Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter
Chapter 14: Brittle Truth
Harry knew something was wrong when Umbridge pranced into the room. There was a gleeful air about her as if she'd caught the smell of a baby's tears on her way to the classroom. The Gryffindor's tensed at her mood, watching nervously as the woman traced Defensive Magical Theory with one short finger.
Dean Thomas, two seats to his left, glanced over at Harry. He could feel the warning in his eyes, trying to silently encourage him to not saying anything. Seamus looked as if he'd smelled something bad.
"I was under the impression," Umbridge began, a girlish giggle escaping her as she sat down at her desk, "that Mr. Potter has been a terrible influence."
The woman scanned the classroom, her eyes slowly moving from one person to the next. Neville shifted uncomfortably, glancing back at him and giving him a small, weary smile. From the first desk to the last, hands were still eyes followed the toad's movements. Everyone was on edge.
Umbridge swiveled slowly around in her chair until she was leaning back casually and staring with a quill between her fingers. Harry watched her, waiting for the ball to drop, waiting for the next set of punishments. Waiting for whatever she had to throw at her.
"Perhaps it's not Mr. Potter's fault."
The class blinked. Then blinked again.
"As a woman of great responsibility and privilege, I cannot divulge the names of any students involved in the… discrepancy."
She smiled at them, and it was a genuine smile that reached her eyes. Harry leaned back, exchanging worried looks with Hermione, murmurs could be heard traveling the classroom, but for once Umbridge didn't stall the conversation or try to interrupt. Even her customary hums were absent.
"However," she said evenly, as the murmurs finally quieted. "The person involved has been in a position to greatly influence Mr. Potter and I can only assume that such terrible influences are the primary cause of his… mental imbalance."
Harry struggled not to rise to the bait, Hermione gripping his arm like iron.
Umbrige continued in a lilting tone.
"I'm sure all of you are aware that there has been a mandatory checkup for all students announced. In the next few weeks, each of you will be examined and while the professors and headmaster wish to lie to you about the reasoning behind it, it is the responsibility of the high inquisitor to teach and inform its students about the dangers they are being exposed to."
Harry couldn't help it. He snickered. Umbridge sent him a withering glare, before continuing.
"I do not talk about dark wizards, of course, but rather the terrible acts performed by students at this very school. Acts that pain me to speak of, but that must be addressed."
Umbridge stood to her not so impressive height, puffing up like a mating toad as she walked up and down the aisle of the DADA classroom.
"All the students are required to be examined because one student here at Hogwarts has contracted a very contagious disease," Umbridge announced, grinning ear to ear. The murmurs turned to full-blown shrieks. Most of the students showed suspicion, shooting Umbridge weary looks of disbelief, but for the few who believed, there were shouts of panic. With a wide, malevolent smile, Umbridge signaled for the class to quiet down.
Harry, who'd been furious but a moment ago, stared at Umbridge in bewilderment, trying to figure out what the woman's angle was and what it could possibly have to do with him.
"Do not fear," Umbridge continued, "the disease can only be caught in one way. As long as you follow my decrees, you will be safe." Now even the ones who'd been panicked a moment ago were eyeing her, slowly coming down from their anxiety to feel the trap they were all slipping into. "AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease, it is lethal if gone untreated, and symptoms rarely show until the third and final stage."
The room had gone deathly silent as students looked at one another in suspicion as if the illness could be seen on the skin. Maybe it could. Harry didn't know anything about AIDS, though Umbridge was probably lying through her teeth or changing the details to fit her needs. He turned to Hermione, in the middle of rolling his eyes when he caught the expression on her face.
"You can't actually believe her?" Harry muttered.
Hermione glanced at him, her mouth opening and closing before her eyes shot to her lap.
"The symptoms of this awful disease," Umbridge spoke up, above the students. "Are exhaustion, unexplained bruising, headaches, lack of appetite, and the breaking down of the immune system which leads to vulnerability to illness."
His eyes locked on Umbridge to find that she was looking right at him. The connection was suddenly clear. She smiled as if she could see the realization on his face. She turned to the rest of the class, lighting up with all the cheerfulness of a dog having gotten its bone.
"This lethal disease is nothing to sniff at," her lips were curling upwards, her eyes delighted despite the 'concern' in her voice. "It is lethal and I urge you to see Madam Pomfrey, our dear Healer if you experience any of those symptoms, but as I have stated before, everyone will have a mandatory date due to one student's foolishness. You are safe as long as you follow my decrees as the High Inquisitor."
She tapped her wand against the blackboard. Upon it appeared several of her decrees.
#26 Boys and Girls are not to be within six inches of each other.
#37 Boys must be seen to keep their hands outside of their school capes
#82 All students will submit to questioning about suspected illicit activities
"I never believed I would have to add this decree," Umbridge shook her head as if disappointed in them, "but the transference of a sexual disease to a student of this school leaves me no choice."
She tapped the board again and a new decree formed.
#140 Any sexual activity performed will end in the expulsion of both students involved.
"As this decree was broken by a student before I became High Inquisitor, they will unfortunately not be punished for this severe infraction of the rules. As the student has not come forward with the other person involved, all students must be tested. I ask that they come forward willingly, as their life is in danger. This will stay on the board for the duration of our lesson today, as a reminder of their importance."
She tapped the board and all the letters shined in bright pink.
With a wave of her wand, all the textbooks turned to the next lesson, 'the dangers of incorrectly using an offensive spell.' Harry wasn't paying any attention to it though. He was too busy staring at the board, at the pink toad monstrosity meeting his eyes with contempt.
And then the worst happened.
Ron came through the door.
Eyes shadowed and sagging in exhaustion, his school bag held in his arms like a shield. He stumbled as he walked and seemed completely out of it as he made his way towards Harry and Hermione. But not quite out of it enough not to notice the tension in the room. He looked to Harry questioningly before glancing about the room. No one would meet Ron's eye. Harry half stood, going to grab Ron by the arm, to pull him down into the seat. But she spoke up first.
"Mr. Weasley," Umbridge simpered in merriment.
Ron stood straighter, turning to face her much like a kicked dog might. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the familiar note, but she waved it away.
"I am very much aware of why you are late. Madam Pomfrey explained everything to me," she trilled happily.
The sickle dropped along with Ron's bag.
The students broke out in a flurry of whispers. Ron gaped at her in horror. His eyes moving from the students to her and back again. Hands shaking, Ron began to pick up his bag while Umbridge looked down at him.
Harry couldn't take it anymore.
He jumped to his feet, rushing to Ron's side and helping pick up everything as quickly as possible. To get Ron out of that thing's sight as soon as possible. Neville met him there. The three of them easily gathering everything up, though Ron looked about ready to bail, to run from the class like the hounds of hell were on his feet. It was only Neville's hand on his arm that stayed him.
They retreated to their seats. Ron shaking. Neville looking sick. Hermione, appearing to have spontaneously combusted at her own seat. Her dark curls tilted forward enough that the entirety of her face was hidden.
'All Umbridge's fault.' Was his furious thought. He had never hated anyone more than this 'thing' before him. This infection of a human being.
Umbridge tapped the board.
"Before you interrupted the class, Mr. Weasley, we were discussing the new decree. I suggest you study it as if your… life depended on it."
Ron sunk into his seat, staring at her blankly before his eyes landed on the board itself. Harry watched as Ron stiffened at the set of decrees in abject horror.
"Before you interrupted class once again, Mr. Weasley, we were discussing how there has been a terrible disease unleashed in the halls of the castle and how to avoid being contaminated," Umbridge informed him happily. Harry gnashed his teeth together as Ron sunk lower. "Do you know, Mr. Weasley, how to avoid contamination of AIDS?" She asked sweetly.
Ron's mouth opened and closed with a click, the dark circles under his eyes standing out much more against the ashen shade rapidly taking over his skin.
"I thought not," Umbridge simpered. "How many times have you been late to class this week, Mr. Weasley?"
Ron remained silent.
"All excused because of… what are you sick with again?" She smiled, her voice honey-like in its thickness. The whole class was staring now. Waiting for Ron's response, for the snarky, bold attitude he was known for.
Ron didn't say anything though.
Harry jumped to his feet, glaring in fury at the woman, but he didn't have the chance to say a single thing because Hermione had stood up too. There were tears at the corner of her eyes and a look of hatred so dark Harry found himself falling back into his seat.
"It's good to know the Ministry of Magic deems harassing students as acceptable behavior from its run of the mill employees," Hermione said coldly. "Is this a tactic that they teach in the internship phase or something that just naturally occurs when one's head becomes fatter than an inbred troll's?"
"Bloody hell," her heard Seamus whisper.
Beside Harry, Ron looked torn between horror and delight.
"Hm, hm…" Umbridge seemed to choke on her own spit, looking livid as she folded her hands in front of her body. "It appears as if Potter is not the only one who has been negatively influenced by such filthy sources. Thirty points from Gryffindor and detention with me this Friday night should suffice."
"I wasn't aware you had influenced Harry at all," Hermoine said darkly, her bushy hair appearing to have a life of its own as she bristled in fury.
"A full week of detention, Miss. Granger," Umbridge said decisively. Despite her short stature, she leaned over Hermione and gave a tight smile. "We all want to try to be the best that we can be. It has been proven to me that Mr. Potter and Miss. Granger have had terrible influences around them, and while it may not be entirely their fault, we should seek to get rid of those influences. Shouldn't we?"
At this, Umbridge turned to look Ron directly in the eye, who shrank away like he'd been slapped.
Harry couldn't stand it.
"How would we go about getting rid of our DADA professor then?" Harry asked.
Umbridge was not deterred in the least.
"It seems we must increase the positive influences by tenfold. Tonight? Mr. Potter and Miss Granger, at eleven?" Umbridge turned to Ron. "And Mr. Weasley… I do believe you still owe me an essay… why don't you join us tonight as well so that we can all work together to eradicate all manner of filthy influences, yes?"
Before any of them had time to react, Umbridge walked to the front of the class and turned about face, wand waving and words highlighting across their textbooks as the pages flipped once more.
"I believe a different lesson is appropriate for today," she said lightly. "Chapter 17: The Weary Wizard's Guide to Creatures of Treacherous Intent. When we go out into the world, we must all carry with us, an expectation that humanoid magical creatures may appear as pure beings capable of communication, but their minds work differently than our own and should be treated with caution."
Harry twitched at the sound of Hermione's quill snapping.
"She's the decomposing rot of a Dementor's corpse," Hermoine hissed. "I've never… I can't believe…!"
As they fled Umbridge's classroom Harry kept a firm hold on Ron. There were several points on the way to Gryffindor Tower when Ron leaned heavily against him as if his legs were deciding if they wanted to give out on him or not. Hermione folded her arm around his waist, angry tears threatening to fall from her eyes.
Hermione peered at Ron before meeting Harry's eyes. He could see the hurt and questions shining there, but for once in her life, she wasn't pressing for answers.
"Why don't I go grab some food from the great hall and then join you in the tower?" Hermione asked, voice so very soft.
"That's a great idea," Harry nodded.
They both looked to Ron who appeared to want to be anywhere but there. As if simply concentrating on the floor might cause it to suck him down into the marble to hide away.
"Sounds…" Ron choked, nodding instead, running his hand through his hair harsh enough that Harry saw a few red strands fall onto the floor. Hermione then did something she'd never done before. She stepped forward and pecked Ron on the cheek. Ron's startled blue eyes met her own and Harry felt very much out of place at that moment.
"It's going to be okay."
Ron apparently, did not agree, his mouth going from surprised to a tight line. He looked away from her but nodded. Short and sharp and cut off. Hermione looked upset but pressed her own lips together to stop herself from saying anything more.
Hermione tilted her head towards the Fat Lady's portrait as if to say 'what are you waiting for?' Harry full-heartedly agreed and quickly ushered Ron up the stairs and into the boy's dorm.
Harry fiddled with his bag for a long moment as he tried to think of what to say. Everything seemed insignificant though. Ridiculous even. It was clear with how Ron had rebuffed Hermione's attempt at reassurance that going that route wasn't likely to…
A thud caused him to jump. A crash made Harry whirl around. Ron stood above his turned over trunk, a small hole in its roof where he'd obviously lashed out and kicked it.
"I don't want to talk about it."
Harry stared wide-eyed as Ron began pacing their dorm room. Tugging at his red hair viciously and running his hands through the strands. He looked wild. Like a cornered animal.
Ron wasn't breathing right. Shallow and too fast. Harry had never seen Ron look so unsteady and could do little more than stand there and continue to grip his shoulder in… comfort? Reassurance? He had no flipping clue.
Harry had been keeping his mind carefully blank, trying not to think of anything but getting Ron out of there as fast as possible. Now it was all flooding his head, taking up every nook and cranny in an overwhelming surge of emotions. Harry stumbled forward as Ron began to pace, the muscles under Harry's own hand were tense and stiff. Ron shook and Harry forced him to turn to him.
Ron finally snapped.
"I can't do this! I can't do this! I can't! I can't. I can't."
"What are you talking about?" Harry said, alarmed. "No one's going to force you to do anything. You're fine."
The air exploded around them and Harry was shocked to see black rolling clouds spreading out across the ceiling, small lightning strikes streaking throughout the room. Harry looked down to see that Ron's wand was still in his pocket.
She was not an easily startled woman, but when a full-sized stag of light bursting into her chambers while she was changing certainly gave her a fright. To hear Mr. Potter's frightened voice, usually so sure of himself, was truly what set her on edge.
"Ron! I mean... Ron needs help, its… he…"
She did not wait. With a flick of her wand, she was dressed and running out of the door. Goodness, if one wasn't in trouble, then it was the other. She was even more unsettled due to the recent conversation with Pomfrey. She sent for the healer as she ran, just in case.
Minerva paused as she glanced outside to see clear skies.
"Resilience!" She snapped as she walked through the portraits opening. The Fat Lady gave her a curt nod, looking much unsettled. A fact that reminded her distinctly of Sirius Black's break-in only a few years ago.
Inside her lions stood around the staircase, leading into the boy's dorms, clouds pouring out from the ceiling of the stairwell. Dean Thomas turned to her looking pale and shaken.
"It's Ron! Umbridge told everybody about… well, she gave a lecture on…" Dean exchanged a nervous look with Neville.
Seamus took over, looking disgusted.
"Sexually Transmitted Diseases. It weren't any stretch to connect the dots with the way she was going on about all the side effects and the way Ron's been lately. She wasn't being subtle either, with the way she kept going on like a bleating goat about the student being a bad influence for Granger and Potter. She might not have said his name, but she made a freakin' banner sign and wrapped it around the guy."
Minerva swelled with anger.
Every time she thought the despicable woman could sink no lower, she found a hole in the bottom of the bucket. She rushed past them and up the stairs, two at a time. Rain hit her skin as she entered the fifth year dorms, but she did not feel water. This was a conjuring of the weather, much like in the great halls, a seventh-year NEWT level she knew she had certainly not taught yet to her fifth years.
Minerva came to a stop inside of the dorm room. On the opposite side of the room, fingers tearing violently at his own hair sat one Ronald Weasley. Harry Potter sat in front of him, hands on Ronald's shoulders, shaking them lightly as he spoke words of reassurance and platitudes of nonsense. Ronald was shaking his head, trembling from head to toe, his long limbs in a heap as he breathed out words almost too soft to hear.
"It wasn't supposed to… No one knew! No one knew and… fuck! I wish… I wish Neville never found me."
"What are you saying?" Potter's voice was strained and indeed Minerva herself felt stunned.
"They can't know," Ronald moaned, "they can't."
"No one does know. I don't know!" Harry cried out in frustration. "I don't know why you're acting like this. I know it sucks but people will talk and then it will die down. No one who knows you will actually think you… you know…"
His words trailed off and Minerva cringed.
While her student was clearly well on his way to becoming a young man, it seemed that there were still plenty of things he still had to learn. He was still so young despite his many trials. He understood abuse, he understood battle and danger and cruelty, but this was still not a part of his world.
She was greatly saddened to see it was a part of Ronald's world though. She'd known when Pomfrey told her the news both because she knew the healer so well- could read her body language, and because she liked to think she knew her student.
Here, seeing the wide-eyed terror, so unlike his normal carefree and open nature in her classes or his frustration while working through a problem and so unfamiliar compared to the young man who casually faced off against Umbridge in her office… this was her confirmation. An old, terrible wound the boy thought buried. A dark secret so grotesque it made her stomach clench in revulsion.
Ronald had gone quiet. Still. His hand's dropping from his hair. Above them, the storm shifted. Black clouds now unleashing thick snowflakes, frost icing over the windows and furniture in the room.
Potter read the situation wrong. He did not see what Minerva was witnessing if the encouraged look that split across his face was real.
"How many times have rumors started about me, huh?" Harry tried to draw his friend out. "They always die eventually. You're going to be alright."
"Harry," Ronald spoke quietly, pained, "this isn't about lies going around. It's about the truth getting out."
Potter's face flickered, a blank look taking over his features. He looked so lost. She stepped forward, startling him. Ronald appeared unsurprised. She had wondered if he'd noticed her presence or not.
"There is nothing I can say to fix this situation," Minerva said carefully, trying to emulate Albus's softer demeanor. She had never quite mastered this part of her job. Preferring to leave distraught students to Albus. "But I can promise you this, Mr. Weasley, she will suffer repercussions. Blood quills and biased essays and now this… these acts upon children are worthy of investigation. I have been searching for solid proof to bring to the Wizengamout, but have not been able to until now. With your permission, I will take your essays and a written statement to try to get her removed. Miss. Granger has provided both already."
"Is it enough?" Potter asked so quietly Minerva almost missed it.
She didn't know