'NO!' said Harry and Hermione together, very loudly.
'Sirius, didn't you see the Daily Prophet?' said Hermione anxiously.
'Oh, that,' said Sirius, grinning, 'they're always guessing where I am, they
haven't really got a clue -'
'Yeah, but we think this time they have,' said Harry. 'Something Malfoy said
on the train made us think he knew it was you, and his father was on the platform,
Sirius - you know, Lucius Malfoy - so don't come up here, whatever you do. If
Malfoy recognises you again -'
'All right, all right, I've got the point,' said Sirius. He looked most displeased.
'Just an idea, thought you might like to get together.'
'I would, I just don't want you chucked back in Azkaban!' said Harry.
There was a pause in which Sirius looked out of the fire at Harry, a crease
between his sunken eyes.
'You're less like your father than I thought,' he said finally, a definite
coolness in his voice. The risk would've been what made it fun for James.'
'Well, I'd better get going, I can hear Kreacher coming down the stairs,'
said Sirius, but Harry was sure he was lying. I'll write to tell you a time
I can make it back into the fire, then, shall I? If you can stand to risk it?'
There was a tiny pop, and the place where Sirius's head had been was flickering
flame once more.
- CHAPTER FIFTEEN -
The Hogwarts High Inquisitor
They had expected to have to comb Hermione's Daily Prophet carefully next
morning to find the article Percy had mentioned in his letter. However, the
departing delivery owl had barely cleared the top of the milk jug when Hermione
let out a huge gasp and flattened the newspaper to reveal a large photograph
of Dolores Umbridge, smiling widely and blinking slowly at them from beneath
MINISTRY SEEKS EDUCATIONAL REFORM
DOLORES UMBRIDGE APPOINTED
FIRST EVER HIGH INQUISITOR
'Umbridge - "High Inquisitor"?' said Harry darkly, his half-eaten piece of
toast slipping from his fingers. 'What does that mean?' Hermione read aloud:
'In a surprise move last night the Ministry of Magic passed new legislation
giving itself an unprecedented level of control at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft
'"The Minister has been growing uneasy about goings-on at Hogwarts for some
time," said junior Assistant to the Minister, Percy Weasley. "He is now responding
to concerns voiced by anxious parents, who feel the school may be moving in
a direction they do not approve of."
'This is not the first time in recent weeks that the Minister, Cornelius
Fudge, has used new laws to effect improvements at the
wizarding school. As recently as 30ih August, Educational Decree Number Twenty-two
was passed, to ensure that, in the event of the current Headmaster being unable
to provide a candidate for a teaching post, the Ministry should select an appropriate
person. '"That's how Dolores Umbridge came to be appointed to the teaching staff
at Hogwarts," said Weasley last night. "Dumbledore couldn't find anyone so the
Minister put in Umbridge, and of course, she's been an immediate success -"'
'She's been a WHAT?' said Harry loudly. 'Wait, there's more,' said Hermione
'"- an immediate success, totally revolutionising the teaching of Defence
Against the Dark Arts and providing the Minister with on-the-ground feedback
about what's really happening at Hogwarts."
'It is this last function that the Ministry has now formalised with the passing
of Educational Decree Number Twenty-three, which creates the new position of
Hogwarts High Inquisitor.
'"This is an exciting new phase in the Minister's plan to get to grips with
what some are calling the falling standards at Hogwarts," said Weasley. "The
Inquisitor will have powers to inspect her fellow educators and make sure that
they are coming up to scratch. Professor Umbridge has been offered this position
in addition to her own teaching post and we are delighted to say that she has
'The Ministry's new moves have received enthusiastic support from parents
of students at Hogwarts.
"T feel much easier in my mind now that I know Dumbledore is being subjected
to fair and objective evaluation," said Mr Lucius Malfoy, 4I, speaking from
his Wiltshire mansion last night. "Many of us with our children's best interests
at heart have been concerned about some of Dumbledore's eccentric decisions
in the last few years and are glad to know that the Ministry is keeping an eye
on the situation."
'Among those eccentric decisions are undoubtedly the controversial staff
appointments previously described in this newspaper, which have included the
employment of werewolf Remus Lupin, half-giant Rubeus Hagrid and delusional
ex-Auror, "Mad-Eye" Moody.
'Rumours abound, of course, that Albus Dumbledore, once Supreme Mugwump of
the International Confederation of Wizards and Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot,
is no longer up to the task of managing the prestigious school of Hogwarts.
'"I think the appointment of the Inquisitor is a first step towards ensuring
that Hogwarts has a headmaster in whom we can all repose our confidence," said
a Ministry insider last night.
'Wizengamot elders Griselda Marchbanks and Tiberius Ogden have resigned in
protest at the introduction of the post of Inquisitor to Hogwarts.
'"Hogwarts is a school, not an outpost of Cornelius Fudge's office," said
Madam Marchbanks. "This is a further, disgusting attempt to discredit Albus
'(For a full account of Madam Marchbanks's alleged links to . subversive
goblin groups, turn to page seventeen.)'
Hermione finished reading and looked across the table at the other two.
'So now we know how we ended up with Umbridge! Fudge passed this "Educational
Decree" and forced her on us! And now he's given her the power to inspect the
other teachers!' Hermione was breathing fast and her eyes were very bright.
'I can't believe this. It's outrageous!'
'I know it is,' said Harry. He looked down at his right hand, clenched on
the table-top, and saw the faint white outline of the words Umbridge had forced
him to cut into his skin.
But a grin was unfurling on Ron's face.
'What?' said Harry and Hermione together, staring at him.
'Oh, I can't wait to see McGonagall inspected,' said Ron happily. 'Umbridge
won't know what's hit her.'
'Well, come on,' said Hermione, jumping up, 'we'd better get going, if she's
inspecting Binns's class we don't want to be late:'
But Professor Umbridge was not inspecting their History of Magic lesson,
which was just as dull as the previous Monday, nor was she in Snape's dungeon
when they arrived for double Potions, where Harry's moonstone essay was handed
back to him with a large, spiky black 'D' scrawled in an upper corner.
'I have awarded you the grades you would have received if you presented this
work in your OWL,' said Snape with a smirk, as he swept among them, passing
back their homework. This should give you a realistic idea of what to expect
in the examination.'
Snape reached the front of the class and turned on his heel to face them.
The general standard of this homework was abysmal. Most of you would have
failed had this been your examination. I expect to see a great deal more effort
for this weeks essay on the various varieties of venom antidotes, or I shall
have to start handing out detentions to those dunces who get a 'D'.
He smirked as Malfoy sniggered and said in a carrying whisper, 'Some people
got a "D"? Ha!'
Harry realised that Hermione was looking sideways to see what grade he had
received; he slid his moonstone essay back into his bag as quickly as possible,
feeling that he would rather keep that information private.
Determined not to give Snape an excuse to fail him this lesson, Harry read
and reread every line of instructions on the blackboard at least three times
before acting on them. His Strengthening Solution was not precisely the clear
turquoise shade of Hermione's but it was at least blue rather than pink, like
Neville's, and he delivered a flask of it to Snape's desk at the end of the
lesson with a feeling of mingled defiance and relief.
'Well, that wasn't as bad as last week, was it?' said Hermione, as they climbed
the steps out of the dungeon and made their way across the Entrance Hall towards
lunch. 'And the homework didn't go too badly, either, did it?'
When neither Ron nor Harry answered, she pressed on, 'I mean, all right,
I didn't expect the top grade, not if he's marking to OWL standard, but a pass
is quite encouraging at this stage, wouldn't you say?'
Harry made a non-committal noise in his throat.
'Of course, a lot can happen between now and the exam, we've got plenty of
time to improve, but the grades we're getting now are a sort of baseline, aren't
they? Something we can build on:"
They sat down together at the Gryffmdor table.
'Obviously, I'd have been thrilled if I'd got an "O" -'
'Hermione,' said Ron sharply 'if you want to know what grades we got, ask.':
'I don't - I didn't mean - well, if you want to tell me -'
'I got a "P",' said Ron, ladling soup into his bowl. 'Happy?'
'Well, that's nothing to be ashamed of,' said Fred, who had just arrived
at the table with George and Lee Jordan and was sitting down on Harry's right.
'Nothing wrong with a good healthy "P".'
'But,' said Hermione, 'doesn't "P" stand for:"
'"Poor", yeah,' said Lee Jordan. 'Still, better than "D", isn't it? "Dreadful"?'
Harry felt his face grow warm and faked a small coughing fit over his roll.
When he emerged from this he was sorry to find that Hermione was still in full
flow about OWL grades.
'So top grade's "O" for "Outstanding",' she was saying, 'and then there's
'No, "E",' George corrected her, '"E" for "Exceeds Expectations". And I've
always thought Fred and I should've got "E" in everything, because we exceeded
expectations just by turning up for the exams.'
They all laughed except Hermione, who ploughed on, 'So, after "E" it's "A"
for "Acceptable", and that's the last pass grade, isn't it?'
'Yep,' said Fred, dunking an entire roll in his soup, transferring it to
his mouth and swallowing it whole.
Then you get "P" for "Poor"-' Ron raised both his arms in mock celebration
- 'and "D" for "Dreadful".'
'And then "T",' George reminded him.
'T"?' asked Hermione, looking appalled. 'Even lower than a "D"? What on earth
does "T" stand for?'
'Troll",' said George promptly.
Harry laughed again, though he was not sure whether or not George was joking.
He imagined trying to conceal from Hermione that he had received T's in all
his OWLs and immediately resolved to work harder from now on.
'You lot had an inspected lesson yet?' Fred asked them.
'No,' said Hermione at once. 'Have you?'
'Just now, before lunch,' said George. 'Charms.'
'What was it like?' Harry and Hermione asked together.
'Not that bad. Umbridge just lurked in the corner making notes on a clipboard.
You know what Flitwick's like, he treated her like a guest, didn't seem to bother
him at all. She didn't say much. Asked Alicia a couple of questions about what
the classes are normally like, Alicia told her they were really good, that was
'I can't see old Flitwick getting marked down,' said George, 'he usually
gets everyone through their exams all right.'
'Who've you got this afternoon?' Fred asked Harry.
'A "T" if ever I saw one.'
'- and Umbridge herself.'
'Well, be a good boy and keep your temper with Umbridge today' said George.
'Angelina'll do her nut if you miss any more Quidditch practices.'
But Harry did not have to wait for Defence Against the Dark Arts to meet
Professor Umbridge. He was pulling out his dream diary in a seat at the very
back of the shadowy Divination room when Ron elbowed him in the ribs and, looking
round, he saw Professor Umbridge emerging through the trapdoor in the floor.
The class, which had been talking cheerily fell silent at once. The abrupt fall
in the noise level made Professor Trelawney, who had been wafting about handing
out copies of The Dream Oracle, look round.
'Good afternoon, Professor Trelawney,' said Professor Umbridge with her wide
smile. 'You received my note, I trust? Giving the time and date of your inspection?'
Professor Trelawney nodded curtly and, looking very disgruntled, turned her
back on Professor Umbridge and continued to give out books. Still smiling, Professor
Umbridge grasped the back of the nearest armchair and pulled it to the front
of the class so that it was a few inches behind Professor Trelawney's seat.
She then sat down, took her clipboard from her flowery bag and looked up expectantly,
waiting for the class to begin.