Chapter 25: Catching Back Up

I'm not dead yet...I'm not dead yet...

Harry barely had time to take solace in that thought before he brought Rebellion up to block another swing from Dante. They were sparring, yet again, in the antechamber that led to the Chamber of Secrets. It might have been considerably cleaner than the beginning of the year, but it was still far from what Harry would consider "pleasant."

"No time to daydream, kid, lesson's not over yet," said Dante. The tone of his voice was casual and light, as if they were merely discussing things over drinks; yet his blade did not stop moving, sweeping at Harry so quickly he had to leap backwards to avoid it. "Okay, here's another one for you. You're fighting a demon on a suspension bridge." Harry barely managed to deflect two more strikes. "It's nine feet tall and beefy enough to use a streetlight as a baseball bat, which it's currently doing. It's also got claws that can slice through steel like butter. Twenty seconds to plan your attack; go."

Harry's already panicked mind raced even faster to think of a solution. "My weapons?"

"Your wand and your brain. Seventeen."

He ducked under another swipe. "Who else is on the...?" He didn't have time to finish as he brought the sword up in a guard position. There was a loud CLANG as Dante's blade bounced off of Rebellion.

"Nobody. Fourteen."

"Other demons?"

There was a hint of a grin from the man in red. "None you can see."

Which, of course, could mean anything. But there was no sense in planning for additional enemies when he hadn't even figured out how to fight the first one. "Disarming Charm," he said hastily before sidestepping a lazy kick.

"Congratulations, it dropped the streetlight. What about the rest of it? Six."

Leaving aside the attacks he was only barely turning aside or avoiding, Harry began to feel pressure settle in. "Conjunctivitis to blind-" Once more, he abandoned his sentence, this time to slam Rebellion into Dante's blade with all his might as it thrust at him. It only moved a few inches to the side, but it was just enough to miss him.

"Okay, now it's blind. Two." He retracted the blade and, to Harry's panic, thrust it at him just as he had done moments before. There was very little strength left in his arms by now; he could hardly hold the broadsword up, much less swing it. He wasn't sure how much longer he could stand if-

...Wait, maybe that was it!

"Destroy the ground under its feet!" Harry blurted out, but twisted himself as he did. Rather than trying to swing the sword, he instead stabbed it into the ground, the blade's heavy weight assisting him; wasting no time, he pushed off of it with both hands, launching himself feet-first towards Dante. He twisted in mid-air, narrowly dodging Dante's sword as he planted both feet directly into his target.


...Unfortunately for both of them, a split-second plan is ripe for errors. Rather than kicking both feet into Dante's chest, his aim went slightly higher, his trainers slamming right into the white-haired man's face. Both of them fell; Harry directly down, and Dante backwards. They landed in unison, Harry's head missing his abandoned blade by inches.

There was silence for several moments, and then he heard a chuckle from his instructor. "Sheesh, don't tell Nero you're stealin' his moves." He got to his feet, sheathing his sword on his back and dusting himself off. "Okay, you passed that time. Barely...but you still passed."

Harry didn't get to his feet, owing to the fact he was still trying to catch his breath. "That's...good..." he wheezed.

He heard a sigh from Dante, and after a few footsteps, the man was standing over him, holding out a hand. "C'mon. Probably a good time to call it a day." Harry took the man's hand, and felt himself hoisted onto his feet. "Well, that last answer wasn't too bad." There was a pause. "Just don't use it in front of Lady. She gets after me for causing property damage." Harry, still out of breath, didn't respond. "And it was sure as hell better than the answer you said for question three."

"How was I...supposed to know...that it explodes...when approached?"

"Well, you weren't, but that was the point. Never know what to expect, so be ready for anything." He yanked Rebellion out of the ground, and both swords vanished in a flash of light as the water whip appeared in his hand. "Ready to surf the waves?"

"Anything to get me straight to my pillow," Harry mumbled. He felt the corners of his mouth twitch upwards; if he wasn't so utterly exhausted, he knew he would have been smiling. Again? Why is this... But with a rush of water that carried them all the way back up to Myrtle's bathroom, the matter was driven right out of his mind.

Harry spent most of Saturday trying to catch up on his homework. Unfortunately, his brain didn't seem to be in the mood, as so much of it was busy worrying about Hagrid. Given that Halloween had come and gone with no news, Harry had begun to worry that they'd be lucky to see Hagrid by the time Christmas arrived. He was thus taken aback that evening when, as he, Ron and Hermione were gathered around the fire in the Gryffindor common room, Hermione informed them that she'd seen Hagrid returning to his cabin through the window of Gryffindor Tower.

Harry almost knocked his ink bottle over the contents of an essay for Transfiguration in his haste to put on a scarf, gloves, anything that would keep him warm long enough to make it to Hagrid's; so excited was Harry that he almost forgot the Invisibility Cloak and Marauder's Map (which would have been devastating, with how much Umbridge was tightening her grip). Even Hermione quickly set aside her own homework as she, to Ron's amusement, pulled on the socks and mittens she'd been knitting for the house elves.

"What?!" she snapped. "It's cold out!"

They raced down to Hagrid's cabin, hardly caring about the cold of November or that it was very late indeed; all they were concerned with was visiting their friend. As they approached, however, they saw that someone had drawn the curtains in the meantime, and distinctly heard the rumble of Hagrid's voice. And though the curtains were drawn, they could barely make out the vague shape of someone else within that was speaking to him.

"Who could be visiting him at this hour?" Ron whispered. He stepped out from under the Cloak and crept closer to the door, pressing his ear against the wood.

"Ron!" hissed Hermione, throwing the Cloak off her as well. Rolling his eyes, Harry took it off as well, stuffing it into his robes.

"What?" he hissed back. "I just want to see who it is, what's the worst that could-" The door swung inward, causing Ron to stumble forwards; Lady was standing resolutely in the doorway, not flinching even when Ron skidded to a halt with their noses mere inches away. "…Hi," he said, his eyes wide as he looked into hers.

She blinked. "…Hi." The two stared at each other for a few moments; even in the flood of light coming from the open doorway, Harry could see a red flush creeping into his cheeks. "Visiting Hagrid?"

"Yeah," said Ron in a breathless voice.

"Same." A few more seconds passed. She raised a hand, nudging Ron's forehead very lightly with her index finger. He stumbled backwards in surprise, but managed to stay on his feet. "Better. At least you use mouthwash; Dante wouldn't use it if it hit him in the head." She smirked. "Which it has." Lady turned to look inward. "Well, mind if they come in?"

"O' course I don't mind!" came the familiar voice of Hagrid. "Shoulda known you three wouldn't be far behind...on'y bin home five minutes!"

Lady stepped back, letting them in and shutting the door behind the four of them. As soon as his eyes had gotten used to the sudden change of lights, Harry's mouth dropped open. "Hagrid, what the...?"

It looked as if Hagrid had been in some sort of brawl. His left eye was surrounded by so much bruising that Harry could barely see the eye itself, and his right arm was in a sling. The rest of his body was crisscrossed with wrapped bandages, with several uncovered points where bruises both old and new were peeking through. The gamekeeper made to get up from his chair, but winced and took a sharp breath in through his teeth.

"It's alright, Hagrid." Lady motioned for him to sit down. "I'll take care of it. You just make sure to drink your medicine." She pointed to a mug sitting in front of him. Sighing, Hagrid complied, taking a mighty swig of his drink. As he did, Harry's nose caught the faint scent of something either heavily medicinal or generously alcoholic. "Now then," she said, turning to the three of them. "Pull up a chair, we've got tea."

The cabin didn't seem to have changed much since their last visit. Fang was fast asleep on his bed, a thoroughly-chewed bone next to his nose. An odd, lumpy bundle nearly as long as a person was tall, was next to Hagrid's bed, wrapped in canvas. Harry didn't remember seeing that bundle previously, but that was hardly as interesting as whatever had happened to Hagrid.

"Hagrid, what happened?" Ron said as they took their seats. "You've been gone ages, and now-"

"It's nuthin'!" responded Hagrid, taking another gulp. "Nuthin'. Anyway, how've you three bin? Had good summers?"

Ron opened his mouth to argue, but Lady cleared her throat, and he stopped with his mouth still hanging open as she peered at him. "Another time. He needs to avoid too much stress right now while he's healing."

"B-But..." Ron stammered. "...We're worried."

Her eyes softened slightly. "He'll be okay. I've got plenty of experience treating injuries; between that and a little rest, he'll be back to normal by next week."

"...You're sure?" Hermione asked doubtfully, her eyes sliding back and forth between Lady and Hagrid.

"I am." She set some mugs down in front of them before picking up the teapot.

"Well, if that's got Hagrid's medicine, maybe we shouldn't-"

"Oh, the tea isn't the medicine," Lady cut in, smirking slightly. "That's added last." She poured all four of them tea before refilling her own. She picked up an amber-coloured bottle from above the fireplace, uncorking it and pouring a good amount of it into Hagrid's mug. Harry's nose picked out the smell from before, except far stronger. She nodded to Hagrid, dribbled a bit of the liquid in her own mug, and then stoppered the bottle before setting it back where she'd taken it. "Now then, how's school been going?" she asked as she sat down.

Harry looked between her and Hagrid, shrugged, and said "'s been a strange year..."

Harry, Ron, and Hermione all told Hagrid about the things that had been happening at Hogwarts, from Umbridge and her problems to the new class of Defense. Though Hagrid was still clearly in pain, his spirit didn't seem to have been dampened, which came as some comfort to Harry.

"Meddlin' Ministry," growled Hagrid. "Mind you, I s'pose it was bound ter happen with Fudge as Minister. Now, what's this about private lessons?" he asked Harry.

"Our professor of 'Defense' is training me for combat," Harry said. "Not like I can play Quidditch right now anyway, so it keeps me busy."

"Dante tells me you're growing in leaps and bounds," Lady remarked, giving him a nod and the tiniest of smiles.

"Could've fooled me," grumbled Harry. "He never puts any effort into our spars and I still can't win against him." Much to his surprise, she actually chuckled at his statement. "What?" he asked, feeling faintly irritated. "What's so funny?"

"Dante has decades of experience over you, so it's not surprising you can't beat him yet. And still, he says you're advancing at a fast pace. That's something to be proud of." She took another swig, her smile widening slightly. "You really think he's not putting any effort in? On the contrary; I've never seen him put this much effort into anything as long as I've known him." She frowned slightly, and something almost like jealousy flitted over her face before she shook it off. "He rarely thinks much further than a few days ahead, and yet now he's got months' worth of lessons planned."

"'Months'?" said Harry, surprised.

"Mhm," she muttered into her mug as she drank more from it. Setting it down again, she continued "Between your personal lessons and his classes, he's barely had enough time to pester me or cause trouble at the...ah...'pub'. And starting tomorrow he's going to have even less time to himself." She swirled her drink around absentmindedly. "I almost feel bad for him."

"Only almost?" asked Ron.

She nodded, throwing back her head and downing the rest of her mug in one gulp before setting it down with a look of satisfaction. "Only almost. It's good for him."

"What exactly is it that he'll be starting tomorrow?" Hermione asked Lady.

To Harry's surprise, Lady's eyes flickered towards Hagrid for the briefest of moments. His curiosity was further piqued when she said "If he does it right, you don't have to worry about it."

Harry opened his mouth to argue, but there was a sudden knocking at the door. This startled all of them so much that Ron hiccoughed and Hermione nearly dropped her mug, if not for the timely intervention of Lady catching it for her. There was a shadow of someone at the door; someone suspiciously short and squat...

"It's her," Ron whispered. "We should-"

"Stay in your seats," Lady interrupted. Unlike Ron, she was speaking perfectly normally. "I'll get the door, if you don't mind?" she asked Hagrid; the instant he made a slight nod, she strode towards the door, opening it before Harry had time to even begin getting the Cloak out. "Good evening, Professor Umbridge."

Umbridge looked slightly wrong-footed at the sight of so many people inside the cabin, but rallied quite quickly once she spotted Harry. "Out after hours, Mister Potter? I believe that is-"

"Perfectly acceptable, given that he and his friends are here by request of two members of Hogwarts staff," Lady interjected smoothly. "To what do we owe the honor of your visit, Professor?"

Harry could almost see the gears in her head grinding as she struggled to leave the "punish Potter" state of mind. She blinked once, then twice, before seeming to find her thread again. "...Yes. Well, I've come to speak with Professor Hagrid. I wish to inform him of the school's heightened standards of education."

"An excellent plan." Lady stood in the doorway, smiling blandly at Umbridge as she stood out in the snow. Umbridge's jaw seemed to be getting more and more firmly set, where the woman in white seemed politely expectant. After several seconds of silence, she asked, in a jarringly casual tone, "Would you like to come in?"

"Yes, thank you." Umbridge made to move inside, but Lady still stood in the doorway, as unyielding as stone. Umbridge stopped again, and Harry swore he could hear the toadlike woman's teeth grinding together. "...May I enter?" she asked through gritted teeth.

Lady looked from Umbridge to Hagrid, who looked somewhat caught off-guard by her gaze. After a moment, he nodded, at which point Lady stepped briskly out of the way, ushering Umbridge inside. "Of course, of course. Can we get you a cup of tea?" she asked in a cheerful tone as she seemed to be fighting a smirk.

"...No, thank you." Umbridge was no longer speaking through gritted teeth, but her irritable expression had not changed one bit. She turned to Hagrid, drawing herself up to her full, yet unimpressive, height. "Rubeus Hagrid, my name is Dolores Umbridge. I am the Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor, and Hogwarts High Inquisitor."

"Ah, I heard abou' that. Quite a workload ye got with all them inspections to do?" he asked with an attempt at a smile. This, however, was a mistake, as it revealed some missing teeth.

"Indeed," she replied curtly. "What has happened to you? Why do you have those injuries?"

As much as Harry wanted Umbridge to stuff her questions and leave, he couldn't help but feel slightly curious to hear the answer himself. Fortunately (or unfortunately), Lady answered quite quickly. "I was giving him a tour of the grounds to explain what's been going on since he was away. Unfortunately, Dante chose that moment to try recruiting the centaurs for a 'British rodeo', as he called it. We managed to get away, but Professor Hagrid took several injuries in the process."

All of them stared at Lady in surprise, including Hagrid. Thankfully, he recovered before Umbridge did. "Yeah, tha's...tha's right. They didn' take kindly when he started callin' 'em 'broncos', an' it only got worse from there."

Umbridge nodded, her shock replaced by scorn. "Yes...yes, he would, wouldn't he, the uncouth..." She cleared her throat, looking back at Hagrid. "Where have you been before you returned? Term started months ago."

He responded at once. "I've been away on family bus'ness. Got a big family, so it took me a while." He spoke in a would-be casual voice, but the words came so quickly to him that Harry was amazed.

"Two months of time?" she responded. "Just how many people are there in your family?"

Hagrid's eyes narrowed, and his next words came out with something of a growl. "Jus' me now. That's why I needed time away; bit much to go through all at once."

"My apologies," Umbridge responded, though she sounded neither sorry nor ashamed. "Are you capable of resuming your post at this time?"

"I am," he said, staring her down. It wasn't just him, either; Lady was also focusing her full attention on the squat woman, and for his part Harry had no intentions of looking away.

There was silence for a few moments, but finally, Umbridge backed down. "...Very good. I shall be inspecting your lessons before long, I'm sure; good day to you." Her eyes flickered over to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. "And I would advise you escort those three back to their dormitories; no doubt they have homework that awaits them," she said in her sickly-sweet voice. She tugged her cloak around herself, pulling the door open and throwing it closed behind her.

Lady strode to the door, watching for a few moments. "She's gone," she said finally. She returned to the table, dropping into her seat and giving Hagrid a small smile. "See? Like I told you, nothing to it."

Hagrid let out a breath, and as he did, his tiredness seemed to return. "An' you do this all the time? Crikey, you don't have the wrinkles for it."

She shook her head, looking amused. "Only scars, I'm afraid."

"Er...can someone explain what just happened?" asked Ron, looking from Hagrid to Lady and back again.

"I've been coaching him for a half an hour before you got here. We were working on a cover story for what he's been up to before coming back," Lady responded, going to drink from her mug. Finding it empty, she frowned and set it back down again. "And before you ask, yes it's Order-related, no it's not a story for now, and if you're finished with your tea, I should probably get you all back to your dorm."

Harry briefly entertained the notion of if he just sipped the rest of his tea so slowly that they were there for another hour, so they could get the story anyway. Unfortunately, his tea only had one or two sips left as it was; no matter how much of a meal he made of it, he doubted it would take more than a minute to drain it. Sighing, he drank the lot, bade Hagrid good night with Ron and Hermione, and let himself be chivvied along as they left Hagrid's cabin. "Why were you here to coach Hagrid?" he asked as they made their way across the snow-covered grounds. "I'm sure he was grateful and all, but I thought you were only here to cover for him while he was, right?"

Lady sighed. "Dante needs to start focusing more on the awareness part of your training," she muttered, and Harry felt his eyebrow twitch. "I'm here for a bunch of reasons. You've seen what you've been fighting, haven't you? Well, it's not just inside the castle; it's in the forest, too."

"Demons?" he asked. To his slight shame, the idea actually excited him more than it worried him.

She nodded. "Not what we hoped for, but we knew it was a possibility. Now that Hagrid's back, I can shift more of my focus back to my main priority. Well..." she said thoughtfully, "once I get Dante started on his new schedule. But we've both got things that we need to do, and if Umbridge kicks Hagrid out, like I'm sure she wants to, that would split up our attention. I'm sure you know why a lack of attention is bad by now."

"But Hagrid hasn't done anything!" said Ron indignantly. "What could she want to kick him out for?"

"He's close to Dumbledore. And for what it's worth, she doesn't seem to be fond of demi-humans. Didn't take her much convincing that the centaurs could turn violent, now did it?"

"...Did Dante really do that?" Hermione asked cautiously. "Treat the centaurs like...well..."

"No," said Lady immediately, shaking her head. "He may be annoying and pigheaded, but he treats people like people. And given those visits that you," she looked at Harry, "and him go on, he wouldn't piss off the people that live in the forest like that."

Harry thought of the tree that sat in the meadow, wondering vaguely about what the scene must look like now that snow had fallen. Then something else sprung to mind. "What about the merpeople in the lake? Didn't seem like he made any friends with them."

To Harry's surprise, Lady let out a short laugh; he didn't recall ever having heard her laugh before. "Ah, that. That was a misunderstanding; he used that water Devil Arm to get down to where they live quicker so he could ask them a few things. Seeing a human suddenly drop in on them, whip in hand and asking about demonic rituals, can imagine."

Harry took a moment to do just that. Shaking off his grin, he pressed further. "But what was he doing down there in the first place? Couldn't he just ask D-" He cleared his throat. "Couldn't he just ask someone else who knows them?"

She sighed, rolling her eyes. "You don't give up easily, I'll give you that. Tell you what, why don't you ask him the next time you see him? Just not tomorrow, he's booked solid."

They had reached the castle doors. Lady walked them through, put a finger to her lips, and led them in the direction of the stairs. They were silent as they ascended the stairs, but inwardly Harry's mind raced with questions. The first was whether their previous discussion might finally have convinced Ron and Hermione that he was right (though he doubted it; they seemed extremely stubborn). The second was about what Hagrid could have been doing that was vital to the Order, and what had taken him so long in getting back. The third was whether Dante would be any easier to get information out of than Lady. More and more questions kept piling on, to the point where he knew they'd probably keep him awake for a while. But one question stood out above the rest.

What is it that Dante's going to be doing for Lady starting tomorrow?


"Mrmph," came a muffled voice somewhere in the pile of blankets covering Dante's bed.

Lady inhaled sharply, then sighed just as sharply. "Dante."

"MRMPH," the voice responded in an identical (yet muffled) tone.

She sat down on the bed, poking the pile of blankets. "I need you to get up."

"It's Sunday," the pile of blankets grumbled. "No classes today."

"That may be, but there's work to do and I need your help."

"Like hell you do. Nothin' you can't handle. Sleeping now."

Flattered as she was, Lady couldn't give up. It was time to change tactics. "Oh, fine, I'll do it myself," she said, putting on an annoyed voice as she got back up off the bed, turning away from it and towards the door. "Enjoy your sleep. Hope that once my back gets snapped like a toothpick you can still sleep like that." She made loud, deliberate footsteps toward the door of his room.

There was an annoyed growl, and she heard the loud flumph of several blankets being thrown off of the bed. With her back to the bed, she allowed herself a small smirk. There we go. There was a rustle of clothing for a brief second, and then Dante was next to her, wearing his full outfit and a look of intense grumpiness. "One day you'll have to teach me that trick."

"It's not as easy as I make it look." He yawned. "This better be good, Lady."

"Oh, trust me-"

"Not a good sign," Dante mumbled.

She ignored him, continuing as if he hadn't spoken. "This is going to be tons of fun."

"Well?" she asked Dante as they stood in the Forbidden Forest, with a gigantic creature snoring loudly as they stood feet away, Hagrid watching them nervously.

"Your version of 'fun' needs work," he responded, eyes roving over the creature. He looked at the ropes binding the creature to several trees, then to Lady's neutral expression, then at Hagrid. "I feel like there's a story I missed. Care to give me the short version?"

"He's...well..." Hagrid began awkwardly. "My brother."

Dante closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. As he opened them again, he gave Hagrid a small smile. "Family, huh? I know how that goes." He turned back to the creature. "Well, that explains why he's here. But why am I here?"

"Hagrid's been trying to teach him English," Lady responded. "But his brother's...not very attentive."

Dante's eyes flicked over to Hagrid, taking in the various bruises. "Uh huh. Well, I hate to be a downer, but if you're trying to get me to sub in, my days are pretty full as-is. Not that I'd be any great shakes at teaching a language..."

"Even better," Lady said, giving him a grin that looked far too smug. "Instead of a teacher, you're going to be a class monitor. ...After a fashion."

"So…his big bro teaches him English, and I stand by to make sure that our giant student doesn't start hitting. And I gotta do it bare-handed so that no one gets injured." He shook his head. "You owe me big for this. And I mean big. This least a pizza party big. Maybe two."

"Deal," she said without hesitation. "Alright, Hagrid. Time to begin our lesson."

Dante cracked his neck, shaking his arms out as Hagrid poked the sleeping form of his brother with a large stick. "So much for a rest day..."

The pace of Harry's schedule was starting to reach a fever pitch. He had classes, of course, and all the associated homework, but adding in both his individual Defense lessons (as a student) and his group Defense lessons (as a teacher), not to mention trying to work out what was happening with the Mysteries with Ron and Hermione, he was feeling exhausted. These days he wasn't so much settling into bed as he was falling on top of it and waking up with his body aching. Still, it had been weeks since he'd had a nightmare, and he was starting to forget some of the details.

Hagrid's lukewarm welcome back should have bothered Harry worse than it did. It bothered him, it really did, but he felt like he didn't have the energy to get worked up over it like he wanted to. And, though he hated to admit it even to himself, he understood from a more objective point of view that Professor Grubbly-Plank's lessons were appreciated by several of his classmates for good reason; Hagrid's lessons might have been more exciting, but Grubbly-Plank hadn't set a lesson where Harry wondered how much of his neck he was risking (she certainly hadn't set any Blast-Ended Skrewts on them, at any rate).

He worried somewhat as he, Ron, and Hermione made their way down to Hagrid's lesson; with Hagrid only having just returned, could he get back into his lessons comfortably?

The lesson, as it turned out, was about those odd skeletal winged horses that he and Luna could see. Hagrid began their lesson by having Lady ride one out of the forest right to them, which became more amusing in hindsight once Hagrid revealed the mystery of those horses; thestrals, as they were named, could only be seen by those who had witnessed death. Which meant that Harry, Neville, and a stringy-looking Slytherin boy were the only ones that had seen the horse under Lady. To everyone else, she had sort of hovered vaguely towards them before coming to a stop.

Though Pansy Parkinson had complained about the "creepiness" of the horses as they ate meat (which was unusual, admittedly) and Parvati and Lavender muttering that they were "unlucky", most of the rest of the class seemed to like the lesson, getting to pet the horses, to learn about how they raised their young, and how they could serve as flying mounts exceptionally well thanks to Hagrid's extensive training and their natural sense of direction.

Harry felt guilty about doubting Hagrid. He was in top form, able to answer every question that the class raised, didn't lose his train of thought, and overall seemed quite relaxed. Even Malfoy didn't cause all that much trouble; to demonstrate their capability of being ridden, Malfoy was "randomly" selected to sit atop one. While he was visibly unsettled sitting atop the horse, Harry saw a vague glimmer of the blonde-haired boy being impressed at how he seemed to sit in mid-air. Hagrid even awarded Slytherin five points for Malfoy's participation, and that seemed to keep the other Slytherins in line.

So, as they finished their lesson and began trudging through the snow back to Hogwarts, Harry was surprised to see Hermione frowning. "…You can't seriously tell me you didn't like that lesson," said Harry, staring right at her.

She started slightly. "Oh! Oh, Harry…well, no, I did like it, that's not…" And then she fell silent.

"It was kind of cool seeing people sit on them while they were invisible," said Ron, grinning. "I think I'd actually hope that I don't see them."

Harry smiled. "I hope you don't either."

Ron blinked, and then seemed to realize what he'd said. "Oh, right. I meant…well, you know."

Harry waved him off. "It's all right. But Hermione, what's got you worried?"

She jumped slightly again. "Hm? Worried? I'm not really worried." At Harry's look, she relented. "Okay, maybe I am worried. It's just…after our visit to Hagrid, I was so sure that Umbridge would be inspecting his lesson."

Harry's face soon mirrored Hermione's. "Hey…you're right. I didn't think about it, but that is odd. Why wouldn't she inspect him when he's not yet got his feet under him?"

She shook her head. "I don't know. I'm a bit worried, though. Knowing her, she's probably planning something extremely foul…"


Umbridge threw another Blasting Curse at her door, but yet again it seemed to have no effect. The accursed thing was jammed shut somehow, and had been all day.

She'd had the whole thing planned out; using her power of High Inquisitor, she'd go inspect the oaf's first lesson, show what a buffoon he was, and begin the process of ousting the filthy half-breed. It was going to be efficient and satisfying in equal measure, and if all went well, she could land Potter in detention once his temper got the better of him; she'd only just finished her new "special quill" and it would only be appropriate to have Potter's blood spill on its first test run.

…Or so she had thought, until she found her bedroom door completely immovable by any means.

It was difficult to tell, as the door had little space around itself, but it seemed that all the extra space in the door frame had been replaced with ice. She'd assumed it would be a simple matter to get rid of it; cast Finite Incantatem, get out of her quarters, and find the troublemaker responsible. But the ice refused to be dispelled. Nor could it be melted, smashed, or switched with other objects. Thus, she had instead moved her efforts to forcing the door open and deal with the ice later. This, however, went no better than her first plan. The door couldn't be opened with Alohomora, removed from its hinges, or, it seemed, smashed to pieces. And she'd thought that her bedchamber not having a window would make it more secure…

Her face worked into a snarl. "Mister Potter…he must be responsible for this! He's been known to support that hairy oaf; he must have found a way to…" She charged desperately into her door, but it didn't so much as wiggle. And it hurt her shoulder badly.

"I'll get you for this if it's THE LAST THING I DO!"


It's been a while...again. I was planning on having this out last summer...until a power surge fried my hard drive, with no way of recovering it. While I did have backups, they hadn't been updated in a year, was pretty demoralizing. Nevertheless, I can't very well abandon this story after all my readers have stuck with it for so long...not to mention that most of the end chapter is already written. We'll get there; sorry that it's taking so long.

Take care of yourselves, and see you next time!