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"Oh my, you're looking much better this evening. I trust that young Mr. Malfoy was of some comfort to you." Headmaster Dumbledore said with delight.
"Yes sir. Mr. Malfoy was very helpful." Choab said calmly.
"From your expression it would seem that you have reached some decisions." The Headmaster said evenly.
"Yes sir. I have." Choab said seriously.
"Tell me what you've decided and we'll do our best to see that you're taken care of." Dumbledore said happily.
"Well, it's not as much as you might expect. I'd like something done about my hands, these talons are really inconvenient. Besides that, I'd just like to change my hair and wing color to something less... radiant. I am a Slytherin after all." Choab finished with a smile.
"Yes, yes. Well done Mr. Nightshade. Professor McGonigal will be down shortly to help you with your hands. I believe Professor Snape will be best to help you with the remainder. How does that sound?" Dumbledore asked with a smile that was just a bit to cheerful.
"Very good Headmaster. When may I leave the infirmary?" Choab asked cautiously.
"As soon as Professors McGonigal and Snape are finished I should think." Dumbledore said in a considering voice.
"Thank you Headmaster." Choab said, trying to convey his appreciation.
"You're very welcome young man." Dumbledore said as he withdrew from the partitioned area.
* * * * *
"It will be much simpler if you have the spell on an amulet. A simple bracelet can hold the spell in place for you and you will be able to remove it at will." Professor McGonigal said seriously.
"I just don't see the advantage in that." Choab said in thought.
"Try thinking of it this way. As you get older and stronger in your magic, the transfiguration spell will have to be recast more and more often to maintain it. By using the amulet, you won't have that worry and you'll have the advantage of your natural form should that be desirable." Professor McGonigal said in an imploring voice.
"Thank you for explaining it to me and allowing me to decide Professor McGonigal. I'll do as you suggest and accept the transfiguration spell on an amulet." Choab said seriously.
Professor McGonigal gave a brief smile, then went to work enchanting the bracelet she brought to contain the spell.
* * * * *
"The Headmaster asked that I come to assist you Mr. Nightshade. What can I do for you this evening?" Professor Snape asked seriously.
"If it wouldn't be too much trouble, I'd like to change the color of my hair and wings." Choab asked, forcing himself to sound strong.
"I hadn't expected you to be concerned with such... cosmetic... details. Before I agree, may I know of your reasoning?" Professor Snape asked, not revealing any emotion in his request.
"All my life I've looked the way my father chose. Now that his spells have been broken, I'm the younger image of him. I want some control over who I am and how I appear." Choab said with fierce intensity.
"Very well. What color would you like?" Professor Snape asked, a notable softening in his voice.
"I would like to change my hair color to black, and straighten it if possible..." Choab began and noticed a curious look on Professor Snape's face.
"Yes. Like yours." Choab admitted shyly.
Professor Snape straightened his posture and hid any emotional reaction.
"And I'd like my wings to be black, green and silver... to show my pride in my house." Choab continued in a stronger voice.
Professor Snape nodded in thought for a moment, then said, "Come to the potions lab and we can accomplish your goals."
Choab sat up and realized that he was shirtless.
"Um. I don't have anything to wear..." Choab said timidly.
"Just wrap yourself in a robe for now. The situation with your wardrobe will be sorted out in due time." Professor Snape said seriously.
Choab pulled the robe up to cover his wings and gripped it closed at the neck with one hand.
When he was ready, Professor Snape turned with a swish of his robes and led the way out of the infirmary closely followed by Choab.
* * * * *
"This potion should achieve the proper results." Professor Snape said as he opened a book on the desk.
Choab looked carefully at the potion and finally said, "If you would like, I could prepare this myself."
"I'll consider it recompense for missing your first class." Professor Snape said as he began to gather ingredients.
"Thank you Professor." Choab said seriously as he inwardly smiled.
* * * * *
After nearly half an hour of preparing the ingredients and one last reading through the book. Choab began to mix the ingredients, falling into the familiar pattern he'd used in the past six years of his potion making at home.
"Quite an interesting method of combining ingredients, where did you learn it?" Professor Snape asked with interest as he watched Choab pouring three ingredients from one beaker to another several times.
"I followed the instructions in my father's potion books and taught myself. But the books tend to assume that you know how to do things like combine complimentary ingredients or dissolve them. So I tried a few different methods until I found something that worked." Choab said as he continued the pouring.
"In this class we put the solution into a beaker and stir it steadily until completely integrated." Professor Snape said seriously.
"I tried that, but I had problems with the ingredients stratifying within the solution, even though I was stirring." Choab said and stopped his pouring to look carefully at the solution.
"Many students have that difficulty. With practice you learn to alter your stirring stroke to sufficiently prevent stratification." Professor Snape said in his lecturing tone.
"I'd like to see that. Some ingredients are too sensitive to be combined my way." Choab said, then poured his beaker of ingredients into the cauldron.
"Are you able to recognize which ingredients those might be?" Professor Snape asked with interest.
"Yes. A few failed potions and one very fragrant explosion caused me to research common ingredients in regard to sensitivity. Anything I'm not sure of, I assume to be sensitive until proven otherwise." Choab said, then waived his hand over the cauldron and gestured as he said, "Camborie Cambolis Ignum Infume Nicto."
The mixture in the cauldron seemed to explode, then just as suddenly implode.
"You purposely forced and contained a cascading reaction. Why?" Professor Snape asked, now in full teacher mode.
"It cut nearly an hour off the brewing time. In a potion that doesn't use blood rites or temporal-spatial components the forced reaction causes immediate bonding of the ingredients without changing the potency or effect of the potion." Choab said, not realizing that he was being quizzed.
"You realize that you just performed that spell without the benefit of a wand, don't you?" Professor Snape asked seriously.
Choab looked up quickly and said, "I'm sorry Professor Snape. I forgot. I won't do it again."
"You misunderstand my meaning Mr. Nightshade. Most of the students here won't ever achieve the use of wandless magic. Such power bodes well for you." Professor Snape said seriously.
"Yes. I also know that if I do that in front of the wrong people, I'll be branded as a prodigy and separated from the rest of the students in the interest of advancing my studies." Choab said forcefully.
"To help you realize your full potential." Snape said as he nodded in agreement.
"Realize my full potential to be what? To be the most isolated, maladjusted being in the wizarding world? Thanks to the actions of my parents I'm more than half-way there, thank you very much." Choab said with a lost, desperate look in his eyes.
"So you intend to masquerade as someone less intelligent and less talented than you truly are in order to further your social interactions?" Professor Snape asked carefully.
"It seemed like the thing to do." Choab said with a shrug.
"Portraying yourself in such a manner would be no different than choosing to return to the glamours and transfigurations that you arrived with. You really should be consistent with your choices. Either be your true self or be what you are expected to be. Being both is not a viable option in the long term." Professor Snape said seriously.
Choab thought about the words as he carefully dipped the potion from the cauldron into a vial.
"Thank you Professor. I hadn't recognized the fallacy in my decision." Choab said as he looked at the vial in his hand.
"How confident are you in your abilities?" Professor Snape asked seriously.
Choab smiled and drank the potion down without hesitation.
"I trust you will discuss your choice with Mr. Malfoy before making a final decision." Professor Snape said as he gathered more ingredients from around the room.
"No. I talked to Draco earlier because I was having trouble sorting out my options. You've just stated my options very clearly and if I'm going to be true to my own convictions, the choice has already been made." Choab said with resignation.
"Mr. Nightshade, you are Slytherin. Knowing what that means, what do you believe the probable reaction of the other Slytherin will be to your true self?" Professor Snape asked in a leading tone while continuing to gather ingredients.
"The physical differences will breed initial suspicion, but will eventually be seen as the inconsequential, cosmetic affectations that they are. Any skills or knowledge that I possess that surpass their own will be seen as resources to be exploited." Choab said in thought.
"Potential problems?" Professor Snape asked as he began to prepare the ingredients.
Choab noticed what he was doing and glanced at the potion book before starting to finely mince herbs.
"The main problem for the Slytherin would be the concern that my abilities may be used against them or withheld from them." Choab said in thought.
"Solution?" Snape prompted, then started grinding something with a mortar and pestle.
"A show of loyalty to... Slytherin. My wings?" Choab looked up with surprise.
"Possibly. Your subsequent actions will have to reinforce the gesture." Professor Snape said in thought.
"What do I do about the other houses?" Choab asked as he returned the majority of his attention to the herbs before him.
"What would their reaction be toward you if you were of average appearance, wit and ability?" Professor Snape asked as he weighed the dust he had just ground.
"Because I'm Slytherin, they wouldn't trust me." Choab said, then looked up again in surprise and said, "No matter what, our houses would tend to prevent any type of significant relationship to? develop. My appearance and abilities may amplify their reaction in the beginning, but the end result is the same."
Professor Snape walked to a cabinet without comment.
"So... if I'm honest with my housemates and reserve my best efforts while in the company of others then I may be able to have what I've wanted all along without giving up anything significant." Choab said as he went back to his herbs.
"Look." Snape said as he handed Choab a mirror.
Choab looked in the mirror and smiled. He was surprised to see himself with long black hair framing his face. Choab hadn't considered that changing his hair color would also change his eyebrows and eyelashes. The change had the effect of drawing attention to his deep blue eyes.
"It's better than I imagined." Choab said happily.
"Your completion of the potion negates any adverse effect on your grade from missing my first class. Your method of dissolving appropriate ingredients and your use of magic to expedite the brewing process have earned Slytherin thirty points." Professor Snape said, then held out a hand for the mirror.
"Thank you Professor." Choab said with a smile, then transferred his completed herbs to a small cup to await their use.
"I'll need one of your feathers to bind the spell properly." Professor Snape said as he carefully measured some powder on the scale.
Choab reached back and took a firm grip on one of his feathers. After taking a deep breath and tensing his jaw, he gave it a solid yank.
"Son of a Muggle!" Choab cursed as he hopped in a tight circle, rubbing the sore spot on his wing where the feather had been.
"A little sensitive?" Snape asked, obviously fighting back a smile.
"I imagine it's about like pulling off a fingernail. Please tell me we won't have to do this often." Choab said as he tried to sooth the hurt.
"No. Once should be sufficient unless you decide you want to change your coloring again." Professor Snape said seriously.
"If I'd known it would hurt like that, I would have thought twice about changing it at all." Choab said honestly while rubbing the tender spot on his wing.
"If I may have your attention, I will demonstrate the proper method for brewing a potion in my class." Professor Snape said seriously.
Choab let loose of his injured wing and turned his full attention to Professor Snape.
* * * * *
"What are we going to do about my clothes?" Choab asked as he followed Professor Snape to the Slytherin dorm.
"Headmaster Dumbledore mentioned earlier that he would instruct the house elves to alter your wardrobe to accommodate your... individual needs." Professor Snape finished diplomatically.
Choab smiled at the choice of words, then clutched his robe a little tighter around his head as they passed through the hidden door.
Several students of all ages looked up at their entry and looks of curiosity and concern passed over their faces at the huddled form accompanying Professor Snape.
"Mr. Widget, would you ask Mr. Malfoy to join us in the common room?" Professor Snape asked in a cold voice.
The Slytherin prefect immediately walked down the hall to the boy's rooms and returned a minute later with Draco, Crabbe and Goyle following.
"As some of you may have noticed, Mr. Nightshade has been absent from your ranks for the past twenty-four hours. He may need some assistance to overcome what he missed in the first day of classes." Professor Snape said firmly.
"What's wrong with him?" Pansy asked cautiously.
"Mr. Nightshade was under the effect of some two dozen spells to alter his appearance. This was done to him without his knowledge or consent. Do keep that in mind." Professor Snape said and turned to look at Choab.
After taking a deep breath for courage, Choab released the robe that was covering him and allowed it to fall to the floor.
Silence fell over the room as everyone looked at the handsome young man with long silky black hair, miles deep blue eyes and a distinctive scar on his left cheek.
Choab carefully spread his wings to their full span so everyone could get a good look at them. The black feathers revealed their iridescent green hue as the light hit them. Thin silver threads were barely noticeable on the vein of each feather.
"Beautiful." Pansy said in awe.
Choab smiled at her with relief.
"Now that you've been assured that Mr. Nightshade is indeed who he claims to be and was in no way responsible for deceiving you, I will take my leave." Professor Snape said as he withdrew from the gathering.
"Thank you Professor." Choab said with gratitude filling his voice.
Professor Snape gave an almost imperceptible nod as he made his way out of the room.
The room exploded into a whirlwind of questions from everyone present except Draco.
"I'm not sure about everything. The professors saw the glamour when I arrived. They were able to dispel everything that was done to me.? As far as who, when, why and how it happened. I have my suspicions, but anything more I could say would just be speculation." Choab finally explained, answering several questions at once.
"Did anyone give you tomorrow's assignments?" Draco finally asked.
Choab turned toward Draco and gave a brief smile as he said, "No. How bad are they?"
"Come to the room and I'll cover it all with you." Draco said seriously.
"Thanks Malfoy." Choab said as he picked his robe up off the floor.
* * * * *
Once the door was closed, Choab let out a sigh of relief.
"How are you doing Cherub?" Draco asked with concern.
"I just hope my first two days aren't typical of the rest of my time at Hogwart's." Choab said as he walked to his bed.
"Well, you didn't miss much. From what I saw of your wand work yesterday, you could probably miss the first two weeks and still be ahead of most of the class." Draco said as he sat on his bed to face Choab.
"About that..." Choab said uncomfortably and bit his lip while he considered how to tell Draco.
"It looks like you want to tell me something I probably won't like." Draco observed.
"Not exactly. It's just... I'm going to show you something..." Choab began uneasily.
"I think he wants to flash you Malfoy." Crabbe said with a snicker.
Choab laughed at the suggestion and decided to get it over with.
He made a complicated gesture and focused on the words of the spell in his mind.
The potions book laying on his bedside stand quickly glided through the air and into Choab's waiting hands.
"You're... you can... wandless magic..." Crabbe stammered with astonishment.
"Just how powerful are you?" Draco asked darkly.
"I don't know. I didn't have a wand until I got one for school. I've been doing wandless magic for about three years." Choab said weakly.
"What else can you do?" Goyle asked in wonder.
"Probably anything in the first year potions book." Choab said uncomfortably.
"Oh, I bet Snape is going to love that." Crabbe said sarcastically.
"He gave Slytherin thirty points for the potion I mixed to change my hair color." Choab said seriously.
"Thirty?" Goyle said in surprise.
Draco was staring off into space for a moment before asking, "So how much does Professor Snape know?"
"Everything. I got so busy mixing my potion that I forgot where I was for a minute and used a spell." Choab said darkly.
"Who else knows?" Draco asked, still deep in thought.
"No one. But I was thinking about telling the other Slytherin." Choab said, feeling concern at Draco's attitude.
"Hold off on that. You can never get an advantage back after giving it away." Draco said absently.
Choab waited for Draco to work through whatever was on his mind.
"Cherub, do you trust me?" Draco asked with intensity.
"Yes." Choab said immediately.
"Then I'm going to ask you to be completely honest with me. If you want, Crabbe and Goyle will leave the room." Draco said seriously.
"If you trust them to stay, then so do I. But if you're going to ask for my trust, are you going to give me yours in return?" Choab asked seriously.
Draco nodded and said, "I need to know, what you said before about why you're like this, was it true?"
"Yes. Professor McGonigal thinks my mother transfigured into a harpy while she was pregnant with me." Choab said, then continued, "And before you ask, I haven't lied to you about anything else I've told you either. I just didn't mention the wandless magic."
"Why would your mother do? that?" Goyle asked curiously.
"Maybe to escape a certain dark wizard who has remained nameless for the past eleven years?" Choab said speculatively.
"I remember my parents telling me about the magical defenses they put in place. No one was safe." Goyle said distantly.
"That may not be the reason, it's just the only thing I could think of." Choab said carefully.
"We won't volunteer it as an answer, but if someone presses for an explanation, I say we go with it until proven otherwise." Draco said firmly.
"I can live with that." Choab said with a nod.
"What about your..." Draco said and held up one hand and wiggled his fingers.
"Professor McGonigal declawed me." Choab said happily and held his hands up for Draco to see.
Crabbe and Goyle looked on in confusion but didn't say anything.
"Watch this." Choab said and pulled off the bracelet.
Over the course of fifteen seconds, Choab's hands lengthened and the talons began to protrude. Within half a minute his transfiguration was complete.
"You could do some damage with those." Crabbe said with wide eyes.
"If we ever need a body guard, would you consider backing us up?" Goyle asked as he stared at the talons.
Choab chuckled as he said, "I'd be honored to be your body guard if you need one."
"I was thinking about something else." Draco said in a serious tone.
Choab grabbed his bracelet and put it back on his wrist. He looked expectantly at Draco as his hands returned to their human appearance.
"I think you should consider using your formal name, I mean, the same way I use Malfoy." Draco said carefully.
"Why?" Choab asked curiously.
"From what you've said, your family has kept you hidden away until now.? You're out of hiding, you should act like it. Cherub Nightshade is what emerged from the cocoon that was Choab." Draco said seriously.
Choab thought about the words and finally responded, "I'll need to think about it. When I came here, I thought I'd just hide in the background of things and watch what was going on without really participating."
"Do you know what history calls people who do that?" Draco asked seriously.
"What?" Choab asked curiously.
"Nothing. History doesn't name them because people who skulk and lurk and hide don't change the world and they don't matter. We're Slytherin, we're not here to learn how to blend in, we're here to stand out. Malfoy, Nightshade, Crabbe and Goyle are going to stand out my friends." Draco said with passion.
"How can you be so certain?" Choab asked in a mix of awe and concern.
"Cherub Nightshade lived his entire life locked in a house. He read the books, practiced the spells, mixed the potions and found the answers the rest of us will probably still be looking for seven years from now. What he lacks is the awareness of the world that he needs to exploit his knowledge and skills. Draconis Malfoy grew up watching the maneuverings of the people around him and learning what drives people to do what they do. While Nightshade was learning potions and spells, Malfoy was learning politics and covert influence. What that all means is that Cherub Nightshade commands knowledge of the academic and Draconis Malfoy commands knowledge of the practical. When their efforts are combined, they can surpass anything either could do alone." Draco said happily.
"Where does that leave us?" Crabbe asked cautiously.
"Guarding our backs. Keeping us on target. Maybe even taking a fall for one of us so we can do what needs to be done. But what you two get out of the deal is a share of whatever rewards we enjoy." Draco said passionately.
Crabbe looked at Goyle with a lost expression.
"So do we still get to beat people up?" Goyle asked in confusion.
Draco nodded seriously.
"Good, then I'm in." Goyle said with a smile.
"Me too." Crabbe said happily.
Choab looked curiously at the two and noticed the playful twinkle in their eyes.
After a moment of thought, Choab announced, "Draco is right. If anyone talks about Choab, they're talking about the brown haired guy who went to the infirmary last night and never came back."
Draco got a smile of accomplishment and extended his hand to shake.
"Malfoy. Draco Malfoy." He said, mimicking his introduction on the train.
Choab took off his bracelet and watched as his hand transfigured.
"I don't want there to be any magics or illusions between us." Choab said seriously, then carefully took Draco's hand and said, "It's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Malfoy, I am Cherub Nightshade."