Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Crumbling Pedestal :: 21 :: Class Action

21 • Class Action

Heru had already faced down a number of students, but the second day of the term would bring a class of fifth years after lunch. Specifically, a combined class of Gryffindors and Slytherins. He ate in Severus’s quarters with Mark, gave him a hug good-bye because he couldn’t stay, and headed out onto the grounds a bit early to prepare. When the students arrived he could see that the reactions were again mixed.

Following the plan he had been given, he had set up a display of bowtruckles for them and had every intention of having them do the suggested work, as it would keep them out of his hair for most of the lesson even though he thought it was a stupid assignment. Once they had settled down, he began.

“Good afternoon. Who would like to tell me what these creatures are?”

Hermione’s hand shot up immediately, along with a few others. As she had been first, Heru pointed to her.

“Bowtruckles. They’re tree guardians and usually live in those that are used in wand making.”

“Very good. Five points to Gryffindor. Now, perhaps someone else would like to tell me what they eat.” He ignored it when Hermione’s hand shot up again, choosing instead a Slytherin boy named Nott.

“Normally wood lice, though they will eat fairy eggs if available,” said Nott in a bored tone.

Heru nodded. “Five points to Slytherin. These creatures may not appear dangerous, and generally speaking they are not, but you can expect that any person approaching a tree which houses bowtruckles should be carrying a distraction such as wood lice. Otherwise, they might find their eyes scratched out. For today, you will each make a sketch of one and label all its parts by the end of the lesson. There is a supply of wood lice in that box over there for you to use. If you have any questions, I’ll be right over there.”

Seeing that no one was yet brave enough to approach him, he wandered several feet away and leaned against a tree, crossing his arms over his chest and propping one foot against the rough bark, trying to block out the squealing that some of the Gryffindor girls were doing. He was not surprised when Hermione was the first student to finish and approach him.

“I’m done, professor,” she said, holding out her sketch for him to take.

“Assuming it is of top quality, I’ll award another five points to Gryffindor for such speedy completion.” Heru pulled a pencil out from behind his ear and made a notation in the corner, then tucked it back, slipping the parchment into the folder he was holding.

“Sir?” she said hesitantly.

“Yes, Miss Granger?”

“Do you . . . know anything about Hagrid, sir? I mean, is he all right?”

“I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I have no idea,” he said. “Was there anything else I could try to help you with?”

She bit her lip and looked away for a moment, then shook her head. “No, that was all, professor.”

“You can either rejoin the class or run along,” he told her. “You needn’t stay when you’ve already handed in the assignment.”

She nodded, took a step back, then turned and walked a short way off from the bulk of the Gryffindors. She sat down on the grass and pulled out a book to read, presumably to wait for Ron, who was currently snarling at his uncooperative specimen.

He was forced to intervene at one point, which annoyed him, for it was Draco Malfoy causing trouble by launching the creatures at unsuspecting Gryffindor girls. When he walked over, Malfoy sensed his presence and turned with a smirk on his face.

“Five points from Slytherin for this disruption and five points for potentially harming not only the creatures, but fellow students,” said Heru flatly.

Malfoy’s expression went momentarily blank, then he drew himself up and said, “Do you have any idea who I am?”

“Another five points for disrespect. Now, would you care to actually do the assignment, or would you prefer a detention?”

Malfoy’s eyes narrowed and his face took on a spiteful cast. He turned abruptly and stalked away muttering, his two cronies trailing after him. Heru returned to his lazy position at the tree and considered giving everyone an outstanding simply for finishing such a ridiculous assignment, but he knew he would likely get in trouble for it. He also wished he could chuck the folder into the nearest fire, but realized that some students would be very upset when they did not receive them back.

Eventually they all came up to him and handed over their drawings and were told they could go. After storing the bowtruckles and their food supply away, he strode back up to the castle with the intention of getting them evaluated and marked as quickly as possible. By that evening more names had appeared on the tapestry, but not nearly enough.

When Friday evening rolled around the tapestry had branched out far enough for Heru to have some basis for exploration. He spent the majority of the weekend searching through the names once he had located the approximate time period, starting at one side and slowly working his way across, adjusting the visible text sideways as he went along. His eyes were so tired by the time Sunday dinner approached that he almost missed a very curious thing.

One of the upward male lines terminated abruptly, even though other names of that period continued on further back into the past. When he looked more closely—he had to squint to focus properly—he realized that not only was the name blurry, but there was no date of birth. Knowing that it was not enough to call it proof of anything, Heru noted down the name for later and kept scrolling sideways, looking for other discrepancies.

Severus came in a short while later and interrupted, asking him caustically if he intended to ignore his son for much longer, especially as Heru had already skipped lunch. Feeling rather ashamed of himself, Heru rolled up the tapestry and stored it, then thanked Severus for his intervention and went to find Mark to spend the remainder of the evening with him, talking with him after dinner as he started the wolfsbane potion for Remus, and letting Mark help with the preparation of ingredients.

At breakfast, Heru was given a slightly rude awakening. The Daily Prophet reported that the Ministry had appointed one Dolores Umbridge to head a special investigation into the quality of education being received at Hogwarts. She would be visiting the school several times each week to audit classes, and speak to staff and students alike. And, she was due to arrive at the castle the next morning. Heru wondered if Albus had been given any more notice than this, and if so, why he had neglected to inform the staff.

It was clear to him that this was Fudge’s response to not having been able to appoint someone loyal to him into the school’s staff, and even possibly a way to investigate the knowledge that one of the people Albus had hired bore the name of Slytherin. Heru would not have put it past Cornelius to accuse Albus of openly consorting with the enemy in this case if he could get even a smidgen of something that could be construed as proof. With Albus having stated that Voldemort was back, Fudge might well be looking to discredit him in any way possible, and put his own man in as headmaster.

He talked about it with Mark that afternoon, after he’d brought Remus the completed wolfsbane potion, asking if the boy would mind terribly having his meals alone on those days so that he could be sitting at the head table in the Great Hall along with the rest of the staff. Mark wasn’t especially thrilled with the idea, but agreed, probably because it was his father doing the asking.

There was a brief meeting among the staff that evening about Umbridge. Albus did not reveal any of the suspicions he may have held, but the Order members on the staff felt they had reason to be anxious about this new move on the Ministry’s part. Heru could only assume a note would have gone off to Sirius warning him to be exceptionally careful when popping into Remus’s quarters to visit.

So it was that the next morning Heru was already ensconced at the high table next to Severus, the chair to his left remaining empty as Remus was recovering from his bout with the full moon, when Albus arrived at the Great Hall with Dolores Umbridge at his side. She looked, Heru thought, like a woman who had attempted to do an animagus transformation into some kind of amphibian, and had failed part way through, locking herself into a state where she strongly resembled a squat little frog or toad.

That she was dressed, not in the more customary robes, but with a fuzzy pink cardigan wrapping around the bulk of her upper body and an astonishingly lime green bow perched in her hair told Heru that she either dressed in some kind of denial of her appearance, or dressed to make the grotesque first impression of her appearance even more horrifying. She had a sickly sweet smile on her wide mouth as the two approached the head table, and Heru was appalled to realize she would be sitting in the empty chair next to him for the time being.

He gave her an excruciatingly polite welcome and resolved silently not to say another word during the meal, hoping she would pester the person to her other side and that he would not have to deal with her directly for some time. It was to his great misfortune that Heru was audited not once that day, but twice, Umbridge having appeared at both the Defense and Magical Creatures classes he was teaching.

It was, perhaps, fortunate that Defense came first, for he was undeniably comfortable teaching that subject. After introducing herself again in a sickly sweet manner that spoke of coy flirtation, she took a seat up near the professor’s desk and set about taking notes as whim—or purpose—struck her. Heru did his best to ignore her, giving the class a short lecture and demonstration, then had them divide up into pairs in order to practice the new spell. It was then that she appeared at his side as he was watching them, ready to intervene or correct students as necessary.

“I understand you are not the normal Defense professor,” she said, a smile that might have been pleasant on anyone else stretching her mouth to alarmingly wide proportions.

He glanced at her for a second before returning his eyes to the students. “No, Professor Lupin is ill at the moment so I am taking his classes for him while he recovers,” he said, then surged forward to prevent one of the more boisterous students from aiming not at his partner, but at the back of another boy.

When he had stepped back again she said, “I see. And are you aware of the nature of Professor Lupin’s illness?”

“Sorry, no. I didn’t ask,” he said, then stepped forward again to correct the wand movements of a girl who was almost, but not quite, getting it correct.

“Do you think that teaching the students these types of spells in a practical setting, rather than giving them a sound grounding in defensive theory, is like giving them a false impression of the world and what they should expect to find in it once they move on into adulthood?” she asked.

“I’m not sure I follow your reasoning,” Heru replied calmly. “I believe if a student is expected to be able to perform up to standard on mandatory official testing at the end of their fifth and seventh years, that they should have a firm grasp on not only theory, but the practical aspects as well.”

He gave her another quick look, then said, “While I, or anyone else I imagine, would hope that these children never need to use this knowledge, having it is not the same as telling them that they must find an excuse to employ it in everyday life. It is, in some respects, a cautionary aspect of a rounded education, just like our history teaches us many things we would prefer not to accept, but must, as we cannot deny they happened. Understanding and prevention is the aim, I would say, not reaction.”

“How very interesting,” she managed to say, before Heru turned to face her fully and unleashed a dazzling smile at her.

“Much as it pains me to interrupt, I must move on to the next phase of this lesson. Please excuse me,” he said, then moved forward before she could respond. Then he called everyone to a halt and began the second half of his lecture, explaining the common problems he had noted and the best ways to correct those issues. Sometime during the process he noticed that Dolores had disappeared and heaved a quiet sigh of relief.

After lunch he had the Gryffindor and Slytherin fifth years, and another visit from Umbridge. This set of students appeared to be avidly curious as she stepped daintily across the lawn in a pair of high heeled, pointy toed shoes that were totally inappropriate. Heru held back a groan and wondered if it had been her idea or Albus’s to torture him twice in one day. As she drew closer Heru handed out the sketches he had graded the week before, and by then she had reached the group.

While the students were examining their papers, she said, “I understand you are also not the normal teacher for this class.”

Heru gave her a determinedly pleasant smile and said, “I am not. The headmaster asked if I would be willing to fill in while Professor Hagrid was away on leave, as he would not be getting back until several weeks into the term.”

“I see,” she said and flashed another wide smile. “And I understand that you claim to be a member of the Slytherin family.”

“Oh, dear lady,” he said with another dazzling smile, “I claim nothing. But, I wonder if I might ask you a question, for I can see that you are quite intelligent and must be very well versed in Ministry affairs, and indeed, magical ones in general.”

She gave him a slightly uncertain nod, raising her brows curiously.

“Would you say that it is impossible to forge a magical contract?”

“Why, yes, of course,” she replied, looking faintly confused.

“Ah, now, that is a relief. I wanted the verification of someone such as yourself, you see, because I recall that when I purchased a home not too long ago that the officials at the Ministry seemed quite taken aback when I dropped off a copy of the deed. I had the feeling they thought the document was not valid. But”—he smiled warmly at her—“as you have made it quite clear just now, it must be, so I need not have any lingering worries on the subject. I had thought for a moment that there must have been some kind of error at the estate agent, but now I see that could not possibly have been the case.”

She took a half step back, a thoughtful look on her face. Then she shook her head slightly, gave a simpering smile, and said, “Are you aware of the reason for Professor Hagrid’s leave of absence? Information on that is quite vague.”

“Would that I could assist you, dear lady.” Heru arranged his expression to show sadness and remorse. “I’m afraid I do not know, though I would surely tell you if I did. However, I was quite happy to agree to fill in, even if only for a short length of time. The children”—he swept his hand expansively off toward the now waiting students—“are our future, after all, and one could scarcely turn down the opportunity to see them learn and grow.”

She gave him another simpering smile. Either she thought he was mocking her and responding in kind, or she had been given enough food for thought for the moment and was responding to his flattery. “Though, it does appear the children have finished examining their papers. Would you be terribly put out if I began the lesson, dear lady?”

“Oh, no. Do go right ahead,” she said. “I shall be wandering through the class and speaking with some of the students. You won’t even notice me.”

Heru inclined his head and turned to face the class, launching into a lecture about kneazles once he had their attention, and showing them several varieties, including a few that were crossbred with non-magical domestic cats. Once he was able to assign the homework he stood and watched over them, keeping a close, but not obvious eye on the Umbridge woman.

She was roaming around, stopping from time to time at a knot of students to ask questions. When she arrived at Malfoy’s little crowd he noticed that the boy was smirking more obviously than usual as she started to speak. She carried her clipboard along, making copious notes, though Heru had a feeling that he was not the target this time. Hagrid was.

Severus informed him later that evening in the privacy of their quarters that Umbridge had seemed quite interested in the fact that all the Potions texts were written by Heru, and had questioned his suitability for teaching subjects outside that field. She had gone on to question the texts themselves, and Severus’s opinion of their worth.

“I confess,” Severus said, “that I was more interested in dissecting the woman to see if she shared any other characteristics with toads than in answering her questions. However, I would not have approved the texts for use if not for their obvious value and superiority, and so was able to be quite firm on that matter. As for your teaching skills, I told her I had seen you instruct on a variety of subjects and was quite unconcerned given the results.”

“She came to your first class?” asked Heru, getting a nod in response. “That might explain a little.” He briefly summarized his own two experiences with her, finishing up by saying he thought he might have been disarming enough for her to lose interest and leave him alone. Though, he did not doubt she would be checking the files for the deed he had mentioned, to verify that he was who he professed to be.

Over the next few weeks her inspections continued, though she never dropped in on one of his classes again. Heru often quietly apparated to London to visit № 12 Grimmauld Place to check up on his house-elves and see that they were not suffering unduly from their change of assignment. Apparently they were getting on splendidly with Sirius, though they did report that they had more than once seen him sitting in a chair with tears running down his cheeks and staring morosely into the fire.

Heru had finished his examination of the Tonks tapestry and written down any names that caught his eye as being odd or different. After arranging to meet with the young woman he brought it to headquarters. When she arrived he showed her how to adjust what text appeared on the surface and made sure she was able to do so. Then, he spent a few minutes twisting its function in the other direction so that it would now begin to record forward from that point. If she married and had children, those names would appear, and would continue to do so through her line. She was quite pleased with the results and gave him an exuberant hug, then bounced off cheerfully, the rolled tapestry tucked under her arm.

When Heru returned to the castle he felt immediately that something was not right. The castle provided him with two images—one of Hagrid in his cottage, and one of Professor Trelawney and Dolores Umbridge. Heru took the first to mean that his sojourn as Magical Creatures professor was over. The second he wasn’t so sure about. On his way up to find Albus he stopped dead in the main hall. Albus was certainly there, but so were a number of people, among which was Trelawney with a bottle clutched in her hand, and Umbridge with a poisonous smile etching her wide mouth.

“You can’t do this to me!” wailed Sibyll tragically, waving her bottle around and splashing the contents on several of the students who had got too close.

“Oh, but I can.” Dolores held up a roll of parchment and shook it. “This gives me the right. I’m afraid that you are by no means a competent teacher. This educational decree gives me the power on behalf of the Ministry to fire you from your position and have you replaced.”

Sibyll collapsed into a sobbing heap on the floor as Albus stepped forward. “Might I see that?” he asked, and took the parchment when she thrust it out.

As he began to read Dolores said, “So you and your things need to be out of the castle post-haste. Tonight if possible.”

“But this is my home!” wailed Sibyll, then tossed back her head and took a swig from the bottle she was holding.

“Not anymore,” Dolores said coolly, then turned to Albus, who looked up for a moment. “And if you cannot find a replacement by tomorrow, the Ministry will appoint one for you. Classes must continue despite this unfortunate occurrence.”

Heru didn’t think she looked the slightest bit as though this was unfortunate, and wondered what it was she saw in Cornelius Fudge that she was so willing to be loyal to his aims and goals. As he was standing off at an angle he was able to catch Albus’s eye when the man finished reading.

Albus handed the decree back to Umbridge and said in a voice that carried, “Students, you will continue on to lunch immediately.” Knowing that the show was over, and not wanting to bring the headmaster’s wrath down on them, the students hastily complied. Albus then said in a much lower voice, “Have no fear, Dolores. The Ministry will receive word tomorrow as to the name of the new Professor so that their files might be properly updated.”

Albus then strode over to a still sobbing Sibyll and pulled her to her feet. After whispering something in her ear, he gave Heru a tiny nod and left to head up the main staircase. Heru followed, catching up with him quickly, but remained silent until they were safely in Albus’s office. “What did you say to Trelawney?” he asked curiously.

“That despite her loss of position, Hogwarts will be her home for as long as she wishes,” Albus said. “She is totally unaware of the true predictions she has given us. I would not release her into the world unaware and at risk when Hogwarts can keep her in comfortable safety. She would not know what to do with herself if she were forced out.”

Heru nodded, smiling. “I came to find you originally because I knew Hagrid was back and assumed he would be resuming his duties.”

Albus appeared surprised, but said merely, “I shall have to go see him.”

“I’m amazed that you already have a replacement for Trelawney picked out, though I suppose I shouldn’t be. Umbridge seemed to be far too interested in her for it to be coincidence.”

Albus twinkled at him, making Heru instantly suspicious. “I did have one or two candidates in mind, I confess. I had spoken to one of the more helpful centaurs in the dark forest as they are known to be great diviners. But, they are a strongly insular community, and I feared that him taking on the position would mean his expulsion from their society. They use their talent to guide themselves, and not for the benefit of humans.”

Heru shot him a narrow-eyed look.

“On the other hand, there is you,” said Albus airily.

“Me.”

“Dare I hope that you are as gifted as your ancestor was? You do have extraordinary talents. It would not surprise me if divinatory sight or ability was one of them. Though, if you do not, I will speak again with Firenze, hoping that he will agree to his banishment from his own kind. Mind you, it has become quite clear that Dolores holds a strong dislike of part-humans, so that may drive her to find other ways to be a thorn in our sides.”

Heru thought that while guilt was an effective method of persuasion, he did not appreciate that the tactic was being used on him. Nevertheless, he did possess the talent, and sighed in consequence.

“Fine. Send me a schedule.”