Harry coughed as a plume of dust descended from the bookshelf, showering him in the products of many years of age. Waving his hand in front of his face, he squinted through the thin fog and raked his eyes over the object in his hands. A grim smile lit up his face, tugging at the corner of his lips: the pensieve of Vincent Valentine.

At twenty five years old, Harry Potter was a very lonely and unhappy man. His dark messy hair had several streaks of premature gray, his skin was sallow and pale, the flesh under his eyes dark and sagging, and a look of age in his eyes that no one as young as him should have. With a sigh, Harry set the heavy bowl down and looked back up at his family tree.

At the top was a familiar person with an unexpected surname: Godric Potter. His wife was recorded simply as Rowena Potter, but any witch or wizard who could see this family tree could tell who they once had been: Godric Gryffindor and Rowena Ravenclaw. There were several different lines that descended from the two names, but the first born — their firstborn daughter — was a solitary line that ended abruptly; the woman who would become the Grey Lady. Underneath "James and Lily Potter" was "Harry James Potter".

Looking down from the genetic map, Harry turned his attention to one of the several thick books lying on the table he sat at. Scanning a page of a particular one, satisfaction flitted across his face for a brief moment. The page in question was an ordinary page with ordinary text; it was the picture that had his attention.

The picture was of Godric and Rowena when they were founders; Godric's hair was sandy brown and Rowena's was pitch black. On the opposite page was a picture of a man dressed in black with a red cloak and mantle. His hair was long, messy, and black; but if one looked close enough, one could see a familiar pattern to the mess. A Potter pattern.

Vincent Valentine was famous for several exploits throughout history. The problem was that Vincent didn't appear at just one point; he appeared all throughout time starting after the founding of Hogwarts. His appearance was distinguished, with red irises, pale skin that suited his eyes perfectly, and long, unkempt black hair.

Turning away from the book, Harry prodded the bowl in front of him with his wand. A figure rose up, Vincent's figure, and dashed around over the bowl with amazing skills and reflexes, reflexes vaguely reminiscent of a Quidditch player. This Vincent held a long, slender gun in his hand, the triple barrels gleaming dangerously.

Squinting, Harry took a closer look at this Vincent, the most recent Vincent, and smiled slightly as he caught sight of the familiar Potter hair pattern. Yes, no question about it then. This most recent Vincent, the one who had thwarted Voldemort several times for about three years, was, without a doubt, James Potter.

Turning again, Harry looked at another book. A spell was written inside, one that was closely guarded and only found here, in the Potter family home. It was a transfiguration spell that allowed the user to bestow a limited form of Metamorphmagus powers on another for the rest of their natural life. It was Rowena's spell, designed to allow someone to become Vincent Valentine at a moment's notice.

There were some side effects, though. The spell was permanent and could not be lifted. Also, the effects of the spell were genetic; if the father had it cast on him, then all of his descendants would have the ability as well. This meant that the males of the Potter family would forever be cursed with messy black hair.

Prodding the pensieve a little more, several other images rose; images of other Vincents from other times. Each Vincent wore the red cloak and mantle and had red eyes and messy black hair, but, as the times became more advanced, so did Vincent's weapons progress as well. The first one fought with a sword; the one from the 1800's used a several pistols to prevent the drawback of reloading; the most recent one used a triple barreled revolver.

Grimacing, Harry looked down at the pieces of metal before him. When James had died, his revolver, Cerberus, had lost its enchantments. Now, Harry would have to reapply those spells to make it work again. Raising the Elder wand, Harry set about his task with a fervor that Hermione would be proud of.

Voldemort was dead. He had been for nearly six years. The self-proclaimed dark lord could have prevented his own death, but Tom Riddle's arrogance had proved to be his downfall. The Elder Wand would not attack the man who had earned its allegiance, so, when Voldemort attempted to kill Harry using said wand, it had backfired.

Unfortunately, Voldemort had accomplished quite a bit before he died, not the least of which had been taking over Hogwarts for a short time. No, Voldemort's greatest and most horrible achievement, the one he was no doubt cackling about down in Hell, had been killing all that Harry had held precious.

Sirius had been a harsh blow to the stomach (metaphorically). Dumbledore had been a stab through the heart. When Ginny had died, followed three days later by a vengeful Ron, it had been as if Harry's heart had been ripped out. He had cried endlessly for what seemed like weeks and had not slept or ate properly for several days.

Hermione was the only one there for him. She had grieved as well, but she had also comforted him, held him as he cried and soothed his frayed nerves. She had become the light in a dark tunnel, and he had grasped onto that desperately. She was the only friend he had left in the world, the only one who understood him.

For a while, they had skirted around their feelings, trying to convince themselves that the only reason they felt that way was because of the grief and loneliness. Harry still wasn't sure if they had truly been in love, but it had felt nearly as raw and as passionate as he had felt for Ginny. He had taken that as a sign and they spent half of their days just being affectionate from there on out.

Then, of course, Voldemort had to do what he did best. In all honesty, the final battle hadn't lasted long. It hadn't been a cliché duel to the death with flashing lights and impossibly advanced spells; in fact, only a few spells had been cast before Voldemort had launched a killing curse that had immediately turned back around and killed him. Harry was unscathed.

Hermione, however, who had been dueling against Bellatrix Lestrange, had not been so lucky. She had been doing fairly well, but her skill and ability had been as nothing against Bellatrix and her insanity. In the end, Bellatrix managed to hit Hermione with a fatal blow, and Harry lost the last of his most precious people.

Bellatrix hadn't even seen the Sectumsempra Harry cast until it had already carved a bloody gash in her spine just above her shoulders. She was dead almost before she hit the ground.

Letting out a sigh of satisfaction, Harry cast a proud look down at the gleaming silver revolver sitting in front of him. The head of a dog was carved into each of the three barrels and the chamber was loaded with fresh bullets (every other one soaked in Basilisk venom). There was a self-replenishing charm that had been fitted to them that eliminated the need to reload and it was unbreakable as well. Several other enchantments were stuck to the metal, too, and this was indeed a formidable weapon.

After that, Harry had sunken into a depression for a few weeks, half wishing that he could simply use the Hallows to resurrect his lost love, but it wasn't quite so easy. So Harry had chosen the next best path, one that had been opened up to him when had done some research on time travel.

Sitting up straight, Harry conjured a mirror out of thin air and concentrated. Slowly, as this was his first try, his hair lengthened into Vincent's untidy locks and his green irises turned red. His body shifted and became taller and more muscular, filling out slightly from Harry's half-starved appearance. Dressed in Harry's clothes was the newest Vincent Valentine.

Standing up, Harry let his features melt back into the familiar green eyes and short hair that he remembered and turned to get the necessary materials. Fourth Year should be good, right about the Third Task. That should give him enough time to save Cedric and prevent a few things.

In the stillness of Albion, Cerberus cried a pitiful dirge.

The Order of the Phoenix: Reconvened
James D. Fawkes

Chapter One: The Birth of a Legend
— o.0.O.O.0.o —

In any other situation, at any other time, all Harry Potter wanted to be was an ordinary, fifteen-year-old wizard. And, even now, as he contemplated the things he could have done and the changes he'd like to have made to the timeline, Harry still wished he could be a normal teenage wizard. If he was, he wouldn't have had to come back in time anyway.

Harry sighed as he lay on his bed in Grimmauld Place, mulling over his memories of the previous year.

Cedric Diggory was dead. Harry had not arrived at the date he had been intending to go back to. That is to say, instead of landing in his old body exactly the day of the Third Task, he had found himself being tackled into a hug from Hermione at the door to Grimmauld Place. That was nearly three months off from his original destination, if not more.

Of course, had Harry been able to go back as far as he'd wanted to, he might have been able to find a way to save Cedric from his fate. But, since Harry had been aiming for the tail end of his Fourth Year (and the Triwizard Tournament) and wound up a few weeks before his Fifth Year…well, things hadn't really gone the way he'd thought they would and his plans had been shot to hell.

Some things had changed, however, and it was those changes that Harry looked forward to exploring. For example, he had come back in time with a few things of necessity, including his wand, the Elder Wand, Cerberus, and a few other items that he intended to use. What he hadn't been counting on was what would happen when he came back.

As two of the exact same thing could not exist in the world without creating a paradox or something of the sort, the Elder Wand and the Phoenix feather wand he had brought back had fused, in a sense. The wood was still holly, and the length hadn't changed much if at all. There were now two cores, however, instead of just one: the original phoenix feather and the Thestral tail hair from the Elder Wand.

To make matters even better, he still had the phoenix feather wand that his past counterpart had been carrying, meaning that he had two wands, now. The fused nature of the first cemented the wand's allegiance to him and the second one gave him a distinct advantage over normal wizards.

Harry eyed the trunk by his bed warily. Inside was the clothing he would wear when he took on the persona of Vincent Valentine: the red cloak and mantle, the black clothes, the obsidian gloves, the crimson bandana, and the golden toed boots. Also located in his trunk was a time turner that would allow him to be Vincent Valentine and Harry Potter at the same time.

Flinging open the trunk, Harry pulled out the necessary clothes and changed into them as his body morphed into the tall figure of Vincent, fixing Cerberus' black holster to his right thigh. Buckling the belts on his mantle, he tied the bandana around his head snugly and fit his revolver into place, then grabbed the time turner and spun it the required number of times. He vanished. Two seconds later, Harry Potter opened the door to the bedroom quietly and snuck into bed.

When Harry could see again, he was standing in the shadows of the kitchen as the members of the Order of the Phoenix filled in and sat at the table. He was apprehensive for a second as Mad-Eye's magical orb spun around in its socket to look in Harry's direction, but let out a silent sigh of relief as the ex-Auror looked away.

It took quite a while, but the room was finally as full as it was going to get, so the door was closed and warded as Dumbledore stood and greeted them, "Welcome, my esteemed colleagues, to this meeting of the Order of the Phoenix! Today, hopefully, we will have news about our ongoing efforts to limit Voldemort's allies."

Several people shuddered at the name, but Albus didn't seem to notice, "First, we will hear from Remus Lupin, who has secretly been—"

"Some secret," Harry said in a soft, deep voice. Instantly, numerous wands were pointed in his direction, including the wand of one Albus Dumbledore, whose expression was stony and firm. Harry resisted the urge to smile. So, he had finally managed to pull one over on the old man.

"Show yourself!" Mad-Eye growled darkly, his magical eye whirling around, looking for the intruder. Harry was still surprised he hadn't been found. He decided that the best way to approach this was directly.

Several people, but not nearly a majority of the group, gasped as Harry walked into the light, folding his arms across his chest. His red eyes were sharp, glaring into Albus' blue orbs, "If this secret meeting of the secret Order of the Phoenix is supposed to be so secret, then I'd hate to know what you considered to be blatantly obvious."

"And who are you supposed to be?" Snape sneered nastily.

"You should be careful to whom you speak," Harry flicked the hem of his ragged cloak away to reveal the black handle of Cerberus, "Severus Snape."

Snape stood abruptly and snarled a spell, but Harry was already in motion, dodging effortlessly. As he spun, his hand dove downward and he turned, lifting his revolver up and firing with a moderately loud bang. Mad-Eye Moody tripped and fell as his wooden leg was blasted in half.

"My name is Vincent Valentine," Harry told them quietly, taking advantage of their shock, "and you people need me more than you would care to admit."

Dumbledore seemed incapable of speaking; his mouth opened and closed but no sound came out. McGonagall looked as if she had just seen a ghost; either that, or she was having a hard time believing that a legendary figure was standing in front of her looking no older than twenty years old. She was probably trying to figure out how the 'immortal' Vincent Valentine was still alive.

"Are you…?" Dumbledore asked quietly. "Are you really…him?"

Harry paused, trying to figure out how to answer that. Dumbledore was his greatest ally in this and with Harry's knowledge of the Horcruxes and what not to do with them (like put the ring on), Albus would be quite helpful. Finally, he settled on something that he knew Albus could figure out, "To strike fear in the hearts of his enemies, to make them dread his very presence, a man must become more than a man. He must become a symbol. He must become immortal. Otherwise, he is just a man."

Albus' eyes widened at those words, and Harry could see the cogs of his brain spinning around and around, dissecting each and every part of his sentences. In a few moments, he would probably come to the conclusion that Vincent Valentine was someone outside the Order who knew about it. And since the only people who were aware of the Order's renewed presence were either in this room or in the house itself, that narrowed the list down to very few people.

"Why are you here?" Remus Lupin asked him calmly.

"Atonement," Harry answered at once, knowing it was the answer to that question a couple times over in a couple other situations, "the forgiveness of my sins. I could not protect the woman I loved. I failed her and all those precious to me. My purpose…"

His voice faded into silence.

Catching a sad, forlorn look on Sirius' face, Harry turned to the man and asked, quietly, "Can sins be forgiven?"

"…I don't know," Sirius said after a moment. "I've never tried."

"How do we know you're on our side?" Moody growled, both of his eyes fixed on Harry.

Harry's lips curled into a smile, "Because if I wasn't, I would have aimed for your real leg and the Basilisk venom on my bullets would have killed you by now. That, or I could have aimed for your head and left your brain as nothing more than pulp and bits of grey matter."

Everyone turned green at this, except for Albus, who appeared to be having an epiphany, so Harry put the final nail in the coffin, "If you're still not convinced, Alastor Moody, then I suppose I have to mention that your hipflask got you into quite a bit of trouble last year. Or would it be more accurate that the hipflask veiled the evidence that you were in trouble?"

Grumbling a grudging acceptance (only the Order, Voldemort, the trio, and Wormtail knew about that), Moody mumbled a spell and the splintered sliver of wood still attached to his leg grew into a whole new peg. He tested it gently, then stood up from his spot on the floor and limped back over to his chair.

"Well then," Albus said brightly, his eyes on full twinkle, "I suppose we have a new member to welcome into the fold. Ladies and Gentlemen, let's give Mr. Valentine a warm welcome into the Order of the Phoenix!"

That was how Harry had wound up where he was, lying on a bed in Grimmauld Place, staring at the ceiling as he waited for sleep to claim him. His trial was in two days and he was going to wear his best to it (namely, the red and gold silk robes he had had Mrs. Weasley pick up for him in Diagon Alley).

Harry rolled over, tugging the plain old sheets up to his shoulders, a small smirk tugging at his lips. He was going to have fun with his trial. He couldn't wait to see how flustered the Minister would get.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Harry pretended to gasp as he walked into the courtroom. He'd seen the dungeon several times before, and had been to it several times as well. It was most familiar as the place in the memories within Dumbledore's Pensieve, particularly the ones where Bellatrix and her husband and brother-in-law were sentenced to life in Azkaban.

The walls, lit dimly by torches, were made of a dark stone he had yet to identify, despite several years worth of knowledge about magically powerful rocks. The benches on either side of him were empty, but Wizengamot members filled the highest benches in front of him. They immediately ceased any talking the moment he walked into the room.

"You're late," a cold voice said, echoing across the ominous chamber.

"Ah yes," Harry said, doing his best to mimic Albus' aloof tone. "I do apologize, but I must have missed the notification."

"That is not the fault of the Wizengamot," the voice said, a bit less firm than before. Perhaps whoever it was had been unnerved by Harry's 'Dumbledore imitation'. "Take your seat."

Without pause or hesitation, Harry sat in the chair in the center, ignoring the chains as they rattled threateningly. They would not bind him, and the Ministry wouldn't dare try, lest it get out to the public. Public opinion was a very powerful thing, and should the Ministry try to bind a minor in the chair for such a miniscule offense, the uproar would be phenomenal.

Harry counted fifty of them, all wearing plum-colored robes with an elaborate silver W stitched into the left breast. All of them stared down their noses at him, some looking curious, others wearing a very severe expression, as if he were being charged for murder or something equally as vile.

Perched in the middle of the very front row was Cornelius Fudge, the foolish man Harry knew as the Minister of Magic. On Fudge's right, her face obscured by shadow, sat Dolores Umbridge, a woman whom Harry had come to despise greatly. His disgust for her was outweighed only by his hate for Voldemort.

"Very well," Fudge said, his expression harsh. "Since the accused is present — finally — let us begin. Are you ready?"

"Yes, sir," said the eager voice of Percy Weasley. Harry's gaze flickered over to him, where he sat at the very end of the row. He knew not to expect any kindness or fondness from the estranged Weasley, whose eyes were fixed on the parchment in his hands. Percy was too wrapped up in being an important Ministry figure.

"Disciplinary hearing of the twelfth of August," Fudge said loudly, and Percy's hand zipped back and forth as he took notes, "into offenses committed under the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery and the International Statute of Secrecy by Harry James Potter, resident at number four, Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey.

"Interrogators: Cornelius Oswald Fudge, Minister of Magic; Amelia Susan Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement; Dolores Jane Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister. Court Scribe, Percy Ignatius Weasley—"

"— Witness for the defense, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore," Albus' quiet voice interrupted, originating from behind Harry.

Dumbledore, garbed in midnight-blue robes with twinkling stars on them, strode across the room serenely, ever calm. His long silvery hair and beard gleamed brightly in the light the torches gave off as he came within arm's reach of Harry. He looked up at the indignant Fudge through his half-moon glasses and gave a small, almost unnoticeable shake of his head, as if disappointed.

"Ah," Fudge said, almost blanching at the sight of the very man who would turn the tide of this meeting. At least, that's what Fudge assumed. Harry knew better; he could defend himself in court this time. "Dumbledore. Yes. You — er — got our — um — message that the time and place of the — ah — hearing had been changed, then?"

"I must have missed it," Dumbledore said cheerily. Harry nearly smiled. "However, due to a lucky mistake, I arrived at the Ministry three hours early, so no harm done."

As Fudge stuttered, Dumbledore conjured a plush chintz armchair next to Harry and sat down, surveying the Minister with a polite expression of interest.

"Yes," Fudge said, shuffling his notes almost nervously. "Well, then. So. The charges. Yes."

He pulled a piece of parchment from the pile in front of him, took a deep, calming breath, and read, "The charges against the accused are as follows: That he did knowingly, deliberately, and in full awareness of the illegality of his actions, having received a previous written warning from the Ministry of Magic on a similar charge, produce a Patronus Charm in a Muggle-inhabited area, in the presence of a Muggle, on August the second at twenty-three minutes past nine, which constitutes an offense under paragraph C of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery, 1875, and also under section thirteen of the International Confederation of Wizards' Statute of Secrecy.

"You are Harry James Potter, of number four, Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey?" Fudge glared at Harry over the top of his parchment.

"Yes," Harry said, tone neutral.

"You received an official warning from the Ministry for using illegal magic three years ago, did you not?"

"Yes, however —"

"And yet you conjured a Patronus on the night of the second of August?" Fudge asked.

"Yes," Harry said, not even bothering to continue, knowing it would be fruitless.

"Knowing that you are not permitted to use magic outside school while you are under the age of seventeen?"


"Knowing that you were in an area full of Muggles?"


"Fully aware that you were in close proximity to a Muggle at the time?"

"Yes," Harry said, starting to get annoyed with the line of monotonous questioning.

The witch on to the left of Fudge, the one whom Harry recognized as Amelia Bones, interrupted the questioning for a second.

"You produced a full-fledged Patronus?"

"Yes," Harry said.

"A corporeal Patronus?"

"Yes," Harry said, a little impatient that his abilities were being questioned, "it's a stag, always a stag."

"Always?" Madam Bones echoed. "You have produced a Patronus before now?"

"Yes," Harry said, "I've been doing it since third year."

"And you are fifteen years old?"


"You learned this at school?"

"Yes, Professor Lupin taught me in my third year —"

"Impressive," Madam Bones said, staring at him with something akin to respect, "a true Patronus at that age…very impressive."

"It's not a question of how impressive the magic was," Fudge argued testily. "In fact, the more impressive the worse it is, I would've thought, given that the boy did it in plain view of a Muggle!"

Several Wizengamot members murmured in agreement. Harry frowned angrily.

"That would be correct," Harry said loudly, before anyone could say anything else, "were it not the case that the Muggle, my cousin, was well aware of magic and we were being attacked by dementors!"

A harsh silence befell the room at Harry's declaration, as if something taboo had just been said.

"Dementors?" Madam Bones asked thickly. "What do you mean, boy?"

"What I mean, Madam Bones," Harry shifted slightly, just enough that the round, thumbnail sized ruby on the necklace he was wearing flashed in the light, "is that two dementors decided that my cousin and I would make a nice meal and attacked us on our way home."

"Ah," Fudge said, smirking cruelly. "Yes. Yes, I thought we'd be hearing something like this."

"Did you, now?" Harry asked, smirking. "Was that because someone in your entourage told you they had set two dementors on me?"

Fudge glared dangerously, "What are you getting at, boy?"

"I'm saying," Harry said, leaning forward and lacing his fingers together in front of his face, "that one of your avid supporters heard you complaining about my 'Voldemort's Return' claim and decided that the easiest way to rid you of your problem would be to have my soul sucked out.

"Of course," Harry's smirk widened, "on the off chance that I knew and could perform the Patronus charm, I'd be brought up on charges such as these and either expelled or discredited, and I'd no longer be a problem for you either way."

Harry leaned back in his chair, "There is the third possibility, that someone outside the Ministry wanted me 'out of the way' and decided that dementors would be the easiest and most inconspicuous method of achieving that."

"Excuse me, Mr. Potter," Umbridge said sweetly, finally coming out of the shadows. Harry suppressed a sneer, "but it sounds as if you're insinuating that someone within the Ministry sent these creatures after you. Of course, I know that's impossible, so it was rather silly of me to think such a thing."

"I am," Harry said calmly, ignoring the uproar it caused, "unless, of course, you can tell me the name of someone outside of the Ministry with control over dementors."

"There are no dementors outside of Ministry control!" Fudge snapped angrily. "And I seriously doubt there were dementors who attacked in the first place! After all, Muggles can't see dementors, now can they, boy? What it all boils down to is just your word on the matter and no witnesses…"

"I'm not lying," Harry said firmly, flecks of red appearing within his green eyes as the members of the Wizengamot started to whisper amongst themselves. "It was a little after sundown and I was heading home from the park. My cousin decided he would like to take advantage of the Age Restriction and was about to pummel me when two dementors glided out — "

"Enough, enough!" Fudge demanded, an arrogant look creeping onto his face. "I'm sorry to interrupt what would have been a very well-rehearsed story—"

Albus cleared his throat softly. The entire Wizengamot fell silent again.

"We do, actually, have a witness who saw and can testify to the presence of the dementors in that alleyway," he said lightly, "other than Dudley Dursley, I mean."

Fudge's plump face seemed to deflate, as though someone were letting the air out of a pasty white balloon. He stared at the wizened old man for a moment or two, then, with the look of a man piecing himself back together, said, "We don't have time to listen to more of this nonsense, I'm afraid, Dumbledore. I want to get this over with quickly—"

"I may be wrong," Albus said, smiling pleasantly, "but I am sure that under the Wizengamot Charter of Rights, the accused has the right to present witnesses for his or her case? Isn't that the policy of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Madam Bones?"

"True," Madam Bones said. "Perfectly true."

"Oh, very well, very well," Fudge said, looking like he'd swallowed an unpleasant piece of food. "Where is this person?"

"I brought her with me," Dumbledore said, the smile still present on his face. "She's just outside the door. Should I — ?"

"No — Weasley, you go," Fudge barked at Percy, who got up immediately, as if he had sat on something sharp and pointy, walked briskly down the stone steps from the judge's balcony, and strode quickly past Albus and Harry without pausing to throw them even a single glance, accusatory or otherwise.

A moment later, followed by the soft slam of the courtroom doors, Percy returned, Mrs. Figg trailing behind him by about a meter. She looked positively frightened, as though she were watching a nightmare she couldn't wake up from. Harry almost flushed in embarrassment when he realized she hadn't changed out of her carpet slippers.

Dumbledore stood and politely offered his chair to Mrs. Figg, who absently sat down, and conjured a second chair for himself.

"Full name?" Fudge asked in a loud voice (probably trying to intimidate her) when she had seated herself nervously.

"Arabella Doreen Figg," Mrs. Figg said, a noticeable waver to her voice.

"And who exactly are you?" Fudge said, his voice implying that he couldn't really care less either way.

"I'm a resident of Little Whinging, close to where Harry Potter lives," Mrs. Figg said.

"We have no record of any witch or wizard living in Little Whinging other than Harry Potter," Madam Bones said a moment later. "That situation has always been closely monitored, given…past events."

"Well, that's just it, isn't it?" Mrs. Figg said. "I'm a Squib, so you wouldn't have me registered, would you?"

"A Squib, eh?" Fudge asked rhetorically, eyeing her suspiciously. "We'll be checking that. You'll leave the details of your parentage with my assistant, Weasley. Incidentally, can Squibs see dementors?"

He looked along the bench where he sat, as if waiting for someone to answer him.

"Yes, we most certainly can!" Mrs. Figg said indignantly.

"Very well," Fudge said coolly. "What is your story?"

"I had gone out to buy cat food from the corner shop at the end of Wisteria walk, shortly after nine on the evening of the second of August," Mrs. Figg said calmly, as though she had rehearsed it several times and learned it by heart, "when I heard a disturbance down the alleyway between Magnolia Crescent and Wisteria Walk. On approaching the mouth of the alleyway, I saw dementors gliding along the alley towards what looked like two boys."

"What did they look like?" asked Madam Bones, her eye narrowing as the story continued.

"Well, one was very large and the other one was rather skinny — "

"No, no," Madam Bones said impatiently, "the dementors…describe them."

"Oh," Mrs. Figg said lamely, a pink flush lighting up her cheeks. "They were big and thin and wore old looking cloaks that probably haven't been washed in years."

"I see," said Madam Bones. "Anything else?"

"Yes," Mrs. Figg said. "If felt them. Everything went cold, and this was a very warm summer's night, mind you. And I felt…as though all the happiness had gone from the world…and I remembered…dreadful things…"

Her voice shook and vanished into silence. Madam Bones' eyes widened slightly, red marks under her eyebrow where her monocle had dug into the tender flesh.

"What did the dementors do?" she asked.

"They went for the boys," said Mrs. Figg, her voice stronger, more confident, and infinitely more firm than it had been before. "One of them had fallen. The other was backing away, trying to repel the dementor. That was Harry. He tried twice and produced a silver vapor. On the third attempt, he produced a Patronus, which charged down the first dementor and then, with his encouragement, chased away the second from his cousin. And that…that's what happened."

Madam Bones looked down at Mrs. Figg silently, as if gauging whether or not she was telling the truth. Fudge wasn't looking at the woman at all, too busy shuffling his papers around to cast her a glance. Finally he raised his head and asked, rather rudely and aggressively, "That's what you saw, is it?"

"That's what happened," Mrs. Figg said once more.

"Very well," Fudge said haughtily. "You may go."

Casting a fearful look at Dumbledore, Mrs. Figg got up slowly and shuffled off to the door, shutting it with a noisy thud behind her.

"Not a very convincing witness," Fudge said loftily.

"I disagree," Madam Bones said firmly. "She certainly described the effects of a dementor attack very accurately. And I can't imagine why she would say they were there if they weren't — "

"But dementors wandering into a Muggle suburb and just happening to come across a wizard?" Fudge snorted derisively at the very idea. While he wasn't a very good minister, Harry would admit that Fudge was quite the politician. "The odds on that must be very, very long. Even Bagman wouldn't have bet — "

"I'm afraid that I must agree with Mr. Potter's earlier assessment," Dumbledore interrupted, his voice light. "I don't think any of us believes that the dementors were there by sheer coincidence."

Umbridge shifted next to Fudge, bristling slightly that Albus was saying such a thing, but the rest of the people on the stands were silent and unmoving. Harry resisted the urge to give into his Slytherin side and arch an eyebrow triumphantly, complete with a mocking smirk.

"And what is that supposed to mean?" Fudge asked, his tone frigid and angry.

"It means that I think they were ordered there," Dumbledore said, fixing Fudge with a firm stare. "Mr. Potter and I are of the same opinion in this matter. You do have one thing right, Minister, and that is that the odds of finding a dementor in Little Whinging, or even in Surrey, are very long and quite weak."

"I think we might have a record of it if someone had ordered a pair of dementors to go strolling through Little Whinging!" Fudge barked furiously.

"Not if the dementors happened to be taking orders from someone other than the Ministry of Magic these days," Albus said, his voice strong and calm. His tone turned grave. "I have already given you my views on this matter, Cornelius."

"Yes, you have," Fudge said crossly, "and I have no reason to believe that your views are anything other than bilge, Dumbledore. The dementors remain in place in Azkaban and are doing everything we ask them to."

"Then," Albus said, his tone quiet but clear and just as grave as earlier, "we must take Mr. Potter's earlier statement seriously and ask ourselves why somebody within the Ministry ordered a pair of dementors into that alleyway on the second of August."

As the entirety of the group fell silent, not even Fudge speaking up and denying the claim that many would call outrageous, Umbridge twitched slightly before leaning forward on her bench.

"The Chair recognizes Dolores Jane Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister," Fudge said quietly, still reeling from the shock of Dumbledore's words.

Umbridge's voice was just as sweet as it had been before, and Harry had the sudden desire to introduce her to Cerberus, which was hidden by his robes and disillusioned, "I'm sure I must have misunderstood you, Professor Dumbledore — I seem to be having a lot of trouble with that in this court room. So silly of me, really. But it sounded for a teensy moment that you were suggesting that the Ministry had ordered an attack on this boy!"

She gave such a sickening sweet laugh that Harry had to hold down a disgusted shudder, even as other members of the Wizengamot laughed a humorless laugh with her. You would have to be the thickest person in the world to think that any one of them was actually amused at all.

"If you are having such trouble understanding Albus and I," Harry said, surprising many in the room — including the Professor himself — with his usage of the man's first name, "then I suggest you either resign from this farce of a trial or go to St. Mungo's. Albus and I were quite clear with our words. If the Ministry of Magic is indeed the only one that dementors are taking orders from and I was attacked by two of those dementors, then, logically, someone in the Ministry must have ordered them after me. Unless, of course, these particular dementors were outside of your control?"

"There are no Dementors outside of Ministry control!" Fudge repeated angrily, his face turning a burning red with puce splotches.

Dumbledore inclined his head slightly, as if acknowledging a point, "Then undoubtedly the Ministry will be making a full inquiry into why two dementors were so very far from Azkaban and why they attacked without authorization."

"It's not for you to decide what the Ministry of Magic does or does not do, Dumbledore!" Fudge snapped, his face deepening into a rich shade of Magenta.

"Of course it isn't," Albus said politely. "I was merely expressing my confidence that this matter will not go uninvestigated."

He cast a meaningful glance at Madam Bones, who adjusted her monocle, as if by habit, and frowned as she returned his stare.

"I would remind everybody that the behavior of these dementors, if they are indeed real and not a figment of this boy's insane imagination, is not the subject of this hearing!" Fudge said loudly. "We are here to examine Harry Potter's offenses under the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction for Underage Sorcery!"

"Of course we are," it was clear that getting Harry off and the charges dropped weren't Albus' only goal for this trial, "but the presence of dementors in that alleyway is highly relevant. Clause seven of the Decree states that magic may be use before Muggles in exceptional circumstances, and as those exceptional circumstances include situations that threaten the life of the wizard or witch himself, or witches, wizards, or Muggles present at the time of the — "

"We're familiar with clause seven, thank you very much!" Fudge snarled at Dumbledore, his lip curling in his anger.

"Of course you are," Dumbledore repeated politely. "Then you agree that Harry's use of the Patronus Charm in these circumstances falls precisely into the category of exceptional circumstances it describes?"

"If there were dementors," Fudge started, "which I doubt — "

"You have heard from an eyewitness," Dumbledore interrupted, frowning slightly. "If you still doubt the truthfulness of her statement, then call her back and question her a second time. I'm sure she wouldn't object."

"I — that — not — " Fudge stuttered, flushing as he tried to get a grip on the words he wanted to use. He was fidgeting nervously with his papers, bending several of them and crinkling others as he did so. "It's — I want his over with today, Dumbledore!"

"But, naturally, you would not care how many times you heard from a witness if the alternative was a serious miscarriage of justice," Dumbledore said. Albus was well aware that he had backed Fudge into a corner and Harry couldn't help but smirk inwardly.

"Serious miscarriage of justice, my hat!" Fudge said as loud as he possible could. At his words, Harry glanced at his head, watching the large bowler hat sway with his angry syllables and motions. "Have you ever bothered to tally up the number of ludicrous stories this boy has come up with, Dumbledore, to cover up for his flagrant misuse of magic outside of school?! I suppose you've forgotten the Hover Charm he use three years ago — "

"That was a house-elf," Harry said firmly. "A house-elf I intend to have in my employ quite soon."

Dumbledore cast him a smile.

"YOU SEE?!" Fudge roared as loud as he could, gesturing wildly towards the black haired boy. He seemed not to have heard the second part of that statement. "A house-elf! In a Muggle house! I ask you — "

"The house-elf in question is currently employed at Hogwarts, though not for much longer, apparently," Albus said over Fudge's ranting. "I can summon him here in an instant to give evidence, if you so desire."

"I — not — I haven't got time to listen to house-elves! Anyway, that's not the only — he blew up his aunt, for Merlin's sake!" Fudge shouted, his composure dropping as he banged his fist against the desk and splattered ink onto several of his papers.

"And you didn't press charges at that time," Harry said calmly. "You're reasoning, I suppose, was that not even the best of wizards are always in complete control of their emotions."

Fudge started in again, "And I haven't even begun on what he gets up to at school — !"

"— but, as the Ministry hasn't the authority to punish Hogwarts students from misdemeanors at school, Harry's behavior there is not relevant to this inquiry," Dumbledore said politely, a hint of coolness hidden within his voice.

"Oho!" Fudge said, leering victoriously. "Not our business what he does at school, eh? You think so?"

"The Ministry does not have the power to expel Hogwarts students, Cornelius, of which I reminded you on the night of the second of August," Albus said calmly. "Nor does it have the right to confiscate wands until charges have been successfully proven, something else I reminded you of on the night of August the second. In your admirable haste to ensure that the law is upheld, you appear, inadvertently, I'm sure, to have overlooked a few laws yourself."

"Laws can change," Fudge said savagely.

"Of course they can," Dumbledore admitted with a slight inclination of his head. "And you certainly seem to be making many changes, Cornelius. Why, in the few short weeks since I was asked to leave the Wizengamot, it has already become the practice to hold a full criminal trial to deal with a simple case of underage magic!"

Fudge's blush darkened several shades as a few of the wizards on the benches began to shuffle around uncomfortably. Umbridge, however, seemed quite calm, which only reinforced Harry's opinion that she was quite insane.

"As far as I am aware, however," Dumbledore continued, on a roll, "there is currently no law in place that says it is the job of this court to punish Harry for every bit of magic he has ever performed. He has been charged with a specific offense and he has presented his defense (mostly on his own, too). All he and I can do now is await your verdict."

Steeping his fingertips together again and saying no further words, Dumbledore merely looked up at the congregation of Wizengamot members, Fudge glaring down at him angrily. Harry simply relaxed in his chair, not only confident that he would be let off, but also aware that the Ministry only knew of one wand. No matter what happened, he would still be capable of doing what it was he had come back to do. Up in the stands, the entire Wizengamot had fallen into urgent, whispered conversations.

Finally, the whispering stopped. Harry looked up and stared directly into the eyes of Fudge, who cringed as Harry's eyes flashed violent red and back.

"All those in favor of clearing the witness of all the charges brought against him?" asked Madam Bones in a booming voice. Several hands flew into the air, quite a bit more than half. Looking around calmly, he tried to count how many were voting for him, but Madam Bones had already spoken once more. "And all those in favor of conviction?"

Fudge and half a dozen others raised their hands, the toad-like Dolores Umbridge included. Glancing around at all of them, Fudge looked as though there was something large and unpleasant in his throat. He lowered his own hand almost reluctantly, obviously embarrassed and angry by just how unsuccessful he had been, "Very well, very well…cleared of all charges."

"Excellent!" Dumbledore said brightly, standing up at once. He pulled out the Elder Wand, his wand, and vanished the two armchairs in an instant. "Well, I must be going. Good day to you all. Harry, I'll see you later, I'm sure."

And, with a fond smile towards the black-haired boy, he turned around and swept out of the room majestically.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

"I knew it!" Ron yelled excitedly, punching the air with his right fist. "You always get away with stuff!"

"They were bound to clear you," Hermione said weakly, holding a shaking hand over her eyes. She seemed to be trying to convince herself more than anything. "There was no case against you, none at all…"

"It seems, though, that everyone is quite relieved. Even though they knew I'd get off," Harry said, smiling at her. He put on a mock hurt look, "Didn't you all have faith in me?"

"Of course we did, dear," Mrs. Weasley sobbed, wiping her face on her apron. The twins and Ginny were doing a sort of victory dance, chanting, "He got off, he got off, he got off — "

"That's enough, settle down!" Mr. Weasley shouted over their voices, though there was a smile on his lips, too. "Listen, Sirius, Lucius Malfoy was at the Ministry — "

"What?" Sirius asked sharply, looking alarmed.

"He got off, he got off, he got off — "

"Be quiet, you three! Yes, we saw him talking to Fudge on level nine, then they went up to Fudge's office together. Dumbledore ought to know."

"Absolutely," Sirius said firmly. "We'll tell him, don't worry."

Leaning closer, Sirius whispered, "Incidentally, what do you think of this Vincent Valentine character?"

Harry listened closely at this, hoping to catch what was said. Mr. Weasley replied, sighing, "I'm really not sure what to think. I mean, this guy appears out of nowhere and suddenly decides to join the Order? You saw how good he was! He blew off Mad-Eye's leg! Not many people can boast about stuff like that! But, Dumbledore obviously trusts him, so I will too."

Standing straight, Mr. Weasley said, "Well, I'd better get going. There's a vomiting toilet in Bethnal Green waiting for me. Molly, I'll be late, I'm covering for Tonks, but Kingsley might be dropping in for dinner — "

"He got off, he got off, he got off — "

"That's enough, Fred, George, Ginny!" Mrs. Weasley said loudly as Mr. Weasley left the kitchen. "Harry dear, come and sit down, have some lunch, you hardly ate breakfast…"

Harry found that comment to be quite funny, as he had indeed had a hearty and fulfilling breakfast. Mrs. Weasley, however, insisted that he needed to eat, and arguing with her about this wasn't something he thought he should do.

Ron and Hermione sat down on the opposite side of the table from him, looking a great deal happier than he had seen them during their stay at Grimmauld Place after he had arrived. In retrospect, Harry could see Hermione held a great deal more relief than Ron did, though Ron was indeed relieved that he hadn't been convicted. Was this a sign? Did the Hermione he had fallen in love with already exist, nearly five years before she was supposed to? Had he simply been blind to her feelings all along?

Kreacher poked his nose in and suddenly Harry remembered what he had said earlier, "Oh, hold on a second guys. Dobby!"

With a soft crack, Dobby the house-elf appeared in the kitchen, covered in just as many clothes as Harry remembered, "Harry Potter sir is calling for Dobby?"

"Yes, I am," Harry said politely, ignoring Hermione and Ron's surprise. "I have something I'd like to ask you, Dobby. Would you like to be my house-elf?"

Eyes tearing up in joy, Dobby sobbed and blew his nose in one of the many hats atop his head, "To be asking such a thing from Dobby! 'Tis truly an honor, Harry Potter sir! Yous is truly a great wizard! Dobby is gladly accepting!"

"Excellent!" Harry said brightly, blatantly ignoring the indignant look on Hermione's face. "Now, there are a couple of things I have to insist on. The first is: no punishing yourself. I guarantee you, Dobby, that I will never deem anything you do worthy of punishment. The second is that you have one day off a month, at least. And if you're sick, come tell me. Third is that I will pay you two galleons a month with which you can do whatever you want. Sound fair?"

"Of course, Harry Potter sir!" Dobby said excitedly, hugging him around the knees. "Sir is too kind! But Dobby is knowing this! Dobby is knowing Harry Potter is a great wizard!"

"Good," Harry said. "Then the first thing I'm going to ask of you is that you get this house clean. There's no time limit, as I know this will probably take a while — don't mind Kreacher, either, just ignore him — but I do expect you to take your one day a month, even if it isn't clean yet. Understood?"

"Of course, Master Harry Potter, sir!" Dobby said brightly. "Dobby is not disappointing yous!"

And with a pop, he vanished.

Hermione rounded on him, "Harry, how could you — ?"

"Hermione," Harry said, cutting her off, "I think what you're trying to do for house-elves is admirable. But you have to understand. House-elves love to do work. Cleaning and serving those who command them is their passion. Only when they serve people like the Malfoy's do they feel abused and used."

Hermione shut her mouth, but frowned, saying, "This isn't the end of this."

"'Course, once Dumbledore turned up on your side, there was no way they were going to convict you," Ron said happily, dishing up mound upon mound of mashed potatoes onto everyone's plates as though the quiet and quick argument had never even happened.

"Not really," Harry said, trying to put his disagreement with Hermione behind him. "I probably had them convinced all by myself. Albus was just the final nail in the coffin."

Ron and Hermione looked confused that he was on a first name basis with the Headmaster, but didn't bother to ask about it. Nobody else seemed to have noticed the whole thing; from the conversation to employing Dobby, everyone else was oblivious, simply scooping up some food and gloating over Harry's victory. Fred, George, and Ginny were still singing their funny chant.

Ron grinned, saying, "I bet Dumbledore turns up this evening to celebrate with us, you know."

"I don't think he'll be able to, Ron," Mrs. Weasley said sadly, setting a hug plate of roast chicken down in front of Harry. "He's really very busy at the moment."


"SHUT UP!" Mrs. Weasley roared at them.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Before Harry knew it, he was once more sitting in a carriage on the way up to Hogwarts, Luna, Hermione, and Ron sitting with him. Hermione, it seemed, wasn't quite comfortable with sitting next to him, because she went out of her way to ensure that their legs didn't come into contact or that their hands didn't brush each other or that their feet weren't touching.

Most of the rest of the summer, all two or three weeks of it, had gone much as Harry's hazy memory of that time had dictated it would. The most major change was that Dumbledore had actually given the part of Prefect to Harry instead of Ron, something that had brought about a mentally raised eyebrow from the recipient.

Hermione had been ecstatic and Ron had grinned broadly, wishing him good luck. The twins had pretended some horrible thing had befallen the world and sobbed fake tears onto each other's shoulders. Other than that, nothing had really changed, save for a few tidbits here and there. He had only attended a few more meetings as Vincent.

Getting rid of Slytherin's locket had been a piece of cake; one shot from his revolver, Cerberus, in a vacant and secluded room of the house had taken care of it. The Diary and the Locket were taken care of. That left Nagini, Hufflepuff's Cup, the Ring, and Ravenclaw's Diadem. The first three would be harder to get, but the Diadem could and would be taken care of quickly.

The carriage jerked to a halt near the cobblestone steps that lead up to Hogwarts' mighty oak doors and Harry got out first, stretching his legs. Absently, only vaguely aware that his body was moving of its own accord, he turned to stare at the skeletal beasts known as Thestrals. Such curious creatures. What about them made the Elder Wand so strong, with its core of Thestral tail hair? Was it the core/wood combination? Or was it the beast whose hair was used as a core?

"Are you coming or what?" Ron asked from beside him.

"…yeah," Harry said, shaken from his stupor. With one last glance at the strange beasts, he and Ron joined the crowd marching up the stone steps into the castle. The Entrance Hall was lit with thousands of torches and the walls echoed the footsteps of the students as they crossed the floor towards the Great Hall and the start of term feast that awaited.

The house tables were as long as Harry remembered and he suddenly felt incredibly nostalgic, like an old man reminded of his past. The mesmerizing ceiling was black and starless, mimicking the sky outside perfectly. Thousands upon thousands of candles hung in midair far above the tables, providing a flickering light. And then, as people turned to their neighbor and whispered as he passed, he was forced to remember why this was one of his worst years ever.

However, no sooner had they sat than Hermione pointed up at the staff table and ignited a feeling of déjà vu in Harry, "Who's that?"

Without even looking, Harry knew who she was pointing to and bit back a groan as he turned in his seat to look. Albus was dressed in a pair of flashy robes, as usual, but then again, he wouldn't be Albus if he wasn't. Sitting next to him, wearing a revolting girly wardrobe that, in no way, drew attention away from her toad-like appearance was the one woman he hated almost as much as Bellatrix Lestrange.

"Umbridge!" he groaned, putting his head in his arms.

"Who?" Hermione asked.

"She was at my hearing," Harry explained, "she's Fudge's staunchest supporter!"

"She works for Fudge?" Hermione asked, frowning. "What on earth's she doing here, then?"

"Taking the Defense position," Harry mumbled so that only she could hear.

Hermione stared at him disbelievingly.

At that moment, Professor Grubbly-Plank appeared behind the staff table and sat in Hagrid's usual seat. That was a sign that the first years would be coming soon. Sure enough, seconds later, the doors of the Great Hall opened, admitting a stern looking McGonagall and a long line of scared-looking first years.

McGonagall marched forward with the stool and the Sorting Hat, placing both in front of the staff table and tucking a thick parchment beneath her arm as the hat's brim ripped open and started to sing:

In time of old when I was new
And Hogwarts barely started
The founders of our noble school
Thought never to be parted:
United by a common goal,
They had the selfsame yearning,
To make the world's best magic school
And pass along their learning.
"Together we will build and teach!"
The four good friends decided
And never did they dream that they
Might someday be divided,
For were there such friends anywhere
As Slytherin and Gryffindor?
Unless it was the second pair
Of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw?
So how could it have gone so wrong?
How could such friendships fail?
Why, I was there and so can tell
The whole sad, sorry tale.
Said Slytherin, "We'll teach just those
Whose ancestry is purest."
Said Ravenclaw, "We'll teach those whose
Intelligence is surest."
Said Gryffindor, "We'll teach all those
With brave deeds to their name."
Said Hufflepuff, "I'll teach the lot,
And treat them just the same."
These differences caused little strife
When first they came to light,
For each of the four founders had
A House in which they might
Take only those they wanted, so,
For instance, Slytherin
Took only pure-blooded wizards
Of great cunning, just like him,
And only those of sharpest mind
Were taught by Ravenclaw
While the bravest and the boldest
Went to daring Gryffindor.
Good Hufflepuff, she took the rest,
And taught them all she knew,
Thus the Houses and their founders
Retained friendships firm and true.
So Hogwarts worked in harmony
For several happy years,
But then discord crept among us
Feeding on our faults and fears.
The Houses that, like pillars four,
Had once held up our school,
Now turned up on each other and,
Divided, sought to rule.
And for a while it seemed the school
Must meet an early end,
What with dueling and with fighting
And clash of friend on friend
And at last there came a morning
When old Slytherin departed
And though the fighting then died out
He left us quite downhearted.
And never since the founders four
Were whittled down to three
Have the Houses been united
As they once were meant to be.
And now the Sorting Hat is here
And you all know the score:
I sort you into Houses
Because that is what I'm for,
But this year I'll go further,
Listen closely to my song:
Though condemned I am to split you
Still I worry that it's wrong,
Though I must fulfill my duty
And must quarter every year
Still I wonder whether sorting
May not bring the end I fear.
Oh, know the perils, read the signs,
The warning history shows,
For our Hogwarts is in danger
From external, deadly foes
And we must unite inside her
Or we'll crumble from within
I have told you, I have warned you…
Let the Sorting now begin.

After a sparse, weak applause, McGonagall looked down at her list and called, "Abercrombie, Euan."

And so the sorting went, several of the first years going to each house. Like always, it was a fairly even ratio. Nearly as many that went to Slytherin went to the other three and vice versa. Harry clapped for each of the new Gryffindors, but didn't really bother to learn or memorize any of the new names.

When Dumbledore stood, silence blanketed the Hall. A smile lit up Albus' bearded face, "To our newcomers, welcome! To our old hands, welcome back! There is a time for good speech making, but this is not it. Tuck in!"

Several people around the Great Hall laughed and applauded as Dumbledore sat back down, throwing his long beard over his shoulder to keep it from getting in the delicious food that had suddenly appeared. All kinds of foods imaginable could be found at some place on the table, so those for odd tastes could eat to their hearts' content

"Excellent," Ron groaned with satisfaction, spearing a piece of meat with his fork viciously. Hermione's lip curled slightly in disgust, but she made no mention of his horrible table manners as she loaded her plate with meat and vegetables. Harry merely smiled, having missed their mannerisms after going without them for six years, and put food on his own plate, grabbing a slice of treacle tart.

Dinner ended a lot faster than Harry remembered it should, but he chalked it up to the loneliness he had suffered from at the time and the presence of his friends. Once again, Dumbledore stood up and the entire hall fell into hushed silence. Harry listened, but with only half an ear; his bed suddenly seemed so very inviting.

"Well, now that we are all digesting another magnificent feast, I beg a few moments of your attention for the usual start-of-term notices," Albus said, beaming at the entire Great Hall. "First years ought to know that the forest in the grounds is out of bounds to students — and a few of our older students ought to know by now too."

Harry smiled at the silver-haired man innocently, "Mr. Filch, the caretaker, has asked me, for what he tells me is the four hundred and sixty-second time, to remind you all that magic is not permitted in the corridors between classes, nor are a number of other things, all of which can be checked on the extensive list now fastened to Mr. Filch's office door."

Harry's hands gripped the bench beneath him tightly as Dumbledore moved on to the next part of his speech, "We have had two changes in staffing this year. We are very pleased to welcome back Professor Grubbly-Plank, who will be taking Care of Magical Creatures lessons; we are also delighted to introduce Professor Umbridge, our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher."

A polite round of applause followed this, but no one seemed really enthusiastic about greeting these new additions to the teaching staff. Harry's hands remained motionless throughout, something that Hermione in particular seemed to notice, as well as the grim look of utter loathing he directed at the short woman.

As the applause died down, Albus continued, "Tryouts for the House Quidditch teams will take place on the — "

He broke off suddenly, looking questioningly down at the diminutive Professor Umbridge (so called, Harry mentally added with a sneer). Because she was so small, no one in the Hall seemed particularly sure why Dumbledore had stopped talking so abruptly, but then came Umbridge's trademark, "Hem, hem," and it became obvious that she was going to make a speech.

To his credit, Albus only looked surprised for a second or two, and then he sat back down gracefully and steeped his fingers, looking at her in interest. It seemed, for all the world, that he thought there was nothing more interesting than what she had to say. Harry knew better, however, and that he was gauging what the year could be like with her as a teacher and person of influence. Many of the students either smirked or leered.

"Thank you, Headmaster," Umbridge said in her sugary sweet voice, hiding her disdain for the man rather well, "for those kind words of welcome."

Harry knew he should reign in his emotions, even as his eyes turned a violent and angry red, but this woman had caused him so much trouble that he couldn't really control himself. The wood of the bench strained beneath his crushing grip and no degree of his self-taught and (he hoped) self-mastered Occlumency could squash the loathing he felt for this woman.

She gave another of her little coughs before continuing, "Well, it certainly is lovely to be back at Hogwarts, I must say! And to see such happy little faces looking back at me!"

The students, Harry knew, probably looked insulted that she would dare talk to them as if they were five year olds. She didn't seem to notice the venomous glares every other student was sending her, "I am very much looking forward to getting to know you all, and I'm sure we'll be very good friends!"

Several of Harry's peers exchanged looks; they obviously thought she was a little touched in the head.

Umbridge cleared her throat once more (for the third time, Harry mentally tallied), but when she spoke again, it had more of a businesslike tone to it, "The Ministry of Magic has always considered the education of young witches and wizards to be of vital importance ("Or so you say," Harry muttered, "you just want to control us."). The rare gifts with which you were born may come to nothing if not nurtured and honed by careful instruction. The ancient skills unique to the Wizarding community must be passed down through the generations lest we lose them forever. The treasure trove of magical knowledge amassed by our ancestors must be guarded, replenished, and polished by those who have been called to the noble profession of teaching."

She gave a little pause so that she could bow to her fellow teachers, but Harry only saw dislike from them (and a sneer from Snape). He couldn't help but agree. Harry may not like Snape, but he didn't hate the man either. After all, in his Hogwarts years, Snape had faced much the same treatment that Harry had had to endure throughout primary school. Harry could empathize.

"Every headmaster and headmistress of Hogwarts has brought something new to the weighty task of governing this historic school, and that is as it should be, for without progress, there will be stagnation and decay. There again, progress for progress's sake must be discouraged, for our tried and tested tradition often require no tinkering (Here, Harry couldn't believe she actually thought this true). A balance, then, between the old and new, between permanence and change, between tradition and innovation…"

At this, Harry stopped listening, for he knew it all to continue along the same vein. Really, progress for progress's sake must be discouraged? If that was the sort of nonsense the Ministry believed in, then it was no wonder that Muggles had come farther in a hundred years than wizards had come in five hundred. He could understand wearing robes (beyond being traditional, they were damn comfy), but going so far as to ignore such things as electricity and science? Rubbish.

"…pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited."

With what she seemed to think was grace, she sat down. Dumbledore clapped, prompting a couple members of the staff to follow, but it wasn't very loud or enthusiastic. The students, seeming to realize that she was done, started to applaud as well, but Albus had already stood back up before they could get very far.

"Thank you very much, Professor Umbridge, that was a most illuminating speech," he said to her brightly, bowing respectfully. "Now — as I was saying ("Before you were so rudely interrupted," Harry added under his breath), Quidditch tryouts will be held…"

"It certainly was illuminating," Hermione said lowly, her face grim.

"You didn't seriously enjoy that, did you?" Ron asked incredulously, his voice low and quiet. "That was about the dullest speech I've ever heard, and I grew up with Percy."

"I said illuminating, not enjoyable," Hermione said firmly. "It explained a lot."

"It certainly did," Harry said, glaring at the golden plate in front of him. "The audacity! Does the Ministry really think Albus would let them get away with interfering at Hogwarts?"

"Wait, what?" Ron asked, looking at him strangely.

"He's right," Hermione said through gritted teeth. "Her entire speech — progress for progress's sake must be discouraged? — is basically saying that the Ministry is getting involved with Hogwarts."

The clattering and banging of students getting up interrupted anything else she might have said; Dumbledore, it seemed, had just dismissed the school from dinner, because everyone was pushing around and trying to leave the Hall. Hermione suddenly leapt from her seat, paling as she realized something.

"Harry!" she insisted, grabbing him by the arm. "We're supposed to show the first years where to go!"

Smiling and shaking his head, Harry let her drag him over as she called out, "First years! This way, please!"

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

"Settle down," Snape said coldly as he shut the classroom door behind him. There wasn't any real need to demand this of them, as the class had fallen silent the moment he had walked through the door. His mere presence could subdue them into harsh and tense silence.

"Before we begin today's lesson," Snape said silkily, gliding over to his desk and staring at them all fiercely, "I think it appropriate to remind you that next June you will be sitting an important examination, during which you will prove how much you have learned about the composition and use of magical potions. Moronic though some of this class undoubtedly are, I expect you to scrape an 'acceptable' in you O.W.L., or suffer my…displeasure."

His stony gaze lingered on Neville at these words, prompting the boy to gulp nervously.

"After this year, of course, many of you will cease studying with me," Snape continued in the same tone. "I take only the very best into my N.E.W.T. Potions class, which means that some of us will certainly be saying good-bye."

Here, he turned his eyes to Harry, his lips curling. Harry merely looked at him coolly, ignoring the taunt and very blatant accusation that he would not pass. He may not want to be an Auror anymore, but that didn't mean he would give up something so essential as Potions.

"But we have another year to go before that happy moment of farewell," Snape said softly, "so whether you are intending to attempt N.E.W.T. or not, I advise all of you to concentrate your efforts upon maintaining the high-pass level I have come to expect from my O.W.L students.

"Today we will be mixing a potion that often comes up at Ordinary Wizarding Level: the Draught of Peace, a potion to calm anxiety and sooth agitation. Be warned: If you are too heavy-handed with the ingredients you will put the drinker into a heavy and sometimes irreversible sleep, so you will need to pay close attention to what you are doing. The ingredients and method are on the blackboard, you will find everything you need in the store cupboard, you have an hour and a half…Start."

As Harry got to work, he found it a great deal easier to brew this delicate potion than it originally had been. He followed each step dutifully, adding in a few of the Prince's tricks and shortcuts to make it even better. Perhaps this unprecedented skill came from six years of brewing to add various effects to objects (three of which happened to be the bullets in Cerberus; the basilisk venom didn't stick to them all by itself, you know).

"A light silver vapor should now be rising from your potion," Snape called after an hour and twenty minutes. Harry felt a smile of grim satisfaction cross his face; silver vapor was indeed rising from his potion.

In the background, Harry could hear Snape berating Ron for messing up the potion, speaking in that soft, deadly tone that would scare children half to death. With a sneer, Snape said, "Those of you who have managed to read the instructions, fill one flagon with a sample of your potion, label it clearly with your name, and bring it up to my desk for testing. Homework: twelve inches of parchment on the properties of moonstone and its uses in potion-making, to be handed in Thursday."

Doing as he was told, Harry cast an unbreakable charm on his flagon and scooped a bit of potion into it. He set it carefully on Snape's desk, making sure he didn't touch anything he wasn't supposed to. When he turned back towards his desk and heard the telltale chink of his flagon bouncing off of the stone floor, he smirked and moved to put his stuff away.

The Great Hall was filled with a soft murmur as people discussed their days so far, and, despite the dark gray ceiling, Harry felt good as he sat down to eat. Ron and Hermione joined him a second later, Ron pouting as he scooped up some food onto his plate. Hermione looked worried about him, but kept shooting Harry suspicious glances every now and then.

"I've always thought Dumbledore was a bit cracked for trusting Snape," Ron said bitterly. "Where's the evidence he ever stopped working for You-Know-Who?"

"The evidence is in the past," Harry said, buttering a piece of bread. "On the day that Snape, as a Death Eater, surrendered his wand to Albus because he loved my mum and realized that she was in danger."

Hermione looked gob smacked, "How do you — ?"

"Secret," Harry said, holding up a finger.

"Snape was in love with your mum?" Ron asked. "Do I ever feel sorry for you."

"The past is the past," Harry said nonchalantly. "Snape may have loved my mum, but he hated my dad. And now, that hate has passed on to me."

"That's hardly fair," Hermione said indignantly.

"I know," Harry nodded, "but life rarely is."

Finishing off his meal, he left for his next class.

Divination was just as useless as Harry had always known it to be, and they were assigned a dream journal for the month. Defense Against the Dark Arts was the next class, and the entire place was quiet as Harry, Ron, and Hermione entered and took a seat. Umbridge sat at her desk, wearing what she probably thought was a pleasant, friendly smile. It looked like she was getting ready to let out a loud croak, Harry thought.

"Well, good afternoon!" Umbridge said brightly once the entire class had been seated.

In reply, a few people muttered, "Good afternoon."

"Tut, tut," she waged a single, thick finger at them. "That won't do, now, will it? I should like you, please, to reply 'Good afternoon, Professor Umbridge.' One more time, please. Good afternoon, class!"

"Good afternoon, Professor Umbridge," they called back at her. Harry's voice was inconspicuously absent.

"There, now," Umbridge said in that disgustingly sweet tone. "That wasn't too difficult, was it? Wands away and quills out please."

Harry, who had known better than to expect a practical lesson from the woman, had never had his wand out to begin with, so he didn't have to share in the gloomy looks his classmates shot each other. He glanced up from his writings ("1001 Spells and Methods That Can Get Rid of Umbridge") as she withdrew her unusually short wand from her handbag and tapped the blackboard with a sharp motion. Smoothly, words drew themselves onto the board:

Defense Against the Dark Arts
A Return to Basic Principles

"Well now, your teaching in this subject has been rather disrupted and fragmented, hasn't it?" It wasn't a question, merely an affirmation of fact. "The constant changing of teachers, many of whom do not seem to have followed any Ministry-approved curriculum, has unfortunately resulted in your being far below the standard we would expect to see in your O.W.L. year."

"If your standards were actually that high in the first place," Harry murmured under his breath. Hermione cast him a sharp look and Ron covered his laugh with a harsh cough, but no one else seemed to have noticed.

"You will be pleased to know, however, that these problems are now to be rectified. We will be following a carefully structured, theory-centered, Ministry-approved course of defensive magic this year. Copy the following down, please."

She tapped the board again, the first message vanishing, only to be replaced by another one.

Course aims:

1. Understanding the principles underlying defensive magic.
2. Learning to recognize situations in which defensive magic can be legally used.
3. Placing the use of defensive magic in a context for practical uses.

Harry didn't bother to copy it down as the sound of scratching quills filled the room. He merely continued what he had been writing earlier, adding several more curses and jinxes to the growing list. Sectumsempra was quickly added, followed by a method that would most certainly be amusing: introducing her to Fenrir Greyback.

The moment the scratching sound stopped, Harry stopped writing as well and looked up. Umbridge smiled again and asked, "Has everybody got a copy of Defensive Magical Theory by Wilbert Slinkhard?"

The class dully muttered an affirmative.

"I think we'll try that again," she said sweetly. "When I ask you a question, I should like you to reply 'Yes, Professor Umbridge,' or 'No, Professor Umbridge.' So, has everyone got a copy of Defensive Magical Theory by Wilbert Slinkhard?"

"Yes, Professor Umbridge," came the toneless, ringing reply.

"Good," Umbridge said brightly. "I should like you to turn to page five and read chapter one, 'Basics for Beginners.' There will be no need to talk."

The moment Umbridge sat back down at her desk, Harry's hand went up into the air. Hermione, surprised, hesitated for a moment before raising her hand as well. Umbridge pointedly ignored them for a few minutes, but when it became clear they would persist, frowned slightly and said, "Did you want to ask something about the chapter, Mr. Potter?"

"Yes, actually," Harry responded. "What about those of us who aren't beginners?"

"I'm not sure I know what you mean, Mr. Potter," Umbridge replied with false confusion.

"With all humility possible, ma'am," Harry tried not to vomit at the tone of politeness in his own voice, "I'm far beyond beginner level when it comes to Defense Against the Dark Arts. In fact, I could probably take my N.E.W.T. in the subject right now and pass with flying colors."

"Don't be ridiculous, Mr. Potter," Umbridge said sweetly. "You still have so much to learn. You're only a Fifth Year, after all."

"But that's just the thing, Professor," Harry insisted. "I've already learned the material on the Sixth and Seventh year syllabus. I can cast silently, I know all of the things I need to know about dangerous creatures, and I am capable of all the spells in the N.E.W.T. curriculum. I'd say that makes me a great deal more than a beginner."

"Even if I were to trust your word on this, Mr. Potter," Umbridge said, smiling, "I'm afraid you'll just have to bear it like the rest of your classmates."

Scowling in frustration at her lack of violent reaction, Harry sat back down and glared at her. Umbridge merely looked to his right and said, "Yes, Miss…?"

"Hermione Granger," the bushy haired girl said. "I've got a query about your course aims."

Umbridge looked surprised, "Well, Miss Granger, I think the course aims are perfectly clear if you read them carefully."

Any noise in the classroom fell silent at this.

"Well, I don't," Hermione said bluntly. "There's nothing written on the board about using defensive spells."

"Using defensive spells?" Umbridge repeated with a fake laugh. "Why, I can't imagine any situation arising in my classroom that would require you to use a defensive spell, Miss Granger. You surely aren't expecting to be attacked during class, are you?"

"We're not going to use magic?" Ron asked incredulously.

"Students raise their hands when they wish to speak, Mr. —?"

"Weasley," Ron said, propelling his arm skyward..

Umbridge merely smiled widely and turned away from him. Harry and Hermione's hands shot into the air seconds later. Eyeing Harry for a second, she turned her gaze towards Hermione, "Yes, Miss Granger? You wanted to ask something else?"

"Yes," Hermione said. "Surely the whole point of Defense Against the Dark Arts is to practice defensive spells?"

In that sickeningly sweet voice, Umbridge asked, "Are you a Ministry-trained educational expert, Miss Granger?"

"No, but — "

"Well then, I'm afraid you are not qualified to decide what the 'whole point' of any class is. Wizards much older and cleverer than you have devised our new program of study. You will be learning about defensive spells in a secure, risk-free way…"

Hermione looked about to object, but Harry grabbed her left hand beneath the desk and whispered out of the corner of his mouth, "Let it go for now, Hermione."

She heeded him reluctantly, closing her mouth and glaring furiously at Umbridge, whose face broke into a leer for a second. It looked decidedly ugly on her toady face, but Harry did nothing but set his lips in a firm line. Ron, however, as well as several other students, decided that they weren't finished yet.

Harry sighed; it was going to be a long day.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —


Groaning, Harry's head sunk into his arms. Without Ron getting the Prefect badge and without Harry's scar hurting, they had heard from neither Percy nor Sirius as they would have originally (Harry was glad for the former and a bit disappointed about the latter). So, naturally, he had forgotten all about Umbridge being appointed High Inquisitor on this day.

The only good news, it seemed, was that Harry had taken care of the diadem the night before. That left Hufflepuff's cup, Nagini, and the Ring.

Ron rubbed the faint scars on the back of his hand. He had been the one to get detention for talking back to Umbridge in Harry's stead, "High Inquisitor? What's that supposed to be?"

Reading aloud, Hermione said:

In a surprise move last night, the Ministry of Magic passed new legislation giving itself an unprecedented level of control at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

"The Minister has been growing uneasy about the goings-on at Hogwarts for some time," said Junior Assistant to the Minister, Percy Weasley. "He is now responding to concerns being voiced by anxious parents, who feel the school may be moving in a direction they do not approve."

This is not the first time in recent weeks Fudge has used new laws to effect improvements at the Wizarding school. As recently as August 30th Educational Decree Twenty-two was passed, to ensure that, in the event of the current headmaster being unable to provide a candidate for a teaching post, the Ministry should select an appropriate person.

"That how Dolores Umbridge came to be appointed to the teaching staff at Hogwarts," said Weasley last night. "Dumbledore couldn't find anyone, so the Minister put in Umbridge and of course, she's been an immediate success, totally revolutionizing the teaching of Defense Against the Dark Arts and providing the Minister with on-the-ground feedback about what's really happening at Hogwarts."

It is this last function that the Ministry has now formalized with the passing of Educational Decree Twenty-three, which creates the new position of 'Hogwarts High Inquisitor.'

"This is an exciting new phase in the Minister's plan to get to grips with what some are calling the "falling standards" at Hogwarts," said Weasley. "The Inquisitor will have powers to inspect her fellow educators and make sure that they are coming up to scratch. Professor Umbridge has been offered this position in addition to her own teaching post, and we are delighted to say that she has accepted."

The Ministry's new moves have received enthusiastic support from parents of students at Hogwarts.

"I fell much easier in my mind now that I know Dumbledore is being subjected to fair and objective evaluation," said Mr. Lucius Malfoy, 41, speaking from his Wiltshire mansion last night. "Many of us with our children's best interests at heart have been concerned about some of Dumbledore's eccentric decisions in the last few years and will be glad to know that the Ministry is keeping an eye on the situation."

Among those 'eccentric decisions' are undoubtedly the controversial staff appointments previously described in this newspaper, which have included the hiring of werewolf Remus Lupin, half-giant Rubeus Hagrid, and delusional ex-Auror 'Mad-Eye' Moody.

Rumors abound, of course, that Albus Dumbledore, once Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards and Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, is no longer up to the task of managing the prestigious school of Hogwarts.

"I think the appointment of the Inquisitor is a first step toward ensuring that Hogwarts has a headmaster in whom we can all repose confidence," said a Ministry insider last night.

Wizengamot elders Griselda Marchbanks and Tiberius Ogden have resigned in protest at the introduction of the post of Inquisitor to Hogwarts.

"Hogwarts is a school, not an outpost of Cornelius' Fudge's office," said Madam Marchbanks. "this is a further disgusting attempt to discredit Albus Dumbledore." (For a full account of Madam Marchbanks' alleged links to subversive goblin groups, turn to page 17.

"So now we know how we ended up with Umbridge! Fudge passed this 'Educational Decree' and forced her on us! And now he's given her the power to inspect other teacher!" Hermione looked over the table at Ron and Harry, her eyes shining brightly. "I can't believe this. It's outrageous…"

"I know it is," Harry said softly. A thought struck him though, and he started grinning like an idiot. Hermione and Ron looked at him, confused. Conspiratorially, he whispered, "Imagine what'll happen when she inspects Professor McGonagall!"

"Well, come on," Hermione stood up suddenly, "we'd better get going. If she's inspecting Binns's class we don't want to be late…"

But Umbridge wasn't inspecting Binns's class, Harry knew as they walked to their History of Magic lesson. It was just as dull as it had always been, so Harry hadn't been able to take notes for it. She wasn't going to be in Potions with them yet, either, as Harry was well aware of when they sat down in the dungeons. No, Trelawney's class was going to be the first one she inspected.

"I have awarded you the grades you would have received if you had presented this work in your O.W.L," Snape said as he swept through the classroom, handing them back their homework. "This should give you a realistic idea of what to expect in your examination."

He walked back to the front and turned on his heels to face them with glittering black eyes.

"The general standard of this homework was abysmal. Most of you would have failed had this been your examination. I expect to see a great deal more effort for this week's essay on the various varieties of venom antidotes, or I shall have to start handing out detentions to those dunces who got D's."

A small smile curled at Harry's lips as he looked down at his essay. A hastily scrawled 'E' was written in the top corner, as though Snape hadn't been able to bear giving him a passing grade. It was still a pass grade, though, and it was much better than that spiky black 'D' he had been given the first time he had written it.

Once more, they brewed a potion, the Strengthening Solution, and Harry followed every step that was written on the board. The writings in the Prince's book, however, refused to lay low in Harry's mind, so his hands automatically added in a few additions to increase the quality of his potion. In the end, he and Hermione were the only two with a perfect potion, something which caused Snape to sneer.

"Harry," Hermione started as they sat down at the Gryffindor table for lunch, "that's the second time in a row that you've made a perfect potion. I don't mean that that's a bad thing, but how do you…?"

"Well," Harry said, ladling some soup into his bowl, "I was alone all this summer, wasn't I? So I figured I'd get some studying done, yeah? So I sat down and read all of my past Potions' texts and studied the properties of the ingredients as well as what effects stirring pattern has on each individual potion (which took a while, mind you). It was difficult to understand completely, but I think I managed."

"Harry," Hermione said, staring at him, "that's —"

"It's no big deal," Harry insisted.

Hermione's mouth shut and she stared down at her plate for a minute, then looked back up at him, "Well, then. What'd you — what'd you get on the homework?"

"An E," Harry said casually.

"I got a P," Ron said sourly, reaching for a piece of bread. "Happy?"

"Well, that's nothing to be ashamed of," Fred said as he, George, and Lee Jordan sat down at the table for lunch. "Nothing wrong with a good, healthy P."

"But," Hermione interjected, "doesn't P stand for…?"

"'Poor', yeah," Lee said. "Still, better than a D, isn't it? 'Dreadful'?"

"So O for 'Outstanding' is the top grade," Hermione said, "and then there's A — "

"No, E," George corrected her, "E for 'Exceeds Expectations.' And I've always thought that Fred and I should've got an E in everything, because we exceeded expectations just by showing up for the exams."

They all shared a good laugh at that, except for Hermione, who continued, "So after E, it's A for 'Acceptable', and that's the last pass grade, right?"

"Yep," Fred said as he ate. "Then you get p for 'Poor' and D for 'Dreadful."

"And then T," George chimed in.

"T?" Hermione asked incredulously, as though it weren't possible to be worse than Dreadful. "Even lower than a D? What on earth does it stand for?"

"'Troll'," George said.

Harry stifled a grin.

"You lot had an inspected lesson yet?" Fred asked conversationally.

"No," Hermione said, shaking her head negatively, "have you?"

"Just now, before lunch," George replied. "Charms."

"Can't imagine she found anything wrong," Harry said. "It's Flitwick, after all. If she found fault with him, she'd have no chance of passing the other teachers."

"I know what you mean," George said. "I can't see old Flitwick getting marked down, he usually gets everyone through their exams all right."

"Who do you have this afternoon?" Fred asked Harry.

"Trelawney," Harry replied, "and Umbridge herself."

The inspection of Professor Trelawney went much the same as Harry remembered, hazy though the original experience might have been. He'd not had any dreams as of late, so he'd been forced to make a few up (one involving wearing a heavy mantle on his shoulders; Ron said that the Dream Oracle interpreted that as him carrying a heavy burden). In the end, though, it still looked that Trelawney was going to get the sack.

Defense Against the Dark Arts was as dreadful as Harry expected it to be. The moment Umbridge had walked into the room and called everyone to order, she had said, in that same sickening smile, "Wands away."

Several people looked crestfallen, but Umbridge hadn't seemed to notice, "As we finished chapter one last lesson, I would like you all to turn to page nineteen today and commence chapter two, 'Common Defensive Theories and Their Derivation.' There will be no need to talk."

With that falsely sweet smile still plastered to her face, she sat down at her desk as the class slowly pulled out there books, giving an audible sigh of disappointment. Turning to the back of the book (where there was a picture of the author, a clean-shaven man with a receding hairline) Harry doodled a mustache on the picture of the ageing author.

Hermione's hand had gone up into the air again, but Umbridge seemed to have devised a plan for this happening and walked slowly over to Hermione's desk. She leaned forward, as if to whisper something, and, quietly, so that the rest of the class could not hear her, asked, "What is it this time, Miss Granger?"

"I've already read chapter two," Hermione said.

"Well then," Umbridge didn't seem surprised, "proceed to chapter three."

"I've read that, too," Hermione told her. "I've read the whole book."

Umbridge blinked in her shock, but recovered her composure rather quickly, "Well then, you should be able to tell me what Slinkhard says about counterjinxes in chapter fifteen."

"He says that counterjinxes are improperly named," Hermione replied dutifully. "He says 'counterjinx' is just a name people give their jinxes when they want to make them sound more acceptable."

Umbridge's eyebrows raised upwards, doubtlessly impressed.

"But I disagree," Hermione continued determinedly.

Umbridge's gaze became distinctly cold and a sneer seemed to be trying to make it onto her lips, "You disagree?"

"Yes, I do," Hermione said firmly. "Mr. Slinkhard doesn't like jinxes, does he? But I think they can be very useful when they're used defensively."

"Oh, you do, do you?" Umbridge said haughtily. "Well, I'm afraid it's Mr. Slinkhard's opinion, and not yours, that matters within this classroom, Miss Granger."

"But," Hermione began.

"That is enough," Umbridge said authoritatively. "Miss Granger, I am going to take five points from Gryffindor."

"What for?" Harry asked indignantly.

"For disrupting my class with pointless interruptions," Umbridge replied smoothly. "I am here to teach you using a Ministry-approved — "

"If you can call this teaching!" Harry replied hotly. "We're not learning anything except that the Ministry doesn't think! There's a practical portion on the exam! How are we supposed to pass that with this ludicrous nonsense about no practical application!"

"As long as you have studied the theory hard enough, there is no reason why you should not be able to perform the spells under carefully controlled examination conditions," Umbridge said firmly.

"And what good is theory in the real world?" Harry demanded. He'd held his temper for almost a week. Now, he couldn't stand it anymore. This woman was such an insufferable little toad that he couldn't help but explode on her.

"This is school, Mr. Potter, not the real world," Umbridge said stonily.

"So we're not supposed to be ready for what's waiting out there?" Harry asked angrily. "Isn't that what school is supposed to do? Prepare you for the real world?"

"There is nothing waiting out there, Mr. Potter," Umbridge said a tight voice.

"Is that so?"

"What do you imagine wants to attack children like yourselves?" Umbridge asked in her disgustingly sweet voice.

"Oh, I don't know," Harry said sarcastically. "Lord Voldemort and his merry gang of Death Eaters?"

Several people flinched, but Umbridge seemed to have a look of grim satisfaction, "Ten points from Gryffindor, Mr. Potter."

The entire class went silent, "Now, let me make a few things quite plain. You have been told that a certain Dark wizard has returned from the dead — "

"Rubbish," Harry said loudly, "he wasn't human enough to die!"

Umbridge took a deep breath, "As I was saying, you have been informed that a certain Dark wizard is at large again. This is a lie."

"A lie?" Harry chuckled a mirthless laugh. "I suppose that's what they're calling the truth nowadays?"

"Detention, Mr. Potter!" Umbridge cried triumphantly. "Tonight. Five o'clock. My office. I repeat, this is a lie. The Ministry of Magic guarantees that you are not in danger from any Dark wizard. If you are still worried, by all means come and see me outside class hours. If someone is alarming you with fibs about reborn Dark wizards, I would like to hear about it. I am here to help. I am your friend. And now, you will kindly continue your reading. Page nineteen, 'Common Defensive Theories and Their Derivation.'"

Umbridge sat back down at her desk. Harry, though, stood up completely, eyes flickering between red and green. The entire class was staring at him, as though fascinated by his every move.

"So, according to you, Cedric Diggory dropped dead of his own accord, did he?" Harry asked in a dangerous voice. "Just like, according to you, Sirius Black was so obviously guilty that he didn't need a trial, unlike Bellatrix Lestrange, who could've been innocent despite the fact that she not only confessed to her crimes, but was caught in the act?"

"Cedric Diggory's death was a tragic accident," Umbridge said coldly. "And Sirius Black was seen by several eyewitnesses to have done what he did."

"It wasn't an accident," Harry insisted. His eyes, he knew, were probably a vivid crimson. "He was murdered on Voldemort's orders and you know it."

"I think a week's detentions will do much better, Mr. Potter," Umbridge said unpleasantly.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

The next day's Charms class was much the same as any other day's, but the Transfiguration class after that was what he was looking forward to. As they entered the classroom, Professor Umbridge and her clipboard were sitting in one of the corners, waiting for the lesson to commence. A thrill of satisfaction washed over Harry; this would be fun.

"Excellent," Ron whispered as they sat down. "Let's see Umbridge get what she deserves."

Professor McGonagall strode into the classroom without giving any sign whatsoever that she knew or saw Umbridge in that corner. With a slight frown, she said, "That will do."

The entire class fell silent at once, "Mr. Finnigan, kindly come here and hand back the homework — Miss Brown, please take this box of mice — don't be silly, girl, they won't hurt you — and hand one to each student — "

"Hem, hem," Umbridge coughed lightly, trying to gain the attention of everyone present. Professor McGonagall ignored her completely, merely continuing to give instructions. When Harry received his essay back, he was pleased to note that he had gotten a fancy O.

"Right then, everyone, listen closely — Dean Thomas, if you do that to the mouse again you'll be receiving a detention — most of you have now successfully vanished your snails and even those who were left with a certain amount of shell have the gist of the spell. Today we shall be — "

"Hem, hem," Umbridge interrupted again.

"Yes?" Professor McGonagall asked, turning around to face the toady woman, her eyebrows knit together in frustration.

"I was just wondering, Professor, whether you received my note telling kyou of the date and time of your inspection — "

"I obviously received it, or I would have asked you what you're doing in my classroom," Professor McGonagall said, turning her back to Umbridge so swiftly Harry was surprised she didn't get whiplash. A great deal of Harry's classmates were exchanging looks of glee with one another. "As I was saying, today we shall be practicing the altogether more difficult vanishment of mice. Now, the Vanishing Spell — "

"Hem, hem."

"I wonder," Professor McGonagall said coldly, her voice laced with fury as she turned around once more, "how you expect to gain an idea of my usual teaching methods if you continue to interrupt me? You see, I do not generally permit people to talk when I am talking."

Looking as though she had just been backhanded, Umbridge did not speak, but she straightened up and began to scribble recklessly on her piece of parchment.

"As I was saying, the Vanishing spell becomes more difficult with the complexity of the animal to be vanished. The snail, as an invertebrate, does not present much of a challenge; the mouse, as a mammal, offers a much greater one. This is not, therefore, magic you can accomplish with you mind on your dinner. So — you know the incantation, let me see what you can do…"

By the end of class, Harry and Hermione were the only ones who had managed to vanish their mice completely. Ron's mouse still had a tail left behind, but he was much closer than some of the other students, and that was what was important.

As they left and traveled down the lawn, Harry had a feeling he was forgetting something. As they came towards the forest for Care of Magical Creatures, he remembered what it was he had forgotten. This was the class that Umbridge would be inspecting next.

"You do not usually teach this class, correct?" Umbridge asked Grubbly-Plank, a quill in her hand and her clipboard nestling against her forearm.

"Quite correct," Grubbly-Plank replied. "I am a substitute teacher standing in for Professor Hagrid."

Harry got an uneasy feeling in his stomach as Malfoy whispered with Crabbe and Goyle, no doubt planning which stories he would be telling to the Ministry about what a horrible persona and teacher Hagrid was.

"Hmm," Umbridge hummed thoughtfully, "I wonder — the headmaster seems strangely reluctant to give me any information on the matter — can you tell me what is causing Professor Hagrid's very extended leave of absence?"

Malfoy leaned closer eagerly, watching the two conversing Professors with an anticipatory gleam in his eyes.

"'Fraid I can't," Grubbly-Plank said breathily. "Don't know anything more aboit it than you do. Got an owl from Dumbledore, would I like a couple of weeks teaching work, accepted — that's as much as I know. Well…shall I get started then?"

"Yes, please do," Umbridge nodded, scribbling a note on her clipboard.

She wandered around the class, asking students several questions about the different magical creatures they had learned about up until now. Most of them were able to answer fairly well, but Harry knew that nothing was that simple. After all, this was a class that they had with the Slytherins.

"Overall," Umbridge began, moving back toward Professor Grubbly-Plank, "how do you, as a temporary member of staff — an objective outsider, I suppose you might say — how do you find Hogwarts? Do you feel you receive enough support from the school management?"

"Oh, yes, Dumbledore's excellent," Grubbly-Plank said heartily. "No, I'm very happy with the way things are run, very happy indeed."

Umbridge looked incredulous, marking a not on her clipboard, "And what are you planning to cover with this class this year — assuming, of course, that Professor Hagrid does not return?"

"Oh, I'll take them through the creatures that most often come up in O.W.L.," Professor Grubbly-Plank said. "Not much left to do — they've studied unicorns and nifflers, I thought we'd cover porlocks and kneazles, make sure they can recognize crups and knarls, you know…"

"Well, you seem to know what you're doing, at any rate," Umbridge said, making a mark on her parchment. There was a particular emphasis put on 'you', and Harry had to resist a sneer when she turned to Goyle and asked, "Now, I hear there have been injuries in this class?"

"That was me," Malfoy said, a hint of pride in his voice. "I was slashed by a hippogriff."

"A hippogriff?" Umbridge asked, scrawling furiously on her clipboard.

"Which wouldn't have happened if he hadn't been stupid enough to ignore directions," Harry said loud enough for everyone to hear.

Umbridge turned to face him slowly, "Another night's detention, I think."

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

It was just shy of midnight when Harry got back from his detention with Umbridge, his hand bleeding sluggishly all over the white bandage he had wrapped around it (he thanked the powers that be that he had the foresight to bring those along). Red was quickly staining the white gauze and his hand ached and throbbed with pain. He expected to return to find the common room empty, but both Ron and Hermione were sitting up waiting for him.

"Here," Hermione said quickly, giving him a small bowl of yellowish liquid; it looked like urine, "soak your hand in that, it's a solution of strained and pickled murtlap tentacles, it should help."

Harry felt warmth bloom in his chest at her concern, followed by a welcome relief as his hand was submerged in the bowl. He felt a pang of love course through him at the worry in Hermione's eyes as she looked at him. How could he have forgotten? Had things just been so hectic that he hadn't remembered it?

"Thanks," he said to her, hoping to convey several different things in that single word. A blush lit up her cheeks.

"I think you should complain about this," Ron said, watching as the yellow slowly gained a red tinge.

"No," Harry said flatly. That wouldn't solve anything. He needed to let this play out.

"McGonagall would go nuts if she knew — "

"Yeah, she probably would," Harry conceded. "And how long do you think it would take for Umbridge to pass another Decree saying that she could punish students how she saw fit, or perhaps even fire teachers that go against the High Inquisitor?"

"She's an awful woman," Hermione said, her face going back to the pale color it had been before. "Awful. You know, I was just saying to Ron when you came in…we've got to do something about her."

"I suggested poison," Ron said viciously.

"No…I mean, something about what a dreadful teacher she is, and how we're not going to learn any defense from her at all," Hermione said.

"Well, what can we do about that?" Ron asked, mouth opening in a jaw-cracking yawn. "'S too late, isn't it? She's got the job, she's here to stay. Fudge'll make sure of that."

"Well," Hermione began hesitantly. "You know, I was thinking today…"

She glanced at Harry nervously before continuing, "I was thinking that — maybe the time's come when we should just — just do it ourselves."

A thrill of excitement shot through Harry; this was one of the things he had looked forward to doing this year, "Do what ourselves?"

"Well — learn Defense Against the Dark Arts ourselves," Hermione said.

Ron groaned in agony, "Come off it. You want us to do extra work? Do you realize that we're already behind on homework and it's only the second week?"

"But this is much more important than homework!" Hermione insisted.

"I didn't think there was anything in the universe more important than homework," Ron said with a hint of sarcasm.

"Don't be ridiculous, of course there is!" Hermione spoke with fervor. "It's about preparing ourselves, like Harry said, for what's out there waiting for us. It's about making sure we can defend ourselves. If we don't learn anything for a whole year — "

"We can't do much by ourselves," Ron said, trying to shoot down her idea. "I mean, all right, we can go and look jinxes up in the library and practice them, I suppose…"

"No, that's not what I mean. We've gone past the stage where we can just learn things out of books," Hermione replied, shocking Ron with the second part. "We need a teacher, a proper one, who can show us how to use the spells and correct us if we're doing it wrong."

"If you're talking about Lupin…" Ron began hesitantly.

"No, no, I'm not talking about Lupin," Hermione said, a hint of frustration in her voice. "He's too busy with the Order and anyway, the most we could see him is during Hogsmeade weekends and that's not nearly often enough."

"Who, then?" Ron asked, looking at her strangely.

"Isn't it obvious?" Hermione sighed. "I'm talking about Harry."

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Well, this certainly is interesting, isn't it?

This is just the start. I probably won't work on this one too much. However, I intend to update DoCB twice a week, or at least once a week, and cut down SUTFH's update pace to twice a month. Hopefully, anyway.

Oh, and should I add in some Materia, as well? It won't be much; perhaps some support Materia and a summon one or two. Also, a great deal of the first chapter or two of this story will be almost directly from canon, since Harry is the divergence point. Only Harry's actions will change how things play out, so if Harry doesn't have a hand in something, it will go as it did in canon.

No, this isn't going to be a Super!Harry story, at least, not completely. Harry's 'superness' will come from his skills as a seeker, which he will apply to his battles as Vincent Valentine. Also, this Harry has nearly seven years more experience on the Harry from the end of Deathly Hallows. He's going to have quite a few new spells, some of which Dumbledore used in the Dep. of Mysteries.

Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter or Final Fantasy VII

Gotta′ knock a little harder…

James Daniel Godric Fawkes

James Daniel Godric Fawkes(Signature best viewed in Wendy Medium font style)