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

Chapter 4

In which Druella strenuously objects to being treated like a child, makes an enemy for life, and begins to seriously explore the possibility that she may not be human.

Dru didn't believe in luck, but at the moment, she rather wished she did. Twenty-five hours in, and this whole school adventure was going just swimmingly.

(Bother.)

Fifty hours in, it wasn't going much better.

To begin with, Dru had slept terribly for the second night in a row, and she had no idea why. Every time she started to drift off, she felt as though she hit a sort of wall, not quite falling unconscious as she usually did, but languishing in a half-conscious, not-really-sleeping state until it was interrupted with the most awful nightmares — no images, just pain and violation and wrongness that reminded Dru of having to eat things, but orders of magnitude worse. She kept being startled back into consciousness to find her cheeks wet with tears, her throat tight with unvoiced screams. It was awful.

She'd been willing to dismiss the first night as perhaps some effect of her anxiety and dread at the thought of the coming year, but she'd spent a quarter of an hour meditating before attempting to sleep last night, just to be sure that she wasn't subconsciously harbouring any emotional turmoil that might express itself through night terrors before attempting to sleep, and she wasn't. She was still anxious and dreading finding out exactly how terrible this year would be in her first lessons but no more so than she had been in the days leading up to her departure, and she hadn't been having nightmares before she'd arrived at the Castle.

After a second night, she was beginning to think that there was something seriously wrong with her. More wrong than usual. Usually she liked sleeping. It might be her second-favourite activity after learning something new. She hated being awake and therefore conscious of the fact that she was a physical being, trapped in a physical body with all the weird, unpleasant biological squishiness that entailed.

No matter what Elladora thought, Dru wasn't just being unnecessarily dramatic, she would love to not be disgusted by the fact that she was inescapably invested in this unsanitary meat-puppet, forced to eat to maintain its continued operation when she honestly didn't even want to maintain it and to go to the trouble of cleaning it and clothing it, disposing of its waste (eugh). She had made certain improvements to it over the years, correcting its asymmetries and stopping it from growing those revolting hairs on every square inch of its skin, as well as from sweating and blistering in the sun and so on. But still. Everything about being alive was just awful.

Sleep was normally a blissful escape from the horrors of the physical world — the closest Dru could get to being a disembodied magical consciousness, which was how she felt she was truly meant to exist. The past two nights, however, it had been even worse than being awake. She didn't think she'd gotten more than ten consecutive minutes of actual sleep either night, and every one of them had been utterly miserable. She felt trapped and she hated it. It made her want to cry just thinking about it, dreading the necessity of trying to sleep tonight because she knew that unless she figured out what was wrong and fixed it, she would keep feeling trapped and violated, and she didn't know how.

So she was already in a poor mood before breakfast. Sean's jovial attempts to assure her that today would be fine, she'd do great, there was nothing to be nervous about, did nothing to improve that mood. He seemed to be under the impression that she wasn't eating due to nerves, and hadn't taken it well when she flatly informed him that she wasn't hungry and eating was conceptually revolting, so she preferred not to, please leave me alone, Sean. He'd apparently gone and found Draco and told him to talk to Dru, because the annoying little brat had meandered over from the Slytherin table a few minutes later to inform her that she was making Sean uncomfortable.

"That sounds like his problem, Draco."

"I didn't say it isn't. Just noting that you're off to an excellent start, discomfiting one of the few people here who's inclined to actively help you fit in. Well, attempt to, at least."

"I don't try to make people uncomfortable, you know!"

"Oh, I know. As with so many other things, you're just effortlessly good at it."

"Draco, you're not making today any easier. Please leave."

"I was supposed to be making today easier? Here I thought I was just supposed to be stopping you from being disturbingly weird and making Sean worry about you."

"Oh, are you? Let me know when you figure out how to do that, because I certainly don't know."

"Yeah, yeah. I know you can't just stop being a spaz, but, I don't know, make yourself some illusory toast or something so my brother will stop whinging at me about you being creepy. And if you were planning on fleeing before the post owls arrive, you've got about two minutes."

"...Me pretending to eat toast in order to stop Sean nagging you to nag me about eating might be the single most ridiculous idea you've ever had, but I suppose I could, if only because you warned me about the owls."

"I think you mean: Capital idea, Drake! You're my favourite cousin, and by far the cleverest, most dashing, and—"

"If you keep talking long enough that I can't leave before the birds arrive, you'll be demoted to least favourite."

"Cosette would be heartbroken and that would be a tragedy indeed, so I suppose I simply must go. I'll come find you in the library later, though. Can't wait to hear how your first lesson with Dumb-as-a-Door goes."

Druella's first lesson with Deputy Headmaster Dumbledore had not gone well.

After being sure to let Sean spot her leaving the Great Hall with an illusory half-eaten piece of toast in one hand and sitting through Professor Binns's hour-long explanation of the Hogwarts History curriculum (most of which she spent wondering how it was possible for anyone to make the prospect of discussing the arrival of Roman mages and magical traditions in Great Britain that boring), she and a dozen others had gathered in a second-floor classroom for their first Transfiguration lesson.

Dru was entirely uncertain why it mattered for the purposes of scheduling which school House each student was sorted into, because as far as she could tell, the entire class had been divided into five sections entirely at random. In her year, there were sixty-five students: fourteen Ravenclaws; twelve Slytherins; eighteen Gryffindors; and twenty-one Hufflepuffs. (Hufflepuff House was by far the largest in the school.)

Dru's section was disproportionately Gryffindor, with six students from that house; four from Hufflepuff; Jane Willoughby, who was one of Dru's roommates; and out of all possible Slytherins, Cosette.

Professor Dumbledore had introduced himself as the Head of Gryffindor House, rather than the Deputy Head, and it was clear that he was biassed toward his own students. He started the course with a few intermediate-level inanimate-to-animate transformations to impress the children, turning a desk into a dog and so on; a short lecture on safety (don't use transfiguration on yourself or others, or on enchanted objects; don't attempt transfigurations which are beyond your ability to control; don't experiment with altering the spells covered in lessons, you children need to learn to walk before you can run (patronising chuckle); and so on); and an even shorter lecture on the concept of visualisation. The students were then informed that they would be attempting to transfigure matchsticks into needles for the remainder of the lesson.

Dru honestly thought at first that this approach was meant to assess the degree to which any of them had already been taught anything about transfiguration, or perhaps that they were intended to fail to emphasise the importance of a more thorough understanding of the magic in question before a proper lecture on the underlying theory — something to impress upon the idiot children exactly how stupid they were and encourage them to pay close attention in lessons — but as the hour wore on, she began to suspect that Professor Dumbledore was simply nearly as bad a teacher as Dru imagined she would be herself. He certainly didn't indicate in any way that he didn't expect the students to continue trying until they managed it.

He circulated around the room, spending approximately three-quarters of his time giving pointers to his Gryffindors, particularly those who had the least need of any advice — Minerva McGonagall clearly had a bit of a talent for transfiguration, even if she equally clearly had never held a wand before in her life (which was baffling, because she wasn't a muggleborn), and Dru rather suspected that Freddy Leach had been practising such introductory transfigurations for at least a few months already — and the two muggleborn Gryffindors. The two muggleborn Hufflepuffs also received a fair bit of time, and Cosette, who couldn't stand being ignored, attempted to draw the professor over so that she could 'show off' her rudimentary abilities.

The professor quite clearly wanted nothing to do with Cosette, which was an entirely reasonable position, brushing off her excited attempts to brag about, Oh! Look, Professor! Something's happened! It's gone all silvery! (in colour, obviously, not alchemically — not only would that be odd given that she was meant to be aiming for steel, but Dru sincerely doubted that Cosette was capable of focusing clearly enough and/or channelling enough magic to initialise a hot metal transfiguration) with a frankly amusing degree of dismissiveness. Try to focus on the shape as well, Miss Laurence... (And then he turned away to address Miss McGonagall again before the words were entirely out of his mouth.)

Dru had actually laughed aloud at her cousin's expression when the professor misremembered her name, which unfortunately drew the attention of the awful girl two desks to her right and two rows closer to the front of the room.

"Oh, yes, we all know you think you're so clever, Miss Smarty-Boots! I don't see you with a needle on your desk, though! What happened to I'll transfigure you into a fish? Little bookworm talks like she thinks she's the next Circe, but she can't even transfigure an itty-bitty little matchstick into a needle? That's rich!"

...Did Cosette really think that Dru had been bluffing? It was true she'd never really used much magic around Ella's more distant relatives, it was possible Cosette's impression of Dru as condescending and self-important was due entirely to her manner of speech and her complete inability to hide that she considered Cosette and the Farleys in general to be insufferably slow...

"I didn't want to make trouble by actually transfiguring you into a fish, Cosette, I just wanted you to leave me alone. And I don't think I'm the next Circe—" Aunt Caelia had compared Dru to Morgana in their discussion about whether Dru ought to take her exams and the likely consequences of doing so at such a young age, but Dru was certain the comment had been intentionally hyperbolic (and somewhat less certain that Aunt Caelia had been gently poking fun at everyone who refused to believe that Dru was human). "—nor have I ever claimed as much. I wasn't laughing at your attempted transfiguration, I was laughing at Professor Dumbledore's dismissal of it and you."

Cosette positively glowered at Dru for about two seconds before screeching (in an uncanny imitation of her mother), "Professor! Druella's not practising the spell!"

Professor Dumbledore, thus-far content to ignore Dru entirely in favour of his Gryffindors and muggleborns, swooped down on her at once, demanding to know, "What are you working on, Miss Rosier?" when he realised that the page in front of her was filled not with notes on his lecture (such as it had been), but a series of doodles attempting to express a non-euclidean space in two dimensions. Before Dru could explain that the idea had occurred to her while exploring the Castle the day before to attempt to draw a map of it, he snatched it off the table, adding snidely, "This is not art class, young lady. I will be confiscating this and unless you've already thoroughly mastered today's transfiguration, I'm afraid I must insist that you practise the assigned spell."

Obviously Dru had mastered the spell in question, and obviously she would demonstrate it if asked to do so, but she took exception to both his tone — clearly assuming that there was no way she could possibly have mastered an incredibly basic spell — and the obnoxious rudeness of simply snatching away her project without so much as asking her to put it away — no, it wasn't permanent anyway, she was just experimenting with different concepts and wouldn't waste real paper on doodles, so yes, she could just conjure a replacement, it was hardly as though she would really lose any work, but it was the principle of the thing! What if he'd done this to someone other than Dru, who would lose work if their possessions were simply taken by a snide, high-handed boor?

"I'm afraid I don't understand why, sir," she said, standing to ask the implied question politely.

"Because, Miss Rosier, I do not allow students to work on outside projects in my lessons. You are here to learn Transfiguration, not to waste valuable practice time on frivolous artwork."

...That might be the first time anyone had ever called Druella (or any of her endeavours) frivolous. If she weren't so very annoyed with the so-called teacher, she might actually be somewhat amused by the characterisation. As it was, she plastered on her politest, most meaningless Society smile. "Forgive me, Professor, I didn't mean to question your reasoning for stealing my property. I meant to question why it is so important to master this spell."

He gave her a patronising smile which reached his eyes to the same degree as hers. If she had to guess, she would say he didn't like her (entirely accurate) characterisation of his action. He was probably one of those adults who thought that children didn't have rights like property ownership. "As you would know if you had been paying attention, Miss Rosier, mastering the concept of transfiguring an object from one class of inanimate matter to another is a key first step in mastering more advanced forms of transfiguration."

"I was paying attention, sir. Your exact words were: 'It may seem a small and useless trick — why would one ever have need of a needle, or a matchstick for that matter, when Mending Charms and Fire Charms exist? — but I promise you, such small and seemingly useless spells are the foundation of much greater things to come.' And then you went on to discuss visualisation. You did not, however, explain why one ought to wish to learn such an impractical and frivolous discipline as you have presented transfiguration to be."

"Transfiguration is hardly impractical or frivolous, my dear," the professor said sternly, his face growing pink behind his fiery beard.

"Isn't it? I will grant that transfigurations designed to alter the size and shape of an object have their uses, but those were entirely absent from your earlier introduction to the subject, and I fail to see the utility in temporarily turning a desk into a dog."

"Tell me, Miss Rosier, can you not imagine a situation wherein you may be in need of an object you do not have directly to hand, or in want of an object you cannot afford? Transfiguration is among the most useful of magical arts in terms of convenience and improving mages' quality of life, from transfiguring a spare fork into a much-needed spoon to increasing the softness of one's mattress or making emergency alterations to one's clothing — the applications are, I assure you, limited only by one's creativity."

"I certainly cannot imagine a situation wherein I might be in want or in need of such an object which I might transfigure which I could not more efficiently conjure."

Comprehension dawned on the professor's face. "Ah! Someone seems to have given you the impression, dear girl, that conjuration and transfiguration are different disciplines! In fact, conjuration is a more advanced form of transfiguration, transfiguring magic itself into various physical forms. In order to master conjuration, one must first master transfiguration," he concluded, with a smug smile implying he thought he'd solved her childish misunderstanding once and for all.

He was wrong, of course. It seemed that he subscribed to a Mundane Realist perspective wherein aether (the intangible substance of magic or ambient magic) was ultimately considered a feature of the mundane world, thought to be manipulated through magic (magic as a force, or the magical energy generated by life) by methods which were theoretically contiguous with those used to manipulate physical aspects of mundane reality. Dru wasn't suffering some childish misunderstanding, she simply disagreed with that philosophy on a very fundamental level. And in this particular case, the evidence clearly favoured a more Parmenidean interpretation of an infinite, timeless sea of magic as reality, and the mundane plane as a smaller, more limited perception within reality.

"According to Moulton, Cates, and Allegheny, the Realist conceptualisation of conjuration as an extension of transfiguration is fundamentally flawed," she reminded the professor. She was certain it must be a reminder. There was simply no way a transfiguration master wouldn't be aware of the professional debate surrounding the nature of conjuration. "A transfiguration is an ongoing spell holding an object in an unnatural form. A conjuration is a magical construct which is realised instantaneously and persists until the instabilities inherited from the initial impetus cause it to destabilise and fail. The initialising magic does not continuously enforce the shape of the conjuration. The two disciplines are therefore theoretically and arithmantically distinct."

"I think, Miss Rosier, that if your tutors were to more thoroughly explore the literature on the subject, they would find that Humberto and Faust demonstrated that Moulton, Cates, and Allegheny's theory fails to account for the transmission of intent between the initialising spell and the persistent conjuration, which effectively makes the conjuration itself an extension of the initialising spell," the man said dismissively, shunting aside his obvious surprise that she was aware of the debate in question impressively quickly.

Dru felt her eyes narrow involuntarily, now truly annoyed. How dare he imply that she hadn't done her research properly! She understood that the professor probably just didn't want to admit that he was lying to a dozen other new students, half of whom were in his House, but teaching them incorrectly was doing them a great disservice in terms of their ultimate education. She let the assumption that it was some tutor who had told her about the modern conception of conjuration stand because it wasn't really important, but she couldn't let the conflation of one of her favourite arts with her least favourite art pass unchallenged.

Dru was perfectly capable of performing transfigurations, of course, even at the advanced level — it was, after all, a required subject in the Beauxbatons curriculum as well as here at Hogwarts — but they just...annoyed her, for some reason she couldn't properly articulate. Whereas conjuration was neat and clean and just good in an equally inexplicable way. She'd been thrilled to find the M-C-A theory because it articulated a difference between the two disciplines that she'd known had to exist, even if she had, until that point, had no proof of it aside from her own certainty that something as good and pure as conjuration could not possibly be merely an extension of a discipline which she found as inexplicably annoying as transfiguration.

"I think you will find, Professor Dumbledore, that all sophistry aside, if I were to transfigure this matchstick into a needle—" She did. "—as well as this quill—" She had to summon Cosette's because hers was conjured, but a moment later a second needle joined the first on her desk. "—and you were to compare them to a conjured needle—" The professor's eyes went hilariously wide as the third needle appeared with a tiny pop, displacing air as she brought it into physical being. "—the first two would be indistinguishable from each other in their external magical characteristics and physically indistinguishable from a hand-forged needle, while the third is physically and magically indistinguishable from a hand-forged needle.

"Moreover, as Allegheny added when Fiala attempted to rebut this demonstration, a fourth needle, transfigured from a conjured object, is indistinguishable from the first and the second, suggesting that the conjured substrate is indistinguishable from a mundane object for the duration of its physical existence." Allegheny had used a pile of sand transfigured into a small glass sculpture in his demonstration, rather than a matchstick needle, but the principle was the same. She conjured another matchstick to transfigure, largely because no one had seen her conjure her quill, quickly transformed it, and swept all four of the needles off the desk, offering them to the professor. He didn't take them, instead just staring at her. Dru would be the first to admit that she was not good with people — interpreting expressions, especially on strangers, was not her strong suit — but she was almost certain that that look there, the one Professor Dumbledore was giving her right now, held some shade of hatred under the shock.

Was it truly so appalling that a student might have her own opinions on the nature of magic and be familiar with relevant arguments to support those opinions?

After what seemed like a very long moment of tense silence, the other students holding their breath along with Dru as they awaited a rebuttal from the professor, she cleared her throat. "Since you have just seen me transfigure two matchsticks into needles perfectly capably, may I return to my frivolity while you return to yours?"

The professor again shook off his shock quickly, but then, Dru wouldn't truly have expected otherwise. He was brilliant, albeit apparently a dyed-in-the-wool Realist. (His opinions on conjuration simply hadn't come up in the alchemical works she'd read.)

"I think not," he said firmly, vanishing her confiscated doodles with a petty flick of his wand, watching her closely as he did so. He only seemed more annoyed when destroying her work failed to elicit any reaction whatsoever, apparently failing to realise that she could reconstitute the page just as easily. And even if she couldn't, she had hardly expected him to give it back after confiscating it in the first place. It still struck her as obscenely petulant to destroy it in front of her, obviously hoping for any hint that doing so would make any impact on her, since his words had utterly failed to do so. "If you believe you have nothing more to gain from further practice, you may help your fellow students master the exercise."

"I was under the impression the school employs you to do that," Dru observed coolly, returning to her seat. "If the only options are wasting my time practising a useless transfiguration, or wasting theirs as well with my inexpert attempts to teach them said useless transfiguration, the former is clearly the less harmful proposition," she continued over his furious glare, conjuring a stack of matchsticks to transfigure into needles one at a time. "And I would hate to detract from your sense of purpose by performing your chosen role in your stead."

"Five points from Ravenclaw for your cheek, Miss Rosier," the professor snapped.

Yes, that was a bit flippant, both blatantly insinuating that he wanted her to do his job for him and mocking his chosen purpose in life — teaching transfiguration to children — as entirely useless, and framing it as though she was refusing to do as instructed for his benefit was its own layer of insult, but she was quite certain he'd just intentionally tried to hurt her by destroying her entirely unimportant doodles, despite being utterly incapable of intentionally doing anything to actually harm her. Not if he wanted to keep his job, at least.

"Two questions, Professor. Firstly, which part of my response would you qualify as cheeky? The factual observation, the rational argument, my attempt to take your interests into account as well as those of myself and my fellow students, or my obvious intent to comply with one of the two options you offered? I would hate to unintentionally offend you in future, you see," she explained, in her most politely bland Society tone (with just the slightest emphasis on unintentionally), idly transfiguring a matchstick into a needle every three seconds as she did. That — performing a spell which actually required a very clear visualisation of intent apparently absentmindedly and automatically — was arguably more impressive than conjuring a needle (albeit more subtle), and served to underline even more clearly that this was a waste of her time. "And secondly, could you clarify precisely why I ought to care about losing House Points? Professor Sanchez failed to enumerate the benefits of collecting them, but if there weren't, House Points would be an utterly meaningless currency signifying nothing more or less than the overall popularity of the House in question among point-granting entities."

They were. Dru had questioned her cousins at length, and not one of them had been able to explain what House Points were for, only that acquiring more of them than their peers gave them bragging rights as a House. Since points were only awarded for good behaviour, it seemed obvious that they existed first and foremost as a mechanism of social control encouraging the children to regulate their own behaviour and police their housemates in order to pressure them to conform as well. And the system seemed, from what she'd been told, to be surprisingly effective. She still couldn't figure out how they convinced the students to participate, because while there clearly was a utility to the existence of House Points, it didn't benefit individual students or Houses to collect more of them.

"We can discuss those matters at your detention on Saturday, Miss Rosier," Dumbledore said, cold, stern, and distant, obviously only growing more offended as she continued to undermine his authority with her equally obvious show of disdain.

"I look forward to it, sir," she agreed pleasantly. She was perfectly capable of doing this for another hour or two. It wouldn't be as effective without an audience, but she still expected that he would decide that he didn't care to spend any more time alone with her before she tired of throwing 'polite' barbs at him. "Might I know the pretence for my impending detainment?"

She knew the answer would be "Insubordination, Miss Rosier," before he opened his scowling mouth. "You may be accustomed to being smart with your tutors, but you will find that here at Hogwarts, you are expected to treat your professors with respect."

She resisted the urge to roll her eyes or inform him that one could not be insubordinate to a superior one did not recognise in an organisational structure of which one was not a part, any more than one could be a traitor to a nation other than one's own. He might find it embarrassing to lose an academic debate to an eleven-year-old (or more accurately, to Giuseppe Allegheny, since she had really only replicated his demonstration) in front of a dozen other eleven-year-olds, but she hadn't actually done anything openly disrespectful yet. The former would be too blatant, and the latter an implicit admission that if she did consider him to be her superior in any way, she would be offering him disrespect, thereby retroactively rendering all of the overtly respectful comments she'd made sarcastic beyond any doubt.

"I expect that I will be informed of which part of my treatment of you has been disrespectful on Saturday as well? Given that I have neither confiscated nor destroyed any of your property; nor asked you to perform ad nauseam a spell you have no need of practising; nor suggested that you ought to perform a task which you are not qualified to perform and which I am myself being compensated for completing — or at least theoretically attempting — without any compensation to you, I'm afraid I'm uncertain which part of our conversation you believe has been disrespectful. Unless, of course, it was engaging in an academic debate and asking questions in response to information provided by my professor, which I will freely admit I am accustomed to doing with my tutors. But then, they actually seem to have had some interest in educating their students. Perhaps professors here at Hogwarts are not expected to do so, when they could instead spend valuable class time engaging in frivolous conversation with students who have already mastered the topic of the lesson," she suggested, still transfiguring needles.

Unfortunately, it seemed she'd gone a bit too far: he finally realised that he was making a fool of himself and decided that retreat might be the better part of valour, even for one who valued his own sense of bravery and was as secure in his moral correctness as one might expect of the Head of Gryffindor House, turning on his heel and stalking back up to the front of the room, furious pink circles glowing high on his cheekbones. Shame. Verbal sparring did make transfiguring needles less tedious. But she could hardly resist so perfect an opportunity to circle back to his initial complaint when the opportunity arose.

He proceeded to ignore her as best he could for the remainder of the lesson, while still giving her the occasional hateful glare, ensuring that she continued transfiguring needles. The first time she had to stop to conjure more matchsticks, she magnetised the pile of finished needles so that she could shape them into a small abstract sculpture between transfigurations, which apparently was not frivolous, or not so frivolous that the professor was willing to risk entering another losing engagement in an attempt to address the issue.

Cosette, on the other hand, had no compunction about hissing "Showoff!" at her as soon as Dumbledore turned his back on them. She followed up with, "I'm going to tell Aunt Ella you got detention for mouthing off to a teacher! And that you stole my quill!"

"Thank you for the loan of your quill, Cosette," Dru drawled, transfiguring it back and wafting it over to her desk with a breeze charm. She didn't bother addressing the threat to tell her mother that she'd been rude to the professor. What on earth was Ella going to do about it? Withdraw Dru from school? (Oh, drat...) Send a howler? Berate her about it for a few hours when she went home?

Dru did admittedly hate howlers, but she was perfectly capable of breaking them before they began their obnoxious projecting, and if Ella didn't berate her about embarrassing Dumbledore for a few hours when she returned from this horrible place, she would doubtless find some other aspect of Dru's behaviour to criticise in those hours, so she couldn't imagine how Cosette thought telling tales might make a difference.

It certainly wasn't going to make her feel guilty over her behaviour. Yes, it was undeniably rude to challenge a professor's authority on his subject, especially in front of the rest of the class, but Dru couldn't not correct people when they were wrong, especially if they were in a position to spread misinformation to others. Besides, the Transfiguration professor had deserved to be taken down a few pegs for treating her like a child, and generally treating the children he was meant to be educating like a patronising boor — in what world was it acceptable behaviour to walk up to anyone and snatch away something they were working on rather than using one's words to address a perceived slight? Cassius knew better than to behave so poorly, and he was three!

Perhaps the average eleven-year-old would have kowtowed to his authority as an adult and a professor, but as Ella could attest, Dru was not accustomed to affording respect to individuals based solely on their relative ages and social positions. She had been inclined to respect him based on his work in alchemy — she had no idea why he was teaching Transfiguration here — but no degree of intelligence would make up for acting like a petulant child when his lesson was ignored and again when he found himself on the losing end of an argument. She simply couldn't bring herself to respect a wizard who thought it appropriate to deliberately destroy someone's work in front of them in an attempt at (she could only presume) emotional manipulation in the absence of a logical argument to undermine their position.

It hadn't even been a good power-play, if that was what he'd meant by it. He hadn't destroyed anything that she cared about, and she certainly wasn't impressed by his ability to take away something of hers when she'd made no effort whatsoever to stop him from doing so. And if that was what he'd meant by it, he'd just picked a fight with the wrong eleven-year-old — because as he'd just begun to learn, Dru absolutely wouldn't allow anyone to treat her as inferior without some retaliation, especially when their delusions of superiority were in every way exactly that: delusional. Doing so would set a poor precedent, and polite — or not-so-polite — verbal sparring was really the only part of being Lady Druella that Dru actually enjoyed. Which meant that Albus Dumbledore (and Draco — she presumed this was exactly the outcome he had expected when he'd said he couldn't wait to hear about her first lesson with the boor) could now look forward to Dru verbally grinding his face into the metaphorical mud, making a point of highlighting his hubris in front of those who still respected him, and generally snubbing him at every future opportunity.

The third lesson of the morning was Charms, and compared to Transfiguration, it was almost as uneventful as History. Professor MacLaine was the Head of Hufflepuff House, and in keeping with his House's reputation, seemed to be a nice enough fellow. He was a bit of a chatterbox and there was something off-putting and almost offensive about how very nice he was, but nothing Dru could actively complain about.

Well, she could complain that he made the section play a game to learn each other's names and Houses, wherein they were required to state something they did "for fun". Dru was, thanks to Felix, well aware that normal people did not consider it fun to spend two weeks spending every free hour learning enough about defensive enchanting to enchant their own school trunk, and even if some of them might think it fun to verbally eviscerate their professors, it would be strategically advantageous if she didn't actually tell people that she was doing so intentionally. Any number of arts she'd studied over the years could be considered "hobbies", she supposed, but outside of dance and piano (which she could continue practising by herself after she'd officially quit her lessons), she'd never pursued any of them beyond the introductory level, and she suspected that one had to actually enjoy performing for performance arts to be considered something one did for fun.

She'd eventually settled on, "I've been learning to animate sketches recently—" Since yesterday, when she'd decided while exploring the castle that she ought to try to map it. Obviously since it moved, she would need to somehow animate the map to do the same. That it existed in more than three physical dimensions was a separate problem. "—I suppose that's fun..."

Lunch had reminded her that she'd intended to try to make an amulet to distract people specifically from her eating habits, so she'd spent the majority of the break, after acquiring a sickly sweet roll and a bit of (slightly less sweet) cheese (she didn't know how or why, but the food here was even worse than at home, disgustingly sweet on top of existentially revolting — she didn't think the students were being dosed with a potion or something, if only because tainting every foodstuff with the same potion would be logistically impossible, it was just bizarre) and telling Draco off for not warning her about Dumbledore as well as the owls, in the library looking for attention-diverting charms. She was forced to depart for Herbology before she found anything promising.

Herbology was by far Dru's favourite subject so far. It was one of the few she'd expected to actually learn something in — her theoretical knowledge of the subject was more than adequate, she was certain, but as with Offensive and Defensive Magic, Potions, Flying, and Mind Magic, she'd never had much opportunity to practise the hands-on aspects — and she liked being outdoors (though she liked reading more, and therefore tended to spend more time in the Library or her bedroom than anywhere else at home).

She certainly liked Professor Weatherwax better than any of the others. She was a timelessly old witch, her hair unicorn-white with age but her eyes still clear and sharp, her back straight and proud. There was something about her which hinted that she knew the world in which she walked in ways no wizard or even modern witch ever would — the undefinable aura of one who not only practised the Craft, but lived it — and something else which reminded Dru of Madame. The latter was easier to identify than the former: an attitude of absolute seriousness and an intensity of focus that almost took Dru's breath away when the teacher met her eyes.

Professor Weatherwax was far more serene than Madame — a product, Dru suspected, of her overwhelming witchiness — but the sense of present-ness and decisiveness, making the world around themselves a little bit clearer and brighter simply by their very presence — that was identical.

She was also incredibly practical, giving the class a tour of the grounds and taking them out to the Forest to teach them how to recognise the centaurs' border-markers while she discussed the nature of the Craft (listening to the world around oneself and bringing it into harmony with one part magic, one part compassion, and two parts common sense — that last one was where most would-be witches fell short).

Dru gathered that in addition to being a herbalist in the tradition of hedge-witchery which had been common before the Statute of Secrecy was implemented (and therefore also a potioneer, alchemist, healer, and midwife), the Herbology professor was a diviner and — if Dru had interpreted a few of her more esoteric comments correctly — an actual necromancer (again, in the tradition of hedge-witches, who were historically intimately involved in both the beginning and end of the lives of the residents of their villages).

They finished with a quick tour of the school's greenhouses, warm and humid after the crisp autumn air outside. Druella had a free period after the lesson, during which she intended to return to her hunt for attention-deflecting charms targeting a certain action or quality rather than an object. She was already so deep in consideration of how she might narrow the field of potential books to search that she very nearly missed the professor calling, "Miss Rosier, a moment, please."

A few of the other students also paused, nosily attempting to overhear whatever Professor Weatherwax might wish to speak to Dru about — Dru herself had no idea — which was what actually drew her attention to her name being called in the first place. The old witch shooed them away. "Be off with you, pack of nosey parkers!"

She closed the door to the greenhouse behind them with a soft wave of wandless magic, privacy charms snapping into place almost as stifling as the humidity. Druella let out a very embarrassing, entirely involuntary eep at the sudden smothering sensation. Feeling her face grow warm under the old witch's steady gaze, she added, "That is to say, yes, Professor Weatherwax?"

The steady, evaluating gaze lingered a few seconds longer before the witch said, "Well, then, I suppose I'll just cut directly to the heart of the matter, shall I? We use iron tools in this course, Miss Rosier, and certain preparations will include salt, white ash, or nitre. It seemed to me it might be best to ask ahead of time and away from your classmates whether that's like to pose a problem."

Dru's face grew decidedly warmer. "No, Professor. I...appreciate the consideration, but I'm not actually a changeling."

"So far as you know. Have you actually tested your exposure to the substances in question? I'll just as soon not have you assume you're not Blessèd simply because you've yet to see any proof that you are, only to find that proof in the form of second-degree burns the first time you go to scatter white ash around a fanged geranium's roots."

Dru hesitated, sifting through her memories. "I know I've touched iron and salt, but...I don't think I actually have touched white ash or nitre with bare skin. I generally wear gloves while brewing potions, and we don't have a greenhouse."

The professor nodded. "Silver? Gold?"

...Dru was certain she had worn jewellery before, she couldn't possibly have such a strong aversion to the idea without having done so at one point or another, but she couldn't actually remember why she hated it so much (which suggested the experience was so unpleasant she'd chosen to forget it, keeping only the aversion in order to avoid a similar encounter in the future). "I...don't know." That was apparently surprising, as Professor Weatherwax raised an eyebrow at her. Dru could only give her a helpless, embarrassed little shrug. "I've conjured both, but it's possible that if I truly am allergic to one of them, I might have instinctively avoided including whatever magical property causes the reaction."

"Very well. And I wouldn't expect you to have come into contact with powdered unicorn horn, essence of sunlight, distilled darkness, or stardust."

"No. I've never even heard of stardust."

"It's raw magic — alchemically crystallised aether. Harmless to humans, but the crystallisation effect sometimes spreads to magical beings if they come into direct physical contact with it," the professor explained, beckoning her over to a table and summoning what must be samples passed around as examples for the students out of a nearby chest, along with an obsidian potions-knife. She conjured eight tiny glass bowls and six equally tiny glass spoons, transferring a pinch of powder or a drop of liquid to each bowl. "Might as well test the lot of them. Let's have your off-hand."

Dru held out her right hand somewhat hesitantly. Before she could finish running through the likely next steps, the old witch had jabbed the pad of her longest finger with the knife, a bright bead of blood welling forth to fall into the first bowl — white ash from purification herbs. Nothing happened. Nor was there a notable reaction with the nitre or the few flakes of silver and gold the professor had provided. The drop of blood vanished into the powdered unicorn horn — Dru wasn't certain what that meant — and absorbed both the distilled darkness and the essence of sunlight — again, Dru had no idea how to interpret the reaction. She did know, however, that it wasn't good that the few grains of luminescent, sand-like magic transformed the drop of blood which fell on them into a little garnet-like stone.

"What does that mean?" she wondered aloud, resisting the urge to poke the crystalised drop of blood, lest the effect spread to her finger as well.

"You're not Avalonian or a Blessèd Islander. The lack of a reaction from both gold and silver rules out most demons and Children of the Forest. That the unicorn horn accepted the blood indicates only that you're an innocent, your magic light or neutral. It would have blackened and begun smoking if you were naturally dark or corrupting, or simply remained bloody if you lacked purity of heart. The stardust reaction suggests that you have significantly more magic in your blood than the average human, which I'd warrant is not surprising to anyone who's ever seen your face. The fact that your blood absorbed both light and darkness, completely and with equal ease, with no adverse reaction to either, is quite frankly odd. I'm not entirely certain what to make of it, beyond that your magic is strongly neutral and will likely resist polarisation." The old witch shrugged, vanishing all of the test samples with a casual, flowing sweep of her wand. "In any case, I'm satisfied you're not going to suffer any serious adverse reactions to any material you're likely to come into contact with in my lessons or anywhere at Hogwarts, so you're free to go. I'll see you on Wednesday."

"So I'm definitely not a changeling?" Dru asked, just to be sure.

"You're definitely not a lost member of either of the two most common species of greater fae, a nymph, or a corruptive extraplanar entity. Nor are you any of the various magical beings whose magic is definitively aligned with the dark or light pole, which includes almost all of them I'm familiar with. I still find it very difficult to believe that you are in fact human and there are doubtless dozens if not hundreds of species of fae and demons I am not familiar with, but you are, as far as I can tell, not inhuman in any way which poses a danger to yourself or those around you. Now, I have another class arriving in just a few minutes — several of them are already waiting outside — so if you wish to continue this conversation, I'm afraid it will have to wait until my office hours."

"Oh! Yes, of course..." Dru murmured, somewhat embarrassed to have gotten so caught up in her own self-centred concerns that she'd neglected to consider that the professor did have commitments aside from helping Dru determine whether she was or was not human. "Thank you, Professor."

"Think nothing of it, Miss Rosier."

Think nothing of it, Miss Rosier was probably the most impossible thing anyone had ever asked of Dru ever. Even if she knew the phrase pertained specifically to the potential debt between herself and the professor, she couldn't help feeling that it extended to a certain degree to the entire incident to which that potential debt related, and she was categorically incapable of not dwelling on such a curious and personally significant matter as whether she was or was not actually human. Perhaps she ought to write to Father and ask on what evidence exactly he had based his assurances of her humanity to her five-year-old self...

After sending the letter to her father, Dru returned to the library, but found herself far too preoccupied to continue her search for a suitable attention-deflecting charm to adapt into an amulet, instead burying herself in accounts of historical encounters with the fae, entirely uncertain whether she wanted to find evidence suggesting whether she might be a changeling or not. It was a most peculiar feeling.

Not that it mattered. She spent the entire afternoon and evening sifting through the literature, with a brief break to attend her first Astronomy lesson. Professor Ash-Crow had played the lute while discussing half a dozen different mythological explanations for the existence of stars. Dru had found the lute more interesting than the stories. She'd never played one, and her fingers practically itched to try it. She knew she could hardly ask to do so in the middle of a lesson, and the temptation to learn a new instrument almost always faded as soon as the instrument was no longer in front of her, so she probably wouldn't go to his office specifically to ask about it, but in the moment, it was very distracting.

She wondered whether she ought to add that to her list of admittedly fae traits. That she so easily picked up new instruments was already on the list — she didn't think it was particularly odd, but Madame Blanc, her piano teacher and the first person to suggest to Dru's face that she mightn't be human, had cited it when she resigned her position as the main reason she found the five-year-old Dru to be so very unsettling — but one of the compendia of folklore had suggested that the fae were drawn to music...

[they just...annoyed her, for some reason she couldn't properly articulate]

Dru finds transfigurations annoying because they're lying to an object and the universe about what something is. She doesn't like using glamoury to deceive either, but at least that's only lying to people, and from a certain perspective glamouring something like a cup of coffee openly in front of them is more like communicating an idea directly to their senses than lying to them.

Note: Dumbledore didn't destroy Dru's sketches out of some sadistic desire to see her hurt, that's just the only explanation Dru can imagine for his actions. He would say that he was actually attempting to make it clear that there will be consequences to disrespecting her professors and disregarding their instructions. In his mind, she's already demonstrated that she does not respect him by questioning his expertise (and more damningly, doing so effectively). He's not accustomed to his authority being questioned, challenged, or outright denied and disregarded, and his first instinct when it is is to up the ante, as he (thinks he) must if he is to enforce discipline within his classroom and the school at large. (Plus he wants to make an example of her for the other students — you are here to learn, not to entertain yourselves.)

He's expecting anger or some degree of upset or embarrassment to have her helplessness so clearly demonstrated in front of her peers, some hint that she can in fact be coerced by means of taking away her property or public condemnation. He is definitely not expecting slightly baffled, condescending disdain, or for her to entirely dismiss his implied order and continue to mock him, while making her own power-play demonstrating his inability to truly hurt her, even going so far as to escalate the confrontation herself by questioning the purpose of House Points in front of her peers, which only makes him hate her more and consider her more of a threat to his authority.

Unfortunately for him, Dru is very accustomed to adults refusing to treat her with any respect whatsoever unless and until she forces them to do so, and has no compunction about publically embarrassing any arsehole who thinks he's going to put her in her place, especially when she's already having a bad day. He started it, damn it.