The next day, mom dragged me into her potions laboratory and started grilling me on everything I had been learning under Professor Snape. After explaining to her about Professor Snape's sink or swim teaching method, she looked upset and scoffed, "That's is no way to teach potions to first years. I bet many of the first years haven't ever brewed a potion, especially the muggleborns. What your describing would be more appropriate for teaching older students, not 11 and 12-year old's."
Shrugging, I replied, "It's not his fault that many of the students choose to spend their free time goofing off instead of studying and doing their homework. And while Professor Snape often hands out lengthy essays to those who fail, if they actually do the essay well, they will actually learn exactly why their potion didn't succeed and hopefully in the future will not make the same mistake."
Sensing my my mom's disagreement, I hastily added, "I'm sure that there are probably better-teaching methods out there, but my understanding, is that the Hogwarts students who end up getting their NEWTs in the subject are some of the best potion masters in the world, probably only second to those who graduate with NEWTs from Castelobruxo, the magical academy in South America."
Mom's face puffed up in preparation to argue whether Hogwarts or Beauxbatons produces better potion master, so in an effort to distract her, I asked, "How do you think potions should be taught?"
Mom took a moment to prepare her thoughts, and a small smile broke out on her face as she sank into her memories and she fondly explained, "Potion making should be fun. Potions aren't like the other branches of magic. There are no fancy wand movements, or like lifting things into the air or transforming objects, mostly it involves hours of preparation and intense study. To get pupils truly interested in potions you must show them the joys of potion-making and all the wondrous things you can brew. I will never forget my first class on potion crafting at Beauxbatons, I was hooked instantly. My professor, crafted an invisibility potion, and the whole class was spellbound. Besides, as long as you're willing to put the time into it, potions can do pretty much do anything other branches of magic can do plus a whole lot more."
I tried to picture Professor Snape doing the same, but I just couldn't imagine him utilizing such a soft approach. For better or worse, separating the wheat from the chaff was just Professor Snape style, he wasn't going to hold anyone's hand and help them along. Students either succeeded or failed, all on their own merit.
From what I've witnessed, although Professor Snape is brilliant, I personally think he hates teaching students. More than once I've wondered why Dumbledore keeps him around. His teaching method doesn't bother me, but I believe that my mom's way of teaching would help those who weren't as talented.
Seeing as I am going to around him for the forseable future, I should probably start looking into learning Occlumency. Although I'm sure he doesn't spend all his time trying enploying Legilimency on random students. From what I already know on the subject, teaching myself will be a pain and will probably take a year or two to learn.
Christmas was a lively affair as it always was. I had always found it somewhat curious that wizards celebrate Christmas as it was originally a Christian holiday, and I don't think I've ever met a religious wizard.
But as it turns out, wizards all over the world had been celebrating the winter solstice for thousands of years, and Christmas was just one of the many things that muggleborns brought with them into wizard society. So as time went on, celebrating Christmas just became the norm. Although I'd imagine in other parts of the world, they still only observe the winter solstice.
I was pleased with what my dad had gotten me for Christmas, on top of the coins, he gave me a book on enchanting wards. Although some of the theory was still beyond my grasp, sooner or later, I would master it.
Before I knew it, the two weeks were up, and it was time to head back to Hogwarts. I was determined not to let mom make an embarrassing scene again. I was able to convince them just to have dad take me. Because we got such an early start I was one of the first students who arrived on the platform.
After I assured my dad that it was fine to leave me and head back, I got on board the train and waited for my friends to arrive.
Cedric, Anna, and Alicia arrived one by one and stuffed themselves into our cabin. As the train began rolling towards Hogwarts, I closed the cabin door and informed everyone, "I know what the beast is." Everyone leaned forward in anticipation, and I pronounced, "It's a Grendel."
Like me, Anna and Alicia had no idea what a Grendel was, but Cedric reacted when he heard what it was. He questioned, "Really, those things have been extinct for a long time."
Hearing that Cedric had heard about them before, I asked, "What do you know about them? I couldn't find any information on them."
Seeing how we were all wondering about where his knowledge came from, Cedric explained, "I'm not surprised you haven't found any information on them; they've been extinct for well over a thousand years. I've only heard about them in passing because my dad likes to study magical creatures."
Eager to know more, I said, "Really? How did they go extinct?"
Shrugging, Cedric replied, "From what I can remember, I believe that some Grendels did something to some important wizards over a thousand years ago, So the local wizard community decided to wipe them off the face of the earth. it wasn't very difficult. There weren't very many Gredels in the first place."
Hearing the explanation, I thought a more likely explanation was that the wizards who had been in communication with Aelius, were responsible for the extinction of the Grendels. They probably wanted to continue the research, so they harvested the remaining Grendels. Considering it happened so long ago, the truth was lost to the sands of time.
Seeing how difficult it would be to gather information on a species that was wiped out over a thousand years ago, we all agreed that the best bet would be to search the room of requirement for more information.
After explaining that the Grendel used to be a wizard, Cedric and Anna looked slightly ill at the thought. However, Alicia calmly accepted what happened to the wizard, and informed us, "It's not that unusual, there have been many wizards in the ancient past, who experimented upon themselves with disastrous results."
Before we arrived at Hogwarts, I brought out the gold coins and said, "So, I thought that it's kinda annoying to track everyone down outside of classes. Over the break I asked my dad to come up with a solution.
Holding up a golden coin, I explained, "We can use these coins to signal each other to meet up."
Pointing out that each coin had a letter indicating each house's name, I continued, "You can even signal a specific coin by selecting a specific house. There are also numbers that you can use to indicate a time to meet up. After you send a signal, the other coins will heat up, indicating that someone just sent you a signal. We can use the room of requirement as the designated meeting spot."
Everyone seemed to like the idea of being able to send a request to meet up. We had all at one time, or another spent hours tracking someone down throughout the large castle.
When we arrived, we took the carriages that were pulled by the thestals. I couldn't see them, but I knew from the books that they were there. By the time we arrived back at the castle, it was late, after dinner, we all split up and headed to our separate houses.
Classes started up the following day, and in transfiguration, Professor McGonagall motioned for me to stay behind. Curious at what she needed, I waved Alicia on, indicating I would catch up later.
Professor McGonagall took a seat at her desk and motioned me forward, as she tapped her fingers on the desk, she seemed to consider me thoughtfully. Seeing her stern expression, I gulped and prayed that she hadn't found out about any of my escapades.
After clearing her throat, she said, "Mr. Fawley."
Even knowing that she had a naturally severe expression, I gulped and said, "Yes." I slightly winced, hating that my voice came out like a squeak.
Seeing how nervous I was, Professor McGonagall let out a small smile and said, "You know, it's rare for someone to pick up transfiguration as quick as you have. You're well ahead of your peers, and I think that you have learned how to transfigure all the inanimate objects I was planning for this year. Today, I sensed that you were slightly bored because you had already learned the technique."
She paused, and for a moment I thought she was going to scold me, then she let out the tiniest hint of a smile and said, "Let's face it; you can only work the same piece of magic, so many times before you get bored. Really, the only thing left for you to learn this semester is what we cover during the last two months when we move on to live mice, I think you will find working on animals, a far more challenging endeavor."
Seeing how I wasn't in trouble, I relaxed, and eagerly asked, "Does this mean you will let me start working on small animals like bugs and mice."
Eyeing me thoughtfully, she replied, "While I was considering letting you move on to transfiguring mice, I'd like to point out an area I much rather you focus on."
She picked up the straw that I had transfigured earlier into a knife and handed it to me and said, "You did a fine job on this earlier, the knife is completely metal, it's also functional, and if any of the other students in my class had been able to do this today, I would have given them an outstanding for their grade. But from you, I am expecting more; you have a real talent for transfiguration."
She grabbed another piece of straw from her desk and silently waved her wand over it, and I watched as it also turned into a knife. Handing that knife over to me as well, she asked, "Do you see the difference?"
I was shocked at finding the incredibly detailed patterns covering the knife's surface, I compared it to the plain knife I turned in and found it lacking. Looking back at Professor McGonagall, I said, "The patterns."
Professor McGonagall nodded, indicating that I guessed right, and went on, "Indeed, Mr. Fawley. So, what I want you to start focusing on is working on putting detailed patterns into your work. It might seem pointless, but I promise as you get into more difficult spells, being able to work with such detail will help you one day become a true master of transfiguration."
Curious I asked, "How do you know if someone is a master of transfiguration?"
She smirked back at me and said, "Well the minimum to be considered a master would be getting an Outstanding on your NEWTs, and I promise you, wizards and witches who can achieve that grade are few and far in between. That's why I want you to start working on mastering the small and intricate details. Only by laying a deep foundation, will you be able to go far in Transfiguration."
While I was slightly disappointed that she wasn't letting me work ahead, I sensed that she only had my best intentions and heart. Seeing my crestfallen expression, she added, "Seeing that you have mastered the material so far, I am giving you permission to practice your spell work outside of class time. However, should I get word of you practicing on new transfiguration spells that you have not been taught, there will be severe consequences."
Getting the green light to practice transfiguration outside of class made me smile. Normally, they only start letting students practice transfiguration outside of the class beginning in the second year. There is just too much that can go wrong with transfiguration to allow first-years to do it. Although I will admit, it was nice to have official permission to practice without supervision. But, considering that I was already planning on practicing by myself, now that I had a good handle on my transfiguration, it didn't really affect my plans much.
As the rest of the week moved on, I spent a considerable amount of time practicing working in patterns on the items I transfigured. To merely say it was difficult, undercuts the difficulty of what I was trying to do. As soon as I started working in complicated patterns, part of me understood why many choose not to try this until they were further along in their training. But I was rather determined, and I spent a lot of time, transfiguring object after object, determined that one day, I would become a master.
As the weeks continued, I started counting down the days until the next full moon. It was almost time to return to the underground.