This one’s for Rahul. A massive thank you for your support of my dream!
If you prefer audiobooks, listen to the audio version created by Sam Gabriel below!
A calm, clear blue sky hung over the Great Hall. Umbridge presided over a quiet, subdued lunch from the headmaster’s seat. A two metre gap stretched between her and any other teacher on the staff table.
Harry twirled his wand in his hand, enjoying the shivers of warmth that rushed up his arm. His picture smiled back from the front of the paper. The Boy-Who-Was-Lied-To.
Cedric Diggory swung in next to him. ‘You’ve been exonerated, I see.’
‘For this week.’ Harry shrugged. ‘Hero one year, villain the next, victim the one after. I might manage a full cycle soon.’
Stupid, shallow people. They love putting someone on a pedestal, then the moment that person acts human, they delight in tearing them down.
Cedric chuckled and waved everyone a bit closer. Ron dragged his plate of food down the table, scattering carrots everywhere.
‘Ronald.’ Hermione flicked her wand at them and sent them zipping back onto his plate. ‘Honestly. Don’t be such a lout.’
‘I figured out who betrayed the DA,’ Cedric said. ‘Wasn’t even that tricky.’
Oh? Harry raised an eyebrow.
‘Who?’ Nev clenched his fist around his fork.
‘Cho said her friend Marietta Edgecombe hasn’t received a single detention or so much as a rebuke from Umbridge or her squad of inquisitorial morons. Her mother works at the Ministry, too, she’s one of the officials who helps to monitor the floo network and fireplaces at the castle.’
‘Marietta isn’t part of the DA,’ Hermione said. ‘She can’t have known.’
‘She was at the first meeting,’ Nev said. ‘She left early, before signing the list. I’d bet she told Umbridge and that’s why she was looking for us in the first place.’
Ron swallowed a mouthful of carrots. ‘She wouldn’t have known where to find the list.’
‘Where was it?’ Harry asked.
‘We hid it in the Room of Requirement,’ Hermione replied. ‘I tested it. I was afraid something might go wrong somehow. There was no way it could be found by anyone who didn’t already know where it was.’
‘Can you show me?’ Harry enquired. ‘I’m good at using the room, I might be able to figure out Umbridge managed to find it.’
Hermione shook her head. ‘We tried everything already. Neville’s an expert of using the Room of Requirement.’
‘Let’s go,’ Nev said. ‘Harry taught me how to use the place, it’s a good idea.’
Hermione huffed under her breath and chewed at her lip, but trailed them out of the hall and up the stairs. ‘There’s a pair of inquisitors on the seventh floor now.’
Harry pretended not to notice the dark glower Umbridge sent him from where she perched on the headteacher’s chair. Her pink heels rested on a pink cushion half a metre above the floor.
‘Has anyone seen any hint of the jinx Hermione placed on the list?’ Cedric asked.
‘No.’ Ron shook his head. ‘And we’ve all double checked every face. None of our members have shown any sign of it and none of them have been absent, ill, or gone home.’
‘Could it have simply been removed?’ Harry asked.
‘No.’ Hermione smiled. ‘Nobody could betray the group and avoid my jinx.’
Well, that’s not quite true. You left too many loopholes in the intent of your enchantment, too focused on direct betrayal and not thinking of indirect ones.
‘So Marietta seems likely,’ Cedric said.
‘Yeah. I’ll set the twins on her if she did, they’ll make her life as miserable as everyone else’s is with Umbridge in charge.’
‘I still don’t see how Marietta could have told Umbridge about the list,’ Hermione muttered.
‘She knew it existed,’ Nev said. ‘Maybe she followed us to the room.’
They hurried up the stairs in silence, pausing on the sixth floor.
Ron pulled out his wand. ‘I’ll distract them.’
‘Let me change your hair first.’ Hermione cast several enchantments over him. Ron’s red hair darkened to a jet-black like Harry’s own, his freckles faded, leaving his skin pale, and the bones of his face seemed to shift upward, giving his face a noble lilt.
He looks a bit like me now.
Hermione tutted. ‘I’d change your eye colour, too, but I don’t know enough to mess with them.’
Me neither. Harry grimaced. Complicated things, eyes.
Ron gaped at himself in the window. ‘Blimey, Hermione. How did you do this?’
Hermione swelled up. ‘I—’
‘Later,’ Harry said. ‘There’s not long left of lunch.’
Ron darted up the stairs, the echo of his footsteps fading. ‘Stupefy,’ he cried. ‘Stupefy!’
They edged up after him, then out round the corner. Two students in green-edged robes sprawled in the corridor beneath the tap-dancing troll tapestry.
‘I thought you were going to distract them,’ Hermione hissed.
Ron shrugged. ‘Seemed easier to just stun them. They weren’t looking and they’ll be fine.’
Hermione cancelled her enchantments with a wave of her wand. ‘There. Back to normal.’
Ron winced as his face rearranged itself. ‘That’s bloody uncomfortable.’
Hermione shot him a glare. ‘Don’t swear, Ron.’
‘Let’s go.’ Nev led the group on and summoned the door to the Room of Hidden Things.
The mountains of things stretched off into the distance.
‘Wow…’ Harry stared around him as if it were the first time he’d seen it. ‘You hid it here?’
‘Yes.’ Nev frowned. ‘We thought she’d never find it.’
‘It seems like a lot of people have found this place,’ Cedric said. ‘If Marietta ever followed Cho, or any of us, she could well have stumbled across this place like everyone else must have done.’
Nev’s face darkened. ‘I didn’t think of that.’
Ron and Hermione led the way toward the bust of the warlock. Harry hung back and followed.
‘We left it here, under the bust,’ Hermione said.
Harry glanced at the ugly features of the warlock, then around at the stacks of chairs, books, magazines, and endless contraband. Nothing’s changed, really. Just that weird circlet is gone.
‘It’s not very far from the entrance,’ he said. ‘Umbridge has had a month or so to search this place, possibly with help. She might have just come across it.’
‘You think she just got lucky?’ Ron asked.
‘What other explanation is there? Nobody on the list betrayed us, or whatever jinx Hermione used would have come into effect, and only the three of you knew exactly where the list was in the room.’
‘Harry has a point,’ Cedric said. ‘Marietta’s a smart girl, she could’ve easily followed us to the room if she wanted to. Cho says she didn’t expect her to betray us back when the DA started, but she’s not so sure now.’
‘It hardly matters now,’ Harry said. ‘It was found. Dumbledore’s gone. You heard what he said, though, Fudge isn’t likely to be Minister for much longer and he’ll be back.’
‘S’pose you’re right,’ Ron muttered. ‘We’ll just have to endure Umbridge.’
‘Dumbledore knows what he’s doing,’ Hermione said. ‘He’s Albus Dumbledore.’
Harry bit back a sarcastic jibe. He’s off on holiday somewhere probably trying to decide whether he ought to offer me up to Voldemort on a silver platter this summer or as some kind of Christmas present.
‘Let’s go back,’ Cedric suggested. ‘It’s lessons soon.’
Hermione lingered before the bust, running her fingers over the warlock’s head with an odd expression.
‘Hermione?’ Harry caught her eye and formed a faint connection between their minds. ‘Are you ok?’
She blinked, then turned away from the bust. ‘I’m fine.’
Fear fluttered through her mind. Flashes of bad exam results, the quiet ache of loneliness and loss, and a silver heart in the palm of her hand.
‘If you say so.’ He slipped out of the room and hurried back into the hall.
One of the silver-badged Junior Inquisitors hurried across the hall, his robes creased and a large purple bruise forming on the side of his face. He stopped in front of the staff table to speak to Umbridge, whose face turned a mottled red.
‘Tell me we don’t have Defence Against the Dark Arts next,’ he muttered to Nev.
‘I could, but I’d be lying to you.’
‘Wonderful.’ He tracked Umbridge’s glare out of the corner of his eye. ‘Be careful. Make sure nobody says anything.’
At least I’m definitely going to be her first suspect. Harry drifted toward the classroom. Between the list, Fudge’s desperation, and Dobby sticking all her furniture to the ceiling of her office, she should be reaching boiling point any day soon.
‘Ron won’t listen,’ Nev said ‘Not if she makes him angry enough.’
‘He might listen to Hermione,’ Harry suggested.
‘It’s worth a try.’ Nev stretched his legs to catch up with the pair and pulled them into a heated, whispered conversation as they entered the class.
‘Books out and wands away,’ Umbridge snapped. We will be recapping the chapters on defensive theory from now until your exams. Study hard and you will succeed.’
Harry opened his pristine copy of Wilbert Slinkhard’s worst and only publication, pushing his hand along the spine to try and keep the book from closing itself.
Hermione etched notes in the margins of her copy, crossing out parts of the text and squeezing in small paragraphs between the lines. Ron’s eyes glazed over and Nev rested his chin on his elbow and his elbow on the desk.
What an absolute waste of time.
Harry caught Umbridge’s malignant glare and brushed at her thoughts. The list of signatures hovered among them with a flash of silver and sapphire. A clear vial loomed beside his face and the members of the DA, the word veritaserum echoed from the back of her mind, and a twisted, ugly, sour heat that throbbed in her heart, growing stronger the longer Harry held her gaze. He broke the connection and glanced down at his book.
That sort of hate can power some nasty spells. Maybe I ought to prod her into exploding at me, before she tries to torture someone else.
Nev fell off his stool with a muffled thump and a light titter ran around the room. Umbridge surveyed the room with a glower, then went back to poring over the DA’s list with her wand clutched in her short fingers.
‘Are you alright, Nev?’ Harry whispered.
‘Fell asleep.’ Nev rubbed his shoulder. ‘Not the most exciting lesson, this.’
‘Shall I liven it up?’
Umbridge’s is only another incident or two away from snapping trying to do something drastic to get the truth of the list. He weighed up his options. I should make sure she goes for me.
‘What will you do?’ Nev asked.
‘Watch.’ Harry smirked, flicked his wand into his palm under the desk, and pointed it toward Parvati’s textbook at the far end of their row.
An iguana, I think. Just like back in first year. He transfigured the book into the large reptile and chuckled under his breath at Parvati’s shriek.
‘What’s going on?’ Umbridge jumped to her feet and craned her neck.
‘There’s an iguana, professor,’ Harry announced. He drew his wand and approached the conjured lizard as if it were a dragon. ‘I’ll take care of it.’ Harry raised his wand, then paused, and placed it on the desk before retreating to the far side of the room.
‘What are you doing, Mr Potter?’ Umbridge demanded. ‘Kill it!’
‘I’m avoiding conflict with a dark creature, professor.’ He struggled to keep his face straight. ‘Should I flee now?’
Laughter burst from the class. The iguana dragged itself toward Nev, who surrendered his wand as well.
‘That’s quite enough.’ Umbridge jabbed her wand at the iguana.
A white flash burst from its tip, the iguana jerked as if on visible strings, then flew apart into chunks, spattering Parvati in blood, guts, and lumps of bone. She sat there, shaking like a leaf, her eyes squeezed shut.
‘Out,’ Umbridge hissed. ‘All of you!’
‘Bloody hell,’ Nev muttered. ‘What the fuck.’
‘Hold on, Nev.’ Harry retrieved his wand and vanished the pieces of iguana off Parvati. ‘It’s gone, Parvati. Come on, we need to leave.’
Lavender shot Harry something between a glare and a thank you, then led her friend out by the hand.
‘What’s veritaserum?’ Harry asked. ‘Some kind of truth potion?’
‘A very powerful truth potion,’ Nev said. ‘Gran told me that it couldn’t be used for Death Eater trials in the Wizengamot because it can be resisted every now and again and the antidote’s undetectable.’
‘How can you resist it?’ Harry asked.
I’m probably going to have to be able to resist it. Let’s hope the mind arts help. It seems like they ought to.
‘I’m not sure,’ Nev said. ‘Gran said it produces a powerful compulsion to speak honestly, but like the serum, the antidote’s undetectable, so nobody would know if you took it.’
‘Thanks,’ Harry murmured.
If I could get my hands on the antidote, it’d be perfect. He hid a grimace from Nev and waved a hand toward the quidditch pitch. Otherwise, I’ll just have to hope my skill at the mind arts is strong enough to overcome the compulsion or find a way of not drinking it.
Nev nodded and drifted off.
Harry strolled out past the stands and watched Katie flit through the hoops. Her tight, black quidditch jersey fluttered as she corkscrewed past the goals, then she caught sight of him and arced her drive round to alight beside him.
‘You did come!’ She leant his firebolt against the stand, then plucked the scarf off Harry’s neck. ‘Nice scarf. Did you conjure this?’
‘I did.’ He snatched it back and dropped into the seats in the first row.
Katie’s eyes flicked to the purple mark on his neck. ‘What’s this, Harry? A hickey?’
Harry looped the scarf back round his neck. ‘Just a bruise.’
‘Sure.’ Katie laughed and clambered onto the bench beside him. ‘Frenchie give you that?’
He sighed. ‘Yes. Go on, then, get it out of your system. I’m sure you’ve got a whole list of jokes.’
‘Anyone else seen it?’ Katie murmured.
She stared down at her lap. ‘Are you ok?’
‘I’m fine…’ Harry caught her eye and quirked an eyebrow at her. ‘I was expecting more teasing, really.’
Katie shot him a weak smile. ‘I mean, I would, but I was actually a bit worried, you know.’
‘Worried about what?’ Harry poked the mark. ‘It’s not contagious. It’s mostly faded now.’
‘You, silly.’ Katie nudged his leg with hers. ‘You’re a bit young for the sort of thing that hickeys are meant to come with. Girls grow up faster than guys and, well, I’d probably not be ok doing that a year ago. If Frenchie’s pressuring you to do stuff…’ She squirmed. ‘It’s illegal for a reason, Harry. I know she’s a bit older and you love her, but she should wait until you’re ready.’
A little warmth soaked through Harry’s chest. He gave her a small smile. ‘Thanks, Katie, but it’s nothing to worry about.’
‘If you’re sure.’ Katie’s face lit up. ‘Want to practice to get your revenge on her?’
Harry laughed. ‘Practice how?’
She gave him a coy smile. ‘You can always practice on me Harry, after giving me that firebolt, you can do whatever you want to me.’
He snorted. ‘I thought I was too young…’
‘Apparently not.’ Katie beamed and shrugged, brushing her shoulder with his. ‘How was Frenchie? She any good?’
Harry choked. ‘I’m not telling you about that.’
Katie rolled her eyes. ‘You have to talk about stuff like that with someone. I’m your best friend, Harry.’
‘I can talk about it with Fleur.’ Harry raised a finger. ‘And you said I wasn’t female enough to be your best friend, you liar.’
‘Someone who’s not Frenchie,’ she replied. ‘Come on, spill. It’s good for you to talk about her with someone who won’t say anything and I’m really curious to know what it’s like for a guy. She can’t be perfect, so when you need to vent about some tiny annoying thing, I’m here, just like I am for Alicia and Angelina when the twins piss them off.’
‘Do you even know what it’s like for a girl?’ Harry asked.
Katie turned red. ‘No.’ She waved her hands in the air. ‘I mean, I had plans, but they kind of fell apart a bit.’ She shrugged. ‘I can wait. It’s worth waiting for the right person.’
‘Definitely.’ Harry smothered the recollection of Fleur’s flushed face, her fingers digging into the skin of his back, and the feel of her against him.
‘You’ve got a really dreamy look on your face, Harry…’
He wiped the expression off. ‘No I don’t.’
‘Too slow,’ Katie sang. ‘Now spill. How was it?’
‘Good?’ Harry grimaced. ‘I mean. It was really good.’
‘Better than when you’re just by yourself?’ Katie asked.
‘Better than what?’
She made a crude gesture with her hand. ‘When you’re doing it yourself.’
Heat rushed to Harry’s face. ‘Er… yes. A lot better.’
‘Huh.’ A wicked glint welled up in Katie’s eye. ‘I’ve got a very interesting image of you in my head right now.’
Harry felt the heat on his cheeks rise. ‘Wonderful.’
‘Ok, I’ll play fair. Something embarrassing for something embarrassing.’ Katie giggled and patted him on the thigh. ‘You were the first boy I thought about while doing that.’
Harry’s image of Fleur shifted. Her silver hair and eyes turned brown and it was Katie’s grin beneath him rather than Fleur’s hot, hard kisses.
‘Good image?’ Katie teased. ‘Better than me not wearing that seashell bra or anything much else?’ She cast a glance down at his lap and grinned. ‘Are you going to need a cushion, Harry? I can steal you one of Umbridge’s nice pink ones.’
Harry smothered that image before it got going. ‘I was thinking about Fleur.’
‘Suuuuuure.’ Katie pouted. ‘Well, I don’t blame you, Frenchie has me beat in the face, boobs, legs, and sexy accent department. It’s not fair. The only way I’d be able to keep up would be being really kinky. Fulfill all those fantasies of yours.’ She winked and smoothed out her tight, black jersey. ‘Got any quidditch ones?’
‘You only have yourself to blame,’ Harry quipped. ‘And Roger Davies, too.’
And me, even if I thought I was doing the right thing.
Katie’s smile faded a fraction. ‘That’s true. I wonder if you’d still been with me for the Yule Ball, would it be her sitting here while you thought about the two of us together.’
‘Not a chance.’ Harry laughed. ‘She’d never come back to the UK without a good reason, she hates the weather here.’
Katie’s lips thinned and she reached across and tugged Harry’s scarf up to his jaw. ‘Of course she does. And the food. And the people. And just about everything else from what I heard.’
‘Not really.’ A small smile crept over Harry’s lips. ‘I mean, she’s not fond of the food here, but she dislikes people in general, not because they’re from the UK.’
Katie shrugged. ‘Enough about Frenchie, have you heard about the new educational decree?’
‘Another one?’ Harry rolled his eyes. ‘Really? Why even bother?’
‘It’s not going to make it through the Wizengamot, but Umbridge already told Filch he can use corporal punishment anyway. That vicious old bastard’s probably getting all his whips out as we speak.’
‘I have always wanted to be whipped,’ Harry muttered. ‘Fantastic.’
‘You can whip me whenever you want.’ Katie leant her head onto his shoulder and dropped her voice to a sultry whisper. ‘If you were feeling in a certain sort of mood and you caught me all alone on the quidditch pitch, I wouldn’t object at all. You could tell me to do anything and I’d never tell anyone about the things you made me do. I’d just come crawling back for more.’
‘Wow…’ Harry laughed. ‘You weren’t kidding about kinky, were you?’
Katie pulled back and laughed. ‘Only way a normal girl like me can keep up with someone like Frenchie is by being more fun than she is.’ She shrugged and the mirth drained from her face. ‘If I’m not fun, I’ll never have a chance to spend time with you. You’ll just vanished off to France instead.’
She’s afraid we’ll stop being friends. Like Hermione was. Harry frowned and swallowed down a twist of guilt. But this time, I’ve learnt from my mistake.
He slipped an arm round Katie’s shoulders. ‘You’re not just some normal girl. You are, despite your constant teasing of me about Fleur, our disastrous date, and your refusal to admit I’m better than Alicia and Angelina, my best friend.’
Katie sniffed and turned away to swipe her sleeve over her eyes. ‘Thanks, Harry.’ She swivelled back round with liquid eyes and a small, quivering smile. ‘I’m going to fly, dark master, so unless you really do want to have your way with me up here in the quidditch stands, I’ll catch you later.’
Harry pulled her into a hug. ‘Later, Katie. Don’t break my firebolt.’
She clung to him, her fingers curling into his clothes, then jumped back and grabbed the broom. ‘It’s my firebolt now.’ Katie dabbed her face on the shoulder of her quidditch jersey, then kicked off.
Harry watched her soar back up into the sky and drift round above the pitch. I guess I’d better do some research on veritaserum.