Gotc: SEE?! I'm still going!
Ace: Well aren't you special! Do you have any idea how hard you've made my job now?!
Gotc: *evil cackle*
Ace: I hate you so very much.
Gotc: I love ya too. Anyway, so things are going to start picking up from here on out! At least I hope you all think so! As I'm sure a lot of you have guessed, I'm trying to meld a couple of things into one coherent arc, so bear with me on this and hopefully you won't be disappointed! But enough of this blather! You all are here for the story soooo…. SQUEAKY!
Squeaky: Squeak! (At your service! Yugioh and Happy Potter aren't owned here. If you would like to rent out Ace, please fill out the appropriate forms in triplicate)
Ace: *Looks up from sulking* The hell do you mean 'rent'?
Gotc: Never you mind. ENJOY EVERYONE!
Harry Potter and the Order of the Rising Dragon
CHAPTER 34: Laws aren't orders.
Yugi was in a stupor the whole way back to Hogsmeade. He didn't remember telling Professor Hawkins goodbye, or asking him to say hello to his grandfather. He didn't remember what Malik and Kaiba talked about in urgent hushed tones as they walked. He didn't even remember walking, until the trees finally gave way to the worn cobble of the village streets. Yami had been silent as well, lost in his own head, sifting through the mountain of information that had just been so much given to them as it had been dumped.
"How long do you think it'll take?" Malik's voice finally drifted into focus for Yugi as the Egyptian continued talking to Kaiba.
"Hard to say. Depends on how much of a trail Professor Hawkins can find." Kaiba said, mulling over his own thoughts as he spoke, "For our sake, I hope it's not long before he finds something on Cooper. We're already walking a thin line with Umbridge as it is, so I'm not thrilled with the idea of having to watch over my shoulder for him too."
Yugi looked up at his friends, about to ask what they were talking about when Yami cut in.
/Professor Hawkins offered to look into Cooper for us, aibou/ He said, his voice masking his thoughts well.
/You were paying better attention than I was then./ Yugi shook his head silently, trying to clear it. When Yami didn't offer up a response, Yugi shifted uncomfortably with the silence between them, despite Kaiba and Malik continuing their own conversation without him. /Do you think Professor Hawkins is right?/
/He's an expert in ancient language translation. I see no reason why he'd be wrong./
/I'm not talking about the translations. I'm talking about the Orichalcos. About Cooper./
The silence stretched on again, as the scowl on Yami's translucent face etched itself deeper into his features. The topic of Dartz and the Orichalcos was an unpleasant one to start with for him, and Yugi knew it. It wasn't a particularly happy line of thinking for him either.
/The Orichalcos has undone the magic of the Millennium Items before./ Yami said heavily, breaking the silence at last, /Even if the stone had nothing to do with sealing me and my memories within the Puzzle, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that it could still interfere. That IT is what is causing these flashes. /
/That still doesn't change the fact that we've been having these flashes at Hogwarts, that there must be a piece of it somewhere on the grounds./ Yugi pointed out.
/And the good news is that it's most likely NOT with Umbridge./ Yami said, suppressing the shudder at the thought of what that witch might do with it.
/But is it any better if Cooper has it? We know Umbridge's angle at least, but Cooper?/
/I don't know, Yugi. He is…difficult to read. He seems far too comfortable with the strange world he's now a part of, but then again, there doesn't seem to be much that rattles the man. Not to mention he is actually teaching us how to fight and defend ourselves. Perhaps it's a ploy I can't see through yet, but it seems counter-intuitive./
Yugi had to agree with that. Cooper had been a walking enigma since day one, and this recent revelation certainly hadn't helped matters. He shared Kaiba's sentiment about now having to watch for trouble on two fronts. It was bad enough when Umbridge was the only one they had to worry about.
And then, as if the very act of thinking about her had conjured her from the ether, the Toad herself came strutting down the road right at them; her stride making it quite clear they were the ones she was coming to see.
"Mr. Kaiba, Muto and Ishtar!" Her shrill voice called out, catching the attention of the few students who were milling about nearby and causing them to scurry off before they ended up the subjects of her attention as well, "And exactly where have you three been all afternoon?"
"Just taking in the sights, Professor." Malik lied easily, although it wasn't entirely untrue. Next to him, Yugi heard Kaiba give a derisive snort that suggested he didn't think much of Malik's explanation.
"Is that right?" Umbridge said, her saccharine laden voice now almost dripping, "Are you quite certain that's what you were doing?"
Yugi fought the urge to glare back at the Ministry sanctioned professor. Had the circumstances been a little different, he might have found the situation funny. After all, there stood a woman, next to whom even Yugi looked to be an average height, trying to bluff a confession out of three of the world's highest ranked duelists. Every one of them had perfected not only the bluff she was trying to pull, but a withering glare that could nearly set one's hair on fire when they felt compelled to use it. So if she really thought she was going to get a single thing out of any of them-
"Actually Professor," A sheepish, quiet voice interrupted, coming from one of the side roads, "They were looking for me."
All four turned to look at none other than Ryou, who had stepped out of the shaded alley and made his way toward them, managing to look quite embarrassed as he kept his gaze hovering somewhere between them and the ground. The three teens all exchanged quick, shocked glances at one another at seeing their friend, in the open, for the first time in weeks outside of a classroom.
"I wasn't really paying attention where I was going Professor," Ryou admitted, stopping a short distance away from them, "I got a bit caught up with looking at all the shops and lost my way. I ended up in a different part of the village by accident. I heard them calling and trying to find me before we were missed. It's my fault."
"Oh." Umbridge said, adjusting her pink cardigan and trying not to look like a half deflated balloon, "Well Mr. Bakura, five points from Gryffindor should help you remember to stick to the boundaries. I expect the rest of you to remember that as well."
None of them could quite believe what they were hearing, as Umbridge turned up her nose as started to strut away as if she hadn't just been fooled by a group of teenagers. It took everything they had to not start snickering at her retreating form, made easier by the fact Ryou was still standing with them and had not yet made an attempt to vanish once again. Except it wasn't Ryou standing there, but the King of Thieves himself, somehow looking very much like his lighter half as he still hadn't quite managed to banish the reluctant look off his face.
"Yugi," He muttered, not quite making eye contact, "Mind if I say something to your other half?"
It crossed Yugi's mind to have Bakura promise not to hit him again, if only for his own health's sake, but thought better of it, and retreated back into his own soul room to allow Yami to take control. The Pharaoh shifted a bit uneasily himself, the weight of the day's events already weighing on him and now this unexpected turn had certainly set him off balance. More than that though, he wasn't sure what else to say to Bakura. Fortunately, the Thief King beat him to it.
"From now on, if you run off and act like that mop-headed puppy Jounouchi, I reserve the right to deck you for being that much of a complete idiot." He said firmly, finally squaring his shoulders and looking Yami in the eye.
"If that's what it takes to keep me from doing something so stupid again, I'll agree to that." The former Pharaoh reached out and shook the hand of his one-time enemy. Yami couldn't help the small smile that cracked on his features, watching a similar one form on the Thief King's face as the mild surprise that Yami had agreed so quickly faded away.
"Well don't get cozy, Pharaoh," Bakura pulled his hand back and crammed it into his pocket, "I was enjoying my alone time, but the twerp was missing the lot of you."
(Don't believe a word he says.) Ryou chuckled through the now open link between the Items, (He was driving himself nuts.)
"Glad to have you back, Baka." Malik grinned, ignoring the dirty look as he slung an arm around the white headed boy's neck, "And thanks for the save from the Toad."
"I saw the witch prowling when she noticed Harry's group had been missing for a while. Guess it's hard to miss when two dozen students decide to vanish for a bit, but when you lot didn't turn up she started on the warpath." Bakura explained.
"Two dozen?" Kaiba asked, making sure he'd heard the number right.
"Few more than that actually." Hermione's voice interrupted a bit smugly as she, Ron and Harry came out of the nearby quill shop, "Harry was utterly brilliant. Everyone that came signed up!"
Harry looked embarrassed as he shuffled out of the shop behind her, but the flush in his face was decidedly for another reason entirely. It wasn't difficult to pick up on the half-dopy look on the Boy-Who-Lived's face as he came walking out of the shop behind Hermione and Ron.
"So I'll just guess Cho decided to follow up on that conversation from the Owlery then, Potter?" Malik chuckled, quickly putting two and two together.
"Please. Cho couldn't take her eyes off of him the whole time." Hermione said, trying to sound exasperated about the whole thing, but the small smile on her own face betrayed her happiness for him, "But we can talk about Harry's love life later. What did you three find out?"
"Yeah," Bakura straightened up, shoving Malik off his shoulders, "They said Professor Hawkins sent you a package today. Mind catching me up?"
Yami sucked in a deep breath, not even bothering to decipher his own thoughts before he relayed the conversation they'd had with the professor back to the rest of the group. He could see Bakura's face steadily set itself into more of a scowl the more he heard.
"I think I'm almost sorry I wasn't involved with that business with Dartz," Bakura grumbled, his frustration apparent, "I remember the news broadcasts, but beyond that I was pretty far removed from the excitement."
"I remember them too," Hermione frowned, "The Prophet said they whole ordeal was a big muggle hoax. There were even a few disappearances that were discredited because the people turned up a few weeks later saying they'd been trapped inside some monster."
"The Leviathan." Yami nodded, "I'll tell you the whole of that story later, but the short version is, they weren't lying or crazy."
"I don't know, 'crazy' seems a pretty fitting word for that whole thing." Kaiba huffed.
"Either way, there's a chance that someone at Hogwarts has a part of the Orichalcos from that whole ordeal." Yami continued, "And since my memory flashes have been rather erratic, it's likely they don't know what they've got."
"It wouldn't be the first time Hogwarts played host to a dangerous stone like that though." Harry said, his earlier daze worn off and replaced by the same concerned look shared by the rest of the group.
"It gets worse." Yami said grimly, "Cooper is likely involved. Has been this whole time."
"Professor Cooper?" Hermione asked in a manner that suggested she didn't believe she'd heard him right.
"The one and only," Malik nodded with a scowl, "There's certainly more to him than just some typical muggle. Professor Hawkins had a photo of him at the tomb those scans we sent to him were from."
A heavy silence fell across the group as the implications of that sentence sank in to accompany the feeling of dread that had settled with the group. They could only look from one to another, hoping there was some kind of answer, or perhaps waiting for someone to burst out laughing and say it was all only a joke. Voldermort was bad enough, knowing he was somewhere in the world biding his time. Umbridge added a whole new layer of awful on a daily basis, but now with the threat the Orichalcos posed and the enigma of their muggle professor brought into a new light? It was like fighting 4 wars at once.
"Maybe it's not as bad as we're thinking," Ron suggested hopefully, "My family and I went to Egypt when they opened one of those tombs two years ago, remember? Maybe it was just a coincidence?"
"Ron," Harry sighed, "when was the last time we were lucky enough to have something happen to us just by 'coincidence'?"
"Coincidence or not," Kaiba huffed, starting to walk away as more people started to flood the streets near them, "Talking about it in the open isn't a good idea. This isn't a problem that's going to be solved overnight. We'll wait until we get back to the castle before we breathe another word about it, agreed?"
There was a mumbled consent from everyone. The earlier optimism of the successful meeting had drained away and the excitement of finally having some answers felt as if it had bogged them all down now even more.
The rest of the weekend was either spent in contemplative silence or heated debate with very little of anything in between. The bright spot that had been the meeting at the Hog's Head had almost been entirely eclipsed by the idea that a stone with the power to rip holes in the fabric between two realms was somewhere on the Hogwarts grounds. It didn't help matters when Hermione managed to dig up an old issue of the Prophet dated during the conflict with Dartz, assuring the wizarding community that an 'elite' team of aurors had been assigned to deal with the 'sightings of previously unknown creatures of obviously magical origin', they were all left with the sinking feeling that someone within the Ministry knew a good deal more about the Orichalcos than they were letting on.
But while they could all universally agree that there was at least a small piece of the ancient stone somewhere in or around Hogwarts that was causing Yugi and Yami's recurring memory issues, the topic of how Professor Cooper fit into the picture had yet to be agreed upon.
Kaiba had been quick to damn the muggle professor off the bat. He cited his classes thus far had been little more than posturing tactics, designed to deliberately show himself as untouchable to both the student body and now the teachers. Malik had agreed with him almost instantly, once Kaiba reminded them of that night he'd spotted the professor speaking to someone in the corridors.
Harry, joined by Hermione, spent a great deal of time arguing the opposite angle. Though neither of them believed Cooper's visit to Egypt was a coincidence by any standards, they weren't convinced Cooper's arrival at Hogwarts had been with a malicious intent. Harry was the more leery of the two, the memory of Mad-Eye still fresh in his mind, but while Cooper was no doubt one of the stranger professors they'd had, the man had certainly exposed a vital weakness in their defensive studies and was actually making strides to rectify it.
Yugi and Yami had chosen to stay out of it, and oddly enough, Bakura elected to remain silent himself. Not that they didn't have an opinion, but rather out of a need that someone had to remain neutral and open to all sides of this confusing saga, lest they miss the one detail that might bring it all together. That was the excuse Yami had given anyway when he'd been asked at one point, but Yugi suspected it had gone deeper than that. From the first mention of the Orichalcos, Yami had been unsettled and understandably so. The ordeal, while behind them, had left deep scars across both their memories. And Yami with few memories to call his own, had been haunted for weeks afterward, before they'd finally managed to come to peace with it.
Now, he could tell the former Pharaoh was listening, but couldn't actively participate until he'd sorted through his own head on the matter. And as much as Yugi wanted to help him, this was something he'd have to do on his own. He trusted his other half to speak when he was ready, so he contented himself with providing a calming presence and focused on the mountain of school work that was oblivious to their current world-altering conundrum
"Maybe he's just looking for it?" Ron said, looking up from his Potions homework, breaking the silence that had settled amongst them as they sat outside under a large shade tree, "I mean, I'm sure he's looking for it, but maybe he's supposed to, you know?"
"Weasley, I'm not sure that could have made any less sense." Kaiba grumbled, not even looking up from his own homework, "And I'm sitting here reading on how to turn a cat into a chair."
"No, I mean Dumbledore asked him to teach here, right?" Ron clarified, "What if he really hired him to look for the stone? Like maybe he's an expert on it?"
"Quirrel, Lockheart, Moody." Harry ticked off on his fingers, with a little more bitterness in his voice than he meant to show. "Three good examples that Dumberdore isn't perfect. Otherwise we might not even have to deal with Umbridge…"
"Yeah, and I hate to blow that theory further out of the water, but Professor Hawkins is the leading expert in the world on Atlantean mythos," Malik said, only slightly begrudgingly, "He knows anyone and everyone doing real research on the subject. Or at least legitimate research."
Things went quiet again after that, with only the faint scratching of quills on parchment and the clicking of knitting needles to keep total silence at bay. It went on like that for several long minutes, until another thought struck.
"You think he could be working for Voldermort?" Ryou mused, "If Ron's right, and he is looking for the stone, maybe it's just for someone else?"
"Voldermort hates muggles," Harry muttered over the top of his textbook, "He'd consider it beneath him to rely on one for anything…"
Harry paused in his homework as a thought struck him that made his stomach drop down into his shoes. It was another few seconds before he realized he had 6 pairs of expectant eyes all watching him.
"But… this Oricalchos… Summoning monsters, opening holes in this Shadow realm…" Harry said slowly, "Sounds an awful lot like the kind of weapon Voldermort would like to get his hands on…"
"Maybe so, but it still doesn't account for how Cooper fits into the whole picture." Malik shook his head, "And so what? If Voldermort does get this stone, we've got the Millennium Items. There's no way he could-"
"The Millennium Items are next to useless against the Oricalchos." Yami spoke up for the first time, having only been half paying attention to the ancient Runes he was helping Yugi with and half lost in his own head, "Especially in the hands of someone who's proven to be a capable magic user."
"Any thoughts then?" Kaiba asked, his voice for once devoid of the condescending tone it normally had. He remembered the last time the Orichalcos surfaced and the narrow victory they'd managed. And that time, they'd been on familiar ground. Duel monsters, real or not, were their strength. In a world of magic, without the legendary dragons to help them, they were at more than just a disadvantage.
"I don't think anyone actually has the stone yet, especially Professor Umbridge." Yami said slowly, talking more to keep his thoughts in order than anything, "So we can count our blessings for that."
Harry suppressed a shudder. He hadn't even considered that to be a possibility, but the thought of the awful woman having a powerful magical artifact like that in her possession was utterly terrifying. Yami had a point though. He'd spent enough time in her company that it was unlikely she'd have her fat fingers on it without him suffering any detrimental effects.
"I find it hard to believe Cooper would know what the stone is, but then again, he knew far more about the Shadow Realm than most people who've never come into contact with the Millennium Items," Yami continued on, "But, if he is in fact after the stone, it doesn't explain why he's teaching us to defend ourselves when he could be following in Umbridge's shoes."
"Maybe everything he's taught us is a lot of bull-" Ron started to suggest before Kaiba cut him off.
"The techniques he's teaching us are the basis for several forms of martial arts and self-defense techniques around the world," Kaiba said matter-of-factly, "What he's teaching us is real."
"So what's his angle?" Harry wondered aloud, leaning his head back against the tree, "Making sure he's got a challenge before he destroys the school and hands us over on a silver platter to Voldermort?"
"We're missing something." Hermione piped up, setting her knitting needles aside, "Look how easy it was for us to assume that you were all Dark Wizards, all because of one badly translated conversation. There very well could be more to Cooper we aren't seeing that might explain everything."
No one wanted to admit it, but Hermione did have a point. While there was something supremely suspicious about the whole situation, no one could deny that there were far too many questions with no answers for them to draw any solid conclusions. And while it was easy to assume the muggle professor was up to no good, there was still the possibility, however unlikely, that fate and happenstance were simply partners in bringing him to Egypt and Hogwarts.
"We need to keep an eye on him, if nothing else." Malik finally broke the silence again, "Find out where he goes when he disappears from the castle."
"I know a few tracing charms." Hermione said, satisfied with the response, "I'll see if I can't get one on him. In the meantime I think we should-"
Conversations stopped dead in its tracks as Neville came running up to the seven of them, full tilt and obviously out of breath. To say he looked panicked and concerned was something of an understatement, as he came to a stop a few feet away and fought to catch his breath.
"Common room." He panted in between gasps of air, "Decree… Umbridge….She knows…"
The group all looked at one another for a moment and shared the feeling of dread that suddenly permeated the air, before scrambling to their feet, haphazardly cramming books, quills and parchments into their bags before printing the same way Neville had come from, with their fellow winded Gryffindor in tow.
"We're heading to our rooms," Malik yelled as he and Kaiba started to split off, "See if there's anything up there yet!"
Neville was left behind as they all ran as fast as they could back into the castle. Yami only just caught sight of him starting to trail and slowed up enough to keep pace with him. He could clearly see the rivulets of sweat running down his face after making the run once already, and the redness of his face did little to hide it either. Despite Cooper's "homework" the former Pharaoh had seen there were still a good number of students struggling with his mile-a-day policy and Neville was obviously one of them.
"Deeper breaths." He said evenly as he pulled up alongside his hikari's classmate.
"Wh….at?" Neville looked up at him from watching to make sure his feet were still clumping forward.
"Take deeper breaths. You're winding yourself more taking short shallow ones." He explained, forcing himself to do the same to prove his point.
"Can't." Was the gasped reply.
"Yes you can." Yami urged him, not willing to take "no" as an answer from him, "Take a breath as I do. I promise it will help."
Neville looked utterly exhausted as looked at the King of Games, but Yami saw his shoulders shift some as the young wizard sucked in a deeper breath in time with his own. He took a few more in even, measured time so Neville could adjust to the new pattern, and gradually, Yami noticed his running partner, not necessarily pick up speed, but his running motions became less halting and clunky and some of the vividness of the red color in his cheeks faded. Neither of them said another word for the rest of the trip up the winding and moving staircases to the Common Room, but every now and then, Yami caught a glimpse of Neville looking over at him and taking another deep breath in time with his own. Even so, Neville still collapsed into one of the easy chairs the instant they came surging through the portrait hole.
"Is that vile, impetuous witch so utterly terrified of her own students that she has to-" Bakura's enraged voice rumbled like distant thunder, making several first-years flinch and back away from him.
/Calm yourself, Thief. You're getting stares./ Yami quickly reminded the Egyptian before anyone else decided to stare at the normally quiet young man.
The former Pharaoh swore he could almost hear the sound of Bakura's teeth grinding together, but at least it was better than the stream of rather colorful names that now passed freely between the links in the Items. He turned his focus to the piece of parchment on the notice board, standing out prominently from the various notices, ads and reminders.
BY THE ORDER OF THE HIGH INQUISITOR OF HOGWARTS
All student organizations, societies, teams, groups and clubs are henceforth disbanded.
An organization, society, team, group or club is hereby defined as a regular meeting of three or more students. Permission to re-form may be sought from the High Inquisitor (Professor Umbridge).
No organization, society, team, group or club may exist without the knowledge and approval of the High Inquisitor.
Any student found to have formed, or belong to, an organization, society, team, group or club that has not been approved by the High Inquisitor will be expelled.
The above is in accordance with Educational Decree Number Twenty-Four.
Signed: Delores Jane Umbridge, High Inquisitor.
"Someone had to have blabbed." Ron grumbled darkly, "Maybe that Zacharias Smith, or Michael Corner."
"Malik convinced some Slytherins…." Harry muttered, his frown etching deep into his face.
"I suspect we can trust those people more than anyone." Yami pointed out before that line of thought could go further. When he only received a disbelieving look, he tapped his robes just above the Puzzle. "Malik has always been an exceptional judge of character." He whispered a little quieter, making sure Harry caught on to his meaning, "And the Gods help them if any of them were responsible."
Harry's eyes flicked down to the hidden Puzzle, before they lit up in a moment of understanding. Potter might not understand the full extent of the powers possessed by the Items just yet, but he and his friends had certainly accepted that they were not mere trinkets. It seemed to offer some relief, but it was overshadowed by the reality that Umbridge had most definitely been told about their meeting. The timing of it all was too perfect to not be a coincidence.
"It's too vague." Hermione shook her head, "If someone had told her it was us, then we'd be packing to go home right now. She's just casting a net and hoping to catch a big fish with this. Besides, I made sure we'd know if it was one of us who went running to that awful woman."
"And how did you manage that?" Bakura raised a curious eyebrow, his devious nature getting the better of his frustration.
"I put a jinx on the parchment everyone signed in the Hog's Head." She shrugged as if it were no big deal, "Believe me, if anyone decided to run off and told Umbridge what we're up to, we'll know and they'll certainly regret it."
Bakura's eyebrows nearly disappeared into his hairline, and he gave a low whistle of appreciation as he nudged Yami's ribs with his elbow.
((Who would have thought the bookworm could bite?))
Bad as the new decree was, it wasn't until the next morning when it became apparent just how far reaching the consequences were going to be. They had just settled in their usual spots at the Gryffindor table when a stream of people all seemed to suddenly have a pressing need to speak with at least one of them.
"You guys saw it too, right?"
"Reckon she knows?"
"What are we going to do?"
Yugi felt a pang of sympathy as a half dozen sets of eyes were all trained squarely on Harry, waiting for his answer. Anyone NOT waiting for Harry's response had their heads on a swivel, all looking this way and that, for any indication they were being watched or listened to, though so far, the Toad had yet to make her morning appearance.
"Calm down. We're going to do this, no matter what Umbridge says." Harry said quietly, though the conviction in his voice was as strong as ever.
"Knew you'd say that." George beamed at him, clapping him hard on the back, before making a quick gesture to Fred, "Leave it to us, mate. We'll get the word spread quietly. Go on, the lot of you! Get going before the Toad starts prowling!"
Harry cast the twins a grateful glance as they ushered people away from them. It took them only a few moments to pick people to head to the other tables in order to spread the news. The constant buzz of chatter and noise certainly didn't quiet down at all, and was still going strong once Kaiba and Malik dropped down into their usual seats looking just as haggard as the rest of them.
"Fine mess this is, Potter." Kaiba growled, reaching for his customary cup of coffee, "You have any idea how many people I've had come up to me screeching about this little project of yours?"
"What's wrong? Can't smooth things over with your winning personality, Mr. C.E.O.?" Malik snickered behind a bite of his breakfast, completely ignoring the withering glare aimed at him, "I've had a few people asking me about all this too though."
"We aren't giving up just because of that horrid woman." Hermione said defiantly, looking to Ron and Harry for support, "We'll just need to be even more careful from here on out."
"That's going to make just hanging out more difficult," Yugi said forlornly, his mood drooping at the thought he wouldn't even be able to spend time with his friends without being watched like a hawk.
"Ugggghhh…" Malik groaned, "How am I supposed to get my homework done now if we can't meet up in the library?!"
"You'll just have to start paying closer attention in class." Hermione shrugged, helping herself to a piece of toast, though she never actually took a bite from it as she glanced up and turned a rather spectacular shade of pink to match the cardigan draped across Umbridge's shoulders as she confidently strode up to the group with a grin wide enough to catch more than a few flies.
"Good morning children. I'm rather surprised to see you all gathered here this morning." She was practically crowing her every word as her beady eyes flicked to each and every one of them, "I haven't yet received a request for such a large and diverse gathering of students yet!"
Yugi felt himself go pale at the thought, while Yami nearly ignited on the spot. She couldn't. It was going to be bad enough they were going to be so restricted, but they couldn't even sit in peace at breakfast under the watch of nearly every professor at the school? Malik practically had his jaw hanging at the very idea that they couldn't even have a simple meal together, while Ryou kept his head down to quiet the shrieking spirit of the Ring, and Kaiba matched her gleeful look with an ice cold glare of his own.
"Come along now, children." She started waving her fat fingers at them, motioning for them to break up, "Hurry along to your own tables, now."
"Actually, this group is serving detention for me at the moment." Umbridge had called so much attention to herself, that no one had noticed when Professor Cooper had walked into the Great Hall, or when he'd slid in behind the High Inquisitor to watch the whole scene unfold with a touch of mild amusement. To his credit, he hid the smile rather well, as Umbridge nearly jumped out of her own skin and whirled around to see who it was that had managed to sneak up in her.
"Detention?!" She squawked, a bit louder than she'd meant to, before recomposing herself somewhat, "It hardly looks as if they are being punished!"
"Oh but of course!" Cooper smiled pleasantly, "You see, I found out from our dear Madam Pomfrey that we'd had an incident involving some fighting that resulted in a broken nose not too long ago."
Both Yugi and Ryou quickly found breakfast highly interesting as Cooper glanced their way, though the rest of the table wasn't even pretending to not be interested in the exchange taking place between the High Inquisitor and their muggle professor.
"And as I'm sure you can agree with me," Cooper continued, gesturing at Umbridge as if he was waiting for her to actually back him up on such logic, "That sort of behavior is absolutely unacceptable."
"Yes. Quite unacceptable indeed…" The suspicion on Umbridge's face couldn't have been any plainer than if Peeves had taken a quill to her forehead to write it in giant letters. Cooper only smiled widely that they'd at last been able to reach a unified conclusion, despite Umbridge's continued probing. "Though such barbaric behavior should have been reported to me immediately. The Minister expects to see a report-"
"Of two growing boys doing exactly what it is boys have done for hundreds, if not thousands of years?" Cooper guffawed loudly, drawing even more attention to them, "I'm sure your Minister is quite the busy man! What would he care if two young men had a disagreement over some pretty girl or handsome lad? It seemed like a silly thing to waste both his and your time with!"
"But how on Earth is this a punishment?" Umbridge protested, becoming increasingly flustered at the attention being drawn to them from both students and teachers alike.
"My dear professor!" Cooper exclaimed, in an almost theatrical manner, "Picture yourself in a bit of a disagreement with someone! Surely the last thing you would want to do is be forced to spend every waking moment near them! Forcing them to all sit together, eat together, and work together? Why it's the fastest way to get them all to see one another's point of view!"
((Why is he doing this?)) Bakura's voice echoed the question rolling through Yugi's own mind, ((What does he get out of keeping us together instead of just letting the Toad get her way?))
/I was wondering the same thing./ Yami agreed, /I imagine he's not just looking for ways to irritate Professor Umbridge…/
Yugi wordlessly agreed, exchanging a quiet look between his friends. All of them seemed to share his skepticism too, though none of them were exactly disappointed to have the attention taken off of them for a moment. It suddenly felt like Cooper was playing at something by keeping them together, despite the newest educational degree, and it was setting them up for a catch-22. They worked better as a group, being able to collaborate and share information was important, especially with Malik and Seto divided into the other Houses. But the new light Professor Hawkins had cast their seemingly easy-go-lucky teacher in made the unexpected blessing feel like it came with more strings attached than a spider web. Umbridge seemed to have the same thought as the confusion cleared from her features to be replaced with an almost condescending look as she regarded Cooper.
"While I must say the concept of your…punishment… is indeed novel, I'm afraid I'm going to have to overrule you in favor of a more traditional method of behavioral correction." Umbridge said sweetly, though her every word carried the undercurrent of immense satisfaction. She'd realized Cooper's game and wasn't about to let him manage to shake her quite so easily again. "After all if they're fighting using those brutish muggle techniques, then perhaps it would be best to allow an actual witch or wizard decide their punishment."
It was brief. Had Yugi not learned from the King of Games himself how to read people, both in the course of a game and in life, he might have missed it. Cooper twitched. The calm smile he never seemed to be without flickered on his face to be replaced with something darker, as if someone had changed a radio station to one with a slightly poorer reception. Yugi could swear he saw Cooper's pupils shrink ever so slightly as they honed in on Umbridge, and the only word he could think of for it was "predatory".
"While I appreciate your assistance, Professor Umbridge," Cooper said, his every word still nothing but polite, though there was something far more firm about his stance that made it clear he wasn't about to back down from her either, "I will be sure to keep you in mind should my methods fail to leave an impact."
"And I'm sure you would," Umbridge cocked her head, and spoke in the same sort of voice a mother might speak to her child with, "However, it is my duty as the High Inquisitor of this school to ensure that these children have a proper learning experience. And as discipline is an inherent part of such duties, I'm afraid I must insist on alleviating this burden from you in accordance with Educational Decree Number Twenty-Three…"
The slow, unnerving chuckle that rumbled in Cooper's chest was obviously not what Umbridge, or anyone else in the Great Hall had been expecting. Yugi hadn't noticed it until then, but the usual chatter of the room had fallen into almost deafening silence, as the room focused on the battle of wills taking place between their clashing professors. It made the fact that Cooper seemed to take just a little longer than he should have to collect himself, all the more unsettling as his deep baritone seemed to echo off the stone walls of the castle. The soft grin on his face had become sharper, with the barest tips of his teeth peeking out from behind his lips, even as the light from the candles danced in his eyes as he stared her down.
"While you've made it quite clear my heritage puts me at a disadvantage, I can assure you that I have taken the time to read up on the laws, clauses, and statutes passed by your Ministry." Cooper said, for the first time since his arrival, an actual edge in his words as he spoke, "And I have no doubt you possess an extensive and in-depth knowledge of such things, but I would like to draw your attention to the more recently passed Muggle Protection Act."
Whatever superiority Umbridge felt she had vanished in a heartbeat. Her face fell and went pale for a moment, before the slow flush of crimson started to creep up the back of her neck to take over her entire complexion with every word that came out of Cooper's mouth.
"As it is my understanding, while this law's primary intention is to prevent the injury of Muggles due to dangerous magical artifacts, there was a secondary clause written into it that actually distinguishes Muggles as a protected party that are exempt from your laws in conjunction with the Statute of Secrecy." Cooper fired back without giving her a moment to interject or argue, "And in accordance with the Statute of Secrecy's guidelines and regulations with vetting muggles for exposure to the wizarding world, the responsibility for my actions and behavior are dictated by my employer, in this case Albus Dumbledore and Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. Which means, you can pass all the decrees you like and I will be exempt from every last one of them so long as I am employed by the Headmaster of this school."
Umbridge's eyes were about to bulge out of her head as Cooper brushed curtly past her, and stopped for a fraction of a second to look at the gathering at the Gryffindor table, once again with calm regard for the students sitting there.
"As I mentioned before, you lot," Cooper said pleasantly, "Will continue to spend mornings, evenings following classes, and your weekends in one another's company indefinitely until I have determined you can satisfactorily work as a harmonious group. Make sure you coordinate your schedules accordingly, and I'll be sure to see you in class."
There was no room for argument, no room for discussion, as Cooper leaned over the table to grab a small pastry and turned on one heel and triumphantly walked out of the Great Hall with every last eye on him. Yugi could have sworn he saw the barest hint of a smile shared across the staff table, before McGonagall quickly started to dismiss students all to their classes. Their little group wasted no time scurrying out while Umbridge stood in a furious daze still trying to comprehend how Cooper had managed to rout her. Yugi actually found himself sharing the sentiment, because somehow? For the second time since they'd joined this crazy school?
Cooper had bested Umbridge at her own game.
GotC: Hey guys! Wow, so you know I actually started writing this chapter a year and a half ago?
Ace: Of course they do. They've been waiting for it!
GotC: *Embarrassed chuckle* Yeah…. Well, life tends to get crazy and in the way of things. My inspiration came back for the first time in a while, and it actually coincided with having some actual time to write! So here I am. I won't make any more crazy promises about updating frequently, HOWEVER, I am going to finish this fic no matter what. I have craziness planned I'd love to just start writing now, but I'd really like to drag you patient people along with me on the plot train! So for those of you out there that are still reading after almost 9 years, this is for you! And for those of you who are new to the party? Well, let me know how you like it so far! I still have lots planned and I'm excited again to share it with you all! So I'll sign off for now and catch you all in the next chapter! Laters!