Granted, I don't go around looking for stories with "Umbridge" checked in the characters list, but I'm sure that you're the first author I've ever seen try to inject just a bit of humanity into this foul, loathsome woman. But, even Voldemort has a back story that makes the character understandable if not exactly likeable. So I suppose it stand to reason that Dolores Umbridge comes from somewhere. And I think you did a great job of positing where that is and building a terrific little story up around it. Oh, and please don't apologize for the length! Only scaredy-cats are afraid of long chapters. ;)
The way that you set her up and tied her in to a few names recognizable from canon was a great way to start, I thought. I was able to make an immediate connection and also place her in a time frame. I think this is about the right age for her, BTW, since McGonagall always seemed to be just a bit older than her.
You built her up in such a way that the bullying she suffered felt perfectly in context and made sense in a sad sort of way. While she is a Slytherin, she's also plain and high-strung and slightly overweight and she doesn't have a last name like Black or Rosier to fall back on. Her spellwork seems adequate, but not extraordinary. Dumbledore's attempts to encourage her seem to do more harm than good.
Cygnus, BTW, was a complete jerk. I will now despise him even harder while reading Marauders-era fics. ;)
Flipping forward to the present, we find the contemptible Dolores Umbridge of OotP fame in her full glory. You captured the character very well, I thought. I love the duality; how she's able to suck up to Fudge while simultaneously thinking poorly of him. She's all about appearances, even when she's getting mostly what she wants. Ooh! When she's patting herself on the back for torturing Harry with her illegal quill... OK, I just forgot about everything that happened to her in the first section and all I can think about is how much I hate her! ;)
The last section in Dumbledore's office left me with some interesting mixed feelings about both characters, actually. For Dolores's part, you made her out to be the textbook example of the bullied child who resists help because they blame themselves. The attitude of, "it's my problem, only I can fix it, adult intervention will only make it worse" is so tragically engrained in so many of these kids. And her fixation on punishment comes from her mother! That was a pretty clever touch, I have to say.
Dumbledore, for his part, sounded very much like Dumbledore. In fact, he reminded me of Dumbledore in the books to a frustrating extent. The same man who watched Harry struggle at times and was unwilling to help because of his misplaced ideas about Harry's best interests. The man who allowed Snape to continue bullying Harry and countless other children, knowing full well that it was happening. Dumbledore is "hands off" to a fault, and that comes through very clearly here, as well.
So, to sum it up, you made Dolores Umbridge make sense to me, but I don't think anything will ever make me feel badly for her. Dumbledore was also very well done, but it a way that reinforced some of the worst things I've always felt about him. Overall, your writing was terrific and I enjoyed reading this!
Author's Response: Wow, Dan thanks for the long juicy review! I have to say, writing this story made me feel kind of... unclean. And I don't actually believe it, necessarily- when I read OotP I won't imagine Umbridge as the bullied little girl here, I'll still see her as the awful, awful woman Rowling created. But challenging myself to write from her point of view meant that I couldn't just make her pure evil! There would be nothing to write about except her smirking and stroking cats, Blofeld style.
Cygnus *was* a jerk, right?! Worse than the ones who full-on bullied her, I think. Well, Dumbledore says it for me.
Ah, Dumbledore. I know. I didn't intend to portray this side of him, but somehow that's how it ended up. I love Dumbledore; I love his twinkly eyes, his eccentricity, his kindness, his odd sense of humour and his great big beard. I really struggled with finding out how very flawed he was (as did Harry, I guess!) and maybe that's been reflected here. I hope there was a bit of twinkle in amongst all the possibly harmful manipulation/hands-offishness! But yeah, although you didn't like it much, I'm going to take away the fact that it felt like Dumbledore to you!
As for the section with grown-up Dolores... I think I could probably have extended it but she's just so hateful. I wonder if I should transition it a bit more gently. Anyway, yeah... thanks for hating her! That means I did my job!
I totally forgive you for not being able to pity her. She's horrendous. I actually disliked myself for writing something trying to explain her actions! But thank you for reading and reviewing this, I'm glad you enjoyed it even if it made you... uncomfortable? Thank you again, you are a lovely reviewer Dan :)
And Jami didn't even have to tell you to do it! You beat her here!