Chapter 4 : Just Deserts
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The sun had long set on the Room of Requirement as Harry Potter finally prepared to leave. It was the start of a new school year and he was not looking forward to losing his freedom. To Harry, it seemed as if the entire world was waiting out there to restrict him, to hold him back - and nobody to guide him, to help him develop his defensive skills against the threat of the Dark Lord.
A deep sigh escaped his lips as he approached the Room's boundary wall and he considered what lay beyond. Harry took one last look around at the arena which had been his home for the last twelve months. It had been hard work but he had made remarkable progress and he had done it all himself. He did not need Dumbledore; He did not need the secretive Order members; He did not need anyone. It was just too... painful to have friends. Anger and a sense of injustice still simmered deep within him but he would not be looking for help from anyone in the future.
He went out through the gate in the wall and found himself in the school corridor on the seventh floor again. He remembered to turn over the tapestry on the wall then put on his invisibility cloak and waited in a shadowy corner. Far ahead at the next corner the flames of a wall-torch flickered and occasionally crackled but otherwise all was still and silent and dark. When Harry heard footsteps, he checked his watch. His younger self turned the corner with Dobby who was explaining about the Room.
"How big can the room be, Dobby?"
"As big as sir needs." The elf was smiling - clearly happy to be of service to Harry Potter.
Harry waited until they had both entered the Room of Forgotten Things then he removed his cloak and headed for the Gryffindor common room.
As Harry reached the Fat Lady's portrait, she said, "Oh, good evening! Nice holiday? It's alright for some I suppose; others have to keep on working."
He opened his carry bag, took out an old piece of paper and started to recite the password that was written upon it. He stopped half-way. There was a message on the paper he had written to himself last year - he still had the Time-Turner! He had forgotten to put it back so there was nothing in the box that his earlier self and Dobby must by now have reached. There was a sinking feeling in his heart that the entire last year might unravel - would never happen because his earlier self could never go back to start it without the Time-Turner.
"Well, are you going to stand there all day?" said the Fat Lady.
"Erm..." he muttered, staring up at her blankly. His face was white.
"I don't have time for this nonsense, young man! No password, no entrance," she said haughtily.
"Time! ... You don't have time --but I do!" said Harry excitedly. He called over his shoulder as he dashed off, "I'll be back!"
"Suit yourself! Don't worry about me," said the Fat Lady then shouted after him, "I'll still be here!"
Once he found an empty corridor, Harry gave the Time-Turner half a twist. Someone immediately crashed into him almost knocking him over. She was a fourth year girl with long, straggly blonde hair. Harry vaguely remembered her from the train but now she looked amazingly vivid. The training dummies had seemed fainter, thinned out, by comparison yet he had always thought they looked completely real. Perhaps his magical senses were enhanced more than he thought because now he could detect a vibrancy and a solidity about the person in front of him.
"Oh, hello," said the girl, dreamily, "where did you come from?"
Harry stared, mesmerised by the first human being he had seen clearly in a year - then blinked. "You're real. You're really real."
"And you are very odd," she said with a puzzled frown. "I'm not sure I want to--"
"Sorry!" cried Harry, breaking out of his trance, "gotta go!" He dashed off then called back "Spell went wrong. My fault. Sorry."
"It's alright - it's probably just a Wrackspurt fuzzed your brain," she called at Harry's receding figure then she added quietly to herself, "He is very peculiar!"
Harry replaced the Time-Turner in its box in the Room of Forgotten Things then strolled slowly back in the direction of the Gryffindor Common Room. He now had plenty of time so he paused to gaze out of a window at the Hogwarts grounds. It was dark but it was good to see a real night sky again after so long; it seemed blacker - the stars brighter and sharper. He did not want to spend another year like his last but he did want to keep training. He pondered how often he might use his practice room during the coming year. He could slip away for an hour or two on most days - more at the weekends.
As he cogitated the future he heard the echoing commotion of students walking distant stairs and corridors - the opening banquet must be over. After a while he reluctantly forsook his window view and resumed his journey to pick up where he had left off last year: lonely, isolated, and irritable. He knew he had to stay focused on his plan.
At the Fat Lady's portrait, she snapped, "You again! Don't know if you're coming or going do you?"
Harry recited the password on his piece of paper then entered the Gryffindor common room.
If the single girl in the corridor had seemed so vivid to Harry's senses, then the common room was overpowering and he stood transfixed. It was full of the turmoil and noise of students hurrying around sorting out baggage and books, laughing and joking or grumbling and wincing at their weekly schedules. First-years were moving cautiously about - not sure where to put themselves while second-years were swaggeringly-nonchalant know-it-alls. The colours and sounds seemed much more vibrant and powerful than Harry remembered. The impact of so many familiar faces, friends not seen for so long, was overwhelming. There was Neville. His very normality seemed oddly charismatic. To one side of him were Fred and George, large as life, pinning something up on the noticeboard. Dean was there, Seamus, ... and Ginny. Harry stared at the profile of her face as she rummaged through a pile of parchments on top of a table. He hadn't realized just how wonderful she--
"Where the hell have you been? We were--" It was Ron pushing in between, obscuring the view. He broke off and stared at Harry.
"Good to see you again, mate." smiled Harry. He looks... brilliant! "Great to know you, Ron."
"Are you... Eh? What?" Ron looked baffled.
Over Ron's shoulder, Harry sensed Ginny had looked up. She smiled at him but there was some doubt in her face. He didn't know how or whether to smile back so he looked past her stupidly. He was overloaded with emotions that fought within him. What was so different about her? He struggled against a pull as strong as a river current. What is going on? I have to stay focused on my plan.
"What? What have..." Ron was still staring.
"Come on, Harry! We've saved you some pies... and some pudding. You shouldn't really miss meals like that you know..."
Harry turned. It was Hermione with a small tray of food that she was placing on a table. Her eyes flashed in pretend annoyance as she looked up but there was genuine concern within her expression. There was an impression of wonderful resurrection that deeply moved Harry's heart. Her decoy now seemed foolishly translucent by comparison but at the time he had thought her lost to him.
"Food? You know... What you eat?" said Hermione to Harry's blank stare. "--Or rather what you didn't eat?"
Then he remembered. To her, only minutes ago she had suffered his scathing rejection at the evening meal in the Great Hall. She should have been mad at him for a month - yet here she was, still thinking of him; still willing to offer him a kindness. It was too much. He forgot his commitment to isolation and training. A surge of affection impelled Harry forward to embrace Hermione. She thrust him away, embarrassed. "Just some food... What's got into you!" Then, like Ron, she was staring too as she looked at him properly.
"Been transfiguring himself" smirked Seamus at Dean, "Seems to fit what we read in the--"
"Don't!" cut in Neville. "My gran says that's rubbish. Dumbledore's right - You-Know-Who is back."
Wandlessly, Harry conjured up a full length mirror without thinking. There were gasps all round. Hermione took a step back. "How'd you do that!"
"Yeah, well my mother says Dumbledore's lost all his marbles," said Seamus, rounding on Neville.
Harry looked at himself in the mirror. He seemed normal. Then he remembered his earlier self going into the Room of Requirement a few minutes ago. It had been very dark then but the figure now in the mirror was definitely bulkier, taller, lightly tanned, fitter - and a year older. He was aware of a growing argument between Seamus and Neville. He knew what it was about. His annoyance increased when he caught the word 'lies.'
"You show off! You don't half think a lot of yourself, mate," said Ron, dragging Harry's attention back to himself.
"Oh yeah - someone gave me erm... a Humbug humbug." said Harry with a false laugh, "You should have seen me a while ago - eight feet tall and muscles like a gorilla. It doesn't last though; it's fading already."
"A what?" said a voice behind him. "What are Humbug humbugs and where can we get some?" It was Fred. George was just coming over to join him.
"Who gave it to you then, Harry?" asked George.
"It's all nonsense - what's in the Prophet!" said Neville across the room. "Everyone says so."
"Oh some fourth year - you wouldn't know him," said Harry, hastily, distracted by the row that was going on in the background.
"We know all the fourth years, don't we George?" said Fred. They were moving in like a pack of hyenas that had smelt a fresh kill. "What's his name?"
"So how come Dumbledore got thrown out of the Wizengamot then?" muttered Seamus.
"Oh mmm... I don't know his name, er... Malcolm something..." Harry was trying to catch what Seamus was implying.
"Would it be Martin Something?" said Fred. "We know him don't we George?"
"Yes, that's him... I think," said Harry.
"Are you sure about that Harry?" asked George, slyly. "Martin is a first year - at another school. Perhaps he's just visiting, eh, Fred?"
"I doubt it, George," said Fred. "Martin was a first year once - but that was twenty years ago. Oh yes, and he was almost a squib; still is most likely. Didn't know he could do advanced stuff like this."
"He emigrated, Fred," said George. "Alaska, I think."
"All right! All right!" said Harry with annoyance. "So it wasn't Martin. Does it matter?"
"Don't know, Harry. Does it?" said George in mock seriousness. He called after Harry who was slipping away upstairs to the dormitory.
"See? Can't believe anything he says," said Seamus to Dean, giving up on converting Neville and looking for support elsewhere.
Now Ron was quarrelling beside Neville too. "That's out of order, Seamus,"
"Fred, I think I do detect humbug actually, don't you?" said Fred.
"Yes, George. In fact my hard mint confectionery detector has reached hornswoggle levels."
"Definitely, well past baloney and flimflam wouldn't you say?"
Harry could hear them still faintly ranting away downstairs. For a minute or two it seemed he had tasted heaven but Seamus' accusations behind his back and the twins jibes had broken his beautiful dream. At least they'd brought him down to earth. He would have no time for friends now. He must focus on surviving - all he cared about was training to survive. Stick with the plan, Harry!
He visualised his earlier self and managed to transfigure himself to a pallid, scrawny youth as he had been a year before. Why'd I even bother about what they think! He heard a sound behind him.
"What d'you want now!" he snapped, whirling round.
"Your schedule." It was Ron. He stared hard at Harry's changed appearance. "Hermione and me... You left..."
Harry snatched the schedule from Ron's outstretched hand and muttered an almost inaudible "Thanks."
"Don't take any notice of them, Harry. I've had years of it. None of their business anyway..."
"Look, just drop it OK?" said Harry, sullenly turning away. He earnestly wished he was back in the Room of Requirement on his own again. For months he had resolved to stay apart from everyone as much as possible yet this plan seemed to be already crumbling to ashes. He just could not handle friendship anymore. He glanced back at Ron who he sensed was still standing there. He was holding Hermione's tray of food but was obviously too unsure or too uncomfortable to either offer it or take it away.
An awful surge of guilt seized Harry but he felt too committed to his stance of feeling injustice heaped upon him to attempt any reconciliation. Ron awkwardly put the tray down on Harry's bedside table and crept away muttering softly, "I'll just leave this there for you then..."
Harry sat on his bed. He felt he had to try to keep angry - or else he might just as well throw himself from the window as wait for Voldemort to kill him. What might it be like to fly for those few seconds without a broomstick? He picked up a pie without thinking and began munching without really tasting it. There were more footsteps on the stairs. What now?
Hermione came over but Harry only briefly glanced sideways. She moved as if to sit down beside Harry then reconsidered. She shifted awkwardly over and sat on Ron's bed instead, facing Harry. Harry continued chewing and biting into his pie without looking up. A couple of times he sensed Hermione move and take a deeper breath as if she were about to speak but each time she slumped back. When Harry looked away towards the window he heard her creeping off. She had gone when he looked back. A large cold stone of shame sat within Harry, holding him down in a very dark place indeed.
The next morning, Harry was up very early. He still felt yesterday's emptiness but he resolutely strode along to his practice room. There was some temporary relief in escaping the attention of others. Marianne was not visible so he guessed she was still asleep. He took out his misery and anger on the magical enemy for an hour then showered and headed back. He had noticed his transfiguration had faded during the night and he looked too fit and healthy again. He wouldn't easily be able to sustain an illusion of scrawniness all year. He decided to make the change then gradually revert. He hoped if he could slowly appear to become stronger and healthier-looking over a week or two it would be less noticeable. After that everyone could perhaps forget he used to look so pale and underweight.
He hardly spoke to Ron and Hermione during breakfast in the Great Hall. They seemed to know when it was best to leave him alone. He exchanged a few words with Neville but he was mostly discussing something about roots and twigs with Dean so Harry found it very easy to keep out of the conversation.
Next up was a History class and Harry scarcely heard one tenth of Professor Binns' droning statements and remembered none of it at all. Towards the end of the class he did not even try but just stared out of the window. He was being hunted by a ruthless killer who would stop at nothing until Harry was dead. Why then was he then sitting here supposedly learning about Goblin Wars that ended centuries ago?
He began to wonder if he might ever defeat the Dark Lord. No matter how hard Harry trained and progressed, Voldemort was not treading water either; he was overwhelmingly powerful and Fudge's ministry seemed toothless and inept. It was hopeless. Was there any way the threat could be overcome?
"Then again ... some of us think we know it all and don't need to pay attention at all, do we... POTTER!" It was Snape.
Harry was now so withdrawn within himself he could hardly remember even moving from the boredom of History to the tedium of Double Potions. He looked at Neville with whom he was working but he could offer no indication of what had been said just before. Harry heard a snigger from the Slytherin benches.
"Potter, how will you be preparing the two most important ingredients this morning?" said Snape slowly. He was like a malevolent snake sliding up the aisle between the benches, homing in on Harry.
"I don't know, sir."
"You... don't... know," said Snape very slowly. The snake was about to strike. "And how will you explain your partner's demise to the authorities after he has tested your potion?"
"Poor teaching methods?" The words slipped out but Harry couldn't care less. He heard Hermione gasp somewhere on his left. The serpent struck. "Detention, Potter. Thursday evening. You will bring sixteen inches of parchment for each of the two primary ingredients, defining their preparation. I will not tolerate insolence in my class."
For a few moments before the potions master swept away, Harry felt his hand tighten on his wand under his robe. His anger was simmering but Snape wasn't his target. He was just part of the nonsense around him. The nonsense that he had to stew in when he ought to be doing what really mattered - preparing to survive. How could anything be more important than that? If there was any justice in the world at all then Snape, Dumbledore, all the teachers, all the Order members, all his so-called friends, would be devoting all day and every day encouraging him, advising him, planning for him, guiding him...
"POTTER!" Snape again. "Have you any intention of attending this class at all today?"
"And what time would be convenient for you?" sneered Snape. "Anytime soon?"
There was a slight change in the flow of air and a faint aroma of cheap scent. Harry was on his feet instantly, his hand under his robes. Snape looked at him strangely.
Harry looked round as did everyone else in the class. The shadow of loathing flew silently through him. It was Umbridge - the real Umbridge silhouetted in the doorway, watching. Harry's training overrode his instinct or she might have died in that moment. He sat down and finding his wand in his hand he began to charm the ugly dry weeds that lay on the bench.
"Nothing... I... cannot... handle... thank you... Dolores." Snape slid the words out one by one and almost choked the last out at Umbridge - but his eyes never left Harry.
Harry wondered if it would be possible to escape - get himself expelled so he could run somewhere away from all this; be on his own. But even if he found a place and could support himself he knew the underage trace would make it impossible for him to practise. He needed the Room of Requirement and he needed it badly.
He fumbled around lighting his cauldron and scraping the brittle weeds together on a glass plate. In the back of his mind he was vaguely aware of Neville directing proceedings under his breath.
"Harry..." whispered Neville through clenched teeth. "Only half that! The other half is added later, remember? And we don't need the cauldron so hot." Now Neville was worried. "You'll be having a meltdown next!"
Harry looked around miserably at the ancient Potions classroom. It seemed appropriate. Harry felt as if some terrible instrument of medieval torture was clamped around his head. Just a few more turns of the screw and he would burst. He had no idea how he got through the rest of the lesson. All he could think of was the coming lunch break when he would escape this dungeon and enter the freedom of meaningful combat for a while.
Although his lunch break freed him to vent his fury against the training dummies, he found no lasting relief when he returned to classwork. He glanced at the schedule that Ron had given him. He did not care what was being taught, only to which classroom he had to trudge. Room 3C! - that's... He looked again at his schedule to make sure but he knew 3C alright. Dark Arts! It was the first Defence against the Dark Arts lesson! Harry's interest was raised. He had forgotten the one subject that would be of use to him. His pace quickened.
He was last into the classroom but he was just on time. Then he saw the teacher and remembered who it was. Umbridge was already at her desk at the head of the class and his temporary enthusiasm started to seep away. Oh well, let's wait and see. When you're fighting against the dark arts then pleasantness is not an asset.
Harry found the only seat vacant was at the desk next to the one that Hermione and Ron were sharing. They glanced at him and he nodded, unsure of how he wanted to treat them. He plunked himself down and pulled out his books in readiness.
The Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson was much worse than Harry feared. No defence spells were taught - only theory. When he challenged the use of mere theory against Voldemort he was called a liar for saying Voldemort was back. The more Harry heard, the more angry he grew. Finally, even the killing of Cedric Diggory was claimed to have been an accident.
Fury pushed Harry over the edge. His training had conditioned him that wherever his wand was, his hand was never far away. He had practised so often retrieving his wand swiftly and furtively that it was concealed against his wrist in a moment and he was on his feet, shaking with rage. The superior, condescending smirk faded from Umbridge's face. Something switched over in Harry's mind. He stopped shaking. There was no going back.
"It ... Was ... Murder," said Harry, loudly, slowly, and decisively. His focus never wavered from Umbridge's face; it was his combat stare. He countered his pallid, scrawny transfiguration and reverted to his true nature. The boy disappeared. He was suddenly bigger, older, and very threatening.
The whole class gasped and were staring white-faced, back and forth between Harry and Umbridge.
"You were not there - I was. I saw it happen," exclaimed Harry taking a couple of steps menacingly forward. "I am not going to let you dishonour the memory of Cedric Diggory and spread lies about his death. VOLDEMORT... HAD... HIM... KILLED!" He paused for a moment as a thought occurred to him then he added slyly, "...and YOU know it, don't you?"
He waited a few moments while the other students uttered exclamations amongst themselves and Umbridge stared, transfixed in disbelief, her mouth gaping. Harry continued, loudly and clearly, "So now we all know who's side YOU are on."
Professor Umbridge's face went from white to purple as if she were controlling a scream of rage but she eventually brought herself under control and spoke in her silliest, most simpering voice, "Mr. Potter, would you come here, dear."
Harry remained standing where he was.
"You dare to call me 'dear' you loathsome, pathetic old hag?" said Harry evenly. His mind had now moved into a completely different mode of thinking. He was no longer confused, bored, or frustrated. His mind was crystal clear. His rage persisted but it had a real target now. He had taken control of the room and everyone knew it. He continued...
"When I was faced with Voldemort himself, I refused to let him talk down to me ... AND the most powerful dark wizard of the age failed to defeat me in direct combat. Did you seriously think that a useless Ministry quill-pusher toad like yourself could do better?"
He kicked his chair aside dramatically without ever taking his eyes off Umbridge. There was an almost imperceptible movement of his arms and the class heard the doors at both end of the room locking themselves. There was astonishment on Umbridge's face now and she fumbled clumsily for her wand - but it was gone before she reached it. Harry caught it as easily as a sleepy Snitch on a tether. He held the wand high between his two hands. His stare never left Umbridge.
"Let's see how you survive with just theory, Umbridge."
He snapped the wand in two and cast it aside. There was a clatter as the pieces hit the floor and rattles and scrapings of chairs as many of the students rose to their feet, alarmed at the turn of events. Harry conjured a huge shield to cover everyone except the teacher who now was silent and fearful, struggling to speak. Finally she burst through the astonishment which had almost paralysed her and slowly rose to her feet.
"You will face trial for this!" squealed Umbridge. She began to walk forwards to Harry but stopped immediately, her eyes widening. A large grey wolf, hackles raised, bared teeth slathering with drool, had stepped in front of Harry, guarding him, blocking her path. Its red eyes were fixed unwaveringly on the wandless Umbridge and its loud snarl chilled her to the bone. Another wolf, black and wild, was approaching from the left - then another from the right - all were focused on Umbridge. She started to take a slow step backwards but she never completed it.
Harry's wand moved only slightly forward but Umbridge was thrust ten paces back - dashed hard against the stone railing that guided the steps up to the now-locked office behind her. He walked forward and as he did so, Umbridge was thrust again and again onto the stone until her teeth rattled and her eyes bulged in terror. She dangled there, feet off the ground, pressed against the columns behind her, whimpering softly. The wolves moved in threateningly.
"How dare you lie to this class!" exploded Harry - then he continued. "You're working for him aren't you? Voldemort. Or are you really completely witless?"
"I... I..." blubbered Umbridge. "--don't know what you--"
"The truth! Tell the class the truth!" demanded Harry but the woman simply looked confused.
"You will... pay for this I promise you--" she managed to squeak hysterically.
Perhaps Harry forgot she was real; perhaps he didn't care. He screamed at her, "Just tell them the truth damn you!" He twisted his wand and murmured a short incantation. Umbridge let out a long, wailing shriek.
"Harry, no! Please no! This is not right..." It was Hermione, begging, pleading. Harry came back to his senses. He paused for a long time, thinking hard then he saw a triumphant sneer forming on Umbridge's face as she sensed his weakness. He had lost. He had been a fool to take on the whole world. He might go to Azkaban if he didn't back down.
But Harry Potter couldn't back down. He must have the truth out for all to see. He knew exactly what to do.
He moved to one side and began a slow, quiet chant. Umbridge still was held helplessly like a slaughtered carcass hung against the rail waiting to be butchered. The wolves leaned in like coiled springs; one word would release them to crunch bone and flesh. The rest of the class students were also held but not by magic - they were mesmerised by what they were witnessing; glued to the astonishing sight and anxiously waiting to see what would happen.
The air in front of Umbridge began to brighten - to fluoresce. The strange ethereal radiance focused and divided into three incandescent spheres which stretched themselves into soft vertical columns of light touching the floor. Within this luminescence the shapes of three white-robed figures became apparent; the central, taller one seemed to dominate. Umbridge stared uncomprehendingly, unable to take her eyes from them. Suddenly she screamed but this was not the simple shriek of pain she had uttered before; this cry uttered itself from the terrible depths of her cold, forgotten soul.
"Harry, please don't," begged Hermione. She was sobbing. "Please stop it..."
"It's not me - I'm not doing anything," said Harry, calmly. He went over to the Luminators and stood in front of them, between them and Umbridge, looking at them, breaking Umbridge's eye contact with them. Her screaming ended and she fell silent, whimpering and crying from time to time - dangling on the rail like an unwanted cloak.
Harry grunted and grimaced as he took the strain. The face of the main Luminator was a silent carving of light. Within its eyes was tender forgiveness willing to be freely bestowed. Harry was swept with feelings of guilt and failure for his momentary weakness. He tried to tough it out but the remorse and shame for what he had just done was almost unbearable. He let go. He yielded to the angelic countenance - to what it was offering him. It was easy once he had accepted it. He repented and meant it. He knew his actions had gone too far and he deeply regretted it.
His body, which had been convulsed with the stress of resisting, now sagged with relief. He was shining with sweat. He stumbled to one side.
"You see?" called Harry shakily to Hermione, "nothing to it." but he couldn't bring himself to smile even though he tried. This had been much harder than when he had summoned Luminators before in his training sessions; his guilt had been greater this time.
Umbridge's gaze was drawn back again to the Luminators' eyes. She screamed again and again - almost unable to draw enough breath for each scream. Some of the girls in the class were covering their ears and turning away.
"But you're hurting her, Harry! Stop it! Stop it!" cried Hermione.
"I'm doing nothing, Hermione. She's doing it to herself. The Luminators never harm anyone." He turned to the screaming woman who was writhing and twisting at the stair rail.
"You will have to let go eventually - why wait?" he shouted anxiously. He wiped his sleeve across his forehead. "Why don't you just let go?"
Uncomprehending eyes pleaded with him from the face of the stricken woman.
"Just let go. It's easy to let go! You're just making it hard on yourself - clinging to your stupid lies. You know they're lies! Just let go and accept the truth. You already know the truth," yelled Harry at the desolate woman - then he added more quietly, gesturing at the Luminators, "Or this may never end... Ever."
But Harry completely underestimated Umbridge's inability to yield her own deep self-deception. So long had she dwelt with falsehood and dishonest thinking that it was her natural element and the toad was unwilling to climb out of its filthy, slimy bog of self-pretence. Harry became aware of the growing agitation and murmurings of his fellow students and he turned to them.
"Harry... they'll arrest you for this," said Seamus. There was sympathy in his voice and regret. He was now convinced that Harry would not have gone this far for a made-up story.
"She deserves what she gets!" growled Ron. There was doubt in his voice but others made supportive noises.
Through all of the deeply recessed windows on one side, weak rays of autumnal sunlight managed to find their way inside the classroom and feebly stroked the desks and floor but their pale, yellowish glow was outshone by the brilliance of the white light that now flared at the far end of the room.
Parvati squealed and pointed over Harry's shoulder. Harry turned, wand raised. One of the Luminators, the tall one, had approached Umbridge closely and was leaning in, its shining face closing in on hers. Umbridge convulsed. Her eyes rolled in absolute terror and her heels drummed and thrashed loudly against the stone rail behind her. Harry strode forward and tried to grab at the Luminator but it was like trying to grasp light. He attempted to banish the Luminators but only the two lesser ones departed; the most dominant one remained, unwilling or unable to stop the action it had commenced.
The Kiss of the Luminator lit up Umbridge's face like a shining white sun. She stopped screaming and sagged against the wall, sobbing - sobbing endlessly. The Luminator, having fulfilled its purpose, faded and dispersed and Harry used his wand to lower the woman to sit slumped against the stone. With a few wand movements, he banished the wolves, unlocked the doors and countered the protective shield. Room 3C became very quiet except for Umbridge's dry snivelling.
The students, seeing it was all over, cautiously followed Hermione and Ron who both went nearer to see the outcome. Harry turned and summoned a glass of water from Umbridge's desk then knelt down and made her drink from it between sobs. He could not despise her now but there was little pity either. She looked shrivelled, like an ugly boil evacuated of its pus. The little bow had slipped from her head and had been pathetically trampled underfoot.
"Blimey, Harry!" said Ron. "Are you sure you've not... You know?"
"This extraordinary meeting of the Wizengamot has been called because I am declaring a state of emergency," declared Kingsley Shacklebolt. He was standing with Professor Dumbledore in the highest court with several Aurors, wands-drawn, on either side of him.
"What gives you the authority to call this meeting! Where is Fudge?" shouted an angry black-robed witch with a shock of frizzy hair spilling out from under her hood.
"Power and opportunity is what gives me the authority, Martha!" Kingsley's voice sounded loudly throughout the chamber and he raised his arm to silence other protestors. "I have taken command of the Aurors, arrested the Minister of Magic and--"
There were fresh cries from the gathered assembly who declared their astonishment aggressively but Kingsley's voice continued to boom out above them all. "Yes, it is a revolution but a bloodless, friendly revolution. I have no intention of clinging to power--"
"Then why are you here!" spat a fat wizard with a huge moustache; it was quivering with his rage.
"One reason we are here is for you to elect a new Minister!" This silenced all but a few murmurs.
Kingsley continued, "As most of you know - or should know - Fudge had at one time been a reasonably liberal and tolerant Minister but he was also self-ambitious and open to manipulation; he was very weak in many ways. We have testimony that he was in collaboration with Death Eaters--"
"Lies! Lies!" was heard amongst the new uproar at this announcement but others remained silent, waiting to listen to what Kingsley had to say.
"Interesting..." Dumbledore spoke for the first time and somehow his voice silenced everyone. "It's interesting that certain persons here present should denounce testimony they should not yet have heard nor even know the identities of the witnesses. Perhaps henceforth we should take note of such protestors."
The obvious threat hung in the air but a bearded wizard spoke up with a sneer in his voice, "What's he doing here? He's been sacked from the Wizengamot - he has no right here at all!"
"Professor Dumbledore has been a stabilising influence in the wizarding community for a very long time now--" began Kingsley.
"So now he wants to take over as Minister!" shouted the bearded man, looking around for support but seeing less than he had hoped.
"The learned Matthew Edridge should take note that I have no interest in assuming power and never have. I shall not be standing for this office even if there was any popular demand for it." said Dumbledore. He turned to Kingsley and spoke loudly enough for everyone to hear. "Perhaps they should now listen to the witnesses?"
"Very well. As our first witness I would like to call the former Senior Undersecretary, Miss Dolores Umbridge," said Kingsley.
There were many astonished faces amongst the gathered Wizengamot but less outcries now; there was more interest in learning what had happened.
The woman who shuffled in, physically presented only a slightly reduced impression of the original Undersecretary. She did not carry herself so erect nor bustle about as she used to and her face was only changed in its expression which was now one of timidity and sorrow - yet it was recognisably Dolores Umbridge. No, it was when she spoke that the change was most striking. The personality she conveyed by her tone was not even a ghost of the self that had so dominated public life at the Ministry of Magic previously. Her voice lacked its old arrogance and sarcasm; it did not press or pester, nor did it poke fun, dominate or intimidate. Although her tone was neither furtive nor lacking in conviction, she spoke like an undeserving servant delivering a message from an unfamiliar new master.
She took the oath quietly then gave a detailed report of the deliberate campaign to discredit Harry Potter, Albus Dumbledore, Syrius Black and others and the Ministry's obscuration of the testimony concerning the return of Lord Voldemort. She readily admitted to being part of the plot to send Dementors to attack Harry and then to bring him to trial when he surprisingly drove them off. When cross-examined, she replied convincingly without hesitation or doubt. She denounced Fudge and others as co-conspirators and she also condemned herself in the same impersonal manner as though it were someone else. And when asked why she was now risking a sentence in Azkaban to make these statements she replied in an honest way to the astonished court that her long-buried soul had been restored to her and she had had a change of heart.
"We should not wait further!" declared one of the Wizengamot - a middle-aged witch with short grey hair. "All those named should be--"
"Already done, Amelia" said Kingsley. "All were arrested before this session was even publicly announced. Malfoy, Yaxley, all of them."
When Umbridge was led away she did not look at the next witness waiting outside the door as he stared at her passing. It seemed as though her mind was already far away in the cell that awaited her as if she hoped for some relief in penance.
"Call Harry Potter!"
Harry entered the court and took the stand. He agreed to take Veritaserum but this requirement was waived by the vast majority of the gathering. He declared every detail of the events that had taken place in the graveyard at Little Hangleton and the full re-embodiment of Voldemort. He named the Death Eaters he knew which did not seem to surprise too many. The former protestors amongst the Wizengamot were now being very quiet, trying to blend into the background and become unnoticeable. There was a sense of change in the air; a new hope; a terrible new challenge yes - but a new beginning: Facing the truth.
Hermione turned from gazing out the common room window at the rain scouring the surface of the lake.
"But Harry, don't you see? Professor Dumbledore was trying to distance himself from you so that Voldemort had less reason to penetrate your mind..." she said. "And, you did say, he... he admitted he got lots of things wrong..." She glanced at Ron who was leaning against the mantlepiece, nursing a basket of crumpets he had got Dobby to smuggle up from the kitchen. He nodded back in support.
"He should have told me. He should have explained it to me," murmured Harry. "I still can't forgive him yet."
"But you've forgiven us, haven't--"
"Nothing to forgive. You did what he asked. You thought you were... It's only that it was hurting so much I... Friends... Too much pain..." Harry tailed off, his speech as cluttered and incoherent as his confused emotions. "I couldn't bear it any longer."
"We know, Harry," said Ginny quietly. For some reason that Harry could not fathom, her sympathy soothed him more than all the arguments and explanations to which he had been listening. Her few words were singing within him, lighting something he thought was ever dark and dead.
"All for nothing anyway," muttered Harry, perhaps hoping to drink more of that nectar of compassion from the young girl.
"What you talking about?" snapped Ron. "All those Death Eaters rounded up in Azkaban! Fudge gone!"
"Voldemort --" Hermione glanced sideway at Ron. "You-Know-Who is very much weakened. He needed to infilrate and control the Ministry. Now with Madam Bones as Minister, it will be virtually impossible. They are setting up all kinds of new protections. You've set back You-Know-Who years! He's really angry--"
"Yeah - tell me about it!" Harry rubbed his scar at the memory of the painful vision he had experienced just after the meeting of the Wizengamot.
"Still - that's one good thing," he added, "- gives me more time to prepare."
"Prepare for what?" asked Ron.
"To kill the bastard." said Harry firmly. "Dumbledore told me there's a prophecy..."
"A what!" exclaimed Hermione.
"Prophecy," said Ron. "It's a kind of prediction of what will--"
"I know what a prophecy is!" snapped Hermione. "Harry, what's this about?"
"Dumbledore heard a prophecy. He didn't want to tell me before in case I worried too much." Harry rolled his eyes at the ridiculous possibility of him ever being more worried than he had been - then he continued, "Voldemort and me - one of us must kill the other - until then I... I don't have a life."
"We are all part of your life, Harry," said Ginny. Again, something inside Harry thrilled at the idea of Ginny being included in his life. He wondered why her voice affected him so; it never used to.
"I can't... I can never give... any of you... anything really. I can't... share..." Harry choked up inside but struggled on, "I don't know how to care anymore."
"It's because you do care that it's so hurtful, Harry," said Ginny. "You'll understand one day."
Harry stared at Ginny. Her words seemed so familiar. He thought perhaps he should speak with Marianne.
"If we can stand your miserable company surely you can stand ours, Harry?" said Ron.
Harry managed a weak grin and nodded. Hermione laughed both at Ron's quip and with relief at the first trace of light on Harry's face where all had been dark for so long.
"So that's that then," said Ron with finality reaching for the toasting fork. He added earnestly, "Anyone fancy a hot crumpet and a cup of tea while we wait for dinner? These are like mum makes aren't they Ginny?"
"Yes, with butter or syrup," said Ginny.
"Both is best because the butter clogs the holes and helps retain the syrup. Look - I'll show you." Ron skilfully pinioned two crumpets onto the one fork and thrust them towards the glowing coals in the fireplace.
That did finally squeeze a small laugh out of Harry as his eyes met Hermione's. He shook his head slowly at the absurdity of the change of topic and the others joined in the laughter, grateful for the opportunity.
"Well, at least you can share a laugh," smiled Ginny. Her expression seemed to fill Harry's world with new light. "That's a beginning."
"Share a crumpet," said Ron. "That's what it's all about really isn't it?"