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After Hagrid and Snape's conversation, Freedom had to revise his thinking a bit.  Thus far, he had always assumed, based upon reminiscences by Lupin and Sirius, that the pranks they played during school had been harmless practical jokes, like the Weasley twins.  He had never thought that his dad, who Sirius had said was a fine upstanding man, would be a schoolboy bully, hexing kids and targeting Severus simply because he existed and was a Slytherin.  It made him wince, recalling the way Snape had told Hagrid of James humiliating him like that, hanging him upside down so people could see his underpants, and making him eat soap and all, just because they'd had nothing better to do after exams. 


He had always thought his father was this perfect person, Quidditch star, Head Boy, popular and good-looking, he had been proud when everyone looked at him and said he was James's image.  But now that image was tarnished and the halo had worn away to reveal a very human, very spoiled brat, of a young wizard.  He recalled Lupin telling him once that James had been born to elderly parents later in life and they adored him and gave him whatever he wanted, since they were quite rich.  Like Dudley.  Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon think the sun rises and sets on him, and even when they see him misbehaving, they always find excuses for him.  Like I started with him, or he's having a bad day, or he's a sensitive little bugger.  Ha!  The only thing Dudley's sensitive about is food and whether or not he has more video games and toys than everyone else.  Guess that's how my dad's parents must have treated him too, because he acted just like Dudley in school-a royal terror. 

Freedom had never thought too much about how Dudley behaved, and if it were wrong or not, until he went to school and heard other kids speaking about their siblings and parents, especially Ron, and a few other Gyffindors.  A part of him knew it was wrong, the way his relatives treated him, but that was how it was, and he just had to put up with it.  But only in school did he realize just how unfair the Dursleys' treatment of him was. 

He had always gotten mad when Snape referred to him as a spoiled arrogant boy, like his father, thinking the Potions Master was just saying mean things to him about the father he couldn't remember.  Only now did he see that Snape had spoken the truth.  James was not the icon Sirius and Lupin had made him out to be.  He had been a spoiled bully, always in trouble, and it made his son feel ashamed that he had behaved that way.  He had always thought his dad better than that. 

And Sirius wasn't much better, now that I think on it. One of these days, when he transformed back to his real shape, he was going to question his godfather about his so-called "wonderful" schooldays and see what Sirius said about the Shrieking Shack incident now that he heard Snape's side of the story again.  He hadn't paid much attention to it before, because he had been trying to save Sirius's life, but now he had a better picture of what had gone on and he wished to know if Sirius ever felt guilty for almost killing a classmate, rival member of Slytherin or not. 

 The both of them were rotten idiots during school.  Wonder what happened to make them change? Maybe my mum hexed them till they begged for mercy?  He could easily picture his fiery mother doing just that.

Though he knew she wasn't perfect either.  That night with Severus outside the portrait hole, she hadn't let Severus speak and had been so angry that she had broken off their friendship.  Reminds me of how Ron and I were during third and fourth year, always quarreling, not speaking to each other, I really hated that, but I was too stubborn to bury the hatchet until months later.  Guess I've got a bit of stubborn in me too.  But I would have forgiven Ron eventually, because he's my best mate, even if he does behave like a dumbass sometimes.  Mum should have forgiven Severus for behaving like a git, I mean they were practically an item. 

Then another thought occurred to him. But if she had stayed, Severus might have . . .make that WOULD have married her.  And then I might never have been born. He quickly abandoned that line of thinking,  for it was too farfetched for his taste.  As Snape had said to Hagrid, what was done was done.  At least Lily had realized her mistake later on and forgiven Severus before she was killed.  Freedom knew that her forgiveness had meant everything to the lonely wizard, who had truly loved his best friend. 

That was yet another shock to the young Animagus.  He would have never considered his greasy Potions Professor capable of loving anyone, much less of loving someone so devotedly, even after she had died.  It said something about Severus's loyalty, that he could love so deeply.  And he knew then that he had been mistaken in thinking Snape a cold heartless person.  His mother would have never been friends with such a person, and no one who was shallow would keep so many memories alive of a dead woman.  Nor would they have turned away from the dark path out of love and returned to the light.  A shallow person cared for nothing but their own gratification.  Huh? Gratification? Where the hell did I pick that one up? Must be hanging about with Snape too long, I'm starting to get a vocabulary like a professor.

He could just see Ron falling over in a faint if he ever heard Harry talking like that.  The hawk quivered with silent laughter upon Snape's shoulder.  Instead of being known as Harry Potter-the Boy Who Lived-he could be known instead as harry Potter-the Boy With the Best Vocabulary in Hogwarts.  He snorted at his own fancy.  He must be exhausted if those kinds of thoughts were going through his brain. 

Worn out with all of the new revelations, Freedom tucked his head under his wing and was soon fast asleep.  He never woke, not even when Severus set him gently down on the back of the couch.

He slept deeply until the dawn, when he awoke ravenous and devoured the entire rabbit Hagrid had given Severus for him the day before.

The Potions Master raised an eyebrow at his familiar.  "You act like I've been starving you."

Huh? Oh, well, I was just hungry, I guess, Freedom replied, cleaning his talons.  You have class, right?

"Yes.  I shall be in class all day.  What will you be doing?"

Flying, sleeping, hunting.  My usual things.

Severus eyed the hawk sternly.  "You will not get into trouble, understand?"

Trouble? Who me? The hawk gave him an ingenuous look.

Severus was not fooled for an instant.  "I wasn't born yesterday.  You will promise not to attack that . . .woman.  Because I-"

The toad bitch, Freedom supplied helpfully. 

Severus pressed his lips together firmly.  He would not smile at the name, no matter if he agreed with it one hundred percent.  "-do not want to have to defend you in front of a Committee for Dangerous Magical Creatures, am I understood?"

The hawk shot him an irritated look.  Killjoy.  You ruin all my fun.

"Freedom.  Either you promise me you shall behave or I shall snap a line and jesses on you and lock you in here for the rest of the day."

The hawk hissed.  No way! You wouldn't! That would be like . . .horrible, Sev!

Just the mere thought of not being able to fly made him twitchy. 

"Well then, best behave, fledgling.  I would not want to do it, but I will if you break your word." Snape warned.  Merlin, but I sound like I am talking to a teenager here, not an animal.  I must be losing it.  Then again, this hawk reminds me a great deal of a quarrelsome student sometimes.  He rubbed his hand across his eyes.  Typical, I am probably the only wizard in existence to get stuck playing parent to a hawk.  Merlin help me!

Freedom shot him a sulky look.  Fine.  I promise.  No need to get in a snit, Sev.

The professor quirked his mouth in a small smile.  "A snit? Oh, fledgling, you haven't seen what I'm really like in a snit.  And trust me, you don't ever want to."

Freedom was sure he didn't.  He had seen Snape in a temper before and had no desire to experience the sharp edge of the man's tongue any time soon. The wizard could strip your soul bare with two or three pointed comments when he chose. Severus's tongue was a most potent weapon, as Harry had learned to his regret.

The Potions Master stroked the hawk lightly then opened the door to his quarters and tossed the brown raptor up into the air.  "Fly free, my friend.  I shall see you at dinner."

The hawk hovered in front of him, then called a quick farewell and soared away.  Severus watched until he was out of sight, then went down to dungeon number two, which was the one he usually used for his potions classroom, to supervise his NEWT independent study class. 

* * * * *

 

Freedom flew through the halls purposefully.  He intended to keep his promise to Severus, but that didn't mean he couldn't make Umbridge's life miserable in other ways.  And right then he decided he was going to put phase one of his covert war into action. He was tired of sitting back and waiting for others to act, ever since he had found out how the Headmaster had manipulated him, he had felt like a chess piece, and he was determined to prove Dumbledore wrong.  He was nobody's pawn and he would prove it right now.

His first order of business would be to gather information on the pink-loving witch like when she ate and what her schedule was and how many students were fed up and disgusted with her policy changes.  In short, he was going to play Severus's role of spy.  He flew into the Entrance Hall, where he found Filch tacking up yet another new Restriction Decree plaque.  This one read:

Educational Decree #24

No Recreational Sports, Clubs, Teams, or Extra Curricular Activities

Will Be Permitted in the School

By order of the High Inquisitor

 

Freedom hissed in fury when he saw the plaque.  Merlin, but she's insane! Does she want to cause a riot or what? Why on earth would she ban all extra curricular activities and sports? That's our only form of entertainment! What does she want us to do all bloody day, study till our eyes cross?

He could only imagine how the Quidditch teams were going to take this.

Filch glared at him as he hovered nearby, waving the hammer at him.  "Away with ye, you great booby! Go hunt some mice!"

Freedom made a soft annoyed screech and the caretaker nearly fell off the ladder, thinking the hawk was about to attack him.

Below, Mrs. Norris, his scraggly tortoiseshell cat, growled warningly.  Leave my human in peace, hawk!

Ah, pipe down, kitty! I wasn't going to hurt him.  Keep your fur on! Freedom shot back, gliding lazily away from the pair.

Mrs. Norris laid back her ears and hissed at him, Someday, bird, we'll see who's quicker,  a cat's claws or a hawk's beak.

Right.  Keep dreaming, Scragglepuss, shrilled the red-tail.  Then he flew down the corridor where the Charms classroom was located.

A group of Slytherin sixth years and Hufflepuffs were just emerging from the classroom and they were arguing heatedly in soft tones over the newest regulation. 

"It's positively unfair, what she's doing to us!" moaned a tall Slytherin girl.

"I think it might even be illegal." A Hufflepuff boy whispered.  "I mean whoever heard of suspending Quidditch? Or Gobstones, or the Astronomy Club?"

"And how about the Herbology Society?" whined another girl.  "I mean, what's so dangerous about learning to grow a garden or study magical plant species?"

"She even closed down the Debate Club," retorted a Slytherin angrily.  "There's no law that says we can't have discussions. I hate her," he said very softly, and the others all nodded. 

"It sucks, but what can we do about it?" sighed a pretty Hufflepuff with blond hair. "Even the Headmaster has to answer to her."

"True, but what about the Board of Governors? They're in charge of the school, and they aren't answerable to the Headmaster or whoever's currently in charge.  The High Inquistor's answerable to them," a dark-haired Slytherin boy said firmly.  "The Minstry can appoint whoever they want to the position, but it doesn't mean she should be allowed to abuse her power like this."

"How do you know that, Owens?" asked a red-haired Hufflepuff with green eyes.

"My dad's a barrister, that's how.  And he's a trustee on the Board too.  I'm going to write him tonight, tell him what's been going on here. It's not right.  We shouldn't be treated like this, we pay good Galleons to go here and we should be getting the best education possible.  I haven't learned spit in Defense since the hag's started teaching it this year, and this was the year I was supposed to learn some really useful hexes and counterjinxes."

"But Owens, I heard that she has somebody inspect the mail," another Slytherin said fearfully. "That nothing goes out of here that she doesn't approve of."

Owens snorted.  "And you believe that? Tampering with mail is against the law.  If she was doing that, it'd take all her time, so I doubt it.  Even so, I'll make a few copies, just in case.  But one way or another, the Board's going to learn of her so-called educational decrees.  I'm sure they won't think they're so wonderful."

"I just hope it works," said a short-haired Hufflepuff, and then they split up, moving away to their different classes.

Freedom thought that was a great idea, trust a Slytherin to come up with it. He sincerely hoped it worked, and the Board could put some pressure on Umbridge.  But he knew from experience that the wheels of bureaucracy turned slowly and he decided to speed up the process with a few ideas of his own, all designed to annoy the hell out of the hag in the office.  If he could make things uncomfortable for her, she might just resign. 

To that end, he turned to lurking about the window that the Headmaster's office boasted.  Luckily, it was open. Freedom slipped inside, Umbridge was not there at the moment. Fawkes trilled a welcome from his perch.

*Hello Freedom!  What brings you here? Albus is away presently and the fat buzzard is gone too, thank the stars! If I had to endure another moment of her drooling over those awful kitten plates . . .I might have hacked up my dinner all over her pink heels.*

Do it, Fawkes.  Actually I'm not here to see them, I'm here to give the fat buzzard-good one-a hard time. Freedom admitted.

The phoenix's normally gentle eyes sparkled with mischief.  *Ah, I shouldn't encourage rule-breaking, Harry-chick, but this once . . .do your worse, hawk!  I shall keep watch.*

Thanks, Fawkes! I'd never do this otherwise, but she needs to be put down good. He glanced about the office in distaste.  Since he had been here a few days before, the office had been changed radically.

About the only thing that he recognized was the desk.  Dumbledore's chairs had been replaced with brocade rosebud recliners, a small table with a lace doily between them, some of the portraits had been rearranged, to make room for Umbridge's cat plates.  It looked like a reject from a Victorian teashop, he thought derisively.  All that was missing were tea, sandwiches, and a maid in a frilly apron and bonnet. 

He landed upon the desk, examining the papers there with interest.  There was a copy of the Prophet whose headlines screamed Umbridge to Reform a Failing Institution!  And below that was a picture of a smiling Umbridge standing on the front steps of the school, waving her wand and smiling at Fudge. 

That's rich! SHE's the reason Hogwarts is in trouble!

Below that, in smaller print was an article that lauded Fudge on his appointment, criticizing Dumbledore for the way he had previously been running the school.   Though still very angry at the old wizard, even Freedom had to admit that Hogwarts under Albus was better, ten times so, than the school under Dolores Jane Umbridge.   Even Dumbledore had better sense than to ban sports and recreation.

Hmm . . .what do we have here? A letter to the Minister, guess you report back to him every week probably? Too bad you're going to have to rewrite this.

Freedom picked up the unfinished letter in his talons and threw it into the fireplace, which was burning merrily. He then flew back to the desk and proceeded to burn or shred every piece of correspondence upon the desk that he could findHe knocked over the inkwell, snapped quills in two, and tore apart the poufy cushion that was placed upon Dumbledore's chair. 

There! That ought to set her back a bit, as far as writing something goes. Fawkes, maybe you should, uh, go fly around the grounds or something before she gets back? Just in case she decides to blame you.

The phoenix cast a glance at the shambles upon the desk and trilled, *A capital idea, Freedom! And if you really want to get her riled, why not speak to our cousins-the owls? She would find it very difficult to send mail or receive any if her letters mysteriously . . .disappeared or were delayed.*

Wicked idea! Thanks, Fawkes! Freedom squawked.

The phoenix sang a small song of victory then flew out the window, his long tail trailing fiery sparks.

Freedom soon followed, heading over to the Owlery. 

To his delight, he found Hedwig there.  His familiar gave a startled hoot, then proceeded to examine her wizard Animagus thoroughly, preening and scolding him alternately.  Thank the winds you're all right! Do you KNOW how worried I've been? You silly foolish boy! Where have you BEEN?

Freedom tried to sidle away from the owl, but Hedwig wasn't having any of that, and she nipped him sharply on the back of the neck.  Oww! Hedwig, calm down! I'm sorry, I got knocked out and broke my wings, it's taken me this long to remember who I was.

Humph! And did it also take you this long to remember who I was and that I might be worried, mister? She pecked him again. 

Oww! Hedwig, please! He ducked and tried to fly off the ledge, but the bigger snowy owl hissed and crowded him against the wall and he didn't want to hurt her by fighting back.  

Of all the irresponsible, idiotic ideas you've ever come up with, Harry James Potter, this is the most fluffbrained! Hedwig continued to scold, giving him another nip when he attempted to interrupt her again. What possessed you to transform without a teacher? You could have died!

Freedom wisely decided it was better to just shut up and let her rant, before he ended up bald, and so he hunched upon the ledge, wincing at the other's shrill squawks and accusing eyes.  He had never thought his owl would care so much that he was gone, he had always thought the bird would be fine, sometimes she went weeks without seeing him.   

Finally she stopped hissing and gave him a smart cuff with one wing, then crooned, Well, better late than never.  What brings you here, fledgling?

Freedom eyed the bigger raptor uneasily.  If I tell you, are you going to go all nuts on me again? He ruffled his feathers, wincing.

That depends.

The young hawk swallowed.  Then he said, What do you think of the new High Inquisitor?

Hedwig and half the other owls, who had been watching the snowy berate him in amusement, made disgusted noises. 

Evil old buzzard!

Third cousin to a dodo bird!

She has no respect for us, calls us mobile letter carriers and not good for anything else!

She says birds are stupid! hissed an elf owl angrily.

She is the worst thing that ever walked into this school, remarked a very old Great-Horned owl sharply.

I agree, Freedom chuffed.  How would you like to help make her pack up and leave?

There was dead silence in the Owlery.

Then all the owls began hooting and hissing, demanding to know what they could do to chase Umbridge from their school. 

Well, you could stop delivering the mail to her on time.  Or at all.  And she's really afraid of flying things . . .like us . . . Freedom told them gleefully.

The owls listened attentively to his plan.  Then the very old owl, the matriarch of the Owlery, called Seraphina, hooted, The fledgling is right.  We may be the wizards' messengers, but we serve out of love and duty, not because we are trained to it.  Dolores Umbridge has forgotten that little fact.  I think it's time we reminded her of it.  What say you-whoo?

There was a chorus of hoots and squawks.

Very well.  It is unanimous.  Let the rebellion begin!

* * * * * *

 

The next morning, Umbridge noticed that her copy of The Daily Prophet was missing.  She was also steamed to return to her office and find it had been trashed, though all the portraits swore they had seen no one enter or leave the premises.  Perhaps Peeves had done it, suggested Phineas Black slyly.  Umbridge fumed, but there was little she could do to punish the poltergeist. 

The High Inquisitor looked about the staff table and observed that Minerva had a copy of the paper, as did Flitwick, Sprout, and Snape. 

"Ahem! Ahem! Might I borrow that when you are finished, Minerva? My copy seems to have been . . .misplaced," Umbridge muttered, scowling.

"Oh? That's a shame," Minerva purred.  "Yes, I'll give it to you when I'm finished, Dolores." She then proceeded to eat her breakfast leisurely while slowly scanning the paper. 

Severus shot a knowing glance at her, and smirked behind his copy.  By the time Umbridge got to read the paper, her breakfast would have gone cold.

And so it went, all throughout the rest of the week.  Umbridge soon discovered that any letter she sent never got to its destination, or when it did, it arrived illegible or torn or later than expected.  The same was true of letters sent to her.  She found she had to hand deliver notes to the professors, because otherwise none of them received her new policy rules. 

It was horribly annoying and infuriating, and Umbridge finally stormed up to the Owlery with several copies of a letter to Fudge and commanded half the owls to deliver it for her.  "And it better arrive on time, do you hear me? Otherwise there's going to be a few more gargoyles in the castle! Got me?"

The owls ignored her, turning their backs to her.

"What's this? Come here, I say, and take this to the Minister!"

Still the owls did nothing, remaining upon their perches.

Umbridge stamped her pointed shoe upon the floor.  "Do it! Now! Or else!" She waved her wand threateningly. 

Suddenly all the owls turned about and she was faced with over thirty pairs of unfriendly amber eyes.  They hissed and spread their wings.

Umbridge gasped and started to back away.  "Nasty dumb creatures! Stay back!"

The owls hooted, then launched themselves at her, wings beating hard.

Umbridge bolted, and her screams of terror could be heard down in the dungeons, where Snape was teaching his third years how to brew a Stomach Soother. 

Severus raised an eyebrow.

"Sir?" asked a third-year Ravenclaw.  "What's that noise?"

"Probably the wind," Snape replied, then motioned for her to continue adding crushed lavender to her solution, thinking that the witch had a screech to rival a banshee.

* * * * * *

 

If that were not enough, Umbridge also learned that it was dangerous for her to walk about outside without an umbrella.  For some unexplained reason, birds seemed to find her pink robes and hat an irresistible target.  She inevitably ended up splattered with bird droppings, courtesy of a bunch of owls and one clever hawk.  And the owls were not above swooping close by her when they flew and watching her dash for cover. 

"Bloody damn birds! They all ought to be stuffed and baked in a pie!" she whined to Filch after one disastrous afternoon. 

Filch merely bobbed his head, he was the only one of the staff who was glad Umbridge was in charge, for she had promised to let him punish the wretched little brats like they deserved. 

The owls also conspired to fly outside her window in the dead of night, hooting and screeching all night long, keeping the High Inquisitor from sleeping, until she finally got smart and cast silencing charms about the window after three days of sleepless nights. 

As a result of her missed sleep, she was grumpy and out-of-sorts, and took great delight in taking points and giving out detention right and left for cheeky attitudes (a student had looked at her wrong) and soon a new group of students were sporting sore bleeding hands and requesting murtlap salve from Hermione and one young Slytherin first year even had the guts to request it of Snape.

That proved to be a blessing in disguise, because Severus then demanded to know why Jonathon Melrose wanted it.  "Has someone cursed you, Mr. Melrose?"

"Umm . . .no, sir.  Not . . .really." the boy stammered, hanging his head.

"Then why would you need murtlap, young man?" Severus frowned, eyeing the boy sternly.  His sharp eyes noticed immediately that the boy had his right hand behind his back.  "Why are you standing with your hand behind your back, Melrose?"

"No reason, sir." Melrose bit his lip.

"You should have no reason to lie to me, Jonathon.  Show me your hand."

Gulping, the boy slowly slipped his hand out from behind his back. "Sir, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to get detention with Professor Umbridge!" he sniffled, knowing full well how disappointed Snape was when one of his snakes misbehaved. 

"What are you talking about-bloody damn hell, Melrose!" Severus cried, seizing the small hand and examining it intently.  "Who did this? Who?"

Melrose sniffled. Tears pooled in his eyes.  "Professor Umbridge, sir."

Severus's eyes were black as night.  "Umbridge used a blood quill on you?"

"I . . .she made me write with a black quill," Melrose told him. "Two hundred lines and when I was done, my hand was like this, sir!" Carved into the back of his hand were the words I will not be cheeky to my teacher.  "Can you fix it, sir? It stings something awful, Professor Snape."

"No doubt.  Come with me, Mr. Melrose." Severus led the eleven-year-old into his lab, where he summoned a shallow bowl and a potion in a green vial and a pitcher of water.  He poured some water into the bowl, emptied the vial of murtlap into it, stirred and then said, "Put your hand in there, Melrose, and soak for ten minutes.  That will take care of the pain and swelling. Bloody damn sadist!"

He pulled out a piece of parchment and began to write upon it rapidly.

Freedom, who had been on his shoulder the entire time, asked, What are you doing, Sev?

"Documenting this incident," Snape said softly.  "If I get enough of them, I could submit them to the Board of Governors and petition for a dismissal."

"Really, sir?" Melrose looked up from soaking his hand, his eyes shining hopefully.

"Indeed.  It is forbidden for a teacher to use a blood quill on students," Severus told him. "Such magic was outlawed centuries ago."  He continued writing grimly.

 The next day, his office mailbox was full of letters from his House and some from other Houses as well, all of them complaining about Umbridge and her miserable quill. 

Snape carefully made copies and wrote a letter to the Board of Governors, requesting that there be an inquest.  That was sent off with Seraphina. 

Two days or so later, Umbridge received a citation, warning her that such measures as a blood quill were unacceptable methods of discipline and she would be watched.   That letter reached her in a timely fashion, after Freedom informed the owls what it contained. 

Fawkes reported later that Umbridge blistered the air with swear words after reading it.  *Most unladylike.  I nearly self-combusted.*

* * * * * *

But Umbridge was not defeated so easily.  She was determined to keep her stronghold upon the administration by whatever means necessary.  Infuriated by what she thought was blatant slander, she sought to alleviate her frustration by ruthlessly examining her staff members. 

Trelawney, never the most adept of teachers, came under heavy scrutiny, Umbridge made her nervous, and she could barely teach when the other witch was in the room, writing away on her clipboard, coughing into her handkerchief, and asking Sybill in that half sweet, half poison tone, "Can you predict what I am about to do tonight, Sybill? No? Just one teensy little prediction? Come now, Seer, surely you can tell what I will have for dinner?"

Sybill, frantic, blurted, "I . . .nothing! You won't be able to eat anything!"

"Oh? Why not?"

"Umm . . .because . . ." her hands twisted in her scarves. "You will have . . . indigestion!"

Umbridge bared her teeth at the other witch in a fake smile.  "How very interesting! We will have to see if it comes true. A Seer should be able to predict reliably."

"Of course," Sybill sad weakly, sweating.

That night, Umbridge ate heartily, thus proving Sybill's prediction false. 

The next morning, a triumphant Umbridge climbed the stairs to Trelawney's tower suite and declared her a fraud and unfit to teach and sacked her.

"You are incompetent, useless, and I shall not have you wasting my precious time and ruining the reputation of this institution!" gloated Umbridge, her small eyes glittering.  "Now pack your things and get out!"

"Please, madam!" Trelawney sobbed.  "Hogwarts is my home! I have nowhere else to go! Please, give me another chance!"

"No," Umbridge said sweetly. "You have five minutes to leave, Sybill."

* * * * * *

 

Severus was having breakfast in the hall with Minerva, Albus, and the rest of the staff when Freedom flew into the hall, skreeing in alarm.  Severus! Come quickly! Umbridge has just sacked Trelawney and is throwing her out of the castle.

Severus was on his feet.  "Damn and blast that harridan!"

"Severus, what has happened?" asked Minerva, alarmed.

"Freedom has just told me that Umbridge has sacked Trelawney," answered the Potions Master. 

Minerva paled.  Then she spat something very uncomplimentary in Gaelic before practically running from the room. 

Severus looked over at the Headmaster, who looked grave and drawn.  "What now, Albus?"

The Headmaster rose, his face a study in resignation and sorrow.  "There isn't much I can do, except prevent Dolores from throwing Sybill into the street.  I am still master of this castle."

Snape nodded, and followed the Headmaster from the hall.

Freedom admitted reluctantly that it was nice to see Albus put his foot down, for once, and Umbridge was left sputtering while Minerva and Severus escorted Sybill and her belongings back up to her tower.  

All of the students who were in the Entrance Hall that had witnessed Umbridge shoving Sybill down the stairs and then flinging her trunk after her, muttered angrily behind their hands and shot the portly witch murderous looks behind her back.  Trelawney might be a joke as a teacher, but even she did not deserve to be treated so callously. 

It was about fifteen minutes before Minerva and Severus managed to get Sybill calmed down, Severus summoned a cup of tea and laced it liberally with a Calming Draught.  "Here, Sybill, drink this.  It will settle you."

Utterly wretched, the Divination teacher sniffed and took the tea cup with a hand that shook.  "Thank you, Severus.  But what about my class? My students?"

Minerva patted her shoulder.  "I am sure we can find a replacement, Sybill.  For now, treat this as an . . .unlooked for holiday."

"She . . .she said I was a . . .failure and incompetent!" Sybill cried, tears falling down her cheeks.

"Humph! She's a fine one to talk!" Snape growled. "All she knows is Ministry protocol.  Drink that, Sybill, for Merlin's sake, don't cry into it."

"S-sorry, Severus!" Sybill took a large gulp of tea.

Minerva flashed him a stern look.

Severus sighed, he was really not up to this.  He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to the trembling Divination teacher.  "Come now, Sybill, it's not the end of the world.  Just think, while you are alone, you can use your Inner Eye to predict Dolores's possible death."

Trelawney gasped.  "Severus! I would never . . .well, perhaps I might make an exception . . .just this once . . ." She took another drink of tea and blotted her eyes with the monogrammed Slytherin crest handkerchief.

The two professors smirked at each other.  They were certain that Sybill would be quite busy with her crystal ball and cards over the next few days. 

The Potions Master smirked wickedly.  "Minerva, do you recall the name of that centaur who stargazes and uses astrology?"

Minerva thought for a minute.  "You mean . . .Firenze?"

"Yes. Do you think he would mind coming up to the castle?"

"No, he doesn't mind humans, not like some of his clan.  Severus, surely you're not thinking of . . .suggesting Firenze teach Divination?"

"Why not? None of can teach it half as well, if at all."

"But . . .Dolores . . .hates half-humans!"

"So?" drawled the professor, his eyes glinting like a wicked child's. "She's the one who sacked our resident seer.  Serves her right if her replacement is . . .not all she would wish for."

"Severus Snape, you are a wicked wicked man!" Minerva told him, frowning. Then she grinned.  "I could kiss you!"

Snape backed away hastily.  "Merlin, woman, restrain yourself!"

Minerva and Sybill looked at each other and smirked.  Then the Head of Gryffindor rose and said, "Let us inform Albus of your suggestion.  If we move quickly, Firenze can be in the castle tomorrow."

The two left Sybill staring dreamily into her empty tea cup, imagining grisly fates for the High Inquisitor, each one worse than the last.

* * * * * *

The centaur Firenze did come to be the replacement Divination teacher, much to Umbridge's dismay.  But there was little she could do about it, since Dumbledore still had the authority to appoint staff and as Firenze was the only candidate willing to apply for the position, he was accepted.  Umbridge avoided the golden-haired centaur as much as possible, saying loudly that she was not overfond of horses and that sort of folk. 

Meanwhile, Freedom was still continuing his campaign against Dolores.  He was assisted unexpectedly by the Weasley  twins, who loathed Umbridge as much as Freedom did, and sought to play various practical jokes upon her, usually involving dungbombs, water, and fireworks.  Detentions seemed to have no effect upon them and the hag vowed to bring them in line by reinstating some of the more crueler corporal punishments, such as whipping. 

But Freedom overheard her muttering about the order and followed her while she made her way down to Filch's office.  Just as she was drawing the missive out of her pocket, Freedom swooped down and snatched it from her hand and flew away with it.  Ha! Take that, you miserable bitch!

Umbridge screamed and clutched her chest. Then she shook her fist at the hawk, who was flying away before she could go for her wand.  "Wicked bird! Oooh! I hate them, hate them, hate them all!"

Filch came out of his office then, asking if anything was the matter.  Dolores scowled and told him of how the bird had flown away with her proclamation.  "Now I'll have to draw up another one," she said sulkily, like a petulant schoolgirl denied a sweet. 

Freedom also encouraged Peeves to run rampant in the halls whenever Umbridge went by, making rude noises and shouting singsong rhymes at her.  Freedom recalled a certain movie he used to watch when he was younger, and told the poltergeist about it, and for three days afterwards whenever Umbridge set foot outside her quarters, Peeves sang the theme song of the Wicked Witch of the West and screamed, "Here she comes-the wicked witch, ding dong the wicked witch, quick run, hide under the bed, she'll hex you dead!"

The tune was so catchy that students started to hum it during class and even Crabbe, who was a reluctant member of Umbridge's Inquisition Squad, found himself humming it, until Draco threatened to hex his lips shut for two days.

During this time, Freedom discovered that Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Neville, and several others from all four Houses had managed to meet at the Hog's Head and Aberforth had told Hermione how to cast a Protean Charm on several Knuts and Sickles, so she could summon them to a meeting in the Room of Requirement, where Defense lessons would be held. 

Hermione had checked out a book from the library with several defense spells in it and began trying to instruct the others in them.  "Harry would have done much better than me, I'm sure," she groaned to Ron one afternoon.  "You know he always had a flare for Defense."

"You're doing okay, Hermione," Ron said.  "At least we're learning more now than we do in class."

"But will it be enough?" asked the witch worriedly.  "Harry knew loads of spells that I don't, like the Patronus Charm.  Oh, I wish he'd come back, Ron!"

Above, Freedom hovered.  Sorry, Hermione.  Just be patient a little longer.

"Yeah, I know. I'm beginning to think something really bad's happened.  And now even the papers are talking about it."

Hermione sighed. "D'you, d'you think it's a good idea then, to call ourselves Dumbledore's Army?"

"Sure, it's a good name. Ginny's clever that way. Dumbledore's a great wizard."

Freedom made a disgusted noise.  Sure he is, Ron.  Great and stupid.  If you knew what I do, you'd never name yourselves after him.  But hey, it's your call. 

The papers were full of news on a huge breakout from Azkaban, and Bellatrix and Rudolphus Lestrange, the ones who had tortured Neville's parents, were now free, as well as eight others.  A Ministry worker had died under strange circumstances.  Severus swore a blue streak when he read that and Freedom fretted that the wizard might be summoned to Voldemort yet again, but the Mark remained silent.

"The others are enough for now," the spy told his familiar.  "He wishes me to remain here and report anything unusual back to him.  And also to locate Potter, who is doing a damn good imitation of a fox gone to earth."

The Potions Master scowled blackly, for despite all of his efforts and Minerva's as well, Potter remained among the missing.

Or a hawk among pigeons, Freedom thought and felt a pang of guilt strike him. I need to make a choice.  But how can I choose, when either way, it's going to hurt us both? Sometimes . . .sometimes I wish I had just jumped out the window that night.  It would have saved us both a lot of grief.  Ah well.  Somehow I'll muddle through this.  He looked uneasily at Severus and wondered if the man would find it in his heart to forgive him for his deception.

* * * * * *

Umbridge continued her reign of terror, and Freedom harassed her as much as possible, but the hag was not taking it lying down.  She sent out her Inquisition Squad, setting them to patrolling the halls at night and that was how they discovered DA member Marietta Edgecombe, a Ravenclaw who was sweet on Draco.  Marietta, unknown to Draco and his friends, was on her way to a DA meeting, though she was becoming more and more convinced that the meetings weren't doing much good and they risked getting into serious trouble. 

So, when she spotted Draco hovering about the corridor, she decided she would stop and talk to him.  She thought the blond boy exceedingly handsome, suave, and cultured. 

Draco was aware of the girl's feelings for him, they were plain as day upon her face, and it amused him to indulge the pretty girl for a time, so he drawled, "Hey, Marietta.  Where are you off to at this hour?"

"Oh, nowhere," Marietta said, tossing her hair coquettishly.  "I just couldn't study anymore and wanted to get some air.  What . . .what are you doing here, Draco?"

Draco shrugged.  "Being bored to death." He was suspicious, the girl was obviously going somewhere, and seemed nervous about telling him.  Draco knew something odd was going on in the school, something that concerned Weasley and Granger and several other people as well.  He could scent a conspiracy like a bloodhound. He eyed Marietta shrewdly, noticing how she kept twisting her fingers in her robe and biting her lip when she thought he wasn't looking.

Something is going on and she's right in the middle of it, or I'm not a Slytherin. He moved closer to her and whispered, "At least I was bored until you came along, Marietta.  C'mon, let's walk a ways down here." He took her arm and led her down the corridor.

"Oh, but Draco, I . . ."

"What's wrong? You act like you're going to be late for something."

"No, of course not! It's just . . .never mind . . ." she blushed.

Before she knew it, she was being expertly cozened and coaxed by sly Draco, who promised her a date at Madam Puddifoot's in two days time if only she would tell him where she was going. 

"B-but I . . .told you already, Draco, I'm not going anywhere!"

"Ah, now don't lie to me, Marietta.  I don't like girls who lie." He pretended to frown at her.  "Tell me, or else . . .I might just take Pansy to Hogsmeade instead."

"No, please! Draco, don't!" Marietta pleaded, all of her dreams of being Draco's girlfriend beginning to go up in smoke.  "I . . .I'll tell . . .just promise you'll go to Hogsmeade with me."

"All right." He agreed swiftly, then he bent and kissed her, incentive to encourage her.

Marietta nearly swooned.  "I'll tell you . . .I was going to a meeting . . ."

"What meeting?"

"A Defense meeting . . ." the girl babbled dreamily.

Draco smirked.  Ah ha! I knew it! "Who else was going to be at this meeting?"

"What does it matter? Draco, won't you kiss me again?"

He huffed and obligingly kissed her.  "There, now tell me the rest . . ."

And she did, betraying her friends for the sake of an infatuation that would come to nothing, for Draco never intended to keep his promise.  But the damage had been done.  

Viper! Dirty, scheming, evil viper! Freedom cried, he had been returning from the Owlery and heard Draco and gone to see what the other was up to, only to discover he had learned of the DA meetings.

He dove at the blond, and Draco yelled, drawing his wand and conjuring a quick Shield Charm.  

Freedom hit the shield and bounced off, flapping wildly to avoid hitting the wall.

Marietta screamed.  "Crazy bird! What are you doing?"

Stupid girl, what are YOU doing?

"Bloody hawk! One of these days I'm going to kill you!" Draco snarled. He pointed his wand and intoned a Stinging Hex, but Freedom was too quick.

Before he could do anything further, the sound of high heels came tapping down the corridor.  

"Mr. Malfoy, what is going on here? Filch tells me he heard shouting . . ." came Umbridge's honey-sweet voice.

Draco turned and smiled at the pink-garbed witch.  "Professor Umbridge, Marietta and I have something to tell you . . ."

Freedom cursed roundly and then took off, desperate to try and warn his friends, but there was only one problem, he didn't know where the Room of Requirement was.  

 



Chapter End Notes:


How did you like this one? Will Freedom be able to warn them in time?

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