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The Balcony

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All of the Hufflepuffs thought that to study as hard as one could was the best way to do well in school. The Ravenclaws were equally fond of studying, and thought that once they obtained the knowledge they sought, that was all they needed. The Gryffindors didn’t always care about doing well in school, and when they did, they—like the others—mostly concerned themselves with studying.

But even though he was only a first-year, Horace Slughorn was a Slytherin through-and-through, and he knew they were all overlooking something major.

He smiled grimly to himself as he knocked on the door to Professor Merrythought’s office, then quickly transformed the smile into a happy one when she opened the door. “Good afternoon, Professor Merrythought!” he greeted her cordially. “I was very curious about one of the topics you mentioned in your lecture today. May I ask you a few questions about doxies?”

Equally as important as learning the material was getting the teachers to be aware of your existence—and, hopefully, to like you.

Professor Merrythought’s office was one of the largest in the castle. It had many comfy chairs, a fireplace crackling merrily, and even a private balcony. Horace decided that his first subgoal would be to induce Professor Merrythought to invite him out on the balcony.

“I’m very glad to have you pay me a visit, Mr. Slughorn,” Professor Merrythought said. She retrieved a cookie jar from the mantelpiece and handed it to him. “Most of my students only turn up with questions much closer to exam time. So, what did you want to know about doxies?”

“Well, Ma’am, you said that one of the ways to tell whether a bite came from a doxy was from how badly it’s itching, but I’ve read that the bites of Fanged Geraniums were also supposed to be extremely itchy. Is there any way to tell the difference between their bites?” Horace opened the cookie jar and rummaged around. “Ooh, are these pumpkin-pineapple cookies?”

Professor Merrythought nodded with a smile.

“They’re my favorite! Thank you very much for sharing them.”

“You’re very welcome, my boy. Now, as for your question about doxy bites, if you can recall seeing a doxy, they are quite small, like a fairy. Although a Fanged Geranium is not much larger than a doxy, its jaws make up a much larger portion of its body. Also, its jaws form a sharp angle. So, if the Fanged Geranium bites with all of its teeth, its bite can be distinguished from that of a doxy simply by the size of the bite mark. If it only manages to get a nip in, then the bite will be much more V-shaped, while a doxy’s would be flatter, much like if you imagine what a bite from your own teeth would look like. Why thank you!” She paused to take a cookie from the jar Horace was proffering. “But you are quite right, both bites itch a great deal. Although, having been bit by both, I can say it is a different type of itching and I believe I would be able to tell the difference simply from that. But it would be quite foolish to require students to be bit by both and to distinguish them on that particular basis, now wouldn’t it?” She laughed cheerfully, and Horace chuckled with her.

“That helps a lot,” Horace said. “Thank you, Ma’am.”

“You’re very welcome,” she replied. “As I mentioned, I so rarely get visits from students at this time of year that it can get quite lonely. No need to hurry off, have another cookie. Do you have any other questions?”

“Not about the class material,” Horace said, “but I’m curious. When you were assigned to this office, was it much the way it is now, or have you done a lot of your own work on the place? It’s quite beautiful. I admire how conveniently the balcony is placed, and the decorative charms on the archway.”

“Oh, there’s more to it than that,” she said. “Have you ever been out on it?”

“No, Ma’am.”

“Well then, let me show you. There’s something very special about this particular balcony.” She led him to the archway. “Now the spellwork around here is all my own, with perhaps one or two things going back to the previous owner of the office. The sparks the spells give off remind me of stars. I’ve always loved the night sky; sometimes I spell the ceiling to match. And of course some of the spells on the archway also serve for protection and for detection of intruders. As far as I could without sacrificing efficacy, I chose the most decorative spells in that area, because I want my home to be beautiful as well as safe. Come along now.”

Horace hurried to follow her out to the balcony. Professor Merrythought’s office was on the north side of the building, so the setting sun ought to be barely visible to the left. He walked through the archway—and was startled to find the sun directly above. He was struck by the sound of rushing water; could something have happened to the lake? He hurried to Professor Merrythought’s side.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Professor Merrythought said, gazing about her.

As Horace followed suit, he realized that the sun wasn’t the only thing out of place. The castle where they stood was now set on a hill in the side of a great valley. At the bottom of the valley, grass and wildflowers gave way to a river, which wound in serpentine fashion until it disappeared from view. Gone were the Quidditch pitch, the Forbidden Forest, and everything familiar.

“It’s the glen where Rowena Ravenclaw grew up,” Professor Merrythought explained. “Centuries ago, this was her office, and she charmed the balcony so that she would always be able to see her home. It’s some of the most amazing spellwork I’ve ever seen. We can grow complacent sometimes, knowing the founders’ names but never seeing what they could accomplish. But this reminds me how incredibly skillful they truly were. Not that I come out here to remind myself of that,” she added with a chuckle. “No, I come out here because it’s beautiful and peaceful. It’s one of my favorite places.”

“I’m honored that you were willing to share it with me, Ma’am,” Horace said.

“You’re very welcome. Oh, look at the time! You’d best be heading along or you won’t be in your dorm before curfew. Along with you, now. But take some more cookies to have while you study. I insist. I don’t even like pumpkin pineapple cookies very much. I’d much rather they be eaten by someone who truly appreciates them.”

Parcel of cookies in hand and memories in his heart, Horace scrambled out the door and down the corridor. His first subgoal was complete; it was time to set another. And another life goal seemed in order as well: someday, he would be a professor and have an office with spellwork by one of the founders. Perhaps that exact office. After all, Professor Merrythought would have to retire eventually.