As soon as I arrived back in the Cellar (1), Ozzy Kiss poked me in the eye with his wand. I know how that sounds. Maybe it would help if I explained that Oswald Kyston was the Head Boy that year, a Welsh beanpole that frequently tripped over his own feet, and smiled constantly, whatever the circumstances. The reason he was poking people was the crowd of excited first-years, who had demanded a demonstration when they overheard him talking about human Transfiguration.
For no particular reason other than that he could - he was pretty hot at Transfiguration - Ozzy had decided to turn his feet into flippers. Then he tried to walk but, being a clumsy great Taffy, fell over and nearly put his wand through my eye. I howled at that, as you might expect from someone with a large stick in his eye, then 'accidentally' gave Ozzy a good kick as I helped him up. Politely (him) and firmly (me), we informed the firsties that it was their bedtime and they'd need the sleep.
Once we were rid of the lower years, the sixth- and seventh-years gathered round the fire to trade news, swap tall stories about the summer and speculate on who was going to be Hogwarts Champion. I wasn't sure whether to be flattered or scared that I was one of the favourites. The other good bets were Angelina Johnson from Gryffindor, a Weasley (even though they were both underage)(2) and Rufus Warrington from Slytherin. Somebody tried to talk Ozzy into having a go, but he muttered something about being very busy and no use at practical stuff anyway. He was right, by the way. No use at all, and no balls either.
The next morning, everyone had calmed down a bit about the Tournament and gone back to worrying about subject choices and their interviews with Sprout. There was much comparing of subject lists, checking of the big 'required grades' chart on the wall and damning of Snape for his unreasonably high entry requirements. Mark Zaki said Snape set the entry level so high because he hated teaching and hoped to get nice small classes. I personally think he was just a sour old bastard who loved ruining people's careers, but that's by the by. What Snape did or didn't do with his students was none of my concern; I would have dropped it even if I had got an O and the whole staff had begged me to continue.
My own interview went as well as could be expected. Sprout was pleased I intended to continue Herbology and delighted with my Charms result. However, being Sprout and a great believer in hard, sometimes dangerous work, she was a bit disappointed I hadn't done better in Transfiguration, which I continued anyway, and Care of Magical Creatures, which I didn't. She signed off on Astronomy, Defence, Ancient Runes and Divination without comment.
Everyone else seemed fine, though Ben Stebbins surprised everyone by signing up for History of Magic, usually home to a mixture of Ravenclaws trying for some sort of award and absolute duffers who couldn't cope with anything more magical. Finding someone normal in there was like seeing me charge a dragon head-on - it happened once, but damned if anyone knows why. When Sprout goggled, he said it was good writing practice and far more 'intellectually challenging' than Herbology or Care of Magical Creatures. I didn't get it. Why should a perfectly normal person offend his Head of House and sign up for two years of utter boredom in awful company, with an impossible exam at the end? It turned out to be something obvious, but that comes later.
That Tuesday was a hell of an interesting day. First period was free, and then I had Runes, which was a relaxing way to start off the year. Old Professor Fan-Ten was a nice enough bloke if he thought you had talent. The highest insult in his vocabulary was 'plugger' - anyone who disguised a lack of aptitude with unremitting learning-by-heart. You could do well that way, but he'd hate you. Nobody could mistake me for a plugger normally and I evidently had enough talent to pass the OWL, so he liked me. Rather than scare us as the other teachers later did, he spent most of the lesson deriding his least favourite fourth-year, who apparently had no instinct for Runes at all but persisted in learning every fact going. This forced him to pass her despite himself. For the first time I remember hearing the name of Hermione Granger, and I must say he seems to have been an excellent judge of character (3).
After that, we talked over the course for a bit and did the Daily Prophet Crossword, which he said was 'a fine tool for sharpening the mind' and, better yet, didn't produce any homework. As Fan-Ten liked marking homework about as much as the average sixth-year enjoyed doing it, that was a major advantage. There was even a Rune in the crossword - 9 across: 'He was almost confused by an offensive partnership - sounds like our man' - five letters, answer ehwaz (4). I didn't have a clue, but the old man never noticed - he thought I just wasn't paying attention. The old Chinese teacher was like that; where most teachers didn't care how you did as long as you tried, he preferred you not to try, as long as you were right in the end.
I was glad of the rest (and Sprout's reassuringly normal Double Herbology) when Moody's lesson came round. Apparently he had demonstrated Unforgivable Curses to the OWL classes, but he had something 'better' for us. He marched into the classroom like Death on one leg, roared "CONSTANT VIGILANCE" and hit anyone who didn't turn around fast enough with a Stinging Hex.
After that innovative beginning, we saw the patented Moody approach to giving out textbooks. Instead of levitating them over to us, or passing them out by hand, he Banished them at us as fast as he could - which was impressively quick. Anyone who caught a book got five points, those who dodged or deflected them were left alone and anyone who was hit lost five points as well as getting a good thump in the nose. I dived under my desk and cracked my head on the leg. Responding fast to large objects aimed at the head is sort of obligatory for Seekers, even sane ones who stay out of the melee as much as possible.
Once everyone had a not-too-battered copy of The Auror's Field Manual, 1979 edition (one of the Weasleys blew his to smithereens and got twenty points), Moody set us a simple challenge:
"Right, you're all sixth-years now, you all managed to make it through OWL. Now you get to see what REAL fighting looks like. Your last teacher dealt mainly with Dark Creatures and duelling spells, didn't he?"
Rufus Warrington stuck up his hand. "Yes, Professor. We covered all the spells on the OWL, plus a couple of the more advanced Shields and some theory of the Light Arts." I could tell he hadn't been too impressed with the Light Arts. Magic based on faith and positive thinking would never get too far with the average Slytherin. Moody knew that too.
"The Light Arts, as you well know, are vital to an Auror, or anyone else. The Patronus Charm, for example, is the only way to disperse Dementors. Lux Amoris is effective against many Dark Creatures, though dangerous to cast. This year, though, we will be covering curses. Dark curses, very Dark indeed. Get your books open, find and demonstrate by the end of Thursday's lesson one spell from the chapter on Offensive Defences. And remember, even when you're working, CONSTANT VIGILANCE!"
That set the tone for the day's lesson - we flipped through an amazing textbook full of all sorts of really good spells, from wand-destroying curses to five-man Shields that almost nothing short of the Killing Curse could break. Some Slytherins went straight for something headed 'Kill me, target you', which sounded lethal. The Weasleys dug up something flashy which looked like a mirror, but gave up on it and started Shielding their hats.
Meanwhile, I decided that if I wound up in battle all I wanted was to live long enough to get away. With that in mind, I found something just perfect, which ought to impress Moody and didn't even look too difficult. It was called the Maltese Cross and the description was pretty simple: Originating with the Crusading warlocks of the 12th century, the Maltese Cross is a last-ditch defensive spell. It forms a spherical, impenetrable shield which, unlike other shields, is impermeable both ways - nothing can travel in or out except the Killing Curse and a very few others. Apparition from within the sphere is possible, but extremely difficult. The utility of the spell is thus restricted to covering a rapid retreat. Use of the Cross is advised against for the following reasons:
i) It is magically exhausting, to the extent that few can maintain it for more than a minute.
ii) Air cannot pass through it and consequently there is a danger of suffocation.
iii) Its opaque nature severely restricts vision.
iv) Spells deflected by the shield are affected in an unpredictable fashion - if they strike anyone else the effects may be wildly different from those intended.
The incantation is Defensor cruce (5) and the wand movement, as the name suggests, is a cross, up-down-left-right-up, which must be maintained constantly.
Nothing there sounded especially risky, even though there were four warnings against using it. None of them worried me, anyway. A spell that sent your enemy's attacks right back at him, modified, was something to dream about, not ban. I resolved to be paired for demonstrations with someone who wouldn't be too imaginative in trying to break me down - anyone but the Weasleys would do, though Rupert or Harald would be best. Whilst I was thinking about all this, Moody stumped up quietly behind me and yelled as I was turning round,
"CONSTANT VIGILANCE! Not fast enough, Diggory!" He stung me hard on the back of the neck and deducted five points from Hufflepuff. Bastard. It wasn't just me though, Adrian Pucey was rubbing his neck hard and there was a charred spot on the back of Tap's robes. On the other hand, Alex Sutton looked almost cheerful - a rare occurrence for the sour Slytherin - and the Weasleys were positively grinning. All those years of sneaking around had probably given them some sort of sixth sense for approaching teachers.
After Moody let us out with a growled comment of 'acceptable, for beginners' and high praise for the Weasleys' innovations, I hurried up to the Owlery to owl my mother. I know it wasn't a very macho thing for a sixth-year to be doing, but it had been just the two of us nearly all the time I was at home - sixteen years whilst my dad worked all hours at the Ministry. I suppose I just didn't want to leave her alone, or let her forget about me whilst she was off with 'dear Ludo.' Ironic, when you think that from the last day of the Triwizard Tournament to the time I'm writing this it's been seventy years. I've not contacted her, or anyone else who knew me as Cedric Diggory, even once. I didn't say much, just that my subjects were no trouble, I expected she knew about the Tournament which I might enter and the new DADA teacher was OK but extremely weird.
My luck was in that day. On the way to the Owlery, I ran into Cho Chang, who was coming down the ladder as I reached the bottom. My envy for that unknown firstie who could have been admiring her magnificent derriere all the way up to the Eyrie the day before went up sharply. Something else went up too, but I don't think she noticed. Unlike certain people I could name, she wouldn't have taken it as a compliment. We chatted for a bit about the smell, Moody, and the other small change of daily life - nothing earth shattering, but she seemed quite friendly and certainly not the whining, adhesive brat her reputation made her out to be.
She'd been writing to a friend at Beauxbatons, who rejoiced in the name of Cunegonde l'Ingusse (you couldn't make that up). Apparently they'd spent the summer together and were hoping she'd be allowed to enter the Tournament (6), which would also get her out of exams. Cho seemed touched that I kept in contact with family, though I suspect she was just grateful for a guy who didn't look like a starving man at a feast whenever he set eyes on her. Not that I didn't want to, I'm just very good at keeping a straight face.
We parted quite happily; I offered to 'tutor her in OWL Charms' (at which she claimed to be terrible) and whilst she didn't exactly leap into my arms she looked pleased and said she'd see how it went with Flitwick first. I still don't know whether she'd have accepted if I hadn't been made Champion, but I expect she would. She always tried to do the right thing, which may make her a fool, but nothing worse than that. Of course the fame and glory impressed her, but not THAT much. That was why she was a challenge. Well, that and her looks - every time I saw her she looked better than the last. Looking back, that might have been a bad sign.
Leaving Cho behind (and a lovely behind it was too), I sent off Aello (7) with my letter, then went off to dinner, which, as it was a Wednesday, was shepherd's pie. Everyone was talking about Moody and how brilliant his lessons were - even I had to admit that being turned loose with an Auror handbook was pretty cool, if a bit dangerous. Three Weasleys were telling anyone who'd listen how sharp, experienced and generally fantastic he was - apparently I'd missed him Transfiguring that slimy little rich bastard Malfoy into a ferret. Pity, I'd have loved to see that. I was always perfectly civil to him in person - the Malfoys had too much influence for me to be anything else - but that didn't mean I had to like him. Even by my low standards, he went too far and I hope the fear of Mad-Eye did something to hold him back.
After that, Wednesday was a bit anticlimactic. We spent most of it having the Fear of the Board (8) put into us by McGonagall, Sinistra, and Flitwick, which was at least as much use as giving us the day off. We knew NEWTs were supposed to be hard, but they all felt the need to tell us again. McGonagall was particularly fearsome towards those of us who she said had 'coasted through OWLs without sufficient applicatio.' That meant me. Sinistra just predicted direful consequences after Adrian Pucey forgot one of the Pleiades and Mildred Allen got the Bears mixed up.
In fact, after the first day, life went on pretty happily for a while. I got on with as little homework as possible, delighted in never having to speak to Snape and plotted the seduction of Cho or, failing her, my little damp Slytherin, whose reputation (and other assets) preceded her by a considerable distance. That reputation wasn't the most savoury out there, but I didn't really care. I wouldn't want her conversation for long, after all. Not too much actually happened on either front, though. Everyone had other things on their minds, mainly the Tournament, the World Cup and somebody's half-crazy aunt who'd vanished into thin air on holiday. I remember wishing at the time that my Aunt Cecelia (my dad's sister) would vanish, but she just carried on baking really awful fruitcakes, which Mum felt obliged to send me every now and again.
(1) 'The Cellar' was the traditional name of the Hufflepuff common room, distinguishing it from the dungeon inhabited by Slytherin.
(2) Obviously the twins, Fred and George, as the other two Weasleys still in school were much younger and (then) less notorious.
(3) The editor is speechless, but would like to record that said student achieved O's at both OWL and NEWT level in Runes, compared to Diggory's E-level OWL.
(4) A rather simple clue - a near anagram of 'he was', not meaning 'defensive' (a common Runic pun), literal translation 'partnership', from the Armanic rune system.
(5) Latin, 'I am defended by the cross.'
(6) Evidently, Miss l'Ingusse was in the same year as Cedric - the French call it 'Premiere' - in which an OWL-equivalent certificate is sat, covering the core disciplines of magic.
(7) The name of Cedric's owl, and of a Harpy in Greek mythology. Evidently Aello was a vicious owl.
(8) A colloquial term for the Wizarding General Examinations Authority, the trans-departmental body that administers OWLs, NEWTs and other magical examinations.