Disclaimer: Don't own.
A/N: I'm still on Hiatus with this story – sorry! – but as several people were asking for a chapter, I decided to write this one, as I've had it planned for awhile, anyway. Eventually, I will be back to a regular update schedule, but I want to get the entire story planned, first. I'm also working on rewriting parts and editing.
Oh, and there will be no official ships in this story. Just a forewarning for future chapters.
Thanks to: witchsbroom, loveseverussnape, heksie, clarinetguardgeek07, Flensa, Helkardowen, Azuredragon, b, Shinigami-Sama1, ddamato, CosmicEssence, skellingtonlover, Elentariel, Aisling-Siobhan, Aisling-Siobhan, Makurayami Ookami, MysticSong1978, lina239, Pip3, Swiffer, robin and marion forever, eurogirl14, Bloody Serpent 2, starbright37, Catti666, StarMistress2, 6tigercubs, CatWriter, Serpent91, Alexis8907, cmtaylor531, fifespice, Crazy-Physco, SailorHecate, Ariana-blood-hehe, dancefreak92, Fizzing-Whizbee-nz, momocolady, Beth5572, asdfjkl;, HecateDeMort, bandgeekforlife, nekoyoukia, ahappyjtm, Fae Child19 and living-is-easy-with-eyes-closedfor the reviews. Sorry if I missed anyone.
Chapter 20 - Well Hidden Secrets
It was a week exactly from the day that Malfoy started sitting at the Gryffindor table, but Harry had yet to ask why since Malfoy always avoided questions put toward him on the subject. He didn't want to chase Malfoy away.
He was able to convince Malfoy to talk to Dumbledore, though, and after a bit of persuasion (and an order from the Ministry for Malfoy to stay away from his parents because of "dark influence", which seemed to have gone though the system a bit too fast for the lack of evidence they had), Malfoy was officially staying at Prince Manor for the holidays until things got sorted out.
Harry was surprised that Severus was very reluctant to allow it. He thought that he would be glad that Malfoy had declared himself of the Light side, but Severus always replied that he should remain "wary" around the Slytherin. Harry, stubborn as ever, wanted to believe that Draco was telling the truth.
Right now, it was another DA meeting, and Harry had convinced Draco to come. Severus was there, also, and instead of practicing defense, the few members they had were sitting around a table the Room summoned, talking about what they were going to do.
"But what if Umbridge guesses who the Secret Keeper is?" Hermione said, giving a pointed look at Harry. "If she suspects anything, it would be quite obvious!"
"I'm not going to tell anyone!" Harry exclaimed, angry at being accused of something such as that.
"There are ways of getting the truth from someone," Draco interrupted. "The Truth Potion, for one."
"That is correct," Severus said. "Perhaps a change of Secret Keepers would be a good idea. Harry," he consoled. "Do you understand why?"
"Yes," he grumbled after a few minutes, slumping in his chair.
"Who would we have, though?" Fred asked.
"It can't be someone obvious," George agreed.
"I could be the Secret Keeper," Draco suggested.
"Yeah, because that wouldn't be bloody obvious," spat Ron.
"Language, Mr. Weasley," Snape said flatly, and Ron and the courtesy to look sorry before continuing.
"You've been spending so much time with Harry," he said bitterly, "that of course people would think that you might be a Secret Keeper."
"But I am a Slytherin," Draco said haughtily. "I could easily persuade them I'm not."
"I thought you just said that there are ways of finding out secrets," Hermione said in a matter-of-fact manner. "They could just as easily use the Truth Potion on you, or find some other way to get the information from you. In fact, we should be really careful around each other, too, because someone could always use Polyjuice to impersonate one of us and then get the information by simply talking to each of the members!"
"I don't talk much to any of you outside of D.A.," a quiet voice said, and the room turned to look at Susan Bones. "No one would really suspect me. And I can keep a secret very well," she said, and waited as the room thought about that.
"You would make a good Secret Keeper," Luna said airily. "You don't talk to us outside of the D.A. very much, or inside. I think it is a good idea."
The room shifted nervously at the uncomfortable statement, and Susan blushed, embarrassed.
"Well, her best friends aren't in the D.A.," Hermione said, trying to cover up the uncomfortable feeling that settled in the room. "Anyway, I think that's a good idea."
Everyone mumbled their agreement, and Severus nodded, telling both Harry and Susan to come to him. They both blushed as Severus told them to face each other and hold the other's right hand. He then tapped his wand on their hands and mumbled something and the entire room watched as a snake-like light transferred itself from Harry's hand to Susan's.
"It is done," Severus said, and they both stared at each other for a moment before taking their respective seats at the table. "I will be leaving now. Finish the meeting, and leave discreetly."
Severus left, and suddenly everyone began talking at once, a flutter of nerves and excitement running through the air.
"What's this?" Hermione asked. It was another D.A. meeting two weeks from the last. It was the first time that they were actually able to get together, and all of them were more afraid of Umbridge now than ever. She was becoming extremely specific with all her Education Decrees, and just finding a time in their days that weren't scheduled with something was even harder.
In addition to not finding time for D.A. meetings, Harry was forced to forget about his energy potion for the moment (not wanting Severus to brew it) as his first try at it was ruined. He had to get the ingredients again, too . . . something he would be able to do until the holiday, which was, thankfully, coming up fast.
"Something from Dumbledore," Harry answered, opening the parcel. "A more discreet way of contacting each other or an adult in case something happens. More reliable, too. Not that the coins weren't reliable!" Harry said, defending himself again Hermione's sudden death-glance. "But Severus said that these will allow some of Dumbledore's people to keep track of us in case something happens."
"Like what?" asked Ginny.
"I'm not sure," Harry answered and he pulled out a handful of feather-light necklaces. He chose one of the identical ones for himself and handed the rest around.
"That won't be discreet!" Ron said. "They're necklaces!"
Luna was the first to put her's on, but around her ankle instead of her neck, triple wrapping it, and Susan gasped when it suddenly fitted itself and disappeared.
"Of course," Hermione said, putting her own on. "They're invisible! Do you know who else has one, Harry?"
"No," he answered as everyone else put on a necklace around the place of their choosing.
"Well, do you know how they work?" Hermione asked.
"No," he answered again, not finding a note in the box.
"Maybe they work themselves," Luna said. "Aren't you going to put yours on, Draco Malfoy?" she asked. Draco, who was looking at the necklace, looked up.
"Yes, of course," he said. "I was just looking at it. I haven't seen one of these before." He then put it on around his wrist.
"Maybe Dumbledore made them himself," George said.
"Would make sense," Fred agreed.
"Harry," Ron said suddenly. "Don't you have a detention with Umbridge? It's almost six now," he pointed out.
"Oh! Right," he said, suddenly nervous. "I'll be going then." He stood, his movements sort of rough, and he walked out of the Room of Requirement. It wasn't the detention itself that made him nervous, but rather what how Severus would react to him getting one – with Umbridge, at that. He wasn't going to be happy.
It's not like it was his fault, anyway. Harry hated it when people believed something in which every bit of evidence proved otherwise – like Voldemort being back. Cedric was dead and Voldemort killed him! Of course Voldemort was back.
But Harry overheard some people talking outside the Great Hall about how he was crazy, and that there was no way 'He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named' was back, and Harry began to argue with them. Of course, Umbridge just had to overhear, and gave him a detention immediately before explaining to the rest of the over-hearers that Harry was just seeking attention and lying.
Harry hoped it wasn't the blood quill again. Yes, he did tell Severus that he could handle it – and he could! – but he hated it. Also, he didn't know if Severus told anyone about it, and if he did and Umbridge was made to stop, she might have learned what happened and punish him even worse.
No, he'd rather have a detention with his father.
He arrived at the spare classroom that Umbridge was holding her detentions, which was open. Still, he knocked on the doorframe and was immediately greeted by an extremely pink Umbridge.
"Come in," she said. "You'll be doing something different for your detention today, as lines certainly didn't . . . sink in," she said, sounding annoyed. She pointed, then, to a cauldron in the corner of the room. A pewter cauldron; black, and much larger than your standard size cauldron. "You'll be cleaning that. All the supplies you need are over there."
Harry walked over to the oversized cauldron (Severus had one this big) with relief. Cleaning one cauldron? How bad could that be? Arriving in the corner, he found the cauldron's insides still slightly smoking, although when he put on the cleaning gloves (which were definitely not dragon) the cauldron wasn't hot at all. Neither were the smoking contents. Once again weary, as Severus was always giving him extra warnings about potions, he took the too-small scrubbing brush, doused it with the cleaning potion and gently rubbed the inside once. Immediately, there was a hissing sound, and something spit off and landed on Harry's exposed arm.
"Ah!" he let out a yelp of pain, and he immediately looked over by the supplies to see if there were any decent cleaning gloves. There were none. Seemingly at a loss, Harry just stood there for a moment before deciding something. He took the cleaning potion and squirted it around the top edge and let gravity pull it down to cover the insides as he stood back and watched. He waited for the hissing to stop, and it did, but the smoking seemed worse – instead of neutralizing whatever was in there, the cleaning potion was making it worse!
Deciding on something else, something neutral, he filled a bucket with water and dumped it in. That seemed to help a little, so he rinsed off the brush and began scrubbing.
An hour later, the cauldron was becoming clean, but the gloves that were supposed to be protecting his hands were mostly torn and dissolved, showing more skin than the gloves were protecting. Likewise, his hands were beginning to crack and bleed, and he had to stop cleaning every few minutes to rinse them off, stinging more and more every time water touched them.
Finally, two hours later, the cauldron was clean, although the gloves were completely gone and Harry had to keep his hands wrapped in a towel to avoid dripping blood everywhere. Just glad it was done with, Harry called Umbridge over and she walked smugly to him, a long, dragon-hide glove in her hand. Quickly, she put on the glove on her left arm, but not before Harry noticed, with shock, what was there. He took a step back as Umbridge stuck her hand into the cauldron. She pulled it out quickly.
"That will do, Mr. Potter," she said. "You may leave now. Perhaps this will teach you the lesson you so very much need to learn.
Harry nodded before leaving as quickly as he could. He learned a lesson, alright, but not the one Umbridge was intending. As soon as he turned the corner, he made his way to the dungeons as fast as he could with his hands bound up as they were, and . . . he found himself outside Severus' office door, unable to open it with his hands. Awkwardly, he knocked on the door with his elbow, hoping his father would hear it – hoping his father was there. Thankfully, after the second time knocking, Severus answered and Harry pushed his way in.
"Umbridge is a Death Eater!" Harry said as soon as the door was closed. Severus didn't pay attention, though, as his eyes were trained on the towel that was wrapped around his son's hands.
"What happened?" he asked, slowly taking the towel away, and Harry cringed from the pain. Severus gasped and covered the hands with the towel again before dragging Harry into his rooms and through the floo into the hospital wing.
"Pomfrey!" he yelled. "Pomfrey!" She came out immediately, and seeing Harry, she had him sit on a bed and he closed his eyes in an attempt to block out the pain as Madam Pomfrey took away the towel and examined his hands.
"What did this?" she asked, and it took Harry a few moments to register that she had asked him a question.
"Umbridge . . . detention . . . cauldron . . ." was all he could answer. The pain was getting worse now that his hands were exposed to air. Pomfrey then cast a charm and handed Severus a small vial which was filled only a quarter of the way of some odd-looking, murky liquid. Severus examined it while Madam Pomfrey gave Harry a potion for the pain. It helped immensely, enough that Harry was able to open his eyes and ignore the pain that was still pulsing through his hands.
"A neutralizer should be safe," Severus said, and the mediwitch moved to get some immediately. Without hesitation, a deep bowl was placed on a table next to the bed, filled with a green-gray potion, and Madam Pomfrey dunked his hands and wrists in suddenly.
The relief was instant, and Harry let out a sigh. Pomfrey instructed in to keep his hands in there until she came back, and when she left, his dad sat down next to him and put his arm around his waist.
"Are you alright?" he asked softly, and Harry leaned on him a little bit.
"Better now," he said. "But she is! I saw the Mark!"
Severus was silent for a little bit, rubbing his son's back comfortingly and thinking about what they were going to do.
"Stay away from her," Severus said quietly. "No more detentions. You don't have class with her anymore, so that shouldn't be a problem, right?" he asked, and Harry gave a little shrug. "I know it's hard for you right now, what with the wizarding world saying you are wrong, but just ignore them. You must choose your battles, Harry, choose them carefully. Find another way to let the wizarding world and the school know that the Dark Lord is here without bringing attention to yourself. You are cunning enough, when you want to be."
Harry gave his dad a small, sad smile at the compliment and was about to ask how when Madam Pomfrey came back, several potion bottles floating in front of her, and took his hands out of the potion they were soaking in to examine them.
"Several layers of skin were taken off," Pomfrey huffed, as Harry refused to look at his hands. Although they were better, they still ached and were still slightly bleeding. He moved them a little bit, and it felt strange and stiff. Not painful, like before, thanks to the pain reliever, but . . . like they really weren't his.
Madam Pomfrey lifted another potion to his lips and Harry drank it automatically. She then mixed several liquids together – Harry wasn't sure if they were potions or what – and he was instructed to put in hands into the new bowl. He was allowed to take them out a minutes later and the mediwitch examined them again.
"They should be completely healed in an hour, Mr. Potter," she said. "Just lay back for a little bit and try to sleep; it will help the process along."
"I would prefer to take him back to my room," Severus interrupted. "In case the headmistress stops by. If they do not heal properly, I will bring him right back."
The witch looked as if she was about to argue, but she finally nodded.
"Perhaps that will be for the best," she said, choosing not to say anything else on the matter, ushering them toward the floo they arrived from and handing Harry a cloth to protect his hands.
In Severus' rooms, he told Harry to sit on the couch. He watched as his father left the room for a few minutes, coming back in with nothing more than he left with.
"How can someone in the Ministry be a Death Eater?" Harry asked as Severus sat down across from him.
"It's possible that she isn't," Severus replied, and Harry gave him an unbelieving look.
"But she has the Dark Mark!"
"She could have been under the Imperious curse at the time," was the answer, and Harry shook his head.
"She sure acts like a Death Eater!" Harry said, raising up his red but healing hands. "Why are you defending her?"
"I am not," Severus answered. "I am thinking, so be silent." They were silent for a minute before his father spoke up again. "Do you have the necklace on?" Harry nodded.
"Everyone does," Harry answered.
"I wonder why no one was alerted to the torture, then," Severus mumbled.
"How do they work?"
"We weren't told."
"Well, maybe they're need-based or something. But about Umbridge again . . . she works for the Ministry! For Fudge! What if Fudge is a Death Eater?"
"He is not," Severus replied.
"Fine, if you say so, but . . . her Dark Mark is visible, so if she wasn't a Death Eater, wouldn't she be worried?"
"Yes," Severus answered. "She should."
"So you think she's working for Voldemort?"
"She could be. It would explain her methods. And before you ask," Severus said as Harry looked as he was going to talk. "Albus knows. I just told him."
"You do not need to know that."
Harry huffed and pulled out his D.A. coin – he really didn't know how to use the necklace – and changed the date to tonight, before curfew, a little message that said as soon as they could. The meeting shouldn't take long.
"I'm going to the Room of Requirement," Harry said. "We're aren't going to be practicing spell, or anything, but . . ."
"Don't stay out after curfew," Severus warned, and Harry nodded.
"We won't," Harry answered.
"And careful of your hands."
It was nearly twenty minutes before everyone arrived, Draco the last one in, and Harry started the meeting immediately with the most obvious way to get their attention.
"Umbridge is a Death Eater," Harry said, and everyone looked at him with disbelief. "We don't know if she still is, but she has the Dark Mark. She could be working for Voldemort."
"I thought she worked for Fudge?" Ginny asked.
"Or Voldemort has his people in the Ministry. It is possible that they have impersonators. It might not be the real Umbridge, or maybe the Ministry is already under his control." Luna said airily, and for a few moments, everyone looked around at each other with scared eyes.
"We have to warn people!" Susan said, and almost everyone agreed and started talking among each other.
"It's not like anyone would believe us," Hermione pointed out above the talk.
"Don't do anything that could get you a detention with Umbridge," Harry said. "My detention today involved scrubbing out a cauldron that had something in it that dissolved my hands!" he said, showing his almost healed hands to the rest of the room. "We do need to let people know, but my Dad said we need to do it carefully, without bringing attention to ourselves."
"A newspaper would work," George suggested.
"We could print our own!" Fred said. "No one would ever have to know it was put out there by us."
"That could work," Ron agreed. "Spread it secretly. Give the real news about what is happening with the war."
"We would have to find out from Professor Snape what we are allowed to print," Hermione said. "And we would have to find a way to print it, unless we would do it hand-written. But that would be too-easily traced."
"The Room could supply a printing press," Luna said, "unless we talk to my father." She dazed off into thought, letting the others around her talk.
"We can't contact anyone outside of us," Hermione said. "Too dangerous. And we wouldn't be able to bring anything out of the room that was made here."
Luna, brought out of her daze, looked at Hermione with a dreamy smile.
"We bring our own ink and paper, of course," she replied. "And we could make the ink special, so no one would wonder why we are buying so much of it. I make my own ink a lot, anyway. It smells a lot nicer than the store bought kind."
After that was decided, they left one at a time, Harry last, to make it back to their common rooms before curfew, all of them having a very good feeling about their decision.