A/N: I had some writers block with this chapter, until my wonderful husband removed it for me! And as an added bonus he'll hate being mentioned in this!
Everything you recognise in this chapter and story belongs to J K Rowling. Don't sue me, I'm not worth it.
Chp3 – Method in Madness
Harry had been right, Umbridge had gone to Madame Pompfrey for the unexplained pains she was experiencing. Although she got a potion for her trouble, she received little actual help. Unfortunately she did guess that it was something to do with the quills and replaced them. The odd part was that even though Harry, Fred and George didn't risk stealing the quills again, they didn't work. Umbridge was forced to find some other method of punishing them. Dread filled him, would she do something worse? He had overheard Filch saying something about whipping and sounding delighted. Dread turned to relief when she made them scrub the floor of the Great Hall muggle style. He found great pleasure in pretending the floor was Umbridge's face and scrubbing very hard. He was used to it after all, Aunt Petunia made him do a lot of housework at Privet Drive. Some of the students who had had a more magical upbringing had a little more trouble.
They had an agonising wait whilst Rita sent her article to the Quibbler to be published. However this was gratefully shortened when Luna told them that after her father read the article he decided to bring out a special edition in a couple of days time. Only two days! Still it would feel as long as years. But then what would happen? He couldn't see Umbridge meekly accepting that she had done wrong and leaving. In fact, the more he thought about it, the more worried he grew.
"What are you talking about Harry?" Ron asked him at breakfast.
"When the article is published, parents write in to complain. Then what?" Harry asked.
"Well the ministry..." Hermionie started.
"Will back Umbridge." Harry added.
"They can't just ignore it!" Ron exclaimed.
"I'll bet they can have a damn good try." Harry muttered darkly.
"There's public pressure." Hermionie tried. "Fudge doesn't like to go against public opinion."
"But he hates the idea that Voldemort is back." Harry said.
"Stop looking for problems." Hermionie said. "I'm sure..." But she faltered. Harry shock his head.
"It doesn't matter what I do, things always seem to get worse."
Snape was right, Umbridge didn't notice the fake veritaserum. When she started interrogating the DA members about Dumbledore's whereabouts, she tried feeding it to them and naturally got nowhere. For the detention after lessons that day, Umbridge had them cleaning the whole length of the great staircase. It was difficult as it kept changing direction, and even worse more than one bucket of water vanished mysteriously over the evening. The DA missed dinner, and it was nearly midnight before she released them. The DA were angry and miserable. Hopefully when the Quibbler came out tomorrow, things would improve they muttered. Only Ron, Hermionie and Harry swapped dark looks and said nothing. Getting into bed, Harry was amazed at how angry he was. He was angry at Umbridge, at the Ministry of Magic, at the Hogwarts Professors, at everyone. But he was mostly angry at himself. He was making very little progress in occlumens. He did try, he insisted. He tried to empty his mind every night before he went to sleep as Snape instructed. To his credit Snape seemed to be managing to keep his temper, mainly because he knew when Harry was lying. But Harry seemed to be feeling increasingly angry and frustrated all the time. He lay in bed, concentrating on the image of the wall in his mind, trying to empty himself of all emotion. Even though he felt thoroughly exhausted, for some reason his mind would simply not switch off. The article came out tomorrow, in a special edition of the Quibbler, which Luna had managed to find out was going to focus especially on Umbridge at Hogwarts. She would not like that at all.
However it was worth seeing the piles of owls pushing, hooting and clawing with letters for Umbridge at breakfast that morning, and he was certain he was not the only one enjoying the sight. More than a few of the Professors were casting glances in her direction and smiling. After reading a few of the letters, she got up and looking quite upset, left the Great hall. The owls with unopened letters following her. It was only then that a smattering of laughter broke out. Even Harry cracked a smile. Luna came over to their table and put a copy of the Quibbler in front of him.
The headline read: TORTURE AT HOGWARTS, which took up three quarters of the front page. Inside was Rita's article accompanied by pictures of the the wounds inflicted by Umbridge and interviews with the students involved. Unsurprisingly another Educational decree shortly followed, banning the Quibbler completely, but of course not stopping a lot of surreptitious reading. There was only one thing that could mar the day and that was their Defence Against Dark Arts lesson. Harry kept his head down and his mouth shut tight in these lessons now, which seemed to suit Umbridge. If he didn't speak she could pretend he didn't exist. This lesson ran like the previous ones. They read a chapter of the book and copied out the text, which in Hermionie opinion said everything about the woman's skill as a teacher. At the end of the lesson Harry grabbed his books and unhurriedly left the classroom, as he had previously got detentions for both running too fast and walking too slowly. This time however he heard Umbridge's voice calling to him in her sweetest voice.
"Potter, stay behind please could you?" Harry froze, Ron and Hermionie looked back at him. Harry turned and took a deep breath.
"Yes, Professor Umbridge?" Harry answered, finding himself automatically concentrating on the image brick wall. She rose from her desk and moved around in front of it. She was still smiling sweetly which was always a bad sign.
"Telling lies again Mr Potter?" She asked. Harry thought quickly. What would Sirius do? Tell her to get stuffed and curse her probably, not very helpful.
"What do you mean Professor?" Harry asked, playing for time.
"I am speaking of this!" She waved the article in the Quibbler in front of him.
"I've never read the Quibbler." Harry said, which was technically true, he'd never read one cover-to-cover and hadn't read his interview since he was the one who had given it. She fixed her eyes on his, which puzzled him slightly until he realised with some amusement she was trying to use legilimency! He concentrated on the wall, emptied his mind of emotion and met her gaze. She was no where near as skilled as Snape. In fact he found he could push her out of his mind with considerable ease! So if nothing else came out of the day he could say he wasn't the worlds worst occlumens...he was looking at her. He could see the frustration come onto her face. Oooh mistake Professor! No emotion! Weren't you taught anything?
"How did the reporter get into the castle?" She shouted the question at him. Make an appearance of answering the question...
"No one let her in." Harry told her. Again technically true, she'd flown in threw an open window. This answer seemed to annoy Umbridge even more, as did his suddenly calm appearance. She had been hoping for the shouting teenager, somehow this though bolstered him as he was sure this calmness would annoy her even further. She was pushing harder with her legilimency, but in comparison to Snape's, it was beyond pitiful.
"You're being deliberately obstinate!" She shouted. He bit his tongue, being calm in the face of other people's anger was actually a lot fun. Harry put a quizzical look onto his face.
"Are you OK Professor? You're looking a little red."
"GET OUT!" She screamed. Harry turned and again made to leave the classroom. Now he allowed himself the smile that had been threatening to come onto his face since the beginning of the conversation. Two corridors away Harry punched the air! He'd passed his first Occlumency test! Admittedly it was against a very unskilled operator, but it was still something. Harry got to his next lesson and sat next to Ron and Hermionie still smiling slightly as he told them what had happened.
"That was quite cunning actually Harry!" Hermionie said impressed. Suddenly the words of the sorting hat came into his mind 'you would have done well in Slytherin', and he didn't feel like smiling anymore.
He'd never told Ron or Hermionie what the hat had said. The more he interacted that house, the more the words of the hat had gradually eaten into his mind. Dumbledore had told him that it was the choice that a person makes that defines them. Yet this year...He was seeing into Voldemort's mind more and more often. He was angry, like Voldemort. Like Voldemort he came from a broken home. Like Voldemort...there was no denying that there were similarities.
The article had not weakened Umbridge's desire to punish. Though through the sheer magnitude of letters had convinced her not to carry out her threat of whipping. However they were running out of things to clean. Today's punishment was peeling potatoes! The house Elves did not look pleased, but then he saw the look of distaste on Umbridge's face whenever saw looked at a house elf. It was clear that Umbridge at least believed in the wizard social order.
That evening after diner he was due another occlumens lessons. He was not looking forward to it. Although he felt bolstered by his triumph earlier that day. Feeling more confident as he did, he actually told Snape what had happened.
"She what?" It was worth it for the look of sheer disbelief on Snape's face. Harry knew enough to leave his smile at the door to Snape's office, but he couldn't leave out the amusement from his voice.
"Legilimency. It's nice to know there's someone out there worse than me."
It was Harry's turn to be surprised again as Snape smiled a small thin smile.
"Such a third rate witch. Trust her to attempt something beyond her meagre capabilities."
They practiced. Snape's instructions to him were not to focus on the memories his was looking through but to rebuild or re-imagine the wall foremost in his mind. But it was difficult. Snape kept whirling through his memories. He couldn't help but notice that he stopped on Harry's memory of the conversation with Umbridge that morning and watched it through. In a way it was satisfying to know that Snape didn't think much of the woman either. But then he was looking at other memories. Hermionie saying he'd been cunning, the sorting hat in the second year saying he'd do well in Slytherin, a range of memories of Tom Riddle from his second year and noticing their similarities. Then he was back on the sorting stool begging the hat not to put him in Slytherin and the hat saying it would 'help him on his way to greatness'. He realised that Snape was seeing these memories as they happened to be foremost in his mind that day. Snape wouldn't say anything though, he rarely commented on his memories except if he was exceptionally curious. He realised he was getting emotional about the memories. He started to focus on rebuild the wall in his mind. He was worrying he was turning into Voldemort. Rebuild the wall. He was witnessing the Death Eater meeting again. No he was rebuilding the wall. Be calm, he told himself, it doesn't matter, rebuild the wall. After what seemed like a Herculean effort he managed it. Oddly once he had re-imaged it, it became easier to focus on. This time he could feel Snape pushing very hard against the wall, mentally trying to goad him. Harry focussed on the wall with no emotions. It was quite relaxing. It made a change not to feel so angry all the time. After some time Snape lifted the spell.
"That was satisfactory, Potter."
Satisfactory...typical Harry thought. Still it was a lot better than he usually got, and much closer to a compliment than he had ever had from the man. Snape was frowning slightly.
"Sir?" Harry asked tentatively.
"The sorting hat considered putting you into my house?" He seemed genuinely puzzled. Oh right, Harry thought, Snape's head of Slytherin, so of course he is going to be curious. Mentally he kicked himself for not having seen this coming.
"Yes." He answered shortly. Then feeling slightly braver, he looked at Snape and asked. "Would that have made you hate me slightly less?" Snape seemed surprised by the question and looked like he was going to get annoyed about it, but then perhaps he remembered the deal too. Snape's face went from anger to thoughtful consideration.
"It certainly would have been...interesting." There was a pause. Suddenly Harry stifled a laugh. Snape snapped him a look.
"Sorry sir, just imagining it. What do you think? Best friends with Malfoy?" Harry was certain he'd gone to far and was preparing to backtrack like mad, but to his surprise Snape put his hand to his mouth. Was he trying to hide genuine amusement?
"Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle and you." Snape said dryly, his black eyes glittering. Harry was doing his best not to laugh. Speaking of Crabbe and Goyle he was suddenly reminded of the second year when he and Ron were tried to get in to the Slytherin common room. Harry looked away, trying not to smile.
"Potter?" As Snape sounded curious and Harry was feeling a little reckless, he told him.
"...and Malfoy said 'I didn't know you could read'!" Harry watched Snape, he did seemed amused by the story, but there something else. Far too late he realised he'd walked straight into a trap. He swore under his breath and turned away. Snape bloody well knew they'd stolen the polyjuice ingredients but had never actually acknowledged this. He knew Snape would be wearing a look of triumph, but he didn't want to see it.
"You're not going to punish Ron and Hermionie are you? Just give me the extra detentions!" Harry asked, still without looking at him.
"Where did you brew it?" Snape asked softly. Knowing that Snape would simply flick through Harry's memories to find the relevant one, he answered him.
"Girls bathroom." He admitted.
"The one haunted by Moaning Mertle." Harry explained.
"And the Gillyweed? Did you steal that too?" Snape asked.
"Look just give me the detentions!" Harry pleaded.
"Potter..." Snape started.
"They just wanted to help!" He looked at Snape to try and make him see.
"Potter! Will you stop trying to be tediously noble and listen? Hasn't it entered that narrow mind of yours that I might just be curious?" Snape pointed out. Harry looked at him suspiciously.
"Your opinion of me is truly awe inspiring." Snape sighed.
"Will you promise not to punish the person? Whoever it is?" Harry asked.
"I give you my word, whatever you deem that to be worth."
"It was Dobby." Harry admitted.
"Dobby?" Snape frowned.
"Yes, the house elf?" He explained.
"Lucius' former elf." Snape nodded. "They still have not forgiven you for freeing him."
"They can add it to the list." Harry commented. He waited, expecting the conversation to be over and for Snape to start attacking his mind once more.
"Potter, you do not belong in Slytherin." Snape told him. What was that meant to be? Was Snape actually trying to reassure him?
"But the Hat..."
"The Sorting Hat does not make mistakes. Rather it does not admit to making mistakes."
"So it could have made a mistake and put me in Gryffindor?" Harry asked.
"Potter, are you listening? The hat does not make mistakes." Snape told him. When Harry still looked lost, he sighed and continued. "If you were meant to be in Slytherin, the hat would have placed you there. Was it not you who drew the sword of Gryffindor out of the hat?"
"Yes..." He agreed uncertainly. Snape had succeeded in reassuring him he did not belong in Slytherin. After all, apart from the hat who else was better placed to tell him that he didn't belong, than the head of house? But there were still doubts in his mind. He couldn't help but remember the similarities between him and Voldemort and he was being cared for by muggles who were scared of and hated him, he was a parselmouth...Snape eyes bored into his and Harry didn't even try to raise the wall. Snape let out an exasperated sigh as he lifted the spell.
"Potter!" Snape was starting to get angry, but he saw in the boy's mind he was genuinely worried about becoming 'bad' and a second Dark Lord. This despite Black's reassurance that he wasn't. How could the boy be so idiotic? Still, since the boy was making progress, he had better find a way to reassure him. Potter certainly trusted him a lot more than he had done in the past, but he knew he was still wary of him. Why was it that idiotic bravado was more easily trusted that clever cunning? Wearing your enemies colours so they could be undermined from the inside was distrusted, whereas charging in head-first was likely to earn you a medal.
"Potter," he said more softly. "You are nothing like the Dark Lord." You wouldn't torture muggles for fun, or children in front of their begging, screaming parents. Severus turned away. Harry looked at him, seeing some of the colour draining from his face, and a slightly haunted look coming into his eyes.
It was the time of their OWL exams, and Harry was hoping he had taught the members of the DA enough to pass them. Umbridge was around as the external examiners were testing them in their various subjects. However because of the article in the magazine she was looking frazzled. The bow she usually wore on the top of her head askew, her hair untidy and the nice pink suit she always wore showing distinct signs of having been worn for a few days. As far as he could guess, Umbridge was now under a lot of pressure from the Fudge, mainly because Fudge was getting it from the Ministry. To Umbridge's surprise she was receiving complaints from every direction about her handling of Hogwarts, and particularly student discipline. There were mountains of letters on her desk demanding the reinstatement of Dumbledore. She clenched her fists, her fury boiling within her like a volcano. Her contacts in the ministry had told her it wouldn't be long before an official enquiry was launched. Her career was falling about her in shreds. There was one person responsible for her downfall, just one person. She got up from her desk, adjusted her suit, and walked out of her office. Outside there were members of her inquisitorial squad who followed her as she walked primly along.
"So you're making progress?" Hermionie sounded pleased at breakfast.
"Yeah!" Harry said pulling himself from his reverie. He hadn't told either of his friends what had happened at the lesson that day. It had been something of an emotional roller-coaster. At first he thought the only thing he would have to think over would be their shared amusement as they contemplated him as a Slytherin, but it was the look in Snape's eyes towards the end of the lesson that had really stayed with him. Voldemort was evil. This had always be beyond question in his mind, but something about Snape had brought it home to him. On the other hand, Snape had succeeded where Sirius and Dumbledore had partially failed. He felt quite foolish in even considering that he might in any way resemble Voldemort.
"Progress, with Snape?" Ron sounded incredulous.
"Yeah I know. I can imagine the wall and when he breaks through it I can put it back up. But I can't keep it there all the time. Besides Snape said at some point I'm going to have to manage it without the image of the wall. I'm not sure I can do that."
"Considering a few months ago you couldn't do it at all..." Hermionie pointed out.
"And you managed to push out old toad face!" Ron said with a grin. Harry smiled to, that had been particularly satisfying. Especially the look of fury on her face!
"So what exam's do you have today?" Hermionie asked. Instantly both Harry and Ron's faces fell.
"Way to kill the mood Hermionie!" Ron grumbled.
"Just History of Magic in the afternoon." Harry answered.
Harry, Ron and Hermionie ran to the Gryffindor common room. It was almost empty, everyone else either having exams or lesson or or otherwise outside enjoying the fine summer weather. Harry rushed into the centre of the room and started pacing.
"It's Sirius!" He exclaimed. Ron and Hermionie exchanged looks.
"Harry?" Hermionie said uncertainly.
"Voldemort has Sirius in the Department of Mysteries! We've got to get there! We've got to save him!" Harry was gradually getting louder and louder. Hermionie was looking increasingly worried.
"We've got to go now!" Harry insisted.
"You've been seeing visions all year! What if you-know-who wanted you to see this! What if it is a trap?!"
"Hermionie, Sirius is being tortured now!" Harry was glaring at her, his face, inches from hers, contorted into utter fury.
"He has also been controlling your emotions!" Hermionie shouted just as loudly at him, and returned his glare. Then more quietly as the students around them started to stare, "That's why you've been learning occlumency?" She said with her hands on her hips.
"Harry, you are being a bit...I know it is Sirius but..." Ron pointed out hesitantly. Harry became more aware of himself. His hands had bunched into tight fists, clenched so tight his knuckles had gone white. He was grinding his teeth and he was so angry. Why didn't they understand?! Sirius was in danger! Possibly dying!
"Harry!" Hermionie was sounding really worried now, though through his haze of anger Harry couldn't hear her clearly.
"Just do one thing for me! Please? Just re-imagine the wall?"
"What the hell...?!" Harry exclaimed.
"Harry!" Ron shouted his eyes wide. Harry turned his head up and to his right, and it was what he saw that brought him to his senses. He'd raised his fist, against Hermionie. Shock hit him. It was like having ice cold water thrown over his head. He brought his hand down and looked at it as though he had never seen it before. Shock still coursing through him, his knees gave way. Luckily Ron caught him. Above him Hermionie was folding her arms.
"Hermionie I'm so sorry!" He said as he got to his feet. "Maybe it is a trap." Harry sounded out of breath. "But I can't leave it."
"What are we going to do?" Ron asked. Harry thought. Umbridge had done a marvellous job on getting rid of all of the Order members at Hogwarts; McGonagall was in hospital, Hagrid had vanished, Dumbledore had been sacked...
"Snape." Harry said.
Harry, Ron and Hermionie made their way through the corridors heading towards the dungeons.
"What if he won't listen?" Ron asked apprehensively.
"He'll listen." Harry said gruffly.
"I think you should really try hard on that wall Harry." Hermionie said looking at him. Harry blinked, he was getting angry again, really angry. He stopped and screwed up his eyes for a few moments. Then he gasped shaking his head.
"I can't Hermionie!" Harry sounded almost panicked.
"We've really go to talk to..." Hermionie froze and was looking behind Harry. He knew who he would see before he turned. Umbridge, with a gang of Slytherin members of Inquistorial squad.
"Are you still here?!" Harry growled. Hermionie shot Harry a look, but it wasn't needed. Already he was mentally kicking himself. Umbridge was advancing on him, her wand aimed at his chest.
"Take them to my offcie!" She commanded, her voice having an hysterical air. The Slytherins grabbed them roughly. Harry threw a glance behind them as they headed to Umbridge's office...the opposite direction to Snape's dungeons.
He was thrown roughly into a chair in Umbridge's horribly pink office. Ron and Hermionie were being held tightly by a couple of the larger Slytherins. Draco Malfoy had taken Harry's wand and was gleefully watching Umbridge pointing her wand at Harry. She was shaking with anger, a condition he really didn't want to face her in.
"Who did you want to speak to? Was it Dumbledore?!" She asked.
"No!" Harry told her. This seemed to wrong foot her slightly.
"You know where Dumbledore is?!" It was more of a statement than a question. Given the condition she was in he realised he could say anything, if it wasn't what she wanted to hear, she wouldn't hear it.
"No!" Harry exclaimed. She was getting a slightly crazed look in her eyes that was becoming increasingly worrying.
"Clearly it was important you speak to somebody? If not Dumbledore, then was it the half-breed Hagrid? It can't have been Minerva McGonagall! She is still too ill to speak to anyone!" This got a obedient laugh from the Slytherins. Harry found he was filling up with rage. If this was a trap, he was playing right into it. Harry was beginning to feel it was getting very important to rebuild the imaginary wall. But try as he might it was impossible, his emotions were getting the better of him. He was worried about Sirius and angry at this stupid female delaying him! No, first he had to check. First he needed to talk to...Harry gritted his teeth.
"It's none of your business who I talk to!" Harry yelled at her. Umbridge's jaw clenched.
"Very well." She said, the anger seeming to leave her voice, it acquired it's sweet girlish tone. Harry sensed danger.
"You were offered the chance to tell me freely. You refused. I have no alternative but to force you. Draco – fetch Professor Snape."
Harry narrowed his eyes, but inside hope had been rekindled. The old toad was giving him exactly what he wanted. But... damn! Snape wouldn't be able to talk freely in front of Umbridge! Neither would he be able to tell Snape! A list of expletives ran through his head, his fury making him shake. He kept a look of dislike on his face as he knew that was what she wanted to see. The way he way feeling it was an easy look to do. Umbridge knew of the antagonism between the pair of them. Draco Malfoy came back into the room and held the door open for Professor Snape.
"You wished to see me Headmistress?" Harry saw his quick black eyes take in the situation and Snape's face wear a look of complete indifference.
"Ah Professor Snape," Umbridge said smiling. "Yes, I would like another bottle of Veritaserum, as quick as you can, please."
"You took my last bottle interrogating students." He observed her coolly through his curtains of black hair.
"You can make some more though?" She asked, flushing slightly.
"Certainly," Snape's lip curled. "It takes a full moon cycle to mature, so I should have it ready for you in around a month."
"A month!" She squawked. "I need it this evening! Potter was going to talk to someone and I need to know who!"
"Really?" Snape said showing the first sign of interest as he looked at Harry. "I am not aware that talking to someone is outside the school rules." He looked at Harry, his dark eyes boring into his. Harry met his gaze unflinchingly, concentrating on the vision he'd seen.
"I wish to interrogate him!" Umbridge shouted. Snape looked back to her. "I want you to give me a potion that will force him to talk!"
"I have already told you," he replied smoothly, "I have no further stocks of Veritaserum. Unless you wish to poison him, and I assure you I would have the greatest sympathy with you if you did, I cannot help you. The problem is most poisons act to fast for any truth telling."
This time Harry could tell that Snape had gone too far. From the crazed, furious look on her face he knew that if she did not get what she wanted, there would be consequences and not even Snape's quick tongue would save him.
"You're on probation!" Umbridge shrieked and proving Harry right. "You are being deliberately unhelpful! I expected better, Lucius Malfoy always speaks most highly of you! Get out of my office!" Snape gave her an ironic bow and turned to leave.
"He's got Padfoot! At the place where it's hidden." Harry shouted. Snape froze.
"Padfoot?" Umbridge eagerly leapt on the information. "Where what is hidden? What does he mean Snape?"
Snape looked back to Harry, his face the usual unreadable mask. But neither of them could speak more plainly. Bloody Umbridge! Could Snape just stun the entire room or something?! Harry thought frustratedly.
"I have no idea." Snape replied to Umbridge and left, closing the door behind him.
Umbridge was seething. Her rage making her jaw clench and quiver.
"Very well...I am left with no alternative...this is not just a matter of school discipline, but of Ministry security..." Umbridge seemed to be talking herself into something, and considering she used the blood quills without a second thought...
"Keep trying to convince yourself!" Harry shouted at her. Umbridge glared at him.
"Very well. The Cruicatus curse ought to losen your tongue!" She said with a gleam in her eye.
"You can't" Ron shouted.
"That's illegal!" Hermionie sounded frightened.
"You just want revenge!" Harry glared right back at her. His plan was to keep her talking and hope. Hope that Snape had not abandoned them with Umbridge. It meant the he was placing his trust almost entirely with Snape. Besides, the overwhelming anger he felt was loosening his tongue so he bent it towards Umbridge.
"How has that article in the Quibbler gone down at the Ministry? They can't be happy with you! That's what it's all about isn't it? You couldn't care less who I was going to speak to!"
Umbridge was shaking with fury, her wand gripped tightly in her hand.
"In matters of security..."
"There you go again! You're still trying to justify yourself! Why can't you just admit..?"
White hot pain seared through his body. Every nerve was being ripped and torn, agony as he had never felt before. It didn't last long, the curse was lifted and became vaguely aware of a commotion in the office. Then he was being lifted to his feet.
"Using an unforgivable curse on a students! Never in all my days!" That sounded like Professor Marchbanks.
"Potter? Harry? Are you alright?"
"Professor Flitwick?" Harry sounded confused. "How did..."
"I...I happened to be passing! And it is very lucky that I was!" Flitwick turned and looked angrily at Umbridge. Hermionie and Ron had joined him.
"Do you think Snape sent for the cavalry?" Ron asked, sotto voice.
"Yes." Harry replied equally quietly, "Flictwick is not a very good liar."
"If we are going to Snape, now it the time." Hermionie added, then more loudly. "We'll take Harry to the hospital wing."
"Yes you do that." Professor Flictwick said. They left Umbridge's office to the sound of raised voices. One thing was for sure, Umbridge's career, the thing she valued the most was in tatters. The use of an Unforgivable alone would earn her place in Azkaban.
It was strange seeing everyone in the school acting normally, laughing and chatting with each other as they made their way the classes. The fifth years of course were either revising for their exams or having completed them were relaxing outside. The thought of Sirius was nagging in his brain. Was he being tortured? Was it a trap? If it was a trap, who was the trap for? He knew that Voldemort wanted something badly from the Department of Mysteries. From the vision, if any of it was true at all, whatever this thing was Voldemort couldn't get it himself. And Snape? What was he going to say? He'd needed to rely on Snape a couple of times now, and so far hadn't been let down – even if the help had usually come in an unexpected form. Harry found he was starting to trust him. In the past he wouldn't have even thought of trying Snape, he would probably have found a way to fly to London as quickly as possible. There was something the Order were keeping from him. Getting it out of Snape would be like trying to get blood from a stone. Yet he was sure going to Snape was the right course. Fortunately the corridor outside his office was empty, and before Harry had knocked twice, the door was opened and the three of them were ushered inside. Snape did not look happy at having to deal with the three of them, but he hid his distaste reasonably well.
"What about Sirius?" Harry asked without preamble.
"I'm waiting for a reply." Snape told him.
"Aren't you going to check through the floo network?" Harry sounded puzzled. Snape shook his head.
"Dumbledore has come up with a better way of communication."
As Harry watched a large silvery dog leapt through the wall of Snape's office. It was a Patronus, Harry realised, and it looked a lot like Sirius' animagus form. This was confirmed when the dog opened it's mouth to speak.
"Yes, I'm still here." The dog said with Sirius voice. "You're right, sounds like a trap to me too. I don't know if this is relevant but someone has injured Buckbeak. Make sure Harry stays there." The spectral dog faded.
"Why does Vol...you-know-who want to get me to the Department of Mysteries?" Harry asked him.
"It doesn't concern you Potter." Snape answered coolly.
"DOESN'T CONCERN..." Harry started to shout before Ron grabbed him and hauled him back and Hermionie jumped in front of him to face Snape, who was starting to look murderous.
"Sir, he's been getting really angry today! Angrier than usual! Earlier on he..." She paused and glanced back, Harry had gone white, Ron was still holding him.
"He almost hit her! That's not like Harry at all!" Ron put in. Hermionie turned back to Snape who was looking troubled.
"I'm sorry sir but when has keeping him in the dark ever worked out?" Hermionie could tell she'd hit something. Harry recognised the look coming onto Snape's face. It was one has frequently saw these days. In his opinion was it was when he was curbing his desire to be angry or nasty and trying to be patient. He suddenly felt quite guilty, Snape was still trying even after Harry had yelled at him.
"Sir?" Harry asked in a tone he hoped sounded encouraging. The truth was that Snape did not agree with keeping Harry in the dark. The best way to prepare for a potential trap was to know it was there, or likely to be sprung. Had Potter known he was likely to be tricked into going into the Department of Mysteries, he wouldn't be so easily convinced to charge off and play hero. But he hadn't done that had he? Instead of doing what Snape fully expected him to do, i.e. something incredibly stupid like flying to London, he'd actually come to him. Harry had trusted him. He knew that Dumbledore trusted him, he also was well aware that he was not liked or trusted by either any other members of the Order, or indeed by the Death Eaters or the Dark Lord. Had the Dark Lord trusted him he would have informed him of the plan to trick Harry into the Department of Mysteries by implanting a false 'vision'. He had successfully managed to convince himself that he did not care what anyone else thought. Now a tiny, unfamiliar feeling had made it's way into his heart, something that felt both happy and sad. He pushed it aside and drummed his fingers irritably on the table top.
"As you are aware, the Dark Lord wants to obtain something from the Department of Mysteries." Snape paused, Harry dared not interrupt as it seemed to him Snape seemed to tear each word that followed out of himself.
"A prophecy." Snape closed his eyes briefly. "He has heard the first half of it, he wants the second."
"This prophecy is kept in the department?" Harry asked eagerly. Snape nodded.
"Why doesn't he just get it himself?" Ron asked.
"He tried. He's sent people after it anyway. It's not worked. Sir, do you know why it hasn't worked?"
"The prophecy concerns the Dark Lord and yourself. Prophecies can only by removed by the person about whom they are made." Snape admitted. Once again Harry had the impression Snape was beating the words out of himself, but he said nothing.
"I still don't see why he doesn't get it himself. Wouldn't it be less hassle?" Ron asked. Snape looked at him disdainfully, which Harry found to be something of a relief, a troubled looking Snape was quite disconcerting.
"Because Weasley, the Ministry does not want to admit the Dark Lord has returned, and he wants to keep it that way." Snape said coldly. Suddenly he looked thoughtful. "But even then he couldn't guarantee you would fall for it." He paused. "Weasley, Granger, has Potter been behaving more emotionally than usual?"
Even when he's trying to help, he can't resist an insult, Harry thought dryly.
"Yeah, I said he nearly hit her!" Ron exclaimed.
"He's been saying he feels so angry and you get emotional bursts, Harry? Feeling emotions not connected to the situation you're in?" Hermionie glanced at Harry.
"Yeah." Harry agreed. "Do you think he's been trying to influence me that way too? To make sure I go?" Harry asked.
"I should have thought that was obvious Potter. However since he could not guarantee you would act impulsively."
"He'd have a plan b?" Harry tried.
"And who else can retrieve the prophecy?" Snape said. Harry's eyes widened.
"He's at the Ministry!" Harry shook his head in shock. "I've got to go!"
"Potter!" Snape said angrily.
"He's not just going to appear for anyone is he? You contact the Order, he won't show and we'll have missed the opportunity to get Vol..him noticed by the Ministry!"
"Potter on no account..." Snape started. But he should have known better, once Harry had made up his mind, nothing short of a miracle would shift it. As quick as lightning Harry had drawn his wand an aimed it at Snape.
"Stupefy!" Snape hit the back wall of his office and collapsed to the floor unconscious. Ron and Hermionie were momentarily stunned, they gaped at Snape's unmoving body.
"I'm really sorry!" Harry said, but he knew Snape would not hear him. "But it's the only way."
"Harry!" Hermionie exclaimed.
"Yes I know!" Harry said as he ushered them out of Snape's office. "Listen, when he wakes up..."
"He'll kill you!" Ron told him.
"Yeah, well he'll have to join the queue. Look, when he wakes up, he'll alert the Order to meet us at the Ministry." Harry inisisted.
"Harry, the Order could just go to the ministry..." Hermionie objected.
"Then Voldemort won't come out of his hiding place. If I'm there, I don't think he'll be able to resist the temptation to come after me."
"This is so risky. So many things could go wrong!" Hermionie said.
"This is the only chance to get Voldemort noticed by the Ministry!" Harry insisted.
They were stuck when it came actually getting to London. Luckily, having guessed something was up, Luna, Ginny and Neville had been watching out for them. Harry only got a mild look of surprise from Hermionie and Ron when he said that their main purpose was to rescue Sirius. It was then Luna came up with her inspired idea of using the Thestrals to get to London. It took a couple of hours, they had to fly most of they way down the country after all. In this time Harry hoped Snape would wake up and alert the Order members as to what he was doing. His insides squirmed contemplating what the potions master would say when they next met. They had made progress after all, Snape had seemed not to view him with abject hatred the way he used to. Yet again, Harry had dashed that all to pieces. He made a mental note not to blame Snape for any retribution he was bound to take, not in the least for the stupefy spell.
The ministry seemed all but deserted when they got there. The first niggles of doubt concerning Snape made their way into his mind. They found the prophecy room and located the position where Sirius was 'apparently' being tortured. Harry wasn't sure about his acting skills but fortunately the Death Eaters that now surrounded them didn't seem in the mood to notice. Which was fortunate because that meant they didn't notice the Order members sneaking up behind them.
Then the battle started. Confusion reigned supreme. Harry and his friends were simultaneously trying to run and trying to fight off the occasional Death Eater that got away from the Order members. The prophecy smashed to smithereens as Harry had thrown it at Lucius Malfoy who missed. Sirius and Bellatrix were duelling furiously. All the time she was throwing killing curse after killing curse at him. Harry found he was in an ideal position and threw a stunning spell at her back. She whirled around and dodged it just in time. Seeing most of her Death Eater colleagues either in fights or unconscious she decided to run. Harry and Sirius ran after her. She was heading for the main concourse, a long line of fire places lined either side. Harry and Sirius continued to fire spells at her. She whirled around and threw a curse at Harry, Sirius ran, caught him by the waist and the pair of them went flying. Harry had a vague sensation of hitting the wall. As he slid down the wall he saw Sirius, a red pool was already enlarging around his head.
"Sirius!" Harry yelled. He knelt by his godfather, he didn't want to touch him in case he made the injury worse. Now mad with anger Harry stood and aimed his wand at Bellatrix.
"Crucio!" The spell had no effect, apart from knocking her off her feet.
"Ahh, trying to use an Unforgivable are we? You have to mean it Potter!" She rose to her feet. "Let me demonstrate! Crucio!"
Pain rocketed through his body, he was screaming but not loudly enough to cover Bella's maniacal laughing.
"Give me the prophecy Potter!" She yelled. Harry glared at and as he slowly got to his feet he fixed his eye on her.
"It's gone! Your mate Lucius Malfoy dropped it!" He managed to put touch of glee in his voice. The colour drained from Bella's face.
"He isn't Bella." Harry heard the voice partly in his head, partly around him. A high cold voice. The fury in Harry's head now becoming a white hot pain that threatened to split his head wide open.
"No master! I tried!" Bella started shouting. She actually sounded a little frightened. "I tried! Don't punish me!" She ended with a pleading voice.
Then Voldemort was there, suddenly appearing in the middle of the hall. Harry was frozen to the spot.
"Master, I'm sorry! I was fighting Black!" she sobbed, flinging herself at her master's feet. Voldemort looked at her disdainfully.
"Do you think I entered the Ministry to hear your excuses?" He hissed at her, she shrank from him. He turned his snake-like gaze on Harry. "I have nothing more to say to you Potter. AVADA KEDAVRA!"
Harry had still been staring, his wand useless at his side. Suddenly he was catapulted along the floor. Voldemorts killing curse hit the wall, causing a small hole in wall.
"DUMBLEDORE!" Voldemort exclaimed, whirling around and aiming a killing curse. But Dumbledore had gone in the blink of an eye and appeared elsewhere in the long hall. Bellatrix had taken her chance and had run into one of the fireplaces and vanished. Harry was watching Voldemort and Dumbledore duelling. Fire in the shape of a wild serpent erupted from the end of Voldemort's wand, which Dumbeldore blocked by conjuring something like a silver shield from nowhere. Now Voldemort was firing something like a jet of black smoke. It seemd to eat all light it touched as it came towards Dumbledore, who turned it into a column of water and fired it straight back to Voldemort. Now Voldemort was encased in a ball of water, which he burst out of.
"You shouldn't have come here tonight Tom. The Auror's are on their way."
"By which time, I will be gone and you will be dead!" Voldemort cast a killing curse straight at him. Dumbledore fired another spell and for a few moments the two wizards were locked in a battle of strength. Voldemort broke away first and with a great shout everything in the concourse that was made of glass smashed. The end they were in was a vast atrium, looking up numerous floors, all the windows smashed and the shards came flying towards Dumbledore and Harry. Dumbledore aimed his wand at the flying glass and turned it into sand. Frustrated, Voldemort glared at them, and vanished. Harry stood up frowning.
"Stay where you are Harry!" Dumbledore sounded afraid, looking around.
"But.." Harry started but then his body was wracked with searing pain, unlike the Cruciatus curse but felt a lot worse. It wasn't just his body filled with pain but his mind too. His whole body felt as though it had been wrapped in the body of a giant serpent. His jaw moved, his voice spoke.
"You've lost old man!" Harry voice came out something like a hiss. "To get rid of me you need to kill the boy!"
Dumbledore had dropped to his knees.
"Harry!" He half reached out towards him. Voldemort was going through his memories, replaying the worse ones over and over again. He was in his cupboard under the stairs, Aunt Petunia saying he wasn't wanted. Cedric was dead, his ghost asking to be returned to his father. The Dementors were swooping down on him and Sirius and they were going to die. Sirius! Suddenly the love he felt for his godfather welled up in him. He thought of Ron and Hermionie at Hogwarts, his best friends. He thought of Lupin.
"You are weak Potter." Voldemort was saying in his mind. "You will lose everything." Harry held on the the memories of his friends, of the people he loved and the people who loved him. He let the feeling fill him up.
"You are the weak one! You don't know love or friendship, and I feel sorry for you."
There was something like a screech and he felt the presence in his mind leave him. Harry lay on the ground panting. Voldemort standing over him.
The fireplaces leapt into life. In ran the Aurors, lead by Fudge. Voldemort growled and apparated.
"He's back!" Fudge sounded astonished.
"We've only been trying to tell you for a sodding year!" Sirius growled.
"Sirius!" Harry rolled onto his front slowly, trying to stand. Sirius rushed over and threw his arms around him. A trickle of blood ran from his forehead and down his cheek. Dumbledore was behind them.
"Are you all right Harry?"
"Friends? They all right?" speaking was painful, his throat felt raw.
"Your friends are alive." Dumbledore said kindly. He looked sternly at Fudge. "Harry Potter is going back to the school."
"I have questions for him!" Fudge protested, but Dumbledore ignored him.
"He's been through enough tonight!" Sirius said angrily. "Back to the school?" He suggested to Dumbledore.
"Hey." Sirius whispered to Harry. "I'd avoid Snape though. He sent us the message of what you were planning, but it was full of expletives...he doesn't usually do that."
"No-one is badly hurt though?" Harry sounded worried. He'd seen Neville get a nasty curse. And another Death eater had aimed a soundless curse at Hermionie.
"Don't worry Harry. They're being seen to." Dumbledore assured him. He summoned a piece of fallen rubble, aimed his wand at it and said.
"Portus. This will take you to my office. I'll join you in about half an hour." Dumbledore told him. "In three...two..one..." Harry felt a pull at his mid-drift and he was yanked and spun and he finally landed on the floor of Dumbledore's office.
A/N – Not as exciting as the book I know, but this fic is primarily about Harry and Snape. I wanted to re-imagine the reason Harry runs off to the ministry, the main outcome being the Fudge sees that Voldemort is alive and well. I don't kill Sirius because I think Harry is more than capable of feeling the love he has for his godfather and friends without a death to push him over the edge. I had to stun Snape because there would be no way he would let Harry put himself and his friends in that kind of danger.
By the way, I'm sorry Snape didn't go to the pub. In my defence I hadn't rewritten this chapter when I wrote that and this has turned out very differently to the way I planned it.
The good news is there will be a chapter four, in which there is the distinct possibility we find out what happens to Snape when Voldemort flees the Ministry. Voldemort being a little irked by the fact that he failed to acquire the prophecy he specifically went there to get, and instead revealed himself to the Ministry...and lost a lot of his key Death Eaters (them having been arrested by Aurors and Order Members).
The bad news is...for reasons I won't go into Chapter four will not make it up here until January! I know! Sorry!
Thanks to all for the lovely reviews you have been leaving. I hope this chapter doesn't disappoint.