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A thick quiet hovered over the classroom like fog, punctuated by the slow scratch of quills, the gentle tick of the clock, and Umbridge’s erratic throat clearing.
Harry drew an extra line under the chapter title, and re-crossed and dotted his letters while Umbridge watched the clock. He pulled a small scrap of parchment out from under his work and double-checked Fleur’s note on re-enchanting simple things.
Confundus Charm to scramble any anti-tampering enchantments. Weave your intent into the magic on the object.
‘Okay, children.’ Umbridge buttoned her cardigan. ‘Pack away your things and leave quietly.’
And we’re done for the week. Harry slipped out in the midst of the huddle of students, then stepped into a shadowed alcove. Which means it’s time to get on with things.
‘How’s Katie?’ Nev popped up beside him.
‘Still in the hospital wing.’ Harry pulled out his invisibility cloak. ‘If you hang around for a few minutes I was about to go and visit her.’
Nev frowned at him. ‘You’re about to break your promise to her, aren’t you?’
‘I promised not to get caught,’ Harry said. ‘And how do you even know about that?’
‘Katie mentioned it to Angelina and Alicia in the hospital wing. I overheard them talking to the Weasley twins about it and your little stunt with Malfoy.’ Nev shook his head. ‘I don’t know what you thought you were doing, that was not some school corridor jinx.’
‘It was meant to be the water-conjuring charm.’ Harry shrugged. ‘I was angry and it went a bit wrong.’
‘I’ll wait out here,’ Nev said. ‘I doubt Umbridge is coming back soon, but if she is, I’ll try and delay her.’
‘Thanks, Nev.’ Harry pulled the cloak over himself. ‘I’ll be quick.’
He re-entered the classroom, glanced about, and strode down the rows of desks and into Umbridge’s office. Pink curtains, cushions, and cat-themed china decorations covered the room.
It’s hideous. Like Marge, but with cats rather than slobbering pitbulls.
Harry picked his way over to her desk and rummaged through the drawers. ‘Where’s the quill?’
He pried open a plain wooden box and found a silver-tipped, black-feathered quill as long as his hand. Harry touched the tip of his wand to it and tried to sense the intent.
A vague, crude impression of malice reached him. A sour, sharp excitement that brought the memory of Umbridge’s gleaming eyes staring at the injured Katie.
He swallowed the bile that rose in his throat. She made this herself to force children to repeatedly self-mutilate. And she enjoyed it. Harry let the ice close around his heart. Time for a little taste of her own malice.
‘Confundus,’ he murmured.
The quill shivered.
Harry pushed his magic into the quill. Now to tweak things. He tried to thread his intent through the existing enchantment, but Umbridge’s magic vanished before his like kitchen grease beneath a soapy sponge. He soaked it in his own intent instead, dyeing the magic with his will. Malice repaid in kind.
Harry permitted himself a small, thin smile and replaced everything as he’d found it. ‘Mischief managed.’
He strode out, stepped back into the alcove, and pulled the cloak off. Nev drifted back down the corridor.
‘Hospital wing time,’ Harry said.
‘What did you do?’ Nev asked.
‘Nothing much.’ Harry headed toward the infirmary. ‘Just altered her detention plans a little.’
‘The quill?’ Nev whispered.
‘You know about it?’
‘Yes.’ Nev’s eyes blazed. ‘Umbridge makes people write lines with it and it etches the words into your hand every time you write. Ron’s got permanent scars.’
‘It’s not too far from making people hurt themselves to hurting people yourself,’ Harry said. ‘Be careful of her. She’s obviously not very powerful, but she’s probably got enough malice to cast some nasty spells. Like the Cruciatus Curse.’
Nev clenched his fists. ‘Did you destroy it?’
‘I didn’t destroy it,’ Harry said. ‘I improved it.’
‘I don’t think I want to know,’ Nev said. ‘Just make sure it doesn’t end up with someone getting hurt who doesn’t deserve it.’
‘Umbridge’s magic was easy to wipe away. She’s not going to be able to undo what I’ve done. Now the only one who’ll get hurt if it’s used is her. And my magic’s stronger than hers, so the next words she gives to someone may cut quite deep.’
I do hope the next words she chooses to make a student write are appropriately ironic. Harry pushed open the door to the hospital wing.
Katie sat propped up on a pile of pillows with a copy of next year’s charms textbook in front of her. A small mountain of chocolate boxes and cards rose from the table and chair beside her bed.
She grinned when she caught sight of them and tossed her book onto the table. ‘Hi, Harry!’
He took a seat on the edge of her bed. ‘Hello, Katie.’
Nev hovered in the background. ‘H-hi, Katie.’
Katie beamed. ‘What did you bring me, Harry?’
‘This is Neville.’ Harry patted Nev on the cheek. ‘He’s a who, not a what, Katie, and I’m sure you two know each other.’
She feigned a scowl. ‘I meant for my get well present.’
‘Does Nev not count?’ he asked.
Nev snorted. ‘He got you revenge.’
Katie glowered. ‘You shouldn’t have done that. Rita Skeeter devoted the entirety of her column to your attack on Malfoy.’
‘Did she?’ Harry pulled the copy of the Daily Prophet out from under Katie’s pile of chocolate boxes and well-wishing cards.
Boy-Who-Lied attacks student in vicious, unprovoked assault. Wonderful.
‘Look on the bright side,’ Katie said. ‘Either someone sees this and murders you, in which case you don’t need to worry about anything, or you’ll still be able to run off.’
‘Thanks, Katie. I’ve missed you so much over the last few days.’
‘He has, actually,’ Nev piped up. ‘He looked very bored.’
‘It’s true,’ Harry said. ‘The firsties are all but in revolt without you to terrify them into submission. Black times are ahead without Gryffindor’s Dark Mistress to keep order.’
‘I’m out of here by the end of the weekend,’ Katie announced. ‘I’ll soon have those little tykes back under the heel where they belong.’
Nev shook his head. ‘It’s the way she says it so seriously and genuinely. I’m never quite sure you’re joking.’
‘She isn’t.’ Harry grinned. ‘Katie’s evil. She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.’
‘Did you read the rest of the article?’ Katie tapped the copy of the paper he was still holding.
‘No. It’s certainly all nonsense about me being a murderer and attacking students and the like.’ Harry stroked at an imaginary goatee. ‘I wonder what they’d write if I did murder someone. I think most people are getting a bit bored now.’
‘Some of it makes no sense,’ Katie said. ‘It says that Skeeter interviewed Malfoy yesterday, but he was still in here with me complaining to himself about his injuries and I never saw her at all.’
‘Maybe she got the date wrong,’ Nev suggested. ‘She got pretty much everything else wrong by the look of it.’
‘Perhaps, but the quotes do sound a lot like what Malfoy was saying in here, so she must have spoken to him at some point.’ Katie tugged the paper back out of Harry’s hands. ‘This is mine. I’m going to frame it as proof I was once heroically defended by Harry Potter. Girls dream about that, you know.’
‘It didn’t sound all that heroic to me,’ Nev muttered. He wilted at Harry’s raised eyebrow. ‘Sorry, Harry, but you did kind of curse him in front of a teacher for doing nothing more than opening his mouth like he always does.’
‘I was angry.’ Harry raised his hands. ‘I probably should’ve made sure there were no witnesses, though.’
‘And now you’re banned from quidditch for life,’ Katie said. ‘It’s a good thing Ginny Weasley wanted to be seeker or we wouldn’t even have one in time for the first training sessions.’
‘I’ll try to keep my temper in the future,’ Harry said.
‘You better,’ Katie murmured. ‘You promised me, remember?’
‘I won’t break my promise.’
‘What did you do to Malfoy?’ Katie asked. ‘I didn’t really see, but Pomfrey had to grow back a lot of his shoulder and arm, keep him under warming charms, and he was on blood replenishing potions for most of the next day.’
‘A dark adaptation of the water conjuring spell according to some,’ Nev replied. ‘I heard there was ice involved, but I also heard that you transformed into a giant serpent and bit him, so really nobody knows and those who saw aren’t saying. Malfoy’s been quite quiet recently.’
‘That rumour must’ve come from Hufflepuff,’ Harry said. ‘It has Ernie Macmillan all over it. He’s still scared from second year.’
‘I did overhear it from Cedric Diggory,’ Nev said. ‘He was laughing at how ludicrous it was in the library until he and Cho were kicked out by Madam Pince for kissing too loudly.’
At least there are some people still on my side.
‘So what have you been up to while I’ve been stuck here?’ Katie tucked the Daily Prophet back under her collection of half-empty chocolate boxes.
Harry stole a chocolate from one. ‘Lessons as normal. Nothing exciting.’
‘I might have tampered with an item of stationary in Umbridge’s office,’ Harry added, eating his stolen chocolate.
Hmmm. Mint. Not my favourite.
Katie gasped. ‘The quill?’
‘How does everyone know about this?’ Harry demanded. ‘It took me ages to figure out what she was doing.’
‘A lot of Gryffindors have got detention from her.’ Katie shrugged. ‘Word gets around.’
‘Then why hasn’t anyone done anything? It’s a torture device!’
Katie squirmed. ‘I think they’re scared of what Umbridge will do to them.’
If they’re that scared of Umbridge, then Voldemort might as well just announce he’s back and we’ll lose instantly.
‘What did you do to it?’ Katie whispered, glancing at Madam Pomfrey’s office.
‘I improved it,’ Harry replied.
Katie fixed him with a glare.
‘I may have altered the enchantment,’ he said. ‘Umbridge will probably regret making it the next time someone writes anything with it.’
Katie grinned. ‘Good. I hope it leaves a permanent scar on her.’ She leant forward, patted her pillows into shape, and punched Harry in the shoulder. ‘That’s for breaking your promise.’
‘I didn’t break it.’ Harry rubbed the sore spot. ‘I promised I wouldn’t get caught.’
‘Oh.’ Katie chewed her lip. ‘I did say that, didn’t I?’
‘Yes.’ Harry smirked. ‘Just after offering me a chance to have a look at your injuries.‘
Katie turned crimson. ‘Let’s just pretend I never said that. I can’t believe I thought that would be funny.’
‘Do you have to talk about this when I’m right here?’ Nev’s face glowed a brighter red than Katie’s.
‘Sorry, Nev.’ Harry shot him a wink. ‘Watch out for Katie, though. She’s very forward.’
Katie dragged the blankets back up above her head. ‘Go away,’ she muttered. ‘Go away and let me die of shame under here where I can’t be seen.’
‘Nope,’ Harry said. ‘Not happening.’
Katie stuck her head back out. ‘Don’t you have things to do?’
‘I promised I’d help Hermione, Dean, Seamus, and Ron again,’ Nev said.
Harry chuckled. ‘I’m completely free, so I’ll probably disappear for the weekend.’
Katie’s eyes flicked up to his, then she turned away and picked another chocolate. ‘So, Neville. What are you helping Hermione Granger with?’
Nev turned crimson and squeaked. Katie dissolved into giggles.
‘I think Hermione’s been experiencing some unusual feelings recently,’ Harry said. ‘Nev kindly offered to help her out.’
‘Nothing like that.’ Nev shook his head. ‘Just some of the spells we’re going to need but not learn in class.’
‘It’s turning into a bit of a regular thing now,’ Harry said. ‘It’ll be good for you to teach, you’ll know if you can understand and do it if you can teach it.’
‘H-hermione said that they’re not the only ones who want help, either.’ Nev stared at his feet. ‘Apparently everyone’s s-struggling without someone to teach them.’
‘I’m sure you’ll figure something out, Nev,’ Harry said.
‘He’s upset he might have even more people there when all he really wants to do is give Hermione one-on-one lessons,’ Katie quipped.
Neville squirmed. ‘She is evil. I don’t even think of Hermione like that. It’s just weird.’
‘What about me, Neville?’ Katie fluttered her eyelashes at him. ‘Do you think about me like that?’
Nev shot a glance at Harry. ‘No.’
‘Probably for the best,’ Harry said. ‘She’d be a terrifying girlfriend. Just ask the firsties. I’ve never heard the words human sacrifice so many times in one explanation of how to get into Gryffindor Tower and I only caught the last part of her explanation.’
Madman Pomfrey bustled out of her office. ‘You two, out. Stop disturbing everyone.’
Nev scuttled for the door. Harry lingered.
Katie sighed. ‘I’ll be out of here in a few days, Harry.’ She flashed him a faint smile. ‘I should be able come to your funeral once Frenchie’s murdered you.’
‘I wouldn’t bother,’ Harry said. ‘Once I’m dead, she’s coming straight for you, so I’ll be seeing you soon anyway.’
‘She won’t actually be angry with me, will she?’ Katie whispered.
‘Maybe a little bit,’ Harry said. ‘I doubt it’s that personal, you’re just part of the reason I got myself in trouble.’
Although she does have a temper. I’m fairly sure Gabby got harshly scolded for throwing her magic at me and I didn’t date Gabby before Fleur.
‘Sorry,’ Katie murmured. ‘If – if us being friends is an issue—’
Harry poked her on the forehead. ‘It’s not. Fleur just won’t like me doing something for you. Don’t fret about it.’
‘No girl likes it when their boyfriend is still friendly with his ex,’ Katie muttered.
Harry rolled his eyes. ‘We had one date.’
Katie pouted. ‘We had fun.’
‘Yeah, until the end.’
Her face fell. ‘Until the end.’
‘Out you go, Mr Potter,’ Madam Pomfrey ordered. ‘And don’t let me catch you sneaking back in later. Miss Bell needs to rest and relax or her ribs will take longer to recover.’
‘Bye Katie.’ Harry mussed her hair. ‘I’ll be waiting for you in hell.’
‘And you’ll probably be burning before you get there.’ A small smile made it onto Katie’s lips. ‘See you soon.’