After his ill-fated trip to the Department of Mysteries that led to the death of his godfather, Harry Potter decides he must take control of his own life. But if a certain Gryffindor know-it-all...
No More Mysteries
Chapter 4: Birthday at The Burrow
Harry heard a knock at the front door, which was soon followed by angry bellowing from Uncle Vernon. He smiled to himself, as this could only mean one thing: his Auror guard had arrived to escort him to The Burrow.
Harry bent down to lift up his trunk, but as he was doing so, he was startled by a knock on his own bedroom door.
“Harry? May I come in?” Remus Lupin asked from outside the room.
“Yeah, sure, Remus. I was just about to grab my trunk and come down, actually,” Harry replied.
The door opened, and Harry's former professor stepped into the room, a broad smile on his face. Harry stuck his hand out for him to shake, but Lupin surprised him by ignoring the gesture and wrapping Harry up in a hug instead. Stunned, Harry returned the hug awkwardly.
“Harry birthday, Harry,” Lupin said as he released the hug and took a step back.
“Thanks, Prof...err, Remus. Sorry; it's still a bit weird to be calling you that,” Harry said timidly. Lupin chuckled and shook his head.
“Well, we'll just have to do something about that, won't we?” Lupin said merrily, before turning serious. “How are you feeling, after...everything?” he asked quietly.
They both knew exactly what he was trying to refer to—what Lupin had been trying to avoid saying out loud. But Harry saw no point in dancing around the issue.
“It's tough, Remus. Sirius was...well, he's the closest thing I've ever had to a father. I didn't get to know him that well, thanks to all those years he spent in Azkaban, but I still thought of him as family. It's tough to know that he's gone, and even tougher since it's partly my fault.”
“It is most certainly NOT your fault,” Remus interrupted. “Sirius knew the danger. He knew what he was walking into, just like all the rest of us. He came along despite the danger, because he wanted to make sure that you and your friends didn't get seriously injured or worse. And I am quite sure that he would make the same choice today, even knowing the outcome. No one blames you for what happened, Harry. Your friends don't, I don't, and if Sirius could speak to you now, I know he'd tell you that he doesn't, either. So you mustn't blame yourself.”
Harry sighed and nodded. Remus was right. He knew Sirius wouldn't have blamed him any more than Ron, Hermione and the others had. But knowing that was true didn't make him feel any better.
“You're right, he wouldn't,” Harry agreed, though he said no more about it. He stared at the ground, trying to will away the despair that thinking of Sirius often caused these days.
He evidently was not successful, because Remus picked up on his mood.
“He wouldn't want you to get so sad when you think about him, either,” Remus said gently. “He'd want you to smile and remember the good times, not dwell on the bad ones.”
“I know,” Harry said with a nod, “and I think I'm getting a bit better with that. I also know that he wouldn't want me to sit and sulk or feel sorry for myself, so I'm doing my best to put what happened behind me and focus on the future.”
“That's good, Harry,” Lupin said with a smile. “And remember what I said at the station. If you ever feel the need to talk, please feel free to get in touch with me. You can come to me with anything, whether it has to do with Sirius or not.”
Just as when they talked at King's Crossing, Harry was briefly tempted to confide in Remus Lupin. But just as quickly as the thought entered his mind, Harry banished it. Lupin was an honourable, trustworthy man, but he also had a great deal of faith in Albus Dumbledore—just like Harry himself had, until recently. He couldn't spill his guts with anyone else just yet. Not until he'd had a chance to speak with Hermione in person, at least.
“Thanks, Remus. I might take you up on that eventually,” Harry said with a grin.
“I hope you do, Harry,” Remus returned. He paused, considering, before he continued. “Well, I suppose we've left the rest of your guard with the Dursleys long enough. Ready to go?”
“Yeah, just let me grab my trunk,” Harry said. Remus walked ahead and opened the door while Harry picked up the trunk that contained his few meaningful possessions. The two of them walked down the stairs together, and Tonks, upon seeing them, turned her back to a red-faced Vernon Dursley and gave a wave.
“Wotcher, Harry! Took ya long enough! It felt like I was down here forever, listening to this great ruddy whale blather on,” Tonks said. Vernon sputtered in indignation, but everyone else ignored him.
“That would be my fault, Auror Tonks,” Remus said apologetically. “I had something I wanted to discuss with Harry before we departed. I am sorry for the delay.”
“Oh, alright. How can I stay mad at you, wolfie?” Tonks teased. If Harry wasn't mistaken, he thought Lupin looked rather embarrassed at that moment.
Mad-Eye Moody, who had been surveying the home in silence, suddenly grabbed everyone's attention with a loud grunt.
“Right, then. If you two are done flirting like a couple of teenagers, let's get going!” the grizzled Auror barked out. Properly chagrined, both Remus and Tonks followed the old man towards the fireplace, which they'd temporarily connected to the floo network (much to Uncle Vernon's displeasure.)
Tonks went through the floo first, while Moody announced he would be going last, so he could be sure that Harry was not left alone at any point. Lupin went next, leaving just Harry and Moody.
“Alright, Potter, time to get going,” Moody said gruffly. Harry nodded, and tossed his handful of floo powder into the fireplace.
“The Burrow!” Harry shouted clearly, ignoring the angry muttering from Uncle Vernon as he departed.
Hermione Granger had been deep in conversation with Fleur Delacour, but abruptly broke off as the first person entered through the Weasleys' floo. She turned eager eyes to the fireplace, and watched as first Tonks, and then Lupin came out. Finally, she saw what she'd been looking forward to for the last month: Harry Potter, in person.
Mrs. Weasley had been about to rush over and greet him, but Hermione was faster. She was up out of her chair in a flash, and ran straight at her friend. Harry, startled as she ran towards him at full speed, barely had time to drop his trunk before Hermione's body collided with his. She wrapped her arms around his waist and squeezed him tightly, while he struggled to see past the bushy brown mass of hair right in front of his face. Not that it mattered that his vision was obscured. At the moment, Harry's focus was solely on the witch who was doing her best to squeeze the life out of him. His hands slid to her back and pulled her body even closer to his.
Perhaps it was just his imagination, but Harry couldn't shake the feeling that this hug was, somehow, even better than the one they'd shared at King's Crossing a month earlier.
“Oh, Harry, it's so good to see you! Happy birthday!” Hermione exclaimed, her voice full of pent-up emotion.
“Thanks, Hermione. It's good to see you too,” Harry returned as best he could with her hair in the way.
Knowing that there were plenty of other people in the room eager to greet Harry, Hermione reluctantly released her hold on him and took a step back.
Moments later, Mrs. Weasley filled the space Hermione had just vacated, sweeping Harry into her arms in her usual motherly, smothering fashion.
It wasn't nearly as pleasant as Hermione's hug had been, but Harry obediently stood still and allowed her to get it out of her system. Once Mrs. Weasley had had her fill of squeezing all the oxygen out of Harry's body, she stepped back and ran her eyes over him searchingly.
“So good to see you, Harry dear,” Mrs. Weasley said, “but you're looking far too thin! It's a good thing I'll be preparing so much food for your birthday party later on tonight. Be sure to eat your fill.”
Harry chuckled and ran his hand through his already messy hair self-consciously. Mrs. Weasley's mothering of him always made him a bit uncomfortable, but that didn't mean he disliked it. In truth, it was nice to have a little glimpse of what that was like. She was pretty much the polar opposite of Petunia Dursley, and that was high praise indeed as far as Harry was concerned.
“Happy birthday, mate,” Ron greeted as he stepped forward and stuck out his hand for Harry to shake. After Harry returned the gesture, Ron continued. “Hope the muggles didn't give you any trouble.”
“They weren't bad at all,” Harry assured him. “They left me alone as much as possible, and did their best to pretend I didn't even exist. Thanks to that, it might have been the best month I've ever spent there.”
Ron nodded in understanding, but said nothing else. Harry glanced around the room, and saw several faces seated at the table. There were even more Weasleys than usual: Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, as well as Ron, Ginny, Fred, George, and Bill were all there. Only Charlie and Percy were missing. He waved in greeting to the rest of the Weasleys, who waved back and offered up their own greetings.
Harry hadn't seen Bill very often, but it couldn't really be a huge surprise to see the curse breaker in his own childhood home. But Harry was more than a little surprised at the presence of Fleur Delacour, who stood up from her seat next to Bill and approached Harry.
“Oh, 'Arry, 'ow wonderful to zee you,” she exclaimed, before kissing Harry once on each cheek. Harry blushed in response, but only slightly. Certainly not as much as Ron would have, at least.
“Good to see you too, Fleur,” Harry replied. “I didn't expect to see you here.”
“I am 'ere with Beel. 'E and I are engaged to be married,” she replied, positively beaming. Not all of the Weasleys looked pleased (Ginny and Mrs. Weasley looked particularly sour, Harry thought), but if Fleur noticed their mutinous expressions, she paid them no mind.
“That's great, Fleur, congratulations,” Harry said. “You too, Bill,” he added, which drew a smile from the eldest Weasley child.
Harry was sincere in his congratulations. He didn't know Bill all that well, but knew that Ron and Ginny had great admiration for their oldest brother. He seemed like a solid bloke, as far as Harry could tell. And he had a great deal of respect for Fleur after competing alongside her in the Triwizard Tournament. Underneath her haughty exterior, she was a very intelligent and talented witch. He hoped the two of them would be happy together.
“Hermione told us about your O.W.L. marks, Harry,” Mrs. Weasley interjected, quickly changing the subject. “You should be proud of yourself, dear. You did very well.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Weasley,” Harry said in response. “I did better than I thought I would. I'm no Hermione, of course, but I was pretty happy with my results.”
Hermione's cheeks flushed slightly at Harry's casual praise of her results, while Ron rolled his eyes.
“Too bad you won't be able to become an auror, though,” Tonks said. “If half the stories this lot tells about you are true, you would've been a great one.”
“To be honest, I'm not as disappointed about that as I thought I'd be,” Harry said in response. “I doubt I'll need to look far if I want to find some dark wizards. And besides, at least now I won't have to deal with Snape's abuse any more. That 'E' in Potions might have been a blessing in disguise.”
“Yeah, yeah, enough about the O.W.L.S already,” Ron cut in. “We've still got a month until Hogwarts starts back up, and I don't want to spend it talking about ruddy test scores, not to mention Snape.”
Hermione looked annoyed, but Harry jumped in before his two best friends had the chance to start sniping at each other.
“If nobody needs me for anything, I think I'll take my trunk up to Ron's room now,” Harry said. When no one objected, Harry heaved the trunk up and began lugging it up to Ron's room.
“I'll go with you, Harry,” Ron said, getting up out of his seat to follow.
“Me too,” Hermione agreed.
Harry nodded before continuing on his way. Ron and Hermione both followed close behind him, though all three members of the trio made the walk in silence.
Once they crossed the threshold into Ron's room, and Hermione had closed the door behind them, Hermione began speaking.
“So, Harry...how are you feeling?” Hermione asked. Harry was sure she would have preferred to say something else entirely, but wouldn't dare with Ron in the room. Those types of discussions would have to wait until they found a moment alone.
“I'm better, Hermione. I still miss Sirius, of course, but it's not as bad as it was a month ago. I'm not sure if I'll ever put it behind me completely, but I'm moving forward, at least.”
“That's good to hear, Harry,” Hermione said. “I guess, as they say, time heals all wounds.”
“And you know we're here for you, mate, whatever you need,” Ron added, taking a step forward so he could awkwardly smack Harry's arm in a rare show of affection.
Harry nodded and mumbled his thanks, unable to look Ron in the eye. He was feeling very guilty about keeping so many things from Ron. The redhead did have a temper, and sometimes said or did things without thinking of the consequences, but he was still his best mate. He made a silent pledge to himself that, after he'd spoken with Dumbledore and reached a decision about his future (with Hermione's help, no doubt), his first order of business would be to share everything with Ron.
“Fancy a game of chess, mate?” Harry offered, hoping to change the subject.
Ron happily agreed and pulled out his board, while Hermione fetched a book she'd brought with her and settled in next to Harry.
“I hate to say it, Harry, but I don't like your odds,” Hermione teased.
“Thank you so much for your support, Hermione,” Harry fired back, grinning at her.
“She's right, mate. You don't stand a chance,” Ron said smugly.
Harry shook his head and sighed in exasperation, while Ron snickered and Hermione broke into giggles. Harry smiled as the game began, revelling in this chance to forget about his troubles and have a bit of fun with his two best friends.
Voldemort, Dumbledore, the prophecy, and everything else could wait, at least for the moment.
Several hours later, after multiple thrashings and much taunting from Ron, Mrs. Weasley sent Ginny up to fetch the three of them, as the party was set to begin.
Once the foursome reached the bottom of the stairs and returned to the kitchen, Harry saw that, while Tonks and Moody were nowhere to be seen, two more guests had arrived. Luna Lovegood was there, as was Professor McGonagall, surprisingly enough.
“Happy birthday, Harry,” Luna greeted, in her usual dreamy fashion.
“Hullo, Luna. Glad you could make it,” Harry said, smiling and sticking out his hand for her to shake.
“You haven't run into any Blibbering Humdingers lately, have you, Harry?” Luna asked, staring at his outstretched hand.
“Um...I don't think so,” Harry answered, hesitantly.
“That's good,” she said, sounding relieved, before finally accepting Harry's handshake. “I thought you might be vulnerable to them while you were at your relatives' house, but it seems that you made it out just fine.”
Ron chuckled at Luna's behaviour, while Hermione rolled her eyes and muttered under her breath. Harry, for his part, simply smiled good naturedly at the Ravenclaw girl. She might have been a bit eccentric—OK, maybe more than a bit--but she'd also proven to be a courageous and loyal friend. Her oddities were just part of what made her who she was. And besides, it wasn't as if Harry himself would be considered normal, even by the wizarding world's standards.
“Happy birthday, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall offered up in her usual businesslike tone, inclining her head towards her student ever so slightly.
“Thank you, Professor,” Harry replied. “What brings you here? Not that I'm not happy you're here, of course...” he stammered, afraid he might have offended a woman that he had considerable respect for.
“Actually, I am here at the request of the Headmaster,” she answered.
Harry froze. Had Dumbledore figured out what he and Hermione had been up to? Did he dispatch his Deputy Headmistress in an attempt to sway him back from his current line of thinking? He hoped not. It would all come to a head with Dumbledore soon, of course, but Harry wanted it to be on his terms. He didn't want to have any confrontations with Dumbledore, McGonagall or anyone else until he and Hermione had the chance to sit down and prepare for it Otherwise, he'd be at a disadvantage.
“Relax, Potter, you aren't in any sort of trouble,” McGonagall assured him, as his concern was plain to see for the Transfiguration instructor. “Headmaster Dumbledore simply asked me to speak with you about something, and as I had something of my own to discuss with you as well, I decided I'd stop by. I had planned on only stopping in for a brief chat, but once Mrs. Weasley got word that I would be coming, she insisted that I stay for the party.”
“What exactly did you want to talk to me about?” Harry asked, curious.
“Hogwarts business, Potter. It's nothing that can't wait until after your party.”
Harry nodded, accepting that they would revisit the subject later on. He did his best to put it out of his mind for the time being, and simply enjoy the party that the Weasleys had put together for him.
Mrs. Weasley constantly commented throughout the party that she wished she could have done something bigger, but it was brilliant in Harry's opinion. He was surrounded by people he truly liked (and who truly liked him), and got to eat as much of Mrs. Weasley's excellent cooking as he wanted.
Who needed lavish parties attended by total strangers? Harry thoroughly enjoyed the company of those that were there. Between the twins' jokes, Luna's fascinating eccentricities (and Hermione's exasperation towards them), Bill's interesting stories from his work as a curse breaker, Mr. Weasley's muggle obsession, and Remus' stories from the days of the Marauders, it was a very enjoyable evening. It was, hands down, the best birthday of Harry's life up to that point.
And that was before they'd even gotten to the presents.
McGonagall got that process started, handing him one of the two packages in her possession. When he looked at her curiously, she explained that Hagrid had asked her to bring his present along, as he was conducting business on Dumbledore's behalf and could not attend the party. He opened Hagrid's gift, and knowing the half-giant's odd taste, Harry unwrapped the small package very cautiously. But, to his relief, it was just the 6th year Care of Magical Creatures textbook. Thankfully, this year's book didn't try to bite his fingers off. Even better, Hagrid hadn't included any of his (in)famous rock cakes.
Harry looked at McGonagall expectantly, assuming she'd hand him her own present next. But she held on to the gift instead, saying she'd give it to him later, during their talk. Harry nodded his assent, and moved on to the next present.
The twins gave him a wide variety of joke products from their store, and invited him to visit the shop in Diagon Alley any time he needed more, at no cost. When Ron asked if that offer extended to him as well, the twins promptly shot him down. They mentioned that their “benefactor” was a huge fan of the Boy-Who-Lived, and would go spare if they actually made Harry pay for anything. Harry promised to give this “benefactor” an autographed photo in thanks, and he and the twins shared a private laugh. Only the three of them knew that Harry had helped them get their shop running by giving them his winnings from the Triwizard Tournament.
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley gave him a large tin of home-made fudge, while Bill and Fleur contributed a book about famous Quidditch Seekers, both past and present. Harry skimmed through the book, and chuckled as Mrs. Weasley swatted Ron's hand away from the fudge.
Ginny informed Harry that she, Luna and Neville had all gone in together for a present, but it was in Neville's possession, so they would just give it to him on the train ride back to Hogwarts. Harry's first thought was to wonder if he'd even be on the train. His second thought was that he needed to buy presents for both Neville, whose birthday was just one day before his, and Ginny, who would be turning 15 in August. He didn't know when Luna's birthday was, but he resolved to find out. Whether he returned to Hogwarts or not, he still wanted to try and stay in contact with his friends, and he absolutely placed Ginny, Luna and Neville in that category now.
When Harry opened his present from Remus, he was more than a little surprised to see a necklace.
“It was your mother's,” Remus explained. “The last time I saw her, she slipped it off for some reason that I've forgotten, and accidentally left it behind. I never got the chance to return it. I've kept it stored away all these years, but I thought you might like to have it.”
“Thanks, Remus,” Harry replied, swallowing past the lump in his throat as he delicately picked up his mother's necklace and inspected it. “I hope you don't expect me to wear it, though,” he threw in, trying to lighten the mood.
“Certainly not, Harry,” Remus said with a laugh. “But hopefully, someday, you'll find a lucky lady you want to pass it on to.”
Lupin's eyes lingered on Hermione as he said this. Harry didn't notice, but Hermione did, and flushed bright red in embarrassment. Remus smiled at her, but said nothing.
“Maybe,” Harry said doubtfully, setting the necklace aside for the moment. “Thanks again; it means a lot,” he finished, and the room went silent for a moment.
Hermione went next, nudging a rather bulky package towards Harry. He unwrapped it, and saw that she'd given him books. Not a shocking present from Hermione, to be sure. But she'd given him quite a few—Harry counted around a half dozen. And every single one seemed to be related to something that might help him in the near future. There was a book on duelling techniques, a book on Occlumency, and a book on advanced defensive spells, among others.
“I know it's not as personal as Professor Lupin's gift...” Hermione began worriedly, but Harry cut her off.
“Hey, now, none of that, Hermione. These are brilliant! They're going to help me so much—and they look brand-new, too. This must have set you back quite a bit.”
“Oh, it was nothing,” Hermione said dismissively. “I always use a large amount of my spending money on books. The only difference was this time, some of the books were for someone else.”
“Well, thanks for using some of your “book budget” on me, any way,” Harry joked. “When we get the chance, we should look through these books together.”
“I'd like that,” she said enthusiastically, already eagerly looking forward to poring through every last book for new information that could help prepare them for the fight ahead.
“I guess that just leaves me, then,” Ron said, as he carefully placed his package on the table in front of Harry.
Harry began ripping off the wrapping paper, fully expecting to see Ron's usual gift of candy and Chudley Cannons products. Instead, he was shocked to see something very familiar.
It was the pocket knife that Sirius had given him, the one he'd broken in the Department of Mysteries. Or, more accurately, it was a very close replica.
“It's not exactly like the one Sirius gave you, but it was as close as I could find,” Ron said apologetically. “I know it can't replace the original, but...” he trailed off, waiting for Harry to show some kind of reaction to the gift.
He had to wait a bit, because Harry had been stunned into silence. Ron usually didn't put much thought into his gifts, but this was a clear exception. He didn't know how to react to Ron's unusually thoughtful gift, or the thoughts of Sirius it dragged to the surface.
“Thanks, Ron,” Harry finally replied. “These things are dead useful. And I broke my last one, of course, so...” he said, grimacing as his thoughts once again turned to that horrible night that cost him his godfather.
“If it's going to be too...hard, I could always just return it and...” Ron began, but Harry waved him off.
“Nonsense, Ron. Like I said, these things ARE really useful. It's a great gift. And besides, I can't go around pretending that night didn't happen, or Sirius didn't exist. I can't go spare whenever something reminds me of him. I have to accept what happened, and move on. That's what he would have wanted me to do.”
“Well put, Harry,” Lupin said quietly, as the room went silent once again.
“Well, since it seems you've opened all of your gifts, perhaps we can have our conversation now, Potter?” McGonagall said, breaking the silence.
“Sure, professor,” Harry agreed, pushing his chair back and getting to his feet. “Thanks for all of the gifts, everyone. And thanks for putting all this together, Mrs. Weasley. This has been the best birthday I can remember.”
“Not a problem, dear,” Mrs. Weasley said, smiling broadly.
McGonagall began walking out of the room, with Harry following close behind. Before she reached the doorway, however, she paused and turned back around.
“Now that I think about it, it would be best if we included Ms. Granger and Ron Weasley as well, at least for the first bit. If you would?”
Ron and Hermione both nodded their assent, and followed McGonagall and Harry out of the room. She led them into a room where they wouldn't be overheard, and once she was sure she had the full attention of all three students, she began speaking.
“First, go ahead and open that package, Potter,” McGonagall said, handing Harry the present she'd withheld earlier.
Harry did as she asked, and saw what McGonagall had given him: the Gryffindor Quidditch captain's badge.
“He's made captain? That's brilliant!” Ron exclaimed, wide eyed.
“Yes, Mr. Weasley. I have decided that Potter is the best choice to captain our team. I'm confident that he'll be able to lead Gryffindor to another cup,” McGonagall stated.
“What about Katie?” Harry asked. “She's a year older than me. Why didn't you make her captain?”
“Ms. Bell might be a year older than you, but the two of you both joined the team in the same year,” McGonagall pointed out. “I considered her for the position as well, but I chose you because I feel you're a natural leader.”
“Me? What makes you think I'm a good leader? I've never liked having the attention.”
“You might not see it, Potter, but you are indeed a strong leader,” McGonagall assured him. “Your work with the D.A. last year is proof enough.”
“She's right, Harry,” Hermione added. “We looked to you to lead us last year, and you were brilliant at it. You'll be a great captain.”
Hermione pressed herself into Harry's side with a half hug, and he patted her back absently. Ron grinned and gave him a thumbs up, while McGonagall nodded to herself. All three seemed satisfied that Harry would make a good captain.
“I'm sorry, but I'm gonna have to turn it down.”
Hermione broke away and stared at him, as did McGonagall and Ron.
“Are you mental, Harry?” Ron said hotly. “Why would you do something like that?”
“I just don't think I'm the best choice, Ron. I don't think I can give the time and dedication to it that Oliver and Angelina did,” Harry explained.
“What do you mean?” McGonagall asked.
“Being Quidditch captain is a big responsibility, and I don't think I can take it on. I'm a prime target of Voldemort's, and I need to do whatever I can to be prepared to stand up to him. I can't keep relying on luck and the help of others. I'm going to do my best to prepare myself, and it's going to take up a lot of my time and energy. I need to be ready, and that is more important than anything else.”
McGonagall nodded slowly as Harry spoke, and responded shortly after he'd finished. “I see. I'm disappointed that you won't be able to accept the position, but I understand your reasoning. I hope you'll continue to be our Seeker, at least?”
“Sure,” Harry affirmed. “I'll keep playing. I just don't want the extra responsibility of being captain.”
Of course, he didn't even know whether he'd be back at Hogwarts in a month's time, but he wasn't about to tell McGonagall that—he wouldn't disclose that possibility until he was face-to-face with Dumbledore. If he did return, though, he knew he'd like to keep playing, time permitting.
“Good. This does put me back at square one, though. I suppose I'll offer the position to Ms. Bell, though I'm not sure if she's truly suited to be captain,” McGonagall mused.
“What about Ron?” Harry blurted out. Three sets of eyes looked at him quizzically, so he explained himself. “If you're not sure about Katie as captain, I think Ron would be a good choice. I bet there isn't any other student in Hogwarts who knows as much about Quidditch as he does. He'd be great at coming up with new plays and strategies for us to run.”
Ron stared at Harry, his mouth opening and closing silently, while McGonagall mulled over Harry's suggestion. Having reached a decision, she nodded and cleared her throat.
“I hadn't considered it, but I think you may be on to something, Potter. There's no denying that Mr. Weasley understands the nuances of the game better than anyone else in our House. And Katie Bell will have the added pressure of her N.E.W.T.S to deal with. What do you say, Mr. Weasley? Do you accept the position of Gryffindor Quidditch captain?”
Ron went stone-still for a moment, before his face broke into as wide a grin as Harry had ever seen from him.
“Of course!” Ron stammered, overwhelmed at the realisation of one of his childhood dreams. He stared in awe as McGonagall took the badge from Harry's hands, and placed it in his own.
“Best of luck, Mr. Weasley. Be sure to win that cup for Gryffindor,” McGonagall said.
“Of-of course, Professor,” Ron mumbled, still in a daze. Harry grinned and slapped his back, while Hermione looked back and forth between the two with a soft smile on her face.
“Congratulations, mate,” Harry said, grinning at his friend. Ron finally managed to tear his gaze away from the badge sitting in his palm in order to look Harry in the eyes.
“Thanks, Harry,” Ron said softly. Harry just smiled and shook his head. He knew how much this moment meant to Ron, and he was happy that he'd been able to help make it happen.
“Don't mention it, Ron,” Harry said. “I think you're the best choice, anyhow. Now get us ready to kick some Slytherin arse!” he teased.
“You bet,” Ron agreed, grinning.
“Now that that is decided,” McGonagall began, gaining their attention once again, “there was a reason I asked Ms. Granger and Mr. Weasley to join us. It concerns the position of prefect.”
“Is there a problem, Professor? Did Ron and I not do a good job last year?” Hermione asked, concerned.
“No, nothing like that, Ms. Granger. I simply wished to clarify things. I think it's fair to say that most people assumed Mr. Potter would be named as Gryffindor prefect last year, wouldn't you agree?”
Harry and Hermione both looked uncomfortable, but it was Ron who answered the question.
“Of course,” the redhead said nonchalantly. “I was as surprised as anyone else when I got the badge last year.”
“Indeed. Well, I wished to let all three of you know that Potter was, in fact, my choice as prefect. However, Headmaster Dumbledore overruled me, saying that Harry would have quite enough to deal with as it was. He may well have been right, but I just wanted to clear up any confusion the three of you might have had.”
“So why don't you give Harry the prefect spot now?” Ron offered. When McGonagall cocked an eyebrow at him, he went on. “I'll be pretty busy as Quidditch captain, doing whatever I need to do to make sure we win that cup. Harry could take my place as prefect. He was your first choice, anyway—and he and Hermione could probably do the job without biting each other's heads off.”
“That's a generous offer, Mr. Weasley,” McGonagall said. “Would you be interested in the prefect position, Potter, or are you afraid it would take up too much of your time?”
Harry's first instinct was to turn the position down, just as he'd done with the captaincy. But then, he realised that if he came back to Hogwarts, being a prefect alongside Hermione would mean that they'd have plenty of time to themselves.
“I think I'll take it, Professor,” he said, after thinking it over for a moment. “Being a prefect shouldn't be as demanding as being Quidditch captain would have been. Plus, I'd be in a better position to help keep the school safe in case Voldemort tries anything. Constant vigilance, as Moody would say.”
“Very good, Mr. Potter. I trust you have no objections to this, Ms. Granger?”
“Of course not, Professor,” Hermione said immediately. “I think Harry will be a wonderful prefect.”
“That settles it, then,” McGonagall said. “I trust you will take your duties seriously, Mr. Potter?”
“Absolutely, Professor,” Harry said. He then looked over at Ron. “Thanks, mate. I appreciate it.”
“Are you kidding, Harry? I'll take Quidditch captain over prefect any day. I should be thanking you,” Ron said, chuckling. “Did you need me for anything else, Professor?” he asked of McGonagall.
“No, Mr. Weasley, I do not. You may go if you wish.”
Ron took her up on her invitation, and left the room to show his family his new badge. Hermione, meanwhile, stayed where she was.
“So, that's all you wanted to talk to me about?” Harry asked, and McGonagall nodded in response. “What's Dumbledore's message, then?”
“Ah, yes,” McGonagall said absently. “The Headmaster asked me to tell you that he continues to share your grief over the death of Sirius Black. He also wishes to speak with you privately about several different topics, and requests that you come visit him at Hogwarts tomorrow afternoon. We will temporarily allow access to the castle via the floo network in order to make your trip easier.”
“OK, I'll be there,” Harry began, “but only if Hermione can come too.”
“I beg your pardon, but he requested that you come alone,” McGonagall said, shaking her head.
“I don't come unless Hermione's there,” Harry said firmly. “Anything the Headmaster has to say to me, he can say in front of her. And I'm pretty sure Hermione has a few thing she wants to ask him, besides.”
“Very well. I will share your request with the Headmaster, and I'm sure he will send an owl along with his reply,” McGonagall said.
“Thank you, Professor McGonagall,” Hermione said, glad that their Head of House had not pressed the issue or asked questions.
“You are welcome. Now, if neither of you have any additional requests, I believe it is time for me to be getting back to Hogwarts.” As neither student had anything else to add, the Transfiguration instructor went off to say her farewells to the rest of the guests.
“I hope you don't mind that I included you in that,” Harry said, once he and Hermione were alone.
“Mind? Of course not! I want to be there with you, Harry. I want to help you.”
“So...tomorrow, we have it out with the most respected wizard alive, and try to get him to own up to all of his mistakes,” Harry said slowly.
“Assuming he agrees to your demand, yes,” Hermione stated. “But that's tomorrow. Today, we need to plan.”
Harry nodded, and the two of them slipped off quietly, hoping to get in as much discussion as possible before anyone came looking for them.
Tomorrow was going to be a big day. They both knew that how Dumbledore reacted to what they had to say would drastically alter the course of Harry's life, one way or the other. They needed to be prepared.
A/N: Since more than one reviewer has questioned why Harry and Hermione didn't simply use the phone to communicate over the summer, here is why I ruled that out. I think a line Dumbledore says to Harry in OOTP after Sirius' death sums it up quite well: “and I have watched you more closely than you can have imagined.”
Basically, Harry wasn't sure exactly how closely Dumbledore and his subordinates were watching him. He was pretty paranoid about the possibility of Dumbledore spying on him and putting the kibosh on his new train of thought before he could get the input of someone he trusts (Hermione). Harry knew the Order was watching over him, hence why he never put the letters in the mailbox himself. He didn't want anything to seem out of the ordinary, and anyone who had been watching him previously would know that Harry using the telephone would be quite out of the ordinary. If they were to see him sitting in his room and writing, it might have been a bit peculiar, but it wouldn't have stood out nearly as much as him using the phone. I also think the Dursleys would have put up a much bigger fight about Harry using the telephone as opposed to the post, but that's neither here nor there. If you don't agree with my logic, that's fine. It's not very essential to the story anyway.