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Following the Rules
As always, thanks to Chary and the Orginal team for the betas.
"If they'd only followed the rules," Dolores Jane Umbridge insisted, "there'd be no problem at all."
The mirror wisely did not reply.
Delores turned her head back and forth, studying the pale blue bow pinned in her hair. "No," she decided. "Pink is much more the color."
In acerbic tones, the mirror agreed with her.
Delores took off the bow and tapped it with her wand. It flashes several times into a variety of pinks, but always faded back to the original pale blue. She glared at it, but did not try again. The old wand was useless. A trip to Ollivander's would be necessary upon her return to London.
The former headmistress had plotted her strategic escape from Hogwarts, selecting the dinner hour when the community would be at table in the Great Hall. Her luggage had been sent ahead, that which she cared to entrust to Mr. Flich. Knowing now that he was a Squib - how like the teaching staff to have kept that a secret from her, along with so much else - she'd kept some of her most precious possessions and packed them herself into her carpetbag for the trip to the gates. She would Apparate back to her erstwhile flat and return to the life she'd gladly sacrificed for the good of the Magical community. Yes, it was time to go home.
She fixed the pale blue bow back in her hair, trying to fasten it securely while still holding that old, meagrely-magic wand. It had been her old school wand, brought along in a fit of nostalgia as she'd packed last August. No intent of using it again, just that reassuring sense of rightness for it to return to the school where her younger self had first mastered magic. The innocent unicorn mane core had been hopelessly adolescent when she'd joined the Ministry of Magic after successfully completing seven N.E.W.T. exams. She'd returned to Ollivander's to commission a new wand: white poplar with a dragon heartstring. Mr. Ollivander had politely declined, and in the end, she'd gone to Brindille de Paris, who had smiled graciously and produced a truly delightful wand that had served her well for years, until that day in the Forbidden Forest-
"Getting a bit pale there, dearie," the mirror commented with far more cheek than was needed, Dolores thought. "Might want a bit of rouge."
All that remained now was her carpet bag. She picked it up, shifting it into her left hand and picking up the ineffectual wand. The road to the gates ran too close to the Forbidden Forest. Albus Dumbledore had assured her that she need not fear if she kept to the path. Fear? Dolores had pulled herself up into the stiffest posture she could manage on the soft infirmary bed. Afraid of what?
No. Dolores had an owl earlier in the day, confirming her position as Undersecretary to the Minister, as he had promised. It was not particularly encouraging that the note had not been from Cornelius Fudge himself, but a neatly scribed note by that young Percy Weasley. She'd see the Minister himself before the end of the day, she was sure she would see him. Hadn't he been regular in his correspondence during the past year? This recent lull was undoubtedly his considerate respect for her recuperation in hospital and once he saw she was fit and anxious to work with him again, Dolores Jane Umbridge would be back where she had always belonged.
At the gates, far from the reaches of that evil spirit with his cane and sock of chalk and beyond the echoes of the laughter and cheers from every tower of the school, Dolores straightened her jumper, checked the bow in her tightly curled hair, and Disapparated.
The flat on Diagon Alley was dusty and cobwebbed. Undersecretary Umbridge had arranged a monthly elf from the Ministry to come in and clean. Obviously, none had done so. Housekeeping was not her primary concern, of course. A call to the Ministry was far more important.
Dolores laid down her wand and checked the time. Yes, the Minister, a creature of habit, should be yet at his desk. He ought to be expecting her. As it was, her flat was a mere three minute walk from the Diagon Alley entrance to the Ministry offices. She checked her little pocketbook for a Knut and her pass and slid them both into the jumper pocket. A brisk walk, that was just the thing. Fresh air and a fresh start. If they'd only listened to her at Hogwarts! She regretted that most of all. The fresh start that Hogwarts had been given when she'd become Headmistress, now all a-waste. Such a waste. She spent the walk to the Ministry in sorrow at the failure of the school to recognize the opportunity it had thrown away.
The children's whispers - and much louder, too loud for a hospital wing - had given her enough information that the Battle of the Ministry, as that pesky Weasley girl persisted in calling it! Battle indeed! - had indeed smashed Dolores' favorite fountain. Her father had helped finance it while she was a student at Hogwarts. It had been her inspiration to join the Ministry. Now, she mourned at the empty site. The debris was gone and her daily ritual of a Knut for the children at St. Mungo's (and for luck) couldn't be performed. The coin was sadly replaced in her pocketbook. Perhaps she should investigate if another fountain was already commissioned.
Her office was equally as desolate as her home. The fireplace had not been cleaned, nor the room swept. A handful of old messages rested in the in box. None of them were less than six months old. Nothing required her attention and she decided it was better that way. Start afresh. Start anew.
Percy Weasley sat at the desk in Minister Fudge's anteroom, tying a message to an owl's leg, as she entered the room. "Madam Umbridge!"
She preened in the respect he'd given her name. "Good evening, Mr. Weasley. Is the Minister quite available? I'm sure he's very busy."
"I'll check right away. Please, have a seat. A cup of tea, perhaps?"
Ah. Yes. "That would be delightful, Mr. Weasley."
Her voice was back to normal, that sweet, cultivated tone she'd lost while dealing with those arrogant children. Yes, the world was righting itself quite nicely. A pot of tea with the Minister - how she'd missed this interchange of like minds! - would be quite a pleasant end to the day.
Cornelius Fudge had come to the door and escorted her in to his settee, greeting her with a welcoming kiss on both cheeks, fussing over her tea. "My dear, such a pleasure to have you back! Under such circumstances, to be sure, but you're a welcome sight indeed."
"It's such a pleasure to return, Minister." She poured him a cup of tea, adding precisely three sugar cubes and a mere whisper of milk. "And it's my pleasure to serve the Ministry in any way I can."
Tea was drunk over gossip. Dolores thought that Cornelius was distracted, but refrained from addressing Ministry business until she'd finished her cup. Then, pulling a quill, inkstand and parchment from her bag, she prepared to begin.
"Dolores," Cornelius Fudge began, and his face turned bright red. He stepped
over to the window of his office - a lovely summer sunset over the River Thames, she rather thought - "the Wizengamot will be expecting a complete report about your time at Hogwarts soon. I should like to call a full meeting to attend."
"I would be honored, sir," she simpered. "I shall be prepared by next Thursday, I should say."
"Quite, quite." His agitated finger-tapping provoked her curiosity, but she knew not to pressure Cornelius Fudge. He always told her, in the end, exactly what was on her mind. It simply took time and the proper attentive spirit.
"Dolores, about your tenure at the school. I've had some reports - disturbing ones. Students claiming tortures, approval of whippings, suppression of their rights, that sort of thing. Even something about the Dementor attack last summer."
Dolores laid the quill down on her parchment and folded her hands primly. "Yes?"
"The Daily Prophet was here yesterday. They've been interviewing some students who left school this year."
"Ah. The Weasley twins, then." She tilted her head and tittered. "Those two! Two more difficult students Hogwarts has never seen, I'm sure. They're very bitter. Their behavior was shocking, simply shocking, Cornelius. One of them attacked the son of Lucius Malfoy! I had no choice, you see, but to ban them from Quidditch. Instead of learning from this, they instead elected to wage a war on the school." She sat back against the settee and considered how convenient it was that Filch had been unable to administer the beatings the boys so richly deserved. "I would suspect any accusation they made as tinted with malice, geared to the sole purpose of creating scandal for your administration."
"Then you deny it?"
She sighed. "I regret that their behavior required my personal intervention in their cases. I deny that any punishment given to them was peculiarly unfair. I worked within the framework of Hogwarts traditions and regulations. I'm sure the board of governors can tell you how successfully we worked together to improve our children's education."
Fudge relaxed. "That's true; I've had wonderful reports from the board. We'll just attribute the Mssrs. Weasley's accusations as the grumblings of students who were unable to attain the new standards put in place by the new headmistress, shall we?"
"That's most kind of you, Cornelius." Dolores smiled pleasantly.
"But the matter of Harry Potter, Dolores. You must understand, the press is adamant that we acknowledge our debt to him."
"In what way?" Dolores felt her hands begin to tremble and tucked them into an interlocked fist. "Potter is, without a doubt, one of the most dangerous young men in our world."
"Yes, of course," Fudge said and sat down across from her at his desk. "But he was right about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, after all. He's returned."
"And look what Mr. Potter, in his inability to respect authority, has wrought. I have only seen the Atrium, of course, but the children talked about the damage done to the Department of Mysteries. We can only hope that decades of work have not been destroyed by their misguided actions."
"No, Minister, let me finish. Mr. Potter has, from the very beginning, sought to undermine my position and authority at Hogwarts. He flagrantly disobeyed me in classes, disregarded the rules I had instituted for the good and safety of the students and in the last, convinced other students to leave Hogwarts without permission and led them into a situation for which they were unprepared. That none of them died is quite astonishing, considering their grades in Defense Against the Dark Arts. I must say, if these so-called followers of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Names are so weak as to be overcome by a band of half-trained - and badly at that - students, we truly have little to fear."
Dolores checked herself. This was no way to talk to the Minister of Magic. "Minister, forgive me. I've forgotten my place and perhaps been a tiny bit careless in how I've spoken."
"No, Dolores," Fudge picked up a quill and dipped it. "What was that again? I think it would do admirably as a statement for the Daily Prophet in the morning."
It was Potter, of course, all his fault, Dolores thought as she returned to her flat. Had he simply followed the rules…