Contrary to all his expectations, Harry found that his dorm mates were surprisingly kind to him the next morning. He didn't know that they'd seen him tossing and turning the night before as he was gripped by his memories of Genesis' degradation and his various deaths at Cloud's hands. He didn't know that they'd talked, long into the night, about what it must be like to be able to remember your own untimely demise. He didn't know that Ron had spoken, uncharacteristically eloquently, about how his life had been – how his Hogwarts career had been – up to that point.
All he knew, as they descended upon breakfast like a pack of ravening wolves, was that they had waited for him. They had clustered around him on the trip to the Great Hall, shielding him from the stares of those who would believe that the Daily Prophet. Even as he ate, glares from his fellow Gryffindors frightened away all but the most determined of antagonists. He was to be left in peace, as far as they were concerned.
He was rather embarrassed by just how much it warmed him.
Still, as he found himself drawn into conversation with Ron and the rest of the Quidditch team, he allowed himself to forget for a few delightful minutes that the world rested on his shoulders. Again. Damn the Fates. Damn the Cetra, too!
Of course, no morning could be perfect. Hermione was in a right tizzy about the Twins. They were offering to pay other students to test their prank products for them. She found it – at best – unethical.
Sephiroth was less than surprised. Human testing was not, after all, a reality that he was unfamiliar with. He had been the guinea pig in his last life. Though, he found her concern unwarranted. If anyone was stupid enough to accept the Twin's money for being a lab rat, then they shouldn't live long enough to procreate, anyway.
He was smart enough not to tell Hermione that.
History of Magic was as boring as usual. Cho Chang, once again, tried to engage him in conversation shortly afterwards. He was more than a little amazed at himself. He just wasn't interested in her anymore. It took him a while to figure out why but, when he did, he nearly tripped over his own feet.
Ron's hand caught his arm to steady him. He glanced up and tossed his friend an appreciative smile, and sank back into his thoughts. She'd turned him down. It may not have been deliberate, but she'd made her preference for Diggory clear. So what if the two weren't dating now? He wasn't going to be anyone's second choice.
He shrugged to himself. Not like he had time for it right now, anyway. He had Voldemort, the strange grown presences in the Lifestream, whatever Dumbledore was planning to inflict on him this year, classes, and his own personal studies to consider. Somewhere in there, he had to find time to keep up his sword training. His plate was quite full. Not to mention that most school romances didn't survive graduation. It would be a waste of time on top of everything else.
On the bright side, Ron's rant about the Tornados drove Cho off before he had to find a way to let her down gently. He'd still have to, eventually. For now, though, he could just get to class and not have to worry about it.
Hermione paused to adjust the strap on her bag, and he let himself wander a little forward with Ron before he stopped to wait. "Ron?" At his curious look, he continued, "Can you... Do you think you can... Oh, hell..." He scrabbled his hand through his hair.
"What is it, mate?"
"I'm just... with everything going on, I don't really want to date right now. Is there some way to keep the girls from..."
Ron snorted. "Being girls?" Harry nodded. "Don't think so. I could ask Bill or Charlie?"
Harry snorted. "Bill deals with ancient curses, and Charlie only handles dragons. Girls are a lot scarier."
Hermione caught up with them then, and looked very baffled at Ron's laughing agreement. His refusal to tell her what they were talking about had her in a huff for most of Potions.
Amazingly, Potions wasn't that bad a class. For whatever reason, Snape seemed determined to ignore him. That was just fine with Harry. He had a feeling that they'd get along a lot better if they just spent the next few years forgetting that each other existed.
The Gryffindors once again grouped around him for lunch, protecting him. He fought down his shock and concealed his pleased smile. Having people actually care enough to do something that he really needed was... strange. He could get used to it.
As it was too late for him to change his classes, he was still stuck in Divination. Dream interpretation was not something he wanted to dabble in right now. He didn't have dreams. He had nightmarish memories that stole his peace and shattered his rest. Fortunately, Ron jumped in with a strange story about chasing a marshmallow snitch while riding a stuffed dragon.
Sephiroth knew that it was completely fiction. He made a mental note to buy Ron a lorry full of chocolate frogs in appreciation. Trying to interpret that strange dream kept them snickering for the rest of their time in Divination.
Their last class of the day, though, was the one he was dreading: Defense Against the Dark Arts as taught by a Ministry stooge. He would say that he was afraid it was going to be even worse than he thought, but he wasn't sure anyone's teaching could be worse than he was expecting.
They settled in their seats and soon found themselves being treated like six year olds. He couldn't remember the last time he had to greet a teacher in chorus with the rest of his class. It was degrading and infuriating. What was worse, he could tell that Umbridge was trying for that very reaction. He took a deep breath and let it out. Suck it up, SOLDIER.
She started with how woefully behind they were in the theory of defense. Then she had them copying down the course aims. Okay, so there were a few gems in the course goals. Learning when it was legal to take action was a good thing. He just didn't think that they needed to spend an entire year on it.
She told them to read the first chapter of their books and then went to her desk. He looked at the tome, feeling no small amount of disgust. The thing was... insulting. He'd browsed it while he was at Grimmauld Place. The instructions within basically boiled down to 'get away' and 'wait for an Auror.'
When facing dark wizards, it was about as useful as putting on a scarf to ward off a vampire.
Of course, that's when Hermione started questioning the so-called professor about when they were actually going to do practical work. The resulting discussion drew almost all of the class in. None of them could believe that any member of the Ministry actually thought that a spell could be mastered the first time through - even with sufficient understanding of the theory.
Harry, to Hermione's dismay, remained quiet until Umbridge tried to assert that there was no danger that they need concern themselves about. That's when he – and didn't he feel like a six year old again – put his hand in the air. When she called upon him, his voice was hard and his eyes were cold. "So, you're saying that there are no vampires, werewolves, nundu, dementors or anything else out there in the world that wants to hurt us. I'd think someone that fought so hard to add new creature legislation would know better."
She tried to cut him off, but he continued. "Not only that, if our course is to be taught in this manner from here on, then you are crippling the Ministry and the economy. A NEWT in Defense is required for Auror training, Curse Breaking, and all sorts of other positions. Some of which you are asserting that we need to rely on to keep us safe.
"So, which is it? Are you a patriot – training us to meet and exceed the standards set by the Ministry, or are you a traitor – weakening it from within?"
He was not surprised to be sent to McGonagall with a note and a detention. His stern Head of House was not pleased that he'd managed to get himself a detention this early in the term. She was, if the way her lips twitched was any indication, very amused to hear what he'd done to earn it. "You accused the Undersecretary of subverting the Ministry?"
She pressed her lips together tightly for a moment and settled her trembling hands on her desk. "The detention stands, Mister Potter. Do try not to do this again."
"Yes, professor." Taking it as a dismissal, he exited the room. A split second after he closed the door behind him, he was startled to hear almost hysterical laughter ring out on the other side of it. He grinned. So, she wasn't as upset with him as he'd thought. Good to know.
Dinner was both pleasant and unpleasant. Some students were delighted that someone had taken on the woman that was going to ruin their scores. It was mostly the Ravenclaws, but there were a few others that seemed pleased. Other students were whispering about what crazy thing he would do next. He was halfway inclined to let out his more insane memories. Their whispers were tempting him to submerge himself in them and see how the castle would look on fire, the walls glistening with blood.
He shook his head to clear it. He would not do that. Never again. He was never, ever going to kill the innocent again without a damned good reason. One Nibelheim was enough.
After dinner, they made their way back to the common room for a few minutes of peace. It was only a few minutes, though, as Hermione was soon laying into the Twins for their prank testing. They went wide-eyed and pale when she threatened to tell Molly what they were doing. Sephiroth found himself grinning. At least the commotion was entertaining, for a while.
When it ended, he looked at his homework and sighed before settling in to battle his way through it.
The next day was rainy and miserable. The downright depressing atmosphere made it difficult to rise in time for breakfast, but they managed. They slogged through Transfiguration and Charms, then ensconced themselves in the library for the majority of lunch. Fortunately, the rain let up by the time they made it to Care of Magical Creatures.
Grubbly-Plank had them work with bowtruckles for the afternoon. Harry stubbornly refused to admit that she was a better teacher than Hagrid, only conceding that she had a different style. Hermione felt the need to point out that most would consider the less-dangerous manner to be better. Well, until he pointed out that Umbridge was supposedly teaching in a 'less-dangerous manner.'
The day rounded out with Herbology. They were rather aromatic when they were done. The stench of dragon dung clung to their robes and skin. With a grin, he realized he wasn't going to have time for a shower if he wanted to eat before detention. The best part was that he could honestly say that Umbridge had brought the smell on herself.
He quickly devoured his food and headed for the toad's inner sanctum. His first thought, on entering the office, was that the woman liked pink entirely too much. It looked like an advertisement for a stomach soother. And what was with the kitten plates? Who could think with all that meowing?
Cats were nice. He kind of liked them. But... there had to be two hundred plates in here.
Soon, he was sitting in a chair with a quill and no ink. Lines. He had to write, 'I will respect Ministry workers' until she decided he could stop. After a brief hesitation, he smirked. She didn't say what language it had to be in.
With unhurried strokes of the quill, he translated the sentence into Wutain. He quirked on eyebrow as it carved into his hand. Interesting. The next version, he did in Sephiroth's native dialect. The version after that was English. Then, he used what little he remembered of the Cetra tongue.
As he cycled through the languages, he was rather saddened that they were the only ones he was really fluent in. Of course, then he decided to translate all of them into a Turk Cypher. Then, into one of the many SOLDIER cyphers. Then he translated all of it into Ancient Runes, cypher and all. Then, he started getting really creative with it.
Umbridge, he noticed, had stopped her smug staring. Now, she was looking at him with her mouth hanging slightly open. Probably, he reflected, because his blood was eating through the paper, the desk and starting to work on the floor. It just slid off of him when it impacted his legs.
He went back to writing.
He was on the twenty-third permutation when she finally gasped out, "Stop that right now!"
By this time, the parchment was sitting in his lap. The desk had completely melted out from under the roll. He casually raised his head. "Stop what, professor?"
"Whatever you're doing to damage school property!" Her face was purpling. He wondered, idly, if she would have a stroke.
She started to speak again at his continued silence, but quieted when he held out his hand over the mess. The fluid glowed vivid, Lifestream green and then filled with tainted shadows for a moment before forming into a border-collie-sized Shadow Creeper. It lifted its bony face and lashed its tail for a moment, scenting the air and giving a predatory rumble when it spotted the Professor. The nasty hook on the end of the appendage caught the light menacingly.
"You wanted my blood, Madam Umbridge." He smiled at her, a shark's wicked grin – full of teeth and malice. "Now, what do you propose to do with it?"
"Y-you're using t-the D-Dark A-arts!" The creature crept forward, claws clicking on the stone. The acrid scent of ammonia flooded the room as Umbridge lost control of some fairly important bodily functions.
He raised one eyebrow. "Hardly. You see, Madam, the Dark Arts are what the Ministry says they are and this," he gestured at the Creeper, "isn't in any Ministry law. I checked."
She started to inch towards the door. The Creeper bared its fangs and she froze. "I wouldn't run, Madam. That only incites a predator. And, I think we all know who the predator is in this room."
She swallowed. "T-the Minister..."
"Would never find your corpse." He cocked his head in mock thought. "Hard to have a trial with no body to prove a crime even happened."
He stood, moving gracefully into her personal space. She backed up into a corner, only for him to follow and trap her there. She had to look up to meet his eyes, and could barely bring herself to do so. Her entire body was shaking.
His voice was a maliciously sensual purr when he spoke again, "What did you intend to use my blood for?"
Trapped in the alien green of his gaze, she couldn't help but answer. Anything to get this creature away from her! "C-control. B-binding."
He leaned his head down, breath scalding hot on her face. "Blood magic, then? How dreadfully unimaginative." He stepped back, the sudden freedom from his menacing presence causing her to nearly collapse. His tone had changed to an almost casual one, as if they were having a conversation over afternoon tea. "Still, I suppose that is what I should have expected from a bureaucrat."
"Don't worry. I'm not going to kill you." He gestured and the Creeper vanished in an explosion of darkness. He pulled his wand. "Of course, I can't have you remember this, either. I've studied the theory of the Obliviate spell extensively these last few days. Let's see if I can get it right on the first try."