During the next few weeks, life at Hogwarts took a decided down-turn. The general atmosphere, which had been tense before, had become steadily worse since Umbridge as "Hogwarts High Inquisitor" had taken it upon herself to decide who could stay and who would go.
Her first victim had, of course, been Professor Trelawney, whom Severus had never liked, but given the choice between her and the Toad…
And her replacement, who had thankfully been found by Dumbledore instead of by the Ministry, was having a rather disturbing effect on the female population of Hogwarts. It seemed that every Gryffindor girl in third year and above had an immense crush on him. The only exception to the rule was Miss Granger, whom Severus could never quite bring himself to hate as entirely as he did Weasley and Potter, even though she was an insufferable know-it-all.
At least he would have said that a few months ago. Now he wasn't so sure and it wasn't a growing dislike for the girl that made him uncertain in his convictions.
No, it was a grudging respect for Potter which had started when he saw the manner in which the boy reacted to the Toad's detentions.
Not that he would ever breathe a word of this to anyone.
Anyway, he was certain that these emotions wouldn't last long. He just knew that Potter would do something which would make Severus loathe him as much as he had before he had had to look into Potter's memories. The words "decent" and "Potter" just didn't go well together.
For now, however, everything was going down-hill at the school, so everyone had a common enemy.
In that respect, Severus was just like anyone else. He was still waiting for the opportunity to put his plan into action. And it had come, but not in the way he had expected and certainly not the way he had hoped.
Apparently a group of foolish students had been fighting back more intensely than anyone had thought. And, of course, Potter was right in the thick of it… as usual.
And from what Severus had heard the whole thing was rather organized, too. Just as with the interview, Severus was sure he recognized Miss Granger's handiwork. If the rumours were true, she really knew how to put her Hogsmeade weekends to good use.
More than that, according to Minerva and the students themselves, Potter, of all people, was actually a decent teacher.
Ah. There it was again. That dreaded combination of words. Severus was really going to have to be more careful to keep his thoughts in check, this was getting ridiculous.
But still, it seemed that the boy had managed to teach the Patronus Charm, a spell he shouldn't even know himself, to his fellow students. And for all his misgivings about the brat, Severus had to admit that these lessons might the only thing that might enable the students not only to pass their exams, but also to survive in the coming war against the Dark Lord, the war which the Ministry still insisted on ignoring, or rather denying.
Well, they would soon come to their senses, even though Severus feared that by the time the Minister admitted his gigantic mistake it would already be too late. That buffoon would not acknowledge the evidence of the Dark Lord's return until said Dark Lord made a move and that was not going to happen until he himself was ready.
For now, the Minister and his cronies, including the one currently holding sway over Hogwarts, were giving him time and space enough to raise an army which even the combined forces of the Ministry and of the Order of the Phoenix would be hard-put to match.
The most frustrating thing about the whole business was that neither he, nor indeed Professor Dumbledore, could do anything to stop everything from growing worse, especially now that the headmaster had had to leave his school in order to protect Potter. Severus wanted to hate the boy for this, but when it came down to it, even he couldn't deny the fact that "Dumbledore's Army", as they called it, hadn't been a bad idea. In fact, it might save many lives in the future…
But for now, Umbridge had declared herself headmistress and, despite the best efforts of Peeves, the Weasley twins and even Minerva, she reigned supreme. With one exception. Severus thought that words would never be able to describe the pleasure he took in seeing the castle denying That Woman entrance to the headmaster's office. Hogwarts only accepted a new headmaster or headmistress when their predecessor either died or left willingly. Since neither eventuality had taken place, Dumbledore was still the rightful headmaster.
And, ultimately, the master of a magical castle was still the castle itself.
The smirk which had formed on Severus' face, as he had contemplated Umbridge's futile efforts to get inside the office vanished when his mind focused on the other consequences this affair had had on life within the school.
Of course, Umbridge, sadist that she was, had put every single student who had been part of "Dumbledore's Army" in her special kind of detention, with the sole exception of the "sneak", as Marietta Edgecombe was now officially labelled.
Twenty-five students would carve their hands open for a good five hours of each day this week. The sheer number of students had forced Umbridge to move the detentions from the pink discomfort of her office to the Great Hall.
The first of these unsavoury events would take place that evening and Severus was prepared. He might not be everyone's – or even anyone's – favourite teacher, but he still had a duty to these children, even though none of them were Slytherins.
But Slytherins were exactly the kind of person you needed for a job like this, so the other Heads of Houses just wouldn't do. (Even though the Head of Gryffindor itself, Minerva McGonagall had certain devilish tendencies herself…)
Severus also had more than theoretical knowledge of the Dark Arts and was not afraid to respond to this hag's attack on the students under his care because, even if they sometimes annoyed the living daylights out of him and made him want to strangle them, he wasn't about to let anybody else hurt them.
Moreover, from whom would he deduct points, if all the more rebellious Gryffindors were too scared or traumatized to commit any transgressions?
At that moment, Severus was assailed by sudden visions of his students slicing their own hands open under the supervision of Fudge's Toad and he in the sudden onslaught of anger he had to stop his own hand from smashing into the wall. Oh, but she was going to pay for that…
The punishment was going to start tonight and the tables would be turned.
Harry sighed inwardly. He hadn't thought that life at Hogwarts could get any worse than it already had been, but he had been sorely mistaken. Now that Dumbledore was gone – "because of me" – and Umbridge had taken over as headmistress, the situation had become a whole lot worse. The teachers had discovered what had been happening during Umbridge's detentions and, as Harry had predicted, they couldn't do a thing about it.
Umbridge, on the other hand, had free reign and she was making use of it.
The entire DA – well, except Marietta, but she didn't really count anymore – was sitting in the Great Hall, waiting for Umbridge to distribute the quills, but she seemed content enough to finish her third cup of sickeningly sweet - and pink – tea.
Suddenly, the doors to the Hall swung open and in strode Professor Snape in his usual way, with his robes billowing behind him and giving off the impression of the overgrown bat everyone took him for. A strange feeling of hope overcame Harry. Maybe everyone else wouldn't have to slice their hands open because of his stupidity after all.
"Excuse me, Headmistress," Snape said and Harry had to admit that he managed to conceal his customary sneer quite well, "There hare a few papers I would like to have signed. It seems to me that you, unlike Dumbledore," his sneer became more pronounced and Harry's respect for Severus Snape the actor grew, "are willing to have the…students" – a distasteful glance in their direction – "punished in a way that is suited to the gravity of their misconduct. I have therefore devised some more means of punishment that I would like you to approve, since you obviously understand the importance their education has for the security of the Ministry."
As great an actor as Snape was, he couldn't quite suppress his sneer this time, but fortunately Umbridge was too busy reading through the documents he had handed to her to notice his slip.
"Mmh. These are very…creative, Severus," she said at length. "And they are sure to be very effective, too." Everyone winced at the malicious undertone in her voice. She took out a quill and Snape stepped behind her and indicated the various places on the sheets of parchment where he wanted her to sign.
But Harry had a strange sense of déjà vu. The way Snape's lips had started to move behind the Toad's back reminded him of the way Ron and Hermione had described his actions during Harry's first ever Quidditch match when they had thought he was trying to curse Harry's broom. Now that Harry looked more closely, he saw that Snape's left arm was positioned at an awkward angle, almost as though he was pointing his wand and now that Harry looked more closely, he saw that Snape's left arm was positioned at an awkward angle, almost as though he was pointing his wand at Umbridge.
Was he actually doing what Harry thought he was doing? Was he actually cursing Umbridge? Harry's eyes were saying "yes", but his previous experiences with the potions Master were saying "no".
Or were they? After all, there had been real anger in Snape's eyes when he had seen Harry's scars and he had slipped her that potion. But this looked like he was really going to put a serious curse on her. Before all this had happened, Harry had never thought Snape would go to such lengths as he already had in order to protect his students, but now he just didn't know what to think.
His mind in a whirl of confusion, Harry watched as both professors finished their respective activities at almost exactly the same moment.
He let out a breath of disappointment when he saw that Snape's curse - if it had been one in the first place - had had no obvious effect on Umbridge. Snape gathered the documents and left the Hall with his obligatory look of loathing in Harry's direction.
Resigned to yet another few hours of carving by now meaningless words into his own hand, Harry turned back to Umbridge, who had apparently decided that she had had enough tea for the moment and had turned to the task of magically distributing the dreaded quills. Everyone knew about them, even though only a handful of students, amongst them the Weasley twins' fellow prankster Lee Jordan and, of course, Harry, had been forced to use one before.
Once everyone had received a quill and most students were either staring at them in fearful apprehension or openly crying, Umbridge opened her wide mouth once more.
"Hem, hem. Mr Potter and Mr Jordan, I believe you know your sentences, even though they have obviously not sunk in yet." A sickly chuckle forced its way past her lips. "As for the rest of you, I would like you to write 'I must not disobey the rules'."
Having heard this announcement, Harry's thoughts turned to Hermione. How would she, Hogwarts' model student, cope with having that sentence etched into her skin? Refusing to let his feelings of guilt overwhelm him, Harry turned his eyes to his own parchment and began writing, resolved, as always, not to let any signs of weakness appear on his face.
Others were less determined and so the next few minutes passed with many gasps of pain penetrating the stuffy silence in the Hall and turning into whimpers, until…
Everyone looked up, startled. The voice was definitely Umbridge's but the tone was nothing like anything they had ever heard from her. It was a mixture between a whimper and a full-blown sob. Harry saw her clutching her hand in agony.
As he was sitting in the first row – apparently she had wanted to keep an eye on him – he had a very good view and saw blood leaking from between her fingers, just as it did from his own hand. When the detested teacher loosened her grip on her right hand, Harry narrowed his eyes in order to get a closer look.
What he saw shocked him, even though, knowing Snape, he knew it shouldn't. Arranged in a very orderly manner on the back of Umbridge's hand were three lines of writing, which he could just make out from the angle at which he was sitting.
One of them was in Harry's own handwriting and mirrored the one on his own hand exactly, the next one was in writing which Harry identified as Lee's, saying 'I must not disrespect my elders' and the last line spelled out the newly-assigned phrase 'I must not disobey the rules'.
A grin formed on Harry's face as he took in the scene. So Snape had stood up for his students once more. The only question was what triggered the curse?
In order to test a theory, Harry brought quill to parchment once more and, ignoring the pain which stung the back of his own hand, wrote those five hated words.
'I must not tell lies.'
His theory was proven to be correct when more blood leaked out of the first wound and Umbridge let out a sob of pain. By then others had caught on and were doing the same thing, resulting in an ear-splitting yell from Umbridge.
"Stop! Stop it right now!"
Somehow Harry couldn't quite bring himself to feel sorry for her and apparently neither could his fellow students. They were not to be deterred and after a few more futile attempts at making them stop, Umbridge took to her heels and ran out of the Hall as fast as she could.
"Cornelius will hear about this!" they heard her shriek, but that remark did nothing to remove the grin from Harry's face. If anything, his smile broadened. He knew that she wouldn't go to Fudge and, even if she did, there would be nothing he could do without putting his own career, let alone that of his Senior Undersecretary on the line. Exposing Umbridge's regular use of Blood Quills on students would cause a scandal if ever there was one.
Even Fudge wasn't stupid enough to ignore that fact. No, the truth was that very little would change. Umbridge would stay in charge of Hogwarts for the time being, since she still had the Ministry's support, and the public would continue to their belief that Harry was lying about Voldemort's return.
But, even though Harry was certain that the curse would soon be lifted and that her scars would vanish with it, he was also sure that Umbridge would think twice before torturing the students of Hogwarts again.
Behind a pillar in the Entrance Hall, from which he had watched Umbridge's flight from the students she herself had put in detention, Severus Snape was thinking the same thing and planning ways of making her pay, if she did try and hurt anyone at Hogwarts again. For now he would simply make certain that every one concerned in this affair knew how to brew the mixture of Murtlap Essence and Essence of Dittany which he had sent to Potter when he had first found out about the extent of the Ministry Toad's madness.
But he found that, no matter how hard he tried, he could never go back to hating Potter in peace because every time he tried, an image of Potter's defiant green eyes, so like Lily's, both in colour and in expression, appeared before him.
A/N: Well, that's it! First of all, I'm sorry for the long wait. Exams have been destroying my hand lately, so I couldn't type for a while But now it's done, so I'd like to thank everyone who's reviewed and generally followed my story and I would very much like to know what you thought!