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Sam emerged from her dorm with a less-than-enthused expression. She managed not to glare at anyone else, but man did she hate mornings. The dorm room, shared with several more girls including Hermione, didn’t help much either.

When she looked around the cozy common room, she realized that she would have to find the way to the Great Hall on her own. And while she could navigate just fine – and had paid close attention while walking to the common room with Neville – the castle was enchanted and had a bad habit of moving around.

She groaned, pushing her hands into her eyes. Why were wizards so annoying?

But then she spotted a small group of three people disappearing down the stairs at the entrance of the room. The big bushy hair, combined with shaggy black and messy red, must’ve been Hermione, Harry, and Ron. Thank god.

Rushing over there, she just managed to catch the tail-end of their conversation. “--because in case you haven’t noticed, Ron and I are on your side.”

A silence fell, then Harry answered in a low voice, “Sorry.”

Feeling increasingly uncomfortable at overhearing – and cutting in – Sam approached the three anyway. “Hey guys, sorry to interrupt but, uh, mind if I tag along to the Great Hall?”

“That’s quite alright,” Hermione said, looking from Harry to her – and Sam wasn’t entirely sure who she was talking to, exactly. Might’ve been both, actually. “We were just talking about how dumb Lavender was being last night.”

“Oh, the whole ‘Harry is lying about Voldemort thing’?” Sam snorted dismissively. “Yeah. I can’t believe people would lie about that. I can say a lot of bad things about the people back in Amity, but at least they weren’t stupid enough to accuse people of lying about the real threats that loomed over them.”

“You don’t think it’s a lie, then? Voldemort’s return?” Harry’s eyes were narrowed, somewhat suspiciously.

“Of course I don’t!” Sam rolled her eyes. Harry reminded her of Danny when he was being paranoid – and she didn’t like Danny when he was being paranoid. It was even less endearing on someone she barely knew. “Look, I’m friends with Phantom, right? And he wouldn’t be here, be involved, if this wasn’t a genuine threat. Besides,” she shrugged, faux-casual, “I don’t think you’re a liar, Harry, especially since you’ve got nothing to gain from it.”

He hummed, thoughtful. “I suppose I should’ve thought about that. Phantom, I mean.”

“We shouldn’t fall into this in-fighting, though,” Hermione said. “It’s as Dumbledore said, last year. You-Know-Who’s greatest strength is his ability to spread discord and enmity. He’s barely been back and already we’re fighting among ourselves. Even the Sorting Hat warned for it, that we should stand together and be united--”

“And Harry got it right last night,” Ron interrupted her. “If that means we’re supposed to get matey with the Slytherins – fat chance.”

“Then don’t,” Sam bit back with a frown. “As long as you’re not openly hostile. Let the rest of us, who don’t care about this dumb house thing, make friends and unite. Just don’t drive the others away and we will take care of the unification.”

They reached the foot of the marble staircase. Some other students were moving around the Entrance Hall, although they all seemed to avoid Harry.

“Yeah, we really ought to be trying to make friends with people like that,” Harry said sarcastically.

“It’ll be your funeral,” Sam bit back.

They entered the Great Hall, and while the other three seemed to look at the staff table, Sam instead sought out her friends. Both were already there, Tucker chatting with a bunch of other Ravenclaws and Danny sitting somewhat separated from the crowd. Still, a few other Slytherins sat near him, and they appeared to be speaking on and off.

Like the previous night, none of the houses seemed inclined to mingle. But she wasn’t sure how the magic behind the food worked – if she moved to sit with one of her friends, would she not get her share? Better wait until after, then.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione had started talking about something else, but Sam had tuned out the conversation. A tall girl joined them – black with long braided hair – and immediately started talking to Harry, who had greeted her as “Angelina”.

“Hi,” she said briskly, “Good summer?” Immediately she continued speaking, not giving anyone a chance to answer. “Listen, I’ve been made Gryffindor Quidditch Captain.”

Sam resisted the temptation to sigh. Oh, brilliant, sports. She wondered if Danny’s natural ability to fly would help or hinder him while flying on a broomstick, tuning out the Quidditch conversation.

When the other three sat down, she did as well. Ron and Hermione had chosen one bench, with Harry sitting opposite, so she joined him on that one. Apparently breakfast was a continuous activity, since the food was already present. Not entirely surprising, she supposed. Would dinner always be a group activity, or was yesterday just because it was the first day? Shocking, the kind of things people didn’t bother explaining to newcomers.

Then, with an enormous noise, hundreds of owls came soaring through the upper windows of the Hall. Even more annoyingly, they showered everyone in the room with droplets of water. Apparently it was raining outside.

A large and damp barn owl landed in front of Hermione, carrying a soaked newspaper. Oh, how thankful Sam was for modern ectoplasm-based technology.

“What are you still getting that for?” Harry asked irritably as Hermione placed a Knut in the pouch the owl was carrying. “I’m not bothering… load of rubbish.”

“It’s best to know what the enemy is saying,” Hermione answered with a dark tone. Sam has to repress a smile at that – it sounded exactly like something she would say. The girl unfurled the newspaper and disappeared behind it, remaining there for the rest of the meal.

Harry and Ron turned out to be unfortunately much like Danny and Tucker; they were too focused on their food to make much conversation. Normally it would bother her more, but it was still early and she wasn’t interested in talking with them either.

Professor McGonagall was already moving along the table by the time Hermione rolled up the newspaper.

“Nothing,” she said, looking at Harry. “Nothing about you or Dumbledore or anything.”

The professor stopped to hand them their schedules, and Ron groaned. “Look at today! History of Magic, double Potions, Divination and double Defense Against the Dark Arts… Binns, Snape, Trelawney and that Umbridge woman all in one day! I wish Fred and George’d hurry up and get those Skiving Snackboxes sorted…”

“Do mine ears deceive me?” Fred asked, appearing from nowhere with George by his side.

Sam, who was already planning to head over to her actual friends, stood up to make place for them. With a grateful nod the two squeezed onto the bench next to Harry and continued their conversation.

With the schedule in hand, Sam strode over to the table furthest from hers – the Slytherin table. Danny had finished eating and was holding his own paper, listening absently to one of the other Slytherin boys.

“Hey Slytherin,” she greeted amicably as she stopped behind him. Danny stirred awake, turning to look at her.

“Hey Gryffindor.” He smiled like she was a sight for sore eyes – which she might very well be, since she felt the same way about seeing him and Tucker.

But apparently the other Slytherins didn’t agree, based on the glares she was receiving. One of them, the stringy kid Danny had been listening to, spoke up. “Hey Gryffindor, what do you think you’re doing here? Shove off.”

“I’m comparing my schedule with my friend.” She rolled her eyes as she held up the sheet of parchment. “Danny, scoot over, will you?”

Grinning even wider, the boy did as asked. Sam sat down, and saw Tucker rushing over from the Ravenclaw table as well. She waited another moment for him to join her and Danny before she unfolded her schedule and laid it next to Danny’s.

“Alright, let’s see. Classes are held with two houses at the same time, so between the three of us we should share most classes, yeah?”

“Man, we need some kind of color marking for this,” Tucker mumbled, unrolling his own schedule as well. He glanced over the three sheets, brow creased in concentration. “Looks like the classes go in pairs. History of Magic and Herbology, Potions and Charms, and Transfiguration and Defense Against the Dark Arts.”

“Muggle Studies we all share,” Danny said, finger sliding over the paper to point it out. “But Sam and I have Care of Magical Creatures while Tucker has nothing and vice versa. Must be matched with some other elective, then.”

“Looks like I share Transfiguration and DADA with Tucker, and Potions and Charms with Danny. Besides the just-established Care of Magical Creatures, that is.” Sam leaned closer over the schedules, as if that would make them any more readable.

“That’s… unfortunate,” Danny muttered, frowning. “Charms, Transfiguration, and DADA would’ve been the best subjects to share. And Tucker and I have Herbology together, so we can’t even count on your expertise.”

“We can always study together, which we definitely should.” Sam looked up at him to emphasize the last word even more. “And you’ve got History together as well, lucky you. I heard that that class is awful. Like, the teacher is Lancer-bad.”

“Ugh.” Tucker made a face, looking back at their schedules. “And you’re starting with that, huh? Have fun, dude.”

“Yeah, thanks.” Sam grabbed her schedule again, getting ready to get to class. “We have a break after this first class, right? Want to meet up for it?”

“Of course. But apparently those short breaks are outside unless the weather is bad, so…” Danny shrugged. “Tuck and I will find you, or you’ll find us, right?”

“Sounds good,” Sam agreed, pushing herself off of the bench. “See you guys later.”

“Bye!” both boys chorused.

Draco watched the new Slytherin student from several seats away. He had considered joining the boy for breakfast, but Nott had already been with him. They shared a dorm, Draco thought, so he supposed it made sense.

Still, it was worth keeping an eye on this… Danny Fenton. Transfer students were exceptionally rare in Hogwarts. He knew this, had double-checked it for certainty. So why was this one here?

Two other students their age joined the transfer student, a Gryffindor girl and a Ravenclaw boy. Draco’s eyes narrowed further. He didn’t recognize either of them. Were they... also transfer students?

Yes, their chatter certainly seemed to suggest so. A group of friends, split across the houses? How… strange. What would bring three transfer students to Hogwarts? Especially now, of all times. American students coming to Britain while Voldemort had just risen?

From the moment he learned of Fenton’s existence, the day before, Draco had already decided to keep an eye on the boy. And the rumors he’d heard today, well.

They seemed divided, of course. Some mentioned a new ghost, silver and transparent as they all were. Others talked of a poltergeist. And, most bizarre, were those that suggested both; a hybrid of sorts, carrying traits of both ghosts and poltergeists.

And with this sort of timing? Surely it must’ve come along with Fenton. Him, and his other transfer students, more than likely.

It would definitely be worth learning about. He would just have to befriend this new Slytherin. Maybe teach him a little about how things worked around here.

Sooner or later his friends would abandon him, regardless. A Slytherin could not get along with a Ravenclaw, and definitely not with a Gryffindor. All Draco had to do was make himself a viable backup.

Easy enough, he was sure.

Sam rushed outside, spotting Tucker and Danny huddled together in a secluded corner of the yard. Speeding over there, she quickly ducked under the same cover – there was still a misty drizzle falling.

“Looks like you survived History of Magic alright,” Danny commented once she was close enough to hear.

“Yeah, but you won’t.” She pulled her cloak in tighter against the wet cold. “It’s such a shame too, because it definitely sounds interesting.”

“Was it really that bad?” Danny asked with a worried frown. “I mean, we survived Lancer, right? How much worse could this guy be?”

“A lot worse, for you in particular.” Seeing his confused expression, she rolled her eyes. “Professor Binns is a ghost. And he’s got this really droning voice, keeps on speaking without ever pausing. It might’ve been the longest hour and a half in my life.”

“He’s a ghost,” Danny hissed, incredulous. “At least Wizarding ghosts don’t set off my ghost sense so badly, but come on! They’re so stuck in the past, I can’t imagine that they make good teachers.”

“Sounds like he doesn’t,” Tucker agreed with a grimace. “I guess we’ll find out soon enough. We’ve got History of Magic tomorrow afternoon, last lesson of the day.”

“He even gave us homework! A foot-and-a-half on giant wars.” Sam shrugged, leaning back against one of the pillars holding up their cover. “Did the Herbology teacher as well, what’s her name, Sprout?”

“Yup.” Danny sighed, combing his fingers through his hair. “A nice long essay, too. But apparently that’s normal around here – copious amounts of homework, that is.”

“What, the lessons weren’t long enough yet?” She shook her head dismissively. “At least we can work on it together. Can’t be much harder than the improvising we’ve been doing, right?”

“Yeah, it’s a shame that we don’t share Astronomy with Danny, but nothing’s stopping us from copying his notes.” Tucker grinned and jabbed the boy in the side. “Right, Danny?”

“Duh. Plus, the more time we save on homework, the more time we can spend exploring the castle.” Danny turned to look at the massive structure, a small crease in his brow. “Apparently there’s a nasty poltergeist as well. Not inherently violent, but he goes too far with his jokes. I told the ghosts I would keep an eye on him, since they knew The Great Danny Phantom, and all that.”

“They won’t spill your secret, will they?” Sam asked, stamping down her worry. If there was a problem Danny would’ve told them sooner, right?

“Nah, they don’t know I’m only half ghost.” He shrugged, looking back again. “So we should be fine. But there’s a lot of secret corridors and passageways and such, which is how most people move around the school, so we definitely need to work on learning those as well.”

“And find a spot for you to practice your ghost powers?” Tucker grinned knowingly. “When do you want to do that, anyway? It feels like we barely have any time for ourselves with how long these school days are.”

“I dunno. The evenings, I guess.” Danny frowned, looking at the ground as he thought. “Pretty sure you’re not supposed to be out and about that late, but if they can’t see us they won’t catch us, right?”

“That’s the spirit!” Sam clapped him on the shoulder, then glanced at her watch. “We better get going if we want to beat the crowd to Potions. Do you know where the classroom is, Danny?”

“It’s in the dungeons, I think somewhere near the stairs.” He turned to Tucker, shooting him a short wave. “See you in the Great Hall afterwards?”

“Yeah. You guys have an hour and a half off afterwards, too, while I have Care of Magical Creatures.” Tucker made a face. “Might be best to get a head start on homework, it’ll be easier to explore the castle when it’s later.”

They both nodded, then strode off towards the castle. Right as they reached it the bell went, and they were allowed in right at the front of the crowd. The classroom was found easily enough, although they were unfortunately made to wait anyway.

She and Danny continued to talk in hushed tones, which drew a surprising amount of attention from their fellow students. Apparently Gryffindor and Slytherin students really didn’t mix. Luckily for them they were practically immune to peer pressure.

The dungeon door creaked open, allowing the students to file into the classroom. Immediately the students seemed to split, Gryffindors taking the tables in the back and Slytherins taking the tables in the front. Sam and Danny shared an uncertain glance, but already students from either house were gesturing at them, trying to coax them to split up.

With another glance and a shrug they followed the silent commands. Sam sat down in the back next to Neville, while Danny wandered over to the front and was pulled into a seat by a blonde Slytherin.

Neville looked uncertainly between her, Danny, and the boy next to Danny, but didn’t get a chance to comment; Professor Snape shut the door and the whole class shushed.

“Before we begin today’s lesson,” Snape said, sweeping over to his desk and staring around at them all, “I think it appropriate to remind you that next June you will be sitting an important examination, during which you will prove how much you have learned about the composition and use of magical potions. Moronic though some of this class undoubtedly are, I expect you to scrape an ‘Acceptable’ in your OWL, or suffer my… displeasure.”

His gaze turned – and lingered – on Neville, who gulped. Immediately, Sam glared back at the teacher. This was one of Hogwarts’ best?

“After this year, of course, many of you will cease studying with me,” Snape went on, finally looking away again. “I take only the very best into my NEWT Potions class, which means that some of us will certainly be saying goodbye.”

The man turned to rest his eyes on someone else – another Gryffindor, but Sam didn’t bother to look who – and his lip curled. She was starting to wistfully think back to her old magic lessons, taught by Ida Manson. She might not have been one of the ‘top wizards in modern Wizarding society at a very prestigious school’ but at least she was nice.

“But we have another year to go before that happy moment of farewell,” Snape continued at a softer tone. “So, whether or not you are intending to attempt NEWT, I advise you all to concentrate your efforts upon maintaining the high pass level I have come to expect from my OWL students.

“Today we will be mixing a potion that often comes up at Ordinary Wizarding Level: the Draught of Peace, a potion to calm anxiety and soothe agitation. Be warned: if you are too heavy-handed with the ingredients you will put the drinker into a heavy and sometimes irreversible sleep, so you will need to pay close attention to what you are doing.”

With a subtle movement Snape pulled his wand out of his robes. “The ingredients and method are on the blackboard,” he flicked the wand and they appeared there. “You will find everything you need in the store cupboard,” another flick of his wand as the door of said cupboard sprang open. “You have two and a half hours… start.”

The potion, as it turned out, was an incredibly fiddly and difficult potion. Order and quantities had to be followed exactly, stirring had to be done an exact number of times in the right direction, and the heat of the flames had to be tweaked to just the right temperature several times.

“A light silver vapor should now be rising from your potion,” Snape called with ten more minutes left to go.

Sam looked at her cauldron, inspecting the color. It wasn’t quite right – she would call it a shimmery gray, not silver – but it was overall pretty close. She risked a glance to the side, but found that Neville’s potion had the wrong consistency altogether – it was thick like just-mixed cement, somehow.

The professor swept past her, barely sparing her a glance. She watched him as he stopped by Harry, as a smirk crept onto his face. She had a bad feeling about this…

“Potter, what is this supposed to be?”

The Slytherins at the front of the class all looked up. Most of them seemed eager to watch, but Danny was frowning.

“The Draught of Peace,” Harry replied tensely.

“Tell me, Potter,” Snape said, his voice soft but still loud enough to carry in the now-silent classroom. “Can you read?”

A couple of people at the front of the classroom laughed. Sam was delighted to see Danny glare at the boy next to him, who seemed to be laughing the loudest.

“Yes, I can.” Harry’s brows had pulled together, and he seemed to be refraining himself from getting angry.

“Read the third line of the instructions for me, Potter.”

Sam looked away, tuning out the rest of the conversation. She’d seen enough. Danny caught her eye, a short nod, apparently agreeing. They would definitely be talking with Tucker about this. Maybe they could even find a way to report this, somehow. Surely this wasn’t an acceptable way of conduct towards students?

“Those of you who have managed to read the instructions, fill one flagon with a sample of your potion, label it clearly with your name and bring it up to my desk for testing,” said Snape, raising his voice again and thus catching her attention again. “Homework: twelve inches of parchment on the properties of moonstone and its uses in potion-making, to be handed in on Thursday.”

She did as tasked, quickly filling a flagon with her potion. Then she watched Neville struggle to scoop some of his own – its consistency hadn’t improved. Leaning over, she asked, quietly, “Is he always like that?”

The boy startled, glancing between her and then the teacher. “Professor Snape? Uh, yeah. Although he often rags on me as well, and the other Gryffindors if he finds an opportunity for it.”

“Not the Slytherins?” She looked over to where Danny was bottling his own potion – it was a slightly darker gray than her own. “Even if they’re bad?”

“Yep.” Neville looked at his flagon with an unhappy expression. “He’s got something against all houses but his own, but Gryffindor has it worst. It’s that rivalry between our houses, I think.” He shook his head, then looked at her. “Don’t think you’ll be safe from him just because you’re friends with a Slytherin – it won’t last, anyhow, with that house he’s in.”

“Danny and I have been friends since childhood. We’re not gonna let some stupid house feud tear us apart.” She packed her things, perhaps putting a little more force behind her actions than she’d intended in her anger. “I was gonna offer to help you with your potion, next time, but if you’re gonna treat my friends like that…”

“No, no!” Neville raised his hands placatingly. “It’s just… Never mind. I hope for you that he stays your friend. I’m just warning you that things might change.”

She snorted dismissively. “Change isn’t always bad, Neville. Maybe the change will be that this stupid in-fighting stops. Maybe the students will listen to the Sorting Hat and unite. Or maybe things will stay as they have always been, and Danny and I will stay friends despite the stupidity of our houses.”

Grabbing the flagon with her potion, she made her way to Snape’s desk and dropped it off. As she walked out of the classroom, Danny joined her.

“I can’t believe that my Head of house is like that towards other houses,” he muttered venomously. “Do you think he’s like this all the time?”

“Neville said so.” She shrugged as they entered the Great Hall. “Might be even worse, actually. Normally he rags on all the Gryffindors, and Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff too, to some extent.”

“Yikes.” Danny glanced over the tables, still split into separate houses. “Let’s grab lunch with our houses, then we’ll unite with Tuck afterwards and go look for the library.”

“Sounds good.” She nodded, and they separated.

Lunch was a lot like breakfast – students came and went, although they mostly went in big droves this time instead of appearing whenever convenient. She kept an eye on Tucker and Danny, and when all three of them finished eating she stood up and waved them over.

“So, library?” she asked when they joined her at the doors of the Great Hall.

“Sounds good. I don’t think that there are any non-house-restricted spaces for us to practice magic in, so we might as well work on the essays.” Tucker shoved his hands in his pockets with a small shrug. “We had to practice the Summoning Charm for Charms, by the way. Homework is to find a counter-charm for it.”

“Ugh, great.” She scuffed her shoe on one of the stairs they were climbing, disgruntled. “For a super-special school for magic, this place frigging sucks.”

“No kidding,” Danny heartily agreed. “Super-boring ghost teacher, crazy Potions teacher… who knows what else! And the homework, ugh.”

They paused in the hall, glancing around at the moving stairs.

“So, uh.” Tucker looked at Sam and Danny. “Do either of you know where the library is, or are we just gonna wander around in the hopes of finding it?”

“We could… ask someone?” Sam suggested, searching for someone to ask. But the hall appeared empty – everyone must still be at lunch. “Or, uh, maybe not.”

But Danny seemed to have spotted someone, because he sped off suddenly. “Excuse me, sir!” he called, waving a hand.

Sam and Tucker shared a glance, then raced after him. When they caught up to him, several steps away, they saw that he had found – and stopped – a Wizarding ghost.

The ghost, like all Wizarding ghosts, was pearly-white and semi-transparent. He held himself in a prim fashion, frowning at Danny with an expression somewhere between annoyance, confusion, and bafflement. Sam couldn’t place his clothing style – a large ruff, tights, breeches, and a doublet – but he seemed old anyway.

“Yes?” he asked Danny, his tone airy and delicate. “How may I help you, young Slytherin?”

Danny glanced over at Sam and Tucker, apparently only now realizing he had left them behind. Then he turned to face the ghost again, explaining himself. “We’re new to Hogwarts and we were looking for the library. Could you point us in the right direction?”

The ghost seemed even more confused now, eyeing the three of them. “Aren’t you a little old to be new to the school?”

“We’re transfer students,” Tucker explained hurriedly. “But can you help us, sir?”

He blinked, then nodded, his head wobbling strangely at the motion. “Ah, but of course. And please, call me Sir Nicholas de Mimsy Porpington.”

Grimacing, the three of them shared a quick glance. Tucker cleared his throat, then asked, carefully, “Um. Do you have something shorter we can call you?”

The ghost narrowed his eyes, then said, “Sir Nicholas will do as well.”

“Sir Nicholas.” Danny nodded towards the ghost, shifting like he was going to offer his hand but changed his mind. “Which way to the library, again?”

“It is right that way,” Nicholas said, gesturing with his hand. “On this floor, through that corridor, is the library. You can use it for your studies or for personal enjoyment, but make sure to follow Madam Pince’s rules. She does not allow eating, talking, laughing, whispering, sneezing, or scurrying in the library. Additionally, it closes at 8pm.”

Tucker frowned, ticking the rules off on his fingers. “Is that all, or…?”

“The books are also spelled to prevent students from defacing or stealing them.” Nicholas shifted aside so they could pass through the corridor without walking through him. “And the Restricted Section requires a signed note from one of the teachers. You can take out books, but only with Madam Pince’s permission.”

Sam nodded her thanks at the ghost. “Thank you, sir Nicholas. No one else has bothered to tell us about the rules so far, so we definitely would’ve broken some even if we found the library.”

“It is my job to help,” the ghost announced, tone light. “Now, you three best be on your way.”

They nodded and scurried off in the indicated direction. And indeed, there they found the library – an enormous room filled with thousands of shelves, sorted in hundreds of narrow rows.

“At least we can probably get away with talking,” Danny said, looking over the place. “There’s no way she can watch the entire thing.”

Tucker had to leave soon enough, but she and Danny had spent their entire spare period on the essays. They had decided to focus on Potions, first – it was shorter, and Professor Snape seemed like he would be angrier over unfinished work than Professor Binns.

As the bell rang she rushed over to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, where she would rejoin Tucker, waving goodbye to Danny as he headed off to Transfiguration.

Professor Umbridge was already in the classroom when she entered, wearing the same awful fluffy pink cardigan as the night before, but now with a black velvet bow on top of her head. It was, quite possibly, even worse than the clothes Sam’s mom suggested for her.

Since this class didn’t seem as divided as History of Magic and Potions, Sam and Tucker picked seats close to each other.

“Well, good afternoon!” Umbridge said when the whole class had sat down. The response was lackluster – only a few people mumbled a “good afternoon” back.

“Tut, tut,” she said, a small crease finding its way to her stoic face. “That won’t do, now, will it? I should like you, please, to reply “Good afternoon, Professor Umbridge”. One more time, please. Good afternoon, class!”

“Good afternoon, Professor Umbridge,” they chanted back at her. Sam rolled her eyes, catching Tucker’s chuckle in response.

“There, now,” Professor Umbridge purred. “That wasn’t too difficult, was it? Wands away and quills out, please.”

Sam exchanged a gloomy look with Tucker, and saw most of the class do the same. It wasn’t normal, then. Disappointing, but hopefully it wouldn’t happen too often – DADA was one of the most useful subjects to her, Tucker, and Danny.

Umbridge had pulled out her own wand, tapping it on the blackboard. Words formed almost immediately. ‘Defence Against the Dark Arts,’ it read, ‘A Return to Basic Principles.’

“Well now, your teaching in this subject has been rather disrupted and fragmented, hasn’t it?” Umbridge stated, clasping her hands neatly in front of her. “The constant changing of teachers, many of whom do not seem to have followed any Ministry-approved curriculum, has unfortunately resulted in your being far below the standard we would expect to see in your OWL year.

“You will be pleased to know, however, that these problems are now to be rectified. We will be following a carefully structured, theory-centered, Ministry-approved course of defensive magic this year. Copy down the following, please.”

Another tap on the blackboard, and the first message was replaced by a new one:

Course aims:
1. Understanding the principles of underlying defensive magic.
2. Learning to recognise situations in which defensive magic can legally be used.
3. Placing the use of defensive magic in a context for practical use.’

For a few minutes only the sound of scratching quills could be heard. When everyone had copied down the text, Umbridge asked, “Has everybody got a copy of Defensive Magical Theory by Wilbert Slinkhard?”

The class murmured assent, but Umbridge frowned like she didn’t quite like the answer.

“I think we’ll try that again,” she said. “When I ask you a question, I should like you to reply, “Yes, Professor Umbridge”, or “No, Professor Umbridge”. So: has everyone got a copy of Defensive Magical Theory by Wilbert Slinkhard?”

“Yes, Professor Umbridge,” rang through the room. Sam glanced at Tucker, making a face. He grinned back, barely stifling his laugh. Already she felt sorry for Danny; he would have to suffer through this alone. Hopefully he would make some friends among the Slytherins, despite Neville’s earlier fears. He just didn’t know Danny like she did, didn’t know how their friendship worked.

If they survived the supposed hatred between wizards and Muggles, they could survive a little house feud.

“Good,” Professor Umbridge said, gazing over the class. “I should like you to turn to page five and read ‘Chapter One, Basics for Beginners’. There will be no need to talk.”

She left the blackboard and settled herself in the chair behind the teacher’s desk, still eyeing them closely. Sam did as ordered, turning to the right page and settling down to read.

It was, simply said, boring. A quick glance confirmed that she wasn’t the only one feeling that way; most students seemed to blankly stare at the book. One stood out, however. Hermione hadn’t even opened her book, instead staring at the Professor with her hand in the air.

As Sam watched her fellow Gryffindor, the girl started catching the eyes of more and more of the students. When more than half the class was looking at the student instead of the book, Umbridge finally stopped ignoring her.

“Did you want to ask something about the chapter, dear?” she asked like she had only just noticed her.

“Not about the chapter, no.” Hermione lowered her hand but didn’t take her eyes off of the teacher.

“Well, we’re reading just now.” Umbridge smiled, all teeth and no kindness. “If you have other queries we can deal with them at the end of class.”

“I’ve got a query about your course aims,” Hermione insisted.

Professor Umbridge raised her eyebrows. “And your name is?”

“Hermione Granger.”

“Well, Miss Granger, I think the course aims are perfectly clear if you read through them carefully.” Umbridge’s voice was full of false sweetness. Sam had to stamp down her urge to fake-vomit.

“Well, I don’t,” Hermione said bluntly. “There’s nothing written up there about using defensive spells.”

A silence fell as many members in the class turned to frown at the blackboard. Had they really not noticed it earlier?

“Using defensive spells?” Professor Umbridge repeated with a little laugh. “Why, I can’t imagine any situation arising in my classroom that would require you to use a defensive spell, Miss Granger. You surely aren’t expecting to be attacked during class?”

“We’re not going to use magic?” Ron exclaimed loudly, apparently not having realized it either. Jesus, were they all this dumb?

“Students raise their hands when they wish to speak in my class, Mr.--?”

“Weasley,” Ron added, thrusting his hand into the air.

The Professor, smiling more widely, turned her back on him. Harry and Hermione raised their hands as well, and Sam and Tucker almost immediately followed suit.

Umbridge’s pouchy eyes glided over them, lingering on Harry for a moment. Then she addressed, unexpectedly, Hermione again. “Yes, Miss Granger? You wanted to ask something else?”

“Yes.” Hermione lowered her hand, eyes narrowed. “Surely the whole point of Defense Against the Dark Arts is to practice defensive spells?”

“Are you a Ministry-trained educational expert, Miss Granger?” Umbridge asked in her falsely sweet voice.

“No, but--”

“Well then, I’m afraid you are not qualified to decide what the “whole point” of any class is. Wizards much older and cleverer than you have devised our new program of study. You will be learning about defensive spells in a secure, risk-free way--”

“What use is that?” Harry snapped, interrupted Umbridge. “If we’re going to be attacked, it won’t be in a--”

“Hand, Mr. Potter!” Umbridge sang.

Harry thrust his hand in the air, but Professor Umbridge turned away from him again. More people raised their hands now, and Tucker managed to catch her attention – perhaps she hoped that he would be on her side, as a Ravenclaw.

“And your name is?” she asked him.

“Tucker Foley.” He, too, lowered his hand, apparently aware of the attention of the whole class.

“Well, Mr. Foley?”

Tucker cleared his throat. “I think Harry’s right. If we’re going to be attacked, it won’t be risk free.”

“I repeat,” Umbridge said, smiling at him, “Do you expect to be attacked during my classes?”

“Well, no--”

She continued speaking, talking over him like he didn’t even exist. “I do not wish to criticize the way things have been run in this school, but you have been exposed to some very irresponsible wizards in this class.” An unconvincing smile stretched her wide mouth. “Very irresponsible indeed – not to mention,” she gave a nasty little laugh, “extremely dangerous half-breeds.”

Sam’s fists balled immediately, and Tucker’s face fell into a deep frown as well. They should’ve expected it – a Ministry drone would, of course, follow their views on half-breeds. But somehow it still came as a painful blow, a harsh reminder that Danny wouldn’t be seen as human to people like her.

“If you mean Professor Lupin,” Ron piped up again, angrily, “He was the best we ever--”

“Hand, Mr. Weasley! As I was saying – you have been introduced to spells that have been complex, inappropriate to your age group and potentially lethal. You have been frightened into believing you are likely to meet Dark attacks every other day--”

“No we haven’t,” Hermione said, “We just--”

“Your hand is not up, Miss Granger!”

Hermione put up her hand, but Umbridge once again turned away from her.

“It is my understanding that my predecessor not only performed illegal curses in front of you, he actually performed them on you.” Oh my god, really? What was wrong with this school?

“Well, he turned out to be a maniac, didn’t he?” Ron said hotly. “Mind you, we still learned loads.”

“Your hand is not up, Mr. Weasley!” trilled Professor Umbridge. “Now, it is the view of the Ministry that a theoretical knowledge will be more than sufficient to get you through your examination, which, after all, is what school is about. And your name is?” she added, staring at another Gryffindor girl who had just raised her hand. Sam would’ve been pissed at being ignored in favor of someone else, but she was already overflowing with anger.

“Parvati Patil,” the girl introduced herself. “And isn’t there a practical bit in our Defense Against the Dark Arts OWL? Aren’t we supposed to show that we can actually do the counter-curses and things?”

“And long as you have studied the theory hard enough, there is no reason why you should not be able to perform the spells under carefully controlled examination conditions,” Umbridge said dismissively.

“Without every practicing them beforehand?” Parvati asked, incredulous. “Are you telling us that the first time we’ll get to do the spells will be during our exam?”

“I repeat, as long as you have studied the theory hard enough--”

“And what good’s theory going to be in the real world?” Harry asked loudly, unexpectedly, thrusting his fist in the air again.

Umbridge looked up, then said, softly, “This is school, Mr. Potter, not the real world.”

“So we’re not supposed to be prepared for what’s waiting for us out there?”

“There is nothing waiting out there, Mr. Potter.” Harry seemed to be fuming under her replies, and Sam honestly couldn’t blame him – she had been itching to do the same. She had only barely restrained herself – causing a scene wouldn’t help her or Danny. “Who do you imagine wants to attack children like yourselves?” Umbridge asked, voice dripping like honey.

“Hmm, let’s think…” Harry said, mock thoughtful. “Maybe… Lord Voldemort?”

Reactions among the students were varied – and extreme. Some gasped, but others uttered little screams. Neville even slipped sideways off of his stool.

Umbridge, however, didn’t flinch. She was staring at Harry with a grimly satisfied expression on her face. “Ten points from Gryffindor, Mr. Potter.”

Silence fell as everyone was staring at either her or Harry.

“Now, let me make a few things quite plain.” She stood up, leaning closer to the class, her stubby fingers splayed on her desk. “You have been told that a certain Dark wizard has returned from the dead--”

“He wasn’t dead,” Harry snapped, “But yeah, he’s returned!”

Mr.-Potter-you-have-already-lost-your-house-ten-points-do-not-make-matters-worse-for-yourself,” Umbridge said in a single breath, not even looking at him. “As I was saying, you have been informed that a certain Dark wizard is at large once again. This is a lie.”

“It’s not a lie!” Harry exclaimed. Quietly, Sam had to marvel at his stubborn fury – it was a lot like hers, a year ago. Nowadays she knew better. Had to know better. How to apply her anger best, when to stamp it down lest she needlessly endanger others with it. “I saw him, I fought him!”

“Detention, Mr. Potter!” Professor Umbridge declared triumphantly. “Tomorrow evening, seven o’clock. My office. I repeat, this is a lie. The Ministry of Magic guarantees that you are not in danger from any Dark wizard. If you are still worried, by all means come and see me outside class hours. If someone is alarming you with fibs about reborn Dark wizards, I would like to hear about it. I am here to help. I am your friend. And now, you will kindly continue your reading. Page five, ‘Basics for Beginners’.”

She sat down behind her desk, and Sam was ready for this discussion to be over. Harry, however, stood up, drawing everyone’s attention back to him. Hermione whispered something at him, tugging at his sleeve, but Harry jerked his arm out of her reach.

Ah, so he really was as bad as she had been. Righteous or not, anger wasn’t always the right answer. At least someone was shouting at Umbridge – it was easier to stop herself from doing it this way, even if Harry would now take all the heat for it.

“So, according to you, Cedric Diggory dropped dead of his own accord, did he?” Harry asked, his voice shaking.

A collective intake of breath from the class. Sam and Tucker might not know the context behind this, but it was hard to miss the meaning – Lord Voldemort must’ve killed someone, somehow, here.

Umbridge raised her eyes, staring without a trace of false cheeriness. “Cedric Diggory’s death was a tragic accident,” she declared, voice cold and hard.

“It was murder.” Harry shook, barely visible. “Voldemort killed him and you know it.”

Umbridge’s face was blank. For a long moment, nothing happened. Then, in her softest, sweetest, girliest voice, she said, “Come here, Mr. Potter, dear.”

Sam watched Harry kick his chair aside, striding past his friends and towards the desk. Umbridge pulled a small roll of pink parchment out of her handbag, stretched it out on her desk, dipped her quill into a bottle of ink, and started scribbling something. With how hunched over she was, Sam doubted that even Harry could see what Umbridge was writing.

After a minute or so of absolute silence, Professor Umbridge rolled up the parchment and tapped it with her wand – it sealed up seamlessly. “Take this to Professor McGonagall, dear,” she said, holding the note out to Harry.

Harry took the note without saying a word, turning on his heel without even looking at his friends. The door slammed shut behind him – he was gone.