9 November, 1976
Tuesday greeted Hogwarts with the rare gift of an unseasonably warm morning, its thick cloak of dew laden mists having been discarded mere hours ago. Professor Whittington Nott was at heart a restless sort of fellow, and seeing the opportunity, he grasped it by the short hairs and rode it all of the way to hell. After the clock chimed 10, signaling the start to double Defense with the fifth year Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs, he stood to address the class. His tone was electric with enthusiasm. “Right, you lot. We’re going to work on practicals today.” He gestured to the door at the back of the classroom, which opened with a bang. “And we’re going to do it outside!” He proceeded down the aisle, hands rubbing together with glee.
One of the students plucked at the edge of his attention. “Professor?” Ah, that whinge would suggest Miss Flamel, Ravenclaw, likely to get at least an E on the OWLs. “Should we bring our texts?”
Eyes bright with amusement, Professor Nott shook his head to the negative. “Leave them here, Miss Flamel. You’ll learn by doing today!” He reached the door, and his progress was checked there at the sight of his students not having fallen out of their chairs in an effort to get out already. A visual inspection showed that the majority of the fifth years were complying readily, and most of the Hufflepuffs were doing so in good humour. A few of the Ravenclaws, however, were showing overt signs of irritation, one aggressively shoving things into his bag, and there; “Miss Flamel, was there something else? You need an umbrella?” She was rather pasty. Skin the colour of cream, a poet might opine, although the same would be sure to leave out reference to the smattering of acne that dusted her forehead, nose, and chin.
Those snow-white cheeks tinged pink in response, and her mouth opened and closed more than once, silently trying out various responses before the girl finally, under his increasingly more impatient eye, choked out, “But Professor Nott, sir. There was to be a quiz.”
Ah yes, that would rankle his best students. All of that revising for no reward. “Chin up, dear. If the skies start to weep, I’ve no doubt we can all come back up here and put pen to parchment to your heart’s delight,” Whit offered in a conciliatory gesture. It could happen, this being Scotland.
A speculative expression crossed the girl’s face. Nott knew better than to let that one percolate undisturbed. Weather magic was highly unpredictable, and it was the last thing he wanted to deal with this morning. A covert glance confirmed that Janet Flamel was the last student straggling. He grated, “Off you go. Think of it as a pretest.” The student had the sense to get on with it.
Whittington Nott possessed a tall frame that would be best described as lanky, and it was short work for him to leg it down to the courtyard in time to arrive with the first wave of his fifth years. Cordoning off the space in his mind, the Professor situated himself between the students and the Whomping Willow. At five years of age, the thing had already grown to massive proportions, and its reach expanded over ten times since planting. Professor Sprout gushed on about how quickly the monstrous specimen was growing, and proposed that it was due to the effect of Hogwarts’ special magic. Fortunately for everyone, she was speaking during a staff meeting. Professor Dumbledore cut her enraptured diatribe short by steering the topic back to the main point: the expected risk the tree posed to students and ways to pacify it safely.
Bellowing a bit louder than was strictly necessary, Professor Nott grabbed the attention of the children. Leaf Mold and grit were the dominant scents on the gentle breeze in this protected courtyard, tucked under the south-east corner of the castle. “Today we’re going to practise shielding charms.” Groans escaped the throats of more than one student, some of whom had been struggling. In a lower voice, he responded, “None of that now, or Miss Flamel will get her wish and we will all march back upstairs for that quiz I had promised. I could make it extra long, if you like?” The worst offender, a Muggle-born Hufflepuff who struggled academically more than his peers, shook his head vigorously. “No, sir, thank you, sir.” The boy’s long hair fell into his face at the motion, hiding his dismay.
Successfully fighting the urge to embarrass the lad further by mentioning aloud his dire need for a haircut, Nott continued as if he hadn’t been interrupted. “Divide yourselves into pairs and face off at five paces.”
“Stay clear of the Willow. I’ll manage it, but it is just as well to maintain a healthy distance.” Luckily, this particular class was evenly numbered.
Seeing everyone take up their positions, the Professor took out a galleon, and with a practiced motion he flipped it high into the air, catching it on the back of his left hand, using his right to prevent it from bouncing. “Heads. Right, that’s the wall side defending first.” They had learned Protego weeks before, but practise was a good thing on a fine morning like this. He would have as hard a time as any student keeping his mind on things in this weather. “Grounds students, you lot will use a minor hex of your choice. Be polite, as your partners will have their turns soon enough. Three rounds, then switch roles.” Recapturing the galleon in his right hand, he raised his wand with his left, and let off a blue spark. “Begin!”
The students practised something like this before, so there weren’t any non-participatory pairs. Professor Nott turned and cast a quiet Immobilus charm on the Willow. The safety knob had not kept apace with the growth of the rest of the tree for some reason, and was rather difficult to hit with surety. The tree had been rather placid, so the visual effect was subtle. Rude language erupted from one of the Ravenclaw boys, bringing Nott’s attention back to the class. Rosencrantz stood by the wall, rubbing at his side and glaring at his partner, Flamel herself. To add insult to injury, the silly chit went on to show him exactly what he had done wrong. Professor Nott stayed out of it, watching the other six pairs practising, occasionally calling out suggestions or encouragement.
When left idle, Whit’s hands tended to entertain themselves. The coin, which was old and starting to rub smooth under his fingers, begged to be flipped. Another ringing sound accompanied the gold coin as it descended, and then was flipped again in quick succession. Heads. Heads. Again. Heads. Once more. Heads. Holding the coin up for inspection (yes, there was Merlin on one side, a dragon on t’other,) Professor Nott cast a suspicious glare at the nearby students. None of them appeared to be doing any more than they ought. Another toss, heads again.
He pulled his wand back out, and this time, with his right hand, he cast a quick detect magic spell. The coin was, in fact, as mundane as a wizarding coin could be. He peered more closely at the Willow, the only solid thing that seemed to glow under the light of the detection spell. Now he was just fascinated. Approaching cautiously, he flipped his coin again. Heads. Again. Heads. That’s eight times, a one in 128 probability. After checking on the violent tree to assure it was still quieted, he casually moved to the opposite side of the courtyard.
Recalling what he was supposed to be doing, he looked over the students’ progress, giving out suggestions on defensive stances. Having exercised his duty as a teacher, Professor Nott took out the coin again and flipped it three times in rapid succession. Tails. Tails. Heads. Frowning deeply, he ambled back to the Willow again. The coin was flipped five times in dizzying rapid succession, and now he was calling out the results aloud. “Heads, heads, heads, heads... heads.” He placed his right hand back over the coin on his now smarting left hand, as if concerned that the coin would turn into a sparrow and fly away. “How very odd.”
Sensing movement from the Willow over his shoulder, the Professor pocketed the coin and recast the Immobilus. Something about this situation set off his instincts. Probing that feeling deeper, he discovered that it was the scope of strange, not the overt immediate danger to one’s person that was setting him off. Whatever was doing this had to be powerful. Tapping a finger on his lips in thought, his eyes lit up in inspiration. Now what exactly had that Professor Sprout done to get her prize tree so large so quickly? Having a theory seemed to assuage his nerves a great deal. He strolled closer to the Willow, looking for something that could explain it. A dropped luck charm, or perhaps a discarded set of highly illegal trick dice?
He pulled out his pocket watch to check the time. Ah, yes. He muttered under his breath aloud, “Bell’s about to ring.” Professor Nott cleared his throat with the intention of gathering the class, but this action was arrested after something about the timepiece grabbed his attention with the strength of sticky fly paper, and would not let go. Holding the watch close to his face, a repeat inspection revealed that the second hand was moving in fits and starts. Obeying his instincts, he moved away from the Willow, eyes fixed on the watchface. The motion of time smoothed out once he was almost upon the line of students. Surreptitiously, he glanced over his shoulder before tucking the watch back into its pocket at his waist.
“Right, that’s all for today. Anyone who didn’t get hexed shall take that and pride in a job well done as their real-world reward. Don’t forget to complete your reading on hinkypunks, and to write eight inches on what you feel we need to know about them.” He favoured the class swot, Miss Flamel, with a stern look before adding, “Anything over twelve inches will lose credit, as you also will if I have to use an engorgement charm to be able to read tiny print.” He lifted his gaze to include the rest of the class. “You’ve been warned.” He didn’t like grading essays, so this was self-preservation.
Gesturing to the doors leading back inside, he intoned a dismissal, “Finite ordo.” This wasn’t really a spell, just a chuckle for him to break up the day. An inside joke, if you will. Miss Flamel caught the words, and was working through them as she followed her classmates. Whit smirked to himself, very sure that she’d be looking in the library before long.
Having seen the students back to the classroom and subsequently on their way, Professor Nott was free to make his way to the Great Hall for lunch. He needed to have an urgent conversation with the Headmaster.