Examining the Future

Considering how many students were currently preparing for their exams, the library was remarkably quiet. Without a doubt, this was mostly Madam Pince's doing. But the fact that Harry sat in Hermione's corner probably had something to do with his impression as well.

Ron and he had once tried to do their Astronomy homework only a few rows of bookshelves away from where he was currently sitting. The chairs they had sat down in had been ridiculously uncomfortable.

Harry looked up and across the table he was sharing with his studious girlfriend. "Did you curse the chairs back there?" He pointed with his thumb over his shoulder to indicate the offending chairs, which were currently unoccupied despite the otherwise crowded library.

"Don't be silly," Hermione replied without looking up from her book. "I've not cursed a single chair in my entire life." After a long moment of silence, she added, "I jinxed a lot though."

Harry was not even surprised. He redirected his attention back to his handwritten notes. He was checking one last time what he had prepared for the OWL-Club. The next meeting was only thirty minutes away and he tried to memorize all those minuscule details the professors tended to care about.

Up to now, he had only studied properly in the days prior of an important test—and even then he only absorbed just enough to get by. He knew that cramming was not very effective but so far he had always ended up doing it anyways. And even now, not even the impending OWL exams had changed his own study habits.

Harry was so meticulous about these notes because of his classmates. He was painfully aware that all of his friends were relying on him. Whatever he failed to mention would become the thing they would not know if the examiners asked them about it.

He had encouraged them to read up about the theory on their own in each and every meeting. But how often had he listened to the professors when they had told him the same thing? He knew that for many members of the OWL-Club he and not the books in the library was the main source of information. He was not going to let them down.

Harry was just glad the OWL exams were so heavily regulated. The handbook entailed a complete list of spells, counter-curses, and jinxes the examiners were 'encouraged' to request a demonstration of. All they had to do was go over all of them.

Getting side-tracked, he put the handbook in front of him. He flipped the surprisingly flimsy thing open at a certain point and stared at the word. Not for the first time, he asked Hermione, "Are you one-hundred percent sure that 'encouraged' means that they'll only ask about this stuff?" He pointed at the page.

Hermione grumbled something he couldn't understand before she looked up from revising Arithmancy. "I told you before how this works."

"Please, just one more time!" The young wizard looked entreatingly at his girlfriend.

"I don't want to explain it again," She whined.

"You only told me twice and the last time was over two weeks ago. And since Cedric and Umbridge had their little dissent, I've seen various students brooding over all kinds of official books. If someone would ask me to explain why I'm sure I'd have to relegate them to you."

The witch's eye twitched. "This is not only the third time I tell you, but it is also the last time."

Harry nodded in acceptance.

Hermione took a deep breath and rattled an explanation down, "If a student fails his or her exam, then – and only then – the transcript of his exam has to be reviewed by the entire board of examiners," Hermione explained grumpily. "No person wants their work to be evaluated and criticized by their peers. Therefore the examiners want their personal examinees to pass. And in the case that a student is not capable of passing his or her OWL examination they don't want to be seen as having a hand in it. Therefore they will only ask about the encouraged course material. Which means, only once they've decided that someone will pass they'll dare to deviate from the standard procedure."

Harry tried to ingrain the explanation into his mind. It wasn't even overly complicated. It was just hard to keep all the motivations and thoughts in the right sequence.

A few more minutes were spent silently memorizing notes and reviewing calculations.

Harry was somewhat proud of his notes. They looked very much like something Professor McGonagall would have put onto her blackboard. The longer he looked at them the more reassured he felt. At least he had not blundered the whole thing completely. His notes looked way too professor-ish for that.

Finally, he rolled the parchment up and put it away.

They could have gone to the meeting place now. But if they did, they would have been the first to arrive. Setting the room up vexed Hermione. It was better to arrive when the bulk was done.

Without an idea of how to spend the next moment productively, Harry chose to stare out of the window. It was a really nice day. And the desire to fly some loopings on his broom arose instantly. The thought had crossed his mind today whenever he had walked past a window. But preparing for the club meeting had been more important to him.

He was actively daydreaming when a thought struck him. He looked at Hermione who was currently checking yet another calculation. From time to time, she nodded at herself. A small but very pleased smile was on her lips.

When she reached the end of her arithmantic problem and turned back to her book, he said, "I wonder what your examiner will ask you. I mean, it's pretty hard to not notice right away that you're the best witch in our year. So, what will you get asked that's not on the list?"

Hermione glanced at him. She frowned lightly. "You should better worry about yourself. You'll be asked to demonstrate something off-list to get an Outstanding in Defense as well."

"Me?" Harry asked flabbergasted.

"Yes, you," Hermione replied in a teasing tone. "I'm sure your examiner will have special expectations for the Triwizard Champion."

Harry had meant to make a small joke on behalf of Hermione. He had in no way expected that she would reverse his quip and now he felt quite nervous, "Are you serious?"

With a frown on her forehead, Hermione looked once more up from her book. "Yes, I am. What did you expect? There is no way you'll be treated like everyone else. Once your examiner asked you some basic stuff and made sure that you're up to par he'll ask you about the Tournament."

"So, I need to look up details on all the spells and charms I learned?" Harry asked a bit panicky. When he had prepared for the tasks last year, the theory had not been on his mind at all.

Hermione wrinkled her nose. "I doubt that they'll ask you about particular details. They'll probably want to know which spells you used in the tasks and then will request you to perform one or at most two of them. Maybe the Bubble-Head Charm. It's a sixth-year charm and would therefore justify grading you with an Outstanding."

Somehow – but definitely without any involvement of Divination – Harry realized what he would be asked about right then. "They'll want to see my corporeal Patronus."

Hermione blinked in mild surprise. "Yes. You're right. If they heard or read about your Patronus, they'll want to see it. And if they don't ask about it you should definitely mention it. Most adults can't summon a fully corporeal Patronus. And due to the uniqueness of each Patronus that exam will be the only chance the examiners will ever get to see a stag Patronus."

Harry breathed a sigh of relief. After training the charm for most of his third year, the Patronus was not hard to cast for him.

Hermione went back to her Arithmancy book.

Harry wondered whether he should read up a bit about the Patronus Charm but he was not in the mood to get up and look for a book on it.

Absentmindedly, he gazed at his open satchel. He pulled a parchment out and stared at the courses he had decided to apply for.

"I know what you're thinking," Hermione stated in a cool tone.

Harry's head jerked up. His girlfriend had surprised him. To overplay it, he put the list away in pointed casualness. Only then he replied, "It's a sound career choice. Well-paid, crisis-proof, good for society, and a bunch of other things. You can check the flyer yourself."

"A flyer!" Hermione harrumphed in annoyance.

"So what? It's not like I pulled one out of a stack with my eyes closed. I was checking my options and my attention was drawn to this one. And it felt like a good choice to me right away even before I read about the benefits."

"Are you remotely aware of how badly those flyers represent the multitude of options you'll have once we leave Hogwarts? There is so much you could do. Most of the flyers were from the Ministry of Magic. You should really put more thought into this than one afternoon."

"One out of three people work for the Ministry of Magic. And the flyers show what all those people at the ministry are doing."

"Those flyers promote only a very narrow part of the options open to you in two years," Hermione replied combatively.

"What are you going to do anyway?"

"I'm going to do magic."

Harry dead-panned, "You're a witch. You'll obviously be doing a lot of magic in any magical job."

Hermione sniffed. "Most professions in the magical world are actually quite mundane. Just think of all the bureaucrats working for the Ministry of Magic. And even if you have a job that's not centered on filling out forms about authorizations and licensing, you'll essentially just perform one form of magic exclusively. Think of obliviators or the people working in the office for muggle-repellence."

"Okay, so that's what you don't want to do." Harry nodded in understanding then asked once more, "But what do you want to do?"

He watched as Hermione opened her mouth but before she answered her brows furrowed. "We're not talking about what I want to do after Hogwarts. We're currently talking about your half-baked plan to become an Auror."

"McGonagall thought that it was a good idea as well!" Harry only realized in hindsight how defensive he had just sounded.

"Well, she doesn't know you half as good as I do – does she?"

"She's my Head of House," He replied no less defensive than before.

"She's the Head of House to a quarter of the students in this castle. I – on the other hand – am your girlfriend. And you're the only boyfriend I have. Therefore I don't need to split my attention to a quarter of the student population which means that I know you way better than her. And I tell you that becoming an Auror is a bad idea."

"Care to explain?" Harry requested challengingly.

"You want to become an Auror because of Voldemort. Your thought process is, 'Voldemort is a Dark Wizard. Aurors hunt Dark Wizards. If you become an Auror, you will be able to deal with Voldemort on your own.' Am I right?"

Harry had actually thought about that for a minute. "I know that it's not that easy."

"Exactly! It's not that easy at all. The complexity of the reality surpasses the simple logic of the statement." Hermione explained energetically, "But you've fallen for it nonetheless. Probably, because your subconscious wants so hard for it to be true."

"I've not fallen for it at all. I know that becoming an Auror won't enable me to go after Voldemort and beat him in a duel. If Aurors were capable of it, Voldemort would have been dealt with before either of us was born. But you can't decline that getting trained to fight and deal with Dark Wizards, in general, would be useful for me once he comes after me again. And I might even be able to be of assistance in his defeat. And the more I know, and especially the better I fight, the more useful I could be in such a scenario." Harry was almost smug about how well he had explained his point.

Hermione's lips formed a thin line while he had spoken. "Harry, I know a world in which a criminal can't be dealt with by a police officer does not sound very appealing but you really have to realize that Voldemort is not just some criminal. He is an extremely proficient wizard. And sadly he is also evil. You should not make it your goal in life to deal with him or try to get involved in it."

"Okay, let's assume for a moment that I would decide to ignore Voldemort and live my life as if he didn't exist." Harry made a meaningful pause. "Are you imagining it?"

Hermione looked very unamused.

"I can see in your facial expression that you're aware of the problem. It doesn't matter what I do. Voldemort will come after me at some point."

Apparently, it was Hermione's turn to be defensive. "I did not suggest that you should pretend that everything was fine and that you were just a normal person."

"So what is it that you think I should do?"

"You should try to not make matters worse by getting yourself into as much trouble as possible."

"I'm not trying to get into any trouble at all. My reasoning is in fact that I will be safer if I get the best qualification available for dealing with people like Voldemort. And even if whatever I learn won't enable me to deal with him it will be better than just leaving Hogwarts and never flipping open another book about Defense."

Hermione scowled.

Harry was becoming frustrated and it bled into his voice when he asked, "What do you want me to do? Should I run away from Britain and live in a tent in the wilderness of- of where-ever?"

Hermione's nostrils flared in anger. And then she almost spat, "What about becoming a professional Quidditch player?"

The suggestion took Harry completely by surprise. He had to literally snap his mouth shut because he had been gaping.

The brunette witch glared across the table. "I looked at the school records. And then I compared your average time to catch the Golden Snitch to the official statistics of the British and Irish Quidditch League. You're better than most seekers. You would be able to pick the team you want to play for. You would probably not be able to join the best team right away. But if you want to know how that is actually a good thing, feel free to ask Angelina about it."

"Angelina is a real athlete!" Harry protested about the comparison. "She's a monster when she gets the Quaffle! Have you seen how far she throws that thing? I don't mean to say that Alicia or Katie aren't good Chasers as well. But Angelina's throws almost never miss. And that is because Angelina throws the Quaffle so precisely, in addition to her power." Harry started counting down on his fingers. "Her passes never get intercepted. She sees when someone will be unmarked in advance. She anticipates where the opposing chaser will pass to. She..."

"Yes, that's all very interesting but you're an excellent player as well. Statistics don't lie. And it so happens that the statistics about Seekers catching the Snitch are ironically the most reliable set of numbers the entire wizarding world is producing. There are no numbers about how many centaurs are living in Great Britain or how many chimneys are connected to the floo network. But the average time to catch the snitch has been measured in the professional Quidditch leagues to the tenths of a second for two hundred forty years."

Harry could hardly believe his own ears. "You can't be serious! You're suggesting that I try to become a professional Quidditch player?"

"Why not? You're really good at it."

Harry involuntarily thought of the final of the World Cup he had seen two summers ago. "For example, I could break my neck." He remembered very vividly how the Irish Seeker had crashed spectacularly into the ground when Viktor Krum had performed a Wronski Feint.

"With modern protective sportswear that's very unlikely. Besides, magic can fix a broken neck." Harry wanted to edge a word in but Hermione just kept on talking, "The last time a Quidditch player died was in '88. He was struck by lightning. I got that out of your book by the way. Do you want to know just for comparison how many Aurors were incapacitated between '75 and '81?" Without waiting for a response, Hermione said, "Half of them!"

"The problem here is that I'm of special interest to Voldemort. So, no matter what I do Voldemort will be after me."

"I'm aware of that. I'm a Muggle-born after all. Just like you, my mere existence is an insult to him and his followers. But that does not mean that I have to go and seek him out. I can also leave the country. As can you. Just think of all the places you could go as a professional Quidditch player! It's played almost everywhere. And you're good enough to play anywhere. You could get paid to travel the world for the next fifteen to twenty years. Isn't that what everyone wants?"

Harry sighed. This was so leading nowhere. Especially since he was not interested in giving in. "Hermione, it's really nice that you worry about me. But I'm just picking courses for next year. I'm not signing up for the Aurors." He reached across the table for Hermione.

After a moment of hesitation, she put her hand where he could reach it. Harry resumed, "I can do tons of other stuff with the courses I'm picking. And who knows, maybe Dumbledore will deal with Voldemort before we even get out of school."

Watching how Hermione worried her bottom lip with her teeth gave Harry a warm feeling in his chest.

"And for now becoming an Auror is just one idea. I promise I'll take another look at my options." He gave her hand a slight squeeze.

Hermione squeezed back and nodded the tiniest bit.

"And who knows maybe I won't even make the cut for Potions. I was never especially good at the class. And Snape is apparently hand-picking the students he'll accept for his NEWT course." And that Harry did not feel sad about probably being denied to keep doing Potions told him that he seriously needed to look at other options as well.

Harry got up from his chair and shouldered his satchel. "Come on, it's time to get going. I don't want to be late."

Hermione waved her wand and her stuff sorted itself into her own bag.

They had barely left the library when Hermione said, "Speaking of future options. You should really go and speak with Professor Burbage about getting an OWL in Muggle Studies. The 'O' would certainly not look bad on your school certificate."

"I really don't want to get a special treatment from her because I'm kind of famous."

"Like all other professors, she has no influence on whether you'll pass the OWL exam. But I think you should capitalize on your knowledge to the best of your abilities."

Harry groaned. "Fine, I'll do it if you explain it to her."

"Deal! I'll speak to her and then you can join the class next Wednesday."

"I won't put any effort into my homework. And I won't read even a single book," Harry threatened.

"I don't see why you should. I'm sure you don't need to be given a hint on how to turn on a lamp," Hermione replied with a smirk.

"You're having me on that did not happen."

"This did totally happen." Hermione pulled her wand out and said, "Lumos!"

They were not the first to arrive. In fact, they were almost late. The preparations had proceeded so far that Padma and Parvati had taken up station in front of the door.

They were serving as the reverse version of guards. Their job was to make sure all club members would enter the room instead of leaving. The Diverting Charm was therefore already placed on the door.

The Diverting Charm kind of worked like a Confundus Charm and was closely related to Muggle Repelling Charms. Merely looking at the charmed door would coax anyone to forget about the door and make them remember things they wanted to do instead.

The Patil twins were meant to stop this from happening to anyone who was supposed to get into the room.

Harry concentrated on them instead of the door. Even though he knew how the enchantment worked he tended to fall for the Diverting Charm. "How do you do?"

Padma smiled at them and Parvati pushed the door in her back open without turning around and looking at it.

Once they had entered, Harry saw that chairs and tables had been put to the sides. He unfolded the Marauder's Map and put it onto a table to check when the last stragglers would arrive.

Ron approached him. "When we got here, Draco and his goons were on patrol and looking for anyone breaking one of Umbridge's rules. Fred and George said that they would take care of them."

"They better not overdo it," Harry said thoughtfully. "We don't want to draw attention. Hermione is not sure whether her spells work on Miss Norris."

Ron and Harry then searched the closest corridors for the twins or Draco.

Meanwhile, Hermione went around with her wand waving this way and that way. She checked that all the nifty protections she had looked up had been set up correctly. If they had, the training room would be almost untraceable for a few hours.

Dean bumped his shoulder against Harry's to draw his attention. He nodded at Hermione. "It's too bad we always have to do this. It would have been really cool if the room was always ready. It would be like a secret base."

"That would require real enchantments," Harry replied and turned his eyes back at the map to meticulously search the corridors. "And we can't enchant Hogwarts for a bunch of reasons. One of them is that it is already enchanted. Also, we don't own it... and something about grounding. Don't ask me what that means. I only pretended to understand it when Hermione told me about it."

"Um, sure," Dean agreed. "But it would have been cool if we could have a secret base."

"There they are!" Ron pointed at two pairs of feet coming up a staircase.

Shortly after the Weasley twins, the last Hufflepuffs arrived and they could begin. Harry told them about the spells they wanted to learn today. He demonstrated them first, and then supervised the group of students while they practiced the selected spells.

After half of the lecture time, he herded the slower students over to one side of the room to help them with today's lesson while the other half that had successfully demonstrated their spells was told to study with a set of cards he had prepared. Onto each card he had written a question about something they should know.

Hermione had thought the quiz questions were too much of a hassle but Harry was pretty proud of them. They kept the advanced half of the students busy and allowed him to assist the other half in relative peace.

Speaking of Hermione, Harry had also noticed that Mandy was testing the brunette's patience with some Ravenclaw-ish questions.

Overall, they had a very solid meeting. They finished with some duels. Those who were too exhausted or did not want to compete for other reasons worked once more with the quiz cards.

Harry sat down with the quizzing students because he had participated in the duels the last two times and wanted to make a point today that learning the theory was important as well.

Dolores' Dilemma

Dolores was in a hurry.

These days, she was always in a hurry.

There was so much work to do and so little support. Lately, with everything she did she was on her own. People that she had considered stout allies had left her hanging or were making her life unnecessarily complicated.

She should have been basking in the satisfaction of her success after achieving her main goal. She had done the unthinkable. She had ousted Dumbledore from Hogwarts. After spending six decades at the school in various functions, she had made him run away in the middle of the night.

She, Dolores Jean Umbridge, had done that!

But had she been lauded or promoted? No and no! Cornelius still wanted her to find out whom Dumbledore had recruited to infiltrate the ministry, and now he was also keen on learning the very secret which had triggered the headmaster's abrupt departure. It seemed unlikely that just the name of a mole coming up had led to his departure from Hogwarts.

Whatever evidence she had unwittingly recorded had forced the old coot's hand. He had wrecked her office over a scrap of information whose importance had not been apparent to Dolores at the time.

He had been so thorough in his destruction that even magic couldn't undo the damage. And because almost everything had been lost, Dolores had only the most basic idea where she was supposed to look to unearth the information for a second time.

The most confusing thing was that there had been another clue at the Department of Mysteries and that Dumbledore had felt the need to get rid of it too.

Just like Dolores' office, he hadn't done things by halves. The Hall of Prophecies had burned down to the naked stone it had been chiseled out of. Whatever Dumbledore had wanted to hide from her was safe. Or better said: it was safe for the moment.

Luckily, not every record had been lost. Dolores still had copies of what she had at the time considered to be her most important information. Thanks to those documents she knew now what was not important to Dumbledore.

A fifteen-inch high stack of parchments was proof that everything Potter had done, had been nothing but a diversion. Dolores could still reconstruct most of Potter's days to the minute if she wanted to.

Those reports did not only mention Potter. They were also about his posse and other people were mentioned by the dozen as well. Thanks to this incidental information and her new list of suspects she would be able to figure out what Dumbledore wanted to hide from her before the end of the school year. In no way did she want to come back in September.

Dumbledore had made her look left while he had schemed on her right. She would not let that stand. The harder she worked the sooner she would be in the know.

Tirelessly, she combed her way through her remaining reports. It was definitely a new experience to read these reports as details to be ignored, but she could feel that she was on the right trail.

She pressed on until she ran out of new reports from her informants. Once she was out of new material she decided to at least try and get something out of Minerva McGonagall. She expected her to be uncooperative. But more than once in her career she had actually learned something from her opponents due to the specific way in which they had been uncooperative.

Unsurprisingly, Dolores found the deputy headmistress in the office reserved for the Transfiguration professor. She was marking essays. Dolores decided to just forgo the whole niceties and simply said, "I want access to the headmaster's office."

Minerva looked up from her work. "While that is interesting to know I'm not sure why you're telling that to me of all people."

"You're the deputy headmistress. In absence of the headmaster, you take over for him. Therefore I want you to let me into his work space," Dolores replied sourly. If Lucius - of all people! - had not been so skittish, Dolores could have been the headmistress now. But just at the moment they had held the majority on the board of governors, he had been too afraid to do anything as long as Dumbledore was on the loose. And now that window of opportunity had closed.

Amos Diggory had felt betrayed by her just and proper punishment of his son. He had exerted more leverage than she had expected from him and brought both the Wizengamot and the board of governors to a complete standstill. Through the latter he had saved his son from getting expelled, and the former would soon make Fudge order her to drop her complaint.

"I'm indeed the deputy headmistress. But I'm not sure what makes you think I would be able to open the headmaster's office. As you said, it is the headmaster's office. It only unlocks for him or anyone he invites."

"As the deputy you took over for the headmaster," Dolores repeated.

A thin smile appeared on Minerva's lips. "That would only be the case if the headmaster had been dismissed by the board of governors while no other headmaster had been appointed by them in the same session. I would have thought that you of all people would be aware of that kind of detail."

"I want access to that room. And I will get it. And frankly said, I don't believe you for one moment when you tell me that you can't enter the headmaster's office of your own accord."

Minerva put her quill down. "You're not the headmistress. I can't see what kind of business you of all people would have in the headmaster's office. And you're the only person who needs to worry about your beliefs."

Umbridge spat angrily, "You know very well what kind of business I have!"

"Actually, I can only speculate. As far as I know, no warrant was issued and no charges were pressed addressing the headmaster. He is just absent from Hogwarts for the time being. Since you're merely a professor I don't see why he would feel the need to inform you of what kind of business he is on."

"If you know where Dumbledore is, you need to inform the Ministry about his whereabouts."

McGonagall huffed in annoyance, "The headmaster has not informed me about where he went either. He keeps his own counsel. If you happen to meet him, could you tell him that I have a stack of papers he needs to sign?"

Umbridge would have liked to scream at the other witch and ask her why she had to make everything so complicated. If Dumbledore had been making life hard for her too, they could have been on the same side. Maybe she should have told the other witch that she had every intention of returning to the Ministry as soon as her job at Hogwarts was done. Maybe the chance to become headmistress would have motivated McGonagall to help her unseat Dumbledore permanently.

Now that Dumbledore was gone, everything should have been so much easier. But it wasn't. And it was entirely the fault of wizards whom Dolores had counted on.

If she had to do everything on her own, she would do so.

A/N: Many thanks to the fabulous xfireandpowderx for beta-reading and her great suggestions!