First time

The Animagi lessons

Chapter 11

The Animagi lessons

Even though all the teachers had started handing out unbelievable amounts of homework right from the very first day of the new term, reacting to every protest with a sweet smile and an assurance that the topic of the four-foot essay they had just given them was bound to come up at the OWLs, it still didn’t stop Elizabeth from falling into a deep depression every now and then, even if it happened to be in the middle of a lesson (but since it was usually Potions where this horrible feeling overcame her, when she had to watch Fletcher melting cauldrons for an entire hour and a half, it was quite understandable). She had been so sure Snape’d be back after Christmas that it was like getting slapped across the face when she was proved wrong. And even though both Jane and Hermione were doing everything they could to cheer her up, it usually didn’t have much effect. It was only when Hermione had announced that their Animagi lessons would begin the following evening that her mood improved a little – finally, here was something she could look forward to ... something to take her mind off Snape for a while. And so with this occupying her brain for the next day and a half, time seemed to pass much more quickly, and suddenly the eagerly awaited evening was here, along with the first Animagi lesson.

“Hermione, who gets to decide what animal you’re going to change into?” Elizabeth asked as she and the Gryffindor walked in the direction of the Transfiguration classroom.

“It’s your choice,” Hermione replied brightly. “But I think it’s best if you pick you favourite animal, I’ve read it makes the transformation easier.”

“That’s O.K. with me,” said Elizabeth cheerfully. “My animal’s a cat.”

“Really? So’s mine! I think McGonagall’s going to be pleased.”

“Yeah, probably. How many other people’ll be there, anyway?”

“I have no idea. But we’re almost there, so... Oh, no! Not him!”

They had just rounded a corner and the classroom door came into view. Elizabeth squinted to see what had made Hermione react in such a way, and it didn’t take long before she noticed a pale, blond boy leaning leisurely against the stone wall outside the classroom – Draco Malfoy.

He saw them almost as soon as they saw him, and immediately he started making his way towards them, his face reflecting an expression of deepest disgust.

“Well, well, well, what have we here?” he asked when he reached them, using the most irritating voice he was capable of producing. “The two little Mudbloods, attempting to become Animagi. I can’t wait to see what your animals’ll be ... something utterly disgusting, I’m sure. How about a Blast-Ended Skrewt for you, Granger, just to make that overgrown friend of yours happy?”

“Don’t listen to him, Hermione, he’s not worth it,” said Elizabeth and pulled her friend towards the classroom and away from Malfoy. The Slytherin, however, didn’t seem satisfied with the result his nasty comments had produced, for he followed them, continuing to insult Hermione as he went.

“But I think it’s more likely that you’ll fail to perform the transformation altogether, and just stay your old, ugly self forever more. Because, Granger, this is not something you can learn by heart from a book, this needs talent. But, of course, that’s not something Mudbloods like you would be familiar with.”

They had reached the classroom door by then, and since there was nowhere else to go without making it look like an escape, Elizabeth decided to attack.

“I think he fancies you, Hermione,” she said, loud enough for Malfoy to hear. “But because he’s such a stupid git, he doesn’t know a better way of showing it other than insulting you.”

Malfoy’s pale cheeks turned a light shade of pink. “I don’t-” he started, but just then, Professor McGonagall arrived (closely followed by what looked to be the last member of their little Animagi class – the Hufflepuff prefect, Ernie Macmillan), leaving Malfoy no time to finish his defence.

When the Head of Gryffindor let them into the classroom, Elizabeth noticed most of the desks and chairs had been moved off to the sides, leaving a large, furniture-free area in the middle of the room.

“Welcome to your first Animagi lesson,” said Professor McGonagall as soon as they took their seats at the few desks remaining in the front of the classroom (Elizabeth and Hermione shared the same desk, but Malfoy had strictly refused to sit with the Hufflepuff boy and shuffled off to the other side of the room instead, as far away from the rest of the students as he possibly could). “It seems that this year’s class will consist of prefects only – well, at least there’ll be no need to write you notes explaining why you’re out in the corridors at such a late hour. Now, just to let you know what you’re getting yourselves into by joining this class: we will meet twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, the lessons will start at 8:15 and finish at nine o’clock, and if everything goes well, then by this time next year you should all be ready to get your licences. But – becoming an Animagus is not as easy as some of you might think, it requires a tremendous amount of concentration and patience, and also a fair bit of talent, so it might happen that some of you will end up leaving this class ... because you’ll discover you’re just not up to it.” (At this point, Malfoy threw a meaningful glare in Hermione’s direction). “Hopefully, though, everything’ll come along fine, which means that sooner or later you’ll all be able to not only transform into your desired animal, but also stay in your Animagus form for an unlimited period of time. So ... now I’d like all of you to tell me which animal you’ve chosen for your transformation; it doesn’t necessarily have to be your favourite animal, but it is proved that it really does make the change easier. We’ll start with Miss Granger.”

“A cat,” said Hermione with a smile.

Professor McGonagall didn’t smile, but she did look pleased. “All right ... Miss Woodhouse?”

“Also a cat.”

“Hmmm, interesting,” McGonagall remarked, her expression growing even more satisfied. “Mr. Macmillan?”

“An owl.”

“And Mr. Malfoy?”

“A snake.”

“Who would’ve thought?” Elizabeth whispered in Hermione’s ear, and both girls gave a quiet laugh.

“O.K. Now, it is obvious that you won’t be attempting the whole transformation at once, so today your aim will be to just concentrate on one of your hands. You can remain in your seats, you can stand up, you can go and lie on the floor – whichever position you feel the most comfortable in. You may go and take your places now.”

Elizabeth chose to stay in her seat, as did Hermione and Ernie, but Malfoy rose, walked over to the space in the middle of the room and threw himself down on the floor.

Professor McGonagall pretended not to notice Malfoy’s obvious attempt to draw attention to himself and simply went on: “Right. Now, I’d like all of you to concentrate on your hand, concentrate with every single particle of your body, and try to imagine your chosen animal. Hopefully, in a few minutes, you’ll be able to see the first signs of fur, feathers, or, in Mr. Malfoy’s case, scales, appearing somewhere on your skin. All right, you may begin.”

Elizabeth looked down at her hand and forced herself to picture her neighbours’ black and white cat, Mitzy, which she often went over to play with when she was at home, since her parents had never allowed her to have a cat of her own. She tried to imagine every detail of the creature’s paw – its soft white fur, its sharp, pull-out claws, its... And suddenly, she wasn’t imagining it anymore ... she was looking at it; for her nails were no longer nails ... they were claws; and some of the light blond hair usually covering her arm was also gone, only to be replaced by a patch of thick, cat-like fur.

“Hey, Elizabeth, how did you do that?” asked Hermione, who had stopped gazing at her own hand to look at Elizabeth’s.

“I don’t know. I just followed McGonagall’s instructions,” Elizabeth replied, but by doing this, she had momentarily ceased to concentrate on her hand, causing it to immediately resume its usual appearance.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” Hermione exclaimed when she saw this. “I really didn’t mean to break your concentration.”

“It’s O.K.,” Elizabeth assured her and shifted her attention back to her hand. It wasn’t long before it resembled a cat’s paw once more, and Elizabeth was sure that it had taken even less time than before for her to do it, not to mention the fact that the amount of fur was now definitely bigger.

After a while she was beginning to feel rather dizzy, so she tore her attention away from her hand, only then noticing that in the meantime Professor McGonagall had come over, and was now standing in front of her desk, looking very impressed.

“Excellent, Miss Woodhouse, excellent,” she said when she saw Elizabeth eyeing her expectantly. “Your ability to concentrate is exceptional. If you keep this up, you’ll be ready to get your licence by the end of the school year.”

And having said that, she turned her attention towards Hermione, who had by now also managed to get parts of her hand covered in orange fur.

“Also very good, Miss Granger. With a bit of practice, you too might leave this class at the end of the year.”

The rest of the lesson then went on in much the same way. Elizabeth was feeling terribly tired by the end of it, and she also had a slight headache, but at least during her last few attempts she had managed to make her hand look almost exactly like Mitzy’s white paw. When she looked around, however, she noticed the others weren’t nearly as successful as she was. To her great amusement, Malfoy wasn’t any closer to growing scales than he was at the beginning of the lesson; his pale hand still remaining nothing more and nothing less than a pale hand. Elizabeth was sure this was due to his lack of concentration, for she had a feeling he was the kind that couldn’t concentrate on anything for more than a few seconds, and not even his comfortable position on the floor had the power to save him. Ernie, though, wasn’t looking much better, but at least he was able to sprout a feather or two every now and then.

“Don’t forget to practise!” Professor McGonagall called just before they left the classroom. “And this goes especially for you, Mr. Malfoy, I’d like to see some improvement next time!”

Elizabeth couldn’t resist; once they were out the door, she caught up with the Slytherin, and when she’d made sure Hermione was also listening (but not McGonagall), she put on a perfect imitation of Malfoy’s annoying voice and said: “Hey, pure-blood! Was it just my imagination or did you really say something about needing talent for this class? Ah, but perhaps you just couldn’t concentrate, since your mind kept on wandering off to a certain Mudblood...”

Malfoy had gone as red as a carrot. “You’ll pay for this, Woodhouse,” he said quietly. “Just you wait and see.”

And he stalked off, leaving the two girls, who were now laughing so hard they didn’t even notice, far behind.

“Bullies. They’re all the same,” Elizabeth said when she’d finally calmed down. “Use their own weapons against them and they’re harmless.”

Hermione wiped her eyes. “I must tell Harry and Ron about this. They’ll probably never take Malfoy seriously again. But ... um ... he doesn’t really fancy me, does he?”

“Well, at first I only said it to upset him, but the way he reacted... I can’t help it, Hermione, I think he does fancy you.”

“Oh,” was all Hermione could say for a while, so the girls just continued walking in silence until she found her voice again. “Well, it is rather ... unexpected, I guess. Too bad he’s such a spoiled prat, because otherwise... Elizabeth, what’s wrong?”

She had every reason to ask, for her friend had suddenly stopped dead in her tracks and was now staring fixedly into the darkness ahead.

“Elizabeth! What’s wrong?” Hermione repeated when she got no reaction.

Finally, this seemed to have brought Elizabeth back to reality. “I’m sorry,” she muttered. “I just thought I saw something, but it must’ve been only my imagination.”

“It didn’t have to be. What did you see, Elizabeth?” Hermione demanded.

“Nothing, honestly. I’m just being silly, that’s all. And I’m probably tired, too; that Animagi lesson really took a lot out of me. Anyway, time to split now, I have to turn here ... unless you want me to sleep in Gryffindor Tower with you, of course.”

“You know I wouldn’t mind, even though I’m quite sure it’s not allowed. But I can see you need some time alone, so I won’t keep you ... or force you to tell me something you obviously don’t want to. Good night.”

Elizabeth gave her a weak smile. “Thanks, Hermione, you’re a real friend. Good night to you too.”

And with a small nod, she set off down the deserted corridor leading to the Ravenclaw common room.

Now that she was finally alone, she realized just how strange her behaviour must have seemed to her Gryffindor friend. However, she was still sure it was right not to tell her what she’d seen, because even though she knew Hermione wouldn’t have laughed, she could still have thought Elizabeth was having hallucinations, and therefore should go and see Madam Pomfrey immediately. For what she had seen, or thought she had seen, was the all too familiar figure dressed in billowing black robes – her beloved Potions master, Severus Snape. And that simply couldn’t have been anything more than a hallucination, because as far as she knew, Snape was gone, miles and miles away from Hogwarts, putting his life at stake to spy on Voldemort.

‘And I’m just so crazy about him I see him even when he’s not there,’ Elizabeth concluded and climbed through the portrait hole into the common room.

It’s funny how time seems to practically fly when you need it the least. And in the months that followed, just when Elizabeth would’ve given anything for time to slow down a little, or maybe even stop every now and then, it went by at a particularly alarming speed, almost as if it had sprouted wings. The situation was getting more and more desperate, and even though Elizabeth had started studying for the OWLs shortly after Christmas, she now felt as though she had not only learnt nothing at all, but had also forgotten even the little she had managed to remember from the five years she had spent at Hogwarts. And when she pictured the enormous pile of books she hadn’t even touched yet, she felt like shutting herself in the girls’ toilet and never coming out.

At first, she was determined to follow Hermione’s example and attempt to get an OWL in every single subject, even the ones she had decided to drop next year, but as the OWLs drew nearer, her original intentions were slowly vanishing. After giving the matter some thought, she decided that the world wouldn’t end if she didn’t get an OWL in Divination, and so the Divination books and charts went sailing across the room and into her trunk. A few days passed and Divination was joined by Astronomy. Care of Magical Creatures was next, soon followed by Herbology and Muggle Studies. Elizabeth was feeling very very ashamed of herself by then, and Hermione’s disapproving looks were only making her feel worse, so to keep everybody, including herself, at peace, she decided that apart from the four subjects she was hoping to make her NEWT subjects next year, she’d also scrape an OWL in Potions, even if it meant getting just an ‘Acceptable’. Unfortunately, this resolution also didn’t last long, for about three weeks before the OWLs, Elizabeth suddenly found herself throwing all the Potions books somewhere under her bed, realizing she was falling terribly behind with Transfiguration. She had long since given up any hope of Snape’s return, and although she still thought about him almost constantly, she was determined to push him out of her head eventually, and try to find herself a proper boyfriend instead.

The only thing that seemed to be going well were her Animagi lessons. To her great satisfaction, she was now able to change almost completely into an exact copy of her neighbours’ cat (the only thing still missing was a tail), and Professor McGonagall kept assuring her that after the OWLs she could go and get her licence straight away.

Hermione was also doing well, as was Ernie, who had finally managed to grow enough feathers to be able to take off, but Malfoy still looked hopeless. The only thing he had achieved (to the amusement of the whole class, including Professor McGonagall) was to get his tongue to look like a fat pink fork, and emit hissing noises at the same time. Elizabeth thought he would then at least come up with some sort of revenge for her continuous teasing, but none ever came.

Exactly two weeks before the beginning of the OWLs, Elizabeth received a note from Professor Flitwick, telling her to come to his office twenty minutes before the end of her Care of Magical Creatures lesson to discuss her future career. Elizabeth happily obeyed; not only would she miss the end of one of her less favourite lessons, but maybe Flitwick could also tell her which teacher was the most likely to retire.

When she reached his office, the Head of Ravenclaw was already waiting for her.

“Sit down, Miss Woodhouse, sit down,” he chirped and pointed to a chair opposite his own. “Would you like some tea?”

“No, thank you,” Elizabeth declined, eager to get on with the conversation.

Finally, Flitwick sat down in his unusually high chair and, clasping his hands in front of him, started speaking.

“So ... I’m sure you’ve already thought about what you’d like to do after you finish this school, but perhaps you still haven’t quite made up your mind, or maybe you might have some questions concerning a particular career, so please, feel free to ask and I’ll try to help you as much as I can.”

Elizabeth cleared her throat. “Well, I think I already know what I want to do – I’d like to become a teacher and hopefully teach here at Hogwarts sometime in the future. What I don’t know, though, is which subject I would like to teach. I don’t really care, I’d be happy with practically anything, I just don’t want to leave Hogwarts. Do you know if any of the teachers here are considering retirement?”

“Not that I know of, no. It might change during the next two years, of course, but it would still be good if you had at least some sort of idea of where you’re heading; you need to choose your NEWT subjects for next year, after all.”

“Oh, I’ve already chosen those,” Elizabeth said quickly. “I’d like to do Transfiguration, Charms –” (Professor Flitwick looked very pleased to hear this) “– Defence Against the Dark Arts and History of Magic.”

“Very good, but you have to know that before you become a fully qualified teacher, you need to spend two years as a teacher’s assistant, so perhaps from now on you should start concentrating on one particular area just a little bit more. Which is your favourite subject?”

“Well, it used to be Potions...”

“Used to be?” Flitwick cut in. “Why not anymore? I noticed you didn’t even pick it as one of your NEWT subjects.”

“It’s because of Professor Fletcher,” Elizabeth explained. “I know I shouldn’t be criticising a teacher, but honestly, I think even Lockhart was better than him.”

Professor Flitwick couldn’t help but give a small chuckle. “Yes, now that you mention it, I’ve heard one of the seventh-years using a similar comparison. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done about that; nobody else is available for the job.”

Elizabeth seized her chance and asked, trying to make the question sound as casual as possible: “Isn’t Professor Snape coming back?”

“I don’t think so, or at least not in the nearest future.”

“Well, then I’m definitely not doing Potions,” Elizabeth said resolutely, hoping her disappointment wasn’t too obvious. “I think I’ll concentrate on History of Magic, because that’s my favourite subject now, I suppose.”

Flitwick looked surprised. “History of Magic?” he repeated. “Well, that’s an ... unusual choice; I can’t remember hearing anyone call this subject their favourite before. And Potions ... also very interesting...”

Just then, the bell rang, meaning Elizabeth had about ten minutes to get down to the greenhouses for Herbology.

“Um, Professor?” she asked gingerly. “Can I go now? I don’t want to be late for my next lesson, you see.”

“Oh, but of course, of course,” Flitwick said apologetically and jumped down from his chair to show Elizabeth to the door. “Shall I write you a note for Professor ... who do you have?”

“Professor Sprout... but thank you, I don’t think it’ll be necessary. I can still make it on time.”

“O.K., well... goodbye then, Miss Woodhouse, and have a nice day!”

“You too, Professor, and thank you for your advice!” said Elizabeth and, giving her teacher a grateful smile, left the office.

As soon as she was out in the corridor, she quickened her pace, and practically flew down the flight of stairs leading down to the Entrance Hall, almost knocking somebody over in the process.

“Hey, watch out!” the person called after her, and when she turned around to apologize, she saw it was one of Hermione’s Gryffindor friends, Ron Weasley: accompanied by Harry Potter, Hermione herself, and also a very depressed-looking Neville Longbottom.

“Sorry, Ron, I didn’t see you,” she muttered before quickly turning her attention to her friend and asking: “What happened to Neville, Hermione? He looks like he’d been crying.”

“That’s because Professor Sprout had yelled at him this morning,” Hermione told her, making sure the boy in question was out of earshot. “It was terrible, and it took me nearly half an hour to calm him down afterwards. I thought he’d never stop crying. Anyway, I’ll tell you all about it at lunchtime, O.K.?”

“Yeah, all right. See ya!” Elizabeth said before breaking into a run again. Because if Professor Sprout was in a foul mood today, the last thing she wanted to do was to come late and allow herself to be yelled at like Neville.

In the end she had managed to reach the greenhouses together with her teacher, who, it seemed, was indeed far from her usual cheerful self. She didn’t even answer when Elizabeth had tried to bid her good day, and during the actual lesson she strongly resembled a female version of Snape: she was edgy, snappy, and took off points even for the tiniest mistakes. Never in her life had Elizabeth been so happy for Herbology to end; it was like a dream come true when the bell had finally rung, and therefore it wasn’t too surprising that in her frantic attempt to get out of the greenhouse and into the Great Hall as soon as possible she had nearly managed to trip Malfoy who was blocking the doorway.

When she finally did make it to the Gryffindor table, with Jane hot on her heels, Hermione was already waiting for them.

“Hurry up, sit down before anyone notices you’re not sitting at your own table,” she urged, throwing anxious glances towards the teachers.

“I don’t think it really matters during lunchtime,” Jane said, but then decided to take Hermione’s advice anyway, just in case.

“So ... what did Neville do to make Sprout so angry?” Elizabeth asked as she filled her plate with roast chicken.

“Well, we were revising how to re-pot mandrakes today,” Hermione explained. “And Neville must’ve been given a really nasty one, because I’m sure he had done everything right, he’s one of the best in Herbology, after all... Well, anyway, what happened was that after nearly everybody had taken off their earmuffs, Neville’s mandrake started to cry. It must’ve thrown some of the compost out or something, since I really can’t imagine how else it could have managed to free its mouth from all the earth Neville had stuffed into the pot. All I can say is that what followed was terrible, because before Professor Sprout finally succeeded in getting the mandrake under control, half of the class had fainted. They’re still in the hospital wing now. Anyway, Professor Sprout then went absolutely mad: she told Neville what a complete idiot he is, that he’ll never manage an OWL in Herbology, let alone get into the NEWT class ... and many other unpleasant things. Neville looked like he, too, would faint by the time she had finished, and it really was almost impossible to calm him down afterwards.”

“That was so horribly unfair!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “Poor Neville!”

“Yes, poor Neville,” Hermione agreed. “He had never had much self-confidence, but after this...”

“I hate to interrupt,” Jane cut in, “but there’s only ten minutes left until the beginning of Potions. I really think we should get going.”

“Oh, Jane, I don’t know what I’d do without you,” Elizabeth said warmly and jumped to her feet. “Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go! Bye, Hermione!”

And she rushed off in the direction of the dungeons. Jane gave Hermione a questioning look, but eventually took off as well.

“What are you so happy about?” she asked when she had finally caught up with her friend. “We have Potions now, with Fletcher, remember?”

“Yes, and that’s why I’m so happy. I’ll only have to survive two more lessons with him. Two more – and I’ll never have to set foot in his classroom again! Isn’t that great?”

“Yeah, whatever,” Jane muttered, not really sharing her friend’s enthusiasm. “I don’t think he’s so bad, actually. I might even miss him.”

“Oh, Jane, you’re just teasing me, aren’t you?” Elizabeth asked, but at that moment, they had reached the classroom door, so she didn’t have a chance to press the point any further.

For once, the lesson seemed a little more enjoyable, because whenever Fletcher spilled something, burnt something, melted a cauldron or gave an inadequate explanation (which happened to be almost all the time), Elizabeth simply chanted ‘just one more time, just one more time, just one more time’ and immediately felt a lot better. For one brief moment, she had actually gone as far as considering whether she, too, wouldn’t miss his amusing teaching style, but she quickly scolded herself for even daring to come up with such an outrageous idea, again concentrating on her magical ‘just one more time’ formula instead.

Before she realized it, the lesson was over, and she found herself walking out of the dungeon classroom with an enormous grin stuck to her face.

“Just one more week,” she told Jane happily. “After that there’ll be no more Fletcher.”

The one week, though, turned out to be probably the shortest week of her life, because while she was desperately trying to fill her head with information from about twenty different books (not to mention the countless hours she had spent actually practising the spells), days seemed to pass like hours, hours like minutes and minutes like seconds. That’s why she received quite a shock when Jane had assured her it was really Monday again, for she was entirely convinced she still had the whole weekend ahead of her. It left her in a foul mood for the rest of the morning, and she had only cheered up a little when she remembered that the Potions lesson she was just heading to would, in fact, be the last one of her life. And she had to admit she was maybe even looking forward to it.

But when she and Jane reached the dungeons, Elizabeth experienced such a shock that what Jane had told her in the morning seemed like a weather statement compared to the madness she had to undergo now. For it wasn’t Professor Fletcher who had let them into the classroom this time ... it was Snape.
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