I stormed into Dumbledore’s office, summons in hand, and slammed it down upon the old man’s desk. “I don’t care what Umbridge has told you! Pensieve memories can be faked, and everyone knows that Veritaserum doesn’t work on sociopaths.”
Dumbledore remained calm, a trait which was as unwavering as it was frustrating. “Mr. Potter –”
“I have done nothing, and I will testify to this under Veritaserum.”
The phoenix screeched in irritation, and I screeched back to establish dominance. Dumbledore said, “Mr. Potter, this meeting does not concern Professor Umbridge.”
“Oh,” I said. “That’s good because I haven’t done anything.”
He offered me a lemon drop. “Yes, I know. You were quite vocal about that earlier.”
I spoke slowly. “I don’t suppose you’re planning to teach me Dark Magic?”
His eyes twinkled. “No, I’m afraid not. Although Miss Weasley did enlighten me about your unique definition for the term.”
I would have to talk with her about meddling in my affairs without my consent. I made a note of that and then promptly forgot it when Dumbledore said, “Have you noticed anything strange lately?”
I sank into the seat in front of Dumbledore’s desk. “Well, the ghosts have been whispering among themselves a lot. Do you think they’re rebelling?”
“No, that likely has to do with the Bloody Baron’s deathday. I was referring to whether _you _have experienced something strange lately. Odd visions, voices, urges. Anything of that sort,” he prompted.
I considered his question. Every few nights, I dreamt that I was once again Lord Voldemort, ordering and crucioing my Death Eaters. Just this morning, I’d missed the entirety of Professor Flitwick’s lecture because I was too caught up in daydreaming that I was a man-eating snake. And I’d nearly taken Ron’s head off during a recent meeting of our new study group when I felt a sudden and inexplicable flash of rage.
For quite possibly the first time in my life, I answered Albus Dumbledore honestly. “Nothing out of the ordinary.”
He frowned. “Nothing at all?”
I shook my head, jumping a bit when the phoenix landed on the desk in front of me.
“Is that a problem?” I asked.
“No, no, it’s very good, actually.”
I peered into his eyes. “Really? You seem sort of disappointed about it.”
Dumbledore spoke gravely. “I had suspected that your scar might connect you to Voldemort, allowing you some sort of window into his mind. If this had been the case, then his rebirth would have caused certain side effects to both of you. It seems I was wrong. That I was incorrect is almost certainly for the better.”
“Huh,” I said, yanking my hand away from the phoenix’s bite, “I don’t suppose I can leave now?”
Dumbledore waved me towards the door. “Go ahead. Though I do hope that Professor Umbridge will have no cause to pay me a visit today…”
“Of course not,” I scoffed. “I’ve done nothing.”
The phoenix watched me leave with black, judging eyes.
“Lucius!” I cried, waving my minion over to take a seat in front of my (previously his) desk.
Lucius, startled, said, “My lord.”
“Yes, that is who I am,” I said, “How are you?”
Lucius raised a trembling hand. “I’m still in pain, and I can’t do any paperwork until the nerves heal…”
“Right, the crucioing,” I said with a knowing nod. “Sorry about that. I had a flash of sudden and inexplicable rage.”
He frowned. Really, I expected him to be more cheerful since I’d gotten that Hair-Growth Potion. I shrugged off his ungratefulness. “I had the weirdest dream yesterday.”
Lucius dully asked, clearly struggling to hide his curiosity, “Was that during the nap you took after crucioing me?”
I beamed. “Yes, that’s the one! I was in History of Magic, and you were there. And a Weasley. And then we started dueling in the back of the classroom, but Binns didn’t stop us because he didn’t notice. It angered me greatly. Do you know why?”
Lucius frowned, smoothing down his hair with a shaking hand. “Because you didn’t get to crucio anyone?”
I laughed. “No, no. I just can’t stop thinking: Why didn’t I do that when I was still a student? Binns probably wouldn’t have noticed. Oh, before I forget. One of your peacocks was being insubordinate, so I killed it. Dobby promised to have it ready for dinner I’m not actually certain if people eat peacocks, but I imagine the taste of victory will override any unpleasant flavor.”
Hermione nibbled on the tip of her quill, looking at her newly-purchased planner. “This would be a lot easier if we didn’t have to work around your detentions with Umbridge.”
“I consider it recreation at this point,” I said, “and we’re making real progress. She’s finally acknowledged that she has no idea how to deal with boggarts.”
Hermione pinched her lips. “Why?”
“She can’t even get the one out from under her bed.”
She jotted something down in the margin. “Do I even want to know how you got it under there?”
“Lemon drops,” I said. “I’m thinking I’ll work on werewolves next.”
“You can’t put Professor Lupin under Umbridge’s bed,” she sighed.
“I was thinking Snape, though I suppose Lupin would be the better choice. He can deal with the boggart.”
“Harry James Po–”
A loud boom echoed through the Room of Requirement, and we watched, stunned, as a dummy slammed into the wall and fell into pieces. Its head landed in my batch of Felix Felicis with a sickly hiss and a string of black smoke.
Finally, Hermione said, “Ron? What type of spell was that?”
“A stunner,” Ron said.
“Oh,” she said. “You, um, you might want to put a little less energy into it next time.”
I said, “Or…you could not do that.”
Meow! Mew! Rrrowr! Purrrr…
This was completely ridiculous. Kitten plates covered Umbridge’s wall, constantly mewling and fighting with each other. I usually took my detentions in the DADA classroom, but it hadn’t yet recovered from my last detention.
I turned away from my parchment and a quill that used actual ink and towards Umbridge, who was pretending to grade papers but primarily watching me fail to write lines. I said, “It doesn’t matter how many kittens you put on your wall. No one will ever believe you have a soul.”
That might have seemed a bit harsh. Still, I’d been fighting a strange urge to crucio someone all day (preferably Malfoy), and I needed to vent.
She raised an arm, pink sleeve swinging perilously close to my inkwell. “Well, I hardly think –”
“And the pink!” I cried. “Wait, of course. You’re still using the methods that allowed you to appear normal during your childhood. Unfortunately, the kittens and pink and crooning voice only further alienate you from your current peers. You’re sixty-seven, and it’s creepy now…which reminds me: Happy birthday.”
Umbridge’s face was beginning to match her robes. She smiled tightly. “Are you lying again, Mr. Potter? Tut, tut. It looks like you –”
“Wait! Before you say anything else, I am obligated to inform you that, if you assign me any more detentions, I will technically be your apprentice.”
“Detention” – she smiled sweetly – “A week’s worth.”
“…Really, Ronald!” Hermione exclaimed as we exited the Great Hall. We were stopped short, however, when Draco Malfoy, along with Crabbe and Goyle, stepped in front of us.
“Malfoy,” I said, nodding.
“Potter,” he said. “Still dragging along the Weasel and your pet Mudblood, eh? I don’t suppose you’ve rethought my offer for more fitting companionship?”
“Not really. Have you reconsidered being my minion?”
Ron laughed at the suggestion, while Hermione nearly growled. She had been getting rather territorial lately. Between her and Ginevra, it was a wonder I’d recruited so many new minions this year.
Malfoy snapped, “I would never –”
We clearly had nothing to discuss, since we were once again at a standstill, so I continued walking. Ron nearly tripped, distracted by his shuddering laughter.
Malfoy gaped, “Hey! Get back here.”
I turned around, eyebrow quirked.
“You can’t just leave,” the blond said. Right, he hadn’t gotten around to talking about his father or his money yet.
Ron crossed his arms menacingly, though Malfoy’s hulking minions diminished the affect. The redhead said, “You bloody well bet we can.”
“Actually, you _poor _Weasel, that is no longer allowed under High Inquisitor Umbridge’s rules,” Malfoy said. “Only two students can be together outside of classes.”
“Three’s more than that,” Crabbe put in helpfully.
Malfoy smirked. “So you’ll have to split up, or I’ll dock points from Gryffindor.”
Hermione glared, hand flying to her prefect’s badge. “Prefects are not allowed to dock points from other houses! It’s a clear conflict of interest.”
“Ten points for arguing with a member of Umbridge’s new Inquisitorial Squad, who, by the way, can take as many points as they like” – he raised a hand at Ron’s opening mouth – “And are exempt from the three-person rule.”
I knew he wouldn’t stay independent for long. Malfoys were born to minion.
Malfoy turned to me triumphantly. “I’ll give fifty to Slytherin if you agree to an alliance.”
“I’m rooting for Gryffindor now,” I said regretfully.
“Bollocks,” he muttered.
“How’d you even get on this squad, Malfoy?” Ron asked. “I don’t remember hearing anything about it.”
“Well, it’s very exclusive. My father –”
Well, that’s two for two.
Hermione sweetly cut in, “So you bought your place, then?”
Malfoy scowled. “Umbridge just prefers a better quality of wizard.”
“Oh, my apologies,” she crooned. “Nepotism. I can’t say I’m surprised. That’s how you get everything else: Your place on the Quidditch team, your spot as a prefect –”
“Jealous, Granger?” Malfoy asked.
“Not at all. I can’t even imagine how exhausting it must be to realize that you simply aren’t good enough for anything” – a very Dumbledore gleam lit her eyes – “That must be the reason you’re in Slytherin, too. After all, you don’t exactly fit the requirements very well. You’re simple-minded, unsubtle, and unambitious.”
“Typical Hufflepuff traits,” I said.
Hermione ignored me, too focused on the kill. “You’re Pureblood, I suppose, presuming your mother didn’t – ”
Malfoy trembled with rage. “Shut up, Mudblood.”
He threw the first spell, but Hermione was the one that got a detention. Admittedly, that wasn’t as unreasonable as it might have seemed. She could be positively vicious when aimed at an acceptable target.
Hermione slammed the Room of Requirement’s door shut, startling me from target practice (with Neville as the target).
“So,” I asked, shooting a spell over my shoulder. “How was detention?”
“Fine,” she hissed.
I frowned. “You used the charm I showed you, right? Because, if you didn’t, then that would be really dumb, and I don’t take you for some sort of Hufflepuff.”
In the distance, a Hufflepuff blew the head off of a dummy. Hermione said, “Yes, I used the glove.”
“Did she bleed?” I prodded.
“Yes, Harry, she bloody well bled!” she shouted. “And then Malfoy waited outside to take more points for injuring a teacher because he’s a great, big git!”
She stormed towards the library.
“What’s got her knickers in a twist?” Ron asked, absentmindedly shooting a curse at Neville.
I shrugged. “I don’t…Wait, never mind. I think I know.”
I wandered over to the library’s table, smiling uneasily as Hermione glared up from her hastily-acquired book. She said, “What?”
Right. How to approach this? I’d never had someone willing to have this discussion with me when I was a confused, pubescent boy. “Hermione…You are a beautiful, brilliant young woman, and it’s natural for you to have certain urges.”
Her eyes widened. “Harry, you do not have to –”
I forged on. “You might look around at some of your classmates who are wealthy and attractive, and want – very badly – to crush them beneath your heel.”
Hermione blinked a few times in quick succession. “I have to admit, that was absolutely not where I thought this conversation was going.”
I smiled, placing a hand on her shoulder. “When you see someone like Malfoy, all you want is for him to kneel down and kiss your robes.”
“Harry, I don’t want that. That would be horrible.”
I shook my head. “No, see, you’re making this a good and evil thing. It’s not. This is about power. He has it, and you want him to give you that power and suffer for keeping it from you for so long.”
She pouted. “Honestly, I just want him to stop bothering me and possibly never speak again.”
“If he was your minion, you could make him do those things.”
Hermione took a deep breath, then sighed gustily. “I don’t think you understand this, so I’m going to explain it as simply as possible. He’s a git, and I don’t like him.”
“Of course he is. He’s only fifteen. One day, Malfoy is going to realize just how much he wants to be your minion, and he is going to feel so embarrassed about all this.”
Hermione groaned, burying her face in her hands.
I threw the doors open, storming into Lucius’s Great Hall…formal dining room…ballroom…long, high-ceilinged room which made my voice echo menacingly. I declared, “Welcome, my dearest, most _loyal _servants!”
I suddenly noticed the nearly empty room. Lucius clutched his snake-headed cane tightly.
Severus, meanwhile, remained stoic. I’m still not entirely certain that he experiences emotion. I’d never found any while using Legilimency.
I scowled. “Where is the rest of the inner circle?”
“Indisposed, my lord,” Severus drawled.
“What could possibly be more important than attending to me?” I snapped. “That idiot Crabbe doesn’t even have a job. I could kill him for this insult.”
Severus smirked. “Actually, you did kill him. Several months ago.”
How forward-thinking of me. I settled onto my new throne, made with a pile of Malfoy portraits. To my delight, they wailed every time I sat down. “What about Wilkes?”
“He died during the last war,” Severus said.
I stroked my chin. “Zabini?”
Lucius anxiously petted his hair, as he often does. “His wife got him.”
I gripped my wand, lazily pointing it at Lucius. “Rosier?”
The blond fell to his knees in a grovel. “You killed him an hour ago, my lord.”
Wait, did I? “I’m well aware of that. I was testing you.”
Severus watched me impassively. “Of course, my lord.”
I said, “What about Bellatrix, then? I’m quite certain I didn’t kill her.”
“She is in Azkaban,” Severus said.
“Oh…” – I tapped my wand against my chin thoughtfully – “Why?”
“You likely recall that she is a Death Eater,” Severus said.
“Plenty of people are Death Eaters,” I said. “They aren’t in Azkaban.”
“Well, yes,” Lucius said, “but Bellatrix admitted to it.”
“Bellatrix never struck me as a Hufflepuff,” I muttered, “Why would she be so stupid?”
“There wasn’t much point in denying her involvement,” Snape drawled. “When they caught her, she was busy torturing the Longbottoms into insanity.”
“Yes. She did always like that…So, she’s been in there for…?”
“Thirteen years,” Lucius said helpfully.
I leaned back on my throne, smiling as the Malfoy ancestors groaned underneath me. “That’s pretty long. We should do something about that.”
Hermione received the morning Prophet, eyes immediately skimming the byline for Rita Skeeter. She soon relaxed, evidence that the front page articles were written by someone else. Satisfied, the girl turned her gaze to the headline and cursed.
I’m not sure if she’s ever done that before.
“You alright, ‘Mione?” Ron asked.
She said, “There’s been a jailbreak at Azkaban. All the Death Eaters have escaped.”
Ron began to smile, then frowned, then settled for his usual confused expression. “Well, that’s good, right? Yeah, a bunch of Death Eaters are probably going to attack us. More than usual, I mean, but at least now they can’t say that You-Know-Who isn’t back.”
Hermione crumpled the paper, hissing, “They’re blaming it on Sirius Black.”
“Well, to be fair, it could have been Black,” I said. “He hasn’t tried to kill me in months, which just doesn’t seem like him. He must be plotting _something _in his spare time.”
“Harry, this is serious!”
Ron grinned through a mouthful of mashed-up toast, “Or, it cuh be Shirius. Y’know, like Shirius Bl-”
Hermione said, “Not the time. Also, finish chewing. Some of the absolute worst people from the last war could be coming here: The Mulcibers, Augustus Rookwood, Hagrid, Bellatrix Lestrange…Harry, are you even listening to me?!”
I startled back into reality. “Oh, yes, sorry. Just had a sudden feeling of déjà vu.”
Hermione huffed, shoving away her half-eaten breakfast to make room for a book on hexes.
I stopped by the Room of Requirement after detention, disappointed to find Neville collapsed on the ground. “Neville, why aren’t you running?”
“I can’t,” he panted. “Too much.”
“I’m trying to make you a legend here,” I said. “I thought you wanted that.”
“I guess,” Neville muttered.
“Then why are you giving up already?” I asked, feeling a bit like Hermione.
“It’s, uh, not helping me with my magic,” Neville said. “All this running around.”
I scowled. Neville had completely misinterpreted this offer, but everyone now knew that he was my student and I had no intention of failing now. “I never said anything about magic. Just being great. Also killing evil wizards. Or good wizards, depending on whether you decide to join up with Hermione.”
Ginevra, who was helping a Ravenclaw with his spellwork, shouted, “Hermione’s studying right now, but she said that – if you said that – I should mention that she isn’t evil.”
“Regardless of Hermione’s lies,” I said. “Physical prowess is a rarely used but surprisingly effective tool for destroying your enemies. Most wizards cannot handle close-quarters combat. Even the most incompetent wizard can excel if he’s good with a sword or something. Just look at Godric Gryffindor.”
Neville blinked. “Oh. Okay.”
It was nice to tell someone something without Hermione around to complain about fact-checking or non-existent sources or common sense.
He frowned, standing. “Why don’t you exercise?”
“Oh, that’s because I’m actually good at magic.”
Neville swayed on his feet, looking miserable again. I’m not sure why. I’d done a perfectly good job cheering him up.
A quiet voice said, “Don’t worry, Neville. Wrackspurts are attracted to the pollen on your clothes. You would probably be fine in a colder climate.”
I beamed, whirling around to find Luna Lovegood. “You’re back! I presume you got Ginevra’s apology?”
She nodded. “Yes, she seemed very sincere about it.”
“Good, good,” I said while Neville trudged away from us. “Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“I’ve just been wondering…Are you a Department of Mysteries spy?”
I frowned, curbing the urge to build my legend. “Why do you think that?”
“I would expect Harry Potter to get special training. But they wouldn’t want anyone to know about that, so they sent a spy in his place. Also, you’re friends with a lot of important people: the Weasleys, the smartest girl in our generation, the son of Voldemort’s right-hand man –”
“Sirius Black had a son?” Was it Ron? It was probably Ron.
“No, I mean Draco Malfoy. Although I suppose he could be Black’s son,” she said thoughtfully.
“Oh, he’s not my friend.”
“Really?” – Luna hummed to herself – “There’s also the Longbottom heir and the Quibbler editor’s daughter.”
“I legitimately have no idea which one that is,” I admitted.
She stared at me with wide, pale eyes. “Me.”
“So, you’re not a spy, then?”
I chuckled. “Of course not. Hermione’s the spy. The Department of Mysteries wouldn’t send two spies.”
Luna pouted. “Harry, Hermione isn’t a spy for the Department of Mysteries. That would be silly.”
“I hardly think this is necessary,” McGonagall said, lips thinned with annoyance.
Umbridge merrily followed the other woman into her office. She tittered. “Now, now, Minerva, I observed all of the werewolf’s career advice sessions. We wouldn’t want any insinuations of favoritism, now would we?”
“That werewolf is my colleague,” McGonagall spat. “Also, that’s just a silly rumor among the students. They’ve been calling him a vampire for years.”
“Well, they do say that children are intuitive about these things,” she said.
McGonagall raised an eyebrow, sitting primly behind her desk. “I suspect they had little experience with children.”
I lowered my invisibility cloak’s hood. It was a wonder it had lasted this long. Of course, Dumbledore had likely lied about its age, as he often does. Umbridge squeaked in fright, and McGonagall’s mouth twitched upwards. She asked, “Here for our meeting, Mr. Potter?”
“Of course,” I said.
“You’re quite early,” McGonagall remarked.
I shrugged. “I was excited.”
She nearly smiled but caught herself just in time. “Two hours early, in fact.”
“Incredibly excited,” I clarified. “Also, I have detention in two hours.”
“I imagine most students would have used this as an excuse to skip detention,” she said.
I smiled, taking a seat in front of her desk. “No, that’s alright. I like detention.”
It wouldn’t be nearly as fun if I followed the professors’ instructions, but, unlike the other students, I have no fear of expulsion. Dumbledore would never allow me that far from his domain.
“Ah,” McGonagall said. “Tell me, Mr. Potter, what is your opinion on Professor Umbridge’s presence at this meeting?”
“It seems reasonable to me,” I said.
Umbridge smirked. “Thank you –”
“After all, that’s perfectly within her rights as my master. If she was at any other students’ meetings, however, that would be weird.”
It was nice to see Umbridge scowling again. Her smile gave me the heebie- jeebies.
Umbridge turned to McGonagall and said, “I simply do not understand why you’ve allowed a clearly mentally ill boy to go untreated for so long while under your care.”
“Mr. Potter is simply a child, Dolores. It’s no surprise you don’t understand that since you have so very little experience in teaching.”
McGonagall turned smoothly back to me. “Now, Mr. Potter, have you given any thought to your future career?”
“Of course,” I said, beaming, “I’m going to be the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor at Hogwarts.”
McGonagall was silent for a few moments, no doubt impressed by how astutely I had chosen my career path. “Are you certain that’s a wise decision, Mr. Potter?”
“Well, yeah, I mean, I’m pretty good at Defense, and I’m great with kids.” I’d been surrounded by them for the past several years, and not one child had suffered irreparable harm while under my care. This is particularly impressive because I lead them into dangerous situations all the time.
“Besides,” I said, “the position’s always open.”
“And that doesn’t concern you,” McGonagall prodded. Umbridge scribbled something on her notepad.
“No, not at all. I’ve survived everything that got rid of the last ones.” And I wasn’t very well going to murder myself.
“Perhaps Mr. Potter would be suited for a more” – Umbridge coughed lightly – “simple position. I hardly think the stresses of professorship would be well suited to his delicate mind, and his delinquent tendencies are hardly fitting for the post.”
“You’re the only person who ever gives me detention,” I pointed out. “I could easily argue that the problem is not me, but you.”
I would be lying, of course. Snape still docked points from Slytherin for my misconduct, McGonagall had devised a method of punishment whereby my favorite desserts would go unmade for days after any particularly concerning transgressions, and Filch had actively avoided me since my only detention with him back in second year.
“That’s ridiculous! You earn those detentions through your disrespect.”
“And you earn my disrespect by being a terrible teacher,” I explained. “So, if you would stop doing that, you wouldn’t have to put up with my detentions anymore.”
“Detention,” she hissed, stubborn as ever.
I shrugged. “Besides, I would have thought you would approve of my choice to take your job. Why else would you make me your apprentice?”
The rest of the Gryffindor’s career advice meetings had to be postponed because Umbridge exploded McGonagall’s office. As I explained to Umbridge during my later detention, her temper was one of many traits that made her such a terrible choice for Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.
“No, not the Bubblehead Charm,” Hermione muttered. “Nearly everyone knows it already, and the few that don’t can learn it from the others during their self-guided period. I…hm. Did Neville ever figure out the Patronus?”
It took me a moment to realize that Hermione was no longer talking to herself. I said, “It doesn’t really matter. We’ve given up on magic for Neville.”
“Honestly, Harry, he can’t just give up on magic. We go to a school for magic.”
“Actually, we go to a school for witches and wizards. Neville has more traditional talents, like swordsmanship.”
Hermione glanced up from her half-filled planner. “I didn’t know Neville could use a sword.”
“He’s working on it.” I nodded to the other end of the room, where Neville was hacking at a dummy with a sword.
Hermione’s lips pursed. “Is that a real sword?”
I said, “I suppose that depends on your definition of real. Yes, it cuts things, but the Room may have created it solely to fulfill our wishes.”
We walked over to Neville, and Neville waved hello with his sword.
Hermione gasped, eyes wide. “Oh, Merlin, or Gryffindor, or…Oh my.”
“Are you alright?” he asked. “I didn’t cut you or anything, right? I, uh, don’t think I was that close, but it might be magic. Well, more magic than –”
“Give it to me. I’d like to examine it,” she said weakly.
He did so, and it disappeared.
Hermione stared at her empty hands.
“Well, you’ve destroyed it. How is Neville supposed to become good at anything now?” I grumbled.
The sword appeared in Neville’s grasp. Hermione leaned forward, sucking air in through her large teeth. “This is the Sword of Gryffindor.”
I snatched it from Neville, growling as it once again disappeared. A crowd had begun to gather, mumbling and eyeing Neville enviously each time the sword reappeared in his hands. Someone would make a grab for it, only for it to vanish again and again.
Above the commotion, Dumbledore’s phoenix perched, watching us. As it always does.
“The Sword of Gryffindor can only be wielded by those who are worthy of the house,” Hermione explained.
Finally, licking his lips nervously, Ron took the sword from Neville. He stared at it in awe. “I feel like Merlin, from that story with the stone and sword.”
“You mean King Arthur, Ronald,” Hermione said.
“No,” he said, “I mean Merlin. Who’s that other bloke?”
I crept through the dungeons, feeling like a man-eating snake stalking its prey. Sidling closer, I whispered, “Psst. Draco. Draco. Draaa-”
Malfoy jumped, head whipping about him. “Bloody hell! Potter, what are you doing?”
Malfoy snorted. “Yes, Potter. I am aware that you’re invisible. You’re always invisible. What I want to know is why you’re in the Slytherin common room.”
I smirked. “I followed someone in. Or maybe I guessed the password. Or maybe I hissed at the wall, and it let me in. Or maybe I’m the Heir of Slytherin, and the castle recognizes my right to be here. I won’t tell you which one. I’m sneaky like that.”
“Potter, everyone can hear you talking,” he pointed out.
My eyes widened at his idiocy and I derisively said, “You don’t have a Silencing Charm up? What are you, a squib?”
He flicked his wand. “You’re not the Heir of Slytherin.”
“Are you sure about that?” – I hissed at him – “Ha-sha-ss-kah.”
He cocked an eyebrow. “Really, Potter?”
“If I’d had a snake, that would have gone a lot better,” I informed him. This is primarily true because the snake would have latched onto Malfoy’s face, and he would have been too distracted to insult me.
“Sure,” Malfoy said. “So, have you finally decided to drop the blood-traitor and mudblood?”
I shook my invisible head. “No, I’ve spent far too much time training them. I would appreciate it if you didn’t mention this to Hermione, though. I don’t know what’s going on between you two, but I refuse to involve myself in your lover’s spat.”
Malfoy’s face wrinkled in a very Weasley fashion. “Me and Granger? That’s disgusting, Potter. Twenty points from Gryffindor for making me picture that.”
I frowned, realized he couldn’t see it, and frowned harder. “Malfoy, you can’t do that.”
“Potter, I know that you occasionally miss the simple facts of reality, so let me explain this to you. I’m a member of the Inquisitorial Squad, and we’re allowed to take points –”
“I don’t mean it like that,” I interrupted. “I mean, you literally cannot take points from Gryffindor. Gryffindor has no points. The only house that still has points is Slytherin. The only person who even cares anymore is you. I’m telling you this because some people seem to think we’re friends, so you being dumb makes me look bad.”
He sneered. “I am not –”
“No, hear me out here. This is literally the worst example of cheating I’ve ever seen. You have made your group pointless, much like Gryffindor house, and everyone hates you. Even the other Slytherins hate you because you’ve all but stated that the only way your house could win the Cup is if you cheat. Which, to be fair, is true because you haven’t done well in Quidditch since I bought the other three teams new brooms without burdening them with terrible seekers.”
“Potter!” he shouted through the Silencing Charm.
But it was too late. I was already gone.
I sat at the head of the Malfoy table, atop my throne of wailing portraits, and watched my recently-freed followers. Rookwood was struggling to Imperio a spoon. The Lestrange brothers had slipped under the tablecloth, hissing at anyone who came too close. Hagrid was looking about as if he’d never seen any of us before and had been incredibly violent until Severus reminded him of his status.
They’d entered Azkaban as perfectly competent, if slightly sociopathic, followers and left it as raving lunatics.
Bellatrix, in contrast, had entered as a raving lunatic and left slightly mellowed.
I took a bite of cake, and then, slightly nauseous, set down my fork. “Bellatrix?”
“Yes, my love…I mean my lord?” she crooned, batting her eyes.
Unfortunately, some things even the Dementors cannot cure. “Stop dosing Dobby’s cakes with love potion. I like cake. Dose something I like slightly less, such as the turkey.”
“But everyone eats the turkey,” Bellatrix whined.
I raised an eyebrow, baffled. “Then one of them might love you…I’m pretty sure that’s what you want.”
She pouted, stealing a bite of my cake.
I legitimately had no idea what she was upset about this time. I wasn’t some sort of seer.
I paused. Right. The prophecy. I should probably go get that. Plus, it would be a nice excuse to get Bellatrix out of the house and finally have some cake that hadn’t been tampered with.
“Bellatrix,” I said. “I need you to break into the Department of Mysteries. Try to be subtle about it, will you?”
“Neville,” Hermione said, staring coolly down the sword pointed at her nose. “Really?”
Neville flushed, stumbling backwards into the Room of Requirement and dropping the Sword of Gryffindor. “Um, sorry. It’s just…Harry –”
She raised a hand to silence him and stalked forward. Hermione hissed, “Harry James Potter, what are you doing? Neville is dropping from the ceiling to attack people, Umbridge is prowling the school looking for you, and WHY IS THERE A PHOENIX ON YOUR HEAD?!”
I reached upwards to pat Fawkes, grateful for the invisible glove charm which protected me from his bites. “Yeah, he’s been following me around for a while. I asked Dumbledore, and he said something about migratory patterns. He might think I’m another phoenix or something…Dumbledore wasn’t very clear. He never is.”
“I think he’s trying to build a nest from my hair!” Ginevra chirped, rubbing her bald spot.
I smiled. “Now, Hermione, what’s got you so upset?”
She grabbed her wand, snarling, “I just told you –”
“Well, what was the first thing that upset you?” That’s usually the only one that matters.
Hermione said, “Malfoy tried to arrest me for being your friend, or something like that. Apparently, that’s against one of Umbridge’s new rules.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You escaped?”
“No, I’m secretly Umbridge polyjuiced as Hermione Granger,” she said flatly.
My eyes widened. That’s what I get for trusting Neville with our defense. I raised my wand.
“Sarcasm!” she shouted.
I eyed her suspiciously, peering into her eyes for signs of the Imperius. Atop my skull, Fawkes did the same. “Right, if she used polyjuice, Umbridge would turn into your true, older form.”
“Honestly, Harry. I am not a spy. I banished Malfoy on top of the lake and came straight here.”
“…They did get more water in that lake, right? Because it’s _really _deep…” The phoenix trilled in agreement.
Ginevra called from across the room, “The lake’s been full for over a year. You just don’t go outside.”
“And Malfoy can swim?” I inquired.
Hermione pursed her lips. “Well, if he can’t, I imagine he’ll learn.”
I placed a hand on her shoulder. “Hermione, I’m concerned about how emotionally invested you’re getting in this relationship. I…I’m starting to think that you’re not in love with Malfoy, after all.”
Hermione gaped. “Why did you ever think that?”
I hated to ask this question so bluntly, especially considering the possible damage even voicing the possibility could do to her reputation, but I had to be sure. “Is Draco Malfoy your rival?”
She carefully evaded the question, confirming my worst fears. “I just think he’s an awful person.”
“So, that’s a yes. You can do better than that,” I said, despairing. “Malfoy is pathetic. Treating him as any sort of equal reflects poorly on you and everyone you associate with.” Primarily me.
“You’re kidding me,” she said.
“He’s not!” Ginevra cried, causing Fawkes to flap his wings menacingly.
I said, “My rival, for instance, is the Dark Lord Voldemort.”
“He tries to kill you,” Hermione said. “He’s not your rival.”
“Snape then,” I acquiesced. Previously, it was Dumbledore. “You can do better. Maybe Neville.”
Hermione glanced towards Neville, who had once again scaled the wall and was fiercely watching the door. “Harry, I don’t want a rival.”
“If I was in your shoes, I would be doubtful too,” I reassured her. “But Neville is really improving. I think the two of you would be good for each other.”
“No, I seriously don’t want one. Also, I like Neville.” With a panicked look, she hastily added, “He’s my friend.”
I chuckled. “Not a problem. Plenty of people don’t like Neville. You can ask them about it.”
“No. Also, you never did explain why he’s guarding the door,” Hermione said.
I twirled my wand, smirking. “We’re expecting an attack.”
“The twins again?”
“No, not a Weasley this time. Ginevra’s contacts have informed us that we have a leak. One of the Ravenclaws has gone rogue. Umbridge could arrive any minute.”
A minute later, Umbridge stormed through the door, and the phoenix dived forward, talons extended.< Previous Next >