May brought with it an edgy tension that filled the common rooms, library, and anywhere else fifth or seventh years frequented, including the dormitories.

"Snape told me I had to get all O's," Draco moaned one morning, his voice muffled from under his pillows. "Harry, I can't get all O's, I haven't been paying that close of attention."

"Draco, you have high marks in all your classes," Blaise said patiently. He stood on the other side of the bed, ready to react if Draco tried to lock himself in the loo this time. They were going to miss breakfast, at this rate. "You have to stop panicking. You'll do fine."

"I can't just do fine, I have to do brilliantly." Draco's words had an edge of hysteria to them that had Harry and Blaise exchanging worried glances over his hidden form. "If I don't do brilliantly, everyone will have the perfect excuse to refuse to associate with me, and I'll end up working in Muggle Relations and living in a hovel like a Weasley."

"That's nonsense," Harry said soothingly. "If nothing else, you can marry Blaise's mum. Has the newest husband died yet, Blaise?"

"Bugger off," Blaise said, glaring at him. "She says she likes this one."

"I can't get all O's," Draco repeated desolately from under the covers. Harry and Blaise looked back at the pile of blankets that concealed Draco.

"You definitely won't if you don't go to class," Blaise pointed out. "Draco, you have to at least try."

"I am trying! I spend more time reading these days than a bloody Ravenclaw."

Harry cast around for something to break Draco out of his panic. "Look, I can get Hermione's revision notes for you if you like."

Draco's eyes appeared through a gap in his blankets. "You'd steal from your swotty Gryffindor so I can pass my O.W.L.'s?"

"What— no, I…" Harry stopped himself and rolled his eyes. In this state, Draco wouldn't put as much stock in the notes if Harry told him he was just going to use a copying spell. "Yes. Yes, I'll steal from Hermione. But only if you get out of bed and come to class."

Harry and Blaise held their breath as Draco deliberated, still hidden by his blankets.

"For all the classes we have in common, right?"

"Hermione's taking all the classes."

"She is not taking all the classes," Blaise disagreed immediately. "That's not even possible in terms of scheduling."

"I don't think she's taking Divination," Harry admitted, not wanting to get into it. Hermione's possession of a Time Turner wasn't his secret to tell. And anyway, Draco would probably want him to steal that, too. "I don't remember. But you're not even taking that, Draco, so it doesn't matter. She's taking all the same O.W.L.'s as you."

"This will be good revenge for setting you up to fail with that study group," Draco decided, sounding pleased. Harry gave Blaise a long, flat look, though his gaze was drawn back to the bed when Draco finally sat up.

"Did you just get weekly updates on my life while we weren't talking?" he asked. Draco put on his slippers and padded across the stone floor, toothbrush and wand in one hand and a pile of robes under his other arm.

"Something like that," he said in a distracted sort of way as he disappeared into the bathroom. Harry frowned at Blaise.

"Why didn't I get weekly updates?"

"You didn't seem like you wanted weekly updates," Blaise shrugged. "We gave you the highlights."

Draco reappeared from the bathroom, looking much more presentable. "I'm going to get all O's," he announced, pulling a comb through his hair. "Otherwise, I'll be moving in with one of you after graduation, understood?"

Harry and Blaise shared a moment of alarmed eye contact. "Yes," Blaise said quickly, turning away before Draco could see his reaction. "Of course, Draco, that's no problem."

"Sirius said he'd be happy to help you out," Harry remembered. They'd spoken about Draco in the mirror at length since Harry found out he'd been disowned. "He says hello, too. I think he likes you better now."

"That's right, isn't it?" Draco said suddenly. "I'm on the dark side of the family tree now."

"We're calling it the 'dark' side?" Harry asked doubtfully as the three of them left the dormitory. "I don't think that's entirely accurate. Sirius calls it the 'scorched' side. I like that better."

"I have…" Draco hesitated, some of his customary gloom retaking him. "Well, I had an uncle on the Malfoy side who was disowned for poisoning his elder brother. Not everyone's like me and Sirius."

Harry stopped as they reached the exit to the common room, struck by a sudden idea. "I need to grab something," he told them, turning back toward the dormitories. "I'll catch you up."

"We'll save you a muffin," Blaise promised as they joined a group leaving. Harry waved to show he'd heard and jogged back to their dorm at pace.

He unspelled his nightstand for long enough to open it and pull out his mirror.

"Sirius?" he asked, tapping his foot in a staccato as he waited for an answer. He didn't want to risk flashing such a useful gift around where someone like Umbridge could decide it needed to be confiscated, else he'd walk while he waited.

"Good morning, Harry," Sirius said after a moment. His face floated into view, smiling curiously. "Aren't you supposed to be in classes or something?"

"Breakfast, at the moment," he said. "I have a favour to ask. Can I give this to Draco for a while so you can talk?"

"I'd be— shut up, Remus," Sirius said, his features contorting with annoyance as he glanced at something beyond the frame. "Yes, of course you can, Harry. Remus is being smug. He wanted me to suggest it, actually, but I wasn't sure if he'd want to talk to me."

"Oh," Harry said, pleased. "I think he'll be willing. I'll talk to him about it today." His expression sobered. "It's just that he's been doing, well… badly, since it happened."

"He would be," Sirius said, nodding along with Harry's words. "I'm still shocked that Narcissa would have allowed it. I thought better of her than this."

"He says he hasn't heard from either of his parents since it happened," Harry said, rubbing the back of his neck. "Is that normal? Is that just how it works, being disowned?"

"Well, I for one heard plenty from my sweet old mum after I left," Sirius said, scowling. "The Howlers didn't stop for weeks. But then, you've met her portrait. She has a talent for that sort of thing."

"I remember," Harry said, grimacing back. They grinned at each other a second later. "Thanks, Sirius. I'll give him the mirror today. He should be the next one to call."

"I'll keep it handy," Sirius promised. They said a brief goodbye, and Harry stuffed the mirror in his pocket before dashing out of the dormitory and up to breakfast, hoping to catch the last few minutes.

"Hermione, I'm going to steal one of these, okay?" Harry said, picking up a copy of the massive study guide she'd compiled for her group. This close to O.W.L.s, they really were just a very large study group, and Hermione was passing out her notes like candy. Harry hoped Draco didn't catch wind of the news and retreat to his bed out of spite.

"Take some for the other Slytherins, too, I made you all copies," she said, flicking her hand absently at the pile, her face buried in a book.

"Cheers," Harry said, pleased. He'd just concoct some story for Draco. Who cared, really: Hermione's notes were like revision gold, and O.W.L.s were next week. Even Harry couldn't ignore the tight anxiety that wrapped itself around his chest at the thought these days. Everything had been given over to O.W.L. preparation: anti-cheating lectures during classes, last minute revision out of classes, and a quiet but frantic student trade in good luck charms and amulets that were sketchy even by Luna's standards.

Padma had informed Harry in no uncertain terms two weeks ago that she had no intention of even looking at him until her final exam was over, let alone spending time together. He hadn't found a way to object that Pansy and Hermione both approved of, so he hadn't done anything about it.

"I told Snape about the Skeeter situation," Harry mentioned, because he thought he should. "He yelled at me, then he said he'd sort it out."

"Good," Hermione said, her brow furrowing as she followed a line of text with her finger. "I've been worried about that. I don't like not being completely sure what her form is when we're unable to do anything about her."

"Granger," a voice said from the end of the table. Harry and Hermione looked up, twin expressions of surprise and trepidation on their faces when they saw the speaker. It was Cadwallader, a sixth year Hufflepuff. He was one of the ones Umbridge had labeled; the Inquisitorial Squad pin glinted on his chest.

"Can I help you?" she asked, marking her page with a scrap of parchment and sitting up straight. Harry stayed silent, hoping that perhaps things wouldn't escalate as quickly if he went unnoticed.

"Umbridge wants you in her office, now," Cadwallader said imperiously. He glanced at Harry, pursed his lips, and added, "You too. She said if you were together you were to come as well."

Harry and Hermione looked at each other, mystified and worried. They didn't have to speak to know they were both thinking the same thing: Had Umbridge finally decided to do away with Hermione's group altogether by attacking her directly? Harry had no doubt he'd be caught up in the blame despite only having attended the first meeting; the past weeks since the beginning of his internship had proven that if Umbridge could find a reason to punish him, she'd take it, even if she couldn't give him detention.

They packed their books and parchments away, Hermione taking more care with hers than Harry did, and followed Cadwallader out of the library. He led them to Umbridge's office in silence. Neither of them dared to speak out loud. Hermione clutched the books in her arms with white knuckles.

"Miss Granger, Mr. Potter," Umbridge said in her ever-sweet voice, her eyes glinting. "Please take a seat. Thank you, Jeffrey, you're dismissed."

Cadwallader nodded and left without even a glance at Harry or Hermione, shutting the door and closing them inside Umbridge's office with her and all of her cat-covered plates staring at them with unnervingly wide gazes.

"Miss Granger, Mr. Potter, let me be frank," Umbridge said, folding her hands on her desk. She didn't seem particularly upset, or even over pleased. Her tone was almost administrative. "I wish to speak with you both on separate matters relating to your schooling."

Harry and Hermione exchanged confused glances. This wasn't the inquisition they were expecting.

"We will begin with you, Mr. Potter," Umbridge said, reaching for a sheet of parchment and consulting it. "How goes your translation?"

Harry blinked, startled. "Er, it's going well, actually," he said, mentally panicking. He forced himself to slide back into his Occlusion, and relaxed a bit. Words tripped off his tongue almost without thought. "I'm fascinated by the construct of their gerund form. It's difficult to tell the difference between the continuous future and the subjunctive: the method is very different from English, and-"

"Yes, but what are the contents of the tablet?" Umbridge interrupted, displeasure and irritation clear on her face. Hermione was looking at Harry with open shock, probably because she hadn't expected him to know so many ridiculous grammatical terms. He and Snape did discuss these things occasionally; he wasn't completely unprepared.

"I'm not sure, like I was saying, the difference between the future and…" He interrupted himself as he saw her about to speak, and rushed to give the answer he and Snape had discussed, should he ever be asked this question. "It's either a prophecy or a fictionalized account of a war between two different tribes. I'll need to keep studying it to be certain."

Umbridge retreated from the edge of her seat, eyeing him for a long, silent moment. "Very well," she said grudgingly, and turned to Hermione. A glint appeared in her eyes. "Miss Granger. As a representative of the Ministry, in addition to my role as your professor, I feel obliged to inform you that we must confiscate your Time Turner for the duration of the O.W.L. testing period."

"My—my Time Turner?" Hermione repeated, surprised. Her hand went to her throat, where the gold chain glittered.

"Surely you appreciate the necessity," Umbridge said, raising her eyebrows in a perfunctory manner as she consulted another parchment. "We can't have you time travelling during exams, that would be an incredible violation of the anti-cheating edicts. You have been cleared for further use; it will, of course, be returned to you at the start of the new school year. I'll need you to sign these forms." She pushed the parchment across the desk toward Hermione, who blinked and nodded, even as she began pulling the chain out from under her robes. Harry glanced at Umbridge and was startled by the flash of eagerness in her eyes as she watched Hermione extract the long length of chain.

"Here it—it…" Hermione faltered. She held the chain in her hands, staring at the lack of Time Turner at the end. "I—just a moment." She lifted the chain from around her neck and let it puddle on the desk, then began patting down her front and her pockets, her movements becoming more and more frantic as she searched. "It's not—it's not here!"

She stood suddenly, looking on the floor around her chair. She met Harry's eyes with panic in her stare as her search proved fruitless. Harry looked between her and the satisfied expression on Umbridge's face now that Hermione couldn't see her, and knew. Umbridge had orchestrated this moment. She'd planned for Hermione's Time Turner to be missing.

"Skeeter," Harry mouthed, and Hermione's arms dropped to her sides in despair.

"Are you about to claim that you lost it?" Umbridge asked in even, measured tones. Hermione turned back to face her and sank into her chair as though falling backward off a cliff without a broom. "Miss Granger, as I am sure you are quite aware, there are protective spells on that Time Turner that prevent it from being accidentally misplaced. And as I am certain you are also aware, those spells exist because of the very valuable, very rare nature of the magical instrument you have… hem hem. Misplaced."

"Professor, I would never—" Hermione's earnest words were cut off by Umbridge's throat clearing again.

"I am most disappointed," she said severely, though if Harry had to pick an emotion to match to her expression, disappointment would be the last one he'd choose. Umbridge picked up the forms she'd passed to Hermione and neatened them in a sharp tap against her desk, then set them precisely in front of her as she deliberated her next words.

Harry stilled in his seat, Occluding almost to the exclusion of all other thought in the hopes that it would somehow give him insight into how to fix this. Bringing up Skeeter at the moment would be worse than useless. It would only tip her off, and might even make Umbridge feel she could be bolder with whatever plan she had for the two of them; Harry wasn't missing the way she occasionally glanced at him.

"Blatant theft of Ministry property cannot be tolerated," Umbridge finally said, and the cold finality of her words made Hermione quail in her seat, even as Harry's mind raced in circles to find a way out of this. The softening of Umbridge's expression after that was only more terrifying. "Though," she continued, tilting her head and eyeing Hermione kindly. "You are a model student, aren't you? Perhaps you should be given the benefit of the doubt. I do have a question, dear."

"Yes, ma'am?" Hermione asked, refusing to look up from her knees. Harry could hear the note of distrust mingling with hope.

"Who else knew about your possession of the Time Turner?"

Hermione's breath caught, but she was firm. "No one else, ma'am."

Umbridge's voice was soothing. "If we could discover the real culprit, of course all charges against you would be dropped."

Harry could see Hermione tensing at talk of 'charges' and 'culprits', but to her credit, she continued the lie, saying, "No one else knew, I was told not to tell anyone, so I didn't."

"Is that so?" Umbridge asked, her eyes shifting from Hermione to land squarely on Harry. "Because Mr. Potter showed an astonishing lack of surprise at the mention of your time travelling."

Harry opened his mouth, but it took him a moment to find the words to respond with. "I didn't take it," he denied.

"Were you aware of its existence?" Umbridge asked, and Harry didn't know how best to answer that. He hesitated for long enough that Umbridge nodded, apparently satisfied with his silence as an answer. "I thought so. Miss Granger—"

"She didn't tell me," Harry cut in, unable to keep quiet when Umbridge was looking at his friend like she was a particularly juicy fly. "I just noticed that her schedule was impossible and figured it out on my own."

"Subterfuge on your part?" Umbridge asked, smiling even more widely. "How suspicious of you, Mr. Potter."

"He didn't do anything wrong," Hermione insisted, though she must know trying to convince Umbridge would be useless. Everyone in the room knew who had really taken the Time Turner, and it was clear now exactly why. "He was just worried about me. After he figured it out, we never even talked about it again."

"Of course you wouldn't, dear," Umbridge said, her eyes fixed on Harry now. Harry met her gaze with unease. "It wouldn't be very… well, Slytherin of him to call attention to his interest in your bauble when he was planning to steal it, now would it?"

"He didn't steal it!" Hermione cried, her fists clenching on her knees.

"Youthful Gryffindors are the most trusting of all, once you gain their loyalty." Umbridge spoke to Harry now, her eyes narrow with malicious amusement. "Don't you think so, Mr. Potter? I suppose it was easy for you to collect a gaggle of your own, having a relative among them as you do."

"He didn't—"

Harry forced himself to continue staring at Umbridge, daring to risk dipping into the surface layer of her thoughts and having to bite the inside of his cheek when he discovered her intentions. Expulsion, arrest, defamation, and that was just to start. He'd known she hated him, but knowing it and feeling it seep through her thoughts like bile were worlds apart. "Hermione didn't do anything wrong," he said, swallowing down the gorge that rose at the back of his throat. "She's completely innocent."

"Indeed," Umbridge agreed easily. "She is no more than the victim of a particularly reprehensible Slytherin trick. You, on the other hand, will be answering for your crimes."

"He didn't trick—!"

"We will conduct a search of your dormitory," Umbridge continued, undeterred, and all hope Harry had of throwing caution to the wind and implicating Skeeter once he was free of this office went up in smoke. Wanting to search the boys' dorm meant Skeeter had likely already planted the Time Turner somewhere among his things, and she was smart enough to make herself scarce during all this, trapped on the grounds or no. "You will be detained, of course, and we will—"

"Professor Dumbledore should be here for this," Hermione interrupted, clutching at the sides of her chair. Her face was white and pinched, but she spoke forcefully. "And his Head of House. Professor Snape. One of them must be present during any discussion of punishments greater than or equal to suspension. It's the rules."

Umbridge's mouth thinned into a flat line. "Educational Decree number twenty eight—"

"Doesn't technically authorize you to fill in for Professor Dumbledore," Hermione interrupted, in a stunning display of Gryffindor bravery. Harry was surprised they weren't both dead yet, from the way Umbridge's fingers twitched toward her wand as Hermione continued. "The Headmaster isn't considered a staff member, according to Hogwarts, A History. It's in following with the early tradition that the Head of Hogwarts should also be a leader in wizarding society at large, and calling them a 'staff member' would detract from the air of broader authority the Headship was supposed to have. The position is also meant to include an honorary membership in the Wizengamot without election as well, but…"

She seemed to realize she was going to lose the chance to make her point if she continued, and rounded it off hastily by saying, "What I mean is that he's not described as staff in the way that the Minister for Magic isn't described as just another Ministry employee, because he's elected to the highest office. So the wording of the Decree doesn't technically include him in the removal of authority over punishment." Umbridge's eyes were dark with rage, and Hermione paused for breath before finishing in a squeak, "So he should be here."

In that brief moment, as Umbridge stared wordlessly at her, Harry felt a flash of pure, unadulterated adoration for Hermione. He decided that he would never hear another word against her from the other Slytherins, study group be damned.

"She's right," he said, when Umbridge seemed ready to continue glaring until she thought up a rebuttal. "I want Professor Dumbledore involved."

Umbridge's ugly expression slowly smoothed out as she considered the two of them, and returned to her usual cloying smile as she stood. "Very well," she said, flicking her wand in the air and pacing toward the door. "Perhaps it is… proper that he bear witness to your shame, Mr. Potter. We will send for him."

She opened the door when someone knocked. "Yes, ma'am?" they said. From the voice, it was almost definitely a member of her Inquisitorial Squad.

"Please inform Professor Dumbledore that a rather serious matter has been brought to light, and that I request his presence in my office in order that he might assist."

"Yes, ma'am," the voice said, and Umbridge closed the door on them. She crossed the room and tossed a bit of floo powder into the fireplace. Harry's sense of the trouble he was in increased sharply as, after a moment of conferring with someone through the fire, Umbridge stepped back to allow two uniformed Aurors to step through the flames.

After that, she returned to her chair and sat primly, folding her hands on the desk and smiling at Hermione as the Aurors flanked her behind her chair, watching Harry with unreadable expressions.

"Don't you worry, Miss Granger," she said, her entire being oozing satisfaction. "This matter will be settled soon enough, and your mistaken trust will not cost you more heavily than it already has."

"It wasn't mistaken," Hermione said, distressed. On some level, Harry appreciated her continued defence of him, useless though it was. "Harry and I have been friends since first year, he wouldn't—"

"And yet, I am quite certain that the evidence will suggest otherwise," Umbridge declared, and silence fell while they waited for Dumbledore to arrive. Harry stared at the Aurors as he considered the situation from all angles. None of his options achieved the desired goal of keeping him at Hogwarts and out of Azkaban.

He wished it were Snape who was on his way to Umbridge's office. He had all the pieces of the puzzle. Who knew if Dumbledore was even aware of Skeeter's presence on campus? Would Snape have told him already? What if they found the Time Turner and Dumbledore believed Harry had really stolen it? He wished they'd been able to track Skeeter down before all this, but whatever her form was, she'd been able to evade them easily.

A brisk knock on the door interrupted his thoughts and announced Dumbledore's arrival. The Headmaster hardly waited for Umbridge's call to enter, sweeping inside and taking in the situation with a keen, sober eye.

"You asked for my assistance, Dolores?" he said, turning his intent gaze on her. He nodded at the Aurors as an afterthought. "Dawlish, Pritchard."

"Miss Granger's Time Turner has gone missing," Umbridge explained, gesturing between Harry and Hermione. "Mr. Potter has admitted to an illicit awareness of the instrument, and has all but confessed to having stolen it. A search—"

"No, he didn't!"

"I did not!" Harry exclaimed right alongside Hermione, sitting forward in his seat. "All I said was that I knew Hermione had a Time Turner, I never confessed to anything!"

Umbridge gave him a cool glance. "He is the prime suspect, with good reason. I am certain a search of his dormitory will prove fruitful, Headmaster."

"I didn't take it," Harry said, looking up at Dumbledore with fear churning in his chest. He thought briefly of dropping his Occlumency walls to let Dumbledore see; of shouting out the truth about Skeeter and Umbridge's machinations. Had it been Snape, he wouldn't have hesitated in giving him full mental access. Then again, Snape already knew. Instead, he pushed the relevant thoughts to the fore of his mind, past the barriers he had in place, and focused on thinking them as directly as he could at the Headmaster, who met his eyes with unusual seriousness.

"I'm afraid there has been a rather grave misunderstanding, Dolores," Dumbledore said slowly, still staring at Harry. After a moment, he turned back to Umbridge, folding his hands in front of himself and by all accounts, appearing nothing more than apologetic. "Miss Granger's Time Turner was not stolen at all."

Umbridge stood, frowning. "I think you will find it has been," she said, gesturing at the abandoned gold chain on her desk. "Miss Granger was quite genuinely distressed to find it gone, Headmaster, and the charms—"

"Can be countered by a powerful wizard," Dumbledore finished for her, bowing his head briefly. "I am afraid I must admit some fault in this matter."

Harry and Hermione shared a confused glance before their attention was drawn by Umbridge's next words. She clenched her fists at her side, wand gripped in one hand, and said, "If you would explain, Headmaster?"

"I had urgent need of a Time Turner, and I am afraid I borrowed Miss Granger's," Dumbledore admitted, shaking his head sorrowfully. "I had every intention of returning it with all due haste, but these things do quite get away from one with a schedule such as mine. I'm sure you understand, Dolores."

Umbridge was near vibrating now. Harry had thought she was angry at Dumbledore, but the way her expression twitched spoke of a more intense version of the kind of suppressed glee he used to see on her face when she managed to get one over on Snape and give Harry a week of detentions. "Professor Dumbledore, are you suggesting that you stole protected Ministry property? Whatever for, I do wonder?"

"I believe that information is best kept, ah, 'off the record'," Dumbledore said lightly. "Though I will remind you that I merely intended to borrow it. 'Steal' is such a provocative word, don't you think?"

"It is high treason to steal objects belonging to the Department of Mysteries, Dumbledore," Umbridge informed him, her smile twisting into something almost offensively smug as she ignored his correction. The Aurors straightened where they stood, as surprised as Harry and Hermione at this turn of events. "I'm afraid I have no choice. You will be escorted back to the Ministry to submit to questioning, wherein you will explain the ends to which you put such a powerful magical device."

Dumbledore considered this. "No," he said after a long moment. "No, that won't do at all. How does… yes, I believe I'll have time to meet with the Minister and explain the situation on Wednesday afternoon." He raised his eyebrows at her as he awaited a response, as though they were negotiating a future business meeting and not interrogation.

"I am not giving you the option, Dumbledore!" Umbridge shouted, putting her hands flat on the desk and pushing herself to her feet as she lost her temper. "You are under arrest by my authority as the Senior Undersecretary to the Minister for Magic!"

"For borrowing a Time Turner?" Dumbledore asked, skeptical. "Don't be absurd, Dolores."

"Don't be—! You—!" Umbridge's face had gone a splotchy red in her outrage. She looked to her Aurors, who shifted in place and seemed to be unwilling to move without the direct order that Umbridge, unprepared for the windfall dropped in front of her and clearly debating whose word would carry more sway, didn't give. Dumbledore gave the whole lot of them a reproving glance, and gestured for Harry and Hermione to stand and follow him. They did so hastily, and Dumbledore held the door open for them as they passed. Harry frequently felt enormous relief when leaving this room, but never so much as today, when Dumbledore waited for them both to step over the threshold before giving them a small, secret smile, and turning back to Umbridge.

"I will meet with the Minister to explain myself to him personally at his earliest convenience, Dolores," Dumbledore said firmly. "I assure you we needn't make this a difficult situation. I have only the best interests of Hogwarts and the Ministry in mind, and I know that Minister Fudge will understand and agree."

Dumbledore gave her another polite, firm smile and closed the door on her furious face and the uncertain expressions of the Aurors.

"To my office, I think," he told Harry and Hermione. "Do you happen to know where that Time Turner ended up?"

"We think she planted it in Harry's dormitory," Hermione said. Harry was unsurprised that the two of them had reached the same conclusion and nodded, his heart still racing.

"We will have to see it returned to Miss Granger as soon as possible," Dumbledore decided, waving his wand. Something silver burst from it and sped away faster than Harry could identify it.

"Rita Skeeter-"

"Yes, Professor Snape filled me in once you told him," Dumbledore said, his entire countenance grave as he moved swiftly through the corridors. Harry and Hermione rushed to keep up. "She will be apprehended, of course. Your actions were nothing short of foolhardy, Mr. Potter."

"Yeah," Harry said, bowing his head. No other response came to mind, considering how the whole plan had blown up in his face so spectacularly. Dumbledore spoke the password to the gargoyles and sent Harry and Hermione up to his office first.

"Not to mention, illegal," he continued once the office door closed behind them, and Harry looked up with alarm. "I do hope the lesson here has penetrated."

"Yes," Harry assured him hastily. "Yes, it definitely has. I won't be making that same mistake again, I promise."

"Very good," Dumbledore said, gesturing to the chairs in front of his desk. "I would like to say that we were fortunate to have avoided a very detrimental situation, but I'm afraid the dust hasn't settled quite yet. It remains to be seen, exactly how much damage has been done."

"I'm sorry, sir," Harry said again. He looked down at his shoes as Dumbledore played damage control through the fireplace. Hermione nudged him once and gave him a weak smile, but he could tell she felt just as culpable for even having been aware of their plan. A guilty pit had opened up in Harry's stomach, and he wasn't able to respond with anything more than a pinched expression.