• Published 19th Apr 2019
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The Gate - computerneek

After a portal is opened between worlds, a series of letter-bearing owls passes through it. What could possibly go wrong?

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Chapter 14

“Greetings, Professor Snape,” one of the Slytherin Agents he’d spotted in class bows him into classroom D-4 at one o’clock on Monday. He hears the distinctive click of the lock as soon as the door lands shut behind him.

The room is full of students, all wearing radios. Several Slytherins, a few Gryffindors, a couple Hufflepuffs… and half the room is Ravenclaws.

He blinks. “What is going on?” he asks.

“We’re preparing,” the girl that let him in informs him. “We’ve been laying enchantments all week and weekend, and they should be pretty close to unbreakable. Then again, this is Sweetie Belle we’re talking about, so we’re not taking any chances. We’re due to finish up in about fifteen minutes, at which point everyone- save me and Lyra, the instructor team for this class- will teleport out. Fifteen minutes of class prep after that, including laying out the seating assignments, and we open the door to let everyone in.”

“Seating assignments?”

“Unfortunately, a lot of these spells are pretty short-ranged, and with Dumbledore’s limit on the number of Agents in a single class session, we have to be absolutely certain we know where she’s going to be- and the only way to do that is with assigned seating.” She glances across the room. “We’re brutally abusing the terminology of that limitation, of course- he said no more than a ‘few’, and we’ve got eight for this session, instructor team included. One of them is from Slytherin, but the rest are Gryffindor, placed strategically around Sweetie in order to disguise the safety perimeter around her as nothing of the sort. All of the other students- from both houses- have been carefully selected for sharpness of mind, coordination, and quickness of response time, in addition to personal compatibility.

“We’ve then placed them strategically throughout the room to maximize their ability to form and utilize spontaneous friend groups in the event of an emergency- the kind of thing all Agents are trained to do with literally anyone, especially other Agents.” She looks up at him. “In short, if Sweetie manages to turn her cauldron into a giant, exploding cantaloupe, or something else equally strange and dangerous, the area around her should be clear and everywhere else heavily shielded and protected- both from within and without- within about a half a second.”

“A giant, exploding cantaloupe?” Snape asks.

She shrugs. “I don’t think she’s done it before, but I wouldn’t put it past her.”

“... Ahh.” He really hopes they’re exaggerating.

“Good afternoon and welcome to Potions,” Lyra greets, as she opens the door more by magic than by hand. “We have assigned seating in this class. In general, the Slytherins are on the right, the Gryffindors on the left.” She indicates the two sections. “Please find your seat and get out your supplies; we’ll be starting in a minute.”

Snape can’t help but blink at the normally flaky girl’s stern tone.

Eventually, the last student takes their seat, and the Slytherin raises a scroll. “Allright, roll call. Sweetie Belle!” She looks straight at the pink-and-purple-haired girl that sat at the seat with that assignment.

“Present!” the girl answers, sitting up straight as if worried about getting in trouble.

Which, given that the Slytherin member of the instructor team is taking on a very stern approach to rival Professor McGonagall’s, he’s not surprised. Any illusion that this would be an easy class went right out the window with her very first word.

“Draco Malfoy!”

Snape raises his eyebrow at that, as the Slytherin’s eyes- funny, he never thought to look at her nametag, and doesn’t remember her name from his own class- zero out the Malfoy descendant.


“Speedy Shot!”

“Present!” A Gryffindor very close to Sweetie.

“Boulder Hoof!”

“Present!” A Slytherin near Malfoy, but not his partner.

The roll call goes on. As it goes, he can only wonder about why she seems to be alternating between Slytherin and Gryffindor names. Perhaps this was another strategic thing? He concentrates on where the students are in the room, and how they’re reacting.

Ahh, yes. That would be it. There’s an appearance of randomness, but as she goes down the list, he spots the various students she’d named consecutively making brief eye contact before breaking it. She’s keeping them on their toes, and deliberately weaving a network through them- a personal network, between the two houses most at odds with each other.

Then she reaches the end of her list.

“Sweetie Belle!”

“Present!?” The same girl she’d started with, sounding alarmed as the entire room turns to look at her, before looking back forwards to regard their instructors with wary eyes.

Lyra rejoins her partner at the head of the room, seeming to step out of the shadows behind her as she does so. “We will be your instructors for Potions this year,” Lyra greets. “I am Lyra Heartstrings; this is Diamond Tiara. You may refer to us here as Instructor Heartstrings and Instructor Tiara.” She holds her hand out towards Snape. “This is Professor Snape, the Potions Master at this school. He will be sitting in on our class today.” Then she steps back, as Tiara’s glare challenges them to react.

Nobody does.

“We are here,” Tiara begins, in a tone very close to Snape’s own, “to learn the exact art and subtle science of potion making. As there is little foolish wand-waving here, some of you will hardly believe this is magic. We can learn to bottle fame, brew glory, and even stopper death. But only!-” She turns sharply to face Sweetie, eyes locking on like something more violent than a wand- “-If you use your head as well as your hands.”

He could already see the students instinctively clumping together in those very groups that had been designed into the seating layout- and yet the gaps between them are far from cold. These two know what they are doing.

“Who can tell me what purpose dried nettles serve as a potion ingredient?” Lyra calls suddenly, striking a long wand- not the magic kind- against the blackboard while Tiara seems to disappear into the woodwork.

Ten minutes into the lesson, the two instructors finally turn the class loose on their potions kits. During that interim, they discussed each and every ingredient and operation- stirring one way versus the other, taking it off the fire, and so on- and what purpose it serves. They’ve also gone over the instructions a couple times, and are spending their time prowling around the room watching for mistakes. The groups of students, meanwhile, have all but merged into a single, unified whole.

As he watches, he spots only a few small mistakes. Even the British students are doing far better than the average first years- perhaps he should start working through the instructions with his students before setting them stewing it as well. After all, these girls don’t seem to be spending anywhere near as much energy, overall, as he usually does correcting people’s mistakes after the fact. A fair exchange, he figures, for the slightly higher initial energy cost.

And, it would seem, Sweetie’s reputation has been exaggerated. The girl looks positively giddy- despite the instructors not having let up at all- behind her softly simmering, perfectly good potion.

His gaze flicks to the Slytherins- no, the edge of the Gryffindors; there’s another British first-year there, Neville Longbottom, partnered with another British student, Seamus Finnigan. The Slytherin at the table next to them had let out a low mutter and grabbed Neville’s elbow, blocking him from something, muttering quietly. Lyra’s attention, he notices, has also been drawn, and she’s much closer, walking up behind Neville. She pauses to review the exchange for a second, then speaks, her voice carrying throughout the room. “Five points to Slytherin.”

Snape raises an eyebrow as both students in question jump, letting out brief yelps and turning to face her.

“Tell me, Longbottom,” Lyra goes on. “What happens if you add the porcupine quills before you take the cauldron off the fire?”

The boy blinks, looking down at the bottom of his cauldron, before his face turns bright red. “It… It melts the cauldron and inverts the normal function of the potion,” he mutters, turning off the flames.

“That is correct,” Lyra states, sweeping onwards.

He could really do to take a leaf from their book. Not only are the students learning quickly themselves, they’re watching out for each other!

Lyra is just reaching the front of the divide when he hears a little noise. It’s extremely rare in his potions classrooms, and usually precedes a disaster; as such, his personal shield spell snaps up almost instinctively as he searches for the disturbance.

It’s a gasp for air, of a particular type.

A student gasps- though it’s more in alarm.

Another- Malfoy- draws his wand, pointing it across the room in a split second to cry something out. He doesn’t catch the words.

Then there’s a bang, a pained gasp, and Sweetie falls on the floor.

His eyes flick quickly to Lyra, whose hair might have been flying around in response to her rapid spin if it weren’t done up in a bun to prevent that very thing too close to a cauldron.

“Ten points to Slytherin,” Lyra states, surprising Snape again.

He’d expected her to see what he saw- an attack against Sweetie Belle. Who made that initial gasp that set off his internal alarm bells, he’s not sure. He raises an eyebrow slightly, but stops himself from asking her to explain right away. She might plan on doing that anyways.

It’s Tiara that talks, though, as she steps over to help Sweetie back upright. “Can anyone tell me how dangerous it is to do what Mr. Malfoy just stopped Sweetie here from doing, sneezing into her cauldron?”

He now knows who made that initial noise, and suddenly understands why she gave him points rather than taking them. How Malfoy had realized what was coming, where it was, and how to stop it so quickly, he’s not sure.

Nobody moves. Tiara sweeps to the front, looking out across the class. “Anyone?”

Still nothing.

“Alright then,” she states, looking towards Malfoy. “Malfoy, why did you prevent her from sneezing into her cauldron?”

Malfoy stares at his wand for a couple of seconds before answering. “I… I don’t know. I sensed danger, and…” He looks towards Sweetie, confused. “I don’t know.”

In the silence that follows, he hears someone whisper something in the back- and can just make out the words. “Did I miss something in the book?”

“It so happens,” Lyra states, “that this question isn’t covered by the course materials.” She looks towards Snape. “Professor Snape, would you care to enlighten us?”

Ahh, yes, she’s good. The perfect opening. He rises smoothly from his seat in the corner, prowling forwards with a nasty grin. “Certainly.” He reaches the podium they’d set up front, as different from a desk, and puts his hands on it, leaning forwards against it. “As your instructors informed you earlier,” he begins, feeling a spell coming from Lyra to create an illusion in front of him- a demonstration of what he’s talking about. “At the core of every potion is a magic matrix, formed and cultivated by the actions we take during its brewing.” He watches Lyra’s illusion stew up the same potion everyone has in their cauldrons, though at high speed and with the forming magic matrix visible inside the transparent cauldron. “You might think a sneeze to be just another ingredient, perhaps countered by another. And, in a manner of speaking, it is- snot disrupts the matrix of almost any potion, rendering it useless.

“The danger comes in what else accompanies a sneeze. There’s all that noise, all that air- and a sneeze also has its own, already unstable magic matrix in it, carrying with it an immense discharge of magical energy. Combine the two…” He watches the two matrices combine in the cauldron, then the whole thing explode and disappear. “And it was a very good thing indeed that Malfoy caught it as fast as he did.” He draws back, yielding back to Lyra.

Lyra steps forwards. “And that’s not even counting that the unique magic of an Equestrian will tend to amplify the effect by an order of magnitude or two. Had Mr. Malfoy missed that, things could have become very ugly, very fast.” She glances at the red-faced Sweetie. “Especially for a particularly powerful Equestrian like Sweetie.”

The girl’s jaw drops open, eyes wide like dinner plates. “... What?” she asks.

Lyra ignores her as Snape returns to his seat. “In any case, to wrap up our lesson…”

They weren’t exaggerating.

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