Hogwarts woke up one morning to find the wall opposite the doors of the Great Hall to be cleared of portraits. In their place was a small wooden frame hung in the middle of the wall, barely illuminated by the sconces on the far ends of the wall. Upon closer inspection and better lighting, it was revealed to be an Educational Decree. It seemed as though Umbridge was trying to increase her control over the students.
Students filed in for breakfast, whispering to each other about the new decree. How did she get this new power? What was she hoping to accomplish? Did she fail a test to be an Animagus, and that’s why she looks like a toad?
Indeed, she looked more toad-like this morning than usual. Perhaps it was the new, garishly pink hat perched precariously atop her head and what she clearly thought was a jaunty angle. Perhaps it was due to the smug smile on her face as she looked down on everyone seated at the House tables.
Hermione flung herself onto the bench at the Gryffindor table next to Ron.
“Can you believe that woman,” she hissed. “The nerve of her, trying to run this school.” She shot a venomous look towards the table where all the teachers sat.
“She does seem to be getting worse lately,” Ron agreed, piling sausage on his plate.
“The nerve of her.” Hermione repeated.
“But I thought you didn’t like Spell-Check Quills, Hermione,” Seamus added from a few seats down the table..
She twisted to face him, butter knife clenched in one hand. “It doesn’t matter if I like them or not, it’s the principle of the thing! Umbridge has no right to make this decree. These quills are incredibly helpful for students with dyslexia! It helps them write, and can make them feel better about themselves. It can be a huge confidence booster. I don’t like how some people try to use them to cheat. Why bother memorizing names, terms, and potions ingredients when the Quill will correct you if you get close enough? It’s not fair!” She stopped talking abruptly, noticing the slightly scared expressions on the faces of those around her. She flushed red and lowered the butter knife to the table. “Sorry, I just…”
Fred leaned over from where he was sitting, further down. “D’you mind saying that a bit louder, Hermione? I don’t think my Uncle Alfred in Wales quite heard you.”
Hermione flushed even redder as Fred sat down beside her, pushing Ron out of the way. Ron made an indignant noise of protest, but couldn’t get Fred to move.
“You’re too… you to be complaining loudly about things, Hermione. Can’t have Umbridge suspecting you more than she already does, or it’ll be bad for DA.” Fred spoke quietly enough that only Hermione could hear him, and had his face turned away from the Head Table. “The new educational decree is bad, but you aren’t the person to be fighting it. The whole point of it seems to be creating more rules, so the best way to fight it, is by breaking them. My talents happen to be uniquely suited to this task. Have a lovely morning.” Fred stood up as abruptly as he had sat down, and engaged in an intense conversation with George a little ways down the table.
Hermione looked baffled, but didn’t say anything. The bafflement was replaced by her Thinking Face, the one that caused teachers to brace for difficult questions, and prompted Ron to move anything breakable out of arm’s reach. When Hermione had her Thinking Face, it was best to give her a quill and parchment, and brace for impact. Tension fell over their section of the table. Everyone watched Hermione with trepidation, most of all Ron and Harry. The rest of the Great Hall faded away as they waited with bated breath to see what Hermione would do next. Seamus was gripping Dean’s hand under the table and Neville looked frightened.
Hermione opened her mouth as if to say something, then closed it, reaching for the basket of fruit in front of her. Her fellow fifth years exchanged puzzled looks. This never happened. Where was the rant? Where were the quotes spoken verbatim from an obscure legal case from the 1500s?
“What are you all looking at?” Hermione asked.
Everyone quickly looked away from her, and became more focused on their breakfasts than they had been on the Potions test last week.
Harry and Ron had spoken at the same time.
“Oh, um, nothing.”
Hermione shrugged, “Fred was right. I can organize DA, but he can create monumental levels of chaos. We just have to support him in whatever he does.”
George didn’t go to classes that day. He knew he’d get in trouble for it later, but he had more important things to do. He had to go to the library.
He had hoped that Madam Pince wouldn’t be at her desk when he came in, but that hope was quickly dashed.
“Good morning! How is my favorite librarian today?”
She looked suspicious. “Why aren’t you in class, Mr. Weasley?”
George exuded pure confidence. “Oh, I’m doing research for a class. Flitwick wanted me to research the benefits of using Charms over Transfiguration in certain circumstances. I need at least two historical examples of wizards using advanced Charms in place of Transfiguration spells.”
A deep frown line creased her brow. “Why wasn’t this homework, to be done on your own time?”
He gave what he hoped was a winning smile. “I was speaking with him before class, and the topic came up. He sent me here to do my research now. You know how Professor Flitwick can’t let go of a fascinating topic.”
Madam Pince’s eyes lit up with curiosity. “Interesting topic to be discussing. You know, Professor McGonagall wrote a series of essays on the advantages of different forms of magic. I have the anthology in my office. She has a free period right now, if you’d like to discuss with her…”
Wait!” George cried. “I, uh, don’t want to talk to Professor McGonagall until I really know what I’m talking about. I need to research first, then I’ll go talk to her.”
The librarian sighed. She muttered a few words, waving her wand, and conjured a chair in front of her desk. “Have a seat, Mr. Weasley.”
“I’ve indulged you long enough. Why are you here?”
George sighed. “I really am doing research. But it’s for a personal project. It’s…” he dropped his voice. “We’re planning against Umbridge.”
Madam Pince stood up, vanishing the chair as she did so. George fell to the floor in a tangle of limbs and robes. “Carry on. If you need any help, I’ll be in my office, or reshelving in the Restricted Section. ”
Hardly daring to believe his luck, George disappeared off into the stacks. There had to be something in one of the advanced charms books to help them. After the first rounds of small explosions, and accidental eyebrow removal when creating their Wizard Wheezes, the twins had realized preliminary research before testing products wasn’t the worst idea.
At DA meetings, meals, and in the common room, the Weasley twins were carefully sowing the seeds of chaos. Vials of a bluish liquid with instructions printed on the side made their way through the ranks of the students. No one except the twins understood how it worked, but they knew if they added a few drops of the potion to their ink and said the incantation to activate it, their essays would look like they had been written by a madman. The results weren’t uniform, making the effects even worse.
A week later, Umbridge had a stack of unreadable essays on her desk. Some were written in different languages, sometimes words would move around like portraits, there was one written in iambic pentameter, and one paper that wouldn’t stop speaking its contents in a thick Dublin accent. She had tried to Summon all Spell-Check quills, but none turned up. As far as she could tell, all of her students were using normal quills, but putting a lot of misguided work into their homework.
When the sixth years came in to class, they found vividly red quills lying on each of their desks, and Umbridge standing at the front of the room, a small smile on her face.
“Settle down class,” she simpered. “While I was trying to grade your essays on the theoretical advantages of non-verbal spells, I encountered a few small issues. It seems as though the decree banning Spell-Check Quills is being willfully ignored. You all thought it would be amusing to purposefully use faulty quills to write your essays. This rulebreaking will not be tolerated. You must all rewrite your papers now, with quills I have provided for you. You may not use your books or notes, so I hope you have all prepared yourselves. Wands will not be necessary. Begin.”
There was a great rustling noise as everybody in the class dug through their bags to find ink. Many of them were muttering to themselves, either reciting all they knew about non-verbal spells, or words that really shouldn’t be muttered in a classroom.
Soon enough, the scratching of quills on parchment was the only sound that filled the air. Umbridge walked up and down the rows of desks, watching what every student was doing. She spent more time hovering of Fred’s shoulder than of any other student.
Towards the end of class, Fred finally snapped. “Look, Professor. I understand that it must be hard for you to be a professor and a Ministry official without being able to read, but there are better ways for you to learn. Go talk to Madam Pince, I’m sure she can help you out.” He was looking up at her, an open, honest expression on his face. All the fury and frustration was well hidden behind a mask of calm.
The classroom fell dead silent. Every single student was staring at the pair, not daring the breathe or blink. A vein in Umbridge’s forehead was pulsing. Her mouth gaped open, fishlike, as she struggled to find words.
“Get. Out. Of. My. Class.” she ground out. “Go. McGonagall. Your essay. Finished.” she wrenched the parchment out from underneath Fred’s arm, and stormed to the front of the room. She was too angry to notice the words start to subtly shift and move.
The door closed behind Fred with a soft snick as he left. Umbridge addressed the class again. “You will complete your assignments in silence. No one is to speak or move until class is over.” She sat at her desk, face still flushed and breathing heavily. Fred’s paper lay on the corner of her desk, forgotten.
It was lucky that McGonagall wasn’t teaching this period. Fred couldn’t imagine telling her this story in front of a class. It was scary enough talking to her alone. He paused for a moment before knocking on the door to her office.
“Come in,” she called.”
Fred slowly pushed the door open, hesitant as he walked in. “Good afternoon, Professor. May I sit down?” He gestured vaguely to the area in front of her desk, hand trembling ever so slightly.
“You may, Mr. Weasley,” she responded. “But why are you here, and not in class?” She gazed at him coolly, fingers steepled in front of her mouth.
“Ah. About that. You see, I had a slight disagreement with one of my other professors. Some harsh words were spoken, and I was asked to leave the class. And now I find myself here.”
Professor McGonagall’s expression hardened. “Which professor? And what exactly was said by whom?”
Fred looked up, his eyes meeting hers. “Umbridge. I told her that if she wanted to finally learn how to read, there are better ways than standing over my shoulder watching me write an essay on non-verbal spells.”
McGonagall stared. Fred didn’t move. The soft ticking of a clock on her desk was the only sound in the office. She opened her mouth, closed it, then opened it again. “I see,” she said finally. “And what was her reaction?”
“Um well, she couldn’t speak for a few moments. Then she threw me out of class. ”
“Wait here a moment, will you?” She left the room in a swirl of robes, leaving Fred there in absolute shock. He didn’t know how much trouble he was in. She hadn’t looked as angry as she usually did when she reprimanded him. But she had never left him alone in her office, either. Was she getting Dumbledore? Was she getting Filch, who would hang him from his thumbs in a dungeon? Worst off all, was she somehow bringing his mother here? That thought brought a sheen of cold sweat to his body. His leg bounced furiously. He couldn’t have stopped the movement if he had tried.
As it turns out, none of those things. She returned carrying a small box under her arm. Fred thought he could make out the Honeydukes logo on it, but there was no way there was actually chocolate in it. It would be like the cookie tin in his house that actually held his mother’s knitting supplies. Maybe this was where Filch kept his thumbscrews. In a Honeydukes box, not to arouse suspicion.
She set it down carefully on the desk, and Fred broke out in a cold sweat. Something awful had to happen now. Professor McGonagall sat behind her desk, hands folded, a severe look on her face.
“Mr. Weasley,” she began. “What you said to Professor Umbridge was unacceptable. While her behavior might not have been the most appropriate, you still should not have spoken to her in that manner.”
McGonagall held up a hand. “However much you dislike one of your professors, you still owe them basic courtesy and respect. As your Head of House, it is my duty to make sure you are acting like a proper young man. I think it is safe to believe that Professor Umbridge send you here to make sure you were properly punished.”
Her intense gaze softened the barest touch. “However, I am not going to give you detention until the end of your seventh year. While you known as prankster, I know that you and George are both bright. You don’t normally do things like this, and I trust that this won’t happen again. Your subversion of the rules is usually much cleverer. Consider my disappointment as sufficient punishment.”
Fred swallowed thickly. He was reminded very strongly of his mother. He looked at the desk, unable to meet McGonagall’s eyes. “I’m sorry, Professor,” he said. “I acted rashly, and it won’t happen again.”
“Good.” She pushed the box towards him. “Chocolate?”
Much to Fred’s surprise, the box actually did contain chocolates from Honeydukes. He took one, albeit a bit warrily.
McGonagall took one for herself. “There’s something else I wanted to talk to you about. I’ve heard Professor Umbridge complaining recently about unreadable homework assignments. This seems like exactly the kind of thing you and George would be behind.”
“Um, yes. We can stop, if you want.” he said hurriedly.
McGonagall waved the hand holding the chocolate lazily. “It’s actually rather clever. Managing to take all of the glitches in Spell-Check Quills, then somehow enchant ink to enact the glitches? That is no small feat of magic. How’d you do it?”
Fred perked up with excitement. While he might not be the most diligent student, he loved talking about the magic behind his inventions. “First we stripped the layers of enchantments off Spell-Check Quills to examine them individually. We needed to see what made them work, before we could find the problems. There’s a lot of really cool stuff behind the seemingly simplistic idea. The problems the arise after long use is because the bindings between the individual spells. It’s like, a, um, a clock!” His hands danced around excitedly as he explained. “The little cogs and gears hold everything together, but they need to be cleaned are repaired every so often, right? But there’s no way to reinforce the bindings, so things break down, and in a very specific way. George and I figured out how they fail, and then made them fail in spectacular ways. From there, it was simple enough to put the intentionally faulty enchantments on ink.”
“Fascinating,” McGonagall breathed. “That is truly remarkable. Reverse engineering the spells, the scientific process of observation… You could have a bright future. As long as you keep doing this, practicing, I see no end to the ingenious things you could invent. If you ever need any guidance or advice, please don’t hesitate to come to me.
She pushed the box of chocolates towards Fred again. “Take one for your twin, why don’t you? Classes will be ending soon, you may head back to your dorm instead of going back to class.”
He couldn’t have been given a clearer dismissal. Fred grabbed one of the raspberry truffles for George, and left the office. He walked back to the common room in a daze. He wasn’t to waste away in detention, writing lines, nor was he to be hung from his thumbs in one of the dungeons. And if he had understood the conversation correctly, McGonagall had given her blessing to their troublemaking. This day was certainly more interesting than he ever could have imagined.