Scion of Gryffindor
25 - Equinox Ball
Harry / Tonks ship
"Lord-Baron Harry Potter and guest," the doorman announced. To give the man credit, his tone and volume were exactly the same as the hundreds of other guests he'd announced that evening.
It didn't matter.
All conversation in the Ministry Grand Ballroom stopped, and every eye in the room turned to stare at Harry and Nim. Fighting the blush back down, Harry gently steered the very tense Nim toward the side to make room for the next couple entering the room.
"Merlin, I hate that," Harry muttered, mentally running through a relaxation routine that Shack had taught him. Fortunately, it didn't take long for the rest of the room to return to normal.
Nim spoke through a smile. "I know you do, Harry. For good or ill, you ARE a very famous wizard, though." She patted his arm. "I'm sure I can find some way of relaxing you later, though."
Harry gave her an embarrassed smile. "One of these days, I'm going to call you on one of these teases."
Her smile turned the slightest bit predatory. "I look forward to it."
Harry just sighed and shook his head in helpless resignation.
Amelia Bones approached with a drink in her hand. "Harry! So good to see you." She turned to Nim and stuck out a hand. "Amelia Bones."
Nim, currently wearing the face and body of a muggle supermodel, flashed her eyes pink for a fraction of a second. "Yes, Director." She smiled politely and took the offered hand.
"I believe you already know my escort for the evening," Harry said dryly.
"I do now," Bones said with a grin. She turned back to Harry. "I saw your reaction to the entrance and figured you wanted a friendly face to start the evening out."
A genuine smile flowed over Harry's face. "Thank you, Amelia. I appreciate that. Merlin knows that Cissy has drilled enough instruction into my head over the past two weeks that I SHOULD be able to deal with this," he gestured around at the party, "but having at least one person in the room who doesn't want to use me politically is a relief."
She looked momentarily sad. "Don't count your diricawls before they hatch. I did have an ulterior motive for speaking with you."
Harry sighed and then smiled sadly at Amelia's hesitant look. "I guess that shouldn't surprise me. You wouldn't say something unless you thought it was in everyone's best interest, though. What's on your mind?"
"Cornelius said you would attend a press conference?" she asked carefully.
Harry nodded, to her relief. "Yes. Once he introduces legislation to the Wizengamot to help out the werewolves, I promised him that I would attend a press conference with you, stating that we're working together to combat Voldemort."
She nodded. "That is more or less what I was told. Just so you know, such legislation is on the schedule for the November meeting."
Harry nodded back. "I shall plan on attending, then. Thank you for letting me know, Amelia."
Her smile was more relaxed. "The pleasure was all mine, Lord-Baron. Have a good evening." Her voice dropped. "Give a shout if you need rescuing from someone."
Harry and Nim laughed and headed deeper into the room after bidding her a polite farewell.
As they walked, Nim leaned in and whispered, "Did you see everyone watching your interaction with Director Bones?"
Harry shook his head. "No, but it doesn't surprise me. After all, I have this insanely gorgeous woman walking around with me. She even looks pretty."
Nim, blushing slightly, snuggled into his arm just a little tighter. "Personally, I think it's your snazzy new dress robes."
"Yeah, well my girlfriend has better taste in clothes than I do."
"Dear Merlin, you're sappy, Potter," a voice said from behind them.
Harry half-turned, only to find Nim had already taken a defensive position in front of him. He placed a hand on her shoulder but spoke to the man. "Malfoy." He nodded and smiled at his date. "Miss Greengrass. I apologize for missing your sister's birthday party."
Daphne Greengrass slowly raised one elegant eyebrow. "You're not what I was expecting this evening, Lord-Baron."
"Our Harry is unpredictable," Nim said with slightly forced cheerfulness.
"Yes, I'm beginning to see that," Daphne mumbled, examining the couple in front of her.
Harry turned to Malfoy. "I must commend your choice of escorts, Baron Malfoy."
Draco broke off his study of Harry to look at Daphne with what could almost be called affection. "Thank you, Lord-Baron. Without . . . external influences, I chose the most intelligent and interesting witch I could find."
Harry almost smirked. "And you called me sappy?"
Draco ignored the nearly lighthearted comment. Instead, he turned back and looked at Nim in amusement. "And you, too, seem to have found a beautiful escort for the evening." Without waiting for a response, Draco led Daphne toward the dance floor.
"Well, that was interesting," Nim observed.
"It certainly was," another new voice intruded into their conversation.
Harry stifled a groan - were they ever going to get some peace tonight? - and turned to the newest interruption. "Headmaster."
"Lord-Baron," Dumbledore said pleasantly. Harry was distantly thankful that he hadn't tried to call him Gryffindor again. Dumbledore continued, twinkling at Tonks, "And -"
"My guest," Harry interrupted.
Dumbledore got the hint that she should remain nameless. "And guest," the headmaster agreed. He turned back to Harry. "If I may, one of my professors has a problem that I believe you could shed some light upon, Lord-Baron."
"Oh?" Harry asked. "As I'm no longer a student at Hogwarts, what makes you think I may know of any problems there?"
Dumbledore's pleasant smile tightened just a fraction. "Yes, well it is my hope that you have some relevant information. It seems that one of my professors is complaining that the point system is biased against him."
"I did nothing to bias the point system against anyone if that's what you're accusing me of."
Dumbledore stared at Harry. Harry, his Occlumency shields up, did his best to allow Dumbledore to only sense the truth of what he said and nothing more.
"Very well," Dumbledore eventually said. "Due to your . . . unique status, I would like to invite you to Hogwarts for a Halloween Costume Ball. Miss Granger and Miss Weasley were both most insistent that I inform you of it. In the circumstance that you wish to speak with one of your friends, the first Hogsmeade visit will be October 5th."
Not knowing what to make of the unexpected information, Harry simply inclined his head.
"Good to see you two are getting on so well," another voice entered the conversation.
Harry, stifling a curse, turned to the latest person annoying him. "Minister."
"Cornelius," Dumbledore greeted him.
"Please, Minister, I prefer Lord-Baron," Harry said, again trying to smother his anger.
Fudge's eyes flared for only a moment before his politician's smile came back. "Of course, Lord-Baron. My apologies. I saw that you spoke with Amelia. I trust everything went well?"
"As well as can be expected at this stage," Harry agreed. "We'll see how things go at the November Wizengamot meeting."
Dumbledore's eyes were darting back and forth, clearly trying to discern what was being talked about.
"Very good," Fudge said jovially. "In the meantime, feel free to owl me or come and see me if you have any problems you need help with, Lord Potter."
Harry, acutely aware of the gaggle of reporters and photographers surrounding the three of them, said, "If I ever have a situation that requires your . . . particular skills, Minister, rest assured that I will let you know."
Fudge smiled, nodded, and moved off, his entourage following docily along in his wake.
Harry kept his eyes on the Minister of Magic and said, "Please excuse us, Headmaster. I promised my date a dance, and we have yet to make it to that far into the room."
Without looking for a response, Harry led Nim toward the dance floor and pulled her into a formal dance that more or less matched the others moving around. After a moment of thought, he stopped and cast a one-way Privacy Sphere around them before resuming their dance.
"Nice spell," she praised him. "You handled Fudge and Dumbledore well."
Harry let out a breath. "I hope so. What was that invitation to Hogwarts all about?"
She shrugged and moved closer to him. "He knows your curiosity will bring you to it, especially as he made such a deal out of the invitation. Personally, I think he wants you where he can keep an eye on you, at least part of the time."
Harry frowned, thinking it through as his legs automatically moved through the steps that Cissy had beat into him. "That makes sense. Remind me later to talk with Cissy and Andy about the Wizengamot meeting. Meanwhile," he smiled down at her, "I believe we have a date to enjoy."
Her brilliant smile and tinkling laugh caused Harry a warm feeling.
"Hey," he said suddenly. "Not that I mind in the least, but how come you're . . . How should I phrase this?"
"Not clumsy?" she asked in amusement, knowing that Harry's spell would keep their words away from prying ears.
"I would have phrased it as 'more graceful than usual', but essentially correct."
"Ooh, you're getting better at flirting."
"I learned from the best. Now stop avoiding the question."
"I balanced myself."
Harry blinked hard and nearly stepped on her foot.
She laughed. "Hey, I thought *I* was the clumsy one. What I mean is that the morph I did was tweaked until my center of gravity is in the right place."
Harry's eyebrows rose. "Okay, but why don't you usually do it that way?"
She blushed in embarrassment. "Until I explained to you WHY I was usually clumsy, it didn't occur to me that I could fix it."
Harry managed to keep his expression bland. "I'll keep that in mind for my training, then."
"Yeah. Now that I know about it, I'll try to balance myself as a matter of habit. And I'll train you to do the same."
Harry nodded before he sighed in frustration. "I just wish my training was going better."
She actually had the audacity to smirk at him. "Harry, you've only been working on it for a month. Hair color and length are amazing progress for the timeframe."
Harry blushed at the praise.
The song ended and the dancers clapped politely for the small group of musicians. Instead of dancing again, Harry and Nim decided to grab a few drinks and sit down for a few minutes.
They hadn't been sitting for long before a couple of roughly Remus's age stopped at their table. "Lord-Baron, my name is Marcus Abbott, and this is my wife Emily. May we join you?"
Harry half stood and waved his hand in invitation. "Might you be the parents of Hannah?" he asked as they sat.
Emily smiled. "Indeed we are. Hannah has told us a great deal about you. She credits you with her O.W.L. score in defense but won't tell us why, exactly."
In vague terms, Harry explained the circumstances and that he'd run a study club. By the end of the explanation, three more couples were standing around them.
"That explains it, then," one of the women said. "There's no other way Parvati could have gotten an 'E' in defense unless her instructor was that good looking."
Harry flushed, and everyone else laughed.
"You must be Mrs. Patil," Harry observed, trying to sidetrack the teasing.
"Forgive my manners," the clearly Indian man beside her said. "I am Amit Patil, and my wife is Krupa."
"Actually, that was my fault for not introducing everyone," Marcus Abbott said. He pointed around the circle and gave the names of the remaining four, "Alfonzo and Desiree Zabini and Fred and Helen McCarthy."
Harry stood and shook hands around. He glanced at Nim. "Forgive me, everyone, but I'm afraid my guest must remain nameless, at least as much for her protection as any other reason."
"Call me Tee," Nim said in a London accent and smiled around at the group.
Marcus, apparently acting as spokesman for the group, said, "Forgive us approaching you at the Ball, Lord-Baron, but we, as a group, wanted to meet you and get your mettle, so to speak." They all nodded, still looking at Harry.
Harry tilted his head a little. "Your group?"
Abbott almost smiled. "We are the businesspeople of the wizarding world, Lord-Baron. The Zabinis run a chain of high-end restaurants, the McCarthys are food distributors, the Patils run the biggest import-export business in the British wizarding world, and I own half the greenhouses providing potions ingredients."
"Is this some kind of business contact, then?" Harry asked, thinking he had finally figured out what they wanted with him.
Emily Abbott laughed. "Morgana, no. Well, not primarily. It is true that you own substantial percentages of many of our businesses, but that is not why we wanted to talk with you. No, this is a purely social greeting. Hannah suggested we begin inviting you to events. When I mentioned it to Krupa, she said that both of her girls said much the same thing. When we brought it up to more people, well . . ."
"Though I don't have any children in Hogwarts, Lord-Baron," Mr. McCarthy said, "I was also curious to meet you." Correctly interpreting the look Harry gave him, he laughed and said, "I treat the Daily Prophet with a great deal of skepticism. I've been burned by them myself far too many times."
Harry nodded slowly. "I certainly can't speak to specifics, but I'd be willing to meet with more of the businesspeople in the wizarding world. Please owl my business manager and we can meet sometime if that's where this conversation is going."
Marcus shook his head. "That's only part of it. Instead of talking with Andy Tonks, how about I send a letter to Cissy Black and invite you to our Yule Ball?"
Harry and Nim merely stared in shock.
The eight people laughed. "No need to be so worried," Mr. Abbott said. "They haven't tried to hide who they're working for, and the fact that Harry Potter has hired both Andromeda Black-Tonks and Narcissa Black - formerly Malfoy - went through the rumor grapevine a week ago. I knew them when I was at Hogwarts. Good choices, both."
"Thank you," Harry managed to say.
Marcus stood and helped his wife to her feet. "Have a good evening, Lord-Baron," he said with a respectful nod before leading his wife off toward the drinks table. The other three couples made similar noises before Harry and Nim were alone again.
"How about that?" Nim said in wonder. "Looks like someone wants to be your friend."
"So long as it's actually friends and not more of the Boy Who Lived shite."
"It's probably honest," Neville Longbottom said as he took a seat at the table. "Hiya, Harry."
"Neville? Mate, don't take this the wrong way, but what are you doing here?"
Neville raised his hand which held a signet ring. "Baron Longbottom, at your service," he said in a pseudo-pompous tone and a self-deprecating smile.
Harry smiled back. "Good on you, Neville. What'd you mean, by the way?"
"The Abbotts, Patils, Zabinis, and McCarthys. They probably DO only want friendship with you. The Potter name has long been part of our clique, and they're just inviting you back in." Neville tilted his head. "Honestly, maybe they also do want some closer economic ties with you. This early in your life and political career, they don't know if they want to be politically affiliated with you, so that's not a concern yet."
Harry blinked at him.
Neville laughed. "Harry, my gran's been training me to take over the Longbottom name and duties since I was seven. That includes meeting all the appropriate people, despite my near-squib magical power."
"Hey, now. I don't want to hear that, Neville. You did well in June."
"If you say so, but I just wish we could've saved Mr. Black." Neville's eyes widened and he turned to look at Tonks in horror. "I'm sorry, Harry," he squeaked.
"No worries, Neville. Tee here knows the truth about Sirius."
Neville relaxed. "Say, what did you do to Malfoy?"
"What do you mean?"
"I won't say that he's been nice to us all, but he's at least been . . . well, less nasty, I guess."
Harry nodded, not really surprised. "I'm afraid I can't answer that, Neville. Once I can tell you, I will, okay? Your news doesn't surprise me, though."
Neville shrugged. "Whatever you did, thanks." He grinned. "Now could you do something about Snape?"
Harry laughed. "What's he done to you now?"
"He keeps trying to take points, but it never seems to stick. I have no idea why."
Harry's eyes sparkled, but he asked, "You're in potions, then?"
Neville shook his head. "Nope. Snape's teaching defense this year. Potions is being taught by some old friend of Dumbledore's named Slughorn. He tried to recruit me into some kind of club, but at the gatherings all he does is ask everyone about you."
Harry looked very concerned, but Nim said, "Don't worry about him. Slughorn is mostly harmless. His little club is for him to have the ear of as many influential witches and wizards as he can. He's no deez as far as I know."
Neville shrugged and changed the subject. "Hey, have you heard about the Halloween Ball?"
Harry nodded and the two spent some time trading gossip and information. Harry learned that Ginny wasn't dating Dean Thomas as expected and was instead not seriously dating anyone. Ron and Hermione had ended their short relationship after a spectacular row in the Gryffindor common room. Ron was apparently making eyes at Lavender Brown now.
In exchange for information on all his friends, Harry told Neville some of what he was doing, including the deal he'd made with Fudge about the werewolf laws.
"I'll be sure to attend the November Wizengamot meeting, then."
Harry stopped, again, in surprise. He sighed. "Okay, someone PLEASE explain the Wizengamot to me? I thought it was the full Wizengamot who tried me after those damn dementors. Now I learn I have two seats there and Neville also does? What's going on?"
Nim laughed. "Mum would be better at explaining this, but the short version is this: As Lord and Baron Potter, you have one seat on the International Confederation of Wizards. That's where you're sending Mum in a couple days, right? Potter and Black each have a seat on the British LEGISLATIVE Wizengamot as opposed to the judicial group. It was the judicial group that tried you a year ago. Most every other family that qualifies as Baron or Lord also has a seat on the legislative portion. Something like a hundred and fifty seats last I heard, but not everyone actually exercises their vote. The judicial seats are set by vote of the legislative group."
Harry nodded thoughtfully. "A signet ring would indicate what, then? A family with a Wizengamot seat?"
"Head of the family," Neville answered with a nod. "The eldest wizard over sixteen and in the direct line, otherwise, the eldest witch over sixteen. A signet ring is only legal to wear for Baron or higher entitlement."
"McGonagall is a Baroness?"
"Lady, actually," Nim answered. "I think she was entitled after helping Dumbledore defeat Grindewald."
"She is, Miss Tonks?" Neville asked.
"Yes, she -" Nim stopped and stared at Neville. "How'd you know my name?"
Neville laughed and started ticking off points on his fingers. "The term 'deez' is something I only hear aurors using. The people living with Harry are generally known. You aren't acting like a casual date with him, so you're someone else, like a metamorphmagus who knows him. Your answer about the makeup of the Wizengamot sounded like a teacher's answer. Andromeda Tonks is one of the obvious, if somewhat controversial, choices for him to send to Geneva, and you referred to whoever is going as 'Mum'."
"He's got you there, Nim," Harry said in amusement.
Tonks groaned. "Moody would have my hide if he knew I slipped up like that."
"You two actually are dating, then?" Neville asked, eyes on their intertwined arms.
"Yep," Tonks said happily.
"Please don't mention that to anyone, though, okay?" Harry asked.
Neville shrugged. "Anyway, back to the first conversation. Hannah's dad just was trying to be sociable with you, Harry."
"Did someone mention my name?" Hannah Abbott said, sitting down next to Neville.
Harry looked between Neville and Hannah before breaking into a huge grin. "Something you forgot to tell me, Neville?"
Neville flushed and started stammering.
Hannah smiled at Neville before placing a hand on his shoulder. "Deep breath, Nev." Neville immediately took a breath and calmed down. He nodded to her gratefully. Mission accomplished, Hannah turned to Tonks and offered her hand. "Hannah Abbott."
"Tee," Nim answered, taking the hand.
"I got the latest juicy gossip from Gryffindor tower, Hannah. Anything from the Hufflepuffs?"
"Rumor has it that Zach Smith was . . . uh, hurt by Ginny Weasley."
Both Neville and Harry looked at her in amazement.
Seeing their looks, she unaccountably colored and explained. "He isn't saying anything, of course, but one of his roommates said something about Zack having a . . . LITTLE problem that he was going to Madam Pomfrey for, starting the day AFTER he had a date with Ginny."
Harry muffled a snicker. "Let me guess. He made some sort of improper advance and she hexed him?"
Hannah shrugged. "Wouldn't surprise me. It wouldn't be the first time that he's had to forcefully be told, 'No.'"
Harry and Neville both looked angry. "You're saying that he's tried -"
Hannah held up a hand. "He hasn't - quite - done anything illegal or forced anyone to do something they didn't want to. I'm just saying that he has a habit of pushing the boundaries of acceptable first date behavior."
"I can't believe I let that git into the D.A.," Harry growled.
"Speaking of the D.A., what's the plan with that this year? People are starting to ask."
Harry shrugged. "I can't lead it as I'm not there. If someone else wants to take it on, be my guest. Hey, Neville said Snape has the defense job. How's he doing at it?"
Both students frowned. "Well," Hannah said, "he's knowledgeable and competent with the material. His teaching style is still as awful as ever, though."
Neville shrugged and nodded agreement when Harry looked to him for his opinion. "I heard from Professor Sprout that he's being kind of arrogant that so many of his students are picking up the basics of dueling so quickly." A wicked grin that was totally out of place on the normally even-tempered wizard split his face. "Amazingly, all his good students seem to be former D.A. members. We've decided to wait until the dueling tournament at the end of the year to mention it to him, though."
All three students laughed. "Oh, to be a fly on the wall when he hears that," Harry said with a smile.
"I'm sure you could attend if you wanted to," Nim mentioned, giving Harry a significant look.
Harry grimaced. "Probably," he acknowledged.
"What's wrong?" Hannah asked.
"Harry and Dumbledore are . . . not getting along very well," Neville answered, eyes on Harry. At Harry's surprised look, Neville smiled. "I hear all the rumors, Harry. It doesn't take Hermione's mind to figure out some of it."
Harry nodded to acknowledge the point. "Well, I'll probably be attending your family's Yule Ball, Hannah."
Her face lit up. "That'll be great! The ones in our generation get together in the early afternoon, well before the formal, stuffy party starts. I'll make sure Mum invites you to that, too."
Aside from one or two "Boy Who Lived fan" moments, the rest of the evening passed pleasantly for Harry in lighthearted banter, dances, and stolen kisses.
Two names were provided to me (I'm sure you can guess which) by Amit Patel. What happened between Ginny and Zack was for Rachael. (And I toned it down significantly. You should seen what Rachael's first suggestion was!)