Chapter 6 The Merciless Art

The Enchanter’s Princess

Chapter 6: The Merciless Art

The first night back was uneventful to say the least but the first day of classes held too many interesting surprises. Albus had not forgotten his note Harry had given him either. Find the Enchanter’s Princess. Neither could he forget the parchment Seth had stuffed into his hands the previous day. The note from Soto telling him to keep an eye on Mark’s fiancée and take whatever his son says seriously, as if Albus would actually do any of that. Did Soto seriously think, even for second, to waste his ink on telling Albus to do something he must have known Albus would not be keen on doing.

Harry had once given him the responsibility to keep an eye on Mark Wallader back during first year. Now, their main enemy, Soto Lean told Albus to keep an eye on Aries? Were the two connected? Why was Albus, in his time at Hogwarts being asked to keep an eye on two kids he knew were connected to each other one way or another? He pushed the note out of his mind and stuffed it in his bag, opting to forget about it as soon as possible and instead focus on the day ahead. It was with a clear mind that Albus allowed himself to enter the Entrance hall, looking forward to breakfast when, for the first time in years, his older brother James stopped him.

“Erm…”

“Need to talk to you, come,” James muttered and dragged Albus off to a side chamber. James shut the door and turned to Albus, eyes glinting strangely. James, if anything seemed half nervous but he still eyed Albus directly. “So, here’s the deal,” James sighed, getting to the point. “I’m sixth year, I got NEWT classes, and I’ll be insanely busy this coming year. But… I’m also underpowered. Never, even my first steps in Hogwarts have I been this lost. The Marauder’s Map…” he went silent. Albus remembered it too. The map was destroyed the previous term. “I’ve been hard at work redrawing it last summer. And I got it accurately too!”

Albus widened his eyes, “You redre”-

“Not completely,” James shrugged. “But… Uncle George helped me with a lot of it and Roxanne knows almost as many passages as I do. But my gang are the real masterminds. Surely, Al, our heads put together would be enough? So, I redrew it. Only problem is, I don’t know the spells used to record every dot. Or the spell used to make it invisible. It’s incredible. I could only manage it on a map of our house.”

“And you’re hoping I’d know?”

“I’m hoping its makers would know,” James corrected, eyes still glinting hopefully. “But the only way we’re talking to them is if we take a trip into the Forbidden Forest and search all over the place for that accursed Stone dad said he lost.”

In the forest. Harry had said so. But ever since third year, Albus had been uncomfortable going into that place. He looked back up at James apprehensively. He went silent. The mention of their dad brought a weight back down upon them. James’ eyes certainly glinted less but still James had a mischievous grin on his face, a part of Albus wanted to run away. Surely, whatever James had his mind, it could not be good. James seemed completely innocent though. The entire summer he had been as silent as he could be for a Potter. He raised nothing, made no trouble, set no fireworks off, nothing. He was innocent. He kept shutting himself in his room, claiming he had thinking to do but told no one what he was thinking about. Now, here he was, staring at Albus with a small, sly grin on his face.

“My days are numbered,” James ceded. “I’m sixth year and have NEWT classes, next year will be a hassle,” he added. “I guess it’s time to… find my own apprentice.”

“Apprentice?”

“And you, Al, are my dear little brother,” he added, eyes glinting. “So, I think it’s time I finally showed you my secrets. This year… is the year you too become the eyes and ears of the castle.”

Albus gaped at him. Was James serious? James, he knew had a network. An effective one even without the map. And James was proud. He loved being the sole keeper of the school’s secrets, the one who could start gossip and watch it evolve. And Albus knew the castle well himself. But to learn the castle back to front now? Was Albus even interested? James seemed to read his expression cause he shrugged, “You got OWL’s but if you just met me once this week. I’ll catch you when I can. And we’ll talk further. Trust me, an hour is all I need with you and you can take it from there. Cool?”

“No,” Albus said without thinking. “Why me? You never offered this before. I’m not even like you. What use do I have to bec”- Albus stopped. Find the Enchanter’s Princess. He stopped, remembering, recalling the note. Find the Enchanter’s Princess. “Find the Enchanter’s Princess,” he repeated lowly.

“Sorry?”

“Enchanter’s Princess.”

“Are you that far in love with Alexis?”

“Shut it!” Albus yelled. “Look, I… you’ve never heard of a Princess in this school?”

“Nope,” James shrugged.

“We need to find her,” Albus said frankly, and launched into how Harry had given him the note. If felt strange, sharing James something that was part of the wider issue going on in the world. Usually, Albus found himself working alone. Telling James made it feel like a weight off his shoulders. His older brother listened with great interest too, partly surprise.

James seemed to seriously consider this. Albus thought James would say something along the lines of never hearing of such a girl and assuring him that if such a girl existed, he would know. Instead, James shrugged and said, “I’ll give it some thought. But meet me by Hagrid’s. Ok?”

“And you’ll help?”

“If you help,” James offered. “And we’ll solve dad’s dilemma together. Deal?”

“Deal,” Albus said and for the first time in years, he shook James’ hand before accompanying him to the Great Hall for a breakfast hour that was half done.

As Albus walked into the Great Hall for breakfast, he felt a sudden sense of wonder. Had Era passed on the schedules yet? He breathed a sigh of relief when Era met him halfway to the Slytherin table and handed him his schedule. As Albus sat down, he read it interestedly, not paying attention to Walter’s questions about his summer just yet. But his eyes just glazed over the first lesson. He was staring at it without processing it. Albus was greatly bothered by what happened over the summer. He put the schedule down and fell into thought.

Harry was arrested. He insisted he was ok. A part of Albus thought that Harry even orchestrated his arrest but him dueling with Incommodo when they came did not fit with that theory. Mark was almost killed, James was knocked back and Lily… Lily was in the dark. The rest of the summer, they kept her at the Weasley abode with the excuse that Albus and Mark came down with a contagious illness. She did not even know that Harry was arrested and Albus knew he would have to tell her eventually or she would be so upset that they kept it from her.

Problem was that last year, Albus discovered that Lily communicated with Soto just because she felt that Albus was in danger. If Harry was arrested, would Lily be reckless enough to do the same with Incommodo, someone much more dangerous than Soto? Was that possible?

“AL!” Scorpius yelled, smacking him upside the head. “First lesson, Defense Against the Dark Arts with the Gryffindors,” Scorpius muttered. “With Professor Soot. He’d better be good. If I find out he was hired by Ridge or Uncle Rojer to ruin our education…”

“Can you really do anything about that?” Albus asked, taking a quick bite of porridge, mind still on Harry.

“Hell, yeah!” Scorpius scoffed. “I’ll tell Father and Grandfather that the three are out to destroy my financial future and they’ll declare war.”

“Hold up…”

“Scorps, hate to break it to you but you’re rich,” Walter reminded him. “I don’t think your financial future is at risk anytime soon.”

“Yeah, well unlike Grandfather I actually intend to work,” Scorpius shrugged as the bell rang for class.

Effectively snapped from thought, Albus got up with Scorpius, Riley and Walter. Riley stretched and yawned before straightening up and heading off with them. Albus had a small grin on his face, “So, you intend to work as what? Death Eater recruitment center?”

For a wild second, Albus thought he might have gone over the line. Scorpius stared at him and rolled his eyes, “Haha, Al, very funny. Who gave you that line, Gabriel?”

“No, you just make it too easy,” Albus laughed as he accepted a slap on the hand from Walter.

“Inside, please, let’s get started,” a sudden voice said. Professor Soot ushered them all inside and cleared his throat. “Seats and we’ll take introductions before we get started. I am Professor Neal Soot and I’ll be your teacher for the rest of the year and perhaps next year should the winds of fortune blow in my favor.” Professor Soot spoke in a confident voice, as if he had always been teaching them. Something about him did not strike Albus as kind; however, like he was hiding something. As Soot stepped in front of him, he suddenly reminded Albus of Soto by the way he looked right at Albus but this man looked very different. He did not have Soto’s mean eyes or his intimidating face. In fact, his face suggested kindness while his eyes suggested toughness.

“This year, I believe you are due to start OWL’s,” Soot suggested. “Correct?”

The class generally nodded and Soot nodded, “Very well, everyone up! Go on! Up! Books away, wands out and face the front. We’ll be taking the first lesson by storm before wasting time with the pointless books.”

Albus and Scorpius shot smirks at Rose who looked half affronted as she put her books away. In seconds, all desks and chairs were against the wall, making the room look much larger than it ever had in memory during Professor Macmillan’s days. Soot faced them all. “When facing the Dark Arts, it will not be over desks or with books in hand. The Dark Arts are Merciless and unfair. Whoever you’re facing will not let you look from a book nor will he… or she allow you to take notes. You have mere seconds to act which means you are generally unprepared. I wish you to forget everything you’ve ever been taught before now and start from scratch. You are free to use any spell that might occur to you in these classes. You!” he pointed dramatically at Aries. “Name. Now.”

The blonde girl Albus knew now was Mark’s fiancée looked surprised. “Um… well”-

“Five points from Gryffindor, back of the class,” he said quickly. “During an interrogation, errs and ums will gain you nothing. Let’s try again, you! Name.”

“Scorpius Malfoy.”

“Wand type!”

“D-Dragon Heartstring and… err… ele- eleven inches, I think, and”-

“Expelliarmus!”

Scorpius yelped as his wand leapt out of his hand. “Yes, looks eleven inches to me. Imagine being asked for wand type. Either you sound certain of your answer or the enemy may be consent to disarm you of it. That’s if he hasn’t done it already. Something you do not want done in the heat of battle. You should’ve used a Shield Charm, Malfoy. Last time, you!”

“Aries V. Kimble!” she said again, this time trying to ascertain herself.

“Wand type!”

“Unicorn tail hair, fifteen inches, wood type Yew,” she shot off.

“Father’s name!”

“Marius. K. Kimble!”

“Take a point to Gryffindor,” Soot allowed.

For the rest of the class, Professor Soot moved along the class, learning- no- demanding their names through what started to feel like a real interrogation session, frequently correcting their mistakes, however small with examples of how it would be when facing what he termed the Merciless arts. Albus was not even sure he passed this style of teaching with Phoenix. Was this his way of taking registration? He ran the class like it was an intense military warship. Halfway through the hour, after he had finished taking all names, he paced back and forth in front of them, lecturing loudly.

“The vast majority of you would be dead by now had you been through actual interrogations,” he announced critically. “Which goes to show just how unprepared you truly are. I will not consider my job completed until I am sure more than half of you can survive an encounter with a Dark Wizard. Your lack of skill and readiness in the field is a testament to how little care you’ve been given by my predecessor. I will be”-

“Sir, I disagree!” a voice said boldly.

Soot stopped and turned to face the class. Mark was standing straight, wand out and held tight in his hand. “We’ve learned loads of spells from Professor Macmillan and were due to start nonverbal spells this yea”-

A loud sizzle erupted from Soot’s wand and sparks shot straight at Mark bullet-speed. It barely missed but from beside him, Aries’ wand was held high. “Oh, thinking of dueling me?”

“I’ve won three tournaments and a championship in”-

A loud bang later and Albus expected to see Aries in the air or something but she was fighting Soot’s wand for control over similar sparks that hit Mark. Within minutes, they dissipated and Aries let her wand hang loosely by her side, but eyes watching warily. Soot did not seem happy, “Arrogance is the most fatal flaw you can show in a duel. Ten points from Gryffindor. It shows disrespect as well as foul play. Are you a foul player, Miss. Kimble?”

“That’s bogus!” she yelled. “If I have the skill and I’m facing a Dark Wizard, what do I care if I offended him or not?”

“This whole class, you were taught to treat me as if I am a Merciless Dark Wizard,” he said pointedly. “Or did you forget?”

“But you’re not!”

“Hence your second mistake,” he continued. “A further ten points from Gryffindor. Treating your enemy as something they are not, however dark they may or may not be is yet another flaw we will fix in this class. And in case you haven’t realized, Miss Kimble, in this class I am your enemy. Professor Macmillan, while a fine teacher I am sure, has thus far treated you all with kid gloves. But after seeing how you fare with gloves off, it becomes clear this has been a disservice to you. If, however, you think yourself above such discipline, you may duel me, win and leave.”

Nobody moved. Not even Aries. He stared at them all hardly, resting his eyes on both Aries and Albus himself for some reason. The reason became clear when he fired suddenly, “Stupefy!”

“Protego!”

The red jet barely missed Soot’s head from Aries’ pointed wand and half the class clapped. Albus was surprised at Aries’ reflexes. The Professor seemed pleased. “And we finally seemed to have made progress,” he said as the bell rang for the end of class. “So, homework before we leave. Practice defending against surprise attacks as I will be attacking you all next lesson, and for those who forgot, please remember your names for next time. We do not want more deaths on our consciences the next time you go through an interrogation session. Single file, out!”

If Albus expected anything, that was not how the class would have gone. All the other classes were child’s play compared to it even though they did set tons more homework than Soot bothered to do. Professor Ackerly informed them that they would be practicing the Patronus Charm and wanted a ten foot long essay on the theory behind it.

By the time he entered Ancient Runes, all thought of his father or Incommodo or Soto were forced from his mind as Professor Sorrow was explaining to them the values of different runes in different places. “New discoveries of Runes lead to a large profit. Not only by discovering, but by utilizing the new rune. It opens doors for new spells. For example, who can remember how the Ice spell was created?”

The hands of Rose, Alex, and Mark rose into the air and to Albus’ surprise, Laura. Sorrow called on Laura to answer, gazing in interest at her. Laura cleared her throat and said, “The futhark rune of I. It had something to do with that, I’m sure.”

“A point to Gryffindor,” Sorrow tutted. “Half right. Who can finish it? Weasley?”

“Isaz,” Rose answered simply. “Means ice. It was seen as an old spell they used. Found in Germany, the real futhark spell of it would be big, but it was translated to Latin and made into a modern spell for Wizards of today to use in the 1800’s. The discoverer was Flavus Ostar. His brother Orre translated it and they both received credit and over 1,000 galleons in payment for their discovery.”

“Twenty points to Gryffindor!” Sorrow said. “Homework, write up a ten foot long essay on the story of the creation of any spell to be handed in on Tuesday and an extra five feet on the theory behind futhark runes and their connection to modern day spellwork.”

Lunch was a hurried affair indeed before they were hurried off towards Transfiguration. Professor Redgrow started having them work on animal transfiguration, explaining that those who could not hope to transfigure a mammal by the end of term had little hope of catching up. She proceeded to set them their longest essay yet. A fifteen foot essay on the theory behind animal transfiguration and its differences with human transfiguration. It was with very heavy workload that the fifth years returned to bed. In fact, some did not bother going to bed. Albus, Riley and even Scorpius skipped through half of dinner to get started and it was one in the morning before they finished with the Transfiguration essay.

“Well,” Scorpius yawned. “Good start. I’m… going to bed. Night.”

Albus told him he’d clean up and be up. As he rolled up his essay for Redgrow, he stared at the fire and took from his pocket the parchment Soto had sent him. Take what Seth said seriously. What was Seth saying? Even if Albus thought of listening to him, how was he supposed to make sense of this. Much easier and still a mystery was how he was supposed to find any Princess whatsoever and if he did, how would she be able to help rescue Harry from the Ministry of Magic? Was that truly even possible?

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