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A bright, sun-lit sky stretched over a flat, still stretch of water. The pines spread away over the rolling hills beyond it.
Quite a nice day. Harry watched the smoke rose up and drifted across the lake, then slipped his wand back into his sleeve. Everyone will wake up and look outside and be happy. And nobody will even notice Dobby’s vanished.
A roiling, burning, freezing fury swirled through his veins; it clenched its fist around his heart.
‘Goodbye Dobby.’ He watched the breeze snatch the last of the ashes of the pyre away. ‘You died a real hero.’
And Fleur’s right about heroes, they die alone.
Harry took a deep breath, then apparated back to the study in the chamber. He honed the ice in his chest to a razor sharp edge and cradled it close to his heart.
Salazar watched him pace back and forth past the desk. ‘You burnt him?’
‘I didn’t like the idea of him trapped under the dirt and rotting away.’ Harry grabbed the Polyjuice. ‘Now, I’m going to give Umbridge a reason to come after me.’
‘I never understood why the muggles insisted on burying themselves.’ Salazar ran a finger along the back of his serpent. ‘Get rid of this woman, Harry. House elves are self-less, loyal, creatures, to kill one out of spite alone…’
‘She’s already gone.’ He stalked the length of the chamber past the glinting eyes of the serpent effigies.
A thick pool of red covered the floor of the bathroom. Myrtle wrung her pearl-white hands over the pool, floating in small circles around its edge.
He vanished the blood.
‘Harry!’ Myrtle swooped over. ‘I thought something terrible had happened to you.’
‘It’s not my blood.’
‘A student?’ Myrtle asked. ‘Will I have company?’
‘I don’t think so,’ Harry murmured. ‘He’s free now, he’d have no desire to linger here and be bound to this world.’
‘It depends,’ Myrtle whispered. ‘All it takes is a reason to stay.’
‘I don’t think he’d want to stay.’
‘No regrets?’ She drifted to the entrance of the chamber and peered down into the dark. ‘No strange echoes of emotion. Nothing missing?’
‘He wanted to be free.’ Harry sighed. ‘He is.’
‘Free,’ Myrtle breathed. She drifted past the top step. ‘Free to disappear.’
‘Not to the next great adventure? No well-earnt rest?’
‘There’s nothing after death, Tom.’ Myrtle’s form shivered and flickered as she slid away into the wall. ‘Once you let go, you fade away like the light of dying embers.’
Tom?! All the hairs prickled across the back of Harry’s neck. He pushed it from his mind and seized hold of the sharp cold beneath his ribs. No time to worry about that now. Umbridge has got to go.
Harry prowled the corridors beneath his disillusionment charm to the door to Umbridge’s office. Wards thrummed at the doorframe, small, crude, misshapen runes notched the frame.
You’ll vanish. He slid his wand from his sleeve. I’ll eradicate every trace.
Harry thrust his wand out and poured cherry-red fiendfyre into the room. The wards melted like frost. The lurid, pink carpet burst into flames, releasing billows of acrid smoke. He forced the fire hotter and scourged everything from the stone, then extinguished the flames with a slash of his wand.
Orange-glowing stones shimmered, wreathed in heat-haze, molten mortar wept from between them, and ashes drifted down to the floor. A soft satisfaction swelled within him. He bent and etched his message into the floor in purple flame.
For the Greater Good. Harry stared at the words. And for revenge. Because it’s people like you that ought to vanish, not ones like Dobby.
‘And now I wait.’
He strode back to the Great Hall and took a seat, watching Umbridge’s smug smile out of the corner of his eye. You’re not going to be smiling for much longer. He smothered the yearning to see the moment arrive and picked at the pastry of a slice of chicken, ham, and leek pie.
Malfoy slunk into the hall and approached the dais. The warped, scorched sole of his right boot let off little wisps of smoke as he bent to Umbridge’s ear and whispered.
Her face turned bright red and a vein throbbed in her temple. ‘Professor Snape! I want every last drop of veritaserum in my office. Immediately!’ She sputtered and clutched at her handbag. ‘And bring Potter with you. He’s behind this. He and Dumbledore are behind all of it!’
‘Very well. Malfoy, escort Potter to Professor Umbridge’s office.’ Snape left in a swirl of black robes.
Snape probably didn’t even bat an eyelash at Filch beating first years.
‘Now, Mr Potter,’ Umbridge hissed.
Harry shot Katie a small smile as he stood. She frowned after him and squirmed on her seat, her lips pressed into a thin, white line. He gave her a little wave and strode back toward Umbridge’s office.
Malfoy and the members of the Inquisitorial Squad flanked him, trailing after him with their wands in their hands.
Snape lurked by the entrance to the classroom holding a clear vial. A small smirk graced his lips as he stepped in ahead of them. ‘There is enough veritaserum in this vial for every student on that list.’ He sneered. ‘There’re no children with the strength to fight off even a single drop.’
‘I have to be sure,’ Umbridge snapped. ‘Will it be enough?’
‘It takes considerable mental strength to fight the effects of veritserum. It would be a very rare student who was capable of it.’ Snape threw a long look at Harry. ‘Three drops ought to be more than enough.’
‘Very well.’ Umbridge snatched the vial from him and poured three drops into a pewter goblet.
‘May I ask what’s happening?’ Harry enquired.
‘Drink up, Mr Potter,’ Umbridge instructed. ‘We shall discuss what’s happening at length and in great detail.’
‘I look forward to it.’ Harry smothered a smile and tipped the veritaserum onto this tongue; it burnt like he’d pressed his tongue against ice and an odd numb crept down his throat, then seeped through him.
Emptiness. Harry almost laughed. This faint numb is sedation? It has no hunger. No bite. It’s nothing. He crushed it.
‘Leave a few seconds for it to take effect,’ Snape said. ‘A test question is advisable to begin with, something simple.’
‘What is your name?’ Umbridge demanded.
A strange sense of trust rose up, a desire to spill everything surged through them. ‘Harry James Potter.’
‘Where were you this morning?’ She glanced at the blackened, heat-warped remnants of her office.
‘Hogwarts,’ Harry let the compulsion drive his tongue.
‘Specifically?’ Snape drawled. A small smirk hovered at the corner of his lips.
Damn him. He suspects. He squashed the compulsion.
‘Gryffindor Tower.’ He kept his tone flat and even.
A broad grin spread across Umbridge’s pallid face. ‘Where’s Dumbledore?’
Harry smothered a quiet sense of triumph. It’s almost too easy.
‘I have no idea,’ he said.
‘Have you attended any meetings of this Dumbledore’s Army organisation, since the first?’
‘No,’ he droned.
Umbridge’s face fell. Snape’s eyebrows rose into his hairline.
Not good. He knows I might be lying.
‘Why did you not attend any meetings?’ Umbridge pressed. ‘Surely these students are your sort.’
‘I wasn’t welcome, not after all the stuff that was written about me. They said it would put people off from joining.’
‘Did you destroy my office?’ Umbridge glowered. ‘Did you?!’
Yes. I razed every trace of you from the school but you yourself. He stilled his cold fury before it reached his face. And I’ll get rid of you soon, too.
‘No,’ he said.
‘You may go, Potter,’ she spat. ‘Mr Malfoy, if you would be so kind as to fetch, Mr Smith.’
Harry lingered outside the door for a moment.
‘You want to check Potter’s answers against another, more insignificant member?’ Snape asked.
‘I want to know what the list really is.’ Umbridge’s heels clicked back and forth beyond the wall. ‘If Potter wasn’t directly involved because the founders thought he was bad for their reputation, then I’ll have to ask someone else who was there.’
‘I can’t imagine there’s anything more to that piece of paper than the names and a particularly childish jinx to punish anyone who betrays the group.’
Harry pulled out the Marauders’ Map. Zacharias Smith’s name floated at one end of the Hufflepuff table.
Polyjuice time. He set off at a brisk pace. I’ll have to go out into the forest as myself, I won’t be able to impersonate an auror or something clever.
He paused at the doors to the Great Hall. ‘Imperio.’ His will seeped through Smith.
The boy rose, drifted from the end of his table, then followed Harry into a broom closet. Harry stunned and disillusioned, then tugged a couple of hairs out of his head and dropped them into the vial of Polyjuice; it shifted to a sludge-like brown. Pinching his nose, he downed the potion.
A fierce heat spread across his body, burning just beneath his skin. His bones twisted and shifted, his skin rippled like liquid wax, and muscles melted away from under his skin. Harry clenched his jaw and waited it out.
I hope Fleur’s change doesn’t hurt like this.
He checked his reflection in the window, then he charmed his robes, changing their size and colour to match Smith’s.
Malfoy spotted him and dragged him off the bench before he’d managed to put his weight on it. ‘The Headmistress wants to speak with you, Smith.’
Crabbe and Goyle took an arm each and half-marched, half-carried him down the corridor.
‘Mr Smith.’ Umbridge simpered and pushed a plain china cup full of steaming tea in his direction.
No doubt full of veritaserum. He eyed the tea and picked out a thin, clear film of liquid over the top. She didn’t even mix it in to hide it. It’s just been poured on top.
‘Have a drink, Mr Smith. Relax, you’re not in any trouble. I just want to ask you about some of the members of that group you were a part of. They’ve done a great deal of criminal damage to Hogwarts and my own possessions.’
Harry picked up the tea cup and took a sip. Hot, sweet tea and the ice of the veritaserum slid down his throat.
‘What’s your full name?’ Umbridge asked.
Harry pictured the name from the Marauders’ Map. ‘It’s just Zacharias Smith.’ He took another cautious sip of tea.
‘So how many meetings of this group did you go to?’ she asked.
‘There was only one meeting.’
‘That’s good. What did you plan to do at the meetings?’
‘We wanted to practice magic,’ Harry said. ‘I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to pass my OWLs otherwise.’
‘You’re right to be concerned, the exams are very important.’ Umbridge nodded. ‘But you must be careful who you listen to.’
‘Of course, professor.’ Harry took another gulp of the tea, which had cooled to reach that small window between scalding and icy.
‘How was the group organised?’
‘The DA was run by Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, and Ron Weasley, but several different students were going to teach, whomever could help, really.’ He paused for a moment. ‘They had a big list of all the names on.’
‘What was the list?’ Umbridge purred.
‘It had all the names on and some magic to stop anyone from ratting us out.’ He wrinkled his brow as if in thought. ‘But they were very careful with it. I think it was more important than that.’ He glanced around, then took a sip of tea. ‘I listened in when they were hiding it.’
Umbridge leant forward with baited breath. A gleam of triumph hovered in her eyes. ‘What did they say?’
A good thing Snape left, he wouldn’t believe any of this for a second.
‘They said it was a map,’ Harry whispered. ‘There was a phrase to reveal it, one Dumbledore gave them.’
‘Do you know the phrase?’ Umbridge pried open her handbag, clawing out her wand, the vial of veritaserum, a small notebook, the chittering diadem from the Room of Requirement, and the list.
‘I think so.’ He screwed his face up. ‘It was…’
‘Take your time,’ Umbridge cooed.
‘For the Greater Good,’ Harry murmured.
And for revenge.
‘For the Greater Good.’ Umbridge tapped her wand on the list. She scowled and flipped the page over. ‘For the Greater Good.’
The rough map revealed itself.
‘Oh, yes,’ she breathed. ‘Thank you, Mr Smith. You may go, just remember to be much more careful about who you listen to in the future.’
Oh I will. He smothered a small, thin smile, stepped out and disillusioned himself, then crept back in. Perhaps you should’ve done the same.
Umbridge plucked the circlet from the floor and placed it on her head, cocking her head. ‘Yes. Yes…’ She snatched a handful of floo powder and tossed it into the flames. ‘Dawlish. Come at once and bring a partner.’ She paused. ‘No don’t bother telling Amelia Bones, there’s no time, this is of critical importance to the Minister.’
Harry wandered back toward the Great Hall. The click of Umbridge’s heels as she paced her classroom faded behind him. One more step on the road, Umbridge. One more perceived victory. Then ruin.