Chapter 45: Making Plans

'You can't be serious,' Harry groaned, staring at the parchment in Ben's hands.

Ben looked up patiently. 'What part of it don't you like?'

'Uh… all of it,' said Harry.

The younger boy turned back to the sketch in front of him, studying it carefully. 'I think it's rather brilliant myself,' he said modestly.

'Oh, it is,' Harry assured him, 'but it isn't very realistic. For instance,' Harry gestured to the parchment, 'where on earth would you get the army of Bowtruckles?'

'Hmm,' said Ben, tapping his quill against his upper lip. 'Maybe that is a bit much.' He put a cross over what looked to Harry like a mass of scribbles. 'Okay. No Bowtruckles. Happy now?'

'Not completely, no.'

Ben raised an eyebrow, a rather annoying skill he'd picked up from Snape while spying on him. 'And why would that be?'

Harry made a hopeless gesture. 'You can't really expect to just march into the ministry, casually ask for directions to the holding cells, waltz past Ministry officials, and locate Umbridge so you can plant thirty packets of Weasley's Ultimate Dungbombs in her cell.'

'Well of course I don't!' said Ben, and Harry gave a sigh of relief.

'Oh, good,' he said, leaning back in his chair. 'I knew you had more sense –'

Ben cut over him. 'You will.'

There was a long pause. 'I will what?' asked Harry, bemused.

Ben gave him a very McGonagall-like glare (having perfected it after being on the receiving end so often). 'You will do the sneaking into the Ministry,' he said very slowly so Harry couldn't possibly miss it. 'Famous Harry Potter and all, it'll be a breeze.'

Harry sighed again. 'What's your real plan?'

'What do you mean? This is the plan,' said Ben distractedly, flicking some imaginary dust off the parchment.

Harry shot him an impatient look. 'Ben…'

'What has he done this time?'

Sirius walked into the living room of the Hideout, a faint trace of amusement showing in his eyes. He crossed the room and sat down beside Ben on the couch.

'Why do people always accuse me of something the moment they see me?' asked Ben, throwing his hands in the air theatrically.

Harry smirked. 'Must be your innocent face.'

Sirius was tugging a stray piece of parchment out from between the couch cushions. Smoothing it out, he studied the diagram with interest. 'Nice,' he said. 'Hey, this looks similar to the layout of the Ministry – ' He broke off and turned toward his son with wide eyes.

Ben made an incredulous noise. 'Nonsense. Where would I get a floor plan of the Ministry?'

To his consternation, Harry saw that Ben didn't quite meet his father's eye. Sirius must have noticed this too, because his expression turned very serious.

'Listen, Ben, I know you want to avenge Liss, but this is the wrong way to go about it.'

'Yeah, sneaking into the Ministry is a bit risky,' mused Ben. 'So you're saying that we should send the dungbombs by owl instead?'

'No!' said Sirius, sounding alarmed. 'No, no, I didn't mean that! What I'm trying to say,' he went on in a slightly calmer tone, 'is that you should think this through very carefully. Consider the risks and likely consequences. Just take me for an example: by charging off to avenge my best friends, I ended up getting locked up and losing my family. There are other ways – safer and more productive ways – to satisfy your desire for revenge.'

Ben nodded thoughtfully, his expression sober. 'Like what?'

'Like helping Lissa to recover, like learning to defend yourselves, like strengthening your bond, like keeping each other safe.' Sirius looked them both in the eye in turn. 'Like keeping out of trouble,' he added with a faint grin.

'I don't think I can do the last one,' said Ben seriously, 'but the other ones sound like they might work. What d'you think, Harry?'

Harry was staring at the opposite wall and appeared to be deep in thought. 'Yeah, they just might,' he said, standing up and looking excited.

'Where are you going?' Ben asked as Harry began walking across the room.

'To find Hermione and Ron,' Harry replied over his shoulder. 'I need to talk to them about an idea I just had.'

Sirius looked slightly apprehensive. 'Should I be concerned?'

One hand on the doorknob, Harry looked back, smiling. 'Only if you were on Voldemort's side.'

Harry found Hermione and Ron in the library; they listened intently as he outlined his plan.

'That… that is actually a really good idea, Harry,' Hermione said slowly, staring at him in something akin to amazement.

Ron's eyebrows shot up at that. 'You don't have to look so surprised. Even us guys have good ideas once in a while.'

Hermione ignored him. 'Since Umbridge is gone we wouldn't have to keep the group a secret,' she said thoughtfully. 'We could ask the new Defence teacher to help us.'

Ron scoffed. 'Yeah, assuming he or she isn't a mad, murdering lunatic. We haven't exactly had great luck with Defence teachers, have we?'

Hermione heaved a very deep sigh. 'If you actually kept up with the news, Ronald, you'd know that all Hogwarts' teachers are being screened, and that includes any future teachers. It was in the Prophet yesterday morning. I'm surprised you missed it; the hall was swamped with owls for Dumbledore and Lissa.'

'I was concentrating on eating!' said Ron defensively.

'Anyway,' Hermione continued as if he hadn't spoken, 'the extra lessons would be beneficial, even if the Defence teacher turns out to be really good. We should scout out people from other houses to see if they're interested.'

'Slytherins too?' asked Ron, aghast. 'Fat chance.'

'Oh, don't be pathetic, Ron. It doesn't seem fair if we don't offer the chance to other people. For all we know, these defence lessons could encourage Slytherins to stand against Voldemort,' said Hermione.

'Or it'll give them skills they can use against us,' muttered Ron.

'Look, we don't have to announce it to the Great Hall,' said Harry reasonably. 'But Hermione has a point, we can't exclude people just because we don't like them. We need all the help we can get if we're going to stand against Voldemort -' Ron visibly flinched at the name '– because you can bet he'll have a sizable army.'

Ron still didn't look entirely convinced, but he nodded anyway. 'All right, I see your point, but I'm not being friends with people like Malfoy.'

'So it's settled then?' asked Hermione, glancing between them. 'We'll each scout out people who want to join, just to get an idea on numbers, and then we can talk to the Defence professor.'

'That's if, by some miracle, they turn out to be half-decent,' said Ron grimly. 'But judging from past examples, there isn't much of a chance.'

Dinner that night was an interesting affair. The Prophet had announced the arrest of Umbridge that morning and the castle had been abuzz ever since. Everybody was still in an explicably good mood; streamers and fireworks kept flying around the room in random bursts, and the Weasley twins could be heard leading a group of students in unflattering songs about Umbridge. A number of brightly coloured flags and badges had emerged amongst the majority of the school, bearing words such as 'Goodbye, Good Riddance, Pink Blimp' and 'Long Live Minister Bones, our hero.'

Harry didn't know whether the best part of dinner was Lissa skipping into the hall, hair flashing so fast that she looked like a multicoloured siren, or seeing Malfoy and his cronies slouching sulkily at the Slytherin table, no longer wearing the shiny 'I' on their robes that had marked them as Umbridge's Inquisitorial Squad. Or perhaps it was when, after a shimmer of movement from under the Slytherin table (which looked suspiciously like Harry's Invisibility Cloak), the entire House leaped out of their seats with squeals of surprise and indignation. Out the corner of his eye, Harry saw Lissa send a discrete thumbs up in that direction, and he knew that Ben was on the prowl.

Once the Slytherin table had calmed down somewhat, Dumbledore stood up, eyes twinkling merrily, and addressed the Hall.

'As I'm sure most of you have heard, Professor Umbridge has been removed from the school and will not be return –'

He had to stop here because a great cheer had erupted from the Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, and Ravenclaws, making it impossible for him to be heard. Quite a few of the teachers joined in. Up at the staff table, Hagrid was banging his large tankard on the table, causing plates of food to topple into their owners' laps.

When at last the noise had reduced to a dull roar, Dumbledore continued. 'As I was saying, Professor Umbridge will not be returning so we have a vacancy for a Defence teacher. The Minister has informed me that she is currently interviewing several applicants for the position, all of who will undergo a strict screening process. She expects to reach a final decision by the end of the week. Until that time, you may have a free period for that class.'

As Dumbledore sat down, the Great Hall was once again filled with a storm of cheering and whistling. The Weasley twins began singing again.

Later that evening, Harry and Ron put their homework aside to play a rather lively game of chess. For once, Hermione didn't object. She was huddled in a corner with several other Gryffindors and was gesturing to a piece parchment in her hand.

The boys had just begun their fifth game when Lissa came to sit in the squashy armchair beside them. She looked much better; her cheeks had regained their colour and her eyes sparkled with mischief.

'So, when's your first meeting?' she asked brightly.

Harry glanced up at her. 'What meeting?'

'The Defense meeting,' replied Lissa, her expression telling him she wasn't fooled.

Harry sent Ron a severe look.

'I didn't tell her!' Ron said quickly.

Harry turned his attention back to the chessboard. 'Why does it matter? You're not going to be there.'

Lissa looked up from her Transfiguration essay. 'Says who?' she challenged.

'Says me,' answered Harry evenly, moving his bishop forward to take Ron's pawn.

'Since when are you the supreme authority?' Lissa asked eyes narrowed.

'It's too dangerous,' said Harry adamantly, frowning as Ron's knight took his king. 'I don't want you getting hurt.'

'So you'll refuse to let me learn to defend myself, putting me in even more danger?' Lissa said angrily, leaping to her feet.

'I'm keeping you off Voldemort's hit list!' Harry shot back, chess game forgotten.

'In case you've forgotten I'm already on his hit list!' Lissa hissed, her hair turning tomato red. 'I'm frequently seen with you, which alone is enough to warrant a death sentence. I'm the daughter of Sirius and Emily, who are also high on his to-kill list, and on top of that I share a powerful bond with The-Boy-Who-Lived! Joining a school defense group isn't going to make him want to kill me more!'

Harry scoffed. 'So you think leaning a few spells will help you defeat him?'

'No,' shot back Lissa, 'but if I'm attacked, whether by him or a Death Eater, I want to go down fighting, not standing there stupidly wondering what on earth to do with the little stick in my hand!'

'You won't be facing him or any Death Eaters.'

Lissa gave a sarcastic laugh, her voice growing louder. 'So you can predict the future now? You can't protect me from everything, Harry!'

'Maybe I could if you didn't intentionally put yourself in danger!' he snapped.

Harry didn't realise how loud they had become until he noticed that all eyes in the common room were fixed on them. Hermione was still sitting in the corner, a pile of books lay forgotten in her lap as she watched him in open-mouthed silence.

'I want to help protect my family and friends!' yelled Lissa, her eyes seeming to spark with electricity. 'What's the good of being safe if everyone I care about is dead?

Harry had never appreciated just how loud his little sister could bellow. He was certain he felt the floor tremble beneath his feet.

'She's right you know,' said a voice behind Harry that he recognized as Neville. He turned to face his dorm mate, and was surprised when Neville met his dark glare with one of fierce determination.

'Hermione's been telling me you three want to start a defense group,' he said levelly, 'and I want in. It's time we stood up for ourselves and our families.'

'Well said, mate.' Fred stepped forward and clapped Neville on the back before turning to Harry. 'If you're planning on causing trouble for You-Know-Who – '

'Count us in!' finished George, grinning broadly as though he had just been invited to a picnic.

'And me,' said Ginny.

Others around the room echoed her words; they were repeated over and over again, some with conviction, some in a slightly shaky voice. Harry felt a surge of confidence.

Hogwarts was fighting back.