The Art of War

Wanda: Hello everyone and welcome back to the Art of War. You might have noticed the rating is down; I decided that since the really dark stuff is coming later it's going to start T. The rating will be going up later. Also, I had someone ask about Flora, who's the fourth character in the tier. I was trying to decide who was going to be joining the Power Trio as the darker 'devil's advocate' of the story. Originally I was going to use Blaise, but I figured since Wand Knife and Silence is still ongoing I would use someone else. I know people usually use Daphne for this kind of role, but I have a different plan for her in this story as she'll be serving a different function. So I was thinking about someone who wasn't used often and I hit on the Carrow siblings. Flora will be a bit more prominent then Hestia because she's more cynical (as you'll see later on) thanks to what she's gone through, though Hestia has a function of her own. Warning, there are mentions of severe child abuse in this chapter. I do not own Harry Potter.

Chapter 2: The Beginnings of Conflict

"Broken Down, Hurt Again, It never Ends" -Disturbed, Haunted

Flora Carrow was concentrating on not giving in to the horrible pain in her head, so it took her a little while to realize Hermione Granger had not come to class on time, like she always did unless she was a hair's breath from death. A few minutes later, she still didn't appear. The other two members of the so called Gryffindor Golden Trio came in, but she didn't.

Umbridge – Flora wasn't going to call her 'professor' unless she absolutely had to – came in and did attendance, and there was still no sign of Granger.

Flora Carrow was a lot of things, including observant. She had to be, or else how would she be able to brace herself for her mother's next experiment, or tell when Hestia's injuries were catching up to her, or when the seventh year thugs that their parents had on the lookout for them were about to put her in the hospital wing? Or when someone was using dark magic?

Dark Magic was something Flora had the dubious honor of being more intimately familiar with then most, if not all, of her classmates.

Of course she had known that Professor Lupin was a werewolf in third year. Of course she had known that the Moody teaching them in fourth year wasn't who he said he was. Of course she had known that the monster in the school was a snake.

Flora had kept her silence on all of these notes because...well, what choice did she have?

Hestia had suspected that the snake could be connected to the Chamber of Secrets, and then to Voldemort, but they both knew the folly of being open about that. Their mother and uncle were fanatically devoted to the Dark Lord, and interfering with his plans for the 'mudbloods' would have earned a punishment that probably had a good chance of killing them. Besides, who would believe two girls from 'dark' families, in the 'dark' house that everyone was taught to fear, was taught that good people didn't come out of?

She didn't blame Lupin for keeping a lid on the fact he was a werewolf; the laws would have taken away everything but his breathing rights if he had been open about it. Besides, he was less of a monster then the people she lived with.

Flora had known that Crouch Jr wasn't dead; he was one of the inner circle members like Alecto and Amycus and one of the few that shared their loyalty. Flora could remember one of the time she was 'taken along' to visit Azkaban and could hear him and Lestrange screaming that their master would return. She had come to recognize the way he walked, even with that peg leg she could guess the impostor.

Besides, the fact he was drinking from that pouch all the time...Flora wondered why none of that had tipped of Albus Dumbledore, the greatest wizard of all time who apparently couldn't tell that a few of his students were coming in regularly looking like someone had tried to murder them. Or when people actually tried to murder them.

This left Flora between a rock and a hard place, moreso then usual. If she had blown Crouch's cover, Alecto would have undoubtedly taken it out on Hestia, and Flora couldn't imagine the kind of pain her sister would have gone through – actually, yes she could. Alecto knew it would hurt her older twin more to know that her sister was suffering because of her. Which is why she stayed silent, however much it hurt.

Flora knew that if she had spoken up, there was even the smallest chance that Cedric and Potter never would have been sent to the graveyard where Voldemort was resurrected.

She hated her family for forcing her to be complicit in the boy's death, but not as much as she hated herself for trying to justify her silence when she had been standing in front of the Hufflepuff's grave. Hestia couldn't bring herself to visit the place, but Flora couldn't go about her day to day life without trying to address the guilt that was crushing her ever since. Not that it had helped much. What was she going to do? Apologize? It wouldn't do Cedric much good now.

As for Potter – Harry (Flora preferred to think of him as a person whenever she had the chance, if just to spite her psychopathic mother) – well, it wasn't like she could apologize to him either. Sorry I'm a part, however small, of your worst enemy coming back to life, Cedric dying and you nearly dying as well. How about we be potions partners? As if she wouldn't get lynched for being a Slytherin daring to talk to the Gryffindor Golden boy.

"Granger? Hermione Granger?"

Flora gritted her teeth as Umbridge's silvery voice filled the room and brought her out of her memories. Out of all the people Fudge could have forced on them, it was Umbridge, which just served to confirm to her that he was covering up the Death Eater's return.

Maybe that thought should have frightened Flora, but she had lived through so much at this point she doubted that even if the Ministry fell, she had already taken the worst the world had to offer her. The only person who could possibly be worse then her mother was Lestrange; and she'd be too busy torturing muggles to bother with her and Hestia.

Besides, would it matter now?

In the end, she might even welcome death as an escape from this hell.

Flora had plenty of memories of the toadish bitch at the front of the classroom from encounters in the Ministry, and the fact that she was being set on helpless first years made Flora's chest burn with anger. Umbridge was as much a child-torturing psychopath as Alecto, and given Dumbledore's obliviousness, she's probably cripple half the school before he even realized something was up. Of course, she was going to be focusing on Harry, but she was trigger happy enough to turn on anyone who looked at her wrong.

Some day, Flora was going to slap Harry Potter with a portkey to America that automatically hid him under shielding charms. Sure, her mother would murder her, but it would be so worth it.

"Mr. Malfoy, do me a favour, go fetch Professor McGonagal, see if she knows where one of her 'wayward lions' is." Umbridge said with her famous false poisonous sweetness.

She couldn't be more obvious about her bias if she died; she'd been in Ravenclaw back in her school days but had always fancied herself a Slytherin.

Flora snorted. Umbridge in Slytherin. If that had happened, Slytherins really would be all torturing nutcases.

Malfoy swelled up like the peacock he was and sauntered out of the room, like he was on Broadway or something. There were some snickers in the crowd, from those who benefited from this change. Flora rolled her eyes, wincing slightly as she did so. These people were pathetic.

Flora blinked; she saw Harry and Ron Weasely exchange eye rolls and knowing looks. Hermione missing this class was planned? Intended? Whatever she was doing, they knew about it, and seemed pleased.

Flora frowned, but only slightly so as not to give them away. What were Potter and his friends up to? This wasn't the reaction she would have expected.

Was Granger trying to take attention away from Harry by doing something so uncharacteristic and distracting as not showing up to class? Surely she knew that the Ministry wouldn't give up its smear campaign against the boy that easily. They also wouldn't remove a teacher, no matter how horrible a person they were, on the word of a muggleborn. What was she trying to achieve?

This caused quite a stir of muttering within the classroom. "Where's Granger?" Maya Pritchard whispered. "She never misses classes."

Hestia shrugged, eyes flicking around the room uneasily. Hestia had always been weaker to emotional abuse then Flora; Cedric's death had taken away a lot of her sleep, to the point where Flora had been genuinely afraid that Hestia would die if her body was ravaged any further.

"Maybe she forgot something. You know Granger and her books." Hestia suggested tentatively. Maya nodded tentatively, but didn't look convinced by that.

Flora looked out of the corner of her eye and she could have sworn she saw Potter smirk before taking his books out of his backpack.

Another stab of pain burst through her forehead. Flora shut her eyes tightly for a moment, before discreetly turning back and looking at Weasley and Potter again. Any kind of distraction that took her attention away from her uncle's 'have-fun-at-school' present was more then welcome. The throbbing was as intense as falling off a broomstick and most headache potions couldn't even begin to sooth it.

Ron Weasley leaned back, towards Blaise Zabini, who was looking intently down at what looked like a blank sheet of paper to her eyes. Blaise shot a quick look up at the front, where Umbridge was waiting distracted by the door, before erecting a silence ward with a twitch of his fingers.

Zabini. Flora's breath hitched. She knew about Blaise's family. He wasn't a haughty pureblood supremacist like Malfoy and his cronies believed. No one in this school save a few knew what he was really like, what was hiding behind those falsified beliefs. He had only dropped his double talk exactly twice that she had seen in the past two years.

He came from a long line of assassins; his mother was famous for luring prey in by pretending to a high class woman, or a political dissident, and once they got close enough? Bam. They turned up dead in a ditch, their estate and political power dissolving into that of the weeping widow, who had a knife hidden in her mourner's dress.

Blaise was learning to be like his mother; throughout the years he was slowly edging himself into Malfoy's group, mimicking the boy's racist behavior flawlessly but still giving the victims some peace without revealing himself in quiet moments. Once, Blaise had given her something that closed some of the injuries her mother had given her.

Flora suspected that the real reason the Italian was here was that Sansa Zabini wanted to cut off the head of the Malfoy family. Once Blaise had an opportunity, Draco Malfoy was going to die. Maybe his parents to, if they invited Blaise to their mansion.

Flora couldn't summon any grief at that thought. The Malfoy's allowances played a part in the students who were hurt here, along with her own continued torture at the hands of her 'family'. If she thought she could get away with it, she might just kill them herself – what else did she have to loose?

Why would Weasley, one of the touted 'Golden Trio', want anything to do with a supposedly bigoted Slytherin? That implied that he might know...but a golden Gryffindor would never condone an assassin. Not something in Dumbledore's ear, and certainly not someone that young.

Something was going on, and for some reason it was gnawing at Flora to figure out what it was. What was on that paper?

Ron gestured down at the paper, while Blaise listened intently. After a moment, Blaise said something that made Weasley grin and nod before sitting back upright. Blaise slipped the paper back into his bag as Umbridge walked back to the center of the room.

Flora shook her head. Potter was definitely up to something, but if he wasn't more careful, Umbridge was going to spot him and the plan could fall apart.

"Well, it seems we will have to proceed without her," Umbridge said, "Now, open your books, and I'll begin correcting this unbalanced curriculum and years of unsatisfactory teaching-"

And off she went again, just like on the opening night. Flora bit her lip and tuned out the upcoming speech. She saw Dean Thomas ask Ron where Granger was, and she wasn't expecting his response-

"She's boycotting DADA. Ginny, Cho, 'n these two second years named Natalie and Graham are in on it too. She's asking around to see if anyone's willing to join them. She's probably hiding out somewhere."

Flora's heart started to pound. Boycotting? Granger? What was she thinking? Didn't she know the kind of trouble -

Her fingers tightened, and she took a deep breath. Granger wasn't an idiot. She was, unquestionably, the smartest witch of this generation. Of course she knew the consequences of defying the Ministry. But she was doing it anyway. But why? What was she trying to do?

Cho Chang was helping her. Cho Chang, who had been dating Cedric when he was sent to his death, who would want to know why he died, who might not accept the Ministry's refusal to acknowledge who really killed him...

"Mr. Weasley! Perhaps you can tell us where Miss Granger is, as you've seen fit to share it with your friends," Umbridge said sweetly. All eyes turned to Potter and Weasley.

Hestia was discreetly glaring at Malfoy out of the corner of her eye, and after a moment Flora could see why. The boy was grinning maniacally. Flora's nails dug into her hands. It was easy for a pompous prat like Malfoy to cheer on Umbridge punishing his opponents; he'd never been on the receiving end of her evil mechanics.

He knew nothing about the pain inflicted; some times Flora considered turning her considerable knowledge of the Dark Arts on him...to see if he still thought so highly of it...

Ron Weasley tilted his head slightly and looked at Umbridge without even blinking. "To pull a quote, Professor, Hermione said that the books the Ministry had set out are, in a word, bullshit." He said bluntly.

The stunned silence in the room was palpable.

Mouths dropped open. Whispered conversations came to a dead stop. Quills fell to the floor and Neville Longbottom dropped his textbook entirely, causing it to slap the floor, half open. The sneer slid right off Malfoy's face. Lavander Brown gasped dramatically.

Umbridge's eyes widened, perhaps she hadn't been expecting this kind of outright defiance so soon. Or maybe she hadn't expected those who resisted to be so up front about it.

Flora certainly wouldn't have. Granger couldn't know about Umbridge's habits and how she dealt with disobedient children, but she knew that she was sent here by government officials. Umbridge expected to be obeyed without question. Merlin knew what Fudge would say when he caught wind of this. But why would she do something that public unless she wanted there to be a reaction, wanted people to know...unless...

Granger was making a stand.

Flora took a deep breath to remain calm. Hestia's fingers were tapping rapidly against the desk as she tried to contain herself. She cast a quick look at Flora, and they had both guessed it. No one had made a stand before. What had changed?

Ron calmly continued, "I don't know where she's gone, but she says she's boycotting this class until someone actually starts teaching us Defence."

If possible, the room seemed to get even quieter, like a frozen tundra. You could have heard a pin drop in the hallway. Everyone was holding their breath. Flora could almost hear their thoughts. Directly calling Professor Umbridge incompetent? Teacher's pet Granger? If they hadn't been afraid of speaking over Umbridge, she was willing to bet the room would have exploded with conspiracy theories involving personality potions, glamoured replacements and the Imperious curse.

Harry nodded before adding, "She told us that we are the next generation of Aurors. Aurors need practical training to be effective. She said with this kind of learning, there's going to be an entire generation of Aurors who won't be qualified to deal with dark wizards. Hell, they wouldn't be qualified to deal with cauldron theft. She's telling everyone to expect a remarkable increase in crime in upcoming years unless we start using spells again."

Gasps filled the room. Some of the Gryffindors looked like they couldn't believe what they were hearing, while the Slytherins looked like someone had just turned their entire universe on its head and shaken it for loose change.

Umbridge looked like she would have liked to explode, but was determined to keep control of the situation she was in. Her face was turning purple from the effort and Flora could have laughed, burying her face in her hands to smother the treacherous noise. It wouldn't be appreciated right now.

If Flora had to kiss a girl, it would be Hermione. Granger had found a way of throwing the 'Ministry mandated' classroom standards back in his face. She found a way of questioning what he was doing, the idiocy of this entire setup in a way that couldn't be brushed aside as 'fear mongering'. Even the teachers hadn't considered that; only thinking that shouting loudly about Voldemort's return would change their minds.

There were times when Flora could appreciate how smart the muggleborn student was, and now was one of those times – who else would have thought of this as a way of protesting?

"Is that so?," Umbridge said, her voice shaking as she tried to keep up that 'sweet grandmother' tone that fooled everyone who didn't know any better. "Perhaps the two of you can tell me where Miss Granger has gone to? Then we can speak about this – ah – misunderstanding, and...address her concerns."

Flora knew that if Umbridge did find Hermione Granger, the detention the girl would have to sit through would not bear thinking about. She glanced at her sister out of the corner of her eye. Hestia was staring intently at Ron and Harry, trying to beseech them not to answer her. Flora bit her lip and hoped that Umbridge wouldn't notice.

Potter – Harry – shook his head. "We said, Professor, we don't know. She left the common room early and we haven't seen her since."

"Potter, I do believe you're lying to me." Umbridge's words were sharp and pointed.

Flora saw Harry's shoulders go rigid at the word. Potter was not famous for thinking things through.

Umbridge pointedly turned her attention away from Potter, sending a message - this boy is untrustworthy. Not worth listening to. "Now, Weasley, how about you tell me where Granger is?"

Weasley bristled at her defamation of his friend, but to Flora's astonishment he kept the equally famous Weasley temper in check and responded calmly, "It's true, Professor." He said tautly, "Hermione's gone off somewhere. We don't know where."

Umbridge's eyes narrowed. "I think you're simply hiding your friend from me. I will not have my authority challenged by some fame seeker and his sidekick. The two of you will be serving-

Flora wasn't sure what came over her. She never did anything she thought might jeopardize her position at the school, or bring someone's wrath down on her. She played things as safe as possible, with the threat of her possible death bearing down on her at all times.

But something inside her seemed to spring up at Granger's defiance. Maybe she had spent too long getting stepped on, but this change gave her strength, and she got up from her chair with a snap that directed people's attention towards her.

She snapped, "Don't be ridiculous. Granger's always sneaking off somewhere and none of the normal teachers can find her either. If they don't know where she is, there's no point in giving them detention."

"Hand, Miss Carrow," Umbridge said, dropping the usual sugar act, her voice becoming something slightly more dangerous. Flora glared back at her. That toad couldn't hope to be as scary as Alecto or Voldemort, and she had seen both.

"If you're referring to your habit of staying extremely inflammatory statements and then telling people to raise their hands, that's another point to Granger calling you an incompetent teacher." Flora retorted.

Umbridge glared and snapped, "Detention, Miss Carrow! I will not have my class interrupted. I am going to speak with Professor McGonagal over this rejection of my authority. All of you, read that text book."

Flora sat down slowly, deliberately dragging her chair in the following silence. Umbridge glared at her for one more minute, before realizing that she had broken the image she wanted to project to the classes.

She was supposed to project Ministry strength before some supposed upstarts, restore order while defaming Potter, but in this class Granger's non-appearance and Potter/Weasley refusing to give her up had revealed her as a control freak; and Granger's reasons for not attending could be used as ammunition against Fudge – ammunition that now everyone in this class could report to their parents. Angrily, she left the room.

Flora looked down at her textbook, the adrenaline slowly leaving her replacing itself with dread. What had she just done? Granted, Umbridge wasn't bound to report her to her 'family', but it was only a matter of time before someone got wind of it – Malfoy was in this classroom! What was she thinking? She'd just opened her self wide for punishment...

She was brought out of her thoughts when someone touched her arm. Her head snapped up to see Potter standing next to her. "Thank you," He said quietly. "For standing up for us."

Flora shrugged, hoping the gesture looked flippant. "The false gramma act was starting to piss me off." She responded dryly. "Any longer and I probably would have said something regardless."

"If you hadn't distracted her, it would probably be me in detention," Harry responded with a shake of his head. "If you'd like, I could come and find you afterwards."

Flora thought about that. A small part inside her that had been buried years ago was crying out for Potter to realize what had been done to her, to care that she was getting hurt every time she was sent home or did something wrong in the Slytherin common room, that she was bullied by some teachers and abandoned by the rest because she was in the same house as Malfoy, and her heart was dying because she was in so much pain every day. She wanted to escape, she wanted someone to keep these people from hurting her, she wanted to stop them because she knew these horrible things they were doing but she couldn't do anything about it because no one would believe her and her parents would kill Hestia. But she didn't say any of these things, out of long habit.

She just shook her head and said, "I'm a snake, Potter. Don't worry your pretty head about me. No one does."

Flora might have been imaging it, but Potter almost seemed worried at this statement. Everyone else was mostly whispering and talking about what had occurred today, looking at their friends and then looking at their books.

When Potter sat down, Hestia leaned over towards Flora, neither of them realizing that Harry and Ron were watching them still.

She whispered, quietly and full of dread, "Mother's going to squash us like bugs."

"Only if they hear about it through the Ministry," Flora responded sharply, her fingers clenching again, "and Fudge doesn't want to hear that he's being resisted, he wants to hear that Umbridge is getting results. They aren't going to find out about it now."

"Then they're find out later," Hestia responded. "They always do."

Flora gritted her teeth. She couldn't argue with that. "I'm sorry Hestia. I was just so mad, it came out. When they come, tell them its my fault. You'd be able to spend the evening in your room."

"I don't want them to hurt you," Hestia said, petrified. "They'll kill you if they think you're in a resistance with Harry." Hestia had always referred to Potter and Weasley as Harry and Ron, even in the Slytherin Common Room.

"This isn't me being in a resistance," Flora muttered. "This is me backtalking to a teacher once. It won't be that bad."

Hestia didn't look convinced. Flora wasn't sure if she had said that to assure Hestia's mind or her own. She didn't see the looks exchanged by Ron and Harry. She didn't see them write something on a sheet of paper that disappeared, before another reappeared on it. She didn't know that her chance to escape had come.

Detention that Evening

"Sit down, Miss Carrow."

Flora stayed standing for a moment, looking warily around the room. It was a garish pink, and there were cats everywhere on dishes. Normally Flora liked cats. But the overly saccharine tone of the room was sending warning thrills down her spine. There were plenty of boxes around the room. But most of her usual tools seemed to be absent. Of course, she wouldn't have wanted to make herself too obvious – Dumbledore may be dense as shit, but he was the wizard who defeated Grindelwald, and Umbridge wouldn't want to bring his wrath down by bringing her most evil instruments into his school.

Flora took the seat in front of her. The back of her neck was practically screaming in sudden pain, and she closed her eyes for a moment.

"Look at me, please."

Flora didn't want to. She really wished she could spite this woman more then she already had, but she was trapped and there was nothing else for her to do. She opened her eyes reluctantly and looked at the hideous toad woman.

"I'm disappointed, Miss Carrow. I'm acquainted with your parents quite well, and I'd say that we had similar tastes."

Flora bit her tongue to keep from letting out a burst of ironic laughter that would definitely make this detention worse. Similar tastes? Oh yeah, if she was referring to their propensity to torture and murder muggleborns and half bloods, then certainly. The only difference was that Umbridge supported the Ministry and her mother and uncle supported a bigger monster.

"I was rather hoping you would be like them."

I would rather fucking die.

"I don't really share the talents they have for their career path." Flora answered.

I don't care if they torture me, imprison me, or murder me in the end. I will NOT be one of them.

"You've changed since my last visit." Umbridge said, clicking her tongue as she went about selecting the instrument for this particular night. Flora resisted the urge to tap or clench her fingers; Umbridge knew that meant she was nervous or afraid.

"I grew older," Flora responded.

"I can't imagine what your parents would say if they knew you were hanging out with someone as dangerous as Potter."

Flora's back went rigid. Her throat suddenly sealed up. The threat was clear. If her mother thought she was supporting the boy who lived...if her mother thought that...they would never be able to identify her remains.

"We're not hanging out." She said sharply, more then she intended. "I don't know him. He's a bloody Gryffindor; I'm automatically labelled a troublemaker for not agreeing with him."

"Then why stand up for him?" Umbridge went to another box without looking back at Flora.

"I wasn't," Flora said harshly, her throat scratchy and threatening to betray her. "I was just pointing out the obvious. People can't tell you what they don't know."

"Oh, but like you said...you're a Slytherin...he's a Gryffindor, and a trouble maker besides...shouldn't you want him to get detention?" Umbridge made a noise of satisfaction and drew her instrument.

Flora swallowed back a curse when she saw it. It was a Blood Quill. This in and of itself would have been a problem, but the curse her mother had left her with before she went to school was not going to play nice with the requirements of this device. Fuck, fuck, fuck. She must have known that I would get myself in trouble...must have prepared it this way...

"Yeah, like that's going to make me popular with the Gryffindors," Flora said, fighting to keep her voice steady. "Like I need people following me in the halls trying to toss me out the Astronomy Tower."

"Mmm." Umbridge didn't respond to this. She put a piece of paper in front of her and handed her the quill. "Now, I want you to write I will respect my betters."

"How many times?" Flora said, dreading the answer.

Umbridge gave her a false sweet smile. "Just enough times for it to sink in, Miss Carrow."

Flora wanted to shiver, shake, but she put the Quill to the paper regardless. I will respect my betters.

Pain stabbed her head like a white hot knife, and Flora fought back a flinch. Blood dripped onto the parchment. She wrote it again, and the pain got worse in a stabbing jolt. The pattern was a familiar one. After the line, however, Flora realized that something was different. She felt different. The feeling she had in the classroom was coming back, just a little.

I wont give in to this, she thought. I've screamed for too long...I won't give her the satisfaction. A third time. Blood began to spill down her hand from the scars appearing on her hand.

Flora was gritting her teeth to keep from crying out. Fourth time. Flora felt something inside her hand burst. Maybe it was a vein, because the pain in her arm was becoming worse every time she wrote a letter. Blood was dripping down her wrist and her legs, she could feel it. Her vision was practically white with pain, she couldn't see the paper anymore.

Endure it! Flora had felt worse before. Worse, whenever her mother got angry with her. Worse after she had protested Cedric's death. But the pain was growing and it was getting more powerful every moment. At this rate, she'd pass out...then Umbridge would have to take her to the hospital wing. She'd have a fun time trying to explain that, wouldn't she?

Flora's body begged her to stop, and she wanted to let it come to words, but she wouldn't. She refused to give in to this toad. She thought about Cedric, dead because she didn't speak up, and how many more would end up this way before Voldemort finally outed himself...

"Why Miss Carrow, you're bleeding everywhere! Are you sure you shouldn't see Madam Pomfery?" Umbridge's voice comes from somewhere in the void. She had been enjoying it for a little until Flora started bleeding. She sounded slightly alarmed, she must have known that she wouldn't be able to get away with this if Flora came out of her room half dead, looking like a dragon had mauled her.

Fucking bitch, saying I should go to the hospital. She's the one hurting me. Well, that's just too bad.

Flora was about to write another line, when she was sure she would die of the pain, when Umbridge suddenly snatched it out of her hand.

"Oh dear, it seems you've had an allergic reaction," She said with that same poisonous sweetness. "You'd better have Madam Pomfery look at it, while I...reconsider...your detention. Off you go."

Flora rose shakily. Her vision was swimming as she stumbled out of the office. She could hardly see left from right.

This was worse then I thought. Definitely worse. I can't remember which way to Poppy. And if she asks questions that get back to my family, I'm screwed.

"...rrow? Flora Carrow? OH SWEET MERLIN!"

The voice shrieked loud enough to split the cloud of pain. Someone was waiting for her? Hestia? That didn't sound like Hestia. But who else could it be? No one else cared about her well being. No one ever had.

Flora's legs gave up and she collapsed into someone's waiting arms. Whoever it was – the voice sounded female – quickly knelt and leaned Flora's head against her shoulder.

"...Ronald...my bag... ...potion... now!"

...Was that Granger? Flora's mind was befuddled. Was she imaging this? That would explain a few things. Pain had caused her to hallucinate before. She tried her best to organize her thoughts. Fingers brushed against her face and moved her arm slightly.

"...kill her...I'll kill that bitch!" The female voice fumed. "Ron...go to the meeting...you tell them what happened to her..."

"Will they...believe..."

"Five feet...office is right there..."

"...Room of Requirement...I'll do my best..."

Flora wondered what they were talking about. It sounded like Granger, Weasley and Potter. Suddenly something new touched her lips.

Flora tried not to drink it but it slipped down her throat...but it didn't burn or boil like the poisons Amycus had tested on her...in fact, it was almost soothing..

Second point for it being a hallucination.

The pain almost seemed to be going away...it was nice...Flora's world dimmed and went dark.

Room of Requirement

"Who did this?"

Ginny had been at a total loss for words when Hermione and Harry carried an unconscious and very bloody Flora Carrow into the Room of Requirement, which suddenly had a medical bed on it. Hermione had immediately demanded the potions they had started stacking up by nicking from the storage cupboards; now the bushy haired witch was running a diagnostic over the blonde girl's body that Ginny had seen Poppy use.

Hermione explained shortly that she had learned it over the summer. Whatever she was seeing was making her nuclear with anger.

"I have no idea," Hermione said darkly. "Whoever it is, however, is a sadist. A true-blue-god-damned sadist."

Ginny shook her head, her Weasley temper growing and growing as she looked at the diagnostic and the scars on the back of the girls hand.

Words barely visible, I shall respect my betters, burned there, and Ginny had to walk over to a wooden dummy and reducto it into sawdust. "Respect our betters?!" She roared. "Why should we respect people who torture us?!"

Angrily she turned towards Hermione. "What can do this?" She demanded.

"Some dark artifact," Hermione explained tautly. "Under normal circumstances, using one on a student would get you time in Azkaban. But if the culprit is Fudge's pet 'inquisitor', and I bet it is, even if it did get brought to people's attention she wouldn't get so much as a slap on the wrist."

Ginny paced around the room. "But you can help her, right?" She asked. "Shouldn't we take her to Poppy?"

"And risk exposing her to Umbitch again?" Hermione said angrily. Ginny didn't think she had ever heard the bookworm swear. "Look at this. There's no way all of this is Umbitch's work. Someone else is targeting her and I'm not putting her safety in Dumbledore's hands."

Ginny nodded in understanding. "Right. But can we help her? I haven't taken a medical course yet."

"I've done a lot of reading," Hermione said. "These potions should help us stabilize her. Of course, I can't get rid of everything without sending her to St. Mugo's, and that would take some fancy footwork without alerting her parents."

Ginny tapped her fingers against the desk. "About that, I think I've heard that surname somewhere. Carrow. But its getting away from me."

"I think so too," Harry said, reappearing from one of the many, many stacks of books. He was holding a genology book, which suggested that he was looking for more potential death eater names, or still trying to identify all the men he had seen in the graveyard. "I don't want them to find out about her condition just yet. She has a twin, right? Hestia."

"Yeah. She must be worried..." Ginny said softly. She looked down at Flora again, who was finally cleaned of the blood that had covered her when she was first brought into the room. "This is sick," She said angrily. "I just want to know who did this so I can hex them so badly they need St Mugo's to sort them out."

The doors of the Room opened again, and an angry Ron stalked in. There was normal Ron-Anger, and then there was this anger. His face was red as one of the twin's fireworks, and his eyes were full of rage and disappointment.

Harry watched his friend's face and closed his eyes for a minute. After taking a long breath, he opened them again and said, "I take it there's no good news?"

"That toad," Ron spat out, "Said that Flora had an allergic reaction. To her perfume. Since when do allergies cause you to bleed everywhere, or pass out, or carve words into the back of your hand?"

Harry kicked the chair he had been sitting on earlier. It flew across the room and smashed against the wall. "I hate her," He said. "We have to do something about her. Surely she can't be allowed to carve words onto our hands?"

"Professor McGonagall didn't believe me," Ron said bitterly.

Harry stared at his best friend for a moment before saying, "Please tell me your kidding."

"I wish I could." Ron responded, his tone angry and almost sad."I couldn't believe it. I told her about the blood and everything, and she acted like I was exaggerating and told me not to make things worse then they were. I know that Umbridge was in the room, but who gives a damn? I thought she cared about what happened to us."

"She believes in Dumbledore." Hermione growled. She shook her head, brushing Flora's ratty, dirty blonde hair away from her neck. "And he would have told her not to interfere. That's his plan for this entire year. Don't do anything, don't draw attention to yourself, and just wait for the problem to break down on its own."

Quickly she uncorked another potion and continued treating Flora. "The good news is that I'll be able to get her mostly back to normal. I think I read somewhere that there are more advanced diagnostics that could identify what caused the injuries, but I'd have to go back to find them."

"Should I ask Dobby to bring us dinner up here?" Harry suggested.

"Good idea," Ginny said mutinously, "Just the sight of Umbridge hanging around as if she didn't try to murder a student would make me throw up my food."

Flora's POV

Flora was confused by two things. Firstly, she wasn't having a horrific nightmare, despite having passed out under her uncle's latest curse. Secondly, her head wasn't feeling like someone had run over it with one of those muggle claw things – bulldozers, were they called? Something like that.

She was actually feeling relatively peaceful, which she hadn't figured was a word she'd be using to describe herself ever again. The pain of blood loss had dulled and numbed; maybe she'd gotten to the Hospital Wing after all. Hestia must have found her after all; Flora could take a little peace in that. She, at least, would know to make something up when Poppy asked if they should alert the parents.

Poppy hadn't found the legacy injuries she had the few times she had been in the wing. Flora wondered if the information was suppressed somehow, that wouldn't surprise her. The darkness slowly started receding, and it was strange that pain – any twinge of pain – wasn't coming back with it.

"...waking up! Guys!"

"...good...Dobby... ...some food..."

Was that Potter?

Flora's eyes fluttered open, a high ceiling and towering stacks of books coming into focus around her head. It wasn't a room she recognized; there were a few hideouts that some of the Slytherins used but this wasn't one of them. Slowly she propped herself up on her elbows; she was lying on a white cott that wasn't all that uncomfortable.

"...What?"

"Hungry?"

Flora turned sharply to the right; Granger, Weasley, his sister, and Potter were all sitting in a row, juggling plates of food and huge, old books. Granger – Hermione – had been boxing a number of bottles; after a moment Flora realized they were potion containers.

Something hit her; before she fainted she had hallucinated Granger, Weasley and Potter finding her in the hallway, giving her something that soothed the pain. She had imagined that – but she couldn't have, or else she'd still be on the floor in the hall-

"Where am I?" Flora blurted out, scrambling to her feet and nearly falling over when she got up too fast. The Weasley girl – Ginny – darted over and caught her before she could fall on her back. Flora felt something twist inside her, quickly replaced with panic. What was going on?

"It's okay Flora. You're in the Room of Requirement." Ginny explained gently.

"Where?" Flora echoed, looking around. There were books everywhere, she realized. Not just books. There were also a series of moving dummies in a large corner of the room, and there was another huge square roped off that looked like an area. The room was huge.

"It's a hidden room on the third floor," Hermione explained. "We brought you here after you passed out in the halls. You were bleeding everywhere."

"How...I never heard..." Flora said, her head feeling sluggish as she tried to process that someone had taken her in, as opposed to leaving her bloody body on the floor.

"I heard about it from another Slytherin," Harry said. "Second year. Boy named Graham Pritchard."

"Maya's little brother," Flora murmured, more to herself then anyone else in the room. She wondered if she was still dreaming. "What's going on...why were you waiting for me?"

"Cho told me to look out for Umbridge." Harry admitted. "I figured I owed you after you distracted her in class, and...I was kind of worried."

"How did you get hurt?" Hermione asked, "There was blood everywhere!"

Flora took a breath to say something, a deflecting, an explanation, anything, but she didn't say anything. She blinked and shook her head just a bit.

There was a knot in Flora's throat that stopped any words from coming out. The edges of her eyes were burning, she collapsed onto the ground, and after a minute Flora Carrow was sobbing for the first time in years in front of a group of total strangers, Hermione Granger cautiously moving in and hugging her around the shoulders.

%&%&%&%&%&%&%&%&&%%&

Flora took a long time and a calming drought to regain her equilibrium. She was sitting on a bench, surrounded by Gryffindors, marvelling over how her life had changed. Right now, she was staring down at a paper Hermione was showing her, alternating between finishing reading and staring incredulously at the students in question.

"You're waging war on the entire judicial system of the magical world?" She repeated.

"On the corruption, Flora," Hermione said, her lip twitching slightly into what might have been a smile. "I know it sounds a bit crazy, but we've done some organizing since I got here. We've distributed the posters and now we're waiting to see who might show up."

"It's less boycotting a class and more a declaration of war." Ron said simply.

"War," Flora repeated.

Harry nodded. "Let me tell you about the escapades me and my friends have gotten into over the past few years. I'll tell you everything, and then I'll tell you why."

Flora sat and listened in wonder as Harry told her about the Dementors, and the three times he had defeated Voldemort. Three. Times. Flora had seen Voldemort twice, and he terrified her beyond measure. He seemed indestructible but Harry, a boy with no training who hadn't graduated, had drawn and driven him off twice. Flora realized what she was feeling was hope.

"I can't believe you've survived all that," She said bluntly.

To her pleasant surprise, Harry's response was to burst out laughing. "You know, that's exactly what Morag said to me when I saw her on the train. Hard to argue with that, huh?"

Flora smiled just a bit. It had been a long time since she smiled. "You do realize that everyone following Voldemort is a trained killer."

"Of course." Harry said. He tiled his head slightly and said, "We'll be learning how. Right here. And things are going to be a bit...unorthodox, after a little."

Flora finally understood something. "That's why you were talking to Blaise in class."

"Yeah," Ron said. "He approached us first, actually. Well, after a couple of people we'd already talked to."

Flora shook her head. "No offence, but if the four of you don't understand what you're getting into, the Death Eaters are going to slaughter you. I know. I've seen them every other day since my mother joined them."

End Chapter

And that's the end of this chapter, and Flora's introduction. Yes, Alecto and Amycus are evil bastards, and they'll be more direct antagonists then Lucius Malfoy in this story because honestly, they're a lot more vicious then him (he's mostly pathetic after book five). Now, the rift between the kids and McGonagall is a matter of perspective - McGonagall doesn't realize she's leaving them to hang because she's used to listening to Dumbledore, who just doesn't think things work like that. Honestly, Dumbledore to me comes off as recklessly sentimental and naive then a real chessmaster, ready to let a huge number of things go wrong on the slim chance he can bring one guy through alive and not 'ruin his childhood', which he already had the minute he hinted Harry was actually supposed to be a hero with a great destiny. Also, people are going to die. I won't say who or how, but it won't just be the bad guys either.

Read and Review please!