Those large unblinking eyes
In a confrontation between Dolores Umbridge and Luna Lovegood, the High Inquisitor gets a bit more than she bargained for. Characters belong to Rowling.
The High Inquisitor slowly let her gaze wander past the heads of the silently reading students. Their necks were bent in obedience over their books, as they studied or pretended to study. Some of them looked bored, some gave her an angry and frustrated glare when they thought she didn't see them, but in all, this class had ceased to cause her trouble. A few, carefully placed examples of what happened to obstinate students had seen to that. She smiled, an unpleasant little smile, as she congratulated herself with how neatly she had taught these students about how little rebellion ever paid, how dire the price of defiance could be. A more valuable lesson than most of the things they learned at this sad excuse for a school, she mused. But her smile faltered as her gaze reached the last row of students, those who sat by the window. Well, there is always one...
Umbridge rose to her feet, and deliberately slowly walked over to the potential trouble maker. The girl did not take any notice of her. She just kept looking out of the window.
"Do you perhaps find the text difficult, Miss Lovegood?" Umbridge asked with her sugar coated voice. The girl did not appear to hear her, she only kept staring out through the window, her large eyes apparently focusing on a patch of empty space. She was very faintly humming something under her breath.
"Hem hem," Umbridge cleared her throat to get the girls attention. "I asked, my dear, if the text is to difficult for you?"
"Hmmm?" The girl said, seemingly with faint surprise, slowly turning her head and first now acknowledging the presence of the teacher. "Oh no," she went on with far-away voice. "It is quite easy, really." She met the eyes of the High Inquisitor. Umbridge caught herself with hesitating a moment, unused to such an open faced sincerity. She quickly put herself together. Never show weakness in front of the students...
"Perhaps the text is too simple to catch the attention of such an advanced student as yourself, Miss Lovegood?" she went on, her honey-coated voice only barely covering the nasty hook concealed in the question. But the girl just kept staring at her, unblinking, without answering. The staring was starting to get on Umbridge's nerves.
"Did you hear what I just said, young lady?" she snapped after a few uncomfortable moments. The girl nodded, distractedly, still seemingly occupied with memorizing the teacher's every feature.
"I did hear you quite clearly," she said in almost a sing-song voice. Umbridge felt her face twist with annoyance about the girl's behaviour, but then she realised that a few of the students at the surrounding seats had turned their attentions to them rather than their books. That wouldn't do. Quickly regaining her composure, she leant forward towards the girl, resting her hands on the bench. The student didn't move at all, making their heads almost collide. They were uncomfortable close, but Umbridge would be damned if she backed for a stupid student. She smiled her little smile.
"Lovegood..." she mused aloud. "I have been warned about you, I'm sad to say. I have been told that you are a trouble-maker and an attention-seeker. I don't want anything of that in my class, my dear." The threat in her voice was obvious, but the girl did not react. Those damned eyes were still staring at her, and now the girl had started with that infernous humming again. Umbridge started to get really annoyed. She opened her mouth to emphasis the threat, but unexpectedly, the girl spoke first.
"Have you ever seen the heliopaths," she asked. Her voice was calm and lofty as if they were just in the middle of a friendly conversation, rather than a disciplinary situation. As she spoke, her head tilted to one side, as if she wanted to examine the answer from a fresh angle. Umbridge was dumbfounded. Of all damned questions...
"I don't..." she begun, but was interrupted by the girl.
"Only, they work for Mr Fudge, and since you do that as well, I thought you maybe had seen them." The girl made a short break and tilted her head to the other side. "But maybe it is best not to have met them," she went on. "They can be rather nasty, you know, and sometimes they are a bit rude... I would like to see one," she unexpectedly concluded.
"What kind rubbish is that?" Umbridge sneered, frustrated. The girl, however, calmly met her gaze.
"It is not rubbish, professor Umbridge," she said sincerely. "It was in the Quibbler last year. Fudge has a secret army of heliopaths that he plans to overthrow Gringotts with... I think it is a bit mean, actually. Goblins are highly susceptible to heat, after all."
"The Quibbler?" Umbridge frowned. "I thought I had made it perfectly clear that no one, and that includes little nosy Ravenclaws, is to mention that rag at this school again. It's a filthy, lying waste of paper, and no one with their mind in order should ever pay attention to it." That actually seemed to get the girls attention. She kept staring at the High Inquisitor for a moment, her face passive, but then she blinked. Sitting up properly (which at last put some more comfortable distance between their heads), crossing her arms, she met Umbridge's eyes with something very close to defiance in her expression.
"It is not, actually," she said, quitely but clearly. "The Quibbler prints the true stories that are left out from other publications due to the ministry's policy of silencing those who speaks freely. It is a free word in a community muted by fear or ignorance, and the reluctance of the authorities to let people know the truth."
"It is lies," Umbridge hissed, glad to have found a way to get to the annoying student. "Bad, wicked lies, by a bad wicked man who wants to undermine the authority of the ministry. The publisher is a criminal, who by right should be in Azkaban." She had the pleasure of seeing red spots of anger appear on the pale cheeks of the girl.
"My father is a nice man," the girl said, no dreamy tone in her voice anymore. Umbridge smirked. So she had remembered correctly...
"You mustn't blame yourself, my dear," she said, her voice loaded with false sympathy. "It's not your fault, after all, to have been born into that family." She reached forward to pat the girl on the shoulder, but Lovegood quite forcefully drew back, leaving Umbridge's hand in empty space. Her smile widened.
"I'm sure your father once was a perfectly good wizard and a pride for the community," she went on. "Perhaps a little too fascinated with those tales about strange creatures, a bit too eager to hike away on his eccentric expeditions. A fascination that turns to a fixation that turns insane... it's such a waste, don't you agree? And we all pity you, of course, poor child. Who can blame you for being a bit... unruly, after having grown up under such conditions?" Umbridge leaned a little closer. '
"It's a tragedy, don't you agree, when the children have to suffer," she hissed. The girl didn't answer. She just stared at the High Inquisitor, sitting curled up, as in defence, on her chair.
"Even if your father more often than not came home empty-handed, he still kept his interest, and where is the harm in that?" she taunted. "A curious little hobby is nothing bad, only it went a little further than that... " She caught the gaze of the girl, her own small, greedy eyes meeting the large, silvery orbs of the girl. To her satisfaction, she could see tears beginning to form.
"He brought someone with him from one of his travels, didn't he?" she sneered. "A woman, whom he eventually married, and had a child with."
"My mother," she said quietly, her voice a bit shaky, and still totally devoid of that dreamy vagueness.
"Your mother..." Umbridge slowly repeated, as if talking to herself, her face forming a mask of mock concern. "Yes, there were rumours. Of course, the ministry doesn't listen to rumours, but still, there were... indications. They say so strange things about your mother, my dear. So very strange..."
"My mother is nice," Luna said with almost whispering voice. The High Inquisitor arched an eyebrow.
"I'm not saying otherwise, my dear. But not everyone were convinced that your father's choice of partner was particularly advisable, as I am sure you are aware of. There were those saying that perhaps he should have been content with a more ordinary wife."
"My mum and dad love each other very much," Luna said, and there was something new in her voice now, a faith and a strength. Umbridge hesitated. She knew that the student should be boiling by now from her insults, But the outcry she waited for didn't come. Luna sat passive, watching her with her head slightly tilted, waiting for Umbridge to continue to taunt her family. Her large, silvery eyes were locked at the eyes of the High Inquisitor, gleaming as the full moon over the sea during the first night of winter. Umbridge felt herself being strangely fascinated by them, in the same way as one might be fascinated by a a strange creature or a poem in a foreign language. What did this girl think? What secret truths were hidden in her eyes?
"I love them and they love me," Luna went on without blinking, seemingly inviting the High Inquisitor into her eyes, into her soul. Umbridge licked her lips that had become strangely dry. Luna's eyes reminded her of... something she couldn't remember right now. Something wild and untamed and old, something she had known when she was a little girl herself, a long, long time ago.
"Is there anyone you love very much?" Luna asked with low voice, staring at the teacher with eyes wide open. The question hit Umbridge like a wave, opening doors in her soul, doors she had closed a long time ago, but now she couldn't remember why. Everything seemed suddenly so easy, all those things she never had thought would be possible suddenly were within reach. She didn't have to fight and scream and bully her way through life. Love, peace, happiness - it all would be there for her if she just would accept it. That cocoon she had built herself of pink and lace and kittens would mean something else than just being a mockery. And before she knew it, a flood of regret welled up from somewhere deep inside her. She felt an overwhelming urge to cry, to clean away all the ugliness with her tears and start afresh...
...cry? In front of the students? What is the waif doing to me???
Umbridge withdrew her gaze with tears in her eyes, suddenly aware of that she had stared into the eyes of the student for several moments without saying anything. She felt dizzy, as if she had just woken up from a moment's nap. Around her, the students were reading, or pretending to read, in silence. The girl in front of her had tilted her head to the side again and was humming, very slowly under her breath. For some reason the High Inquisitor was not totally aware of, she was suddenly furious. She hastily stood up and loomed over the waif, who followed her with her gaze, seemingly with a faint curiosity.
"I know about your mother," Umbridge snarled, no longer making any attempt to hide the anger in her voice. "I know about your worthless father and his worthless magazine, and I know about you, you dirty little half-breed. You shouldn't be allowed here. This school isn't for your kind. And mark my word - I can have you thrown out. One step out of line, and I will."
The girl did not respond. She just kept looking at the High Inquisitor while humming her tune. Her large eyes seemingly taking in her every feature.
"Did you hear me?" Umbridge almost shouted. The other students were looking, but right now she didn't give a damn. The girl nodded.
"I heard you quite well, but you are wrong, you know." Her voice now had its trademark dreamy tone once again.
"I'm wrong, am I?" the High Inquisitor sneered. Luna nodded again.
"The text really isn't that difficult. It is quite interesting, really." And saying that, she picked up her book, her bag and stood up, heading for the door. Umbridge fumed.
"You come back here this instant!" she screamed. "I don't care about what you think about the book. You are to sit down and read it, now." Luna halted halfway to the door and gave her a resigned look.
"Then I will be late for transfiguration," she sadly said. Umbridge opened her mouth to shout at her, but just as she did, the bell started to ring and the other students threw themselves up from their seats. Before Umbridge had time to say or do anything, Luna had been swept up by the crowd - it seemed like the other students were quite eager to get her out of the classroom - and was gone.
The High Inquisitor stared after her for awhile, then she slowly let out her breath and unclenched her fists. Bloody, snobby, nosey know-it-all. She would regret this. Umbridge would make sure of that. The worthless little brat would seriously regret...
"You can't defeat her, you know," a voice said. Umbridge turned around, surprised. One of the girls had stayed in the classroom and was now staring defiantly at her. She had red hair and a Gryffindor school uniform. One of Weasley's brats then.
"I don't understand what you're talking about, dear girl," Umbridge said in her sweetest voice. The girl snarled at her.
"You don't have to pretend. I know exactly what you're up to. You think, you suspect, you guess; but you can't prove anything." The girl's voice was filled by venom. Umbridge coldly met her gaze.
"Really, my dear..."
"Sure, you can try making her life a living hell if you like, as you do with Harry and Hagrid and poor Trewelney. Others are doing that already. Stupid, single-minded people like you who're afraid of what they can't understand and who can only appreciate beautiful things by trying to destroy them. You can join them if you want to." The girl was not shouting. Umbridge would had preferred it if she did. Frustration and rage she could deal with, but in this girls voice was pure hatred, calm and controlled and therefore so much worse than it would have been otherwise.
"But frankly, my dear High Inquisitor, I don't recommend you to try," the girl went on. "Luna is the mildest person in this world, but she's not helpless. She knows things... there are others that look after her... She doesn't mind the bullies, did you know that? She won't mind you. Don't you ever wish you could forgive your enemies?"
"I..." Umbridge begun, but the girl took a step closer and hissed right in her ear, a deadly edge to her voice.
"I'm not like her. I don't forgive, and I promise you that you don't scare me the least. I have faced things that would make that pretty cardigan of yours crawl away in fright... and I won't let you hurt Luna. You remember that."
The girl turned around and stormed out from the classroom. Umbridge stod as rooted on the spot, staring after her. It took a long time before her pulse went down to normal again.
That night she drank a liberal amount of fire whiskey, mumbling to herself again and again that she was in her full right, ministerial approved right, to do what she needed to put the school back on its feet. That Dumbledore was far to lax with that kind of people, that no responsible parent would allow those lose among their children. She drank another glass and mumbled that she was not afraid of a stupid student. But then she remembered the Lovegood girl's eyes, regarding her as if they were taking in her whole essence, not with rage or hatred or fright but with... curiosity, and shivers ran up her spine. She drank another glass.
The next night and the night after that Ginny's hand bled severely, and when the girl left her office she had that look of rage and loathing in her eyes that Umbridge knew so well how to deal with. But Luna was never called into detention, and the High Inquisitor never confronted her in class or in corridors. She told herself that she waited for the filthy little half-breed to do something out of line, to make her dangerous blood reveal itself. Sometimes she told herself that she had more important things to do, that Potter and Dumbledore and that stupid giant were more urgent business than a silly little girl... but then she thought about those eyes, and she remembered the rumours about the girl's mother... and she couldn't help to wonder, when she closed her eyes to sleep after a day filled by duty well done, and the wind was howling around the castle, and the moon was shining cold and distant through her window, exactly what the nature was of the others of whom Ginny had spoken.
Because when Dolores thought about those large, unblinking eyes, there was a single word that kept repeating itself, again and again in her mind.