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Scorpius had almost entirely forgotten about the plant by the time he woke up the next morning, which was why he was more than a little surprised when he opened his office door to find his way entirely blocked by a leafy wall.
Still half-asleep, he stared at the plant. He had the oddest feeling that it was staring back.
‘I’ll count to ten…’ he muttered, and shut the door again. How did one deal with a sentient house plant? Talk to it nicely? He counted up from one, made it thirteen for good measure, and then opened the door again. The plant was back in the corner, leaving him a clear passage – but was it really possible that a plant could turn its back on you? This was a plant that certainly looked like it was in a huff.
After breakfast, dressed once more in his stuffy teacher’s robes, Scorpius set about mapping the classroom again. The pencils and pens came out of the cupboard, along with half the stack of cartridge paper. It only occurred to him then that the paper would need replenishing sometime; was that something he organised, or would it replace itself? Hogwarts was a strange place, and things often happened without any human involvement whatsoever.
He had first period off, something that made him both happy and anxious – the prospect of teaching loomed over him like a thunderstorm, and postponing it to second period somehow made it more daunting. It was the first lesson of the year, and he sat at the desk in the empty classroom and listened to hundreds of students moving about the school to other classes.
After about ten minutes it went totally silent. With no work to mark, he sat there and twiddled his thumbs, contemplating the room and the house plant. It occurred to him at one point that he should probably go to the staff room, but he felt too nervous for tea and small talk. He needed to prepare for the lesson. And think of something to do besides drawing the house plant, which scared him slightly.
At three minutes past ten precisely he went to the door and stuck his head out into the corridor beyond; a line of third years waited outside, gossiping and chattering amongst themselves. ‘Good morning,’ he said, and they took a while to fall silent and face him. ‘Come in. There’s a seating plan on the board.’
They duly filed in and took their assigned seats. He’d moved the desks around so, instead of sitting in single-file rows, the students sat at large tables, each formed of four desks. Four sheets of paper, four pencils and four pens were on each table, although most of the class had already pulled quills and ink pots from their bags. A few had taken out their wands.
‘Er…’ Scorpius’ voice cracked a little when he tried to speak, and he had to cough before he could go on. ‘Wands and quills away, please. The materials we’ll be using are on the tables.’
The students took their time to give him a bemused look before stowing everything away in their bags.
‘How many of you have drawn before?’
He almost sighed in relief when three quarters of the class put up their hands. A girl near his desk had thrust her hand up so fiercely that it looked as if she were trying to pull down the ceiling; he nodded to her. ‘Do you like drawing, then?’
She nodded fiercely. ‘Daddy’s a famous artist.’
‘Oh. What’s your name?’
‘Enid Ingold,’ she said breathlessly. ‘Daddy exhibited at the Supreme Academy this summer.’
‘Er, excellent,’ he said, racking his brains for a contemporary artist called Ingold. Nothing came to him, and he decided to change the subject. ‘Anyone else?’
A girl at the same table shrugged. ‘My sister likes to. She teaches me.’
‘Oh? Is your sister at Hogwarts too?’
‘She’s in sixth year.’
‘Good. Well,’ he turned back to the class at large. ‘I’ve got to say I’m pleasantly surprised…I worried that I’d have to teach all of you from scratch.’
Enid Ingold looked a bit pompous. He regarded her with some caution before continuing.
‘My name’s Mr Malfoy,’ he said, jerking a thumb to the board where he’d written his name in chalked capitals. ‘And I’ll be teaching you all things art-related for the year. As it’s a new subject, there’s no official guidance from the Ministry on what to teach, so if there’s anything you’d like to learn don’t hesitate to ask me.’
A couple of boys sniggered before one stuck his hand into the air. ‘Sir, can we do life drawing? When you draw naked people?’
The class broke out in giggles.
‘Not until you’re seniors,’ Scorpius said, realising in that instant that there was no provision for life drawing at the school. He’d have to ask Dot. ‘Today I thought we’d just have a bit of fun with drawing. No pressure, no magic, nothing clever or fancy. I’d like you to each take a pencil and a sheet of paper from the middle of your tables and draw the person sitting directly opposite you. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but try to make it as realistic as you can. Next lesson I’ll teach you about proportions and…stuff.’
It was the first time he’d faltered in front of them. Up until then, it had been going unusually well. Most of the class were still looking at him with guarded expressions, but nobody was whispering behind their hands or acting up. They seemed oddly eager.
‘Just have a bit of fun,’ he smiled. It did sound a bit much, now he’d put it into words. Putting a pencil into their hands and asking them to produce a portrait. ‘That’s what art’s all about. Enjoy it.’
They lifted the pencils and paper and started, hesitantly, to make marks. Scorpius went back to his desk to pick up his own copy of the seating plan; he thought he’d go around and learn a few names, chat to the third-years, see how they were getting on. When he approached Enid Ingold’s table, he saw that all four students had started by drawing a definite circle in the middle of the page.
‘The head’s more an oval,’ he said to the table at large. ‘Kind of like an egg.’
Three of the students turned their pencils around to rub the mark out, but Enid Ingold scowled. ‘I thought you weren’t going to teach us proportions until next lesson.’
‘There’s no harm in starting now,’ Scorpius said. ‘It’s alright, you don’t have to rub it out. Just turn your paper over or get a new sheet.’
One of the kids shrugged and carried on drawing, but the other two flipped over their paper and started again, sketching out wobbly ovals. Scorpius consulted his seating plan.
‘So…here we have Enid, Struan, Noor, and Duncan?’
The four of them nodded.
‘Which one of you is Struan?’
A boy with sandy hair held up his hand.
‘So you’re Duncan,’ Scorpius said to the dark haired boy, before turning to the other girl who’d spoken at the start of the lesson. ‘You must be Noor. What’s your sister’s name? I’m teaching sixth year tomorrow.’
‘Puja,’ Noor said. ‘She’s been looking forward to art for ages.’
‘Excellent,’ he said, and ticked off the table on his seating plan. ‘I’ll be back in a bit to check how your drawings are coming along.’
He could almost feel Enid Ingold’s eyes on him as he moved on to the next table. He made a mental note to check every back copy of Artistic Review Monthly he owned for a mention of an Ingold; it wouldn’t do to be shown up by his students.
At least the next table had drawn ovals for heads. He wondered if they’d overheard him talking to the first table, but said that they were all doing fine work and checked off their names on a register. It was a class of Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs, just like it had been back in his day. It was fitting, he thought, because blue and yellow were almost opposites on the colour wheel.
By the time he got to the last table, the students there had already made a decent amount of progress. He had to fight back laughter at the sight of one drawing where the nose resembled a cauliflower, and commented briefly on how they should consider making finer pencil marks before he had to leave. So far there was no artistic prodigy in the class, nobody who stood out as being particularly talented. It was almost all the same, like the students were copying one another in their determination to do right. Flat, two-dimensional faces, exaggerated full lips, eyebrows like hyphens, each mark of the pencil just as dark and determined as the last. And if they didn’t press hard enough into the page, they formed their drawing out of a series of wispy lines that barely registered as anything but one scrawling mass.
Scorpius wondered if he should have started with proportions on day one, but then reminded himself that he should hardly expect better. Art wasn’t something that came easy to most. He was just lucky to have grown up naturally good at it, even if had usurped the talents he might have had for spells and potion-making. But being good at painting was hardly a substitute for being able to apparate.
He was almost disappointed when Enid Ingold’s drawing turned out to be the best in the class. He held it up for them all to see at the end of the lesson, and pointed out how good the proportions were, and how her pencil marks were definite but still light enough not to be final. But they’d all done brilliantly, he assured them. And they had the entire term to improve at it.
Just before they rolled up their drawings and packed up, he glanced down at Noor’s drawing. She’d written her full name at the top: Noor Khanna. The current sixth years would have been first years when he’d left. He racked his brains to see if he remembered a student called Puja Khanna, but nothing came to him. She might not be a Ravenclaw. But it reassured him more than anything to think that there was at least one student out there who wanted to be in his class.
The morning hadn’t gone as badly as he’d expected, although the first years he’d had before lunch had been far too preoccupied with the thought of chip day in the Great Hall to concentrate much on the pumpkin prints he was getting them to do. He only had one more lesson left to teach before the final bell: the second years. He’d decided to give them the task of the house plant still life, but how did one draw a still life of a plant that wasn’t exactly still?
Scorpius decided to see Professor Longbottom about it. He liked Professor Longbottom, but always got the sense that he’d been a bit wary of Scorpius. This was something he hadn’t understood until his fourth year, when his dad had built up enough courage to tell him that he hadn’t exactly seen eye-to-eye with Professor Longbottom when they were at Hogwarts. But Scorpius had liked Herbology and worked hard at it, and by his seventh year he’d got the feeling that Professor Longbottom rather approved of him.
And the Professor was an excellent Herbologist. He’d had articles published in academic journals – Scorpius knew this only because he hadn’t been averse to spending most of his spare time in the Library when at school. He would surely be able to sort out the matter of a rogue house plant.
When he got to the greenhouses, however, Professor Longbottom (or Neville, as he had to call him now) was nowhere to be seen. The place was deserted. Scorpius searched through greenhouses one to five until he came across anyone at all; a girl was feeding a Venomous Tentacula in greenhouse six, clad up to her elbows in dragonhide gloves.
‘Excuse me,’ Scorpius said, knocking on the open door. ‘Is Professor Longbottom around?’
He assumed the girl was a seventh year. She shook her head. ‘Nah. He’s still at lunch. Can I help you?’
‘Er, I’m not sure. I can hang about…’
‘Neville doesn’t usually come back until the bell goes,’ she said, matter-of-factly, as she tossed an entire dead mouse into one of the Tentacula’s gaping pods.
‘Oh. It’s just a house plant in my classroom that’s acting up a bit.’
She turned around and snapped off the gloves. She was a rather strange-looking person, with a fringe that was cut at least an inch above her eyebrows, and dark brown hair that didn’t seem to match her pale, freckly skin. ‘Oh, no problem. Is it room eleven?’
‘You must be the new guy,’ she extended a hand. Her fingernails were black with dirt. ‘I’m Lucy. I help Neville out round here. I’m the herbology assistant, that is.’
‘Oh, right,’ he shook her hand. ‘Yeah, I…I’m Scorpius. I teach art.’
‘I’ll tell him to come up after lessons this afternoon and deal with it for you.’
‘Actually…it’s kind of urgent. I need it sorted before fourth period.’
She raised her eyebrows at him. They definitely didn’t match her hair. ‘Positive it can’t wait?’
Her eyes left his and trailed over to a corner of the greenhouse. ‘Well…I can do it this lunchtime, but I could use a favour from you. Neville wants me to copy some worksheets, you see. Do you mind doing that?’
‘You could do that in seconds,’ he said. ‘It’s dead easy, there’s a spell-’
She interrupted, giving him a hard look. ‘I don’t have a wand. I’m a squib.’
‘Oh. I’m sorry…’
‘It’s alright. You know…I worked in a muggle office for a bit before I started here. We had machines to do this sort of stuff. There was one called a photocopier, you know, for duplicating paper…I think Neville, bless him, forgets I don’t have a wand like all of you do.’
‘I can duplicate them for you.’
She went over to fetch the worksheet and handed it to him. As he pressed his wand to it, his stomach turned over a little when he realised he recognised it from his fifth year Herbology studies.
‘Thirty copies,’ Lucy prompted, and he thought of the spell. There was a faint clicking sound and then a stack of thirty replaced the single worksheet in his hand.
Lucy took them back, studying the top copy carefully. ‘Hmm, bit of smudging on the left,’ she said. ‘But thanks. I’ll take a look at your plant now.’
They walked up to the castle together. She didn’t talk much, but hummed to herself now and again. He noticed that she was wearing mostly earthly colours; browns and greens and stone-greys. She had her own colour palette that he made a mental note of in case he wanted to paint later.
‘Have you taught many lessons yet?’ she said, as they passed the Great Hall, through the gauze of noise that seeped out of the open doors.
‘Only a couple. First and third years.’
‘That’s okay. Watch out for the second years. They’re little bastards.’
He felt the morning’s anxiety creeping back again. They climbed the stairs to the first floor and took the left corridor. Room eleven was at the end.
‘I’ve only been here a year,’ she said, as they went into his classroom. ‘But I’ve dealt with this one before. Now,’ she said, stopping short in front of the plant. ‘What have you been up to?’
It had moved a foot or two from the corner. A few chairs near it had been upset. Scorpius hung back by the classroom door, pretending to be admiring some of the pumpkin prints that were drying on the wall.
‘This one’s nothing to be scared of,’ Lucy said, and it took Scorpius a moment to realise she was referring to the plant and not him. ‘You’ve just got to be nice.’
She went up on tiptoe and her hand disappeared into the mass of leaves. If Scorpius wasn’t very much mistaken, she was stroking it behind the ears.
Plants don’t have ears, he thought to himself. It was mesmerising to watch, though. The plant seemed to shrink a bit.
‘There’s a good boy,’ Lucy muttered.
‘The plant or me?’ Scorpius said, without thinking. Lucy didn’t respond, but her shoulders shook with laughter. He turned back to the pumpkin prints and felt his face burn.
‘See?’ she called to him, after a few minutes. ‘Nothing to worry about. Just treat it like a pet. Feed it now and again.’
‘Feed it?’ he said. ‘What does it eat?’
‘First years,’ she said with a devilish grin. ‘Okay, kidding. Mostly flies, spiders, little insects, stuff like that. But she might like a mouse now and again. She’s related to the Tentacula in greenhouse six, you know.’
‘Yep,’ Lucy gave the plant pot an affectionate pat. ‘Trust me, I’m a Herbologist. Or an assistant one, anyway.’
‘Does…er…does she have a name?’
‘Not that I know of. I suppose you could give her one.’
They stood in silence for a moment. Lucy smiled blithely at him, and he was almost certain the plant was watching him attentively. He tried to put this thought out of his mind. Plants did not have eyes. Nor were they capable of conscious thought. Nor did one give them names.
‘Are you sure worksheets are an acceptable form of payment?’
‘Well. Thanks for your help.’
‘My pleasure. See you around.’
Lucy left the room with a cheery smile. Scorpius walked cautiously towards the plant, staring up at it.
‘Maybe you and me could get on,’ he said, and gave the plant pot an experimental pat. The leaves seemed to shiver. ‘Dunno what to name you.’
Inexplicably, he thought of the only girlfriend he’d ever had, who was little more than a distant seventh-year memory. He could not quite explain why the plant reminded him of her, but then he reminded himself that the two of them hadn’t parted on the best of terms and she probably deserved to have a vaguely creepy plant named after her.
He reached up and stroked a leaf. ‘Hester,’ he said. ‘I’ll call you Hester.’
a/n: sorry for the slow update! Ironically, being an art student has prevented me from writing about an art teacher, haha. I am enjoying writing this story, though. It's got a much more reserved and subtle pace than I'm used to~ Hope you liked this chapter! ♥
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