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

Chapter 5

Wherein Dru meets her last two professors, has a minor panic attack, and may or may not be overthinking things.

Dru's third day at Hogwarts brought with it another absolutely terrible night of sleep — the nature of sleep and why she couldn't rose immediately to the top of her list of research topics, far more urgent than whether she was human or any potential efforts to deflect attention from the fact that she preferred not to eat — as well as her first Potions and Defence Against the Dark Arts lessons.

Both were subjects she'd been...well, not eagerly anticipating, but anticipating with far less anxiety than certain others. As with Herbology, opportunities to practise brewing and self-defence were relatively few at home — Aunt Caelia did let Dru use her lab, but only when she had a specific project; she didn't have the opportunity to just experiment like she could with wizardry — and while she found the idea of being obliged to defend herself with force somewhat...distasteful, she actually liked brewing potions. There was something very soothing about the process.

Unfortunately, she strongly suspected that that would be lost in Professor Slughorn's lessons, because the Head of Slytherin struck her as profoundly discomfiting, with his chortles and his jovial hints that they ought to try to impress him, because students who did so and joined his little club of hangers-on often went on to much bigger and better things than those who didn't.

He also preemptively informed them that he would not allow anyone to work alone, even though there were an odd number of people in her section, and went out of his way to draw attention to her appearance, which was positively humiliating, not to mention physically uncomfortable.

After a bit of generally unamusing joking around, the portly Potions professor explained that in their next lesson, they would be brewing their first potion so that he could assess how extensive the experience of the magically-raised students, all of whom raised their hands when he asked who had brewed simple potions before, actually was; their strengths and weaknesses; who might actually have some innate talent for the subject and who would need the most help.

In this, the first lesson, they had discussed laboratory safety and were now moving on, in that same vein, to how they ought to prepare for their next lesson: their hair needed to be tied back; if they had robes with cuffed sleeves, they should wear them, the professor didn't care if they weren't uniform, otherwise they would be required to tie their sleeves up; they should avoid wearing anything with active enchantments, and they would be required to dismiss any ongoing magics on their persons before they entered the lab. Not that their assessment potion would be so sensitive that it might be affected by such small extraneous magics, but it was a good habit to get into, not bringing extraneous magics into the lab at all if one could help it.

"So, Miss Laurent, Miss Willoughby, I'm afraid you will have to find some other method of taming your hair on brewing days—"

Both Cosette and Jane, one of Dru's roommates, were using a hairstyling charm which teased one's hair into a fluffy, cloud-like mass. They were (inexplicably) popular this year. Jane and Camille Smythe, their other roommate, had spent well over an hour discussing the finer points of the style in the bathroom on Monday morning, trying to get their ridiculous hair-clouds to sit just so. Dru was fairly certain they'd missed the mark: the model in the picture in Camille's copy of Witch Weekly looked like she was underwater, her hair floating freely around her head, while the first-year girls looked more like some sort of bird was attempting to nest on their heads — far too static. (It was all the more ridiculous when they perched their uniform hats atop the mess.) Plus, the model was a redhead, her gravity-defying hair reminding Dru of flickering flames when she moved. The style simply didn't have the same effect with Cosette's mousy brown curls or Jane's slightly darker hair. (Camille's nearly white blonde puff was at least somewhat reminiscent of a cloud, as she claimed it was supposed to be.)

"—and it goes without saying, Miss Rosier, that you will need to dismiss your cosmetic charms."

Then why did you say it? she wondered. Especially since she didn't use cosmetic glamours. And even if she could convince the professor of that in private — it shouldn't be unduly difficult to ask him to cast a Finishing Charm on her to prove that she just looked like this — he'd now drawn attention to her appearance in front of the entire class. When she showed up to Thursday's lesson looking exactly the same as she did now, he would either have to refuse to allow her to participate because she was "using an active charm" or allow her to participate because she honestly wasn't, at which point the other students would either think that she was being allowed to participate without removing her (non-existent) glamour charms or realise that Dru's face was just naturally symmetrical.

Well, not naturally, but permanently. It wasn't a glamour, she really did look like this.

She couldn't help it. This was what she was supposed to look like — what the face she'd been born with looked like when all the little imperfections were removed. Yes, she knew it was weird, that "real people" weren't actually symmetrical (obviously she had seen other people before), and the fact that she was made her look somewhat...uncanny or fake. A little unsettling, though most people apparently couldn't put their finger on why, exactly. Theoretically she could probably prod her body into developing less symmetrically in the same way she'd eliminated the imperfections she knew had bothered her about herself as a small child, but in practice she couldn't bring herself to do it. She couldn't even clearly visualise a realistically normal-looking, slightly-wrong version of her face, much less convince herself that she should look wrong. The very idea of trying to made her feel anxious and ill.

If she weren't sitting with her hands folded neatly in her lap, she just knew they would be shaking, her knees weak. As it was, having it brought to her attention yet again that right — what Dru knew was right, the ideal she held for herself — was "wrong" — unnatural, freakish, disturbing, out of step and out of tune with all the normal people around her — and wrongimperfect — was "right" — acceptable, normal — was making her want to cry, because she wanted to fit in, to not be a discordant note, glaringly and offensively out of place, but she literally couldn't; the unrelenting pressure to conform, to become what everyone around her said she ought to be clashing painfully with her absolute certainty that embracing human imperfection was anathema to her very being making it difficult to breathe, much less say, "I don't use cosmetic charms, sir," in a calm, even voice.

There was really no better option. The best case scenario if she didn't force this confrontation now was that everyone else would conclude for themselves that Dru just looked like a freak. It was far more likely that if she didn't deal with the matter immediately, at least some of them would think she was receiving special treatment and that she consciously chose to look like this, and thought that she should be an exception to the rules — even though the rule in question was actually a very important one for their collective safety and wellbeing (or would be, if and when they reached more complicated brewing), and she had no desire whatsoever to undermine it, encouraging others to "do the same" (i.e., to actually flout said rule, to everyone's detriment).

Unfortunately, there was no non-humiliating outcome to this conversation, now that the professor had had to draw attention to her like that. He chortled, giving her a very patronising grin. "Ah, yes, no self-respecting witch worth her wand would ever admit as much. All the same, I do not allow glamoury in my potions labs, Miss Rosier, cosmetic or otherwise."

"No," Dru protested. "I mean it. I'm not using a charm. This is just...what I look like."

The professor frowned, clearly as unamused with her as she was with him. "Miss Rosier, you can't honestly expect me to believe..."

Well, yes, of course she could, it was true. "I don't lie, Professor. Please, cast a Finishing Charm on me if you don't believe me," she suggested, feeling her face growing pink.

He did attempt to end the non-existent cosmetic charms, which was almost as infuriating as his bringing this up in the first place. Yes, perhaps it was warranted not to believe a (potential) liar professing not to lie, but he had no reason to believe she was lying. He didn't use a Finishing Charm, though. His De-Spelling Spell would certainly have ended any cosmetic glamours she might have been using, but it also destabilised the conjured hairpins she was using to hold her smooth chignon in place — obviously she knew that a potions lab was no place to use hairstyling spells much less glamoury, which made this all the more humiliating — her thin kid gloves (she'd thought it best to wear gloves and shorter cuffs on the off chance that they might be brewing today) and her linen under-bodice and pantalettes.

She shuddered as her hair slithered free, falling around her shoulders, and the cotton of her outer robes settled against her skin, every point of contact instantly itchy. She forced herself to stay perfectly still — moving would only aggravate the condition, and she had to resist the urge to scratch, or she wouldn't be able to stop until she was bloody. She needed to take this thing off and wash, conjure new underclothes, and—

"Well, I'll be!" the obnoxious man exclaimed.

Cosette's braying laugh filled the air around them. Dru wasn't certain whether she was laughing at her or at the professor's astonishment, but she also wasn't certain whether she could possibly care less.

The wizard attempted to shrug off his mistake, though the way he stared at her, fascinated and altogether too acquisitive for Dru's comfort (even if she weren't already overwhelmingly uncomfortable) rather undercut his efforts. "Apologies, but I'm sure you can see how— Take it as a compliment, my dear! I dare say you'll be the envy of your classmates when you all make your debuts!"

"May I please be excused?" Dru asked, pushing herself stiffly to her feet. She needed to get out of here.

"I beg your pardon. What was that, Miss Rosier?" the man said, apparently utterly oblivious to Dru's discomfort and the tittering of the other students (including Cosette muttering to her assigned partner, one of the muggleborn Hufflepuffs, explaining that the professor thought Dru had been using magic to look like a construct or a veela or whatever she was supposed to be (never mind that Prudence Tittle wouldn't know what a construct or a veela was), but she was really just a freak).

"I find myself suddenly feeling poorly," she explained shortly. "I need to leave." At this point, she didn't care whether he gave her permission to go or not. She gathered her things and headed for the door without waiting for him to do so, because trying not to offend him or seem like a spaz or avoid getting in trouble were all far lesser priorities at the moment than getting out of this robe. Preferably in private — she just knew that if she were to abandon all pretence of modesty in public, she would never live it down — but she could feel herself breaking out in hives from the cotton (much faster than usual, she could only assume because she was already exhausted and out of sorts, in no state to attempt to resist the reaction), if she didn't get it off her soon, she would be utterly miserable for the rest of the day, even after she bathed and clothed herself properly.

"Come now, Miss Rosier. Sit back down, there are just a few more—"

"No! That wasn't a Finishing Charm! I have to go!" she snapped, hot, frustrated tears spilling over at her inability to explain herself, but there simply wasn't time. If the professor decided to punish her in some way for her rudeness, so be it, but she couldn't sit back down. She needed to– to get to a loo, or anywhere she could conjure a simple shift for herself, just something to cover her while she made her way up to the Tower and threw together a bath. She still had some powdered sage and willowbark in her trunk, that would help...

(Mean, mocking laughter followed her out of the classroom.)

It didn't even occur to her until the itching faded and she felt the danger of spending the remainder of the day in acute physical discomfort or even pain (if she was unable to resist scratching) had passed — after about half an hour of sitting in a cool bath — that she was missing her first Defence lesson.

She knew that the Potions professor hadn't intended to hurt her, much less impact her ability to make a good impression on the last of her new professors, but she couldn't help resenting him for it, especially since he hadn't needed to doubt her word when she'd initially claimed that she wasn't using cosmetic charms and he definitely hadn't needed to use a thrice-cursed De-Spelling Spell if all he'd wanted to do was confirm that she wasn't!

Yes, she'd given permission for him to use a dispelling charm on her, she was certain that if she complained, the Headmaster would be forced to take his side, agree that Dru was being unreasonable, she couldn't request that a senior professor, the Head of one of the school Houses, be sacked for assaulting her when she'd practically dared him to do so and had made no effort to so much as attempt to avoid the spell. But she hadn't given him permission to use that particular dispel on her, and she hadn't realised it wasn't a Finishing Charm until it hit her — there were dozens of variations, when she didn't recognise the shade of the spell-light, she'd thought it must simply be one she wasn't familiar with. She hadn't imagined that he might use a different spell entirely (or if she had, she'd ignored it — she did normally block out all the nonsense what-ifs her brain presented at any given moment, as much as possible, at least), and perhaps that was her fault, too preoccupied with the impending social consequences of her freakish, obsessive perfectionism being highlighted for the mean little children in her section to thoroughly consider the potential reactions to her suggestion—

No!

No, she was not going to take any of the blame for this debacle, she decided firmly. It was not her fault that he hadn't believed her about the cosmetic glamours; it was not her fault that he'd tested them using a spell other than the one she'd suggested; it was not her fault that she was allergic to cotton; and she was allowed to put her own physical wellbeing above social considerations such as offering offence to figures of authority, even outside of the House. Aunt Caelia had explicitly told her as much.

(Of course, that implied that she wasn't to put her mental wellbeing above social considerations unless she was miserable enough to physically hurt herself to escape a given situation, but Dru hadn't really expected to be given permission to simply avoid any and all interactions which triggered her various neuroses. If she were, she'd avoid ever interacting with most people (including Elladora) at all, and Aunt Caelia knew that. Dru hadn't forced her to make the edict explicit because until she did, there was a certain degree of uncertainty and therefore leeway in exactly how miserable Dru had to be before it was acceptable to openly offend people to get away from them.)

It wasn't even Dru's fault that she looked like this in the first place! If she could stop being an obsessive, neurotic freak who was only marginally functional in public on a good day, she obviously would! She wasn't an idiot. Looking around at everyone else, she couldn't help seeing that life would be much easier if she could just not care as much as they did about...literally everything. And she absolutely wouldn't apologise for using magic to make her existence more tolerable. She would explain how and why she did so when she was asked, even when the answers made her sound crazy or downright disturbing, but she wouldn't stop. She knew it was socially detrimental to admit to being crazy or to be considered disturbing by others, and she hated being ostracised as a freak, but she knew no one would understand her if she never explained herself, and using magic to insulate herself to some degree from the horrors of reality was the difference between Dru being marginally functional and entirely non-functional. (Or dead — suicide was always an option.)

(It probably...shouldn't? be reassuring to remind herself of that, but it definitely was. The too-fast beating of her heart calmed significantly when she recalled that she wasn't really trapped here. It only seemed like it when she let it slip from her mind that life was only a temporary misery which she had the power to end if she was certain that the opportunities to learn things and explore new ideas no longer outweighed the pain and trauma of existing and the comforting siren-song of oblivion.)

(...Morrigan, I really need to figure out why I can't sleep...)

If Slughorn had asked, if he had addressed the issue in privacy with some degree of tact, rather than drawing attention to her in front of her (so-called) peers like an utter buffoon, she would have told him that she wasn't using a glamour charm, or any other magic that would affect the brewing environment, for that matter. If he'd pressed, she would have admitted that she'd simply hated the ugly, glaring imperfections of her own face to such a degree that she'd eliminated them with accidental magic when she was small, and she couldn't bring herself to consciously undo it, even knowing (as she now did) that they had been relatively minor imperfections compared to those of the vast majority of human faces, and completely unremarkable to literally anyone other than Dru herself.

She might even have attempted to explain how insulting it was to be accused of vanity — of wanting to seem beautiful to other people, of wanting to lie to them with glamoury — when she found the idea of superficially painting over one's flaws to be even more revolting than the existence of such imperfections in the first place. If she truly cared about perception, it would matter more to her that people who weren't accustomed to her appearance thought she looked unreal and that was "wrong" than it did that the idea of allowing herself to remain flawed when she could choose not to be was intrinsically horrifying.

It had simply bothered her that the muscles on the right side of her face had been slightly more developed than her left, making her lips pull noticeably to the right when she smiled. Her right eyebrow had arched two millimetres higher than her left, and her lower left eyelid had had three more eyelashes than her right. The density of hair on the left half of her head had just generally been greater than that on the right, on the order of fifteen to twenty hairs per square centimetre. Something about the slight deviations in the bilateral symmetry of her zygomatics and maxillae had made her nose seem as though it wasn't precisely on the midline of her body, even though it actually had been. There had been a small scar on the left side of her upper lip, where it had been split by one of her cousins shoving her into a table when she was learning to walk, and at least a dozen other minor imperfections she'd eliminated between the ages of four and seven.

Yes, correcting such deviations did make her face perceptibly abnormal in a way some witches did use glamoury to achieve in seeming, but it wasn't as though she'd adjusted the proportions of her features to match the golden ratio, or given herself more strikingly coloured eyes or reduced the prominence of her nose, which were altogether more common cosmetic glamours. And she rather thought it would be strange if she did. There were, of course, plenty of witches who taught their daughters such tricks before they started school — Great-Aunt Gertrude, for example, had encouraged Ella to teach Dru to glamour away blemishes as a standard personal hygiene charm before she left for Beauxbatons (Dru had cried at the implication that she would inevitably develop blemishes, and at the idea that they couldn't be cured but simply must be hidden) — but it was Dru's understanding that most adults found it off-putting when children emulated behaviours which were intended to make them more sexually attractive to each other, or at least when they did so well. (Doing so poorly was apparently "adorable" and something to be cooed over by patronising female relatives in the same way as children attempting to do any other adult activity incompetently.)

But she didn't. She had no desire to be sexually attractive to anyone. That wasn't the point. The point was that human bodies were flawed vessels which should be improved on wherever possible — which was, to be perfectly clear, practically everywhere. Even when they were functioning "ideally", they were still unpleasant and ridiculous.

Making her face — and every other external aspect of her body, for that matter, her face was simply the most obvious to people who didn't regularly see her in a maillot for dance practice and/or examine children's physical development professionally — properly symmetrical and refusing to allow it to blemish or blister in the sun or otherwise disturb her peace of mind with its natural imperfections was no different from refusing to allow her primary dentition to be shed until the corresponding pair of secondary teeth was fully formed and could be shifted to replace the milk teeth overnight. (That did make her face ache for a few days every time and had raised uncomfortable questions and a visit to a healer when Ella realised that Felix was losing his teeth, but Dru "hadn't" lost hers, but the alternative was walking around potentially for months with an absurd gap while she waited for her body to mature on its own timeline, so Dru felt it was worth it.)

She didn't do it in pursuit of anyone else's admiration, but simply for herself. It was insulting to imply that she cared so deeply about others' perception of her, and even more-so because if she were trying to impress anyone else with her appearance, she would be failing: not only was it (in her opinion, and that, she thought, of anyone with any class to speak of) inappropriate for a prepubescent girl to attempt to present herself in the manner of a young woman seeking courtship, but far more people found her appearance uncanny than attractive, because normal people don't look like this, do you honestly think I don't know that?!

Dru didn't enjoy being angry, but she was really very angry at that– that absolute puffin of a man for not only implying that she was a liar — attempting to deceive him both about her general appearance and specifically by telling him that she didn't use cosmetic glamours — but for using the wrong spell and thereby horribly inconveniencing her, not to mention undermining her assumption of safety within the school, and then telling her to take it as a compliment.

She wasn't going to be comfortable wearing her school robes anymore, she just knew it. She hadn't objected to Ella's insistence that she wear the heavy cotton robes recommended by the tailor they'd visited because the same high collars and long cuffs of her conjured underclothes (and/or gloves) which protected her from her everyday robes at home would serve just as well with the school uniform, but she hadn't considered that someone might come along and De-Spell her! For the first time, she was actually relieved that she couldn't quite conjure anything as demanding as proper outerwear yet — complex pleats, buttons, pockets, and so on tended to turn out poorly when she used extended casting to realise them, and she couldn't channel enough magic to realise them instantaneously — because what if she had, and the professor had vanished all of her clothing? Would he have told her to laugh that off and consider it a compliment?

She couldn't imagine he would, but then, she hadn't imagined he would vanish her underclothes, either. Why would she have? No one would expect her to be wearing conjured underclothes so they wouldn't think to do so maliciously (or wouldn't have, before the absolute puffin demonstrated for her class that she did), and there was no reason for anyone to be throwing around magic which might disrupt them for any other purpose, either!

And that was to say nothing of that look he'd given her, when he'd realised that his De-Spelling Spell hadn't affected her face in any way. It was a look which invariably preceded the worst sort of awkward conversations with (soon-to-be former) tutors: a look which said Dru had just done something astonishing which indicated, somehow, by some logic she still didn't understand, that she was so talented that she ought to be compelled to pursue singing or painting or playing the violin to the exclusion of all other arts, and moreover that the tutor, as the one who had 'discovered' this talent, ought to be rewarded with full control of Dru's future endeavours in whatever discipline they happened to teach and perhaps just full control of Dru herself. (Mister Rodabaugh, her vocal coach, had been especially pushy, promising Uncle Luc that if he agreed to apprentice Dru to him, he would get her onto every stage in Europe. In exchange, he only wanted what amounted to a marriage contract which afforded her no rights whatsoever.)

Dru absolutely believed Aunt Caelia when she warned her that there would be unwelcome interest if she were to take her exams and start seeking an academic apprenticeship now largely because she'd already had (in her opinion) far too many such conversations in the past six years. (Some of her would-be masters had attempted to convince Dru to support their request before approaching her Head of House with an apprenticeship offer, which on the one hand she appreciated, because it wasn't quite so dismissive of her own opinion on the matter as simply going to Uncle Luc, but on the other she was informed that attempting to coach a five-year-old to support what amounted to little more than her own enslavement was morally repugnant and absolutely nefarious. Especially since most five-year-olds weren't Dru and wouldn't answer cloud-castle dreaming of being famous and adored by the masses by flatly informing their tutor that performers' fame was fleeting, and if she wanted to be famous in music (which she didn't), she'd become a composer.)

She wasn't entirely certain what Slughorn had seen in her — whether the fact that she wasn't using glamours and simply looked like this marked her out as some sort of exotic creature he found fascinating and wished to collect, like a particularly pretty dragonwing or fyrefly, or whether he'd noticed that her collar (which had been visible above her robes, obviously, so that they wouldn't touch her neck) had vanished under his spell and realised that it must have been conjured, suggesting that she must be far more magically talented than the average eleven-year-old — but she was absolutely certain that had been a look of...covetousness. She did not want to return to his classroom on Thursday, especially since she would be obliged to brew whatever potion he intended to use to assess their abilities, and Dru could hardly do so poorly. Not intentionally.

Which meant she would almost certainly find herself standing out once again. Because when Cosette raised her hand claiming to have some experience brewing potions, what she meant was that her eldest brother was pursuing a career in potions and sometimes let her sit in the corner and watch him brew or prepare ingredients for him; when Dru raised her hand, she meant she'd been brewing nutrient potions for herself for years, because Ella was concerned that Dru was going to starve herself to death, and it was important that she not develop any deficiencies which a healer might use as a pretence to lock her in a mental ward at her mother's urging. Aunt Caelia would eventually notice she was missing and come rescue her, but Dru might already have lost her mind by the time she did.

She didn't even want to leave her bath. As soon as she did, she would be forced to contend with Camille, Anabelle, Nan, and Ariette, all of whom she'd locked out of the bathroom for the past forty minutes. Well, Ana and Nan, at least. Camille and Ariette's section had a Charms lesson at the same time as Dru was supposed to have Defence.

She absolutely had to, though, because on top of thoroughly ruining her day, Professor Puffin had ruined her first opportunity to make a good impression on Professor Marshall. She simply must go down and apologise for missing his first lesson, preferably immediately after that lesson ended. She had no idea when his office hours were, but more importantly, she had the entire afternoon free. She had intended to spend the hours between lunch and curfew in the library, attempting to find some solution to her problem of being unable to sleep, and being humiliated and discomfited by the Potions professor, while awful, didn't affect her need to find a solution to her sleeping problem in any appreciable way.

She had no desire to interrupt her research and lose her train of thought. Her original plan had been to obtain some of the least offensive food on offer at lunch to eat later in the evening, and bury herself in books until the librarian regretfully informed her that she must leave. Now, she had to apologise first. Which was particularly bothersome given that literally none of this was Dru's fault, but there was, unfortunately, nothing to be done. Refusing to so much as take the time to explain her absence would only worsen her first impression on Professor Marshall, and that would be her fault.

Somewhat surprisingly, it wasn't Ana and Nan who were waiting in the small common area outside when Dru finally removed the locking charms on the bathroom door, but Jane and one of the Gryffindors from their section — Enid Hansen. From their conversation between lessons, Dru gathered they'd known each other before school.

"Alright there, Princess?" the Gryffindor drawled.

"Please don't call me that, Miss Hansen. And while I wouldn't say I'm feeling quite well, I do feel much improved, thank you," she added, somewhat warily.

Sure enough, Jane snorted. "I wouldn't say I'm feeling quite well— If you don't want us to call you Princess, stop talking like a stuck-up little pureblood princess and running off in hysterics, why don't you?"

"I hardly intend to make a habit of it, Miss Willoughby."

"Why did you, then?" Enid asked, blunt curiosity as clear on her features as Jane's, who nodded.

Dru felt her face grow warm. "I don't consider the implication that I am a liar to be in any way complimentary," she said stiffly. If they hadn't noticed the collar of her under-blouse vanishing, she certainly had no intention of pointing it out for them.

"But that doesn't have anything to do with the spell he used," Jane noted. "You said it wasn't a Finishing Charm. What was it? What did it do?"

"Was it a bum-pinching hex or something?"

"Enid!" Jane squealed, delightedly scandalised.

"What? You know my sister said old Sluggy's a creep, and you saw the way he was looking at Miss Princess — like a particularly sweet morsel of candied pineapple he can't wait to gobble up!"

While it was somewhat reassuring that Dru wasn't the only person who'd found that look uncomfortable, she didn't see how it was any of the other girls' business what the spell had done. "It wasn't a Pinching Hex, Miss Hansen."

"Well, what was it, then?"

"It was a De-Spelling Spell, if you really must know. Why aren't you in Defence?"

"Professor Marshall let us leave early since no one ever does anything in the first lesson. Why did you run off if it was just a De-Spelling Spell? Didn't you ask him to do one?"

"No, Miss Willoughby, I asked him to do a Finishing Charm, which is a very different spell — far less energetically intense and invasive, and altogether less discomfiting for multiple reasons. All of which are my own, and I beg you not to ask of them," she added, as sternly as she could. "Now, if you will excuse me, I need to speak to Professor Marshall."

She turned her back on them and began descending the stairs, ignoring their attempts to ignore her request not to ask how exactly a De-Spelling Spell could be discomfiting to anyone. That didn't mean she didn't hear Enid clearly asking Jane, "Wait, if it was just a De-Spelling Spell, does that mean she really does just look like that? Cosette was right, she's such a freak..."

She sighed. Honestly, she hadn't expected the children here to think anything else of her, but it would have been nice to make it through more than three days before becoming a social pariah.

Professor Marshall was still in the assigned classroom when Dru reached it, which was a relief because it meant she didn't have to ask anyone where his office was. He was younger than she had expected — only perhaps thirty years old, and his (unfashionable) lack of facial hair made him look younger yet — with sandy hair more brown than blond; a notably small nose and widely spaced eyes; and a rather distracted air. He startled when she knocked lightly on the half-open door, his wand zipping to his hand from the other side of the desk before he realised that he was being interrupted by a student. He set it down immediately, while she added probably competent to her list of his characteristics. It wasn't precisely unusual for Aurors and other law-enforcement or military mages to learn to summon their wands, but to do so apparently reflexively suggested that he was very well trained and accustomed to working in an environment with a considerably higher danger threshold than a secondary school. She had to wonder what he'd done before becoming a teacher, and how long he'd been here.

"Oh! Ah— Apologies. Please, come in, Miss...Rosier?"

That was clearly a guess, but a good one. She nodded as she slipped into the room. "Yes, sir. Druella Rosier. And I believe it is I who owes you an apology, for missing our first lesson. I was...indisposed."

He scowled, though not at her. More into the middle distance, running his fingers through his short hair (nearly as unfashionable as his lack of moustache) in a rather frustrated gesture. "I gathered as much. Several of your classmates were saying— Well. Hardly important exactly what they were saying, suffice to say, I did gather that you were indisposed, and it's not as though you missed anything important. I presume you students already know each other's names, at least. They certainly know yours," he added, in a very matter-of-fact tone Dru wasn't certain how to interpret. "Er. Would you care to elaborate? We do still have a few minutes in the period...?"

Well, quite frankly, she would rather not, but she was finding it very difficult to predict Professor Marshall's likely response if she were to say so. He seemed to be rather preoccupied by...whatever he had been scribbling away at when she knocked, but at the same time, already in a rather short mood. If she didn't have anything to say beyond introducing herself, he might be annoyed to have been interrupted for something so specious.

"I'm...allergic to cotton, sir."

"You're allergic," the professor repeated sceptically. "To cotton? Aren't your robes made of cotton?"

She nodded. "I wear conjured linen under my robes to avoid touching it. Professor Slughorn drew attention to my appearance in our first lesson in the context of warning us not to employ extraneous active magics on brewing days and refused to believe that I don't use cosmetic glamours when I simply told him as much because I thought it best to address the issue before our next lesson, when arguing the matter would obviously cut into brewing time, or in private, given that he had already publicly called my classmates' attention to the fact that I look like a freak—"

His fingers, tapping idly at the desk as his eyes drifted back toward his work, stopped. One rose, cutting her off before his words: "Don't call yourself a freak, Miss Rosier. To accept negative characterisations of yourself by those who wish to belittle you as truth is to cede ground in the psychological warfare of adolescence. But go on. I am paying attention, I swear."

...Well, she would, but she had been thoroughly distracted by his interruption. "It is true, though. I am a freak." She didn't really think it was a bad thing, most of the time. Obviously it was a bad thing that she didn't fit in, but she wouldn't choose to be an idiot or not be good at magic if she were given the opportunity to do so. That was even more ridiculous a proposition than trying to make herself look normal.

He looked up again at that, surprise not quite smothering a hint of glittering amusement in his very green eyes as they caught her own. "No, no, no, Miss Rosier. Freakishness is not a matter of truth, it is a matter of perspective. You could just as easily say that they are pitiably slow, small-minded creatures who barely count as sentient."

His teasing smirk coaxed a reluctant smile from her, entirely involuntarily. "I could, but objectively speaking, they fall far nearer to the norm than I by practically any measure."

"Yes, the mediocre like to call exceptional individuals freaks because it makes them feel better about their relative inferiority. To accept their paradigm as truth, rather than to recognise it for what it is, is beneath you. I'm quite certain of it. What does this have to do with Horace? Er. Professor Slughorn, that is. Must try to get used to that..."

Well, that supported her suspicion that he was new to teaching. She wondered whether he knew Slughorn outside of the school, or whether all of the teachers were on familiar terms, and Professor Marshall simply wasn't accustomed to using formal titles of reference when speaking to third parties.

"Oh, well...I suggested that if Professor Slughorn didn't believe me that I wasn't using a cosmetic glamour, he ought to cast a Finishing Charm on me, but he cast a De-Spelling Spell instead, which interrupted my conjurations. I had to wash and conjure new underclothes before I could come down."

"Ah. Did you hex him?"

"What?" Dru exclaimed, perhaps slightly louder than she'd intended, but she was taken by surprise by the positively blasé tone of the question. "Of course not!"

"You should have. If he ever does it again— No, strike that, if anyone casts magic on you without your permission, you have my permission to hex them."

"...Do you have the authority to give me permission to hex people?" Not that she thought she actually would, permission or no. Resorting to violence to express one's displeasure was so...uncouth.

The professor grinned. "I should hope so. This job certainly doesn't come with a lot of other perks. And I'm a Defence professor. Telling little girls they have the right to hex overgrown walruses who vanish their underclothes seems like a fairly introductory self-defence lesson to me. In fact—" He scribbled a note on a different bit of parchment. "—that's good, I'll have to remember to put it in the lesson plan. I mean, not with underclothes and walruses specifically, that would obviously be a bit...well. Specific. And obvious. But in a more..." His free hand waffled for a moment. "...general, appropriate responses to inappropriate touching sense."

While Dru was relieved that he didn't intend to make it obvious to her classmates precisely what Slughorn had done to her, that relief was almost entirely outweighed by an ominous sort of concern. "You...don't already have lesson plans?" This must be his first year teaching, not only here, but at all.

"Not as such, no," the professor said, absolutely unconcerned. "I have a lesson outline, based on Molly Hunter's syllabus — the previous introductory Defence professor, that is. I shouldn't think it altogether difficult to improvise the actual lessons. You first-years are only expected to learn how to deal with mundane threats — muggles and non-magical animals — and I've been strictly forbidden to teach you anything more dangerous than a basic Candle-Lighting Charm — so officially speaking, they largely centre on when it's best to run away immediately, and when you ought to distract an attacker with a lumax or a Cracker-Pop Jinx first."

Well, what good was that? That she didn't approve of violence didn't mean that she didn't think they ought to learn how to actually defend themselves, just in case they somehow found themselves in a situation wherein they were unable to call for help from a more qualified individual. Dogs and adult muggles were both faster than most children, and if they were intent on attacking a young mage for whatever reason, it seemed unlikely that they would be easily distracted by a few bright lights and loud noises. (Also, if Dru were to try to distract a theoretical attacker in such a way, she would probably debilitate herself, rendering the theoretical attack more likely to succeed.) Not to mention, Dru suspected that she was much more likely to be hexed in the back by Cosette and her friends than to be physically threatened by a random muggle. She had never actually encountered a muggle in the real world, much less offended one to the point of violence.

The professor caught her involuntary scowl, matching it with a knowing smirk. "We'll be discussing hypotheticals a good deal, as well as practising defending against conjured animals and animated dummies; experimenting with creative misuse of Level Five charms and transfigurations—" Oh, that was alright, then... "—and no one has yet to inform me that you students aren't allowed to teach each other more useful hexes and jinxes, so I think we'll try to do something with that as well, let each of you teach your peers one spell, or something of the like."

...An interesting proposition, and somehow less offensive than Dumbledore suggesting that she ought to teach his lesson for him. Perhaps because Professor Marshall had clearly stated that the school administration wouldn't allow him to do so himself. In that light, facilitating an opportunity through which students might learn more in spite of that limitation could be considered exceeding the expectations she held for a professor, rather than attempting to avoid doing his job, even if they were asking essentially the same thing of her.

She nodded. She'd have to consider which spell she would teach when her turn came up. Something relatively simple so that the other students would be able to cast it — she'd probably have to ask Draco ahead of time whether he could, just to make sure — and versatile, since she had no way to predict whether and when any given person might stumble into trouble, much less the nature of that trouble, and even if she did, she was only meant to teach one spell to everyone. Hmmm...

"I've also been forbidden to teach you anything specific about the Dark Arts, because this isn't Durmstrang — I'm not entirely certain what Dumbledore thinks they teach at Durmstrang, but I get the impression he thinks we're all bloodthirsty barbarians, or possibly would-be vikings. Strange man. But in any case, I have lectures planned on magical polarisation, emotional motivation in casting, political philosophy, and the legal definition of the Dark Arts, in the hopes that I can, at the very least, disentangle the various concepts of the dark which are so commonly conflated by the British public."

Lectures which Dru suspected would be very boring, given that she was already well aware of the relevant distinctions, but which were not, on the whole, a bad idea, given that it was reasonably likely her classmates were conflating the term's use in different contexts.

Though... "Are you not British?"

He sounded British. She could believe that he had attended Durmstrang rather than Hogwarts — she wasn't familiar with House Marshall, but it would make sense if they were a smaller Common House. Hogwarts was actually relatively expensive and notoriously difficult to secure a place if one's family hadn't the proper connections. (With the exception of muggleborns, who were guaranteed a place under the Hogwarts Treaty with the British Wizengamot.) Durmstrang was similarly expensive, but rather than taking all muggleborns in their catchment region, they offered a certain number of free places in each class based on academic potential. It wasn't unusual for commoners from Britain as well as from the Continent to compete for such scholarship opportunities.

"Not for quite some time, no. My parents still live in Kent, but I grew accustomed to the more relaxed customs of the Continent while I was at school, and so decided not to return after I graduated. Until, of course, a friend of a friend mentioned that Hogwarts was in need of a new Defence professor. Quite honestly, I threw my hat into the ring on a lark. I hardly expected to get the position, but I could hardly turn down the offer when it was extended." He shrugged, altogether too nonchalant. Dru might not think much of Britain in general and Hogwarts specifically so far, but she knew that it was even more difficult to secure a teaching post here than it was to secure a place as a student.

"Congratulations, sir. Would it be impertinent to ask what your career was before you became a teacher?"

He smiled. "Haven't the foggiest. I can't say I'm terribly well-versed in expected student–professor interactions here in Britain. I told your classmates I was a developer of experimental charms, which is true, but I'm really more a jack of all trades. I was employed as a sort of man Friday for one of the more influential families in Venice, and one picks things up, here and there."

Dru's eyes widened slightly. The line between the legitimate businessmen and criminal organisations could be thin in Venice, as their merchant Houses had a long history of sabotaging and stealing from each other — sometimes with incidental fatalities when thieves or arsonists encountered guards, and sometimes with deliberate assassination of high-ranking members of various Houses. Between Professor Marshall's claim to be a spell-developer, his reflexive wand-summoning, and his characterisation of his previous job as "man Friday", it seemed likely that he had been the body-man of one of the more influential 'merchants' in the region — a sort of bodyguard cum personal valet and/or left hand for hire, tasked with accomplishing any goal his employer might set, from watching his back to organising the destruction of competitors' cargoes and ships.

...And he absolutely knew why her eyes had gone wide, because he raised an eyebrow in silent invitation to either make something of it or assure him that she would hold her peace. Not that he'd actually said anything incriminating. If she were to tell anyone — which she had no reason to do — it was hardly as though she had some damning evidence to present, and she was certain he'd had to provide convincing references when he took the position here.

"I...suppose this must be rather a change of pace, then," she hazarded, attempting to communicate that she realised that if he'd chosen to move to the middle of nowhere in Scotland, to a position where (she imagined) he would be almost entirely isolated from his previous life, he must have done so intentionally, presumably in order to escape what she understood could be a difficult situation to simply resign from. Body-men held access to all of their employers' secrets, so it was hardly unusual for one to be killed if he gave any sign of disloyalty or even simply wishing to resign and settle down in a less dangerous lifestyle, at least in novels. She imagined that particular literary trope held some basis in actual interactions, because it did make sense (from the perspective of one who might resort to assassinating his mercantile rivals, at least).

She couldn't imagine that he would have admitted as much if he were trying to carry out some criminal activity here in the school, so it seemed a good bet that he was legitimately trying to start a new life for himself. In that case, William Marshall probably wasn't his real name. ...Though she'd be willing to bet that he really had been born in Kent and it would be all too easy for Headmaster Dippet to check whether he'd attended Durmstrang, so perhaps he'd given the Venetians a false name? That would presume a degree of premeditation in his decision to involve himself with a Venetian merchant House in the first place, but...

Well, either that or she'd read entirely too much into the few clues she'd been given, and he had simply been a manservant in a respectable household and picked up the basics of various magical disciplines in the course of maintaining the household and helping to educate the children of the family, or something equally benign. In which case, his arched brow might simply mean that he had no idea why she had reacted with any degree of surprise, and now thought her otherwise banal response somewhat odd for its hesitancy.

"Indeed," he agreed, a hint of amused resignation in his tone, which she thought supported the latter theory, and was trying not to laugh at the false assumption he'd realised she'd made. "Though not so great a change as novels and plays might have you believe," he added, trying not to smile.

Dru's face grew warm again. Yes, she was clearly overthinking this. Especially since he seemed to take her use of the word "freak" a bit personally, earlier, and had shown no sign of surprise when she'd explained that she habitually conjured her underclothes. If he was also simply better than average at wizardry, he wouldn't necessarily have needed much motivation to learn to summon his wand wandlessly. It would also explain describing himself as having picked up various skills here and there. She didn't know how she might describe herself in twenty years, but if she were trying not to intimidate a new acquaintance, jack of all trades might be a fair characterisation. (If, of course, anyone was interested in Dru's life, accomplishments, or interests beyond the role of Lady Druella, which given the shallowness of the British Nobles she'd so far encountered seemed unlikely.)

"However, I believe you are now thoroughly caught up on everything you missed whilst you were indisposed. If you have no more questions regarding the course, I really should send this off before lunch," he said, gesturing with his quill at the page he had been writing when Dru arrived — a letter, apparently, though she couldn't read it from this angle.

She suspected it had an anti-spying spell on it, fuzzing the contents when viewed from an oblique angle. That seemed like an odd spell for a professor to use on personal correspondence, but perhaps not an unreasonable one if she wasn't overthinking it and he actually had been a Venetian body-man. She imagined that it would simply be habitual by now.

Stop it, Dru, you're overthinking this. He probably just didn't want anyone who might care to discover that he was complaining about his new boss or plotting to circumvent the school's policies regarding the non-education of first-years, or something similarly reasonable (and therefore disallowed). Or perhaps he was writing to a paramour, or perhaps there was no reason he ought to want to hide whatever he was writing, aside from the fact that it was no one else's business, and nosey people like Dru would certainly read it if they could, if only because it was there. There were plenty of reasons he could be using such a spell. It wasn't evidence of anything beyond the fact that he liked his privacy, which was, as Dru had herself informed Elladora many a time, not a crime.

"No, sir. Thank you," she added, grateful for his tactful handling of her (rather embarrassing, if thankfully unvoiced) assumptions, and more relieved than she'd expected to be that he wasn't upset with her for missing his first lesson. Now that she knew she actually rather liked Professor Marshall — he might be somewhat less concerned about his job than Dru would have expected, but he seemed to take a reasonable stance on actually educating his students, regardless of whether he was 'allowed' to do so, which she could actually respect, and he had accepted her explanation of her extreme tardiness without asking her to prove that she was allergic to cotton or that she could conjure underclothes for herself, which she hadn't actually noticed at the time but in hindsight was very welcome — she would be even more disappointed to have gotten off on the wrong foot with him than if she didn't like him anyway.