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Figurehead by ad astra
Chapter 10: Ten
In addition to the workload of NEWTs and our usual Head Prefect duties, from that point on Oliver and I were expected to keep an eye on every single club approved by Umbridge to reform and ensure no others formed without her knowledge.
“Does she have any idea how many clubs there are at Hogwarts?” Oliver sighed, shuffling through the stacks of parchment detailing each club. “And she wants us to individually supervise them all…okay. If we claim by interest first…then divide the others based on meeting times…”
He passed me a pile of parchment, and I took the top sheet. “Apparition classes – well, these are run by the Ministry and they’re in the Great Hall, so I don’t think we need to supervise those.” I tossed it aside, taking the next one. “Ancient Studies – you can have that one.”
“I’m part of that club anyway.”
“Still?” I asked. “I gave up my clubs this year. Not enough time.”
“Well, you can have yours back.” He passed me the parchment for the Transfiguration Club. “If you think you can stand watching your successor running it.”
“Emma Harris is all right. I chose her to take over, you know. And besides, overseeing it as Head Girl is slightly better than running it as a volunteer.” I kept flicking through the parchment. “Why the hell do we have so many music groups? Can’t they just have one and leave it at that?”
“I’ll take them, you cultural plebeian.”
“Want the art ones as well?”
“Fine, but that means you get all the other subject ones. And Gobstones. And the Chess Club. Wait a minute, I want the Chess Club.”
“All right. And the Quidditch teams?”
“I get Ravenclaw, you have Slytherin.” He said this matter-of-factly, as if confused there was any question about it.
“There are four houses.”
“Damn. The Quidditch teams never want people from other houses at their practices – can we just ignore them?”
“I don’t think Umbridge will let us ignore Gryffindor – Harry Potter’s on the team, isn’t he?”
Oliver grumbled. “That woman is just ridiculous.”
“I think we both knew that already. You can have the Gryffindor team, I’ll take Hufflepuff.”
Having divided up the clubs and with an increasing sense of trepidation, we planned out our daily timetables including each club and our fortnightly rounds.
“Christ,” I muttered. “Transfiguration Club on Mondays, Potions and Charms Clubs on Tuesdays, Hufflepuff Quidditch team usually practices every second Wednesday, Gobstones, Ghoul Studies and Advanced Arithmancy on Thursdays, Slytherin usually practices on Fridays, and we’ve got rounds from seven till eleven every second Friday…Earth Magic club meets at nine am on Saturdays – who the hell does that? – and oh, look at this, Umbridge has asked us to accompany students to church in Hogsmeade on Sunday mornings.”
“I thought we had a Prefect already doing that,” Oliver asked, confused.
“Yeah, Ernie Macmillan. But he’s a Hufflepuff and apparently he was in the Hog’s Head meeting the other day – I’d love to know where Umbridge is getting these names from, but apparently he’s untrustworthy. Can you take Earth Magic?”
He glared at me. “You’re not the only one who likes a Saturday morning sleep-in.”
“Maybe not, but you can function without one. And if you want to spend the rest of the year working with me when I’m getting up at the crack of dawn every morning…” I let the threat hang in the air, and he conceded defeat. I knew I was horrendous when I was tired – horrendous enough that he would forsake his own sleep-ins to make sure I got mine.
“You owe me.”
“No, I don’t think you realise. You owe me. I’m talking first-born child owing me.”
“Good luck with that one.”
“Well, I won’t be having kids, will I?”
“Oh.” Oliver was silent for a while. “No, I guess not.”
It was an off-hand comment, but I found myself dwelling on it as I walked back to the common room. I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to kids – I was seventeen for God’s sake – but I suppose I always had a vision in the back of my head that I would one day get married, buy a house and have kids. At leat three, close enough in age that they would all get along. A big, close family like the one I’d never had growing up.
Considering I had never really thought about it, I found myself more disappointed than I should have been. Maybe I just always took the option for granted.
I could always adopt. There might even be some weird fancy fertility magic that would – no. Magic had its limits, and I didn’t think there were enough gay couples who wanted kids to justify exploring such magic.
I didn’t know why I was thinking about this. Dropping my books onto a table, I turned my attention to a particularly gross DADA essay – all theory based, of course. I was so absorbed in bullshitting my way through the importance of non-verbal spells (if magic must be used in a situation where a Muggle may be present, it was infinitely better for the caster to perform his or her spells silently to preserve the integrity of the wizarding world) that I barely noticed Penny coming to sit opposite me. The moment I was aware of her presence my heart skipped a beat and I laid my quill aside mid-sentence.
“Evening,” Penny said matter-of-factly.
I had always thought of Penny as quiet and reserved, but around me she seemed to emanate confidence. She took charge of things – I hadn’t expected her to pay for our ‘date’ the other day, and she always seemed to initiate conversation in a self-assured manner I wasn’t used to seeing from her. I assumed I had something to do with the change, but it didn’t seem fair when she had the complete opposite effect on me.
“Umbridge’s essay?” she asked, nodding at my parchment.
“Yeah.” I pulled a face. “Nearly finished though, just need to finish this paragraph and do my conclusion.”
“It’s nearly midnight,” she pointed out. “I assume you’ve been doing something either equally gross or mindblowingly fun for the rest of the evening.”
“The second one, without a doubt.”
“Should I be jealous?”
“Oh, yeah. Sat in the library with Oliver for three hours dividing up every single club in Hogwarts so we can individually supervise them and report back to Umbridge.”
“She wants to make sure they’re doing that they told her they were doing,” I replied, rolling my eyes. “And she can’t have anyone but us doing that job, apparently.”
“Does she expect you to pass your NEWTs? Because that’s like, three or four hours a week that you should be spending studying…”
“How are you going to do that?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Sleep less? I suppose I could talk to my teachers – some of them might give me extensions for things…”
“I guess I won’t see you much, then?”
“Nobody’s going to be seeing me very much,” I replied, still annoyed that all my spare time and a large chunk of my study time was going to be taken away.
“Yeah, I suppose,” she said quietly, and in the ensuing silence I regretted my dismissal of her words. Obviously I should come up with an idea for how we could spend time together, but I couldn’t think of anything. I really wouldn’t have time for anything come next week, and my resentment towards Umbridge only grew.
“I could come with you,” she said, breaking the silence.
“When you supervise the clubs,” she continued. “Obviously I wouldn’t go to all of them, but just a few of them a week…”
“But that would just mean you have less spare time, and I don’t get any more. We can’t delegate this job…”
“But we’d still be spending that time together. If…that’s what you want. I understand if it’s not…”
The uncertainty that crept into her voice in those last few words made me stop. This wasn’t about the stupid clubs, this was about her wanting to spend time with me. And she was worried that I didn’t want to spend time with her.
She really did like me.
Resisting the urge to sit in astonished silence at this realisation for the rest of the night, I scrambled to respond. “Yes. Yeah. Definitely. Sounds good. Sorry, wasn’t thinking straight – um, have a look through these and tell me which ones you want to come to.” I scrambled in my bag for the piles of club applications, sliding them across the table to her.
The next several weeks were just as awful as I imagined them to be. Most of my teachers, after I spoke to them, let me off detentions if I didn’t get my assignments done in time, but they still expected me to hand it in after a day or two. On my occasional free afternoons/evenings, I shut myself in the quietest, most abandoned corner of the library and powered through a week’s worth of homework in a matter of hours. I spent lunchtimes in the library as well, sometimes managing to write an essay in the hour before an afternoon class. I didn’t talk to Oliver much – he was in the same situation, and on the rare occasions where we both had a spare moment for homework we worked side by side in focused silence. The exception was walking the church kids down to Hogsmeade – it was the only real break either of us got and we had a good chat while we walked. Oliver stayed in the service – he tended to doze off and said that a half-hour nap at mid-morning made it much easier to focus on weekend homework in the afternoon – and I would skip out to meet Mum for a cup of tea. Despite the early mornings, I found myself living for Sundays – being able to do nothing but lounge on a cushy armchair in the schoolhouse while Mum fed me cake, biscuits and tea with three sugars ‘to keep your energy up.’ We didn’t mention my going to Dad’s for Christmas again, though sometimes I felt I was spending all this time with her to make up for the fact I wouldn’t be home for Christmas.
Mum would be spending Christmas with her family – apparently my aunt Amelia had gotten Christmas off for the first time in years and there was quite a large get together planned at my uncle Albert’s. I found this out from Susan first, who had seemed more than a little disappointed when I told her I wouldn’t be around. We were the only members of our generation of the Bones family left – my uncle Edgar and his three kids had been killed in the First Wizarding War, and Amelia never had children.
Late in November, I asked Penny to do my weekly report back to Umbridge as I had a Transfiguration essay due which McGonagall had made clear she wouldn’t give me an extension for. Apparently Umbridge had decided Penny was trustworthy, and told her to take on a couple of clubs from Oliver and I to do her own supervision.
“I agreed,” she told me reluctantly. “I couldn’t really explain that I was only going to spend time with you, and she said she would write me a reference for the Department of Mysteries. I have a few family connections there already, but one from her would pretty much guarantee the job.”
I gave her the Charms Club and the Hufflepuff Quidditch team, which was an extremely easy one due to the fact the Hufflepuff team could never get the pitch booked for practice – Slytherin pretty much had a monopoly on the damn thing due to their upcoming match with Gryffindor. It meant I was out there almost every day, hunched over in the stands and trying to get a bit of work done. I had mastered the Permanent Shield Charm out of necessity within a few days due to the number of Quaffles and Bludgers flying my way, and Professor Flitwick at least was happy with my progress.
Snape was incredibly lenient with the Slytherin Quidditch team in terms of homework in the leadup to the match, a privilege extended to me because I had to be present at every training. It meant I had enough time to actually study for my other subjects and practice spells, and as a result my grades started improving. I spent two hours curled on a sofa in the deserted common room with Penny during the actual Quidditch game. Slytherin lost, but as the team wasn’t due to play another game for months they stopped practicing quite so much.
The aftermath of that particular match extended far beyond the usual sulking of the Quidditch team in the corners of the common room, however. Three members of the Gryffindor team had been given lifelong bans for brawling after the match, and Angelina Johnson sought Oliver and I out on Monday.
“It’s your job to stand up for students,” she said heavily. “Normally I wouldn’t ask, but Umbridge listened to you at the beginning of the year, Amelia, and this punishment is beyond uncalled for. I know I seem biased, because it’s my team that’s been compromised by this, but take it from me, those boys don’t deserve a lifelong ban.”
“I’ll do what I can,” I told her, trying to sound more confident than I was.
Oliver and I knocked on Umbridge’s door and she waved us through, not seeming surprised to see us at all. It was not my favourite way to start a Monday morning, but it was an increasingly common one.
“Oliver, Amelia,” she greeted us with a little smile. “I thought I might be seeing you here today. Educational Decree Twenty-Five?”
“What you’re doing with it, more specifically,” I told her. “We’ve had a student express concern about your handling of the Gryffindor Quidditch team and, as advocates of the students, are obliged to pass on those concerns.”
“I see.” She clasped her hands in front of her. “Were you at the match, Amelia?”
“Then you didn’t see the animalistic manner in which those boys behaved,” she told me. “Though I’m sure your team’s Seeker can testify to their brutality – I’m sure you’ve seen Draco Malfoy around the common room, sporting grievous injuries.”
“Draco Malfoy is an attention-seeking prick,” I interrupted. “He’s hardly a suitable gauge for the scale of injuries. But that’s not the point.”
“Oh? Then what is the point, Amelia?”
“The way you’re using the Decree,” I told her bluntly. “I don’t know Harry Potter, and judging by how well-known he is in the school I’m assuming he’s as much of an attention seeker as Malfoy, but I know the Weasley twins and they’re not violent by nature. A lifelong ban for a momentary lapse in judgement is, I feel, excessive.”
“And detention, as their Head of House was suggesting, is insufficient. We cannot condone violent behaviour, and – if I may say such things – Professor McGonagall is rather blind to Potter’s faults, in particular. If I had not stepped in, those boys, and Potter in particular, would still believe violence is an acceptable way to sort differences. Tell me, what do you think a sufficient punishment for them would have been?”
“Professor McGonagall is harsh, but fair. I would have gone with her punishment – she’s an experienced teacher and knows the boys concerned well enough to know what would dissuade them.”
“I’m afraid I don’t share your views.”
“Professor McGonagall is the best teacher this school has.”
“Well, that paints a rather poor picture of the school, doesn’t it?”
I gritted my teeth, trying to remain calm. “I understand you’re trying to set a precedent. But the teachers here, and particularly the Heads of Houses, have years of experience with students which you don’t have. Overriding their authority and assigning punishments yourself—” I trailed off, at a loss for words, and fidgeted with the edge of my robes – “The school and the Ministry are separate for a reason, and the Ministry – the Ministry is good at what it does, but it’s wrong to be invading the school this much. The Ministry has itself to think about, and its own agenda, and that has no place in a school.”
“My dear,” Umbridge began with a simpering smile, her voice laced equally with sugar and poison, “I must have misheard you. Because it seemed for a moment that you think the Ministry isn’t working for the best interests of all wizardkind.”
“I’m sure the Ministry has the best intentions," I said cautiously, “But the staff at Hogwarts are trained and experienced teachers. They know what they’re doing.”
“Unfortunately,” she responded in a clipped voice, all pretence of sweetness gone, “The teachers at Hogwarts, particularly those with the highest authority, hold dangerous views that threaten the entire wizarding world. I am here to prevent, to the best of my ability, those views manifesting in an attack on the Ministry. I am not a teacher, but I am a peacekeeper. And next time you question my decisions, remember that.”
“Yes, Professor,” I muttered.
“And if you continue to question me – well,” she said, with a slight giggle, “We both know who has more power at this school.”