A/N: I understand that some of you are 'concerned' that Harry is not training yet. Well, let me say this: when have any of you heard of Sephiroth training? It has never been expressly stated that Sephiroth trained to be as powerful as he was. In fact, I rather think his putting down those that challenge him is his way of training. And Harry doesn't need to slash away at things with his sword to get the ball started. All he needs, like Sephiroth, is enough time to sit down and come to grips with things.
Anyways, on with the show!
Chapter 10: Lingering Sentiments
Harry felt a bit lighter for the rest of the weekend than he had done all term. He and Ron spent much of Sunday reacquainting themselves with what used to be routine exercises and stretches from their Shin-Ra days while Neville studied for classes and caught up on homework. As they moved through the training regiment, the last burst of autumn sunshine persisted, so rather than sitting hunched over tables in the common room, the four took their work outside and spent their time in the shade of a large beech tree an the edge of the lake.
Hermione, who of course was more than up to date with all her work, brought more wool outside with her and bewitched her knitting needles so that they flashed and clicked in midair beside her, producing more hats and scarves.
"Some of these creations will be for us once I get more materials to work with." Hermione said as the knitting needles did not pause until they needed more wool.
Knowing they were finally and proactively doing something to resist Umbridge and the Ministry, and that he was a key part of such rebellion, gave Harry a feeling of immense satisfaction and a touch of pride. It eased his bored somewhat as he continuously relived Saturday's meeting in his mind. While back in Shin-Ra he had never given any thought to the training of new recruits or even fellow seasoned soldiers, Harry found the idea of all those people coming to him to learn Defense Against the Dark Arts thrilling. In his youth, he had thought perhaps once of becoming a teacher, but remembering that teachers had to deal with children as vain as Draco could be and as unsightly as Dudley were major deterrents to that train of thought.
No, he'd stick to being a mentor, a tutor of sorts.
"Have you gone through your sword forms?" Ron asked as Harry scoffed lightly.
"I never had a sword form, and you know this." Harry said as he flicked his wrist, summoning a fallen branch to his palm and transfiguring it into a smaller version of Masamune. Ron did the same to recreate his broadsword.
"Wanna go a round?" Ron asked as Harry smirked.
"No, I don't think you'd be able to keep up." but there it was, as plain as the autumn day. The gleam of green light in Harry's eyes as he subconsciously grew restless for battle.
"No macho contests today, boys. Momma's tired." Hermione said as her knitting needles began to create another scarf. The two swordsmen glanced her way, taking in her smile and the fact that Neville was at her side hunched over parchment. Harry let the sword fall, shattering back into the gnarled branch it was while Ron did the same.
It was only then that they noticed Ginny coming toward them. Scratch that, by the way her robes were billowing out behind her, she was rushing at them.
"You guys have gotta come see this! Umbridge is at it again!" Ginny yelled as she got halfway toward them. Harry and Ron exchanged looks while Hermione and Neville began to flick their wands to pack up.
They could only wonder what Umbridge could have done.
"Well that didn't last long," Harry muttered to his friends.
He and Ron headed directly behind Ginny while Hermione and Neville played catch to them. Up the castle, down the halls, and upstairs through the portrait into their dormitory. Once inside the sunlit common room, they noticed a small crowd of people gathered around a large sign affixed to the Gryffindor noticeboard; so large it covered everything else on it. This included the lists of secondhand spellbooks for sale, the regular reminders of school rules from Argus Filch, the Quidditch team training timetable, the offers to barter certain Chocolate Frog Cards for others, the Weasleys twins' latest advertisement for testers, the dates of the Hogsmeade weekends and the lost and found notices. This new sign held the people's attention it seemed, and was als apparently what Ginny wanted them to see.
The sign was printed in large black letters and there was a highly official-looking seal at the bottom beside a neat and curly signature.
BY ORDER OF THE HIGH INQUISITOR OF HOGWARTS
All student organizations, societies, teams, groups and clubs are henceforth disbanded.
An organization, society, team, group or club is hereby defined as a regular meeting of three or more students.
Permission to re-form may be sought from the High Inquisitor (Professor Umbridge).
No student organization, society, team, group or club may exist without the knowledge and approval of the High Inquisitor.
Any student found to have formed, or to belong to, an organization, society, team, group or club that has not been approved by the High Inquisitor will be expelled.
The above is in accordance with Educational Decree Number Twenty-Four.
Signed: Dolores Jane Umbridge, High Inquisitor
Harry and Ron read the notice over the heads of some anxious-looking second-years.
"Does this mean they're going to shut down the Gobstones Club?" one of them asked his friend.
"I think you'll be okay with your Gobstones," Ron said blankly, though the dark look he cast the sign made the second-year jump when she looked back at him. "I don't think we're going to be as lucky, though, do you?" he turned to Harry as the second-years hurried away from under their gaze.
Harry was casting the sign a look of supreme dispassion. If looks could make things feel worthless, the sign would have committed suicide rather than feel as lowly as Harry's gaze would have made it seem.
"I think we'll be just fine." Harry said without an ounce of cheer in his tone. It was as though he were telling Ron the weather outside. Like he didn't care one way or the other if the sun was shining or if it hid behind clouds.
"It's banning Quidditch, too," Ron added with a shrug, though his scowl said everything. "She probably believes it's a punishment to you. Thinks you'll be all torn up about it."
"Then lets hope she doesn't realize exactly how little I truly care about the sport nowadays." Harry and Ron turned from the sign and headed over to where Hermione and Neville were sitting.
"But that notice is suspicious," Harry admitted finally.
"Do you think she's found out?" Ron asked as Harry shook his head.
"Hermione took measures of some kind, so it wouldn't be that easy."
"Yeah, but there were people listening in that pub. And let's face it, we don't know how many of the people who turned up we can trust…" Ron felt his fists clench. Already distrust was settling into him. It was sickening to think that he might not be able to trust his peers as readily as he'd like.
"Hermione, have you read the notice yet?" Harry asked as he sat in an armchair with Ron settling down on the arm of it.
"I have, and no one has yet to breath a word." Hermione hadn't even looked up from her studies and magical knitting as she gave her calm words.
"What was that paper?" Ron asked, "I glanced at it, and I saw this purple mist wafting from it. I though my mind was playing tricks on me, but then I realized that I'm a former First Class and Scan was like an instinctual ability for us."
"Indeed," Harry confirmed with one word.
"I don't know anything about purple mist," Hermione said, dropping the volume of her voice, "But I do know this; I was not the one who create the parchment we all signed… The parchment was from… Fred and George, and they say they found it in the office of Professor Snape."
Those words settled over them all like a thick fog with the ringing of bells. The implications of what was suggested sent them all reeling as Neville paled.
Because when Turks got involved in underhandedness, betrayal was the equivalent of a literal death sentence.
"What have we involved these people… these kids in?" Ron asked shakily as Neville trembled. Even Harry was a little unnerved as he recalled some of the things Turks did to those who couldn't help but run their mouths.
"Dead men tell no tales…" Harry mumbled.
"And the dead take secrets to their shallow graves… one way or another…" Ron closed his eyes solemnly.
"They won't kill any of them." Hermione said calmly as she put aside her books. "There would be a lot of trouble should any of the students go missing."
But Harry's mind immediately thought of last year's fiasco with the fake Professor Moody. No, no student would go missing. Not with the Turks so ahead of the game.
"Come on, let's get down to breakfast and see what the others think… I wonder whether this has been put up in all the houses?" with that, Hermione gracefully rose from her chair and headed out the common room for the second time that morning. Harry, Ron and Neville followed her as Ginny had already disappeared after bringing them in.
It was immediately apparent on entering the Great Hall that Umbridge's sign had not only appeared in Gryffindor Tower. There was a peculiar intensity about the chatter and an extra measure of movement in the Hall as people scurried up and down the tables conferring on what they had read. Neville, Harry, Ron and Hermione had barely taken their seats when Seamus, Dean, Fred, George and Ginny descended upon them.
"Did Gin show ya it, yo?"
"D'you reckon she knows?" Seamus squeaked as Dean asked this.
"What are we going to do?" Seamus asked.
They were all looking at Harry. He quirked an eyebrow before glancing around to make sure there were no eavesdroppers near them.
"We're going on as planned. That is all." he said quite causally without dropping his voice.
"Knew you'd say that, yo." Fred grinned proudly as he thumped Harry on the arm.
"You two as well?" George inquired as he gave Ron and Hermione quizzically looks.
"Of course." Hermione said coolly, "It was my idea, after all."
Fred and George shared a significant glance with one another after Hermione spoke.
"Here come Ernie and Hannah Abbott," Neville said quickly, looking over his shoulder. "And those Ravenclaw dudes… and Smith… None of them are very subtle, are they?"
"Idiots," Ginny said with a shake of her head. "They can't come now. They'll just draw too much attention to themselves, and by proxy; us!"
"I think these fucks need a crash course in being in a secret rebel organization." Fred said as Hermione mouthed to Ernie and Hannah, gesturing frantically to them to rejoin the Hufflepuff table.
"I'll tell Michael," Ginny signed impatiently, swinging herself off the bench, "the fool, honestly don't know why I'm dating him…"
Ginny hurried off towards the Ravenclaw table; Harry watched her go with an impassive look on his face. Cho was sitting not far away, talking to Susan Bones as they were turned to one another so they could speak from their respective tables. They kept shoots glances over at Colin, who was stabbing into his breakfast halfheartedly. Harry saw Colin look up from his plate and meet the gaze of the two girls. He gave them a small smile for reassurance of some kind, and then began eating with less reluctance. It seemed to make the two girls happy as they smiled at the younger boy.
It was Angelina and she was hurrying towards them looking perfectly desperate.
"You realize she's including Quidditch in this?" Angelina screeched to them as she caught up and walked with him to History of Magic. "We have to go and ask permission to re-form the Gryffindor team! This is bullshit!"
"We figured as much." Harry said with little care in his tone.
"Listen up, Potter, I'm saying this for the last time. Don't you dare antagonize that bloody woman again, or they'll be hell to pay from me! You got that?"
Harry was rather impressed that Angelina had actually made him feel a sliver of fear from the look she gave him. Any lesser man would have been quaking in his boots, but not Harry. He lifted a brow and gave this woman back an aloof gaze that spoke on just how little he cared for the subject at hand. He was a shy bit taller than her, just enough so that she was looking up at him. Their eyes clashed like fire against ice creating the steamy tension that held them so close to one another for those tense long moments of pause as they waited for the other to bring their gaze and submit.
Harry did not lose, nor did he win. They both turned away from the other as they felt they were too close for comfort. Her chest to his and them breathing in each other's breath was just too close of proximity.
"I really don't think that will make a difference," Harry murmured, but she shot him a dark look. "But fine…" Harry gave in slightly as Angelina looked as though she was on the verge of beheading him. It didn't scare him, but it did something to him that made him feel uncomfortable. "Don't worry, I'll behave myself."
As Angelina turned and stalked away, Ron and Harry set to catch up to Neville and Hermione as they were already in Binns' classroom.
"I bet Umbridge is in History of Magic," Ron predicted, "She hasn't inspected Binns yet. She's bound to turn up."
But he was wrong; the only teacher present when they entered was Professor Binns, floating an inch or so above his chair as usual and preparing to continue his monotonous drone on giant wars. Harry did not even attempt to follow what he was saying today; he spelled his quill to take notes for him, and with another he doodled idly on his parchment while ignoring Hermione's frequent and disapproving glares.
"Harry, look." Hermione whispered to him as she pointed at the window. Harry looked around.
There was Hedwig, perched on the narrow window ledge, gazing through the thick glass at him, a letter tied to her leg. Harry could not understand it; they had just had breakfast, why on earth hadn't she delivered the letter then, as usual? Many of his classmates were pointing out Hedwig to each other, too.
"Oh, I've always loved your owl, Harry." Harry heard Lavender sigh to both him and Parvati. "She's just so beautiful."
He glanced at Professor Binns who continued to read his notes, serenely unaware that the class's attention was even less focused upon him than usual. Harry slipped quietly off his chair, without bothering to be sneaky, strolled over in a hurry along the row of desks to the window where he slid the catch, and opened it quick.
He had expected Hedwig to hold out her leg so that he could remove the letter and then fly off to the Owlery, but the moment the window was open wide enough she hopped inside, hooting dolefully.
He closed the window with a passive glance back at Professor Binns, and sped back to his seat with Hedwig on his arm. He regained his seat, transferred Hedwig to his lap and made to remove the letter tied to her leg.
Only then did he realize that Hedwig's feathers were oddly ruffled; some were bent the wrong way, and she was holding one of her wings at an odd angle.
Harry felt utter rage envelope his person. It boiled up within him so suddenly that his desk caught aflame for a split second before it just as suddenly disappeared without a trace.
"You've been hurt, my pretty…" Harry whispered to his fateful owl, bending his head low over hers as he touched their foreheads together. Hermione and Ron leaned in closer; Hermione even put down her quill.
"There's something wrong with her wing-"
Hedwig was quivering when Harry made to touch the wing. She gave a little jump, all her feathers on end as though she was inflating herself, and gazed at him reproachfully.
"Poor Hedwig," Hermione cooed as she scooped the owl up from Harry.
"The letter must have been intercepted," Ron said, not seeing any point in avoiding the subject when they were on it.
"That doesn't sound too good for Snuffles," Neville said with worry.
Harry took back Hedwig.
"Heal." Harry incanted as he hovered a hand over the wing. His palm glowed green as did the wing. With a flash of light, the wing was made to look perfectly fine. Hedwig shook her head and flapped her wings. She titled her head curiously at Harry, who smiled as he hugged his bird.
"They will pay… They will be made to suffer for your indignity," Harry promised darkly, whispering his words like a sweet lullaby. In the back of class, Susan Bones hitched in breath. Ron and Neville exchanged significant looks of unease.
"So the test of sorts was right, they will go to any lengths to see you confined and browbeaten." Ron said as he leaned forward in his desk behind Harry. The four of them sat in a square of sorts with Harry to Hermione's left, and Neville behind Hermione whilst to Ron's right.
"So are they just watching Harry's mail, or all of ours?" Neville asked as Hermione shook her head.
"I'd rather not test to find out." as she said this, Harry began to pet Hedwig's once injured wing while taking the scroll from her. Harry slit open the scroll and found five words in Sirius's handwriting:
Today, same time, same place.
"The fire in the common room after midnight?" Neville said in the lowest whisper that only Harry and Ron could hear while Hermione glanced at the scroll. "I don't think the toad could translate that even if she did intercept the message."
"Yeah, not unless she was watching the floo. But then she'd have to know that someone was using it." Ron confirmed.
"Is Hedwig okay?" Hermione asked as Harry allowed her to take the owl from him. She pet Hedwig's wing a few times, and her hand glowed a softer green than Harry's had when he cast his spell. Her magic even gave off a scent of healing herbs and flowers. It was pleasant and Hedwig found it relaxing as she settled into Hermione's lap. "We can't trust whoever attacked Hedwig to be clueless about the letter's contents. We need to warn Snuffles against showing up tonight."
As class ended, the four trudged all the way to the dungeons, down the stone steps for Potions class. All four were lost in thought, but as they reached the bottom of the steps they were recalled to themselves by the voice of Draco Malfoy who was standing just outside Snape's classroom door, waving around an official looking piece of parchment and talking much louder than was necessary so that they could hear every word.
"Yeah, Umbridge gave the Slytherin Quidditch team permission to continue playing straightaway, I went to ask her first thing this morning. Well, it was pretty much automatic, I mean, she knows my father really well, he's always popping in and out of the Ministry… it'll be interesting to see whether Gryffindor are allowed to keep playing, won't it?"
"I bet the toad told him to say things like that," Neville glared, "Wanting us to react to him."
"Draco's never needed any incentive to peacock about before, Pup." Ron said.
"True," Hermione sighed.
"Don't rise to his bait, Neville." Harry whispered calmly to the boy, "It's what he wants. He'll tear you to pieces both verbally and physically should you fall into his trap."
"I mean," Draco raised his voice a little more, his grey eyes glittering wickedly in Harry and Ron's direction, "if it's a question of influence with the Ministry, I don't think they've got much chance…"
"Does he realize how much of a prat that makes him sound like?" Ron asked Harry, who shrugged. "Besides, the Ministry really shouldn't have anything to do with what team should get permission or not to play in a school. It's a complete waste of valuable time they could be using on something else."
"Like tracking down all those Death Eaters from last year's Quidditch World Cup."
"But the sad fact is, this is what they're basically doing to us in a more subtle tone," Hermione said as she gestured to Draco's grandstanding.
"From what my father says, the Ministry has just been looking for an excuse to sack Arthur Weasley for years… and as for Potter… my father says it's a matter of time before the Ministry has him carted off to St. Mungo's."
"And there's the point of all his waffle," Ron snapped his fingers. "Gotta go warn Dad as well, huh."
"Yes, you do." Harry said, "I, however, will be just fine as my sanity is still very much intact."
"By the way," Ron continued, "You should know that I penned our reply to Percy. We should expect something back soon."
"Good." Hermione nodded.
Neville clutched his fist at Draco's last words.
"That… that… that bastard!" Neville roared, and when Crabbe and Goyle made grotesque faces, their mouths sagging open and eyes rolling Neville made to charge at them.
He couldn't however as Ron's strong grip held him in place even while his fury went on a mile long. The grunts of laughter and Pansy Parkinson's shrieks of glee were only served to incite his fury more so.
"Calm down, Pup! Dammit, I said get a hold of yourself!" Ron said roughly as he used the other hand to bear hug Neville into submission. This did not work. Neville's eyes began to glow a blue not unlike that of the sky. His strength as well as his anger were doubled as Ron felt his feet slide across the stone floor. Neville was now struggling frantically, his fists flailing, trying desperately to get at Draco and his gang. All of whom looked, for a moment, extremely shocked.
"Help me!" Ron flung at Harry, who managed to get an arm around Neville's neck as they started to drag him back away from the Slytherins. Crabbe and Goyle were flexing their arms as they stepped in front of Malfoy, ready for the fight. Ron seized Neville's arms, and together he and Harry succeeded in dragging Neville back into the Gryffindor line. Neville's face was scarlet; the pressure Harry was exerting on his throat rendered him quite incomprehensible, but odd words spluttered from his mouth.
"Not… funny… don't… Mungo's… I'll show him… bastard!" The odd sky blue gleam flickering every so often through Neville's eyes wasn't helping the situation much as students around them began to whisper in earnest.
It was at that moment that the dungeon door opened with a bang and Snape appeared there in the doorway like a bat from Hell. His ink-black eyes swept up the Gryffindor line to the point where Harry and Ron were wrestling Neville back before he glanced over to where Draco was arrogantly tossing back his hair with a perfect calm over his features.
"Ten points from Gryffindor, and five from Slytherin. Release Mr. Longbottom, Potter and Weasley, or it will be detention. Inside, all of you." and with those few sentences, Snape had restored order to his class in less than thirty seconds.
Harry and Ron let go of Neville, who stood panting and glaring at them.
"Ugh! You should have let me at 'em, Angeal!" Neville roared as he kicked at the stone wall, destroying the ones his foot collided with and cracking a few in close proximity.
"We had to stop you, Pup." Ron gasped, picking up his bag with Harry stood calmly at his side, "Genesis would have torn you apart with little to no effort at all on his part. You're training isn't even halfway complete."
"It would have been worth it," Neville said bitterly.
"I severely doubt it," Harry commented, making Neville throw a nasty look his way.
"You have to control yourself better than that, Neville." Hermione stepped in this time, laying a gentle hand on the boy's shoulder whilst she spoke in a soft tone. "What would your parents think of your fighting over such petty taunts?"
Neville said nothing; he merely snatched up his own bag and stalked off into the dungeon away from the group.
"He told me…" Ron mumbled simply, "It's a soft spot for him. One Genesis mercilessly twisted a torn into just then."
"Better Genesis than someone who would kill young Zackary without a second thought." Harry said slowly, knowing that Genesis could take a game too far, but would never be so heartless as to cut Neville down should the boy attack the dramatic teen in anger. No, Genesis would much rather make a show of dancing circles around Neville's clumsy attacks than anything else.
Harry, Ron and Hermione took their usual seats at the back of the class, pulled out parchment, quills and their copies of One Thousand Magical Herb s and Fungi. The class around them was whispering about what Neville had just done and how his eyes seemed to 'flare with power' in his rage. But, when Snape closed the dungeon door with an resounding bang, everybody immediately fell silent.
"You will notice," Snape said in his low voice, though greatly missing much of his usual sneer. It was there, but lacking from what had been present last year. The sneer, however, was far more prominent than it had been the last few weeks of school, "that we have a guest with us today."
He gestured towards the dim corner of the dungeon and Harry saw Umbridge sitting there, clipboard on her knee. He glanced sideways at Ron and Hermione, his right brow arched ever so delicately.
Snape and Umbridge, the two being he would probably have hated most if someone would have asked him before the summer break. Now though, he could honestly say that there was no way Umbridge would triumph over Snape. Especially not Tseng-Snape.
"We are continuing with our Strengthening Solution today. You will find your mixtures as you left them last lesson; if correctly made they should have matured well over the weekend- instructions are-" he waved his wand again "-on the board. Carry on."
Umbridge spent the first half hour of the lesson making notes in her corner. Harry was very interested in hearing her question Snape; so interested, that he was becoming just a bit careless with his potion. It was only thanks to Ron and Hermione that he was keeping it passable.
"Don't let your curiosity get the better of you," Hermione said in an exasperated tone.
"Salamander blood, Har!" Ron grabbing his wrist to prevent him from adding the wrong ingredient, "not pomegranate juice!"
"Right…" Harry's distracted voice was a vague drawl. He put down the bottle as he continued to watch the corner. Umbridge had just got to her feet. She strode between two lines of desks towards Snape, who was bending over Dean Thomas's cauldron.
"Well, the class seems fairly advanced for their level," Umbridge said briskly to Snape's back.
"Ha! And the greasy git is always telling us we're all useless!" Seamus scoffed from across the way.
"And you are, peasant. At least by his own scale of ability, and by mine as well." Draco sneered haughtily while Seamus took the good teasing by sticking out his tongue at the Slytherin. They all knew how good Snape and Malfoy was at potions. There was no need to rub it in.
"Though I would question whether it is advisable to teach them a potion like the Strengthening Solution." Umbridge said as she paused to make a note on her clipboard. "I think the Ministry would prefer it if that was removed from the syllabus."
Snape straightened up slowly and turned to look at her. He gave nothing away as he swept his greasy hair back with a hand and looked at Umbridge with as little interest as his dark gaze could muster.
"Now… how long have you been teaching at Hogwarts?" the woman asked, her quill poised over her clipboard.
"Fourteen years," Snape replied easily. His expression was unfathomable. Harry, watching him closely, added a few drops to his potion; it hissed menacingly and turned from turquoise to orange.
"You've just mess it up completely now," Hermione groaned next to him. Harry wasn't paying her any mind as he listened to Umbridge and Snape.
"You applied first for the Defense Against the Dark Arts post, I believe?" Umbridge asked the man.
"Yes," Snape answered quietly.
"But you were unsuccessful?"
That was it. His mask cracked as his lip curled ever so slightly. Harry found it interesting.
"Obviously." Snape replied shortly like all his other answers. But this one was especially terse and abrupt.
Harry couldn't help it, he chuckled lowly at this. Some of his less memorable classmates found the sound of his amusement ominous and evil.
Umbridge scribbled on her clipboard.
"And you have applied regularly for the Defense Against the Dark Arts post since you first joined the school, I believe?"
"Yes," Snape gave once again quietly, barely moving his lips. Even though he tried to keep a faint expression, Harry could see past the cracks in his mask. Snape was now very angry.
"Do you have any idea why Dumbledore has consistently refused to appoint you?" Umbridge asked as Snape's features perfectly reformed the mask which hid his emotions.
"I suggest you ask him," Snape suggested jerkily.
"Oh, I shall," Umbridge confessed with a sweet smile.
"I suppose this is all relevant somehow?" Snape asked, his black eyes narrowed upon Umbridge's stout, pink form.
"Oh yes!" the woman chirped with a nod, "Yes, yes. The Ministry wants a thorough understanding of teachers, err, backgrounds."
Ron leaned over to Harry, and said in a whisper, "I would have thought that she'd be smarmy with him. Ya know, seeing as he is so close with Genesis and all."
"True, but remember that Fudge knows how faithful Snape apparently is to Dumbledore, which would make our dear professor one of our more lackluster supporters." Harry replied while Ron nodded.
"True, that's right." he admitted humbly.
Umbridge turned away from Snape's unwavering dark gaze and made a beeline toward Pansy Parkinson, who she began questioning about the lessons.
Snape looked round at Harry and their eyes met for a second. Harry smirked before the smile was wiped from his face when he finally noticed his potion, which was now congealing foully and giving off a strong smell of burned rubber.
"No marks, then, Mr. Potter?" Snape asked coyly as Harry shrugged.
"I suppose not." Harry mocked sorrow, "Whatever shall I do?"
"You will report to my office later this evening for another detention," Snape said at once, loud enough for all to hear in the silent classroom, "All of you. To allow your classmate to create such a disgrace in my classroom will not go unpunished. Detention tonight! Am I understood?"
"Yes, professor." the table chorused in a begrudging tone. Seamus and Dean looked slightly upset as did Hermione. Ron and Draco seemed bemused by the turn of events. Neville sat in silent fury at the corner of the table next to theirs with Pansy and Draco's posse.
When the class exited, Umbridge was at the doors before to give them all a small farewell. She smiled smugly at Harry as he passed, and Harry returned the smile to the ignorant woman.
Now he sat in his seat in the hot, overperfumed atmosphere of the Divination classroom, feeling that the day was still a good one. Professor Trelawney was yet again handing out copies of The Dream Oracle. Harry thought he'd surely be using his time more productively by sitting aside the lake and gazing without focus at his beloved sword rather than sitting in this class trying to find meaning behind his collection of made-up dreams.
It seemed, however, that Neville was not the only person in Divination who was in a foul mood.
Professor Trelawney slammed a copy of the Oracle down on the table between Harry and Ron and swept away, her lips pursed. She threw the next copy of the Oracle at Seamus and Dean, narrowly avoiding Seamus' head, and thrust the final one into Neville's chest with such force that he slipped off his pouffe.
"I think someone might have gotten a poor review back from the toad," Harry heard Dean mutter over to Lavender Brown.
"Well, carry on!" Trelawney snapped loudly toward Dean and Lavender's direction, her voice high-pitched and somewhat hysterical, "You know what to do! Or am I such a sub-standard teacher that you have never learned how to open a book?"
The class stared perplexedly at her, then at each other. Silence reigned over them as Professor Trelawney flounced back to the high-backed teacher's chair, her magnified eyes full of angry tears. Harry glanced at Ron and no words needed to be exchanged between them as they both knew what was wrong with the normally misty woman.
"Professor?" Parvati Patil called in a hushed voice. She and Lavender had always rather admired Professor Trelawney. "Professor, is there anything, uh, wrong?"
"Wrong!" Trelawney cried out in a voice throbbing with emotion. Truly the woman could be a wonderful actress if she just tried. "Certainly not! I have been insulted, certainly… insinuations have been made against me… unfounded accusations leveled… but no, there is nothing wrong, certainly not!"
She took a great shuddering breath and looked away from Parvati, angry tears spilling from under her glasses.
"I say nothing," she choked, "of sixteen years of devoted service… it has passed, apparently, unnoticed… but I shall not be insulted, no, I shall not!"
"But, Professor, who's insulting you?" Parvati timidly asked.
"The Establishment! The System! The Man, my dear child" Professor Trelawney answered back, in a deep, dramatic, wavering voice.
"Don't let the man get you down!" Seamus said with Dean cheering him on.
"Yes, those with eyes too clouded by the mundane to See as I See, to Know as I Know…" she gulped, dabbing at her wet cheeks with the end of her shawl, "Of course, we Seers have always been feared, always persecuted… It is, alas, our fate…" then she pulled a small embroidered handkerchief from her sleeve, and blew her nose very hard with a sound like Peeves blowing a raspberry.
Lavender shot a disgusted look around the class, daring any to mock her idol.
"Professor," said Lavender, "do you mean… is it something Professor Umbridge-?"
"Do not speak to me about that woman!" Professor Trelawney cried, leaping to her feet, her beads rattling and her spectacles flashing. "That name is not to be spoken in this classroom. It fogs the inner Eye like a dark and poisonous mist and gives off a foul odor! So please! Kindly continue with your work!"
And she spent the rest of the lesson striding among them, tears still leaking from behind her glasses, muttering what sounded like threats under her breath.
"… may well choose to leave… the indignity of it… on probation… we shall see… how she dares…"
"You and Umbridge have got something in common now, Hermione." Harry told Hermione quietly when they met again to make their way toward Defense Against the Dark Arts class. "She obviously thinks Trelawney's a fraud, as well… It even appears that she's put the woman on probation."
The group entered the classroom and took their seats in the back.
"I think I may be ill from your observation, Harry." Hermione said lightly, her gentle gaze only flickering once to meet his amusement while she took out her book.
Umbridge entered the room as Hermione spoke, wearing her black velvet bow and an expression of great smugness.
"Good afternoon, class." Umbridge said as the class dully chanted back to her, "Good afternoon, Professor Umbridge." Harry refused to give the woman the title of educator as he crossed his arms coolly.
"Wands away, please." but there was no answering flurry of movement this time; nobody had bothered to take out their wands.
"Please turn to page thirty-four of Defensive Magical Theory and read the third chapter, entitled 'Case for Non-Offensive Responses to Magical Attack'. There will be -"
"- no need to talk," Seamus, Dean and Lavender said together, under their breaths.
"No need to think, really," Ron added bitterly.
The lesson was hardly worth mentioning, Harry felt.
"No Quidditch practice," Angelina announced in hollow tones when Harry, Ron and Hermione entered the common room after dinner that night in order to prepare for their detention with Snape. Seamus and Dean went straight up to their dorm room with Neville while the Gryffindor team captain stopped Harry and Ron.
Harry gave her a dispassionate look, "I kept my temper as promised."
"I know, I know," Angelina said miserably while ducking her head, "And I'm sorry about that. That… that… woman just said she needed a bit of time to consider."
"Consider what?" Ron asked with the barest bit of anger in his tone. Slowly but surely Umbridge was getting under the skin of the now noble and just Ronald Weasley. "She's given the Slytherins permission right away, why not us?"
"I think we all know why…" Angelina muttered while she chanced a glance at Harry.
"If she thinks holding something as pitiful as Quidditch over my head will cow me, then I've obviously overestimated this dullard of a woman's tact." Harry said briskly. He was more annoyed that the woman thought she had a weapon against than anything else.
"Well," Hermione said, "look on the bright side- at least now you'll have time rest before we all trod off to detention."
"That's the bright side to you?" Ron asked as he stared incredulously at Hermione. "You've changed a great deal over the past few months, huh. So much so that this detention doesn't faze you."
"So long as it doesn't disturb my learning, I find myself caring less and less about maintaining good impressions. I'm much more concerned with seeing my learning through rather than playing the part of an untouchable golden child." Hermione said as Ron smirked, sliding up to her as he wrapped his arms around her waist.
"Well, that's a relief. I'd hate to soil such gold with my rusty nature." Ron kissed her on the neck once and kept her in his embrace, to which she eased herself further into.
Angelina and Harry politely turned away and went their separate ways as they exchanged looks.
Harry slumped down into a chair. It was very hard to concentrate on what purpose Snape would have for calling them all into detention. Even though he knew Sirius was not due in the fire until much later into the night, Harry could not help glancing into the flames every few minutes just in case. There was also an incredible amount of noise in the room: Fred and George appeared finally to have perfected one type of Skiving Snackbox, which they were taking turns to demonstrate to a cheering and whooping crowd.
First, Fred would take a bite out of the orange end of a chew, at which he would vomit spectacularly into a bucket they had placed in front of them. Then he would force down the purple end of the chew, at which the vomiting would immediately cease. Lee Jordan, who was assisting the demonstration, was lazily Vanishing the vomit at regular intervals. Harry vaguely noticed that it was the same Vanishing Spell in which Snape had earlier used to vanish his failed potion.
What with the regular sounds of retching, cheering and the sound of Fred and George taking advance orders from the crowd, Harry was finding it exceptionally difficult to focus on the intricately layered thinking which went through the Turk Director's mind. Hermione was not helping matters; the cheers and the sound of vomit hitting the bottom of Fred and George's bucket were punctuated by her loud and disapproving sniffs, which Harry found, if anything, more distracting.
"You know, you could go over there and stop them at any time." he told her lazily while lounging back in his armchair. He had shifted positions at least three times now.
"I cannot. They are not technically doing anything wrong. Even if they're products may have adverse side-effects to them and others much later down the timeline." Hermione said somberly, as though someone close to her was expected to die.
"She's right, they're quite within their rights to eat the foul things themselves," Ron agreed with his arms crossed and his jaw set, "And there are no rules against the other idiots buy from them, so unless they're proven to be dangerous in some way we can't touch them."
"It doesn't look very dangerous or lethal to me from here." Harry watched as George projectile-vomit into the bucket, gulp down the rest of the chew and straighten up, beaming with his arms wide to protracted applause. "Though it's turning my stomach."
"Yours ain't the only one," Ron confessed.
"I still don't understand why the two only got three OWLSs each," Hermione said as the three watched Fred, George and Lee collected gold from the eager crowd.
"They're Turks. Its to be understood that they aimed well below their actual ability. Even now…" Harry muttered as Ron shrugged.
It was a long while before the crowd around the Weasley twins dispersed, then Fred, Lee and George sat up counting their takings even longer, so it was well past nine when a knock came to the Fat Lady's portrait.
"Professor Snape requests your presence to serve your detention." this time it was a monotonous Ravenclaw girl who looked as bland as her tone.
Ron was about to call Seamus and Dean down to the common when the girl spoke again.
"Seamus Finnegan and Dean Thomas will not be required to serve this detention as stated by Professor Snape. They will serve one at a later date left to his digression. All present students are, however, required to attend."
"So be it then," Harry said as he and Ron stepped out of the portrait with Hermione behind them.
"Honestly," the Fat Lady sniffed in an affronted tone, "this school's not at all like it used to be. Now all manner of students know where the dorms are. Really!"
The Ravenclaw girl guided the group down to Snape's classroom in the dungeons and like before with the Hufflepuff boy, the girl turned sharp from the classroom while placing her hand on the opposite wall.
"What the-?" Ron gasped as the wall rippled like the surface of water, only to reveal a classic Victorian chamber door, on which would lead to a governor's office.
"Enter," a voice said as the door opened this time of its own accord.
As they moved into the dimly lit room, Harry's eyes scanned it well.
This was not the office of Tseng-Snape. Something was off.
"I'm sure you're figured out by now that my office has taken on some rather… drastic changes." Snape appeared from the darkness, clad in a crisp black suit and his greasy hair tied back into a small ponytail.
"This was an office?" Hermione asked with surprise evident in her tone as when Snape stepped out from the shadows, small lights in the background began to flicker and beep occasionally. "Its more like a research lab."
"Precisely," Snape nodded, "My office has been moved to another undisclosed location, and the door you entered through was actually a temporal-space anomaly my agents have been testing."
"And let me guess," Ron crossed his arms over his broad and toned chest, "we were the lab rats for your little test?"
"Indeed, congratulations to you," Snape replied dryly. "Moving onto why I've called you here. Something must be done about Umbridge and her grip on the school."
"And you've called three innocent students here, why?" Harry asked as Snape pinned him with an un-amused look.
"Because the three of you are players in this game of thrones, whether you'd like to be or not. Mostly you, Sephiroth."
A mere month ago Harry would have been annoyed at the use of his former name. Now he found himself caring less and less.
"Tell your agents to come out then, Director Tseng." Harry's tone was as dry as a drought desert. "We might as well collaborate with you and them since you've summoned us here for a reason other than cleaning or writing lines."
"Indeed," Snape snapped his fingers once, and Luna appeared in a kneeling position at his side. On his other side were the Weasley siblings attending Hogwarts all except for Ron. They stood casually while Fred smirked at Harry.
"You sure have some super eyes there, Seph. Mind if I borrow 'em?" Fred asked as Harry spared him a glance and a smirk.
"Come and try," Harry said as Fred frowned, both knowing that he would fail should he make his attempt.
"Enough," Snape's one calm word was like a thunderclap to the Turks as they straightened up and got properly aloof, "we're hear for collaboration, not petty banter."
"You already know all we've done up until now," Ron stepped forward, "Don't play dumb with us! Your agents report on our every move!"
"That is correct," Snape admitted as Fred sniggered. "However, this fusion of thought is more onto a leaflet from your intended plan. In plain, I mean to ask where you plan to meet so my agents can secure the position."
"We've yet to decide." Hermione spoke for the first time since her astonishment and interest in the lights and beeps behind Snape and his party. "There aren't many places we can meet in or out of Hogwarts that would be truly secure, even with your people on guard against spies."
"There may be if you'd suggest some." Snape said, but before anyone could speak further, a flame rose in the background, large enough to capture even Snape's solitary attention.
"It seems you have a call." Snape said to Harry, who stormed forward with his widened gaze. Sirius's untidy dark head was sitting in the fire.
"You've been watching us in the fire as well," Harry commented, but Snape said nothing as he and his agents stood just outside the scoop of Sirius' vision.
"Hi Harry," Sirius said, grinning. "Who ya talking to?"
"Hello, Sirius, and no one. I'm just speaking to the walls." Harry had a feeling that Snape and the spy weren't the only ones watching his conversations with Sirius as he could practically reach out and touch Draco's presence in the room somewhere.
"So, how are things?" Sirius asked mildly.
"Fine, but barely so." Hermione sighed to him, "The Ministry's forced through another decree, which means we're not allowed to have clubs-"
"Or secret Defense Against the Dark Arts groups." Sirius stated.
"How did you know that?" Hermione demanded with wide eyes while Harry and Ron exchanged looks.
"Someone from the Order must have been there," Fred whispered to Snape, whose eyes narrowed.
"You reported none." Snape said with a deathly calm.
"I don't have access to all the members of the Order. Only the ones you've given me files on." Fred argued back hotly.
There was a short pause.
"You want to choose your meeting places more carefully," Sirius suggested, grinning still more broadly. "The Hog's Head, I ask you!"
"Well, it was better than the Three Broomsticks!" Hermione defended, "The place is always packed with people, and our needs were-"
"Which means you'd have been harder to overhear," Sirius said sagely, not letting Hermione go on. "You've got a lot to learn, Hermione."
"You've sure gotten high on yourself," Ron said, to which Sirius sighed.
"Well, I have been at this sort of thing longer than you all, but I'm not here to start an argument."
"Who overheard us?" Harry demanded.
"Mundungus, of course," Sirius uttered, and when they all looked puzzled he laughed. Snape cursed low in the back as he turned to Fred and Ginny, giving the two orders and having them run off while George followed. This left Snape and Luna as the only to listeners. "He was the witch under the veil."
"That was Mundungus?" Ron was stunned.
"I thought something was disgustingly familiar about his stench." Harry confessed.
"What was he doing in the Hog's Head?" Hermione pressed on.
"What do you think he was doing?" Sirius said impatiently, "Keeping an eye on you all, of course."
"So I'm being followed?" Harry asked tersely as his anger bristled, "Or rather, I'm still being followed on Dumbledore's orders."
"Yeah, you are." Sirius said sternly, "And just as well, isn't it, if the first thing you're going to do on your weekend off is organize an illegal defense group."
But he looked neither angry nor worried. On the contrary, he was looking at Harry with distinct pride.
"Why was Mundungus hiding from us in the first place?" Ron asked, sounding disappointed. "We'd have liked to see him for a short time. He didn't have to hide from us."
"He was banned from the Hog's Head twenty years ago, that's why he hid. That barman's got a long memory. We lost Moody's spare Invisibility Cloak when Sturgis was arrested, so Dung's been dressing as a witch a lot lately… anyway… first of all, Ron- I've sworn to pass on a message from your mother."
"What is it?" Ron both looked and sounded apprehensive.
"She says on no account whatsoever are you to take part in an illegal secret Defense Against the Arts group. She says you'll be expelled for sure and your future will be ruined. She says there will be plenty of time to learn how to defend yourself later and that you are too young to be worrying about that right now. She also," Sirius's eyes turned to the other two, "advises Harry and Hermione not to proceed with the group, though she accepts that she has no authority over either of them and simply begs them to remember that she has their best interests at heart. She would have written all this to you, but if the owl had been intercepted you'd all have been in real trouble, and she can't say it for herself because she's on duty tonight."
"On duty doing what?" Ron caught to that tidbit quickly.
"Never you mind, just stuff for the Order," Sirius dismissed. "So it's fallen to me to be the messenger and make sure you tell her I passed it all on, because I don't think she trusts me to."
There was another pause in which Snape and Luna whispered in the back to one another while Luna scribbled hastily written notes.
"To be perfectly frank, I think this is an excellent idea you've come up with!"
"Of course he does…" Snape muttered with distain.
"And why do you?" Harry asked, even as a small part of him was relieved by Sirius's emission.
"D'you think your father and I would've lain down and taken orders from an old hag like Umbridge?" Sirius asked, then quickly asked his own question. "Definitely not!"
"But last term all you did was warn Harry to be careful and not take risks." Hermione said, her face calm.
"Last year, all the evidence pointed to someone inside Hogwarts trying to kill him!" Sirius snapped impatiently, "This year, we all know there's someone and his followers outside of the school who'd like to kill us all. I would think learning to defend yourselves properly a very good idea!"
"And if we get expelled?" Hermione asked, a quizzical look on her face. Harry and Ron exchanged glances.
"Well, better expelled and able to defend yourselves than sitting safely in school without a clue as to how," Sirius admitted.
"Hear, hear!" Ron cheered enthusiastically. He must have missed Neville's antics at his side.
"So, how are you organizing this group? Where are you meeting?"
"We can't give too many details when meeting you like this," Hermione said quickly, "In fact, we wish you wouldn't speak so openly about it while we could be watched."
"Understandable." Sirius's head nodded. "But do you have a meeting place?"
Snape stepped forward to say something, but was immediately accosted by Sirius.
"Snivilus!" Sirius turned to look at Harry with an expression of utter betrayal. "Harry, how could-?"
"He's helping us pick out a place to study. Nothing more, nothing less." Harry stated quite plainly.
"Fair point, I suppose." Sirius said, looking slightly crestfallen even as Luna came into view. "Well, I'm sure you'll come up with somewhere if this greasy-haired worm is about. He'll find you the perfect place to shy away from light and prying eyes. I can at least trust him to do that much."
Snape made no barb in retaliation to Sirius' words. Not even a flicker of annoyance passed his features as he stared at the flames and the now small blinking red light up on the mantle of the technological fireplace.
"Be on your way, Black. We have visitors." Snape snapped suddenly, gesturing for the others to step out of view. Harry wondered what the small red light was to indicate, but figured it was some sort of alert system for Tseng-Snape to be so quick to have them out of view.
"Oh," Sirius said, frowning, "And why is that, Snivilus? Don't tell me you need to get back to your chemistry set, and-"
He broke off. His face was suddenly tense and alarmed. He turned sideways, apparently looking into the solid brick wall of the fireplace.
Then he had vanished. Harry gaped at the flames for a moment, then turned to look at Ron and Hermione.
"Crap, we're too late!" Fred and his siblings had returned, "The toad knows you're there, yo!"
"He has gone. Everything is fine. Secure our location."
"Already rerouting, sir." Luna said, having disappeared to a computer console and hastily punching away at the keyboard.
Hermione gave a small gasp. Harry and Ron turned to her, but then caught sight of where her eyes were directed. They both turned to look at the fire. A hand had appeared amongst the flames, groping as though to catch hold of something; a stubby, short-fingered hand covered in ugly old-fashioned rings.
They all backed a step farther from the fireplace. Umbridge's hand was still making snatching movements amongst the flames, as though she knew exactly where Sirius's hair had been moments before and was determined to seize it.
"Rerouting complete. Floo call now appearing in dummy house." Luna said as she punched in the final key. And just like that, the flames were extinguished and Umbridge's hand was gone.
Another pause filled the air, this one more tangible than either of the last. Hermione broke it as she turned swiftly to Harry.
"This is the proof we'd been waiting for. Without a doubt, it is and has been no one else but Umbridge who has been stalking your steps." she said.
"Was there ever any real doubt, yo?" Fred asked as Snape turned to him before Hermione could.
"Yes, Agent Reno. It could have been just about anyone else in the Ministry, but by it being Umbridge personally helps us know a great deal of things."
"Oh, I see where you're goin', yo." Fred said with a wide grin, "By it being Umbridge, we know for a fact that she's personally overseeing anything that involves Harry. She's mostly doing this without Fudge's expressed permission, because then there would be others helping her from the Ministry. This also means that its only Umbridge and whoever she rallies to her that will interfere with us."
"There's the Reno we all know and respect." Ginny smiled as Fred sniggered.
"That means that she's messin' with us, yo. And no one messes with Turk business." Fred turned to Harry, his trademark grin happily upon his features. "You just leave her to us, Sephie-boy. We'll take real good care of her."
"See to it that you do," Snape said with a hand out toward Fred, "but for now, keep the woman distracted from our movements and purpose. Enlist the two normal Helpers if you must."
"Helpers?" Ron echoed in confusion over the term. Never had he heard of Helpers, nor of Turks calling their agents such.
"Now then, we all best be on our ways. The night is lingering on, and its past midnight now." Snape said, ushering the group out while his agents slipped away, deeper still in the darkness of bleeping lights and beeping sounds.
Charms was always one of the best lessons in which to enjoy a private chat; there was generally so much movement and activity that the danger of being overheard was very slight. Today, with the room full of croaking bullfrogs and cawing ravens, and with a heavy downpour of rain clattering and pounding against the classroom windows, Harry, Ron and Hermione's whispered discussion about how Umbridge had nearly caught Sirius went quite unnoticed.
"We've been suspecting this ever since Filch accused you of ordering Dungbombs, because it seemed such a stupid lie," Hermione whispered, "Harry, you're squashing your frog."
Harry looked down; he was indeed squeezing his bullfrog so tightly its eyes were popping; he replaced it hastily upon the desk.
"It was a very, very close call last night," Hermione said almost pleasantly. "I just wonder if Umbridge knows how close it was. Silencio."
The bullfrog on which she was practicing her Silencing Charm was struck dumb mid-croak and glared at her reproachfully.
"If she'd caught Snuffles he'd probably be back in Azkaban this morning." He waved his wand without really concentrating; his bullfrog made not a peep.
"Well, he mustn't do it again, that's all. I just don't know how we're going to let him know. We can't send him an owl obviously."
"I don't think he'll risk it again," Ron said while crossing his broad arms, "He's not stupid. He knows when enough is enough. Silencio."
The large and ugly raven in front of him let out a derisive caw.
Ron seemed taken back at the sound while Harry lifted a casual brow. Ron took out his wand and began waving it over the bird as it cried out. "Silencio. SILENCIO!"
The raven cawed more loudly.
"Bloody bird, shut up!" Ron flailed his wand in a hopeless attempt to quiet his raven.
"Its the way you're moving your wand," Hermione spoke softly even as her critical gaze lingered over Ron's failed attempts. "Plus, you're not concentrating at all on the task."
"Well, I used to be good at this sort of stuff."
"Yes, but not a natural." Hermione said as she lightly ran her fingers up Ron's arm. She moved to his side while both stood in front of the cawing bird. "That means you need to be mindful of your intent. Don't wave the wand, it's more a sharp jab."
"Well, maybe ravens are harder than frogs." Ron shot back playfully with a smile as Hermione scoffed in good humor.
"Magic does not discriminate." she said as Ron gestured for her to take the bird.
"Fine then, my dear lady. Let's swap."
"Fine by me," with that, Hermione seized the raven and replacing it with her own fat bullfrog.
"Silencio," she intoned with a quiet calm. The raven continued to open and close its sharp beak, but no sound came out.
"Very good, Miss Granger!" Professor Flitwick's squeaky little voice came from behind, making Harry, Ron and Hermione all jump.
Ron turned to Harry with a smirk as he whispered, "Quieted my bird without a single word or wave. I'm a jack of all trades."
Harry snorted at the thought, "Certainly."
"Now, let me see you try, Mr. Weasley." Professor Flitwick's tiny voice came again, this time in front of them as he stood atop the desk. Harry and Ron were once again surprised by the sneaky little teacher.
"Wha—? Oh… oh, right," Ron said, very flustered. He cleared his throat. "Er - silencio!"
He jabbed at the bullfrog, nearly taking out the poor thing's eye. The frog opened its mouth, but no sound escaped as it leapt from the desk in fear of being blinded.
It came as no surprise to any of them that the disinterested Harry and ever studious Hermione were given no homework on the charm while Ron was said to need a bit more practice with precision movements.
They were allowed to remain inside over break due to the downpour outside. They found seats in a noisy and overcrowded classroom on the first floor in which Peeves was floating dreamily up near the chandelier, occasionally blowing an ink pellet at the top of somebody's head. They had barely sat down when Angelina came struggling towards them through the groups of gossiping students.
"I've got permission!" she said immediately, "Permission to re-form the Quidditch team, that is."
"Well now, you're certainly excited." Harry observed as Angelina gave him a look.
"Yeah, because I happen to find Quidditch interesting and a great stress relief." she sniffed with her nose in the air, "Besides, as the team Captain, I'm supposed to show as much enthusiasm as possible. Oliver taught me that."
"And the enthusiasm is certainly showing," Ron complimented as he stopped himself from leaning an elbow onto the table. Whether causal or not, it would still be seen as an incredibly rude act.
"How is it that you got permission?" Hermione cocked an eyebrow, "I hardly doubt Umbridge gave it forthwith."
"Yeah," Angelina's face took on a different expression, one Harry hadn't seen on the girl all year. Since the start of their term, Angelina was either angry, high-maintenance, or stressed. This expression, however, was a stark turn from the norm.
Angelina's facial expression had dropped into what Harry assumed was her most natural mien, one which was devoid of nearly all emotion. Her eyes held no light, her lips never twitched, and not a crease could be found on her face. Harry could hardly read this expression, and it unnerved him for a moment before the girl went back to beaming almost immediately.
"I went to McGonagall and I think she might have appealed to Dumbledore. Anyway, Umbridge had to give in."
"Hmm… she won't like that…" Hermione murmured thoughtfully.
"And I think we all know what happens when petty tyrants don't get their way." Ron muttered this darkly as he crossed his arms.
"Yes," Harry concurred, sharing a look with Angelina, who had defaulted back to her expressionless manner. Harry could easily tell this was a face she tried to hide more often than not as it continuously came in flickers and glimpses, "she's not going to let it happen again, she'll get more powers that will prevent anyone from undermining her perceived authority."
Angelina did not speak for a long while. When she did, she turned her back to Harry and the others while Neville came over from speaking with one of the Hufflepuff girls. Hannah Abbot, if Harry remembered correctly.
"… I want you down at the pitch at seven o'clock tonight, all right," Angelina said, just loud enough for them to hear, "because we've got to make up time. We're only three weeks away from our first match?"
Then she was gone, squeezed away from them. Though Harry caught something in her departure. Peeves giggled maliciously as he shot ink pellets from the ceiling down at her. Angelina turned slightly, just enough for Harry to see her face. Her eyes shined with a flicker of power behind them as she shifted her stance while she walked. Her face remained naturally blank as she narrowly avoided the ink pellets from Peeves, looking to have dodged them by accident or chance by the untrained eye.
But Harry knew this was not the case, especially when Angelina hooked a finger in the belt loops of a nearby first-year to keep him clean as well right before she altogether vanished from sight and out the classroom.
As Harry turned to Ron, he noticed that his friend's smile had slipped slightly. Ron's eyes drifted toward the window as he gazed out of it. The outside's view was now opaque with hammering rain.
"Ron, did you see-?"
"Hope this rain clears up." Ron said, "What's up, Hermione?"
She, too, was gazing at the window, but not as though she really saw it. Her eyes were unfocused and there was a soft frown on her face.
"Just thinking…" she whispered gingerly, still frowning at the rain-washed window, "… about how this'll all play out. Who will be the victor of this silent war? Who will be the first to step past their line and cast the preemptive strike? Will our provisions be enough?"
Harry and Ron were silenced by Hermione's soft-spoken words.
"Hermione," Harry called after a while. Hermione turned to look at him, appearing as though she had only just realized his presence.
"I was just wondering," she said, her voice stronger now and growing, "whether we're doing the right thing; bringing these children into this group… this group without a real name yet…"
"Hermione, wasn't this your idea in the first place?" Harry felt this was no time for him to be indirect about the subject."
"I know, but after seeing what the Turks are hiding down there, and talking to… Snuffles…"
"Yeah," Ron said with a sigh as Neville sat down beside him, "Yeah, I can see what ya mean."
"The Turks are kinda messed-up in the head," Neville offered, to which none could dispute.
"And what's that suppose to mean?" Ginny had appeared, a hand on her hip as they turned to her.
"That we kinda don't trust insane assassin people with the lives of school children." Neville said as Ginny looked offended.
"Well, I've never!" Ginny turned on heel.
"Oh come on! You know its sorta true!" Neville argued.
"Even if it were, Zackary Holon Fair, that doesn't matter!" Ginny fired back, making Neville flinch under the blow that was his full name.
"Hey, whoa! That's hitting way below the belt, Ciss!" Neville whined as Ginny turned back to smirk at him.
"All's fair in war, Nev." she stuck her tongue out at him.
"Just like using some expendable school children as guinea pigs for your own intended purposes?" Harry asked, leaning his elbows on the table as he focused his gaze on Ginny. The young fiery-haired woman folded her arms above her waist while giving Harry a cool look. Peeves floated over them on his stomach, peashooter at the ready. However, as much Harry wanted the chance to deal with Peeves, Ginny got to him first. Her hand shot upward at the devilish little specter, a fireball arching off her fingertips as it hit Peeves on the nose. The small ghoul sniffed and snorted as it tried to get the ashes out of its nostrils, weaving about the room before altogether leaving with a bang of the door.
"Annoying little pest." Ginny growled before she returned to Harry, "Now then, let's get this straight," and here was the anger in her tone as she dropped her shouldered bag to the floor, "Since we're all for helping your little group, its only now that you all agree that we aren't trustworthy as sponsors? Because we agree with you, all of sudden you don't think we should help any more?"
Ron looked tense, Neville appeared rather miserable. Hermione shared in Neville's look, though her own was more melancholy. Hermione was staring at her hands, which rest in her lap before she looked up to Ginny and met the younger girl's eyes. "Do you honestly trust Snape's judgment?"
"Yes, I do!" Ginny spat at once, "As Director, he's always had nothing to be deceitful about! He deplores radical scientific experiments! He hated Hojo!"
There it was. That name. That name Harry hated more than anything in this world or the next. The name of one man who had begun and ended as nothing more than a walking mass of complexes. Harry, back as Sephiroth, had nothing against science. In fact, he had been rather proud of the company's progress when it had been managed under Professor Gast's ever watchful and fair eye.
It had been such a shame when Gast had abandoned the company for one reason or another which was never revealed.
It was a few moments before Hermione spoke again, sounding as though she was choosing her words very carefully.
"I do not trust that man, Ginny." Hermione revealed, and held up a hand to quell Ginny's protests, "However, I simply have an abnormal aversion to Turks. I don't know where it stems from, but I do know that its there. I don't trust Turks and I don't like the Shinra Laboratory… However, I will trust you, Ginny. I will trust you to do the right thing should there ever come a time where you feel yourself in a morally corrupt predicament."
Ginny's eyes softened from stone before she dropped her gaze from Hermione all at once. glared at Hermione who was still looking at the ground. She turned away from them and snatched up her bag.
"The company is life… and life is in company…" Ginny's words were uncertain as she spoke them, the tremor in her voice speaking volumes alone. With that last bit said, Ginny moved away from them and out the room.
"She'll do the right thing," Ron said as soon as Ginny was gone. He was even smiling as he gazed at the closed door, "I know she will."
Neville looked utterly perplexed.
"What just happened here? I didn't get anything from any of that 'trust in you' crap!"
The weather did not improve as the day wore on, so that at seven o'clock that evening, when Harry and Ron went down to the Quidditch pitch for practice, they were soaked through within minutes, their feet slipping and sliding on the sodden grass. The sky was a deep, thundery grey and it was a relief to gain the warmth and light of the changing rooms, even if they knew the respite was only temporary. They found Fred and George debating whether to use one of their own Skiving Snackboxes to get out of flying.
"… but I bet she'd know what we'd done, yo." Fred said out of the corner of his mouth while chewing on a straw of hay he had gotten from somewhere. The location, Harry knew not. "If only I hadn't offered to sell her some Puking Pastilles the other day…"
"We could try the Fever Fudge," George muttered, "no one's seen that yet-"
"Does it work? Is it safe?" Ron enquired, as the hammering of rain on the roof intensified and wind howled around the building.
"Well, hell yeah," Fred said, "your temperature'll go right up. Though, you get these massive pus-filled boils, too."
"We haven't worked out how to get rid of them yet." George admitted, his cheeks coloring a bit.
"I don't see any boils," Ron observed. Harry arch an elegant eyebrow at the twins.
"Well, you wouldn't," Fred was now dark and flustered in embarrassment, "they're not in a place we generally display to the public, yo."
"Oh ho ho!" Ron grinned like a loon as he crossed his arms and leaned back from his twin brothers, "I bet there are on your-"
"Yes!" Fred hissed, "And they make sitting on a broom a right pain there too!"
"All right, everyone, listen up!" Angelina called out loudly, emerging from the Captain's office with Katie at her heels. "I know it's not ideal weather, but there's a chance we'll be playing Slytherin in conditions like this so it's a good idea to work out how we're going to cope with them. Harry, your glasses."
"Yeah, didn't you do something to your glasses to stop the rain fogging them up when we played Hufflepuff in that storm year before last?" Katie asked as Harry shrugged.
"If I recall correctly, Hermione did it. It was a spell by the name… Impervius… I guess it makes whatever its cast upon impervious to water or something to that effect."
"Right." Katie nodded, leaning over to look at Harry while Angelina leaned against the lockers, "Can you cast it?"
"I suppose," Harry pulled out his wand, attempting to remember how it had been performed. He tapped his glasses and said, "Impervius."
"I think we all ought to try that," Katie suggested as she leaned back from Harry, casting a look over to Angelina who looked skeptical at best.
"I suppose it couldn't hurt…" Angelina conceded.
After the charm was applied to them, they all stowed their wands back in the inside pockets of their robes, shouldered their brooms and followed Angelina out of the changing rooms.
They squelched through the deepening mud to the middle of the pitch; visibility was still very poor even with the Impervius Charm; light was fading fast and curtains of rain were sweeping the grounds.
"All right, on my whistle," Angelina shouted through the storm.
Harry kicked off from the ground, spraying mud in all directions, and shot upwards, the wind pulling him slightly off course.
He had no idea how he was going to see the Snitch in this weather; he was having enough difficulty seeing the one Bludger with which they were practicing; a minute into the practice it almost unseated him and he had to use the Sloth Grip Roll to avoid it. Unfortunately, Angelina did not see this. In fact, she did not appear to be able to see anything; none of them had a clue what the others were doing. The wind was picking up; even at a distance Harry could hear the swishing, pounding sounds of the rain pummeling the surface of the lake.
Angelina kept them at it for nearly an hour before conceding defeat. She led her sodden and disgruntled team back into the changing rooms, insisting that the practice had not been a waste of time, though without any real conviction in her voice. Fred and George were looking particularly annoyed; both were bandy-legged and winced with every movement. Harry could hear them complaining in low voices as he toweled his hair dry.
"I think a few of mine have… ruptured, yo…" Fred said in a hollow voice.
"Mine haven't," George confessed through clenched teeth, "they're throbbing like mad…"
Harry's eye twitched as pain flared through his scar. He hissed into his towel. His scar was searing, more painfully than it had in weeks.
Harry turned as he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up, seeing it was Ron who looked more concerned than anything. The two shared a significant look and hung back as the rest of the team filed back outside, muffled in their cloaks, their hats pulled low over their ears.
"What happened?" Ron asked in concern, the base in his voice coming forward as he spoke in a low rumble. "You started hissing in pain. Was it… your scar?"
Harry nodded, "Yes, it appears that something has incited Voldemort's ever-petulant anger."
Ron snorted, "What's got him in a fit now?"
Harry sat quite still, and closed his eyes. He allowed his mind to relax and his memory come forth in the aftermath of the pain. There were a tangle of shapes and a rush of voices, but Harry made them out as best he could.
"The fool wants something," Harry's eyes snapped open, "and believes it isn't happening quick enough for his tastes."
"How do you know?" Ron asked, his gaze somewhat wary as Harry stood up from the bench he had sat upon.
"I've learned since my resurrection that I have a link to Voldemort. One that might have been first established when I first defeated him as an infant. This link apparently allows certain things between us. Things such as emotions and vague readings of what the other is dealing with."
"While I ignore the obvious, and certain plain implications of what you just said, I'll skip right ahead to the part about you and Voldemort being able to look into the other's mind. Don't you think that's gonna cause problems for our secret group?" Ron's face was set in stone as he stared at Harry, who was equal in height with him.
"Perhaps," Harry admitted, "but I hardly think Voldemort will seriously take my training with school children as a major threat. I mean, would you?"
"Yes," Ron breathed at once, "but that's only because I know who you once were, Seph. So now lets go back to the obvious. Can Voldemort find out about your past life? Our past life?"
"Most likely not." Harry confessed in a low voice with a shake of his head. "If the dullard could, he'd have already given himself over to the supreme evil I used to be."
"Lets not talk about this anymore," Harry haistly wanted to drop the subject, "The only thing we're getting between each other are flashes of the other's mood. If I could read his mind, I've have found him and he'd be dead altogether by now. If he could read my mind, then I'm sure he'd have assaulted me by now to test and see if my past life isn't just the jumblings of a crazed person."
There was a pause. The wind and rain lashed at the building.
"You've got to tell someone," Ron said after the pause, "One of the people in this day and age could help you. Give us an edge. Something that would take away the responsibility of this from your shoulders!"
"Angeal, calm yourself!" it was the first time in a long time since Harry had raised his voice above a normal conversational volume. The two had been alone in the locker room now for the last five minutes now. Ron's shoulders and chest were heaving and his fists clenched at his sides.
"I just… I just feel so useless to you right now. Dammit!" Ron lashed out and punched a large hollow into the closest locker. Katie's locker. The edge of the locker door was ajar, and out fell an item which caught the attention of both Harry and Ron. In their curiosity, the two left their pent-up emotions behind them as they inspected the fell item.
"A badge?" Harry enquired as he held the thing to light.
"Its just like the one Cho had that morning in the Owlery…" Ron said, narrowing his murky blue eyes at the badge. "Avalanche… where have I heard that name before…?"
"I don't know, but its setting off bells for me as well," Harry confessed as he replaced the item back within Katie's locker. He and Ron then bent the door back into its proper place before leaving the changing rooms.
"We'll speak of this another time, old friend." Harry said, laying a hand on Ron's shoulder.
"Yes, you can bet your sweet Masamune we will." Ron replied as Harry cracked a smile and Ron smiled back.
They hurried back through the dark grounds, sliding across the muddy lawns, not talking.
Harry had not thought about Voldemort directly in weeks; he had been too absorbed in what was going on at Hogwarts, too busy dwelling on the ongoing battles with Umbridge, the injustice of all the Ministry interference… but now the walking mass of complexes that wasn't Hojo, for once, came to mind and made him wonder… Voldemort's anger would make sense if he was no nearer to laying hands on the weapon Harry had been told about prior to his reincarnation, whatever this mysterious weapon was.
Had the Order thwarted him, stopped him from seizing it? Where was it kept? Who had it now?
Harry came back to his senses just in time to clamber through the portrait hole into the common room as Ron gave the password.
It appeared that Hermione had gone to bed early, leaving Crookshanks curled in a nearby chair and an assortment of knobbly knitted elf hats lying on a table by the fire. Harry was rather grateful that she was not around, because he did not much want to discuss his scar hurting and have her urge him to go to Dumbledore like Ron would have, had there not been that distraction. Ron kept throwing him anxious glances though, but Harry pulled out his Potions text and set to work on finishing his essay, though he was only pretending to concentrate and by the time Ron said he was going up to bed, too, he had written hardly anything.
"I'm rather worried about you, Har." Ron said as he stopped at the foot of the staircase. He sighed. "But I know you. If you don't want to talk about it, I can't force you to. Just… just keep it together, Har. For the both of us…"
Harry watched his best friend go with a somber look on his face.
"Angeal… Ron… "
Midnight came and midnight went while Harry read and reread passages. Even while he did his essay about the uses of scurvy-grass, lovage and sneezewort, Harry took in not a word of it.
These plants are most efficacious in the inflaming of the brain, and are therefore much used in Confusing and Befuddlement Draughts, where the wizard is desirous of producing hot-headedness and recklessness…
… Hermione said Sirius was becoming reckless cooped up in Grimmauld Place and they all distrusted the Turks for their shadowy dealings…
… most efficacious in the inflaming of the brain, and are therefore much used…
… the Daily Prophet would think his brain was inflamed if they found out that he knew what Voldemort was feeling…
Harry's eyes drooped as he tried to focus.
"I'm losing…" he covered his yawned words with a hand, "… my touch…"
… therefore much used in Confusing and Befuddlement Draughts…
… confusing was the word, all right; why did he know what Voldemort was feeling? What was this weird connection between them, which Dumbledore had never been able to explain satisfactorily?
… where the wizard is desirous…
… how Harry would like to sleep…
… producing hot-headedness…
… it was warm and comfortable in his armchair before the fire, with the rain still beating heavily on the windowpanes, Crookshanks purring, and the crackling of the flames…
The book slipped from Harry's slack grip and landed with a dull thud on the hearthrug. His head rolled sideways…
He was walking once more along a windowless corridor, his footsteps echoing in the silence. As the door at the end of the passage loomed larger, his heart beat fast with excitement… if he could only open it… enter beyond… He stretched out his hand… his fingertips were inches from it…
"Harry Potter, sir!"
Harry awoke with a start, his hand reaching out like fresh lightning to snatch from the air that which startled him. The candles had all been extinguished in the common room, but there was something wriggling within his iron grasp.
"Who zair?" Harry said, sitting upright in his chair. The fire was almost out, the room very dark.
"D-Dobby… has… your… o-owl, s-sir!" said a squeaky and gasping voice that seemed to want air.
"Dobby?" Harry released the windpipe he had been about to crush. It clamored to the floor in a heap before slowly springing up. Harry peered through the gloom towards the source of the voice.
Dobby the house-elf was standing beside his armchair and the table on which Hermione had left half a dozen of her knitted hats. His large, pointed ears were now sticking out from beneath what looked like a hat Hermione had ever knitted. Now though, the others were scattered amongst the floor, though Dobby was quickly remedying that by gathering the hats and placing them in a tower upon his head.
Atop the table sat Hedwig, hooting serenely.
"Late night owl wanderings, sir." Dobby explained, "She's been looking for you, and Dobby is knowing that she's belonging to Harry Potter sir." Hedwig gave an indignant hoot and fluttered onto the arm of Harry's chair.
"Thank you, Dobby." Harry said, stroking Hedwig's head whilst trying to keep the image of the door in his dream. Surveying Dobby more closely, he noticed that the elf was also wearing several scarves and innumerable socks, so that his feet looked far too big for his body.
"Have you been taking all the clothes Hermione's been leaving out?" Harry asked as Dobby shook his head joyously.
"Oh, no, sir!" Dobby denied happily. "Dobby has been taking some for Winky, too, sir!"
"Yes, how is Winky?" Harry asked.
Dobby's ears drooped slightly.
"Winky is still drinking lots, sir," the little elf said sadly, his enormous round green eyes, large as tennis balls, downcast. "She still does not care for clothes, Harry Potter. Nor do the other house-elves. None of them will clean Gryffindor Tower any more, not with the hats and socks hidden everywhere, they finds them insulting, sir. Dobby does it all himself, sir, but Dobby does not mind, sir! For he always hopes to meet Harry Potter and tonight, sir, he has got his wish!" Dobby sank into a deep bow, one which made his tower of hats touch the rug while staying atop his noggin. "But Harry Potter does not seem happy," Dobby went on, straightening up again and looking timidly at Harry. "Dobby heard him muttering in his sleep. Was sir having bad dreams?"
"Not really, no." Harry said as he came from the alleyway between sleep and awakening, "I've had worse and seen more horrid things with my awake eyes."
The elf surveyed Harry out of his vast, orb-like eyes. Then he said very seriously, his ear drooping, "Dobby wishes he could help Harry Potter sir, for sir set Dobby free and Dobby is much, much happier now."
"You're happiness is enough, Dobby." and these words seemed to make the little elf all the more joyous. "Thank you for your offer."
Harry bent and picked up his Potions book. He'd have to try to finish the essay tomorrow. He closed the book and as he did so the firelight illuminated the thin white scars on the back of his hand- the result of his detentions with Umbridge…
"Wait a moment," Harry said slowly, a smile curving itself upon his lips, "Perhaps there is something you can do for me, Dobby," The elf looked round, beaming.
"Name it, Harry Potter, sir!"