Fire & Ice
Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on the Harry Potter universe. All recognizable characters, plots, and settings are the exclusive property of J.K Rowling. I make no claim to ownership.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to my editor Athena Hope, as well as my other betas 3CP, Fezzik, Luq707, Raven, Regress, and Yoshi89 for their incredible work on this story.
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September 27, 1995
The Second Floor, Hogwarts
Harry strode onto the first landing of the marble staircase with light and purposeful footsteps. The din of conversation rising from the Great Hall almost directly below him wafted up like thick, billowing steam. Its sound was as tempting as the scent of freshly baked bread with the butter still melting, but he did not relent. The longer the meal stretched on downstairs, the more convenient it was for Harry. So long as the toad-faced tyrant stayed seated at the staff table, his plan should go off without a hitch.
The noise grew fainter as he moved further away from the staircase and took turn after turn. The corridors really were a maze. Many of the newest crop of first years must still be struggling with them, just like Harry remembered doing himself four years earlier. The twisting halls seemed to never end and there was often very little to distinguish one ancient stone wall from another. Torch brackets hung on most of them, and the suits of armour that lined the corridors were uniform. It took a great deal of practice to know where one was at all times.
Harry had wished for the noise to fade a minute or so earlier so he could focus, but he found himself missing it now that it had. The meal could end at any moment and he would be caught unaware. There was also a certain level of comfort provided by the herd of voices. Now, he was left entirely to his own thoughts and doubts.
He had found himself both wishing for and hating the quiet as of late. The constant droning of people who wanted things from him was draining in ways he couldn’t seem to handle. Friends who wanted nothing from him had become few and far between this year. Harry was quickly realizing they were a precious commodity that he could do with more of.
He could have used one of them now. Never before had he attempted to break into a professor’s office. Not one that had defences and not alone. Of all the chaos he had stirred whilst residing in the castle, that was not among his many escapades and he began to doubt his ability to pull it off the closer he drew to the horrible room.
Harry forced himself to remember all that had happened during the summer and since arriving back at Hogwarts. Everything since Voldemort’s return had been a colossal pain in the neck. There was hardly a single second of it he could look back on fondly, and the more time that seemed to stretch on, the more and more riled up Harry became and the less he desired to wait for others to take action. He had found himself sympathizing with Sirius lately. He could scarcely imagine what it must feel like to be locked up in Grimmauld Place whilst the world descended into quiet chaos as a three-way cold war was waged from behind the scenes.
This past summer was hardly the first miserable one Harry had ever been through. It was the worst to him because of the anxiety induced by not knowing what was going on, but it was hardly the first. Awful summers had become a sort of annual tradition since his enrollment in Hogwarts. What had been less standard thus far was the school year itself.
Hogwarts had been the first and only home Harry had ever known. He had always been able to rely on the castle, even when things on Privet Drive had looked especially bleak. Despite the dangers that seemed always to loom just out of sight and lunge at Harry from areas unseen, there was no place on earth that made him happier than Hogwarts.
Until Dolores Umbridge had shown up in all her lurid glory, descending down on them like a pink demon from the depths of hell.
She had been annoyingly successful so far. Not only had she sucked the life out of Harry’s favourite subject and single-handedly ensured that half of his year would fail their upcoming OWL exams, but she had also gone to horrendous lengths to secure her position as Hogwarts’ newest and most cruel authority figure. Argus Filch suddenly seemed like the most popular kid in school next to Umbridge, the metaphorical outcast loathed by all.
Just thinking about the woman made Harry seethe. Anger bubbled in the pit of his stomach. It was red hot and so turbulent that he felt it sloshing about like restless waves surging forth with destructive vigour. It was the same anger that had risen within him that first night at Grimmauld Place; an intense, all-consuming haze that made everything else fade to the background. Everything but the stabbing prickle of pain emanating from the still-raw skin on the back of Harry’s hand. He paused his stride for a moment and lifted his arm, allowing his hand to protrude just enough from under the invisibility cloak for him to make out the swollen pink letters that had been painfully carved into his skin.
I must not tell lies.
The words echoed inside Harry’s head. It was like someone had stood inside his skull and shouted them, just to hear them thrown back. It was deafening and it crushed all of Harry’s lingering doubts in a single heartbeat.
When the door of Umbridge’s office loomed up ahead, his vice-like grip tightened still on his wand and he marched forward with renewed purpose.
October 1, 1995
The Great Hall
NEWLY-APPOINTED HOGWARTS HIGH INQUISITOR INTRODUCES HER INQUISITORIAL SQUAD
By Barnabus Cuffe
“This rag can’t be serious,” Ron muttered after scanning the newspaper Hermione had passed him and Harry.
The school had been in quite the frenzy since the news had leaked that Umbridge had returned one night to find her office in complete disarray and many of her possessions damaged beyond repair. Harry had listened to all of it with a triumphant glee.
Umbridge had been in a storming mood ever since and she had made his most recent Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson a living hell. It was no secret who the High Inquisitor thought was responsible for the chaos, but there was no possible way for her to prove it. Not that she cared about proof or ethics. Harry had been issued more detentions on the pretence of disrespect shown during the last lesson, but he hardly cared.
Yet this had not been part of his plans. A group of select students made up almost entirely of Slytherins that would serve as Umbridge’s personal enforcement squad. The article made it sound like they would have all the powers assigned to prefects and that they would serve not the school, but Umbridge and Umbridge alone.
It was horrid. Harry could see that many of the staff agreed with him. Professor Flitwick was considerably less energetic than normal and Professor McGonagall looked as though she had bitten into something foul. Dumbledore looked as unperturbed as ever, but Harry was sure even he was beginning to grow uneasy. If Umbridge was allowed to continue her reign of terror unchecked, there was no telling how dark and dreary the halls of Hogwarts could become.
Harry glanced from the newspaper, to his friends, and back again. “Fine. I’m in.”
Ron’s head jerked up. “You’re… what?”
“I’m in. I’ll do it; I’ll teach you lot Defence, along with whoever else wants in.”
Ron looked like he had been run over by the flying Ford Anglia his father had once owned, but Hermione’s beaming smile stretched so wide it looked fit to fall from her face.
October 7, 1995
The Slytherin Common Room
Daphne’s head lulled as the crackling of the fire played like a soft and soothing harmony. Her eyelids flickered in unison with the fire as she fought to stay awake. It had been a long and tiresome month. Many of the students had wondered after the first week or two whether the workload would relent. Some thought the teachers were just giving them a brief taste of what they were up against this spring, but those optimists had been disproven in short and forceful order. The work just didn’t stop coming; it seemed to slam against all of them like how the black water outside sloshed against the common room’s porthole over and over again.
That wasn’t helping her stay awake, either. Once the sun set, all light beneath the Black Lake’s surface vanished and their common room was plunged into complete and total darkness sans the fire, torches, and lanterns casting ghostly green light about the room.
She realized she had fallen asleep some time later when she heard the sound of stone grinding against stone. It was quiet and subtle, but it was there any time their common room opened to admit one of them inside. This time it was her sister. Her skin looked unnaturally pale in the light of the room and her brown hair did not give off the same sense of warmth it did in most lighting.
Astoria’s appearance mattered naught; what mattered was that her arrival had jolted Daphne awake. Tracey was doing her homework beside Daphne and she must have noticed her friend’s movement, for she looked up and between the Greengrass sisters with a questioning stare.
“Don’t worry about it, Tracey,” said Daphne. “This isn’t worth slowing down your essay.”
Astoria was watching her closely. Daphne could tell this had come as no surprise to her. It really shouldn’t have, but her sister would do well to wear fewer of her emotions on her sleeve. Daphne was hardly impassive, but she liked to think she didn’t shout ‘I am guilty and proud of it’ for the world to hear whenever she broke some sort of rule.
The two of them departed the main room and trudged through one of the stone tunnels that sloped still further down into the bowels of the castle and led to their dormitories.
Daphne’s was empty for now, so she led Astoria inside and rounded on her almost at once. “What were you thinking?”
Astoria’s chin jutted out as she looked up to meet her sister’s eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Astoria, don’t lie to me.”
“Then don’t get involved in things that aren’t your business.”
“You’re my sister—”
“Exactly! Sister, not daughter!”
Daphne felt a wave of heat roll up her body. She tried to stop it from flooding her cheeks, but judging by Astoria’s smirk, she had been unsuccessful. Was it so wrong of her to want to protect the people she loved? “Would you actually listen instead of making snarks?”
“Would you get to the point instead of lecturing me all night?”
“Oh, for the love of… fine.” Daphne was now scowling and not at all pleased about it. Astoria had a special talent for frazzling her. No one could put her in a foul temper faster than her devil of a sister. “What do you think you’re doing getting involved with Potter and his friends?”
“What the toad is—” her voice was cut off when Daphne took a step forward and clamped a hand over her mouth.
“Idiot,” she hissed. “Do you not realize that most of our housemates are in the woman’s pocket?”
“There’s no one here!”
“That’s not the point! The point is that you shouldn’t say those things in the dungeons.”
“You’re as stuck up as Grandmother!”
“And you’re as reckless as your new friend, Potter!”
“I don’t even know him!”
“But you trust him to teach you?”
“Does it really matter? He can’t be worse than her. Honestly, Daphne, I’m going to fail my exams because of her. I don’t know how any of you are going to pass your OWLs.”
“Some of us put in actual effort before this year, so one bad teacher won’t ruin everything.”
“Ha! So you admit she’s a bad teacher?”
Daphne rolled her eyes so hard she thought they might fall out. “Don’t be a child. Just because I don’t go around shouting about it doesn’t mean I don’t see what’s going on.”
Daphne glared at her. “Yes, she’s not teaching anything. I doubt anyone would deny that.”
“So, there you go. I’m making sure I pass my exams.”
“You could do that without Potter. The older students are running a tutoring program for Defence Against the Dark Arts.” Astoria shrugged and Daphne felt her temper flare. Her sister’s constant disregard for caution was going to get her in trouble; trouble Daphne feared she wouldn’t be able to save the girl from on her own. “Why do you insist on running off with Potter and his group of morons? Do you not see what’s going to happen?”
“They have a plan. They’re not stupid, whatever you think of them.”
“Well, they’re clearly not subtle. Did you see the new educational decree? She’s onto them already. It’s only a matter of time until they’re caught. I bet she’ll expel Potter once they are.”
Astoria snorted. “She can try. I doubt Dumbledore will ever let her.”
“Dumbledore might not be around forever. Not if Fudge and the ministry have their way.”
“I guess we’ll have to wait and see,” Astoria said with a shrug.
“So, what? You’re going to keep doing… whatever you’re doing — even though it’s going to lead to disaster?”
“I’ll take my chances with Potter and his gang before I end up alone in a room with Bletchley and his so they can… teach me Defence.”
Daphne winced. She wished she could tell Astoria that none of the more nauseating rumours about that crew were true, but she was far from certain. There was a reason she would not be joining that tutoring program despite Umbridge’s subject being one of her weakest.
“If this blows up, if you get caught… you know what that will mean?”
“Personally,” said Astoria as she moved for the door, “I’d rather not think about it.”
October 8, 1995
The Third Floor
All had been calm and peaceful until they reached the third floor. Harry had been walking alongside Ron, the twins, and the rest of the Gryffindor team as they made their climb to their common room. One minute, they had been gushing about Ron’s incredible save that practice. So brilliant it had been, it mirrored one made not long ago by the Irish national keeper, Barry Ryan. Even by his lofty standards, it had been considered magnificent, so for Ron to do something so similar was a big deal. Especially after weeks of poor play. They all hoped this was a sign of things to come and perhaps a glimpse of a future in which Ron would match Oliver Wood’s old brilliance.
That conversation had been taking place before a group of Slytherins descended on them. Spells flew in all directions as bodies threw themselves to the side in order to avoid the haze of light. A shriek tore through the corridor seconds after the melee had begun. There had been a second’s pause to see what had happened during which Alicia Spinnet must have been hit with something vile. Her eyebrows had swelled so horribly that they now obscured most of her face. She couldn’t see a thing and was stumbling about the corridor.
The pause gave the Gryffindors time to draw their own wands. When the skirmish began anew, it returned with a vengeance that had not been present the first time.
Harry made to draw his own wand but never got the chance. Something grabbed him with a grip so tight on his wrist that he felt the tips of his fingers go numb. He tried to spin out of their grip but winced when dagger-like nails pierced his skin. Blood welled up and threatened to spill forth if he pulled away, so he allowed himself to be dragged backwards, ready to draw his wand and fight at the first available opportunity.
It turned out that Harry had been standing near a doorway, for he swiftly found himself pulled inside what appeared to be one of the castle’s many abandoned rooms. Whoever had a hold on his wrist released their grip and Harry whirled to face them, bringing his wand up to fire a spell as he did so.
“Would you really curse a sweet and innocent maiden, Potter? That wouldn’t be very chivalrous of you, would it? Dumbledore might even be disappointed.”
Harry held up his left arm. The skin where her nails had dug in had quickly swollen. There was now a ring of it that had puffed out and turned pink. “I don’t know what you call innocent, but I do know this definitely didn’t feel very ‘sweet’.”
“It would be boring if all of our taste buds worked the same way, wouldn’t it?”
Harry scowled as he straightened his shoulders and looked at his assailant for the first time. She was tall and slender, with pale skin, honey-blonde hair, and ice-blue eyes. Her pink lips had an upward curve to them that indicated she was resisting the urge to smirk.
Harry was too aware of the danger the girl posed to look away from her face. He searched for any sign of movement or impending attack. He found none. The slim nose and perfectly shaped brows betrayed her prestigious ancestry, but no sign of a threat. Harry found it hard to look away once their eyes met. Hers were bright and wide with the rush of the moment. They seemed to have their own gravity and it took a concerted effort to pull his gaze away from hers.
Harry recognized her, if vaguely. He could never remember saying so much as a word to her, but he knew her name if nothing else. Snape had praised her often enough in Potions and Hermione had mentioned her once or twice. If only she could be convinced to join the DA. Perhaps then, the Order would one day have a potioneer they could rely on without expecting a dagger in their backs at every turn.
“What the hell do you want, Greengrass?”
The girl raised a thin eyebrow. “Touchy, are we?”
“I think that describes you better than me,” Harry bit back, showing her the marks on his wrist again. He flicked his eyes away from her face and pointedly down to her hands. “Do you touch up every bloke you come across?”
“You seem awfully bothered by a couple of scratches. Between the two of us, it doesn’t exactly make your fairytale about last June seem any more believable.”
Harry ground his teeth together. Of course she was going to side with Voldemort. She was a Slytherin, a snake, the enemy. He had been foolish to hope for a second that she could believe in him.
“I guess it would be a fairytale to you, wouldn’t it? What, with your snake-faced bastard of a master back again? Have your parents already kissed the hems of his robes? Or maybe he prefers they do lip service somewhere—”
Harry’s ears rang and his head snapped back as the loud smack of Greengrass’s hand against his cheek rang through the room. “Don’t you dare talk about my family!”
Harry raised his hand and felt the cheek she had slapped a second earlier. It felt hot to the touch and he suspected it too would swell up before the night was at its end. He hadn’t even noticed her step forward before her hand had left yet another impression on him. She had yet to step back. If Harry leant forward even an inch, their bodies would be in contact and perfectly aligned, curve fitting against curve like a human puzzle made only from two pieces.
Daphne’s chest was heaving up and down from her angered breathing and her mouth was slightly parted and turned downward with her disdain. She had slapped him and was still acting as righteous as any Gryffindor could ever hope.
“Then make your point and be quick about it,” Harry spat at her.
“If you hurt my sister or drag her down with the rest of you idiots, you’ll have worse to deal with than scrapes and bruises.”
“Your… sister?” Harry’s rage broke all at once. He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting, but that had not been it. Something about Umbridge, perhaps. Greengrass was a part of her Inquisitorial Squad, after all.
This had apparently been the wrong thing to say. A reddish-pink tinge had taken refuge in Greengrass’s cheeks and she suddenly looked ready to slap him again. “Yes, Potter, my sister. Glad to know how little you care about the students you’re teaching.”
Harry opened his mouth to snap back, but he closed it just as quickly. If Greengrass was a member of Umbridge’s band of sycophants and she knew about the DA, that meant that others might, too. Perhaps the Top Toad herself knew more than even her most recent educational decree indicated.
“Oh, can it. I’m off-duty and don’t plan to sell you out to Umbridge. It wouldn’t matter if I did. Your little group isn’t going anywhere unless you’re stupid enough to let someone prove that it exists. Not as long as Dumbledore is Headmaster.”
“Then what are you after?”
“I told you that already. Merlin, you’re dense. My sister. She was stupid enough to join up with you. I want your word that you won’t let her get into any trouble.”
“Yes. I’d offer to use smaller words, but I think I might have a hard time coming up with many shorter than four letters.”
“You’ve made it pretty clear you don’t trust me,” said Harry. “What good is my word to you?”
Greengrass’s expression shifted to something more stoic. “You’re a lot of things. I think you’re an idiot, but I don’t think you’re as big a dick as Malfoy says you are. A bit too attention-seeking for my tastes, but I do think you care about other people — even if you don’t remember all of their names.”
Now, it was Harry’s turn to blush. “Look, there were dozens of people there. I couldn’t have—”
“I get it,” sighed Greengrass. “That part… might have been a touch harsh. I do actually believe you care. I don’t see why you’d have started this group if you didn’t; it’s not like you’re starving for attention as of late.”
“Then why come after me so hard?”
“I just… you’re not smart enough to make sure this whole thing doesn’t go up in smoke. Neither is Granger, no matter what you think. I don’t want my sister caught up in your mess. Your word, Potter. Your word that you’ll make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“You just said I’m not smart enough to keep myself and the group out of trouble. What makes you think I can keep your sister out of Umbridge’s line of fire?”
“That’s not what I said. Your group will go up in smoke, but you’ll get away — you always do.” She was looking at him differently now. There was a probing look about her stare. It was strangely intense, almost as though her eyes were trying to swallow him whole. It was like she was trying to pull answers out from under his skin just by looking at him. “If there’s one thing I’ve always respected about you, it’s your knack for getting out of impossible situations.”
Harry understood her meaning. “I’ll make you a deal, Greengrass.” She tilted her head to the side and did not break eye contact with him the whole time. “I’ll keep your sister out of trouble if you’ll hold off on slapping me in the face next time we run into each other.”
The last thing Harry expected to happen took place then. Greengrass actually smiled at him. It was a strange sight after how furious she had been glowering a moment earlier.
Harry preferred her smile; it suited her well. “I’ll hold you to that,” she vowed. “I won’t make any promises about what will happen if you don’t hold up your end of the bargain.”
“Between the two of us,” said Harry as he moved towards the door, “I’m going to really hope we don’t need to worry about that possibility.”
The next night, in the Room of Requirement…
There was something incredibly fulfilling about watching the members of Dumbledore’s Army practicing the Disarming and Shield Charms. Simple as Zacharias Smith might have made them out to be, a great number of the students had struggled at the beginning. Many of them had gotten the hang of at least one of them over the course of the lesson. Even Neville was casting Expelliarmus perfectly more often than not, though his aim was more worrisome for people nearby than it was for its target.
The expressions on many faces as they left the room made Harry smile. This was truly what learning was all about. Umbridge, Slinkhard, and that damn book could go burn in whatever hell awaited them. This was how it ought to be done; with students learning magic, forging friendships, and enjoying themselves all the while. Ron and Hermione appeared to agree with him if the ear-to-ear grins they wore were any indication. It really was a euphoric feeling. Not unlike winning a heated Quidditch match in a lot of ways. The feeling was so uplifting it had even purged him of the dread he felt at Umbridge’s inevitable retaliation. He had skipped detention with her tonight in order to host the DA’s first official meeting.
Somebody cleared their throat from nearby. The spell that glee had cast upon him did not break when he saw the girl standing before him, but it did waver as he remembered a stinging pain on his cheek and an icy-eyed glare.
“Greengrass, right?” Harry asked the girl who had probably been watching him all lesson long.
Harry could see the resemblances to Daphne, but the sisters were far from the same. Their faces were shaped in similar ways and they both had a perpetually haughty look about them. Astoria’s eyes were brown as opposed to ice-blue and her hair was of a similar colour — several shades darker than her older sister’s. She looked warmer somehow, looser and more inviting in a way her sister had certainly not seemed.
“Can I help you with anything?” asked Harry, suddenly aware of the many pairs of eyes that watched them as he wondered how much of the previous day’s events Astoria might have known. He tried not to tousle his hair or look away as he waited for her answer, for both impulses felt as pressing as the need to scratch an especially vexing itch.
Astoria too seemed aware of the watchful eyes all around them. She appeared a great deal smaller and less confident than Daphne had been the day before, but she held his gaze. “I just wondered if my sister had given you any problems.”
“We… had a discussion,” Harry admitted.
“Sorry,” Astoria muttered, suddenly blushing. “She shouldn’t have done that; I told her to stay out of it.”
“It’s fine, I get it. If I had a little sister, I’d want to make sure she was all right, too. She was just… uh… forceful.”
Astoria winced. “Yeah, she is a bit, isn’t she?” She twirled a lock of brown hair around her finger. “I hope she didn’t do anything like make threats or something.”
“She… had some choice words.” When Harry saw the flush return, he sighed. “Look, it’s all right. She’s not the first person I’ve dealt with threatening me for things I never did or haven’t done yet. And after Voldemort, your sister doesn’t scare me much.”
Astoria looked dumbstruck for a moment before she hid a giggle behind her hand. “No, I guess she wouldn’t, would she?”
“Not really, no. Don’t worry about it. I can handle myself and I can handle your sister. Just don’t make me regret letting a ‘slimy snake’ in the DA. I’d hate to have you turn against us when we crush you bunch of gits out on the pitch.”
A smile returned to the girl’s lips; a slight, thin smile that teased the coming of more. “Keep telling yourself that, Potter. Be careful out there; Daphne might not hit that hard, but I bet a bludger will.”
It was the most she had resembled her sister all lesson and Harry resisted the urge to smile at the reminder of Daphne’s flare. “From Crabbe or Goyle? It would probably hurt like hell. I’d have to ask the spot about ten feet to my left; I reckon it’s more likely to get hit than me.”
Astoria giggled once more as she shyly waved and made off for the exit. Harry watched her back as she left. It was so strange how unlike each other siblings could be.
October 10, 1995
The Entrance Hall
Umbridge’s rage had been something to behold after Harry had skipped her most recent detention. He would now pay for it by spending at least one evening each week in her office writing lines until the end of the year. Harry had broken her first cursed quill the night he’d broken into her office, but she had evidently ordered another. The words on the back of his hand had already begun to heal less effectively than they had the first few detentions. Soon, he was sure they would cease disappearing altogether. Harry suspected that by the year’s end, they might well be visible from half a room away.
His lesson with the vile woman that day had been the worst yet. Gryffindor had lost more points than they had ever lost during a lesson with Snape. The pink-clad pest had been fit to explode and Harry had been told to wait outside the Great Hall once he finished his meal that evening.
That was where he stood now. Ron and Hermione had offered to wait with him, but he ushered them off ahead. If Umbridge was going to personally escort him, it would do no good for them to be in her crosshairs. She might well assign them detentions for her own sick amusement since by now, she was far beyond caring about the castle’s rules or any ethics that supposedly came with the position of a professor.
“Come with me, Potter.”
Harry snapped out of his daze as though he had suddenly been pulled from a deep and vivid dream. It was not Umbridge who stood nearby waiting, but Daphne Greengrass, tapping her foot upon the floor much like Astoria had done last night as she waited.
“Umbridge sent you, I take it?” Greengrass nodded curtly. “Figures. She would send one of her attack dogs to do the dirty work for her.”
Daphne’s expression was completely impassive. “Professor Umbridge has better things to do than to make sure students make it to detention on time.”
“Yeah, I’m sure she’s having a right old time trying to come up with new and creative ways not to teach us Defence Against the Dark Arts.”
“Come along, Potter. I also have better things to do than to make sure students make it to detention.”
“Is she doing this for everyone?” Harry asked.
“No, just you. She’s set up a rotation.”
“Aren’t I special?”
“That’s certainly one word for it.”
“I prefer spectacular, but it will do.”
“Stupid twat might suit you better. Now, follow me.”
“I think you’re getting me mixed up with your boss,” Harry said as he finally began to follow in Greengrass’s footsteps. “Maybe you can take that up with her next time you’re nose deep in her—”
“She is our teacher; get a grip and stop being a child.”
Harry shrugged, hesitated, and held up his hand right as the two of them passed by a line of flickering torches. The words stood out starkly in the torchlight, and even though she spared him but a quick glance, it was apparent by the widening of her eyes that Greengrass had spotted the results of Umbridge’s cruelty.
“Sorry, Greengrass. I must not tell lies.”
November 17, 1995
The Seventh Floor
Dolores Umbridge was a lot of things. Harry listed unattractive, abrasive, annoying, and a complete and utter bitch chief amongst them. What she wasn’t, unfortunately, was stupid.
This attempt at breaking into her office had not gone as successfully as the first. Unlocking the door had obviously triggered some sort of warning sign because before he had finished trashing the place for a second time, the Inquisitorial Squad arrived in all its green and silver glory.
Harry would have liked to put on his invisibility cloak and just vanish into thin air, but that was quite difficult when being chased by a bunch of inbred, pureblood fanatics. Their spells were basic, but many were vicious and clearly carried ill intent. They just kept on coming. Harry was faster and well-practiced at these games. They had made up a large part of his existence on Privet Drive. He also had a much deeper understanding of the castle and its secret passages.
What he was not, unfortunately, was able to multiply. There were considerably more of them than there were of him, which made losing them altogether more difficult than he had anticipated. A couple of the spells actually managed to get through — a nasty Cutting Curse had opened a fair-sized gash right above his ribs; one that stung like a hundred pointed needles. He was also beginning to tire as they reached the seventh floor.
He could think of only one escape as he hurtled around a familiar bend and plunged into a corridor that was marked by an absurd tapestry of an old, bewildered-looking man trying and failing to teach a number of mountain trolls the art of ballroom dancing.
More spells flew past him, but he had put some ground between himself and the others. It had been told to him by Dobby that he needed to walk back and forth three times in front of the blank stretch of wall. The elf had never mentioned anything about sprinting both ways. He had never told Harry he couldn’t, so the Gryffindor youth supposed it was as good a time as any to test that breakthrough theory.
The door materialized on the third pass just like it always had. Its arrival came not a moment too soon, for they were well and truly on him now.
Harry’s body thudded against the door as his hand scrambled to find the knob. His momentum forced it open and he toppled inside. The last sight he saw before frantically scrambling to his feet and slamming the door closed once more was the sharp, knowing gaze of Daphne Greengrass.
November 26, 1995
The Third Floor
Daphne ran a hand through her long blonde hair as she stepped out from the broom cupboard she had just been confined to. She was grateful no one was around to see her now. Her hair was a tangled mess and her robes had been jostled and were in a state of disarray. Creases showed all over and they were far from straight. Anyone who spotted her then would have been surprised by how unlike herself she appeared.
Cormac McLaggen was far from the most pleasant fellow she could have chosen for the day’s… escapades, but he was the very definition of a brainless Gryffindor. It had taken almost no effort at all to get him into a compromising position and even less to convince him to talk once he was there. He had also been the surest bet she could come up with for someone who had pissed Umbridge off enough to earn himself detention. Daphne had felt her own mood dip after three minutes of being in the boy’s presence. If he had lasted this long without detention from Umbridge, she’d have swallowed Lucius Malfoy’s famous cane.
Not only had he served detention, but he had been the second Gryffindor she had spotted with odd scarring on the back of his hand. His had been much less distinct than Potter’s and the words had been different. She hadn’t been able to decipher exactly what they were, but she quite liked to think they said something along the lines of: ‘I am a bumbling troll who should never have pretended otherwise.’
She wondered whether the fainter scars were what made it seem different now. She had felt nothing when looking at McLaggen’s; just a dull sense of dread when thinking about exactly what she had gotten herself into.
When she’d looked at Potter’s… it had been different. Something had stirred inside her. It had been massive and restless, writhing with furious displeasure when she had glimpsed the words carved into the back of the boy’s hand.
She shook herself from the thoughts and glanced at her reflection in a nearby window. She looked as out of place as expected, but that was not what she was focusing on. Her blue eyes watched the tiny silver badge she wore. From afar, its design was impossible to decipher. Up close, one could make out the faint outline of a wizard with his wand held high, surrounded by a witch, a centaur, a goblin, and a house elf. Daphne recognized the image. It was eerily similar to what was depicted by the Fountain of Magical Brethren, situated in the Ministry of Magic’s main atrium. It was about as subtle as a speeding bludger, but it sent a very clear message.
A message that Daphne had questioned in the best of times. A message that had become murkier still when she began to watch her peers falling further and further behind in Umbridge’s class. A message that became even harder to buy into the second Astoria had thrown her hat in with Potter and his friends.
How difficult was it going to be to support the message and its sender now? Now that she knew exactly what was going on behind closed doors at Hogwarts and now that she had seen what the woman was putting Potter through.
No… that last thought did not warrant consideration. It was stupid; he was stupid — just a simple-minded attention seeker draped in crimson robes. She should cease sparing the thought of him her time or energy.
Daphne could see her expression in the window. She had a way of looking emotionless and robotic when she was confused or lost in thought. It was ironic, really, for that was how she would need to act if she wished to maintain this facade.
Daphne shook her head slowly at the sounds of movement from behind her. It was coming from the broom cupboard; her cue to flee the scene of the crime had come.
December 2, 1995
Harry really despised Helga Hufflepuff’s taste. Of all the places she could have situated her common room and the kitchens, why in Merlin’s name had she chosen the dungeons? They were dark, dreary places often disturbed by dusty drafts and dampened by desolate air.
And, most unforgivable of all, there were Slytherins in the dungeons.
Harry had never exactly gotten along with the fourth of the school that traipsed around in green and silver, but their relationship had grown more toxic than ever since the return of Voldemort. Accusing the parents of some of the house’s more prevalent members hadn’t exactly bolstered any shreds of goodwill he may have had left within the house of cunning. Nor had pissing off Umbridge, who had treated their house with almost as much partisan favour as Snape.
This had been his first undisturbed trip down to the kitchens in quite some time. Lately, he’d found himself plagued by malicious snakes more often than not. They were almost as troublesome as the Inquisitorial Squad. It was no surprise. Tensions between the two houses had been at an all-time high since the violent conclusion to their most recent clash out on the Quidditch pitch. Green and silver-clad figures had been making his life hell ever since. Intruding upon their domain in the dungeons was really just asking for trouble.
This afternoon had been different. Harry had made it all the way into the kitchens without drama and was on his way out with his pockets full of sweets when he noticed something was off. There was shouting from not far away. Several different voices appeared to be arguing with one another.
Harry ought to have used the distraction and fled the dungeons right then and there. Most students would gladly have seized the opening, but Harry was more curious as to what was going on than he was averse to spending any more time in the dungeons.
Having an invisibility cloak also helped. He made it all the way to the scene of the shouting without trouble, but his eyebrows rose at the sight before him.
A fourth-year Slytherin boy was sprawled out on the floor. Bits of his hair were strewn all over the corridor and what was left on his head was chopped and uneven. Good, Harry thought. That was what the prat got for taking one of Umbridge’s silver badges.
“His hair,” Harry heard someone whisper from nearby. “Someone said it tried to strangle him and had to be cut!”
“That’s ridiculous,” another voice replied. “I’ve never heard of a spell like that.”
“I have,” said a third, “read about it in a book I took out of the Restricted Section once. It might look funny, but it’s actually a dangerous spell. People have died because of it.”
Harry too knew the spell. It was one he had used as an example in one of the more recent gatherings of Dumbledore’s Army. He hadn’t taught the class how to cast it, but he doubted it would have been difficult to learn once the members knew of it.
“I didn’t do it!”
That voice jolted Harry from his thoughts. It was a relatively new voice in his memory, but it was one he still recognized. He crept closer to the centre of the crowd and saw her.
Astoria was standing with her back against a wall. Dolores Umbridge was looming nearby with an ugly sneer upon her toad-like face. She just had the most cursable face — Harry wanted to try out some of the more vile magics he’d read about any time he saw it.
Umbridge gave her usual, tittering laugh. “My dear, you’ve been caught red-handed. We have an eyewitness report.”
“Well, your eyewitness lied.”
“And why would she do that?”
Astoria scowled. “Beats me.”
“That’s not a very convincing defence, if you don’t mind me saying,” Umbridge said with that same, tittering laugh.
Harry’s eyes swept over the crowd. The entirety of the Inquisitorial Squad was there, but Harry’s eyes rested on one member in particular. Her lips were pulled in a tight line that would have made Professor McGonagall proud and her eyes looked ready to shoot sparks.
Harry remembered the conversation they’d had earlier in the year after the girl had dragged him forcefully into an abandoned classroom.
“I’ll keep your sister out of trouble if you’ll hold off on slapping me in the face next time we run into each other.”
That had been a promise Harry had thought nothing of at the time; merely an amusing quip that got Greengrass off his back. Now, it was suddenly more relevant than he had ever planned on.
If Astoria had snuck out after curfew or violated one of the educational decrees, that might have been one thing. Harry supposed he had never specified the offence had to be DA-related, but he thought he might have been able to get away with standing back in one of those cases.
But this had resulted from a spell he had indirectly taught her, and Astoria was definitely guilty. Harry had grown up around Dudley — a boy who had spent half of his time in elementary school lying his way out of similar situations. Harry knew exactly how to tell when someone was guilty of these kinds of offences.
He looked at the eldest Greengrass sister once more. Something tugged inside him at the sight of her expression. She seemed so tense. It bothered Harry. There was something about her that was gone. A sort of smooth, elegant confidence that was maddeningly hard to ignore. He felt himself tense as his muscles seemed to solidify along with his resolve.
He audibly sighed as he stepped forward and swiftly pocketed his invisibility cloak. Damn his Gryffindor chivalry, damn his profound lack of foresight, and damn Daphne Greengrass, too.
Umbridge’s beady eyes found him at once and he knew without needing to hear what came next that she was about to conveniently forget both Astoria’s existence and her eyewitness report. Anything to pin the crime on her least favourite student.
December 10, 1995
The Seventh Floor
Hogwarts’ High Inquisitor had many vexing qualities. Her utter refusal to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts, her loathing for any colour that wasn’t pink, her disdain for anyone who opposed her ideals — the list went on for as long as the sprawling bit of parchment hung in Filch’s office stating exactly what he forbid all the students from doing. Harry thought that among Umbridge’s most horrid qualities, the one that annoyed him most may have been her knack for not making the same mistake twice.
Her Inquisitorial Squad had chased him onto the seventh floor again. He had briefly contemplated making a break for the Gryffindor common room, but he had dismissed the idea just as fast. Malfoy would absolutely be petty enough to go to Umbridge directly, who would absolutely be stuck up enough to barge into the common room.
His next thought was to flee once more to the Room of Requirement, but that was when his plans ran head-first into a brick wall about as thick as Umbridge’s ego.
Two seventh-year Slytherins guarded the mouth to the corridor he had vanished in last time they had chased him. Thank Merlin that patrol wasn’t a regular fixture of the castle. It would have made DA meetings impossible if it had been.
Harry could hear pounding feet behind him drawing closer and closer. At least the two students up ahead had not yet spotted him. In a bout of desperation, he dove sideways, hit the floor, and rolled behind the nearest suit of armour just as the first pursuer flew around the corner.
It was Greengrass. Her chest was heaving, her hair was tousled, and her complexion was uncharacteristically marred by a thin sheen of sweat. Seeing her so dishevelled was odd, but Harry found something about it entrancing. The soft yet persistent sounds of her weary breathing, the way thin strands of her bright hair stuck to her forehead and shone in the torchlight, the rhythmic movements of her chest…
Harry forced his mind to move on; now was not the time. He knew he was finished as soon as she entered the corridor. Her eyes had honed in on him at the last possible moment. She must have caught his movement or otherwise spotted the hem of his robes. It mattered not what she had seen, he supposed. All that mattered was that she was about to alert the Inquisitorial Squad to his predicament and the chase would be over. He could see it now. Her eyes flicked around the corridor and her lips were parting to call forth the death blow…
“He’s disappeared again! I don’t see him anywhere!”
Harry almost choked on his own breath.
What had just happened? Why the hell had Daphne Greengrass lied for him? Lied to her friends and companions.
Many curses streamed from the group of now panting students who had stopped dead upon hearing Greengrass’s proclamation.
“Let’s check this way!” called Montague — the Slytherin Quidditch captain. “He could have slipped off down here; there’s a tapestry down this corridor and to the right.”
Harry’s pursuers regained their vigour and charged off in the direction Montague had indicated. Daphne Greengrass hesitated for a moment before glancing around, almost as though she wanted to be sure no one was watching her.
Her hand moved swiftly. It vanished into her robes for a moment before re-emerging and falling to her side. It happened so fast, Harry might have thought she was scratching an itch if not for the roll of parchment that fell to the floor and skidded towards him just as Greengrass took off after the others.
Harry gawked at the missive as though it had fallen from the stars. Among the deepest, darkest secrets of the known universe, Harry counted teenaged Slytherin girls as being right near the top.
December 11, 1995
The Black Lake
The next morning dawned with all the vibrant glory one could expect from a December morning in the Scottish highlands. In other words, the sun had shown no signs of emerging whatsoever by the time Harry left the castle that next morning, bundled in his warmest travelling cloak and shivering against the vicious winter winds.
If anyone would have asked him the day before, Harry would have told them that Daphne Greengrass could not become any more perplexing. It was a statement he would have been about as confident in as he was in the return of Voldemort, but it was one he would have swiftly needed to retract the second he read her conspicuous letter.
Why in Merlin’s name she would want to meet before seven in the morning in the dead of winter, Harry would never be able to comprehend. It was a horrific time of the morning on the best of occasions, but in the middle of December, his travelling cloak seemed about as useless as wrapping himself in a layer of parchment.
Snow had fallen in the dark of night. When Harry had closed his eyes yesterday, there had been but a thin dusting of pale flakes splattered across the frozen earth. There was now a layer of it that shone pearly white in the darkness of the early morning and blanketed the grounds like a gleaming layer of icing. He could still hear the water sloshing in the Black Lake as he drew near. It must not have frozen over quite yet, but Harry knew the ice would soon come. He shivered at the thought. Diving into its frozen depths last February was one of his worst memories from fourth year. Which really was saying a lot considering all that had happened as a result of Voldemort’s master plan.
The wind picked up as Harry neared the lake’s bank. Leafless branches rustled above his head as the now frail-looking trees teetered under the wind’s malicious wrath. It kicked up the snow, blowing it this way and that. Some of it hung in the air like a pale layer of fog while most of it just blew into Harry’s face or broke against his cloak.
“Glad to see you look comfortable.”
She was standing on the edge of the water as she watched him, dressed in a travelling cloak of her own. Hers had a hood so large that her head was almost lost in it, but her blue eyes shone in the darkness all around them. They looked like strange muggle traffic lights, but Harry was happy to see them. They were oddly familiar and seemed to soften the harsh touch of the loudly whistling wind.
This time, Harry knew what was coming and looked away before he could become lost in those eyes. “Comfortable’s one word for it,” he said as he stepped up beside her and looked across the water to the towering cliff the castle rested atop. It was one of the only things that seemed unfazed by the arrival of winter.
“You look awake; that’s more than I expected.”
Harry did his best to raise an eyebrow despite the fact he was shivering and she likely couldn’t see it anyway. “Did you think I wouldn’t show up?”
“I wasn’t really sure. I expected you to look like a corpse if you did.”
“Sorry to disappoint you. You’d have needed to summon Ron at this time if you wanted a corpse.”
“If I wanted Weasley, I probably would want his corpse. Talking to that would be just as interesting.”
“Oi!” Harry protested, but he could not hold back the laughter that spilled from him. “What did you want me for, then?” he asked.
Greengrass turned away from him for the first time that morning. There wasn’t enough light to tell for sure, but Harry had a strange suspicion she might be blushing. “To thank you.”
Harry’s eyebrows rose again. “Thank me for what?”
“For getting Astoria out of trouble. I know she was the one to curse Harper. She had been going on about him the night before. I… didn’t expect you to help her out of trouble if it didn’t have to do with your little study group.”
Harry ran a hand through his already windswept hair. He could feel Daphne looking at him again. He remembered the expression she had worn during their first meeting in the abandoned classroom. He shivered at the memory — no, it must just have been the cold, but Merlin… there had been something desperate in her stare; something he could not place. It was a look that might belong to someone who had fallen upon hard times staring at one far more fortunate as they passed by their battered alley.
“It sort of did have to do with our group,” he admitted after a pause, shifting uncomfortably as he did so. “I mentioned the spell she hit Harper with in the last meeting before she cursed him. I’ll bet she heard me talk about it and then looked it up.”
“That does sound a lot like Astoria.” Daphne hesitated again. “She’s getting better, you know.”
“At Defence Against the Dark Arts. Her grades these last few weeks have been better than they ever were. I don’t think she’s the only one, either.”
Harry shifted from foot to foot. “I’m… uh, glad to hear it.”
Merlin, would she look anywhere but at him? It was unnerving. “You have no idea what you’ve done, do you?”
“What I’ve done?” Harry asked
Greengrass sighed. “It’s more than just helping them pass their exams. You’ve made them better. I’ll bet more aurors come out of this crop of students than any in the last two decades.”
Harry opened his mouth, but closed it again when he realized he had no idea what to say. He had never thought of it like that. The DA was supposed to help them all pass their OWLs and for the other students to pass their own sets of exams. Harry had never once dreamed that it might do more than that. It was a jarring thought, but a nice one. A pleasant feeling bloomed inside his chest and suddenly, the frigid air seemed bearable at last.
“I’ve… never really thought of it like that,” he admitted.
“You should think more. It would do you wonders. Who knows? Maybe if you did, you might not even be in detention every second day.”
“Plenty of thought goes into those detentions,” Harry said with a smirk. “Trust me, I plan every one of them.”
“You’re as mad as Dumbledore.”
“I could do worse if that’s who you’re comparing me to.”
Harry could just make out the edges of her smile now. The faintest bits of light had crept into the air all around them and, if he squinted, he could make out her expression more clearly.
“Well,” she said, “thank you for helping Astoria. Both with getting out of trouble and Defence Against the Dark Arts. I still wish she never joined your gang, but you’ve done a lot for her.”
“It’s not my gang. I just teach anyone who wants help.”
Daphne shrugged. “Whatever. I wish she wouldn’t have. I still think it’s going to end poorly, but I appreciate that you at least put in the effort.”
“Was that why you helped me yesterday? To pay me back for helping your sister?”
Daphne stumbled on her words for a moment, but she recovered quickly. “Sure, it was only fair. Chivalry and all that, right?”
Harry laughed, his voice lost in the rush of wind all around them. “Yeah, sure, chivalry. I think I’ll be chivalrous this time and warn you that if you don’t get inside soon, you’ll be lucky to escape without frostbite or hypothermia.”
Finally, it was her turn to laugh — the first time Harry had ever heard it. It was softer than his; quieter, too, but the wind had ceased blowing for a moment so he could hear it clearly. His own lips fought to curve upwards, but he resisted the tug. Why would he smile just because she had laughed?
“I think I’ll take your advice. I’ll see you around, Potter.” She was moving away from him before he could say another word and by the time he moved to follow, she had quickened her stride and was all but gone.
December 18, 1995
Astoria cringed watching her sister’s eyes follow Potter as he walked a few paces ahead of them, flanked on either side by Weasley and Granger. Daphne liked to say that Astoria always wore her emotions on her sleeve, but lately, her sister might as well have made a wardrobe out of hers.
Not that Harry was much better. Astoria had not missed the way he looked at her more often than the others during DA meetings. She knew Harry wasn’t interested in her. She knew it wasn’t her who had caught his attention, and she knew it wasn’t her who he saw every time he looked her way. Astoria had seen that enough times in the past few years. Before she had aged into her body, many people who were more interested in her sister looked at her. It had bothered her then, but now, it vexed her in an entirely different way.
She didn’t care that Harry Potter was interested in her sister. She cared even less that her sister seemed incapable of taking her eyes off of Harry Potter. All she cared about was the fact that it was making her life a touch more inconvenient and several times more awkward. Astoria hated cringing and she had done it a lot lately when watching Harry or Daphne.
She thought back to all those times Harry had watched her in the Room of Requirement. It had been especially easy to tell during this last meeting. Harry’s house elf friend, Dobby, had decorated the room for the last few meetings before the winter break. Astoria had been able to see Harry’s emerald-eyed stare reflected in the glass baubles as she practiced the Reductor Curse and the Impediment Jinx.
Dobby… that was a thought. The elf had not only decorated the room, but he had done it up in Harry’s image. It was strange. She had never heard of a house elf ever being so fond of a witch or wizard who was not its master, but perhaps the oddity could be of use to her.
The elf had given Harry instructions about how to use the room, after all…
December 20, 1995
The Room of Requirement
The DA’s final meeting before the fast-approaching winter holidays had been the most joyous Harry had yet experienced. Seeing the students learn and make friends always made for a pleasant evening, but there had been something special about that night.
Harry wondered if it had anything to do with the nature of the Patronus Charm. Patroni were spirits born from pure and unadulterated happiness. They were literal creations of euphoria. Harry wondered if that was infectious somehow or whether just seeing them cast had been enough. He had been mightily impressed by the members of the DA. A number of them had managed to cast the charm at least once; it was by far Harry’s proudest moment as an instructor.
Something about the meeting stuck with him. The Room of Requirement just seemed more inviting after the night’s affairs. He found himself not quite ready to go when all the other members began filing out. Harry even told both Ron and Hermione to go on ahead and that he would meet them in the common room.
Despite being alone, Harry could still see Neville’s bear traipsing about as he peered around the room. He could still hear Hermione’s otter, still see Luna’s hare bounding through the awestruck students. He wondered whether or not he himself might be able to use the memory for his own patronus in the future. It was among the happiest he could ever remember feeling.
The creak of the room’s entrance opening drew Harry’s attention and he spun on his heel, grasping for his wand as he moved. It was fortunate he never got there, for he was sure he would have dropped it out of astonishment at the sight of the girl standing in the doorway.
She stepped slowly inside and closed the door behind her. “Potter.”
“How did you get in here? I thought—”
“Thought that only members of your gang could get in? That was true until a friend of yours told me how. Don’t worry,” she said, taking several steps towards Harry when she saw him move to protest, “I have no plans to tell anyone else how to get in.”
Daphne had a scent about her that he had never been able to place. Now that they were closer to each other than they had ever been, he thought it smelled vaguely of cinnamon.
“I… appreciate it, I guess.” Harry suddenly found looking at her to be oddly fatiguing. His pulse seemed to quicken every time he did, as though he was partaking in something strenuous. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
Daphne looked him up and down. She had that look again. It made Harry shiver and want to move; towards her or away, he did not know.
They were only inches apart from each other now, both bathed in the light of a nearby torch. Harry liked what it did to Daphne’s hair. It seemed lighter in its glow and it sparkled just like the snow had that morning out by the Black Lake.
She saw where he was looking and glanced towards the torch before something else appeared to draw her attention. Harry saw her glance up and followed the motion, only to freeze, staring up unseeingly at the smooth-edged plant with oval leaves and berries bright as any freshly fallen coat of snow.
“Well,” said Daphne, “I suppose that now, I’m going to thank you properly.”
She was on top of him before he could place her meaning. Harry’s eyes widened as she lurched forward, but her lips met his before he knew what to do. His initial impulse as he felt something he realized a moment later was her tongue was to pull away, but something stopped him. Something forced him to part his lips. It must have been something about the room — he would never have acted in such a way under normal circumstances. That would have been completely ridiculous.
He did it again. She tasted like she smelt; it was a remarkable taste. That morning out by the lake, he had been so terribly cold. The air had chilled his bone and the wind had frozen his blood.
This was different. He was warm, so very warm; he could never remember being so warm in all his life. He liked the warmth; cold suddenly seemed a distant memory, even a foreign concept as he felt his muscles melt and his blood turn to liquid fire. In that room, in that moment, Harry wondered if he would ever be cold again.
This is extremely far from my normal writing style, so not my best work, but I value practicing things oneself struggles with.
I would like to give a special shoutout to my editor, Athena. Her and I had it out several times over this one. We had very different philosophies on how to make a number of things work, but her input was integral to making this story what it is now. I thank her for not just the input, but for her unwavering patience. This story would absolutely not be what it was without her.
Thank you so much once more to both Lily and Shadow. Seriously, your guys’ support has boggled my mind and I still cannot comprehend it, even now. Thank you both so much for all you have given me and I look forward to keeping up with both of you as time continues to pass.
Happy holidays, everyone!
P.S. I will now be posting one-shots four times a year, roughly on each solstice. If you are fond of them, I look forward to seeing you again this spring!
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