rated t for teen - violence, strong language.
disclaimer: any characters, settings, spells, and magical objects that you recognize from the Harry Potter novels either belong to JK Rowling or are British-isms. I am NOT JK Rowling, nor am I British.
notes: alternate events in the year of Umbridge (HP&OotP)
Harry Potter had experienced a miserable summer. Above and beyond the usual scant meals and abundant chores at the Dursleys, with Vernon and Petunia blaming him for everything, going on and on and on about how he was a lazy, ungrateful freak, sure to come to a bad end just like his wretched parents... How he should be grateful for everything that they'd done for him over the years, for their kindness and compassion... He'd seethed in silence, years of habit and caution preventing him from telling them just what he thought of their bloody generosity. Stuffing him into the Cupboard under the Stairs when they had four bedrooms upstairs... One just for the few times a year when Marge visited, one for the walrus and giraffe, one for the baby whale, and one for all the blubbering brat’s damned broken toys... A toy room that they'd only grudgingly made over into a prison cell for him, and only that when they thought someone knew what they were doing to him.
Now Cedric Diggory was dead, and Voldemort wasn't dead anymore. He'd had to fight for his life, had faced Voldemort and a whole pack of his marked Death Eaters. He'd nearly been killed, had barely managed to get himself and Cedric's body back to Hogwarts. He'd tried to warn everybody that Voldemort was back. And he'd been ignored and sent back to the Dursleys.
How he wanted to show the bastards just how grateful he was...
Then the Dementors had showed up, had nearly killed him. Only his Patronus had prevented them from sucking out his soul, as well as whatever withered sliver of soul Dudley possessed. Or perhaps Dudley's soul was plump and tender, barely worked at all - just like the rest of him. A dark and morbid part of his mind had wondered if souls had different flavors, had wondered what his would taste like.
He'd focused on asking people how they'd shown up on Privit Drive, why none of the bloody Order guards who were supposed to be watching over him, keeping him safe had been able to do something about the Dementors. Why he'd had to save himself from the 'Ministry's obedient servants.' Again. Asked again in a different way how those monsters had even found him.
If he asked enough times how they'd made their way past Dumbledore's supposed protections, past the guards, he would forget that he'd actually thought about letting them just take Dudley. How a dark and ugly part of himself had actually wondered if they'd leave him alone if he let them take the wretched, miserable, whining brat that weighed almost four times as much as he did... How he hadn't cast the Patronus to save Dudley, but to save himself.
The fact that he'd been put on trial for the whole mess was an added insult. Save them from dark wizards, save them from possessed teachers but hope someone else can save him from the Dementors? From the beasts that only last year the Ministry had been saying nobody but Sirius needed to fear? If they seriously thought that he was going to trust the Ministry - the one that had imprisoned Sirius without a trial, had let Malfoy buy his way free, had arrested Hagrid to bloody be seen doing something, had stuck him in a tournament with fire breathing dragons... If they thought he'd trust the Ministry to save him, they were off their damned rockers.
Then that irritating false-sweet woman in the pink had had questioned his claim of being able to cast a Patronus. The Ministry had sent him the bloody notice that had the name of the wonderful, slippery spell on the parchment and this woman had still dared to try to make him sound like a liar...
Sitting on a bench of the Hogwarts Express, each rattle and click of the wheels taking him farther from London with the miserable Wizengamot, farther from Surrey and the Dursleys...
"Let this year be better. Just enough time to recover, to regain my balance," Harry's whispered plea for the year passed unnoticed on the train ride.
The carriages to the castle weren't horseless this year. Instead they were each being pulled by a lean, pale eyed not-horse. It reminded him of a blending of horse and dragon, even down to the dragon wings. One was hitched to each carriage, their breath leaving wisps of steam in the cool air.
Nobody else seemed to see them. Well, just one other person, a blond Ravenclaw who had her wand tucked behind her ear, and wore a necklace of butterbeer corks. Hardly the most reassuring second opinion.
It was at the Sorting Feast that Harry knew this year was going to be bloody awful. That woman from his hearing, the one with the sticky sweet voice and the silly pink hat was supposed to be their new Defense Professor. From her speech after the introduction - and Harry couldn't recall any other new professor giving a speech - she and the Ministry thought that Change Was Bad, and to Be Avoided.
"Fate hates me," Harry muttered.
Monday rolled around and Harry's already low expectation for Defense this year were shattered.
"a-hem hem. There will be no need for your wands, this class will be theoretical. After all, what possible danger could you face in this castle that would require you to need your wand?" Umbridge's limp pink ribbon had caught too many eyes, leaving people staring as she paced in front of the class.
Harry thought back to his previous years at Hogwarts. Trolls in bathrooms, and giant dogs, carnivorous plants, and possessed teachers. Basilisks and acromantula, and evil diaries sucking the life out of people. Dementors and the whomping willow, an animagus hiding in their dorm. Impostor teachers casting spells on students. Dragons and deep, dark lakes and mazes of doom. The Weasley twins. His hands clenched into fists, and Harry could feel his teeth grinding together as he remembered how many times he'd been in the hospital wing, how many times his life had been in danger right inside the walls of Hogwarts. "What about the rest of the world? What about dark wizards? What about Voldemort?"
Watching everyone - including their Defense professor - cringe at a made-up name made Harry feel even angrier.
"Do not speak that name, Mr. Potter. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is dead, he is quite gone and will never trouble good witches and wizards again unless it is as a question on their History examinations," Umbridge glared at him, the expression about as intimidating as a toadstool.
"He came back. One of his followers found a ritual, and he came back," Harry hissed the words out, wanting to grab the woman and shake some sense into her.
"What about our O.W.L.'s? How do we perform our spells for them if we never practice them?" Hermione's question was predictable to anyone who knew her.
A thread of anger rippled through Harry at Hermione's question. Voldemort was back, and she was worrying about test scores? Had she never sorted her priorities?
Umbridge turned that false smile towards Hermione, "A solid theoretical understanding will be enough to let you cast your spells for the tests. Should you ever be in any real danger, the aurors will handle the situation."
"What if the aurors aren't there in time?" Harry muttered, not expecting the Ministry's woman to hear him, or give any sort of acknowledgement if she did. The aurors hadn't been there this summer when the Dementors had found him.
"You will not need to defend yourself, as there is nothing to defend yourself from, Mr. Potter," the woman gave him a glaring smile, one that dared him to disagree.
Harry snorted. He had scars that told him otherwise.
"Stop saying such dreadful lies about dead wizards, Mr. Potter. Due to your rude interruptions and those nasty lies that you keep muttering, I must take twenty points from Gryffindor." These words held little sweetness.
The rest of the class was supposed to be reading the first chapter of their textbook. Of hearing the woman explain in that syrupy voice that there was no danger to the magical world. No powerful dark wizards. No rampaging monsters. No need to fear cursed objects.
Harry couldn't focus on the text at all, but that didn't matter. He'd already leafed through it and decided that it was only marginally better than the Lockehart books. Sitting there with his eyes not seeing the page, Harry seethed in anger. What had Dumbledore been thinking, hiring this woman to teach Defense?
From the moment that he first caught sight of Umbridge, Harry had known that she was trouble, and that she wanted something bad to happen to him. This certainty had helped him fight down his temper, to close his teeth over the words and arguments that he wanted to use. To keep from insisting that Voldemort was back, that people had to be prepared. To keep his head low, stay quiet, and do nothing to draw attention to himself. Just like at the Dursleys, which had never felt like a home was supposed to feel. Malfoy and some of the other Slytherins had been being obnoxious, looking gleeful and talking about how things were going to be looking up now. Malfoy, who'd been made a prefect when Harry had not.
Snape still hated him, and seemed to have devised a rotating schedule to permit the Death Eater spawn to torment him in class. Trelawney kept predicting his death. Teachers were piling on the homework in preparation for the O.W.L. examinations at the end of the year. Every night that he wasn't having nightmares about Quirrel, the Basilisk, the Dementors, the Graveyard, or the Dursleys, he was dreaming about some strange hallway. The hallway made no sense, and he’d been unable to find an explanation. When he’d tried to talk to Professor McGonagall, or to have a quick word with Professor Dumbledore, that had failed. Professor McGonagall had pursed her lips before commenting that the analysis of dreams was in the realm of divination. Dumbeldore didn’t have a moment to so much as look at Harry. So much stress, piled on top of each other...
He lasted almost three weeks.
Umbridge had been simpering on about how they'd never need to know how to deal with an Acromantula, because there were no such creatures within the British Isles to trouble witches and wizards. Remembering Aragog and Mosag and their horde of spiders from horse sized to as wide as his hand, Harry had snorted.
That had been all it took. She'd clearly been waiting for this since she arrived at Hogwarts. "Mister Potter, that will be twenty points from Gryffindor for interrupting, and you will report to my office tonight at seven for your detention."
Harry had only nodded, having figured that it worked best to superimpose a memory of Marge Dursley over Umbridge, and treat her about the same way. They were both vile, nasty overweight women who thought he was a despicable little liar. Both determined to make him miserable. Both unfortunately with more power than he had among society.
No other teacher would have given him detention and taken points for such a small noise. Not even Snape. Harry remained silent in his chair, his teeth clenched together so firmly that he could feel the headache forming already. In his mind, he started reviewing the major steps for identifying an unknown magical object, as explained in last year’s text, in the second half of the book, which they hadn’t covered. A section that had included a spell to detect portkeys.
For the rest of the day, Harry seethed, anger and confusion and outrage bubbling inside him. None of the teachers would answer his questions, Dumbledore wasn't just busy he was outright avoiding Harry, Umbridge was denying and irritating and pink and false... He hadn't slept well since, well, not since his name had been spat out of the Goblet of Fire. But the nightmares, those he at least understood. This strange corridor - why was he dreaming about a corridor anyhow?
He tapped on the door to the Defense Professor's office, a small part wondering how it would be decorated this year, with Umbridge. Wondering what sort of detentions she'd have for him.
"At least you are punctual, Mr. Potter." Umbridge was sitting behind a massive desk, the walls covered over in decorative china plates with kittens, sipping at a cup of tea. There was also a small desk, similar to the ones in the classrooms, with a roll of parchment and a black quill.
Harry didn't trust himself to say anything, so he simply made a jerking motion of his head, hoping that she'd accept it as a nod, his hands curled up and rubbing at a fraying spot on his sleeve.
"a-hem hem. Take a seat at the desk. You will be writing lines for me - I must not tell lies. Write it until the message sinks in."
Moving towards the desk, Harry sank onto the chair, his hand not quite touching the quill. The feathery part was narrow and black, with an odd sheen to it, and the nib had been covered over with copper. "There's no ink, Professor."
"That won't be necessary. This quill takes care of that," she sounded as if she was smirking. Like Malfoy.
A gesture with her wand caused the office door to close. A second gesture resulted in the door making an odd squelchy noise. Closed and sealed. Harry’s bad feeling increased.
The quill felt cold and slippery in his hand, and a part of him just wanted to let go if it immediately. Taking a deep breath and reminding himself not to fidget in the chair, Harry touched the quill to the paper and drew the line for the first I.
The same line cut itself into the back of his left hand.
Harry froze, his eyes focused on the back of his hand, his jaw dropping just a little. He could smell copper and blood, which weren't quite the same, feel the off-ness and cold of the quill, hear the tiny mewlings of the kitten-plates. He looked over to the parchment, seeing the letter I scratched in blood on the expanse of white. A rather large expanse of parchment.
She wanted him to write lines with a quill that used his own blood, that carved into his hand.
She wanted to torture him. No, to have him torture himself, at her bidding. While she sat there, simpering that there was no danger in the castle, no danger from dark wizards, no Voldemort. That the Ministry could keep them all safe. The Ministry that she was part of.
Inside Harry, the seething mass of conflicted emotions changed into a throbbing buzz, the confusion replaced by sharp edged certainty. She wanted to hurt him with this detention. She'd given many other students detentions. She was trying to keep people weak and vulnerable. She was a cruel, petty bully with vast power.
Umbridge was this year's lethal danger.
Harry Potter had learned what to do about lethal dangers in Hogwarts. He had to kill them himself.
The quill was being crushed into his hand, and slowly, Harry wrote out two sentences: I must not tell lies. Voldemort was reborn at the Third Task.
Then he clenched his hand tighter, and the quill snapped. The time for waiting was over.
"Potter, what have you done to my quill?" her voice demanded. "Go back to writing your lines!"
Instead of returning to writing lines, Harry stood up, glaring at the awful woman. "This is a torture device. You call yourself a teacher and torture students? How evil. How dark."
"Sit down at once!" Umbridge had dropped her teacup, spilling the pale liquid over the lace doily.
With speed developed dodging Dursleys and catching snitches, he seized her wand with the hand that didn’t hold the broken quill. "I'm not going to let you do this anymore."
"I won't stand for this!" Despite her words, she had jumped to her feet, trying to retreat from Harry.
Harry made a noise, not quite a growl and not quite a shout, pushing at the massive wooden desk. The sheer rage caused the desk to fly away from Harry, smacking against Umbridge. "You are a danger to the students. And it would take too long for an auror to remove you and send you to the prison that you deserve."
When she started to croak something else, some protest or order that he sit back down, Harry jumped at her. It was as if something inside him had snapped, and he kept stabbing her over and over with what had been her quill but somehow had changed to a long knife.
The blood that spattered over the desk, the kitten-plates, the stone walls and floor, over Harry was hot. The coppery stench increased, along with that funny scent that was always left behind after lightning.
When Harry stopped, he was standing over a messy lump of meat, bone and bloodstained pink. The desk had broken, leaving several large splinters.
He dropped the knife-quill, and it hit the floor as a broken black feather, the copper nib pinging and then rolling into the pool of blood.
"I've learned my lesson."
A thin voice that sounded almost like Hermione shrilled in the back of his mind - he'd killed a teacher. The second teacher, maybe two and a half if you counted Lockehart.
Unlike Quirrel, this time there was a body.
"Dobby, can you help me, please?" Harry whispered.
"How can Dobby be helping Master..." the popping noise signaled the arrival of the House Elf. "Harry Potter is leaving a mess. Dobby is fixing this, and Master Harry Potter sir is going to take a shower and sleep."
"I didn't plan to do this," Harry whispered. He tried to muster some guilt, some regret for killing a teacher. It wasn't working. The closest that he managed was guilt for asking Dobby to help hide that occurrence. Dobby didn’t deserve a surprise like being asked to help hide a messily dead Umbridge. Waving his hand at the body, he asked, "Can you help me with...?"
"Dobby is practiced at cleaning up such messes. Remember, Dobby be working for bad masters Malfoy before the wonderful Harry Potter sir saved him. Dobby is knowing what to do with dead bits and messes."
"Thank you, Dobby." With that, Harry Potter retreated, headed for the Gryffindor tower. He was halfway there before he remembered the blood over him and glanced down.
There was an odd overlay, of a clean, blood-free Harry Potter. Something else to thank Dobby for, he supposed.
Soon enough, Harry was washing the blood away in the shower. "All I did was kill a monster."
Maybe he'd feel the guilt in the morning. Calm inside for the first time in months if not years, Harry Potter went to bed. There was nothing he could change now.
end Blood Under the Bridge.