The second year Gryffindors had their first Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson with Professor Gandolfsson on the following Tuesday after breakfast. Sirius's excitement at the prospect of learning Defence from a real Auror was only slightly dampened by the fact that the class would be a double lesson with Slytherin.
"It was incredible," said Gideon on Monday night at supper.
"Amazing," agreed his brother, shaking his head. "Like no Defence class we've ever had."
"Gandolfsson really knows his stuff," Gideon told them. "He's been there, you know? You'll definitely learn a thing or two if you're even half awake."
Sirius didn't think "awake" was going to be a problem. This wasn't History of Magic, after all. He had never felt so alert and ready to learn. He kept catching James's eye over breakfast, the two of them exchanging broad grins as they stuffed their mouths with eggs and toast and sausage. Peter looked excited, too, but nervous. Remus just sat quietly eating his breakfast, as if they weren't about to have the best lesson of their educations so far.
All the way to class, Sirius imagined being called upon to demonstrate his skill before his fellow students. He would show Professor Gandolfsson some clever jinx he had learnt to impress the Prewetts last year, and the Defence master would praise him as an example of what the whole class should aim to achieve. He had yet to decide between the Noodle-Arms jinx and the Mouth-Sealing hex when they arrived at the Defence classroom.
Remus went to sit at the front with Lily Evans, and after a moment's indecision, Sirius turned away from the usual place he, James and Peter occupied at the back of the classroom, in favour of seats in the second row. James raised his eyebrows, but shrugged and joined him.
Gandolfsson, seated behind his desk, did not look up from the parchment on which he was writing as the students filed in. When the bell rang, signalling the start of the lesson, Sirius was sitting expectantly, parchment, quill and ink at the ready, his copy of Practical Defensive Magic close at hand. He expected the professor to rise and address the class, but instead, Gandolfsson executed an odd sideways slide from behind the desk to the front of the room.
Sirius's mouth dropped open. The Defence master was seated on a miniature flying carpet. His twisted legs hung uselessly over the side, feet cradled in leather stirrups. He eyed the class belligerently, as if gauging their reaction to his incapacity. There was a long silence, during which Sirius regained control of his mouth and snapped it shut, nudging Peter to do the same. James briefly caught his eye and shook his head once. He hadn't known either.
"Right," said Gandolfsson at last. He had a sharp, ringing voice, and his tone was chilly. "I am here for one reason, and one reason only. Which of you unlikely lumps can tell me what that is?"
A few hands rose hesitantly into the air, as if their owners were unsure whether they wanted to draw the attention of those piercing blue eyes.
Gandolfsson nodded to a blond Slytherin boy. "Well?"
"Er -- to teach us Defence, Sir?"
"Name?" the Defence master demanded. He leaned forwards, and the carpet upon which he sat shot through the air, coming to a halt nose-to-nose with the boy.
"L-Lockhart, Sir," stammered the Slytherin, drawing back as far as he was able.
"Well, Lockhart, that's not an entirely stupid answer," said Gandolfsson, turning away and swishing back to the front of the room to address the whole class once more. "The correct answer is that I am here because Dumbledore asked me. I might also ask you why the headmaster requested me, and why I agreed to so dubious an honour, but I don't expect any of you to have deduced those reasons any more than Lockhart has, so I will explain them to you. And I'll be sure to use small words."
Sirius bristled at the Defence master's disdainful tone. James, seated to his left, frowned.
Gandolfsson fixed the class with an icy blue glare that seemed to touch each face in turn. "War is coming," he said. "I know it. You know it. There is a great need right now for men of my profession. So what am I doing here? Why am I wasting my valuable time on empty-headed schoolchildren when I should be at the Ministry, formulating a plan of action with Minister Borage?"
No hands went up this time.
"I am here," he continued, "to discover whether any of you have what it takes to become Aurors. Our men will be dropping like flies before long, and when that happens, we'll need replacements. However temporary." His words rebounded off the stone walls of the classroom like solid objects -- facts that even children of their age should know without telling. "Failing that, Dumbledore wishes me to see to it that as many of you as possible acquire the skills you will need to survive this war when it comes."
The entire class, Gryffindors and Slytherins alike, were mesmerised, eyes fixed on Gandolfsson as if he were the deadly fate stalking them from the shadows. Sirius heard Peter swallow heavily. At least, he thought it was Peter. Surely Sirius himself had not made that nervous sound.
"Look around you. Look at your classmates and your friends," Gandolfsson said. "How many of them will live to see old age? How many will live to see the end of this war? What will you be doing ten years from now? If you want the answer to include breathing, then I suggest you pay close attention in this class. I guarantee you that, under my instruction, your odds of survival will only improve."
Sirius sat up a little straighter, rolling his quill between his fingers. It all sounded terribly important, and yet Gandolfsson had not said anything yet that Sirius could put in his notes. He shot a glance at Remus's parchment. It was reassuringly blank. Remus himself sat forwards, eyes fixed intently on the Defence master, as if memorising every word.
"So now you know why I am here," Gandolfsson said. "'Why?' is one of the most important questions you must learn to answer if you are to have any hope of defending yourselves. Understanding an enemy's motivations -- knowing what he'll do before he does it -- is the key to defeating him. Observe. Anticipate. Outwit. Your best defence is not your wands. It is not magic. It is your minds. Or perhaps not your minds. I don't imagine there's much of that to go 'round in this classroom."
Nettled by the professor's doubts about his intelligence, Sirius dipped his quill into the inkwell, feeling that he should have written something by now, if he wished to appear capable. Observe, Anticipate, Outwit, he scrawled. The Mind is the best Defence. He had a feeling that this was a theme Gandolfsson would drill into them over the course of the coming year, but it was better than nothing.
"Quite frankly, I consider teaching children of your age a waste of my time. I don't expect anyone below their OWL year to display anything like talent," Gandolfsson continued, waving his maimed hand dismissively. "However, there may be exceptions."
Reaching into the pocket of his robes, Gandolfsson drew out a small roll of parchment and opened it.
"I have here a note from your previous Defence mistress informing me that three students from this class had some success in resisting the Imperius Curse. Mr Snape, Mr Lupin and Mr Evans may show some promise in this field."
In the front row, Lily Evans' hand shot into the air. "It's Miss Evans, if you please, Sir."
Gandolfsson favoured the girl with a cold look. "Strong-willed females have been known to put up a kind of resistance from time to time," he said at last, turning away from Evans disinterestedly to address the rest of the class. "I may be required to teach all seven years, boys and girls alike, but in my experience, Defence is a man's subject. Since the Office was founded, there have been only a handful of women who attained the rank of Auror. I doubt there is a single female at this school who has what it takes. Women do well enough with home-warding charms and other kinds of mother-magic, but they lack the will for casting real hexes. My advice to you ladies is to find a man to defend you if you don't wish to end up pretty corpses."
Sirius saw the redhead's shoulders stiffen and her chin tilt up at this pronouncement. That'll show her. Swotty bint. He chuckled, glancing over to where the other Gryffindor girls sat, looking indignant. Gandolfsson clearly had the right idea.
There was a whoosh and Sirius jerked back, Gandolfsson's face inches from his own, summoned by his laugh. In spite of his small stature and twisted limbs, Gandolfsson was rather intimidating.
"Name?" he demanded.
Sirius hastily composed his features into a well-practised expression of indifference. "Black, Sir."
"Think you're better than the girls, do you, Mr Black?"
Sirius blushed, eyes flicking to Remus, who had turned around in his seat and was staring at him along with the rest of the class. "No, Sir," he said quickly.
The Defence master snorted, cold eyes boring into Sirius. "You're not wrong there, boy. I know your family. You slide by on blood and money, and looking at you, probably your pretty face as well. I never met a Black who had enough brains to fill a thimble. Stand up."
Sirius stood, face flaming. If he clenched his jaw any harder, his teeth might crack.
"You're going to go sit with the girls," Gandolfsson told him. There was a curve to his thin lips that might almost have been smile.
Sirius balked. "I'd rather not, Sir," he said stiffly.
"I don't recall asking your preference in the matter, Miss Black."
That got a few giggles. One of them sounded like James. There was going to be some knocking of heads later, Sirius decided.
"I'm not a girl," he said loudly. "I can do this. Sir."
"Fine." Gandolfsson turned away, apparently losing interest. "Sit down, then. Don't interrupt my class again."
Sirius sat, eyes fixed on the few words he had scrawled on his parchment, reading them back over and over again until the professor began to speak once more, waiting for the eyes of his classmates to stop burning holes in his robes.
"Some wizards set great store by blood-purity," Gandolfsson said. "Not me. Your family names will get you no favours in this classroom. The Wizarding world may bow and scrape to the ornamental heirs of overbred lineages, but the reality is that they are most often weak, delicate creatures, and less than useless, because they like to make a fuss and draw attention to themselves like Mr Black here."
Out of the corner of his eye, Sirius saw James's hand shoot up.
Gandolfsson looked displeased at the interruption. "What is it, boy?"
"Do you mean to say that pure-bloods can't be good Aurors, Sir?" asked James.
Sirius let out the breath he had been holding and felt the rage and humiliation coiled in his belly dissipate a little as the class's attention switched from himself to his friend. He decided not to knock James on the head, after all. Perhaps he would only hit him with a pillow.
Gandolfsson scooted in to observe James at close range. James returned his look calmly, and did not budge.
"No need to ask your name," the Defence master said at last. "You'll be the Potter boy. I know your father, of course. An excellent Auror -- for a pure-blood. Hex me, boy."
"W-what?" stammered James, mouth falling open.
"Stand up and hex me, if you think you can."
James stood, fumbling his wand on the draw. "Expelli-"
"Protego," said Gandolfsson impatiently. "Were you not listening, boy? Did I ask you to disarm me?"
"You are not your father, boy, and you never will be," Gandolfsson informed him dismissively, turning away once more. "Have we any Muggleborns in this class?"
The only hand to go up this time belonged to Evans.
Gandolfsson's eyes barely grazed her. "Muggleborns are almost as useless as pure-bloods, though a few can be taught. They come from no background. They don't know what the dangers are. They do not have the necessary instincts to react properly. Half-bloods are the only ones who really know the score. They alone truly understand the hatred and contempt in which so much of our world holds them. The best Aurors are always of mixed parentage."
Another hand went up at the back of the classroom.
"Name?" Gandolfsson demanded of the big, dark-haired boy.
"Lestrange, Sir. Are you a half-blood, then?"
The Defence master gave a sharp bark of laughter. "Good question, Lestrange. Shows you're thinking. The answer, of course, is that it's none of your business. One should never share personal information if one can help it," he informed the class. "Sometimes it is necessary, but it is always best to know first why the information is needed."
Gandolfsson began moving about the classroom then, confronting each student in turn. Or rather, confronting the boys; the girls, he largely ignored. One by one, he assessed them all, and one by one, found them wanting in some way.
Peter became flustered and dropped his wand when the professor ordered him to stand, and could not even answer when asked for his name. Gandolfsson, looking disgusted, sent him to sit with the girls, and Peter, the spineless git, did so, appearing relieved to be overlooked thereafter.
When Gandolfsson stopped in front of Remus, Sirius sat up a little straighter, bunching his hands in his robes. If the old troll was going to be nasty to Remus --
"Lupin, Sir." Remus's face was carefully blank.
Gandolfsson looked the pale boy up and down. "You threw off the Imperius Curse?"
"Yes, Sir," said Remus.
"You don't look like much. But then again, neither do I." Gandolfsson gave another cold, barking laugh. "Looks can be deceiving, eh, boy? What's your blood status?"
Sirius saw his friend's shoulders stiffen ever so slightly. "Sir?"
"It's not a difficult question, Lupin," said Gandolfsson impatiently. "Are you a half-blood or not?"
"I don't believe it matters, Sir."
Incredibly, the Defence master smiled. "Good. Very good, Lupin. So there's at least one mind in this class that can be taught. Stand up."
Remus stood. Out of the corner of his eye, Sirius saw Snape's eyes narrow in dislike.
"Where's your wand, boy?" Gandolfsson demanded, smile gone as quickly as it had appeared.
Without speaking, Remus drew his wand from the pocket of his robes, and held it at the ready.
"You can't let your guard down just because you feel secure," Gandolfsson informed the class. "Those Muggles last Easter felt secure, didn't they? Safe in their homes with their families, they were."
A stifled sound came from the cluster of Gryffindor girls, and Sirius saw Dorcas Meadowes' hands clench convulsively on the edge of her desk. She had lost her mother in the Easter Murders the previous spring. With no more than a glance of dislike at their professor, Evans moved to a vacant seat beside the distressed girl, and put an arm around her.
Gandolfsson either did not know or did not care that the tragedy he invoked so casually had touched their class, for he continued speaking as if nothing had happened. "Safety is an illusion. Comfort and routine lulls us into a false sense of security, leaving us unprepared when tragedy strikes. Genuadebilis."
Distracted by the small drama taking place among the girls, Sirius did not realise what had happened until Remus hit the floor. He half-rose from his seat, but James jerked him back, shaking his head. Snape was smirking.
"Get up, boy," said Gandolfsson, looking dispassionately down at the sprawled figure on the floor.
Slowly, face still a mask of indifference, Remus pulled himself to his feet, leaning heavily on the desk and dropping back into his seat when his knees would not support him.
"You see where you went wrong?" the Defence master asked. "You let yourself be distracted and lulled by my words. You assumed that, so long as I was speaking about something else, I would not attack. Perhaps you didn't think I would attack at all. If I had been an enemy, your parents would be getting some unfortunate news today. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, Sir," said Remus. He met Gandolfsson's eyes steadily, his wand still clenched in his fist.
Gandolfsson gave him a long look, then nodded. "Good boy."
He turned at last to the black-haired, hook-nosed Slytherin on the other side of Evans' vacated seat. "And you must be Mr Snape."
Snape's wand was already in his hand. "Yes, Sir."
Snape did so. Without warning, he whipped his wand around. "Lingua Nodus."
Gandolfsson got his own wand up just in time. "Protego."
A shocked silence gripped the classroom. Evans had both hands over her mouth, eyes gone wide. Sirius wondered if he was about to see Snape reduced to a grease spot. The thought cheered him.
Teacher and student stared at one another, wands pointed. And Gandolfsson smiled.
"Two minds in this class, then," he said. "Well, well. I shall be keeping an eye on you, Mr Snape."
Better that than turn your back on him, Sirius wanted to whisper to James, but he had no desire to draw Gandolfsson's attention.
"It is my hope," said Gandolfsson, addressing the whole class once more, "that by the end of this school year, every student -- even the most hopeless and incompetent first year -- will be able to recognise when an attack is coming, even if he cannot prevent it. It may seem a pitiful enough goal, and of course I expect better progress from the likes of Lupin and Snape, but in the main, I do not think we can hope for much more than that."
Gandolfsson fixed them all with gimlet eye. "Perhaps you think I've been unfair. Perhaps you believe I've misjudged you. I don't want to hear about it. Each one of you has exactly the same chance in my classroom: the chance to prove me wrong."
None of them spoke until they had put a good fifty paces between themselves and the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom at the end of the lesson. And then James whistled, long and low.
"Cor," he said, shaking his head. "What an old horror!"
Sirius looked swiftly over his shoulder before agreeing. "I can't believe he called me 'pretty'. And the way he put Remus on the floor --"
"And he made me sit with the girls," Peter piped up, though he did not appear to be as outraged as Sirius had been by the insult.
"What was it your dad said?" Remus asked James, the shadow of a smile playing on his lips. "That he's not the friendliest bloke? Still, he didn't have to be so nasty to the girls."
"I'm writing to Dad tonight," declared James. "I can't believe that's all the warning he gave us!"
"I miss Tynedale," said Peter. "She wasn't scary."
"Boring, though," Sirius reminded him. "At least Gandolfsson's not that."
Peter sighed. "No. Definitely not boring. But if he doesn't think you two are up to much, I might as well fail my exams now and get it over with."
Remus gave Peter a comforting pat on the shoulder. "Don't count your owls before they hatch, Pete. I bet we'll learn loads from him this year."
Peter looked grateful, but not quite convinced. "D'you reckon he's right? About the war?"
"Nah," said Sirius. "He's just playing it up because he thinks it'll make us work harder. I bet you anything that, if there is a war, it will be over long before we finish school. I mean, all the Aurors need to do is find that Voldemort bloke and chuck him in Azkaban, right? He's just one wizard."
"Ergh," shuddered Peter. "I get chills just hearing his name."
James laughed. "Don't be such a big girl's blouse, Pete. Sirius is right; the Aurors will sort him out. We've got more important things to think about."
"Yeah," agreed Sirius. "Like finding a way to show Gandolfsson we're not completely useless."
"Actually, I was thinking about Quidditch," said James. "We've got half an hour before lunch, and if you lot don't mind, I'm feeling the need to fly."
Sirius laughed, and the four of them went to fetch James's broom. But the desire to prove Gandolfsson wrong had been planted in Sirius's mind. So what if he was a Black and a pure-blood? He had already proven there was more to him than that. Wasn't he a Gryffindor, and friends with a werewolf? He could do this, too.