those reviews about unique events and abilities, in particular the Patronus, I've been told you're the ..."

* * *

At the lunch table, Ron asked the question Harry had been anxiously waiting for, having been unable to find a satisfying method of avoiding it, or an inconspicious answer he could use.

"How was your interview with Drilencu, Harry?"

"Okay." Harry stuffed some food into his mouth.

"What did he say?"

"Oh - this and that."

"That's instructive," admitted Ron. "And what did you say?"

"Erm - mainly yes and no."

"Ah-ha." Ron seemed to ponder the answer. "And off the mainline - was there maybe a tiny little exchange of opinions?"

"Might have been ..."

Hermione had been following the dialogue. "Ron - drop it," she said. "If Harry had wanted to tell you the details, he would have done it already. Besides, for everybody with a bit more sensitivity than you've been granted, his answers were quite informative." She looked at Harry, pleased.

"Oh, really?" snarled Ron. "How stupid of me - not to catch the delicacy of conversations with Bulgarian bigh-mouths!"

Hermione's head snapped up. "Say that again!"

"Stop it!" shouted Harry, his anger boiling. Toward Ron, he added, "Among the things I said was, I'm sorry. Is that informative enough for you?"

"Oh." Ron looked as subdued as Harry had moments ago. "I guess I really was a bit slow - except with my mouth."

"Right," said Harry, "that's what we appreciate so much - isn't that so, Hermione?"

Hermione still had a glimmer in her eyes. "Sometimes," she said.

Harry tried to steer the conversation toward safer waters. "Talking about O.W.L.s, Ron - who'll do your Administration thing?"

"That's what they're trying to figure out," answered Ron, obviously grateful for the change. "Nobody feels responsible for it. That matches exactly what I found there when starting. I've suggested to call it 'Panostuchronism', but they didn't agree." Looking around casually, Ron seemed to be waiting for the question.

Harry did him the favour. "What's Panostuck - er, what's the word?"

"Panostuchronism. It stands for Paperwork and other stupid chores Ron is messing with. Maybe I should hone it a bit."

Harry laughed a little longer than the joke deserved, and even Hermione smiled. At least the atmosphere felt more relaxed than a minute earlier. True, it had been Ron's big mouth which had brought them at the verge of a serious row. But basically, it had been Harry's own fault.

* * *

The cold weather had changed just enough for the first snow of the year. After a first timid attempt of dressing in white, the world was suddenly drowned in snowflakes. They came floating down, hour after hour, fine and powdery.

Eventually, the sky cleared again and a thick white layer covered the ground, a snow so dry, it didn't even allow for snowball fights. And for the same reason, it would fail to hold clear tracks of animals. Or people.

Harry and Cho were on patrol, reverse course. They'd passed the Giants' camp and were on their way back. Harry was head. He passed over the last trees and reached the lake.

The surface was frozen almost completely; only a dark spot in the middle of the lake indicated an open hole. Otherwise, the snow on top of the ice created a perfectly flat space of white cleanliness.

Pushing the Steel Wing, Harry dived down. Only inches above the snow, he steadied his course. Bending to his left, keeping the pace, he drove in a wide circle. The centrifugal force pressed his body onto the broomstick, and his head hung over the snow, which rushed through his view like a blinding sheet. Behind him, the snow was dusting up in a cloud.

Closing off the circle, he found his own track. A slight movement steered the Steel Wing free, then Harry climbed sharply. With another circle through the air, he reached Cho.

His eyes were watering as he beamed at her. The childish action had blown away the last of the bad feelings from the conversation with Drilencu; now he felt challenging.

Looking at Cho, who'd been waiting half smiling, half contemptuously, he shouted, "Okay - your turn!"

Cho started shaking her head, but then stopped. Her lips went thin. She flew a half circle, turned, and pushed.

Harry watched as she dived, targeting exactly the same spot. He saw her body jerk to the right. Next moment, it looked as if the Steel Wing was ploughing through the snow, at an absurd speed. Where it passed, snow exploded into the air. From above, the sight was really fantastic.

Cho completed her circle. Using the same manoeuver as Harry had before, she came back and reached him with shining eyes. "Here you are, just to shut that mouth of yours."

Harry inspected the pattern. A perfect '8' - lying rather than upright - was written in the snow. "Look at that! A Giant's whiteboard for Arithmancy."

Cho looked, nodded, then blushed deeply,

"C'mon, let's go," she said shortly.

Seeing her accelerate without waiting for him to lead, he didn't know what to think, but followed anyway.

When they reached the school buildings, Cho seemed normal again. Harry didn't want to touch the issue, although he had no idea what might be so bad about Arithmancy. Maybe Giant had been the wrong connotation.

They went in. Almyra was waiting in the entrance.

Cho walked to her, the last steps in an awkward style. She stopped in front of Almyra, marched in place, saluted, and bellowed, "Patrol back from duty! Nothing unusual. Yessir, Madam, Sir!"

Unsurprised, Almyra said, "Stand easy."

Cho quickstepped twice, then relaxed. Harry couldn't see her face - Cho didn't turn.

Almyra looked at Harry. "Hi. Can we meet for - after supper?"

Harry nodded, then left to sign in with Ron.

So that would be his first interview about Parseltongue. A little twitch was running in his stomach. The interviews would start with what Almyra had called the Anamnesis. According to her description, Harry would have to spill out every stupid thought he'd ever had.

At least, she'd been able to dissipate one of his worries immediately. "To put things straight from the beginning," Almyra had said, "these sessions won't be some sort of social event. What I mean is, we'll be alone, and I'll not talk about my work with anyone - except Professor McGonagall, that is."

She had added, "It's up to you with whom to talk about it, Harry. That's none of my business."

After he'd accepted his role, Almyra quickly had stopped behaving like the female equivalent of Neville Longbottom; otherwise, Harry would have expected the worst from those sessions. Still more helpful was the thought of Lupin, who had done it already. If that teacher could find the spirit to talk about his werewolf experiences, certainly Harry could stand the questions about his Parselmouth nature.

He marched to the room McGonagall had provided for the sessions.

The entrance was protected by a locking sculpture, similar to the one that guarded the staircase to Dumbledore's office. The password was Jamboree - Almyra's choice. Thanks to Hermione's Christmas present, the book about magic dances, Harry knew what it meant, surprising Almyra with his knowledge.

Entering the room, he found her sitting at a desk, a large pile of parchments at her side. He took the opposite seat.

Almyra arranged a parchment, reached into her bag, and came up with a quill. Holding it to her throat, she said, "That's a test - one, two, three."

Leaning over the table, she held the quill to Harry's throat. "Harry, say something."

"What do I have to say?"

Without answering, Almyra removed the quill, placed it on the parchment, and said, "Session Number One. Thursday, February the seventh. Persons, Almyra Benedict, interviewer. Harry Potter, subject case two."

The quill was moving rapidly over the parchment, filling line after line. From Harry's angle, it didn't look like normal English. "What's that?" he asked.

"A steno quill. It'll record our conversation in short writing."

"That's cool. Where did you get it? Ron could use something like that for his office work."

Although - Harry wouldn't know how to explain his knowledge.

"I can tell you," said Almyra, "but be forewarned: it'll cost you an arm and a leg. To buy this one, I had to get a loan from Cho." The bronze in Almyra's face looked a little coppery. "She'd have given it to me for free - said something like she'd like to be sponsoring research, better than something else - don't know what she meant, anyway, I wouldn't take it."

Harry felt it safer not to comment on that.

Almyra started to ask questions, which Harry answered.

The first questions addressed facts of Harry's whereabouts. Name, age, state, parents. Almyra kept looking at a second parchment, checking off notes with a normal quill. That made it easier for him to answer.

"How's your health in general?"

"Good, I think."

"Any significant illnesses?"

"None that I know of." Was a former tendency to faint at Dementors a significant illness? Probably not - if so, Almyra would have interjected.

"Any severe injuries?"

"Hmm ... a Quidditch accident - wasn't so bad until that Lockhart did his healing." Harry explained how Madam Pomfrey's Skele-Grow had cured him.

"Any individual marks?"

"Ah - a scar on the forehead - in the shape of a lightning."

"Where did you get it?"

"From an attack of Voldemort - when I was a year old."

The name didn't break Almyra's concentration. "Do you have any memory of it?" She was marking notes on the paper. "Probably not."

"Yes, I do."

Almyra looked up. "Sorry - I shouldn't answer my own question. Still improving ... How did it happen?"

"It was when ..." Harry didn't continue.

After a second, Almyra said, "We can skip that for now. Probably not my best question for the first session."

Harry felt grateful.

Almyra put her notes aside. "I want you to talk about the times when you used Parseltongue. Just in your own words - oh, drop that, what else? What I'm trying to say, just tell the story. I'll use it to prepare questions for another interview. Okay?"

Harry started with the accident at the duelling club. It wasn't chronological order, it was the order in which he'd learned about it. Before continuing with what had followed, he spoke about the encounter in the zoo, leaving out the details of his life with the Dursleys.

Then he described the adventures in the Chamber of Secrets. When he spoke about his trouble at talking Parselmouth to the image of a snake on a tile, Almyra looked delighted.

He finished the story of the fight deep below Hogwarts. Almyra's expression was simultaneously terrified from the story and excited about the prospect of her case study.

"My God, Harry, I didn't know what to expect, but - that's a real treasure! I'm so grateful you agreed to it."

"Well, for a long time, I was really p ... didn't like it at all. You know, until some weeks ago, I guess I wouldn't have said yes to it. But then - at Christmas, when I met Cho's parents, they told me in China nobody would detest me talking to serpents. So it was just the right time when you asked."

"I remember - " Almyra hesitated. "I remember what I thought, when Hogwarts was full of rumours about a Parselmouth. I mean, I wouldn't have known you from a troll, so to speak, except ..." She faltered, then continued, "Anyway, I was fascinated by the idea of someone speaking animal language."

For Harry, it had felt totally normal - until he'd seen the frightened faces of the other students.

Almyra said, "I wonder ... Would you have accepted if it hadn't been - er, if I had been someone else? I mean, not Cho's friend?"

Harry blushed. "Is that a professional question?"

"No - yes, part of it. The reasons why the subject of a case study accepts might be of some importance, they might give a hint on how the subject feels about its - ability." Almyra grinned. "Maybe the question is irrelevant because - you know, without her help, I'd never have found the courage to ask."

Harry grinned back, remembering the scene.

"But then" - Almyra smiled archly - "the author isn't part of the study - therefore, Harry, what's your answer?"

"I don't know - really. What-if questions aren't my strongest. Probably not; my experience with publications about myself are pretty bad. Maybe if McGonagall would've asked - for sure if Lupin would have asked for you."

Almyra looked pleased.

"You know," continued Harry, "I never felt bad - or wrong, having that Parsel thing. It was just the reaction of the others - that look of Finch-Fletchley, after I'd saved him from the snake ... The thought of being studied so closely wasn't flattering - quite the opposite, after all the years I've spent running around with this scar."

Almyra nodded, and Harry decided to answer completely.

"No, there are two reasons why I agreed. The first was of course the line from Cho - after that, I simply couldn't say no."

Both grinned at the memory.

"The other - " Harry stopped. "Al - this is strictly confidential, right?"

Almyra's hand was up, palm forward. "I said it, and I stand to it."

"Okay - well, the other reason ... that was you."

"Me? What - "

Harry said quickly, "Each time I wanted to talk to Cho, you were around, and then ... I mean it has improved a bit recently, but - well, I thought with the study, I could come over and just say hello to both of you." With the words out, he felt sweat on his forehead.

Almyra hadn't laughed. "Yeah," she said, "I know that feeling."

Finding the conversation easier, Harry added, "The O.W.L. is of course my official profit but - right now, the other benefit counts more."

Almyra grinned. "I'm glad my study shortens the long distance between the Gryffindor and the Ravenclaw tables."

"Oh - I almost forgot." Almyra's remark had reminded Harry. "There's something else; I'm not sure whether it belongs to the study, but you're the expert - "


"Well - it's not directly Parseltongue, and a serpent is only scarcely involved, but maybe there's some kind of ..."

"WHAT, HARRY??" Almyra was acting like a gold digger, suspecting a nugget in the mud.

"The Sorting Hat - he wanted to put me into Slytherin."

"Wha - " Just in time, Almyra improved from the monosyllabic repetition to slightly more. "Explain!"

Harry told her about his first discussion with the Sorting Hat, also about the second one, years later in Dumbledore's office.

Almyra was beaming. "Wow - Harry, I've never heard of anything like that! That's super - with your case alone, I would - "

"No!" Harry was almost shouting. "Don't say that!"

Almyra started. "Sorry - I wasn't serious, I'd only - "

"Never mind," interrupted Harry, remembering a lesson from another Defence against the Dark Arts teacher, "its just - I like the idea of Lupin and me being in the same study."

They were done for the day. Almyra took the steno quill from the notepad and stored it in her bag. "I'll need at least a week to work that stuff through," she said.

Harry wondered whether the two parts of the study would be done in parallel or sequentially but didn't ask. Almyra took the written parchments, and they left.

At the bottom of the staircase, she waved goodbye and headed for the Ravenclaw Tower entrance.

Harry turned. In front of him stood Hermione.

"What are you doing here?" Hermione's glance followed Almyra, then came back to Harry, astonishment on her face.

Harry went pink. "Oh - erm, I've just helped Al with some schoolwork."

"I bet you did ... So it's not Almyra, it's Al, huh?" The temperature in Hermione's voice dropped rapidly. "Listen, Harry, if you think it's none of my business, just say so, okay? Don't insult me with such a stupid answer."