Chapter 9 : November 1995
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“Wright,” someone spoke up from behind me. I turned, my schoolbag slipping off my shoulder and landing heavily in the crook of my elbow. It was Professor Sprout, looking as frazzled as always. She smiled genially at me and extended a thin green envelope.
“What is this?” I asked, examining it. Dirt from Sprout’s hands had done a terrific job of smudging it and I couldn’t tell who the addressee was.
“I’ve got to get back to my class,” she said, her eyes bright and apologetic. “Would you be a dear and send this on up to Professor Umbridge’s office?”
My nose wrinkled up in distaste. “Umbridge?”
She sighed, turning her head to survey a suit of armor situated next to one wall. “She’s got this new policy of overseeing lessons, but she can’t make it to all of them. She’s having teachers inspect themselves when she can’t attend.” Sprout shook her head irritably. “There’s a daily quota of five things we must find about our teaching styles that can be improved upon, and we’re supposed to report every student who does not appear to be paying attention…” she trailed off, waving her hand to indicate the unimportance of such matters to her.
“All right,” I replied slowly. I’d seen these envelopes stacked up on McGonagall’s desk, growing in number as she didn’t seem to be using them. In fact, McGonagall had taken to setting her mug of tea on top, leaving lots of rings behind to soil the paper.
“Thank you,” Sprout said briskly, patting me on the head. I could feel dirt crumbling away from her fingers and sliding down my hair. She looked extremely relieved that she wouldn’t have to interact with Umbridge herself. “I would have just done it later, but we’re supposed to do this after every single class and I forgot to send it along with a student after my last class.” She waved, already hurrying away.
I glanced down at the envelope again, cursing myself for choosing that particular walking route and getting stuck with such bad luck.
The office that accompanied each year’s Defense Against the Dark Arts professor was located on the second floor, which was inconvenient for me since I was on the first floor, preparing to go down to Hagrid’s; I grudgingly turned around and headed in the opposite direction.
When I reached the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, I found it empty. I was thoroughly tempted to leave the envelope sitting on her desk at the front of the room, but soon found my eyes wandering up the narrow winding staircase attached to one wall. The door to her office was above, and invitingly cracked open about a foot. Yellowish diffused light from an interior window poured through, and before I could gather up my good sense, I found myself on the staircase, one hand gripping the rail.
Inside the office, Lee Jordan was seated in a chair that faced Umbridge, looking mutinous. Behind him (and separated by a wide berth) were Fred and George Weasley. Wrapping my fingers around the doorframe and poking my nose farther inside, I could see Umbridge glowing happily behind her desk. She was writing on the margins of a salmon-colored pamphlet and smiling to herself.
Ahh. So I wondered.
A few days previously, Fred, George, and Harry Potter had gotten themselves banned for life from Quidditch when Draco Malfoy began taunting them about their respective families. Although I could see that Malfoy was just bitter because the Gryffindor Quidditch team was so successful at winning matches, Harry and George had lost their tempers and started punching him. Fred was only restrained from joining them by Alicia, Angelina, and Katie, who had all grabbed a hold of his arms. I would never forget the thunderous expression on his face – that uncharacteristic anger.
Wanting to get revenge on Malfoy, the twins and Lee Jordan holed up together in a corner of their Gryffindor table during breakfast and jinxed Draco’s lips to sprout into an enormous yellow beak. When a few Ravenclaws began to laugh and noticed Lee smiling giddily, they pointed toward the Gryffindors and Malfoy realized what had happened. He promptly relayed all of this information (in what was likely a colorful and exaggerated story) to Umbridge, who had no problem whatsoever in issuing detentions without proof.
Fred, who occupied the chair closest to the door, was slouching in his seat and staring insolently at Umbridge, grinding his teeth together. George gazed out the window toward the Quidditch pitch while his right hand was at work scribbling across a sheet of parchment. Lee was the only one paying any attention to his task of writing lines, although he made sure to shift his weight from side to side often so that lots of rusty squeals emitted from his chair.
George seemed to realize that they were being watched, and swerved his head in my direction. He cast a sidelong glance at Fred, who was still glaring at Umbridge. “Pssst.”
“Is something the matter?” an unnaturally sweet voice asked, penetrating the gloomy silence in the room.
Fred opened his mouth, looking ready to shoot off a remark that was likely to get him into more trouble, and George cleared his throat. Fred instantly shut his mouth; it was apparent that George had given him a signal of sorts and Fred trusted his judgment implicitly, without having to give it a second thought. “Nothing at all,” George responded brightly.
Umbridge beamed, her flabby face broadening to look all the more like a toad. As soon as she diverted her attention to her pamphlet once again, Fred angled his face toward George just a fraction and raised one inquisitive eyebrow. George nodded slightly, flashing his eyes toward where I stood.
Fred turned about in his chair, looking surprised and not at all displeased to see me hovering just outside Umbridge’s office. I grinned. He returned the grin, glancing furtively back at Umbridge before meeting my eyes again and giving me a wink.
He exchanged looks with his brother, who nodded. Fred faced the front once more, lacing his fingers in a professional sort of way, and watched Umbridge through his eyelashes. He gave a loud, bark-like cough.
Ahead of him, Lee took this as his cue to make a gurgling sound. Umbridge snapped her head up, piercing him with a beady stare. Lee gurgled again, somehow maintaining a straight face, and George blocked his mouth with his hand so that no one would see him grinning. Fred gazed down at his desk, the corner of his mouth turning up into a smile.
“Urghurrrgh,” Lee wheezed. He coughed loudly, never severing eye contact with the lines he was writing. More gurgling rose up in his throat, and soon he was beginning to sound like Cecil did whenever he was preparing to square off with another neighborhood cat.
Umbridge’s eyes narrowed.
“Mr. Jordan –”
Lee gave a very obviously artificial sneeze, aiming the spew right at Umbridge’s desk. George was now shaking with silent laughter. Umbridge’s teeth snapped together and her face had taken on a rather pinched look. Fred leaned his forehead against one hand, eyes darting to mine for a moment, and he coughed again.
“URGGHHHLUUURGHH!” Lee shrieked at once. It was highly impressive; the boy’s expression was bland and solemn, his hand still scribbling words. Every now and then he paused to shake out his left hand, which was odd because he was writing with his right hand – but I chalked it up to him trying to be more annoying. Presently, George looked very much on the verge of losing it.
“Mr. Jordan!” Umbridge snapped. “That is enough.”
“That is enough,” Lee repeated sternly under his breath.
“What was that?”
Lee glanced up at her, his features etched with surprise. “Did you say something, Professor?”
Her eyes were slits. “I advise you to focus on your punishment, Mr. Jordan, and to keep your mouth shut.”
Several minutes later, Lee gargled his nonexistent mouthwash again.
“Jordan!” Her voice rose sharply, and she slammed both pudgy, ring-adorned hands onto the immaculate surface of her desk. “You’ve just earned yourself another detention for tomorrow.”
“That’s entirely unfair,” Lee argued, “seeing as how I didn’t open up my mouth at all. It was shut the whole time. I think it’s pretty evident that I’m ill over here. You should fetch Pomfrey and have her take a look at my throat –”
“Last warning,” Umbridge snarled. Taking full advantage of her distraction, Fred tore the sheet of parchment sitting before him in half, scribbling words onto one of the pieces. He then crumpled the parchment into a small ball and clenched it in his fist.
“– or, you know,” Lee went on, “you could come over here and take a look for yourself. I’ve got loads of orifices that you could examine.”
“Detention for the next three nights.” She shuffled her papers primly, as if doing so would assert her authority and make it known that she would not tolerate any more nonsense.
Lee widened his eyes, the picture of sarcastic innocence, and resumed his lines. Umbridge studied him for a full minute before concentrating solely on her pamphlet, her expression both savage and triumphant. Fred waited until she was sufficiently distracted to throw his balled-up strip of parchment in my direction – it bounced through the doorway and landed lightly next to my shoe.
I bent over and picked up the crumpled note, heart beating rapidly with expectation. Just as I had dared to predict, it was yet another relay from his anonymous and deeply secretive “friend”:
He says that you are looking exceptionally lovely today, and that you should definitely stop sitting next to Wayne Hopkins during dinner because Wayne Hopkins is a prat with stupid hair and even his mother wishes he would take a permanent holiday to Spain.
I rolled my eyes and motioned for him to toss me a quill. His eyes swerved to Umbridge, and never looking away from her, he reached into his schoolbag and lifted a quill from it. This was an odd gesture, since he already had a perfectly good quill lying right there on top of his ripped parchment, unused. I watched as he knocked the quill from his bag off the desk with one elbow. It spun across the floor toward me, the clattering disguised by George’s loud and impeccably-timed cough.
“Aagh!” Lee shouted. Umbridge’s lips curled away from her bared teeth, gripping the pamphlet in her hands so tightly that I thought she might split it down the middle. “Sorry,” Lee spoke without emotion. “Thought I had a nargle on me.”
I retrieved the quill and wrote on the back of his note:
You can tell your friend that the only reason why Hopkins sits anywhere near me during meals is because he thinks he has a shot at Matilda Clark. Delphine has repeatedly told Matilda to move down the table, but until the blessed day comes when Matilda listens to anything Delphine says, your friend will just have to live with it.
I paused, smiling to myself.
And please tell him thank you for the compliment. I wear the same plain black robes every single day, but every Tuesday this amazing phenomenon occurs and I look twice as ravishing in them.
I tossed the note back to him and he read it eagerly, smiling in amusement as I knew he would. I kept the quill for myself, however, since Delphine had stolen my best one, and Fred did not respond to my note using the quill sitting inches from his left hand. I hesitated, wondering if I should just leave Sprout’s envelope sitting on the floor for Umbridge to find later, and take off before I got caught loitering there.
Before I could make up my mind, Fred could no longer resist himself. He raised one arm and coughed into his sleeve.
“CAHHHH.” Lee rasped in a knee-jerk reaction, clutching wildly at his throat and kicking his feet out as though experiencing some sort of possession by a demonic creature. “Cahhhhhh! Caahhh!”
George spilled out of his chair, giggling uncontrollably, and Fred had to cross his arms over his desk and bury his head into them to muffle the laughter.
“That’s it!” Umbridge hollered, jumping to her feet so quickly that she knocked over her cup of tea. Half of it sloshed down the front of her skirt and the rest was quickly staining her pamphlet. She began to cross the tiny room to give Lee a piece of her mind and just so happened to snag my presence with her peripheral vision.
Her back straightened. “What are you doing here?”
I recoiled from the sting in her tone, but pushed the door open wider. “I was sent…to give you this…” I offered feebly, holding out the green envelope as far away from myself as I could while still keeping it between two fingers.
“Pomona, I presume?” Umbridge muttered to herself, snatching it away from me. She nodded knowingly, raising one eyebrow in disgust. “Always late, and never completely filled out.” She reached into the envelope and pulled out a page of lilac parchment. “Hem hem. These are the weakest answers I’ve ever seen – it’s astonishing that she can read at all; with the way that she writes, one could easily believe her to be illiterate. I think that the Minister will certainly have something to say about this.”
During the brief interval while Umbridge was facing me and analyzing Sprout’s report, Lee had dug out his wand and transformed the foul woman’s teacup into a toad. Fred chanced a swift glimpse at Umbridge before taking out his own wand and adding a gaudy pink bow to the top of the toad’s head.
“That will be all, then,” Umbridge dismissed me curtly, turning on her heel to storm back to her desk. I had no doubt that she was already forming a letter to Fudge in her mind, demanding that Sprout be sacked. I was just bowing myself out, the door almost closed, when I heard a strangled shriek and froze with my fingers still curled around the knob.
Numerous kittens batting balls of yarn from their porcelain plates on the walls began to squall with displeasure, stretching their necks out and yowling. Umbridge’s face was as red as hot coals. “You three!” she yelled, shaking a stubby finger at them. “You can forget about any plans you may have for the next two weeks. Detentions for all of you, and much more if I can manage it. And the Minister will definitely be hearing about this…this vicious insubordination.”
Lee was still occupied with his quill and parchment, unperturbed and pretending he hadn’t heard her. George was staring at one of the yowling kittens hanging over his head and looking like he would quite enjoy throwing something at it. Umbridge began to write furiously on a notepad – probably a vehement letter to the Minister. Fred glanced back at me, grinning wickedly. “Worth it,” he mouthed.
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