“Brilliant,” George said contentedly, looking out at a sparkler floating past Gryffindor Tower.
“Worth every knut,” Fred agreed. “I still think we should charm the DADA textbooks. Umbridge would go mental if those simpering children on the cover started chanting, ‘Fudge is a moron’ or ‘Voldemort’s back’.”
“Too risky. She might decide to put the whole class in detention and blame Harry. Let’s do the next thing tomorrow, and then decide how else to honor our esteemed Headmistress.”
The following morning at breakfast, students were still chattering about the fireworks in excited whispers. Umbridge stood, cleared her throat, and said, “I have an important announcement to make. Members of the Wizengamut will be paying a visit to Hogwarts later this week, to see how smoothly Hogwarts is running under its new leadership.”
Seamus muttered, “Yeah, we were running everywhere yesterday, dodging fireworks.”
“Oi,” Ron said, leaning across Seamus to speak to Fred and George. “Anything on for today?”
Fred lifted a questioning eyebrow at George, received a nod, and said, “Watch and learn, little bro.” Fred aimed his wand at Umbridge under the table, and whispered an incantation.
At the High Table, Umbridge paused in the middle of a speech no one was listening to. A small pink toad had appeared next to her cup of tea. She glared at it in disapproval, then looked around the Great Hall, as if daring anyone to laugh. A moment later, her glare intensified as a second toad appeared, then a third.
“How did you do it?” Hermione asked, in a tone that sounded curiously like approval. “Is it triggered, or do they just randomly appear? And how long will it last?”
George grinned. “A new one pops up every time she makes that horrible ‘hem, hem’ sound. Look at her. She’s itching to try a Vanishing spell but afraid it will make ten more of them if she tries.”
“And will it?” Ron asked.
“That would be too predictable, now wouldn’t it?” Fred replied. “They get larger and louder when you try Vanishing them. And they sprout little hair bows.”
“They do!” Harry said gleefully, before quickly wiping all expression from his face and staring determinedly at his porridge.
“It’s all right; she’s not looking this way,” Hermione said.
“Which only proves that she’s monumentally thick,” said George, who’d noticed that the rest of the Hogwarts faculty had looked over at the Gryffindor table the moment the first toad appeared.
Ron's brow furrowed in puzzlement. "What’s she doing now? From the wand movements, that’s got to be Silencio, but the toads don’t seem to have changed.”
“You just can’t hear them,” Fred explained. “The first time she tries Silencio, they stop croaking and start saying, ‘hem, hem,’ and if she does it again, they start talking.”
"Saying what?” Hermione asked suspiciously.
George said, “It varies. Sometimes, it’s her voice, saying, ‘Fudge is my boyfriend.’ ”
“Sometimes, it’s Fudge’s voice, saying, ‘I’m a complete moron. Please fire me,’ ” Fred added. “She can’t get away from them, either. They’re charmed to follow her everywhere. If she tries a Notice-Me-Not spell, they’ll do their best to hop on her.”
“Doesn’t look like she’s figured out what’s triggering it,” Harry observed, as a toad materialized out of thin air and fell into Umbridge’s porridge with a splash. “I'll bet the other teachers have guessed and decided not to tell her.”
As the morning progressed, Umbridge realized that her second day as Headmistress was going to be as trying as the first. At lunchtime, Umbridge was escorted into the Great Hall by a horde of pink toads of various sizes, some wearing hair bows, some croaking, some giving tiny fake coughs, and some proclaiming their undying love for Minister Fudge. Umbridge looked murderous, but the other teachers were oddly indifferent to the toads hopping on and around the High Table. Flitwick gave them a casual glance, then flicked his wand. A moment later, his plate and body were surrounded by a bubble of toad-free air.
George said, under his breath, “Do it. Do it. Try a Bubble-Head charm.”
Hermione turned to George. “It won’t work?”
Fred and George grinned maniacally. “Not for her. Any toad within a foot of her will be stuck inside her bubble. If she screams, the number of toads will double. There she goes. Excellent.”
Hermione sat back, looking impressed, as Umbridge began shrieking and pawing at the toads trapped inside the bubble with her.
“Do something!” Umbridge demanded of the High Table in general. “You have my authority to act!”
A handful of students nearest the High Table heard Flitwick’s high voice saying, “Oh, dear. I’m afraid this lies outside my personal experience. I will need time to research the problem. It’s a shame Dumbledore isn’t here. He’s familiar with all sorts of odd spells.”
“Dumbledore!” Umbridge screamed in outrage, and her bubble swelled to accommodate an abrupt increase of toads. “I… I… oh!” she exclaimed, and hurried from the Great Hall, surrounded by a bubble of toads, with hundreds of others hopping faithfully behind.
“That… was… amazing!” Ron exclaimed, wiping tears from his eyes. “Is there more?”
Before the twins could answer, McGonagall paused at the Gryffindor table to give them a meaningful glance. “A word with you.”
She led Fred and George to the small room adjoining the Great Hall and said, “Do not tell me you know nothing about this.”
“They only last twelve hours,” George put in quickly.
McGonagall pressed her lips together tightly and gave them a long look before saying, “Don’t get caught. And don’t do anything that could implicate innocent parties, especially the younger years.”
“Professor, would we dare...”
“Yes, you would. There doesn’t seem to be much you wouldn’t dare. Don’t get burnt, and don’t, for Merlin’s sake, go roaming through Sprout’s greenhouses. Some of her plants are dangerous, even for you.” McGonagall turned on her heel and left before Fred and George had a chance to respond.
They were late for Charms, but Flitwick awarded them twenty points each for promptness. Snape, predictably, was less generous.
“Weasleys,” he hissed, sidling up behind the twins during Potions, “precisely what are you pretending to brew?” With a swish of his wand, their potions disappeared. “A zero for your pathetic attempts at potion-making, and detention for being dangerously inattentive.”
Umbridge was absent from dinner in the Great Hall. Two first years claimed she’d nearly gone mental from all the toads during their DADA lesson and had dismissed them early. A fifth year from Ravenclaw who’d gotten a bad bite in Herbology reported that Madame Pomfrey had given Umbridge a sedative potion. “Snoring like a troll, and the toads were sitting there at her bedside, perfectly still and quiet. It was creepy.”
“What’s got into Snape’s cauldron?” Fred complained, as he and George made their way to the dungeons after dinner. “We weren’t even doing anything.”
“I did notice that everyone else’s potion was pale blue and smoking,” George admitted.
“Ours were black and fuzzy. No idea how we managed that. Pity. It might have been something interesting.”
Snape scowled at them as they entered the Potions classroom. “For your detention, you will prepare an extremely tricky potion to demonstrate that you are capable of following instructions, however seldom you choose to do so during lessons.
“The potion is vinoveritas, a precursor to veritaserum. If properly brewed, the result is a sweet liquid which can be dried to crystal form and used as a sugar substitute. Added to tea, it’s nothing more than a minor calming draught. Combined with alcohol, it renders the subject incapable of uttering a falsehood.
“As you might easily imagine, were you interested in anything more challenging than infantile pranks, vinoveritas was often given to unsuspecting guests in goblets of spiced wine, although stealthier villains usually administered the potion and alcohol separately, since the desired reaction will occur as long as alcohol is given within forty hours of ingesting the potion. Indeed, its association with disreputable wizards had as much to do with its falling out of favor as the potential side effects.”
“Side effects, sir?” George said.
“If carelessly brewed, it can compel the subject to indiscriminately volunteer the information they most want kept secret. In such a case, the problem becomes focusing the subject’s attention on issues of interest to the interrogator. Extreme paranoia is a rare but known side effect, and a handful of wizards have talked themselves to the point of collapse.” Snape gave them a slow, satisfied smile and concluded, “All of which makes this task ideally suited to you.”
“Planning on giving us some firewhiskey so you can suss out all our deepest darkest, Professor?” Fred challenged, trying to sound less worried than he felt.
Snape gave him a baleful stare. “Weasley, I cannot imagine wasting good firewhiskey to winkle out the disgusting details of your imbecilic schemes and undoubtedly unappetizing personal lives. The instructions for making vinoveritas are in this book. You will each copy them, including the annotations, one hundred times without magic. You will then brew the potion from memory. If you succeed, you will receive full marks for today’s lesson. If you fail, I predict the results will be… memorable. Begin.”
Snape stalked out of the room, leaving Fred and George to stare at each other in disbelief.
George was the first to break the silence. “Brother mine, I expect to see Voldemort twirling about in a pink tutu at any moment. Is Snape actually helping us?”
“But he hates us,” Fred protested.
“He hates everybody. I think we’ve just found someone he hates even more than us.”
They set to work, copying the instructions while taking careful note of all the things they weren’t supposed to do, and what would happen if they did them. Snape returned, and Vanished their notes after a cursory inspection. “Start brewing,” he said curtly, and went to his desk to grade essays.
It was half-past eleven by the time Fred and George finished brewing. They’d hoped for an opportunity to secretly bottle the vinoveritas, but Snape watched them closely as they worked, occasionally making disparaging remarks.
“Acceptable,” Snape declared, after inspecting their perfectly-brewed potions. “It would seem that you are not completely incompetent when you pay attention to the task at hand, which is fortunate for Madame Umbridge. She seems to go through an inordinate amount of veritaserum.”
“But that’s not… veritaserum is tasteless,” Fred protested.
Snape raised an eyebrow and gave Fred an oily smile. “A fact which can be discovered only by actually tasting it. Dismissed.”
As Fred and George climbed the stairs to Gryffindor Tower, George said, “No one would ever believe us, if we told them what happened tonight.”
“Then let’s not waste time telling them,” Fred replied. “Umbridge should be sound asleep in the Infirmary. I’ve just had the most lovely inspiration.”
“All right, I’ll admit it: I had the inspiration about five seconds after Snape told us what we were brewing.”
“Funny; I believe I had the same inspiration. Sleep or mischief: the eternal dilemma.”
After collecting the Marauder’s Map from Harry and an experimental toy from George’s trunk, they slipped away to the Room of Requirement for some illicit potion-brewing. After they’d reduced the freshly-made vinoveritas to crystals, Fred said, “This is going to be better than the toads.”
“Check the map.”
“Umbridge is still in the Infirmary. Filch and Mrs. Norris are on the sixth floor.”
“Too close,” George said. “Rambling Rodent to the rescue.” He took a toy mouse from his pocket, placed it on the carpet just outside the Room of Requirement, and tapped it with his wand. The toy sped away, charmed to seek out Mrs. Norris and lead her far away from the twins.
Fred and George stealthily made their way to Umbridge’s office and used an unlocking spell they’d coaxed out of the Room of Requirement. Standing back-to-back in the middle of the room, they began to work. After a few minutes, Fred laughed triumphantly.
“Shh,” said George. “We don’t want to wake up anyone.”
“Only two more on my side.”
They inspected their work, added a temporary glamour to conceal it, and crept back to Gryffindor Tower, summoning the Rambling Rodent once they were safely back in the Common Room.
The following morning, nothing seemed amiss. Umbridge took her usual seat at the High Table, looking well-rested but wary.
Ron turned to Fred. “The toads have gone? What’s on for today?”
“Nothing,” Fred replied.
“We want to give her time to wonder what’s coming next,” explained George. He gave Fred a sideways smile and said, “The most excitement the Toad will have today is drinking a cup of tea.”
The day passed without incident, to the obvious disappointment of most of the students. During the afternoon, Umbridge interviewed a half-dozen students over tea, trying to learn who’d been responsible for the fireworks and the toads. To her great frustration, she learned nothing, which led her to believe the guilty party must be a teacher. Dinner at the High Table was a stilted affair, with Umbridge casting suspicious glances at her colleagues and the other teachers trying to smother their amusement.
That evening, McGonagall paid a rare visit to the Common Room. “I have been instructed by Professor Umbridge to remind you that representatives from the Wizengamut will be visiting Hogwarts tomorrow. You should all dress and behave appropriately.”
Fred said, “What’s appropriate, Professor?”
McGonagall took a moment to consider her answer before saying, “Caution is obligatory, and you should treat our visitors with respect and courtesy.”
"What about Umbridge?" called out someone from the back of the room.
McGonagall hesitated briefly before repeating, "The visitors should be treated with respect and courtesy."
“Professor,” George said quietly, as McGonagall was leaving. “Does courtesy extend to a glass of goblin wine or firewhiskey for the visitors?”
McGonagall paused, and slowly looked back and forth between Fred and George. “You can be sure that refreshment will be offered to our guests.”
The visitors arrived the following afternoon: an elderly witch, a sharp-faced wizard who looked as if he disapproved of everything on principle, and an extremely fat wizard who’d only come for the refreshments. Umbridge greeted them unctuously and offered them a tour. As the group made its way through the castle, she was secretly pleased to see the students hurrying to their lessons, properly turned out with no untucked shirts, loosened ties, or unkempt hair. Several of them nodded politely at their visitors as they passed.
“As you can see, everything is going beautifully at Hogwarts,” Umbridge said in a falsely bright voice.
The elderly witch gave Umbridge a dubious look. “My great-granddaughter sent me an owl, talking about some fireworks.”
“Merely a transfiguration exercise gone wrong. You know how quickly things can get out of hand, particularly when a teacher doesn’t have control of her classroom. And this is my classroom, which is always in good order. Let’s go through to my office and have a seat. I’d be happy to correct any false impressions you may have received.”
Umbridge opened the door to her office and screamed.
Someone had vandalized her collection of kitten plates. Her whimsical frolicking felines had been shaved and someone had written, “Surrender, Dolores,” on one of them.
“Would this be an example of how well things are going at Hogwarts or is it a false impression?” the elderly witch said tartly.
As Umbridge groped for an answer, the kitten turned into a large pink toad wearing a hair bow. It winked at her.
“Tell the truth,” demanded the grumpy wizard. “What is happening at Hogwarts?”
Umbridge blurted out, “It’s horrible. I hate them and they hate me and they don’t respect Fudge and he’s worried about that wretched Harry Potter and I sent those Dementors but they didn’t Kiss him and we didn’t get to expel him and it’s all his fault, his and Dumbledore’s because everyone knows he’s cleverer than Fudge even though Fudge is wonderful and handsome and right about Voldemort and the Ministry should get rid of all the muggleborns because that Granger girl is a know-it-all and the other teachers are sabotaging my efforts and...”
“Stupefy,” said the grumpy wizard. Umbridge collapsed to the floor. “This was the best the Ministry could do?”
“She wasn’t sent here to be competent,” said the fat wizard. “What should we do with her?”
“Leave her,” said the grumpy wizard. “The school year’s nearly over. Anyone Fudge sends to replace her will be just as bad, if not worse.”
“But she’s in control of Hogwarts,” protested the fat wizard.
“Is she?” said the elderly witch, nodding at the kittens.
The fat wizard seemed indecisive. “But what should we report back to the Wizengamut?”
The elderly witch slowly turned around the room, reading the messages on the kittens. Her gaze lingered thoughtfully on "Fudge is a moron", "We believe Harry", and "Bring back Dumbledore!"
She turned to the fat wizard. “We should tell them the students are behaving admirably.”