"Detention, Miss Granger. Do try to pay attention in class and read what you are told."
"But I've already –" Hermione tried to defend herself, futilely, knowing the instant she opened her mouth that it was the very worst thing she could do in this class. She was right.
"A week's worth, I think, for talking back. And for reading ahead. Remember, dear, no one likes a know-it-all," Professor Umbridge said in her sweetest voice, a triumphant look in her wet eyes.
Ron purpled in rage, ignoring the fact that the night before he had called Hermione a know-it-all no less than twelve times; Harry paled in indignation but held his tongue (for once, Hermione waspishly noted). Hermione herself had no idea what she looked like, but she was hopeful that surely she had mastered a blank face by now. From the look of disappointment on Umbridge's face, she figured that she had been more or less successful. At least all of Malfoy's taunts were good for something, she thought to herself, and the thought of Ron's reaction to that little gem was enough to make her able to even muster a slight, disdainful smile for the professor, who was now looking crosser than ever.
"Terribly sorry, professor," Hermione said calmly. "Seven o'clock?"
"Yes," said Umbridge shortly. "My office. Now, please resume reading chapter seven."
Hermione obediently flipped through the pages she had long since memorised until she reached the correct chapter. For the rest of the class, she planned her course of action. But this time, she remembered to flip the pages of the book.
As soon as class let out, Hermione gathered up her things and dove for the library. Murtlap essences, however helpful and soothing, were not in her future. She loved Harry dearly, really she did, but some things he just didn't have the stomach for. She would have to take care of Umbridge herself, if she wanted it done absolutely right. And, oh, how she wanted this done right. But really, she wished she could have had more time to research and get it exactly right. Just one more indignity to take out on Dolores, she supposed.
After an hour of searching through thick, dusty tomes, she managed to unearth the only viable references to paper-to-skin message transference she had been able to find in the months since Harry had told her about the type of punishment Umbridge used. She stared at the two titles she needed; honestly, it was just her luck. The best, indeed, the only, books for the perfect revenge, and they had to be in the Restricted Section!
There was only one possible avenue. Hermione slowly gathered up her belongings and left the library. As she reached the staffroom, she took a deep breath for fortitude, and knocked.
"Yes, Miss Granger?" Professor Flitwick squeaked cheerily.
Hermione drew in another breath, and said, "May I speak to Professor McGonagall, please?"
Flitwick grinned and ducked back into the staffroom. She could hear him chirping, "Minerva! Minerva, dear! Miss Granger would like a word, please!"
When Professor McGonagall appeared at the door, it was obvious that she had had a very bad day. Her stern scowl was so tight Hermione thought she might break if Hermione reached up and tapped on her cheek, and a small muscle ticked under her left eye. Perhaps not the best time to ask a favour, Hermione gathered. But there were only a few hours left before her detention and there was simply no time to wait for the professor to subside into a more amenable mood.
"Professor," Hermione began, "I was wondering if you might sign a couple of books out of the Restricted Section for me? I was doing a bit of extra reading before my detention with Professor Umbridge and I saw these books in the bibliography and thought they might be useful but the only problem is that they're just a tiny bit on the Dark side. You know I'd never – I wouldn't – but they looked so interesting, I just couldn't help it." Hermione paused to draw in a breath of air. She was set to go on, to continue pleading her case, but Professor McGonagall held up a hand to stop her. Somehow, McGonagall seemed less tense than before, even a bit amused.
"Detention, Hermione?" she inquired. "Oh, dear, have you taken over from Harry, then?" Hermione grinned sheepishly. "Well, let's see what these interesting-looking books are, shall we?" Hermione flinched, just a bit, as she handed over the sheet of parchment she'd written the titles on. It was going to be difficult to explain exactly why Advanced Principles of Parchment to Skin Writing: Now You CAN Write it on Their Foreheads! and They Won't Forget That In A Hurry: Getting Under the Skin One Line at a Time had such a draw for her right before her detention. Harry didn't want to tell anyone about the punishments, but there were ways of getting the message across. But just this once, she would be happy to be left to her own devices. It would be a letdown, somehow, to have Professor McGonagall take care of Umbridge, when Hermione had been looking forward to it so.
Professor McGonagall took a cursory look at the parchment, clearly ready to simply sign off on Hermione's choices. She had a quill in hand, about to sign permission, when the implications of the book choices seemed to hit her. She gasped and nearly dropped her quill, the parchment, and the book that Hermione was helpfully holding under the parchment as support for the signature. She reread the selections, then her eyes shot up to meet Hermione's.
"Mr. Potter had said that he was receiving – lines – for punishment," she said heavily.
Hermione ducked her head, averting her gaze. But her hand, raised to push her hair out of her eyes, trembled.
"I see," said Professor McGonagall, sounding as if she saw rather too well. She paused, sighed deeply, and signed the form with a flourish. "Miss Granger, I trust in your good sense. More than I should, I suppose. I have every fear that these books will be as interesting as you hope; they are indeed quite Dark."
Suddenly feeling as if she had been sworn into the Order, Hermione looked up and set her chin. "We all do as we must, Professor," she said grimly. Professor McGonagall looked at Hermione's stubborn face consideringly and gave a faint but unmistakable grin.
Hermione smiled in recognition and acknowledgement, then whirled off to the library. So little time left now.
She spent the next several hours poring over the two books Madam Pince had reluctantly handed over, as well as another, much thicker volume. She was left with a rather sick feeling and a bit of a headache, but a lovely idea and a spell to practise. She headed off to supper with a bounce in her step.
When she slid into her place next to Harry and Ron, they peered at her in concern. They exchanged a look, clearly not having expected her to be humming under her breath. Harry, after a moment, recognized the tune she was mangling. His look of concern deepened into outright worry.
"You aren't going to do anything – rash, are you, Hermione? You seem a bit –" his voice died out when she grinned sunnily at him.
"Not to worry, Harry," she said. "It's not like it's my first detention, after all." Harry smiled back a bit too late for it to be completely genuine, but she wasn't surprised. Detention with Umbridge was one of his worst experiences, on a par with the hell that was the Dursley's; he would have a hard time understanding Hermione's relative eagerness to go unless she explained her plan, which she had no intention of doing. So she changed the subject, chatting on inconsequential topics.
Once Harry and Ron got going on Quidditch, Hermione relaxed a bit, her mind going over her plan again. She realised that she probably looked more cheerful than the Quidditch discussion warranted, but she couldn't help it. She loved this plan. It was bound to be even more fun than brewing the Polyjuice Potion had been. She repeated the spell over and over to herself, making sure she wouldn't forget it at a crucial moment.
Through dinner, she caught Harry and Ron throwing worried looks in her direction, but they didn't try to bring her detention up again. She rose from the table, humming once more. As they separated in the Great Hall, Ron and Harry heading off the Common Room and Hermione off to Umbridge's office, both boys touched Hermione's shoulder in a gesture of support and worry. She was quite touched. She had to restrain herself, though, from breaking out into singing the words of the song she had running through her head as she walked upstairs. She settled for singing very low under her breath, "Hey, Teacher, leave those kids alone!"
When Hermione arrived at Umbridge's office, she sobered immediately. There was no guarantee that this would work, and if she arrived to detention looking smug or in the least bit pleased, she would certainly come to regret it. So the face that she presented to Umbridge was a doleful one indeed, full of shame and fear.
As she had expected, Umbridge enjoyed her frightened mien. Hermione could see the nasty little woman practically relishing the sight of Hermione practically quivering in front of her and somewhere in the back of her mind, Hermione's last qualm died a silent, unmourned death. She saw the quill lying on the parchment, ready for its gruesome work.
"Oh, dear," she said, whipping out her wand before Umbridge could stop her, "let me just fix that. Shan't take a second. Ex adverso cordis! Oh, that should be ever so much more comfortable." She reeled off the spell as quickly as she could without sacrificing accuracy, in the hopes that Umbridge wouldn't be able to identify the intent of the spell right away. The quill remained just as it was, lying quietly against the parchment. Hermione put her wand away. Umbridge looked furious.
"If you are quite finished reciting nonsense, Miss Granger? I believe that you have just added an extra hour onto each of your detentions this week, and if you indulge in such foolishness again, it will be another week of detentions, do I make myself quite clear?" Hermione ducked her head and mumbled assent, hiding a triumphant smile. Apparently Umbridge hadn't understood the spell after all. "Please seat yourself. You will be writing, 'Honour thy superiors,' and you will write until the message quite sinks in. I expect it will take a great while."
She took her seat obediently, taking up the quill. She gritted her teeth, prepared to endure the pain in her hand if the spell had failed, and began to write. With the first stroke, she knew it had worked. Before she had even finished the first of her lines, she heard Umbridge gasp.
Hermione looked up, feigning concern. "Are you okay, Professor?" she said sweetly. Umbridge was clutching her chest in shock and horror, glaring at Hermione.
"You – you –" she gasped out.
"Oh, indeed, yes, Professor," Hermione practically purred. "Oh, and speaking of, that reminds me." Hermione took out her wand again. "Duplico," she said, and repeated it twice. She took the three extra quills and wrapped them carefully in her handkerchief, stowing them in her bookbag. She took up the original quill again, repeating the line she was given once more. Umbridge seemed frozen to her chair in mute horror.
Hermione bared her teeth in a mockery of a grin. Watching Umbridge rather than her desk, she slowly wrote on the detention parchment in front of her with the sharp black quill, enjoying the effects of her words.
Hours later, a hint of red froth around Umbridge's lips signaled the end of her detention.
"Same time tomorrow, Dolores?" she asked sweetly.
The toadlike figure in front of her choked in rage. Hermione rather thought that the woman was honestly more shocked that Hermione would dare use her first name than at anything else that had occurred that night.
"Oh, Professor," Hermione added, on her way out the door, "I'm going to hand 'round the extra quills tonight. I imagine the twins have a rather effective magical mass-production technique, don't you think?" Hermione waved merrily on her way out the door.
The next morning, Professor McGonagall, arriving early for a scheduled meeting with Professor Umbridge, discovered her body slumped over her desk. Madam Pomfrey determined that she had died of a heart attack.
"It seems her heart just – exploded."
With thanks to Kafka, whose idea JKR stole first.