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The Unknown Power
January 1 to January 25
Harry / Ginny ship and Ron / Hermione ship
Apparating to the designated area outside the Ministry of Magic's wards, Harry, Ginny, Dora and Remus followed the signs to the polling place. It was voting day for wizarding England.
Since the rooms off the Ministry lobby could be expanded to allow a hundred people to vote at once, the Ministry of Magic had never had a need to set up a second polling place. Therefore, anyone who voted had to go to the same place in order to do so.
Unsurprisingly, the Aurors, under the command of Kingsley Shacklebolt, had set up significant security arrangements.
Instead of the normal one guard station in the lobby, there were Aurors stationed every fifteen feet around the perimeter of the room. The centre of the large, circular room, which once contained the Fountain of Magical Brethren, was now cordoned off as a new centrepiece for the room was debated. The line of witches and wizards waiting to vote followed the curve of the room, going from near the massive fireplaces around to behind the security stand. There, everyone identified themselves by having their wand weighed. Anti-illusion charms suffused the area, cutting down the possibility of fraud. Once positively identified, the magician was ushered into individual hallways and from there to private rooms to cast their votes. The line was moving along briskly.
"We're only voting for Minister?" Harry asked. He'd been reading the Daily Prophet for the past few months, trying to get a feel for all the positions to be decided and who was running for what. The problem was the only position the articles mentioned was for Minister of Magic. Cornelius Fudge was being challenged by Amelia Bones of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Harry would've voted for Fluffy the three-headed dog before voting for Fudge, so his position didn't take long to decide.
Remus, standing just behind Harry and Ginny, answered Harry's question, "The Minister appoints all the department heads. The Wizengamot can remove anyone they feel is unfit afterwards. The Wizengamot itself selects new members for themselves as the need arises. There is a lot of political manoeuvring for those seats, but it isn't decided by votes from the wizards and witches on the streets." Remus glanced down at his watch. "Any second now," he muttered.
With a muted pop, a body appeared in the cordoned area.
Startled, all the Aurors and a quarter of the citizens in the room pulled their wands and pointed at the unexpected noise. Most of them, after getting a good look at the disturbance, started laughing.
Vincent Crabbe, Slytherin classmate of Harry's, was lying flat on the floor. He appeared to be unconscious, lying spread-eagled. He was also stark naked, his modesty protected only by a white mask which had been strategically placed.
Valiantly trying to maintain his composure, Kingsley approached from the direction of the security stand with his wand raised. He cast a few spells before assuring himself that the boy was indeed unconscious. He signalled for a medi-wizard when he determined nothing untoward (aside from the appearance of an unconscious body) had happened.
As Kingsley waited for the arrival of the medi-wizard, the crowd rapidly grew. Nobody seemed to want to leave the room to vote, and everyone arriving from outside or from just having voted stayed to see what was happening. A handful of reporters and photographers where already elbowing their way forward. Their scratching of quills and clicking of photographs was inaudible below the buzz of conversations and speculations taking place all around the room.
The medi-wizard arrived in a rush of flames within minutes. Spotting Kingsley waving him over, the medi-wizard moved through the crowd. Blinking in surprise at the scene in the middle of the room, he waved his wand around a few times. "He's just stunned," he announced, looking up at Kingsley. "Who is he?"
"Vincent Crabbe," Tonks spoke up. She shoved her way forward to the edge of the roped off area. "I'm Auror Tonks, and I'm teaching at Hogwarts this term," she explained to the room at large. "He's a student there. Slytherin, sixth year."
Kingsley, not in the least surprised to see his former partner there, nodded and turned to the medi-wizard. "Can we just Enervate him?"
The medi-wizard nodded. "Enervate."
Crabbe's eyes sprang open. Within a half second, he'd jumped to his feet, hand out in front of him as if he were still holding a wand.
Unfortunately, in the process of standing up, the mask slipped to the floor.
He was rather slow to realise this, not to mention his empty wand hand. His eyes were just adjusting to the crowd of people all staring at him when they all began reacting to his lack of clothing.
Chuckles, guffaws, expressions of dismay and noises of disgust overlapped.
"Obscuro," the medi-wizard cast in a slightly belated action.
"Uh . . ." Crabbe looked around with a dull expression. He finally noticed his lack of wand and then his lack of clothing. "Err . . ." His hands came down in a far too late attempt to cover himself. The medi-wizards' Obscuring Charm had already formed a grey "cloud" that his hands now dove into.
"This way, lad," Kingsley gestured toward one of the hallways not being used for voting.
The instant Crabbe, Shacklebolt and the medi-wizard exited the roped off circle, another pop sounded.
Kingsley instantly had his wand pointed toward the disturbance. He lowered it just as quickly with an audible sigh.
The crowd again started laughing. There in the middle of the circle was again an almost naked young man.
Kingsley looked toward Tonks.
She studied him for a moment. "Not a student, but isn't that Dauphin?"
Kingsley looked closer as the medi-wizard again went through his diagnostic series. "You're right, Tonks," the bald senior Auror agreed. "There's still an outstanding warrant for his arrest for illegal potion distribution."
"Stunned again," the medi-wizard pronounced.
Kingsley summoned an Auror to take the man into custody.
When everyone again left the circle, all eyes were aimed at the centre, awaiting the next development.
The crowd wasn't disappointed. An unconscious female form appeared, modesty protected by a white mask and her own hands.
"Millicent Bulstrode," Tonks reported after a short glance. "Another Slytherin sixth year."
Kingsley ignored the medi-wizard's actions and the increasing noise from the reporters and crowd. He was studying the two previous masks, casting a series of charms over them. Giving a sharp nod, he banished them down a hallway.
The medi-wizard cast on Obscuring Charm before waking Millicent. She also jumped to her feet as if defending herself. Her eyes widened considerably when they took in the scene. A moment later, each of her hands started moving rapidly, moving from one of three points to another in an unnecessary attempt to cover herself.
Six more forms appeared one at a time in the same way. Three of them were wanted criminals and were duly taken off to holding cells, the other three were students.
"Now for the big one," Remus muttered into Harry's ear.
Sure enough, Draco Malfoy appeared in the centre of the room in the same manner that all of the others had. By this point, the room was packed with people, including many more reporters, photographers, Ministry workers, Minster Fudge and Headmaster Dumbledore.
When Tonks calmly stated the identity of the latest one to appear, whispers flowed around the room quickly. First Lucius Malfoy was definitely shown to be a Death Eater and now his son was apparently caught up in something with several wanted criminals. The reporters were all nearly bouncing in anticipation of the stories that would result.
Once awakened, Draco shouted, "Perimeter Charm! Look out for -" He abruptly stopped as he realised his surroundings didn't match what he was expecting. He slowly looked around, pale features losing what little colour they had. "I demand that my wand be returned," was the first thing he said as he slowly stood, holding the white mask in place.
"A total of ten wands were on the front steps of Hogwarts this morning," Dumbledore announced to everyone. He stepped forward and handed the fist full to Kingsley. "As it happens, I believe that Mr. Malfoy's is one of them."
Malfoy glared at Dumbledore as he stalked over to Shacklebolt. "I demand my wand back," he snarled, trying his best to ignore the hundreds of eyes upon the small drama being played out.
Harry thought he could hear Malfoy's teeth grinding.
Shacklebolt adopted an innocent expression. "Don't you want us to investigate how you and your . . . friends were Portkeyed into the Ministry in such a state?"
Malfoy glanced among the faces of everyone watching, apparently missing Harry several rows back, before stopping at Tonks. He glared for a moment before turning back to Shacklebolt. "No, no investigations. I don't want to press charges against P- whoever did this."
Shrugging agreeably, Kingsley waved Draco toward the same hallway he'd sent the other arriving students toward. Together, the two went that direction. The crowd parted before them, but then turned back toward the closed area, hoping for more arrivals. When nobody new appeared, everyone slowly dispersed. The voters went back toward the security desk, and the reporters toward the fireplaces. Everywhere, conversations, rumours and speculations started up.
"Well, that was most entertaining," Fred observed, joining the small group as they got back into line to vote.
Nobody dared comment further.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
After voting, Harry made it back to his Manor before breaking into laughter. Tonks, Remus and Ginny, the only other three keyed to Apparate through the wards around the house, appeared near him in the parlour and everyone collapsed onto handy furniture before they, too, started laughing uncontrollably.
Ron and Hermione, the former grinning widely, joined them from the direction of the kitchen.
"How'd it go?" Ron asked excitedly.
Ignoring Hermione's disapproving glare, Harry said, "Brilliantly! Must've been a hundred reporters and photographers there by the time Malfoy appeared. He didn't say anything incriminating, though, unfortunately." He turned to Tonks. "Was Simon Firthquill one of your Floo calls earlier? I noticed he was one of the first ones there."
She affected an innocent expression. "Who, me?"
Harry, Ginny and Hermione rolled their eyes.
"When do the returns start coming in?" Hermione asked.
Remus and Tonks shook their heads. "Results aren't announced like in Muggle votes. It's all tallied at once tonight after the polls close. The WWN will announce the results just after nine tonight."
"So we have ten hours," Ginny observed. She stood and grabbed Harry's hand to pull him upright. Once he was up, she headed toward the stairs, still dragging him along.
"Should I ask?" Ron wondered aloud, clearly unsure whether he should be speaking up at all.
"After what I saw when Crabbe stood up, I need something to blot out that image. I've decided that the manly hunk of wizard here will have to do just that."
Ron winced, head in hands.
Tonks and Remus broke into laughter at the expression on Harry's face.
"You go and try your hardest at that, Harry," Hermione called with laughter in her voice.
"I can't believe you're encouraging them," Ron moaned.
Once they were far enough away that they couldn't hear, Harry whispered, "I can't believe you're teasing them like this."
She gave him a wicked grin as she pushed the door to their bedroom closed behind herself. "Serves Ron right. With what he and Hermione admitted to compared to how he reacts to US, he deserves anything we do to him."
Harry chuckled. "True enough. Now, what was it you really wanted me up here for?"
She looked at him in wide-eyed innocence. "What makes you think I didn't bring you up here to have my wicked way with you?"
He made a face at her expression. "Because if you wanted to do that, it would've happened last night. What was that you were saying about your New Year's Resolution, anyway?"
She gently pushed him until he fell onto his back atop the bed, not that he was resisting. "I said that was ONE of my resolutions." She climbed up onto the bed, straddling his hips before leaning down until her mouth was hovering a bare inch above his. "My next resolution will have to wait until my birthday. Until then, we're only a third of the way through that book Tonks gave you."
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
During lunch, Harry was pensive while Remus, Tonks and Ginny all spent their time winding Ron up.
"What's wrong, Harry?" Hermione asked him quietly.
His reflexive answer of, "I'm fine," didn't make it past his lips. "I'm thinking of going back to the Dursleys and pick up the rest of my stuff," he answered instead.
"What all is left there?"
Harry frowned. "Not much, probably. Some parchment, ink, stuff like that, I think."
Hermione shrugged. "Why bother? I know you'd be happier if you never had to see them again."
"I should also tell them that I'm not coming back at the end of the school year."
She made a face. "Again, why bother? Send them a note saying 'good riddance' and be done with it."
"You're talking about the Dursleys?" Ginny entered the conversation.
Harry nodded. "We have hours yet until the vote is announced. I doubt I could concentrate enough to do any of our tutoring, Remus, so I may as well get something useful accomplished."
"You helped Ginny get over her trauma, what more do you want to do today?" Ron asked in a surly tone.
The other five people at the table grinned.
"Well, I'd actually like to go with you," Ginny announced. "I'd like to meet them, just to know what they're like."
Remus sighed, and Ron shook his head. "No you wouldn't," Ron disagreed. "I've seen them, remember? I have no wish to subject myself to such an ordeal again."
"You're getting better," Ginny teased. "You're using bigger words now."
"Hermione must be having a good effect on him," Tonks thought out loud.
Ron made a face at them while Harry fought his snickers.
Lupin was still thinking about the Dursleys. "I agree with Ron on the Dursleys. I only met Petunia once, and that's more than enough. I'm with Hermione, Harry. Send them a note and be done with it."
"I feel I owe it to them to do that face to face." He allowed a slight grin to form.
"Would you like some company?" Remus asked, eyeing Harry in concern.
"I'll be with him," Ginny announced.
Remus nodded. "Still."
"We'll have our wands, Remus. We'll be fine," Harry tried to reassure his godfather.
Hermione made an undignified noise of agreement.
Remus dryly replied, "It's not you two that I'm worried about."
Tonks smirked but hid it immediately.
"I promise I won't kill them," Harry said with a chuckle and a smirk.
Rully, Dobby and Winky came in to begin clearing the dishes.
Remus spoke up, "Rully, thank you for your help this morning. Everything went perfectly with the Portkeys I gave you."
The elves gave toothy grins and bowed to Remus. "Rully is happy to be helping Master Remus. Bad wizards are being taught their lesson?"
Remus shrugged. "I don't know for sure but probably. They have to know who did it but can't say anything without implicating themselves of trespassing at the very least. I think we're okay for at least a while. When we're all gone, you're authorised to defend the property with any and all needed force, of course."
Dobby's eyes took on a hardness that looked decidedly out of place on his usually open and happy face.
All three elves looked to Harry for permission.
Harry thought about it for a moment. "Even if we're here, you're permitted to act in non-lethal defence of the grounds and all living beings within. Your own lives are more important, however. If a fight ever reaches the point that you're in mortal danger, you're under orders to escape by all means necessary. I would recommend Hogwarts to inform Dumbledore, but successful escape is your primary goal at that point. I will NOT allow you to get into a fight that could kill you."
Rully and Winky looked upset at the orders, but nodded their understanding.
Dobby slowly shook his head. "Dobby will not run when Master Harry is in danger," he stated flatly.
Everyone except Rully and Winky looked at him in surprise. It was the first time in memory that Dobby had flatly refused an order from Harry.
It was Winky who spoke next. "Winky and the other elveses will do as Master Harry orders. Winky is being hoping, though, that Master Harry will be permitting his elveses to fight for him properly. If any of the elveses die in that fight, then the elveses will die happy."
"This is starting to make sense," Remus said thoughtfully. "Harry, in addition to Joining your House, they're also trying to pledge their lives to you. By ordering them to run if their lives are threatened, you're essentially insulting them." He raised a hand at Harry's look of shock and anger. "I know you didn't mean it that way. You're trying to look after their best interests, but look at it from their point of view for a moment. You're essentially saying that they're more valuable as personal attendants than as fighting comrades."
Harry's eyes widened as he realised what an insult he'd paid to them when it was phrased that way. He turned his head. "Rully, Winky, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to imply that about you. I hope the situation never comes up, but if you're willing to fight, I won't forbid you from doing so."
Rully and Winky relaxed, and their smiles returned.
Harry looked at Rully. "Same orders to Delly, Borry, Tarry, and Scully. I will not order any of you to fight, but I won't forbid you either."
Rully nodded and cracked out.
Harry turned to Dobby as Winky resumed clearing the table as if nothing had happened. "I'm not upset, Dobby, but why did you refuse my earlier order?"
Dobby shook his head slowly. "Dobby is a free elf, Master Harry. Dobby chooses to defend Master Harry."
"As a free elf, he is not obliged to follow your orders, Harry," Remus explained. "He has chosen to do so, but he can refuse any orders he wants to."
Dobby nodded agreement at the explanation. "Dobby will follow all of Master Harry's orders, but not if they is not being good for Master Harry."
Harry slowly nodded and smiled as it all sunk in. "Thank you."
Dobby, Winky and Delly, who'd appeared to help clear the table, bowed deeply then resumed their work.
"I didn't realise they were all so loyal to you, Harry," Hermione said in awe.
The three elves hitched for a moment in their movements. They glanced at each other and shook their heads.
Hermione, frowning, just about said something when Delly turned to her. The elf shook her head sadly. "Miss Hermy is trying to be a friend to Master Harry, so the elveses have been ignoring Miss Hermy's words and actions. Miss Hermy does not understand house-elves."
Hermione looked insulted.
Ron sighed, resigned. "Hermione, weren't you listening? Harry inadvertently insulted them when he tried to protect them. Their loyalty to a House and their Master is what defines a house-elf. By questioning that loyalty, you're insulting them in the worst possible way. With the whole SPEW thing two years ago and trying to trick them into accepting clothing, you've been insulting house-elves since you knew they existed."
She looked stricken. "But I didn't mean -"
Delly nodded. "The elveses know Miss Hermy does not mean to hurt the elveses with her words. That is why the elveses forgive her. Miss Hermy does not understand house-elves," she repeated. With that, Delly turned and continued to clean the table.
Near tears, Hermione opened her mouth.
"Don't," Ginny and Tonks interrupted her. Ginny continued, "Just leave it, Hermione. You can't do any good right now. Just leave them alone for a while."
Hermione leaned back in her seat, face somewhere between thoughtful and a pout.
"Harry, Sirius's death wasn't your fault, you know," Remus said quietly, knowing they were going to repeat an oft-argued point.
"WHAT?" Harry's head snapped around.
"The way you phrased your original order to the elves," Tonks explained calmly. "'I will not allow you to get into a fight that might kill you,'" she quoted.
Remus nodded agreement. "You couldn't have kept Sirius out of the Department of Mysteries that night, Harry. I know; I tried."
"But he wouldn't have had to come if I hadn't been suckered in," Harry said bitterly.
All five glared at him.
"Do we really have this out again?" Remus asked.
Harry let out a slow breath, visibly relaxing. "No," he said. "Thank you, though."
Ginny squeezed his hand. "Are you okay?" she asked in concern.
Harry managed a sad smile for her and nodded.
"That was overly emotional," Tonks remarked after a few moments of silence.
Ron grunted in agreement.
Remus turned to Harry. "You're going to visit the Dursleys?"
Harry and Ginny nodded.
"Sure you don't want someone else to come along with you?"
Harry shook his head. "We'll be fine."
As Harry and Ginny stood, Dobby entered the room with their heavy cloaks over his arms.
Shaking his head in continuing amazement at the perceptiveness of house-elves, Harry thanked Dobby and helped Ginny with her cloak before putting his own on.
"Where are we going?" she asked.
He opened his mouth before snapping it shut again. He shook his head. "That's right, you've never been there, have you?"
"You could try Apparating to Harry after he's gone," Remus offered.
Tonks and Hermione looked at him strangely.
"What?" Ginny asked in confusion.
"As Harry Apparates, concentrate on him and then Apparate to HIM instead of to a location," Remus explained as if it were obvious.
"Why haven't you told us about it before?" Harry asked in curiosity.
Remus waved it off. "The chaser has to be very familiar with the leader. That's why it's uncommon except with couples who rarely need it anyway."
Harry and Ginny shared a mutual shrug.
"May as well try it," Harry said. "Follow me in a couple seconds?"
Remus, wearing a mischievous grin, watched both wink out at the same time.
Harry looked over at her in surprise. "I thought I asked you to follow in a few seconds?"
She shrugged, frowning. "I was going to. I must not have wanted to leave your side." She grinned at him before looking around. "Where are we?"
Harry waved a hand. "Welcome to the Little Whinging Municipal Park, such as it is. We're about a mile from my uncle's place." He nodded toward one of the exits and the couple walked out, arm-in-arm.
Ginny was looking around in unabashed curiosity at the deadly dull and repetitive Muggle neighbourhood as they advanced.
"You don't have to answer this if you don't want, but what did Remus mean about having it out with you again? I presume he somehow convinced you that Sirius's death wasn't your fault?" she asked tentatively.
Harry sighed and his shoulders slumped. "Yeah, he did." He took a calming breath and explained, "Over the summer he asked how it was my fault Sirius died. I explained how I didn't confirm his location. He pointed out that I did when I asked Kreacher. The fact that that evil little creature lied is irrelevant. I couldn't have known that. I next told Remus about not learning Occlumency. He pointed out that a student failing to learn is at least half, if not more, the teacher's fault. Then I told him about the mirrors. He pointed out that we'd never used them, and I hadn't touched mine in months, so I wouldn't have had them in mind."
"Is that when he fixed yours?" Ginny asked. She'd heard he'd destroyed his, but then she'd watched him use it on Halloween.
"Yeah, he fixed it and then put special pockets in all my robes for it." He touched a spot on his robes to show that he was carrying his mirror now.
She nodded. "Did all of that convince you that you weren't at fault?"
Harry shrugged ambiguously.
"It wasn't your fault, you know," she stated firmly.
"Yeah, Remus continued his arguments. Let's see . . . It could've been Snape's fault for failing to teach me Occlumency and goading Sirius, Sirius himself for running off half-cocked, McGonagall's for having gotten hurt earlier and was therefore not available to me to help, Dumbledore for not having told me more, Remus's for not stopping Sirius. No, let's get to the ones really at fault. Kreacher for lying. Malfoy for telling Kreacher to lie. Voldemort for telling Malfoy. Voldemort again for sending his Death Eaters into the Ministry in the first place. Most importantly, though, Bellatrix Lestrange for casting that spell during their duel." He paused for a moment in thought. "I'm glad that we stopped Voldemort, even if I have the occasional nightmare about it."
"I know you do. I've held you through a few, if you'll recall."
"As I've held you through some of your own."
She nodded in acknowledgement of his point. "All of Remus's arguments are right, you know. Do you actually believe them?"
He let out a slow breath. "I'm getting there." He looked forward and slipped an arm over her shoulder. "I'm getting there," he repeated in a whisper.
After a few moments, Harry spoke up again. "In addition to Sirius, I wish you all hadn't gotten hurt."
Ginny blew out a breath in frustration. "What if Ron came up and told you that he knew Charlie had just been kidnapped by Death Eaters and that he was going to rescue him?"
"I'd go with him," Harry answered automatically. Indeed, no thought was required for such a question.
"Right. Now, he tells you that you shouldn't go because he was afraid you'd get hurt."
"Wouldn't matter. I'd go anyw -" He stopped abruptly.
"NOW will you let that guilt go?" she asked, having gotten her point across.
Harry smiled slightly. "Caught me in my own trap, you little witch. Okay, you've made your point."
"Have I?" she asked quietly. "Sirius's death, our injuries, none of it was your fault. I hope you start believing that sooner or later."
The sadness in his eyes and the tense set of his shoulders lowered by degrees. "Yeah," he said quietly.
Feeling him finally relax again, Ginny turned back to study the Muggle homes they were walking past. A couple of blocks passed, the couple not at all bothered by the silence.
Harry noticed in passing that Mrs. Figg's house was up for sale.
"Hey, are you okay?" Ginny asked a block later.
"Yeah," he said, surprised to notice how tense he was again getting at the thought of the upcoming confrontation. "I'm just not sure how to react to the Dursleys, I guess."
"We don't have to do this if you don't want to," she offered, pulling him to a stop.
He shook his head with a tiny grin. "Naw. I have one or two things I'd definitely like to discuss with them."
She smiled with a wicked edge to it and resumed walking. "I knew you didn't just want to say goodbye. There had to be more to this visit. Do any of these things you want to say have the Weasley Wizard Wheezes trademark on them by any chance?"
Harry smiled back. "Nope, though you've got the right idea."
"This could be fun. Can I help?"
"Feel free to do anything you want to, dear." He suddenly stiffened, and Ginny followed his eyes to a home that was nearly identical to the ones on either side of it. The large number 4 on the door told her the importance of that particular home.
Sighing in resignation, Harry trudged forward, head down.
She stopped him before his finger hit the doorbell. "Harry, don't let them get to you. Please remember three things. You took down the most powerful, evil wizard just three months ago. Every remaining evil wizard in the world is deathly afraid of you. Last and most important, I love you." She leaned in and gave him a lingering kiss that warmed him from his hair to his toenails. She pulled back and evaluated the effect she'd had on the wizard in front of her. Nodding in satisfaction, she said, "Now take out your wand, get in there, and tell them what you think of 'em."
Harry laughed, hugging his girlfriend on the front steps of his uncle's house without reservation. How he deserved such a person loving him was beyond his understanding.
Without warning, the door beside them jerked open and Vernon Dursley stuck his large purple face out. "What do you two think you're doing, making such spectacles of . . . Oh," he went on in a flat tone. "It's you. I thought I wasn't going to see you until that freak school of yours let out in June."
Taking strength from the small but powerful form beside him, Harry stood straight and smiled. "So very nice to see you, too, Uncle Vernon. May we come in?"
Vernon harrumphed but stepped aside after looking up and down the street. Mustn't give the neighbours the wrong impression, after all.
"Hey, Dad, who's that?" The large form of Dudley Dursley came stomping down the stairs, chocolate smeared around his mouth and one hand. He stopped at seeing the slight, pretty redhead entering the front room. In what he thought to be a smooth tone, he said, "Well, hello there, gorgeous. I'm called Big D. What should I call you?"
Ginny, all bright eyes, wide smile and manic energy, started talking very rapidly, "Oh! You must be Harry's cousin Dudley. He's told me SO much about you. Like the times you beat him up and the times you and your gang chased him and how he had no friends because of you and the time he saved you from a dementor after you wet your britches. Oh, sorry, my name is Ginny. I'm Harry's fiancÃ©e. How do you do?" She held out a hand to him.
Dudley blinked. She was speaking so quickly that he'd barely caught all of it. His hand automatically came forward while he tried to process everything he'd just heard. "Wait, fiancÃ©e? A gorgeous little thing like you is engaged to HIM?"
"Yep! Isn't it great? I'm SO lucky to have caught such a prize as Harry. I mean I have six older brothers; I think you met Fred, George, Ron and my dad, didn't you? Anyway, I have six brothers, so I know a thing or two to look out for in a man. Harry is everything I could ever want. He's SO nice to me, buying me expensive presents, has his own castle, great kisser, even better in bed and all. He's famous in the wizarding world, you know, after what happened when he was a child. Then just a few months ago he and I fought and killed Voldemort. His name is really Tom Riddle, you know. Or you probably don't, do you? You're a Muggle, poor thing. Anyway, it's Tom Riddle, but everyone calls him You-Know-Who like just saying his name is dangerous or something. Anyway, we killed him Halloween morning, just the two of us. Of course we had to be kidnapped first, but that's neither here nor there. He had us kidnapped and we cast a couple of spells at him and boom. No more Tommy." She giggled, a high pitched sound that sent shivers down everyone's spines.
Harry vaguely wondered how she could say all of that without appearing to have taken a breath.
Ginny was already off again, still grinning in a very unsettling manner. "Hagrid told me about you. You remember Hagrid, I'm sure. Really big guy, waves a pink umbrella around? Anyway, he told me about giving you a pig's tail. I promised I'd complete his job if I thought you deserved it. And to be honest, I think I do. I mean, look at you. I've seen Hungarian Horntails that weighed less. But you wouldn't know what a Hungarian Horntail is, would you? Poor Muggle, never seen a dragon, I bet. My brother works with them, you know. Actually, more than just the Horntails, but I was talking about dragons in general."
Dudley was staring at her with an open mouth and didn't respond.
Ginny turned to Harry with a pout. "HARRRREEEEE!" she whined. "You promised I could play with him. He's boring."
Desperately trying to keep a straight face at her act, Harry shook his head. "Sorry, love. He's usually more active than this. Of course you're the first witch he's ever met, so he's probably a little intimidated."
Ginny turned back to Dudley and stomped one foot. "Say something," she demanded.
"W - Witch?" Dudley stuttered.
"Yes, a witch. You know, a female magician. You do know what a female is, don't you?" she asked in a scathing tone.
"YOU BROUGHT ANOTHER OF YOUR FREAK FRIENDS INTO MY HOME?" Vernon bellowed, finally finding his voice.
"Volucris Phantasma," Ginny snarled, suddenly pointing her wand at Vernon. The grey light of the spell flashed across the room and impacted Vernon. Immediately, a swarm of amorphous shapes started flying around his head, batting at his face.
"AAAHHHH! GET THEM OFF ME!"
"Silencio." Vernon's cries were suddenly cut off, but his arms continued thrashing about, smashing into the cabinets and knocking pictures from the walls.
Harry headed toward the stairs, not bothering to look at Vernon. "I'm going to check my room, love. Enjoy yourself down here."
"Oh, I'm sure I will," she chirped, grinning in demented glee. "Dudley, I'll give you a five second head start."
Shaking his head, Harry went up to his old room, ignoring the loud sounds and high-pitched giggles coming from the front room. Once into his barely furnished room, he pried up the loose floorboard to his secret hiding space. He thought he'd collected everything when the Order's escort team showed up in late July, but he just wanted to make sure. Two owl treats, a sheet of parchment that looked like it had Quidditch doodles on it by his hand and a broken quill were the total contents of the hiding place. Satisfied that nothing of value had been left behind, Harry put the floorboard back in place and glanced around the room. After a moment, he shook his head and left. There was nothing left in the house for him.
Halfway down the staircase, he put his planned revenge into action. Pulling out his wand, he counted the steps and cast a spell at three of them. Satisfied, he put his wand away and entered the front room, wondering how much of his uncle and cousin Ginny had left.
Both were sitting on the couch, looking scared and haggard, but otherwise well enough. Ginny had apparently reversed her Bat-Bogey Hex while he was upstairs.
She was now venting her anger at them. " . . . one of the most generous, unselfish people I've ever met. How he could be this way after having lived with YOU is something that I'll never understand. You're a disgrace to humanity. I'd put you out of my misery, but frankly you're not worth my time." She saw Harry standing there with a wide smile, and her ire abruptly evaporated. "Did you get everything taken care of upstairs?"
Harry nodded and turned to his terrified uncle. "I'm moving out. I'm never coming back, which I'm sure is what you've wanted for the past decade and a half. I have no idea where Aunt Petunia is, but tell her that I can't imagine how she and my mother came from the same home. Good riddance."
Reaching over, he took Ginny's hand and Apparated to the parlour of Potter Manor.
Ron and Remus looked up from their chess game and smiled.
"Anything left of them?" Ron asked cheerfully.
Harry shrugged. "Oh, they're fine. Nothing was left in my room, so no reason to ever go back."
Ron's face fell. "You didn't do anything to them?"
"I didn't say that . . ." Harry trailed off with a smirk as he sat on the loveseat.
Remus leaned back. "Are you going to tell us the story or not?"
"After convincing them that she was insane, I saw her cast a Bat-Bogey Hex and Silencing Charm on Uncle Vernon. I went upstairs at that point. I don't know what else she did to them." Harry smiled proudly at Ginny as he gently pulled her down to recline against his chest.
She snuggled against Harry and made a contented noise. "Nothing they don't deserve," she said after settling herself properly. "Your cousin should start turning into a pig about now. It'll be a slow transformation and only last for an hour, though."
Harry, Ron and Tonks broke into laughter. The girls were just entering the room from the direction of the stairs and had apparently heard what Ginny said.
Remus was trying to fight a smile, but Hermione was upset. "You could get in real trouble for that, Ginny."
"Only if they complain," Tonks pointed out. "I can't see them doing that, though."
Harry shook his head in agreement.
Tonks turned to him. "What were you doing during this time?"
"Nothing so dramatic as Ginny, here. Just Spouting Jinxes on the third, sixth, and tenth steps."
"Uh, oh," Ron grinned. "Saying what?"
"'Harry Potter is a wizard' on the third. 'Warty, warty, Hogwarts' on the sixth, and 'Magic makes the world go 'round' on the tenth."
Everyone, even Hermione, laughed. They were sure that the rabidly anti-magic Dursleys would loathe the fact that they'd feel compelled to spout off the specified phrases every time they touched the steps in question.
Harry turned to Ginny. "Not that I'm complaining, but what was that you said to them about being my fiancÃ©e?"
She smiled innocently. "Oops. Did I say that out loud to them?"
Tonks, Hermione and Remus smiled. Ron paled.
Harry looked at her for a moment. "Was that a proposal?" he asked, a curious expression on his face.
Ron's face went through several weird contortions, but he didn't make a sound.
"Hmm," Ginny thought about it. "Not quite yet, but we'll discuss it later."
Hermione sighed, eyes slightly glazed over.
"I have a couple questions," Remus said. "What was that about convincing the Dursleys that Ginny was insane?"
Harry grinned in remembrance. "Ah, the brilliance of my girlfriend. Picture the air-headedness of Lavender, the flakiness of Luna, and the energy and enthusiasm of Dennis all rolled into one and multiply that by about ten. THAT is what she was like."
His audience chuckled at the mental image.
"Okay, my other question is about you two dual Apparating."
The couple blinked. "We dual Apparated?" Ginny asked.
"Twice now, so it couldn't have been a fluke," Remus confirmed cheerfully. "When I told you to Apparate TO Harry, which is impossible by the way, you disappeared at the same time as he Apparated out. You didn't wait a few seconds. I can only assume he Apparated the both of you. Then when you Apparated back, you were holding hands. That can't have happened unless it was dual again. Ginny, did you intentionally Apparate either time?"
She shook her head, eyes wide.
Remus leaned back in his chair, nodding in satisfaction.
"But isn't that really difficult?" Ron asked with a frown.
"Yep. For a sufficiently powerful wizard it IS possible, though. You two already having worked together to bring Voldemort down and your already close auras make it easier. That's probably why you didn't notice the extra power you had to spend, Harry."
"You made it sound like it was easy to Apparate to him," Ginny objected.
"I lied," Remus admitted without a trace of guilt. "I actually wanted you two to dual Apparate. Like I said, it's tough, but I knew it was possible for you two."
Ron slowly shook his head with a grin. "Nothing is ever just 'average' with you, is it, Harry?"
Harry made a face at his best friend.
Hermione poked Ron's shoulder. "You know how much he wants to be normal, Ron. Stop teasing him like that."
Harry grinned at Ron. "Oh, she has you whipped but good."
Ron grinned back. In a voice that was a passable imitation of Harry's, he retorted, "In the right hands, a whip can actually be a lot of fun."
The two friends chuckled, Hermione smirking along.
"Should I ask?" Tonks wondered.
Ginny was also looking confused.
"Never mind," Harry waved it off. "Remus, what are your plans after holidays?"
Remus shrugged. "If Amelia Bones wins the election, I'm going to start lobbying for increased rights for werewolves. I figure she's a more receptive Minister."
Harry grunted. "A mountain troll with hemorrhoids would make for a better Minister than Fudge."
"Hmm, okay," Harry said thoughtfully. "I have a few ideas for you, then. First off, you're welcome to live here. I need someone to keep an eye on the place. The elves are fine to keep the place ticking over, but we may as well have someone getting some use out of it. Who better than my godfather? Over the summer, we can talk about more duelling tutoring." Harry took a breath. This next part was going to be more difficult.
Ginny squeezed his hand. "It's okay, Harry. They'll support you."
He shot her a grateful smile. Turning to his confused werewolf friend, he glanced between him and Hermione. "This one actually could concern both of you."
Screwing up his Gryffindor courage, he plunged in. "Starting this summer, I'm going to have Neville and Eloise running a greenhouse for me. In it, they're going to be growing a lot of belladonna and various other things."
"Belladonna is a poison, Harry," Ron cut in, in confusion.
Remus and Hermione were looking at Harry with wide eyes, clearly knowing where this was going.
"There is one medicinal use for belladonna, Ron," Tonks said, eyeing Harry in pleased surprise.
"Wolfsbane," Ginny nodded.
"Which is incredibly generous, if wasteful, if it's just for me," Remus whispered.
"If on the other hand I have enough made for dozens of werewolves every full moon . . ." Harry led Remus in the correct direction
"That is . . ." Remus, wide eyed, couldn't seem to finish his sentence.
"Why?" Tonks asked bluntly.
Ginny, Ron and Hermione turned to her in shock. Remus looked betrayed.
Harry just nodded, knowing she was playing the part of devil's advocate. "This is the most immediate way to help werewolves. I'm also going to try to get the laws changed about their employment. If they have a supply of Wolfsbane and prove they've been taking it consistently and have a safe place in case something goes wrong, then there is no reason they all can't be employed." He leaned forward, eyes on Remus. "Think about it. It would still have to be known to the employer due to days lost at the full moon, but other than that you've already proven to be a fine professor, let alone any other employment. If we can get those barbaric 'Lycanthropic Regulation' laws repealed, the entire werewolf population could be freed."
Hermione said, "That would take changing laws, which means lobbyists and a public relations campaign."
Harry nodded. "Which is were you would come in. With the SPEW thing our third year, you proved you have the heart of a crusader. With my public image," his lip twisted in wry amusement, "I could bring public attention to just about anything I wanted. Remus here is a prime example of what a werewolf COULD be if these ridiculous laws were removed."
Hermione nodded. "Second thing they would need is the Wolfsbane supply. That's expensive, but you're apparently going to cover this yourself, at least for now?"
Harry nodded. "Once the werewolves start working, I'd ask for payment for the continuing costs, but for the time being I'm going to foot the entire bill."
Hermione nodded, not the least bit surprised at Harry's stunning generosity. "Next is someplace to do all this. You'll need the greenhouse, a decent potions lab and somewhere to house the werewolves during the full moon." She looked at Remus in apology. "For safety, this would just about have to be a kennel or something similar. Individual cages, maybe silver bars. If the Wolfsbane doesn't work for whatever reason, then keeping them all separated from each other and from all humans is absolutely vital. If everything goes well, releasing them all into a central yard or something would be more humane."
Harry nodded. "I've already asked Gringott's to look into purchasing some land near Hogsmeade. I was thinking about a large spread and then fencing it. Let all the werewolves roam free during the full moon."
"You'll need help to run this," Tonks put in.
Harry sighed. "Yeah, including security. There will be enough people who dislike the idea that I'd need guards on the property. During full moon especially, but full time, probably." He grinned at Tonks. "Maybe Aurors who are already familiar with werewolves and have a vested interest in their well-being?"
Ron and Ginny snickered as Tonks rolled her eyes. "Subtle, Potter. Real subtle."
"Thank you. Anyway, what do you all think of the idea?"
Remus was staring, mouth slightly agape.
Tonks smiled at his expression. "It'll take some planning and a lot more work than you've mentioned, but I'm willing to pursue the idea."
Hermione nodded. "You'll need at least one potions master brewer, preferably several."
"When I asked Professor Sprout for her recommendations for the greenhouse, she gave me the names of Neville and Eloise. That didn't really surprise me. What DID surprise me was that she mentioned that Eloise was also the top of her class in Potions. I asked her about brewing the Wolfsbane and she said she'd give it a shot but would like Snape standing over her shoulder the first couple of times."
Remus grimaced. "I bet he'll love that."
Harry nodded agreement at the sarcasm in Lupin's words. "Yeah, that's what I thought. Eloise said she'd talk to Snape about it. For some reason, she thinks he'd be more receptive to her than me."
Ron grinned. "Snape would be more receptive to that troll you mentioned earlier than he would to you, Harry."
"Hence Eloise talking with him instead," Harry agreed. "Anyway, Hermione, I know you're good enough to brew it as well if you wanted to try."
Hermione nodded slowly. "She and I could brew it when needed but each do other things for you when we're not brewing." She looked up at him. "You wanted me to run the public relations and lobbying effort for this?"
"Yeah. I can't think of anyone better suited."
"Well, I don't know about that," she demurred, blushing at the praise. "At any rate, we'll need to hire a public relations firm. Also, I'll need to talk with a lobbying group to learn what I can do on that end."
"Albus," Remus stated firmly. "Albus can help you out with that, Hermione. He can put you in contact with the appropriate people." He turned to Harry. "Talking with the appropriate people on the Wizengamot is only part of the battle, though, Harry. Public opinion will be what really drives this."
Harry nodded. "That is where you and I come in, Remus. You're popular among your former students and the Order. Much as I hate it, my fame means I can bring public attention to just about any issue."
Hermione nodded. "With the right speech and a few press conferences, you could push this issue a long way, Harry."
"Me, too," Ginny added.
"You, too," Hermione agreed.
"This summer," Harry reminded them. "The nursery in Diagon Alley can't get the seedlings to me earlier than that."
"Is that the only place you asked?" Remus asked.
Remus chewed on a lip. "What all do you need?"
Harry shrugged. "Neville, Eloise and Professor Sprout are going to put a total list together. He mentioned that once we had the full setup there, we may as well grow some other things to make at least some money."
"Once he has the list, let me know. I might be able to hurry some of this along. Also, once you have a property, I can spend some of my time getting it ready."
"What are you going to call this, anyway?" Ginny wondered.
Remus smiled. "Very appropriate. Any other surprises in store for us?"
Harry smiled mysteriously. "Oh, one or two."
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
Harry read the story in the Daily Prophet in satisfaction. True to Remus's prediction, the WWN had announced Fudge's overwhelming defeat the previous evening. Fudge had apparently only gotten seven percent of the popular vote. Amusingly, write-ins for Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore combined were at nine percent. Amelia Bones was the clear winner with the remaining eighty-four percent.
The story went on with a list of changes that Minister Bones had promised to implement including financial and security audits of the Ministry and an investigation of former Undersecretary Delores Umbridge.
The story Harry was reading wasn't a surprise either, but it did put a serious dent in Malfoy's public image.
. . . the appearance of young Mr. Malfoy in the same manner as four wanted criminals, one is forced to wonder how close of a connection the member of the powerful and influential Malfoy family has with these members of the criminal class.
With Lucius Malfoy in Ministry custody and under a mountain of evidence of being a Death Eater, now Draco Malfoy's at least circumstantial connection to other criminals in an undisclosed action that led to their obvious capture, this reporter wonders how much of the Malfoy fortune and influence has been won by legitimate means.
With the largest proponents of Pure-blood supremacy under such a cloud of suspicion and new Ministry leadership about to take control, wizarding Britain is sure to change.
Three of the biggest names in Britain, namely Minister-elect Amelia Bones, Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, and the Boy Who Won Harry Potter all agree on one thing. "The changes coming are all for the better."
- by Simon Firthquill
There. THAT should put Malfoy in his place. Which, in Harry's opinion, was under the slimiest rock that could be found. Harry was so satisfied with the article that he wasn't upset with Simon for putting words into his mouth.
"Good quote he got from you, Harry," Tonks said with a grin as she read the article.
"Isn't it? Too bad I don't remember giving it."
Tonks chuckled along before turning the page. She abruptly jerked forward. "Bloody hell!"
Almost afraid to know what would get that kind of reaction out of the normally easy-going Auror, Harry hesitantly turned the page of his own paper.
Escaped High-Ranking Death Eater Apprehended
Harry rapidly devoured the article. It was actually quite short, stating only that Bellatrix Lestrange had been caught by Ministry Aurors in Knockturn Alley after a short but vicious duel. Her trial was to start the first week that Hogwarts was back in session.
"How about that?" Harry whispered with a grin.
"She was the highest one left, wasn't she?"
"Far's I know, yeah," Harry agreed. "Questioning her and Malfoy under Veritaserum will answer that better, though." His face slowly fell as he realised what else Bellatrix could tell a questioner.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
Harry closed the sliding door on the Hogwarts Express with a frown. "I talked to Colin. He and Dennis never received their invitations," he announced.
Tonks nodded. "That's what we figured."
Sighing, Harry flopped into the seat next to Ginny. "Yeah. I just wish I could owl my friends without worrying that it'd be intercepted by Death Eater wannabes."
"Calling them 'dews' instead of 'dee-its' at least sounds better," Ron commented with a grin.
Harry made a noise of amusement.
"Face it, Harry. You're just too popular for your own good," Ginny teased him. "After all, Malfoy wanted to attend the party so badly that he stole an invitation."
Harry tried not to smile, but had to settle for letting it out twisted. "Yeah, well that kind of popularity I could do without, thanks."
"What're we going to be covering in class, Professor?" Ron asked, changing the subject.
"I gave you a syllabus at the beginning of the year, Ron," Tonks said in mild confusion. "This term for sixth years is recognising the effects of dark potions to identify them."
"Thank you, Tonks," Ron answered, "but I'm afraid it wasn't you I was asking." Harry blushed as Ron grinned at him and raised his eyebrows.
"Stop it," Harry ordered.
Ron just grinned wider.
Harry rolled his eyes and answered the question. "For the next couple weeks, I figured I'd get fourth and lower level fifth years using the Levitating Charm as a defence. The rest will be working on the Patronus. We still don't know that the Aurors rounded up all the dementors, and I'd really rather not leave anyone defenceless to those monsters."
Tonks asked, "Just out of curiosity, has your memory changed?"
Harry looked at Tonks in confusion, peripherally noting that Ginny flushed and looked down.
"For the Patronus," Tonks explained in innocent query. "You know, your happiest memory. I was just wondering if you had a new, more recent one."
Refusing to respond to Tonks's teasing, Harry calmly responded, "As it happens, I very well might. I'll have to experiment a bit, thanks for reminding me." He turned to Ginny and leaned so he was whispering into her ear. "Do you think you can produce one now, love?"
Without looking up, she gave a small nod, blushing even more brightly.
Harry turned. "How about you, Ron, do you think you have a sufficiently HAPPY memory now?" Harry's eyes flickered to Hermione and back.
Ron glowered. "Yes, Harry, I do have a few recent very happy memories. Satisfied?" His gaze shifted back and forth from his best friend to his sister. "I do NOT want to hear about what memories the two of you might be using." He shuddered.
"Not even if they involve chocolate sauce?"
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
That evening after he'd finished dinner, Harry walked to the head table. Dumbledore looked up and watched the student approach, but if someone were looking closely, they would see the moment of disappointment in his eyes when Harry ignored the headmaster in favour of the deputy headmistress.
"Professor McGonagall? I was wondering if I could have a word with you privately?"
She looked at him in slight confusion. "Certainly, Professor Potter." She got up from her empty plate and led the way out of the Great Hall.
In passing, Harry waved and smiled at Susan Bones, who was starting to look overwhelmed at the attention her fellow students were suddenly paying her now that her aunt had won the election.
She mouthed, "Help."
Harry just shrugged sympathetically to her.
Once out of the Great Hall, McGonagall's path took them toward an area of the castle that Harry knew about, but had never had cause to visit. She stopped in front of one of the row of doors and muttered a password that Harry didn't catch. As he followed her in, he saw the nameplate, M McGonagall, out of the corner of his eye.
She waved him to an overstuffed chair and seated herself behind a full but still organized desk. As he was seating himself, he cast a quick glance around her sitting room. He'd expected more Gryffindor colours, but it was done in a wood-brown motif instead. In addition to the chair and desk, there were many bookshelves, a small fireplace, and two doors in addition to the one he'd entered through.
"Nice apartments," he commented after she'd given him time to examine his surroundings.
She smiled. "Not up to the level of Potter Manor, perhaps, but they are quite comfortable for an old witch like me, Harry. Now, what can I do for you?"
He frowned. "Wait, you've been to Potter Manor?"
She laughed. "Oh, heavens yes. I was a dorm mate of your grandmother's. Victoria and I visited each other after we'd each gotten married." She smiled in remembrance before shaking it off. "But that was a long time ago and is neither here nor there. What can I do for you, Harry?"
He shifted slightly. "At the press conference, do you remember me mentioning Sirius's Animagus notebook?"
"Yes. I believe I expressed an interest in reading it."
Harry nodded and produced the notebook from within his robes. "You certainly may if you wish. I only ask for a couple of favours in return."
Her hand had been reaching forward but stopped at hearing this. "Conditions, Professor Potter?" she asked guardedly.
He smiled slightly. "You were calling me Harry earlier, Minerva," he pointed out, uncomfortable using her given name but knowing he had the right. Besides, he was trying to make a point. After she gave a slight nod in acknowledgement, he went on, "Not conditions, actually. You're welcome to read the notebook regardless. I'm requesting two FAVOURS," he lightly stressed the last word.
Her hand finished coming forward and took the notebook from his hand. She placed the slim journal on her lap and folded her hands over the top of it. "What might those be, Harry?"
"Please let me know if there are any errors in it. I'd like to have it published."
Her eyes tightened and she opened here mouth.
Harry held up a hand. "Not to sell to the public. I recognise the danger of unlimited numbers of student Animagi, Professor. I was thinking about selling it only through permission from Transfiguration professors for advanced students. Aurors would probably like to buy some copies, too."
She pursed her lips and thought about it. "Perhaps we could offer a supplemental course for the best seventh year Transfiguration students," she allowed.
Harry nodded. "Beauxbatons, Durmstrang, Salem and the other schools could as well. Sirius wrote that during his third through fifth year, so it's aimed for students to understand."
She inclined her head in what he took as agreement. "Why don't I save us some time and let me guess at your second favour, Harry. You would like me to train you to be an Animagus."
Harry studied his Transfiguration teacher for a moment, trying to determine if she was upset or not. Her impassive gaze left him no clues. "Close," he finally admitted. "Actually, I'd ask you help to COMPLETE my Animagus training."
One eyebrow came up. "You've already begun?"
"Over the holiday," he confirmed. "Remus was present for all of the Marauders' training, so he knew what to look for. He's also a good teacher even if he isn't an Animagus in his own right."
"True," she allowed. "May I assume you've already had your totem dream?"
Harry nodded. "Horse."
She nodded with a faint expression of surprise. "How far have you gotten in transforming?"
"All four legs, neck, and ears. One at a time, I can do all of them, but I haven't been able to transform all of them simultaneously. I can HOLD them all just fine, though."
"For only a month of practise, you've come amazingly far, Mr. Potter."
"I'm no longer Professor Potter or Harry?" he asked with a quirky grin.
She gave him an admonishing but still affectionate glare. "My student is called Mr. Potter, socially you're Harry, professionally you're Professor."
"I'll keep that in mind. At any rate, I've been working on my torso, but it hasn't quite worked yet. I know what I need to be doing, but Remus made me promise to have you nearby when I practised. Either for the Animagus insight or to undo any . . . unfortunate partial transformations."
"Yes," she agreed dryly. "After decades of teaching youngsters Transfiguration, I daresay I know how to undo most errors. Were you planning on registering?"
"After graduation, probably. With ol' Moldywart gone and his merry band of reprobates in Azkaban, I don't see why I shouldn't."
Her lip twitched even as she nodded agreement. "We'll save off that paperwork until next year, then. In the meantime, when would you like to have your practises? I have Monday and Wednesday evenings or most of Sunday afternoon available."
Harry thought about it for a moment. "How about Sundays after lunch in your classroom?"
"Very well. I shall see you in class then, Mr. Potter. I daresay that this will be educational for the both of us."
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
Monday breakfast was going smoothly until well after the owl post arrived. Harry, not expecting anything of interest, barely looked up. For a minute, only the normal soft
murmuring of conversations and rustling of parchment was heard.
First Ginny then Harry gradually became aware of a silence spreading among the students, only punctuated by soft exclamations.
"Oh, dear," Hermione whispered from across the table. Bypassing the "what is it?" stage, she merely turned her copy of the Daily Prophet around and pointed to a particular paragraph. "It's an article on Lestrange's imprisonment."
Harry and Ginny huddled over the paper in growing horror.
In a strange twist, Lestrange insists that Harry Potter, whom she claimed duelled her in June in the Ministry of Magic, cast an Unforgivable Curse upon her during that duel. No statement is available from The Boy Who Won at this point, but it seems that an investigation would only be prudent.
"Shit," Harry whispered, drawing twitches of shocked surprise from the two girls.
Harry himself was thinking rapidly. Right now he had to show a mask of indignant anger to the world. If he looked ashamed, he'd be assumed guilty. If there was only one thing he'd learned about the press over the last three years, it was that appearances were everything. He had to get out of this room rapidly, and he had to get Ginny and Hermione somewhere where he could grovel for their forgiveness.
Standing, he remoulded his face into a look of anger. He stomped to the front table with the rolled up paper in one hand. "What the bloody hell does she think she's doing?" he demanded of Dumbledore, waving the paper theatrically.
For a fraction of an instant, Dumbledore looked surprised. It was gone so quickly that Harry wasn't completely sure it had ever been there at all. Standing, Dumbledore intoned solemnly, "I do not know, Professor Potter. Please come with me. We shall investigate."
He swept around the table, heading out of the Great Hall, a fuming Harry Potter following in his wake. Without any bidding, Ginny and Hermione followed behind.
The instant the four were alone in the Entrance Hall, Harry's expression changed to a mix of shame and fear.
Upon seeing this, Ginny's voice was on the far side of alarmed. "What's going on?" she asked in a whisper.
"Not here," Dumbledore curtly ordered, leading the way to his office rapidly.
The four entered Dumbledore's office without another word. The instant the door was closed, Harry pulled out his wand and cast the strongest Privacy Charm he could manage. That done, he slowly sunk to his knees beside the sitting Ginny and laid his head upon her lap. "Forgive me," he moaned.
Ginny and Hermione shared a shocked glance. "You mean it's TRUE?" Hermione asked in a horrified gasp.
"Not entirely," Dumbledore answered in his usual unflappable manner as he sat at his desk. He did not appear surprised by the turn of the conversation. "Please recall that this took place moments after Harry witnessed Bellatrix push Sirius through the Veil of Mysteries. He had chased her back out to the Ministry Atrium before he could get a spell off at her again. For good or ill, Harry lost control of his darker side for a moment and attempted to cast a Cruciatus upon her." He held up a hand to forestall an interruption that the two stunned girls were in no condition to raise. "Please note that I stated that he ATTEMPTED to cast this spell. He did not do so successfully. At worst, the result was the equivalent of a Stinging Hex. At best, it failed utterly." He peered at Harry over the tops of his glasses. "Is this correct, Harry?"
Harry nodded miserably. He'd not told Dumbledore about what'd happened in the Department of Mysteries. It was possible that he would have done so afterwards in Dumbledore's office, but discussions of the prophecy and Sirius had taken over events instead. "It doesn't matter that it failed," Harry mumbled without raising his head. "I WANTED to hurt her. I WANTED to cast the Cruciatus on her."
"Yet you did not," Dumbledore retorted. "Your heart does not hold the necessary hate to successfully cast that spell. I do not doubt that you have the power, so it must have been the missing emotion that caused the spell to fail."
"Does it matter? I attempted an Unforgivable Curse on her," the self-loathing dripped from his words.
"On the contrary, it does matter. An unsuccessful attempt is not a crime."
Harry looked up, anger forming in his red-rimmed eyes. "So I'm not going to Azkaban on a TECHNICALITY? Oh, that is SO much better. I suppose I should be thankful for the Ministry's incompetency for once. After all if this loophole didn't exist then you'd be legally bound to hand me over to the dementors for a life sentence. Instead I'm just going to be a pariah for the rest of my life."
Ginny grabbed his chin and nearly wrenched his neck as she jerked his head around to look at her. "Now you listen to me, Harry James Potter," she stated, staring hard into his wide eyes. "You are NOT going to give in to this. You are going to stop taking your anger and fear out on Professor Dumbledore as he doesn't deserve it. You are going to go back out there and hold your head up. You are going go testify at her trial. If her claim comes up, you are going to simply state that you did not successfully cast an Unforgivable. We can worry about the repercussions after this reprehensible woman is rotting in Azkaban like she deserves. Until then, no snivelling little Death Eater is going to drag my fiancÃ© down to her level. Get this through your thick skull, Harry Potter: You. Did. Nothing. Wrong. Now you pull yourself together so we can figure out how to deal with this."
First shock, then utter gratitude, then surprisingly amusement washed over Harry's face. "Why, Miss Weasley, I do believe that that's the second time you nearly proposed to me."
She blinked once, still holding his chin and looking into his eyes from a distance of twelve inches. "Well, you know what they say. Third time's the charm," she quipped.
Harry grinned, all traces of his previous mood disappearing. He leaned forward and gave her a long, sensual kiss, totally ignoring Dumbledore and Hermione's presence in the room. Finally he pulled back with a sigh and rested his forehead against hers. "What did I ever do to deserve you?"
"You're you," she simply answered, gently pulling him up and into the seat next to her.
Dumbledore gently cleared his throat, bringing the students' attention to him. A benevolent smile was his only reaction to the touching scene he'd just witnessed. "Harry, I am afraid that you will indeed need to testify at Bellatrix's trial. It had been a possibility that you could have been spared that chore, but with this article -" He stopped when Harry nodded.
"Yes, I understand."
"Very well. I shall inform you as to the particulars when I learn them. In the meantime, I believe you three have classes to attend?"
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
The next two weeks dragged by, or at least it appeared to from Harry's point of view. He kept waiting for the Aurors to come barging in to drag him away to Azkaban.
His tension and moping did not go unnoticed by his best friends, of course.
"Harry, if you don't calm down, everyone is going to think you have a guilty conscience," Hermione informed him calmly after Harry jumped for the third time merely from the portrait hole opening on Thursday afternoon.
Harry spent a moment to close his eyes and take a deep breath. He even managed a small smile when he opened them back up. "Yes, dear."
"Wrong person," she said, looking up from her Potions essay with a mischievous smirk. "Ginny is 'dear' unless you meant your father, who was a 'deer'."
Harry winced. "Stag. He was a stag. You might as well have called Sirius a poodle."
She waved that off. "He didn't have the legs for it."
"Besides," she continued, "a stag is just a male deer." She cocked her head. "Please don't take this wrong, Harry, but that's the first time in months that you've referred to Sirius without breaking down."
"Yeah. I'm slowly getting better, I think. Remus has helped a lot to get things into perspective for me. Don't get me wrong, it's still tough, but it's getting better."
She gave a half-smile. "Yeah. I lost a close uncle a few years ago. Not as close as Sirius was to you, but you know what I mean. It IS difficult, but it does get better."
"Yeah," he agreed quietly. Instead of the look of misery that she was used to him wearing whenever Sirius came up, though, he had a small smile on his face.
This was the scene that a second year Gryffindor found as she came up to the two. "Harry, Professor Dumbledore wants to speak with you."
Harry's eyes flickered for a moment. He stood and said, "Thanks for letting me know, Janice."
The young Gryffindor nodded and headed toward the girls' dormitory.
Harry took a breath. He looked down at Hermione and said, "Wish me luck."
She fought valiantly to keep the anxiety off of her face. "Yeah. Good luck."
Harry, with an almost imperceptible straightening of his shoulders, turned to the portrait hole and walked out of the Gryffindor common room.
It wasn't thirty seconds later when Ginny came down from the stairs and came over to the table where Hermione was sitting. Instead of the work in front of her, though, the older girl was staring away through space.
"Hey, Hermione, what's wrong?"
She started. "Ginny? I thought you were in Potions?"
The redhead shrugged. "Cancelled at the last minute. Something happened in the previous class and there was a heavy purple fog in the room. It smelled awful, and Snape cancelled our class." She looked at the second set of books laid out on the table. "Where's Harry?"
"Oh! You just missed him. Dumbledore sent for -" she didn't bother finishing her sentence to the girl who was already running from the room.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
"Harry! Wait up!"
Harry turned from the gargoyle statue. He was relieved that something had pulled his morose attention away from it. He'd already spent nearly a minute staring at the statue guarding the entrance to Dumbledore's office. It wasn't that he didn't know the password, it was that he didn't want to enter. Therefore, any distraction was welcome.
Especially this one. "Harry! I'm glad I caught you before you went in."
"Me, too," he sighed, gathering her into a hug.
She returned the hug for a moment before stepping back to examine him. "You think this is it, don't you?"
She shrugged. "Naw, could be for any of a number of other reasons. He could be telling you that you've been named next year's Head Boy. Maybe Snape's repented and wants to swear undying fealty to you. Or maybe Skeeter's been caught in her Animagus form and Dumbledore wants you to keep her as a pet."
He finally managed a smile.
"There," she stated with a firm nod. "That's better. Now, remember what I told you last Monday. She's a small person and is trying to drag you down to her level. Don't let her. You did nothing wrong, Harry. Just keep your head up, and you'll get through this."
He simply stared for another few moments before pulling her into another tender hug. "You're amazing. How did you know what to say that would make me feel better?"
"Chronic Boy Who Lived syndrome. I've been studying you so long, I know you too well. Now get in there and get this over with."
He gave her a quick kiss. "I've no idea how long this'll take. Don't wait up. Love you."
"I will anyway. Love you, too. Now go."
"Yes, dear," he teased. He called out the password and went up the moving staircase in a decidedly better mood than he'd approached the gargoyle.
"Enter," Dumbledore called in answer to his knock. "Ah, Harry. I see Miss Douglas found you. As you may have guessed, I asked you here due to Bellatrix Lestrange's claim against you. Her own trial has already been concluded and shall be reported in tomorrow's Daily Prophet. As it turned out, there was no need for you to testify at her trial as there was abundant evidence of her Death Eater involvement without bringing you in to testify. She shall be in Azkaban for the rest of her natural life. Now, the last item resulting from this is her claim that you used an Unforgivable Curse upon her. In effect, she is the primary witness in a prosecution against you."
"A Death Eater as a witness? A CONVICTED Death Eater as a witness?"
Dumbledore nodded. "You have reached the crux of the issue, Harry. Yes, it is generally accepted that she is an unreliable witness, which is why she will be given Veritaserum before any questions are put to her. Unlike your trial the summer before your fifth year, this will not start out being a trial by the full Wizengamot. If the situation starts leaning toward the possibility that you are indeed guilty, then the judge will suspend the trial and bring in the full court. As Amelia was just inaugurated, she cannot interfere in this case if the worst comes to pass. To be quite honest, nobody expects this to go anywhere, however. As to the specifics of the trial: There will be one judge, no solicitors and no jury. The judge will question Mrs. Lestrange, and then you shall have the opportunity to question her as well. If, after that point there is still the question of your guilt, the judge will question you. After that, he may bring in the full court if the situation warrants. Do you have any questions of me at this point?"
Harry thought for a moment, a plan beginning to form. "Will I be required to sit in that chair with the manacles?"
"All witnesses being questioned sit in that chair. Due to your status, it is unlikely that you shall be required to wear the manacles."
"If I am questioned, will I be required to take Veritaserum?"
Dumbledore leaned back in his chair, one long finger running through his beard. "I am uncertain. It is possible."
"With my knowledge of the Order, that could be -"
Dumbledore held up a hand, stilling Harry. "I have already considered this. If you are forced to take Veritaserum, I shall attempt to either keep any confidential information from coming out or at the least seal the transcript. This is all secondary, Harry, to your fate. I am gratified that you are thinking of the security of the Order, but you do not need to concern yourself with that. You must instead concern yourself with your own situation."
"Yes, sir." He thought for a moment more. "What is the scope of the questions I may ask of her?"
Dumbledore looked at him curiously. "Anything that you can convince the judge is pertinent to the investigation. State of mind, magical skills and similar topics."
Harry nodded, a plan settling into place. "Okay, I think I'm ready."
Dumbledore did not comment upon Harry's suddenly confident expression. Instead he simply held out a sheet of parchment. The instant Harry touched it, the jerk of a Portkey pulled both men out of the office.
"Are you hurt, Professor Potter?" Dumbledore extended a hand to help Harry back up.
"Floo and Portkey. Every time I travel by Floo or Portkey, I end up falling over. That's why I love Apparition so much."
"Indeed. However, as we would have had to leave Hogwarts grounds . . ."
"I know, I know." Harry looked around to orient himself and found that the Portkey had taken them to the Ministry Atrium. Fortunately, the Portkey didn't take them into the centre of the room, where a large scale Privacy Charm was in effect. Harry vaguely wondered what was being put up to replace the destroyed Fountain of Magical Brethren.
Dumbledore and Harry approached the security stand and relinquished their wands before the Auror could ask for them.
After identifying the wands and returning them, the man asked, "Your business in the Ministry today, gentlemen?"
"I believe I'm on trial," Harry answered. He was tempted to add, "again," but decided to not take out his frustrations on this innocent Auror.
The wizard hardly batted an eye. He turned to Dumbledore, silently asking the same question.
"I wish to attend said trial," Dumbledore told him.
The guard simply nodded and waved his wand below their line of sight, mumbling. He handed two silver tags up, one stating Harry Potter, on trial and the other Albus Dumbledore, trial spectator.
The Auror started to give directions to courtroom 4, but Dumbledore waved him off. "Thank you, Mr. Reeves, but I know the way. Good day."
Harry let Dumbledore lead him through the labyrinth without comment, trusting his headmaster to get him to the correct room quickly.
Sure enough, minutes later they entered through the double doors that were clearly labelled. The instant the two had entered, the dozen gathered reporters started asking questions.
"Mr. Potter, what do you think of the charges?"
"Mr. Potter, what do you think of Bellatrix's sentence?"
"Mr. Potter, would you do it again?"
Harry just waved them off. "I have no comment on the trial at this time."
Dumbledore led him past the clamouring reporters and leaned in. "I am gratified to see that you are learning to handle the press, Harry."
"Survival skill, sir. With my plans, I figure I'll need to get used to it at some point."
Harry stopped and graced Dumbledore with a bemused smile. "Don't tell me you don't know about everything I'm doing."
Dumbledore just tilted his head and twinkled. Instead of commenting, he held up one hand and pointed. "That seat is for you, Harry. I shall be sitting directly behind you. I shall intervene only under the most dire of circumstances, as you appear to have a plan. I wish you the best of luck."
Harry nodded, touched. Dumbledore was finally letting Harry fight his own battles. It only took a criminal trial to bring it out, though. Much as Harry wanted this whole thing to go away with a wave of Dumbledore's hand, he knew that fighting this battle on his own would give him a level of public respectability that he would need in the future.
Harry had no sooner seated himself than an Auror entered. "All rise for the Honourable Judge Frederick McWilliam."
Everyone stood and a plainly robed middle-aged man entered, followed closely by two Aurors flanking Bellatrix Lestrange. They immediately led her to the witness chair, and it shackled her into place.
Harry studied her as the judge settled himself. She was looking even more unkempt and wild-eyed than he'd seen her in the Ministry. The smirk she fixed on him answered one of his questions: Why was she doing this? Just because she could and wanted to make him miserable.
The judge explained the fact that this was a preliminary trial and what would be expected of Harry. Harry nodded his understanding, having just heard basically the same things from Dumbledore. The judge then ordered the Veritaserum administered. After that had been done to an unresisting Lestrange, he asked for her account of the night in question.
She spoke for ten uninterrupted minutes. She did little to hide her own guilt but did not name any of the other Death Eaters. Other than that omission, her account fit with what Harry knew and remembered.
McWilliam nodded when she wound down at the point of Voldemort dual Apparating them out. "Very well. Mr. Potter, you have the right to question the witness. Do you wish to do so?"
"Yes, Your Honour," Harry said, standing and wishing he knew the correct niceties of the situation.
"The floor is yours."
"Thank you, sir." Harry stood and approached Bellatrix, stopping well out of arm's reach even if she hadn't been restrained. He studied her for a moment, trying to calm his rapid heartbeat and convince himself that the strategy he'd mapped out in his mind would actually work.
"You were one of the Death Eaters whom tortured Frank and Alice Longbottom into insanity, weren't you?" Harry started.
Even through her blank expression, she appeared surprised at the unexpected question. The judge certainly did. "Yes," she dully answered.
"Were you aware that one of my roommates and friends is their son, Neville?"
"Were you aware that Sirius Black was innocent of the crimes for which he was imprisoned?"
"Not at the time."
"When did you learn of Sirius's innocence?"
"After My Lord was reborn."
"So during our fight at the Department of Mysteries and the Atrium, you knew your cousin Sirius had been innocent all along?"
"Were you aware that Sirius Black was my godfather?"
"Were you aware that he and I had met, were communicating and had a happy, friendly relationship?"
"Mr. Potter," the judge interjected, "these questions seem a bit far afield of the charge of you using an Unforgivable Curse upon the witness."
"I will be making the connection momentarily, sir. It goes to my state of mind."
McWilliam raised an eyebrow at the surprising comment. "Proceed, then, but know that I will not look favourably upon this line of questioning if it turns out not to have bearing upon the case."
"Yes, sir. Bellatrix Lestrange, given the fact that you were participating in a fight that had just injured four of my close friends AND you had effectively orphaned a friend of mine AND I had just witnessed you kill my godfather, do you believe that I could have hated you at that point?"
"Yes." Her eyes managed to look triumphant.
Harry glanced at the judge.
McWilliam gave him a short nod to acknowledge that the point had been made.
Harry turned back to Lestrange. "Very well, so at the time I allegedly cast the Cruciatus Curse upon you, I hated you. Tell me, what is the primary requirement to casting a Cruciatus Curse?"
The answer threw Harry for a moment, but he didn't let it distract him for long. "What is the secondary requirement?"
"So in order to cast the Cruciatus, a wizard or witch would have to be powerful and have enough hate in them, correct?"
"Do you believe that I'm powerful enough to cast it?"
She took a moment to answer, appearing to honestly be thinking about it. "Yes."
"Do you believe I had enough hate to cast it at that point in time?"
"Yes." The look of triumph was back.
"And since I had my wand in hand, I had the means. You agree I had the motive. We both agree I had the opportunity before Voldemort appeared in the Atrium. I do not dispute any of this."
Harry looked around at the other people in the room. The judge was wearing a blank mask, listening intently. Dumbledore was looking vaguely worried. The reporters were almost salivating.
Harry smiled confidently and turned back to the witness. "But now we get to the really important part. Have you ever been subjected to the Cruciatus Curse?"
"Have you ever been subjected to a Stinging Hex?"
"Now, based on what you felt, did my spell feel more like a Cruciatus or Stinger?"
"Stinger." Her face was going through a few strange contortions, but the words were in the same, flat tone she had been using all along.
"How long did the pain last?"
"Less than a second."
"Based on how long it lasted, was my spell more likely a Cruciatus or Stinger?"
Harry turned to the judge and spread his hands in a helpless gesture. "By her own admission, I had the means, motive, and opportunity, yet the spell I hit her with was a Stinger instead of a Cruciatus." Harry walked back to his seat.
Dumbledore gave him a subtle wink before Harry turned around and sat down.
The judge's voice came immediately. "Harry James Potter, you are found innocent of the charge of casting an Unforgivable Curse. This court is adjourned. Aurors, please administer the antidote to the witness and escort her back to her cell."
The instant the antidote was in her, Bellatrix started ranting. "You whelp! I hope you're satisfied with yourself, wee baby Potter! The Dark Lord will return and you will all pay for this!" The Aurors finally got her up and were bodily moving her toward the door that they had entered through. "Do you hear me? He will be back and I will make you regret -" The door finally closed, cutting her off.
Every reporter bolted for the door except for Simon Firthquill. The rest of the spectators, including Remus and Tonks Harry belatedly realised, left in a more orderly manner.
Dumbledore also got to his feet. "I shall see you back at Hogwarts, Professor Potter?"
Harry nodded. "Yes, sir. Thank you for accompanying me today."
"Not at all, dear boy. Not at all." He turned and left after a pleasant nod to Firthquill.
Once the last person had left the room, Simon smiled at Harry. "I'm beginning to see why my daughter is so taken with you."
"Samantha's your daughter?" Harry asked, remembering a Hufflepuff seventh year in the DA with the same name.
"Yep, but I think you're in the wrong house."
Harry looked at him quizzically but didn't speak.
"One thing that you didn't address in your questioning, nor admit to. What incantation did you use on her?" He smiled into Harry's suddenly blank face. "Yep, should've been a Slytherin. You have a good day, Mr. Potter." He turned and left.
Harry let out a breath before slowly following. In a daze, Harry returned to the Atrium and turned in the temporary identification tag at the security desk.
"Good day, Mr. Potter," the Auror guard politely bid him.
Harry absently returned the greeting, heading toward the designated outbound Apparition point. At the last moment, he changed his destination from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley.
He had something to buy.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
The next morning's Prophet had an article on the trial, written by Simon, that clearly stated that Bellatrix was simply trying to smear Harry's name with her unfounded accusation.
Harry was smiling at the article when another owl landed on the table beside his breakfast plate. The large, distinguished owl held out a leg to Harry. The parchment bore the mark of the Ministry. Once Harry untied the roll, the owl took off.
Mr. Potter, Harry,
Harry's curiosity was piqued by the cross out and handwritten change.
As you're aware, the Fountain of Magical Brethren was destroyed this past June.
The Ministry of Magic has decided to install a new fountain in the Atrium. The subject of the new fountain has yet to be decided. One suggestion was James and Lily Potter with Sirius Black. Another suggestion was life-sized statues of yourself and Miss Weasley. Other possibilities would be considered if yourself or Miss Weasley would care to put any forward.
In any case, the Atrium Restoration Committee requests your presence at the dedication ceremony to be held at eleven o'clock on Saturday, March the twenty-second of this year.
Atrium Restoration Committee
Chairman Arthur Weasley
PS: Harry, please do not dismiss this out of hand. As chairman of this committee, I can easily have the subject changed to something else. All you or Ginny have to do is give us another idea. Due to your recent exploits against the Dark Lord, the Ministry is bound and determined to honour you, so that's why the initial suggestions were so focused upon you two. Any suggested changes would be most favourably received. I'm aware of your distaste for the level of public attention being paid you, so I implore you to pick some other subject for the fountain. - Arthur
Harry's face had gone from curiosity, to anger, to disgust and ended with laughter.
Needless to say, this made Hermione insanely curious. "What on Earth did the Ministry say to get you to laugh, Harry?"
Instead of answering, he handed the letter over to her to let her read it. While she was doing that, Harry turned to Ron at her side. "What's your dad doing?"
Ron's face went from curiosity to a proud smile. "With what you and Ginny did to ol' . . . what was that you were calling him?"
"Yeah, Moldywart. Anyway, with what you two did, and the fact that Ginny is his daughter and you're almost another son, his reputation has gone way up. Officially, his tasks haven't changed much, but he's gotten a good raise and a few plum assignments. One he's working on right now has something to do with a memorial to the final battle, and another is about the new fountain in the Ministry Atrium."
Harry nodded. "That fountain is what the letter's about. His committee wants to put me and Ginny as the subjects."
Ron laughed out loud. Nearby, Neville and Seamus did the same thing.
Harry grinned back. "Glad to hear that I'm not the only one to think that's a bad idea. My reaction was closer to blazing anger, though."
Ginny came stomping into the Great Hall, waving a parchment of her own. "Did you know about this?"
Harry looked at Ron. "See?" Turning back to his fuming girlfriend, he nodded at the parchment in Hermione's hands. "I learned about it only two minutes ago, love. What do you think?"
She stared at him. "Are you telling me you WANT them to erect statues to us?"
"Of course not! I meant what your dad said afterwards about picking something else."
"Your dad didn't put a post script on yours?" She shook her head. "Ah. He suggested we give them other ideas. They're apparently bound and determined to honour us. Since neither of us want to have statues to us in the Ministry Atrium until the end of time -"
"Or at least until the next fight against a psychotic Dark Lord in there," Neville put in.
"Or that," Harry agreed. "Anyway, the way it sounds, they'll go along with just about anything we suggest."
"Except leaving us alone," Ginny grumped.
"Poor kids, just too darn popular, aren't you?" put in a voice above them. Harry looked up to find a smiling Tonks reading the parchment over Ron's shoulder.
Hermione had been looking pensive since passing the parchment to her boyfriend. She glanced around before looking toward Harry. "How freely can I talk?"
Harry looked at her blankly for a moment before he understood what she was asking and why. "Contributions toward Wolfden?" Harry asked.
Before Harry could respond, Errol flew into the Great Hall, coming to an undignified crash-landing on Neville's plate of bacon and eggs. Seamus ended up wearing bits of fried egg. Fighting his chuckles, Neville removed the parchment from the Weasley family owl. He glanced at the opening before passing the parchment to Ginny.
While she was reading her letter, Harry was studying Hermione with a thoughtful frown. He saw where she was going with her unspoken suggestion. As the public relations leader for a new foundation, she was just looking out for the interests of the foundation in question.
The thing was, Harry had another idea.
Ginny looked up from her letter, now much calmer. "Okay, this explains why Dad didn't put a post script on my letter from the Ministry. Mum was writing to me, saying basically the same things as Dad wrote you."
"I have an idea," Harry slowly began. When he had the undivided attention of Ron, Ginny, Hermione, Tonks, Neville and Seamus, he said, "Ginny, could you write back to your dad and invite him here on Saturday for us to talk to? I have something major in mind, but it'll take a bit of explanation."
"Bigger than Wolfden?" Hermione asked in surprise.
"Not bigger, but different," Harry shrugged.
"What's Wolfden?" Seamus asked in confusion.
"A place for werewolves to get protection and Wolfsbane Potion at full moons."
Seamus frowned at Hermione's answer. "There is no such place."
"Not yet," Harry agreed.
Seamus blinked. "That will . . . Wow."
Harry smiled at his roommate's expression. He turned to Hermione. "Can you go through the DA registry and get me a list of all orphans and Muggle-borns?"
Hermione stared blankly at him.
"What are you up to, Harry?" Ron asked in confusion.
"Something that Sirius, Tonks and her mother will love, but every other Black, past and present, will detest."
"That explains the Muggle-born part," Tonks said. "What are you up to, Potter?"
"Think on it," he suggested, getting ready for his first class.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
Harry was standing with Ginny in the Entrance Hall Saturday after lunch, fidgeting nervously.
"Relax," Ginny admonished him. "He's already on our side, remember?"
"Yeah. It's just that I don't know whether I should have invited him or not."
"Why not? You know as well as I do that we need at least one real reporter on our side. He's already proven he's honest after the interview we did with him back in November. Tonks invited him to the Ministry on New Year's and he came through for us then, too. He's on our side."
"But I haven't told anyone outside of who I'm hiring about Wolfden."
"You know we need to, Harry. Now is as good a time as any. Hermione is already talking to Dad about it. We'll need to start the public debate about it sooner or later. Sooner is better so it won't come as quite so much of a shock when Wolfden opens."
"Yeah," he sighed out. It wasn't so much that he didn't want to tell Simon about Wolfden so much as he didn't want to have to use his unwanted notoriety.
Simon Firthquill came through the huge main doors of Hogwarts, snow dervishes swirling about his feet for the short moments that the door had been opened. Simon pulled the hood of his cloak down and looked around with a small smile.
Harry advanced and stood respectfully near as the older man looked around.
"Warty, warty Hogwarts," Simon said with a nostalgic grin.
"Mr. Firthquill, thank you for coming."
"Of course, Mr. Potter. You have to know that with your reputation, getting an invitation from you is something I'm not about to pass up. The past few months have been most . . . illuminating. Not to mention good for my career."
"Call me Harry. As for my reputation as you call it . . . Well, if you followed the stories about me during the Tri-Wizard Tournament -"
"Rita," Simon growled with narrowed eyes.
Harry nodded, not upset over the interruption. "Yes, Rita. After that, I must admit that my opinion of reporters was somewhere between acromantulas and Malfoys."
Simon barked out a laugh. "All things considered, Harry, I can't blame you. Your treatment of Rita, though, has given you a reputation among the press that I think you'll appreciate."
"What reputation is that?" Ginny asked, stepping beside Harry.
Simon gave her a small bow in acknowledgement and gave her a quirky grin. "Most reporters are petrified to get onto his bad side."
Harry looked chagrined. "I shouldn't have gone overboard with her like that."
"No!" Ginny flatly refuted his statement. "She deserved exactly what she got. You didn't do her any permanent harm, Harry, which is, quite frankly, more than she deserves."
Simon nodded. "She's had a reputation for years, Harry. You were the first person with the status to put her down like that. By the way, on behalf of my colleagues I thank you for doing that."
"For what it's worth then, you're welcome, Mr. Firthquill."
"Now, what would the Couple Who Won want with a humble reporter such as myself?"
Harry winced. "We can start by getting rid of that ridiculous title."
Simon looked somewhat surprised. "I wasn't aware that you disliked it. My apologies, Harry, Miss Weasley."
Ginny twined her arm through Harry's, trying to calm him down. To the reporter, she said, "It's Ginny. Miss Weasley is what Snape calls me and I really don't want to lump you in with him."
"As for the title of the Couple Who Won, it's trite and plays off of Harry's previous title of the Boy Who Lived, which he also hates. They're euphemisms. It's an artificial personality that public can rally around instead of the real Harry Potter. The public has made the Boy Who Lived and the Couple Who Won into these quasi-mystical beings. That isn't us. We HATE all the attention being paid to us for no other reason than having killed Tom in self-defence."
Harry looked at her in pride over her eloquence.
Simon was blinking rapidly as he digested all of that. "Tom? You mean You-Know-Who?"
Harry glared balefully. "If you can't call him Voldemort," Simon flinched, "then at least call him Tom Riddle. It's his name, after all." At Simon's continued blank look, Harry sighed. "I'm surprised Samantha hasn't mentioned it to you. Tom Marvolo Riddle, Slytherin class of '45. Not that it matters, but he was a half-and-half. His father was a full Muggle before Tom killed him."
Simon blanched. "You-Kn-, err, V- Vol-." He closed his eyes and took a breath. "Voldemort."
A gasp from the direction of the Great Hall drew their eyes. Samantha Firthquill walked up to them from amongst a gaggle of Hufflepuffs, staring at her father in astonishment. "Daddy? You said his name?"
"What have I been telling you in the DA, Samantha?" Harry asked her.
"The name has no power over us other than what we give it," Samantha recited.
Simon gaped at Harry. "You've been telling them WHAT?"
Harry shrugged. "Why should we be afraid of the name a sociopath gave himself?"
Simon stared for a moment before giving himself a little shake. "This will take a while to get used to."
Samantha rolled her eyes. "Get used to it. It's the way he talks all the time. Why are you here, anyway?"
"We asked him here," Ginny said. "We need to talk to the Prophet and he's our favourite reporter."
"Spreading more propaganda?" Samantha asked with a grin.
"If it's the truth, is it still propaganda?" Harry asked with a matching grin.
Samantha laughed. "This could be a fascinating philosophical discussion, but I have a Potions essay I really need to do. Bye, Harry, Ginny." She gave her father a hug. "Bye, Daddy."
Simon's eyes tracked her as she moved off toward the Hufflepuff tower. He turned toward Harry, wide-eyed. "You're full of surprises, Harry."
Harry's face twisted into a smile. "I've been telling the truth to anyone who asked for years, Simon. Only now people are admitting it's all true."
Simon took a breath before looking back up at Harry. "Let's try this again. What can I do for you today?"
Harry's smile became more natural. "You're resilient. Good. You'll have to be to survive the day."
Ginny smacked Harry's shoulder when Simon's eyes widened. "Stop scaring him like that, Harry." She turned to Simon. "He was speaking metaphorically, not literally."
Simon let out a breath, deflating in relief.
"Sorry," Harry apologised. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded. It's just that what we may tell you later will be a lot to take in all at once. If you're up to it, that is."
Simon dug out a grin. "Was that a challenge?"
Harry laughed. "Not at all. Just that I'm going to ask for a few promises before telling you the really good stuff. The problem is that your reporter's instincts probably won't like it much."
"That is unfair," Simon complained. "Using my curiosity against me like that is just wrong."
Harry smiled but didn't dispute the accusation. "How about it? I'm going to give you a lot of information about myself that few other people know. The caveat is that you're not allowed to repeat any of it without asking me first."
It took Simon only a moment to make his decision. "I promise not to divulge any information about you without your permission."
Harry nodded and pulled out his wand. After casting a privacy bubble centered on himself, he waved his hand toward the stairs and slowly led the threesome on a roundabout route toward a specific seventh-floor corridor. "Okay, on background: my Muggle relatives, the ones who raised me, hated my very existence. I grew up without any idea that magic existed, let alone my status in the wizarding world. In my third year, I met Sirius Black, my godfather. Read the story that the Prophet bought from the Quibbler for the full story about that if you'd like. At last, I had someone who was willing to let me live somewhere other than with the Muggles who tried to beat the magic out of me."
"You mean they -" Simon began in outrage.
"Yes," Ginny flatly stated. "Yes, they did." She ignored Harry's silent request to leave the subject alone. "Imagine going ten years living in a cupboard, treated as a hated slave."
"Ginny," Harry said, bringing her to a fuming halt. "You don't have to drag him through this."
"You want to convince him of your feelings for Moony, right?"
"Going through Sirius is the best way."
Harry winced but nodded in acknowledgement.
Ginny turned back to the silent but confused Simon. "Back to the story. After living with the worst Muggles in existence, Harry learns of the magical world and starts going to school here. The problem is that he has to keep going back and spending summers with the Muggles who hate him. Literally, they hate the fact that he even exists. Two years later he meets someone who loves him for who he is and offers to take him away from the Muggles. The only problem is that he's wanted for a crime he didn't commit. Two years after THAT, Sirius is killed before Harry's eyes during an ambush that Harry hasn't yet forgiven himself for."
She paused to gauge the effect her words were having on both of the men with her. Harry looked sad and resigned. Simon was wide-eyed with all the information coming at him.
She continued, "During Harry's third year, the Defense professor is one Remus Lupin. It turns out that Remus is an old friend of both Harry's father and Sirius, though nobody bothered to tell him this until it was almost too late. Since meeting him, Remus has been as good as an uncle to Harry. A friendly face through everything, sounding board, giving him extra instruction when Harry asks for it. So what's the problem here? He's a werewolf. But those who know him don't care. The Ministry laws are an issue though, preventing him from even getting a job. After Sirius's death, Remus is named as Harry's guardian after some legal manoeuvring by Professor Dumbledore. At Harry and Remus's joint request, incidentally. Now, do you have an inkling of what Remus means to Harry?"
"Yes, I think I do," Simon said slowly, thinking rapidly.
Harry picked up the thread of the conversation, "So, now that you know I'd give everything for Remus and why, we get to the first announcement I'll be making. I'm going help the werewolves. First through Wolfsbane Potion then I'm going to get the laws changed to repeal those Lycanthropic Regulation laws."
"Just like that?" Simon asked, wide-eyed but sarcastic.
Ginny smiled slightly. "No, not just like that. We realise that it'll be an uphill battle. Remus is popular among those who know him. He's already agreed to be our 'poster boy' for lack of a better term. Once we can hold him up and show what a werewolf CAN be, we can provide the opportunity for all werewolves to be productive members of society."
Simon let out a low whistle. "You're obviously serious about this, but have you really thought this all the way through?"
Harry opened up the door to the Room of Requirement and waved Simon through. For his part, Simon looked around the unfamiliar hallway in confusion before hesitantly sticking his head through the door. He blinked once again in surprise to find Arthur Weasley inside sitting at a round table that could seat ten. Near him, Hermione had apparently been in deep conversation with him before they were interrupted by the opening door. Harry entered the room and took another chair on the other side of Hermione. Ginny seated herself beside Harry.
Surprised by a room that he didn't remember from his own Hogwarts days, Simon slowly entered and extended his hand to Arthur. "Mr. Weasley."
Arthur stood and shook the proffered hand. "Mr. Firthquill. I must admit that when Harry said he was going to invite you, it surprised me."
"You mean with his . . . ah . . . aversion to the press?"
Arthur laughed. "As good a phrase as any, I suppose."
"Hermione," Harry said. "Simon here is expressing concern that we haven't thought Wolfden through." He turned to Firthquill. "Hermione is going to run the public relations for this thing."
Simon shook his head slightly and turned to the witch. "Forgive me, but I'm not used to students acting like adults."
She nodded. "As Harry's pointed out, he and Ginny haven't been children since the first time they faced Voldemort and survived."
He opened his mouth and closed it again. "You mean all the stories are RIGHT? I read the Quibbler article and frankly didn't believe most of it. Are you saying that it's all TRUE?"
Harry's eyes narrowed. "If you don't believe everything I've said, Mr. Firthquill, then perhaps I've picked the wrong reporter to work with."
Hermione and Arthur slowly leaned back, metaphorically and literally distancing themselves from the issue in front of them.
Simon held up a hand. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. I'm not saying I don't want to do this with you, Harry. I'm just saying it's a bit unbelievable."
"Either you believe me or you don't. If you don't, then I'm wasting my time," Harry growled.
Ginny leaned over to rest a hand on Harry's arm. "Simon, you have to remember how Harry's been treated by just about everyone in the wizarding world for the past five years. He's gone back and forth from the saviour of wizarding kind to an unstable, attention-craving child. He's been telling the truth for years, even when most everyone didn't believe him. He's suffered, at times literally, for telling the truth. Fudge considered him such a threat that he tried to get him expelled before the Prophet assisted him in a smear campaign against him. Trust is a very big issue with Harry."
Arthur now spoke up. "Mr. Firthquill, I've been a lot closer than most to all of Harry's exploits. I've heard from both Ron and Ginny about all the adventures he's gone through since my wife helped him onto the Hogwarts Express five and a half years ago. I can understand how a lot of it is surprising or even unbelievable, but one thing I've learned about Harry Potter is that he's honest. Everything that he's said that can be proven HAS been proven. Voldemort, Wormtail and dementors included. As for everything else, well, I'm willing to take it all on faith."
Harry almost smiled. Disbelief from someone like Simon Firthquill merely annoyed him. His reaction to Arthur was vastly different. "Which story hasn't been proven yet, Arthur?"
"My Anglia is running wild in the Forbidden Forest?"
Harry laughed. "Well, Ron was a witness to that one. Proof, on the other hand, might be harder to come by. Unless we catch it again, I can't see how we could prove that story." He sighed and turned back to Simon. "My apologies, Simon. I can see how a lot of the stories about me are unbelievable. So, do you have one in particular that you would like proven?"
That rocked Simon back. Here he was, being given the opportunity to prove or disprove nearly any of the stories that had been floating around about the Boy Who Lived. Or Harry Potter, actually. He'd better remember that distinction.
So, what to choose? Any of the stories about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had been proven already. Or at least close enough not to matter anymore. The resurrection ceremony had clearly taken place; Simon was one of the press reporters who had SEEN the body. The exact circumstances were really irrelevant, and Harry's version fit all the known facts. So that one, including that poor Diggory boy, wasn't worth pursuing.
Sirius Black? No, the Ministry had publicly acknowledged that he was innocent of the charges that had caused him to be reviled as a mass murderer and traitor for a decade and a half.
Remus Lupin? No, that was all public information, from his lycanthropy to his having taught a thirteen year old how to produce a corporeal Patronus.
Quirenius Quirrell? No, that body had been examined and all the injuries tallied with the story that Harry had told at the time. That story hadn't been used in the smear campaign simply because Harry's story was as believable as any other.
Barty Crouch, Junior? Again, the body's condition and his possessions fit with Harry's story.
Harry had been calmly studying Simon's face as the reporter thought about Harry's offer. He was vaguely curious to see which story he'd want proof of.
Simon finally looked up. "Were you serious, Harry?"
"Absolutely. If the proof is possible, then I'll show it to you. Some stories don't have physical proof, just my word and some, like the Anglia that Arthur just mentioned, have witnesses."
"I'm curious to know the story behind the Anglia, that's a Muggle automovile isn't it? Honestly, however, I'd rather hear about the Monster of Slytherin."
Ginny froze in place. Arthur and Hermione shot Ginny concerned looks before slumping slightly in their seats.
Harry just raised an eyebrow at Simon's choice. "You've heard the story?"
"Will you accept it if I show you the basilisk corpse?"
Simon blinked in surprise, swallowed thickly and again nodded.
Harry shrugged agreeably. "I can do that. Today probably won't work, though. For the sake of school security, I'd think Dumbledore or McGonagall should come along."
"Professor Snape, too," Hermione added. When Harry threw her a questioning look, she explained, "Basilisk fangs, venom, hide and eyes are prized potions ingredients. It shouldn't surprise you how rare they are. Professor Snape could use them."
"Besides, that would make for a good bribe," Ginny added in an undertone that only Harry could hear.
He nodded, following her line of thought immediately. He still needed Snape's help on the Wolfsbane Potion. Leading him to a basilisk corpse would go a long way to earning some goodwill from the Potions Master. Harry turned to Simon. "I'll arrange things here and let you know when we'll go down. Meanwhile, will you take that one on faith, and we could get to why we're all here?"
Simon, having half-way expected to be turned down cold after his request, took a moment to respond. He pulled parchment out of his robes and laid them flat on the table. As he was pulling out quill and inkpot, he said, "You've convinced me that you'd do a great deal for werewolves, specifically because of Mr. Lupin. Now, there's a rumour going around that Mr. Weasley here is in charge of the new fountain to go up in the Ministry Atrium. Can I assume from the fact that he's here that you're going to ask that the statue, or perhaps the donations, go toward your new project? Wolfden, I believe you called it?"
Harry smiled, glad the reporter had put it together so easily. "Good guess. No, actually, it isn't. I asked you, Arthur and Hermione here because I have another idea to run by the group of you."
"Does it have to do with the fountain?" Arthur asked.
"Does it have something to do with Muggle-borns and orphans?" Hermione asked.
"Is it something that almost the entire Black family would loath?" Ginny asked.
"Yes." Harry gave everyone another moment to ask further questions or perhaps make a guess, but nobody spoke. He turned to Arthur. "If a wizarding child is orphaned, what happens to them?"
Arthur frowned a bit at the unexpected tack of the conversation but answered the question anyway. "The nearest relative is found and the child delivered to them. Just as you were."
Harry nodded. "Right. What if no relatives are found, are willing, or the parents have made no arrangements for their child in the worst case?"
"Well, I suppose the child would be put up for adoption. That wouldn't happen, though, with how much extended family any of us have."
"Sure it would. In fact, it did less than a hundred years ago, didn't it?" He turned to Ginny.
She nodded. "Tom Riddle A.K.A. Voldemort."
Arthur and Simon blanched. Hermione looked thoughtful.
"Tom," Harry agreed. "He ended up in a Muggle orphanage, despite everything. Now, am I correct in assuming that there is no such thing as a wizard orphanage?"
"No, there is not," Simon answered. "There's never been a need."
"Yes, there is," Hermione said, still studying Harry. She turned to Simon before continuing, "Tom Riddle shouldn't have had to go to a Muggle orphanage. Harry, though he had some special security concerns, would've been better off in an orphanage than with the Dursleys."
"That's not many kids," Arthur said with a frown.
Harry nodded. "True, which is why it'd be more than simply an orphanage. It could also be a summer boarding house. If it weren't for your invitations to the Burrow, I would've had to spend each summer locked up with the Dursleys. Let me assure you, both they and I would've been overjoyed if I had a different place to go over the summers."
Hermione frowned. "As I said, you had special security concerns, Harry. For the same reasons you couldn't spend all summer at the Burrow, you couldn't have spent it at this hypothetical boarding house."
Harry's face twisted into scowl as he realised that his situation really wouldn't have been improved by this idea after all. "I still think a magical orphanage and boarding house is a good idea."
"Perhaps so," Ginny conceded. "Why don't you put out a notice with St Mungo's, Minister Bones and Headmaster Dumbledore? With all your house-elves and a nanny or two, you have more than enough help available to you to take care of several kids at Potter Manor. If you start to get overwhelmed, I'm sure Mum would be overjoyed to help out. If it turns out to be a higher population than Potter Manor can hold, then you can deal with it later."
Seeing the expression on Harry's face, Arthur added, "We're not saying it's a bad idea, Harry. We're only concerned that the need isn't large enough to turn this into a full scale crusade. Don't you think that Wolfden is a big enough goal for now?"
Harry wasn't terribly happy with what they were saying, but it did make sense. "Okay, I see your point. I'll talk with Madam Pomfrey before approaching Minister Bones and Dumbledore about this." He shook his head and looked up at Arthur. "Well, that changes some things. With Ginny's approval, I'd like to suggest something for the Atrium fountain. How difficult would it be to get the donations to go to Wolfden?"
As Arthur frowned and leaned back, Simon was slowly shaking his head. "I'm afraid that won't work, Harry."
Harry scowled and turned to the reporter.
Simon just raised a placating hand. "I'm not saying it's a bad idea. I know Remus from my own Hogwarts days, and I sympathise. I'm just saying that the wizard on the street won't donate money to make life easier on werewolves."
"How about research?" Hermione asked. "One of Wolfden's other goals is research into Wolfsbane Potion and a more permanent cure."
Simon thought about that for a second. "To make that work, you'd need to cast werewolves as victims instead of bloodthirsty dark creatures."
"Do you have any idea what Remus goes through every full moon?" Harry burst out. "He IS a victim. On top of that, once they have Wolfsbane Potion, they aren't dangerous."
"I'm on your side, Harry," Simon said quietly. "I'm not disputing what Miss Granger said. I'm just making suggestions and observations."
"He's right," Arthur said. "You kids' hearts are in the right place, but you're now venturing into public politics. Until you have more experience at it, maybe you'd better ask for advice and actually listen to it. I know you don't like anyone treating you like a child, Harry, but if you're honest with yourself, you'll know I'm right about this."
Harry took a breath to calm down. "Yeah. I hear you." He gave a wry grin. "I'm too Gryffindor; leading with my heart instead of my brain."
Simon smiled. "You need a few more of us Hufflepuffs around to drag you back down to reality." As the other four chuckled, he went on thoughtfully. "Perhaps a multi-phase campaign? At this point loudly proclaim your love of Remus Lupin. Give all the reasons: He's been a good man to you, standing by Sirius and your parents, popular professor here, part of Headmaster Dumbledore's mysterious fighting force and all that. Play up that you know about his affliction and it doesn't matter to you. He's a victim, just as you said. That'd give the public time to come to grips with your attitude toward werewolves before springing your next surprise on them. Once the fountain is dedicated, THAT is when you announce your plans for Wolfden."
Hermione was looking at him in admiration. She nodded and turned to Harry. "Are you sure you want me running your public relations, Harry? Mr. Firthquill would appear to be a better choice."
"You don't want to work for me on this?" Harry asked.
She waved that off. "That's not it at all. For Remus's sake, he's a better choice than I am."
Simon made a noise of disagreement. "I'm a reporter. While I'd be a valuable ally where I am, I don't have the temperament to be your PR person. I'd be willing to be a freelance consultant for you or your primary news outlet."
"What would you prefer?"
"Ideally, we'd keep having meetings like this where you tell me what's going on, what you want and I write the stories for you for the Prophet."
"Run everything by me or Hermione before you publish," Harry requested. "Remember what I said earlier. Not all of what I've been telling you was for public consumption."
Simon nodded. "Unlike some in my profession, I play it straight with my sources as long as the sources play it straight with me."
Harry, Ginny, Hermione and Arthur all caught the other half of that. If they tried to take advantage of him, he'd turn on them.
"I hear you," Harry acknowledged both halves of what Simon had said.
"The fountain?" Arthur asked, directing the conversation back to his primary concern for this meeting.
Ginny frowned. "Much as I'd like to recommend a werewolf to go with the use of the donations, that wouldn't be taken well, would it?"
"Not hardly," Simon agreed.
"Everyone will have a hard enough time with the donations as it is. Werewolves have a bad enough reputation even after the attention you'll be giving them."
"A war memorial?" Ginny asked, staring off into space. She caught Harry's quizzical look and elaborated, "Something simple in design, but it lists the names of the victims."
"Does anyone else think the combination of war memorial centrepiece but donations going toward Wolfsbane Potion research is a little odd?" Hermione asked.
"No worse than the lie of the five figures that was there previously with donations going toward St Mungo's," Arthur said with a sour look. "Since we're talking about a war memorial, what shape were you thinking?"
"A tombstone?" Harry suggested, though he didn't seem happy with his own suggestion.
Ginny grimaced. "That's TOO morbid. An obelisk, maybe. Not too tall or you can't read the names at the top. Considering how many lost their lives, it would have to be a rotating list of names."
"All of Tom's victims, or just in the past year and a half?" Harry asked quietly.
"Only those who lost their lives, or those who lost their souls or minds as well?" Hermione added.
Arthur was taking notes rapidly. "We'll also list the Muggles as well. That was a good point, Hermione. This way, we can honour people like Frank and Alice Longbottom."
Harry shivered. "I just wish something like this wasn't needed."
Ginny ran a hand over his back. "We all do, love. The fact is, though, that it did happen. This way, we can honour those who deserve it."
"Yeah," Harry quietly agreed.
Arthur rounded the table and put a hand upon Harry's shoulder. "You and Ginny put a stop to him, Harry. This fountain is only to remember the victims who would otherwise be forgotten."
Simon cleared his throat in the ensuing uncomfortable silence. "Am I correct in thinking you'd like a story soon about Remus Lupin? After the unveiling ceremony at the Ministry, we can do another about Wolfden."
Harry nodded, eyeing the reporter in curiosity.
Seeing the look, Simon asked, "What, have I grown horns?"
"I'm just wondering why you're doing this with so little complaint and so much cooperation."
"Couple reasons," Simon answered, not bothered by the implied slight. "First, if I cooperate with you, you're likely to continue to feed me stories. Second, anything I publish with your blessing helps my career and makes my paper happy with me."
Harry nodded, accepting the explanation.
Simon stood, nodding politely to each person and taking his leave.
"You know, it's too bad the magical orphanage idea may not work out," Harry idly said.
"How's that?" Arthur asked.
"Oh, I was just thinking of the fun we could have with that horrid portrait in Grimmauld Place."
"What do you mean?" Ginny asked in confusion.
"Put a permanent Silencing Charm on her and put her behind unbreakable glass. Think of all the fun kids could have, throwing eggs at her and making faces at that old hag."
Hermione almost giggled. "With that witch's personality, she'd try to fight back, making faces back at the kids . . ."
"No, Harry," Arthur lightly scolded. "Even silenced, she'd cause too many nightmares among the kids."
All four chuckled at the mental images they were conjuring.
Arthur walked back to his place at the table and started collecting his notes.
Ginny turned to Hermione. "You free to work on that Arithmancy homework you agreed to help me with?"
Hermione nodded and the girls left to the common room, promising to meet Harry for dinner.
Once the door closed behind the two girls, Harry turned to Arthur. "Do you have a few minutes, sir?"
Arthur paused at the overt formality of Harry's tone and slowly sank back into a seat. "I thought I asked you to call me Arthur?" he asked cautiously.
Harry smiled nervously. "For this conversation, you're Mr. Weasley." He took a breath, visibly gathering courage. "Sir, I'd like to ask for your permission to marry Ginny."
Arthur didn't react. In point of fact, he'd been expecting this exact question when Harry had asked him to stay. "Have you spoken to her about this?"
"Have you spoken to her mother?"
"Not directly, sir, but she already gave me her blessing if I ever decided to ask."
"When were you planning on asking Ginny?"
"When the time seems right. I don't have any particular plan in mind." Harry reached into his robes and pulled out a small box. He opened it and held it out before him.
The door to the Room of Requirement opened.
Harry closed his eyes and hoped that either it wasn't Ginny or that if it was then the floor beneath him would open up and swallow him. The Chamber of Secrets with a big, rotting snake corpse sounded pretty good right now.
The silent tableau held for a few seconds. Harry, finally cracked one eye open and glanced toward the open door.
Remus was grinning widely at the scene. "Harry, isn't that the wrong Weasley to be giving a ring to? I mean, I know you like Arthur and all, but he's already married."
Arthur started laughing, Remus joining in moments later. Harry's forehead made a thumping sound as it hit the tabletop.
Wiping his eyes, Arthur waved Remus toward another chair.
Remus, still chuckling, picked up the ring box before sitting next to Harry. "Pretty," Remus noted, passing it to Arthur.
For his part, Arthur nodded agreement before closing the box and putting it next to Harry's still lowered head. "Oh, look up at us, Harry. You know Remus was just teasing."
Harry turned his head enough to look at Arthur. "How would you have felt if your favourite uncle walked into that same scene with you and Mr. Prewett?"
"Oh, mortified beyond all description," Arthur acknowledged without his grin faltering in the slightest.
"You're not helping," Harry mumbled.
"You're asking Arthur's permission?" Remus asked, eyes shining brightly.
"Yes, he was," Arthur said, leaning backwards. "You know, Harry, this is where I try to make you crack, asking why you think you deserve my little girl, whether you can support her, and so on. Unfortunately, Remus broke the mood before I could grill you properly." He turned to Remus. "I'm not mad at you, though. The look on Harry's face more than made up for it."
Harry, head still on the table, rotated his field of vision to glare at Remus.
Sobering, Arthur said, "Harry, you know that Molly and I think of you as another son."
Harry's head came off the table, and he quickly schooled his features.
Arthur went on, "We'd be honoured to have you as part of the family officially. Yes, Harry, you have my blessing to ask Ginny to marry you."
Harry let out a breath.
"You expected some other answer?" Arthur asked in amusement.
"Oh, go easy on the lad, Arthur. He's in love and therefore isn't thinking straight."
"And to think that I once looked up to him for guidance and advice," Harry commented toward the ceiling.
"Ouch." Remus theatrically winced, enjoying the teasing with his godson.
"Please don't take this the wrong way, Remus, but why are you here?" Arthur asked.
Remus indicated Harry. "He asked me to come for the meeting you just had. I thought I couldn't make it in time, but things freed up at the last second. How'd the conversation with Mr. Firthquill go?"
"Good," Harry answered. "He suggested highlighting our relationship for the time being. At the unveiling ceremony in March, that's when I should pitch Wolfden."
"Giving the public time to digest and think about the Boy Who Lived and his acceptance of a high profile werewolf," Arthur added.
"Makes sense. So the fountain donations will go toward Wolfden?"
"So long as it's clear that it's for research."
Remus frowned in thought. "You'll have to get the public to consider us victims."
Harry nodded sadly. "Yeah. That's the plan. I don't like what this will be dragging you through, Moony."
Remus waved that off. "It's bound to happen. Once one of the reporters realises you were honest when you called me your godfather at the press conference and therefore how close you and I actually are, it'll bring me more attention than I've had since I quit Hogwarts."
"When you were forced out," Harry corrected.
"No, it isn't, and you know it."
"Getting upset over it won't help anything, Harry. It's done. Back to the subject, though, I was bound to get into the press again sooner or later. At least this way it's for a good cause and from a friendly source."
"Yeah, about that. Simon said he remembered you from when you were students."
"Really? He was three years ahead of us."
"The Marauders were apparently memorable."
All three men laughed. "Yes, when I was working here, I recall Minerva and Albus mention us once or twice. I think even Severus had a recollection or two that he brought up with me."
"Hmmph," Harry grumped. "Is that why he got you fired?"
"I wasn't fired. I quit."
"We've already been through that. If it wasn't voluntary, you were fired no matter the actual circumstances."
"Yes, well Severus had a point. As a werewolf, I AM dangerous to the students here. As I proved that night."
Harry frowned, having no real counter to that one. "Why are you defending him?" he asked instead.
"Because I'm trying to keep you from doing something nasty to Severus."
"Remus, if I was going to go after Snape, it would be for his treatment of every non-Slytherin in the school and myself in particular. I was thinking of mixing Gender-Bender, Eternal Love, and Unquenchable Lust Potions and then putting Filch in front of him. What do you think?"
Remus's eyes widened in alarm.
Arthur sighed. "Harry, aside from the morality of doing that, you realise all three of those are illegal, don't you?"
"I'd be the most popular inmate in Azkaban."
"And break Ginny's heart when you get arrested," Remus pointed out.
Harry deflated. "You two just had to ruin the moment, didn't you?"
"You'll be officially joining my family, Harry, but only if you don't get thrown into prison first. I'm just looking after my daughter."
"She needs to say 'yes' first," Harry pointed out, reverting back to an insecure teenager in a blink.
"If you think she'd say anything else after everything that's happened, you need to have your head examined."