There was a moment of shocked silence. The students exchanged wide-eyed glances; several were gaping like fish. Neville was sure they were all wondering the same thing as he: was there any way they would be blamed for losing a professor?
He looked at Serena; she was still focused on the spot where Professor Bins had ascended. The mood was finally broken by a chuckle from Seamus. All eyes turned to him.
“Well!” he said, standing up. “I don’t suppose we have to stay here any longer.”
The students exchanged looks again, and some of them started to smile. But as the braver ones began to gather their books, they heard the unnaturally loud clicking sound of Serena’s boots against the stone floor. Everyone froze.
“And where, exactly, do you think you’re going?” Serena scanned the classroom with narrow eyes.
“Does it matter?” replied Seamus. “It’s plain there’s no class today. And I guess we have you to thank for it!” Seamus was grinning, but Serena scowled.
“There certainly is class today!”
Seamus looked amazed. “Away on that! You’re not serious?”
From the Slytherin section came the sarcastic drawl of Draco Malfoy.
“Perhaps it’s escaped your notice, but we don’t have a professor.”
“That doesn’t matter,” replied Serena. “Students must be in their assigned rooms during all scheduled class periods.”
Seamus made a huffing sound. “And so we’re just supposed to sit here and eyeball the walls, are we? Or do ye think maybe it’d be a good plan to tell someone what happened to Binns?”
Serena rolled her eyes. She sounded exasperated. “Don’t you know anything? Why don’t you know anything?”
Neville wasn’t sure why, but this made Seamus angry. “Well, I fecking would know if you would just fecking tell me!”
There were some gasps from the Hufflepuffs, but Neville, who knew that Seamus and Serena had practically grown up together, didn’t think she would do anything to him. Yet.
“Oi t’ink it’s a grahnd ‘plahn,’” scoffed Malfoy in a cruel imitation of an Irish person. “And oi’d ‘feckin’’ like to know woy ih ’tisn’t.”
The room became deathly silent. Slowly and deliberately, Serena turned and advanced on Malfoy, her boots making that horrible echoing click each time she stepped. She stopped just inches from his face. In her heels, she was only a head shorter than Malfoy, and she glowered up at him as she sneered in her very best Snape impression.
“Well, then I will “fecking” tell you that if you don’t want to spend every second period for the rest of the year listening to a self-reading copy of “Muggles and Mudbloods Throughout History” by Alecto Carrow, you will sit down and do exactly as I say.”
She stared hard at Malfoy for another moment, then whirled on her heel and stalked back to the front of the classroom. Malfoy still stood with fists clenched, but when Seamus flopped back down into his seat with a sigh, the rest of the class reluctantly put their books away again, and Draco finally sat, too.
Standing off to the right of the blackboard, Serena vanished Binns’ desk and replaced it with fourteen golden metallic circlets, a scroll of parchment, and a quill, all of which floated in mid-air as she addressed the class.
“I have it on good authority that the administration does not have high aims for the current “History of Pureblood Suffering” curriculum. So long as the students understand the main points in Professor Carrow’s book, they may cover other topics. When Professor Binns taught this class—”
“Fifteen minutes ago!” interrupted Ernie MacMillan, to the amusement of many.
ZAP! Neville had no idea how she’d done it — he hadn’t even seen her hand move! — but Ernie jumped as if he’d rubbed his shoes on the rug and touched metal. Indeed, his hair stood on end. All amusement was immediately stifled.
“When Professor Binns taught this class,” continued Serena as if nothing had happened, “the other topics were goblin riots and giant wars. A class supervised by the Head Girl, however…”
She paused for dramatic effect. She got her reaction; the class was hanging onto her words with a mixture of hope and dread.
“…will be much more interesting.”
“And what makes you think you’ll be supervising this class?” challenged Malfoy.
It was Blaise Zabini who replied by reaching forward and whacking Malfoy on the head with a scroll of parchment. Draco whirled around in his seat, hand to head, but before he could reply, Zabini spit, “ANY class that’s lacking a professor can be supervised by the Head Boy or Girl.”
Neville realized that Zabini was particularly insulted by Malfoy’s challenge to his authority as Head Boy.
“Thank you, Blaise,” said Serena with an infuriatingly smug air. “It appears that some of us haven’t memorized Hogwarts procedures, even though some of us used to be prefects.”
Malfoy glowered, but stayed silent. Serena turned again to address the room in general.
“The main points of Professor Carrow’s book are as follows: One. Muggles are mean to wizards. Two: Muggle-borns are not really wizards. Three: Purebloods are brilliant. In conclusion: No Muggles, no Muggle-borns, Purebloods rule. Please remember this when it’s time to take your exams. And now…”
The students looked around at each other, not sure if they were supposed to laugh. Everyone knew that Serena was from a very old wizarding family, but she certainly seemed to be making fun of both the Pureblood movement.
“…when I call your name, come up and stand in front of the class.”
Neville and Ernie exchanged nervous glances. Neville could tell they were both worried about the same thing: that Serena might have some kind of punishment in mind for them. They had recently made trouble for her while Amycus Carrow was within earshot. But instead she called out, “Tracey Davis!”
Tracey was a tall, slender Slytherin with very dark skin and shiny, curly black hair that was pulled tight into a headband and ballooned gracefully out behind her. She walked to the front of the classroom with such a self-satisfied smile that Neville was suddenly suspicious the whole spectacle had been planned in advance.
Pretty, petulant Rebecca tossed her long, thick hair as she sauntered away from her desk. Neville noticed that she had colored her sandy mane with large streaks of blonde and auburn. She, too, looked smug.
A scraping sound came from the Slytherin section; Pansy Parkinson was halfway out of her seat.
“Not you, you fat cow,” sneered Serena. Muffled giggles and snorts erupted from around the room. Pansy turned red and sat down again in tears. At this point Neville was not surprised to see that the Slytherins were divided between angry (Malfoy, Crabbe, Bullstrode, Nott) and amused (Zabini, Greengrass and, improbably, Goyle).
Neville heard whispering to his right. The choice of Zabini had inspired Parvati and Lavender to put their heads together. They looked surprised. But what was surprising about Serena picking her friends for whatever it was she had in mind?
Neville’s heart dropped into his stomach. Parvati shouldn’t have been whispering in class! She was in trouble now! But no…. Parvati, a little flustered but grinning, smoothed her robes and joined the line at the front of the room.
Lavender hurried to join Parvati.
Seamus looked bemused. He glanced back at Neville and shrugged his shoulders as he made his way to the front.
Su, a petite, energetic Ravenclaw, jumped up and joined the group.
Neville began to relax. It looked like whatever Serena was doing, she was picking students House by House. Meaning that he was safe. Or was he? What would happen to the students not chosen?
“Michael Corner! Anthony Goldstein! Kevin Entwhistle!” Three Ravenclaw boys.
“Megan Jones!” She was on to the Hufflepuffs.
“Sophie Roper! Oliver Rivers!”
After Oliver, Serena paused as her quill finished writing something on the floating parchment. Neville realized that she was done choosing. He noted that all of the boys, save Zabini, looked bewildered, while the girls all seemed pleased. Serena turned to her hand-picked group and said,
“Some of you are probably wondering what you’re doing up here.”
I was right! thought Neville, The whole thing was planned in advance. Serena’s been plotting to get rid of Binns, and some of us were in on it! Even Gryffindors! Binns was a terrible professor, so boring…. but wasn’t it wrong, to show him he was a ghost? Wasn’t it a selfish thing to do, when people like Dumbledore had allowed him to believe he was a regular person? It wasn’t right, for Serena to make that decision herself! On the other hand, Binns’ classes really were quite awful…. Neville didn’t know whether to feel critical or relieved.
Serena continued, “When I first came to Hogwarts, I wanted to start a Charms Team. Dumbledore said no.” She said “Dumbledore” as if it were a dirty word.
“Professor Snape, however…” She said “Snape” with great satisfaction. “…believes that Charmsnastics is excellent for the magical reflexes.”
Neville saw several boys around look at their friends and silently mouth, “Charmsnastics?”
“So I am pleased to announce the Hogwarts Seventh-Year Charmsnastics Team!”
All the girls in line broke into applause. At their desks, Hannah, Susan, and even Daphne looked intrigued, while Pansy was sullen. The boys still seemed confused, except for Seamus, who rounded on Serena and said, “There’s no such thing as a Charms BOY!”
“There is now,” replied Serena smugly.
“And you think the Carrows will allow this?”
“The Headmaster has already approved it.”
Seamus was flummoxed for a moment, but then a thought struck him.
“Did he approve of team practice during History of Magic?”
Serena dramatically turned back to the class, and repeated, “The administration does not have high aims for the current “History of Pureblood Suffering” curriculum. So long as the students understand the main points in Professor Carrow’s book — ”
“You’re mad as a jelly wand!” shouted Seamus, throwing his hands in the air.
Blaise scowled at Seamus, but as Serena didn’t seem at all fazed by Seamus’ outburst, he said nothing. Neville thought Seamus had a fair point, but he also liked the idea of doing something different, not to mention something not quite on the up-and-up. But would he be doing it? Hannah raised her hand and asked the question on the minds of everyone at their desks,
“What about us? If we’re not on the team, what do we do?”
Neville was slightly surprised that Serena answered nicely; she was usually quick to criticize other students. She said, “Just because you aren’t competing, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn the drills.”
“But who are we supposed to compete against?” asked Michael.
Serena looked displeased as she said, “Against whom. And for now, just the sixth years. It’s supposed to be fourth through seventh, but there’s no way to arrange that. Yet.”
Neville wondered who would be leading the secret team for the sixth years.
A loud, angry voice sounded again from the Slytherin section. Draco Malfoy was on his feet.
“And what’s to stop us from going straight to the Carrows and telling them what you’re up to?”
This time is was Goyle, surprisingly, who stood up to Malfoy. He also rose, and said, “You have a real short memory, dont’cha? Didn’t Serpentia just say that if we don’t do this, we’ll have to spend all our time listening to a boring book? Is that what you want? To make everyone listen to a boring book every single day for the rest of the year?”
Malfoy looked as though he thought it would be worth it, just to get Serena in trouble, but from the expressions on the other Slytherin’s faces, even those who were Malfoy’s friends, it was clear that he would face a lot of harassment from his own House if he didn’t keep his peace. Apparently Draco came to the same conclusion, and he sat back down again with a cold look in his eye.
From the line at the front of the classroom, Megan Jones asked, “Who’s leading the team for the sixth years?”
It was Parvati who responded. “Ginny Weasley.”
Ginny?? The question that immediately came to Neville’s mind was asked aloud by a frowning Rebecca Runcorn. “What does Ginny Weasley know about Charmsnastics?”
Her friend Tracey answered. “Nothing, but my sister Trina says she has the best Charms skills in their year.”
Rebecca looked unconvinced, but she didn’t have time to say anything more, because Serena addressed the line.
“And now it’s time to officially welcome you all to the team. Raise your wand hands into the air!”
All of the girls immediately thrust their arms upwards. The boys all looked uncertain, and were a little slower to respond.
The golden rings that had been floating over the heads of the team descended down over their wrists, where they flattened and conformed to the anatomy of each wearer.
“Arms down!” commanded Serena.
The team members gave their bracelets experimental taps and tugs, all except Tracey and Rebecca, who knew what to do with them. Neville didn’t know how they did it, but they made their bracelets slither up and down their arms and over their fingers. The rest of the team watched in fascination.
Serena announced, “In the ten remaining minutes of this class, Rebecca and Tracey will instruct the team on the proper use of their Brachiale, and I…”
She turned to the remaining students and addressed them, looking suddenly severe.
“….will assess your knowledge of the cushioning charm.”
“So that’s how it all started,” concluded Neville. “After that, we spent every History of Magic period practicing the kind of Charms and Transfiguration they use for Charmsnastics.”
“Hang on,” said Dean. “I know Serena was in charge of the seventh-year History of Magic class, but what about the sixth year? And the other years, for that matter?”
“Yeah,” said Harry. “Ginny told me she learned Charms routines in detention.”
Neville was about to answer, but Luna spoke first.
“We did, but we also learned them in sixth-year History of Magic because….” Her voice trailed off and she looked at little troubled, which was unusual for Luna.
“Because what?” asked Dean urgently, looking simultaneously curious and concerned.
“Well….” began Luna, “It wasn’t anything really bad, just somewhat….”
“….Unethical?” offered Hannah.
Neville considered this, and realized that once again Hannah had found the right way to express the situation. It was one of the things he admired about her.
“Yes, I suppose so,” said Luna, not seeming quite convinced.
“So what happened?” asked Harry and Ron together. Neville realized that they both wanted to know about Ginny’s role in the clandestine practices.
Luna continued. “Well, you see, they put Filch in charge of supervising the History of Magic class for our year. “
“Filch!” exclaimed Ron. “What does he know about history? Or magic, for that matter?”
“He didn’t have to know anything,” said Luna. “He was just supposed to watch us reading our books. But every day, as soon as he sat down, Trina Davis would pretend to be nice, and gave him a mug of tea that contained a sleeping draught. And then Ginny would run the practice.”
Dean, Ron, and Harry looked around at Seamus, Hannah, and Neville for confirmation, and when they all nodded in affirmation, Dean burst into laughter.
Ron asked, “And he never caught on? How is that possible?”
A new voice answered. “When he woke, we would all be sitting quietly at our desks again.”
It was Ginny, who had walked up while their attention was focused on Luna.
“Ginny!” exclaimed Harry. He stood and pulled back the chair next to him. Ginny gave Harry a hug and a kiss.
“Hello, you,” she said with a smile before releasing him and sitting down.
Neville noticed that Ron was frowning.
“Don’t mind me,” he said sarcastically. “I’m just your flesh and blood….”
Ginny flicked her wand, and a big red lipstick kiss print appeared on Ron’s cheek.
Ron looked confused as the group roared with laughter. Before Ron could ask what was so funny, Dean continued,
“But still, didn’t Filch wonder why he fell asleep every single day?”
Ginny said, “If he did, he never suspected Trina, because she’s a Slytherin, and Filch loves the Slytherins.”
“Speaking of Slytherins,” said Ron, looking at Ginny with a stern expression, but before he could finish his thought, Hermione walked up and said dryly,
“Exactly what sort of job were you applying for, Ronald?”
As the group laughed anew, Neville looked around the table with satisfaction, and also a sense of relief. It finally looked as though things were going to be okay for his friends. Neville was especially gratified to see Harry laughing. Of all his friends, Neville had been the most worried about Harry, who seemed somewhat aimless.
Harry had been randomly popping in and out of Hogwarts for the past two months. He never volunteered for the rebuilding project, and he never spoke to anyone besides Hagrid, whom he visited in his hut, and Neville, with whom he shared the occasional cold supper in their old dormitory.
Neville knew that Hogwarts was the one place besides the Weasley’s where Harry wasn’t constantly hounded by reporters and fans. He suspected that the only reason their lunch at Puddings hadn’t been interrupted was a complicated spell invented by Hermione called Pottertum Fidus Illusio-Revelio, which rendered Harry invisible to everyone except members of Dumbledore’s Army. Someone had probably cast it before he and Hannah arrived. Neville smiled to himself as he realized that, to the other diners, it looked like Ginny was hugging and kissing an imaginary friend.
Neville was also a little sad that Seamus wouldn’t be returning to Hogwarts in the fall. At least, that’s what Seamus had been saying. Neville wondered if they could change his mind. He didn’t know if he’d get another chance to talk to Seamus in person before the summer was over; this was the first time anyone besides Dean had seen him since Lavender’s party. Neville was especially happy, therefore, when Seamus addressed the group.
“Now that we’re all here….” began Seamus.
He pulled a stack of envelopes out of a pocket on the leg of his trousers and handed them around the table. Inside were heavy cards with a printed message. The cards also had a photo of the ocean and a bonfire, but the picture didn’t move.
“What’s this?” asked Hannah.
“It’s a Muggle party invitation,” answered Ron, prompting raised eyebrows from everyone.
“How did you know that, Ron?” asked Hermione, with surprise in her voice.
“Dad,” shrugged Ron. “He collects them.”
“What’s it for?” asked Harry.
Seamus looked at Harry, Ron, and Hermione as he answered. “Well, I know you three are always having to dodge reporters and such, so I thought perhaps you’d like to come to a beach party I’m havin’ with my Muggle friends from home. No one’ll know you there.”
Hannah studied her invitation in confusion. “It sounds lovely, but I don’t understand how we’re supposed to get there.”
“That’s where Fergus comes in,” said Seamus.
“Your cousin who Apparates everywhere?” asked Neville. He remembered how much Seamus had been looking forward to paying Fergus back for all the times he’d annoyed the family with his incessant Apparition.
“Thank Merlin he’s past that now,” said Seamus. “You can take a portkey to his house, and then he’ll drive you all out to the beach in his minibus, just like the Muggles do.”
Neville had no idea what a minibus was, but he supposed it was like a Muggle automobile.
Harry turned to Ginny. “What do you think?”
“Sounds like fun!” she said.
“I think so, too,” said Harry to Seamus. “Count us in.”
“Us, too,” said Ron, indicating himself and Hermione. “I love the beach. My brother Bill lives right on the ocean.”
Neville noticed that Hermione looked far less enthusiastic than Ron. He wondered why. Perhaps she didn’t fancy parties, especially after the last one. Neville had never found out precisely why Hermione had screamed, but apparently she’d had too much to drink.
“You have to pretend to be Muggles,” warned Seamus. “No wands.”
“I don’t know how to dress,” said Hannah. Neville was thinking the same thing.
“I’ll help you!” said Dean. “I have three Muggle sisters.”
“Um…. I think you’d better help me, too,” said Neville. “I have no idea how Muggles dress.”
“It’s not that different from wizards…” began Seamus, but Dean cut him off.
“Pay no attention to the man in the funny trousers!”