When Harry had finished explaining that he had agreed to teach his friends Defense Against the Dark Arts, Severus sighed.
"Harry..." he trailed off with a shake of his head.
Harry looked at him innocently. "What? You think I shouldn't have agreed?"
Severus spread his hands out on his desk. "What you are doing is very...noble. Very Gryffindor of you. But I am not certain it is in your best interests."
"Why not?" Harry asked. "I just want them to be prepared."
Severus rubbed his forehead tiredly. "I understand that, but you risk angering Umbridge even further than you have already. I know that you don't like to admit it, but she does wield quite a bit of power, which seems to be growing by the day. If she were to catch you, I fear to consider the consequences."
"They wanted you to do it at first," Harry admitted.
One of Severus's eye brows shot up. "Is that so?"Harry nodded. "I didn't want to risk it. I think she would be angrier with you than with me."
"What would make you think that?"
Harry shrugged. "She probably expects it from me by now." He paused. "So what should I do then? Back out?"
"Don't get caught," Severus advised.
"How am I supposed to do that?" Harry asked with a scowl.
Severus gave a half shrug. "You have rather clever friends, I believe you can work it out. Find a place to meet that Umbridge does not know about."
"Like where?" Harry prompted. "I'm sure she knows most of Hogwarts like the back of her hand now that she's practically ruling it."
Severus leaned forward with a glint in his eye. "Have you ever heard of the Room of Requirement?"
Harry's brow furrowed. "No. Is it on the map?" he asked, thinking of the Marauder's Map that was hidden upstairs in his trunk.
Severus inclined his head. "An interesting question. I do not know."
"What is it?"
"It is a rather secret room of Hogwarts that is what you need it to be," Severus replied with relish.
Harry looked at him. "What do you mean?"
"It only appears in times of dire need and it materializes outfitted exactly as you need it," Severus explained. "I spent quite a bit of time there in my Hogwarts days."
"What did it become for you?" Harry asked.
"Generally a potions laboratory so that I could brew longer potions with no disturbance," he replied casually. "I believe it would suit your little group quite well."
Harry nodded in agreement. "Where is it?"
"On the seventh floor," Severus replied. "Bring your map next time and I will show you where the entrance appeared for me. If I am correct, I believe it is transient based on your needs."
"Brilliant," Harry breathed. "Thanks, Severus. I should get going now, it's almost curfew."
"Are you ready for Umbridge's visit tomorrow?" Harry asked.
"Naturally," Severus replied easily. "Though I believe I might have to work on controlling my temper beforehand."
Harry grinned. "Or don't. It'll make things more interesting for her."
Severus gave him a stern look. "Goodnight, Harry."
Umbridge circled the room as everyone stood at their stations working on their potions. Fortunately, her presence cast a blanket of silence upon the class and it was fairly easy to hear what she said to Snape over the noise of the boiling potions.
"Professor Snape, is it true that you originally applied for the Defense Against the Dark Arts position?" she asked.
"Yes," Severus replied curtly, gazing at students' potions as if vainly hoping that she would go away if he ignored her.
"And you were unsuccessful?" Umbridge inquired with a tart smile.
Severus gave her a disparaging glance. "Obviously."
"And why do you suppose that is? Incompetency?"
From where he was bent over a Slytherin's potion, Severus spun around, flipping his cloak dramatically. "Perhaps because good Potions Masters are rather harder to come by than Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers who have recently been quite disposable."
The tension in the room was palpable as Severus and Umbridge engaged each other in an impromptu staring, or rather, glaring match. Finally, Umbridge smiled tightly. "Well, I am certain that we could find another Potions Master, should a situation arise where we would need one."
Severus's face morphed into a hard mask of fury. He straightened. "So be it. Though, judging by the current pattern as well as other factors, I believe we will be in search of a new Defense teacher first."
With a huff, Umbridge stalked down an adjacent aisle. Severus turned and came down to inspect Harry's row. He looked into cauldron after cauldron, sometimes offering criticism, but rarely praise.
"Five points from Gryffindor, Mr. Longbottom," he said. "Your watery potion is nothing like the slime consistency that the instructions require."
Neville nodded glumly.
"Add some bonemeal," Harry told him helpfully. "It should thicken it up some."
Neville brightened a bit. "I'll try that. Thanks, Harry."
"And five points back to Gryffindor, Mr. Potter," Severus said from behind Harry. "Your potion is coming along nicely."
Harry smiled into his cauldron. "Thanks," he replied. Glancing up, he found Umbridge looking at them smugly.
"Showing favoritism, are we, Severus?" she asked. A few of the Slytherins perked up at this.
"Not at all," Severus replied easily. "I would have rewarded the same amount of points to any other student with a perfect potion who demonstrated potions knowledge whilst helping another student."
"And your judgement is certainly not skewed because Mr. Potter is legally your responsibility?" she challenged.
Severus's gaze hardened. "I do not like your tone."
Umbridge gave him another tight lipped smile. "You don't have to. I was merely considering the fact that your and Mr. Potter's relationship might be interfering with the effectiveness and fairness of your teaching. That's all."
Severus glared at her for a long moment. Casually, without looking away, he said, "Mr. Potter, your potion is burning."
Startled, Harry stirred his cauldron which he had neglected in favor of watching the exchange between his guardian and teacher.
Lowering his voice, Severus said to Umbridge, "My and Mr. Potter's relationship is not interfering with anything and even if it were, there is absolutely nothing that you can do stop it."Harry felt a moment of worry knowing that there was something she could do and Severus knew it. Apparently though, bravado was more important. Unless Severus had some other reason for challenging her. To Harry, it didn't seem like the best of ideas.
Umbridge looked at him and pursed her lips. "We'll see."
A chill ran down Harry's spine.
On the following Monday, the first Educational Decree was released. Fliers were posted all over the school declaring:
EDUCATIONAL DECREE #1:
All house point distribution changes must be approved by the Hogwarts High Inquisitor before they take effect.
"How is that even allowed?" Hermione demanded angrily as they walked down the corridor to Charms class. "I mean, she's supposed to be reforming Hogwarts's educational system, right? What does that have to do with learning?"
"Nothing. It's just Umbridge flaunting her power," Draco replied.
Harry trudged down the hallway with them. "This is all because of Potions the other day. She's making a point to Snape that she can do whatever she wants."
"She's out of hand," Ron said with a scowl.
"And it's only just begun," Harry muttered darkly. "How long until you get things organized for the you-know-what, Hermione?"
"We decided that it'd be best if we didn't have the first meeting in school, just in case," she said.
"Who's 'we'?" Ron asked, cutting her off.
"Draco and me," Hermione replied. "We've been brainstorming in the library after studying."
Ron responded with a scowl.
Hermione shot him a glance, but continued. "Anyway, we think the Hogsmeade trip would be the best. We could spread the word only to people we trust and all meet there somewhere. That would give us a couple of weeks before the Christmas holidays to plan another meeting or two, if everything goes well."Harry nodded. "Alright. So that's next weekend, right? This weekend is the first Quidditch match."
"Speaking of which, we have practice tonight, Harry," Draco reminded him.
"I know," Harry replied as they slipped into Flitwick's classroom and took their seats. "Are you-"
"Quiet now," Flitwick said in his high voice. He stood at the front of the room, climbing on a stool in attempt to assert his presence. "Open your books, please, and take out your wands."
"We'll talk later," Harry whispered to Draco. He nodded.
Later came as they were headed down to the pitch that night for practice. Harry walked along contentedly, taking in the crisp fall air. Quidditch had always been and still remained Harry's solitude of sorts. Here was a place where Harry was certain he knew the rules, there were no tricks around the corner.
"Excited for your first real game?" Harry asked conversationally.
Until now, Draco had merely been an alternate for a case in which one of the real players was injured. Now, as Chaser, Draco had a guaranteed spot.
"Yeah," he replied with a grin. "And we had better win. I want the cup this year."
"We all do," Harry replied. "Who's the Seeker for Ravenclaw? Still Cho Chang?"Draco nodded. He gave Harry a sideways look. "You better not get distracted."Harry frowned. "Why would I?" he asked rhetorically.
Draco shrugged as they entered the small locker room area off the pitch. Most of the team was already gathered.
"Have you seen this?" Fred asked Harry grimly.
"What's that?" Harry asked, setting his bag down and stepping closer. He peered over at what Fred was holding. "Umbridge's notice? Yeah, I saw it.""No, this one," he replied, handing Harry the paper.
EDUCATIONAL DECREE #2:
Boys and girls are not permitted to be within a one yard radius of each other.
Harry blinked at it and passed it silently to Draco, who read it and looked up at Fred in shock.
"This is absurd," Draco said.
"What's that have to do with anything, anyway?" Harry asked. "I mean, that has nothing to do with how Hogwarts teaches," he said, remembering Hermione's words from earlier.
Angelina suddenly had somewhere else to be. George sauntered over, rubbing his neck sheepishly.
"Er, this one may or may not be my fault," he admitted. "I mean...Umbridge yelled at Angelina and I and, well, I might have mouthed off a bit."
"A bit?" Harry repeated. He snatched the paper back from Draco and shoved it at George. "This doesn't look like a bit!"
George flinched and Harry backed off, surprised at himself. He lowered the paper, suddenly wondering if maybe the Daily Prophet was right, at least partially. What did he look like when he snapped like that? Harry suddenly felt sobered and ashamed.
"Sorry, George," he apologized. "I overreacted there."
"It's alright, Harry," George replied easily. Luckily, Harry missed the glance that passed between the twins. "The more pressing problem is the fact that most Quidditch teams are approximately half and half, with the exception of the Slytherins. As you know, there's a lot of contact and closer than one yard action."
Draco gave a lopsided grin. "Since when did you guys care about the rules?"
"Since we realized that we'd rather like the Cup in our last year," Fred replied immediately. "That way, we could go out with a school-approved bang."
"Or, you know, we could just scrap the cup idea and go out with a whole bunch of 'bangs' without having to worry about losing points," George suggested thoughtfully.
Fred grinned. "There's that. But Angelina would never go along with it, you know."
George crossed his arms with a huff. "Who went and made her captain, anyway?"
"McGonagall," Fred answered. "She apparently thought that the two of us co-captaining for a second year in a row wasn't a good idea. Mental, right?"
Harry gave an indifferent shrug. "So what's this mean for the game, then?"
Angelina returned just then, saying, "We play by her rules. I don't want to get penalized all for a bit of pushing and shoving. Or if you need to push and shove someone, go for the guys."
"But what if Cho and I are racing for the Snitch?" Harry asked. "It usually get's pretty close."
"Don't let it," was Angelina's advice.
It was easier when she put it that way.