Motes of dust danced softly in the columns of golden light falling over a busy classroom. Rows of teenagers were deep in concentration, their heads bowed over an assortment of small objects on their worn wooden desks; near the back of the room, a rather chubby girl frowned at the carriage clock, trying to envisage the complicated wandwork required to transform it into a kitten. Next to her, a boy with deep-set, shadowy eyes hissed his relief as the milk jug on his desk transformed into a purring little cat. He stroked a silky ear, casting the girl a triumphant glance as the teacher made his way over to inspect the boy’s achievement.
‘Beautifully done, Cygnus. A white kitten, from a milk jug... very nice indeed.’
‘I thought so, Professor,’ said the boy superciliously, smirking as the professor lifted the kitten from the desk. She was whiter than the old man’s beard, which still clung to tinges of auburn, and she wriggled happily in the gentle hands.
‘Very nice,’ said Professor Dumbledore again, as he returned the kitten to Cygnus’s outstretched hands and moved on through the rows of desks. The squat girl watched the white kitten hungrily before turning narrowed eyes towards the clock again. Tongue poking between her teeth, she ignored the rising clamour of the classroom filling with successfully transfigured cats, and pointed her stubby wand at the face of the carriage clock. She concentrated, waved her wand carefully and muttered, ‘Verto’. Her initial elation at the appearance of a small ginger cat curled up peacefully on her desk was tempered by a sharp burst of laughter from behind her; a blonde girl and a sour-faced boy craned their necks from behind their desks as they pointed at the kitten, a familiar look of menace flashing in their eyes.
‘Nice cat, Dumbridge!’ snorted Tiberius Burke, clutching a squirming tortoiseshell cat in long fingers. Next to him, Druella Rosier held a perfect, purring Siamese kitten. Her pretty face was contorted with laughter as she motioned to the girl at the next desk to look at the ginger moggy. Dolores’s cheeks burned as she looked down at her handiwork; the cat continued to snooze soundly as Professor Dumbledore drifted over to see what the commotion was about. He raised an eyebrow at Tiberius and Druella, who both quickly looked away, the ghost of a smirk still on the boy’s face.
‘Ah. Miss Umbridge. Well, one cannot deny that your carriage clock is now mostly cat,’ Professor Dumbledore said, gently scooping the sleeping kitten into the air, ‘But I think you must have lost a little of your concentration at some point, hmm?’
Dolores heard Druella and Tiberius sniggering nastily, and anger stirred as she looked at the cat. He had just awoken to find that his whiskers were moving rhythmically around the end of his nose, like the second hand of a clock; his eyes crossed as he watched, fascinated, and he reached slowly up with a white paw to swat at the ticking whiskers. Scowling, she snatched the cat from Dumbledore’s hands, and tugged quickly at the sleeve of her robe as it slid up her arm.
‘It’s really not that bad, Dolores,’ said Dumbledore kindly, overlooking her brusque disrespect. ‘In fact, he’s rather sweet; full marks for the personality of the cat, I think.’
Patronizing me as usual, Dolores thought angrily, plonking the kitten onto the desk. Dumbledore waved his wand, and the golden carriage clock returned easily, not a trace of cat left. He clapped his hands together, the class falling quiet but for the gentle meowing of cats and pattering of paws.
‘Well done, everyone; the transfiguration of an inanimate object into a creature as complex and fascinating as a cat is not simple. You have all,’ his eyes twinkled towards Dolores briefly and she glowered, ‘progressed remarkably in the two weeks since term started. Clearly, the homework I’ve been giving you has been of use; with that in mind, I’d like twenty-one inches of parchment on the possibilities and limitations of transfiguring an object into an animal.’ He smiled briefly as the teenagers groaned. ‘I’m sure that your essays will be as fascinating as ever. Now, cats back to their original forms please, and off you go.’
Dolores stuffed her wand, quill and ink pot into her satchel and reached out to pet the white cat on Cygnus’s desk.
‘She’s too pretty to transform. Don’t you want to keep her?’, she asked, and was gratified to see the tall boy smile down at her, dark hair -worn unfashionably long- swinging in the sunlight.
‘I think Dumbledore would miss his milk jug.’
‘But you’re so lovely, aren’t you, Puss?’, Dolores said sweetly, lifting the kitten to her face to kiss its soft head.
‘It’s not going to turn into a prince, Dumbridge,’ sneered Tiberius as he shoved past her desk, ‘Why don’t you try snogging Cygnus instead?’
Her face burned, but her heart was suddenly beating faster. She looked up with the faintest glimmer of hope, only to see the smile on Cygnus’s expression turn to a grimace as he paused in gathering books into his bag, his cheeks similarly aflame. He glanced quickly at Druella Rosier’s beautiful, smirking face, and his frown became a snarl as he pointed his wand towards Dolores. She flinched, clutching the cat to her chest.
‘Reverto,’ Cygnus seethed through clenched teeth, and the purring kitten turned to cold enamel in Dolores’s hands; he snatched the jug and slammed it heavily onto his desk. Throwing his satchel over his shoulder, Cygnus stormed from the classroom without a backwards glance at Dolores’s stricken face. Druella hurried after him, throwing an angry, scornful glance over her shoulder as she went, as if it had all been Dolores’s fault.
‘... It therefore gives me great pleasure to confirm your appointment to the new office of Hogwarts High Inquisitor. The privileges and responsibilities this role entails are as we discussed, and are subject to alteration as you see fit. I feel confident that you will continue to provide excellent service and guidance to the Ministry in this new post. Please find attached the appropriate certification.
With my heartiest congratulations,
Minister Cornelius O. Fudge, Order of Merlin, First Class.’
The letter was smoothed neatly across the centre of the mahogany desk, held in place at either end by sparkling glass paperweights. Stubby fingers traced the embossed crest at the head of the parchment, before reaching up to tuck a stray curl of grey hair back into place. Dolores ran her hands over her pink skirt, flicking an imaginary speck of dust from her knee, as she smiled primly at the reflection in the full length mirror behind her desk. She began to turn back to re-read the letter, but she frowned suddenly as she spotted some imperfection, and tweaked the black velvet bow sitting amongst her curls until she was satisfied. Her mother’s words rang in her ears as they had a thousand times before: ‘Look pretty. Look presentable. Try, Dolores, try to be feminine.’ Today, despite Dolores still being a little too short, a little too round, her mother would surely have been proud today. This was a chance to straighten out a whole school of children, the same way Salacia Umbridge had seen to Dolores’s discipline as she’d grown up. For too long, this school had gone unchecked. For far too long, Albus Dumbledore had been meddling in Ministry affairs, had been peddling his progressive, radical, dangerous thinking and Fudge had been pandering to him like the fat little lapdog he is. Dolores sniffed. Well, they’re both weak. She glanced at the letter once again, her eyes roving greedily over the words she had watched Cornelius dictate to his personal secretary. She had smiled sweetly back at him as he’d glanced her way, red-cheeked with excitement at what he thought was his own excellent idea.
In fact, the initial idea of getting a Ministry-affiliated official behind the walls of Hogwarts had come from one of the school’s own governors, Lucius Malfoy. When her name had been suggested, Dolores had resisted at first, horrified at the thought of dealing with noisy, sticky, cruel creatures such as children on a daily basis. It had turned out to be much more ... rewarding than she’d expected. Taking a personal interest in the development of some of the school’s more troublesome students had been most satisfying indeed. Her eyes flicked briefly towards a long, black leather quill case lying on her desk and she felt pride swell in her chest; she had certainly made a difference to one young troublemaker’s life. Harry Potter would never forget the lesson she had taught him. It was certainly a far more valuable lesson than any in a Defence Against The Dark Arts class, a subject which was, frankly, dangerous for all involved. Children and teenagers were unpredictable and disobedient at the best of times without treating them like army recruits, arming them with complex defensive magic and filling their heads with the horrors that supposedly lurked outside of the school walls. Unpredictable and disobedient, thought Dolores with a grimace, I shouldn’t be surprised if those were the Weasley twins’ middle names. She relished the thought of finally teaching those redheaded devils some respect, and she wondered that such a well-bred pureblood family could produce such miscreants. Even young Percival, whom she’d met once or twice at the Ministry, was barely tolerable. Then again, the twins were part of a large litter; their parents must lack common sense and self-control too. One could almost pity their awful children.
Dolores carefully moved the glass paperweights back onto their allotted lace doilies at the edge of her desk. She folded the letter and placed it in a drawer, which she locked with a swish of her wand. Beneath the letter had been another piece of paper; this one would be going with her to visit Dumbledore in his office. She hummed a little tune to herself as she tried to imagine the look on his face when he realised that his grip had slipped so much - although, she thought with a smirk, the old fool might not even notice. He’d shown barely any emotion when he’d been expelled from the Wizengamot; he might even be too doddery to notice that she, poor little Dolores Umbridge, was about to revolutionize the very school of which he was so proud. Pausing to pat her curls once again, she took in her reflection - authoritative, but approachable. She looked at the parchment held in her hands, headed ‘Educational Decree Number Twenty-Three.’ Authoritative indeed. She looked forward to beginning her inspections the next day; she looked forward to giving the Ministry her reports. She was going to make changes and, better yet, she was going to make changes in this miserable place. She closed her wardrobe door, turned, and stepped out of her office. The castle was quiet, the children and staff at dinner in the Great Hall.
Unnoticed in the shadows, a house-elf watched nervously as she moved stumpily down the corridor. He hurried back to the kitchens to make up a plate of food to leave on her desk; he had seen first-hand what Professor Umbridge did to house-elves who had ‘neglected their duties’. It hadn’t been nice at all.
She ignored the teacher, tried to gather all of her books into her bag at once; they tumbled from her arms and crashed onto the floor. Tears stinging her eyes, Dolores ducked to gather her belongings up, but the sleeve of her robe caught a pot of black ink, which smashed all over the pages of a thick library book. It was at times like this that she wished she was capable of swearing, an inexcusable offence for a young lady according to Mother. As it was, the best she could manage was a tear-choked:
‘Miss Umbridge?’ Professor Dumbledore crouched down next to her, his pale blue robes sweeping low across the floor. He pointed his wand at the ruined book, and the wet ink vanished, and he held the book out to her. She froze, unable to meet his eye. After a moment, she managed to take the book and stuff it into her satchel. Dumbledore pretended not to notice her hands shaking, but after a moment he spoke quietly. ‘It’s all right. Your classmates have all gone to lunch; nobody’s watching you.’
The words burst from her throat, burning yet unbidden, ‘You mean nobody’s laughing at me.’ Shocked, she looked up at the professor, simultaneously shrinking away from him in fear. Dumbledore frowned slightly, straightened up and walked slowly to his desk at the front of the classroom. Dolores lifted the strap of her satchel over a sloping shoulder, barely even aware of the tremor in her hands; she found herself distracted by the rapid tattoo of her heart against her chest. She shuffled towards the door to the corridor, wishing she wouldn’t have to pass Dumbledore’s desk to escape.
‘One moment, Miss Umbridge. I was going to ask you to remain behind anyway; I promise to leave you to your lunchtime soon, but might I ask you to accompany me to my office? I wish to speak with you in more privacy than this classroom can provide.’
Mutely, Dolores followed the Transfiguration professor through a door at the front of the classroom and into a study bedecked with warm, comfortable furnishings, whirring golden instruments, and, oddly, glass bowls filled with Muggle sweets. She stood, hands clasped tightly behind her back, in front of Dumbledore’s desk, but with a small smile he indicated a pair of low armchairs by the fireplace which was crackling merrily. Unsure of what was happening, Dolores perched uncomfortably on the seat of one of the chairs, her pudgy hands worrying at a chipped fingernail.
Dumbledore sat down on the armchair opposite her. ‘People can be cruel, Dolores,’ he said, long fingers interlacing on his knee. ‘None more so, perhaps, than those whom you think of as your friends; those closest to you are the most able to hurt you. If you consent, I will speak to Professor Slughorn about Master Burke this afternoon.’
Dolores’s pallid skin blanched still further, a shocking contrast against her dark hair. She stopped pulling at the broken fingernail, and stared at her feet. She still couldn’t meet his gaze; instead she noticed how well-polished her shoes were. Neat. Tidy.
Dumbledore spoke again, his voice still inexplicably soft. ‘Dolores? May I speak to your Head of House on your behalf?’
She winced. ‘No ... please Professor, don’t. Tiberius doesn’t ... he doesn’t mean it.’
‘I do understand that you are afraid. And I’m angry, Dolores,’ Fear thrilled through the girl’s body like cold water; however, she looked up to find that Dumbledore wasn’t even looking at her, but that his eyes were closed. ‘I’m angry that a student at this school has been made to feel afraid within these walls. It is entirely normal to worry that the bullying might only intensify should the bully be confronted by a figure of authority.’ Dolores bit her lip and scuffed one of her pristine shoes across the floor; she wasn’t sure if he wanted her to talk, so she remained silent. Dumbledore’s eyes opened and he gave her a wry smile. ‘You may not believe me, but I assure you, Professor Slughorn is in fact, entirely capable of being discreet. At Hogwarts, we do not seek to punish bullies but to understand them; to help them deal with whatever it is that makes them so unhappy, and to prevent them from lashing out further.’
Dolores’s brow furrowed as she considered this. ‘Tiberius won’t be in trouble?’ she asked, quietly. ‘I mean... he won’t be punished?’
Dumbledore cocked his head to one side, birdlike, as he regarded her thoughtfully. ‘I admire your compassion, Miss Umbridge. Of course, Master Burke’s discipline will be up to Professor Slughorn to decide, but I am sure that no, he will not be physically punished or otherwise humiliated.’
Her mind whirred quickly as she tried to catch up with Professor Dumbledore. Her compassion? She wanted Tiberius’s eyes to sting as hers did, to know what it was like to be laughed at. She wanted him to be sorry... really sorry. Dolores understood discipline, she understood punishment, and she understood that actions have consequences. It was very simple and at that moment, with her guts churning and her heart pounding, all she wanted was to make very sure that people like Tiberius and Druella and, yes ... especially, in fact ...yes, people like Cygnus - who apparently was only Dolores’s friend when nobody was watching - she wanted to be certain that they knew the rules. Professor Dumbledore seemed to be under the impression that she wanted to protect Tiberius from punishment; she almost corrected him, but stopped herself just in time. Instead, she nodded silently, and began to rise from the armchair, ready to make an escape.
Dumbledore held up a hand. ‘I’m sorry, Dolores, but I must trespass on your time still further. I wanted to ask you something.’
Dolores felt a surprising flash of irritation as she sat back down; didn’t the old man have anything better to do at lunchtime than interrogate a fifteen year-old about a stupid boy making fun of her? She just wanted to get out of there, didn’t want to talk about Tiberius Burke for another minute. It was humiliating. Perhaps if she made him see that she was fine, really, he would leave it be. She crossed her arms, folding them up into the sleeves of her robes, and made herself look at Dumbledore. ‘Yes, Professor?’ she asked sweetly, trying to give a benign grin. He stared back at her with eyes that seemed to be staring right past her smile. He certainly wasn’t smiling.
‘I believe I saw something during the lesson today, and I wanted to give you the opportunity to talk about it,’ Dumbledore said. He hesitated, his eyes strangely sad. ‘... I saw your arm. Your sleeve slipped and you were so quick, almost thoughtless, in covering it up that I wondered if I could have imagined what I saw.’ For the second time that afternoon, Dolores felt her whole body go cold. She didn’t think he’d seen them. Her breathing quickened. ‘But I didn’t imagine it, did I? You are not in trouble, Dolores, I promise you. May I see your arm, please?’
Unthinking, unhesitating, Dolores rolled up the left sleeve of her robe. Obey your elders. Do as you’re told. She couldn’t bear see the bruises that she knew were there, only just beginning to fade after two weeks, nor could she look at the expression on Dumbledore’s face. She watched the flames dancing in the grate instead. She wondered if he would tell Slughorn, or Nurse Leach, or even the Headmaster; she cringed at the thought. She couldn’t bear it if everyone knew. It had been her own fault, after all. She had taken too long packing her trunk for school, and Mother’s dinner had burned. She had deserved a little punishment, some mark on her flesh with which she could start the new school year, to remind her of the importance of diligence. Growing slightly curious at Professor Dumbledore’s silence, Dolores hesitantly chanced a look at the teacher’s face and flinched at the fury in his blue eyes. She waited for him to shout but when he spoke his voice was quiet, with only the slightest discernible steel to it.
‘Who did this, Dolores?’
The lie came easily, like ink from a quill. ‘I did, sir. I fell from my broom.’
Don’t tell anybody. Mother only seeks to teach you.
The blue flames in Dumbledore’s eyes dimmed as sadness furrowed his brow. Pity, thought Dolores, howmarvellous. She didn’t want some old teacher’s pity, his insincere concern. He’d barely noticed her before now... he barely knew her... had spoken to her only to correct her wandwork. He didn’t care; he was just being nosy. He was meddling.
‘Dolores, these bruises were inflicted by human hands. Whomever you are protecting; they do not deserve your loyalty.’
‘I fell from my broom,’ Dolores repeated firmly. She gave a little laugh and tugged her sleeve back down. ‘Silly, really. Ask Musgrove, I was trying out for the team.’ The Slytherin Quidditch captain probably had no idea who Dolores was, and if questioned wouldn’t be able to say whether or not she had been one of the many younger students he’d seen on the pitch at tryouts. In actual fact, she had been there; she’d watched from the stands and admired the way Cygnus Black’s hair had blown in the wind as he’d hit bludger after bludger towards the students hoping to join him as Beater. Dumbledore was silent for a while, his eyes still on Dolores’s face. Uneasy under such scrutiny, her eyes shifted towards the fire again. When her eyes began to sting, she looked up at the portrait hanging above the fireplace; a handsome man wearing a cravat, and with curls bordering his high collar, seemed to be dozing against the frame. She fought to keep a careless little smile on her face; she couldn’t let the mask slip now.
Finally, Dumbledore sighed. ‘Off you go, then. Please know that, should your memory of how you acquired those finger shaped bruises at some time probably before the start of term prove to be mistaken, I will listen to you at any time, as would any of the staff and prefects here at Hogwarts.’ Dolores snatched her satchel from the floor and slung it over her shoulder, making a beeline for the door. Finally. ‘Oh, and Miss Umbridge -’ Feeling sick now, and rather faint - she wasn’t sure any more whether it was nerves or hunger- Dolores turned on the spot, still holding her grin in place. Dumbledore remained in his armchair, suddenly looking rather tired. He gestured to a glass bowl resting on a table by the door, ‘- do help yourself to a jelly bean. Unlike those Bertie Botts beans, the Muggle versions are all flavoured rather nicely... unless of course, you dislike liquorice, in which case I recommend you avoid the dark purple ones.’ Dolores wavered for a moment, unsure if this was a trick, before picking out a pink bean. ‘Ah, strawberry... an excellent choice. And now, I shall let you get along to your lunch. You know where to find me, should you ever require a sympathetic ear. Or, indeed, a jelly bean.’
A sympathetic ear, thought Dolores with a scowl as she scurried from the professor’s study and out of the classroom as quickly as possible. More like a long, crooked nose where it’s not wanted. Reaching a staircase, she leaned against the stone banister for a moment. She could still feel tears pricking behind her eyes, and her heart was pounding horribly. Nobody else had noticed her bruises, or if they had, they hadn’t cared. Not that Dumbledore even cared; he just wanted to know things. ‘Meddling old fool,’ she said aloud, prompting the nymphs lounging in the painting hanging above her to startle, and then begin to titter nervously. Salacia Umbridge had made it very clear to Dolores that, should anyone at Hogwarts try and interfere with the way she taught her own daughter right from wrong, there would be extremely unpleasant consequences at home. Dolores fully intended to avoid such consequences, particularly if they were triggered by the bumbling of an interfering old teacher. And so it was at that moment, with the mouth-watering sweetness of the jelly bean still on her tongue, and with her hands shaking in a mixture of terror and anger, that Dolores Umbridge vowed never to set foot in Professor Dumbledore’s office ever again, unless it was her turn to command, patronize, and humiliate him. She allowed herself a genuine smile at the thought, took a deep breath, and hurried towards the Great Hall.
As Dolores disappeared around the corner, the painted nymphs gave scandalized shrieks as a handsome man in a cutaway coat and cravat stepped out from behind one of their trees. He tipped his hat to them in greeting and wandered back to his own portrait.
‘Emeric, I do hope you weren’t spying on that poor girl,’ said Dumbledore softly, barely even looking up from his armchair. ‘She has done nothing wrong.’
‘She thinks you’re a meddling old fool,’ the man in the portrait replied.
Dumbledore gave a hollow laugh. ‘Perhaps I am. You certainly are.’ The portrait of Emeric Switch smirked slightly. ‘It’s so hard to know whether one is helping or interfering sometimes.’
‘The two might not be exclusive,’ Emeric replied.
‘Indeed,’ said Dumbledore, rising from his chair and perusing the bowl of jellybeans hopefully. ‘Something to keep an eye on, certainly. Ah. She took the last pink one.’
Please forgive the length of this note, I hope you don't think it pretentious... I found I had a lot to say! I think maybe I need to justify writing a story about such a loathsome character.
The challenge that TyrranicFeenix set, 'Oh How I Hate Her' turned out to be exactly that: a challenge! We had to pick the character we hate the most, and write something from their point of view. I instantly chose Dolores Umbridge. From the moment she appeared, gloating and toadlike, I hated her. Then she tortured Harry, tyrannized Hogwarts, and all the while seemed convinced that she was acting in everyone's best interest- as long as they were entirely human and 'pure-blood'. She is the epitome of Hamlet's outburst:
'O most pernicious woman!/ O villain, villain, smiling, damnèd villain!/ My tables—meet it is I set it down/ That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain'
Hamlet Act 1, Scene 5
So, you see... I hate her. So I really enjoyed writing this story! I had to think about her psychology, and try to work out a way that she may have become the woman we meet in OotP. I know that, writing this, I didn't grow to like her - but I did pity her, greatly. Did you feel the same? Please do let me know what you think!
Oh, and one particular section physically hurt me to write. Can you guess which bit?