The Exchange Student
by Gina

~

Chapter One: The Program

< >Harry Potter yawned loudly and rubbed his eyes. What time was it? He looked up at the clock in his dorm room. It read:

< >You are thirty-two minutes early. Go back to sleep.

< >Harry slumped back on his bed. Unable to sleep, he stared up at the ceiling and watched the clouds slowly turn gold in the new sunlight. He followed a stray owl idly with his eyes, enjoying his extra time.

< >"Hey Harry? You awake?"

< >"Hi Ron." Harry propped himself up on his shoulders and smiled at his friend. "Why're you up?"

< >"Why are you?" Ron yawned heavily, his fiery red hair limp against his forehead. "Did Hermione tell you about that exchange student program?"

< >Harry sat up straight, slightly intrigued. "No."

< >"Oh. Well, it's only offered to the smartest students-" Ron made a face - "you have to have ninety-eight percent or over in all your classes, I think. Then, if you sign up, you get shipped off to one of the other schools of your choice for two months-"

< >"Other schools?" Harry interrupted.

< >Ron looked amused. "Of course! Hogwarts isn't the only school for wizards and witches, you know. There's two in America, Catswings and Smithens, and there's Cuerno de Caballo in Spain. There's more, but I can't remember the names. You'll have to ask Percy, or someone else. Anyway, Hermione wants to apply to Catswings. And when she gets in, a student with the same grades will come here in her place. It's great for your record if you get into the program. Percy's appled too." Ron frowned. "He got accepted, of course. Has to get everything perfect. Percy the Perfect." He sighed.

< >Harry smiled at Ron sympathetically. He was constantly overshadowed by his older brothers' accomplishments, and had never had the spotlight for himself.

< >The clock on the wall chimed several times and flashed You'll be late in ten minutes continuously until all the boys were dressed. They all filed out into the Great Hall, where Hermione awaited Ron and Harry eagerly.

< >"Guess what?" she squealed excitedly as they sat down beside her.

< >"You finally convinced Professor McGonagall into giving you those seven extra essays you wanted?"

< >Ignoring Ron's remark, Hermione rushed on. "I got into Catswings for the program!"

< >"Congratulations!," cried Harry. Ron hugged Hermione around the shoulders briefly, then drew back quickly, leaving both Hermione and himself looking a trifle uncomfortable. Neither Ron nor Harry was surprised Hermione had gotten in, but they were equally exuberant that she did.

< >"When are you leaving?" Ron asked around a mouthful of toast.

< >"Next week."

< >"So soon?" Harry was surprised. They had barely started their fourth year.

< >"Yeah. It'll be easier to get oriented with their rules and time changes. Besides, I want to be able to catch up with the schoolwork and get some extra credit done."

< >Ron choked on his porridge.

< >"What?" Hermione demanded.

< >"Nothing, nothing."

< >As they left for their first class, Ron muttered to Harry, "This is the opportunity of a lifetime and the first thing she worries about is extra credit."

< >Harry's first class was Herbology with Ron. Professor Sprout, the stout little witch who taught the class, ushered them in and showed them to their seats. After the rest of the class had slowly trickled in, Professor Sprout started handing out small bags of what looked like slightly green sugared violets, with the roots and all, and began pacing the room while lecturing.

< >"The flowers that I am handing out to you are called Miracle Bane, or Terminosis Miraculus . They seem rather unremarkable at first glance, but - " Here she stopped pacing and scraped some pale green crystals into a mortar and tossed in some driend petals from the flower itself. She started grinding furiously with her pestle, lecturing as she did so. "When you sprinkle a powder made up of the blossoms and seeds - yes, Neville, those 'sugary things' are seeds - over any patch of wild plants..." Professor Sprout's voice trailed off as she acted on her words. She sprinkled the glittering powder over a patch of weeds she grew for experimental purposes. Half of them shriveled up on the spot, while the others flourished and grew several inches before their eyes. Poisonous-looking blossoms, choking vines, and dark, brooding leaves prospered and multiplyed, soon overcrowding the small plot of soil Professor Sprout had prepared for them.

< >Professor Sprout continued her lecture, no longer pacing but eyeing the poisonous blooms suspiciously, as if she were afraid they would creep behind her and choke her. "A powder made of the seeds and flowers of Miracle Bane kills all plants with medicinal, magical, or artistic purposes. However, it enhances poisons, toxins, and banes, sometimes multiplying them to five times their height. It is also noticeable that Miracle Bane is the only poison to magical creatures such as fairies, elves, trolls, and unicorns, while being totally harmless to humans." She glanced at the clock. "Hm...yes," she murmured to herself, "I believe we have enough time to continue with the lesson. Class, please take out one sample from each bag." She waited as everybody did so. "Now, dissect and label all the seperate parts on your Terminosis miraculus. be sure to seperate each part, the seeds, stems, etc., without getting too much sap onto the tables. It doesn't dry for a week. Come again? Yes, Seamus, you may work in pairs."

< >Ron and Harry scooted their chairs toward each other instantly. "Do you have any idea how to dissect this thing?" Ron asked doubtfully, holding up a wilted flower.

< >"I think you have to scrape off some of the seeds first."

< >"How?"

< >"Well, I think you just take the scalpel and just scrape - oops, nevermind, I just cut the stem in half." The sap oozed over the table, and Harry cleaned it hastily with the edge of his robe.

< >"Hey, maybe you shake them off." Ron turned his miracle bane upside down and began shaking it vigorously. There was a soft rattling sound, and most of the sugary crystals fell onto the tagboard. Finally, they had successfully dissected and labeled the flower, though by now Ron had most of the seeds in his eyes and Harry's sleeves were damp with sap.

< >"You're sure Professor Sprout said those things weren't poisonous?" Ron asked for the fourth time as they left for their next class.

< >"Yeah. I think."

< >Ron whirled on Harry. "Whaddya mean 'you think'?"

< >"Okay, she did, she did!"

< > "No, no, no - you said 'I think.' Are you sure she said -"

< >"Ron, I'm sure they're not poisonous, and we're gonna be late in two minutes so let's hurry!"

< >"What do we have next?"

< >"Er, let me check. Oh no, it's Potions with Snape."

< >"We better hurry."

< >They picked up their pace until they came at last to the Snape door. They opened it - and stood face to face with a brick wall.

< >"What the . . ." Ron stared at the brick wall in shock. He looked at Harry, horrified. "Oh God . ..we must have gone down a trick corridor." They stared at the wall for a couple seconds before breaking into a run down the corridor, desperately trying to make it to class before Peeves found them. Peeves was known to show up at the worst times, and Ron and Harry were determined not to become victims of his pranks. They raced around a corner, nearly ran over Mrs.Norris, who raced off to get Filch, and reached Snape's class just in time to hear him announce, "Well, wherever they are, they have fifteen seconds left, otherwise detention awaits them after school." Snape's lip curled into a nasty smile, which faded and soured as Harry and Ron reached their seats.

< >"You're late," he snarled.

< >"No, the bell hasn't rung yet -" Ron began.

< >"Be quiet, Weasley. Ten points from Gryffindor for your insolence." Snapeseemed a little happier now that he had taken some points from Gryffindor. He settled down in his seat, his black cape sweeping into place around his feet.

< >"Today, we will be taking a quiz -"

< >Cries of outrage erupted throughout the classroom, everybody beginning to shout at once.

< >"A quiz? But that's not fair! He never even told us -"

< >"How can he just pop a quiz on us like that? It's got to be against the rules-"

< >"I never even got to study!"

< > "Quiet!," Snape barked. The class clamored on, not heeding Snape's order.

< >Snape jumped to his feet. "SILENCE!"

< >Snape was obviously somewhat disturbed. This was the first time he had not been able to control his class. He frowned and cleared his throat. "Now, if you're not the bunch of idiots that you have proven to be so far, most of you will just barely pass this quiz. It's very difficult, actually, some of it is on material you haven't learned yet, but I expect you to know it all the same." He said the last part rather pleasantly, and began to pass out the sheets of parchment.

< >As the students wrote their names and the dates on their quizzes, Snape continued speaking. "After you are finished, we will finish the Bodach repellent that we started yesterday. I have given you a liberal amount of time in which to find your ingredients, and I will accept no excuses or protests to the contrary." With that, Snape sat back down and began grading some previous quizzes, maliciously slashing incorrect answers and rounding down on the grades. As soon as everyone had finished, Snape watched over their potion-brewing like a hawk, pouncing on the tiniest mistake. He came to Harry and Hermione, and when finding nothing to correct he took five points from Gryffindor because Harry had "breathed too loudly."

< >Hermione turned to Harry indignantly. "What's his problem?" she demanded furiously. "Why's he picking on everybody today?"

< >Ron leaned towards them. "It's probably because the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher is arriving today." For a while, nobody had had a Defense Against the Dark Arts class because the new teacher had been away on business, and Dumledore considered the first week of school unimportant in regards to class work.

< >"You mean Snape still hasn't gotten the position?" asked Dean Thomas, Ron's partner.

< >"Nope. And he's even more cross now. George said Snape gave him detention for smiling during his lecture. Hey Harry, don't we have that class next? With Hermione, too?"

< >"Wait let me check . . . yep. I wonder what he looks like."

< >"Jeez, I hope it's not another Lockhart," Ron muttered, wrinkling his nose in disgust. "I'd rather have to muck out the pond than have someone like him again."

< >"Wouldn't it be nice if Lupin came back?" Dean said wistfully. Harry, Ron, and Hermione looked guiltily at one another and nodded.

< >"Yeah, I wish - Harry, it's time to add the salamander tails, the potion's just starting to bubble."

< >Finally, Snape's class ended, and Harry, Hermione, and Ron headed for the Defense Against the Dark Arts class exchanging rumors they had heard about the teacher.

< >"I heard he used to be on the Ministry," said Ron, "that he invented some new cure to lockjaw, or something, but a muggle hospital pressed charges and now they're sitting on the formula."

< >"Well Parvati told me that he's a warlock, and that he escaped You-Know-Who by turning himself into a pig.

< >Harry, wanting to contribute something to the conversation, repeated something that he had overheard in the Gryffindor common room. "I heard that

< >he's a vampire."

< >Hermione gasped. Ron looked at him suspiciously. "You heard that from Fred, didn't you?"

< >"Well, yeah. How'd you know?"

< >"He told Neville Longbottom the same thing, and now he's too terrified to

< >go to class."

< >They crossed the threshold of the room eagerly, keen to see what the Defense teacher looked like. No one was at the front of the room except for a tall, skinny girl who looked no older than they. She looked up and smiled.

< >"Oh, hi. Come in, you're gonna be late soon."

< >"Are you the teacher?" Harry asked.

< >"Mm-hm. Hurry up, sit down. We don't have all day." A pleasant twang resided in her accent. When the rest of the class had found their way to the classroom, the teacher flicked her wand, and a name jotted itself on the board.

< >Ms. Holly Finch

< >"My name, as you can see, is Holly Finch."

< >There was a snicker from Malfoy's corner desk. Professor Finch arched an eyebrow. "Is there a problem, Mr. -" she glanced at the seating chart "- 'Dracko Mal...soy? Malsoy? Or is that a 'b'? Is it Malboy or Malsoy, Dracko?"

< >Smiling cheerfully, Professor Finch waited silently for Malfoy's reply. Giggles rippled through the classroom. Hermione stifled a snort of laughter. Ron grinned at Harry.

< >Malfoy sneered. "It's Draco Malfoy. With an 'f.'" He added loudly, "I should tell my father about the lack of literacy among the new teachers. I'm sure he will be most displeased."

< >Crabbe and Goyle laughed.

< >Professor Finch flashed a dazzling smile. "And maybe I should talk to Professor Dumbledore about the cruder teaching that a few students receive at home. I'm sure it can't be helped, Mr. Malfoy, that your family lacks the education to teach you an ounce of manners."

< >Laughter exploded from everyone except the Slytherins at Finch's statement. Finch eyed the room, and it gradually grew silent.

< >Malfoy was sulking miserably.

< >Finch began to pace the front of the room, her soft gray robes trailing on the ground, her wand held out behind her. "I'm sure that some of you take the Care of Magical Creatures class with Professor Hagrid?" About half the class nodded glumly. Care of Magical Creatures had become one of the most boring classes in the school, thanks to Lucius Malfoy's influence. "Good. Have you learned anything about hybrids yet?" Everyone shook their heads.

< >"How odd. At any rate, hybrids occur in both the Muggle world as well as the Magical world. However, hybrids in the Muggle world are restricted to variations of horse, felines, canines, and birds, and there is certainly no combination between an animal and a human. However, in the wizarding world, pretty much anything is possible. The definition of hybrid, according to Long's Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures, is 'any cross between a magical creature and a human or non-magical creature. There is an infinite number of hybrids." A wave of her wand, and Finch had conjured a wide range of different animals, from a spiteful little redcap to a majestic, golden-winged peryton, its horned head tossing to and fro. Each miniature image floated aimlessly around the classroom, some of them sniffing or poking at students.

< >The class watched them with interest.

< >"You may each pick one image of your choice." Finch scratched at her ear as everyone jostled each other to get the animal he or she wanted. Ron finally came back to his seat with a lofty gryphon perched on his shoulder.

< >Hermione was slouching pathetically in her seat. Ron tore his eyes off the gryphon long enough to ask her, "Why aren't you getting anything?"

< >"I'm leaving in a week, so McGonagall excused me from all long-term projects."

< >"You mean this is going to be a project?" Ron yelped.

< >"Uh-huh."

< >"Well, you can have mine for a while."

< >Ron dislodged the gryphon from his shoulder and gave it to Hermione. As soon as their hands came in contact, however, both Ron and Hermione snapped back with loud "Ouch!"'s.

< >"No trading," said Finch.

< >"Must be a Possession Charm," Hermione muttered admiringly. "They're pretty hard to pull off."

< >Neville was stuck with a melancholoy doppelganger. Seamus had managed to get a vampire. Dean had a beautiful nereid sitting on his Transmorgrification book, and was desperately trying to ignore the playful teasing of a Slytherin, who had gotten a wiry little yeck. Soon, everyone had gotten one except Harry and Malfoy had chosen a creature. Harry looked at the two remaining creatures. There was a large jinn, his legs disappearing into the neck of an old-fashioned oil lamp. The last creature was a slender, pearl-white unicorn, its noble head snuffling about Finch's desk, looking for something to play with.

< >Harry moved towards the unicorn.

< >Just as he was about to reach it, Malfoy darted in front of him and Harry could make out a triumphant smile on his face as he grabbed for the unicorn.

< >The unicorn, catching a glimpse of Malfoy, whinnied and darted quickly towards Harry. Harry gently caught the creature by the tail, placing it softly down on his desk. Malfoy glared at the unicorn, then viciously grabbed the jinn's bottle. The jinn gave Malfoy a murderous look.

< >Finch continued her lecture. "All hybrids have unusual and extraordinary means of protecting themselves against Dark Arts. For all those who have had History of Magic - all of you, by the way - I believe that Professor Binns mentioned the Lady Amalinth of Norway? Yes, well, don't tell Professor Binns I told you this, but I think I will give you a little History lesson in advance. Lady Amalinth was a unicorn turned into a human by a wizard. The story of how and why is too long to explain. Suffice to say, she saved a prince's life, they got married, and had a child. Now this child had incredible inner strengths. He was immune to all poison except for the plant commonly known as the End of Miracles, could heal cuts and bruises by touching them with his bare hands, and had a star-like birth mark on his forehead." Finch tapped the upper center of her forehead to demonstrate.

< >Half the class looked at Harry.

< >"Also, a unique feature among unicorn hybrids, every blue moon, the child would transform into a unicorn. After a while, he was taught how to control his tranformations so that he could metamorphasise at will. Every hybrid has a unique strength, especially in Defense. A hybrid jinn, for instance, can walk through walls, levitate, and age slowly. A hybrid doppleganger can become invisible, but they die at an early age. A hybrid vampire has the ability to turn himself into various nocturnal creatures. However, all hybrids have special weaknesses that humans don't have. Unicorns, like I said, are vulnerable to End of Miracles. I believe that gryphon hybrids have a tendency to faint when trying to climb." There a few giggles. "Rather absurd, but it's quite true. Oh dear," she said worriedly as Neville Longbottom yawned loudly. "It seems I'm just boring you to death."

< >Neville looked terriefied. "Oh no! No, Professor Finch, I just - "

< >"Well then I guess I'll just give you some time to study till the period is over." She smiled at them. "Don't socialize too long." She sat down at her desk and began filling out some forms.

< >The class chattered excitedly. "This is probably the first time a teacher's let the class do what it wants," Ron said thoughtfully. "Fred and George are gonna go wild."

< >"I hope she doesn't do this every class," Hermione cried. "What am I gonna do for the next week?"

< >"Maybe just relax? Get some rest?" Ron suggested innocently.

< >Hermione wailed.

< >Harry laughed and looked at the little unicorn prancing about his desk. Her mane was tumbling about its neck like dandelion fluff, her tail lifted and dancing in an invisible breeze. She was beautiful. The sight of her made tears prickle in Harry's eyes as he remembered the dead unicorn he and Malfoy had found in the Forbidden Forest three years ago. The tiny creature gazed up at Harry with a pair of dark, sea-blue eyes as deep as the oceans themselves.

< >"Hey Harry, look at what my gryphon is doing!"

< >Harry turned to look at Ron's gryphon. The sight that met his eyes was one of the most peculiar and amusing situations he had ever seen. The proud, arrogant gryphon had climbed to the top of Ron's pile of books-and was standing terrified at the edge, unable to come down. Cautiously, he peered over the edge and hurried backwards as he saw how far from the ground he was. Harry laughed loudly. The gryphon looked up at Ron pleadingly and sneezed for effect. Ron carefully deposited him to his book bag. Hermione eyed the gryphon wistfully. The bell rang for lunch, and Harry and Ron packed their bags as Hermione waited for them. Just as Ron finally forced the gryphon (now haughty again, and having forgotten the earlier incident with the books) Snape walked into the classroom in a highly bad mood.

< >"I demand to see Professor Finch!," he snarled, pushing Neville roughly out of his way and almost running over Harry and Hermione. He sneered at Ron's tattered pack before kicking it aside and making his way up to Finch's desk. The four of them exchanged glances.

< >Finch looked up from her forms. "You called?"

< >Snape stopped dead in his tracks. He stared at her for a few, silent moments before clearing his throat. "Where's the professor?"

< >"I am the professor," Finch said irritably.

< >Snape snorted. "This is no time to be playing jokes, girl. Where is Finch? I need to tell him that one of his detestable creatures chewed up my supply of mandrakes."

< >"For the last time, I am the professor, and I would prefer you call me Professor Finch." Finch's eyes were fairly glowing with annoyance as she surveyed Snape with distaste.

< >"Nonsense, you look young enough to be attending Hogwarts itself."

< >Ron nudged the others' arms. "C'mon. We'd better leave before it gets ugly."

< >Hermione got up gladly, but Harry shook his head. "No. I want to see what happens."

< >Hermione and Ron looked at each other and shrugged, settling down unobtrusively with Harry.

< >Finch was looking slightly amused despite herself. "I can assure you, Professor Snape, that I am a fully eligible teacher."

< >"How old are you?"

< >"I consider that a rather personal question, professor." Any trace of amusement was now gone from Finch's voice.

< >"Young lady, I demand that you give me your name, age, and house so that I can report you to the Headmaster." Snape was nearly spitting with suppressed rage at Finch's audacity.

< >"Very well. My name is Holly Amelia Finch, I am twenty-five, and I graduated from Ravenclaw eight years ago. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to lunch." Finch left the classroom in a huff, her robes fluttering behind her.

< >Snape stared in her direction for a moment, then walked around her desk, appearing slightly dazed. Then he noticed the four children standing in the corner. His eyes blazed. "Don't you ever, ever talk about this to anyone! Understand?" He glared at Neville, who uttered a terrified squeak. The rest nodded and bustled quickly out of the room. They didn't speak a word about it till Hermione left for Catswings.


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