cclxi. deserved

Harriet stayed silent as she followed Madam Umbridge toward the school.

The older witch had no qualms about taking her time, a smug smile stretched over her wide mouth as she picked her way along the path and then up the stairs. Of course, she wasn't silent. She stopped every student they passed to nag on some perceived fault: their shoes weren't polished, their robes weren't straight, their ties weren't tightened. She tutted at couples until they stepped away from one another and nicked a Fanged Frisbee from a pair of first years on the lawn. All the while, her smile grew more pleased, as if she couldn't imagine a better time than making children miserable.

Anxious sweat built on the back of Harriet's neck, and she could feel the dampness under her arms as well. She wouldn't admit it aloud, but dread squeezed her heart like a fist turning fruit to jam. How much did Umbridge know? Was Harriet going to be expelled?

Hermione and Elara had gone on ahead—to where, Harriet didn't know. Hopefully to Dumbledore or Snape or—somewhere Umbridge couldn't find them or subject them to terrible torture.

In the entrance hall, she saw Gabriel Flourish standing at the top of the dungeon steps. His mouth popped open in wordless shock before he turned around and rushed back down the stairs.

Harriet grimaced.

She dragged her feet the whole way to Umbridge's office on the fifth floor. Seeing the door, and then the single desk where she'd been forced to carve open her own hand almost brought Harriet's breakfast back up. She swallowed the saliva in her mouth, certain she'd be sick, and numbly staggered to the chair by the main desk Madam Umbridge indicated. She sat down.

The other witch took a seat as well, folding her hands together in front of herself. "Well, Miss Potter," Umbridge said. "It's not a surprise to find you in my office once again."

"You did invite me here, ma'am," Harriet told her, keeping her voice calm and polite. It didn't quiver, which bolstered her courage. "So maybe it's not so surprising."

Umbridge's smile tightened, and her eyes narrowed.

"Do you understand why you're here, girl?"

Harriet shook her head. "No, Madam Umbridge."

"I think you do." A tea service sat on the edge of the desk, an ugly thing Aunt Petunia probably would have liked, with fat cabbage roses and ungainly scrolled handles. Umbridge made herself a nice cuppa and didn't offer one to Harriet, not that Harriet would have taken it. She'd rather guzzle Bubotuber Pus.

"I really don't, ma'am."

"Where were you today, Miss Potter?"

Harriet's heart lurched, but she otherwise remained unshaken. She couldn't know. She couldn't. No one knew they'd been in Verwerry aside from Harriet and her friends, unless Umbridge had thought to interrogate the Knight Bus driver in the minutes between them debarking and walking toward the school. "Hogsmeade?"

"I have been informed by reliable sources that you were not."

Sources? What does she—? Harriet's mouth twitched. Guardians. There had to be Guardians of the Magical Right in the village. Damn, we didn't think of that.

"I dunno what to tell you. We went to the village. We went to Honeyduke's, Tomes and Scrolls, then stopped at the Three Broomsticks."

Umbridge's eyes narrowed again, sharp needles aimed for Harriet's throat. "I thought our lesson the other evening had sunken in. It seems not. Here you are, lying again."

Harriet didn't reach for her bandaged hand, but it was a near thing. "I was in the village," she reasserted. "Isn't it more likely whoever was meant to be watching Hogsmeade for you made a mistake?"

Umbridge's nostrils flared. "I think another detention might be in order—."

The office door came open without the intruder knocking, revealing Professor Slytherin—and Flourish, who stood back in the corridor, out of breath and flushed.

"On your way, Mr. Flourish," Slytherin said as he stepped into the office, shutting the door behind him. "Once again, Madam Umbridge, it appears you are inconveniencing my apprentice, and by extension, myself."

"Hardly inconveniencing," Umbridge retorted, put out by Slytherin's intrusion. She tapped her lacquered nails on her desk. "You weren't summoned, Professor, and she has been found once more flouting the rules of this institution—."

"I was in the village," she told Slytherin, putting as much conviction as she could into the lie. He didn't turn his head, but his cold, displeased gaze slanted in her direction. "Just because whatever stu—person she sent to watch it didn't see me, she thinks I wasn't there."

"Be quiet," Slytherin told her. Harriet snapped her jaws shut.

Him rebuffing her seemed to appease Umbridge, and her irritated expression flattened. "Well," she sniffed. "It's no matter. Miss Potter's punishment will fall into the purview of the Ministry. I understand she's serving detentions with Professor Snape for the foreseeable future, but perhaps a compromise could be made—."

Slytherin sighed, interrupting Umbridge's dastardly planning. He turned in a lazy swivel, putting his back to the woman, and from where she was seated, Harriet knew Umbridge didn't see him draw his wand. He held it in his hand, running a single appreciative finger along its tip.

Her stomach swooped, and new sweat slicked her shaking palms.

"Gaunt and I have always had our…differences," he said, speaking softly as he turned the wand, and Harriet felt her ears pop from the air pressure shifting. Magic rippled, a ward as thin as the skin of a bubble swelling to press against the walls. Harriet clutched the arms of her chair. "There's a mutual respect there, an understanding beyond the comprehension of fools…ah. But his vision has always been flawed; I see the world in color, he sees it in black and white."

Slytherin turned, and Umbridge saw his wand for the first time. She stiffened.

"What is the meaning of this?"

"I'm not as careless in selecting my tools," he continued. "Gaunt will accept any witch or wizard who takes a knee, and he thinks blind loyalty is all that is necessary. Loyalty can be…overrated. Swayed. Mind's change. They can be tempered, taught. Loyalty does not account for skill. Unfortunately, Gaunt sees all problems as nails that need to be hammered. The issue, Madam, is neither myself nor my apprentice is a nail, and you are an incessant hammer that is trying my patience."

His wand slashed the air like a swinging sword, and red light burst into view along the set ward—ugly, leering red light Harriet had only had the misfortune of seeing once before in Slytherin's own office. It crawled over the stones of the castle, and Hogwarts itself seemed to recoil, bricks and mortar groaning as the walls attempted to pull away from the strange intrusion.

Slytherin bore down upon the startled Ministry witch like a riled cobra, delivering one solid kick to the side of her desk. It shouldn't have done anything, given the desk was large and built of heavy, dense wood—but it screeched across the floor, sliding more than a meter, leaving Umbridge exposed.

Slytherin's eyes blazed. He leveled his wand. "Petrificus Totalus."

Umbridge's arms and legs snapped straight, and she slid from her chair to the floor with a thump. Her eyes bulged.

Harriet clung to her own seat in disbelief, hardly daring to believe.

"If you were clever, you would have ensured you were never in a room alone with me," Slytherin said, his tone almost conversational. "You waste of flesh and magic. To think, your mother spread her legs and begat you. She must have wept for the futility of her labor." He spun his wand, letting it twirl through his fingers once. "But, perhaps you'll find better use as an object lesson. Pay attention, Apprentice." The wand stopped twirling, and pointed once more toward Umbridge's face. He released her petrification, but then—. "Crucio!"

Harriet jerked as if she were the one being cursed—but she wasn't. No, it was Umbridge who suddenly thrashed on the hard, unyielding stones, her high, irritating voice throttled in a strained scream, her face stretched in agonized rictus. Her limbs twisted and curled inward like a dying bug.

Harriet had never seen the curse used on another person. She had always been the unfortunate target, and her memory in the aftermath always remained a foggy, overly saturated snapshot—too blurred and strange to comprehend. Hermione told her it was how the human brain protected itself from pain; it sanded the coarse, ragged edges, made it all…fuzzy, like a bad dream. This wasn't a dream, bad or otherwise. This was real.

Slytherin tilted his head as he held the curse, his lips parting, the screams rising in pitch. Harriet couldn't breathe, couldn't do a thing besides sit dumbfounded and watch. Dust streaked Umbridge's pink robes from her thrashing. Her hair had come loose from its prissy coiffure, her black bow lopsided and loose where it dragged against the stones. She would have bruises tomorrow—large, painful ones. Harriet knew from experience.

She didn't know what to feel. Some part of her should feel vindicated. Umbridge had gleefully watched as she carved into her own flesh for hours—had giggled and smiled at every pass of the quill. Nevertheless, Harriet didn't want to smile as the woman wailed. She didn't feel vindicated or good about what was happening. Her stomach churned, and her arms shook.

Professor Dumbledore's voice echoed in her ears, soft as a whisper. "When we begin to see our enemies as lesser, as inhuman beasts unworthy of compassion or decency, we are little better than those we oppose."

"Even Voldemort, Professor? Is he worthy of our compassion?"

"Compassion? No, I couldn't say so. Voldemort has committed many monstrous acts, and yet, if he were at my mercy, I would not subject him to torture. I am a better man than that."

Harriet gripped her chair, her breaths tight, shallow. The acrid smell of urine cut across her nose. "Stop," she said, too soft, her chest too rigid to move and take in air. Harriet grit her teeth and lurched to her feet. "Stop!"

Slytherin eased the curse, allowing his arm to go lax. His mouth curled in a pleased, relaxed smile, all while Umbridge whimpered and coughed, sucking in breath after breath. "Ah, you're right, I suppose. It's best not go overboard."

Harriet swallowed the dryness in her mouth as she watched him sweep toward the barely lucid witch, his robes skirting the pool of vomit Umbridge had sicked up. She'd wet herself. No part of Harriet reveled in seeing this humiliation.

Slytherin bent at the waist, using the tip of his wand to tip Umbridge's sagging head toward him. Harriet didn't know what he thought as he stared at the woman, but eventually he was satisfied, giving his wand an errant flick. "Obliviate."

Umbridge went slack as the spell took effect. She looked dead.

Another series of small incantations set the room to rights and cleared the air. The ward dissolved, and the unbearable pressure lessened against Harriet's ears. Slytherin rose, though Harriet didn't notice, too set on staring at the woman on the floor as he came to stand next to her.

"I did tell you she would get what she deserved, didn't I?" Harriet startled as cold fingertips brushed against the edge of her fringe. Her green eyes snapped to Slytherin's watching face, and he hissed in Parseltongue. "She won't remember what happened come morning. But, I don't know how she'll fair if I need to intervene again. You'll do your best to stay out of trouble." His hand paused, fingertips pressing closer to her brow. "Won't you, dear Harriet?"

Tears burned the back of her eyes. "Yes, Master."

"Good girl." He withdrew his hand. "Get out of my sight."

Harriet ran from the office like the devil himself was on her tail. She didn't look back.

A/N: I think there's many people who'd not bat an eye at seeing Umbridge tortured, or who were rooting for it to happen. I don't think that's in Harriet's character.