Ch 24 Trains and Toads

"Now don't go causing too much trouble, I don't want a letter from your Head of House on the first day," Andromeda lectured. Harry discreetly rolled his eyes. The entire drive to King's Cross Station she'd been lecturing him about proper behaviour and decorum for a boy on the threshold of manhood, as she'd described it.

"Love, you've mentioned that twice before. I think Harry gets the picture. Now keep on like that and he won't want to come back," Ted sighed.

"Ted, as his guardians it's our duty to give him guidance and proper instruction…"

"On proper shagging technique?" Harry interrupted.

"Harry Potter!" Andromeda scolded. "That's hardly…"

"I walked in on you going at it on the sofa, the stairs, bathroom sink, three times on the kitchen table and on Dora's bed."

"You did what!" Tonks screeched from the seat next to him. She'd been silently providing moral support to her newly adopted brother from their Mum's rants until that moment. "Parents, do not tell me that you actually did… that on MY bed!"

"Fine, we won't tell you we did that, but to be fair you have moved out so it's really more of a guest bed now and we were going to wash the sheets before you got back," Andromeda politely informed her daughter.

"What do you mean were going to?" Dora demanded.

Ted shrugged. "Harry interrupted us, your mum chased him off and truthfully I forgot all about it until now."

"Your mum is scary even when she's naked," Harry whispered.

"When was that?" Dora asked weakly.

"A week ago, I think."

"I slept in that last night!"

Ted grinned wickedly. "Think of that as payback for that Gryffindor you brought home your seventh year."

"What's he mean?" Harry asked, now very confused.

"Nothing, absolutely nothing," Dora muttered, her hair having gone a bright orange.

"Bloody effing hell, look at this traffic. You'd think the whole world showed up here today," Ted muttered as they pulled into the car park outside the station.

"They might as well have, Ted," Andromeda replied. "Now why don't you drop us off and find a spot."

Ted nodded and pulled the battered Ford Prefect to the curb. As Harry got out of the car he was suddenly enveloped in two very large arms. "Take care of yourself, kidder. Andromeda and I worry about you. You're in for a rough year, but we're here for you if you need anything," Ted muttered squeezing a little and then letting go. "Right then, I'll just leave you two beautiful birds to see this bloke on the train," Ted winked and drove off.

"Why'd he drive off?" Harry asked.

"I dunno," Dora shrugged. "Just his way, I guess. He's done that every year since my second."

Harry shrugged nonchalantly and began to push his trolley toward the brick wall. The scene on the other side was very different than the prior year. The normal happy reunions and sad partings were still there but noticeably subdued as though the entire platform had just stepped too close to a cloud of Dementors. Harry began scanning the crowd for his own reunion and noticed her just in time to avoid being flattened.

"Harry!" Ginny shrieked as she leapt into his arms and wrapped her legs around his waist, smashing her lips to his in frantic need. Harry, for his part, happily returned the favour, leaning their combined weight against the nearest pillar (a trick he'd learned from walking in on Ted and Andromeda using their refrigerator in a manner that was clearly against manufacturer's recommendations.)

His lips and hers danced the dance of those who'd done this sort of thing more than once and realised that all good things were going to come to an end.

"GINNY!" Molly shrieked. That would be the end, Harry sighed in resignation.

"Mum…" Ginny whinged

"Young lady you will get down off him this instant and start behaving yourself this instant or so help me…" Molly let the threat hang.

Andromeda opened her mouth to scold her half of the equation, but a soft rebuke silenced her immediately.

"Not one word, Mum," Tonks ground out. "Not one bloody word."

"Mum," Ginny sighed. "It's not like I was going to tear his robes off and shag him. That's for the train ride," she winked and sauntered off. "Don't keep me waiting, love."

As Molly began to follow and berate her youngest offspring, a hand descended on Harry's shoulder, shaking him from his dumbstruck reverie. "How're you doing, mate?" Ron asked, his expression doing a poor job at hiding his amusement.

"I'm fine I guess. Sorry about that, we just sort of got caught up in it."

"I'm not going to pretend seeing you sucking my baby sister's face off was pleasant, but I think I can forgive you. I think she half did it just to rile Mum."

"Has she been like this the whole time? We've been sending letters every day. I knew she was bored, but she didn't say anything like that."

"It's more than boredom, I think," Ron mused. "She won't admit it, but she feels left out. We all do. They've been having all sorts of meetings and comings and goings. It's been bonkers. We're shut up in that bloody dusty house with a mad portrait of an old woman screaming at you and this mental house-elf. Hermione stopped by for a bit to visit, though. Before she and her parents went on holiday."

"You got into a fight, didn't you?"

"It wasn't my fault and how'd you know that?" Ron asked, shocked.

"You get this pained expression like someone just kicked your leg. So what did you do?"

"I made a comment that I didn't think the elf that worked there liked his job very much and it just sort of took off from there."

Harry nodded. "Well here's your chance to apologise."

"Bloody sodding and effing hell," Ron muttered softly.

"Morning, Hermione," Ron and Harry echoed at the same time.

"Good morning," Hermione nodded to each in turn, giving Harry a slightly warmer smile than Ron.

"Oh no, we're not having this shite again," Harry declared loudly.

"What?" both Ron and Hermione squawked.

"Hermione I don't know what you think Ron did, but I'm sure it wasn't as bad as you imagine it. Ron, I know you don't think you did anything, but you need to apologise because I'm sure you did something."

"But, I…" Ron sputtered.

"He… are you out of your tree?" Hermione demanded.

"Now!" Harry barked. "This year will be tough for all of us, what with Voldemort having returned. A pride divided is doomed. I'll not have you two in a tiff straight away. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go rescue my girlfriend from the sensibilities of her mother." Harry turned to Andromeda and Nymphadora. "New-mum, Tonks, may we say goodbye here? I think I should try and rescue Ginny."

"You'll need some help," Tonks assured him. "But we can say goodbye to Mum here."

Dora and Harry turned to an amused looking Andromeda. "Bye, Mum," they chorused.

"Goodbye, dears. Harry, don't forget to write and let me know you got there safely."

"Will Ted be coming?" Harry asked. He didn't want to be rude, after all.

"Oh, I think if past experience is any guide he'll be sitting in the car crying himself silly. He doesn't take goodbyes well," Andromeda assured him. "Now, you two run along, and no hexing any evil wankers, Nymphadora."

"Mum, it's just Tonks, and I don't always hex evil wankers, just those that deserve it."

"Mhmm…" Andromeda looked sceptical, but hugged them both once more and let them on their way.

"What do you mean I need help?" Harry finally asked.

Dora smiled. "Mum Weasley isn't the most forgiving of women sometimes, and I was friends with Charlie. I'll distract her while you get your little firecracker on the train." Harry smiled and nodded. It was a good plan, after all.

As they arrived, Ginny was still being verbally flogged by her mother for indecency and proper decorum. Dora quickly stepped in.

"Mrs Weasley? Is that you?"

"Well, who… Dora, dear! How good to see you. I didn't realise you'd be here." Molly's demeanour changed in the blink of an eye.

Harry watched in awe as his newly-adopted sister thoroughly distracted his nearly-mother-in-law allowing, Harry to stealthily grab Ginny's hand and board the train.

"Harry, Mum's going to go spare once she realises what happened," Ginny protested.

Harry gave her a clearly disbelieving look. "And you expect me to think you care?"

"Well, no, I don't…"

"Then don't worry about it. Let's go find a compartment, preferably one with a sunbeam."

Ginny smiled and kissed her boyfriend lightly on the cheek. "Sometimes you're all Kneazle, Paws."

"You love me anyway," Harry joked.

"Yeah, I guess I do," Ginny winked.

The compartment they found didn't have a sunbeam, but it did have Neville and Luna and they were shortly joined by grumpy Hermione and bewildered looking Ron. "How was your summer?" Neville finally asked. Not knowing exactly who he was speaking to, they all answered in various turns.

Hermione had stopped and visited Grimmauld Place briefly before she and her parents went on holiday again. Ron had spent most of his time cooped up cleaning the dirty old house, trying to avoid his brothers and (according to Ginny) annoying the piss out of his sister. Luna had helped her father research and write several articles in the Quibbler as well as catalogue all the species of magical insects behind her house.

Harry shrugged and merely said, "Same thing different summer, really. Wouldn't be a good one if I didn't get in trouble with the law or fight for my life… or you know, something fun."

That earned him a sharp reprimand from Hermione and a gentle hand squeeze from Ginny. She could always tell when he something bothered him.

"Oh! It's time for the prefect meeting. I can't believe I got it. I mean there were five of us. I wonder who the boy in our year is going to be?" Hermione asked anxiously. Harry and Ron locked eyes and both shrugged.

"Dunno, it's not Harry and it's not me. So that only leaves three. If it's Seamus you better cover up or he'll spend the whole time looking at your knockers," Neville advised sagely.

"Why on earth would he want to do that?" Hermione asked, scandalized.

"It's what all boys want to stare at," Ginny replied, stating the obvious.

"Not all boys, some are quite the gentleman, and what I was really asking was why mine? He seemed quite taken with Lavender."

"Pffft," Ron scoffed. "No need to be so self-depreciating. Hers are lemon drops compared to yours. They're blood marvellous."

Hermione bolted to her feet crossing her hands over her chest protectively. "Ron, I can't believe you'd be such an animal. You're no different from the rest of them, ogling girls like pieces of meat!" With that she spun around and stormed out.

"Ron, what the hell did you say that for?" Ginny demanded.

"I was trying to compliment her!" Ron defended.

"By comparing her chest to another girl's? That has got to be the most idiotic thing you've done yet."

"You're the one who told me to notice things and give compliments," Ron exclaimed, exasperated.

"Like her eyes, or if she cut her hair differently. Staring at her chest is not a good move."

"But she was self-conscious about it. What was I supposed to say?"

"She does have a stonking nice set on her," Neville agreed. He quickly shut his mouth and resumed staring out the window under the baleful glare of both siblings.

"Something about how personality counts for something, or ask her if she did her hair differently. Anything but that!" Ginny continued.

"Bloody hell, that doesn't make any sense," Ron accused.

"I'm off you lot," Neville suddenly declared, pinning a small metal badge to his chest.

"You're a prefect?" Ron asked, incredulously, his attention suddenly diverted from his brotherly debate.

"Yeah, what of it?" Neville demanded.

Both boys locked eyes in a fierce competition of wills. Ron cracked a wide smile and stood, giving his friend a congratulatory one-armed hug known by men all over the world. "Couldn't have asked for a better one, mate. I was just a little surprised. Draco's going to go out of his bloody tree," Ron smirked.

"Well, I'm not so sure how much I'll be able to do at the moment, but I'd better go find out what all this is about," Neville shrugged modestly, a tiny piece of the boy he used to be poking out once again. Then he was gone, leaving only four.

"Who would have thought it," Ron smiled.

"It's not terribly surprising. He matured last year," Luna commented idly. "Or it could be that the Longbottoms bought it for him. They are heavily invested in sweet production and Dumbledore has an awful craving for the stuff. Perhaps they paid him off with several hundred pounds of cockroach clusters?"

"Sometimes, Luna, you almost go and make sense," Ron lamented.

"Paws, I'm up for an adventure," Ginny declared.

"To where?"

Ginny winked. "Our own special compartment, follow me."

Harry shrugged and hand in hand followed his girlfriend out of the door, and from there they skillfully made their way to the top of the train once more, enjoying a louder and more scenic view of their trip.

Wrapped together like a puzzle, each only had to talk slightly louder than normal to be heard over the rushing wind and even then it seemed more intimate that the tiniest booth at Madam Puddifoot's.

As the looming castle finally came into view Ginny whispered, "I love you, Paws."

"I love you too, Sparkplug," Harry responded. She must have heard, because she wriggled her back a little more deeply into him.

"First years, come this way! Step lively now." The squeaky voice of Professor Flitwick could be heard over the hustle and bustle

"Where's Hagrid?" Ginny whispered. Harry could only shrug.

'Hello, Harry Potter and Sharry Potter!' came the amused nickers of two very recognizable thestrals.

"Abbot, Constance, I hope you're doing well," Harry called back.

'Marvellously, of course. Fred's in a tiff.'

'When isn't he in a tiff?' Abbot countered.

'But only because his prize Acromantula didn't win the inter-school dance competition,' Constance explained.

'It was rigged and we both know it. Those mermaids hate him.' Abbot explained.

Harry merely nodded and smiled pleasantly to himself. Thestrals were mad, all of them.

'Oh… bloody hell. You aren't real, are you?' A nicker suddenly asked and Harry turned to see a Thestral he'd not met.

"I'm Harry, who're you?"

'Oh, bugger a troll, I'm so bloody high right now.'

'What are you on about?' the Thestral's partner asked him.

'Humans, mate, I'm seeing bloody humans.'

'Humans don't very well exist. It's all that jewel weed you've been eating. Makes you see all sorts of crazy shite,' his partner answered.

'It also makes me… horny,' the first Thestral declared. With that, Harry scrambled inside the carriage and slammed the door eliciting odd looks from Ginny, Neville and Hermione.

"Where's Ron?" Harry asked, not expecting to see Neville sitting with them.

"I've no idea, nor do I care!" Hermione declared loudly. "He's bloody awful."

"He was trying to be sweet, I think," Neville countered.

"How on earth could he think anything he said was sweet? I doubt I'll ever understand how boys think. It's positively illogical."

Harry and Ginny curled up into their own world and tried as best they could to ignore Hermione's condemnation of and Neville's passionate defence of their friend.

"I've got a bad feeling about this year, Paws," Ginny muttered.

Harry shrugged. "Can't do much for it, Sparkplug. It'll be a good one or a bad one. I'm not so sure how much worse it can be compared to the last few. At least now we don't have to worry about Voldemort showing up at the school. He's already reborn."

oOo

The Sorting had been completed and the song had been sung, this year it featured the theme of inter-house unity. Ron, Harry and Ginny were all fairly sceptical about the whole manner eliciting a tongue thrashing from Hermione.

The food was delicious as always, but something seemed a bit off. "Do you know where Hagrid is?" Harry asked, suddenly realising what the problem seemed to be.

"He mentioned something about a mission last year, didn't he? Maybe he's still gone on that," Ron suggested.

"I hope he's not hurt," Hermione muttered.

"Hagrid's a big boy, he can take care of himself," Ginny reminded them as she swiped a piece of pork chop off Harry's plate.

"Oi!" Harry cried, indignantly, eliciting only a mischievous giggle from his girlfriend.

"Lighten up, Paws, it isn't as though there isn't any more," Ginny scoffed stealing another piece.

Harry merely glared at her. "That's not the point. It's the principle of the thing."

Ginny rolled her eyes and opened her mouth to say something when Dumbledore stood.

"First years need to know that the Forbidden Forest is strictly off limits to anyone who does not either possess a very fierce Animagus form or wish to die a messy death. Some of our older students may need to keep this in mind as well," Dumbledore announced.

"Wait, did he just…" Ron asked.

"I think, he might have," Harry agreed.

"He definitely did," Ginny confirmed.

"What are you going on about?" Neville asked.

"Nothing!" They all whispered.

"Come on, mates, you can tell me," Neville whinged.

"Not to put too fine a point on it, mate, but you're the law now, one of the Aurors of Hogwarts. A bloody good friend, but we can't hardly trust you with dangerous and secret information that you might have to report, now can we?" Ron pointed out.

"True, wouldn't make you a very good prefect if you just let us run amok," Harry agreed. Neville did not look pleased.

"Finally I wish to announce that we have two staff changes this year." Dumbledore's voice brought them back to their regularly scheduled programme. "I am pleased to welcome back Professor Grubbly-Plank who will be instructing Care of Magical Creatures this year…"

"Bloody hell," Harry moaned. It was well known he and Grubby Board didn't get along.

"And Professor Umbridge who will be taking over our Defence Against the Dark Arts classes." Some polite applause echoed from around the room, though Ron seemed to be gesturing wildly towards the Hufflepuff table in a manner that might either hail a taxi or declare off sides in Quodpot.

"Ron, what are you doing?" Hermione hissed, trying to reign in her friend's wild gesticulations.

"Gerroff, Hermione!" Ron squawked. A moment later several wild gestures from the Hannah Abbot caused Ron to sigh. "Bloody hell that was lucky. I got it in after all."

"Got what in?" Ginny asked.

"Eight sickles that Umbridge snuffs it during May and an extra two that Harry has something to do with it."

"You're betting on the fate of our professors?" Hermione asked, scandalized.

"Yeah, it's a bit of a narrow window, I'll give you, but I got three to one odds."

"Ron, that's abhorrent, wrong and…"

"Not a sound moneymaking concept," Neville finished. "Really, three to one is the best you could get? I don't know if it's even worth it."

"Neville, we're supposed to be prefects. We're supposed to set a good example," Hermione hissed.

"That's why I'm not betting, innit?" Neville rebuffed.

"Quiet, the toad it talking!" Seamus hissed back at the arguing group.

Indeed the newly appointed and recently bet upon Professor Umbridge had apparently hijacked Dumbledore's usual welcome feast speech and was attempting to say a few words of her own. Harry had to admit, also, that the short yet squat woman did indeed bear a strong resemblance to that particular amphibian. Luckily no warts were immediately apparent.

"Thank you for those kind words of welcome, Headmaster," Professor Umbridge began. Harry was taken aback at the soft girlish tone of her voice. He wondered if she'd ever faced anything more sinister than a bewitched buffet line.

"It is lovely to be back at Hogwarts, and even lovelier to see such happy little faces smiling back at me."

The faces in the audience were hardly smiling at this point. Students' faces ranged from disgust to confusion at being addressed like mere kittens that were seeing the world for the first time. "I look forward to getting to know each and every one of you, and I'm sure we'll be excellent friends," Umbridge continued, her voice having lost some of its high-pitched breathiness.

"Bloody hell, who does she think she is?" Dean demanded, looking a little peeved.

"Who does she think we are?" Ron agreed, equally peeved.

"If they were going to send us someone useless, why couldn't she at least have been easy on the eyes?" Seamus lamented.

"Is that all you think about?" Ginny asked, here eyebrows raised.

"When you find me something more important than a bird's milk silos I'll be more than inclined to pay attention," Seamus replied airily and then continued. "Bloody hell, that woman is still talking. I don't think anyone here except Hermione is paying one bit of attention.

Harry stole a glance and determined that yes, Hermione was indeed staring with rapt attention, but it reminded him of the same kind of intensity she had after they realised that perhaps Lockhart wasn't the grand wizard he claimed to be. In other words, she wore a deep and scowling frown.

"Don't worry about it, Paws, she'll fill us in later," Ginny assured him, giving him a soft kiss.

"Knock that shite off," Neville warned. "No snogging at the dinner table or it'll be three points off for each of you."

"Only three? It put me off my dinner," Ron complained.

Neville shrugged, "It would have been eight, but I'd have to award five back for making you squirm."

"Bloody hell, can you believe this woman?" Hermione grumbled as Professor Umbridge took a seat.

"What, was she saying something important?" Ron asked offhandedly.

"Weren't you paying attention?" Hermione demanded.

"Well… erm…"

"Were any of you paying attention?"

Hermione sighed dramatically at the expanse of shaking heads. "It was important. You can't just go on ignoring these things."

"Sounded like a load of waffle from what little I did hear," Ron grumbled.

"It was certainly very informative."

"Did she actually say anything?" Ginny asked as she rolled her eyes.

Hermione shook her head grimly. "Not directly, but if you waded through the waffle, there were quite a few undertones. I think that speech was more for the staff than it was for us."

Neville grinned a little. "So she didn't expect us to get it. I guess no one told her about you then, eh, Hermione?"

Hermione ducked her head momentarily and then brought it back up. "There were some key phrases amongst all the rambling. Avoiding 'progress for progress sake', 'pruning practices that ought to be prohibited'. All of those are bad signs."

"Signs of what?" Harry asked. His mind not quite keeping up. He could sense the danger in the words but not see them as clearly as his bushy haired friend did.

"Signs that the Ministry is finally involving itself in Hogwarts. Dumbledore may have had a free hand before, but mark my words, there will be changes."

"Everything changes. The question we have to ask is good change or bad change," Ron replied philosophically.

"Time will tell," Hermione responded.

"Ron!" The sudden shout of three simultaneous voices shocked all of them into silence as Ron and Harry spun about to find three no longer so little Hufflepuffs charging them.

"Boss, it's good to see you back! You too, Harry," Tim called

"Leave off, Tim, you'll frighten them the away before we've had a chance to properly say hello," Bridget scolded. "Look, we don't have a lot of time. Have to be down with the others in a few, but I wanted to let you know, we're having a bit of a bash this weekend and you're invited."

"That's marvellous," Harry beamed. "But how do we get in?"

"You know where the kitchens are?" Joe asked.

"Yeah," Ron replied.

"Meet us there, we'll get you in. Not a word of this to anyone else, we're not, strictly speaking, supposed to show anyone outside the house where our room is, but I think you two are trustworthy," Bridgette winked.

"Thanks, we'll definitely try to make it," Ron assured them.

"Right, you two take care of yourselves. No duelling on the first night," Bridgette instructed and then all three of the little badgers hurried off again.

"Do you really think they'll have a party?" Ron asked.

"Always worth a look. If it's stillborn we don't have to stay, now come on or we won't get the password."

Ron nodded and both hurried as fast as he was able. They were assisted by an amused-looking Neville and after an awkward trip through the common room where every eye seemed to be on Harry, he made it to his bed.

"How was your summer?" Ron asked Seamus and Dean.

Dean shrugged. "It was alright. Been a bit difficult to know what's going on with no real access to the Prophet. Better than Seamus' I suppose."

"What happened there, mate?" Ron asked.

"Bloody hell, had a week long row with me mam. She didn't want me to come back, but I fought her about it the whole time," Seamus concluded righteously.

"Didn't want you to come back, that's bollocks. With Dumbledore here it's the safest place in the world. Why wouldn't she want you to come back?" Ron demanded.

"Because of… Harry, I guess," Seamus shrugged.

"She been reading the paper?" Harry asked slowly.

"Yeah, was going on the whole time about how you could be a bit dangerous and she just wasn't sure about Dumbledore anymore."

"That's bollocks! You don't believe any of that, do you?" Ron demanded.

"Bloody hell, mate, why'd you think we had a week row about it? I spent most of my summer with Great Grandda O'Hara and Sam. I think Grandda finally talked a bit of sense into her. He's good at making sense."

"Who's Sam?" Harry asked.

"No one, just a friend I met," Seamus' ears went red and he suddenly found his bedspread very interesting.

"Well, mates, looks like it's time to turn in," Neville announced. No one disagreed. Harry privately wondered what this year would be like. He hoped the Unicorns would be back.

oOo

"Bloody hell, would you look at this? History of Magic, Potions and Defence all in the same bloody day," Ron moaned. "I wish I could just bag this one off."

"So bag it off, not like Binns notices," Harry shrugged.

"I still have no bloody idea how you managed to get out of that," Ron marvelled.

Harry winked. "All in the whiskers."

"I still can't believe you haven't told anyone about that," Hermione grumped as they sat down to breakfast. "Where's Ginny?"

"She's in McGonagall's office. Apparently, two of her dorm mates decided that I was a raving lunatic this morning and tried to tell her how dangerous it was to be seen with me," Harry shrugged. "She's not normally much of a morning person anyway, but she took it a bit harder than normal, I think."

Hermione nodded thoughtfully, "Lavender and Parvati aren't too sure about you either. How are things on your end?"

"Well, Neville and I are with him, obviously, and Dean seems alright. Seamus, though is a bit surprising," Ron replied.

"He doesn't believe you?" Hermione asked, warily.

"Oh no, he believes him, but I think he might fancy blokes."

"What on earth would make you think that?"

"Well, he talked about some friend he made over the summer and his name was Sam. He got all funny and turned kind of red like Charlie used to whenever that girl with the pink hair came over to the house when I was little."

"That's hardly a reason to dislike someone!" Hermione hissed.

"Didn't say I disliked him, just surprising is all. What with the way he goes on about tits."

"Camouflage," Harry nodded sagely. "A wise move. If it's any consolation, I have Muggle Studies with the Hufflepuffs instead."

"Sod it all, is that the time?" Ron asked no one in particular as he jammed his mouth full of food like a squirrel hoarding for winter.

"Ron we've ten more minutes," Hermione asked a little shocked.

Ron merely shook his head and pointed at his still braced leg while managing a small grimace. The message was understood. "Blast it, Ron! Why didn't you tell me? Of course we can go now, I'll go with you in case you have trouble. You can lean on me if you like."

Ron put up his hands in a placating gesture as he continued chewing but followed the witch out of the Great Hall with no complaints. Harry shook his head in wonderment.

"Was that a bit of smooth or is she just oblivious?" Neville asked.

"Not really sure," Harry responded.

Harry and Neville caught up with the walking dead and his nurse just before the entered the dungeon of despair, at least that's what Neville had named it on their way down. Harry was looking forward to Potions this year for several reasons.

Unfortunately, the snide comments and long winded speeches from their hook-nosed professor, were not one of them.

After enduring a lecture about how this might be the last year for many of them due to sheer incompetence, they set about making the Draught of Peace.

'Read each line twice and copy it down,' was one of the rules that Fred and George had instructed him on last year and it had paid off wonderfully. Unfortunately it did cut down on the time remaining to actually brew the potion. This one was going to be close.

As the lesson wound down, Snape was no less than his usual unpleasant self. Sniping comments at the Gryffindors while studiously ignoring all but the most obvious offenses from the Slytherin students. It was with great surprise then that Harry's hand shot into the air. Snape seemed to miss it. Harry wiggled it side to side a little just in case.

"Professor… Excuse me, Professor," Harry called.

"Yes, Potter, what is it?" Snape snapped.

"Did you mean syrup of Hellebore or tincture?"

"Can you read, Potter?" Snape demanded.

"Since I was very young," Harry responded, calmly.

"What does the board say?"

"Well it says syrup, but I thought that perhaps due to the less sensitive nature the tincture of Hellebore would be more appropriate in a slightly larger dose." Harry was genuinely curious at this point to find out. While the Potion Master might have been a complete git, Harry did have to admit the man knew his trade and this item in particular was something Fred and George had been debating hotly during his impromptu potion lessons.

Snape glowered at him. "You would do well to realise, Potter, that the properties of a tincture and syrup are different enough to warrant their separation, otherwise a tincture could be used for everything."

"I'm not sure I understand, Professor. The stated properties of both are virtually identical. It seems that the chief reason for using the syrup is in an effort to reduce cost of the potion." Snape glared venomously at his curious student.

"Time's up! You will bottle your potion now. Anyone who has failed to complete their potion will receive no marks for the day!"

Harry startled a little bit, realising that he had not finished his but a quick glance around assured him that he was not the only one. Several of the Slytherins looked ready to protest and Neville was glaring daggers at the professor.

As Harry was about to exit the door, Snape rose from his chair. "You will stay behind, Potter," he growled venomously.

"Yes, Professor?" Harry replied as innocently as he could.

"You will not challenge me in my own classroom. I will not tolerate your arrogance nor any of your usual tomfoolery, is that clear?"

"It was a legitimate question, Professor. The tincture would make the potion less reactive and possibly less prone to disastrous side effects. I'm not sure what the problem is."

"If you wish to change the text then I suggest you submit your reasoning to the International Potions Authority and they will have far better wizards than you weigh in on the situation."

"Fair enough, Professor, can I go?" Harry shrugged. He was more than a bit anxious to get to Muggle Studies; this year they were going to learn the rules of Cricket.

Snape glared even harder at his pupil seeing that the barb had failed to find a chink in his armour. "You, Potter are entirely too arrogant and cavalier. Your work ethic is atrocious and I can tell you that you will not enter my N.E.W.T. levels simply by coasting on the work of Granger."

Harry grinned slowly, "Professor, do yourself and everyone a favour. Get a haircut, a breath mint and get shagged. It'll do you a world of good."

Harry grinned smugly as Mount Severus looked ready to explode, but before he could say a word, Harry dashed out the door and down the corridor.

"Come back here, Potter!" Snape bellowed. Harry laughed to himself. As if he'd do that! Cousin McGonagall might not be too pleased with him, but he'd deal with her when it came to that. He was tired of being deliberately provoked.

Two hours later and Harry was more confused than ever. It wasn't the fact that he had lost Gryffindor thirty points on the first day, nor the fact that he had a week's worth of detention assigned to Filch. It was that he still didn't understand Cricket.

"So why do they take tea breaks?" Harry asked again.

Justin Finch-Fletchley shrugged. "It's a British sport, we like tea. Two and two, I suppose."

"But they play it in India."

"They like tea, too? I dunno, mate, it didn't make any more sense to me than it did you."

"I'll have to read the book again," Harry sighed.

"You, read?" Justin asked in mock surprise.

"I didn't think you did anything except lose points and irritate Snape. Bloody marvellous by the way, telling him to get shagged."

"You heard that?"

"Well, no, but Vanessa Adams in Ravenclaw did and she told Elizabeth Ferrel who told… oh, you get the point. What do you have next?"

"Defence."

Justin nodded sympathetically. "Talked to a couple of our younger years who had it this morning, they said it was total bollocks, but that might just have been them. We get it tomorrow. Good luck, yeah?"

Harry nodded and waved the Hufflepuff goodbye. He really did like those badgers. It was kind of hard not to with their sunny dispositions and general knack for continuous gambling.

As he headed toward his next lesson, a number of knowing smiles passed his way and more than a few discreet thumbs up. Harry grinned. Snape wasn't all that well liked, after all.

Harry finally entered the classroom and plopped himself next to an amused looking Ron.

"What's so funny?"

"Divination is a laugh if you don't take it too seriously. For example I told Trelawney that the tea leaves in my cup meant that I'd contract…"

"Good afternoon, class!" Professor Umbridge announced.

"Good afternoon," the class mumbled in reply.

"That won't do! Let's try that again, shall we?" Umbridge asked.

"Good afternoon, Professor Umbridge," The class chorused only slightly more enthusiastically.

"Much better, now, quills out. You won't need your wands today."

Harry's face scrunched up in confusion and disgust. Nothing good ever came of 'not needing one's wand'.

"Now with the constant changing of teachers, the fragmented subject matter and the undisciplined manner in which you were taught it is abundantly clear that your education up to this point has been somewhat lacking. However, we aim to correct that situation with a return to basic principles and following a Ministry approved, theory centred, curriculum. Now copy this down please." Umbridge rapped her wand on the blackboard and several course aims appeared. Harry fought back a yawn and dropped into his standard thinking (some might call it napping) pose.

"Now, if you will all turn to page five in your text and read chapter one. There will be no need to talk."

Harry lazily opened to the page and began to skim. The text was depressingly dull. He'd rather be hacking up a hairball than read this, Harry ruefully thought. If this was going to be the class for the year, it might very well go the same way as History of Magic. Harry stole a look around the classroom and to his surprise both Hermione and Ron's hands were stock straight in the air.

Hermione had begun wiggling her hand back and forth and Ron had begun a slow tapping of his brace on the stone floor in an attempt to catch their professor's eye.

Finally she relented. "Is it something about the chapter my dears?"

"Not strictly speaking…" Ron began.

"We had a question about the course aims," Hermione concluded.

"Your name is?"

"Hermione Granger."

"Well, Miss Granger I believe if you read them, they are perfectly clear."

Hermione shook her head slightly. "Professor, it mentions nothing about actually practicing any spells."

"Using defensive spells? I can't imagine any situation in my classroom that would require you to use them."

"So no silly wand waving, then? No actual practice of what it is we're supposed to be doing?" Ron asked forcefully.

"And you are Mr?"

"Weasley, Ron Weasley."

Professor Umbridge smiled a sickly sweet sort of smile one reserves for a toddler who's being particularly obtuse and turned her back on him, but not before Hermione and Harry both had their hands up in the air.

"Miss Granger, you wanted to ask something else?"

"Well, surely the whole point of this class is to properly learn to defend ourselves and we can't very well do that just looking at a book."

"As a Ministry Trained educational expert, I can assure you, Miss Granger that any learning you receive here will be more than enough to allow you to pass your exams, which is the whole point of school, is it not?"

"I thought the point was to make us functional witches and wizards who aren't going to get turned into a pile of muck by the first Dark wanker that walks along," Ron called out snidely.

"Hand, Mr Weasley, and that sort of language will not be tolerated in my class room, is that clear?"

Ron shrugged and left his hand in the air. "You still didn't answer the question."

Umbridge glowered at him and she turned away, deliberately ignoring Harry's hand but now several others had theirs raised as well.

"You are?"

"Neville Longbottom, ma'am, and if we're going to be attacked it's not going to be theoretical."

"Mr Longbottom, do you expect to be attacked in my classroom?"

Neville smiled a slightly predatory grin of his own. "Constant vigilance, Professor. I doubt Harry expected to get abducted last year and have to duel Voldemort and I certainly didn't expect to have to face down Peter Pettigrew and Rodolphus Lestrange. Attacks don't happen only when we expect them to."

Umbridge smiled back, too sweetly for it to be anything good. "I do not wish to criticize the way things have been run in this school, but it is obvious that very little regard has been placed on your safety and that under any normal situation none of the alleged attacks would have happened. I believe your exposure to a reckless teaching environment, heedless of good sense and determined to expose you to spells inappropriate for your age group has given you all an obvious sense that you'll be meeting Dark wizards every other day."

"That's not it at all…"

"Hand, Miss Granger! It is the Ministry's opinion that theoretical knowledge shall be more than enough for you to pass your examinations this year," Umbridge continued.

"Isn't there a practical bit, though?"

"Your hand is not up, Mr…"

"Thomas."

"Mr Thomas, yes, there is a practical portion, but should you study properly, I have no doubt that you'll pass with flying colours."

Neville's fist rammed straight into the air. "So the first time we'll get to perform them is on the exam? What kind of bollocks is that?"

"That kind of language will not be tolerated, Mr Longbottom, ten points from Gryffindor!" Umbridge nearly screeched and as she turned she was confronted by another new hand.

"Your name is?"

"Lavender Brown, and I was just wondering, Professor, what are your qualifications?"

"Excuse me?"

"Your qualifications, what makes you suited to be here. Our last professor was either a world renowned Auror or a very clever actor, the one before him was in a position to know all sorts of things about Dark creatures, there was Lockhart… What makes you qualified?"

"I am both a member of the Minister's personal staff and a specialist in underage magical educational techniques…"

"Right, but have you killed anybody or you know, duelled any dark wizards? I mean, Neville offed that bloke third year, Harry killed a basilisk the year before that, and even Ron faced down that awful Lestrange rotter. So what makes you qualified to teach?" Lavender's tone was sweet as honey, but Harry could tell she enjoyed the flushing colour in their professor's face.

"My credentials have been certified by the Ministry of Magic and vetted by multiple educational professionals. That is all you need to be concerned about."

"So it's all theoretical?" Ron asked loudly.

"Theory is more than enough…"

"What in the bloody good is theory going to do us out in the real world?" Harry groaned.

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

"If we're not prepared in here we won't be prepared for what's out there," Ron chastised her.

"And what, Mr Weasley is waiting for you out there?"

"You are either dense or deaf aren't you?"

"Excuse me?" Umbridge's voice became dangerously soft.

"You haven't listened to a word we've said! We've fought escaped convicts, giant snakes, Acromantula, and who knows what Harry fought off last year. The real world has come here and kicked our front door in. We need more than theory to fight that!" Ron was shaking and had risen a few inches out of his desk. Umbridge however, was dismissive.

"If you do not go seeking out fame and trouble and abide by Ministry and School regulations, I can assure you that no harm will come to you within these walls or very likely outside of them. The incidences you are talking about…"

"I was Cruciated on the floor of my common room! I left blood and tears on that carpet. DO NOT TELL ME that it was my fault! The only consolation I have is that Harry rammed six inches of goblin silver through that bastard's skull right before he hexed V…v…Voldemort! The Dark wankstain is back and he is not going to stop until every good witch and wizard bows to him."

Ron was shaking with rage and had turned ashen white as he yelled at their professor. She in turn had lost any of her remaining faux sweetness.

"Mr Weasley, before I send you to see Professor McGonagall, let me set a few things straight. You have been told that a certain wizard is back from the dead. That he was resurrected and that the corpse of the escaped convict was found at the site. These are lies. The search continues for Rodolphus Lestrange and not one shred of credible evidence suggests that any wizard, Dark or otherwise has returned from the dead. I will repeat these are lies."

"Harry, aren't you going to say something?" Seamus whispered.

"Would it do any good?" Harry hissed back.

Seamus only shook his head. "This is utter bollocks."

Harry nodded, "I know."

"Now, class, please return to reading chapter one of your text. There will be no further questions today," Umbridge announced as Ron slammed the door on his leaving.

AN: Here we are! Hope you enjoy the entrance of everyone's favourite villain! Some of these passages here are taken directly from Ms Rowling herself, not with the intent to plagiarize, but because she wrote it so wonderfully there wasn't a good way or reason to change it. Yup Neville is a prefect and Ron has detention. Who'd a thunk it? Next time we'll reacquaint with old friends, meet some cuddly new friends and have a Hufflepuff style party. Those huffies know how to get down!