Harry woke with his scar hurting. He rubbed it as he reached for his glasses, trying to remember about what he had been dreaming. For some reason, there was a lingering urgency about the dream; there was something he really needed to do, or remember, he wasn't sure. All Harry could remember what a corridor with a black door under which light spilled onto the dark floor.
Harry swung his legs out of bed, glancing at the time. The others would be getting up soon, so Harry decided against doing back to sleep. Slipping on his robes, he headed down to the bathroom and then to the empty common room. Alone, he pulled his mirror from his bag and looked at it. He remembered the conversation that he had had with the twins when they gave it back the day before.
"Sorry it took so long, Harry," Fred had said. "It turns out there's a lot to do with starting up a business."
"Sirius is doing pretty good, though," George added. "He's really dedicated himself to this."
"So you're done with the mirror, then?" Harry asked hopefully, trying not to sound too eager to get it back.
George nodded. "For a while at least."
"Thanks again for letting us borrow it," Fred said.
"Sure thing," Harry replied, taking it back.
"Oh, and one thing, Harry," George said. "You got a call. We answered it, thinking it was Sirius-"
"-but it was really your girlfriend with the sharp tongue," Fred finished with a wink. "She's still pretty."
"Really?" Harry replied sarcastically. "Gee, I expected her to have developed some kind of facial disfigurement in the past year."
"Nope," George chirped. "Anyways, in the course of conversatio-"
"Conversation?" Harry blurted. "I thought we agreed that you were just going to end it and let me know."
"Well, you know we're chatty," Fred said with a shrug. "Anyway, we told her that you'd call her back in a day or two."
"When'd she call?" Harry asked.
Harry sighed. "Alright, thanks."
Now, Harry looked at the mirror and said, "Rhea."
It was about five in the morning at Hogwarts, which translated into about eight in Durmstrang time. Hopefully, Rhea wouldn't be on her way to class yet. As her face materialized on the mirror, Harry found himself smiling unconsciously. It had been so long since he'd last seen her.
"Hi," Harry said eloquently.
Rhea grinned. "Hi, Harry. You're just in time; I was about to head down to class in a few minutes."
"Should I call back later?" Harry asked solicitously.
She shook her head. "It's alright. How are you? Your red-haired friends said you have been under a lot of stress."
Harry shrugged. "I'm alright. How are things going over at Durmstrang?"
Rhea's face darkened. "Not so well. You agree that something is stirring? Something Dark?"
Harry nodded grimly. "Now that Voldemort's back...My godfather says that it feels like it did before the last war."
"I have heard the same," Rhea agreed. "There are many here who sympathize with him, you know. If we are forced to decide, I fear on which side the majority will fall."
Harry frowned. "Well, steer clear of trouble, okay? And keep me posted."
"I will," Rhea promised. "I really need to go, call me later, alright? You're familiar with my schedule."
Harry nodded. "I remember. Goodbye."
The mirror reverted to its normal reflective self and Harry set it down. Harry didn't miss Durmstrang much, but he did miss Rhea and her brother Aris. His friend Riker was also pretty cool. With a sudden pang of loss, Harry decided to busy himself with learning Defense Against the Dark Arts from books that Severus had given him. Harry wasn't about to let Umbridge stop him from learning how to defend himself.
When at last his friends had awoken, they headed down to breakfast, only to find a large gathering of people at the entrance to the Great Hall. Cameras flashed and reporters stood ready with clipboards, quills poised to record.
"...At first, I was uncertain about accepting the appointment of High Inquisitor of Hogwarts, but after my first few weeks, I have seen how this school is run, and I must admit, it is for the best. The Minister believes that my presence here will help straighten Hogwarts out and get it back on track, teaching what needs to be taught and dismissing that which shouldn't be," Umbridge was saying, her chin thrust pompously into the air.
Percy Weasley stood at her side, looking important. A report pushed her way through the knot of people, inquiring, "Professor Umbridge, what will your first step towards educational reform?"Umbridge smiled sweetly. "Well, I believe it will have to start in the classroom. The teachers and their courses will both be observed and evaluated to determine the necessary course of action."
"And how many changes do you think you'll have to make?" another asked.
"Quite a few, I'm afraid. Hogwarts is much worse than I expected," replied Umbridge.
"Come on, guys, let's go," Hermione said, grabbing onto Draco and Ron and pulling them towards the Great Hall. She shot a look at Harry implying that he should follow.
Harry did so only reluctantly. "I can't believe her," he growled, following them towards the door. "How can she-"
"Mr. Potter!" a horribly familiar voice called. Harry groaned and turned as Rita Skeeter came hurrying over. Harry's friends stopped as well. "It's been a while, Mr. Potter," Skeeter said in greeting. "Do you have anything to add on the subject of Professor Umbridge's appointment, or on the rise of You-Know-Who, or on your credibility in today's media?" She finished without taking a breath.
Harry blinked. "No. Leave me alone."
Rita looked at him like he was being a difficult child. "Now, Harry, you seemed like you had quite an opinion on the matter just a minute ago. I'm sure the readers would like to get your take."
"No," Harry snapped. He repeated, "Leave me alone."
"Harry, don't be difficult. You have to approachable to the readers, share your thoughts-"
"Why, so that you can make fun of me some more?" Harry snapped, anger rising. "No matter what I say, you're going to twist it into something that sells papers, probably at my expense. It's too bad that you won't admit that Voldemort's back, because I'll gladly give you my opinion on that one-"
"Harry," Hermione warned tersely.
Harry ignored her. "But since you're too busy tarnishing my reputation to report real news, I'd thank you to leave. Me. Alone. Got it?"
The moment that Harry finished his tirade, there was a flash of a camera. Blinking through the spots in his eyes, Harry suddenly realized that the room had quieted. All of the reporters were now looking at him rather than at Umbridge. Umbridge clasped her hands in front of her and tried to get their attention once more.
"Hem, hem," she coughed. "I believe this goes to show my point. As it currently stands, outbursts like this vicious one from Mr. Potter go unchecked. That will change."
Harry's blood boiled and he was all at once painfully aware of the scar on the back of his hand. "And yo-"
"Harry!" Severus's voice snapped from behind him.
Snape descended the stairs quickly, long cape billowing out behind him. Harry shut his mouth and gave Umbridge one last glare before allowing Snape to pull him away.
"Remember what we discussed," Severus whispered into Harry's ear.
Harry managed a nod as another flash went off. With his friends clearing the way and Severus behind him, Harry made his way into the Great Hall, still livid with anger. He slid onto a bench across from Hermione and glared at his plate.
"Harry," Severus said quietly, but firmly.
Reluctantly, Harry looked up.
"Come to my office later, if you would," Severus said.
Harry was subjected to a stern look from Severus before he headed up to the Head Table. He sighed deeply, finding that he had little appetite.
"This is so ridiculous," Harry said. "There's nothing wrong with Hogwarts."
"Yet," Draco added. "Soon, with her in charge, there very well might be."
Hermione elbowed him, hissing, "Draco! You're not helping."
"He's right, though," Harry commented. "She'll run this place into the ground."
Ron immediately nodded in agreement, but Hermione frowned. "You say that with such certainty. I mean, I know we're not learning anything and that she's completely blind to the fact that You-Know-Who's back, but are you saying that just because you don't get along with her?"
"You're not defending her, are you?" Harry snapped.
"No," Hermione answered defensively. "I'm just making sure your motives are right."
In his angered state, Harry couldn't resist rolling his eyes. "I'm not saying it because I don't get along with her, I'm saying it because of this!"
He thrust the hand with the still irritated "I must not tell lies" carved on it in front of her and the others.
Hermione's eyes widened. "Harry, that's-"
"My detention, yeah," Harry cut her off. "Written over and over in my own blood. Now do you believe me when I say she's going to turn Hogwarts into a bloody hellhole?"
"We believed you the whole time," Ron said, still staring in horror at Harry's hand.
"There's no way that's legal!" Hermione insisted, "You have to tell someone."
"I didn't at first," Harry admitted. He meant to continue, but Hermione cut him off.
"Why not?" she demanded angrily.
"Weakness," Draco answered for Harry. Harry shot him a look. "Not weakness on your part, Harry. The appearance of weakness. Running to authority at the slightest hint of injustice would be considered weak in her eyes."
"But that's absurd!" Hermione cried. A few people glanced their way and she lowered her voice. "You've got to tell someone, Harry, weak or not!"
"And he hasn't done anything?" Hermione asked in horror.
"Let me finish, Hermione!" Harry snapped. "Snape flipped on her. A day or two ago. It was actually a bit scary. He threatened her in almost every way imaginable, but in the end he couldn't do anything."
"Why not?" Ron asked, confused. "I mean, he's Snape. He's the scariest bloke in the school. She's just a little pink toad-face."
Harry gritted his teeth against his anger at Umbridge. "She's blackmailing him."
"What?" Hermione and Draco exclaimed at the same time.
"She threatened to rescind the adoption if he said anything," Harry fumed. "But I don't think she'll be using the Blood Quill anymore. He at least scared her out of that one."
"So that's the reason for her new appointment," Hermione breathed, clarity dawning.
"Can she really do that?" Ron asked. "Take back the adoption?"Harry shrugged, so Draco answered, "Probably. After all, she got herself appointed as High Inquisitor or whatever. She's been close with the minister for years."
"She won't, Harry, you know that," Hermione said, patting his hand comfortingly.
"That's the thing," Harry replied. "I don't know that. You don't either. Next summer, I could be back at the Dursleys'."
"But what reason would they give?" Draco asked. "You're happy enough at Snape's. It's not like he's neglecting you."
Harry put his head in his hands. "Umbridge hinted that they'd blame my hand on Severus. That, along with the fact that he's a suspected Death Eater would probably be enough." He sighed. "Unfortunately, my yelling out there probably didn't help anything."
"Don't take this the wrong way, but no matter what you did out there, I don't think it would've made much difference," Hermione said.
"Hi, Harry," a bright voice said from behind him.
Harry turned, hoping that whoever it was wasn't there to add to his horrible mood. Harry wasn't expecting to find Luna Lovegood behind him.
"Hi, Luna," Harry replied, a bit confused. He had never spoken to her before; he only knew her from the day that Neville had pointed her out.
"I just wanted to tell you that my father and I are on your side," Luna said. "The Quibbler knows the truth when it sees it," she said. "Like our crumple-horned snorcack prediction. I'm sure they'll be releasing the official discovery any day now. Well, that's all. See you later, Harry!"
She skipped away and Harry watched, detached. "Did that just happen?" he asked casually.
His friends all nodded in unison.
"I thought so," Harry muttered. He stared at the food on his plate with no desire to eat. "Come on. We should get to class."
As Harry passed the Head Table, Severus gave him a dark look. Harry knew it to be the one telling him to lay low and not cause trouble. After all, there had been quite enough trouble for one day, by anyone's standards, even Harry's. If only it had stopped there.