A firm tread and the brush of fabric against wood preceded Professor Holmes into the relocated Potions classroom, and against his will, Harry tensed. It didn’t matter that he’d faced dementors, Death Eaters and the Dark Lord himself. Put him in a Potions classroom and he was instantly eleven years old all over again.
It didn’t help that Professor Holmes swept a critical gaze over the classroom, judging them all in turn. When he finally spoke, his voice was deep and derisive. “You are all here to pass a test.” He scanned the room again, making Harry slouch a bit to be less noticeable. “I don’t care about the test.” Ignoring the gasps from around the room, loudest from Hermione sitting next to Harry, Holmes went on, “Tests are arbitrary and meaningless. I can’t be bothered wasting my time or yours teaching you what you could learn by rote easily enough on your own.”
Hermione’s hand shot up. “But, Professor--”
“You have had adequate time and teaching to master the fundamentals of potion work. This year you will learn how to apply those methods.” Hermione slumped back into her seat, but Harry could tell she was curious, not angry. “Your only work outside of the classroom will be to invent, document and create a potion of your own devising well enough that I can reproduce it. By doing so, you will prove your understanding and mastery of potion work better than any test.” He said the last word with a sneer that would have made Snape proud. Then he turned to Hermione and pointedly asked, “Any questions?”
By now her cheeks were flushed and eyes wide in an expression Harry recognized as excitement. She shook her head slightly.
“Good. Now open your textbooks. I don’t care where. Choose a potion to make. You have full access to the lab’s stores. Show me what you can do.”
“Anything, sir?” Hermione all but squeaked.
He stared at her, unblinking. “Was I unclear, Miss…?”
“Granger, sir. No, sir.”
“Then might I ask why you’re all still sitting at your desks?”
There was a flurry of activity as students flipped madly through their books or rushed to claim the best cauldrons at the workbenches. Ron leaned in. “He’s a bit mental, isn’t he?”
“I suppose so.” He didn’t look at the book he paged through, instead watching Professor Holmes, who seemed to be ignoring them all in favor of opening what looked like a copy of the New York Times.
“And where’s Hermione gotten to already?”
Harry glanced around, and wasn’t surprised to find her at the top of a ladder in the supply cupboard, leaning precariously out to catch something just out of reach. “Guess she already knows what she wants to make.”
“No surprise there. We’d better figure ours out, too.” Ron turned a few pages. “Maybe I’ll try to make Felix Felicis.”
Harry gave him a side-eye. “Remember what Slughorn said happens when you get that wrong?”
Ron grimaced. “Yeah, maybe not.”
In the last half hour of class, Holmes began moving through the classroom, inspecting everyone’s work. He was critical, but not cruel, and to Harry’s surprise, he found himself looking forward to his own review. He’d never gotten unbiased feedback on his potion work before. and was curious what the man would say.
The professor paused with Hermione first. “Why polyjuice potion?”
She flushed slightly. “I wanted to try it under more stable circumstances.”
“More stable. Implying you’ve done it under less stable?”
Ron seemed to feel the need to defend her. “She could make a working polyjuice in our second year, sir. In an empty girl’s bathroom.”
Holmes didn’t look at him. “Resourceful.” He prodded the potion with a glass rod he carefully wiped off with a cloth. “Do you intend to see this to the end, Granger?”
“If I may, sir.”
"In your own free time, then. No point in wasting a perfectly good potion.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
But the professor had already moved on to Harry’s cauldron. He wiped the glass rod again and swirled it the the amber liquid there. “Interesting choice, Potter.” Harry wasn’t surprised that the professor knew who he was, only that he hadn’t called him out on it before. “Tell me, have you been subjected to veritaserum often enough to need an antidote?”
“A fair few times, yes, sir.”
“Well, this isn’t badly done. Your skills are a bit inconsistent, though. You have some advanced techniques, and yet barely the fundamentals in others.”
“My teaching was a bit unconventional, sir.”
Holmes studied him for a long moment, until Harry felt like the man was peeling off his skin to look inside. Just when Harry felt like folding his arms over his chest, Holmes nodded slightly. “So long as it works. Work on your wand aspects. And bottle that. It might come in handy for one of us.” And he swept on to Ron’s flying ointment.
When class let out, the students were all abuzz down the long staircase down from the tower. Hermione practically ignored Ron and Harry, muttering to herself lists of potion ingredients in rapid fire lists, shaking her head and then starting again all the way back to the common room. “That wasn’t so bad,” Ron admitted. “And no homework for the whole year. That’s good!”
Hermione glared at him. “Ronald, of course there’s homework. Do you think you can just whip up a new potion at the last minute like an astronomy paper? It may take most of the school year to develop and test, and remember, Professor Holmes has to be able to make it as well from your instructions. No, this is… I have to go to the library!” She grabbed up her book bag and disappeared back out the door.
Ron slumped into a chair by the fire, watching her go. “She doesn’t have to look so happy about it.”
“This is Hermione. Of course she does. And to be fair, this is the first time since we started that she’s taken on a project like this that hasn’t been life or death. For Hermione, this if fun.”
“She’s never going to stop being daft, is she?” But Ron’s look was affectionate rather than critical.
“She’s your girlfriend, mate.”
Ron grinned and plonked into the armchair next to the fire. Harry sat more thoughtfully on the floor across from him. “Did you notice anything...odd about Professor Holmes?”
Ron snorted. “Thought odd was a requirement to get a teaching job here.”
“Did you notice what he was reading during class?”
“Not really. Newspaper, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, a muggle newspaper.”
“You don’t think that’s weird?”
“Not after living with my dad, I don’t.”
Ron swung his legs off the arm of the chair to plant his feet firmly on the floor as he leaned down to look Harry in the eye. “I get it, mate. I really do. This year is going to be dull, isn’t it? No mysteries, no adventures, no Voldemort, not even Malfoy to make things interesting. But you can’t just invent a puzzle when there isn’t one. Holmes is a nutter, just like half the teachers here. But that doesn’t make him a villain. Keep it up and you’re going to get a reputation like Moody’s.”
Harry glared at him balefully. “But people were trying to kill Moody, weren’t they?”
“Not like he didn’t give them reason.” Ron slouched back into the cushions. “Let it go, Harry. He’s no worse than some teachers we’ve had, and at least he gives he gives us the credit of having some brains. We could have done a whole lot worse.”
“Come on.” Ron stood and grabbed Harry’s arm. “Let’s go bother Hermione in the library. Maybe she’ll come up with an idea for a potion we can steal.”
Harry let Ron pull him up. “You really think we could make anything she dreams up?”
“Course not.” He grinned. “But the ideas she throws out on her way to the hardest thing she can come up with? Yeah, we can do that!”