Dumbledore may not be my favorite person, but at least when he spoke people listened (even if most of them currently thought he was a senile old man). The new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Umbridge, did not have that gift. Nearly all of the Great Hall tuned her out as she interrupted Dumbledore to give her own little speech.
I’d barely been paying attention to what I was eating during the feast, yet alone fully listening to the speeches. My mind was stuck on Tsukino and Kuniye. I was sure I’d be whisked away to the Japanese estate tonight. My attentiveness didn’t improve as Umbridge droned on. Teaching a noble profession, blah, blah, blah, Ministry interfering at Hogwarts, trying to stop radical ideas because obviously Dumbledore not standing aside as the Dark Lord took over was crazy, right? None of this was new information, other than the fact that Fudge seemed to have found a way to place his own personal puppet at Hogwarts. A half toad puppet with a grating voice. One who apparently didn’t own a mirror to see how ridiculous she looked in that pink cardigan with a bow on top of her hair. I didn’t know people over the age of seven even wore bows. I had the distinct impression that this year wasn’t going to consist of the most helpful Defense classes.
When Dumbledore dismissed us I made my way up to the tower with the rest of Gryffindor house, my mind racing. Would they already know what happened? Of course, they always knew. But would they bring it up? I would if it came to that because I couldn’t ignore it. It would drive me crazy not understanding why. Demanding answers never worked though because I had no leverage. But I needed to know and if I didn’t get a suitable answer I would refuse to go back.
Up in the dormitory I ignored Parvati and Lavender who were content to continue their whispered conversation about Harry, Dumbledore, and the Prophet. After changing in the bathroom I returned to the room to find Hermione getting ready for bed. The other two girls had stopped speaking but were shooting daggers at Hermione. I gave Hermione a quick congrats on being made prefect then got into bed, closing and spelling the hangings around me. Forcing myself to shut down my mind, I closed my eyes. It took several deep, calming breaths and all of my patience but soon I was drifting asleep.
It felt like I had only just slipped into darkness before the Japanese estate appeared in front of me. The gate was open and the trees were swaying lightly in the breeze. I felt different, this should have been different too but it wasn’t. It was the exact same as it had always been. It felt…wrong. I pushed that feeling aside for now and continued through the gates, looking around for any sign of Kuniye. Seeing nothing I walked up the path, scanning the surroundings.
It was only a quarter of a mile until I reached the courtyard, I stopped here and took in the grounds. Still no sign of anyone. I’d never had to search through the buildings for Kuniye before and I didn’t have the patience to start doing that today.
I did a double take towards the pond on the left side. Sitting on a bench, facing away from me, was Kuniye. I walked towards her, slightly worried about why she wasn’t moving. Surely she heard me coming, but all she did was stare at the pond. I paused beside her, her eyes were open and she was definitely breathing. Although she still hadn’t acknowledged me, I sat down on the opposite end of the bench.
We sat there in silence until my patience wore thin. “Why?” I blurted out, hoping, well more assuming, she’d know what I meant.
“Not everything has an acceptable answer,” she responded without so much as looking at me.
“Then give me an unacceptable answer,” I said, frustration getting the better of me.
“Because it was meant to be.”
“That implies I don’t have a choice –”
“You always have a choice.”
“If it’s ‘meant to be’ where does the choice come in?”
“You assume the choice will take you down the right path. That is not always the case. Sometimes the right path leads you to the choice.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” I pointed out.
“It doesn’t have to,” she replied. I let out a low, annoyed growl but kept quiet. “You’ve changed,” she said softly. I’m not sure why but my first instinct was to reach up and rub my shoulder. “Not on the outside,” she added. “Your heart and mind have changed. You’re growing up, becoming more independent, learning to make your own way through life. Most parental figures have a hard time accepting that.” I raised an eyebrow at this. I didn’t really have parental figures unless you counted Narcissa who’d been letting me do my own thing for years now. “They aren’t always biological,” Kuniye clarified. Oh, so it was Snape she was talking about. I wasn’t so sure he counted as a parental figure, more like a…I’m not sure, partner in crime? I liked the sound of that. I guess he could be an annoying, naggy, overbearing mother when he thought I was acting reckless.
We sat in silence for a long time. There was so much I wanted to ask and have explained to me. I just wasn’t sure how to breach the topic. I guess I was going to have to settle for bluntness.
“This…all of this, doesn’t happen to other people, right? I’ve never read any books about this. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Why me? I’m always asking myself that, even asking others but I never find out. Normal people aren’t connected to a horde of Death Eaters, they don’t have access to their father’s mind. How many people out there have a wand from an elusive monk? Regular people aren’t being suffocated by their magic at four. Ordinary people don’t…” I drifted off, realizing I was rambling.
“You are not ordinary.”
“Really?” I snapped. “I hadn’t figured that out yet,” I said sarcastically.
Kuniye turned to look at me for the first time. “Figuring it out is one thing, accepting that you are indeed extraordinary is completely another.” I stared out at the water feeling moody. This conversation was not going as planned. I didn’t have too much time to sulk before Kuniye was speaking again. “There have been billions upon billions of people on this planet. Where ever you go, in any country, in any culture, there is one thing they all teach their younger generations – history. Why? So their children will not forget their ancestors’ sacrifices and because they hope their children will not make the same mistakes. Yet there are always wars destroying civilizations for one reason for another. And people are always faced with the same dilemma. Do you stand up and face the incoming threat, risking your own life and the life of everyone you love or do you do nothing and hope for the best? Is fighting really worth it? Why should you risk so much while others will risk nothing?” She looked at me, waiting for an answer.
“Some things…some people,” I corrected, “are worth fighting for.”
“The knowledge and strength to save the people you love. The right path to protect those who matter most. That’s what’s important. Not what it took to get there or what you sacrificed. Doing whatever it takes even if you don’t have all the answers. Isn’t that what ultimately matters?”
All the questions I planned and all the answers I wanted slipped away. Was she right? Was my own curiosity more important than learning how to help people? Was I really going to refuse help if they didn’t tell me what I wanted to know? I had a right though, didn’t I? I deserved to know what this was all about.
“I don’t have all the answers. Even if I did, it would never be enough. If I answered one, would it not lead to another? Would you ever truly be satisfied? I don’t know what your final role is, I don’t know what you are meant to do, but I know that you are not ready to face the evils of this world. It is my task to prepare you for that, if you are still willing to accept my assistance. The choice is, and has always been, yours.”
Blatantly refuse the help I was offered? I couldn’t do that. If there was even some slight chance of using this training to help Fred or Draco or anyone, then I couldn’t say no. It would be selfish to say no.
“Alright,” I agreed softly. It was the least I could do.
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Before climbing out of bed the next morning, I laid there for several minutes deep in thought. Twice during the summer, mostly in passing, Snape had mentioned Harry having a “hero complex.” I hadn’t thought about it much then, but now I was stuck on it. Would Snape think I had a hero complex problem too? Was that why I wasn’t telling him about what happened at the end of last year? Actually come to think of it, ever since Durmstrang I’d been keeping information from him. I’d come close to telling him everything on more than one occasion but I could never bring myself to do it.
I let out a frustrated groan and pulled the covers off myself. There wasn’t a reason for not telling Snape, that’s just how it was at the moment. Maybe someday I would tell him, a day where I had enough time to listen to him lecture me about waiting so long to tell him, but for now it didn’t seem necessary for Snape to have all the information. And maybe a small part of me wanted to keep something from him like he’d done to me. That was a bit petty though.
I rubbed my shoulder as I opened the hangings around my bed. I pushed all thoughts of Snape and the Japanese duo out of my head. It was September second and the first day of classes. I needed to focus on that. And remember to keep my distance from Fred for a few days. And I should probably attempt that whole friendship thing with Harry Potter. Then I could worry about what to do with Draco. There was also Dimitri’s letter. And of course Nott.
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Figures that after I’d decided not worry about Snape I would have double Potions. Unfortunately I had an hour of History of Magic to speculate just how Potions would go. Would Snape single me out and hand me a detention where he would surely force me to tell him exactly what was going on? No, no I suppose not. That was too suspicious and not only to Draco or Nott but now Hermione knew the real purpose of those detentions so they needed to stay limited. Without Moody here I could probably go down to Snape’s office whenever I needed to, that’s what he would expect me to do. I had no intention of doing that any time soon. I needed to keep calm and collected then hopefully it would be a very long time before I was forced into having an uncomfortable talk with Snape.
I’d been worrying myself for nothing. After a very…er, intense reminder that Snape expected everyone to receive a passing O.W.L. we were instructed to brew a Draught of Peace. I always sat by myself in Potions and today was no different. Snape seemed perfectly content to ignore my table. Although he may have just been distracted as he criticized every other Gryffindor’s cauldron (except Hermione’s of course). I rolled my eyes in irritation when he went after Harry.
‘Are you trying to make me befriend him purely out of pity?’ I sarcastically messaged Snape after he used an Evanesco to empty Harry’s cauldron. The minuscule pause as Snape strode towards the front of the classroom let me know the message was received. Then we were given a foot long essay on moonstones. A whole summer of spying on the Dark Lord and Snape was still the same teacher. I guess some things never change.
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It took all of forty-seven seconds into Defense Against the Dark Arts to realize I was never, in a million years, going to like Umbridge. That was before copying her course aims and reading one page into her required textbook. I happen to be very fond of reading yet I cringed in disgust after reading such a short amount. Even if the Ministry didn’t believe the Dark Lord was back, there was no justification for this shoddy piece of rubbish. This book had to have been published with Umbridge’s approval because surely no body else would have thought teenagers needed to be treated as if we were two years old.
Hermione’s upright hand in the air was even more interesting than the book and not just for me. Nearly every other Gryffindor was watching her and there was no way Umbridge didn’t notice. Finally she couldn’t ignore it anymore and called on Hermione.
“There’s nothing written up there about using defensive spells,” Hermione pointed out.
It all went downhill from there. What had Snape said, Fudge thought Dumbledore was building an army? It appeared Umbridge was here to stop anyone from learning anything that could be used against the Ministry.
I was glad when Dean Thomas spoke up in defense of Lupin when Umbridge mentioned “extremely dangerous half-breeds” because if he hadn’t I’m certain I would have snapped at her. I couldn’t afford to react though, no matter how much I was tempted to. Instead I clenched my fists under my desk and bit my tongue.
When Harry uttered the Dark Lord’s name the entire atmosphere in the room changed. The satisfied look on Umbridge’s face made me furious. She was baiting him. She wanted him to react this way so she could make an example out of him.
“I saw him, I fought him!”
I closed my eyes, mentally pleading for Harry to shut up and sit down. Who cares if some idiot from the Ministry believes Fudge? Just let it go. But he didn’t and ended up being sent to McGonagall as the rest of the class watched silently.
A/N: The information about the welcoming feast is from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling, Chapter 11, The Sorting Hat’s New Song. The first day of classes and the quotes are from Chapter 12, Professor Umbridge.
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