Chapter 33: Fight and Flight

“Chapter Thirty-three: Fight and Flight,” read Mrs. Weasley

Harry had no idea what Hermione was planning, or even whether she had a plan.

“Probably just making it up as I go along,” said Hermione. “Isn’t that what we always do?”

He walked half a pace behind her as they headed down the corridor outside Umbridge’s office, knowing it would look very suspicious if he appeared not to know where they were going. He did not dare attempt to talk to her; Umbridge was walking so closely behind them that he could hear her ragged breathing.

Remus growled slightly. He hated that Harry always found himself in close proximity to that foul woman

Hermione led the way down the stairs into the Entrance Hall. The din of loud voices and the clatter of cutlery on plates echoed from out of the double doors to the Great Hall – it seemed incredible to Harry that twenty feet away were people who were enjoying dinner, celebrating the end of exams, not a care in the world…

“Ignorance is bliss,” said Mr. Granger.

Hermione walked straight out of the oak front doors and down the stone steps into the balmy evening air. The sun was falling towards the tops of the trees in the Forbidden Forest now, and as Hermione marched purposefully across the grass – Umbridge jogging to keep up – their long dark shadows rippled over the grass behind them like cloaks.

It’s hidden in Hagrid’s hut, is it?” said Umbridge eagerly in Harry’s ear.

Tonks’ lips curled into a sneer that reminded both Narcissa and Sirius of her mother’s.

“What an idiot!” she exclaimed. “She was just in the hut when she tried to sack Hagrid and the hut is pretty small. If there was a weapon and if it were there, she would have seen it!”

Of course not,” said Hermione scathingly. “Hagrid might have set it off accidentally”

Yes,” said Umbridge, whose excitement seemed to be mounting. “Yes, he would have done, of course, the great half-breed oaf.”

“Good, play up to her bigotry,” said Moody. “It’ll lead her into a false sense of security.”

She laughed. Harry felt a strong urge to swing round and seize her by the throat, but resisted.

“How?” asked Dean. “I would’ve strangled her the first chance I got.”

His scar was throbbing in the soft evening air but it had not yet burned white-hot, as he knew it would if Voldemort had moved in for the kill.

“Then… where is it?” asked Umbridge, with a hint of uncertainty in her voice as Hermione continued to stride towards the Forest.

In there, of course,” said Hermione, pointing into the dark trees.

“What are you leading her to?” asked Neville

“Maybe you’ll let her get eaten by Aragog,” said Ron

“Or the centaurs will get her.”

“Or Grawp.”

“Or a tree could fall on her,” suggested Fred.

“All good ideas,” said Sirius.

 “It had to be somewhere that students weren’t going to find it accidentally, didn’t it?”

Of course,” said Umbridge, though she sounded a little apprehensive now. “Of course… very well, then… you two stay ahead of me.”

“I’m shocked,” Ginny said dryly.

Can we have your wand, then, if we’re going first?” Harry asked her.

No, I don’t think so, Mr. Potter,” said Umbridge sweetly, poking him in the back with it. “The Ministry places a rather higher value on my life than yours, I’m afraid.”

“Evidentially,” said Harry sardonically. “If Dementors are going to be sent after me for merely getting in Fudge’s way, then of course they will.”

“The Minister didn’t know about the dementors, Dolores was acting on her own when she sent the Dementors,” said Percy.

Harry gave Percy a cool look.

“The way I see it, leaders are responsible for their followers’ actions. Voldemort didn’t personally kill everyone in the war; his Death Eaters did. Yet we still lay their deaths at his feet, right?”

Percy looked slightly annoyed. “But the Minister isn’t You-Know-Who.”

“He’s causing as much damage as him right now,” replied Harry in the same cold tone. “Unless of course you still don’t believe Voldemort is back.”

Percy became very interested in what his shaking hands were doing. What am I doing? I can’t look Harry in the face? My brother’s best friend? Since when?

And Then it came to him.

“I do,” he whispered. “I do, now.”

His family stared at him causing Percy too squirm in his seat. Mrs. Weasley let the book drop with a thud

Arthur rose up from his chair, and Molly made to do the same from the reading stool, but Percy raised his hand.

“Not now Mum, Dad, please keep on reading.”

Arthur swayed indecisively for a moment before collapsing back into his chair. Molly froze, her leg still hanging off the stool.

“I want to find out what’s going to happen with everyone,” he attempted to say in an even tone. His voice cracked slightly. “We can talk later, please…”

Molly looked close to tears and Arthur’s face had gone pale, but they both nodded. Their other children sent Percy withering glares. How dare he make them feel like crap again?

Breathing deeply, Molly read on.

As they reached the cool shade of the first trees, Harry tried to catch Hermione’s eye; walking into the Forest without wands seemed to him to be more foolhardy than anything they had done so far this evening.

She, however, merely gave Umbridge a contemptuous glance and plunged straight into the trees, moving at such a pace that Umbridge, with her shorter legs, had difficulty in keeping up.

“Maybe you’ll get her lost in the forest and leave her to wander, doomed for eternity,” said Seamus hopefully.

Is it very far in?” Umbridge asked, as her robe ripped on a bramble.

Oh yes,” said Hermione, “yes, it’s well hidden.”

Harry’s misgivings increased. Hermione was not taking the path they had followed to visit Grawp, but the one he followed three years ago to the lair of the monster Aragog.

“Wait, you weren’t with us for that,” said Ron.

Hermione had not been with him on that occasion; he doubted she had any idea what danger lay at the end of it.

Er – are you sure this is the right way?” he asked her pointedly.

“Too bad Umbridge is in earshot range,” said Sirius. “Or you could ask Hermione, Are you sure going towards a nest of giant Acromantulas is the right way?”

Oh yes,” she said in a steely voice, crashing through the undergrowth with what he thought was a wholly unnecessary amount of noise. Behind them, Umbridge tripped over a fallen sapling.

“Or maybe you just want her to trip herself to death,” said Dean.

Neither of them paused to help her up again; Hermione merely strode on, calling loudly over her shoulder, “It’s a bit further in!”

Hermione, keep your voice down,” Harry muttered, hurrying to catch up with her. “Anything could be listening in here -“

I want us heard,” she answered quietly, as Umbridge jogged noisily after them. “You’ll see…”

Bill pursed his lips. “Still, you don’t want to get yourselves badly hurt just to get rid of the toad. She isn’t worth it.”

They walked on for what seemed a long time, until they were once again so deep into the Forest that the dense tree canopy blocked out all light. Harry had the feeling he had had before in the Forest, one of being watched by unseen eyes.

“The centaurs then,” said Harry. “Last time I felt that was in first year with Bane and Ronan”

How much further?” demanded Umbridge angrily from behind him.

“She’s like a little kid on a road trip,” said Mrs. Granger angrily. Arthur looked ready to ask something but Molly shushed him.

Not far now!” shouted Hermione, as they emerged into a dim, dank clearing. “Just a little bit -“

An arrow flew through the air and landed with a menacing thud in the tree just over her head.

“Yep, centaurs.”

“Er…didn’t those two centaurs specifically warn you not to go into the Forest again?” Ron asked.

Hermione and Harry exchanged worried looks.

The air was suddenly full of the sound of hooves; Harry could feel the Forest floor trembling; Umbridge gave a little scream and pushed him in front of her like a shield –

Absolutely no one was surprised by this. What else did one expect from a psychopath? For her to shield Harry?

He wrenched himself free of her and turned. Around fifty centaurs were emerging on every side, their bows raised and loaded, pointing at Harry Hermione and Umbridge. They backed slowly into the center of the clearing, Umbridge uttering odd little whimpers of terror. Harry looked sideways at Hermione. She was wearing a triumphant smile.

Remus looked nervous. “Don’t get too comfortable. Centaurs are unpredictable.”

Who are you?” said a voice.

Harry looked left. The chestnut-bodied centaur called Magorian was walking towards them out of the circle: his bow, like those of the others, was raised. On Harry’s right, Umbridge was still whimpering, her wand trembling violently as she pointed it at the advancing centaur.

Subconsciously everyone leaned a bit closer to the book. The woman couldn’t be so colossally stupid as to attack a centaur, right?

I asked you who are you, human,” said Magorian roughly.

I am Dolores Umbridge!” said Umbridge in a high-pitched, terrified voice. “Senior Undersecretary to the Minister for Magic and Headmistress and High Inquisitor of Hogwarts!”

“Would they recognize her name as being anti part-human?” Hermione asked Remus.

“I doubt it,” answered her former professor. “They don’t take too much interest in human affairs, they’d only associate her with the Ministry, which they obviously don’t like. If they did know she was directly responsible for some of the legislation being passed…well….she’d be lucky to come back in one piece.”

You are from the Ministry of Magic?” said Magorian, as many of the centaurs in the surrounding circle shifted restlessly.

“That’s right!” said Umbridge, in an even higher voice, “so be very careful! By the laws laid down by the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, any attack by half-breeds such as yourselves on a human -“

“That blithering idiot!” snapped McGonagall.

“Oh, she’s in for it now,” smirked Fred.

Sirius didn’t look as happy as the younger students. “Harry and Hermione are still with her though,” he said. “She’s dooming them just as much as herself.”

The students exchanged anxious looks.

What did you call us?” shouted a wild-looking black centaur, whom Harry recognized as Bane.

There was a great deal of angry muttering and tightening of bowstrings around them.

“Hopefully they’re good shots,” said the younger George with a strained look on his face. “If he hits the wrong person…”

Don’t call them that!” Hermione said furiously, but Umbridge did not appear to have heard her.

“Even when you’re in mortal danger, you still stick up for magical creatures,” said Ron.

Hermione glared at him, but was surprised that the look in his eye was not mocking at all. In fact it seemed…affectionate?

She wasn’t sure what the look was, but she blushed and gave her friend a small smile. Ron sat back, a grin playing about his face as Mr. Granger frowned at him and Mrs. Granger hid a smirk.

Still pointing her shaking wand at Magorian, she continued, “Law Fifteen ‘B’ states clearly that ‘any attack by a magical creature who is deemed to have near-human intelligence, and therefore considered responsible for its actions’ —”

“…Near-human intelligence?” McGonagall looked stunned. “I think we’d better check with a Muggle psychologist, it seems Dolores is deliberately trying to get herself killed.”

“This would be so much funnier if Harry and Hermione weren’t in danger,” said Bill.

“All this ‘Law Fifteen B’ crap sounds like Percy’s with them,” said the younger George.

“Oh stop!” Percy snapped at his younger brother.

“Thought you wanted Mum to keep on reading,” George replied snidely. “So don’t yell at me.”

Percy said nothing as their mother reluctantly turned back to the book.

“‘Near-human intelligence’?” repeated Magorian,

“That type of intelligence still sounds smarter than the toad,” said Ginny.

Dumbledore shook his head. “Dolores may be vicious and conniving…but she’s still extremely intelligent for pulling her various schemes off. I would not underestimate her.”

 as Bane and several others roared with rage and pawed the ground. “We consider that a great insult, human! Our intelligence, thankfully, far outstrips your own.”

“Though, that part is completely true,” Dumbledore admitted. “I wouldn’t underestimate a centaur either.”

What are you doing in our Forest?” bellowed the hard-faced grey centaur Harry and Hermione had seen on their last trip into the Forest. “Why are you here?”

“Technically it’s not their forest either,” said Sirius in an irritated tone.

“I suggest you go tell them that,” Tonks replied dryly.

Your Forest?” said Umbridge, shaking now not only with fright but also, it seemed, with indignation. “I would remind you that you live here only because the Ministry of Magic permits you certain areas of land -“

“As if the centaurs couldn’t seize their own land if they wanted,” Remus chuckled darkly. “Dumb toad.”

An arrow flew so close to her head that it caught at her mousy hair in passing: she let out an earsplitting scream and threw her hands over her head, while some of the centaurs bellowed their approval and others laughed raucously.

“Rather close for a warning shot,” said Sirius.

The sound of their wild, neighing laughter echoing around the dimly lit clearing and the sight of their pawing hooves was extremely unnerving.

Whose Forest is it now, human?” bellowed Bane.

Filthy half-breeds!” she screamed, her hands still tight over her head. “Beasts! Uncontrolled animals!”

“Do we have a death pool going for Umbridge?” Fred asked his twin.

“Wish we’d started one, she’s really asking for it now.”

Sirius was dimly aware that the younger people room was turning bloodthirsty for Umbridge’s death, but after all she had done to Harry and the other students, and essentially giving Voldemort an open pathway, he really didn’t care.

Be quiet!” shouted Hermione, but it was too late: Umbridge pointed her wand at Magorian and screamed, “Incarcerous!”

“Congratulations, you attacked one centaur,” said Snape with a sneer. “Now what about the other fifty?”

Ropes flew out of midair like thick snakes, wrapping themselves tightly around the centaur’s torso and trapping his arms:

Hermione snarled. This was absolutely disgusting.

 he gave a cry of rage and reared on to his hind legs, attempting to free himself, while the other centaurs charged.

Harry grabbed Hermione and pulled her to the ground; face down on the Forest floor, he knew a moment of terror as hooves thundered around him, but the centaurs leapt over and around them, bellowing and screaming with rage.

“Thanks,” Hermione said breathlessly. For an instant, Ron wished he’d been able to go along with them to the forest.

Nooooo!” he heard Umbridge shriek. “Noooooo… I am Senior Undersecretary… you cannot-”

“Saying that you’re a high official in the Ministry is just going to piss them off even more,” said Sirius.

 “Unhand me, you animals… nooooo!”

“Same as calling them animals.”

Harry saw a flash of red light and knew she had attempted to Stun one of them;

“At least it wasn’t a flash of green light,” Professor Sprout said darkly.

 then she screamed very loudly. Lifting his head a few inches, Harry saw that Umbridge had been seized from behind by Bane and lifted high into the air, wriggling and yelling with fright. Her wand fell from her hand to the ground, and Harry’s heart leapt. If he could just reach it –

But as he stretched out a hand towards it, a centaur’s hoof descended upon the wand and it broke cleanly in half.

“You have no manner of luck at all,” Neville said to Harry.

“It usually works out in the end, though,” replied Harry, though he thought of the graveyard with a shiver.

Now!” roared a voice in Harry’s ear and a thick hairy arm descended from thin air and dragged him upright. Hermione, too, had been pulled to her feet.

Everyone looked grim. Would the centaurs associate the teenagers with Umbridge?

Over the plunging, many-colored backs and heads of the centaurs, Harry saw Umbridge being borne away through the trees by Bane.

Screaming non-stop, her voice grew fainter and fainter until they could no longer hear it over the trampling of hooves surrounding them.

“Well, at least she’s out of your hair for the foreseeable future,” said Mrs. Granger

And these?” said the hard-faced, grey centaur holding Hermione.

They are young,” said a slow, doleful voice from behind Harry. “We do not attack foals.”

“Hopefully they don’t recognize you,” said Molly worriedly as she looked up from the book.

They brought her here, Ronan,” replied the centaur who had such a firm grip on Harry. “And they are not so young… he is nearing manhood, this one.”

“Well, that’s nice to know,” Harry said dryly.

He shook Harry by the neck of his robes.

“That’s…not so nice,” said Harry as he rubbed his neck.

Please,” said Hermione breathlessly, “please, don’t attack us, we don’t think like her, we aren’t Ministry of Magic employees! We only came in here because we hoped you’d drive her off for us.”

Remus groaned.

“What’s up?” Sirius asked, though he felt he knew the answer.

“They’re not going to like that, they’ll think the two of them are just using them.

Draco laughed. “For someone who claims to care for magical creatures and animals, you really don’t know a lot about them.”

“That means nothing coming from a bigot like you!” Hermione snapped back, her face burning.

Draco sat back in his seat, locking his fingers above his head. He smirked at the red faced teenager as Mrs. Weasley glared at him and read on.

Harry knew at once, from the look on the face of the grey centaur holding Hermione, that she had made a terrible mistake in saying this. The grey centaur threw back his head, his back legs stamping furiously, and bellowed, “You see, Ronan? They already have the arrogance of their kind! So we were to do your dirty work, were we, human girl? We were to act as your servants, drive away your enemies like obedient hounds?”

Draco sniggered as the entire Granger family glared at him once more. Ron was also openly glaring at the boy, something which Harry smile, considering that he constantly told Hermione to lay off of S.P.E.W

No!” said Hermione in a horrorstruck squeak. “Please – I didn’t mean that! I just hoped you’d be able to – to help us -“

But she seemed to be going from bad to worse.

We do not help humans!” snarled the centaur holding Harry, tightening his grip and rearing a little at the same time, so that Harry’s feet left the ground momentarily. “We are a race apart and proud to be so. We will not permit you to walk from here, boasting that we did your bidding!”

“This is getting ugly fast,” said Kingsley worriedly.

We’re not going to say anything like that!” Harry shouted. “We know you didn’t do what you did because we wanted you to -“

But nobody seemed to be listening to him.

A bearded centaur towards the back of the crowd shouted, “They came here unasked, they must pay the consequences!”

A roar of approval met these words and a dun-colored centaur shouted, “They can join the woman!”

“But they’re foals!” shouted Charlie. Everyone stared at him. “Er…I mean kids.”

“Better,” said Hermione amusedly.

You said you didn’t hurt the innocent!” shouted Hermione, real tears sliding down her face now. “We haven’t done anything to hurt you, we haven’t used wands or threats, we just want to go back to school, please let us go back -“

We are not all like the traitor Firenze, human girl!” shouted the grey centaur, to more neighing roars of approval from his fellows. “Perhaps you thought us pretty talking horses?”

Hermione was unpleasantly reminded of earlier in the book when her future self had disparaged Firenze.

 We are an ancient people who will not stand wizard invasions and insults! We do not recognize your laws, we do not acknowledge your superiority, we are -“

“Hypocrites,” Sirius snarled

But they did not hear what else centaurs were,

“I just said they were hypocrites!”

Remus rolled his eyes.

 for at that moment there came a crashing noise on the edge of the clearing so loud that all of them, Harry, Hermione and the fifty or so centaurs filling the clearing, looked around. Harry’s centaur let him fall to the ground again as his hands flew to his bow and quiver of arrows. Hermione had been dropped, too, and Harry hurried towards her as two thick tree trunks parted ominously and the monstrous form of Grawp the giant appeared in the gap.

“Alright!” the room cheered. Things were finally looking up.

The centaurs nearest him backed into those behind; the clearing was now a forest of bows and arrows waiting to be fired, all pointing upwards at the enormous greyish face now looming over them from just beneath the thick canopy of branches.

Hermione looked worried. “Don’t hurt him!” she exclaimed.

Grawp’s lopsided mouth was gaping stupidly; they could see his bricklike yellow teeth glimmering in the half-light, his dull sludgecolored eyes narrowed as he squinted down at the creatures at his feet.

“Again with the unflattering descriptions!” chuckled Flitwick.

Broken ropes trailed from both ankles.

He opened his mouth even wider.

Hagger.”

“Bless you,” Arthur said to his wife.

Her lips twitched. “It’s in the book.”

“Oh.”

“Sounds like Hagrid, maybe he’s looking for him?” suggested Scrimgeour.

Harry did not know what ‘hagger’ meant, or what language it was from, nor did he much care; he was watching Grawp’s feet, which were almost as long as Harry’s whole body. Hermione gripped his arm tightly; the centaurs were quite silent, staring up at the giant, whose huge, round head moved from side to side as he continued to peer amongst them as though looking for something he had dropped.

Hagger!” he said again, more insistently.

“I think he’d know Hagrid if he came across him,” Dean pointed out. “He’s not exactly inconspicuous.”

Get away from here, giant!” called Magorian. “You are not welcome among us!”

These words seemed to make no impression whatsoever on Grawp. He stooped a little (the centaurs’ arms tensed on their bows), then bellowed, “HAGGER!”

A few of the centaurs looked worried now. Hermione, however, gave a gasp.

Harry!” she whispered. “I think he’s trying to say ‘Hagrid’!”

At this precise moment Grawp caught sight of them, the only two humans in a sea of centaurs.

“Took him long enough.”

He lowered his head another foot or so, staring intently at them. Harry could feel Hermione shaking as Grawp opened his mouth wide again and said, in a deep, rumbling voice, “Hermy.”

“Is that-?”

“-Hermione?”

“Still smarter than Krum,” Ron muttered darkly. Harry and Ginny caught each other’s eye and grinned.

Goodness,” said Hermione, gripping Harry’s arm so tightly it was growing numb and looking as though she was about to faint, “he – he remembered!”

“You guys are still in a bit of a situation here,” said Moody amusedly. “I wouldn’t forget everything and start praising the giant.”

HERMY!” roared Grawp. “WHERE HAGGER?”

“WHERE HAGGER? HERMY YOU KNOW WHERE HAGGER IS???”

“Oh shut up Fred,” said Hermione, rolling her eyes.

“Actually I’m George-”

Hermione waved her hand airily. “Fred, George, Gred, Forge, Mufasa, I don’t care!”

“What’s a Mufasa?”

“Never mind.”

“I don’t know!” squealed Hermione, terrified. “I’m sorry, Grawp, I don’t know!”

GRAWP WANT HAGGER!”

One of the giant’s massive hands reached down.

Nearly everyone gasped. The Grangers looked ready to clutch their daughter.

 Hermione let out a real scream, ran a few steps backwards and fell over. Devoid of a wand, Harry braced himself to punch, kick, bite or whatever else it took as the hand swooped towards him and knocked a snow-white centaur off his legs.

“Only you’d try to take on a giant,” said Sirius, who had both concern and pride in his voice.

It was what the centaurs had been waiting for — Grawp’s outstretched fingers were a foot from Harry when fifty arrows soared through the air at the giant, peppering his enormous face, causing him to howl with pain and rage and straighten up, rubbing his face with his enormous hands, breaking off the arrow shafts but forcing the arrowheads in still deeper.

Everyone winced.

He yelled and stamped his enormous feet and the centaurs scattered out of the way; pebble-sized droplets of Grawp’s blood showered Harry

“You always managed to find a way to bloody yourself,” said Ron.

as he pulled Hermione to her feet and the pair of them ran as fast as they could for the shelter of the trees. Once there they looked back; Grawp was snatching blindly at the centaurs as blood ran down his face; they were retreating in disorder, galloping away through the trees on the other side of the clearing. Harry and Hermione watched Grawp give another roar of fury and plunge after them, smashing more trees aside as he went.

“Well at least you guys are out of there,” said Neville.

Oh no,” said Hermione, quaking so badly that her knees gave way. “Oh, that was horrible. And he might kill them all.”

“How tragic,” said Sirius unconcernedly.

“It would be,” replied Dumbledore seriously.

I’m not that fussed, to be honest,” said Harry bitterly.

The sounds of the galloping centaurs and the blundering giant grew fainter and fainter. As Harry listened to them, his scar gave another great throb and a wave of terror swept over him.

They had wasted so much time – they were even further from rescuing Sirius than they had been when he had had the vision. Not only had Harry managed to lose his wand but they were stuck in the middle of the Forbidden Forest with no means of transport whatsoever.

“That wouldn’t be a bad thing,” said Professor McGonagall, “since it’s most likely a false vision.

Harry couldn’t help hoping that his future self wouldn’t actually go rescue Sirius, especially since it didn’t seem likely that his future self was going to remember the mirror anytime soon.

Smart plan,” he spat at Hermione, having to release some of his fury.

Hermione’s glare made Harry quail.

 “Really smart plan. Where do we go from here?”

We need to get back up to the castle,” said Hermione faintly.

By the time we’ve done that, Sirius’ll probably be dead!” said Harry, kicking a nearby tree in temper. A high-pitched chattering started up overhead and he looked up to see an angry Bowtruckle flexing its long twiglike fingers at him.

“You seem to have a knack for pissing off every magical creature this chapter,” said Remus.

Well, we can’t do anything without wands,” said Hermione hopelessly, dragging herself up again. “Anyway, Harry, how exactly were you planning to get all the way to London?”

Yeah, we were just wondering that,” said a familiar voice from behind her.

“God I hope that’s not Umbridge,” said Ron.

“She was alone and the voice said we, hopefully it’s not Malfoy and his cronies,” said Hermione.

“If you would all let me read, we’d find out,” Mrs. Weasley pointed out.

Harry and Hermione moved together instinctively and peered through the trees.

Ron came into sight, closely followed by Ginny, Neville and Luna.

“Finally!” shouted Ron. He’d been hoping he wouldn’t spend the rest of the book being under guard by the ferret.

“We all got away then?” asked Ginny. “What did we do to you, Malfoy?”

Draco flushed. He hoped it hadn’t been anything that would embarrass him.

All of them looked a little the worse for wear – there were several long scratches running the length of Ginny’s cheek;

Ginny ran a finger down her cheek

a large purple lump was swelling above Neville’s right eye;

Neville touched his forehead

Ron’s lip was bleeding worse than ever –

Ron rubbed his lips

but all were looking rather pleased with themselves.

“Looks like Luna made it through unscathed,” said Sirius.

“Oh, it was probably the Curatios,” she replied offhandedly. “They’re very good at healing.”

So,” said Ron, pushing aside a low-hanging branch and holding out Harry’s wand, “had any ideas?”

How did you get away?” asked Harry in amazement, taking his wand from Ron.

Couple of Stunners, a Disarming Charm, Neville brought off a really nice little Impediment Jinx,” said Ron airily,

Neville beamed.

 now handing back Hermione’s wand, too. “But Ginny was best, she got Malfoy – Bat Bogey Hex

“Hah!” shouted Ginny. “You and your scumbag father can just suck it!”

Draco’s face contorted into a snarl, but he didn’t do anything as he noticed Ginny’s hand was on her wand. Not wanting to actually go through the hex, he withdrew his hand from his own wand.

Narcissa frowned. What was the Weasley brat’s problem with her husband? Most likely that Mudblood lover father of hers poisoned her mind against us, she thought. As far as she knew, Lucius had never done anything to that blood traitor family.

– it was superb, his whole face was covered in the great flapping things. Anyway, we saw you out of the window heading into the Forest and followed. What’ve you done with Umbridge?”

She got carried away,” said Harry. “By a herd of centaurs.”

And they left you behind?” asked Ginny, looking astonished.

No, they got chased off by Grawp,” said Harry

Who’s Grawp?” Luna asked interestedly.

“Reality is sometimes stranger than fiction,” said Kingsley sagely.

“But the Nargles and Curatios are reality,” replied Luna dreamily.

“Er…right…”

Hagrid’s little brother,” said Ron promptly. “Anyway, never mind that now. Harry, what did you find out in the fire? Has You-Know-Who got Sirius or -?”

Yes,” said Harry, as his scar gave another painful prickle,

“That damn lying elf of mine,” growled Sirius.

“and I’m sure Sirius is still alive, but I can’t see how we’re going to get there to help him.”

They all fell silent, looking rather scared; the problem facing them seemed insurmountable.

“Well, we’ll have to fly, won’t we?” said Luna, in the closest thing to a matter-of-fact voice Harry had ever heard her use.

Mrs. Weasley pursed her lips. She knew nothing would dissuade Harry, Ron and Hermione from going, but did they have to bring along Ginny, Luna and Neville?

Okay,” said Harry irritably, rounding on her. “First of all, ‘we’ aren’t doing anything if you’re including yourself in that,

“You’re being rather rude, Harry Potter,” said Luna in a frosty tone.

Harry flushed in response.

and second of all, Ron’s the only one with a broomstick that isn’t being guarded by a security troll, so -“

“I’ve got a broom!” said Ginny.

I’ve got a broom!” said Ginny.

“Yeah you said that already,” said Fred as Ginny threw a couch pillow at him.

Yeah, but you’re not coming,” said Ron angrily.

“Like I’m going to listen to you,” Ginny scoffed.

Excuse me, but I care what happens to Sirius as much as you do!” said Ginny, her jaw set so that her resemblance to Fred and George was suddenly striking.

Ron snorted as Sirius smiled. “No you don’t!”

“You’ve only known him slightly longer than I have,” she replied hotly. “And it’s not like I said that I care as much as Harry for him!”

“Never knew I was so loved,” said Sirius, still smiling.

“Wait until they get to know you better,” said Remus, suppressing a smirk.

“Yeah, then they’ll love me even-hey are you mocking me???”

“Yep.”

You’re too -” Harry began, but Ginny said fiercely,

“If you say young, you’re being a hypocrite,” said Ginny.

Harry sighed. He didn’t realize Ginny could be so cunning at times.

“I’m three years older than you were when you fought You-Know-Who over the Philosopher’s Stone, and it’s because of me that Malfoy’s stuck back in Umbridge’s office with giant flying bogies attacking him -“

Yeah, but -“

We were all in the D.A, together,” said Neville quietly. “It was all supposed to be about fighting You-Know-Who, wasn’t it? And this is the first chance we’ve had to do something real – or was that all just a game or something?”

Harry knew he would never forgive himself if any of his friends came to harm. He could tell by the way their future selves were acting, that Ginny, Neville and Luna would come along too.

No — of course it wasn’t -” said Harry impatiently.

Then we should come too,” said Neville simply. “We want to help.”

That’s right,” said Luna, smiling happily.

Harry’s eyes met Ron’s. He knew Ron was thinking exactly what he was: if he could have chosen any members of the D.A., in addition to himself, Ron and Hermione, to join him in the attempt to rescue Sirius, he would not have picked Ginny, Neville or Luna.

“Your future self is being rude again, Harry,” said Luna. Neville flushed as Ginny narrowed her eyes.

“Sorry, everyone,” Harry apologized. “The stress must be getting to me.”

Thankfully, the three of them seemed to understand as they looked back toward the book.

Well, it doesn’t matter, anyway,” said Harry through gritted teeth, “because we still don’t know how to get there -“

I thought we’d settled that,” said Luna maddeningly. “We’re flying!”

“Even if Ginny gets her broomstick, that’s only two for six people,” said Harry. “And I don’t think my future self is going to spend more time breaking mine out of the dungeons.”

Look,” said Ron, barely containing his anger, “you might be able to fly without a broomstick but the rest of us can’t sprout wings whenever we -“

There are ways of flying other than with broomsticks,” said Luna serenely.

I s’pose we’re going to ride on the back of the Kacky Snorgle or whatever it is?” Ron demanded.

Luna giggled. “Don’t be silly, the Crumple Horned Snorkack can’t fly!” She said it as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, which vexed Ron.

The Crumple-Horned Snorkack can’t fly,” said Luna in a dignified voice, “but they can, and Hagrid says they’re very good at finding places their riders are looking for.”

“They?”

Charlie sat up in his seat, babbling.

“Are you having a stroke?” asked Bill, amusedly.

“No, thestrals!”

“You’re having a thestral?”

“No, idiot they can fly!”

Harry whirled round. Standing between two trees, their white eyes gleaming eerily, were two Thestrals, watching the whispered conversation as though they understood every word.

“They might, actually,” said Dumbledore. “I’ll have to ask Hagrid when he comes back from the Ural Mountains.”

Yes!” he whispered, moving towards them. They tossed their reptilian heads, throwing back long black manes, and Harry stretched out his hand eagerly and patted the nearest one’s shining neck; how could he ever have thought them ugly?

“The shock of seeing them will do that,” said Remus.

Is it those mad horse things?” said Ron uncertainly, staring at a point slightly to the left of the Thestral Harry was patting. “Those ones you can’t see unless you’ve watched someone snuff it?”

“How tactful,” said Hermione sarcastically.

Yeah,” said Harry.

How many?”

Just two.”

Well, we need three,” said Hermione, who was still looking a little shaken, but determined just the same.

Four, Hermione,” said Ginny, scowling.

I think there are six of us, actually,” said Luna calmly, counting.

“It takes the Ravenclaw to count correctly,” said Snape sneering. Flitwick couldn’t help chuckling but McGonagall and the other Gryffindors glared at him.

Don’t be stupid, we can’t all go!” said Harry angrily. “Look, you three -” he pointed at Neville, Ginny and Luna, “you’re not involved in this, you’re not -“

They burst into more protests. His scar gave another, more painful, twinge.

“Voldemort’s trying to get you to go to the Ministry quickly,” said Dumbledore wisely.

Every moment they delayed was precious; he did not have time to argue.

Okay, fine, it’s your choice,” he said curtly, “but unless we can find more Thestrals you’re not going to be able -“

“Oh, more of them will come,” said Ginny confidently, who like Ron was squinting in quite the wrong direction, apparently under the impression that she was looking at the horses.

Ginny gave a self-deprecating chuckle

What makes you think that?”

Because, in case you hadn’t noticed, you and Hermione are both covered in blood,” she said coolly, “and we know Hagrid lures Thestrals with raw meat.

“Grawp to the rescue again,” Harry said moodily. The rescue mission was on…as well as the trap they were likely walking into.

That’s probably why these two turned up in the first place.”

Harry felt a soft tug on his robes at that moment and looked down to see the closest Thestral licking his sleeve, which was damp with Grawp’s blood.

“How adorable,” said the younger George sarcastically.

Okay, then,” he said, a bright idea occurring, “Ron and I will take these two and go ahead, and Hermione can stay here with you three and she’ll attract more Thestrals -“

Hermione and Ginny gave him withering glares as Ron and Neville snorted.

I’m not staying behind!” said Hermione furiously.

There’s no need,” said Luna, smiling. “Look, here come more now… you two must really smell…”

Harry turned: no fewer than six or seven Thestrals were picking their way through the trees, their great leathery wings folded tight to their bodies, their eyes gleaming through the darkness. He had no excuse now.

All right,” he said angrily, “pick one and get on, then.”

Harry sighed. “Well, here we go.”

Hello world!

Hopefully I won’t have to use this blog. But if I do, welcome!

Here’s the last chapter I worked on: Out of the Fire. I’m essentially test posting here

 

Chapter Thirty-two: Out of the Fire,” read Charlie

“I’m not going… I don’t need the hospital wing… I don’t want”

He was gibbering as he tried to pull away from Professor Tofty, who was looking at Harry with much concern after helping him out into the Entrance Hall with the students all around them staring.

“Doesn’t matter much, probably about a third of them still think I’m a nutter,” said Harry self-deprecatingly. Besides he knew his future self would worry more about Sirius…but would he realize it was a trap like Dumbledore, Sirius and Moody were saying?

“I’m – I’m fine, sir,” Harry stammered, wiping the sweat from his face. “Really… I just fell asleep… had a nightmare…”

“Pressure of examinations!” said the old wizard sympathetically, patting Harry shakily on the shoulder. “It happens, young man, it happens! Now, a cooling drink of water, and perhaps you will be ready to return to the Great Hall? The examination is nearly over, but you may be able to round off your last answer nicely?”

“Yes,” said Harry wildly. “I mean… no… I’ve done – done as much as I can, I think…”

Draco scoffed. “Doesn’t sound like you were doing too great on the exam anyway.”

“Very well, very well,” said the old wizard gently. “I shall go and collect your examination paper and I suggest that you go and have a nice lie down.”

“At least Professor Tofty seems to understand,” said Hermione. “Imagine if Umbridge happened to be proctoring?”

It was not something that Harry wished to dwell on.

“I’ll do that,” said Harry, nodding vigorously. “Thanks very much.”

The second that the old man’s heels disappeared over the threshold into the Great Hall, Harry ran up the marble staircase, hurtled along the corridors so fast the portraits he passed muttered reproaches, up more flights of stairs, and finally burst like a hurricane through the double doors of the hospital wing, causing Madam Pomfrey – who had been spooning some bright blue liquid into Montague’s open mouth – to shriek in alarm.

Fred and George winced, also remembering that their enemy was missing his N.E.W.T.s

“Potter, what do you think you’re doing?”

“I need to see Professor McGonagall,” gasped Harry, the breath tearing his lungs. “Now… it’s urgent!”

“If I’m even there,” said McGonagall. “I can handle the Stunners but I would not be surprised if Poppy transferred me over to St. Mungo’s.

“She’s not here, Potter,” said Madam Pomfrey sadly. “She was transferred to St. Mungo’s this morning. Four Stunning Spells straight to the chest at her age?

“I’m not that old!” exclaimed McGonagall. No one dared to contradict her.

It’s a wonder they didn’t kill her.”

“I can handle four Stunners!” she exclaimed again.

“By Aurors to the chest?” said Scrimgeour doubtfully. “That could be deadly.”

“She’s… gone?” said Harry, shocked.

The bell rang just outside the dormitory and he heard the usual distant rumbling of students starting to flood out into the corridors above and below him. He remained quite still, looking at Madam Pomfrey. Terror was rising inside him.

There was nobody left to tell. Dumbledore had gone, Hagrid had gone, but he had always expected Professor McGonagall to be there, irascible and inflexible, perhaps, but always dependably, solidly present…

McGonagall couldn’t help but smile at this assessment of her, or all her positives and negatives. It was funny how a student could sum her up so well. Her practiced mask slipped back into place as she reassumed her dependably stern face again. Snape idly wondered which one of them would make the better spy as he observed his colleague.

“I don’t wonder you’re shocked, Potter,” said Madam Pomfrey, with a kind of fierce approval in her face. “As if one of them could have Stunned Minerva McGonagall face-on by daylight! Cowardice, that’s what it was… despicable cowardice… if I wasn’t worried what would happen to you students without me, I’d resign in protest.”

Pomfrey’s praise also touched her, though Minerva did not show it.

That would be one of the worst losses of all, thought the elder George. From what his sister had told him, Madam Pomfrey had been a savior during the Carrows’ and Snape’s regime.

“Yes,” said Harry blankly.

He wheeled around and strode blindly from the hospital wing into the teeming corridor where he stood, buffeted by the crowd, panic expanding inside him like poison gas so that his head swam and he could not think what to do…

“That mirror would come in handy about now,” Moody said in his growly voice. “If it’s a fake vision like we’re all expecting, it could confirm it.”

Harry winced, hoping against hope that his future self would think to use it before he went off and did something rash.

Ron and Hermione, said a voice in his head.

“I could have told you that,” Ron said with a smile.

He was running again, pushing students out of the way, oblivious to their angry protests. He sprinted back down two floors and was at the top of the marble staircase when he saw them hurrying towards him.

“Harry!” said Hermione at once, looking very frightened. “What happened? Are you all right? Are you ill?”

“That must have been awful for our future selves,” said Hermione in a soft voice. “Watching you scream on the floor like that, but still having to finish our exam after it.”

“We probably would’ve gone after you, but I bet that Tofty person wouldn’t allow it,” Ron added.

“Where have you been?” demanded Ron.

“Come with me,” Harry said quickly. “Come on, I’ve got to tell you something.”

He led them along the first-floor corridor, peering through doorways, and at last found an empty classroom into which he dived, closing the door behind Ron and Hermione the moment they were inside, and leaned against it, facing them.

“Voldemort’s got Sirius.”

“What?”

“How d’you -?”

“Saw it. Just now. When I fell asleep in the exam.”

“But – but where? How?” said Hermione, whose face was white.

“I dunno how,” said Harry. “But I know exactly where. There’s a room in the Department of Mysteries full of shelves covered in these little glass balls

Crystal balls…Snape thought. One of them holding the thing that had ended Lily’s life…

and they’re at the end of row ninety-seven… he’s trying to use Sirius to get whatever it is he wants from in there… he’s torturing him… says he’ll end by killing him!”

Harry found his voice was shaking, as were his knees. He moved over to a desk and sat down on it, trying to master himself.

Sirius looked at his godson worriedly, slightly happy that Harry was so affected, but dreading what he do in response to the hopefully false dream.

“How’re we going to get there?” he asked them.

The adults all groaned in dismay. Sirius looked ready to punch Dumbledore as Remus put his hand on his shoulder again.

There was a moment’s silence. Then Ron said, “G-get there?”

“Get to the Department of Mysteries, so we can rescue Sirius!” Harry said loudly.

“But – Harry…” said Ron weakly.

Ron looked troubled. He knew he would go wherever Harry went, but if this was a trap, what would be awaiting them at the Ministry?

“What? What?” said Harry.

He could not understand why they were both gaping at him as though he was asking them something unreasonable.

“Harry,” said Hermione in a rather frightened voice, “er… how… how did Voldemort get into the Ministry of Magic without anybody realizing he was there?”

“Smart girl,” said Moody. “Listen to her, Potter!”

“How do I know?” bellowed Harry. “The question is how we’re going to get in there!”

“But… Harry, think about this,” said Hermione, taking a step towards him, “it’s five o’clock in the afternoon… the Ministry of Magic must be full of workers… how would Voldemort and Sirius have got in without being seen? Harry… they’re probably the two most wanted wizards in the world… you think they could get into a building full of Aurors undetected?”

Any remaining doubts that the vision was not fake vanished at Hermione’s argument (not that there were many given that both Dumbledore and Moody were convinced it was. It made absolutely no sense if it was real, unless there was a huge breakdown in the Ministry and if Voldemort decided to risk everything on a gamble. Even if the former seemed to be a possiblity, the latter was doubtful.

“I dunno, Voldemort used an Invisibility Cloak or something!” Harry shouted.

“Lord Voldemort would never place so much trust in an object he could not control,” said Dumbledore. “I would also assume that his Dillusionment Charm is potent enough to make him entirely invisible.”

The Headmaster seemed pensive. To all others it seemed as if he was thinking the confrontation with Sirius over, but in actuality he was pondering whether he should release more information about Voldemort to Harry. Since Tom set so much in store by the prophecy, he would have to teach Harry this, to keep him alive and help him against Voldemort.

“Anyway, the Department of Mysteries has always been completely empty whenever I’ve been -“

“You’ve never been there, Harry,” said Hermione quietly. “You’ve dreamed about the place, that’s all.”

“They’re not normal dreams!” Harry shouted in her face, standing up and taking a step closer to her in turn. He wanted to shake her. “How d’you explain Ron’s dad then, what was all that about, how come I knew what had happened to him?”

“Because the Dark Lord did not know you could access his mind until then,” Snape said in the air of teaching a toddler. “And now, he does.”

“He’s got a point,” said Ron quietly, looking at Hermione.

“But this is just — just sounds unlikely.” said Hermione desperately. “Harry, how on earth could Voldemort have got hold of Sirius when he’s been in Grimmauld Place all the time?”

“Sirius might’ve cracked and just wanted some fresh air,” said Ron, sounding worried. “He’s been desperate to get out of that house for ages -“

Sirius ran his hand along the back of his neck. This was entirely possible of course, but the rest of it seemed unlikely…

“But why,” Hermione persisted, “why on earth would Voldemort want to use Sirius to get the weapon, or whatever the thing is?”

“I dunno, there could be loads of reasons!” Harry yelled at her. “Maybe Sirius is just someone Voldemort doesn’t care about seeing hurt -“

Sirius laughed. “That’s an understatement, Harry. In fact, my dear old cousin would be pleading with Voldemort to be the one to Cruciate me first.”

“You know what, I’ve just thought of something,” said Ron in a hushed voice. “Sirius’s brother was a Death Eater, wasn’t he? Maybe he told Sirius the secret of how to get the weapon!”

“Nah, Regulus wouldn’t have gotten far enough into the organization to learn that secret,” said Sirius, “especially since Voldemort doesn’t even know the full prophecy.”

Harry gritted his teeth. What was this damned prophecy? And why was Dumbledore so insistent on keeping him in the dark about it?

“Yeah – and that’s why Dumbledore’s been so keen to keep Sirius locked up all the time!” said Harry.

“You two are raving,” sneered Snape. “Twisting facts to suit your theories instead of using theories to back up the facts.”

Harry gave his hated Potions Master a challenging glare, but all he receiving was a roll of the eyes.

“Look, I’m sorry,” cried Hermione, “but neither of you is making sense, and we’ve got no proof for any of this, no proof Voldemort and Sirius are even there -“

“Hermione, Harry’s seen them!” said Ron, rounding on her.

“Okay,” she said, looking frightened yet determined, “I’ve just got to say this -“

“What?”

“You… this isn’t a criticism, Harry! But you do… sort of… I mean – don’t you think you’ve got a bit of a – a -saving-people thing!” she said.

“What?” Harry looked astounded, and a bit angry as well at future Hermione’s pronouncement. “If you’re talking about Ginny in the Chamber then I-”

“That’s not what I probably mean,” Hermione hurriedly replied. “I mean…you know… Fleur’s sister in the lake.”

Harry flushed but Fleur jumped to his defence

“Zat was a brave thing for ‘im to do,” she said coldly.

“I know,” Hermione said softly, “but he didn’t need to save her, right? He just did even though the instructions said not to.”

” ‘e didn’t know what was going to ‘appen!” Fleur snapped back. She was a bit tired of the glares she had gotten from Bill’s mother, Bill’s sister and Hermione. And since Hermione wasn’t even related to Bill, she was happy to get a bit angry at her

“I couldn’t make it, ze Grindylows got me. I didn’t know what was going to ‘appen to Gabrielle! No one did! Zo Harry did eet, thinking he was risking ‘is life to save my sister’s!”

“But he didn’t need to!” Hermione insisted. “If he’d stopped to think before rushing in, it wouldn’t have mattered. If he actually thinks about the vision, then he’ll realize it doesn’t make sense!’

Bill laid a hand on his girlfriend’s arm as she opened her mouth.

“It’s fine, Fleur, don’t worry about it.”

On the opposite side of the room, Ron was motioning Hermione to stop the argument. To his surprise, she seemed to listen

“If we’re all done then,” said Charlie as he read on.

He glared at her.

“And what’s that supposed to mean, ‘a -saving-people thing’?”

“Well… you…” she looked more apprehensive than ever. “I mean… last year, for instance… in the lake… during the Tournament… you shouldn’t have… I mean, you didn’t need to save that little Delacour girl… you got a bit… carried away…”

A wave of hot, prickly anger swept through Harry’s body; how could she remind him of that blunder now?

“I mean, it was really great of you and everything,” said Hermione quickly, looking positively petrified at the look on Harry’s face, “everyone thought it was a wonderful thing to do -“

Harry chuckled softly “Ron said I’d wasted time the first second we got out of there.”

“That’s funny,” said Harry through gritted teeth, “because I definitely remember Ron saying I’d wasted time acting the hero… is that what you think this is? You reckon I want to act the hero again?”

“No, no, no!” said Hermione, looking aghast. “That’s not what I mean at all!”

“Well, spit out what you’ve got to say, because we’re wasting time here!” Harry shouted.

“I’m trying to say – Voldemort knows you, Harry! He took Ginny down into the Chamber of Secrets to lure you there, it’s the kind of thing he does, he knows you’re the – the sort of person who’d go to Sirius’s aid!

“There are worse sorts of people to be,” Sirius said dryly.

“But it wasn’t technically Voldemort who brought me down to the Chamber,” Ginny said softly. It had taken a while before she felt comfortable speaking readily about the Chamber, but now she could do it without lapsing into terrible memories.” Tom Riddle did. Would Voldemort know what his past self had done?”

“I think not,” Dumbledore answered. “Nevertheless, it does show that Voldemort does know Harry well, if both his present and past selves could figure out his personality so quickly.”

“I’m not such an open book,” Harry said sulkily.

“I’m not saying that,” Dumbledore said apologetically. “But this is a trait you do possess, whether you accept it or not.”

Harry glared at his Headmaster but Charlie read on.

What if he’s just trying to get you into the Department of Myst—?”

“Hermione, it doesn’t matter if he’s done it to get me there or not – they’ve taken McGonagall to St. Mungo’s, there isn’t anyone from the Order left at Hogwarts who we can tell, and if we don’t go, Sirius is dead!”

“But Harry – what if your dream was – was just that, a dream?”

Harry let out a roar of frustration. Hermione actually stepped back from him, looking alarmed.

“Apparently Potter is taking the Gryffindor symbol to heart,” said Draco.

“You don’t get it!” Harry shouted at her, “I’m not having nightmares, I’m not just dreaming! What d’you think all the Occlumency was for, why d’you think Dumbledore wanted me prevented from seeing these things?”

“So the Dark Lord wouldn’t seek to manipulate the connection for his own ends,” Snape said silkily.

“Too bad no one told him this,” said Sirius sarcastically. “That might have been a helpful thing to know!” He was glaring at his former Headmaster and his archnemesis in turn.

Because they’re REAL, Hermione – Sirius is trapped, I’ve seen him. Voldemort’s got him, and no one else knows, and that means we’re the only ones who can save him, and if you don’t want to do it, fine, but I’m going, understand? And if I remember rightly, you didn’t have a problem with my saving-people thing when it was you I was saving from the Dementors,”

“You were also saving Sirius and yourself just as much as me!” Hermione retorted.

“Wait, you were in trouble from Dementors?” Mr. Granger asked in shock.

Hermione flat out ignored her father, she didn’t want to get into it now.

or -” he rounded on Ron “- when it was your sister I was saving from the Basilisk -“

“I’m not the one arguing!” Ron protested.

“I never said I had a problem!” said Ron heatedly.

“But Harry, you’ve just said it,” said Hermione fiercely, “Dumbledore wanted you to learn to shut these things out of your mind, if you’d done Occlumency properly you’d never have seen this -“

“IF YOU THINK I’M JUST GOING TO ACT LIKE I HAVEN’T SEEN -“

“Sirius told you there was nothing more important than you learning to close your mind!”

“WELL, I EXPECT HE’D SAY SOMETHING DIFFERENT IF HE KNEW WHAT I’D JUST-“

“Actually no,” said Sirius. “Even if the vision was true, which I highly doubt, the last thing I’d want you do to was to put yourself in danger coming after me.” He smiled slightly. “Even I’m not worth it.”

“Sure you are,” Harry replied curtly. But deep inside he knew as well the vision had to be false…and that must mean it was a trap.

Narcissa smiled wickedly. Evidentally her husband and the Dark Lord had hit upon a plan to lure Potter to the prophecy. She wasn’t entirely sure why the boy had to be in the Prophecy Room, but if it meant the Dark Lord could kill the boy and steal the prophecy in one swoop, the war was as good as over.

The classroom door opened. Harry, Ron and Hermione whipped around. Ginny walked in, looking curious, closely followed by Luna, who as usual looked as though she had drifted in accidentally.

“Hi,” said Ginny uncertainly. “We recognized Harry’s voice. What are you yelling about?”

“If someone’s shouting, chances are it’s Harry,” said Fred in a futile attempt to diffuse the tension.

“Never you mind,” said Harry roughly.

“Yeah you don’t want to speak to her like that,” said the younger George. “That’s usually what it takes to get a Bat-Bogey Hex.”

“And you two would know,” said Ginny.

Ginny raised her eyebrows.

“There’s no need to take that tone with me,” she said coolly, “I was only wondering whether I could help.”

“No!” said Mrs. Weasley. It looked like Ron was already going to rush off into some dangerous plan, now another of her children?

“Well, you can’t,” said Harry shortly.

“You’re being rather rude, you know,” said Luna serenely.

“Always ready with the uncomfortable truth,” said Tonks with a tinkling laugh. She was really starting to like Luna’s attitude.

Harry swore and turned away. The very last thing he wanted now was a conversation with Luna Lovegood.

“Wait,” said Hermione suddenly. “Wait… Harry, they can help.”

Mrs. Weasley turned pale, making Hermione feel extremely guilty, something which was not helped by her parents’ questioning looks.

Harry and Ron looked at her.

“Listen,” she said urgently, “Harry, we need to establish whether Sirius really has left Headquarters.”

“Good, if you can get in contact with Sirius there, then you’ll realize the truth,” said Kingsley approvingly.

“I’ve told you, I saw -“

“Harry, I’m begging you, please!” said Hermione desperately. “Please let’s just check that Sirius isn’t at home before we go charging off to London. If we find out he’s not there, then I swear I won’t try to stop you. I’ll come, I’ll d – do whatever it takes to try and save him.”

“Hermione, don’t do this!” said her mother sternly.

“This is what we do, Mom!” she replied shrilly. “Why do you think I’ve never told you the truth about what I do at Hogwarts? You’d just try and pull me out and mess everything up!”

Her parents looked stunned, but Hermione continued on. “Even if this is a trap, I’m not going to let Harry and Ron go into by themselves. You two just don’t understand me.”

“What I understand is that my fifteen year old daughter and her two friends are going to take on the most evil and powerful wizards of all time,” her father replied sternly. “How do you think it looks to us?”

“And us?” said Mr. and Mrs. Weasley

“And us?” added Sirius and Remus.

“Because we have to, Mom and Dad,” said Hermione and Ron simultaneously as Harry agreed, only substituting Sirius and Remus in.

“I’ve fought Voldemort four times,” said Harry. “And no matter how much I tell them to let me handle it, Ron and Hermione have always helped me. Perhaps you all should realize that even though we’re young, we’re really not kids anymore.”

An awkward silence descended upon the room. Sirius, Remus, the Weasley parents and the Grangers looked like they wanted to say more, as did the Trio, but Charlie wearily raised a hand.

“Guys, we’re not going to get anywhere if you are all going to hash it out. Let me finish please?”

Without waiting for a reply he read on.

“Sirius is being tortured NOW!” shouted Harry. “We haven’t got time to waste.”

“But if this is a trick of Voldemort’s, Harry, we’ve got to check, we’ve got to.”

“How?” Harry demanded. “How’re we going to check?”

The mirror though Harry sadly, thinking that his future self had completely forgotten about it.

“We’ll have to use Umbridge’s fire and see if we can contact him,” said Hermione, who looked positively terrified at the thought. “We’ll draw Umbridge away again, but we’ll need lookouts, and that’s where we can use Ginny and Luna.”

“She’ll probably have set up defences,” said Moody knowledgeably.

Ron frowned. “It wasn’t warded last time.”

“That was before your brothers escaped and before Jordan’s Niffler trashed her office.”

The Trio, Ginny and Luna looked at each other in alarm. Would Umbridge catch them?

Though clearly struggling to understand what was going on, Ginny said immediately, “Yeah, we’ll do it,” and Luna said, “When you say ‘Sirius’, are you talking about Stubby Boardman?”

It took nearly a minute for Sirius to stop laughing, and once he did, he wished he’d continued. It was such a nice release of tension after what they had read.

Nobody answered her.

“Okay,” Harry said aggressively to Hermione, “Okay, if you can think of a way of doing this quickly, I’m with you, otherwise I’m going to the Department of Mysteries right now.”

“The Department of Mysteries?” said Luna, looking mildly surprised. “But how are you going to get there?”

“I don’t think they’ve thought that through,” said Dean.

“Well, Ron and Ginny have their brooms,” said Hermione. “And Harry’s is in the dungeons right?”

“I guess if you all recovered the Firebolt, then you could take Hermione and Luna along,” said Kingsley. “There’s a lot that can go wrong though, especially since you can’t Apparate and the Floo is being watched.”

“Well, Umbridge’s is open so we can just use that,” said Hermione.

“There’s a difference between relaying messages and actually travelling,” said Mr. Weasley. “Chances are high it’s been warded for travel; I don’t think Umbridge would want random people who know her fireplace to come in.”

Again, Harry ignored her.

“Right,” said Hermione, twisting her hands together and pacing up and down between the desks.

“Right… well… one of us has to go and find Umbridge and – and send her off in the wrong direction, keep her away from her office. They could tell her – I don’t know – that Peeves is up to something awful as usual”

“Not bad,” said Fred. “Though Peeves always manages to do something unpredictable to screw plans up.”

“Well it’s not like he’ll suddenly act like a saint,” said his twin.

“True, but he might already be doing something crazy.”

“I’ll do it,” said Ron at once. “I’ll tell her Peeves is smashing up the Transfiguration department or something, it’s miles away from her office. Come to think of it, I could probably persuade Peeves to do it if I met him on the way.”

“Hopefully you come across him,” said Neville.

“Hopefully not,” said Professor McGonagall. “Can’t you pick someplace better than the Transfiguration Department?”

“Sorry professor.”

It was a mark of the seriousness of the situation that Hermione made no objection to the smashing up of the Transfiguration department.

“But Minnie will,” said Sirius amusedly.

“Hush.”

“Okay,” she said, her brow furrowed as she continued to pace. “Now, we need to keep students right away from her office while we force entry, or some Slytherins bound to go and tip her off.”

“Luna and I can stand at either end of the corridor,” said Ginny promptly, “and warn people not to go down there because someone’s let off a load of Garrotting Gas.”

“Sounds like something we’d do,” said Fred

Hermione looked surprised at the readiness with which Ginny had come up with this lie;

“Ginny is more devious than anyone gives her credit for,” said Ron.

Ginny smirked in response.

Ginny shrugged and said, “Fred and George were planning to do it before they left.”

“And guilty as thought.”

“Okay,” said Hermione. “Well then, Harry, you and I will be under the Invisibility Cloak and we’ll sneak into the office and you can talk to Sirius -“

“He’s not there, Hermione!”

“I mean, you can – can check whether Sirius is at home or not while I keep watch, I don’t think you should be in there alone, Lee’s already proved the windows a weak spot, sending those Nifflers through it.”

Even through his anger and impatience, Harry recognized Hermiones offer to accompany him into Umbridge’s office as a sign of solidarity and loyalty.

“It sure is,” said Harry who was beaming at his friend. “Look I’m sorry the way my future self is acting, ‘specially as you’re probably right about it being a vision.”

“It’s fine,” said Hermione airily, though she looked pleased that Harry could show some tact.

“I… okay, thanks,” he muttered.

“Right, well, even if we do all of that, I don’t think we’re going to be able to bank on more than five minutes,” said Hermione, looking relieved that Harry seemed to have accepted the plan, “not with Filch and the wretched Inquisitorial Squad floating around.”

“Five minutes’ll be enough,” said Harry. “C’mon, let’s go -“

“Now?” said Hermione, looking shocked.

“If Harry thinks Sirius is being tortured, he’s not going to wait until curfew,” said Ron.

“Of course now!” said Harry angrily. “What did you think, we’re going to wait until after dinner or something? Hermione, Sirius is being tortured right now!”

“I – oh, all right,” she said desperately. “You go and get the Invisibility Cloak and we’ll meet you at the end of Umbridge’s corridor, okay?”

Harry didn’t answer, but flung himself out of the room and began to fight his way through the milling crowds outside. Two floors up he met Seamus and Dean, who hailed him jovially and told him they were planning a dusk-till-dawn end-of-exams celebration in the common room.

“You’d better be still in Grimmauld Place or they’ll all miss the party!” Dean said amusedly to Sirius.

“That would be the greatest tragedy of all,” said Sirius as the elder George winced.

“Once again, Black’s mirror would solve everything,” said Snape with a twisted smile. “But it appears you’re too thickheaded-”

“Shut up Snivellus!” snapped Sirius.

Snape’s smile did not leave his lips as Charlie read on

Harry barely heard them. He scrambled through the portrait hole while they were still arguing about how many black-market Butterbeers they would need and was climbing back out of it, the Invisibility Cloak and Sirius’s knife secure in his bag, before they noticed he had left them.

“Harry, d’you want to chip in a couple of Galleons? Harold Dingle reckons he could sell us some Firewhiskey -“

The professors and all the parents glared at Dean and Seamus, but Charlie chuckled.

“Wasn’t Dingle the kid who tried to pass off Doxy droppings as powdered dragon claw last chapter?” asked Charlie.

“Hmmm…probably not the best choice,” Seamus replied.

But Harry was already tearing away back along the corridor, and a couple of minutes later was jumping the last few stairs to join Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Luna, who were huddled together at the end of Umbridge’s corridor.

“Got it,” he panted. “Ready to go, then?”

“All right,” whispered Hermione as a gang of loud sixth-years passed them. “So Ron – you go and head Umbridge off… Ginny, Luna, if you can start moving people out of the corridor… Harry and I will get the Cloak on and wait until the coast is clear…”

Ron strode away, his bright-red hair visible right to the end of the passage; meanwhile Ginny’s equally vivid head bobbed between the jostling students surrounding them in the other direction, trailed by Luna’s blonde one.

“Get over here,” muttered Hermione, tugging at Harry’s wrist and pulling him back into a recess where the ugly stone head of a medieval wizard stood muttering to itself on a column. “Are – are you sure you’re okay, Harry? You’re still very pale.”

“I’m fine,” he said shortly, tugging the Invisibility Cloak from out of his bag. In truth, his scar was aching, but not so badly that he thought Voldemort had yet dealt Sirius a fatal blow; it had hurt much worse than this when Voldemort had been punishing Avery…

“It sometimes is sore for a while after a vision,” said Harry to the room. “So it doesn’t really say much.”

“Here,” he said; he threw the Invisibility Cloak over both of them and they stood listening carefully over the Latin mumblings of the bust in front of them.

“You can’t come down here!” Ginny was calling to the crowd. “No, sorry, you’re going to have to go round by the swivelling staircase, someone’s let off Garrotting Gas just along here -“

They could hear people complaining; one surly voice said, “I can’t see no gas.”

“Judging by his grammar, I’d bet it was Crabbe or Goyle,” said Dean.

“Goyle actually,” Draco said reluctantly. “Crabbe’s voice is actually quite soft and articulate.”

“That’s because it’s colorless,” said Ginny in a convincingly exasperated voice, “but if you want to walk through it, carry on, then we’ll have your body as proof for the next idiot who doesn’t believe us.”

Slowly, the crowd thinned. The news about the Garrotting Gas seemed to have spread; people were not coming this way any more. When at last the surrounding area was quite clear, Hermione said quietly, “I think that’s as good as we’re going to get, Harry — come on, let’s do it.”

They moved forwards, covered by the Cloak. Luna was standing with her back to them at the far end of the corridor.

As they passed Ginny, Hermione whispered, “Good one… don’t forget the signal.”

“What’s the signal?” muttered Harry, as they approached Umbridge’s door.

“A loud chorus of ‘Weasley is our King’ if they see Umbridge coming,” replied Hermione,

“Nice one,” said Ron appreciatively. He really was enjoying the song and shot a cheeky grin at Draco, who after all was the one who made it up. The Malfoy heir just rolled his eyes.

as Harry inserted the blade of Sirius’s knife in the crack between door and wall. The lock clicked open and they entered the office.

The garish kittens were basking in the late-afternoon sunshine that was warming their plates, but otherwise the office was as still and unoccupied as last time. Hermione breathed a sigh of relief.

“I thought she might have added extra security after the second Niffler.”

“Doesn’t mean there isn’t a silent alarm,” said Moody.

They pulled off the Cloak; Hermione hurried over to the window and stood out of sight, peering down into the grounds with her wand out. Harry dashed over to the fireplace, seized the pot of Floo powder and threw a pinch into the grate, causing emerald flames to burst into life there. He knelt down quickly, thrust his head into the dancing fire and cried, “Number twelve, Grimmauld Place!”

His head began to spin as though he had just got off a fair-ground ride though his knees remained firmly planted on the cold office floor. He kept his eyes screwed up against the whirling ash and when the spinning stopped he opened them to find himself looking out at the long, cold kitchen of Grimmauld Place.

There was nobody there. He had expected this, yet was not prepared for the molten wave of dread and panic that seemed to burst through his stomach at the sight of the deserted room.

“I could be upstairs,” said Sirius. “I was last time you called on us, and Remus could be on a mission.”

“Sirius?” he shouted. “Sirius, are you there?”

His voice echoed around the room, but there was no answer except a tiny scuffing sound to the right of the fire.

“Who’s there?” he called, wondering whether it was just a mouse.

Kreacher the house-elf crept into view. He looked highly delighted about something, though he seemed to have recently sustained a nasty injury to both hands, which were heavily bandaged.

The elder George was looking extremely uncomfortable. He knew what had happened second hand, but now hearing how this had all happened directly made him nervous with dread.

“Odd,” said Sirius. “Usually when he disobeys me he really doesn’t find it necessary to punish himself.”

“It’s the Potter boy’s head in the fire,” Kreacher informed the empty kitchen, stealing furtive, oddly triumphant glances at Harry. “What has he come for, Kreacher wonders?”

“Where’s Sirius, Kreacher?” Harry demanded.

The house-elf gave a wheezy chuckle.

“Master has gone out, Harry Potter.”

“Then…maybe it wasn’t a vision,” said Sirius in an upset voice. “If I’d gone out and I was recognized…”

“Kreacher is saying you went out,” Remus reminded his friend. “When has he ever been operating in your best interests? And also, his hands are bandaged. He must have done something really really bad to defy you.”

“Where’s he gone? Where’s he gone, Kreacher?”

Kreacher merely cackled.

“I’m warning you!” said Harry, fully aware that his scope for inflicting punishment upon Kreacher was almost non-existent in this position. “What about Lupin? Mad-Eye? Any of them, are any of them there?”

“No, we would’ve heard you yelling at Kreacher,” said Remus.

“Maybe,” Sirius mused. “You can’t really hear anything in the rest of the house from upstairs. I used to pretend I couldn’t hear my parents shouting for me when I was in my room.”

“For all we know, you could be feeding Buckbeak,” said Tonks.

“But why would he lie?”

Moody growled in response. “Why did the elf punish himself when he never does? Why did he disappear around Christmas? Remember Sirius, the last time Harry Flooed you, you were upstairs looking for him in attic. He’s been disappearing throughout the year, most likely, where would he go?”

A horrible thought occurred to Sirius. “He would go to another Black…” He turned toward Narcissa. “Like my dear old cousin.”

Narcissa looked at him innocently. “Why Sirius, you do know this happens in the future, right? I haven’t done anything to your house elf.”

“Yet,” Sirius replied coldly. “And now that Bella is free there is more than one other Black.”

“So I’m thinking Kreacher told Narcissa or Bellatrix more about Harry’s visions after Voldemort figured out the connection,” said Moody in his gravelly voice.

“And maybe more about his relationship with me,” said Sirius grimly.

Moody agreed. “Exactly, then Voldemort and Lucius Malfoy would figure out what to do. The elf might have found a way to keep you occupied in the house. He can’t harm you since you’re his master but he could have done anything if Potter tried to check up on you.”

“THAT BLOODY ELF!”

Hermione didn’t have the heart to point out that perhaps Sirius’s mistreatment of Kreacher had partially caused this. Sirius sat seething, muttering curses against his house elf while Harry looked enraged at this unpleasant revelation of Kreacher’s loyalties.

Charlie continued to read.

“Nobody here but Kreacher!” said the elf gleefully, and turning away from Harry he began to walk slowly towards the door at the end of the kitchen. “Kreacher thinks he will have a little chat with his mistress now, yes, he hasn’t had a chance in a long time, Kreacher’s master has been keeping him away from her -“

“Where has Sirius gone?” Harry yelled after the elf. “Kreacher, has he gone to the Department of Mysteries?”

Kreacher stopped in his tracks. Harry could just make out the back of his bald head through the forest of chair legs before him.

“Master does not tell poor Kreacher where he is going,” said the elf quietly.

“But you know!” shouted Harry. “Don’t you? You know where he is!”

There was a moment’s silence, then the elf let out his loudest cackle yet.

“Master will not come back from the Department of Mysteries!” he said gleefully. “Kreacher and his mistress are alone again!”

And he scurried forwards and disappeared through the door to the hall.

“You -!”

But before he could utter a single curse or insult, Harry felt a great pain at the top of his head; he inhaled a lot of ash and, choking, found himself being dragged backwards through the flames,

“Oh crap!”

“That damned toad!”

“It didn’t work,” said Hermione fearfully. “Oh, we’re going to get expelled!”

“Or worse,” said her mother darkly. “Who knows what this woman is capable of?”

until with a horrible abruptness he was staring up into the wide, pallid face of Professor Umbridge who had dragged him backwards out of the fire by the hair and was now bending his neck back as far as it would go, as though she were going to slit his throat.

Sirius looked ready to Apparate to the Ministry and kill Umbridge personally.

“You think,” she whispered, bending Harry’s neck back even further, so that he was looking up at the ceiling, “that after two Nifflers I was going to let one more foul, scavenging little creature enter my office without my knowledge? I had Stealth Sensoring Spells placed all around my doorway after the last one got in, you foolish boy.

“Silent alarms,” Scrimgeour said solemnly.

Take his wand,” she barked at someone he could not see, and he felt a hand grope inside the chest pocket of his robes and remove the wand.

“Bet you her Inquistorial Squad is there,” said Dean who was glaring at Draco.

“And that a ferret is among them,” said Seamus.

Draco didn’t look at any of them.

“Hers, too.”

Harry heard a scuffle over by the door and knew that Hermione had also just had her wand wrested from her.

“I want to know why you are in my office,” said Umbridge, shaking the fist clutching his hair so that he staggered.

“I was – trying to get my Firebolt!”

“Not going to work, she saw you in the fire and its in the dungeons,” said Bill.

Harry croaked.

“Liar.” She shook his head again. “Your Firebolt is under strict guard in the dungeons, as you very well know, Potter. You had your head in my fire. With whom have you been communicating?”

“No one -” said Harry, trying to pull away from her. He felt several hairs part company with his scalp.

Sirius quickly amended his plan for Umbridge to kill her with his bare hands.

“Liar!” shouted Umbridge. She threw him from her and he slammed into the desk. Now he could see Hermione pinioned against the wall by Millicent Bulstrode.

“Not the first time I’ve been manhandled by that girl,” Hermione said bitterly as her parents raised their eyebrows.

Malfoy was leaning on the windowsill, smirking as he threw Harry’s wand into the air one-handed and caught it again.

The elder George smiled nastily. Not too far in the distant future Harry would find himself with Malfoy’s wand.

There was a commotion outside and several large Slytherins entered, each gripping Ron, Ginny, Luna and – to Harry’s bewilderment – Neville, who was trapped in a stranglehold by Crabbe and looked in imminent danger of suffocation.

“What am I doing there?” Neville asked.

“I dunno,” Ron replied. “But I don’t envy you having to be strangled by Crabbe.”

All four of them had been gagged.

“Got ’em all,” said Warrington, shoving Ron roughly forwards into the room. “That one,” he poked a thick finger at Neville, “tried to stop me taking her,” he pointed at Ginny, who was trying to kick the shins of the large Slytherin girl holding her, “so I brought him along too.”

“Thanks Nev,” said Ginny as Neville smiled.

“Who’s the girl holding her?” asked Charlie, as if he was putting together a hitlist.

“Must be a sixth or seventh year,” said Hermione. “Millicent is already pinning me and Daphne Greengrass, Tracey Davis and Pansy Parkinson aren’t that big.”

“Good, good,” said Umbridge, watching Ginny’s struggles. “Well, it looks as though Hogwarts will shortly be a Weasley-free zone, doesn’t it?”

“Give it a few more years when I graduate,” said Ginny.

Malfoy laughed loudly and sycophantically.

“Malfoy’s more like Percy than anyone in our family,” said Fred ruthlessly. Percy flushed in response. He didn’t want to be compared to him, or even to Umbridge…not after what they had read for the past two days.

Umbridge gave her wide, complacent smile and settled herself into a chintz-covered armchair, blinking up at her captives like a toad in a flowerbed.

“So, Potter,” she said. “You stationed lookouts around my office and you sent this buffoon,” she nodded at Ron

Not even the twins seized this opportunity to laugh at Ron, though Draco’s lips were twitching.

Malfoy laughed even louder – “to tell me the poltergeist was wreaking havoc in the Transfiguration department when I knew perfectly well that he was busy smearing ink on the eyepieces of all the school telescopes

“Told you Peeves was never around when you need him,” said Fred.

– Mr. Filch having just informed me so.

“Clearly, it was very important for you to talk to somebody. Was it Albus Dumbledore? Or the half-breed, Hagrid?

Nearly everyone snarled.

I doubt it was Minerva McGonagall, I hear she is still too ill to talk to anyone.”

Everyone yelled on their favorite Transfiguration professor’s behalf. Sirius revised his plan for Umbridge to include ripping her to pieces limb by limb.

“As if she couldn’t be more loathsome,” said Professor Sprout angrily.

Malfoy and a few of the other members of the Inquisitorial Squad laughed some more at that.

McGonagall’s glare was so scorching that Draco felt lucky that he didn’t immediately burst into flames on the spot

“I do hope, Mr. Malfoy,” she said in a voice like ice, “that you are not as heartless as your future self is.”

“No…” he said softly. “I’m sorry, Professor.”

His apology caught nearly everyone off guard, except for his mother and Professor Snape. Draco was a cultured pure blood after all. He knew manners and deportment, and also when to swallow his pride in the presence of enemies.

Harry found he was so full of rage and hatred he was shaking.

“It’s none of your business who I talk to,” he snarled.

Umbridge’s slack face seemed to tighten.

“Very well,” she said in her most dangerous and falsely sweet voice. “Very well, Mr Potter… I offered you the chance to tell me freely. You refused. I have no alternative but to force you. Draco fetch Professor Snape.”

“Why didn’t we think to use him to contact Sirius before?” Harry asked in an upset voice.

“It’s not like Snape’s ever been open,” said Sirius to reassure his godson. “Besides, I’m betting he’s in on this entire thing.”

“Fortunately, Dumbledore isn’t as paranoid and petty as you, Black,” said Snape who had an ugly look on his face.

“Look who’s talking.”

Malfoy stowed Harry’s wand inside his robes and left the room smirking, but Harry hardly noticed. He had just realized something; he could not believe he had been so stupid as to forget it. He had thought that all the members of the Order, all those who could help him save Sirius, were gone – but he had been wrong. There was still a member of the Order of the Phoenix at Hogwarts – Snape.

“Before you start to sneer, Severus,” said Remus in a warning tone. “Remember that your personality has never invited confidence, like Sirius said. So the fault lies just as much on you as it does on them.”

Snape rolled his eyes, yet part of what Lupin said someone stuck to him, no matter how much he tried to ignore it.

There was silence in the office except for the fidgetings and scufflings resulting from the Slytherins’ efforts to keep Ron and the others under control. Ron’s lip was bleeding on to Umbridge’s carpet as he struggled against Warrington’s half-nelson; Ginny was still trying to stamp on the feet of the sixth-year girl who had both her upper arms in a tight grip; Neville was turning steadily more purple in the face while tugging at Crabbe’s arms; and Hermione was attempting, in vain, to throw Millicent Bulstrode off her.

“I’ll be struggling for a long time then,” Hermione said viciously.

Draco frowned. “Millicent is a lot nicer than you give her credit for.”

“Doesn’t mean a thing coming from you,” Hermione retorted.

Luna, however, stood limply by the side of her captor, gazing vaguely out of the window as though rather bored by the proceedings.

“There’s no point in struggling vainly if you can take them off guard later,” Luna said softly. The Aurors looked mightily impressed.

Harry looked back at Umbridge, who was watching him closely. He kept his face deliberately smooth and blank as footsteps were heard in the corridor outside and Draco Malfoy entered the room, closely followed by Snape.

“You wanted to see me, Headmistress?” said Snape, looking around at all the pairs of struggling students with an expression of complete indifference.

“He doesn’t care,” Sirius spat.

“I know how to keep my emotions in check,” Snape replied indifferently.

“Ah, Professor Snape,” said Umbridge, smiling widely and standing up again. “Yes, I would like another bottle of Veritaserum, as quick as you can, please.”

“So you did give her Veritaserum,” said Charlie pointedly as he looked up from the book.

“What she assumes is Veritaserum,” repeated Snape coldly. “Besides it makes no difference, even if I did give her real Truth Potion, which I may add I probably didn’t, it takes a month to brew new Veritaserum so Dolores is out of luck.”

“You took my last bottle to interrogate Potter,” he said, surveying her coolly through his greasy curtains of black hair.

Snape glared at Harry

“Damned descriptions…” he muttered.

“Surely you did not use it all? I told you that three drops would be sufficient.”

Umbridge flushed.

“You can make some more, can’t you?” she said, her voice becoming more sweetly girlish as it always did when she was furious.

“Certainly,” said Snape, his lip curling. “It takes a full moon-cycle to mature, so I should have it ready for you in around a month.”

Snape smirked and even Sirius had to smile at this.

“A month?” squawked Umbridge, swelling toadishly. “A month? But I need it this evening, Snape! I have just found Potter using my fire to communicate with a person or persons unknown!”

“Really?” said Snape, showing his first, faint sign of interest as he looked round at Harry. “Well, it doesn’t surprise me. Potter has never shown much inclination to follow school rules.”

His cold, dark eyes were boring into Harry’s, who met his gaze unflinchingly, concentrating hard on what he had seen in his dream, willing Snape to read it in his mind, to understand…

“I am likely already doing it,” said Snape.

“I wish to interrogate him!” repeated Umbridge angrily, and Snape looked away from Harry back into her furiously quivering face. “I wish you to provide me with a potion that will force him to tell me the truth!”

“I have already told you,” said Snape smoothly, “that I have no further stocks of Veritaserum. Unless you wish to poison Potter – and I assure you I would have the greatest sympathy with you if you did

“Is that also an act, Snape?” Sirius demanded.

Snape did not answer.

– I cannot help you. The only trouble is that most venoms act too fast to give the victim much time for truth-telling.”

Snape looked back at Harry, who stared at him, frantic to communicate without words.

Voldemort’s got Sirius in the Department of Mysteries, he thought ‘s got Sirius –

“That should be sufficient,” said Snape.

“You are on probation!” shrieked Professor Umbridge, and Snape looked back at her, his eyebrows slightly raised.

“She’s losing it,” said Snape. “She should know perfectly well that even I cannot whip up Veritaserum in a minute, though for all I know she might have failed Slughorn’s class.”

“Who’s he?” asked Harry

“The Potion’s Master before me,” Snape answered and Harry was surprised to not there was no condescending tone in his voice.

“You are being deliberately unhelpful! I expected better, Lucius Malfoy always speaks most highly of you! Now get out of my office!”

Snape gave her an ironic bow and turned to leave. Harry knew his last chance of letting the Order know what was going on was walking out of the door.

“He’s got Padfoot!” he shouted. “He’s got Padfoot at the place where it’s hidden!”

“Well, if Severus did not know it already, he certainly knows it now,” said Professor Flitwick.

Snape had stopped with his hand on Umbridge’s door handle.

“Padfoot?” cried Professor Umbridge, looking eagerly from Harry to Snape. “What is Padfoot? Where what is hidden? What does he mean, Snape?”

Snape looked round at Harry. His face was inscrutable. Harry could not tell whether he had understood or not, but he did not dare speak more plainly in front of Umbridge.

“I have no idea,” said Snape coldly. “Potter, when I want nonsense shouted at me I shall give you a Babbling Beverage.”

“I cannot allow Umbridge to guess-”

“Yeah I got it, Snape,” said Sirius.

And Crabbe, loosen your hold a little. If Longbottom suffocates it will mean a lot of tedious paperwork and I am afraid I shall have to mention it on your reference if ever you apply for a job.”

Neville raised an eyebrow as did Professor McGonagall.

“You almost sound like you care for Mr. Longbottom, Severus.”

Snape rolled his eyes.

“What?” said Neville. “He only said it would mean paperwork for him if Crabbe strangled me!”

“And yet he still realized you were choking and ordered Crabbe to release you,” said Minerva insightfully.

He closed the door behind him with a snap, leaving Harry in a state of worse turmoil than before: Snape had been his very last hope.

He looked at Umbridge, who seemed to be feeling the same way; her chest was heaving with rage and frustration.

“Very well,” she said, and she pulled out her wand. “Very well…I am left with no alternative… this is more than a matter of school discipline…this is an issue of Ministry security…yes…yes…”

Remus looked extremely troubled. “She’s planning something…something horrible.”

Everyone inched a bit closer to the edge of their seats.

She seemed to be talking herself into something. She was shifting her weight nervously from foot to foot, staring at Harry, beating her wand against her empty palm and breathing heavily. As he watched her, Harry felt horribly powerless without his own wand.

“You are forcing me, Potter… I do not want to,” said Umbridge, still moving restlessly on the spot,

“Justifying something…” said Remus

“It must be bad if she feels to need to reassure herself,” said Kingsley calmly.

“but sometimes circumstances justify the use… I am sure the Minister will understand that I had no choice.”

Malfoy was watching her with a hungry expression on his face.

“The Cruciatus Curse ought to loosen your tongue,” said Umbridge quietly.

“THAT FUCKING BITCH!”

“NO!”

“THAT EVIL, TWISTED LITTLE COCKROACH!”

Dumbledore’s face was a mask of cold fury, but it was nothing compared to those of Harry’s friends, Sirius and Remus.

Kingsley and Scrimgeour huddled together. They would stop at nothing to find a way to get the twisted toad locked up in Azkaban, whatever it took.

“You know,” said Harry, his voice shaking slightly. “I almost hate her as much as Voldemort.”

“But he killed your-”

“I know, Ron,” Harry replied. “But Voldemort was pure evil, and my parents fought against him. This-this woman is supposed to be in our side, she’s supposed to be a teacher and she treats the students this way? She’s basically a traitor, one of worst evils you can be!”

“Aye,” said Moody. “Potter’s got the right of it, in some ways Umbridge is worse than Voldemort, for reasons he just said. I always hated Augustus Rookwood the most out of the Death Eaters for betraying the Ministry, and Umbridge is made from the same kind of stuff.”

Percy looked astounded. He had been liking Dolores less and less throughout the book. But he never imagined this. This…this was disgusting.

“No!” shrieked Hermione. “Professor Umbridge – it’s illegal.”

But Umbridge took no notice. There was a nasty, eager, excited look on her face that Harry had never seen before. She raised her wand.

“The Minister wouldn’t want you to break the law, Professor Umbridge!” cried Hermione.

“Good, appeal to her loyalty to Fudge,” said Kingsley.

“What Cornelius doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” said Umbridge, who was now panting slightly as she pointed her wand at different parts of Harry’s body in turn, apparently trying to decide where it would hurt most.

“Well I can think of some I’d rather she leave alone,” Harry said dryly.

“He never knew I ordered Dementors to go after Potter last summer, but he was delighted to be given the chance to expel him, all the same.”

No one said anything. Everyone had shouted themselves hoarse at Umbridge’s intention to use the Cruciatus Curse, but now there was dead silence.

What was there to say? Everyone knew she was a depraved sociopath, and the revelation of the Cruciatus Curse only solidified it. Of course she had sent the Dementors; she was that evil. Of course she would try to suck out the souls of The Boy Who Lived and a Muggle just to make her precious Corneilius Fudge’s position that much more stable.

Harry looked wearily around the room. There were disgusted expressions on every face, even on Snape and the two Malfoys. Narcissa remembered the fate of Barty Crouch Jr. and barely suppressed a shudder. But the disgusted looks were mingled with a weary acceptance that the toad was just too evil, and too cunning by far.

Yet Harry was surprised to see two brilliant smiles on the faces of Kingsley Shacklebolt and Rufus Scrimgeour. Molly Weasley noticed it as well.

“Why are you two smiling?” she demanded.

“Because we have her now,” Kingsley replied in his reassuring voice.

“Kingsley and I have been discussing ways to put Dolores out of action,” Scrimgeour explained. “Without harming her of course, we need to do it legally to strengthen our position in the media’s eyes and discredit Fudge and his cronies in the same move.”

“Though the books have shown us how inhuman Umbridge is, we really don’t have evidence to present in front of the Wizengamot,” said Kingsley. “They’re not going to convict her of possibly committing a crime in the future, she’s not even a Professor yet; they’d laugh us out of court . Even if we raided her place and got the Blood Quill she uses, she could claim it was an heirloom that she kept and we’d have a hell of a time proving she’d used it in the past since we can’t say she might use it in the future.”

“But this about the Dementors,” said Scrimgeour. “I’ve worked for the Ministry for over thirty years and dealt with all the red tape in the world. Everything, from the smallest memo to requisitioning Dementors leaves a paper trail. You said, Dumbledore, that the Order broke up the Dementor attack?”

“It did?” asked Harry

“Yes,” said Dumbledore. “While you, Sirius and Remus were talking after the chapter with Severus’s worst memory, I went to my office to see if anything new had happened. I received Hestia’s Patronus saying she, Emmeline, Dedalus and Elphias had broken up the attack and captured Sturgis. ”

Kingsley’s smile widened. “Now that the attack has taken place, all we need is that physical proof, that document, to link Dolores to the attack.”

“And then Umbridge is finished,” said Scrimgeour triumphantly. “Then she can see the Dementors first hand.”

Everyone smiled wickedly, even Percy. Fudge couldn’t have known about this, he thought, but it still ate away at him. Even if he didn’t, didn’t that show how incompetent he was; didn’t it show his lack of control over his own subordinates?

The tension seemed to leave the room, now that everyone knew Umbridge was going to get her just desserts. Everyone seemed a bit happier, even though the shadow of the false vision hung over all.

“It was you!” gasped Harry. “You sent the Dementors after me?”

“Somebody had to act,” breathed Umbridge, as her wand came to rest pointing directly at Harry’s forehead. “They were all bleating about silencing you somehow – discrediting you – but I was the one who actually did something about it… only you wriggled out of that one, didn’t you, Potter? Not today though, not now -” And taking a deep breath, she cried, “Cruc—”

“NO!” shouted Hermione in a cracked voice from behind Millicent Bulstrode. “No – Harry – we’ll have to tell her!”

“I appreciate that you’re trying to save Harry,” said Sirius, “but you can’t spill the beans Hermione.”

“I’ve dealt with the Cruciatus Curse before, Voldemort’s curse,” said Harry. “It’s painful but I’d rather take on Umbridge’s then tell the truth.”

Hermione sighed. “I doubt I’m actually going to tell that bitch anything.”

Her parents were too angry at Umbridge to say anything about their daughter’s use of profanity.

“No way!” yelled Harry, staring at the little of Hermione he could see.

“We’ll have to, Harry, she’ll force it out of you anyway, what’s… what’s the point?”

“She wouldn’t force it out-”

“I know that, Harry,” Hermione said reassuringly, “which is why it’s probably a trick.”

And Hermione began to cry weakly into the back of Millicent Bulstrode’s robes.

“You don’t really cry at anything,” said Ron in puzzlement. “Only when you’re really angry or when we were being prats to you back in first and third year.”

“We?” asked Harry, quirking an eyebrow.

“Okay, mostly me.”

Hermione smiled. “More proof that I’m faking it, then.”

Millicent stopped trying to squash her against the wall immediately and dodged out of her way looking disgusted.

“Well, well, well!” said Umbridge, looking triumphant. “Little Miss Question-all is going to give us some answers!

“Yeah, like that’s an insult,” said Ian Granger. “How the hell is a thirst for knowledge a bad thing?”

“The woman’s depraved, Mr. Granger,” said Professor McGonagall. “It just illustrates how far gone she is.”

Come on then, girl, come on!”

“Er – my – nee – no!” shouted Ron through his gag.

Ginny was staring at Hermione as though she had never seen her before.

“You certainly have,” she said teasingly to Ginny.

Neville, still choking for breath, was gazing at her, too. But Harry had just noticed something. Though Hermione was sobbing desperately into her hands, there was no trace of a tear.

“You’re a natural actress,” said her mother approvingly as Ron and Harry praised her.

“I’ve always wished Hogwarts put on plays,” said Hermione. “I would try out for some parts.”

“Back in Headmaster Armando Dippet’s day, we used to,” said Dumbledore. “But one of the performances of The Fountain of Fair Fortune ended…extremely badly, so Armando banned future plays, a proud non-theatrical performance I’ve upheld.”

“I shall see about amending it though,” he said, if time permits and the war goes smoothly.”

“I’m – I’m sorry everyone,” said Hermione. “But – I can’t stand it -“

“That’s right, that’s right, girl!” said Umbridge, seizing Hermione by the shoulders, thrusting her into the abandoned chintz chair and leaning over her. “Now then… with whom was Potter communicating just now?”

“Well,” gulped Hermione into her hands, “well, he was trying to speak to Professor Dumbledore.”

Dumbledore laughed. “Probably the best way to go, Miss Granger. That would both scare Dolores and make her interested enough to swallow what tale you give her.”

Ron froze, his eyes wide; Ginny stopped trying to stamp on her Slytherin captor’s toes; and even Luna looked mildly surprised. Fortunately, the attention of Umbridge and her minions was focused too exclusively upon Hermione to notice these suspicious signs.

“I guess everyone else figured it out,” Hermione laughed.

“Dumbledore?” said Umbridge eagerly. “You know where Dumbledore is, then?”

“Well… no” sobbed Hermione. “We’ve tried the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley and the Three Broomsticks and even the Hog’s Head -“

“Idiot girl – Dumbledore won’t be sitting in a pub when the whole Ministry’s looking for him!”

“I might,” said the Headmaster enigmatically and the students remembered about the Hog’s Head owner he said was his brother.

shouted Umbridge, disappointment etched in every sagging line of her face.

“But – but we needed to tell him something important!” wailed Hermione, holding her hands more tightly over her face, not, Harry knew, out of anguish, but to disguise the continued absence of tears.

“Yes?” said Umbridge with a sudden resurgence of excitement. “What was it you wanted to tell him?”

“We… we wanted to tell him it’s r – ready!” choked Hermione.

“Playing up the idea of a weapon,” said Moody amusedly.

“What’s ready?” demanded Umbridge, and now she grabbed Hermione’s shoulders again and shook her slightly. “What’s ready, girl?”

“The… the weapon,” said Hermione.

“Weapon? Weapon?” said Umbridge, and her eyes seemed to pop with excitement. “You have been developing some method of resistance? A weapon you could use against the Ministry?”

“You know, this book is kind of a weapon,” said Dean. “It’ll probably be the deadliest thing to You-Know-Who and Fudge both.”

“Absolutely correct,” Dumbledore said with a smile. “The truth is the greatest weapon of all.”

On Professor Dumbledore’s orders, of course?”

“I like how her paranoia is helping to fill your story in,” Kingsley said to Hermione.

“Y — y – yes,” gasped Hermione, “but he had to leave before it was finished and n – n – now we’ve finished it for him, and we c – c – can’t find him t – t – to tell him!”

“What kind of weapon is it?” said Umbridge harshly, her stubby hands still tight on Hermione’s shoulders.

“We don’t r – r – really understand it,” said Hermione, sniffing loudly. “We j – j – just did what P – P – Professor Dumbledore told us t – t – to do.”

Umbridge straightened up, looking exultant.

“Lead me to the weapon,” she said.

“I’m not showing… them,” said Hermione shrilly, looking around at the Slytherins through her fingers.

“Good, separate her from people who could defend her,” said Scrimgeour

“It is not for you to set conditions,” said Professor Umbridge harshly.

“Fine,” said Hermione, now sobbing into her hands again. “Fine… let them see it, I hope they use it on you! In fact, I wish you’d invite loads and loads of people to come and see! Th – that would serve you right – oh, I’d love it if the wh – whole school knew where it was, and how to u – use it, and then if you annoy any of them they’ll be able to s – sort you out!”

“You have her eating out of your hand,” said Professor Sprout. “She’s falling for it fast.”

These words had a powerful impact on Umbridge: she glanced swiftly and suspiciously around at her Inquisitorial Squad, her bulging eyes resting for a moment on Malfoy, who was too slow to disguise the look of eagerness and greed that had appeared on his face.

“Guess you’re useful for something after all, ferret,” Fred said with a smirk. “Thanks for making’s Hermione’s point for her!”

Draco scowled

Umbridge contemplated Hermione for another long moment, then spoke in what she clearly thought was a motherly voice.

“All right, dear, let’s make it just you and me… and we’ll take Potter, too, shall we? Get up, now.”

“Professor,” said Malfoy eagerly, “Professor Umbridge, I think some of the Squad should come with you to look after -“

“I just said you were good for something, don’t screw it up now!” Fred exclaimed as Draco scowled once more.

“I am a fully qualified Ministry official, Malfoy, do you really think I cannot manage two wandless teenagers alone?” asked Umbridge sharply.

“Not these two,” said a smirking Ron.

“In any case, it does not sound as though this weapon is something that schoolchildren should see. You will remain here until I return and make sure none of these -” she gestured around at Ron, Ginny, Neville and Luna “- escape.”

“All right,” said Malfoy, looking sulky and disappointed.

“And you two can go ahead of me and show me the way” said Umbridge, pointing at Harry and Hermione with her wand. “Lead on.”

“Where are you taking her, you think?” Neville asked Hermione.

“I have a couple of ideas,” she said enigmatically as Mrs. Weasley went to the stool and began to read.