Ambush and Prank
One morning in February, Harry noticed that not only Tracey and Daphne were moving slowly, but so were several others. "What, you guys have a party and didn't tell me?" Harry asked with a grin.
Neville looked up and grinned. "Naw. Just new, advanced D.A. lessons."
Harry's eyebrows crawled up. "How'd that manage to make you, Hermione, and Ginny sore but not the others?"
Ginny shook her head. "Tonks is teaching us in addition to Tracey and Daphne."
"Why?" Harry asked curiously.
Unnoticed by Harry, Hermione subtly shook her head at Ginny. Smoothly, the younger girl answered, "We have to learn the spells from somewhere so we can teach them to the D.A. Tonks was good enough to help us out."
"That's nice of her."
"Yes, it is," Hermione agreed.
By early March, Harry was getting comfortable with the new status quo.
The only dark part of the previous month had been Ron's continuing jealousy. Seamus was the only one at all sympathetic toward his position, causing him to drift away from his former best friends. That rift continued to widen as time went on.
This particular evening near curfew, Harry met the girls as they exited their training room, followed closely by the rest of the students in the advanced D.A.
"Hey," Harry called to them, causing Hermione and Neville to look up from their huddled conversation.
"Hi, Harry," Neville casually greeted him.
"How'd it go?"
"Pretty good," Tonks answered, exiting behind the others. "Your two are working as hard as Professor Flitwick tells me you are. You'd be proud of them."
Harry smiled at the two. "I am," he said, causing them to blush and smile at him. He offered each an arm. Laughing, they took him up on that offer and the three walked on down the hall, away from the smiling students and Tonks.
"What all are you learning?" Harry asked.
"Auror spells for dueling, dueling practice, bodyguard techniques, all sorts of things," Tracey answered.
"We probably should start working together some," Harry thought aloud. "Your wanting to help me is appreciated, but if we can't all work together without getting in each others' way, it'd be worse than if we'd not gotten any training."
"True," Daphne agreed. She looked sideways at her master. "You really do appreciate us trying to help?"
He nodded firmly. "At first, I didn't like it."
"Heroically noble Gryff," Tracey teased him.
"Overly emotional and never thinks straight," Daphne added.
"That's what I said, wasn't it?" Tracey asked innocently.
Harry rolled his eyes and nudged each girl with his trapped elbows. "Hush, you."
They giggled and held onto the elbows more tightly.
"As I was saying," he went on, not at all bothered by the two women gripping his arms, "at the beginning I didn't want anyone to put themselves at risk to help me. You were right, though, Tracey. I can't do this alone. At the very least, I need someone to keep the deez off of my back as I battle Voldemort. Merlin knows they won't fight fair if they can help it. So that just means I need to be prepared for them to fight dirty."
"You should fight dirty, not just prepare if they do so," Tracey advised.
He frowned. "How so?"
"He's older, more powerful, and more knowledgeable, right?"
"Thank you for that cheery little pick-me-up."
"You know what I mean," Tracey said patiently.
Sighing, Harry nodded.
"And nothing in the prophecy says you can't have help, right?"
"Right," Harry agreed, clearly not seeing where the conversation was going.
"So why not let us help you duel him?" She squeezed his arm harder as his mouth opened to argue the point. "No, hear me out. Even if we do nothing more than jump around and cast stunners at him, that's more distraction for him, right? What if it is that little bit of distraction that can help you win?"
Harry frowned deeply. "I don't want you to get hurt."
"I don't want you to get dead," Daphne returned bluntly. "Look, we're training to help you. If you don't let us help, the training will have been worthless." She shook her head at his gathering frown. "You saved us, Harry. Let us help you back."
Tracey said, "If that reason isn't good enough, then think of it this way: If our presence increases your chances by even one percent, that makes it one percent more likely that you can save the wizarding world from utter destruction at the hands of a megalomaniac psychopath, right?"
Harry was silent for some time as they continued to walk. "That's just fighting dirty," he said lowly.
Tracey shrugged, completely unrepentant. "If it keeps my husband alive after the fight, I'm willing to fight a lot dirtier than that."
Before he could respond, Harry heard a triumphant shout behind him. Quicker than he could react, he felt a spell slam into his back and the world spun crazily.
Everything went dark.
"Headmaster, I demand that that dangerous brat be expelled!" Malfoy exclaimed from Dumbledore's fireplace.
"And a good evening to you, Lucius."
The senior Malfoy just glowered at him for a moment before looking around the room. He spotted the Head of D.M.L.E., Rufus Scrimgeour. With an oily smile, he turned back to Dumbledore. "I'm gratified to see you're bringing in the authorities. So he is going to Azkaban as well as being expelled?"
Scrimgeour and Dumbledore looked at each other for a moment. "You realize it is your son who is most likely to be disciplined?" Dumbledore asked carefully.
Malfoy blinked hard. "But that isn't what I was told. That Potter boy viciously attacked my son without provocation."
"I'd be interested in knowing what you heard, who you heard it from, and how you heard it so quickly," Scrimgeour growled.
Malfoy shook his head in an impatient gesture. "The who and how are irrelevant. Draco and some of his friends were walking down the corridor and were attacked by Potter and his two slaves. He should be arrested and the chattel given to me as recompense."
Any doubts that Scrimgeour had were dispelled. The attack had not in fact happened in a hallway, so he knew that this was a setup. The problem was that nothing was provable.
Dumbledore, meanwhile, invited Malfoy to come through the Floo. Once the Malfoy patriarch joined them, the three men walked down to the hospital in silence.
That silence was shattered as the doors opened before them.
Daphne and Tracey had their backs to a hospital bed containing Harry Potter. They stood with wands out and dangling by their sides, eyes trained on the remaining students.
Draco Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, Nott, Parkinson, and Bulstrode were in beds ranged along the other side of the aisle. Each of them alternated their glares at the threesome of Potters and complaining toward one of the adults in the room.
Madam Pomfrey moved from bed to bed, dispensing potions and healing the group of Slytherin seventh years. She ignored the students' attempts to explain to her what had happened.
Severus Snape, on the other hand, was moving from bed to bed, listening to the students and shooting Harry dark looks.
Professor McGonagall, too, was there, listening to Theodore Nott but keeping her eyes on Snape. It was unclear if it was Nott's words or Snape's presence that caused the pinched frown on her face.
Auror Tonks stood at the foot of Harry's bed, wand out and watching everyone.
As the three men stood in the doorway, taking in the scene, Neville Longbottom and Hermione Granger slipped past them and walked up to the Potters. Without a word, the two girls stepped apart, allowing the two Gryffindors to approach. After a quick glance at the unconscious form of his friend, Neville drew his wand and spun in place, glaring at the assembled Slytherins. Despite Dumbledore's momentary fears, he did not do anything untoward. Instead, he appeared to take on the attitude of an auror guard. Scrimgeour gave a sharp nod at this.
Hermione gave a small gasp at the sight of Harry's form before beginning a whispered conversation with Daphne.
"Father!" Draco called, bringing all the other voices to a momentary halt.
After a startled moment, the other five Slytherin voices picked back up, this time directed to the Headmaster. "Headmaster, he attacked us -" "- no warning -" "- just walking along -"
Dumbledore held up his hands in a placating gesture as Lucius Malfoy strode to his son's bedside. "Please, children. My hearing is not as quick as it once was. One at a time, please."
Almost in unison, the other five swiveled to look at Draco. The Malfoy scion held up his head, looking a little smug, and started speaking. "The six of us were walking along, minding our own business when Potter and his two whores ambushed us. We tried to defend ourselves, of course, and managed to stun Potter. He's not as invincible as all that, it seems," Draco added with an eye roll.
The Slytherins all snickered appreciatively, causing the students standing around Harry's bed grit their teeth and gripped their wands harder.
Draco continued, "We were about to stun the other two when this auror," he said with a sneer aimed at Tonks, "came up behind us and ordered everyone to lower their wands. Being law-abiding students, we, of course, complied immediately."
The other five nodded and muttered that they agreed with Draco's synopsis.
Dumbledore turned to Tonks. "Nymphadora?"
She made a face at his use of her given name but answered, "I heard the spells and came to investigate. Harry was at the bottom of a flight of stairs, apparently having fallen down. Both girls were over him, guarding him quite ferociously. These six," she nodded toward the Slytherins, "were ranged along both sides of the stairway above them near places of concealment and had some cover. When I ordered everyone to lower their wands, both Potters ceased casting spells. One final spell, red, came at me from Mr. Malfoy."
"She startled me, and I didn't know if Potter had more allies trying to ambush us," Draco said without a trace of remorse.
Tonks rolled her eyes. "After I deflected Malfoy's stunner, all the spells ceased. I sent those six to the hospital and they walked here under their own power. I levitated Mr. Potter."
"Did you see the fight start? Did you see Mr. Potter fall down the stairs?" Scrimgeour asked.
Tonks hesitated for only a moment. "No, sir."
"It is clear who is at fault," Lucius Malfoy said. He turned to Scrimgeour. "I demand the boy be put under arrest and shipped to Azkaban. I'll take the chattel as reparations for the injuries done my son and his friends."
"Now let's not be too hasty, Lucius," Dumbledore spoke calmly. "We have not yet heard all sides of this story." He turned. "Bine Potter?"
Snape spoke up before either Tracey or Daphne could say a word. "The chattel are not permitted to testify."
"A fact that you made more than clear when Bine Potter accused you of attempted rape," McGonagall growled. "Besides, you're afraid that their testimony will point out some hole in young Mr. Malfoy's story."
"Now, Minerva," Dumbledore said, "please let us keep our tempers in front of the students."
She gave an eloquent snort but held her tongue.
"You are correct, Severus, that her testimony isn't legally permitted, yet I wish to hear it.
"Bine Potter?" Dumbledore prompted again.
Daphne spoke up, "Harry met us after our lesson with Auror Tonks. The three of us were walking back to our apartment. At the top of the stairs, someone stunned Harry in the back without warning. He tumbled down the steps. Tracey and I hurried to him and stood guard over him until Tonks rescued us."
"No matter what stories they come up with, chattel have no voice as witnesses," Lucius reminded everyone.
"True," Scrimgeour said with a frown.
Neville rolled his eyes. "So give one of 'em some Veritaserum," he suggested, chin jerking toward the Slytherins.
"I refuse to permit my son or his friends to be subjected to such a dangerous substance," Lucius instantly replied.
"So we're just supposed to take him at his word?" Neville asked dryly.
"He is a Malfoy," Lucius arrogantly replied.
Neville turned to Hermione. "I don't know about you, but I'll take that as a resounding 'No'."
"You arrogant -" Malfoy snarled, hand darting to his wand. This caused all the other students to pull out wands as well.
"Stop!" Pomfrey barked, bringing everyone to a halt.
Neville and Lucius's eyes remained on each other, wands out and up, but not quite pointed at each other. Neville's expression was calm yet watchful. Malfoy's glare tried to put truth to the phrase, "if looks could kill."
Pomfrey said, "I told you to put them away." Slowly, everyone relaxed, putting wands away.
Everyone except Neville. He brought his wand back down to his side, but kept it in his hand.
"Mr. Longbottom, I said put it away," Pomfrey said.
"Not until there are no more direct threats to me or Harry," he stated flatly eyes still on Malfoy.
"Arrogant Gryffindor," Snape spat.
Neville ignored him.
"Mr. Longbottom, put your wand away," McGonagall said curtly.
"Not until the room is safe for Harry," Neville repeated.
Scrimgeour almost smiled.
McGonagall's expression was not nearly so calm. "Five points from Gryffindor. Put it away, Mr. Longbottom," she repeated.
He shrugged but his wand stayed in his hand.
Merriment dancing in her eyes, Tonks offered, "Mr. Longbottom, will it make you feel better if I have my wand out?"
Neville paused for a few seconds before giving a curt nod. He waited until he heard her draw her wand again before he put his wand away.
Snape and Malfoy looked livid. McGonagall pursed her lips, but a smile was lurking at the corners.
"Young man, come and see me after graduation," Scrimgeour said.
Neville was startled for half a moment before he gave the head of the aurors a small nod and smile. Tonks smirked.
With a grin trying to force its way onto her face, Tracey said, "Back to the problem; how about if I volunteer to take Veritaserum?"
Scrimgeour frowned but shook his head. "Very noble sentiment, young lady, but I'm afraid it won't help. Legally, as chattel, your testimony won't be permitted, no matter what you do or say. Not only that, but you'd require . . . your master's permission to take the Veritaserum. Once he's awake to give it, he can testify himself."
"Okay, the same conversation but with the Sorting Hat reading our minds," Tracey next offered.
"My son is not under investigation here, so there is no cause for you to interrogate him with a filthy thinking cap," Lucius countered.
Scrimgeour shrugged to Tracey. "Same answer for the same reasons, I'm afraid."
"So we are at an impasse until Mr. Potter awakens?" Dumbledore asked.
"I'm afraid so."
"Unacceptable," Malfoy flatly stated. "My son has been injured by a cowardly attack and now he won't be punished for it?"
"Oh, I assure you there will be a thorough investigation once Mr. Potter awakens," McGonagall said, eyes firmly upon Lucius.
"Why do you need an investigation, Minerva? The auror agrees with Draco's words!"
"All I can attest to is finding your son and his friends in places of cover and mercilessly attacking the two Potter wives who were trying to defend their unconscious husband," Tonks flatly stated.
"Hardly sounds like a ringing endorsement for Draco's version to me," Hermione loudly whispered to Neville.
Lucius flushed but ignored her. He turned to Draco. "Be well, son. Rest assured, your injuries will not go unanswered." He dramatically turned and swept from the Infirmary.
"There's going to be trouble from him," Neville stated. He turned to Draco and shook his head at the blonde's attempt to speak. "And you agree with me, Malfoy. How many times have you threatened us all with, 'When my father hears of this'?" he asked, making his voice high and whiny at his 'impersonation' of Draco.
Malfoy and Snape glared. Hermione and the two conscious Potters smirked. Both McGonagall and Pomfrey had suspicious lip twitches. Tonks made undignified snorting noises.
Dumbledore, eyes twinkling, cleared his throat. "How are all of the students, Poppy?"
The school nurse waved at the Slytherin students. "These six had only minor injuries. A few scrapes. One bump on Mr. Crabbe that looks like the result of falling after he was stunned. Everything has already been fixed. They're all free to go." She gave them all a pointed stare, and they left, Snape trailing after them but not before another glare at the unconscious Harry.
When the seven had left, Pomfrey walked back over to Harry and waved her wand over him again. Frowning at the results, she said, "Mr. Potter, on the other hand, is much the worse for wear. He was stunned from behind, throwing him forward and down a flight of stairs. He has multiple broken bones, a collapsed lung, and a severe concussion."
Hermione and Daphne gasped at the news. Neville and Tracey's eyes hardened.
Before anyone else could react, Professor Flitwick entered and took in the scene in one glance. Grimacing at Harry's form, he walked to Dumbledore. "I have the results of the scan, Albus."
In a tight voice, McGonagall said, "Let me guess: multiple stunners from the top of the steps and several shields and a few stunners from the landing?"
Flitwick nodded. "What happened?"
"They stunned him in the back, he fell down the steps, and we spent the rest of the fight trying to defend him," Tracey summarized with a fierce scowl.
"No doubt Mr. Malfoy's version is radically different."
"Indeed," Dumbledore agreed ironically. "Unfortunately, the results of your scan do not definitively prove either version."
Hermione broke in with an outraged expression. "Headmaster, you can't believe that Harry would -"
Dumbledore held up a hand. "Miss Granger, I am confident that Bine Potter spoke the complete truth. However, until we can prove that . . ." He trailed off, letting everyone draw their own conclusions.
He turned to Pomfrey, for once looking his century and a half of life. "How long until he awakens?"
Poppy's frown deepened. "It's a question on if he will awaken, I'm afraid."
"Come on, Harry, you have to wake up," Daphne pleaded quietly.
The unmoving form on the hospital bed made no response.
"Please, Harry." She sniffled. "If you don't, then Malfoy will get us in recompense." She let out a strangled laugh. "Recompense. Like we did something wrong when everyone but everyone knows it was his son who attacked us. Try proving that, though. No, legally speaking, he's in the right just because Tracey and I can't testify. Tonks didn't see anything to help us out. So it's the six of them testifying against two chattel. Without someone else testifying against them, then they will be assumed to be in the right."
"Daphne," Neville whispered from the darkness.
"So, you see, you have to wake up," Daphne continued, ignoring Neville. "If you don't, then Tracey and I will go to him in settlement. If that happens, then we'll probably kill ourselves instead of allowing Draco Bloody Malfoy get his claws into us." She sighed. "So, you see, not only would you save our lives, you'd also prove him to be a lying little ferret. You'd then get a settlement out of him as he's trying to steal us away from you. Sounds like all sorts of upside to me, Master. The only thing is, you gotta wake up first."
"Daphne, we have to go," Neville repeated.
"The day after you got in here, Dumbledore was served papers from the Ministry. He was ordered to hand us over to Malfoy. He's been trying to help us out, though. He, McGonagall, Tonks, and Flitwick have been hiding us in guest quarters here in the castle. Neville and Hermione have been good enough to bring us the assignments and news and keep us company. Apparently neither Director Scrimgeour nor Minister Bones are happy about what's happening with us. The problem is that legally speaking, their hands are tied. Anyway, with how unhappy Scrimgeour is about it all, I don't think the aurors are looking for us too hard. So when this all blows over, remember to thank Bones and Scrimgeour."
"Daph, we don't have any more time until the patrol is here."
Daphne leaned forward and kissed Harry tenderly. "Please wake up, Master."
Still not receiving any reaction, she stifled a sob and hurried out, Neville following.
Moments later, Madam Pomfrey came out of her apartments, bare feet making no noise. She silently waved her wand above Harry's body and studied the softly glowing lights that resulted. With a sigh, she canceled the spells and tucked the sheets more firmly around the still body. Calmly, she spoke, "I'm going to be sealing the ward, Headmaster. You need to go."
Dumbledore faded into view, sad eyes resting upon the occupied bed. He nodded somberly to the matron and left without a word.
Looking back down, she tenderly brushed a strand of hair out of Harry's face. "You, too, Fil."
"No," Flitwick's voice floated out from another corner.
She nodded, not really surprised. With a series of wand motions, she erected the pre-set wards, sealing the infirmary from the rest of the school. "He's safe, Fil," she said quietly. "No need to stand watch all night." She held out a hand. "Come to bed."
"Not your most eloquent, Mr. Potter. Still, I'm glad to see you awake."
"Wa - ter," he muttered in a dry whisper.
All bustling efficiency, Madam Pomfrey brought a glass of water over to Harry so he could sip at it.
"Harry! You're awake!"
Harry blearily looked over toward the voice, unable to see without his glasses.
"Good to see you, mate," the cheerful voice continued. "I'll let everyone know you're awake." The blurry form left the Infirmary. It took Harry several seconds to identify the voice as Ernie Macmillan's.
After Harry had reduced the drought in his mouth, he asked Madam Pomfrey, "What happened?"
She placed his glasses into his hand. He slipped them on to see her scowl. "That depends on who you ask. Your ladies claim you were ambushed by Malfoy and his gang. Mr. Malfoy claims you ambushed him."
Harry made an explosive, snorting sound of disgust. His hand immediately went up to the side of his head. "Ow."
Pomfrey's lips twitched into a smile. "Indeed. You had a severe concussion. It wouldn't surprise me if you had headaches for the next week. I've already repaired the broken bones and collapsed lung."
"How long have I been here and how long until I can leave?" he asked quietly.
She rolled her eyes, relaxing by degrees. "It's been three days. As for when, be thankful that you can. As I told the Headmaster, it was possible that you wouldn't ever wake up again."
Harry blinked hard at hearing that. "It was really that close?"
She nodded solemnly, a single tear breaking through her armor.
For the first time in his life, Harry was thankful for the prophecy. It meant that Malfoy was unable to kill him. How's that for a mixed blessing? "So if the ferret said one thing and the girls another," he prompted her.
"As chattel, I'm afraid they're not permitted to testify. Due to lack of contradictory evidence, Malfoy is trying to claim your girls as compensation."
Harry's eyes widened, and he started to get out of bed. He immediately stopped as a white-hot poker of pain was stabbed into his temple. He squeezed his eyes shut and gritted his teeth, determined to do everything he could to protect them from Malfoy.
"I told you to stay in bed," she scolded him as she gently pushed him back down. "Now, the girls are safe, at least for the moment. Malfoy may be claiming them, but Bones and Scrimgeour aren't exactly helping him do so. Nor are Professors Dumbledore, McGonagall, or Flitwick. Or Miss Granger and Mr. Longbottom."
"Huh?" he asked through the haze of pain. Even considering his head injury, that did not make any sense to him.
She gave him a malicious little smile. "Nobody is cooperating with Malfoy. Mr. Longbottom has the entire D.A. helping run interference, I've heard."
Well, that explained some of why Ernie was waiting in Harry's hospital room. Harry smiled a little. "Nice to know everyone's on my side. Now that I'm awake, what can I do to squash Malfoy?"
"Don't you mean his claim?" she asked with a grin hovering about her face.
"Oh, that, too," Harry replied with a smirk.
She rolled her eyes. "Now that you're awake," she answered the question, "you can testify, give Veritaserum testimony, use the Sorting Hat to validate your story, or give permission for your chattel to do the same. Considering your head injury, I recommend against Veritaserum being used on you."
Harry nodded. Not to mention that he had a lot of sensitive information in his head that could be in jeopardy if he were dosed with the truth serum. "I guess that the easiest answer is for the Sorting Hat to be brought in, then."
She nodded and moved off to make some Floo calls.
Presently, Headmaster Dumbledore arrived with the Sorting Hat in his hands. "Harry!" he greeted the student cheerfully.
"Headmaster. Madam Pomfrey has told me some of what's been going on. Where are the girls?"
His eyes twinkled brightly. "Officially, I do not know. Unofficially, I know they have not crossed the ward boundaries. If I were truly curious, I would begin by asking one of the leaders of the D.A. I suspect they know more than most on that particular topic."
Harry nodded gingerly, understanding that his position prevented him from investigating further, all in the name of protecting the girls in question.
Malfoy, both of them, and Severus Snape stalked into the Hospital Wing, closely followed by Hermione and Neville. The two students came to Harry's bedside. Neville smiled down at him. Hermione did as well, though the emotions behind it were softer and more relieved.
"As you can see," Dumbledore jovially began, "Mr. Potter is now conscious. Once Minister Bones and Director Scrimgeour arrive, we can question him as to the events, or at least as much of them as he may remember."
"Why do you have the Hat, Dumbledore?" Malfoy asked.
Pomfrey answered, "After his head injury, Veritaserum is ill advised."
Both Malfoys looked very sour at this. When Harry looked over at Snape, the former professor fired a Legilimency spear into Harry's battered mind.
With a scream, Harry threw a hand to his eyes as blinding pain threatened to overwhelm him.
Just as abruptly as it had started, the pain ended.
Harry spent several moments with his hand remaining over his eyes, panting. Finally, he got his breath back and he shakily lowered his hand.
Hermione had her wand out and pointed at Snape. The man was pinned, face upward, upon the ceiling of the Hospital Wing. Based upon the utter silence from him, Harry guessed he'd been Silenced.
Neville's wand was out and pointed at the Malfoys. The father and son had sour expressions on their faces, but neither currently had a hand near their wands.
The cold expressions that both Gryffindor students were sporting proved that they were quite willing to curse first and ask questions later.
Dumbledore remained as he had been, but his twinkle was absent.
The tense silence lasted for several long seconds.
"Are you alright, Harry?" Madam Pomfrey asked.
With one last deep breath, Harry nodded. "If you haven't guessed, he attacked me with Legilimency. It didn't last long, though. My shields held."
"Now will you believe what a threat this man is against Harry, Headmaster?" Hermione asked acidly.
Dumbledore sighed. "Please release Severus."
Shrugging, Hermione lowered her wand.
Snape promptly began plummeting toward the ground. Only a quick wave of Pomfrey's wand prevented the man's hard impact with the floor. The matron gave a chiding look at Hermione.
The Head Girl shrugged again but failed to look apologetic. "The next time he attacks Harry, we'll treat him as the Death Eater scum that he is."
By this time, he was on his feet and the Silencing Spell had been lifted. "You arrogant little mud-"
"Eyes forward and OUT," roared Hermione, again pointing her wand at the incensed Potions Master.
"You see, Headmaster, what comes of allow-"
A silent Stunning Spell from Hermione dropped him where he stood, mid-word.
"I warned him," she fumed as she put her wand away.
"Hermione, I think I love you," Harry said in awe, looking up at her.
She blushed prettily.
Neville let out a guffaw. "Harry, you already have two pretty girls. Leave some for the rest of us blokes, yeah?"
Harry and Neville laughed. Hermione's blush deepened.
"I'm going to become ill if this keeps up," Draco grumbled.
Dumbledore cleared his throat as Pomfrey waved her wand over Snape, checking that he had not suffered any injuries. "As it was in defense of Mr. Potter, there will be no punishment for taking Severus to the ceiling, Miss Granger, however it will be fifty points for your unprovoked stunning of a man who was not threatening you."
Harry shrugged even as Hermione and Neville looked livid. "Fine, then I demand the aurors come here so they can arrest Snape for his unprovoked attack upon me, who was not threatening him when he attacked my mind."
Another tense moment was felt by everyone as Harry and Dumbledore stared at each other expressionlessly.
"You are quite correct, Harry," Dumbledore admitted, dropping his eyes for a moment. He looked over at Hermione. "My apologies, Miss Granger. No points will be deducted."
Madam Pomfrey re-entered the room from having levitated the unconscious Potions Master. "Are we all done cursing each other?" she asked, eyes going back and forth from Hermione to Neville.
"As long as everyone else in the room behaves themselves," Neville answered, eyes again focused on the Malfoys.
Lucius glared back but did not directly answer. "Where are Bones and Scrimgeour?" he grumbled.
Dumbledore looked out the windows. "I believe that they are just now entering the grounds."
As they waited, Pomfrey bustled about, checking Harry again and handing him his wand. Harry pointedly left it out, resting in his hand upon his lap. The fact that his eyes remained on the Malfoys escaped nobody's notice.
Finally, the Minister of Magic and the Director of Magical Law Enforcement, with an auror escort, arrived in the Hospital Wing.
"Amelia, Rufus," Dumbledore calmly greeted them.
"Albus," Minister Bones absently said. Her attention was on Harry. "It is good to see you well."
Harry smiled wanly at her. "Hale, perhaps, but hearty will take a bit more time, I'm afraid."
She laughed. "Indeed.
"By the by, I am told that I have to thank you for Susan's Defense O.W.L. score?"
Hermione, with a little smile, answered, "She is one of the participants in the study group that Harry led, yes. I'm happy to hear that she did well."
Bones nodded. "And she's confident in her N.E.W.T. score as well." She turned. "And I believe I have you to thank for that, Mr. Longbottom?"
Neville nodded, only a little of his nervousness showing through. "Yes, ma'am. Hermione and I are quite pleased with how it's going this year."
"Could we please get on with it?" Draco rudely interrupted. "This mutual admiration society is making me nauseous."
"Manners, Draco," Lucius gently chided him. "This is, after all, the Minister of Magic and the Director of Magical Law Enforcement."
Lucius turned. "However impolitely phrased, I feel that my heir does have a point. If we could clear up this trivial matter, you could return to your no doubt busy schedules."
"Trivial?" Neville asked, affecting a drawl. "After the ruckus you've raised these past few days, demanding aurors here at the school, interrupting classes and generally creating a nuisance of themselves at your insistence? Now, suddenly, it's trivial?"
Lucius pointedly did not look at the Longbottom scion. Instead, he turned to Dumbledore. "If you would, Headmaster."
Dumbledore did not comment on the smirks displayed by Scrimgeour and Bones. Instead, he simply put the Sorting Hat upon Harry's head.
"I'm to be a lie detector again?" it asked.
"If you please, Hat," Dumbledore politely said.
The Hat gave a sigh and settled more firmly upon Harry's head. "Sweet Merlin, Potter, it's a wonder your mind is still in one piece!"
"Are you saying the boy is mentally unbalanced?" Malfoy asked with poorly concealed glee.
The Sorting Hat gave off a disgusted snort. "Not at all. I was praising his mental strength. Snape's method of Occlumency training did more harm than good. I'm impressed with Mr. Potter's mental strength after the damage that man did in here." It tilted its tip back and forth a few times. "Oh, he doesn't have the barriers to stop me, so I'll let you know if he lies." The Sorting Hat changed over to speaking directly into Harry's mind. "Mr. Potter, do I have your permission to . . . repair some of the damage?"
"What? I mean, can you teach me Occlumency?" Harry asked in surprise.
"Unfortunately not. At least not any faster than any other Legilimens could. I can simply re-align some of your shields and mitigate the worst of the damage that Severus Snape did you."
"It won't . . . er, hurt, will it?" Harry switched to thinking aloud.
"Hmm," the Hat hummed in thought for a moment. "I doubt there will be any physical pain to you, but you may relive some unpleasant memories as I work."
"Perhaps you two could do . . . whatever it is you are discussing after our business here is concluded?" Dumbledore asked politely.
The Hat and Harry both jerked. "My apologies, Miss Bones and Mr. Scrimgeour," the Hat said. "By all means, Mr. Potter, please continue."
Harry looked up at Minister Bones. "What did you need to know?"
"After picking up your two . . . ladies from their lesson, what do you remember?"
"I was walking arm-in-arm with them back to our apartments. I heard someone shout behind us. I think I felt something hit me in the back. Next thing I know, I'm waking up here."
"To make it perfectly clear, you did not in fact ambush Mr. Malfoy and his friends?" Scrimgeour asked directly.
"No I did not," Harry stated unequivocally.
"Utter truth," the Hat said.
"Hmm. Imagine that," Neville said dryly. "Malfoy's been caught in a lie."
Both Malfoys glared at him. Neville just looked blandly back.
"Mr. Malfoy, unless you wish to take Veritaserum or wear the Sorting Hat and testify again, I'm afraid that Bine Potter's version of the full events will be considered the truth," Dumbledore said, focusing calmly upon Draco.
Draco opened his mouth a couple times, before any sound came out. Giving a disgusted shake of his head, he said, "Perhaps I was mistaken," he grumbled.
Harry rolled his eyes before he turned to the senior Malfoy. "Something occurs to me about all of this."
"Congratulations, you had a thought," Lucius snarked.
Hermione reddened at the insult, but Harry hardly raised an eyebrow. Unflustered, he continued, "Director Scrimgeour, what's the legal punishment for attempted murder of the three of us?"
Scrimgeour's scowl deepened.
Dumbledore coughed politely. "I'm afraid, Harry, that those are not the offenses which young Mr. Malfoy and his friends committed."
"At most, it would be attempted abduction of all of you," Hermione told Harry. "According to the spell residue, only stunners were used."
"And you can read spell residue, mudblood?" Lucius scoffed at her.
Her eyes tightened, but she answered levelly. "As a matter of fact, I can. The Revealing Magic Charm isn't that difficult."
Sneer reaching new heights, Lucius opened his mouth, but he was interrupted by Dumbledore. "Filius reported the same immediately after the incident. I trust you'll believe his findings?"
Lucius closed his mouth but did not acknowledge the question.
Going back to his previous thought, Dumbledore said to Harry, "Further, as chattel, the attack upon the young ladies would be legally deemed as attempting damage to your property."
Harry frowned. "Great. Yet another way in which Malfoy's machinations are degrading to the two of them and annoying to the rest of us. So we're down to attempted kidnapping of me and attempting to damage them."
Dumbledore sighed and visibly braced himself. "As he is still a student and it occurred here at the school -" He broke off as Harry turned an alarming shade of red.
"For three attempted murders, or perhaps kidnappings to deliver us to their half-blood master, they're going go lose points and get detentions? Is that what you're saying?"
Dumbledore winced. Lucius smirked.
Harry turned to Neville. "Purely hypothetically speaking, do you think the same punishment would be meted out to us if we did the same back?"
Lucius's eyes flared and then hardened. Dumbledore looked concerned.
Neville shook his head. "Nope. We wouldn't be nearly as incompetent in execution." He gave Draco the faintest of smirks. "Hypothetically, of course."
Hermione gave both boys scolding looks. "Harry, you already know the answer to your question."
Dumbledore sagged in relief until Hermione continued inexorably, "After all, after extreme provocation on the Quidditch pitch, you were given multiple detentions, lost points, and received a lifetime flying ban merely for punching him. With his father on the school board, punishments have been decidedly biased." She turned to Dumbledore. "How's removing that ban going, by the way?"
Dumbledore winced as if in pain. "While Cornelius was in power -"
Neville rudely interrupted him. "Minister Bones, how long have you been in office after that corrupt imbecile was voted out?"
"Over a year now," she answered, taking a perverse delight in the students verbally taking the vaunted Dumbledore down a few well-deserved pegs.
"Thank you," Neville politely said to her. He then turned to give Dumbledore a merciless stare.
The Headmaster squirmed as much as his dignity would allow. "I shall be looking into that again," he murmured.
"You do that," Scrimgeour said with a slight smile.
"As . . . amusing as this has been -" Lucius began.
"What's the penalty for attempting to end a pureblood line?" Harry interrupted him.
Neville's eyes widened before his grin returned. Draco paled.
"One half of the liquid assets of the guilty family," Scrimgeour answered.
Harry grinned. His goal was less about receiving the money than getting it away from Lucius and therefore Voldemort. This was worth no small amount of effort.
Scrimgeour nodded to Harry, understanding what the younger man was about to say. "I'll be contacting Gringotts first thing in the morning, Mr. Potter." He turned to Dumbledore. "Do please let me know the punishment you decide to give young Malfoy. I find myself curious on how you'll handle it." He nodded politely to Hermione, Neville, and Harry. With a last scowl at Draco and Lucius, he turned and limped out the door.
Amelia, highly amused at the Director's actions, stepped forward and gave Harry's shoulder a squeeze. "I'm glad to hear you're recovering, Mr. Potter. Do let me know if there is anything more the Ministry of Magic can do to help."
"About that lifetime flying ban that Umbitch - er, Umbridge - gave me?"
She graced Dumbledore with a cool look for a moment before turning to Harry again. "The school Headmaster must start the proceedings. Once it gets to me, I assure you I'll give it my immediate attention."
Harry grinned. "That's all I can ask, Minister. Thank you."
She looked around to see that the Malfoys had snuck off at some point and Dumbledore was off to the side talking with Pomfrey. She leaned over and whispered, "No, thank you, young man, for the past hour's entertainment." Also giving Neville and Hermione respectful nods, she turned and left the Hospital Wing.
Pursuant to your question of two days ago, I contacted Gringotts and had them transfer half of the liquid assets of the Malfoy account to your family vault.
I am told that came to a total of 113 galleons, 2 sickles, and 1 knut.
Finding myself highly suspicious of such a small total considering the size of the total Malfoy estate, I followed up with Gringotts immediately. They informed me that five days ago, Lucius Malfoy spent very nearly all the cash in his vault to buy various investments.
I trust that you find that timing as suspiciously convenient as I do.
Unfortunately, we have no recourse. The law very firmly states that it is only the liquid monies in the vault that can be confiscated.
Rest assured, I have my eye, and those of my aurors, firmly upon the Malfoy family.
My apologies for the paltry penalty they must pay, but as I said, the law as written has limited our options.
If you have any further questions on this matter, do not hesitate to owl me.
Director, Magical Law Enforcement
Ministry of Magic
The parchment crinkled as Harry's hand convulsed into a fist.
"What's wrong?" Daphne asked from beside him. Amusingly to him, the girls had just shown up at his bedside the morning after his talk with Scrimgeour. Nobody volunteered any information about where they had been.
Instead of answering the question directly, he handed the abused parchment to her.
Neville, sitting across from him, spoke up, "Malfoy is looking very smug."
Harry just growled.
"My offer still stands," Tracey said after reading the letter.
"Do I really want to know?" Hermione asked.
Tracey smirked faintly. "Nothing to offend your sensibilities, Granger."
"Not that there's anything offensive about you," Harry said, still trying to calm down.
Tracey preened. "Thank you for noticing, My Lord.
"No, I was just pointing out that we still can return the favor."
"Ambush him back?" Neville asked directly.
Tracey shrugged and nodded.
"He'll be expecting that," Harry said with an irritated wave of his hand. He paused in mid-motion. "On the other hand . . ." He trailed off, eyes focused through his lunch.
"Uh, oh," Neville said.
"What?" Daphne said, looking at Harry curiously.
"That's his 'I'm about to have a crazy idea' look," Neville explained with a grin.
"No," Hermione said authoritatively. "That's his 'I'm about to play a prank' look." She turned to Neville. "It's easy to get them confused, though. They're very similar."
"You two know me too well," Harry humorously objected.
Hermione ducked her head in embarrassment but smiled slightly.
Neville rolled his eyes. "I roomed with you for six and a half years, Harry," he observed dryly.
Harry stood. "See you two later."
Both of his girls hurriedly stood and followed him out of the Great Hall, throwing confused looks at the shrugging Gryffindors.
The next evening, Harry sat in Dumbledore's office, gazing at the makeshift council arrayed around the room. Dumbledore, the four heads of house, two of the Board of Governors, and Director Scrimgeour were all looking at him. The expressions ranged from amusement (Flitwick) to open hostility (one of the governors).
Tonks was also here, but she was standing guard at the door. He had only heard one noise from her, a more-or-less stifled snort of amusement.
Scrimgeour looked down at the results of the Transcription Quill. "I'm going to summarize what I understand of this so far. Please correct me if I get part of it wrong, Mr. Potter."
Harry nodded agreeably. "No problem."
"You arranged for a spell to strike the Slytherin upper years as some sort of revenge."
"A prank," Harry hastily corrected.
"A prank," Scrimgeour repeated with an almost straight face, "presumably because you are upset at how Draco Malfoy and his cohorts escaped any real punishment for their attack upon you. Now, the intended result of this prank is for the robes, shirts, and trousers of all the sixth and seventh year Slytherins to vanish during dinner and then for them all to be hit with a Stinging Hex in their . . . buttocks. Is this correct?"
"That was what I intended, yes," Harry said, chewing his lip nervously.
"You had a fellow Gryffindor, one," he scanned up the parchment until he found what he was looking for, "Colin Creevey come to dinner with his camera."
"My hope was that they would all suddenly stand up wearing only bras and knickers or boxers. I was planning on sending the pictures to some pranksters I know. I figured they'd get a kick out of seeing that."
McGonagall and Sprout began coughing violently. Flitwick's grin expanded. Even Dumbledore's previously grave expression lightened momentarily.
"Yes, well the prank didn't go as expected, did it?"
Harry shook his head regretfully. "Afraid not. I, uh, overpowered the spells, I guess."
"Hmm," Scrimgeour made an ambiguous noise. "In point of fact, you Vanished the robes and shirts of the students fifth year and above from all Houses. Fortunately, their wands remained behind. The intended Stinging Hex, instead of making them jump to their feet, hit all the Slytherins hard enough that most knocked themselves into the table hard enough to incapacitate them for a few minutes. Meanwhile, Creevey, being on his feet at the time, was taking pictures of everyone." He paused and glanced through a stack of photographs on Dumbledore's desk. "I notice that he took an inordinate number of pictures of . . . ah, well-endowed females."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "Really? Huh. Well, just proves that Colin is a red-blooded male."
"Indeed," Scrimgeour said dryly. "Where were you during all of this?"
"I was standing by the doors. I admit that I was originally intending to be there just to have a good view of the prank."
"Now, we get to the important part." He held up one picture. In it, Draco Malfoy jumped up, grabbed his wand from the table, and ran out of the image. A tattoo was clearly visible on his left arm.
Harry nodded. "I saw the tattoo on Malfoy and a few others. That's why I started stunning them."
Scrimgeour looked at Flitwick.
The professor shrugged. "I, too, saw a very suspicious tattoo on several students that I've long suspected of having dark leanings. When one of them tried to hex Harry, I moved to defend him."
"Between the two of you, you ended up stunning . . . sixteen students. That is when the rest of the professors managed to regain control, correct?"
Dumbledore leaned forward, but McGonagall spoke up firmly before he could say anything. "Yes. Poppy began working on the injured students. I asked Pomona and Hagrid to move all the younger years out of the Great Hall and toward their Common Rooms. I then separated the males and females, putting a visual screen between the two groups. With the female professors checking the female students and the male the males, we examined each student before conjuring them a set of robes and sending them back to their dormitories."
"Why did you decide to check the students then?" Scrimgeour asked.
"Though it wasn't planned, this gave us an unparalleled opportunity to check each student for signs of the plague."
Scrimgeour looked at her strangely.
McGonagall blandly said, "It is well within the rules for the professors and the school nurse to check each student for indications of medical problems. Examining the skin for signs of the plague or various magical rashes, for instance."
"Catching sight of the Dark Mark on them was just an unintended side-effect of this medical," he Scrimgeour stressed, "check, then?"
"I would not have agreed to their actions," Dumbledore murmured.
"Then perhaps it is a good thing you weren't present," Scrimgeour said crisply. "A total of twenty-one students were found to have the Dark Mark, correct?"
"That sounds about right," McGonagall agreed. "None were found to have the plague, incidentally."
Scrimgeour smirked for a moment. "Glad to hear that.
"How are the ones who hurt themselves?" Scrimgeour then asked.
"Nothing more serious than having the wind knocked out of them," Sprout answered. "The most serious injury was to Beth Hart. She was hit with a Bone Vanishing Spell to her rib cage during the brief . . . scuffle. She was an innocent casualty. She wasn't holding her wand and she had no Dark Mark. Madam Pomfrey got to her in time, fortunately, and she'll recover in a few days."
Harry breathed a sigh of relief.
Sprout smiled at him slightly. "I see you were as worried about injuries as I was."
Harry nodded fervently. "My . . . plan misfired. I'm just glad that the injuries that resulted aren't as bad as they could have been."
"Indeed," Dumbledore agreed gravely.
"Still, though it didn't go as planned, Malfoy pissing himself as one of the aurors dragged him out of the Great Hall was a memorable sight," Harry said, smirk firmly in place as he relived the memory.
McGonagall and Flitwick's faces twitched, but they managed to remain impassive. Tonks made an odd, gurgling noise for a moment before she became silent again.
Scrimgeour cleared his throat and said, "Yes, well, I think that concludes the investigation from my point of view." He picked up the Transcription Quill and rolled the scroll up. "Out of curiosity, what will Mr. Potter's punishment be?"
Dumbledore steepled his fingers and gazed at Harry. "That is yet to be determined."
Scrimgeour nodded. "Whatever it is, I'd hate to think that his punishment would be anywhere near as bad as whatever you gave Malfoy. After all, that young man attempted three murders or kidnappings. Mr. Potter just had a prank go bad. Hardly the same level of offense." He pierced Dumbledore with a direct look. "Don't you agree?"
Dumbledore sighed and nodded. "I take your point.
"Now, what will be the punishment for the . . . misguided students, Rufus?"
Scrimgeour gave a harsh bark of laughter. "'Misguided'? They're Death Eaters, Dumbledore, plain and simple. They'll be treated as such. Their age will be a mitigating factor, I'm sure, but prison time at the very least. My aurors are already transporting them to the Ministry holding cells."
McGonagall nodded. "I understand. I shall send their personal affects to their families, then."
"Thank you for coming to Hogwarts once again," Dumbledore added heavily.
Scrimgeour stood. "With so many . . . highly placed families involved, it seemed prudent. Good evening, everyone." Nodding politely to everyone, he left. Tonks threw Harry a wink before she followed him out the door.
"What will this . . . miscreant's punishment be?" ground out the wizard from the Board of Governors.
"As this is simply a prank gone wrong, we can only dock some points - fifty perhaps - and give him a week's detention," McGonagall said crisply.
"I'll take the detentions," Flitwick spoke up. "As poorly as his spells were cast, it's clear that he needs some help from me on that count."
"He got twenty-one students arrested and you're going to give him private lessons?" the wizard asked incredulously.
Flitwick looked at him coolly. "This is a place of learning. He clearly needs the extra instruction."
"This is an outrage! I demand that he be expelled for -"
McGonagall broke in, "I find it curious that you suggested points and detentions with Mr. Snape for Malfoy's attempt at multiple murders, yet you want Mr. Potter expelled for a misfired prank."
The man ground his teeth together for several seconds before abruptly lunging to his feet and stomping out of the room.
The witch from the Board of Governors sighed. "For what it may be worth, I agree that the punishment fits the crime." She gave Harry a quelling look. "This time. I had better not hear of any other misfired pranks." Without giving Harry a chance to respond, she stood up and headed out of the office with her head held high.
"I like her," Harry said, looking after the witch.
McGonagall's lips twitched into a smile.
Dumbledore deflated, slumping in his chair, the long fingers of one hand rubbing slow circles on his temple. "I seriously dislike what has happened," he said.
"You mean that I screwed up a prank or that almost two dozen students were exposed as Death Eaters?" Harry asked pointedly.
Dumbledore gave him an aggravated look. "Please, Mr. Potter, do not insult my intelligence. That prank went just as you intended."
Harry's eyes narrowed slightly. "Let me guess," he said bitterly. "You're disappointed in me."
Dumbledore slumped further in his seat.
McGonagall shared a look with Flitwick and Sprout over his posture.
"Disappointed?" Dumbledore asked as if testing out the word. "Yes, I suppose so, but not in you, dear boy. I am disappointed in the twenty-one lost souls. Mostly, however, I find myself disappointed in . . . myself."
Harry and the four other professors perked up at hearing this.
Dumbledore gave them all a weary little smile. "It pains me that such a situation could exist in the first place. Then that it requires a student taking it upon himself to rectify the situation. I should have dealt with it long ago. I also recall Miss Granger's words in the Hospital Wing and compare them to the stated wishes of Mr. Witherford." He sighed. "I fear, Minerva, that you have been right all along. My insistence on giving everyone a second chance has been counterproductive more often than not."
Flitwick said, "You've been at this for a very long time, Albus. Perhaps a sabbatical from the stresses of the school?"
Dumbledore smiled faintly. "Retirement would be more in order, Filius, as you well know. Nevertheless, I thank you for phrasing it such as you did."
He looked at Harry. "I fear that I have done the most wrong by you, my dear boy." He immediately shook his head. "No, you are not a boy, nor have you been for quite some time."
"Maybe failing to recognize that has been part of the problem?" Harry asked quietly.
McGonagall, Sprout, and Slughorn were scandalized at the question, but Dumbledore frowned pensively for several moments before nodding. "Quite possibly." He sighed again. "I shall endeavor to stop trying to control you."
Harry smiled. "That's all I can ask for, sir." He leaned back. "Well, the school should be a much . . . calmer place now that the Death Eaters have mostly been removed."
"Severus," Dumbledore observed heavily.
"Does anyone know if Tracey was the first student he attempted to rape?" Harry asked, unable to resist twisting the knife a bit.
Every professor winced at the question. "Nothing to suggest there are any others," McGonagall said. "A fair percentage of the students have visited the infirmary to have Poppy check for memory charms."
"Let me guess: the results were negative or inconclusive," Harry said. When he got an affirmative answer, he shook his head. "A good memory charm will leave the same evidence as no charm at all. Lack of proof isn't proof of lack."
"Lack of proof isn't proof of anything," Flitwick pointed out.
Harry scowled but grudgingly nodded.
"Honestly," Sprout spoke up, "I'm surprised you haven't done something about him already, Mr. Potter."
Harry looked at her with a raised eyebrow. "What would you have me do?"
She flicked a glance at McGonagall before focusing on Harry again. "Forgive me, but I had expected your Gryffindor impetuousness to push you into challenging him to a duel."
Harry smiled faintly. "Though I may be a reckless Gryffindor on occasion -" he ignored the noises of humor from Flitwick and McGonagall, "- I try to avoid being foolhardy. I have received a fair amount of dueling instruction, that is true, but Snape is rumored to be an accomplished duelist. Whether or not I could take him, I do know he's more ruthless than I am. Whether I won, I'd be far more likely to be maimed by a man who has shown illogical hatred of me and a willingness to break rules and laws to hurt me."
McGonagall nodded thoughtfully. Flitwick smiled proudly. Dumbledore slumped further, but he made no comment.
Harry offered, "Much as I still feel he should be imprisoned, might I suggest he be moved to a protected location outside of the school? Perhaps build him a potions lab in Headquarters?" He knew anything more punitive, no matter how richly deserved, would be dismissed out of hand.
Dumbledore nodded slowly. "That could well work out admirably. Excellent suggestion, Mr. Potter."
"He does occasionally have them," Flitwick dryly pointed out.
Harry grinned crookedly at the Charms Professor. Dumbledore and McGonagall smiled momentarily.
"Thirty points for holding your temper in front of Governor Witherford and another ten for the suggestion regarding Severus," Sprout said.
"And another twenty for clearing the biggest problems out of Slytherin," the previously quiet Slughorn added.
Harry's grin widened. He was up on points for the evening, even after the "prank".
Dumbledore winced as if in pain at Slughorn's words, but he rallied quickly. "I will leave it to you and Mr. Potter to arrange the detentions, Filius. Unless someone has anything else to discuss, I believe I wish to turn in after such an eventful evening."
"You think you're such hot stuff, Potter? Getting the ickle-baby Death Eaters thrown out?"
Harry looked up from his breakfast at Ron in confusion. "I didn't throw them out, Ron," he said slowly. "The fact that they were marked Death Eaters got them arrested."
Ron scoffed. "Despite calling it a prank, everyone knows you're behind them getting caught."
Harry shrugged, not understanding what the problem was.
Neville stood. "Come on, Ron. Harry did us all a favor. There's no need to get in his face over anything."
"Shove off, Longbottom. I'm talking to the high-and-mighty Potter." Eyes blazing, he turned and looked Tracey and Daphne over before letting his eyes settle on the seated Hermione. Keeping his eyes on her, he said, "You're already shagging two hot birds, Potter, why are you trying to pull Hermione into your perverted fantasies, too?"
Six people moved simultaneously.
Harry tried to lunge over the table. He was held in place by Daphne and Tracey each clamping down on his shoulders.
Neville grabbed Ron by the shoulder to keep him from launching a punch at the seated and temporarily immobile Harry.
All of this left Hermione free. She stood and brought her arm around in an open-handed slap that left a red mark upon his cheek. "What Daphne, Tracey, or I may or may not be doing with Harry is none of your damn business, Ronald Weasley!"
"Miss Granger!" McGonagall's sharp voice froze everyone into immobility.
"Yes, Professor?" Hermione asked, not taking her burning glare from Ron.
"Why did you just hit Mr. Weasley?"
Hermione had no chance to answer. "I didn't do anything to deserve that!" Ron whined, hand to his cheek.
"Mr. Weasley, I'll give you your chance to —"
"But you won't actually listen," Ron snarked. "You'll just listen to Hermione and rule in her favor without even talking to the rest of us! I don't know why you're even going to bother asking anyone else's side of the story."
McGonagall's lips thinned out into invisibility. "I see. Mr. Weasley, my office, right now. Miss Granger, please see me after classes today."
"Yes, Professor," Hermione said.
Ron rolled his eyes and loudly huffed. "See what I mean?" he asked the sky. "She's not going to even bloody well listen to me. She'll just give me a detention."
McGonagall gave him a cold look. "I wasn't planning on doing so, but I could be persuaded if you say another word, Mr. Weasley. No, what I wanted you in my office for was so we could Floo your parents about your attitude and whether you really want to stay at Hogwarts."
Ron went pale. He threw first Hermione and then Harry dirty looks before stomping away from them and toward the Great Hall doors.
The other five sat back down as the volume of the remaining students slowly climbed back up after having fallen silent during the confrontation.
"He doesn't know when to bloody well shut up," Neville observed.
"What the hell is wrong with him?" Harry asked, truly bewildered.
"He's angry at me for breaking up with him and you for having everything," Hermione answered without looking up.
Harry scoffed. "I'd trade my fame for his family any day of the week."
"You know that and I know that, but he doesn't see it."
"All he sees is what he doesn't have instead of what he does," Tracey said quietly.
Neville and Hermione nodded agreement.
Harry shook his head in incomprehension. "Whatever."
Next, he glanced at both girls. "Thank you two for stopping me," he whispered.
Both girls looked shot him shy smiles.
"However," Harry went on in a louder voice, "you both stopped me by physically restraining me. That, as my chattel, you may not do." He ignored the incredulous looks the three girls were shooting him. "I'll decide your punishment this evening when there aren't so many . . . witnesses."
Standing, he said, "Come along."
Slack-jawed, Daphne and Tracey climbed to their feet and hurried off after his retreating figure.
Fuming, Hermione did the same.
Neville followed the others. Once he caught them in an empty corridor, he chuckled, "You're learning, Harry."
Harry gave him a sideways glance. "How'd everyone else react?"
"You did good. All the other purebloods saw you do the right thing."
"That was a setup?" Hermione screeched, coming to a halt.
Harry also stopped and turned to her with an amused expression. "Yes. Everyone keeps telling me I have to act like a master to these two," he waved a hand at the two relieved girls. "I finally do so, and you're jumping down my throat about it?"
Hermione gave him a mock glare. "What was I supposed to think? It sounded like you were serious about punishing them, Harry James Potter."
"Oh, poo," Daphne said. "No spanking for me, then?"
Tracey and Hermione rolled their eyes. Neville very nearly swallowed his tongue. Harry just sighed.
"May I speak with you for a moment, Professor?" Harry asked as Transfiguration let out.
McGonagall looked over at Hermione.
The Head Girl tilted her head back toward Daphne and Tracey as they stood at the back of the room. "I'll wait, Professor."
The Deputy Headmistress nodded and turned her attention to Harry as Hermione moved away. "What can I do for you, Mr. Potter?"
"Please give me the punishment you would have given Hermione for hitting Ron."
She tilted her head curiously. "Why is that?"
"Daphne and Tracey stopped me from jumping over the table and throttling him," he answered simply. "If they hadn't, Hermione wouldn't have had the opportunity to slap him."
"So because you were prevented from attacking him, you should be punished in her place?"
"Well . . ."
She graced him with a half-smile. "It's very noble of you to attempt to take the punishment in Miss Granger's place. Still, she decided to act on her anger. I'm afraid that she must face the consequences of that." She turned her head. "Miss Granger?"
Hermione approached again, looking scared. "Yes, Professor?"
Neither woman made any effort so shoo Harry away from them, so he headed toward the door but did not exit.
"I spoke with Mr. Weasley at some length about what happened. What is your side of it?"
Hermione ducked her head. "He taunted Harry and me. My reaction was out of proportion to what he did."
McGonagall nodded. "That is what I gathered from speaking with him. You've been an exemplary Head Girl, and for that reason and that reason alone, I'm not going to strip you of that title."
Hermione looked up, hope appearing in her eyes.
McGonagall continued, "However, with the Headmaster and other Heads' approval, I'm placing you on probation for the remainder of the year. Any further outbursts of the kind or other significant rule breaking, and I'll have no choice but to take your badge. Do you understand?"
Hermione nodded, relief obvious in her stance.
"Now, you will also have one detention, served with Madam Pince. She tells me that she needs some help sorting out something or other in the library. I will leave it to you to arrange a time with her this week." She nodded at the girl. "That will be all, Miss Granger."
"Yes, Professor." Hermione turned and nearly skipped out of the room.
McGonagall looked at Harry and his girls still standing at the back of the room. With a respectful nod and a smile, Harry left in Hermione's wake.