"Ron!" Harry called catching up with his red haired friend near the entrance to the school. "You going down to the pitch?" he asked a bit breathlessly.
"Yeah," Ron replied. He looked Harry over. "How come you aren't down there already?"
Harry scratched his neck. "I, er, got caught up in something. Walk down with me?"
"Sure." Ron gave him a sidelong look. "What'd you get caught up with that could be more important than Quidditch?"
Harry knew that Ron was aware that Quidditch was one of his favorite things in the world. He also knew that he couldn't force down the blush creeping into his cheeks. "Nothing," he hedged.
Slowly, Ron began to grin. "It wouldn't have anything to do with that mirror of yours and a certain Durmstrang girl, would it?"
Harry punched him lightly in the arm. "Oh, shut it."
Ron chuckled. "You still talk to her often?"
Harry shrugged. "Every couple of days or so."
"Practically as much as I talk to Hermione," Ron muttered with a scowl.
Harry looked over at him. "You guys aren't fighting again, are you?"
"What? No," Ron said quickly. "At least I don't think so. I just don't get to talk to her because she spends all her time in the library, studying with Draco." He raised a suspicious eyebrow and gave Harry a look.
Harry gulped. "What- you think it's more than that? It's not," he assured Ron.
"Are you kidding? They'll be snogging in the halls soon," Ron said bitterly. "How do you know, anyway?"
"Er..." Harry trailed off. He shrugged. "Just a guess, I suppose. Why's it bother you so much?"
Now it was Ron's turn to go red. "It doesn't," he said with no degree of certainty.
Harry grinned as they reached the pitch where the stands were filling quickly.
"See you, mate. Good luck," Ron said, patting him on the back.
"Thanks," Harry replied. "How about you go sit with Hermione?" he suggested with a wink.
Ron reddened again, but headed that way. Still smiling, Harry stepped into the Gryffindor staging area. At the look on his teammates' faces, Harry's smile immediately faded away.
"What's wrong?" he asked with dread.
In a moment of deja vu, Harry took the proffered paper from one of the twins.
EDUCATIONAL DECREE #5:
All student sports teams and clubs are henceforth disbanded until re-approved by the Hogwarts High Inquisitor.
Harry lowered the paper and looked at the twins. "Please tell me that this is a joke."
The twins looked grim. "Even we wouldn't be that cruel."
"Besides," George added, "it's not a very funny joke."
"No, it's not," Angelina said angrily. "What's worse is that this was posted in every common room except ours."
"Wait, so you mean Ravenclaw got clearance?" Harry asked.
"Yes," Alicia Spinnet, recently moved up to the Keeper position, moaned. "They've all gotten clearance."
"That's completely unfair!" Harry shouted. "Can't McGonagall do something?"
Harry tried desperately to force down the wave of anger that rose in him and clamped his mouth shut. He had to get his temper under control.
"She tried, but you know how Umbridge is," Angelina said, rubbing her temples.
"So what now?" Katie asked.
"I guess we go out there," Angelina decided. "Maybe she can give us permission on the spot."
Fred snorted, "Fat chance."
"Well, we've got to try," she replied. "The only other option is to forfeit."
They all knew that, for Gryffindor, a forfeit was never a viable choice, so they headed out onto the pitch. The Ravenclaw team stood in position with their brooms, waiting. Harry glanced up and found Snape in the stands with many of the other teachers, but no Dumbledore. He frowned.
"Umbridge is up in the commentator's booth with McGonagall and Lee," Fred pointed out. "I wonder if Lee still has some of that U-No-Poo protoype in his pocket," he told George in a carrying whisper.
"I'll go talk to her, I'm captain," Angelina said. "But someone should come with me for representation."
They all looked at one another.
"Well it certainly can't be any of you," she said to Harry and the twins. "She hates you enough as it is."
Still, no one was forthcoming.
"I'll go," Draco offered at last. "Maybe I can help."
Angelina nodded curtly. "Come on. Before they start."
Draco trailed after Angelina on the stairs. He didn't relish going to see Umbridge, but he thought that there was a chance, however slight, that he could convince her to let them play. The way that she spoke to him when he wasn't around Harry seemed to hint that she thought that he was his father's son, simply hanging out with the wrong people for whatever reason.
Draco hoped to use this to his advantage, if at all possible. Angelina knocked on the wooden door to the commentator's booth.
McGonagall opened it.
"Ms. Johnson, Mr. Malfoy, what are you doing up here?" she asked.
"We've come to ask permission from Professor Umbridge to re-form our Quidditch team," Angelina said in a polite, clipped tone. "We just now found the notice in our team room," she added.
Professor Umbridge gave them a tight lipped smile. "As they say, Ms. Johnson, ignorance of the law is no excuse." She clasped her hands in front of her. "In any case, you must fill out a form that takes twenty four hours processing time." Umbridge glanced out at the stands. "I highly doubt the students and faculty would be amenable to postponing the match into tomorrow's class time."
"But-" Angelina started.
"That's not fai-" Lee said at the same time.
Umbridge cut them both off with a hand. "I cannot make an exception for one house when the others have abided by my rules."
Angelina shot a desperate look at Draco. He pushed to the front.
"Professor Umbridge, if I may, the notice was not posted on our common room's bulletin board. I'm a prefect and we were never given the flyer to post, as the other houses were. Surely we could come to some sort of compromise- my father always highly praised your ability to solve problems in all fairness when you worked together at the Ministry." Umbridge's head twitched ever so slightly and Draco pushed forward. "In fact, he thought very highly of you in general."
"Did he?" she inquired.
"Hm." Umbridge handed Angelina a piece of rolled up parchment. "Fill out the form and wait on the pitch for my decision. Dismissed."
Draco stepped from the room and let out a breath. He straightened to find Angelina looking at him. "You did great," she said. "You just might have saved our skins. Where'd you learn to talk like that?" she asked as they walked back down the stairs to the pitch.
"Slytherin," Draco responded dryly.
"Right. Well, if it works, I'll have a few apologies for you."
As Draco relayed the story to the team, Angelina set to work on the three foot long form.
"Why in Merlin's name is this so long?" she demanded. "'Number of years each player has been playing Quidditch, both on a structured team and outside.' Why's that matter?" she demanded.
In the end, it didn't.
Halfway through her progress on the form, Angelina was interrupted by that horribly sweet voice which they all had grown to hate with a passion wafting over the intercom.
"Hem, hem," she said. The microphone let out a high pitched squeal which faded quickly, allowing her to continue. "Your attention please. By Educational Decree number five, the Gyffindor Quidditch team was disbanded. As such, and being that they did not apply for permission to re-form the team within the proper twenty four hour window which would allow them to play today, they hereby are forced to forfeit this game."
Shouts and screams of indignation rose from the Gryffindor section. Slytherin was the only house who seemed happy about this announcement, for Umrbidge was so widely hated that even Ravenclaw didn't see it as a victory on their part. Even the generally calm Hufflepuffs were angry at the gross injustice, for they could certainly hear the Gryffindors shouting that they weren't informed.
Umbridge ignored them all and plowed on. "Ravenclaw will therefore be awarded the minimum amount of points to win the game, one hundred and fifty. As there will be no game played today, you may all return to your common rooms." She ended with a vile little giggle.
Draco's heart fell. He was almost certain that he had won her over. If anything, this simply made him hate her more. Immediately, he scanned the stands for Hermione. It was time that they put the final touches on the first meeting of the defense club.
Draco dearly needed a place to channel his anger.
"It's just absurd," Harry said into his mirror while lying on his bed in the empty dormitory. "She's got it out for us!"
Sirius was outraged. "Man, I'd love to have a go at her," he said, balling his fists. " If I was still at Hogwarts..." He shook his head. "She'd have to watch her every step. And her back."
"As a student or a teacher?" Harry asked wryly.
"Either one," he growled.
"Besides, how can you watch your steps and your back?" Harry asked thoughtfully, distracting himself so that the inevitable anger wouldn't resurface.
"Exactly," Sirius said with a grin. "But never mind that, how are you holding up, Harry?"
Harry could tell that he was hinting at his scar issues of the summer. He shrugged, bouncing the mirror as he did so.
"Sometimes alright. Sometimes good."
"And the rest of the times?" Sirius prompted.
Harry quieted for a moment. "I'm just...I'm so angry all the time, Sirius. And I don't know why."
"I'd be angry if I were you, too, Harry," Sirius said. "I mean, Umbridge is...well you can fill in the rest with a word of your choice."
"Don't I know it," Harry muttered. "But it's more than that. The slightest thing makes me flip these days. Like Rita Skeeter."
"That's still understandable."
"But George," Harry protested. "I snapped at George just the other day. He didn't deserve it." He looked down, fixing his gaze on the decorative handle of the mirror. "I think there's something wrong with me, Sirius."
"Harry," coaxed Sirius. Harry looked up and found Sirius looking concerned. The expression didn't seem wholly natural on his face. "There isn't a thing wrong with you. You're a teenager and teenagers are moody sometimes. I'm sure that's all it is. Besides, you have quite a right to be angry at Umbridge and at Voldemort and at the media, too. They've all wronged you. George was probably just spillover. There is nothing wrong with you, do you hear me?"
Harry nodded numbly. He didn't entirely agree. His anger seemed deeper, more...out of control.
"Have you talked with Severus about this?" Sirius asked. "I'm certain he'd tell you the same thing. Not quite as eloquently or as encouragingly, but..." he gave Harry a light grin.
"No," Harry replied honestly.
"Why not?" Sirius asked in surprise. "I thought you told him just about everything."
Harry shrugged. "He's been busy. Fighting with Umbridge, mostly. But also...Death Eater stuff, you know. I don't want to add to his worries."
"He wouldn't wan-"
"I know, I know," Harry interrupted.
"You should tell him, Harry," Sirius said sternly. "Or I will."
Harry shot Sirius a look of betrayal. He sighed. "Fine."
"Good," Sirius said. He paused as the conversation caught up to him. "Wait, fighting with Umbridge?"
Harry bit his lip, realizing it had been far too long since he had last talked with Sirius. "She's blackmailing him. Threatened to cancel the adoption."
Sirius's jaw dropped in shock, soon turned to anger. "What? That's...That's... She can't do that!"
Harry shrugged. At this point, he realized that she could do just about anything.
"Well," Sirius huffed. "We'll show her if she does."
Harry looked up sharply. "What?"
"Well if she does cancel it somehow," said Sirius, grinning slowly, "I'll just adopt you and you can go about your life as normal."
Harry blinked at him. "That's brilliant, Sirius! I mean, it's obviously not ideal, no offense-"
"-but it beats going back to the Dursley's like I was afraid of," Harry said, brightening up a bit. "Thanks, Sirius."
Sirius winked. "Not a problem, Harry. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go see a man about a horse."
Harry stared at him. "Is that a euphemism for having to go to the loo? Because you could just say that, you know."
Sirius stared right back. "No, of course not. I'm really going to see him about a horse. I thought it'd make an impression pulling a Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes cart down Diagon alley advertising the store."
"Er, good luck with that then," Harry said, wondering, not for the first time, why the twins were okay with giving Sirius free marketing reign. "See you."
"Bye, Harry. Don't let her get to you."
Sirius's face melted and Harry set down the mirror. He folded his arms behind his head and tried to ignore the sudden onset of burning in his scar. He wondered if Severus was okay, being that he was out of potion.
Harry had no idea that he was, in no way, okay. And he wasn't about to find out, either.