Sunday, November 14, 2010

Looking supremely unconcerned, Professor McGonagall addressed the class once more


‘As I was saying: the Vanishing Spell becomes more difficult with the complexity of the animal to be Vanished. The snail, as an invertebrate, does not present much of a challenge; the mouse, as a mammal, offers a much

greater one. This is not, therefore, magic you can accomplish with your mind on your dinner. So— you know the incantation, let me see what you can do ...’

‘How she can lecture me about not losing my temper with Umbridge!’ Harry muttered to Ron under his breath, but he was grinning—his anger with Professor McGonagall had quite evaporated.

Professor Umbridge did not follow Professor McGonagall around the class as she had followed Professor Trelawney; perhaps she realised Professor McGonagall would not permit it. She did, however, take many more notes

while sitting in her corner, and when Professor McGonagall finally told them all to pack away, she rose with a grim expression on her face.

‘Well, it's a start,’ said Ron, holding up a long wriggling mouse-tail and dropping it back into the box Lavender was passing around.

As they filed out of the classroom, Harry saw Professor Umbndge approach the teachers desk; he nudged Ron, who nudged Hermione in turn, and the three of them deliberately fell back to eavesdrop.

‘How long have you been teaching at Hogwarts?’ Professor Umbridge asked.

‘Thirty-nine years this December,’ said Professor McGonagall brusquely, snapping her bag shut.

Professor Umbridge made a note.

‘Very well,’ she said, ‘you will receive the results of your inspection in ten days’ time.’

‘I can hardly wait,’ said Professor McGonagall, in a coldly indifferent voice, and she strode off towards the door. ‘Hurry up, you three,’ she added, sweeping Harry, Ron and Hermione before her.

Harry could not help giving her a faint smile and could have sworn he received one in return.

He had thought that the next time he would see Umbridge would be in his detention that evening, but he was wrong. When they walked down the lawns towards the Forest for Care of Magical Creatures, they found her and her

clipboard waiting for them beside Professor Grubbly-Plank.

‘You do not usually take this class, is that correct?’ Harry heard her ask as they arrived at the trestle table where the group of captive Bowtruckles were scrabbling around for woodlice like so many living twigs.

‘Quite correct,’ said Professor Grubbly-Plank, hands behind her back and bouncing on the balls of her feet. ‘I am a substitute teacher standing in for Professor Hagrid.’

Harry exchanged uneasy looks with Ron and Hermione. Malfoy was whispering with Crabbe and Goyle; he would surely love this opportunity to tell tales on Hagrid to a member of the Ministry.

‘Hmm,’ said Professor Umbridge, dropping her voice, though Harry could still hear her quite clearly. ‘I wonder—the Headmaster seems strangely reluctant to give me any information on the matter—can you tell me what is

causing Professor Hagrid's very extended leave of absence?’

Harry saw Malfoy look up eagerly and watch Umbridge and Grubbly-Plank closely.

’ ‘Fraid I can't,’ said Professor Grubbly-Plank breezily. ‘Don't know anything more about it than you do. Got an owl from Dumbledore, would I like a couple of weeks’ teaching work. I accepted. That's as much as I know. Well ...

shall I get started then?’

‘Yes, please do,’ said Professor Umbridge, scribbling on her clipboard.

Umbridge took a different tack in this class and wandered amongst the students, questioning them on magical creatures. Most people were able to answer well and Harry's spirits lifted somewhat; at least the class was not

letting Hagrid down.

‘Overall,’ said Professor Umbridge, returning to Professor Grubbly-Plank's side after a lengthy interrogation of Dean Thomas, ‘how do you, as a temporary member of staff—an objective outsider, I suppose you might say—

how do you find Hogwarts? Do you feel you receive enough support from the school management?’

‘Oh, yes, Dumbledore's excellent,’ said Professor Grubbly-Plank heartily. ‘Yes, I'm very happy with the way things are run, very happy indeed.’

Looking politely incredulous, Umbridge made a tiny note on her clipboard and went on, ‘And what are you planning to cover with this class this year—assuming, of course, that Professor Hagrid does not return?’

‘Oh, I'll take them through the creatures that most often come up in OWL,’ said Professor Grubbly-Plank. ‘Not much left to do—they've studied unicorns and Nifflers, I thought we'd cover Porlocks and Kneazles, make sure they

can recognise Crups and Knarls, you know ...’

‘Well, you seem to know what you're doing, at any rate,’ said Professor Umbridge, making a very obvious tick on her clipboard. Harry did not like the emphasis she put on ‘you’ and liked it even less when she put her next

question to Goyle. ‘Now, I hear there have been injuries in this class?’

Goyle gave a stupid grin. Malfoy hastened to answer the question.

‘That was me,’ he said. ‘I was slashed by a hippogriff.’

‘A hippogriff?’ said Professor Umbridge, now scribbling frantically.

‘Only because he was too stupid to listen to what Hagrid told him to do,’ said Harry angrily.

Both Ron and Hermione groaned. Professor Umbridge turned her head slowly in Harry's direction.

‘Another night's detention, I think,’ she said softly. ‘Well, thank you very much, Professor Grubbly-Plank, I think that's all I need here. You will be receiving the results of your inspection within ten days.’

‘Jolly good,’ said Professor Grubbly-Plank, and Professor Umbridge set off back across the lawn to the castle.

It was nearly midnight when Harry left Umbridge's office that night, his hand now bleeding so severely that it was staining the scarf he had wrapped around it. He expected the common room to be empty when he returned, but

Ron and Hermione had sat up waiting for him. He was pleased to see them, especially as Hermione was disposed to be sympathetic rather than critical.

‘Here,’ she said anxiously, pushing a small bowl of yellow liquid towards him, ‘soak your hand in that, it's a solution of strained and pickled Murtlap tentacles, it should help.’

Harry placed his bleeding, aching hand into the bowl and experienced a wonderful feeling of relief. Crookshanks curled around his legs, purring loudly, then leapt into his lap and settled down.

‘Thanks,’ he said gratefully, scratching behind Crookshanks's ears with his left hand.

‘I still reckon you should complain about this,’ said Ron in a low voice.

‘No,’ said Harry flatly.

‘McGonagall would go nuts if she knew—’

‘Yeah, she probably would,’ said Harry dully. ‘And how long do you reckon it'd take Umbridge to pass another decree saying anyone who complains about the High Inquisitor gets sacked immediately?’

Ron opened his mouth to retort but nothing came out and, after a moment, he closed it again, defeated.

‘She's an awful woman,’ said Hermione in a small voice. ‘Awful.You know, I was just saying to Ron when you came in ... we've got to do something about her.’

‘I suggested poison,’ said Ron grimly.

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