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Chapter 18 : Chapter Seventeen: Rita Skeeter's Scoop
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I hope to hear from you soon. Complaints are understood and critique is always welcome. Thank you for sticking with me. *Eli*
Chapter Seventeen: Rita Skeeter’s Scoop
Standing in the doorway to her bathroom in a dark gold dressing gown, her long hair twisted into a loose braid which laid over her shoulder, Katarina scowled at them, one hand set sharply on her hip.
“Vat are you doing here?” she repeated.
“What are you doing here,” Ron retorted eying the small room with obvious distaste.
“As this is my room, one vould think that vould be obvious. You two, on the other hand, have no business being in my room.”
“It was an accident,” Harry said over Ron’s half-begun reply. “We just jumped into the first place we could find. Snape’s after us.”
“As vell he should be, if I understand these silly curfew rules correctly,” she snapped stepping from the door frame and towards them. “Gryffindor Tower is up one more floor, or did you get lost?”
“We had to dodge around Filch,” said Harry quickly. “Look, can we please just hide out here until Snape’s full out of the way?” He glanced down at the map in his hands, Snape was now pacing the corridor just outside the room which was not marked on the map.
“You have your own room?” asked Ron, glaring at her.
“Vhy should I help you?” she snapped, ignoring Ron’s question, and really, his entire presence. “You have broken the rules, not me. ‘Rule breakers are appropriately punished’ as Professor Amsel says.”
“Please, Katarina! It’s Snape—”
“She wouldn’t care if it was—”
Three light raps at the portrait door silenced Ron mid scathing remark and the three of them stood still for a moment.
“Who is it?” Katarina asked stiffly and hardly blinked when Snape’s cold voice answered back. Harry caught her eyes for a moment, mentally pleading with her to give them a break. “One moment, Professor,” she called and then disappeared back into her bathroom. Ron continued to scowl at her as she reappeared a second later, her toothbrush gone.
“Miss Engel,” came Snape’s sharp voice from beyond the portrait door once more.
“One moment,” she called again, tightening the belt of her dressing gown around her waist as she walked towards the door. Harry took a step forward, touching her arm as she passed by. She stopped for a moment, pulling her arm away from his hand just as he let it fall back to his side.
“Please,” he mouthed to her. Katarina pursed her lips tightly, glanced at Ron, then back to Harry before closing her eyes. With a heavy sigh, she jerked her head towards the empty loo. “Thanks,” he whispered and quickly shoved Ron into the bathroom. The door closed with a soft click not a moment too soon; Snape’s voice filtered through the crack under the door only a second later and Harry released a breath he didn’t realize he had been holding.
“Good evening, Miss Engel. I trust I have not disturbed you.”
“Not particularly, Professor,” answered Katarina. “I was just preparing for bed.”
“Were you indeed?” The dulled creak of the floorboards filtered through the door as someone moved through the room and made Harry and Ron reflexively back away. “Too busy counting the number of strokes through your hair?”
“I beg your pardon?” Katarina responded slowly. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry could see Ron smirk.
“Your delay,” he snapped. “Or has the typical Gryffindor gift for being dimwitted insinuated itself into your head that you cannot pick up the obvious?”
There was a pause, and Harry dearly wished he could see the scene being played out beyond the door. Ron stepped towards the door, a maliciously cheerful smile on his face. He was obviously enjoying this; clearly forgetting that Katarina could very easily just open the door and hand them over to Snape.
“You vill, I hope, excuse me Professor for not having the ability to read minds,” Katarina replied evenly. “I vas not aware that your presence vell after midnight deemed the visit so urgent that I had to drop everything and come to the door. Had I known that, I vould not have bothered to rinse my mouth of toothpaste and ushered you in directly.”
Ron’s jaw dropped open, his eyes turning to Harry and he couldn’t quite tell if his friend was impressed or wishing for Katarina’s demise.
“You seem to forget, Miss Engel,” said Snape, clipping the sound of her name sharply, “that you are not at home, surrounded by servants and the pathetic family worshipers who hope to be graced by a word from your mouth. You are only a student here. All rules apply to all students no matter what their surname may be, which includes the answering of questions put forth by all professors.” The floor creaked again.
“My memory is perfectly intact, sir,” Katarina said. “And I believe I did answer your question. Vas there something else, or did you merely come to my door at this hour to inquire about my nightly activities?”
“I will not take that tone, Engel,” Snape bit back. The hairs on the back of Harry’s neck stood up. “I heard voices—”
“Then perhaps you should see Madame Pomphrey, as I am particularly unqualified to help you vith that problem.”
“You insolent, brat!” The words spat from Snape’s mouth and Harry’s hand sprung to the handle of the door. More movement beyond the bathroom and he half twisted the handle before Ron stopped him, yanking back his hand and shaking his head sharply. “Do not forget that while you are tucked away here, safe and cozy, one word from me and it could all disappear very quickly.”
There was another tense pause.
“Vell…your—your point is understood….” The defiance in Katarina’s tone had completely deflated and Harry’s hand again hovered over the door handle, torn between bursting in, or letting Katarina regain her ground. Ron hissed “don’t” under his breath, catching Harry’s eye with an uncharacteristic steely gaze. “But that does not change the facts,” she continued, her voice audibly wavering. “There is no one else in this room. If you heard voices, it vas because these ridiculous portraits find my late hours convenient for their afterhours gossip. And this pathetic excuse for a door does not keep its latch. Obviously anything you heard vas that of the portraits, and nothing else.” There was another pause, and Harry’s fingers lightly grazed the handle. “All of that aside,” she continued, “I vould thank you professor to release me, unless you vish to explain to the headmaster just how you handle students in the privacy of their own room.”
Ron stepped forward this time, his hand fisting around the handle while he glared through the door. Harry could feel the muscle along his jaw twitching as he clenched his teeth together. If Snape did anything to her…
“Do not get comfortable here, Engel,” they heard Snape sneer. “Violating the conditions of the agreement which affords you the use of this private room will only place you in close quarters of those chattering Gryffindor girls. And we both know what an interesting result that would produce.”
There was no response from Katarina, merely the sound of Snape’s footsteps on the wood floor and the snap of the portrait door opening and closing.
Ron opened the door slowly, keeping his hand firmly on the handle so it would not make any excess noise. Katarina was standing at the other side of the room, her arms folded over her chest as she stared at the closed portrait door.
“Are you alright?” asked Ron awkwardly. For these few moments, at least, Ron’s prejudice against Katarina seemed to have been pushed aside. Harry silently thanked Merlin for the reprieve.
She jumped, turning sharply as though she had forgotten why Snape had entered her room in the first place.
“I am perfectly fine,” she replied coldly, dropping her arms to her sides. “Now if you don’t mind, could you follow the professor’s example and leave?”
“Gladly,” Ron snapped back. “We—”
“We’ll gladly leave in a moment,” Harry said over Ron. His expression had changed darkly at her cold tone and Harry did not want to deal with the fruits of an irrational family feud. “But would you mind very much if we waited another minute or two?
One dark eyebrow rose sharply at his request, and Katarina once again crossed her arms over her chest. Perhaps the word ‘mind’ wasn’t the best choice.
“Just to make sure Snape isn’t skulking about outside your door,” he clarified, pulling the map from his robe pocket and giving it to Ron. Katarina’s eyes followed the old parchment, her eyebrow falling as her expression changed to curiosity.
“You don’t need to,” she said after Ron tapped the map with his wand and muttered the phrase to activate it. He merely scoffed, muttering something Harry couldn’t quite understand, and opened one of the folds of the map.
“What do you mean?” asked Harry, clenching his fist slightly, frustrated at Ron’s ungrateful behavior. “You have some sort of secret way to the common room.”
“Of course,” she said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Contrary to popular opinion,” she continued, looking scathingly at Ron, “I am in Gryffindor.” She promptly walked around the bed, and to the opposite wall. Next to the night stand a tall, narrow portrait of a grassy field with a large estate house in the distance hung on the wall. Katarina pressed her thumb against a knot in the wood frame. With a prompt click, the portrait opened and she stood back. “This vill place you in the corner of the Common Room just behind the Scottish dressing shade.”
“So that’s how you’ve been skulking in and out of the common room.” Ron’s sudden intrusion into the conversation caused an immediate reaction from Katarina, whose eyes narrowed and jaw set tightly.
“More to avoid undesirable company,” she sneered back.
“Shut up, Ron,” Harry hissed as Ron’s face contorted in fury. He shoved his friend through the open portrait passageway, stepping over the threshold after him. But before following Ron, he stopped, turning back to Katarina. “Snape…he didn’t—um…?” Harry eyed the way her hand was absently rubbing her arm.
For a moment, her expression softened and Harry could have sworn he saw the corners of her mouth turn up. But it was gone before he was entirely sure and she shook her head slightly.
“No, he did not,” she answered.
“Well, um…thanks,” he said awkwardly. “I—we—owe you one.”
“Yes, you do,” she said slowly. With a feeble smile of gratitude, Harry turned back to the small passage and shut the portrait door behind him. Ahead only a few steps was the dull flickering light of the common room. The warmth and comfort of his bed waiting up the stairs, Harry quickly shut the portrait exit with a snap. Unfortunately one person beyond the dressing shade didn’t seem to agree with his wish to go to bed.
“Good morning, Hermione,” groaned Ron. “What are you doing up?”
And there they were. Hermione with her arms crossed over her chest, standing stiffly tapping one foot impatiently. Harry was reminded yet again of the previous year while the two of them were dating. Only this time, Ron wasn’t purple faced and glaring.
“Don’t you ‘good morning’ me,” she snapped. Her eyes darted to Harry’s emerging figure. “What the devil were you two doing at this hour? And what in the world were you doing in Katarina’s room?”
Harry blinked at her, looking back to the dressing shade and then back to Hermione.
“You knew she had her own room?” Ron asked, his temper rising once more.
“Head Girl,” she snapped back, pointing at herself. “Of course I knew. But you still didn’t answer my question, so stop changing the subject. What was so important that you had to go out after midnight and then come out of her room?”
“That’s a bit of a long story,” Harry replied.
“Well isn’t it convenient that we’re all awake to tell it,” she said, looking pointedly at Ron before sitting down in one of the overstuffed chairs. “I’m certainly dying to know just what the two of you have been up to.”
“Can’t this wait until the morning?”
“It is morning, Ronald,” Hermione reminded him sharply. “You said it yourself just a minute ago.”
Ron opened his mouth, pointing his finger at Hermione, and then stopped, apparently unsure of how he had planned to respond. With a sigh, he dropped his hand and looked to Harry for support. Harry only shrugged, suddenly feeling awake.
“I’ll stay up, Ron,” he said. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw Hermione scowl at him before crossing her arms over her chest. “I wanted to talk to Hermione about something anyway.”
Ron gave him a funny look and shot a glance at Hermione before looking back at Harry. “Well, if you’re sure, mate. I can stay though,” he added, shooting another glance at Hermione.
“No, Ron. Just go off to bed,” Hermione insisted with a flippant wave of her hand. “You’d probably fall asleep in the middle of the explanation, and I’m not exactly in the mood to share the same room as your drool.”
Ron’s ears flushed red. Opening his mouth, then closing it, Ron and took several deep breaths before trying again.
“Fine,” he said slowly. “Fine, I’ll just go up to bed and leave you two at it then.” With one last lingering glare at Hermione and—much to his surprise—Harry, Ron turned on his heel and stomped up the stairs.
With Ron gone, Harry took the seat opposite Hermione, slumping down in the comfortable chair next to the warm fire. Looking over the rim of his glasses Harry could just make out Hermione’s expression and he frowned.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, pushing his glasses back up the bridge of his nose so her face came into focus.
“Is it some sort of trade off between the two of you?” she asked abruptly.
Harry straightened up in his chair. “What?”
“ ‘I’ll stay up, Ron,’” she quoted. “What is that supposed to mean? You each trade off when to talk to me or something? You sounded like you were doing him a favour.”
“That’s not fair, Hermione,” he protested sharply. “And isn’t true and you know it. I said that because I didn’t want to endure another one of your rows.” He sat forward in his chair. “I already had to keep Ron from having a go at Katarina, dealing with his ungrateful snide remarks after she just saved our arses from Snape, so you’ll excuse me if I didn’t want to deal with it again.”
Hermione blinked at him. Katarina had saved them from Snape? While she didn’t share Ron’s opinion of the enigmatic addition to their house, the idea that she would willingly go out of her way to help Ron avoid punishment was rather farfetched. Even in the company of someone she obviously did not dislike, such as Harry. Curiosity overrode Hermione’s frustration at Ron’s attitude, and she opted to ask instead for Harry to explain the whole story.
As he explained what had happened in the last hour, Hermione couldn’t help but shake her head. Leave it to Harry to be impatient about everything. Even if he had a self legitimized reason for it. He continued on to the half conversation which he and Ron had overheard, and Hermione sat back against the chair. Professor Amsel had caught the attention of the Ministry?
“I didn’t have any time to get back around the corner,” Harry said. “Professor Amsel came out and I just stood there like a lummox. I managed to tell her about Malfoy half expecting to have another detention thrown at me, but she just told me to come back here.”
Hermione sat a bit straighter, raising an eyebrow in surprise. If there was one thing about Professor Amsel that Hermione had always found intriguing it was her lack of really punishing Harry for blatant rule breaking. Any other professor would had stripped Gryffindor of around fifty points and set a few detentions. Yet she had allowed Harry to just go on his way, without so much as a ‘don’t let me catch you out of bed again’ warning. His eavesdropping on a private conversation, in contrast, had brought on a severe punishment when he hadn’t actually broken any rules. Even then, she had allowed Harry to visit Hagrid before reporting to her office. It was a strange character inconsistency that baffled her.
“On our way back,” Harry was saying, “in series of stupid blunders, Ron and I had to dodge Filch and Snape, and in the process turned down the wrong corridor and ended up in Katarina’s room.”
Hermione rolled her eyes with a sigh. “And Ron didn’t show the slightest bit of thanks,” she said. “This whole thing between them is really getting on my nerves. It can’t just be because her family is supposedly evil. Ron feels that way about Malfoy but they exchange insults all the time. Ron hardly even looks at Katarina, let alone speaks to her.”
Harry shrugged. “Well they certainly exchanged a few insults tonight. You’re right though. I don’t think this is just a general hostility thing. The way they acted, it sounded a lot more personal.”
“That’s just great.” Hermione sighed and stretched her arms out in front of her. The hour was beginning to creep up on her stamina and she had to fight to stifle a yawn. Across from her Harry failed to stifle his, covering his mouth with his hand and rubbing the bridge of his nose with the other.
“Can we go to bed now, or did you want to know anything else about tonight?” Harry asked already pushing himself out of the chair. Hermione shook her head and stood as well.
“I’ll probably think of something tomorrow morning,” she said and slipped her hand under his arm to lightly grasp the crook. “You dream up any extra details you missed tonight, make sure you tell me.”
All future Hogsmeade visits were cancelled according to the notice placed in the common room the next morning and a tightened out-of-castle curfew had been put in place as well. For the next weeks there was little to distract Harry and Ron from the piles of homework they received. The vices of distraction were limited to exploding snap and chess, but they were only good for so long before becoming just as boring and mind numbing as the homework they were trying to avoid. While it was no particular change to Hermione’s usual daily schedule, Harry felt as though the walls were closing in around him, threatening death by dust inhalation as he found himself so often in the bowls of the library for Potions and Defense. Even the occasional homework session outside couldn’t remove the seemingly permanent layer of dust which collected on his robes.
Two weeks passed and each morning’s news bounced back and forth between London bogged down in the chilling mist of breeding dementors, vague reports of dismissed Ministry officials and new ‘protective’ measures put in place. On Tuesday morning, the week before Halloween, Hedwig and Pig landed on the table in front of their owners as they did every other morning. With the usual offering of bacon and some pumpkin juice, Harry untied the Prophet from Hedwig’s steady, outstretched leg, while Ron struggled to keep Pig still for more than two seconds so he could do the same.
Harry unrolled the paper over his empty plate and then proceeded to choke on his pumpkin juice as the headline flashed out. “Holy hell…” he sputtered.
“What is it?” Hermione turned sharply in her seat and leaned against Harry’s shoulder to get a look at the front page. “Oh no.”
A Most Shocking Exposé
by: Rita Skeeter
My dear readers, I must apologize to you. For two months I have withheld information—worrisome, vital information—in a vain hope that the light would be seen and a terrible mistake corrected. After all these years, I should have known better.
Albus Dumbledore, in his deteriorating wisdom, has appointed a notorious Dark Witch as the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor at Hogwarts. Seemingly pulled from the ends of the Earth, this woman disappeared directly after her years at Hogwarts were over, never to be seen or heard from again, save for several suspicious accounts of human mutilations and villages left in smoldering ruins in the seedy parts of the world.
The Dark Witch, Verrena Amsell (known to most during her years at Hogwarts as “Black Raven”), as I am sure you can see simply by her name, is a foreigner. Born in East Germany under the puppet Ministry which held deep ties to Grindewald supporters and the Muggle Communists, this woman came to Hogwarts without the slightest bit of explanation. East Germany had its own magical institution at that time, and the British Ministry had the wisdom never to have any dealings with that ‘country’s’ government; plausible reason for her sudden appearance, then, was little to come by.
Her chosen company on that first train ride was none other than Bellatrix Lestrange (neé Black) and Lucius Malfoy. Their cozy conversations in German ensured no other person could possibly understand them. Once more, this young Dark Witch was sorted into Slytherin before the Sorting Hat had even touch her head; her chosen seat at the table, again, being next to her new found friends.
It was a friendship, we all came to find out later, that was too limiting for this would be Dark Witch who wished for far more than Malfoy or Lestrange seemed to be able to provide.
There is a corridor in the dungeons of Hogwarts that has remained closed, off limits to all. A collapsed pile of stone, still vibrating with magic never seen in the halls of Hogwarts before or after that moment. At the mere age of 14, this girl defeated Lucius Malfoy (then 17 and dueling champion) in a duel after Malfoy had confronted her about her ambitions and ‘insubordination’ as he had stated. Six students were permanently scarred, three of whom sustained such injuries from which they never recovered; while ‘Raven’ Amsell remained unharmed and unabashedly smug at the destruction she had caused.
Yet still the professors insisted upon protecting her, spearheaded by the Headmaster who praised her for her ‘talents’ and even stating her to be some sort of prodigy. Everyone else saw what they refused to: This was a girl who reveled in the fear she evoked in others, was often spotted running off to the Dark Forest late into the night and performing such magic during classes not even the Professors had heard of.
But still Dumbledore protected her; sheltered a creature we all knew for her true self: a Dark Witch as never before seen.
When Amsell changed her friends from Malfoy and the Blacks, the entire school shook with shock as Lilly Evans (mother of Harry Potter, Boy-Who-Lived) became her new, closest confident. ‘Black Raven’ Amsell was devoted to Lilly, actively moving to prevent the fairy tale romance of the parents of the Boy Who Lived. I myself have often wondered if the union of Lilly and James was not the very reason for her sudden and complete disappearance from civilized society.
After rumored education in Nepal and the darkest streets of Egypt and Greece, and taking part in ancient Indian death rituals, Dumbledore’s prodigy has returned at his request. ‘Black Raven’ Amsell is yet again protected by the powers of the Headmaster, and now in a position to pervert the minds of our students—most notably that of Harry Potter. Her jealousy of Lilly and James’ relationship was no secret while a student, I can only shudder to think what sort of plans she may have for The Boy Who Lived—revenge or to teach him the Arts she has mastered in the last 20 years?
Dumbledore’s continued desperation to find professors for the Defense subject has turned unimaginably dangerous. Werewolves, half giants, and killers-for hire (last year’s Defense professor), perhaps a Dark Witch was just the next bit of scum to be scraped from the bottom of the cauldron. Yet this is not the only cause for concern—numb myself with the very possibility that it could get any worse—no, indeed Dumbledore has allowed yet another foreigner into the student body.
East German herself, Katarina Engel—sole heiress to the largest fortune in the wizarding world—has joined Hogwarts. Her family’s dark connections, and Grindwald sympathies are no secret, and alligations of emerging support of You-Know-Who have begun to seep out of the iron bars of Germany’s press. Has Dumbledore brought another would be Dark Witch into the world’s finest institution of Magic?
Fortunately the Ministry has had the foresight to do their own investigation of the Dark Witch, Amsell. “We’ve got a file on her so thick we have to levitate it to move it from place to place,” said one Ministry official. “Parents can be rest assured that this unauthorized appointment of the Amsell woman has been strongly contested.” Personal secretary to Minister Archer, one Percival Weasleby, also stated that an investigator will be dispatched to Hogwarts to observe Amsell’s conduct and substantiate the claims of persistent teaching of the Dark Arts.
It is this reporter’s and loyal British citizen’s belief that any observation is a complete waste of precious time and resources. This pattern of blatant disregard for the health and safety of our country’s future must end now, not in a few weeks time. Dumbledore’s old world beliefs in ‘second chances’ have caused irreparable damage to the psyches of young children. He, as well as his chosen Germans, should be forcibly removed from the school and the Dark Witch ‘Black Raven’ locked up in Azkaban for life before it is too late.
"The nerve of that cow!” Hermione seethed beside Harry. Across the table, Ron made some sort of throaty growl as he tossed the paper into the toast stand.
“And of course my dear brother had to put in his two, stupid, knuts into it,” he muttered, calling Percy a name which made a first year girl down the table choke on her pumpkin juice.
“Misspelled names and all,” said Ginny with a scowl, “people will still believe her.”
Harry snapped out of his staring contest with one line in the article and crumpled up the paper with a growl. Hermione snatched it from his hand before he could choose between setting it on fire and chucking it on the floor. “I wasn’t done with that,” she chided, pursing her lips with a glare before smoothing the paper back down on the table.
“You want to read it again?”
“Yes, Harry, I do,” she said. “Rita, however much the conniving, horrible, dishonest slug she is, always puts actual fact into her articles. I want to figure out what parts those are.”
Harry snorted in disbelief. Fact my eye, he thought angrily. Reaching for a piece of toast, Harry ventured a look up towards the Staff table. Professor Amsel was in her usual seat at Dumbledore’s left hand, a balled up Prophet rather oddly situated on top of a flask of pumpkin juice. While taking a sip from a mug, Amsel leaned slightly towards Dumbledore as he spoke. Harry stared in surprise as the Professor smirked at the Headmaster, muttered something in reply and then, without a word or gesture, the balled up newspaper suddenly turned to ash.
“I wish I knew how she did those sorts of things,” said Neville, he too looking up at the Staff Table. “If we didn’t have to keep preparing for NEWTs, I bet there is a load of stuff she could teach us that we’d otherwise never even hear of.”
“Like all that stuff she learned in India,” Ginny joked. A younger boy sitting next to her looked at Ginny with the most stricken expression.
“You really think she’d teach us Dark Magic?” he asked in a shaky voice. “You’d even want to learn it?”
Ginny eyed the boy as though he’d just grown an extra head. “Are you kidding? No—to both questions. You realize that everything in that article is a load of tosh, right?” She picked up the article in front of the boy. “Rita’s never written a true word in her life. This right here is a perfect example of badly written fiction.”
The boy glared at her, yanking the paper out of her hand. “My mum says—”
“You’re mum doesn’t know Skeeter like we do,” Ginny snapped tearing the paper back out of his hand. “Rot like this is only good for one thing,” she continued, pulling out her wand. With a quick swish and flick, the paper floated up into the air. “Target practice,” she finished darkly. Another flick of her wand and the paper burst into flame, a sprinkling of ash floating down to the table.
The younger boy just scowled at her, picking up his book bag muttering something about ‘arrogant, know-it-all, sixth years’ and stomped off down the aisle between the tables. Harry watched him stomp away, a bubbling annoyance at the naivety of some people building up in his chest, when he spotted something—or more like someone—sitting at the very end of the Slytherin table.
An irate looking Katarina was speaking with a Slytherin girl Harry only knew to be in their year. The Prophet was stretched out between the two of them and Harry suddenly remembered that Amsel wasn’t the only person mentioned by Skeeter. Katarina, as well as her family, had also been attacked with backhanded insinuations of ties to Voldemort.
Which gave him an idea.
“How many other people do you think believed the article?” he asked no one in particular.
“Probably most of the firsties,” said Ron between mouthfuls of sausage. “Second years too, if that kid was any indication.”
Hermione studied Harry for a moment while he glanced back at the Staff table. “You’re worried that whoever this inspector is, they’ll have support from the students.”
Harry nodded. “Umbridge got most of her ammo to dismiss Hagrid and Trelawny by watching the students react to them. If the same thing happens in Defense class as it did in Hagrid’s class, Amsel could be out of here before we can blink.”
“But Professor Amsel doesn’t illegally breed creatures, Harry,” said Hermione. “She’s competent, albeit a bit strict and perhaps even cold, but she has never taught us anything that would raise any red flags to the Ministry.”
“The Ministry has just raised its own red flags, Hermione. The more students believe the article, the more afraid they will be of Amsel even if they weren’t yesterday.” He exhaled sharply, looking back at the Slytherin table. “We need to find out who believes it, and convince them otherwise.”
Ron and Hermione exchanged glances before Hermione just shrugged. “We’ve still got the DA coins,” she said. “We can talk to the members who are still here.”
“That’ll work for three out of four houses,” said Neville. “But what about the Slytherins?”
“Umbridge got most of her support from them,” said Ginny, throwing a dark look towards the table at the other side of the Hall. “Who’s to say they won’t be the bastion of ‘Get Rid Of Amsel’ chants.”
His eyes locked on the figures of Katarina and the Slytherin girl as they left the Great Hall. “I’ll take care of that,” he said.
Seventh years had Transfiguration right after breakfast. It wasn’t until today that Harry really noticed just how separate each House was from the other. After speaking to Ginny and Neville about the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws as though they were some collective object rather than human beings, walking into McGonagall’s classroom was a bit unnerving. He had friends in the other houses of course, and even studied with them or mucked around outside when they had the chance. But classes were different. Ravenclaws, Hufflepuffs, Slytherins, and Gryffindors by a large majority kept to their own house when choosing where to sit in a classroom.
Which explained Hermione and Ron’s confusion at Harry’s choice of seat during this particular class. It was the conjoined desks where Katarina and that Slytherin girl from breakfast usually sat. Ron thought he was daft, and told him to ‘stop being stupid’ and return to their usual seats in the third row.
“I know what I’m doing, Ron,” he said while he pulled out his quill and ink. “You and Hermione just go sit down.” Ron muttered something that sounded an awful lot like ‘it’s your funeral’ and went on to the third row. Hermione gave him the smallest smile, told him ‘good luck’ and went to join Ron.
Just as Harry dug into his bag for his Transfiguration book, the usual occupants of the second to the last row of desks walked in. Their conversation stopped immediately upon seeing Harry so causally setting up for class, and Harry looked up from his book to face two pairs of blue eyes staring at him with mixed expressions.
The Slytherin girl glanced further down the room, then back to Harry. “Aren’t you supposed to be sitting with Granger and Weasley?” she asked sharply.
“I’m not supposed to sit anywhere,” he replied. “I just wanted a change of scenery.” He continued to buckle up his bag and then shove it under the bench.
“A change of scenery?” said Katarina from behind him. Harry nodded once, still facing the front of the class. Professor McGonagall entered from the door to her office, tapping the blackboard with her wand as she passed it by.
“You couldn’t seriously believe we’d buy that, Potter,” said the Slytherin girl. “You get into a fight with Granger and Weasley? Or have the two of them decided to return to marital bliss and you can’t stand the whispered sweet nothings?”
“No,” said Harry, managing to repress his first instinct to lash back at the insult. “You want the truth, then fine. I forgot about the reading assignment and I don’t want to sit so close to the front and be a target for questions.”
Katarina raised her eyebrow slightly, the corner of her mouth turned up in a patronizing smirk. “You are a horrible liar, Potter,” she said, laughing softly. “Come on, Caroline, just sit. If Potter vants to stay someplace, he vill stay, and no amount of talk vill change it.” They sat on either side of him—much to Caroline’s dislike—and began pulling out parchment and quills as McGonagall called for silence and started her lesson.
“Today will we continue on from Friday’s lesson,” said Professor McGonagall. “From the assigned reading you are now familiar with Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration. Today we are going to discuss the fundamentals of that theory. Who can tell me…”
“Either of you see this morning’s Prophet?” he asked out of the corner of his mouth just as Hermione rose her hand to answer McGonagall’s question.
“I doubt there is a person who didn’t, Potter,” Caroline answered tersely. Her quill scratched across the parchment, jotting down the details of McGonagall’s lecture.
“Muggles have in their science a rule which states that matter, the substance which forms all objects, can neither be created nor destroyed. This correlates with Gamp’s Law, and other laws of transfiguration, because…”
“Did you believe it?” he asked as he leaned forward to dip his quill in the ink.
“No,” she answered again, shooting a glare at him. “Other than Amsel’s sorting to Slytherin and the fact that she’s German, there’s no proof to say anything else is but a figment of Skeeter’s make believe world.”
“What makes you so sure that she really is a Slytherin?” he asked, recalling his surprise at reading that particular line in the article.
“Because she’s on the bloody list of Hogwarts’ Dueling Champions on display in the Slytherin common room,” Caroline snapped under her breath. “Doesn’t Gryffindor have their champions displayed? Or maybe you’ve never had enough to warrant a shield for them.”
“Vould you two shut up,” Katarina hissed, elbowing Harry sharply in the arm. McGonagall’s lips were thin as she gazed at the three of them from the front of the classroom over the rim of her spectacles. After a moment’s pause, and a disapproving sniff, McGonagall continued on about the mechanics of conjuring and vanishing with respect to the Muggle rule of matter (referred to in the Magical world as the Second Law of Magic). The three of them remained silent for the next ten minutes; Harry only half focusing on what McGonagall was saying as he tried to figure out the best way to approach the next step.
“Several younger Gryffindor’s believed the article,” he said as he noisily turned to the next page in his notebook. To his right, Katarina exhaled loudly, groaning ‘Mein Gott’ under her breath. “Was it the same in Slytherin?”
Caroline’s hand paused on the page, and she finally took her eyes off the blackboard to gaze at Harry. Her brow scrunched together, she scrutinized his face before speaking. “You’re trying to be awfully subtle about something, Potter. Would you mind skipping the pretenses and just get to the point?”
“All right,” he said flatly and put his quill down in the spin of the notebook. “There isn’t any reason to doubt that the Ministry is going to send some ‘inspector’ over here to ‘observe’ Professor Amsel. I’m trying to find out how many students actually believed Skeeter and who didn’t.”
“Why?” she asked. “So you can build up that stupid Army again?”
“It isn’t stupid, and it still exists, so no,” he shot back. “The last time an inspector entered this castle, two professors were sacked and the halls policed by a crazed squad.”
“A crazed squad of Slytherins, you mean, don’t you?” she snapped. “Just like you Gryffindors to blame every unsavory thing that happens on the people in green. Well let me tell you something, Potter,” she hissed. “If you want to avoid Slytherin interference, then I suggest you talk to the ten remaining students who did the bidding of Umbridge, not me.”
Harry scowled. “Right, just like a Slytherin to keep in the shadows when they could step in and do something right for once. I’m trying to—” A long shadow fell over the table and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.
“Is my lesson interrupting your conversation?” Thin lipped and frowning, Professor McGonagall was standing right in front of their desk, glaring.
“No, Professor,” said Harry a beat behind Caroline.
“Then you won’t mind if I take twenty points from both Slytherin and Gryffindor and assign you both detentions,” she said, annoyance and displeasure clear in her cold tone. “Any more and you both can pick up your things and leave this classroom for the remainder of the year.”
They spent the remaining forty-five minutes of class in terse silence. When the bell finally rang, Harry barely managed to get his book and papers into his bag before Caroline and Katarina had packed up and left for the door.
“Harry what in the world were you doing talking during class?” Hermione and Ron caught up with him just as he got through the door. A quick glance down the corridor and Harry spotted the two girls. “Where are you going?” Hermione asked, grabbing his arm as he darted between the other students.
“I’ve got to finish a conversation,” he said, brushing away her hand. “Talk to the DA people. I’ll see you two in Charms,” he called over his shoulder. Half jogging, Harry weaved through the mass of students and other classes were dismissed. Caroline and Katarina turned down a narrow corridor just a few meters ahead of him. Speeding up, Harry pushed passed a group of third years and finally caught up with the two girls.
His hand wrapped around Katarina’s forearm, pulling her back. “Wait, you didn’t let me finish.”
“It doesn’t matter if you were or not, Potter,” Caroline snapped. “I’ve said all I want to say to you and heard more from you than I ever wanted.”
“Just what exactly do you think I’m trying to do?” he asked angrily. “All I want is to keep the best professor we’ve had in seven years. Now whether you like it or not, the Slytherins have always seemed to be the best sources for information when the Ministry or Skeeter wanted to persecute someone. I’m not asking you to get chummy with anyone, all I wanted to know from you was how many Slytherins believed the article.”
“Why are you suddenly Professor Amsel’s champion?” Caroline snapped back. “She’s never seemed to like you very much, and vice versa. I’d have thought you’d want her to be thrown out so one of your fans could replace her, like that werewolf Lupin.”
Blood rushed to his head in a buzzing roar. He forced himself to take several deep breaths before answering, keeping his eyes on Caroline. “You honestly think,” he began slowly, “that the Ministry would put a useful teacher in Amsel’s place if she gets tossed? This isn’t about who likes who, Caroline. If it were, I wouldn’t be trying to talk to you Slytherins. Whoever this inspector is going to be is going to have one purpose: to get rid of Amsel with or without probable cause and the faster the better.”
“And just how vould you know that?”
“Because this is about fear and power, Katarina,” he said, keeping his gaze on the Slytherin girl. “The Ministry fears Amsel because they know nothing about her. That gives her power. The real people who run the Ministry,” he continued with a pointed gaze at Caroline, “don’t like to share power.”
Silence fell between them, echoes of student chatter slowly traveled down the corridor behind them. Finally, Caroline’s stiff, defensive posture relaxed just a little and she let her arms fall from their tight grasp around her chest to resting on her stomach.
“First thing’s first, Potter,” she started. “This doesn’t mean I like you.”
“Fair enough,” he said, breathing a small sigh of relief.
“What exactly did you want?”
Harry let himself smile just the smallest bit. “Just what I said: how many people you think believed the article and if you’d be able to convince them otherwise.”
“Am I supposed to report back to you or something?”
“If you want to call it that,” he replied with a shrug. “One sentence by owl, muttered in passing, whatever you want. Afterwards we never have to speak again, and I promise not to butt in on your usual seating in classes,” he added widening his smile, and shot a glance at Katarina. She was looking rather annoyed about something.
“I never thought I would say this to a Gryffindor,” Caroline sighed, “but, it’s a deal.”
“And now that’s out of the vay, vould you two mind explaining something to me,” Katarina interjected. “Vat the hell is this whole Slytherin-Gryffindor hatred thing about? No one seems to have such problems vith Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw, so vhy you?”
“We’ve always hated each other,” said Caroline. “Slytherin and Gryffindor were rivals when they build Hogwarts, and then enemies before Slytherin left.”
“Salazar was an evil, bigoted git,” Harry added. “Only wanted pureblood witches and wizards to be trained and hated Muggles.”
“Gryffindor was a brash, arrogant, ‘rush in with wand blazing and no thought’ prat who thought himself a saint,” countered Caroline, shooting another glare at him. “Every Gryffindor since then is exactly the same.”
“Voldemort was a Slytherin,” said Harry. “I think that speaks for itself.”
“That’s it?” said Katarina, staring at the two of them in disbelief. “Some thousand year old rivalry and stereotype? Caroline calls you brash and thoughtless, and you retort vith evil and bigoted?”
“Something like that,” said Harry awkwardly. Somehow, summarized in such a way, it sounded extremely pathetic.
Katraina shook her head and started walking back down the corridor. A few meters away, Harry and Caroline heard her mutter“The English”, her head shaking again.
After dinner Ron and Harry were sitting on the floor in front of the fire playing chess while they waited for Hermione to return from the staff meeting. He had told both of them about his conversation with Caroline and Katarina during Charms. While Hermione still scolded him for being so thick as to talk during McGonagall’s class, she was happy to hear that some progress with one Slytherin had been made.
“Dean said he talked with Susan and Hannah about the article,” said Ron as his knight destroyed Harry’s bishop. “It took a bit of convincing for Hannah, but he said they both would do the best they could to convince the first and second years.”
“That’s good to hear.” Harry twisted around just as Hermione walked over to them from the portrait door. “Especially since we only have at most, two days before this inspector arrives,” she said, taking the seat behind Harry.
“Two days?” Ron repeated. “They sure don’t waste any time, do they?”
“Apparently not,” Harry agreed. “Did you find out who it’s going to be?”
“Someone named Collins,” she said after curling her legs up under her. “Professor McGonagall said they were at school together, and she didn’t seem to like him very much.”
“Well isn’t that grand.” Ron slumped back against the overstuffed chair. “Any other encouraging tidbits of information?”
“Not really,” she said. Her fingers played with the clasps to her robe as the heat from the fire began to affect her. “Professor Amsel acted rather oddly though, at least for her, I thought.” The snaps came undone one by one and Hermione took several moments to pull off her work robe.
“Odd, how?” Harry asked after leaning against Hermione’s chair. He rested his arm on top of the seat cushion.
“When Dumbledore mentioned that this Mr. Collins could arrive as soon as tomorrow evening but no later than dinner on Thursday,” Hermione explained, “she just got up and started to leave. Professor Flitwick asked her where she was going and she just looked at him and said: ‘I only have two days until the inspector arrives, Professor. It will take me at least that long to hide all of my Dark Arts artifacts and plans for world domination.’ ”
“You can’t be serious,” said Harry, staring at Hermione as if waiting for the punch line.
“I couldn’t believe it either, Harry,” she said. “Vector and Sinistra both laughed, but Professor McGonagall and the Headmaster didn’t look at all amused. It’s like none of this matters to her or something,” she continued after a moment. “Her attitude was positively glib.”
Harry and Ron exchanged an uneasy gaze. Somehow the idea of a glib Amsel wasn’t very comforting.
At lunch on Thursday the Ministry inspector arrived. An extra chair had been drawn up beside Professor McGonagall and sitting in it was a man who looked around her age. He might have been called handsome during his younger years, but deep lines and liver spots disguised any possible remaining distinguished features. Mr. William Collins, as Dumbledore introduced him to the students, was on Ministry business to evaluate the teaching curriculum. He would also observe Professor Amsel under the requirements listed in a new Education Regulation concerning newly appointed staff.
“I expect all of you to treat him with the same respect you bestow upon your Professors,” the Headmaster told them. There was no mention of how long Collins would be staying.
Hermione and Ginny parted ways with Ron and Harry outside the Great Hall. It must be nice to have this hour free, Hermione thought after glancing at their retreating backs as they headed outside. Arithmancy started in twenty minutes, and Ginny had Defense at the same time. Nearly to the Grand Staircase, Ginny nudged Hermione in the arm and jerked her head towards the end of the corridor.
“He’s like an old, greasy, male version of Umbridge,” said Ginny eyeing the man’s back as he walked towards the staircases. “But taller. I can’t believe Dumbledore is letting this happen again.”
“Dumbledore didn’t really have much of a choice,” Hermione replied softly. A few third years skirted around Collins as he headed up the stairs to Professor Amsel’s classroom. The four of them glared at his retreating back, a gesture that made Hermione feel oddly optimistic about this whole ordeal. It had been a gauntlet trying to contact as many students as possible in the last two days, but many of the students—especially third years and above who remembered Umbridge—were just as opposed to Ministry intrusion as the seventh year Gryffindors. The article may have unsettled them, but it was—according to one fourth year Ravenclaw—hardly to be taken as substantial evidence. If the Professor really did have such a past, she certainly hadn’t done anything in the last two months to prove it.
Hermione could have hugged the boy when he told her.
Collins would be hard pressed to find student testimony to the professor’s detriment if that was indeed part of his plans.
She and Ginny resumed their journey to the grand staircase, Hermione half wishing that she had the hour free to join Ginny in Defense class.
“I think the saddest part of this whole mess is that the Ministry actually believed the rot Skeeter wrote,” Ginny was saying as they started up the first set of stairs. “I mean, seriously: Black Raven? What a load of crock!”
“It doesn’t matter if they actually believed it or not,” Hermione said. “Skeeter fabricated everything the Ministry could ever need for an excuse to come back here and ‘observe.’ I just hope he can’t find a reason to stay long.”
“No kidding,” agreed Ginny. “Merlin only knows what the Ministry will try to push on us the longer he’s here.”
“Well, yes, there is that,” Hermione began, pausing at the first floor landing. She glanced up the high column of moving staircases. “But I was thinking more of Professor Amsel.” Ginny gave her the oddest look, to which Hermione only shrugged before starting up the second set of stairs. But Ginny grabbed her arm, pulling her back down to the landing.
“What do you mean?” Her eyebrows scrunched together as she looked at Hermione, tilting her head as if trying to read an answer before it was given. “You don’t think Amsel will do something to warrant further Ministry interference, do you? She’s like an iced cucumber, Hermione. Nothing shakes her.”
With a sigh, Hermione slowly shook her head. Bits and pieces of Harry’s detention flitted through her mind. No, Professor Amsel wasn’t unshakable. She could get riled up just as any other human being. Ginny, and every other student for that matter, had just never been there when Professor Amsel had. Not to mention the glib comment two nights before.
Hermione frowned sadly. “Everyone has their breaking point, Gin. Even Professor Amsel.”
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