Harry sat, struggling to focus on the Defense text book in front of him when his scar began to burn. Harry's heart picked up speed. It was broad daylight; why would Voldemort be calling a meeting in the middle of the day? Unless he wasn't calling a meeting at all.
Harry looked up. Umbridge was pacing the front of the room, eyeing everybody critically as they buried their noses in their books. She wore the haughty look that had graced her face since being named High Inquisitor that morning. To Harry, it was repulsive.
As his scar flashed once more, Harry raised his hand.
"Yes, Mr. Potter?" she called stiffly.
"May I be excused for the Hospital Wing, Professor?" Harry asked with forced politeness.
Harry considered lying, but dismissed the thought, not wanting to give in to the Ministry's attempt to force them into pretending Voldemort wasn't back. "My scar is burning."
Umbridge blinked at him. "Your lie is not appreciated, Mr. Potter."
"I'm not lying," Harry replied, trying to resist a sigh. "It really is burning."
"I have never heard of such a thing," Umbridge snapped in return.
Harry looked back at her levelly. "It's been happening more and more ever since Voldemort returned."
At this point, many books were being neglected in favor of watching the fight between Harry and Umbridge. Umbridge's face hardened.
"Mr. Potter, we have been over this. It appears you have not learned your lesson. Now carry on with your reading, before I am tempted to give you another detention," she ordered. "You shall not be going anywhere."
Harry felt a surge of hate and opened his mouth to shoot something back that was less than polite, when Draco kicked him under the table.
"What?" he hissed.
"Remember what you told us at breakfast," Draco said. "Don't make the situation any worse."
Harry glared at him but admitted he was right. Another wave of pain hit his scar and Harry glanced at the time. Fortunately, they only had five more minutes of class for the day and then Harry could go check on his guardian.
Those five minutes passed with all the speed of an eternity. When at last they were dismissed, Harry gathered his things with haste, ready to bolt out the door.
"I've got to go see Snape," he told his friends with urgency. "See you later."
Harry just about ran to the dungeons where he found Snape, both hands pressed flat on his desk, standing with his back hunched over. Harry stepped into the office and closed the door.
"Severus, are you alright?" Harry asked. His own scar was still paining him.
"You don't look alright," Harry said.
Severus straightened. "I am. I am just...recovering. The salve helped a lot. Did your scar burn?"
"It is, yeah," Harry replied.
Severus held out the tin with his right hand. "Here, put some on."
Harry took it, but when he put his finger inside, there was only a thin coating left around the bottom rim. "Severus, this is almost gone. How much did you use?"
"Very little," he said. "This time."
"This time?" Harry demanded. "There have been other times?"
Severus nodded, eyes distant. His gaze slid over to Harry still holding the tin. "Go on, use it. We can make more soon."
Harry frowned but obeyed. "Why didn't you tell me?""I did not see how making you concerned would help anything," Severus said as the pain in Harry's scar began to die down.
"But that doesn't mean I don't want to know," Harry argued. "Why'd it only hurt my scar this time?"
Severus gave a heavy sigh. "I believe the Dark Lord is growing angrier at me. He is beginning to lose his temper, not that he has much of one. It must be overflowing into you at the this point. I am sorry."
"Don't apologize," Harry replied immediately. "We've got to do something about this! There's no way we can get it off?""Do not think I have not looked into it," Severus muttered darkly. "Only the person who created it has the ability to take it off."
Harry considered that. "So we trick Voldemort into taking it off."
Severus sneered. "Yes, Harry, let's just trick the Dark Lord into doing whatever we want. Genius, I'm sure it will work," he said snidely.
Harry shrugged. "Just a thought."
With the pain in his scar mostly gone, Harry slumped into the visitor's chair. "While I'm here, what was it that you wanted me to stop by for?"
Severus rubbed his forehead tiredly. "To talk about this morning, of course."
"Oh, right," Harry replied.
"You cannot lose your temper like that, Harry. I thought we went over this," Severus said.
"I couldn't help it," Harry protested. "Skeeter was being so...infuriating."
"But you realize that you are already labeled as unstable," Severus pointed out. "You oughtn't fuel their fire."
Harry sighed. "Alright. But then there's that whole thing with Umbridge being High Inquisitor," he said with a generous dose of disdain. "Why can't Dumbledore stop that?"
"He is already under scrutiny for supposedly being Hogwarts' dictator, out for the Minister's position. Any dissent that he voices will translate into almost certain removal from his Headmaster position. That is something that neither Hogwarts nor the Order can afford."
Harry frowned. Another thing that Dumbledore was unable to stop. "So what can we do, then? How do we stop Umbridge from destroying the school and keeping us all unprepared?"
"I am sure there will be something we can do," Snape replied. "We simply have to wait for an opportunity."
"She's going to start inspecting classes and teachers, she said," Harry reminded him. "She already has it out for you."
"I will be fine, Harry. There is nothing in my teaching methods that cannot stand scrutiny," Severus replied confidently.
"You best be getting to dinner," Severus told Harry. "Your friends will be waiting, I am sure."
Harry nodded again. "When can we brew that potion?"
Severus flipped through the silver edged plan book that Harry had gotten him for his birthday a year or two back. "I have several meetings this week and I must grade the essays that I collected from your class today. Perhaps next tuesday? We can start it then and then let it sit in my back room."
Harry nodded. "Okay."
"Hey, Ron. Where are Hermione and Draco?" Harry asked, sliding onto the bench next to his friend a few days later at breakfast.
Ron shrugged, looking a bit glum. "Off doing some prefect thing."
"Oh," Harry replied, helping himself to food.
There was a momentary silence.
"They've been spending a lot of time together," Ron commented.
"Yeah," Harry said. It was the safest reply.
"Do you think something's up?"
Harry conveniently had a mouthful of food. "I dunno," he managed.
The rest of breakfast was filled with a similar awkward silence. "Well, should we go to class, then?" Harry asked after he had finished eating.
"Yeah," Ron muttered. "Hey, congratulations on making the Quidditch team again."
"Thanks, Ron," Harry replied with a smile. "Did you see that Draco's a Chaser?"
Ron nodded. "That's brilliant. I hope we get the cup this year."
"You and me both," Harry replied.
"Where are we going again?" Ron asked.
"Transfiguration," Harry responded. "You're holding your textbook."
Ron looked down. "Oh, right."
As they walked, Harry fished for a topic of conversation. "So, are you going on the next Hogsmeade trip?"
"When is it?" Ron asked.
"Three weeks, I think. The weekend after the first Quidditch match," Harry replied. "This will be my first time going unaccompanied."
Ron scoffed, "Yeah, like Snape's not going to watch you like a hawk while you're there."
Harry shrugged. "I doubt he'll chaperone. Either way, I'm excited."
They walked into the Transfiguration classroom and Harry's eyes immediately snapped to the all too familiar face of Umbridge in the corner, superior smile and clipboard included. McGonagall stood at the center of the room looking less than happy.
"Have a seat!" she called as people streamed into the room, chatting amongst themselves. "Quiet down."
Professor McGonagall commanded enough respect that the class did as they were told.
With mild distaste, she said, "Professor Umbridge is here today to observe our class. You are not to act differently, but rather be as normal as possible. Understood?"
There were a few nods, some silence and a few glares and sneaky glances at Umbridge. McGonagall cleared her throat. "Today's lesson will focus on two step transfiguration. First, you must transfigure the skin of the orange that you have been given into glass. The skin only. Then, you are to transfigure the fleshy portion of the orange into liquid. If you transfigure the whole orange in one step, it will result in a solid glass ball. That is to be avoided. Now, on your O.W.L.s-"
McGonagall closed her eyes and took a deep breath, turning to Umbridge slowly. "Yes, Dolores?""How long have you been teaching transfiguration?" she asked.
"Almost forty years," McGongall replied curtly. She turned back to her class. "You will find the two spells that you are to use on page 456 of your textbooks. Plea-"
"Hem, hem," Umbridge interrupted again.
This time, McGongall was not quite so cool. "Excuse me, Dolores, but I fail to understand how you can observe the normal course of a class if you keep interrupting."
Umrbidge effectively ignored her. "I have a question. You are a registered animagus, correct?"
"And have you ever changed forms during the time in which you had teaching duties?" Umbridge asked.
McGonagall peered at her critically. "I use it for demonstration purposes, occasionally."
Umbridge looked a bit taken aback. "Do you consider it appropriate to change forms in the classroom? What purpose could that serve?"
McGonagall seemed to have to struggle to keep her voice somewhat even. "I told you, it serves as a demonstration when teaching about animagi. This is Transfiguration class and animagi are the ultimate form of transfiguration. It serves to illustrate the point."
Professor Umbridge marked something on her clipboard. "Surely a simple diagram in a book would suffice. You needn't go to such ridiculous lengths for something that could easily be imagined or explained."
Harry watched as McGonagall clenched her fists and then relaxed them slowly.
"It helps some students to see it in action," McGonagall stated.
"And does the same go for dementors? For werewolves? Would it help to see them in action?"
"I am the animagus!" Professor McGonagall snapped. "I would do nothing in that form that I wouldn't do as a human!"
"Hm," Umbridge said, pursing her lips. "And say you were in your animagus form and something happened in the classroom. A fight broke out, say. How would you stop it?"
"Change back," McGonagall said smartly.
"How long does it take you to change back?" Umbridge inquired. "What if you weren't able to do so fast enough?"
In a flash, McGonagall was a cat who hissed once before morphing back into her human form all within the course of three seconds. "Fast enough?" she asked. "I would hope that the hypothetical fighting students would have the restraint not to kill each other in the half a second it would take me to turn back."
"Yes, but you cannot count on that," Umbridge said. "As a cat, you have no control."
"If not take the time to change back, what would you have me do?" McGonagall demanded. "Claw at them? Give them scars that would last for the rest of their lives? I would never hurt a child, Dolores."
Harry blinked. Severus must have told her about the quill. It couldn't be a coincidence.
Umbridge looked on the edge of being livid. "Duly noted, Minerva. Now, do you plan on teaching this class or was your intention to whittle away the time until none remained in which to teach?"
McGonagall's face was one of fury when she turned back to the class. "Well? Open your books to page 456."
Harry did so and exchanged a glance with Ron. The first shots had been fired and Harry wasn't sure whether or not McGonagall had won.