Harry and his friends sat in the common room the night after their first day of classes. There was no homework yet to occupy anyone's time, so most of Gryffindor house milled around, catching up with their friends.
"What do you think Umbridge will be like tomorrow?" Ron asked idly, poking at the flames with a wrought iron stick.
Harry shrugged. He was too busy watching Seamus talk to Dean to answer Ron's question intelligently. Every few words, Seamus would glance his way. With every glance, Harry got angrier.
"What is his problem?" Harry growled.
"Want me to help you beat him up, Harry?" Draco offered. "I still remember all that stuff we learned in Defense at Durmstrang."
"Please," Harry replied, standing up. He didn't know about beating Seamus up, but he decided that it was definitely time for a word.
Draco followed, walking with the confident stride that he had perfected at Durmstrang. As he and Harry strode up to Seamus and Dean, they stopped talking.
"I heard you had a problem with me," Harry said stiffly.
"Not with you, just with your lies," Seamus replied combatively. "They almost made my mum not send me back this year."
"They're not lies!" Harry insisted. "Voldemort is back, how don't you see that?"
"And we're supposed to believe you?" Seamus demanded. "No one else was there, you could be making it all up!"Harry growled, "Snape was there! Go ask him!"
Seamus rolled his eyes. "Yeah, because he definitely isn't on You-Know-Who's side."
Harry balled his fists and lunged at Seamus, but Draco held him back. With a scowl, Harry ripped his arm from Draco's grasp and rubbed it resentfully.
"I thought you were on my side, here," Harry muttered.
"I am," Draco replied simply.
Harry glared at both Draco and Seamus. "Fine," he said to Seamus, "Go read the Daily Prophet like your stupid mother."
This time, Seamus came at Harry and Dean didn't try to stop him. They collapsed in a pile of fists and limb, grappling on the floor. Little of Harry's Defense training applied here, for the number one rule was to stay standing. Harry tried to get a punch in wherever he could and winced as Seamus jabbed him in the ribs.
"Fight! Fight!" came the cry from the surrounding Gryffindors.
"Stop!" a shrill girl's voice shouted. "Draco, help me, here!"
Hands grabbed onto Harry's shoulders and drug him backwards, still kicking. Harry saw Draco hold Seamus back in a headlock. He shook off Hermione's hands and stood up, wiping the blood off of his lip.
"This just proves that you're mental," Seamus spat.
"You hit me first!" Harry protested.
"Stop, guys, please," Hermione pleaded, leading Harry back to his seat by the fire. Draco followed, Seamus heading up to the dorms. Hermione shot Draco a look. "You're a prefect. You're supposed to be stopping fights, not instigating them."
"I didn't do anything!" Draco protested.
"Exactly," Hermione shot back.
Draco scowled. Harry stared, fuming, into the flames. He could feel where his lip was split but, at the moment, didn't really care.
"How many more people don't believe me?" Harry asked angrily. "He's back! Why can't they see that?"
"I don't know, Harry. Just calm down, okay?" Hermione said, trying to be helpful.
"Don't tell me to calm down."
"Well if anyone else wants to have a go at you, Harry, they'll have to get past us first, right, Draco?" Ron asked.
Draco nodded, ignoring the look that Hermione shot him. "I haven't been in a good fight in forever."
"Thanks, guys," Harry said. He groaned, "Snape is going to kill me."
Harry managed to cover up all of his bruises except the one on his face. His lip had swollen, becoming red and painful. That wasn't as much of an issue as the fact that they had Potions today. First period.
"That doesn't look so good," Ron commented at breakfast.
"Thanks, I didn't realize," Harry responded sarcastically. He set his fork down beside his empty plate.
"Ready to go?" Hermione asked. "I know Professor Snape's not that bad outside of school, but this is his territory now. I don't want to be late."
Harry sighed. "Yeah, let's go try to explain this," he said, pointing at his lip.
"It could be worse," Draco offered. "You could have a black eye."
"Yeah, just blame it on the twins," Ron suggested.
"He'll see right through that," Harry said, resigned. "Come on, let's get this over with."
They wandered down to the Potions room, in the damp, dank dungeons. Many of the Slytherins were already there, mostly ones that Harry didn't fancy seeing again. Nott, Zabini, Parkinson and Crabbe all shared a table and also shared a look of deepest disdain for the Gryffindors.
Harry took his customary seat and waited for the room to fill up. Luckily, as was his custom, Snape didn't enter until everyone else had, and therefore didn't have time to scold Harry beforehand.
"Welcome back," he said dryly, with a sneer. "As this is your O.W.L. prep year, do not expect to be coddled. Not that you should ever expect that in this classroom. Instructions are on the board," Severus said, his eyes falling on Harry. They narrowed ever so slightly. "Begin."
Harry got up and retrieved his ingredients, only reluctantly returning to his seat where Snape was already hovering. Harry set his ingredients on his desk and caught a sympathetic look from Hermione. Draco had a slight grin that Harry took to be amusement and Ron wasn't back yet.
"Hi," Harry said, falsely cheerful.
"What happened to your lip?" Severus asked with no prelude.
"Um, yeah, about that," Harry hedged, looking down into his cauldron.
"Well, perhaps one of the Gryffindor prefects would like to tell me, since you are their responsibility," Severus said darkly, turning to Hermione and Draco. Hermione gulped.
"He was defending his honor, sir," Draco spoke up. "And yours."
Severus raised a brow. "And you felt the need to do so with your fists?" he asked Harry.
"Seamus punched me first," Harry replied defensively.
Severus blinked at him. "See me after class. I believe fighting is a detention-worthy offense."
"Your situation offers no breaks, you should know that," Severus said. He gave Harry a stern look and drifted away.
Harry sighed. "Well, great."
Hermione looked the slightest bit satisfied. "That's what comes of fighting."
Harry rolled his eyes.
"Mr. Finnigan may have thrown the first punch, but who started the fight?" Severus asked while they were alone in his office after class.
Harry looked down. "That might have been me."
"Hm," Severus said. "Wat were you fighting over?"
"He called me a liar. He said there were no witnesses and that Voldemort wasn't really back. I pointed out that you were there too, and he said you were probably working with Him," Harry said.
"And this lead to physical harm, how?" Severus asked. After the explanation, he didn't seem angry, exactly, just curious.
Harry shrugged. "I may have called his mother stupid."
"I see," Severus said. He folded his hands on the desk in front of him. "Harry, you mustn't let your temper get the better of you, not here, not now. Do you understand?"Harry nodded.
"There are people who are just waiting for you to slip up," Severus said. He slid over a copy of the Daily Prophet. "Had you seen this beforehand, you might not have participated in the fight."
Harry scanned the article on the front page. He read, "Potter has shown violent tendencies that are borderline bipolar. He is and unsettled, unstable child and was even rumored to have run away from his house in order to attempt to summon dementors. Have the events of last year broken something within the Boy Who Lived that he is becoming a menace to society, greedy for attention and seeking it in dangerous ways?" Harry tossed the paper down. "That's rubbish."
"Quite," Severus said. "Even so, this is what they are making you out to be. A mentally unstable, easy to snap lunatic. If they find out that you participated in a fight on your first day back at Hogwarts, it will not help your case in the least."
Harry nodded. "Okay." He glanced at the time. "I have to go. I'm late for Defense Against the Dark Arts."
Severus scribbled something on a piece of paper. "Here's a late slip."
Harry took it. "Thanks."
"And report to me for detention tomorrow at seven. I will speak with Mr. Finnigan in the meantime, for he will receive a detention as well," Severus said casually.
Harry sighed. "Fine."
He left and hurried down to Umbridge's classroom, walking in at least ten minutes late. Harry slipped inside the door and took a seat near the front, the only ones left open. Apparently, no one wanted to be closer to Umbridge than they had to.
"Well, now that Mr. Potter has deigned to show up, we can begin," Umbridge said in a sweet falsetto. "You'll find that I already passed out supplementary books, Mr. Potter, come get one."
Harry stood and walked up to the front, loathing Umbridge already. He took a book off of the pile and thrust the note at her.
"What's this?" she asked, unfolding it.
"My late slip."
"I'm sorry, I don't accept late notes from relatives," Umbridge replied, smiling sweetly. "Ten points from Gryffindor for being late."
Harry's jaw dropped. "He's the Potions Master, he has just as much authority as-"
"Would you like to make it twenty?"
Harry's mouth snapped shut. Spinning on his heel, he returned to his seat.
"Now, the purpose of this class is to prepare you for your Ordinary Wizarding Level exams, more commonly known as O.W.L.s," Umbridge said. "It is the view of the Ministry that your previous instruction in this course has not only been insufficient but also disjointed. Therefore, we will start from the beginning," she said. "Open your books and read the first three chapters quietly."
Harry opened his book. The first chapter featured a large picture of a witch stirring a cauldron, black cat rubbing against her leg and a wart on her nose. The words were so large that only three sentences fit underneath the picture. Harry felt like he was back in muggle primary school.
After a few seconds of struggling through the desire to rip Umbridge's hair out, Hermione's hand raised into the air. Harry saw it from the corner of his eye and turned that way.
"Yes, Ms. Granger?" Umbridge said, calling on her. "Is there an issue?"
"Professor, I think there must be a mistake. Not only is this a children's defense book, but it's only theory. There's nothing in here about using the spells," Hermione said politely.
"My dear, when would you ever need to use defensive spells?" Umbridge asked sweetly. "It is the feel of the Ministry that a theoretical knowledge is enough to pass your tests."
"The real world isn't about tests," Draco spoke up hotly. "It's about using the spells so that you survive."
"Against whom, may I ask?" Umbridge replied. "Who would you need to defend yourself against?"
"Let's see," Harry jumped in, anger rising, "wouldn't be Voldemort, would it?"
Umbridge's smile faltered. "You will raise your hand if you want to be acknowledged, Mr. Potter."
Harry promptly put his hand in the air. "If you don't believe Voldemort's back, what happened to Cedric Diggory?" Harry challenged.
"Mr. Diggory's death was a tragic accident," Umbridge said unsteadily. "It in no way means, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is back! You have been fed lies, children."
"You're just too scared to admi-"
"Detention, Mr. Potter," Umbridge snapped, her cheeks reddening. "See me tonight, in my office."
Harry dropped his hand. Umbridge gave him a satisfied nod. She looked around the room as if challenging someone to say something about it.
"Now, read silently. There will be no need to have your wands out," Umbridge said curtly. "And there will be no need to talk."
Hands shaking with anger, Harry opened his book. For the rest of the class, he stared at the same page, thinking of all the horrible things he would do to Umbridge if he had the chance.