January 1975 passed in a blur, and soon the dueling clubs had started sparring against each other. The first scheduled round was intense; each captain seemed adamant to defeat all others.
Maitri soon discovered that there were at least three other teams with members of mismatching years. It seemed that Professor Byrne had gotten far more of odd-numbers than even multiples of four among the students. But, she thought to herself, the other teams did not have the advantage that she did – team members from NEWT years who were good in DADA and Charms.
Before they had broken up for the Christmas break, they voted unanimously for Carli Hathaway to represent them as the captain. Not only was she articulate enough in spells, Jake Johnson explained, but she was also a highly respected immigrant student. Carli had smacked him hard, at his elbow, before informing Patil and Harys that she had transferred from Salem Witches Institute to Hogwarts in her third year. Johnson rubbed his arm, scowling for the rest of the practice session.
Maitri mastered a few basic non-verbal curses that her captain told her to. Frankly, nobody except Patil believed that Maitri could handle heavier curses – partly because of her shyness, and partly due to her general tendency towards the harmless spells, jinxes and hexes. Another reason was that defense-offense strategies were mainly NEWT level, while Maitri’s year was only upto their basic configuration and a vast amount of rudimentary curses; there was a way to design attack methods, Johnson explained to her – Carli’s forte was designing and lashing them out easily. Patil, the silent, brooding one with unnatural precision and timing, had the inner drive to hold up stronger curses, while Jake himself had almost the hide of a rhino, a result of his very close shields. Maitri, on the other hand, was creative, and fast. The only advantage they had by having Maitri was her unpredictability, and that was the one thing they made to hone about her dueling.
She kept herself busy to the point of exhaustion. So busy that she wouldn’t have to think about Gideon Prewett, or the words of Albus Dumbledore concerning the wizard. Between the leering tournament rounds, Hagrid’s Thestral-Care sessions, Charms research and weekly visits to the forest at night, when she didn’t have homework, or couldn’t sleep, Maitri found it easy to ignore the thoughts that had been itching to gnaw her sanity away.
At first, she had desperately wanted to tell it to somebody. She had friends, Severus, Lily, Alex, Regulus, Hadir, Hagrid… and the others, too. It would be a relief to have another person understand her inner conflict – or the lack thereof. The implications of Dumbledore’s speculations had gotten her numb with disbelief, speechless with shock. Maitri had wanted to thoroughly screen the thoughts and dispose of them soon enough. She had not wanted to let such information fester and tear away her friendship with the Prewetts and the Weasleys.
In the end, she had bit her tongue and kept her thoughts to herself. Somehow, it wasn’t appropriate for anyone to know about such embarrassing things. The ones that would not react badly are also the ones who were cousins of the Blacks or the Prewetts, or Slytherins. In a warped way, Maitri was sure that any thing she said about anyone she cared about to this lot, they were sure to end up somehow mutilated or humiliated.
In the end, Herbert the Giant Squid became her confidante, and, as a result, her long hours underwater were increased. She finally persuaded Hadir to teach her the Bubble-Head Charm, which made her virtually live in the Lake when she wasn’t in class or in practice, or researching. The mer-village did not even bother about her being so close to their home territory.
The water was home to her. The blue, heavily filtered light made her feel safe, wrapped and hidden in the folds of the lake; where nobody could spot her even if they looked out of a window. This deep into the lake, no one would even want to look for her, or trouble her with psychological complexes she could not even begin to comprehend. She could be the child she was when she came to Hogwarts, and have the same friend by her side, blinking his huge orange eye at her; Maitri found that the Squid, being hundreds of years old, found her predicament just as odd as she did. And he advised her to ignore what assumptions were, and not jeopardize her friendship. Right now, Maitri found it the best choice, and one she wanted to do.
Floating next to the Giant Squid as he waved his tentacles gracefully in the frigid January-cold water, Maitri found that it was easy to forget she was human, a biped who belonged to the dry land. This secrecy, this invisibility, this feeling of safety, this was heaven.
“I don’t want it,” Sirius snapped, kicking at the slush puddle under the birch tree near the Black Lake. The mud stuck to the tip of his new boots, a Christmas present from some distant relative whose name he couldn’t even remember. “I don’t want a goddamn stinking knut of it!”
“You do know that we can’t decide what we want, Sirius.” Regulus sat on the low branch of the tree, the one he had frequented once or twice with Maitri while she fed the gamekeeper’s Plimpies. It had become one of his favorite places around the castle. He looked out over the frozen lake. “We can’t accept it, or throw it away. We are inheriting it, no matter what the Prewetts try.”
“If I didn’t know you better, Reggie,” Sirius said skittishly. “I’d say you want the gold after all.”
Regulus stiffened and looked at his brother with strangely cold eyes. “What makes you think you know me, Sirius?”
“Well, you’re my brother!” Sirius spluttered. “I’d obviously know you well.”
“Glad that you remembered the fact,” Regulus snapped. “I’d have thought Potter and the other filthy blood traitors might have washed your brain completely. There is some hope, then.”
Sirius nearly lunged at his brother, for it was all he wanted to do as he matched his brother’s glare.
“You stick with Snivellus entirely too much for your good, Reg,” Sirius managed, in a low voice. Regulus snorted.
“Not as much as you are attached to the Potter monster.”
Sirius bit his tongue to stop himself from giving a scathing reply. He did not want to give up on his brother, not so soon. “He’s my friend.”
Regulus’ eyes bore into his in a way reminiscent of his mother’s gaze, which made Sirius avert his own.
“But Snape,” Sirius continued, keeping his eyes diverted. “Snape is a malicious git, Reg, so secretive, and mysterious… James is nothing like him – he’s a bit of a snob, yes, but at least, he has nothing to hide from the world. Snape is up to his neck in the Dark Arts! Merlin, I wonder if that greasy head of his has anything screwed on in right!”
“But, Sirius, that is what is expected out of a Slytherin,” Regulus reminded his brother. “And certainly the way all others want a typical Slytherin to behave.”
The younger boy got up and brushed the almost invisible dust on his robes before addressing his brother again.
“I better be leaving,” he announced briskly. “We’ll meet at the duels, I suppose.”
“For which Snape trains you, no doubt!” Sirius almost snarled at him.
“At least he believes he has a responsibility over me,” Regulus snapped back. “Unlike my darling older brother, who has just enough time to fraternize with blood traitors and bully innocent Slytherins for nothing except the color of their ties and the location of their commonrooms!”
Sirius did not respond to his brother’s accusations; he was not speechless, but anger and jealousy clouded his mind as Regulus walked off jauntily, his head unnaturally high. Frustrated, Sirius kicked a pebble into the lake, where a tiny bit of ice broke off. Moments later, he traced Reg’s footsteps back to the castle, his mood nonetheless lighter.
Then, quite suddenly, something hit his shoulder. Stunned, Sirius turned around and picked up the object. Now, confused, he stared at the lake, rubbing absent-mindedly at the spot that smarted on his shoulder.
How did the stone he kicked into the lake come back out to hit him?
“Did you bring a list of ideas for new spells?” Hathaway demanded as soon as Maitri joined their group. The girl nodded and brought out a leaf of parchment covered with her handwriting from top to bottom.
Now that they were past the first round – in which Maitri had been put up against Paul Knight, a pointy-faced Gryffindor (who had been very difficult to match with, especially due to his affinity towards throwing stingy curses), and had won after a long duel that had made the teachers exasperated and students excited. Many of the spectators had groaned when the boy was caught off-guard with a Disarming Spell, after what seemed like an hour of dueling – about a fourth of the teams would not participate in the next round from each year.
Maitri did not understand the knockout-type league formation of the matches, even though Hadir Ferguson had attempted to explain it to her. She found it incredibly close to Muggle Mathematics, rather than Arithmancy. But, it exhilarated her to be able to know to form spells and curses on her own, to get approved by the School Board and the Ministry of Magic.
Carli Hathaway scanned Maitri’s list once and scored off what seemed like most of the parchment with her wand. The younger girl’s jaw fell open; most of the spell ideas were original and written after consulting a whole corner of the library. Maitri’s reaction was answered by the two forlorn wizards with sad shrugs. Jacob Johnson nodded over to a corner of the classroom they were practicing in; the dustbin was munching on more parchment that was scribbled and scored off in all sections.
"These are all defensive!” Hathaway said, frowning over Maitri’s parchment.
“The offensive ones are there,” Maitri told her, pointing over to a corner Carli had scored away.
“Nah,” the older girl shook her head. “Too predictable.”
“Well,” Maitri argued. “The point of offensive curses are attack, not art.”
Carli almost smiled, but held her stern expression together by pursing her lips. “The whole point of duels does not depend on attack and defense. And a spell is created not merely for either of those reasons.”
Johnson snorted loudly. “So, what?” he countered. “Pulling streamers out of our hat is not going to protect us from curses, are they now?”
“No, but rabbits and doves will certainly distract them,” Carli retorted.
Patil looked like he wanted to swat at Carli’s curly head, but restrained himself. “I hope we’re not resorting to muggle-magic tricks, Hathaway.”
Carli regarded him with a queer look on her face. “No,” she said calmly. “We are not.”
She resumed going through the parchments full of spells again; the other three glanced at each other awkwardly before deciding to practice what they already knew in DADA. It was long before Carli seemed to revoke herself from her intense concentration.
“Alright, you three,” she called out. “I have a theory.”
Maitri could almost hear Johnson roll his eyes as they scrambled around Carli and sat comfortably.
“So far, our best tactic has been non-verbal curses,” the Ravenclaw girl summarized. “Our opponents not knowing what was to come, and all that… however, they are bound to realize that Hogwarts teaches only about a limited number of spells, and only the Seventh Years have the practice of using them constantly, without effort.
“Yet,” she continued. “We have run our trials and become moderately adept at them…”
“Just as the other teams would have,” Patil completed her sentence. He seemed to understand where her theory was coming from.
“Exactly,” Carli nodded. “Which is why we need completely unexpected spells, with possibly unorthodox spell formats to keep them in the dark.”
“Now,” the captain spoke again, after a pause. She picked up the parchment she was scribbling in and another empty sheaf before continuing. “I have noted some of the spell ideas that seem rather interesting:
“Spells for transfiguring parts of opponent’s body – like the ingrown toenail, swollen fingers, excessive hair growth, etc. This seems to me a conversion of potion properties to curses,” she added, looking at Maitri, who had suggested some of these.
“Faking a boggart,” she read next, and looked at Patil, who nodded to her to continue. “Conjuring a fake boggart that will temporarily destabilize the calmness of the opponent. Will take a lot of effort, but will be original.”
“Depressing charms,” she read out next. Johnson smirked. “Emotional attacks on the opponents…thoughts of failure… Johnson, what exactly leads you to think this will help us?”
“They’ll lose their will to fight,” he reasoned. “We’ll fight, and we’ll win.”
“How Slytherin of your reasons,” Patil muttered. Maitri shot a look at him; the older boy blushed and looked away sheepishly.
Carli bit her lip. “Right,” she said after a few minutes. “We’ll go ahead with the fake boggart… Johnson, get me proof that such spells don’t exist, so that we can work on those as well. Harys, get me a list of potions that bring out physical abnormalities.”
“Listen, Carli,” Maitri began hesitantly. “Why don’t we try taking in defensive potions?”
“Uh, yes,” Maitri confirmed, and brought out the tattered old book that Healer Potter had given to her nearly two years ago. “Instead of shield charms or bloacking out spells – like being completely un-spellable for the duration of the duels!”
Carli glanced at Johnson, who was pretty un-spellable.
“That’s illegal, Harys,” she said. “We can’t do that.”
“It’s not there, anywhere, in the rules,” the younger girl asserted. “Not even a mention about not using potions for dueling.”
“It’s not conventional, though,” Patil pointed out. “Dueling in Europe is vastly dependant on wand-work.”
“Dueling in the United Kingdom is pitifully constrained to wand-work,” Carli corrected him. “There are countries that support wandless or other magical aids for dueling purposes, you know.” She turned to Maitri again. “But we’d rather not risk the rules. No pre-duel potions.”
“Very Slytherin suggestion, though,” Johnson noted, grinning. Maitri raised an eyebrow, but he winked it off.
“But this gives me an idea,” Carli announced, glaring at Johnson to maintain decorum. “Ambi-dextrous charms.”
Patil gave a hollow laugh. “You’re joking,” he rolled his eyes at the girl. “It takes a whole lot of time, and divides out concentration, and there are very few wizards who can do it right, like Dumbledore, and even he hasn’t done that since his duel with Grindelwald!”
“I thought Gryffindors were supposed to be braving, reckless, unfearing of the past, bold and open to new ideas?”
The last question shut everyone up in fear of what might be said of the other houses they, unfortunately, belong to, and sent them off in pursuit of the possibility of attaining ambi-dextrous charming abilities.
“There was once a Transfiguration Mentor, who asked every new student of his’ if they could make an Ever-Burning Lamp.”
Maitri looked up at Godric Gryffindor’s painted face, away from the list of offensive potions and smiled lightly.
“This mentor, over the years,” Slytherin continued, taking over from his friend. “Had devised formulae, theories and prototypes for such lamps… though they died out, or shifted from the ‘burning’, to ‘glowing’ by binding to sunlight. Hence, the mentor had run out of ideas when he asked his pupils.”
“Did any one of them give him an apt answer?”
“Not what he was looking for, though,” Gryffindor answered. “For they did not give the correct answers. But, then again, he had not students like you, did he?”
Maitri sat up straight, eyes widened at the founder. She glanced once at the long sheet of parchment that lay at the feet of the four portraits, and saw it filled upto three-fourths of its entire length. No, she thought, they couldn’t have done this all within such a short-
“Knut for your thoughts, Ms. Harys?” called the light voice of Rowena Ravenclaw, drawing the girl’s eyes to her instead.
“Did – I mean, have you devised a theory from what I suggested about deriving energy from freely existing molecules in nature?”
“Precisely that,” Helga Hufflepuff nodded at her. “We now agree,” she continued, looking sideways at her friends’ portraits. “That you be allowed to see the theory for yourself.”
Maitri almost yelled in surprise as she launched herself at the stack of parchments by the portraits. She forgot, for the next few hours, her homework, her research for the dueling matches, the grudge other Slytherins had against her, Voldemort, the Prewetts and the multitude of things that had been running inside her head almost constantly. Instead, she immersed herself into the lengthy passages, inscribed in her tiny handwriting, taking down notes to simplify a few equations here and there.
Block by block, inch by inch, Maitri interpreted the lengthy hypotheses and the magical equations, completing the wholestack after a whole night. By the time she had gotten the gist of the whole scheme layout of the complex theory, it was almost dawn, and her over-worked eyes blurred with sleep as she rubbed them with her knuckles. She looked up blearily at the four founders, who hadn’t uttered a single word as she worked her way through their theses on the subject, and smiled weakly.
“Haven’t you got the answer the Transfiguration mentor wanted?” she whispered, holding up the parchments.
Helga Hupuff shook her head and presented her with a smile. “No, dear. You’ve got the answer he needed.”
“And to think,” Slytherin spoke softly. “Had we not interefered, you might’ve figured this out in a few years, all by yourself.”
Maitri somehow summoned the strength to look at Slytherin, and managed to narrow her eyebrows, even at this state of near-stupor.
“You really think so, Professor?”
Salazar Slytherin looked sideways at his friends and then at her. He smiled, his smooth face crinkling at all places.
“Come here,” Professor McGonagall directed. Maitri obliged, and found the teacher bent over the essay she had submitted only at the beginning of the hour.
“Ms. Harys, you have stated here,” McGonagall pointed with the quill in her hand at the mentioned line. “That Animagus transformation is not possible to be accomplished werewolves, werecats, vampires, berserkers, and, oddly, metamorphmagi.”
Minerva McGonagall looked up from the essay and at Maitri’s blank face through her square framed glasses.
“The last two are not on the list of cursed shapshifters, Ms. Harys,” the professor said slowly, watching the girl carefully. “Berserkers aren’t even your curriculum, and Metamorphmagi Animagus abilities are largely in the dark – unexplored. Yet you included them in your essay. You do know that I grade on factual basis of coherence and relevance of the material, right?”
“Then why don’t you explain, child?”
“I’d read about bersekers in the Norse myths,” Maitri told the professor. “If they could turn only into a wolf or a bear, and only when enraged, in the heat of war, it’s not exactly animal transformation at will, is it?”
“They can still control the extent of their rage to prevent it, can they not?”
“Just as much as a werewolf can control the pain of human blood running through his or her veins during full moon.”
McGonagall eyed her beadily. “Very well,” the teacher quipped. “And the Metamorphmagi?”
Maitri grinned at the teacher. “My friend, Ted Tonks, had applied to the St. Mungo’s for a health certificate in order to verify whether he could possibly survive being an Animagus,” the girl informed a surprised witch. “The results came back stating that his blood had too much of humanoid morphing abilities that it prevented the other cells from allowing animal transformation. Ofcourse, they hadn’t mentioned the ‘humanoid morphing’ part, but rather a Latinized term, which I translated to discover, later on, meant ‘disguising’.”
McGonagall returned her eyes to the essay and scrutinized the text further more before nodding slowly.
“If you could follow up the relevance of the berserkers and Metamorphmagi inabilities to become Animagi, Ms. Harys,” the Transfiguration instructor said. “I’ll forward your findings to the Department of Control of Magical Creatures at the Ministry, as well as we can arrange for an update in Transfiguration Weekly.”
“You mean, publish that berserkers and Metamorphmagi can never become Animagi?”
“Precisely, with proof.”
Minerva McGonagall bestowed a rare smile on the girl standing before her, gobsmacked. Maitri Harys was not her best student, but she did seem to understand more about human transfiguration than her own favorite, James Potter.
“You’re joking,” Emily blurted, her blue eyes wide and fixed on the grey ones that Sirius Orion Black possessed. “You can’t possibly know how to conjure things yet – you’re only a Fourth Year!”
Alex looked at the pair irritably before returning to the chart of duel dynamics he was constructing slowly. Melissa Carter, who made up the Slytherin in the dueling quartet, sat across from him, scanning various tomes (borrowed from the library) for interesting, useful spells. The girl glanced once at the noisy pair, raised her eyebrows at Alex and resumed her work silently. Alex was profusely thankful that at least one of his team members had a proper head screwed up on her neck.
“Being from this really ancient wizarding house, Rose,” Sirius began to elucidate. “We were taught spells ever since we showed signs of being magical enough! In fact, my brother and I know as much as half the Sixth Years here, just because we learn quickly enough, and our parents willing enough to teach us.”
Alex almost snorted, but stopped himself short when Melissa expulted a dry chuckle, ringing of sarcasm. It was then that Sirius was reminded of the presence of two other pureblood counterparts in the same room as himself and the girl he fancied.
“I don’t think Dorcas knows much more than what’s taught here,” mused Emily Rose McArthur.
“Well, to each family, its own beliefs.”
“So, it’s a big disadvantage to me that I’m a muggleborn, right?”
Alex shook his head, bemused. Carter lifted her head and looked at the other girl, eyes wide in mock surprise.
“How does it matter?” Sirius asked blithely. “I’m here, anyway, and you can still learn from me all that I know!”
“You don’t trust me?”
Alex slammed shut the book he was referring to. Carter looked up. He nodded once and got up to leave.
“Let’s meet here on Sunday morning,” he said, dismissing their ‘meeting’ and nearly running away from the room. Melissa got up almost as abruptly and followed him as hurriedly. They both shared a look before dashing off in the respective directions of their common rooms. Neither could stand the frenzied atmosphere inside the room.
Sirius watched them leave, but couldn’t decide whether he was happy or sad about it. In a way it also meant that Emily Rose could leave from her seat right next to him, and the next they meet will be on Sunday.
“Would you really teach me advanced spells?” a quiet voice interrupted Sirius’ somber thoughts.
He looked at her, taking in the angelic face, sunshine hair and ocean eyes, which held the light of hope that he knew he was reflecting in his own.
“Do you really think I could say no to you?”
Sirius caught himself. He had gotten advice to not go too cheesy, but somehow, the words had slipped off his tongue before he could help it. He scrambled to correct the mistake.
“No, listen, I’d like teaching you,” he said hastily. “Especially when Messiers, Carter and I know most of these spells, I don’t think you will appreciate being a liability… in the team.”
Emily stared at him, and slowly allowed a small smile to curve around her mouth.
“So, this is about the team?” she asked coyly. Sirius stared at her, spluttering.
“Well, kind of,” Sirius muttered, blushing deeply. “Listen – Rose – would you – would you mind coming to Hogsmeade with me this Saturday? We- we can practice spells near the Shrieking Shack. It’s pr-pretty quiet out there.”
Emily chuckled softly at his expression. “Well, yes, then, Black,” she agreed, nodding her head. “We’ll meet on Saturday.”
“And , it’s Sirius.”
Emily swallowed. “Sure, then,” she obliged. “Bye, Sirius.”
She had slid off her seat near Sirius’ and had almost made her way out of the room before he croaked out a weak reply.
“You don’t want to know,” Alex muttered to Maitri, rolling his eyes.
“That’s right, I don’t.”
“But they’re so sappy!” he almost yelled. Passers-by looked at Alex Messiers as though he’d lost his mind. “So love-sick, both of them, that it’s highly electric even being in the same room as them.”
Maitri sighed as they made their way through the stile towards Hogsmeade. Lily and Peter had started along with them, but now lagged behind, discussing over some new reform or rule in their common room that Professor McGonagall had forced upon them. There was speculation among Alex and Maitri that Peter and the other Marauders may have been the cause of such a reform coming into action.
“They’re worse than Andy or Ted,” Alex compared. “At least, they were my friends.”
“Sirius is your friend, right?” Maitri clarified, frowning.
“James is,” Alex affirmed. “Sirius is just too… familiar to be a friend. And we might practically be related by some obscure relative; there are endless such possibilities.”
“And your point is?”
“Relatives make lousy friends,” the boy concluded. “The closer they are related to you, the worse they get around you.”
Maitri looked at him skeptically. Behind them Lily and Peter had finally finished their whispered, heated discussion and had moved closer.
Despite the fact that all four of them belonged to different dueling teams, and had almost not spent any amount of friendly time earlier, they found it therapeutic. Dorcas Meadowes, who was their usual company, had been prohibited to leave the premises due to a detention, and had grumbled extensively over the breakfast about the unfair priorities that Professors Sprout and McGonagall wielded towards.
“Valentine’s Day is next week,” Peter noted bluntly as they passed a shop filled with pink streamers, practically screaming ‘Valentine’s Day Special’ to the bewildered-looking passers by. Maitri could spot a very harassed looking Hufflepuff Sixth Year trying to get his female companion to divert her attention from the products displayed so ostentatiously inside the shop.
“You know, James has been preparing,” Peter added. Lily stopped in her tracks, eyes wide and horrifying.
“Preparing for… what?”
“To ask you out, on the 14th, of course.”
Lily all but groaned at her impending doom. Maitri shared a sympathetic look, but knew that the red-haired girl would fight this battle on her own. She had been gracefully spurning the adamant Mr. Potter for ages now.
“Well, then,” she nervously chewed out a reply. “Tell James that I shall not be able to come, as I have a very interesting Potions project to complete – which of course, is purely academical and the one assigned to Severus and I during Potions class. Surely, you’d remember that?”
Peter looked terrified, as if Lily had just asked him to feed his hand to the Giant Squid instead of talking to his best friend.
“With Severus… Snape?”
Lily nodded and smiled brightly. Peter groaned slightly and looked sideways at Alex, who was grimacing. It did really seem like the Messiers boy was not definitely fond of lovesick teenagers and the ones that pretended they were not.
Note: sorry for the reaaalllll late update. I know this is a kinda mild beginning, but i can assure you that the rest of the chapter (yes - there's more!) will get interesting and better! - M.H.