Harry Potter sighed as he contemplated his bleak future.
He was sitting on his bed in the boy’s dormitory in Gryffindor tower, hugging his legs against his chest and resting his forehead on his knees. He sighed again, lifted his head and looked at his carved, four-poster bed which was hung with rich, red, velvet curtains. He wondered whether he was seeing it for the last time.
Harry was certain that he was going to be expelled from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for engaging in a brief, but highly-unauthorized, wizard’s duel with his nemesis, Draco Malfoy. If he was expelled this year before taking his Ordinary Wizarding Level tests, Harry effectively would be banned forever from using any kind of magic.
He loved his life as a student at Hogwarts. He loved flying on his broomstick. He loved learning to cast spells. And he loved interacting with magical creatures like centaurs, elves and dragons.
Well ... after being much too close to an Hungarian Horntail dragon only a few weeks earlier, Harry thought he might not love interacting with another dragon anytime soon.
Harry hated the thought returning in shame to the house at number 4 Privet Drive to live with his VERY un-magical Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia and their spoiled son, Dudley. The Dursleys vehemently rejected anything “peculiar.” They rejected Harry in particular because his mother, who was Aunt Petunia’s sister, was a witch who went to Hogwarts and married a wizard named James Potter.
That Harry strongly resembled his father, James, only made matters worse. Like his father, Harry was slender, wore round glasses and had dark hair that remained untidy no matter how often he combed it. But Harry’s eyes were the same brilliant green as those of his mother, Lilly.
Harry’s aunt and uncle ... reluctantly ... had taken him into their home in Little Whinging, Surrey when he was an infant. For the next ten years, they had him sleep in a cupboard under the stairs and they ignored him as much as possible.
They never told Harry about his magical heritage. They were determined to “stamp out that dangerous nonsense.”
His aunt and uncle told Harry that his parents died in an auto accident, when in fact, they were killed by the evil wizard Voldemort.
It came as a great surprise to everyone at Privet Drive when, in the summer Harry turned eleven, he received an invitation to enroll in a school that taught real magic. His Uncle Vernon did his best to intercept the fancy parchment envelopes that arrived each day – first one, then twelve, then twenty-four. But when a blizzard of dozens of envelopes flew down the kitchen chimney, Harry’s uncle loaded the family into their very “normal” sedan and fled.
It made no difference. Even their hiding in a dingy hotel in the dingy Midlands town of Cokeworth didn’t prevent hundreds of parchment envelopes from arriving at the hotel’s check-in desk in the morning.
Finally, Uncle Vernon drove them to the sea, where he rented a rundown shack built on a rock offshore. The envelopes didn’t come. Instead something much worse arrived, at least in the minds of the Dursleys.
What arrived was a half-giant, half-human named Hagrid.
Hagrid sorted out the Dursleys. He even cast a spell that grew an actual pig’s tail on Dudley. Then Hagrid took Harry to begin his first year at Hogwarts.
Sitting in his dormitory four years later, Harry decided that getting a job as the caretaker for that leaky, drafty, smelly shack would be a better option than living with the Dursleys.
Harry’s plight began nine days earlier with a rather unremarkable accident in an Herbology class. Harry and Gryffindor fourth year students shared the class with Draco Malfoy and other Slytherin House fourth years.
Professor Sprout was teaching about plants and herbs that were useful in a magical household. The lesson that day was about a plant called amole, commonly known as soaproot.
“You’ve extracted, dried and powdered the juice from the bulb of the amole plant, formally called chlorogalum and commonly known as soaproot,” the short, stout herbology professor reminded the class. “Today you will learn how to use the powder as part of a spell to clean even the worst dirt and stains from fabric like clothing or furniture.”
Professor Sprout was not oblivious to the eyerolls made by many of the students, who wanted to learn magic that did something more exciting than household chores.
“What amole powder, when used in conjunction with a soapstone base, can do is more than simply removing dirt or stains. It can remove magical stains. For example -- Mr. Potter, I believe that your Triwizard Tournament uniform received some soot stains during your first task. Since dragons’ fire is magical, the stains won’t come out using ordinary methods. But they will be removed by using soaproot and soapstone.
“The soaproot powder, when triggered by the magic words, will dissolve all stains -- even stains created magically. The mixture of stain and powder then will adhere to the soapstone instead of forming a cloud that re-adheres to the fabric.
“Neville, will you demonstrate for the class? Put the soapstone slab on the floor and step onto it. Then sprinkle a little of the soaproot powder over your robe. It doesn’t take much. Then hold your wand above your head, angled down, and make a horizontal circle with the tip while saying the magic words, ‘Dissolvi Sordes,’” she explained while demonstrating by making a circle with the tip of her wand around her gray, flyaway hair.
Neville Longbottom was a round-faced boy who was a skilled herbalist. He loved plants. And if the way plants grew under his care was any indication, plants loved him. Extracting chlorogalum juice and straining it had been easy for him, as had been spreading the juice evenly on a tray to dry before grinding it into fine powder.
But interacting with people was something else entirely.
Neville was raised by his grandmother, and before coming to Hogwarts he rarely had socialized with anyone who wasn’t his grandmother’s age. He had almost no experience negotiating the many unwritten rules for interacting with other young people, and he constantly worried about doing or saying something embarrassing. Being singled out in front of an entire class made his anxiety even worse.
Neville took the one-foot-by-one-foot square of soapstone from the shelf under his workbench. He carefully placed it on the floor and stepped onto it.
Next, he took a generous pinch of powder from the pink-and-grey granite mortar that had been a gift from grandmother and, with a shaking hand, sprinkled it about his shoulders. Then he drew his wand from his robe. He sighed with relief when he didn’t drop it and only had to snatch at it once when he felt his grip slipping in his sweaty hand.
He took a deep breath, closed his eyes and made a circle around his shoulders while saying, “Dissolvi...” And then his mind went blank.
Neville felt a tickling sensation across his shoulders that spread down his body. Looking down, he saw his robe and the shirt underneath falling to pieces. He grabbed at the biggest piece, but it crumbled to dust.
Professor Sprout sighed and muttered to herself, “It happens every year.”
Without looking she pointed her wand over her right shoulder and then flicked the tip toward Neville, adding a little hook at the end of the motion. A frilly, green housecoat flew from the cabinet behind her and wrapped itself around Neville’s hips.
Harry’s place on the workbench was next to Neville’s. Growing up in Surrey, the extent of Harry’s knowledge about plants was being able to tell grass from weeds and hedges from trees. Neville was delighted that he could help Harry in Herbology class. In turn, Harry was willing to assist Neville in learning spells and charms.
Harry stepped behind the now-naked boy and spread his robe wide to protect what was left of Neville’s dignity while he donned the garment provided by Professor Sprout.
Professor Sprout began, “Mr. Longbottom...”
“WHITE bottom!” shouted Vincent Crabbe, one of Malfoy’s hulking, ever-present henchmen.
“Mr. Crabbe, unless you want to spend the next month shoveling compost, I suggest you not interrupt again.
“Mr. Longbottom...” she paused to see whether Crabbe would challenge her. Instead, the boy dropped his eyes to avoid her glare. “Return to your dormitory and put some clothes on. You may return the robe next class.”
Neville left quickly, desperately hoping that he would reach the Gryffindor dormitory before the class period ended and the corridors filled with students.
As the sound of his bare feet slapping the stone floor faded, Professor Sprout addressed the class.
“The rest of you, I hope this will serve as a lesson. If you misspeak a spell, the consequences can be disastrous. Fortunately in this case, it only caused a little embarrassment.”
“VERY little,” Malfoy said quietly, causing Crabbe and Vincent Goyle, Draco’s other shadow, to snicker.
“Do you have something useful to contribute, Mr. Malfoy?” Professor Sprout asked the pale boy with the pointed chin and the light blonde hair combed straight back from the widow’s peak on his forehead.
“No, Professor,” Malfoy sullenly replied.
“I thought not. As I was saying, the consequences of a misspoken spell can be catastrophic. That is why we emphasize precision and repetition.
“Now, everyone, place your soapstones on the floor.”
Draco Malfoy stomped toward his Charms class, followed by his two very large companions, Crabbe and Goyle. He was incensed at being called out by a woman he considered little more than a gardener. But as usual, his anger soon was redirected toward his enemy, Harry Potter -- if for no other reason than that Harry had witnessed him being embarrassed.
Draco considered Potter a nobody whose parents were nobodies. They had fallen before the Dark Lord as had so many others – like stalks of wheat before a scythe. In Draco’s mind, Harry was famous in the wizarding world for no other reason than that a spell aimed at him had misfired.
Draco’s own family was one of the “Sacred Twenty-Eight,” the oldest of the pure-blood wizarding families. The Malfoys had arrived in England with William the Conqueror.
And yet somehow, Potter always managed to end up on top.
Harry had managed to thwart the Dark Lord’s efforts to obtain the Philosopher’s Stone in his first year at Hogwarts. In his second year, Potter had tricked Draco’s father into freeing a family house elf and had made himself a hero by somehow killing a deadly basilisk. In his third year, Potter had helped the blood-traitor Sirius Black to escape from Dementors and had saved the hippogriff that Draco claimed had nearly killed him.
And this year, Potter cheated somehow to get his name entered in the Triwizard’s Tournament. But instead of being punished, Potter was rewarded by being allowed to participate.
Draco was determined to get some kind of revenge. Unfortunately, his attempts to get his own back on Harry usually backfired.
Draco had considered getting revenge through one of Potter’s friends -- someone like Ron Weasley. But even though the Weasley family was dirt-poor and were unremarkable wizards, there were an awful lot of them to contend with. And while Draco still was furious over being punched in the face the previous year by that mudblood Hermione Granger, she was very clever and he didn’t like his chances in a magical head-to-head with her.
Draco’s ruminations were interrupted by Goyle repeating, “white bottom,” with a nasty chuckle.
That was enough to give Draco an idea how to hurt Potter while he remained out of sight ... and out of the way of potential retribution.
Nine days later Harry was walking across the Cobblestone Courtyard following his History of Magic class. He was heading to the Great Hall for lunch. Luna Lovegood and Ginny Weasley, the younger sister of his best friend Ron, crossed the courtyard in front of him. Harry smiled and waved at the third year girls.
A moment later he heard a girl scream off to his left. Harry could tell the scream wasn’t from schoolgirl hijinks. It was a cry of distress.
He turned and saw Ginny grasping at her clothes as they crumbled through her fingers. Luna was next to her, stamping her foot and waving her arms in frustration over not knowing how to help. As the last of her clothing became dust, Ginny held her left arm across her young breasts and had her right hand hiding what was between her legs.
Ginny looked up and her eyes met Harry’s. Her expression of shock and embarrassment changed to ... serenity. For a second she dropped her arms to her sides, inviting him to look.
She was the first naked girl Harry had ever seen. He didn’t count the Page 3 girls. And goodness knows he never had a desire to see his Aunt Petunia or Aunt Marge less than completely covered.
Ginny’s skin was perfect – fair and unblemished and seeming to glow with youth and vitality. Harry’s eyes focused first on her small, conical breasts topped with tiny pink nipples that were almost too pale to see. His eyes travelled down to her flat stomach with its deep belly button, and further down to her lean, shapely legs that offered hints of the muscles below the surface that developed while keeping up in games with her six older brothers. Then his gaze moved back up to where her legs met and to the tuft of coppery hair shining in the November sunlight.
A hint of movement past Ginny’s right shoulder broke the non-magical spell. (Or perhaps, it was a spell woven from the oldest and most powerful magic of all.)
Harry saw Draco Malfoy, wand in hand, peeking around a column in the colonnade that surrounded the courtyard.
In a flash of insight, Harry remembered Neville’s accident in Herbology – one that Harry knew Malfoy had witnessed. Harry was positive that somehow the Slytherin was responsible for Ginny’s humiliation.
“MALFOOOY!” Harry screamed as he drew his wand.
Harry was furious and he was outraged by what Malfoy had done to the young girl. Harry always used the Expelliarmus disarming spell in confrontations. This time, though, he wanted to hurt his opponent.
“Stupefy!” he cried the word for the stunning spell as he pointed his wand at Malfoy. Simultaneously, Malfoy pointed his wand at Harry and mouthed a spell that Harry couldn’t hear.
Their spells collided. Harry was surrounded by a bright, golden light and was thrown backwards. He hit the ground hard and descended into blackness.
Harry recognized the sunny hospital wing when he woke, even before reached for his glasses and put them on. It seemed he ended up there at least once every year.
“Ah. Awake, I see,” said Madam Pomfrey, the hospital matron.
“How long was I asleep?” Harry asked.
“Less than two hours. You already were starting to come around when you were brought here. I used a simple sleep charm to make it easier to examine you.”
“Was anyone hurt?”
“Mr. Malfoy was rendered unconscious, just like you, but he was otherwise uninjured. One student had a broken arm. A few others had bruises or skinned knees. Fortunately, there was nothing serious. You’re the last person to be released.
“There IS a reason unsupervised duels are against the rules,” she scolded.
“I know, Madam Pomfrey, but when I saw what he did to Ginny ... I had to do something.”
“For what it’s worth, I don’t blame you for what you did. It was an outrageous violation of her person. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences,” she said with a sad smile and a friendly pat on his shoulder.
“Now that you’re awake, Professor McGonagall wants you to go directly to your dormitory and wait to be summoned.”
“Yes, Ma’am. And thanks for taking care of me ... again,” Harry said with a smile.
Harry wasn’t expecting visitors to his dormitory room. So he was surprised when Ron Weasley’s twin brothers, Fred and George, strolled in like it was own their room. They were two years older than Harry and Ron, and they were Harry’s teammates on the Gryffindor quidditch team.
Like every member of the Weasley family, they had red hair.
“How’re you holding up, Harry?” the twin who entered first asked.
“Alright, I guess,” Harry replied despondently. “Thanks for asking, Fred.”
“I’m not Fred, I’m George.” the tall sixth year student replied.
“Only joking, I’m Fred. He’s George.”
George stepped forward and was unusually serious. “Look, we know you’re worried. And what’ll happen to you won’t be a doddle. In fact, it’ll be bloody awful. But we survived it.”
“Twice,” Fred interjected with pride.
“So I’m not to be expelled?” Harry asked.
“That probably will be one option,” answered George. “But the other option is better. We can’t talk about it. I mean that – we CAN’T talk about it. And you won’t like it at all. But once done, it’s over with and forgotten.”
“Not forgotten,” corrected Fred. “Especially if you end up in front of old McGonagall a second time.”
“Anyway,” George continued, “we wanted to pop in and tell you to keep your chin up. Oh, and to tell you thanks for defending Ginny. We Weasleys owe you.”
It was approaching dinner time when Dennis Creevey, a first year student, knocked on the doorframe to Harry’s dormitory room.
“Harry, Professor McGonagall is down in the common room waiting for you,” he announced. “She looks more ... annoyed than she usually does,” he added.
Harry sighed, put on his shoes and walked down the spiral stairway to learn his fate.
Professor McGonagall’s expression was, indeed, more stern than usual.
“Follow me to my office,” she ordered before abruptly turning to leave without looking to see whether Harry followed.
Harry didn’t try to engage the Deputy Headmistress in conversation. He decided it was better to avoid saying something that might make her even more angry.
As they walked down corridors, down stairways, through passageways and across walkways, Harry found himself noticing how Professor McGonagall’s ubiquitous emerald green gown swirled around her tall, slender frame. She always carried herself with her head high and her shoulders back. Harry realized that he’d never seen her slouch.
Finally, after a long climb up a spiral stairway, they arrived at Professor McGonagall’s office on the fourth floor of the tower.
“Stand there, say nothing and wait for the others,” she instructed, while pointing to a spot in front of her desk. She then seated herself behind the desk, picked up a piece of parchment and appeared to ignore him.
Harry stood as he was told to do and looked out the window behind McGonagall. He couldn’t see a clock, but he guessed five minutes passed before he heard the heavy wooden door behind him open. Professor Snape entered followed by Draco Malfoy.
“Stand in front of the desk and remain silent,” Snape ordered Malfoy while pointing to a spot on the floor to Harry’s right. The Potions master then moved to stand behind the desk to the left of McGonagall.
Snape, as always, was dressed entirely in black. His long, black hair framed his pallid face. Below his large, hooked nose Snape’s mouth was set in a sneer. That seemed to be his usual expression when Harry was present.
Professor McGonagall stared at the two boys, looking like she had sucked on a lemon. Harry counted twenty beats of his pounding heart before she spoke.
“I am here in a dual role. As Deputy Headmistress I am in charge of discipline at Hogwarts. But I also am head of Gryffindor House, so I am here to ensure Mr. Potter is treated fairly. Professor Snape is here as head of Slytherin House to ensure the same for Mr. Malfoy.
“The rules at Hogwarts were put in place when the school was founded ten centuries ago. They have evolved somewhat over time, but their purpose remains the same -- to keep students like you safe, even if it is in spite of yourselves.
“You both are fourth year students, so I shouldn’t have to remind you of this fact. But apparently, I must. Magic is dangerous.
“When your two spells impacted against each other, the force released knocked a dozen students off their feet. If one of those students had landed wrong they could have broken their neck. If one of them had struck their head on a bench or a pediment they could have fractured their skull.
“Then Hogwarts would have a new ghost and the two of you would be on your way to Azkaban Prison.”
“I didn’t do anything!” Malfoy exclaimed. “He attacked me for no reason.”
“D’you think I’m STUPID, boy?” Snape shouted. “It took but two minutes to convince Goyle and Crabbe to tell me how you three practiced chivvying Miss Weasley onto the soapstone that you’d substituted for a paving stone and how Miss Parkinson sprinkled the chlorogalum powder onto Miss Weasley’s clothing.”
Harry was as surprised as Malfoy. Snape almost never raised his voice. Even when he was angry, Snape’s speech was low and deliberate. He demonstrated his displeasure through snide comments and condescension. The more angry Snape was, the more precisely he enunciated his words.
“Contrary to what most believe,” Professor McGonagall continued, as if Malfoy’s interruption had not occurred, “physical punishment is NOT forbidden at Hogwarts. It is extremely rare, and is used only in instances where the transgressor’s actions could have caused them to end up in Azkaban.
“Both of you are to be caned. You’ll receive twelve of the best. The alternative is immediate expulsion. Mr. Malfoy, you also used magic to sexually violate Miss Weasley. Had you laid even a fingertip on her after using magic to expose her, you would be on your way Azkaban with no chance for appeal. Since you didn’t touch her, you will receive additional punishment here, today.”
She sighed and said quietly to Snape, “I think we need to consider giving the lecture on sexual improprieties to second years ... perhaps even first years. Youth in the muggle world seem to be inundated with sexual information.”
“My father would never allow me to be beaten like a mudblood,” Draco declared. “And he’ll stop any attempt to expel me.”
“As a courtesy,” McGonagall said calmly, ignoring his impudence, “as soon as I learned the facts of the incident I sent an owl to your father describing what happened and informing him of the punishment planned for you. I summoned you as soon as I received his reply.”
She opened a drawer and took out a red envelope. She held it out to Malfoy, who looked startled and hesitated before accepting it.
At first Harry thought the envelope contained a Howler, a magical letter that delivered sender’s message in the sender’s voice – very, very loudly.
Harry first saw a Howler two years earlier. Ron and Harry had missed the only train to Hogwarts, so Ron had “borrowed” his father’s magical, flying car to get them there. Ron’s mother sent Ron the Howler to express her displeasure.
The Howler arrived during breakfast. When Ron opened the envelope, the Howler repeated his mother’s scolding -- loudly enough to rattle the plates and silverware in the Great Hall, to Ron’s great embarrassment. After the Howler finished the message it shredded itself into tiny pieces.
This envelope, though, wasn’t bright scarlet like Ron’s Howler. It was a deep, blood red.
Harry realized the envelope contained something that people whispered about but few ever saw – a Growler. Rumours suggested that Lord Voldemort had sent them to threaten wizards and witches into joining him during his rise to power.
With trembling hands, Malfoy opened the envelope.
“Draco, you have failed and you have embarrassed your family,” the letter hissed in a harsh whisper that Harry recognized as the voice of Draco’s father, Lucius Malfoy.
“Your planning was pathetically inadequate, your execution was childishly sloppy and your objective was foolishly misguided.
“Failure brings consequences. If you do not accept those consequences and choose to be expelled, I will disinherit you, I renounce you as my son, and I will leave you to live the rest of your life amongst the muggles.
The edges of the letter began turning black as soon as Draco opened the envelope. By the time last line in the letter was delivered, nearly half of it was glowing orange.
“Ow!” Malfoy cried and dropped the letter to the floor, where it turned to blackened ash. He shook his painful, reddened fingers.
For a brief moment, Harry felt sorry for Draco. He knew well how it felt to have no support from family. But that moment of sympathy passed quickly when Harry remembered how Malfoy had humiliated Ginny.
“Anything further to say, Mr. Malfoy?” Professor McGonagall asked.
“No, Professor,” mumbled Malfoy while looking at the floor.
“Very well, then,” she said as she rose from behind her desk. “Let’s get this over with.”
The Deputy Headmistress moved past Snape and faced the blank stone wall. She produced her wand and tapped a block level with her head, tapped another two rows down and tapped a third two rows below the second.
Accompanied by the sound of stone grinding against stone, two portions of the wall slowly swung outwards like swinging doors. They divided along a line defined by the three stones McGonagall touched. A thick, rough-hewn, wooden door bound by iron straps was revealed behind the wall.
Professor McGonagall grasped the heavy iron ring on the left side of the door, turned it clockwise and then pushed the door inwards. Harry could see that beyond the doorway there was a room that was at least ten paces deep. He glanced back at the window, which was only a few feet from the wall’s hidden opening. Looking out the window, he saw nothing but sky where the hidden room should be.
“Right,” declared the Deputy Headmistress while standing in the doorway, “Malfoy, Potter -- inside.”
Harry followed Draco into the room with Snape bringing up the rear. As soon as Harry crossed the threshold he felt cool, damp air -- as if the room was deep underground. The room was all stone, with blocks making up the walls and with smoother paving stones for the floor. Even the ceiling was stone, forming an arch that Hermione once told him was called a “barrel vault.”
A plain, wooden cupboard as tall as Snape stood against the left-hand wall. A leather-covered vaulting horse was in the far-right corner and next to it stood a straight-backed, armless wooden chair with an embroidered cushion on the seat.
Standing two paces away from the far wall were a pair of rectangular wood frames standing upright on trestle bases. They were tall enough and wide enough that they could have been door frames, were it not for the horizontal bars covered in leather that spanned the middles of each. The dark-stained wood that made up the frames was six inches square and was covered with intricate carvings of vines.
“Both of you, step up to one of those frames and place your hands on it above your heads,” Professor McGonagall ordered after pushing the door closed with a solid thump.
Both students turned to look at her. She simply glared and nodded. Reluctantly, they shuffled toward the frames and stopped, Harry on the left and Malfoy on the right. They each reached up and placed their hands on the frames.
“Carpite et Ligarete,” the Deputy Headmistress pronounced.
The decorative carvings began moving. The suddenly-supple vines wrapped themselves several times around the boys’ wrists and ankles. Then the frames bent forward slowly, pivoting just above the horizontal bars. When the frames stopped moving, the boys’ feet were on the floor, their upper bodies were parallel to the floor and the padded, horizontal bars supported them just below their hip bones.
As soon as the frames stopped moving, the vines reverted to solid wood, leaving Harry’s and Draco’s arms and legs immobilized.
“Divesto,” Harry heard McGonagall say next. He felt tickles and breezes travel down his body. Then he simply felt a chill. He looked down and saw he was naked.
“Dissolvi Vestimenta,” McGonagall enunciated.
“Hey!” Malfoy shouted as he felt his clothing turning to dust and falling off him.
Professor McGonagall glanced at the two slender, white bottoms on display. One thing muggles and magical folk living in England had in common, she noted with amusement, was an aversion to exposing their bodies to the sun. Potter’s arms and a few inches of his legs above and below his knees were suntanned. But Malfoy from head to heel was nearly pale enough to be a vampire.
McGonagall noticed something else.
“Mr. Potter, have you been using an enlargement charm?”
“No, Professor. Why do you ask?”
“Oh ... no reason.”
She recalled hearing rumours when James Potter was a student that he was ... gifted. She had no first-hand knowledge, though. She knew that James Potter once had been in the same ignominious position as his son now was. But Minerva McGonagall was not present on that occasion, as she was merely an instructor at the time.
She also noticed a lack of something.
“Mr. Malfoy, have you had an enlargement charm go wrong?”
“No. Why would I do that?”
“Never mind then.”
Meanwhile, Professor Snape had opened the cupboard and taken out two objects. He strode over to stand in front of the two malefactors so they could see what he was holding.
“These are punishment canes, made by a wizard in Singapore. He has been providing them to Hogwarts for almost a century.”
Snape displayed one in each hand, holding them just above their crook handles. Harry could see that they were about three feet long, and as thick as his thumb.
Snape brandished the cane in his right hand. Both boys flinched when they heard the ominous ‘wooosh’ as it cut through the air.
He placed one cane across each boy’s lower back.
“Right then, as I said you both will receive twelve strokes,” the Deputy Headmistress told them.
“Pro Quarta Anni Discipuli, Percutite Duodecim Ictibus Debilitarentur,”
she incanted as she flourished her wand, instructing the enchanted canes to apply 12 strokes with the force appropriate for a fourth year student.
The canes lifted off the boys’ bodies and positioned themselves in the air above the boys’ backsides. In unison, the implements whistled through the air and impacted across the thickest part of the boys’ buttocks with a resounding “Thwack.”
Malfoy let out a high-pitched squeal.
Harry merely grunted. The pain was as severe as anything he’d felt since he broke his arm falling off his broom in a Quidditch match during his second year.
That pain had been different than this. The pain when he broke his arm was a deep, dull ache that sucked the energy from him like a Dementor’s kiss.
The pain from the cane’s strike was a searing, scorching pain that made his body want to break the restraints and flee.
Harry was used to suppressing his reaction to pain. His cousin Dudley was a bully. Dudley was big and fat and not very bright, He liked to compensate for his shortcomings by beating on anyone he could get away with beating on.
Fortunately, Dudley also had a short attention span and he quickly became bored if the person being beaten didn’t react. Years of neglect and abuse from his aunt and uncle had taught Harry how to hide what he was feeling. So Dudley usually shoved the unresponsive Harry away before doing any serious damage and went looking for another victim.
To distract himself from the burning pain across his backside, Harry counted off the seconds between the strokes of the cane. At the count of 30, he heard the ‘Whoosh’ of the second stroke and he quickly exhaled. One trick he’d learned was that he couldn’t yell if he didn’t have air in his lungs.
Harry grunted again as the second stroke landed just below the first. Malfoy shrieked and started wailing, “Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!”
Harry began counting again and took a slow, deep breath, and then another, focusing on how his lungs expanded and how each of his ribs lifted like the handle of a pail. At the count of 25 he slowly exhaled, timing it so his lungs were empty when he felt the sharp impact of the third stroke land just above the first.
“AIEEEEEEEEE!” Malfoy’s scream dissolved into burbling sobbing. He began lurching against the wooden frame, desperately trying to escape.
Harry continued counting while focusing on breathing through his nose and on the lifting and falling of his ribs. But the demands of his racing heart was creating a need for him to breathe more often. He had started to take in a quick breath when the fourth stroke landed, just below the second. An “Ahhhh...” escaped before he clenched his jaw tight.
The fifth and sixth strokes landed, the fifth just above the others and the sixth just below. Harry barely made a sound, as he was able to establish a new rhythm for his breaths.
Malfoy was bawling and wailing, “Please! Stop! No more! Pleeeese!”
Professor McGonagall finally lost patience with him and exclaimed, “Merlin’s beard, Mr. Malfoy, stop that caterwauling! I’ve seen first years take their punishments with more dignity than you!”
The strokes continued, alternately landing above and below the previous blows. Each strike was marked by a scream by Draco, and each of his cries sounded a little more hoarse than the one before. Between the blows, he laid draped across the padded bar, sobbing wretchedly and begging for it to stop.
Tears were sliding down Harry’s cheeks, despite his best effort not to cry. But he continued his struggle to control his breathing and the only sound his empty lungs could make was a soft “uh” or “ah.”
Finally, the twelfth stroke landed, just above the crease where their buttocks met their legs. Harry took deep breaths to relax his tensed muscles while futilely trying to ignore the terrible pain. Draco continued his dolorous blubbering, seemingly oblivious to anything else.
Harry heard a metallic clank as Professor McGonagall opened the door to her office. A few seconds later he heard a soft, feminine gasp, followed by the thump of the door closing.
Harry looked back over his right shoulder and saw Ginny Weasley standing beside McGonagall, holding her hand over her mouth. Her eyes were wide and moving back and forth between the two boys’ battered bottoms.
Malfoy looked over and saw Ginny and yelled in a rasping voice, “What’s SHE doing here?”
Professor McGonagall ignored his outburst and addressed both of the miscreants, and Ginny too.
“As you boys have learned first-hand, Hogwarts uses physical punishment in extreme cases. If physical punishment is required for a student a second time, it is far worse than what you received today. If a student commits a THIRD offense ... they’re considered too hopelessly stupid to teach and are summarily expelled.
“But centuries ago an unintended consequence developed. Some students decided that ‘twelve of the best’ was a price they were willing to pay in exchange for settling a grudge against another student. The result was two separate incidents where students were killed unintentionally and where the students responsible were sent to Azkaban Prison.
“So in the year 1707, it was decided to allow students to believe that the penalty for unauthorized dueling that results in injuries was automatic expulsion. That reduced the number of unauthorized duels dramatically.
“But obviously, the policy couldn’t work if students saw the perpetrators of an unauthorized duel were still here at Hogwarts the next day. So it further was decided that all students would be subjected to a memory-removing charm similar to the one used by the Office of Improper Use of Magic on muggles when they are exposed to magic.
“However, removing a memory is not as simple as removing a book from a library shelf. One complication was that students who witnessed the infraction told other students about it later. That created additional memories of the incident that needed to be removed from the witnesses, and it created memories for other students that needed to be removed. Within a few hours the story would spread through the school until nearly every student had several different memories needing to be removed.
“Ultimately, a Lethe charm was created that eliminated the memories of the entire day of the incident. But that created its own problem because students quickly recognized that an entire day was missing from their memories and they wondered why.
“The Lethe charm used now is blunt on one hand, but extremely delicate on the other. It removes the entire memory of the day in question while adding a manufactured belief that the day occurred. In addition, it implants a gentle compulsion for students to ignore their inability to remember anything specific that happened on the forgotten day.
“The charm will be administered to all students as they pass through the doors from the Great Hall after dinner this evening. Usually the individuals who are punished are exempted from the charm as are, of course, the faculty and staff.
“But there remained a further complication, which is why Miss Weasley is present. Especially traumatic events, such as experiencing a sexual assault, produce such strong emotional responses that the emotions become separate memories that cannot be eliminated. And because those emotional memories are present without a context, they cannot be resolved and they may cause an adverse effect upon the personality of the victim.
“Miss Weasley is here to witness Mr. Malfoy’s punishment for his assault upon her. Thus, the strong emotional memory created by the assault will be resolved by her having witnessed the punishment administered to her attacker -- even if she doesn’t remember what she witnessed.”
“No!” Malfoy shouted. “You can’t allow her to...”