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Dislcaimer- I don't own Harry Potter.


   As it turned out, Albus didn't have to wait until classes to know if Linda Morales was his age or not.  Rose and Amanda burst out of the girls' dormitory as Albus, Matt, and John were heading down to breakfast.

    "Albus!"  Rose caught up with him,  "Linda is our age.  She's in our dormitory."

    "Really?"  Albus replied, realizing that he hadn't really thought about which dormitory the new students would be in.

    "Where is she now?" John asked.

    "Still up there,"  Amanda said,  "She's been in the bathroom for ages."

    "Girls,"  John muttered, "I'll never understand them."

    The group hurried down to the Great Hall and ate a quick breakfast before their first class.  Neville handed out schedules and Albus saw that he had Care of Magical Creatures first.

    "Blimey, this schedule is packed,"  John said as they headed out of the castle towards Hagrid's hut.

    "Well, we are taking two extra classes now,"  Albus pointed out.

    "Wonder who we'll have this class with,"  Matt said.

    "With our luck, it'll be the Slytherins,"  Amanda groaned.

    "Maybe Linda's taking this class,"  John said hopefully.

    Amanda sighed,  "You haven't even met her."

    "Yeah, but this class would be the perfect time to do that!"  John pointed out.

    Amanda groaned and they continued their trek to Hagrid's hut.  Once they got there, they saw that they were indeed with the Slytherins.  Albus groaned inwardly and stood with his friends as everyone waited for Hagrid to appear.

    "'Ello, everyone!"  Hagrid said as he stepped out of his hut a few minutes later,  "Welcome to Care o' Magical Creatures."

    "Hi, Hagrid,"  Albus grinned. 

    "'Ello, Albus,"  Hagrid grinned back,  "Now, today's lesson's abou' Flobberworms.  Can anyone tell me anything abou' them?"

    Flobberworms, Albus thought.  Flobberworms were about the least exciting magical creatures in the world.  Albus wished they were doing something a bit more exciting. 

    "Nobody?"  Hagrid said,  "Well, I know they aren't the most excitin' creatures, but we've got to start somewhere.  Now, flobberworms are small white worms...."

    Albus listened as Hagrid explained about flobberworms, but he didn't take any notes.  Rose would have, but Albus didn't see the point.  Flobberworms were pretty basic.

    "Now, everyone can take a worm,"  Hagrid held up a box,  "An' draw them into yer notes an' observe 'em."

    Albus and his friends each took a worm and began the tedious task of recording the worms' every movement and sketching them.  Albus thought the rest of the class was rather boring and was a bit disappointed.  He had kind of been expecting Hagrid to bring in some sort of dangerous creature, like he had when his dad was at Hogwarts.  Although, come to think of it, his cousins had said Hagrid had adopted a more normal curriculum.

    "I wish Hagrid would bring in a dragon or something,"  John said as they made their way back to the castle for Transfiguration.

    "He probably wishes that, too,"  Albus laughed.

    The Transfiguration classroom was already filling up by the time Albus and his friends entered.  Albus noticed that they had this class with the Hufflepuffs.  Rose was already inside, sitting at her usual table in the front.  Amanda quickly joined her.  Linda was there as well, but she was sitting by herself at the other front desk.

    "Let's go sit by Linda!"  John said excitedly.

    "Sure,"  Albus grinned and started to walk towards her table.

    "Wait,"  Matt said,  "There's only two seats.  And do you really want to sit in the front?"

    "Er, that's true,"  John said,  "We'll sit behind her then."

    Albus vaguely wondered why Matt so set on not sitting with Linda, but he didn't dwell on it and sat down at the table behind Linda.  Patil walked in a moment later and everyone quieted down. 

    "For the first few classes we shall be learning about a very difficult branch of transfiguration,"  Patil said after she took attendance,  "And it is called the Animagus Transfiguration.  Can anyone tell me what that is?"

    Albus smirked as Rose's hand shot into the air.  Albus knew the answer, of course, but he was perfectly happy to let Rose answer.

    "Yes, Miss Morales?"  Patil pointed to Linda.

    Albus turned away from Rose and saw that Linda had half-way raised her hand.  The rest of the class was staring at her as well, probably because Rose always answered the preliminary questions in class.

    "The Animagus Transfiguration is the act of transfiguring oneself into an animal,"  Linda answered.

    "Yes, that is correct,"  Patil smiled. 

    Albus noticed that Rose was staring in shock at Linda.  He had to stifle a laugh at this.

    Patil went on to describe Animagi in more detail and Albus took a few notes. 

    "Can anyone name a registered Animagus they may have heard about in another class?"  Patil asked.

    Both Rose and Linda's hands shot up into the air.  Patil called on Rose this time.

    "Minerva McGonagall,"  Rose answered.

    "Yes, she turns into a cat.  She used to teach Transfiguration here and was the Headmistress for a few years.  How about an illegal Animagus?"

    Albus scribbled the words 'Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs' onto a piece of parchment and showed it to Matt and John.  All three of them stifled laughter and then looked back up at Patil.

    "Rita Skeeter,"  Rose grinned.

    Patil smiled.  "Yes, and it was your mother who discovered her."

    The rest of the class passed by at a reasonably quick pace and once it was over, Albus and his friends went to the Great Hall for lunch.

    "You've got some competition, Rose,"  John grinned as they walked down the corridor.

    "Shut up,"  Rose muttered.

    "She might beat you on the next test,"  John laughed.

    "And your point is?"  Rose snapped.

    They walked the rest of the way in silence, as no one wanted to set Rose off even more.  Albus had no idea she would get that competitive about grades.  Although after two years of easily being the smartest in their year, Rose hadn't previously had any competition.

    Half the Gryffindor table was roaring with laughter when they arrived for lunch.  James quickly filled Albus in on the fact that Hugo had exploded his first potion earlier in the morning and was apparently quite proud of it.

    "Well, you'll have no competition from him,"  John muttered to Rose.  Rose sent him a withered look and sat down to eat.

    Albus spent lunch telling Kaden about Care of Magical Creatures.  Despite the fact that they learned about flobberworms, Kaden was jealous.

    The third year Gryffindors had double potions after lunch, with the Slytherins again.  Slughorn started the class with a review of the previous year's potions.  Once again, Rose and Linda both knew the answer to every question.  Then, when Slughorn had them brew a new potion, both Rose and Linda tied for best potion.  Slughorn gave them each a bar of Honeyduke's chocolate.  Albus was quite surprised that Linda seemed as smart as Rose.  He had never met anyone his age who could compete with Rose with grades.  John was right.  Rose did have some competition.

                        ******

    "Well, time to go meet the new Defense teacher,"  Albus said as he finished breakfast the next morning.

    "I wish your dad was still teaching,"  Matt sighed.

    "Yeah,"  John agreed,  "The new teacher looks like the kind of bloke who gives a lot of homework."

    "You really ought to just keep an open mind,"  Rose commented as they left the Great Hall.

    "Easy for you to say,"  John muttered,  "You're freakishly smart."

    "You have got to be kidding me!"  Albus groaned as they reached the classroom,  "We're with the Slytherins, again!"

    "Great,"  Matt sighed,  "Three years in a row, what are the chances of that?"

    Albus led the way into the classroom.  Linda Morales was already seated at one of the front tables.  Rose and Amanda immediately took the other front table.

    "Let's sit in the back,"  Matt muttered.

    Albus nodded.  He really didn't want to sit near the front.  The teacher was already there and was wearing an unreadable expression.  If he turned out to be mean, Albus preferred to be as far away as possible.

    The classroom looked exactly the same as it had the year before, except for a trunk that was sitting in front of the teacher's desk. 
   
    A few more students trickled in and once the bell rang, the teacher waved his wand and the door slammed loudly.  Albus jumped in surprise and snapped his attention back to the new teacher.

    He walked slowly from behind his desk and stood in front of it.  He was holding a piece of parchment and a quill.  Albus noticed that he was wearing the same black robes, except now he noticed that there were intricately designed silver fastenings on them. 

    "Please raise your hand and say 'present' when I call your name,"  he said in a stern voice.  He ran through the list, fixing each student with a piercing gaze when he called on them.

    "Brilliant,"  he said flatly,  "All here.  I am Professor Balladanis, as you all know from Professor Kendrick's speech.  You will address me as Professor Balladanis, or Professor, or Sir.  I will not tolerate speaking out of turn or misbehavior of any kind in my classroom.  I expect all homework and other assignments to be completed on time, no excuses."

    Professor Balladanis began to pace back and forth in front of his desk.  "As you shall discover throughout the year, I take defensive magic very seriously."  He paused and glared sharply at Linda and Janie Creevey, who had sat next to Linda.

    "Defensive magic is a very very important branch of magic.  I would make the argument that is the most important.  It can save your life.  It has saved my life on numerous occasions.  I have no doubt that your previous two years of instruction were very extensive and I am sure you all have a basic knowledge of defensive spells courtesy of Professor Potter."

    Balladanis stopped pacing and paused before continuing his speech.  "However, the third year Defense Against the Dark Arts curriculum focuses on defense against dark creatures."  He turned to Albus's table and gave Albus, Matt, and John a piercing stare.

    "I will be continuing the curriculum that has been used in this school since after the final battle,"  Balladanis continued,  "I have looked over the curriculum and have deemed it satisfactory.  I immensely approve of the first day's lesson for third years.  I've always thought a practical approach was good for Defense, although I do expect you to carefully read your text book as well.

    "In this box,"  Balladanis gestured to the trunk, which jumped a little as he touched it,  "Lives a boggart.  Can anyone tell me what a boggart is?"

    Rose and Linda's hands shot up into the air.  Balladanis smirked and pointed to Rose.  "Yes, Miss...?"

    "Weasley, sir,"  Rose replied,  "A boggart is a shape shifter. It takes the form of whatever scares you most.  No one knows what one really looks like."

    Balladanis nodded.  "Correct.  5 points to Gryffindor.  Boggarts,"  he began pacing again,  "Take the form of whatever scares us most.  The boggart focuses on the nearest person and turns into whatever scares them. 

    "We will have an advantage over our boggart.  There are a lot of us, which means the boggart will become confused about what to turn into.  However, that is not enough.  There is a necessary incantation for defeating boggarts.  It is 'Riddikulus'.  Repeat after me, 'Riddikulus'."

    "Riddikulus,"  Albus said along with everyone else.

    "Good,"  Balladanis said, although his voice wasn't exactly cheerful,  "You'll also need to think of a way to turn whatever your most feared thing is into something funny.  Laughter is what really finishes off a boggart.  Then, think of that as you're saying the incantation.  Now, take out your wands and stand up."

    Albus pulled his wand out of his bag and stood up.  He wasn't even sure what he was most afraid of.  Snakes?  No, he really didn't fear snakes.  Spiders?  Nope, not them either.  He had no idea what that boggart was going to turn into, and that made it even scarier.

    Balladanis waved his wand and all the tables and chairs moved to the sides of the classroom.  "Form a line,"  he instructed.

    Everyone pushed to be at the front of the line.  Albus wound up being towards the back, behind John and in front of Matt.

    "Miss Weasley,"  Balladanis motioned for Rose to step forward,  "Perhaps you could go first."

    Rose nodded and stepped out of the line.  She stood in front of the trunk with her wand raised.  Albus had no idea what the boggart would turn into for Rose either.  Nor did he have a clue what John and Amanda's boggarts would be.  He had an inkling about Matt's, though.

    Balladanis stood off to the side and pointed his wand at the trunk.  The lid slowly opened and out stepped...Neville.  Albus gaped at the boggart. 

    The boggart Neville opened his mouth.  "I'm sorry, Rose, you did not get the highest grades in your year.  You've been beaten."
   
    Oh, Albus thought, that kind of made sense.  For a moment there, Albus actually thought Rose was afraid of Neville, which was ridiculous.

    "Riddikulus!"  Rose shouted.

    The boggart Neville swayed, but didn't look any different.  He opened his mouth again.  "Rose, you have beaten everyone in the entire school!  You have the best grades in the history of Hogwarts."

    Albus smirked.  It wasn't entirely funny, but it fit Rose perfectly.

    "Interesting,"  Balladanis muttered,  "Next!"

    Rose stood off to the side and grinned as Amanda stepped forward.  Albus watched as the boggart turned into a very large snake.

    Amanda stared at it for a few moments and then shouted, "Riddikulus!"  The snake twirled around and tied itself into a knot.  Amanda, along with most of the rest of the class, burst out laughing.  Amanda stepped to the side next to Rose and Janie Creevey stepped forward.

    Janie's boggart turned into a giant rat, which then got transformed into tiny mouse.  A few Slytherins were up after her, and then it was Linda Morales's turn.

    Albus watched intently as the boggart that had previously been a dragon turn into a raging fire.  Linda raised her wand and shouted, "Riddikulus!"  The fire turned into a waterfall and Linda joined the growing group of students off to the side.

    Marina Jordan-Bell was next, and her boggart turned into a spider, as did her sister, Karina's.  Karina had a bit of trouble, but eventually managed to turn the spider rainbow colors.  Ethan and a couple of the Slytherins had difficulty as well.

    Leigh Montague charmed her mummy boggart into a strait jacket and then it was John's turn.  He stepped forward and the mummy turned into a clown.  A clown, complete with a big red nose and huge shoes.

    Albus could hear a few of the other students snickering already.  Albus wasn't exactly a fan of clowns, but he could think of at least ten things that were scarier than them.

    "Riddikulus!"  John shouted.  The clown boggart started to walk forward, but it tripped over its ridiculously large feet, which were growing at an alarming rate.  The entire class burst out in the loudest laughter yet as John joined Rose and Amanda.

    Albus took a deep breath and stepped forward.  The clown with the huge feet started spinning again and when it stopped, it looked like Professor Oteski.  The Oteski boggart stepped towards Albus.

    "You did not make the Hogwarts Quidditch team,"  it said.

    Albus gulped.  Come to think of it, that was what he was most afraid of at that moment.  But how could he make it funny.  He racked his brains as the Oteski boggart continued walking towards him.

    "Riddikulus!"  Albus shouted. 

    The boggart spun around again and then stopped.  "You did make the team!"  it said,  "In fact, everyone is on the team!  All of Hogwarts will play at once and therefore win the competition!"

    Albus laughed at the thought of a Quidditch team consisting of over 200 people on it and joined John at the side of the classroom.  Albus watched as Matt stepped forward.

    "Hey, Potter,"  Scorpius whispered,  "I bet the boggart won't know what to turn into with Eckerton.  He's afraid of everything."

    "Shut it, Malfoy,"  Albus growled.

    "Quiet over there!"  Balladanis shouted.  Albus immediately shut his mouth and Scorpius didn't say anything else.

    The boggart was spinning around again and when it stopped, it didn't turn into the bright full moon that Albus had been expecting.  It had turned into a very sinister looking man.  He was skinny and rather short and had a mop of untidy brown hair on his head.  It wasn't like Roberts's hair, though.  This bloke's hair was stringy and dirty looking.  His eyes were piercing, not unlike Balladanis's, and he was sneering at Matt.  Albus didn't recognize who it was.  He hadn't seen anyone that resembled the boggart.

    The boggart stepped slowly towards Matt, who looked frozen in place.  Albus could see his wand shaking in his hand. 

    "Who's that bloke?"  John whispered.

    "No idea,"  Albus said.

    Albus continued to watch as the boggart advanced towards Matt.  Balladanis wasn't doing anything besides watching with an unreadable expression on his face. 

    The boggart was now only a couple feet away from Matt, who still wasn't doing anything.  The boggart began to slowly raise its hands and muttered something that Albus couldn't quite catch.

    At that moment, Matt seemed to unfreeze.  He stepped back and all of a sudden ran towards the door.  He wrenched it open and disappeared from the room.  Everyone who had already faced the boggart started whispering amongst themselves

    Albus turned to John, who shrugged.  Albus couldn't even begin to imagine why Matt was afraid of that strange man, but he could sense that it went beyond a normal fear. 

    "I'm going after him,"  Albus whispered to John.  John nodded and Albus ran from the room without asking Balladanis or even looking back at him.

    Albus could hear Balladanis trying to quiet the rest of the students down as he walked quickly down the corridor.  Matt wasn't anywhere to be found.  Albus continued to walk down the corridor, not really knowing where he was going.  Where would Matt go?  The dormitory?  Room of Requirement?  Marauder's Den?  That was it, Albus thought.  That's where Matt would go.  After all, only a few people knew about that.

    Albus walked through the empty corridors, thankful that nobody else was wandering around.  He glanced at his watch.  There was only ten minutes left in class.

    The fifth floor corridor was also deserted.  Albus quickly pulled up the arm on the appropriate suit of armor and then searched the opposite wall for the tiny paw prints.  He found them and glanced up and down the corridor once more before wrenching the door open.

    The room looked empty when Albus stepped inside.  In fact, it looked just like they left it at the end of the previous year.  Albus hadn't been in it for months.  He quietly walked further into the room and headed straight for Matt's alcove. 

    Matt was sitting on his four-poster bed, just staring directly at the wall in front of him.  Albus wordlessly sat down on the bed, not sure of what to say.  Matt didn't even acknowledge the fact that Albus was there.  Either that or he didn't notice.

    "Er, are you ok?"  Albus asked after a few moments of awkward silence.

    Matt looked over at him.  He didn't look all right.  His face was pale white.  "I guess,"  he said quietly,  "But everyone probably thinks I'm afraid of everything now.  Nobody else ran out of the room."

    "Maybe everyone else's boggarts weren't as scary,"  Albus suggested.   

    "Maybe,"  Matt muttered.

    Albus heard the door open and he craned his head around to see that Rose, John, and Amanda had come inside.  John and the girls walked over to where Albus and Matt were. 

    "We've got your bags,"  John said as he dropped Albus and Matt's bags on the floor.

    "Thanks,"  Albus replied.

    "Are you all right?"  John asked Matt.

    "Yeah,"  Matt sighed.

    "What have we got next?"  Albus asked.

    "Herbology,"  Rose answered,  "And we'd better go if we don't want to be late."

    "Are you coming?"  Albus asked Matt. 

    "Yeah,"  Matt got up off the bed,  "Let's go.  I just hope we don't have it with the Slytherins.  I'd bet my last Galleon that Malfoy's going to make fun of me for this for rest of the year."

    Albus would have been willing to bet that as well.  Fortunately, the third year Gryffindors had Herbology with the Ravenclaws that year.  A few of the other Gryffindors stole quick glances at Matt during the beginning part of the class, but nobody said anything to him.  Neville quizzed them about a few plants they had learned about the previous year for a few minutes.  Rose and Linda answered all of them.  Then he gave a broad overview of what they'd be doing that year.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight and all the awesome people who have read and reviewed this!

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