Changeling in Exile or, Being Human is Awful, and Hogwarts is Worse

Chapter 20

In which Druella attempts to teach children, Druella and Tom incidentally terrify one of Dru's classmates while attempting to help her,
and Tom volunteers to do any teaching Dru is unexpectedly enlisted to do ever again.

"Alright," Professor Marshall said with an excited grin. "That brings us to the part of the lesson I for one have been eagerly awaiting — the part where I finally shut up for a bit and we actually get to learn a fun, exciting new spell! By which I of course mean you get to learn a new spell, and I must resign myself to being jinxed in the cause of furthering your education. It is, however, a sacrifice I am willing to make, because this jinx really is a good one — terribly useful for a young witch or wizard in any number of potentially dangerous situations, and also any number of situations which could potentially be made more comical by—" His fingers twitched open, the wand held loosely at his hip clattering to the floor before he could retrieve it with a wandless charm. He cut himself off with an offended, "Excuse me, Miss Rosier! Cursed good comedic timing or not, it is terribly rude to hex someone when they're not expecting it! I am absolutely shocked by this behaviour! Impressed, but terribly shocked, I say!"

"Do people often wait until one is expecting it to hex one, with schoolyard jinxes or otherwise?" Dru asked, fighting to keep her voice even in the face of his false offence. (She hadn't been able to resist.) Most of her classmates didn't try, giggling behind her.

He shrugged, dropping the act. "Generally, no. Two points to Ravenclaw. Now get up here and explain to everyone else how you just did that."

"Very well," Dru said, taking his place at the front of the room, and a deep breath as he dropped into the chair behind his own desk.

She had managed to teach Tom the Trigger-Drop Jinx, without cheating and letting him eavesdrop on her doing it, or using his magic to do it a couple of times. It had taken nearly forty-five minutes for him to get it the first time (watching him try and repeatedly fail to get it right, when she could just reach out and show him had been absolutely excruciating, she'd hated every second of it), and another quarter of an hour to sharpen his casting of it to an acceptable level — with little enough bleed-off that it still retained enough "momentum" to break through her occlumency and actually have an effect.

And she knew that an hour was phenomenally quickly for a normal person to pick up a spell. Even if she hadn't had two and a half weeks of lessons in which to observe her own classmates now, she would be able to look through Tom's memories of his own first year and see that it took most of his classmates six to eight hours just to reach the breakthrough point and get the spell off the first time, and weeks to cast a spell effectively.

She did, however, think that it would go more quickly if they had a better idea of what, exactly, they were trying to accomplish.

"Any time, now, Dru!" Cosette sniggered.

"Please hold your comments until the end of the lecture, Miss Laurent," Dru said primly, doing her best Professor MacLaine impression. "Today we will be discussing the Trigger-Drop Jinx, which is, as Professor Marshall said, a very useful defensive spell. It is, as you saw, a Disarming Charm. Compared to the Simple Disarming Charm, its advantages include that the incantation is quicker to recite, three syllables rather than five, and it can be half-cast and held indefinitely, allowing one to prepare it ahead of time if one suspects that one is entering a dangerous situation, and cast it nearly instantaneously at need. Its drawbacks include that one can only take one's enemies by surprise once, one cannot cast another spell while holding the Trigger-Drop Jinx, and the spell causes the object in hand to simply drop, which provides a much shorter window of opportunity to exploit their disarmament, as compared to a Disarming Charm which throws or yanks the weapon away from the target.

"Unlike most other Disarming Charms, the Trigger-Drop Jinx is technically a compulsion..."

Her presentation went well for the first ten minutes or so, outlining the spell's purpose and the mechanisms by which it operated. When she began discussing the arithmancy of the suspension element, however, Larry Prince interrupted. "Do we really need to know all this? Can't you just tell us the incantation and show us the wand movement?"

"I don't know, I'm not sure she can cast the spell at all. Maybe she's just planning on talking at us until the end of the period so she doesn't have to demonstrate," Enid suggested, displaying her idiocy for the class as a whole.

It was actually Betty, of all people, who pointed out, "She already did it once, Enid..."

"Did she though?" Cosette asked, giving her a nasty smirk. "I didn't hear her say an incantation, and the spell path is conveniently invisible. How do we know Little Miss Teacher's Pet didn't ask the professor to drop his wand just then?"

"I assure you, Miss Laurent, I did not conspire to simply drop my wand. Obviously Miss Rosier cast the spell silently in order to take me by surprise."

"I'm sure she did, Sir," Dru's least-favourite cousin said, infuriatingly sarcastically.

Alright, that was it! It was one thing for her to harass Dru and call Dru a liar, but now she was smugly implying that Professor Marshall was lying?! Dru conjured a fishbowl on her desk, condensing water into it with a silent Aguamenti. (She wouldn't, after all, want to seriously hurt Fish-Cosette by forcing her to breathe and thereby assimilate alchemical elements from conjured, impermanent water.) "One more word, Cosette! If you say one more word implying that I am somehow attempting to trick you, or that Professor Marshall is lying on my behalf, I promise you, I will transfigure you into a fish."

She opened her mouth to say something, but Professor Marshall silenced her before she could get a word out. (Fortunate, given that Dru didn't really want to transfigure Cosette.) He cleared his throat. "Unfortunately, I cannot condone the transfiguration of students in my classroom, Miss Laurent. Therefore, I'm afraid you'll have to remain silenced for the remainder of the lesson, for your own safety. Miss Rosier, please—"

"You can't do that!" Enid objected. "Just– Just curse a student in the middle of a lesson!"

"I can if it's a matter of maintaining student safety. Sit down, Miss Laurent, and stop attempting to make a scene."

"That violent little freak is the one who threatened to turn Cosette into a fish! Why aren't you punishing her?!" Enid demanded, now also on her feet.

"Obviously, Miss Hansen, silencing Miss Rosier would not prevent her from transfiguring Miss Laurent into a fish. Nor would she be able to finish her presentation." Well, Dru could probably use sound-illusions to make a passable imitation of her own voice, actually, but that clearly wasn't the point, here.

Cosette did not, in fact, sit down. She picked up her bag and turned on her heel, clearly intending to walk out, with tears of frustration in her eyes, then, equally clearly, decided that since she couldn't scream at Dru, she needed to do something equally petulant first. She turned back and batted the fishbowl off the table, shattered glass and water splashing everywhere, but mostly at Dru — her table was the first in its row, so shoving the bowl off the front of it at least avoided anyone being hurt by the glass, though it did result in Dru's robes getting a bit wet around the hem.

She vanished the shattered bowl and dried the water with a quick charm, raising it into a fog which dissipated before Dru could say, "Petty, Cosette."

"Please remove yourself from my classroom, Miss Laurent," Professor Marshall said calmly. He waited until both she and Enid had stormed out to add, "Miss Rosier, please continue."

She tried, she really did, but she'd entirely lost her momentum. After a few awkward moments trying to pick up where she'd left off, she capitulated with a sigh. "The incantation is cadarma, and the wand movement is a jab with a medial twist, like this." She demonstrated. "It's arithmantically neutral, which means there is no inherent polarization, which means it can be cast with any polarisation. This is advantageous because none of us have come into our power; casting it polarised should make it a little easier to initialise than it otherwise would be." Technically, polarising a neutral spell wasn't correct, doing so made it a slightly different spell, arithmantically speaking, but it was effective, and occasionally made it significantly easier to cast an effect which would otherwise be outside of one's channelling capacity. Dru didn't really need to anymore, and obviously she would personally prefer to cast any given spell properly, but it would help them, if their casting really was as sloppy as Professor Marshall claimed. "When you reach to channel the magic, I recommend seeking chaotic energy to reinforce the impulse, or dominating energy because it's a compulsion."

"What does that mean, exactly? How do you seek chaotic energy, or whatever, I mean." Douglas asked, which was...odd? They'd spent most of the past two weeks working on simple magic-sensing exercises in Charms.

And Dru found, when she went to explain, that she simply had no idea how to express such a simple concept. It was like singing a particular note, she just did it. "You...just do?"

Professor Marshall chuckled, which probably meant this was something normal humans definitely didn't just do. (Of course.) "Have a seat, Miss Rosier. I'll take this one." She did, with a certain degree of relief. "I believe Professor MacLaine has been teaching you all to sense the light-dark polarisation of your own magic — also called hot-cold, fire-ice, day-night, or sun-moon polarisation, any of which is preferable to light-dark, because the last thing English needs is another sense of dark to conflate with those we've been discussing in this class. This is called tone polarisation, and it is affected by several factors, including the tone of one's mother's magic and whether one habitually practises hot or cold polarised magic. Spells can be designed to be cast with specifically hot or cold magic, and your own magic can be naturally hot or naturally cold, though most mages are not strongly polarised one way or the other. This is commonly referred to as the register of your magic.

"It is, however, only the primary component of your magical register. There is an analogous, multipolar system which is used to describe the intended effect of spells and what we call the character of one's magic, which is influenced by one's personality, and a third component called the mood of one's magic, which depends on the emotions of the caster.

"Miss Rosier was referring to a practice called character-matching, which is one of several ways to make your casting tighter and smoother, allowing a mage with a lower channelling capacity to achieve effects which might otherwise be outside of their ability. It is an undeniably useful technique, especially for young mages who have not yet come into their power, though perhaps somewhat advanced for the third week of lessons, especially if you've just started developing your awareness of your own magic and its register.

"In brief, when you draw ambient magic to channel and shape, you do so by 'calling' or 'drawing' like-to-like, the energy of your own magic attracting energy of a similar tone and/or character." Dru refrained from making a face at what was a very technically inaccurate explanation of channelling magic, albeit one more consistent with the way Professor MacLaine had (overly) simplified basic magical theory for the other first-years. "Generally speaking, you will find it far easier to cast spells designed to be cast in a tone similar to that of your own magic. Hot-polarised wizards find it much easier to channel hot magic and cast hot spells, while cold magic is more difficult for them to reach, and vice versa. There is a degree of resistance channelling outside of your natural register which results in a much higher initialisation threshold for such spells, and potentially discomfort, depending on the degree of polarisation of your own magic and that of the magic you are drawing, the volume necessary to initialise the spell, et cetera. Character polarisation is similar, but involves more axes — orderly-chaotic, cooperative-independent, constructive-destructive, and so on.

"For example, if Miss Rosier were to cast this particular charm with unpolarised, neutral energy, it would take about two thaums to initialise. If she were to cast it with a dominating twist, she might be able to get that number down to one and a half, because her own magic and the purpose of the spell are both aligned with that pole. If she were to attempt to cast it with a chaotic twist, it would likely require her to channel at least four thaums to initialise because while the intent of the spell is aligned with impulsivity, Miss Rosier's personality and therefore the character of her magic is not, which would result in a certain degree of internal resistance."

That was being somewhat optimistic, Dru thought. She would be hard-pressed to even draw noticeably chaotically shaded energy, much less cast with it, and it would be very uncomfortable for her, like a very light or dark mage channelling the opposite pole.

"In order to draw magic of a certain character, you simply focus on that aspect of your goal as you cast the spell. You may find that it helps to evoke an emotional response in yourself which speaks to the magic you wish to call. In this case, you might focus on fear or anger, and how you want to force an attacker to stop attacking you, or on amusement, and how funny it will be to see your target randomly drop his wand or his coffee or what have you. It is, however, not necessary, and not a skill that you ought to try learning at the same time as a new spell. Besides which, this particular jinx has a low enough initialisation threshold that it should be easily within your abilities without making any special effort to finesse the casting.

"So. Miss Rosier, would you care to demonstrate the spell again? More slowly this time, and with the incantation. And tweak it into visibility if you would, so they can see the holding period before you trigger it."

She hesitated for a moment, considering how she might alter the spell to give it a visible spell-glow. The first thing which came to mind was casting it sloppily, so that it would shed energy as it travelled, but with a secondary envelope-effect to transform the bleed-off to visible light, rather than simply wasting it. It wouldn't really be the same spell anymore with the addition, but she supposed that it would seem the same to the children as long as she used the same incantation and wand-movement. She would have to ask the professor after class how he'd meant for her to do it, because she suspected this wasn't the solution he'd had in mind.

The first time, she cast it slowly, without holding it and continuing to channel more magic into it. The spell-light, white bordering on silver, moved across the room slowly enough that Dru was certain he could have dodged if he'd wanted to. He left his wand in its holster, but stood so the students could see his right hand, which twitched open as expected. He nodded. "Very good. And holding it to demonstrate the trigger?"

The second time, she let the little ball of spell light sit at the end of her wand for several seconds, growing slightly larger and brighter as she channelled more energy into it, before triggering it with the wand movement. It zipped across the room quickly enough that the ball of light became a blurred line in her vision, but apparently not too quickly for Professor Marshall to do...something, she didn't know what, to somehow reflect it back at her. Wandlessly. And without sacrificing its momentum. She barely had time to realise what was happening before her own spell hit her in the face — centre of mass on the much taller professor — and her fingers twitched open. She let out an equally involuntary surprised little yelp.

Professor Marshall, who very obviously thought he was funny, laughed at her along with the rest of the class as she bent, pink-faced, to retrieve her wand. (She had, at least, remembered that wandlessly pulling her wand back to her hand was a bit too advanced to do in front of her classmates.) "You didn't really think you were going to get away clean after hexing me while I was still speaking, did you?"

Well, she probably shouldn't have, but she'd thought he'd thought it was just as funny as the rest of them. Though, truth be told, she was more annoyed with herself for having been caught by surprise, too focussed on casting the spell to pay attention to what was about to happen in any of the potentialities surrounding her, than she was with him for surprising her in the first place. She should work on that...

"Well played, Sir," she said, aiming for a rueful grin.

He jerked his head back toward her seat as a silent dismissal, even as he turned to the rest of the class to say, "Alright, now since this one's pretty self-explanatory — not much call for creative thinking on your feet or looking for ways to use a Disarming Charm in a pinch, that is — and we're almost out of time, anyway, I think I'll just give you the rest of the lesson to play around with it. From here out, we'll try to keep the last twenty minutes or so of Thursday lessons free to play around with the week's Show-and-Tell Spell, as well as those from previous weeks, if you find any of them entertaining enough to practise and master outside of lessons. This, of course, should not be construed as me assigning you to learn offensive spells as homework," he added.

The last few minutes of the period passed without incident, if one didn't count Dru flinching every time one of her classmates failed to cast the spell, as did the first few minutes of the lunch hour. Dru stayed behind to ask about the visibility tweak, as well as to receive any critiques the Professor might have to offer, and ask, just to be clear, when they would officially be taught about spell-polarisation. It hadn't been a discrete topic in Beauxbatons's Charms curriculum — she'd thought that it must just be covered along with basic meditation and magic-sensing.

She'd just been informed that no, it would likely only come up in Proficiency-level courses on spell design (which was stupid, it was far more useful to Level Five students who really needed every trick they could find to polish their casting in order to cast more effects than to proficiency students who could cast the spells correctly and considered matching the character of the magic to the purpose of the spell to be somewhat of a grace note), when an elf popped into the classroom.

"Please be forgiving the interruption," she chirped, in a way which implied that she didn't much care if they did or didn't. "But He of Too Many Hats is wishing to speak to New Professor William now. Rose is being sent to tell him," she explained with a little bow, and then a nod acknowledging Dru's presence. "Miss."

"Too Many Hats is Dumbledore, yes?" The elf nodded. "Did he say why?"

"No..." Rose said, in a very leading tone which Dru could only interpret as I know and I'll tell you if you ask the right question, but I can't just volunteer the information.

"Why do you think Professor Dumbledore wants to talk to Professor Marshall?"

The elf's face split into a wide grin. "It is not an elf's place to question her Master's reasons, but crying Miss Fish and angry New Mean Miss was speaking to He of Too Many Hats about Miss and New Professor William, so Rose is thinking that He of Too Many Hats is wanting to speak to New Professor William and Snake House Head and Bird House Head about Miss and Miss Fish, and how New Professor William is not letting Miss turn Miss Fish into fish Fish."

Oh, curses! "I'm sorry!" she said immediately. "I didn't think you would get in trouble because of me..." And now Dumbledore probably knew about Show and Tell, too... Bother. She shouldn't have said anything, she should have just ignored Cosette and let her be a smug little brat—

Professor Marshall, however, did not seem to be concerned in the slightest. "I'm not in trouble, Miss Rosier. Neither will you be, don't worry about it. Though it will be helpful, Rose, if you alert the Headmaster to the fact that this meeting is taking place. In Dumbledore's office?"

Rose nodded. "Yes. And Headmaster is already knowing. We elves is keeping eyes on He of Too Many Hats, because He of Too Many Hats is wanting to be rid of Miss, but Castle is needing Miss to stay."

"Ah, I see," Professor Marshall said sagely, though Dru didn't think he had any idea about her project to fix the Castle.

"That's...very kind of you." After a moment, she gave in to her curiosity, adding, "Do I have a sobriquet?"

The elf shrugged. "Miss is being called by many names, but we is all knowing who is meant. Rose is going, now," she said, bowing and popping away without giving them a chance to say farewell.

Professor Marshall gestured toward the door. "We will have to continue this conversation at a later date. It seems I have a meeting to attend..."

Dru was so preoccupied with her concern for Professor Marshall — his hasty assurances aside, she wasn't certain that he wasn't in trouble, and if he was, it would be her fault — and wondering what the elves were calling her that she entirely failed to notice that she was being followed until she reached the Library, and Tom noted, You've picked up a shadow. It seems Miss Carson would like to speak to you.

It did indeed. She was hovering hesitantly at the end of the row, slightly beyond Tom's range, but her indecisive shifting as though to walk toward them, but then, no, perhaps just to walk away, the way she was picking at one of her cuticles with the fingers of her opposite hand and worrying her lip, eyes fixed on Dru, made it fairly clear.

Dru sighed, turning back to face the girl, who froze as soon as she realised she'd been spotted. "What is it, Miss Carson?"

"It's, um. You can call me Betty, you know. Everyone does..."

"Druella. Well met. This is Tom Riddle, second-year Slytherin" she added, tipping her head toward him. "Tom, Betty Carson, a Hufflepuff in my section."

"Oh! Um. Hello. I was just— That is, could I speak to you for a few minutes?"

"I suppose."

Her eyes darted nervously to Tom, still sitting at their table. "Er. In private?"

"Not really, no."

Tom snorted at Betty's crestfallen expression, standing to meander closer to the two of them. "What Dru means is, whatever you want to say to her, you can say in front of me. Come, sit," he offered.

What Dru had meant was, even if she spoke to Betty alone, Tom would immediately find out about the conversation as soon as they regained each other's company, but she supposed that was a less odd way to put it. When the muggleborn girl continued to hesitate, she added, "I have no secrets from Tom. You can speak to us together, or not at all."

Since Tom was now close enough to read her mind, they could tell she thought this was extremely odd, but then, everything about Druella was extremely odd, and she really needed help. After a few more indecisive seconds, she followed them back to the table.

"So?" Dru asked. "What is it?"

As best Tom could tell, it was that she was doing poorly in Charms and very poorly in Transfiguration, and wanted their help learning magic, or at least telling her what she was doing wrong, but if they didn't want people knowing that they were casually legilimising them all the time, they had to ask aloud as well. It was annoyingly redundant, and even more annoyingly slow.

"Um. Well. You're...very good at magic, yes?"

"That might be an understatement," Tom said, "but yes."

I wasn't talking to you! the Hufflepuff snapped at him silently. Aloud she only gave him a look and said, "Well. Um. I'm not."

Based on her performance in the lessons they still shared, "You're not especially bad at it."

Betty did not find this reassuring. "Maybe compared to you, the rest of our section is bad, too, but I'm– I'm just not getting it. And it's just so frustrating! I could do things at home, you know — it rained when I was sad and I can always find things when I'm looking for them and if I want something to happen, it will—" Wishing someone would trip or embarrass themselves, she meant, or that an event would unfold in the way she wanted, not wanting a cup to levitate, or what have you. "—and I know I felt something when I found my wand, or when it chose me, or however you want to say it, but... I am a witch, I swear—" Enid and Cosette, it seemed, had been taunting her about practically being a squib, since they hadn't yet found a way to continue bothering Dru. "—but I have to be doing something wrong!"

Tom smirked. "Well, you see, you're a witch, that's your problem right there."

The muggleborn girl very nearly told him that it wasn't because she was a girl, obviously girls could do magic just fine, but before she could, Dru explained, "Weatherworking and minor clairvoyance and wish-magic are all witchcraft. The wand-magic you've been having trouble with is wizardry."

Tom nodded. "You clearly have a natural talent for witchcraft. I bet you're aces at Potions."

She glowered at him. "No, we've only done one real potion so far, and it was terrible." They'd gone back to the basics after the evaluation potion, preparing ingredients and talking about basic stirring patterns and symbolism in potioneering.

Really? I could've sworn we did more than that by this time last year.

Slughorn's syllabus has us starting three-ingredient potions it takes real talent to brew incorrectly beginning next week. Dru was not looking forward to it, as she strongly suspected that at least a few individuals in her section were possessed of such a talent.

"You were intended to fail that potion. We all were. It shows old Sluggy how much you already know about brewing," Tom explained. "Not your fault no one ever told you what a damn scruple was before, or the difference between dicing and mincing."

"She didn't fail it," Betty pouted, her head tipping toward Dru.

"She cheated."

"I did not cheat!" she snapped, somewhat offended by the suggestion that she would do such a thing.

You look like an angry kitten when you glare at me like that, you know. He tugged her attention to his visual perspective just for a second. (She was quite certain she didn't look any more feline than she normally did...? Somewhat more confused, perhaps, now that he'd thought that...) That pouting? The sour note underlying she? That's resentment. Envy. Directed at you, because you're too good at everything. I'm undercutting that by pointing out that you're not perfect. "You were supposed to follow the directions."

"Well, yes, but compensating for everyone else doing things wrong and affecting the atmosphere in the brewing environment isn't cheating," she said stiffly, feeling herself growing pink. "It's just...deviating from the assignment. Slightly. But yes," she admitted. "The only person in our section who performed the task correctly according to the assignment was Mister Montmorency."

"Fine, but that's not the point. The point is, I'm the only person who still hasn't gotten that stupid needle transfiguration down!"

"So...you want me to teach you how to do it? Do you recall our first lesson, wherein I said that it would be a waste of your time as well as mine for me to attempt to do Professor Dumbledore's job for him?"

"Well, it can't be more of a waste of time than it is for me to go back to Transfiguration tomorrow morning and sit there trying to do this stupid spell while everyone else watches and giggles about how I shouldn't even be here!" Betty snapped, biting her lip to keep it from wobbling and tilting her head back a few degrees in the hope that her frustrated, self-loathing tears wouldn't fall.

Tom, who, fairly immediately after being told that subsuming other people's emotions might be borderline anathema behaviour which would almost certainly get him in trouble if anyone who knew that noticed him doing it, had decided that meant he just shouldn't do it to anyone who would notice or know that, skimmed the feeling from her immediate awareness, savouring the underlying uncertainty and self-doubt, which he experienced as a low-level excitement, putting him slightly on edge, but not in a bad way. More like kicking off on his first broom flight, the ground falling away beneath him, suddenly feeling far less steady.

He giggled, which was probably not an appropriate response to a girl on the verge of tears over her inability to cast a very simple transfiguration spell, which did at least replace her stolen self-doubt with anger at Tom, rather than at her own failures.

"It's not funny! You don't understand what it's like, not knowing anything! Some of us haven't had wands since we were seven, you know! I didn't even know about magic three months ago!"

Tom raised an eyebrow at her ire. "I am muggleborn, you know."

You knew about magic, though. Tom had, in fact, been using mind-magic longer than he could remember, and "not-accidental" magic (which wasn't exactly what Dru would call wandless magic — certainly not the way she did it — but also wasn't exactly wish-magic) since he was five or six. She really didn't think that counted as not knowing about magic, even if he hadn't known about Magical Britain as in, the state and its laws and so on.

I hadn't done proper wizardry, though. He drew his wand to conjure a matchstick, using Dru's conceptualisation of the object as a visualisation reference (because it was far more detailed and clearer than his own), but channelling and shaping the magic himself.

Betty, who had not been aware that Tom was muggleborn, apparently, didn't find it reassuring in the least that another muggleborn could show her up just as effectively as Dru (as far as she could tell), even if he had had an entire year more practice actually using a wand. When he added, "Show me what you've been doing," she flushed and hesitated, as though she thought she would embarrass herself more somehow by actually demonstrating her inability to do the spell, rather than simply telling them that she couldn't manage it.

"I can't tell you what you're doing wrong if I don't know what you're doing," he pointed out, very reasonably, moving somewhat deeper into her consciousness to feel exactly what she was doing.

"...Fine." She cast the spell, or at least...went through the motions of casting the spell, doing the wand motion and saying the incantation. She had the visualisation and the necessary force of will to realise it. She just...didn't channel any magic into it.

Tom snorted. "You know you have to actually channel magic to cast a spell, right?"

"Yes, of course I do! Professor MacLaine has only mentioned that about fifty times!"

"Yeah, okay, but you're not actually doing it."

Dru suspected that Betty's frustration would be nearly palpable even if Tom weren't an empath.

"How am I supposed to do it, then?! No one ever explains, they just say you have to do it, and— Just, how?!"

Dru blinked at her. "No one ever explains because it isn't helpful to do so."

"Well, tell me anyway!" she demanded. Dru wouldn't have been surprised if she had stomped a foot, too, but she managed to restrain herself.

Dru shrugged. "We generally refer to it as reaching out or calling or drawing, like Professor Marshall did earlier, but those terms are somewhat misleading. Technically speaking, you manipulate your aura in such a way as to create a space of low magical density within your anima, inducing ambient magic to flow into your soul. The current understanding of exactly how the anima and the animus are integrated, and how one's metaphysical and physical person are related, is somewhat complicated, and would take literally hours to explain, especially since you have no theory background to speak of. It's not entirely relevant anyway, and more importantly, I think it's wrong, or at least not entirely right. There are holes in it, like all that nonsense about magical cores, which I would have to explain to cover the parts that are mostly right, and I have been informed on multiple occasions that no one wants to hear me talk about magical theory for days on end."

I would listen to you talk about magical theory for days on end, Tom volunteered, which was sweet, but rather a moot point: he didn't need to listen to her talk about it, he could (and did) just explore the basic concepts as she understood them within her mind.

That's very kind of you, Tom. I somehow doubt, however, that Betty shares your interest in pursuing every conversational tangent that happens to cross my mind. "So, skipping over the nature of the magical construct which is one's metaphysical person and how it is generated by and interacts with your physical body and the magic around you because what is life is a surprisingly complicated question, we'll leave it at: you create a flow of excess magic into your person — above and beyond the magical energy which is constantly flowing through you, maintaining and maintained by your life — and then further manipulate that excess energy into forms and patterns which you express either directly or through a focus. The expressed patterns affect ambient magic to realise the effect you wish to produce.

"The actual shaping is unconscious, guided by your will and an instinctive ability to manipulate your own aura internally, in much the same way that you instinctively manipulate your muscles via voltaic impulses to regulate air-flow and create specific sound wave patterns, thereby accomplishing speech."

She gathered that she had more control over the process than most people (that was part of the reason their casting was so horribly sloppy), but even for her, most of the process was unconscious. She could be aware of it if she really focussed on what she was doing, but she hadn't realised, for example, that she was animating her body, using magic to extend or contract individual muscles, before it was pointed out to her. (The fact that animating her body thusly actually worked and the bioalchemic level at which it worked was one of the reasons she thought there were significant holes in the current understanding of physical-metaphysical integration.)

That is entirely unhelpful, you know.

Yes, I told you it would be... She could feel that the other girl was even more confused now, and not entirely certain whether Dru was being unhelpful on purpose, which was terribly annoying. Dru was...very rarely unhelpful on purpose, and only to people she truly disliked. "As I said, no one ever explains how to channel magic because it's generally considered as natural and fundamental as breathing. Though breathing is considerably simpler to explain. I suppose I could model the channelling process with arithmancy, if you like." It wouldn't be much clearer than the verbal explanation she'd just given. Possibly less so, since Betty was barely familiar with mundane maths...

"Or we could see whether you can manipulate a target through me and just show her," Tom suggested.

"What? Show me how?" Betty asked, projecting what Dru felt was an unwonted degree of suspicion.

We can possess you and use your magic to cast a few spells, Tom whispered into her mind, smirking at the way she (quite understandably) startled at the contact. Well, at having her attention drawn to the contact which had been made some minutes ago. Dru hadn't followed Tom into her mind, but she could feel that he was aware of her immediate thoughts, as well as the thoughts and feelings she unconsciously projected.

"Technically, Tom can possess you and demonstrate the process without any involvement on my part," Dru volunteered. "I just want to know whether I can use his magic to use your magic when we're sharing mind-space."

She thought she probably would be able to, but it still seemed worth testing. She was also far more conscious of and therefore precise in her manipulation of magic, so it would probably be better if she were the one to demonstrate for Betty. (She tried and failed to avoid thinking about the fact that she'd been thinking lately about exactly how one channelled and cast magic due to Aunt Caelia's question — the one she didn't want to answer — whether she wanted to or not. That would probably also help.)

The muggleborn was understandably suspicious of Tom offering to possess her as though he would be doing her a favour, but she was desperate. She wouldn't have tried to ask Dru for help in the first place if she weren't. After a few seconds to work up her courage, she nodded.

It only took a few seconds for Dru to realise that Aunt Caelia had been right — compared to Betty's mind, Tom's was meticulously organised (ugh). She let him deal with the girl's internal consciousness (and coincidentally insulate her from the muggleborn's discomfort-bordering-on-panic at finding herself entirely unable to control her own body) while she turned her attention to external perceptions and (meta)physical activity.

It took a few more seconds for her to fully "settle into" her control of Betty's body and magic. Animating the other girl's body wasn't really all that different from animating her own body, but her magic was noticeably...clumsier. Clearly unpractised in moving the way it needed to in order to accomplish what she wanted it to do, not unlike Dru imagined Tom's body would be clumsier than her own if she were to attempt to dance in it.

Deliberately drawing magic through Betty for the first time — she had channelled magic before, but not intentionally — was like reifying a new spell in a way, though obviously she was impressing a pattern on the other girl's mind (possibly on her brain — as she'd told the girl a moment ago, how one's physical and metaphysical person related was a complex question) rather than on magic, or positioning her feet correctly for barre exercises, forcing her to use muscles she had never realised she had to maintain her turnout. Now that she knew what it felt like, Dru thought Betty would be able to do it herself, though it would obviously take more practice to make the "movement" instinctive.

Once she sorted out how to operate Betty's magic, though, it wasn't difficult for Dru to put her through her paces, running through the majority of the Level Five Charms curriculum (casting shields to contain a few she probably shouldn't be casting in the Library — like any kind of fire charm — from her own body, with her own magic) just to get a feel for its handling before turning to Transfiguration.

Are you paying attention?

She was. She was severely uncomfortable — still bordering on panicking, as much about the fact that this was a thing it was possible for people to do to each other as about the not being in control itself—

Most people can't do this, Tom assured her. There are only about ten legilimens in the school, and I suppose Professor McKinnon might be able to possess you thoroughly enough to use your magic, but none of the other students are very good. And assuming control of someone else's magic is much more difficult than Dru makes it look.

(Was it? She rather thought he'd done fairly well, stepping into control of her magic. Yes, they had mostly done it the other way around, so that she could show him how to cast different spells, but they had tested whether he could possess her like this, and the answer was definitely yes.)

(Sure, after a few days watching and learning how you do it...)

(Oh.)

This was not terribly reassuring. If she were in control of her body, her reactions actually affecting it in any way, Betty would probably be crying. It felt like being caught in some sort of nightmare, unable to move her own hands, unable to scream. She sincerely regretted nodding, but she couldn't take it back now, because she couldn't say anything!

Well, we are aware of your discomfort, we can stop if you like, Dru offered. It seems rather a waste, however, to come this far and not show you the spell you actually wanted help with...

She didn't actually think fine, do it, just get it over with, but insofar as she was capable of thinking clearly at the moment, she was thinking an inarticulate sentiment somewhere along those lines — and Dru did have her full attention.

Very well, then. Focus on this— She drew the other girl's attention to the way her magic felt. Tom kept it there, like putting his hand over hers to ensure she would feel the movement of her diaphragm as she attempted to control her breathing. (Thank you, Tom.) —and watch.

She felt it click, comprehension dawning, coming into focus for the other girl as she transfigured the matchstick into a needle and back again several times.

Alright, I think she gets it, Tom agreed, disentangling them from their target's consciousness, returning her body and magic to her own control.

She began hyperventilating at once. "I— You— H-How did you—?" she stuttered, to all appearances more terrified than she had been before they'd let her go.

I was suppressing part of her fear before, Tom explained. Not all of it, just enough she could actually concentrate on what we were doing, rather than gibbering incoherently. "Elizabeth," he said firmly. "Calm down. It's over."

He layered the compulsion with...not really a calming suggestion, but something more like an inversion of the panic she was feeling — equally uncomfortable on its own, or at least, Dru would have found it so, were she not simply eavesdropping on Tom's construction of it, but when juxtaposed with Betty's own reaction to the situation, the feelings cancelled each other out almost perfectly, like—

Like a destructive interference counter-charm, exactly! Tom noted, delighted to see that it actually worked as he'd intended.

He did have to keep producing it to maintain the effect, because emotional reactions were ongoing processes, and the situation hadn't changed enough to change Betty's response to it — she was still producing fear, it just...wasn't affecting her, because he was cancelling it out, which was strange and brilliant, and clearly something he'd developed independently, even if there was a similar, established technique out there somewhere, because he certainly hadn't seen any references to it among the few mentions of mind-magic he'd been able to find outside of the Restricted Section — but as he did continue to do so, she took a deep breath, swallowing hard.

"I..." she said shakily. "Please don't be offended— I mean, thank you, but... I– I have to go." Please, God, let them let me go... (Tom hadn't cancelled out the anxious suspicion arising from the fact that her fear had largely vanished as soon as he had ordered her to calm down.)

He grinned. "Show us the spell, first. We want to know if that worked."

It had, Dru could already see potential futures wherein Betty cast the spell simply to get away from them, because she thought she wouldn't be allowed to leave unless she did so, but she still needed to do it so she would know that she could.

It took her two tries — anxious as she was, and feeling an unwonted degree of pressure simply because they were watching her, her timing was off on her first attempt — but she had been paying attention. The second time, she managed to channel enough magic into the spell to realise it effectively, if somewhat less than entirely gracefully or efficiently.

"Well done," Tom said — aloud, Dru could have interpreted it as being directed solely at Betty, but she could also feel the pride and admiration behind the sentiment, and that was entirely reflexive, inspired by their combined success in mutually possessing Dru's classmate and using her magic, not Betty's successful casting of the spell.

She echoed the feeling back at him, equally delighted. You, too.

"Can— May I go, now?" Betty asked, as desperate now to get away from them as she had been to ask for their help in the first place. Perhaps more so. "Please?"

Tom smirked, not nearly as offended by her desire to flee from them as Dru— They'd helped her! Even if she weren't grateful (and she was, they could feel it!) she should know they meant her no harm. There was no need to run away, as though she and Tom were absolutely horrifying!

Well, you see, we are absolutely horrifying. We didn't hurt her, but we absolutely could have, and there would be nothing she could do to resist, much less actually stop us. You might not like thinking of yourself as having the potential to be a monster, but that doesn't mean that it's not entirely obvious to other people that you do.

Oh, shut it, Dru thought back, with a sense of resignation and resentment intended as a mental pout. Tom was perfectly content to think of himself as a monster — a dark-minded little demon-child (in the religious sense, not the extra-planar sense, obviously) who openly admitted to having terrorised his fellow orphans with mind-magic for fun, because he liked feeling their terror — and simply couldn't comprehend why she might object to dwelling on how she might harm someone, even if she chose not to do so. The idea of being feared by their fellow students was positively thrilling to him, as opposed to a painful reminder that no matter how hard she tried to help people, solve their problems and improve their lives, she would never really belong among them. Even having the excuse now that she really wasn't human anyway, and so probably shouldn't expect to be able to fit in with them, that rejection still hurt.

"Of course," he drawled. Why the hell would you want to fit in with them? They're idiots who aren't worth your time.

It's not so much that I want to associate with them as that it bothers me that I can't. Being rejected by idiots who aren't even worth my time feels like a failure, and an embarrassing one at that.

That, Tom thought, was absolutely ridiculous, though he didn't particularly care to argue the point at the moment, and so didn't properly articulate the thought.

"Don't let us keep you." He waited until Betty turned and took two hurried steps away before adding, with Druella's voice, "And Betty?"

The girl stopped, little though she wanted to do so, looking back with a distinct expression of trepidation. "Yes?"

"Don't tell anyone about this."

He planted a compulsion to disincline her to do so as well, even though she stuttered, "Oh– Of course not. Um. No. I won't. I promise," even without it.

"Dru" nodded, flicking her fingers in a silent dismissal, finally allowing the muggleborn to escape. Ignoring what anyone else might think, that was fascinating. Do you think you could do that and show a muggle how to do magic?

That...was a very good question (and one Dru much preferred to consider over how much it bothered her to watch Betty practically run from them). She was leaning toward, Probably not, however, because Their body and soul would still need to be capable of channelling the magic, and a muggle wouldn't have the same instinctive grasp of how to manipulate their own aura to draw magic or to shape it into a spell. Betty does, she'd done it unconsciously before, she just didn't know how to do it intentionally. You're going to be late for Herbology if you don't leave now, she added, casting Professor Marshall's little snap-tempus charm through Tom so that the numbers would appear before his eyes. Betty had managed to waste nearly the entirety of their shared free period.

It wasn't entirely a waste, you did confirm that you can legilimise someone else through me.

Teaching is still awful, and there are any number of things I would rather have spent the past hour doing. She just couldn't bring herself to say no when someone asked her for help, and she didn't have a reason to deny them beyond I don't want to talk to you, please go away.

I kind of liked it. Even aside from possessing and terrifying her and testing that destructive interference thing. That moment when she actually understood was great! And he was still (somewhat adorably) pleased by their success, happiness and pride manifesting as a warm, sparkling sensation without so much as a hint of darkness in it. It was different from the malicious glee which arose from possessing and terrifying the other girl, but no less enjoyable. It simply tickled him, making him want to smile, while the only thing Dru felt was relief that the ordeal of teaching — both the Trigger-Drop Jinx and how to channel magic — was over for the day, she could go hide in the wardstone chamber and relax for a few hours.

I hope you realise you just volunteered to do any teaching I am unexpectedly enlisted to do ever again.

...I'm going to be late for Herbology, he thought back, as though he wasn't actually entirely chuffed at the idea. (Dru suspected that Tom didn't have many opportunities to do nice things which made him proud of himself.)

Okay, one more chapter of this coming up — more letters, yay xD and then one more chapter of Switched. And that's it, because I've been working on original fiction for the last couple of weeks, so, yeah. TBH, I'm surprised how much progress I've made on these while I've been posting the backlog. I've been doing regular updates since, what? April? But after Monday and Wednesday, everything is back on an as-I-finish-chapters updating schedule. Except Lady of New Avalon and the Buffy crossover. Those are still on a whenever-I-finish-a-cluster-of-chapters schedule. I haven't touched the Plan in a couple of weeks, but the academic paper I'm supposed to be working on is a hot mess, so maybe I'll get something done on the Plan while procrastinating on that? (One can only hope.)