The Girl Nobody Knows: A Soliloquy

By Technomad

They all think they know me. My roommates, my classmates, my teachers. How blind can people get? I sometimes wonder. I honestly think that, with some of them, I could be caught robbing Gringott's Bank, or murdering Dumbledore, and they'd find excuses for me. Being a girl is so useful, sometimes---especially here in the wizards' subculture, which, frankly, is old-fashioned about some things.

It's so ironic that the clues have been there all along. It's just that nobody either has thought to put them together, or come to the correct conclusion. I do think that if Dumbledore knew what my real long-range plans are, I'd be Obliviated and out of Hogwarts so fast that the speed of light would look rather slow and crippled. However, luckily for me, he never has Legilimensed me, and sees me as an adjunct to my two friends. He pays a lot more attention to Harry Potter than he does to me, and that's just the way I like it.

As I say, the clues have always been there, from my very first year. Yes, I was a fussbudget about rules and tried much too hard to show how much I knew in class. I was in a new situation, remember---and I was absolutely determined not to be caught breaking rules until I found out just how strict they were about breaking rules, nor to be thrown out of school for ignorance. Hogwarts was an incredible opportunity and I wanted to grab with both hands.

But remember the Troll-in-the-Loo incident? After the action was over, I stood there and lied to McGonagall, and got away with it---even though the truth wouldn't have hurt anything. That was a test---and I found that I could get away with lying to McGonagall. Not that I do it very often; I make it my business to keep her happy with me, since she's so very useful. Besides, although I hadn't really planned it that way, the Troll-in-the-Loo incident also got me something I needed desperately---allies.

Harry and Ron. Without them my plans would be much farther behind. They have talents and strengths I know I lack, and, like everybody else, they believe in the "public me"---the good girl, anxious to please adults, who obeys rules willingly. Of course, being their friend has brought some enemies to my door, but I think I'd likely have those enemies with or without the boys in my life, and it would be much harder to deal with them without my allies.

One of those enemies is Draco "Rather-a-Wally" Malfoy. He'd be against me no matter what, thanks to his "pure-blood" fixation. He struts around the school, arrogant, overconfident, and oh, so easy to get around. Thanks to his overconfidence and his big, flapping mouth, I can always outmanouvre him. He's never figured out that except for Snape, most of the teachers think he's a prat, and he doesn't seem to have any really useful friends. That shower of Slytherins he leads couldn't arrange a brawl in a waterfront pub---unlike my lot. Also, as their acknowledged leader, he's got his neck on the chopping-block for anything they do. Or anything that others think they have done, if you know what I mean; a well-placed Imperius Curse, followed by Obliviation of the fact that the Imperius was ever in place, can be so useful. Frankly, if this is the sort of people the Death Eaters recruited, I can't see why they were such a big, bad problem.

Speaking of the Death Eaters brings me to the biggest stone in my shoe: Thomas "Lord Voldemort" Riddle. Frankly, if this blunderer's the worst threat to the wizards' society in many years, I can't be too worried about my chances at taking it over myself. As a matter of fact, I could make the case that it needs taking over, for its own good, of course. If I only weren't what his idiot followers call a "Mudblood," I would be thinking seriously about joining him, learning the things he knows---I do have to admit he's a highly skilled wizard, and, unlike him, I can acknowledge an opponent's strengths---and, once I'd learned everything he could teach me, disposing of him and taking charge. I could really put his organisation to use. Pity it'll never happen. I'll have to build my own.

In Riddle's shoes, I'd prioritize. He tries to do too much at once, and, partly as a result of that (as well as, as I mentioned, the quality of the people he attracts to his cause) he ends up back where he started from. Were it me, I'd either focus on taking over magical society, here in the UK and abroad, and then worry about immortality, or else achieve immortality, whether by reverse-engineering the Philosopher's Stone or in another way, and then go for Supreme Power. Ah, well…his foolishness will make him much easier to deal with, directly or through my stooges, when the Day comes. Right now, he serves a purpose, rather like a Muggle stage-magician's purposeful misdirection of his audience. With everybody focussed on "Lord Voldemort, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the Most Evil Wizard In The World" nobody pays attention to me, even when I'm leaving clues everywhere.

My first year, I was pretty careful. I was feeling my way in a new and different situation, and being extremely careful not to make mistakes. Oh, I took a chance or two---the lie to McGonagall after the Troll Incident, for example---but I was trying hard to be cautious. Getting in on the Hunt for the Stone, although it was something I hadn't planned on, proved to be invaluable experience, as well as cementing my "good girl on the right side" image in Dumbledore's eyes. Of course, if I had managed to obtain the Stone, that would have been very useful---once I was sure that it was the Philosopher's Stone, and not some sort of cleverly-constructed booby-trap designed to sucker the Dark Lord in, of course. I can hardly believe that somebody as clever as Dumbledore pretends he is couldn't have thought of that course of action; create a false Philosopher's Stone and send the real one out of the country. Hiding it in that idiotic Mirror was rather clever, I admit, but Harry got it out of there with no problem---and if I'd been there, once the Squirrel was dealt with one way or another, I'd have had that bloody Stone so fast…

Second year…ah, in my second year, there were clues aplenty, but nobody with the wit to read them, or connect them with me. Not with Harry, the Boy Who Attracts Attention Merely By Living, close by! I got a chance to try out that useful stuff, Polyjuice Potion, and didn't even have to take too many risks. And if people think that Moste Potente Potions was the only thing I was reading from the Restricted Section, I have a snorkack or two to sell them.

The Polyjuice Incident was one of my real triumphs, if I do say it myself. Yes, I did turn myself into Catgirl for a bit, but Madam Pomfrey didn't ask too many questions; she's seen it all in her day. Other than that, everything went perfectly. And I got a chance to get in some good hurting on the Bull (Millicent Bulstrode to you) which felt very good indeed. While I don't care much about what people say about anybody but myself, the Bull's comments about me had got back to my ears, and paying her out was sweet, no matter how much damage she did to me. I can understand boys better now, too---at least the attraction settling things with one's fists has for them.

I'd have had the boys helping more, but on serious, delicate, forbidden work there's one person at Hogwarts I trust, and that's me. Besides, they were already in danger of expulsion while I had an ostensibly clean record. In my judgement, catching the Heir of Slytherin justified risks, and I was the one best-suited to do this. I couldn't quite believe, though, how little curiosity the boys showed about me calmly stealing expensive potions supplies. You'd think that with my "good little girl" image, they'd be startled at me not only suggesting stealing, but going through with it as though I'd always done such things. But, then, nobody ever said that my two boys were the sharpest knives in the drawer.

I also didn't tell the boys that I took quite a bit more than we really needed for that batch of Polyjuice. I intended that batch as a "trial run," to see how well it worked. Having the ingredients for several batches of Polyjuice Potion at hand has come in useful, and having nobody but me know that I have it makes it even handier. You never know when I might want to be someone else, either to throw suspicion on them or off me.

Drugging Crabbe and Goyle also worked a treat, so to speak. Pity Bulstrode wasn't with them; I owed her some bruises and wouldn't have half minded a chance to pay her out when she couldn't hit back. Ah, well…there'll be other times, I'm sure. I was very careful with the doses of sleep potion that the Two Goons got; dead students would attract a lot more attention than I wanted or want at this stage of the game, and once we had our information I couldn't have cared less about whether the Slytherins put two and two together. Apparently they never have. So much for pureblood superiority!

Ron and Harry think I was on that adventure out of the goodness of my heart. How can anybody be so naïve? Hello---big, nasty monster in the school, threatening Muggleborns? It'd be hard for me to attain my rightful destiny if I were dead. Just look at Moaning Myrtle if you want proof. Moaning Myrtle, the example of everything I do not want to be. Handed this wonderful gift, instead of diving in with both hands, she sits in the loo, crying because people don't like her! Awww, poor baby! Look, tiny tiny brain, if your glasses are unbecoming, for pity's sake, change the frame style! And if someone sneers at your glasses, take them off and then say you're happier because you can't see their spot-covered face there, round and cratered like the surface of the Moon! Grow a spine, girl!

I got sidetracked again that year. I'd finally figured out what the creature haunting the school was, and---wouldn't you just bloody know it?---next thing I know it's right there behind me! I must say, I was lucky that time. I think the boys' example may have been rubbing off on me. I must remember to be more careful. However, thanks partly to my brainwork, the monster was quelled and soon I was back on my feet. I must admit, I was very relieved to find that nobody had particularly questioned why my parents hadn't been up to Hogwarts demanding explanations when I stopped writing. They have difficult schedules, you know---important cocktail parties, important social contacts to be made, important trysts with other peoples' spouses---one has to set priorities in one's life, don't you know, and as long as I get good grades and they don't get complaints about my behaviour, I can do very much as I please. This is just as I like it---they are both so shallow, self-important and socially ambitious that they hardly know I exist.

As a matter of fact, our Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher (so-called) that year reminded me of my parents. Oh, yes, I was attracted to him, just like the other girls, but unlike them, I figured out quickly how to use him. Having seen shallow, self-important posturers around me all my life, I had him measured up pretty quickly. I must admit, he could have probably been worse. If he'd wanted, he could have had almost any of the girls taking their knickers off and thinking it was an honour. For that matter, if I hadn't figured out that he was a fraud and phony, I'd have done so myself if needs must. As things are, I find that my roommates satisfy my needs quite well, and, unlike any male, being alone with them is not considered suspicious.

And now we come to my third year. The year of Sirius Black. At first, I will admit that I was caught up in the general hysteria about "Sirius Black, The Most Evil Wizard That Ever Lived, Apart from You-Know-Who." How was I to know better? Just because the Hogwarts administration's pathetically easy to spoof didn't mean that the Ministry of Magic was, and everybody I knew who knew of Black's existence was sure that he was Evil Incarnate.

However, I had another priority that year. I got the most wonderful opportunity I'd ever received, courtesy of McGonagall: A Time-Turner! True, I couldn't easily use it to set up alibis, because McGonagall knew I had it…but I got to practice and experiment to my heart's content. I honestly think I have more practical knowledge of the limitations and uses of a Time-Turner than anybody outside of the Department of Mysteries. Although I didn't use it to actually do anything Against The Rules (until the end of the year, and that was with Dumbledore's implicit permission) I did use it to snoop around at times when I was ostensibly in classes. As well as catching up on naps. I wasn't as worn out as I let McGonagall think by the end of the year; I had just come to the conclusion that Muggle Studies and Divination were both utter wastes of my time. I'll still sit the Muggle Studies OWL, of course---an OWL is an OWL, and I didn't get rid of the book. Divination just seems to be something for which I have no talent, and if Trelawney (or as I call her, "Tree-looney") is a fair sample of what Seers and Divination are all about, I've no worries on that score. Even the prophecies that are real are so cryptic that they might as well not have been made, so why worry?

I got roped into trying to defend one of Hagrid's pets, the hippogriff Buckbeak, on charges that he had savaged Malfoy. That was partly to keep in good with Hagrid, who is useful in many ways, and, I admit, partly to spite Malfoy. I'd seen the whole incident, and Malfoy had deliberately baited the hippogriff. While I agree that Hagrid's not much of a teacher, he is, as I said, useful, and in any case spiting Malfoy's something I'm always up for. The Time-Turner came in very handy for that, particularly after Ron blew up at me because he thought my cat had killed his bloody rat. Of course, when the truth came out, Ron looked stupid. But then, most people are pretty stupid, I find.

Ickle Ronniekins' pet, Scabbers the rat, turned out to be an illegal Animagus, just like Sirius, and Harry Potter's late father. That gave me another goal in my studies, namely, to master Animagism just in case. It looks terribly useful, and one never knows when being able to fox a Dementor, or get out of Azkaban, might be a life-saver. And I mean "life-saver" quite literally. This was yet another case of the clues being right under everybody's nose but nobody bothering to put them together. Rats normally live a few years at most, but this one had been around for much longer than that.

Apparently my pet, Crookshanks the cat, can sense Animages somehow. I'll have to be careful; either I learn Animagism in places where Crookshanks can't get at me in my altered form, or get rid of Crookshanks. I'd truly dislike doing that, partly because it's nice having one being in my life that I can trust. Of course, it could have been that Crookshanks just could sense that Scabbers was a Death Eater. I'll have to try exposing him to real, unrepentant Death Eaters, when we capture some, and see how he responds.

Dumbledore doesn't realise it, but by colluding in Black's escape, he left himself wide open for blackmail. I never needed to do it, but had it been necessary, I could have let him know that either he did as he was told, or I'd be forced to 'fess up to the Ministry about the whole thing. That would have been a last resort, and I'd have had to have some way to back up my memories in case Dumbledore Obliviated me, but I knew about Penseives before Harry-the-prat found out about them. They're in Hogwarts, a History, after all. Ah, well; I guess all that dreary studying came in handy for something besides being my two catspaws' insurance policy against academic failure.

Fourth year was a revelation in many ways. I was growing up, and some boys noticed that I was female, even though my two stooges nearly didn't. I gave that some thought, since I know they're both straight and neither is blind, and came to the conclusion that they got to know me before that kicked in, and, as a result, they got used to thinking of me as a sort of boy, only with longer hair and living in a different dormitory. Much to my surprise, I discovered that this hurt. Of course, I had long since noticed that most girls my age, such as my flea-brained roommates, seemed to think that boys were just like girls, only with more muscles and different plumbing. At our age, that can be excused, but I've known grown women with years of marriage and motherhood of boys under their belts who couldn't assimilate the notion that hints and indirection may work well with girls, but with boys it's best to be direct. That was how I snagged Viktor Krum, by the bye, but that comes later.

The Quidditch World Cup was a real revelation. For the first time, I saw wizards and witches from other countries with my own eyes. Seamus Finnegan doesn't count, since Ireland's in Hogwarts' catchment area. I don't know if Tom "Prat" Riddle ever really realised just what he had taken on, even though some Death Eaters were foreign. I had never run into veela before, and watching their effects on even the most levelheaded males gave me many ideas. I must get some of those creatures on my side somehow. With them, I rather think that the Death Eaters, or any other males who're blocking my way, won't be an insuperable obstacle. And, being of the Superior Sex, I'm immune to their…whatever-it-is.

I also had my nose rubbed in the fact that Magical Britain has, in its very midst, a powerfully magical race that everybody overlooks. Yes, I'm talking about the house-elves. I'd known about them in an abstract way, but this was my first sight of one face-to-face. I was fascinated, and rather shocked at how callously they seem to be treated by many wizards. I resolved to find ways to free them, especially without their "masters'" knowledge, because they'd be so useful in so many ways.

And I had my first confrontation with real, live Death Eaters (other than Mr. Malfoy.) Their treatment of the campsite owner and his family was startling, but my overall impression was of an undisciplined bunch of bullies. I wondered how well they'd do against any sort of equal opposition, and marvelled, yet again, at how such a bunch of losers could have kept Magical Britain in fear for years. Had they been followers of mine, they'd have had it drilled into their heads that breaking cover, save when absolutely necessary, is something you do not do. Not unless you fancy the business end of my wand being the last thing you see in this world!

Of course, many of them were apparently foreign, and the purges against suspected Death Eaters were less intense the farther you got from Britain, which seemed to be the centre of the movement. Apparently Durmstrang's less…shall we say, squeamish?…about the "Dark Arts" than Hogwarts is.

That was one of the reasons I made sure to catch Viktor Krum's eye. Yes, bagging him as my date to the Yule Ball was one in the eye of some of my female schoolmates, who constantly confuse a lack of interest in their idiocy with lack of interest in the male of the species. While I do confess that I find the ministrations of my roommates soothing and pleasing, they are no substitute for a man in the long run. But I was discussing Viktor Krum.

He played right into my hands. Once I noticed that he spent every spare minute in the Hogwarts library, I knew that I could observe him to my heart's content without arousing anybody's suspicion. After all, I am Little Miss Studious, who'd live in the library if Madam Pince let her, am I not? If Parvati and Lavender, not to mention those Slytherin cows who follow Malfoy around, were seen in the library two days running, people would take it as one of the signs announcing the iminent end of the universe. So while they laid elaborate plans to catch his eye, I had him almost all to myself, and being able to talk to him like one human being to another helped a lot, too. I pay attention to Quidditch mainly if one of my catspaws is playing, and otherwise ignore it. For him, it was a refreshing change to speak to someone who plainly didn't care that he was Big Quidditch Star Viktor Krum, and would talk about something beside Wonky-Faints. He's actually quite intelligent, which escaped everybody else's notice. Honestly---did it ever occur to anybody that English is not Viktor's native language? I'd just love to see any of them trying to speak Bulgarian!

Once he found he could really talk to me, he opened up. I now know a lot about his family, which is of no interest, and Durmstrang, which very definitely is. He told me a lot about the Dark Arts once he found out about my "great interest in Defence Against The Dark Arts." Between him and Barty Crouch, Jr., who was posing as "Professor Alastor Moody" that year, I got the background on the Dark Arts that I was missing thanks to the Squirrel and Gilderoy "Aren't-I-Just-Peachy" Lockhart. Lupin had been very good, but he only lasted one year thanks to the idiotic prejudice against werewolves. Am I the only person in Magical Britain who ever heard of a cage? Honestly!

Having Harry Potter's name come out of the Goblet of Fire was quite a surprise, not least to him. If Ron weren't so thick, he'd have known for sure that Harry had nothing to do with it. Had it been me, I'd have spun some story about how I'd figured a way around the Age Line, and put all three of our names in. I can think of several ways, such as using an owl to drop them or bribing an older student. Harry, unfortunately for him, is no actor and not good at thinking of things like that on his feet. I'm rather surprised that all those years with the Dursleys didn't force him to develop those skills in self-defence, but he says they'd have done him no good; the Dursleys blamed and punished him for anything "unusual" no matter whether he was innocent or not.

In any case, the Goblet of Fire created a rift in my little organisation worse than our little "misunderstanding" about Crookshanks eating Scabbers. Ron, the stubborn, jealous prat, thought that Harry had put his name in and wouldn't tell him how he'd done it. Before I could get things under control, Ron and Harry were Not Speaking, and I found myself in the middle. I had had plans, but they got sidetracked because I need Harry, and those tasks were bloody dangerous.

I will say that Ron came around once it finally percolated through that solid-ivory dome of his that this was real, this wasn't something where he was deliberately being shoved aside so that Harry could shine, and Harry hadn't put his own name into the Goblet. Watching that First Task was one of the most frightening things I've ever done in my life---I need Harry alive, not as dragon yummies to please that bloody bloodthirsty crowd!

When I found out that Harry had not got right to work on that stupid egg when he said he'd done, it took all my self-control and dedication not to slap him one over the lughole. If we'd have had time, I'm sure I could have found out about gillyweed somehow or other. Unfortunately, though, I got distracted by other things.

I admit I had expected one or both of my two boys to ask me to the Yule Ball, and I was surprised and hurt when they didn't do it directly we heard that it would be held. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, they tended to think of me more as a boy with longer hair, a higher-pitched voice and a different dormitory to live in. But when they didn't ask, I put my plan into action.

As I said above, I had made friends with Viktor Krum. Once I found that my two "friends" weren't going to be likely to ask me to the ball, I made sure to let him know that I didn't have a date, and I was so disappointed that I couldn't go. The rest, as they say, was history. Those silly girls who were hanging around giggling and staring at him scared him half to death, and he thought of me as someone who liked him for something besides bloody Quidditch. Little did he know…

I took particular care with my appearance that night. I'd heard Pansy Parkinson's crack about my looks, and while I feel nothing but contempt for girls who spend all their time working on pulling boys, I'm still female enough to want to look my very best, particularly when scoring a coup that had my schoolmates agog. And I did enjoy the dance. Viktor's not the greatest dancer in the world, but neither am I, and it was refreshing to just be a girl for once.

In fact, my campaign worked rather better than I had anticipated, which led to me being tied up at the bottom of the lake, unconscious! Viktor did come in time, but Harry-the-hero came first, thanks to Dobby. As I said, the house-elves interest me greatly, and Dobby came through for Harry when, for once, I couldn't, with the gillyweed. That, as McGonagall would say, was sheer dumb luck more than anything else---but at seventh and last, what counts is results, and we got them.

Another place where we were getting wonderful results was Defence Against The Dark Arts. After Lupin left us, Dumbledore had an uncharacteristic bout of good common sense and decided to hire in a real live Auror. Who better to teach Defence than someone who has made Defence his life's work? Of course, it never occurred to him to Legilimens his new teacher, but this is Dumbledore we're talking about. If I were a Legilimens, I'd check everybody out all the time, just on general principles, after what we found out at the end of the year. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

For the first time, and years before the syllabus would have included them, I got to see the Unforgivable Curses in action. For my part, I think that they're not normally necessary; there are all sorts of interesting ways to hurt someone other than with the Cruciatus, and whoever needs the Killing Curse when there are so many other ways? Hogwarts, a History was most informative on wizard murder. Not to mention Muggle methods…

Imperius, unlike the other two, looks dead useful. Combined with Memory Charms and used with caution, it could open any door in Britain to me. Being put under it was frightening, but since we were in class, Moody didn't ask me to do anything awful. And now I know what that feels like, so I can suss out how it is best used. I also saw how all three curses were cast, and when I was alone, I made a point of practising them. Spiders are everywhere here, and nobody misses a few. I've not had the opportunity to cast them for real yet, and even doing it on spiders and mice takes a lot out of me, but I think I have the basics down. The rest will just take time.

Moody was also quite willing to be informative. All I had to do was pretend to be interested in being an Auror myself, and he told me a lot about how they work and what they do. I don't know how much of what he told me is trustworthy, considering what he turned out to be, but much of what he said fits with things I've read and heard. Knowing how the Aurors work, inside and out, is one essential weapon in my arsenal.

If for no other reason, I want to know just how the Aurors work because I do not want to end up like Sirius Black. I thought I was pretty hard-boiled, but finding out that he'd been thrown in Azkaban without so much as the pretence of a trial shocked me. I guess all those years among Muggles have marked me. I want to avoid their attention or else subvert them so that, when the crunch comes, they're on my side. If I can get the Veelas on my side, that will be a big help since most Aurors do seem to be male.

But, however it was done, I did survive being dumped in the lake. I was rather startled to find that Viktor felt that strongly about me. That connection should be very useful, whether it's getting at Dark Arts they don't teach here or subverting people who're dazzled by "Viktor Krum, the Quidditch star." Keeping him sweet and On My Side will take some doing, I imagine, but it'll be well worth it. Once my plans have come to fruition, then it'll be time to decide whether or not I want to keep him around. The main downside to Viktor was that he did make Ron jealous.

Ron---the more accustomed I get to the wizards' society, the less useful he is. At first, he was an invaluable "native guide," but after so many years at Hogwarts, and so much time spent researching, his guidance is worth less and less. I am going to have to carefully consider whether he's going to be worth the effort to keep, come the Day. As long as Voldemort is alive and free, though, I'm going to need Ron, even if only to keep Harry centered and calm. Besides, through him I can get to meet quite a few people, not least his own huge family.

Relations with Ron himself were strained, but, thanks to that utter cow Rita Skeeter, I had trouble with quite a few people. Skeeter had been sniffing around since the beginning of the Tournament, and her first story about Harry had alerted me to the fact that she played fast and loose with the truth. When she sneaked after Hagrid and heard the big oaf rabbiting on to Madame Maxime about how his mother was a giant, she ran with that story, and Hagrid went into a tailspin. Honestly, doesn't anybody but me have eyes? It had been pretty obvious from the second I met him that Hagrid wasn't human, if only because I know very well that no human's that big. Still and all, Hagrid's dead useful because anything that's in his brain spills out his mouth, and I need him, if only for his knowledge about magical creatures.

When I ran into Skeeter down at the Three Broomsticks, I admit I snapped for a second. I said some things I shouldn't, and, unfortunately drew her attention to me. She'd mentioned me in her first lying article, and knew who I was---so she wrote another article about how I was the Great Scarlet Woman of Hogwarts, toying with the affections of the Boy-Who-Lived and Viktor. At first, I laughed it off, since anybody who knew me at all would know that wasn't true. Unfortunately, a lot of people outside of Hogwarts don't, and many of them read Witch Weekly. I was dealing with Howlers, bubotuber pus, and hate mail, and, to put the icing on the cake, Ron Weasley's mum apparently believed the article. Why that bloody, bloody prat couldn't have dropped her an owl directly the article came out and assured her that it was rubbish is beyond me. At least her disapproval came to no more than a very small candy egg for Easter.

Skeeter's little revenge on me for daring to tell her off was a mistake for her, though. That focussed me on her, as well as bringing my attention to the power of the press here in the Wizard World. To realise my ambitions, I shall have to either find a way to control the press, or discredit it to the point that nobody believes a word it says. Unfortunately, many magical folk believe the Quibbler, with its endless wild stories, so discrediting more "respectable" journals like the Daily Prophet and Witch Weekly may be more of a challenge than I am up for. I shall have to study how these publications work, and figure out who I will have to either get onto my side, voluntarily or via Imperius Curse, or else eliminate in favor of someone more malleable.

It took me a while to figure out how Skeeter was getting her information, though, mainly because I was still worried about the Triwizard Tournament. The third task was less dangerous than the others, or so it seemed to me, but I knew that I wouldn't sleep well until the bloody thing was over. Little did I know!

When Harry finally appeared outside the maze, with the Cup in one hand and Cedric Diggory's wrist in the other, I knew instantly that something was Wrong. Rumours began flying: Harry had killed Cedric, Cedric had been killed by one of the monsters in the maze, Viktor had killed Cedric and Harry had found his body, and that's just the tamer ones. In the confusion, I didn't notice that Harry was being led off by Moody. Luckily, Dumbledore did. I must keep in mind that our Headmaster's "batty old coot" act is an act; he's sharp as can be when things attract his attention. Getting too careless around him could be the last mistake I'll ever make.

By the time we were let into the hospital wing to see Harry, I was poised and ready for Skeeter. Just as I had anticipated, the snooping cow was buzzing around, eavesdropping in her Animagus form of a beetle, and I caught her! Before she could turn back to human, I whispered that if she did, Dumbledore would know everything and she'd be headed to Azkaban. I had had a jar ready, with an Unbreakable Charm on it, and put her in with some food and water. That was her eye on a plate, and payback for all the trouble she'd caused me.

You'd think that people would notice all this. What with finding out that the real Moody had been imprisoned and replaced by a Polyjuice-drinking Death Eater who was supposed to be dead, Sirius Black showing himself (he'd come in in his Animagus form) and Dumbledore finally coming to a parting of the ways with that stuffed-shirt Fudge, not to mention everybody fussing over Harry, I do think I could have stripped down to my skin, gotten on a table, danced and sung "The Hedgehog Shall Never Be Buggered At All" and nobody would have noticed. (And wouldn't that have put the final touches on my reputation as "The Great Scarlet Woman of Hogwarts?" Honestly, compared with quite a few girls here, I hardly pay attention to boys at all.)

I didn't want to keep Skeeter a prisoner forever, so I let her go once I was back home. However, before I let her out, I pointed out that I'd been very merciful---I could have Obliviated her with no problem, and she'd have been unable to switch back to human form. I made her take a wizards' oath to not write for publication for a year without my permission, which, at the time, I didn't think would be forthcoming.

Things were quiet over the summer, until I got word that I was wanted in London. My parents were easy to get around; I just told them that I needed to get in early to get started studying for my OWLs, and that was taken care of. I arranged to meet the Weasleys on Diagon Alley, and they took me to Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place.

Grimmauld Place, to borrow a phrase I heard one of the Ravenclaws use once, was "like Castle Dracula, but without the laughs." The whole place was jammed with magical gear, most of it the sort of stuff that I'd expect to see for sale down Knockturn Alley. I was roped into helping clean up, and went along willingly, if only for the chance to---shall we say, liberate?---a good collection of interesting things. I turned many of them into money down at Borgin and Burke's, a fascinating establishment Harry had told me about after he'd wound up there (the prat had managed to get mixed up with Floo powder) and the rest, I'm keeping to myself.

Even with the fascinating things I was finding every day, Grimmauld Place was not too inviting. Sirius owned the place, and was hiding out there, and it was getting to him. The only inhabitant for many years had been Kreacher, the family house-elf, who was right straight around the twist. He'd been taking mad orders from Sirius' mother's portrait for years, and the second I saw him, I knew that there was a lot about house-elves I still didn't know. I'd started the Society for Protection of Elfish Welfare the previous year at Hogwarts, mostly to test just how far the elves' loyalty to their masters could be shaken. Until I met Kreacher, I had all but despaired; Dobby was the only one I had met with any interest in freedom. The others were polite, but everything I said was in one big ear and out the other.

Kreacher, now…Kreacher showed me, again, the possibilities inherent in getting the house-elves on my side, come The Day. I tried hard to make friends with him, but even my best efforts (and, like Tom Riddle, I've always been able to con the people I needed) were of no avail.

Meanwhile, Harry needed help again. Apparently some dementors had got away from Azkaban, turned up in Harry's Muggle neighbourhood in Surrey, and gone after his awful cousin---and Harry, being Thick As An Asphalt Sandwich, drove them off with a Patronus charm. To think that he'd do that after the way his worthless relatives treated him! Had it been me, I'd have been quietly chanting "Go, Dementors, go!" Of course, it was a trap, and until Dumbledore and Arthur Weasley swung into action, it looked bad for Harry. Even after they did, he had to face trial in front of the entire Wizengamot. If it had gone badly, he'd have been expelled.

That is something that I do worry about. Expulsion from Hogwarts, with formal snapping of the wand, is supposed to cut the expelee off from wizard society. For someone like Draco-the-Inbred-Malfoy, it would be kinder to kill them. For me? Well, unlike the purebloods, I can function just fine in Muggle society, and I've taken precautions. Remember when I said that I'd been turning Dark Arts memorabilia into money down at Borgin and Burke's? Well, some of that money went to buy myself five or six used wands. While Ollivander's the place to go for wands, that doesn't make it the only place one can go. I also laid in supplies of potion ingredients, advanced spellbooks, and other necessities.

Of course, when I went shopping, I didn't go as myself. A flask of Polyjuice Potion, some larger robes, one of my mum's hairs, and a put-on accent I learned from dear Viktor, and nobody'd ever believe it was me. Several times I walked right by one of the Weasleys, coming out of Knockturn Alley, and they didn't twig to who I was. The Gringotts' goblins did know, but couldn't have cared less as long as I was the "Hermione Granger" who had money on deposit with them. Even after my shopping spree I had a tidy sum left, which augmented the money my parents give me very nicely indeed.

Thanks to Dumbledore turning up just in the nick-of, Harry got off. I must admit I was relieved, if only because this was a pretty clear attack on him from someone high up in the Ministry. The Ministry is supposed to be in control of the Dementors, after all, so how did Dementors turn up in Privet Drive? No matter how unpleasant Harry finds his relatives, I doubt that even a Dementor could mistake the Dursley household for Azkaban. This was yet another clue that something was seriously wrong at the Ministry, and a reminder to me to be very, very cautious dealing with anybody from there.

Right after we heard about Harry's acquittal, we got another piece of good news. Ron and I were now prefects! I admit I'd been angling for that job since the minute I'd arrived at Hogwarts. As a prefect, I can move around the school at times when the students are supposed to be in their quarters. I have increased access to Dumbledore, and more credibility in the event of a dispute with a non-prefect. Of course, there are always flies in the ointment, and in this case, we found out that Draco Malfoy got a badge too, canceling my advantage vis-à-vis him. However, that doesn't apply to his followers (except for Pansy "Oh-You-Wonderful-Male" Parkinson) and any advantage over that lot suits me fine.

We got the news about Malfoy and Parkinson on the Hogwarts Express, since Prefects and the Head Boy and Girl have a car to themselves. It was rather odd at first, not having Harry around, but we were supposed to patrol the corridors, which meant that we could see Harry. He was in with Ginny Weasley, Neville Longbottom, and a Ravenclaw I hadn't met named Luna Lovegood. Unfortunately, I popped off my mouth about the Quibbler before I found out that her father edits it. While I hadn't met Luna before, I had heard about her, and I must say that her nickname of "Loony" was earned fairly enough. Not that that means I should ever underestimate her; Ravenclaw's not a place where you find dullards, after all.

At the school, things were very interesting indeed. The Sorting Hat's song was different from usual, all about how Hogwarts was in danger and how we'd have to unite. I'd have thought that the clues that danger was afoot were so obvious that Dudley Dursley would have twigged, but, as usual, nobody but me seemed to notice.

Although having a new Defence Against The Dark Arts teacher every year's become routine, this year's version was a new departure in several ways. First, she was female---well, sort of. I know perfectly well that I'm no Veela, but I don't think she had enough sex appeal to lure a martyr off a red-hot griddle. Second, it was quite clear from the beginning that she thought that she was infinitely Dumbledore's superior---and that we, the pupils, were little better than six-year-olds. I don't think she had any experience with people our age more recent than when she was our age herself. She apparently thought she was as appealing as Gilderoy Lockhart was, at least on the surface, but I noticed that she didn't seem to notice that nobody took her speech seriously, unlike, say, Dumbledore, who commands attention effortlessly.

Harry said that this woman---her name's Dolores Umbridge, and it suits her to a tee---was at his hearing at the Wizengamot, and seemed to be disappointed by his acquittal. That was all I needed to know. Umbridge was Fudge's creature, and she had to be up to no good. I resolved to keep my head down around her as much as I could, and figure out what her plans were, because I doubted they were at all compatible with my goals.

Sure enough, she had been sent by Fudge to sabotage things at Hogwarts. Her idea of how to teach Defence Against The Dark Arts was to give us a book to read. No talking. No practical work on spells or anything else. No questions. And, most importantly, no disagreements. Harry managed to get himself a detention his first day with her, even though I had warned him and warned him that she was likely to be dangerous. There have been so many times I wanted to take Harry by the throat and shake him to see if he's totally lost his mind, or if a little piece of it is still rattling around inside…

To top things off, the book was mind-crackingly dull, and seemed to have been written with the idea that Dark Wizards are just misunderstood little woobies, and can be dealt with by reasoning with them. While I do admit that reasoning works with some people, there are times when reason fails and even saints reach for their sidearms.

This was all I needed to know. From that first Defence class onward, it was plain to see that this would be the year that my gloves were going to have to come off. I'd avoided coming into direct conflict with teachers or the Ministry so far, but when it was pretty plain that their puppet-strings are being pulled by the Death Eaters, I decided that any measures I chose to take were justified. Even Ron's brother, Percy, who works right beside Fudge, tried to warn us, but because he wrote as though he were pleased with what was going on, Ron-the-ruddy-halfwit took his letter at face value and chucked it. And after we had heard that owl post was subject to interception, too! What was Percy supposed to do, for Merlin's sake? Write "Oh, I say, Ron, be careful of Dolores Umbridge; she's out to get Harry Potter and bring down Dumbledore because my boss can't stand the idea of You-Know-Ruddy-Well-Who being back?" Ron might do it that way, but Ron is not, as I have said, the sharpest knife in the drawer. Harry's got more cunning than Ron does---those Dursleys taught him things without either side knowing it.

No sooner than the very next day after we heard from Percy, it came out that Umbridge had been appointed Hogwarts' first ever High Inquisitor. Like the other Muggleborns, I had a hard time keeping from giggling as I remembered the famous Monty Python sketch, and I'm sure I heard, more than once: "No one expects the Hogwarts Inquisition!" under someone's breath. However, this was a new, ominous development. Apparently a "High Inquisitor" was roughly the same sort of thing as a "political commissar" in the old Warsaw Pact armed forces---in other words, a person whose primary loyalty was to the Ministry who could, if need be, override Dumbledore's authority. I wonder if Fudge ever read about the Communists? If so, using one of their old dodges was a sneaky move, since most magical folk would sooner be caught reading Pervert Monthly than anything to do with Muggles. Yet another weakness to exploit.

I put my mind to figuring out what was needed. What we had to have was some practice using Defence spells, which meant starting a club. At Hogwarts, there are lots of clubs, associations and what-not…the foreign-born students have one, there's one for people who really, really like Charms, another for Gobstone collectors, and so on. With all that, a "study group" couldn't attract much attention, I figured. More fool I.

I set up a meeting, and thought I was being very clever by having it at the Hogsmeade watering-hole that wasn't a student hangout. The Hog's Head should have been called the Pigs' Sty, if you ask me, but I didn't think that we'd be overheard or interrupted. A lot of people turned out to be interested, and I put my plan into motion. We all agreed on a course of action, which was to have Harry teach us more advanced spells, and then I pulled out a sheet of parchment I had prepared ahead of time. Everybody who signed the parchment subjected themselves to a jinx that would make their faces break out in spots spelling "Sneak" if they ever betrayed us to the authorities.

Looking back, I can see the flaws in that plan. For starters, a dive like the Hog's Head would be just the place to attract undercover Aurors. Not to mention, quite a few of the clientele would cheerfully shop their mothers to the Dementors if it'd get them out of a spot of bother. We'd have probably been better off holding the meeting somewhere out-of-the-way at Hogwarts.

I should have also made it clearer that this was serious business, and that anybody who wanted to leave, or didn't think they were up to possibly opposing the Ministry, could go in peace, and nothing would be said. Had I anticipated what would happen, there's one girl who would have gone if I had to drag her out by the throat. And nothing would have been said because as soon as I had a chance, I'd have Obliviated all memories of the meeting from a back-out's mind. Ah, well, live and learn. Unlike Tom "I-am-Lord-Voldemort-BWAHAHA" Riddle, or Draco "This-hasn't-worked-yet-so-it's-bound-to-this-time" Malfoy, I consider mistakes to be a learning experience. And even Gilderoy Lockhart taught me things, little though he may have realised just what he taught me.

Sure enough, someone grassed on us. The very next day, "Professor" Umbridge (Professor, indeed! Trelawney's a better teacher!) had posters up all over the school saying that all student associations had been dissolved by her authority, and had to get her permission to reform. We'd been shopped, but I couldn't tell who had done it. Nobody's face had spots---at least, no more than normal.

I had absolutely no illusions about our chances of getting Toadface Umbridge's permission to operate legally. Unexpectedly, Harry solved the problem, thanks to his friend Dobby the freed house-elf. He found us a wonderful room that none of us had ever heard of, that only appeared when needed, and appeared with whatever the person who had "summoned" it needed within it! It was called the Room of Requirement. Had I only known of such a thing before…but no point in vain regrets. And, yet again, my view that house-elves would make wonderful allies was vindicated. Even if they can't or won't act directly against their masters, they often have access to many secrets.

Oh, yes, I was still trying to figure out the key to the house-elves' allegiance. I had taken to scattering bits of clothing around, hoping that would be sufficient to free them, but it didn't seem to be working. I kept that up partly from curiosity---was it merely that I hadn't used enough?---and partly to maintain my "sweet little do-gooder" image with my two puppets. While what would be absolutely ideal would be a way to switch the allegiance of selected house-elves to me without their prior owners' knowledge, merely being able to free them when doing so will cause the most confusion to the other side would be a wonderful weapon.

Meanwhile, our High Inquisitor was continuing on her merry way. One of her powers, it seemed, was to "evaluate" the teachers at Hogwarts, to determine if they were up to snuff. I'm quite surprised that McGonagall didn't Transfigure Toadface into a real toad and feed it to Fang when that came out. I guess that she was taking her cues from Dumbledore, and the Headmaster was willing to let the toad have all the rope she wanted, the better to hang herself with. Even so, the confrontation between them was truly classic, and ended with Umbridge thoroughly out of countenance.

I also happened to be present when Umbridge came in to evaluate Snape. While I detest the hook-nosed, greasy-haired gitt, I do acknowledge that he's a true expert in his field. How it must have galled him, having to stand there in front of students (Harry in particular; those two have hated each other from Day One) and put up with sauce from that jumped-up Ministry lickspittle! If I hadn't been trying to save Harry's bacon, I'd have watched, savouring every minute; as it stood, Harry was paying far more attention to them than to what we were supposed to be doing, and despite my best efforts, he bungled his potion again. I wonder---did young Tom Riddle ever have days like this?

That evening, Sirius Black and Harry had a conversation via the Floo network. Unfortunately, the Floo was being watched, and Sirius nearly got caught. This was before we'd been told about the Room of Requirement, and we discussed how to meet with our Defence group. Sirius' suggestions weren't too good---the Shrieking Shack's not easy to get to, particularly with a large crowd, none of them Animagi. However, I did find out that Mundungus Fletcher---he's a very bent wizard who happens to be in Dumbledore's camp, thanks to the Headmaster getting him out of some scrape---had been in the Hog's Head, dressed up as a witch.

I shall probably have to cultivate Mundungus Fletcher. He knows all the crooks, mostly because he is one himself, which might well be very useful. He also may know some spells and magic not taught at Hogwarts. And one never knows when an experienced thief may be a useful ally. Of course, I shall watch him like a hawk and never trust him an inch out of my sight.

Once we had a place to practice, the Defence group began to work wonderfully well. Unfortunately, I got a bit overconfident, and allowed that impulsive little bint Ginny to suggest calling it "Dumbledore's Army," which, in retrospect, was incredibly stupid of me. I should have called it "Dolores' Angels," or something like that. Come to it---I wonder, if we had pretended to be a pro-Ministry group, devoted to Toadface and her so-called teaching, would she have given us permission to operate? Of course, if we'd taken that route, we'd have had to be on guard constantly to make sure she wasn't going to drop in on her "fan club," but a lot of the hugger-mugger we had to go through to operate at all wouldn't have been necessary.

Hugger-mugger or no, the club served its purpose beautifully. Harry looked a lot happier than I had seen him for months. I rather think that he'd have made a good teacher if it weren't for all this "Dark Lord" nonsense. Everybody was learning spells, and since we had to schedule around everybody's Quidditch practise (save only Slytherin), our meetings were irregular enough to make them hard to track. Gryffindor's Quidditch team had been reformed after McGonagall appealed to Dumbledore, when Darling Dolores was refusing to give a definite answer, and besides Harry being Seeker, Ron had become Keeper, vice Oliver Wood.

The day of the big Gryffindor vs. Slytherin match, I dared to hope that all would be well. I knew Ron was a bit jumpy, and those pestilential older brothers of his weren't any help with their endless bloody teasing, but I hoped that it would all come right on the night, as they say 'round the theatre.

I should have known better. This whole year had been nothing but nasty surprises, and the Slytherins had somehow sussed out that Ron had a bad case of the jumpies. I suspect that wretch Malfoy of being the motivating force behind what they did, which, I must admit, was bloody brilliant in its own way. All the Slytherins were wearing crown-shaped badges saying "Weasley is Our King," and as the game started, they began singing a horrid song about what a bad Keeper he was, how he always let the Quaffle in, and I don't know what else. I knew this would throw Ron into a tailspin, and I could have cheerfully wrung Malfoy's skinny neck.

Unfortunately, Harry agreed with me. After the game was over (Gryffindor won, thanks mostly to Harry---Ron really wasn't on form) Malfoy began to gloat and mock at how badly Ron had done, and when he got to insulting the Weasleys, not to mention Harry's dead mother, George and Harry tried to pound Malfoy into blood pudding. And, wouldn't you just bloody know it, our beloved High Inquisitor was right there to watch. Apparently Fudge had been conned into giving the toad supreme authority over all punishments, including the right to alter punishments ordered by other teachers. After she overrode McGonagall to suspend both of them, as well as Fred, from the team, I'm surprised that McGonagall didn't call her out for a wizards' duel. She looked more than angry enough when I saw her next.

That evening, the gloom in Gryffindor Tower was thick enough, you could have cut it with a knife. I tried to console myself with the knowledge that every new Educational Decree flourished by our charming High Inquisitor was eroding whatever support she had ever enjoyed from the other teachers, but when I saw that Hagrid was finally back, after having been missing since the beginning of the school year, I forgot about it and we went to see what he'd been up to. I also wanted to tip Hagrid off about Umbridge, and warn him to, for pity's sake, be careful. Not that I had much hope on that, but I had to try.

I was shocked when I saw Hagrid. He looked like he'd been through the wars. Sure enough, he had been off to see the giants, along with Madame Maxime of Beauxbatons---oh, yes, they're back on speaking terms, and, I gather, rather more---and things had not gone terribly well. It seemed that the Death Munchers had also thought of the giants, and their new chief liked what Voldemort's representatives had to say. There was a lot of fighting, I gathered, but that didn't explain why Hagrid still looked like he'd gone twenty rounds of bare-knuckle boxing with someone his own size. From what he said, most of the fighting had been between the giants themselves.

And, right about then, Toadwoman was at the door! Thanks to Harry's Invisibility Cloak (and oh, how I want one of those for my own! I've not seen one for sale yet, but when and if I do, I'll have it if I have to shag a troll to raise the money!) we weren't spotted. Even after meeting Umbridge, though, Hagrid didn't seem to believe us about her, or to understand that she was bloody dangerous. There are times I could just scream.

I was wondering just what could ding Hagrid up that badly. Part of why he is so lacking in the common-sense department, I believe, is that he's big and strong enough that very little can hurt him. He also does know his stuff about beasties, which is another reason I want to keep him around and available; on The Day, hippogriffs, thestrals, and dragons will be useful, just like the Veelas and house-elves will when I figure out how to get them on my side. Nothing like a faceful of dragon breath to make the other side see how reasonable it is that I be put in charge of everything, I always say.

Still, this meant that I'd have to help Hagrid plan his lessons. On top of OWLs and the DA, not to mention my usual load of studies, this was a real burden. Not that I got any bloody gratitude, either from Hagrid or my two puppets. Despite all I could do, Hagrid went off Grubbly-Plank's lesson plan, off on one of his tangents.

Of course, Toadwoman was right there on the spot, ready to leap on any mistakes Hagrid made. Hagrid took her faux-deafness at face value, giving her an excuse to write him up as barely able to speak English, and with the help of the Slytherins, she was pretty easily able to portray him as dim, disturbed and dangerous. Of course he's dangerous! Magic is dangerous! Take a look at Quidditch, for Merlin's sake! Or Potions class, where explosions and melted cauldrons are common occurrences! But our darling High Inquisitor had her own little axe to grind, and grind it she did, to the point that Hagrid's job hung by a thread.

So did Trelawney's, by this time. I wasn't present, but Harry and Ron told me how Umbridge did all she could to throw Trelawney off her stride, asking her all sorts of difficult questions, interrupting her, and making it all but impossible for her to teach. If Trelawney had been more valuable to me, I'd have tried to figure out a way to help her as I did for Hagrid, but, as things stood, it was bad enough that I was grateful for Trelawney distracting the foul toad.

By this time, we were coming up to Christmas. While I was patrolling the corridors with Ron, or supervising the firsties and second-years who couldn't go out due to the weather, my mind was buzzing with schemes to get rid of Umbridge. Unfortunately, I couldn't come up with anything that was both sure-fire and didn't have side-effects that were worse than the Umbridge régime, like getting me expelled. She had established her de facto ascendancy over the school, whipping out new Educational Decrees whenever she was thwarted, and I knew that I was seriously outgunned.

As long as the Ministry supported her, or she supported the Ministry (I'm not sure to this day which was the puppet and which the puppet-master) she was going to stay, and between my age, my Muggle ancestry, and my relative lack of wealth, there was no way in the world I could get Cornelius Fudge on my side. Had I seen a chance, I'd have set about seducing Fudge, either to wrap him around my finger or to blackmail him, but I never was near him. Thank Merlin for small favors.

Direct physical confrontation was right out. Someone like McGonagall or Flitwick, not to mention Snape or Dumbledore, could have taken her out in seconds in a real wizards' duel, but I was under no illusions as to my chances. Umbridge wasn't a very powerful witch, but I knew she almost certainly knew things I didn't. Also, calling her out for a duel or attacking her would get me expelled from Hogwarts, if not sent to Azkaban. Look what they tried to do to Harry for saving his worthless fat pillock of a cousin's life! One reason I tread very carefully is because I do not want what the wizard world laughingly calls "justice" to take notice of me until I'm far too powerful for it to take me down.

The teachers would be of no use at all, I feared. Either they were keeping their heads down in hopes that this, too, would pass, or they were genuinely scared of this woman. In any case, with her position as High Inquisitor and those endless Educational Decrees, she had them where she wanted them. She could have any of them fired and blackballed from working anywhere in the magical community, and that, I have to admit, is a very potent threat. When I'm on top, I shall be sure to use it.

Other students were in the same boat as I was, as far as power went. Even the seventh-years were frightened of Umbridge, as I found out when I tentatively felt them out at prefects'meetings. About the only people in the school who weren't afraid of her, as far as I could tell, were Fred and George Weasley, and I hesitated to bring them on side any more than they already were with the DA. While they are useful allies when they like you, they're very unpredictable and I do not think they will approve at all of my ultimate goals.

Just before Christmas, though, we got some unexpected news. Arthur Weasley, Ron's father, had apparently been bitten by a giant snake while in the Ministry of Magic, and had been rushed to St. Mungo's. Harry and all the Weasleys who were still at school had gone there to be with him, so I went on home over the hols.

As usual, my parents hardly knew I was there; they had some big important skiing trip planned in the Swiss Alps. I will say that it was a rest to not have to worry about Umbridge popping up out of nowhere, but other than that, the whole thing bored me like an auger. I can ski, but it's not my hobby of choice, and the empty-headed, spoilt, bored, privileged children of the people who were also at that resort drove me nearly off my nut.

When I wanted to go back to the UK, Mum protested at first, but I knew how to get 'round her. I explained that everybody who was taking the exams seriously would be back at Hogwarts studying, and these exams were terribly important, and she swallowed the whole story, nodding stupidly while she thought about the next party she was planning. Truth to tell, I think she was rather glad to be rid of me; she'd taken up with another rich "admirer," and having me around, observing everything but saying nothing, makes her nervous. As it should, since the second I need her to do something she doesn't fancy doing it'll be blackmail time.

Since Mum didn't know about the Knight Bus, she thought that once I was dropped off at Kings Cross Station, I'd have no option but to head for school. Twenty minutes later, I was back at Grimmauld Place, and Harry needed cheering up. Lucky for me, Ginny Weasley was there and able to talk some sense into him. It seemed that Harry was afraid that Voldemort was possessing him somehow, and he thought he was a threat to the rest of us. As if! Ginny had been possessed, and was able to describe how it felt, and when it wasn't anything like what Harry had been experiencing, he was back to his usual self.

While at Grimmauld Place, I continued my efforts to get through to Kreacher. There had to be a key to his loyalty, and I was determined to find it. In retrospect, I should have poisoned the little wretch---nobody'd have suspected me, and between years of Potions classes and plenty of research on the Muggle side, I could have come up with something that no wizard would recognise as poison. Unfortunately, I underestimated him. That, you may be sure, is one thing I'll not do again.

I also paid my first visit to St. Mungo's Hospital, the hospital where Arthur Weasley was recovering from his snakebite. It was interesting, I must say. The only Healer I'd ever had much to do with was Madam Pomfrey at Hogwarts, and it was an excellent chance to see other Healers in action. While there, we ran into Neville Longbottom, of all people, and his grandmother. It turned out that Neville's parents had been tortured into insanity by the Death Eaters, and they were at St. Mungo's, on the Closed Ward, which we got into when we ran into Gilderoy Lockhart. Lockhart hadn't changed much, but it was a shock to see Neville's parents. Neville looked utterly forlorn, and I understood a lot about him that hadn't made sense before. Now I knew why he was so fearful, at least. I still couldn't see why he should be so very forgetful, but I'll have the answer to that too.

Back at Grimmauld Place, we were favoured by a visit from Snape. Given that he and Sirius Black are less fond of each other than Harry and I are of Draco Malfoy, this was rather a surprise. I wasn't invited to the conversation, but found out later that Dumbledore had decided that Harry needed to learn Occlumency---the power to shield his mind from outside interference. And his brilliant plan was that Harry should be taught by Snape!

There are times I could cheerfully throttle our beloved Headmaster, and this was definitely one of them. Snape and Harry are known all through Hogwarts for their mutual loathing, and although I can see Harry's side of things, I can also see Snape's point of view. Like it or not, Harry has been favoured from the day he hit Hogwarts, and Snape sees him as an arrogant show-off. Had I known at the beginning how much Snape dislikes show-offs, I'd have kept my head down more in his class, instead of trying so very hard to show how much I knew. This is where being Muggleborn is a definite disadvantage---an elder sibling or two who'd been through Hogwarts, who could have given me run-downs on the teachers and their various styles, would have been very useful indeed.

Sure enough, the Occlumency lessons didn't go at all well. I had Ron check on Harry, and Ron reported that Harry looked like he'd been through the wringer for fair. I had researched Occlumency as best I could (it's not exactly common knowledge, even among wizards) and I had known that Harry's defences would be low.

The very next morning, it was all over the Daily Prophet that ten Death Eaters, including, it seemed, the very woman who had tortured Neville Longbottom's parents into insanity, had escaped from Azkaban. Of course, Fudge was loudly assuring everybody that Sirius Black, The Most Evil Wizard Ever Except For You-Know-Who, was responsible. To be fair, if you didn't know that Sirius was innocent, it did make a certain amount of sense.

We also noticed that a person we'd seen at St. Mungo's had died. It appeared that someone had sent him a cutting of Devil's Snare, which the idiots at St. Mungo's hadn't recognised as dangerous, and it had promptly strangled him as soon as the lights were off. Reading this, my respect for the Healers and other people in charge at St. Mungo's took a nosedive. I mean, Devil's Snare is a first-year plant in Herbology, for Merlin's sake! Still, I must admit that it was a very clever way to get rid of someone. I made a mental note, and one fine day our dear schoolmate Draco Malfoy may receive a present that does more than it seems to---if he pays as much attention to Herbology as he does to Care of Magical Creatures, it'll be a doddle.

Our schoolmates didn't know about the big breakout, since most of them don't take the paper. The teachers did, and I could tell that they were upset. Even Umbridge looked angry; I was sure, though, that she was mostly angry because her precious Minister of Magic, Cornelius "Lord Voldemort is not back, I can't hear you, la-la-la-la!" Fudge looked bad. This was the second breakout in Azkaban history, and both of them occurred on his watch. No matter how he spun it---and he tried, he tried very hard---he couldn't help but take a share of the blame.

Reading the Prophet, I got an idea on how to stir things up. The press is very powerful and influential among wizards, and Fudge was looking more and more foolish. I had a couple of secret weapons at hand, and it was time to bring them out.

Hagrid still looked bruised, and we found out that he was on probation. That was no big surprise. We'd learned earlier that year that Umbridge loathed part-humans; she had had some mad idea about tagging merfolk, and had been the impetus behind anti-werewolf legislation that made it all but impossible for Lupin to work. Why Lupin didn't switch sides when that came out I shall never know. Come to it, I'll warrant that quite a few people who didn't meet her moronic standards might well have.

Although I knew that I'd have to bring Umbridge down, she was still a mystery to me. She pranced around Hogwarts, not seeming to care that her every move earned her the emnity of teachers, students, and staff alike. About the only conclusion I could come to was that she thought having Fudge as her sponsor made her bulletproof. Her weakness was her serene overconfidence, which had already led to some major mistakes on her part.

Some of the things she did managed to shock even me, and I had thought myself unshockable. She handed out detentions in her office as though they were Every Flavour Beans, and her idea of detentions involved writing lines. So far, so Muggle. However, the quill she had people using etched the lines they were writing on the back of their hand, and instead of ink, it used the writer's own blood!

I shall have to ask at Borgin and Burke's, if I can't find the answer in the Restricted Section of the Hogwarts library, but if that quill wasn't a Dark Artifact of some sort or another, I'll be very surprised. Openly using such a thing at Hogwarts, even with Fudge on her side, was another sign of utter overconfidence. An overconfidence that I was increasingly sure I could prove was mistaken. I had come up with a plan.

I had to mend fences with Luna Lovegood, but, fortunately, she believed Harry anyway and had been part of the Defence group we'd formed, so that was not too much of a problem. Then, all it took was a look at a calendar to check the date of the next Hogsmeade visit, and an owl to Rita Skeeter.

Harry had managed to land a date with Cho Chang, the Ravenclaws' Seeker and another member of our Defence group. I had my own doubts about that; she had been the girlfriend of Cedric Diggory up until his death at the end of the Triwizard Tournament. The way she was acting and the things she said often made me think that she still wasn't over Diggory, and she was using Harry as a substitute. But Harry, being male, couldn't read the signs warning of trouble ahead, and had agreed to spend Valentine's Day, on our next Hogsmeade visit, with Cho. It took all my persuasive cunning to get him to come talk to me in the Three Broomsticks, and he didn't have the rudimentary sense to come up with some song-and-dance for Cho, so she was quite hurt.

With me sitting there keeping Rita Skeeter honest, along with Luna, whose help I had enlisted in getting her father to publish the interview in his Quibbler, the truth about what had happened the night of the final Tri-Wizard Tournament challenge came out at last. While I had heard some of it from Harry, he hadn't told me everything by a long shot.

I had a lot to chew over. For starters: Why would anybody in his or her right mind follow this Voldemort? The man's a prize bungler, and, from what Harry said, not too sane. Merely avoiding his mistakes will do much to put me on top here in magical society. To put the icing on the cake, he apparently feels that he's owed loyalty, while owing nobody anything in return. When the time comes, I shall make sure to find ways to get his ostensible followers on my side, even if only until my final victory. Once I'm on top, they're eminently expendable, and with "Death Eater" in their backgrounds, nobody will ask too many inconvenient questions.

Once the interview was over, I felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. I had covered my own tracks as best I could, but I was rather afraid that Umbridge would have the elementary sense to question Luna---her father is the Quibbler'seditor, after all. And I knew perfectly well that she'd not be best-pleased. She and her patron had pinned their credibility on the idea that Voldemort hadn't returned and wasn't ever going to, so any dissent from that party line threatened their positions. Idiots. When I am in charge, I shall make sure to not stake my credibility on anything I have not personally found to be true.

Ron and Harry were mainly worried about Quidditch, since Ron's Keeping hadn't improved. Ginny was working out rather well as a Seeker, though, so at least my puppets had something to think about. While I will never take much interest in Quidditch, it keeps the lesser minds occupied.

Sure enough, when the interview came out, the fat was in the fire for fair. Umbridge was furious, and went to the extent of coming up with a new Educational Decree to the effect that any student found to have the Quibbler in his or her possession would be expelled. If she had wanted to make certain that everybody read the interview, she couldn't have done a better job if she'd thought about it for a month. She had reacted precisely as expected, and my plans were going forward smoothly.

The teachers were pleased with the interview, although they were forbidden to say so. One of Umbridge's precious Educational Decrees forbade teachers to give out information not related to the subjects they were paid to teach. Still, they found ways to let Harry know they were happy with him. I was happy, myself, to let Harry get all the credit, since I did not want to be in Umbridge's cross-hairs.

Meanwhile, Occlumency was going about as badly as I had thought it would. From what Harry said, Snape may have known how to do Occlumency, but had less idea of how to teach it than Hagrid does of keeping his big biscuit-trap shut. Harry was apparently still having dreams and visions of Voldemort's doings, and Snape, of course, was less than no help.

After the Quibbler affair, Umbridge apparently felt that she had to flex her muscles and demonstrate her clout. One evening, Harry was off with Snape doing Occlumency, and I was in the Gryffindor common-room getting caught up on my studies, when a woman's scream echoed through the castle. I was out of the common-room and down the corridor in a second, my wand in my hand and every Gryffindor in hearing-range behind me. As I ran, I had beautiful visions of Umbridge having finally provoked McGonagall beyond endurance. That would have smoothed my path considerably.

Alas, it was not to be. Instead, it turned out that Umbridge had finally worked up to the point of sacking Trelawney---and Trelawney was not taking it terribly well. She was sitting in the Great Hall, shaking and crying, while Umbridge gloated over her. Even though my contempt for Umbridge knew no bounds, I was shocked, if only for the breach of professional decorum. Half the school was watching---I saw Harry and Snape in the crowd, and my idiot roommates were crying, because they love Trelawney.

Umbridge ordered Trelawney out of the castle, but Dumbledore appeared and countermanded that order. Although the High Inquisitor had the right to fire teachers, as Headmaster, Dumbledore still had the authority to determine whether or not she could live at the school, and he wanted her to stay. I was interested to note that McGonagall, who is normally about as far from being an admirer of Trelawney as it's possible to get (when I had to explain to her that I was dropping Divination, she gave me the sweetest smile!) was right there, showing Trelawney that she was on her side. So was Flitwick, and, scannning the crowd, I don't think that any of the teachers disagreed with them. Even Snape looked deeply disapproving of the whole mess, although I think he was at least as revolted by Trelawney's public breakdown as I was. That should have been a big red flag for Umbridge, since almost all the teachers think that Trelawney's a fraud and show-off.

Umbridge, of course, was oblivious to all the cross-currents, and concentrated, instead, on quarrelling with Dumbledore. Of course, our Headmaster was miles ahead of her. When the toad demanded to know what would happen when she hired another Divination teacher, who would need Trelawney's rooms (in a castle this size? I could find dozens of rooms that aren't being used for anything in particular, and there's whole areas I don't know well!) Dumbledore just explained that although Umbridge had the right to hire new staff, that only applied if he, as Headmaster, had not been able to find a suitable candidate, and that he had found one. When he introduced our new Divination Professor, you could have heard a pin drop. It was Firenze, one of the centaurs from the Forbidden Forest.

I could have hugged Dumbledore. Instead, I hugged myself in sheer glee. In its way, it was a masterstroke! Not only had he thwarted Umbridge over getting rid of Trelawney, but Firenze, being a "half-breed," was bound to get right up her nasty nose. And, as a centaur, he did know his stuff on Divination, unlike Trelawney, so she couldn't sack him for incompetence.

Next day, my feather-brained roommates were primping, giggling to themselves about how handsome they thought Firenze was. Handsome he may be, at least from the waist up, but they weren't thinking things through very well. Typical of them. From the waist down, he's a horse, which raises, shall we say, "equipment compatiblity" issues---and I do not even want to think about progeny! Ewwww!

From what Harry and Ron told me, Divination under "Professor" Firenze was very different from Trelawney. Had we had him for that class from the beginning, I might have stuck with it longer. Even so, though, I'm happy I dropped it. I admit my mind wasn't on Arithmancy, though---I was busy analyzing the situation, since I knew that things had to be coming to a head between Umbridge and Dumbledore.

By hiring Firenze, Dumbledore had made it plain that he, not Umbridge, was still in command of his school, and Umbridge was not the sort of person (and I use that word very loosely indeed) to take that sort of reproof easily. She'd be out for some payback, and I wondered how she'd do it.

To my eternal chagrin, when Umbridge got her chance at Dumbledore, I was a factor working in her favour. A few weeks later, we were in a meeting of the DA, working on Patronus Charms (I, if I may say so, was one of the few who got it right; it's fiendishly difficult even without a Dementor or boggart-playing-at-Dementors to practice on) when Dobby came running in, dreadfully upset. We'd been shopped, and Umbridge was on the way! If only Dobby hadn't been trying so hard to override that programming that forced him to punish himself, we'd have had a few more minutes to evacuate the Room of Requirement. There was a dreadful scrum at the door, and while I got away, Harry was nabbed.

When Harry got back to Gryffindor Tower, the news was as bad as it could possibly be. We'd been grassed on by that bloody, bloody Marietta Edgecombe, who'd been dragged along to the DA by Harry's current lust-interest, Cho Chang, the Ravenclaw Seeker. Edgecombe's mum worked for the Ministry, and she'd been uncomfortable with the whole idea of the DA from the word go. Luckily, my jinx on the parchment she'd signed kicked in, and she was too upset to talk---vain little thing!---but the words "Dumbledore's Army" at the top of the parchment were as good as a signed confession from Dumbledore himself.

This was just what that utter clot of a Minister of Magic needed, of course. Even though one of the Aurors with him was on our side and Obliviated Marietta before she could talk us all into Azkaban, Dumbledore was out. Of course, he escaped, but he left Toadwoman Umbridge as our new Headmistress---or should I say, gaoler?

When I got the whole idiotic story out of Harry, I was so furious I could hardly think straight. I could have killed that Edgecombe cow, as well as Cho Chang, the prize idiot, for dragging her into the DA, but I was just about as angry at Ginny---and myself. When I got a chance, I dug the bottle of Ogden's Firewhiskey I had bought at the Hog's Head out of its hiding place, and knocked back three or four healthy swigs. Normally, I don't drink much, but this time I really, really needed it. When my mini-brained roomies came in, I let them finish the bottle, because they needed it too.

What went on in the time immediately after Dumbledore's escape would have driven a saint to drink. Umbridge, of course, was now Headmistress. To consolidate her control, the toad had instituted an "Inquisitorial Squad" composed of "hand-picked students" who supported her so-called aims. Of course, that suck-up Malfoy was on it, and he and his fellow Squad members had privileges we prefects didn't have, like docking house points. Soon every house but Slytherin was haemorrhaging house points by the dozen.

This got Fred and George Weasley to finally take a more active hand in things. They'd been helpful in getting the DA off the ground, but they were taking their seventh year at school fairly easy; they'd only got about three OWLs apiece and had plans of their own for a joke shop. It had been difficult sometimes, trying to keep those two from testing out their "product line" on the younger students, particularly since they had Ron well and truly cowed and he was no help at all. Neither, I might add, were the other Gryffindor prefects, even those in the twins' year. Clots.

Dumbledore's departure made Hogwarts a lot less attractive, though, and they decided to use the time before they were kicked out to make Umbridge's life as difficult as possible. They did everything they could think of---and couldn't they think, just! I had to admit that I was in awe of some of the things they came up with to torment our usurping Headmistress. Keeping those two on my side shall be one of my priorities.

One of their first ideas involved setting off a whole box of wizard fireworks at once. Their product was far better than Dr. Filibuster's offerings, I must say. It was Guy Fawkes Day in the spring, and, much to my private amusement, none of the teachers would lift a finger to do anything about the fireworks. Only Filch the caretaker was on her side, and he's a Squib. I wonder what she offered him? Even though most of the faculty could have taken care of the fireworks with no problem, they blandly said that they didn't think they had the authority to do so, since the High Inquisitor had forbidden them to speak of subjects other than those they were paid to teach.

Had I been Umbridge, this would have been like a big warning sign---a firebell in the night, to awaken me and fill me with terror. A "white mutiny"---where subordinates do only what they're directly ordered to do, as exactly as possible---is one of the most insidious forms of rebellion I can think of. After all, what can one do about it? Punish the mutineers---for obeying orders as precisely as possible? Voldemort could probably have broken the teachers' resistance, but Umbridge couldn't use the sort of methods he would use without destroying the moral basis of her power. Not to mention, she didn't have the sand for it. Or so I thought.

Even with Hogwarts seething with rebellion, we still had our OWLs to worry about, and Harry had to continue with Occlumency lessons, on top of everything else. Poor Harry. Imagine Voldemort trying to get into one's mind! Of course, with Harry, that'd be difficult, since there's not that much mind to get into. At least he and that Chang cow had come to a parting of the ways, and not before time. Honestly---Edgecombe had come that close to getting the lot of us expelled, and Chang was still defending the little Judas! Had one of my friends done that, they'd not have been hiding from everybody with "SNEAK" written across their face in spots. They'd have had a nasty, fatal accident, and who more surprised than Little Miss Studious?

After a bit, Harry reported that he no longer needed Occlumency lessons. According to him, Snape had told him that he had the basics down, and could carry on on his own. I had my own suspicions, but between worrying about studying and keeping my head down in case Umbridge decided to target me, I shoved that issue to the bottom of my list of priorities. Ron was jittering about bloody Quidditch to the point that I wished I had the throats of the game's inventors in my hands, for just five hot minutes.

We all had appointments with our Heads of House to discuss our career choices. With my grades, I had my choice of careers open to me. I somehow didn't think that my real plans would go over at all well, so I said I'd be interested in teaching, or else a job at the Ministry of Magic. McGonagall was pleased with what she heard, particularly when I mentioned how much I admired her skill at controlling her classes. That was no lie, either. McGonagall could have quelled the disturbances in the school (Fred and George were still merrily causing mischief) with one upraised eyebrow, and I'd love to know just how she does that.

Our beloved new Headmistress, High Inquisitor and Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher sat in on my interview. Between my being Harry Potter's close friend and my name having been prominent on that bloody "Dumbledore's Army" parchment, she didn't trust me. Even though these interviews were meant to be private, she sat there taking notes, and interjecting what she thought were intelligent comments. I know McGonagall well, and she was seething. She controlled herself admirably, though, and we got through the interview without murder being done.

Harry was very upset about something, and wanted a chat with Sirius. Unfortunately, all our communications with the outside were monitored, with the sole exception of Umbridge's own fireplace. Ginny Weasley came up with a way for Harry to use that particular Floo connection, arranging for Fred and George to cause a distraction. I wasn't too sure about this myself, remembering how well her little brainstorm about "Dumbledore's Army" had worked, but Harry wanted to go through with it, and I couldn't stop him without sneaking to Umbridge, which I'd rather have died than do.

When Fred and George create a distraction, I must say they don't fool about. What they did would have distracted almost anybody. Somehow they managed to transform a fifth-floor corridor into a swamp, and then they let themselves be caught by Umbridge. They ended up cornered and at bay in the Great Hall, with the whole school watching as Filch waved the papers that Umbridge had signed allowing him to whip students.

Filch was doomed to be disappointed, though, and it couldn't have happened to a nicer person. While I'd normally feel rather sorry for him, being a Squib and all, he's one of the most twisted individuals I've ever had the privilege of encountering. Once I'm on top, if he's still alive, he'll occupy a prominent place on my little list, I can assure you! Fred and George Summoned their brooms, the same way Harry had during the Triwizard Tournament, and flew out of Hogwarts, telling us that they'd obtained premises on Diagon Alley for their joke shop. While I don't trust them, I must say they do have style.

After Fred and George left, the school was almost in a state of open rebellion against Umbridge. Students, faculty and staff---save only Filch---were doing all they could to sabotage and frustrate our lovely Headmistress. When she tried to "teach" her Defence classes, everybody began fainting, coming out in fevers, throwing up, or having nasty nosebleeds, thanks to the Skiving Snackboxes that Fred and George had developed. Watching Umbridge throwing a tantrum as her whole class claimed to be down with "Umbridge-itis" was utterly delicious. Normally I'd have disapproved. This time I was coordinating the Skiving Snackboxes.

Peeves, the school poltergeist, did yeoman work all by himself, and took full advantage of his non-corporeal state. I imagine that when the time comes for the showdown with Voldemort, Peeves would be a very useful ally. Of course, that raises the question of how to obtain his allegiance…

Unfortunately, even with the school racked with resistance, Umbridge was still Headmistress, and things went on. The last Quidditch game of the season, pitting Gryffindor against Ravenclaw, was held, and Harry and I went to watch. Just as we were settling in, and I was daring to hope that things would go better than they had been---Fred and George had done a lot to throw Ron off his game, with their endless bloody teasing---Hagrid showed up, and all but dragged Harry and me off to the Forbidden Forest.

I found out what had been battering Hagrid so badly, and oh, how I wished I hadn't! That utter madman had brought back a souvenir of his visit to the giants, in the form of his full-giant half-brother, Grawp! Sixteen feet tall if he's an inch, stupider than Malfoy's goons (at least that's the impression he gives) and stronger even than Hagrid! No wonder Hagrid had been so battered-looking!

It transpired that Hagrid knew that his job at Hogwarts was hanging by a thread, and this was his idea of a contingency plan. In the event of his having to leave, he wanted me and Harry to try to teach this creature English, and civilise him! Hagrid could barely control him; how in Blazes did he think Harry and I could do it? The creature couldn't even say my name right, and I had to submit to the indignity of being called "Hermy!"

As if that wasn't enough, on the way out of the forest, we had a run-in with the centaur herd that lives there. It seemed they were Not Pleased with Firenze, and really, really didn't like Hagrid's "little" brother, either. On the second point, I could hardly fault them. They finally let us pass, but I got the distinct impression that that was because Harry and I were "foals," and they had a taboo against killing or hurting such. We got back to school just in time to see Ron being carried into the Great Hall---he'd pulled enough saves to get the Quidditch Cup for Gryffindor, and we'd missed it!

When we got Ron to belt up about his triumph and listen to us, next day, he couldn't credit what we were saying at first. When he finally got it through his tiny mind that we were levelling with him, he was gobsmacked, and, for once, I can't blame him a bit. I'd never have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself.

At least the waiting for OWLs was over. The time had come for the exams to begin, and my attention was taken up with getting the best grades I could, to keep my career options open. About the only thing that I thought gave me any real trouble was Ancient Runes, and I have to admit I was stroppy when that exam was over. Even Ron and Harry noticed. Still and all, I felt a load off my shoulders as the exams rolled on---I'd done all I could to get those two through, and it was out of my hands.

We were in the middle of our Astronomy practical exam when Harry noticed something going on, down on the grounds. Umbridge was marching over to Hagrid's hut, and it looked as though she was trying to have him hauled off to Azkaban! Even with about four wizards backing her up, though, Hagrid wasn't having any---he'd had a taste of Azkaban during our third year, and didn't ever want to go back. He was fighting back, and Umbridge's toadies were getting a right old tossing-about. I felt like cheering.

The next thing I knew, McGonagall was charging out of the castle, heading straight into the fray, trying to defend Hagrid. Now, Hagrid's a half-giant, and can stand any number of Stunners, but poor McGonagall isn't---she got four right in the chest! That really set Hagrid off, and he ended up beating every one of Umbridge's creatures before picking up his dog (Fang had tried to defend Hagrid too, but he'd been Stunned early on) and heading off into the darkness, headed who-knows-where. Even Professors Marchbanks and Tofty were furious, and Harry was livid. I was just about as angry, and before I got to sleep, I considered and discarded a lot of schemes to get rid of Umbridge. I was leaning toward strychnine in her food by the time I drifted off---it's good and painful.

In our History of Magic exam, I was busily writing along when I noticed that Harry was having trouble. And I don't mean trouble as in "Oh, Merlin, I wish I'd paid attention instead of letting my studious friend take notes!" I mean trouble as in he got led out of the hall, fainting. I know Harry---few people know him better---and he is not the fainting sort. I may have skimmed through the rest of the test, but I knew this was a sign of serious trouble.

As usual, I was right. Harry had had some sort of vision, like the one he'd had of Arthur Weasley, only this one was of Sirius Black being held captive and tortured by Death Eaters, in the depths of the Ministry of Magic! To say the least, I was skeptical, but Harry was so upset that I went along with a plan to distract the Toad while he used her fire to try to contact Sirius at Grimmauld Place.

This time, though, we had pushed our luck a bit too far. The plan to distract Umbridge didn't work, mainly because that utter pest Filch had already told her what Peeves was really doing, and next thing I knew, along with Ron, Ginny Weasley, Luna, and Neville, I was in the grip of the Inquisitorial Squad! Millicent Bulstrode had me, and the way she twisted my arm told me all I needed to know about how much she was enjoying the opportunity. Oh, when I get a chance at her, by the time I'm done, they'll be forced to close the lid, because no undertaker ever born will be able to make her look good!

I thought that things were already about as bad as they could get. Expulsion was not something that worried me, thanks to my precautions, but I knew full well that it would all but kill Harry. As for Ron and Ginny, the expulsion might not be fatal, but their mother's reaction definitely might be! And let's not even think about what Neville's formidable grandmother would do…

I should have remembered one of my rules: Never assume that things can't get worse, because they always can. The "High Inquisitor" called for Snape, and demanded Veritaserum, a very powerful Truth Potion. Apparently she had done this before, since Snape (bless him!) first acted surprised that she had used up all the Veritaserum he had already supplied, and then told her that making more would take a month. For a second, I dared to hope.

Just as I started to hope, Umbridge got out her wand, and seemed to be nerving herself up to doing something. I could hardly believe my ears as she first threatened Harry with the Cruciatus Curse, then admitted that she had been the one to send Dementors to Privet Drive, in an attempt to either silence Harry or have him expelled from magical society for using magic underage.

I thought faster than I ever had in my life, and just as she was about to cast the Cruciatus, I pretended to break down. Pretending to cry and be reluctant, I told Umbridge a cock-and-bull story about Harry having wanted to contact Dumbledore, to tell him that "the weapon" was ready. Under her questions, I "admitted" that we'd been working on it for some time, that it was in the Forbidden Forest, and "let slip" that it could be used against her. I noticed that Draco Malfoy looked very interested at this bit of news, and made a mental note of it.

In any case, the ploy worked. Umbridge decided that she was going to see this wonderful weapon for herself, no doubt having visions of herself as the Savior of the Ministry, and that the Inquisitorial Squad was not coming along. She plainly didn't trust them with anything powerful enough to threaten her. I wonder---did they all join voluntarily?

At wandpoint, she marched Harry and me into the Forest. It was getting on toward evening, and the good food smells from the Great Hall were a torment to me, since I hadn't had anything since breakfast, but as we walked, I was thinking as hard as I could.

I had four possible plans. One was to try to entangle Umbridge with Aragog, the giant spider that lives in the forest, and his kin. While that would probably have taken care of her, the spiders would consider me and Harry just as edible as she was, and without my wand, I couldn't fight back. Another was to let her meet Grawp. The sight of him, I figured, would distract her from us, and she'd probably attack him, which would give Harry and me a chance to slip away. The third was to wait for her to trip over a root or fallen branch, and jump her before she could bring her wand into play. That would have to be a last resort, though.

As it turned out, the main thing I was counting on happened. We walked into the middle of a centaur ambush, and just as I had anticipated, our dear usurping Headmistress opened her mouth and inserted both her feet. Her loathing of "half-breeds" (half-breeds indeed! Centaurs are, as anybody who's read the standard books would know, a separate species entirely! Did she sleep through all seven years she was at Hogwarts?) made her treat them like something she'd stepped in, and they were Not Amused. I had a hard time suppressing the urge to giggle as she pushed the situation farther and farther, until she set off a full-scale riot. The last I saw of her that night, she was being carried off by the centaurs.

However, we weren't out of the woods yet, either literally or figuratively. I had counted on their reluctance to attack "foals" to get us out of there, but Umbridge's tact, diplomacy and all-around charm had infuriated them to the point that they were seriously thinking about sending us the same road Umbridge had taken. This was not part of my plans, and I admit that I didn't handle it very well---one of my weaknesses is a bad tendency not to deal too well with the unexpected.

Just as I was beginning to think I wouldn't make it out of this one, Grawp showed up. He was apparently looking for Hagrid, from what I could understand---at least "Grawp want Hagger!" is fairly plain English, from him. He did a wonderful job distracting the centaurs, and their arrogance led them to think that they could deal with him as they had with Umbridge. Unfortunately for them, all their arrows did was to infuriate him, as well as spattering me and Harry with giant blood, and he chased the centaurs off.

By this time, poor Harry was absolutely frantic with fear for Sirius---apparently when he'd Flooed to Grimmauld Place, he'd spoken to Kreacher, and Kreacher had told him that Sirius wasn't there and wasn't coming back. I took what Harry said at face value, since he'd been absolutely right about Arthur Weasley, and we began brainstorming about how to get to London.

Just then, who should turn up but Ron, Ginny, Neville and Luna? Without Umbridge there, they'd had little trouble escaping from the Inquisitorial Squad---I do wish I could have seen Malfoy after he experienced Ginny's Bat-Bogey Hex---and they wanted to come to London, too.

Harry, the utter prat, wasn't having any of it, at least at first. Ginny, Luna and I are girls, and down deep inside, Harry doesn't think that girls should be exposed to danger. And Neville---now, Neville had improved a lot since the beginning of the year, no thanks to Snape or Umbridge, but I have to say I could see Harry's point. Since the first time we had met, he had struck me as a well-meaning bumbler.

For a bit, though, the whole argument seemed to be moot, since we didn't have any way to get to London. The Knight Bus didn't run into the Forest, and it could be traced, which was not what we wanted. Of all of us, only Ginny had a broom that wasn't under lock-and-key, and Harry was resisting her being involved at all.

I'd never have expected it, but Luna Lovegood solved the problem. Both Harry and I were covered with Grawp's blood, and that smell had attracted some of Hagrid's pets---thestrals, the invisible winged horses that draw the Hogwarts carriages. At first, only two of them showed up, and I could see the relief in Harry's eyes as he began to plan for him and Ron to go, leaving me behind with the comedy-relief troupe. It was too bad for him that Luna could see thestrals, too, and she pointed out that more were coming.

Getting mounted on the thestral, when I couldn't see it, was unexpectedly difficult, but Luna helped out. As we soared into the sky, headed for London, I was reassessing her. Under that spacey exterior, I decided, were some real unexpected depths, and she could make a valuable ally. I shall have to find out what she values and offer it to her when the Day arrives.

The flight to London was an exhilirating, if terrifying, experience. Since I couldn't see the thestral, it was almost as though I were flying under my own power, like Supergirl. Unlike Supergirl, though, I do feel the cold, and I hadn't been dressed for it when we left Hogwarts. By the time we got to London, I was sure that my fingers and toes were about to drop off, and the giant blood had dried all over me in sticky gobs. Luckily, nobody was paying much attention to our appearance.

We got into the Ministry easily---much too easily. Harry had been there before, and had told me about it ("Oh, Harry, you do know I want to work there; can you tell me all about everything you saw?") and I was spooked at the absence of, among other things, a security wizard.

After some false turns, we got down to the place Harry had seen in his dreams, and, wouldn't you just know it, the whole thing was a trap! Sure enough, Voldemort had known that he could get into Harry's mind, although how he managed to squeeze into such a narrow, tiny place is beyond me. He'd been sending Harry dreams for a while, all intended to bring him down here, into the heart of the Department of Mysteries, so that Harry could retrieve a prophecy orb from the thousands of such that are kept there. It seemed that only the people named in a prophecy could handle one safely without going mad.

And so, thanks to Harry's stubbornness, we were cornered by Death Eaters, in a place we weren't supposed to be in at all. I have never despaired---I know my destiny is a high one---but if I had ever been inclined to, that would have been about when I did. This was, easily, the worst situation we'd ever been in, in all our time together.

We did have one card left in our hand, though. The Death Munchers were very overconfident, secure in their "superiority" over us "mere children." I had had a warning, earlier that evening, that this particular card was one I could not play much longer, but as long as we could, I for one would be happy to use it.

Harry signalled us to smash the shelves around us, and when we did, we were able to escape in the chaos. For a while, we were able to stay ahead of our enemies, but even with the spells we knew, we were badly outclassed. I, myself, went down after one of those swine blasted me with a very nasty spell---if he hadn't been hit himself with a Silencio, that might have been the end of me. As it was, I awoke here, in the Hogwarts infirmary.

When I heard what had happened, I was furious with everybody involved, not least myself. Thanks to Harry, we'd been led right down the primrose path, and had the Order of the Phoenix not turned up in the nick-of, we'd probably have all ended up dead. I'm not sure why the Death Munchers didn't use more lethal spells; the only explanation I have is that they, like the centaurs, hesitated because of our youth. One may, after all, be a devoted pureblood-rule fanatic, certain that Voldemort represents the wave of the future, and still be hesitant to kill "children."

This does not apply to all of them, though. The ones that the Dark Lord snaked out of Azkaban are probably his élite---tough, fanatical and utterly devoted to him for his own sake. That would explain people like Bellatrix Lestrange. She tortured Neville Longbottom, just as she had his parents, to try to get Harry to hand over that stupid prophecy. He'd have done it, too---the softie---had the Order not interrupted things.

All in all, the whole thing was a fiasco for both sides. Almost all of my schoolmates were hurt, some seriously, and so was I. Harry wasn't hurt, but Sirius Black was killed---the prat was duelling with Bellatrix Lestrange, and she blasted him right through a veil we'd seen, hanging from an archway, which turns out to be a Death Veil. From what I heard, he could have avoided it if he hadn't been taunting her when he should have been concentrating on killing her. Overconfidence! There are times I feel like tearing my hair!

While I could take Sirius or leave him alone, he had become a combination father-figure and "older brother" for Harry, and the news really hit him hard. He hasn't been right since that night. Something's wrong, but at present, I'm still laid up in the infirmary, drinking ten horrible-tasting potions a day and waiting till I'm back on my feet.

I'm lying here in the infirmary, looking forward to next year. Next year, we can study the Unforgivable Curses openly, and I'm sure McGonagall will let me begin studying Animagism openly. I've made some progress along those lines, but being able to work in the open will make things easier. Of course, I shan't report any success, if only because being an unregistered Animagus could be the difference betweeen freedom and captivity sometime.

Speaking of potions reminds me of Snape. He's been in and out of here, mostly because the potions I'm having to take are not part of Madam Pomfrey's usual repertoire. He's been giving me the oddest looks---a mixture of respect, wariness, and what I'd swear was fear. I should keep in mind that he was a Death Eater himself for some time, and do my best to lull him back into thinking I'm a sweet little studious creature. He's one person who is not going to be easily fooled by my gender or age. He knew more curses when he got to Hogwarts than some seventh-years, and he had to have known Bellatrix Lestrange.

If I can't get Snape to go along with my plans, he'll have to go. He'll be a harder target, in some ways, than Dumbledore---or than Dumbledore would be, if I weren't fairly certain that Voldemort's going to remove that potential threat. From what I've heard, Dumbledore's the only wizard Voldemort ever feared, and that has to be eating him like acid.

Before Dumbledore goes on "the next great adventure," I shall have to discreetly pump him on the subject of Nicholas Flamel. Flamel may be dead (or he may not be; I have no information on that subject) but if his research notes are extant, I want them. Voldemort may be my enemy, and he may be as mad as a hatter, but I agree with him to that extent---the conquest of death's a worthy goal.

Voldemort will also have to be eliminated. That means that I do all I can to support Harry, no matter what it is. If I have to shag him, I shag him. If I have to spoon-feed him his studies so he doesn't flunk out of here, I spoon-feed him. That'll also offer wonderful opportunities to get rid of the Malfoy clique. Their stupid tropism for Riddle's cause will provide excellent pretexts for their elimination, either in battle or by the process of law.

Once Voldemort's gone, I'd prefer for Harry to be around, but not having to worry about him twigging to my real plans would also be nice. Ron, I can handle, but Harry might be a real danger if he decided he didn't approve of what I was doing. He'd be a wonderful front-man, but I don't think he'd be amenable to being my puppet.

When Voldemort and Dumbledore are both off the chessboard, things should be fairly easy---Fudge is almost certainly on his way out at the Ministry, and I don't know of anybody there that'd be a real threat. Unlike Voldemort. I won't try to do too much at once. Step by step, and no more violence than is absolutely unavoidable---even Abbie Hoffman knew that much: "Random violence produces random political results. Why waste even a rock?" If Fudge can pick up tricks from the Communists, I can certainly learn from the Yippies.

Once I have a power base, I'll consolidate it slowly. If I can get the veelas and Gringotts' goblins on my team, they'll do a lot all by themselves to win the game for me. Most wizards and witches seem to take goblin subservience for granted. Idiots! And the veelas---I saw the effect they had on most men, and if I can't learn to do that myself, I'll have to figure out what they want and offer it to them.

I won't show my hand openly until I have so much power that the Ministry won't be able to take me down. I won't go on pointless crusades against people based on who their parents were, either---that was another of Voldemort's mistakes that I am going to avoid.

And when I am on top of wizard society, I will not be dark.

I will be beautiful, and terrible, with knowledge beyond imagining. And all will love me, and despair.