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Figurehead by ad astra
Chapter 9: Nine
The common room was always tolerable on the Sunday of a Hogsmeade weekend as everyone was silently completing their homework at the last minute, having not thought about it since they were assigned it on Friday. The aftermath of Hogsmeade weekends were evident all around – lovesick girls and boys wandering around with silly smiles on their faces, having gone on a first date the day before; third years surrounded by Honeydukes wrappers, looking slightly ill; Zonko’s products stuffed surreptitiously into bags or behind couches. Nobody dared to bring them out while I was around, allowing me to both revel in my power and complete my essays in relative peace.
Occasionally I would be summoned to the common room door to let students in who had forgotten the password – Prefects were expected to at least be able to recognise the faces of everyone in their house, and all the other Prefects were prone to second-guessing themselves or at the very least were unwilling to give out the password, so they gave the task to me. I didn’t mind – far from it, I relished the fact that, apart from Snape, I was the highest authority in Slytherin House and bratty third years didn’t use their Zonko’s products in the common room because of me, thank God.
I didn’t spend usually spend a lot of time in the common room, but requests from senior students meant I came here more often – apparently I was the most effective way of maintaining order, something Snape backed up on his occasional forays into the common room. I was not above taking points for disruptive behaviour, and while I originally thought it would make me supremely unpopular due to our intense rivalry with all the other houses, Joanna Crispin helped set a precedent the first time I took points: she really disliked the kid I’d taken the points from, Lionel Barton, and yelled “Hey, thanks a lot, Barton!” from across the common room. As a result, I never got the blame for the point-taking, which I knew had happened quite a lot in previous years or with other Prefects. Seniors thanked me for making the common room an okay place to study, and juniors would often stop their friends from doing something stupid by hissing, “Oi, Amelia’s watching. If we lose any more points we’ll be behind Gryffindor.”
I was starting to think I was becoming the ultimate lord of Slytherin, and the best part about it was that it was never self-proclaimed. I reveled in it, certainly, but I had never sought it; and in that sense it was the most genuine power of anyone.
Observing all this was certainly helping to lift my mood after Mum’s announcement yesterday, as well as the memory of my sort-of rebellion with the Firewhiskey. Well, it was a pretty big rebellion – students were strictly forbidden from drinking anything stronger than Butterbeer unless they were with their parents, regardless of age, and I was Head Girl, but at the same time nobody had actually seen me and one nip wasn’t enough to have an effect. It had done what I intended it to do – restored my own authority after Dad had tried to take it away by making me visit him for Christmas. I even talked myself into thinking it was my decision – Dad may have asked but I really only said yes because I wanted to see Clara. Two years was a long time, after all, and judging by the badly-spelled message she scrawled in my birthday card, she still thought the sun shone out of my bum.
It made me smile to think of Elle’s face when Clara talked about me, and that helped me work out my agenda for the holiday. I would do my best to make Dad and Elle thoroughly uncomfortable, yet secure Clara’s affections enough that she would keep demanding I come over, and they would have to keep acquiescing no matter how much they didn’t want to. It felt mildly diabolical, using a small child’s affections to achieve my own ends, but I really did want Clara to keep liking me and I figured Dad had dicked me over enough that he deserved some payback.
It was times like these that I wondered why the Sorting Hat ever deliberated over me. Sometimes I felt like I could have sat under it forever, completely torn between Slytherin and Ravenclaw, sometimes I wished I had chosen Ravenclaw instead of Slytherin, and sometimes, like now, I wondered why it hadn’t yelled ‘Slytherin!’ at the top of its voice before it had even touched my head.
I hadn’t seen Oliver all weekend, and when he hurried up to me in the Great Hall on Monday morning I realised I hadn’t yet interrogated him about his date with Katie Bell.
“How was—” I began, but he cut me off.
“Seen the latest from Umbridge?”
“The noticeboards,” he said impatiently. “There’s one in every common room, you haven’t seen it?”
“Of course I haven’t, I don’t notice anything in the mornings. Why, what’s it about?”
“She’s disbanding the clubs,” Oliver muttered through gritted teeth, striding out of the Great Hall. “All sports teams, interest groups, study sessions – all disbanded from now until she can interview the organisers of every single one so she can grant individual permission for them to reform.”
“Why has she done that?”
“I don’t know,” he replied, teeth still gritted. “But she doesn’t have the authority to do that—”
“Clubs are meant to be our responsibility,” I protested. “Teachers don’t have anything to do with them unless they’re borrowing a classroom. We monitor the clubs, and whatever reason she’s come up with for shutting them down, we would have noticed first. There’s nothing wrong with any of them, they’re not breaking any rules—”
“It’s just another way she can exert her power all over the place,” Oliver concluded. “I heard a rumour the Ministry’s afraid of students ‘training for combat,’ which I think is a bit bullshit, but we don’t even have a duelling club, haven’t had one since fourth year. The closest we get to anything like that is a Quidditch match between Gryffindor and Slytherin.” He shot me a sideways glance. “Been talking to Katie, apparently your Beaters are brutal.”
“Where are we going?” I asked, realising we were on the way to Defence Against the Dark Arts. “Class doesn’t start for another half an hour.”
“Going to talk to Umbridge.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“No, but I’m going to anyway.”
Given Oliver’s annoyance and the speed at which he was walking, I half expected him to burst through the door of Umbridge’s office and demand to know who the hell she thought she was, but he knocked politely and waited for her to invite us in.
“Ah, Oliver, Amelia. I thought I might be seeing you this morning.”
“We wanted to know why you’ve shut down the clubs,” Oliver began, making an impressive effort to remain respectful. “Traditionally, the Head Prefects have overseen extra-curricular groups, with the occasional help or extra input from a teacher as required.”
“We haven’t seen any problems with the clubs as they stand now,” I continued. “So we were wondering what grounds you have to do this.”
“What grounds?” she repeated, smiling. “Why, I thought that much would have been obvious. As High Inquisitor it is my job to take any steps necessary to ensure this school functions as it should.”
“So what about the clubs is stopping this school from functioning as it should? Is there something inherently disruptive about second-years playing Gobstones at four o’clock on a Thursday afternoon?” I couldn’t keep the edge from my voice, but if Umbridge noticed she chose not to say anything.
“Not at all. They will be reinstated, once those organising them have sought and obtained permission from me to reform.”
“So what’s the point?”
Glancing at each other, Oliver and I reluctantly perched on the armchairs across from Umbridge’s desk.
“What I am about to tell you does not leave this room, am I clear? Or there will be…consequences.”
The way she said the final words sent shivers up my spine. We nodded.
“The Ministry is at war,” she said darkly. “We believe Albus Dumbledore, using his considerable…influence within the wizarding community and feeding off the fear he has created with his lies about a certain Dark wizard, is planning to take over the Ministry. While I believe the use of children in such a hostile takeover is deplorable, we believe Dumbledore may attempt to raise an army from his loyal students at Hogwarts. That is why Cornelius Fudge appionted me to the job this year – to keep an eye on Dumbledore and prevent any such army forming.”
Choosing not to say anything about the likelihood of this scenario, I pointed out, “But we don’t even have a duelling club. We monitor all the groups – there’s nothing remotely combatant about any of them.”
“Of the ones you know of,” she said. “I received word of a large gathering of students at the Hog’s Head last weekend, intending to start a group to study dangerous and age-inappropriate magic. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about it?”
Oliver and I exchanged glances again. “I saw a bunch of kids going in there, but didn’t think much of it.”
“Did you, Amelia? Did you happen to recognise any of them?”
“No, I was too far away.”
She scrutinised me, as if looking for any sign of a lie, and I quickly changed the subject. “So what are we supposed to do about it? I assume you had a reason for telling us.”
She beamed, pleased that I seemed so willing to help her cause. “You are my eyes and ears in the school. If you hear anything about any secret organisations, you come to me. Nobody will know if you give me names. I will give you a list of all the groups I have permitted to reform. I want you to watch them. Consider this a task of national security and remember, a glowing reference from me at the end of the year will certainly help you in any career you choose to follow.”
“Of course, Professor,” Oliver said. “We’ll do our best.”
We left the office, Umbridge’s sickly sweet voice ringing in my ears. The corridors were filled with students and we had class to get to, but Oliver raised his eyebrows at me in a ‘talk later’ face and I nodded, eager to discuss these latest developments.
At lunch we sat in our usual spot in the courtyard, despite the fact it was overcast and freezing.
“Good chance to practice conjuration,” Oliver said bracingly, taking out his wand. “Conjuro blanket.”
The result was a mostly threadbare tartan picnic blanket, and I shrugged. “It’s a start.”
“Ugh, the ground’s damp. Impervius.”
We settled on the now waterproof blanket and wrapped our robes around ourselves, shivering. Oliver kept trying to conjure blankets for himself, each just as straggly and thin as the last, and layered them one over the other around his shoulders until he looked positively homeless. I had offered to conjure one for him, but his pride wouldn’t handle such help from me. I watched him, snugly wrapped in a quilt I had conjured for myself and extremely grateful that my best subject was so practical.
“So how was Hogsmeade?” I asked, taking a sandwich out of my bag. “You and Katie seemed happy.”
“Yeah, it was good.” He didn’t look particularly excited about this though – he was too busy hunched over against the cold looking extremely sorry for himself.
“Just put a Heating Charm on one of them then,” I said impatiently, gesturing at his mound of blankets. “You can do those.”
“Hey, yeah.” He brightened considerably, tapping one of the blankets with his wand, and smiled contentedly. “Ahh. That’s good.”
“What about it? Um, I met up with her around twelveish—”
“I saw you out the window.”
“Creepy. And we had lunch at Puddifoot’s, then we had a poke around Honeydukes and Tomes and Scrolls, and tried out all the quills at Scrivenshafts by writing stupid things all over the paper, you know, and we headed home.”
“And?” I pressed.
“And apparently she’s had a bit of a crush on me since last year—”
“And it just went really well,” he concluded. “She said she’s going to teach me to fly next weekend.”
“So are you two a thing then?”
“I think so,” he said thoughtfully. “Unofficially, you know? But yeah, she’s great. Really, really great.”
“Ollie’s got a girlfriend!”
“Well, yeah. Maybe. Hopefully. Hey, don’t give me that look. How’s Penny?”
“Went well then?”
“Do I have to drag every detail out of you, Amelia Greenslade?”
“Where’d you go?”
“Three Broomsticks for a while, then popped into Tomes and Scrolls for a bit.”
“Well, are you together?”
“Um, I dunno. Not officially, obviously, and we’re not going to be telling anyone, but it was kinda like a date, yeah.”
“Good for you! I kept your secret, by the way.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, Katie was asking what the deal was with you – you know, because we’re always together and stuff – and it would have been a lot easier to just tell her you were gay and that’d be the end of it, but I spun some elaborate yarn about how we’d known each other since we were toddlers and our mums were friends and therefore we were basically siblings.” He gave me a triumphant grin, evidently proud of his secret-keeping and improvisation skills. “I even told her that you were really jealous because I did my first magic when I was five and you didn’t do yours till you were seven, and I spent two years convincing you that you were a Squib.”
I scowled at him. “What other stories did you come up with?”
“I don’t think there were any others. We didn’t spend the entire time talking about you. Much as it may astonish you to hear, there are more important things.”
“Oi. Leave my ego out of this.”
“Your ego never gets left out of anything.”
He was clearly in an Amelia-baiting mood, one that I wasn’t particularly keen to indulge. “So. Umbridge.”
“Not a fan. What is it, October? That’s not too late to drop DADA, is it?”
“You haven’t used your course drop yet?”
“No. Didn’t think I would at all, actually. The course drop, you see, is designed for students whose capacity for leadership far outweigh their academic ability, providing them with a handy excuse to lighten the intellectual load on their ever-so-slightly inferior minds.”
“You’re a pretentious prat, you know that, right?”
“So, that mystery meeting at the Hog’s Head. What do you know about it?”
“More than I told Umbridge. You?”
“Same here. Well, just the fact that I could definitely recognise the people going in there.”
“You’re just fishing around so I’ll tell you what she said.”
Oliver sighed. “She didn’t give me too much detail about it, just said it was a study group for Defence Against the Dark Arts to practice the spells we’re not being taught in class. I hope she doesn’t think I said anything…she probably thinks that’s why Umbridge shut the clubs down…”
“You’re not that much of a nark.”
“Well,” he fidgeted uncomfortably, “I do sort of have that reputation. Teacher’s pet. Prefect. Whatever. Y’know how they pick the Head Boy and Girl, right? One of them’s a leader, one of them’s a nark. And you’re not the nark.”
“Neither are you.”
“Maybe not, but people think I am. Ever wondered why I’m not very popular?”
“I thought that was because you’re a pretentious twat.”
“I’m in Ravenclaw. We’re all pretentious twats.”
“Look, if it’s worrying you that much, just talk to Katie.”
“She barely knows me. I mean, we spent three hours together yesterday but why should she believe me? I’m the most likely person to go running to Umbridge about suss activities and she told me she was at that meeting.”
“If it makes you feel better, pin it on me. She’s a Gryffindor, she’s way more likely to blame a Slytherin. I can take the fall.”
“No way. You’re actually getting along with people this year. Everyone in our year likes and trusts you because you covered for them in DADA.”
“Could have been Lycurgus Landon,” I mused. “His mum was…disfigured in an accident a few years ago and hangs out in the Hog’s Head all shrouded up. He could have met with her and overheard something. And he’s bitter with Dumbledore about not being Head Boy so he’s likely to be sympathetic to Umbridge.”
“Yeah,” he said, brightening a little. “That seems likely, actually…”
The bell rang, signalling an end to the conversation. With a long-suffering sigh, Oliver Vanished his pile of blankets and trudged off to History of Magic while I headed for the common room, wondering if we had silently and unanimously agreed not to tell Umbridge anything.