Harry and Tonks have a long overdue discussion, and Amelia Bones is contacted.
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FYI: This chapter contains several brief excerpts from the HP series dealing with certain important (for ASR, at least) scenes. Such entries are not of my creation, and have been italicized. Thank you. We now return you to your regularly scheduled fan fiction story. Please remember to review.
After making a few plans for the following day, Albus and Moody retired to their own homes for the night while the remaining individuals began making their own ways to bed.
Tonks caught up with Harry just as he was reentering his chosen bedroom at the top floor. Having cleaned out several of the rooms the previous summer, the encamped Weasleys took over the second floor of bedrooms, in effect granting Harry his own room.
The elder Tonks had apparently turned in for the night, as their door was shut and the lights appeared to be out. The only other occupants of the hall - the other two Black sisters - entered their own rooms just down the hall, closing their respective doors behind them.
"Harry, can I talk to you?" Tonks asked quietly.
Harry shrugged. "Certainly," he replied.
Opening the room adjacent to his own that she had chosen earlier that day, the Metamorphmagus entered and beckoned the wizard to follow. Thinking nothing of it, Harry obeyed the nonverbal cue.
"Close the door behind you, please," the witch requested.
Raising an eyebrow at the situation in general, Harry did as bid. "Is there something I can do for you, Nymph?"
Squashing the several suggestive responses that popped into her head, Tonks instead answered, "I wanted to talk about us."
Harry's curiosity found its way into his voice as he asked, "What about us?"
The witch paused to think about her own question and reconsider what she was about to do.
Despite the article in the /Prophet/, Tonks realized that she was one of the few people that knew of his destiny in full. The situation was - or would become - so dire that magic itself brought back one of its former champions to complete some grand design. It was 'kill
or be killed' - if the prophecy was to be believed, that is. Moreover, in her heart, she feared that the whole 'prophesied destiny' thing was all too accurate.
/'Harry the warrior'/, Nymph nearly snorted at the mental image.
'The tireless champion of an ignorant populace that all too frequently scorned the very figure who struggled to protect them.' Despite his private - and cynical - comments to her earlier, he still took the jibes and insults of the ignorant public with almost inhuman grace, never ceasing to do what he knew was right. Her aunt was right; he already was the stuff of legends, and the witch just knew that the name of Harry Potter would be recorded in every place of honor for centuries to come.
'Was this what drew her - and others - to him?' she wondered privately. /'Why /did she care so much about this one man when
every other so-called relationship she ever had was always so carefully kept casual?'
She did not have to look far to find an answer. Her strong feelings had one very simple explanation. Harry would sacrifice everything on his honor. Where others would balk or make excuses, he remained. It
was not just that he chose not to run away; the young witch truly believed he was incapable of fleeing when he knew he was needed, despite his many voiced protests to the contrary.
And that was what really clicked with her own inner drive to protect, the ambition which prompted her to become an Auror in
the first place. In fact, he proved the strength of his character this very night; against what would be considered impossible odds to any other wizard, he faced down the stuff of nightmares with no hesitation or regret. Had the massive army of Inferi been unleashed upon the unsuspecting world, she knew that countless lives would have been lost. Hundreds of people would sleep safely tonight, all due to the selfless and determined actions of one man, and not one of them even realized it.
Truthfully, she did not know why this came as such a surprise to her. Had not his previous victories already proven his character? It was common knowledge; despite the situation, his valor always proved absolute and his courage unwavering. His legend had already gotten to the point that some people wondered if he even knew how to fail.
Before she had met Harry for the first time, the young Auror was sure that the tales were largely fiction.
Even after the Department of Mysteries fiasco, she was convinced that the folklore had been at least partially exaggerated. After all, there was no telling what had gone on before she and the Order had arrived there.
A small portion of insecurity remained even with the momentous revelation just two days ago. The young witch had never been overly impressed with titles, and the overwhelming volume of accounts of his earlier self's nefarious actions had still left a small amount of disbelief as to his good intentions and suitability as a... what? Friend with benefits?
The Metamorphmagus herself was not sure what she wanted with the Wizarding icon.
But all of that was before tonight, before the cave.
After tonight, she had no more doubts. She felt honored to have seen the ideal that every wizard strove for, but rarely ever achieved. Having witnessed such a display, she knew that she would soon follow if ever Harry passed from this life; no other man could hope to compare.
And this revelation - quite honestly - scared her, that one man could have such a hold on her. But she was Nymphadora Tonks, and she was no
"Harry?" she ventured carefully. When he looked up at her, she continued, "What kind of girl would you be interested in... romantically?"
Harry was sure that his brow was shoved somewhere up in his hairline. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, nervously. "I thought we
talked about this earlier with the twins. I'm just not date-able material."
"No, you talked about it," Tonks corrected. "You didn't give any concrete reasons, either."
He ran a hand through his hair, leaving dishevelment in its wake. "Voldemort should be reason enough," he said simply. "Until the Dark Git's dead, I can't... I can't risk being with anyone that way. It's just too dangerous."
Tonks just shook her head. "Out of all the people that should know
better, I thought that you would be at the top of the list," she admitted. "First off, I certainly didn't think you'd let Voldemort dictate how you live your life. Second," she said taking a breath, then
continuing before Harry could mount a protest, "you've got to find someone that makes you happy. I know very well that being alone really sucks most of the time."
Her choice of conversation was sound all sorts of warning bells in Harry's mind. "I take it you're a big dater, then?" he asked cautiously.
She snorted in disgust. "Oh, I've had wizards ask me out. Many, many wizards. The problem is that they're not trying to date Tonks but rather the metamorph. It's almost like I'm some sort of Veela, the way boys - of all ages - fall under some spell whenever they look at me. It's not that I don't like the attention - in fact I think it's charming in a way - but when you have man after man after man ask you to do the same thing over and over again, you begin to think less of yourself."
Tonks seemed to slump. "No offense, Harry, but I've learned over the
years that men are pigs. It was rare that I ever got through the first
date without the guy asking me to change into someone. While I was in school, I lost track of the number of requests for famous singer and dancer impersonations."
Harry looked less than convinced. "I find it hard to believe that every person you tried to date was that shallow. Personally, if I were interested in dating some celebrity, then I would date them. Having someone transfigured to look like her would seem to be unfulfilling."
Thinking that Harry had missed the point, she clarified, "It's not that they really wanted to date the person - even if they could; they just found that form attractive."
"I guessed as much," Harry agreed, "but it's not like you suddenly became a world-class singer or an expert dancer; you just put on
another mask. It's still you underneath."
"That didn't seem to bother my classmates all that much," she said bitterly.
Harry shrugged. "Maybe I'm just strange, but the way I see it, it takes more than just physical beauty to hold a relationship together. Besides, we live in a magical world; it is literally child's play to change an object's appearance. Now, I don't mean to degrade you or your
skills," Harry said honestly, "but there are dozens of charms, potions,
transfigurations, etc. that could change a person's looks just as well as your Metamorphmagus ability. Honestly, I really don't understand their obsession with your ability to transfigure yourself without assistance."
Tonks thought she did a good job of covering her surprised reaction to his statement, which so closely mirrored the advice her parents had frequently given her as she was growing up. "Well, that's my lack of a social life explained." The witch suddenly grinned mischievously. "Nice diversion, by the way."
Harry just shrugged while smiling smugly.
The witch persisted, however. "So, Mr. Potter, if you were in the market for a companion, what would you be looking for?"
"Hypothetically?" Harry asked. At her nod, he thought for a moment before answering, "Personality and character, mainly. I know several physically attractive girls, but the biggest decision they have ever had to make is what they are going to wear that day; I have no interest in pettiness like that. I need someone independent; someone that I don't have to baby-sit constantly, not some trophy or decorative fluff."
Tonks snorted at his disdain for the social butterflies. They had always irritated her, and for the same reasons.
Pondering the question some more, he added, "Considering the trouble I find myself in, she would have to be resourceful and strong-willed as
well. Then there is intelligence; it would get boring quickly if the most in-depth conversation she could discuss were what she had bought at the market that day. I want someone that is not afraid to tell me
if I am wrong on something, and competent enough to suggest a solution. And with Voldemort and all the other idiots out there who want - very much - to kill me, anyone I dated would have to be skilled in self-defense."
Harry chuckled lightly. "That alone eliminates nearly every single witch I know. Truth be told, there's not too many candidates out there that I could consider, and I doubt that the few that are available would have any interest with me, considering the baggage I'm forced to bring along. That's one of the main reasons that I never remarried after Rowena died; the women of the time were mostly too afraid to step out of the small roles that society dictated. Row was more than that; she
was my partner, my equal. Finding someone else that could interface with my contrariness the way she could was nigh impossible."
Harry smile seemed somewhat concessionary as he added, "Well, that and not many witches find a 190-year-old man all that attractive."
"Which is a whole other issue, really," Harry said, suddenly looked contemplative. "It's doubtful that many in this day and age would find my... background all that palatable. I'd imagine that knowing your
boyfriend's a good many centuries older than you are would take the air out of most girls' sails."
Harry decided that it was past time to change the subject. "So, what
about you, Nymph? Even if you had poor luck at school, there are all those Auror initiates to go through."
The Metamorphmagus took a moment to describe her own goals and ambitions, and how fierce commitment to the protection of their world led her to become an Auror. When she finished, she admitted, "I still
occasionally get offers from the same kind of sex-obsessed boys that I blew off at Hogwarts, but the more desirable men around seem to leave me alone. Most of them feel challenged by me - even other Aurors."
Harry could not help but grin at her explanation for her current social situation. "Surely there are some actual men out there amongst the juvenile pretenders?"
"What can I say?" she quipped. "I'm really not a girly girl, you know."
"I do know," Harry said honestly. "And I have to say that I find you more woman than girl, Nymph."
The witch saw an opening and she took it. "To answer your question... I did find one real man that strikes my fancy. He's kind, open-minded, and caring; he's a very powerful wizard who still sees me as a person, not a klutz or a potential 'roll in the hay'. I mean, he's even impressed my dad - who's never liked any of the boys I've tried to date in the past. I just... don't know how to tell him yet. I've tried dropping hints that I'm interested in him, but he doesn't seem to notice." She said the last part very suggestively, but Harry seemed to miss the innuendo.
"I'd recommend the direct approach," Harry answered in a detached tone. "You'd probably get the best results if you just come right out and tell him that. Be blunt if you have to."
The woman smiled strangely, as she practically stalked closer to him. "Thanks. I think I'll try that," she replied breathily.
Then she threw her arms around him, grinding the full length of her shapely form into him tightly, and pressed her mouth to his. Despite himself, he did not seem to be nearly as uncomfortable with the current situation as he would have expected. Although, he was unsure of how he should respond, so it took him several moments before he gently returned the embrace.
When she finally detached her lips from him an unknown amount of time later, the first words out of her smiling mouth were, "Was that blunt enough?"
"Why?" was all Harry was capable of asking, still dazed from their close encounter.
"Why what?" she questioned. "Why did I fall for you?" At his wary nod, she explained. "For all the reasons that I just named, silly. Because you're accepting of others, especially me and my quirks. Because you're merciful, like when Aunt Bella first came to you. Because you still fight for what's right, even with all that it's cost you. Because you can look at someone and see what they can be, when everyone else only sees what they are."
Tonks just shook her head at the tangent she was embarking on. "I can
keep going on this thread for a while. To make it brief, I was in a similar boat to Cissy. When I was growing up, I had the usual 'little girl' fantasies, where I'd find my very own Prince Charming and go off to live in a big castle. But when I got older, I found a whole bunch of toads wanting a kiss, but no prince. I mean, I think that I can count on one hand the number of men who truly have never desired me to change my shape for one reason or another, and I'm related to pretty much all
of them. I try to hide it, but that gets to a girl after awhile."
She paused a moment to catch her breath. "And then, one day, my old headmaster sends my bum off to some Merlin forsaken Muggle neighborhood to fetch some stuck-up teenaged celebrity from his summer home. However, once I got there, I found a down-to-Earth guy that had never even heard of a Metamorphmagus before. Moreover, when he learns what that is and just how much I can change... nothing. It's as if it doesn't even matter. I mean, his friends are interested, and his best mate blushingly asked if I could change everything one time when we were alone, but regarding this Potter bloke - nothing. So I started taking a closer look."
Still choosing to discuss Harry in the third person, Tonks continued. "That's when things got interesting. I started learning all sorts of things. Like how this bloke took on a full-sized mountain troll when he was eleven with only another inexperienced kid for backup, all for a little girl he didn't even know all that well at the time. Or about how, at the age of twelve, he outsmarted the entire Hogwarts faculty, killed a gigantic deadly snake, destroyed a soul shard of the nastiest dark wizard in recent times - just to rescue another girl
who might have exchanged ten words with him his entire life. There were a whole bunch of other stuff thrown in there as well; I particularly liked the illegal time travel, outsmarting the Minister of Magic, chasing off a hundred or so Dementors, and winning a usually fatal tournament, concluded with a duel against a newly risen Dark Lord and all of his best followers. The whole invading the most secret part of the most secure building in magical Britain was kinda cool, too, but not as much as successfully leading five school kids in holding off the twelve most lethal Death Eaters ever. I have to admit; that one is
probably my favorite."
"Nymph," Harry half-scolded, half-pleaded.
The witch sobered up and seriously replied with total sincerity. "Harry, you're the kind of guy I have wanted to find ever since I first learned the difference between boys and girls. You do what you know to
be right, and you don't let anyone or anything stop you; everyone that spends the slightest bit of time around you knows that. That's why your friends remain so loyal to you, despite everything you've faced; they know that you would do all of that - and more - for them. That's why
virtually every Order member left here tonight more cheerful than when they arrived; you showed them a clear-cut way to destroy Voldemort for good, and they believe that you're capable of pulling it off. Not only that, they know that you'll never stop until you do succeed."
She then added something which he hadn't considered. "If you want my opinion, I think that's why Voldemort and his goons are so eager to hurt you. Unlike everyone they've ever faced before, you refuse to break. Despite their every effort to discourage you, you come right back at them even harder. Yet, that's not the only reason, either. Their inability to stop you inspires others to fight. I know it doesn't seem like much now, but people are finally beginning to realize that the Death Eaters aren't some invincible force; that they can be thwarted. I've seen the difference out in public; the mere fact that you still draw breath is an encouragement to many, but knowing that you are stilling sending the fight back Voldemort's way has bolstered the hopes of countless wizards and witches everywhere."
"Anyway, that's why I've fallen in love with you, Harry Potter," the pink-haired witch summarized. "You've set the bar so high that no one else could compare even if they wanted to."
She interrupted again before the stunned wizard could say anything. "And... I kind of have a confession to make. Right after the four
of us left Dumbledore's office yesterday evening, we... that is, my aunts and I... sort of... heard your mental argument with yourself."
At Harry's sudden intake of breath, she quickly assured him that no one else aside of the three of them knew. "It actually made me feel better, knowing what caused this... bond between us, and also having proof that you returned at least some of my feelings," Tonks added. "I'm no
Rowena," she said gently, "and I'd never attempt to take her place, but I know that she can't have loved you any more than I have begun to and expect you to remain alone for an entire lifetime - not if she truly loved you."
"You don't know what you're getting into," Harry said worriedly, his composure slipping.
"I have a pretty good idea," she retorted. "I've been thinking about this for a long time; and before you say anything, I've already thought about how everyone else will react - I was in Ravenclaw, you know. I'm sure that we'll catch all sorts of flack about you 'dating a woman who is six years older than you are', or that the press will turn our relationship into some sort of scandal where one or both of us are portrayed as sexually deviant. I also realize that Voldemort will undoubtedly raise the priority on my capture."
Tonks shrugged as if all that she had just said was unimportant. "Thing
is, the Dark Tosser already wants to kill my whole family anyway or those two nitwits wouldn't have broken into the house earlier. We're already at risk, so I don't consider that an issue - neither do my parents, for that matter."
"I'm not a very easy person to stay close to, and I've got a lot of issues," Harry finally got out when Tonks stopped her heartfelt monologue.
However, the young woman had her response to this question well thought out, too. "I know that you used to be 'the Salazar Slytherin', and I don't care. I know that you loved - and still love - Rowena Ravenclaw, and I don't care. I know what your destiny is and what you will have to do about it, and I don't care."
Tonks smiled again, somewhat ruefully. "I even know that you hold at
least some positive feeling in your heart towards my aunts - enough to create this empathic link we all share now, at least -, which someday may turn into something more. Moreover, while you didn't hear it from me, neither of them are all that against the idea. And you know what?"
Harry just shook his head bemusedly.
"I. Don't. Care!/" /she answered slowly. "Life's just too short; everything that happened tonight reminded me of that. So," she pressed while looking intently into Harry's eyes, "if you really don't feel anything beyond that of a close friend for me, if you truly don't see yourself falling 'in love' with me, then say so; I promise that I'll
never bring this up again. However, if that's not the case, then I want to do something about it. You seem to have taken my heart, Mr. Slytherin-Potter; I should at least get a shot at part of yours. It may not last forever, but I definitely think that 'we' deserve a
chance. I'm certainly willing to have a go at it, at least."
Tonks watched as Harry's eyes lose focus as he considered everything that she had said. She had laid everything out as fully and as truthfully as she knew how, just as her mother had advised her; the next move belonged to the man whose arms were still loosely looped around her hips.
As for the wizard himself, Harry found his thoughts thrown once more into disarray.
'Where the bloody hell did this come from,' he demanded of himself, 'and why didn't I see it coming?'
It had been a long day, and Harry was ready to admit - privately, at least - that he was not exactly thinking at full proficiency. While he was racking his brain for a way out of this newly developed dilemma, an amusing thought floated to the forefront.
'I bet Sirius is just /loving this wherever he is,'/ Harry pondered ruefully, 'and I'd hate to even see what Godric'd make of it.'
Harry's first instinct was to immediately turn her offer down - gently, of course -, but he then realized that the energetic witch had uncharacteristically planned this conversation out very carefully with great attention to detail. Not only that, she had been extremely open with her own feelings while simultaneously covering every concern of such a scenario that he could envision - before he could even mention it. That foresight alone proved both that she knew him reasonably well, as well as her serious interest in such a relationship.
Feeling that she deserved his own serious consideration, rather than a split-second response, Harry mentally reviewed each point that she had made.
The first and foremost concern, in his mind at least, was the Voldemort issue. The Dark Moron had already proven that he wasn't above hurting those whom Harry held in high regard, for no better reason than that Harry held them in high regard. However, he had to admit that she was correct on several of her points; Voldemort apparently had already ordered them murdered, and it was impossible that he was the reason. At the time, there was no known connection between the two of them; 'Perhaps Andromeda was the target,' Harry mused, 'as
revenge for Narcissa or Bellatrix.' He also conceded that she was a formidable opponent in the dueling arts and, while perhaps not the match of Voldemort or Dumbledore, the witch could most likely take down nearly any death eater that Voldemort could field.
Harry even gave a mental nod at her eliminating his excuse of using her parents' safety as a reason not to pursue a relationship. With the elder Tonks currently residing in the heavily protected Grimmauld Place
and supporting their daughter's decision, Harry would be hard-pressed to
convince her with this point.
The next largest problem was the apparent age difference, namely in the reactions they would receive from both their friends and the press. Again, she proved to him that she had indeed done her homework. If she was taken at her word, the idea of a public smear campaign made little of an impression on her.
'Of course, the ability to instantaneously disguise one's self would probably make the press' hounding actions rather moot,' he mused.
She had already mentioned that her parents approved of their union, and
he did not have any family to get approval /from/.
That only left reprisal from their friends, and she had made her position abundantly clear earlier that night before the meeting. 'And as for your friends... the situation may come as a shock to them, but I don't see why they would abandon you over it... Give the others a chance. They just might surprise you.'
Harry would like to believe that, but he honestly could not predict how the others would react. He could already hear Mrs. Weasley's rant, not to mention the ragging he would receive from the twins. Remus
might find the situation a little surreal, but Harry doubted that the kindly werewolf would say anything untoward to either of them. The real mystery would be in how Ron, Hermione, and Ginny would react; at this point, Harry could see them going either way. However, as she pointed out, requiring their approval - or anyone else's, for that matter - was granting someone else the ability to make his decisions for him, something that neither he himself or she much cared for.
With those issues sufficiently discussed - and discarded -, Harry was left solely with the complications that his previous identity brought to the table. The fact that she could interact with him as she had before she knew of his... rebirth was remarkable; that she fully accepted his previous and current natures, with all of their quirks, and still desired a closer relationship was, quite frankly, astounding.
She was eerily correct when she professed - quite confidently, he noted - that he still felt the loss of his first and only wife. In fact, if he had not known better, Harry would have sworn that she was somehow channeling Rowena herself; the point-by-point discussion/chastisement/persuasive monologue was just so reminiscent of the long deceased witch. Even with his remaining twilight years a millennium ago, he had still been unable to completely banish the diminutive redhead from his thoughts or heart. Even now, with the emotional and mental bondings with the three vivacious witches in
the back of his mind, he still felt a dull sense of loss in that particular 'Rowena place'. It was that, more than anything else, which had prevented the wizard from seeking other companionship; he simply viewed such an action as being disloyal to her memory. With so much time having passed, the displaced wizard wondered whether he could move on with his life in that manner.
'For that matter, did he deserve to?' Harry wondered.
Intellectually, he knew that there was nothing stopping him from
perusing a relationship with whomever he desired. His mind told him that Nymph was correct, that Rowena would not hold such a thing against him, especially under the circumstances... but his heart still doubted.
Moreover, even assuming that every other matter was satisfactorily resolved, that still left the fact that he shared a bond with two other women. Such an empathic connection would inevitably ensure a conventional relationship impossible to maintain.
Though the Metamorphmagus had touched on the topic, she had not really explained either her reasoning or her position on the matter.
"What about the whole 'bonding' affair?" Harry asked. "You do realize how closely it connects the four of us, right?"
Tonks just smiled. "I can't speak for the others, but that only makes the deal more enticing to me. I sorta like knowing how you really feel about something, not the mask you put up for everyone
else's benefit. Having a piece of you that I can carry around is kinda nice, too..." Tonks trailed off, blushing furiously. "As for their involvement... I'm sure that we can make arrangements. If they are
directly involved, then things will probably solve themselves. If they don't join us... well, there are always other avenues that they can choose to... err... 'bleed off the pressure'."
The pink-haired witch looked a little embarrassed at having discussed such a thing, despite her usually confident demeanor, but she was also proud that Harry was seriously considering all aspects of her plea before deciding one way or the other. Once Harry deciphered her last statement, he wholeheartedly shared her awkwardness with the subject matter.
"It might make things with them a little awkward..." Harry warned half-heartedly.
"What?" Tonks asked. "That we'd be dating and they'd... feel it?" At Harry's nod, she confided, "We've already talked about it, and they're okay with the idea of 'us'." The witch suddenly smiled mischievously. "I even got a couple of suggestions from them that I'd like to try some day."
Harry blinked owlishly, as if she was speaking some foreign language and he was merely keeping eye contact to be polite. "Like I said, Harry, they heard what you 'said' was needed to make this bond thing work, and they're far from disgusted. I think Cissy's interested in the possibility of getting closer to you someday, and Bella was the one who actually brought up the whole polyamorous relationship in the first place-"
"Poly... polyamorous?" Harry sharply asked in a choked whisper.
Tonks nodded. "Yeah, it means when more than two-"
"Yes, I know what it means, thank you!" Harry interrupted quickly. "Are you lot out of your minds? First, neither Bella nor Cissy have even really known me for more than 48 hours; how can they - or you - possibility even conceive such an act of lunacy? Moreover, even if we ignored that, why would you want to... to share me? Isn't that demeaning for you? For all of you?"
The witch smiled at his outrage on their behalf. While she had not actually set up a survey, she doubted that there were many men who would turn down an offer of multiple women bedding them. 'One more reason to love him,' she said to herself. "I don't think it's demeaning at all," Tonks answered immediately. "As I have said - and look forward to repeating for a long time -, I love you. Despite what you might believe, you are a lovable person and my aunts are aware of that. As you yourself pointed out, they had to at least like you already, or they would have never been able to bond themselves to you." The young woman shrugged lightly at the territory she was treading. "If they should come to love you as I do, you returning their feelings doesn't mean you love me any less. Sure, it is an unusual arrangement, and it took me by surprise when Bella first mentioned it, but... I've thought it over, and I don't find it distasteful or demeaning."
"You're just full of quick responses tonight, aren't you?" Harry asked resignedly.
The witch smiled brightly. "I've learned, Mr. Potter, that a girl has to stay on her toes around you, or you'll outmaneuver her in a second."
"Well, you have my congratulations on out-thinking me at every turn, then," Harry conceded.
"Why, thank you, good sir!" she chirped. "So, have you made up your mind?" she asked more seriously.
Harry let out a pensive breath. "I hope you don't come to regret this
decision," he half-answered.
She seemed to brighten. "So, you agree to explore these... feelings, then?" the witch questioned as she sought confirmation.
Harry looked both amused and resigned. With a slight grin, he replied, "You don't seem to have left me a metaphoric leg to stand on."
"Oh, good," she said happily. "That means I can start exerting girlfriend privileges!"
"Such as...?" Harry said in a wary tone.
"Such as good night kisses, lover boy!" she responded cheerfully, before resuming her earlier activity of bonding her lips to his. This very delicate process continued until the very loud - and, if Harry was honest with himself, very ill timed - grandfather clock chimed out the late hour. Knowing that the morning would arrive before they knew it - complete with his and Albus's upcoming meeting with Madame Bones -, Harry reluctantly stopped telling the enraptured young witch 'good night'.
At her glazed appearance, Harry chuckled and said, "Come on; we should get some sleep. We can continue this... conversation another time."
Giving her a goodbye squeeze, he unhanded the woman and quietly stepped
out into the hallway. The wizard was gently pulling the door back to a close when it was suddenly jerked out of his hand and the resident Metamorphmagus again crushed her lips to his, this time with a great deal of their earlier passion behind it.
A few moments later, she came up for air and breathlessly said, "Okay, now you can go off to that big bed... all alone," she finished suggestively.
The addressed wizard took a few moments to restrain some of his... baser instincts. "I don't think we're quite ready for that yet,"
Harry said quietly. "After we know if this... relationship will work, maybe, but I will not be the cause of your reputation suffering."
Tonks butted her head gently against his chest. "I hate it when you
play the responsibility card," she grumbled playfully. She felt her impromptu head rest quivering with suppressed laughter. Sighing, she conceded, "Fine, we'll play nice tonight. But don't think that I won't get you to make my reputation 'suffer' one of these days, Mr. Potter!" Stealing another brief peck on the lips, the witch glided back into her chambers and gently shut the door, leaving a somewhat bewildered wizard to return to his own quarters.
As the rising sun heralded the new day, the sitting room of Grimmauld Place became host to a brief ball of flame as Albus Dumbledore appeared with his phoenix familiar. Hearing evidence that others had awakened already, the old wizard strolled into the old manor's kitchen. Pausing at the door, the venerable mage called upon his many years to experience to stifle a rather persistent guffaw.
As near as he could determine without drawing their attention, Molly Weasley had arose before her family with the intention of preparing breakfast for the large group - as per usual. However, her routine apparently developed a hitch when the two resident house elves developed similar notions. At least, that was the most likely reason Albus could deduce to explain why the matron was engaged in 'tug of war' against the combined hyperactive might of two elves over the matter of a baking tray.
As it happened, an amused twill from Fawkes disrupted the fracas nicely.
"Albus!" the woman exclaimed while holding one hand over her heart. "What are you doing here?"
"Just passing through, my dear Molly," the headmaster informed. "I had a couple of errands to run this morning, and I thought to ask Harry to join me."
"Oh my, I don't believe that he is awake, yet," she mentioned, unconsciously releasing the baking apparatus. The elves took advantage of the momentary ceasefire to disappear, taking the pan and several ingredients with them. "The whole bunch is still sleeping, if I am
"No matter," Albus said kindly. "I am sure that Fawkes can prevail."
Prompting the phoenix, he asked, "If you would please?"
Fawkes was not convinced of the wisdom behind this tactic, but decided to count on his immortal nature to see him through any rough spots. Flashing out of the kitchen, the avian proceeded to the upstairs corridor and homed in on the human's distinctive magic. Appearing in another ball of fire, Fawkes found himself floating in a well-furnished bedchamber. Looking down, the phoenix found Harry lying on the bed, still asleep despite his rather flamboyant entry.
Remembering what his bonded was like upon waking during his younger years, the bird perched upon the bed's footboard and began softly singing. When that seemed to have no effect, the phoenix raised his volume and tried again. After a few moments of the incumbent wizard
turning over drowsily without waking, Fawkes mentally crossed his talons and took flight. He glided right to the same pillow supporting the human's head and, placing his beak right next to the other's ear, proceeding to alternatively sing and screech as loudly as he could.
Needless to say, this succeeded in rousing the drowsy wizard. Instantly wide awake, Harry jerked to a sitting posture while turning his head every which way to take in the situation. Finally realizing that he
wasn't under attack, Harry turned his attention to the crooning phoenix.
"Fawkes?" Harry asked confusedly. "What's wrong? Is there an attack?" The bird shook his head to alleviate the human's mounting anxiety. Calmer now, but no less confused, Harry asked, "Did Albus send
A positive nod.
"Does he need to see me?" Harry inquired.
Another dip of the phoenix's head.
"Is he at Hogwarts?" Shake. "At the Ministry?" Another negative response. "Here?" Harry asked finally. Fawkes confirmed his guess.
"Okay..." Harry breathed out, now extremely vexed. 'Why couldn't the old man have just sent a note?' he wondered. Going through another guessing game, Harry determined that Albus was in the kitchen.
Fawkes was finally beginning to relax, seeing no hostility from the early morning wake-up call. That is, until Harry happened to glance over and see the mantel clock.
"Hello, Fawkes..." Harry greeted with a disturbing grin.
The red and gold avian just knew he would regret this assignment.
"More tea, Albus?" Molly asked kindly.
"If you would. Thank you," the elderly wizard returned upon receiving a refill of his beverage. "This is certainly-"
What it was would forevermore remain a mystery as, at that moment, what appeared to be a large red Popsicle suddenly came into being and
landed with a thud on the kitchen table. Before either of the adults could give this matter any serious thought, said article burst into flame without warning. As the melted liquid began flowing onto the floor, a ruffled and clearly unhappy phoenix was discovered wobbling around on the table - all the while trying to dislodge a flat stick from its leg.
Attempting to aid his familiar, Albus leaned forward and removed the simple charm bonding the wood to the bird's appendage. Looking at the avian curiously, the old man asked - with an inappropriate amount of innocence -, "Whatever happened to you, my friend?"
Several high-pitched chirps and warbles later, the former Phoenix-sicle disappeared for parts unknown, leaving Molly wiping up yet another mess and Albus speculating on whether Fawkes had ever been bonded to
a pirate. These activities continued for several minutes until the drowsy - and now, irritable - wizard joined them.
"Morning, Mrs. Weasley," Harry intoned dully as he entered the kitchen.
"Albus..." Harry nearly growled as he seated himself at the table and reached for what was - hopefully - coffee.
"Good morning, Harry!" Albus greeted brightly.
"I can vouch for the morning part, at least," the other wizard grumbled. "You are aware of the time, are you not?"
"Of course," the elderly wizard replied after consulting his astrological pocket watch. "It is exactly 5:14 a.m."
"Yes, it is," Harry agreed. "Now, kindly tell me why you woke me at this ungodly hour." The rather bloodshot emerald green eyes
conveyed that this was most definitely not a request.
"Well," Albus offered after a moment's reflection on the most expedient versus robust shield spells, "I thought that we would get an early start on our business with Madame Bones."
"And we are all up before dawn because...?" the younger wizard trailed off questioningly.
"Why, for this delightful tea, of course!" the Headmaster replied with cup in hand.
Harry let out a nearly silent sigh. "Right," he muttered resignedly. Downing the mug of coffee in one go - he anticipated needing the caffeine shortly -, Harry accepted a breakfast plate
from the elder female Weasley with a muted, "Thanks."
Within a few minutes, both wizards finished their dining and
complimented the matron on another fine meal.
Reaching the foyer, Harry asked, "So... how are we traveling this morning?"
"Well, since Fawkes is unable to join us," the elderly mage stated with a swift glance in Harry's direction, "I believe that a Portkey would be the most expedient route." Suiting action to word, the Chief Mugwump soon had their transportation arranged.
"You know," Harry noted as he placed a finger on the previous evening's Portkey, "that thing is probably eligible for frequent flyer miles by now."
"It's eligible for what?" Albus inquired as the two wizards appeared in the Ministry of Magic's lobby. Just as before, the ornate entry hall greeted the two arrivals with its highly polished majesty. Due to the early hour, most of the gilded fireplaces on either wall were still banked from the previous evening.
"Never mind," Harry replied with a shake of his head. Looking further down the hall towards the elevators, Harry noticed that the elaborate fountain once more boasted a full complement of golden statues. "I see
that they managed to repair it," the wizard stated with a toss of his head.
"Indeed," Albus answered in a disapproving tone, "at great expense, I might add. The Minister was most insistent that it be returned to its 'proper glory'."
"Does it not bother you?" Harry asked as they strode past the gilded monolith.
"What's that?" the elder wizard questioned.
Harry made a gesture at the receding statues. "Those statues, this place, the entire rampant close-minded hypocrisy... take your pick," he said irritably.
"Yes, I will admit that such behavior is disheartening," the Mugwump admitted, "but I maintain hope that the system can be redeemed from within."
The elder wizard's companion snorted derisively but made no further comment as the pair strode towards a set of golden gates at the far end
of the hall. Seeing no one staffing the security booth, - Harry was glad that at least somebody was able to sleep in this morning - Albus led Harry through the gates into the smaller hall beyond, where the multitude of lifts stood silent. Upon approaching
one of the dormant elevators, its ornate golden grill receded with a slight squealing noise to allow the wizards passage.
Once the pair was inside, the grilles slid shut with a crash and the
lift ascended slowly to the accompaniment of rattling chains and the occasional announcement from the same cool female voice Harry had heard in the telephone box.
After a monotonous climb, the source-less voice announced, "Level Two, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, including the Improper Use of Magic Office, Auror Headquarters and Wizengamot Administration Services."
"Ah, here we are!" Albus noted unnecessarily as the lift doors opened. "Amelia's office is just this way." After negotiating through the mostly vacant set of offices, the men found themselves facing an imposing set of polish oak doors guarded by an equally imposing set of Aurors.
"Good morning, Wesley! Jericho!" Albus greeted.
"Good morning to you, Professor Dumbledore," one of the middle-aged wizards replied. "What are you doing in the DMLE this morning?"
"Oh, my companion and I have a scheduled meeting with Madame Bones," the elder mage answered while glancing at his antique astronomer's pocket watch, "and it seems we shall be on time after all."
"Alright then," the other man accepted, "please wait here while I let the Director know you have arrived." Suiting action to words, he cracked the door and slipped inside the office, leaving his partner to supervise the other two wizards.
"So, how is the family doing?" Albus asked politely.
"Things are great!" the blonde man replied. "Elizabeth's expecting again; we think its going to be a girl this time."
"That's wonderful news!" the Supreme Mugwump congratulated. "Please give your lovely wife my best."
"I will, Sir," the Auror pledged as the office door opened again.
"Director Bones will see you now," the other man informed.
"Well, it was nice to see you boys again, but we mustn't keep the Director waiting," Albus said in parting. Harry followed the older man
through the held door and discreetly took in his surroundings. The DMLE Chief's office seemed nearly as spacious as Albus's own work quarters, and contained countless file cabinets, bookcases, and freestanding piles of paper. To finish off the cluttered look, Harry noticed several interoffice memos flying around near the ceiling.
"Good morning, Albus. Mr. Potter," a crisp, concise voice greeted. Harry focused his attention on the smartly dressed woman seated behind a massively overburdened desk. Though Susan's aunt seemed to be graying out a bit on top, the professionally minded woman still commanded a no-nonsense attitude reminiscent of a certain Gryffindor Head of House.
Harry liked her already.
"Good morning, Amelia," Albus greeted. "I see that the Ministry is
keeping you as busy as ever."
The Director sighed. "When are they not?" Shaking her head, she turned her attention to Harry. "My niece Susan has been telling me that you were staying busy last year as well," the woman noted. "I can't begin to tell you how proud I am at the improvement she has shown - no thanks to a certain colleague of mine," Amelia finished with a grumble.
"I'm glad I could be of assistance, then," Harry offered, "and feel free to call me Harry."
"Alright," Madame Bones accepted, "now that we have the pleasantries out of the way... what is it I can do for you?"
"Certain information has come to light that we believe you should know," Albus informed the woman.
The female Director looked mildly curious. "Oh? What sort of information are we discussing?"
"Voldemort information," Harry specified, slightly pleased at not
observing a flinch at the evil wizard's moniker. "Just to make sure that we stay on the same page, so to speak, how much do you know of recent events?"
Amelia glanced over at the ancient mage and, after getting his nodded approval, returned her attention to the younger wizard seated before
her desk. "I have been briefed on the evaluation of the crime scene in the Department of Mysteries, if that is what you are referencing. It was Voldemort's first confirmed appearance since his alleged resurrection a year ago."
Harry nodded. "That's true, but I was referring more to what he is doing right now. The Azkaban situation, for example."
The woman's eyes widened slightly. "How did you hear of that fiasco?"
The younger wizard smiled slightly. "That's a very long story, which we might be able to discuss later. The short version, however, is that an... informant was able to tip us off about the Dementors pending change in loyalty." Changing the subject, he asked, "Any luck
finding the little soul-suckers?"
Their host seemed to tire right before their eyes. "Unofficially, no. I'm not sure if I should be telling you two this," Amelia hedged, "but we've been getting blocked at nearly every turn in our attempts to track them down. Cornelius, in his infinite wisdom, has deemed it a greater priority to prevent the public from learning of the Dementors' defection rather than their apprehension."
"This is most disturbing," Albus exclaimed resignedly, "but not unanticipated."
"The Chief Warlock is - regrettably - correct," Amelia noted. "The world is going to Hell in a hand basket and my hands are too tied up in red tape to do anything about it!"
"I am afraid, Amelia, that things are about to become even worse," Albus stated mournfully. "I assume that the appropriate wards are already in place?" he asked while gesturing towards the closed door.
"Of course," their host replied.
"Very well," the Headmaster acknowledged before giving the woman an edited account of the last few days' discoveries.
"Sweet merciful heavens!" Amelia breathed softly after learning of Voldemort's latest ambitions. "If your information is reliable... we are in for some very deep trouble." Her visage became even more troubled. "The Death Eaters are bad enough, but an entire army under his command? Even if we were given carte blanche - which is highly unlikely -, my boys still couldn't defeat a force of that magnitude!"
Harry nodded slightly. "Albus and I both agree with you, Madame Bones
- we are in a pickle. Our society has been merrily backing itself into a corner for decades and now that idiocy is coming back to spite us. However, we may just have an alternate ending for this story."
"I'm all ears," Amelia responded dully.
"As you have mentioned, the Aurors are unable to properly function in the current political environment," Harry reiterated, "and even if they weren't hindered, they would still be unable to meet this new threat. Of course, this inability is understandable; they are trained to face petty criminals and individual dark wizards, not an organized threat like Voldemort."
"Which we already know," Amelia said shortly. "What's your point?"
"My point," Harry said levelly, "is that Voldemort's collection of Death Eaters, Dementors, and other creatures can only be stopped by meeting his host with our own army."
"A Wizarding army?!" Amelia exclaimed disbelievingly. "There has
been no such institution in /centuries/! The Minister would never allow such a thing!"
"No," Harry agreed calmly, "he would not."
"What are you saying?" she demanded.
The emerald-eyed wizard stared at her intently. "I am saying that your primary duty is to ensure the wellbeing of the Wizarding public and that
your sworn obligation should not be dependant on the moods of self-serving bureaucrats. If an obstacle hinders our ability to provide for a common defense, then it should be neutralized no matter how highly ranked."
Amelia's eyes bulged. "What you are suggesting is treason! I may disagree with the Minister on a few issues, but he has the people's best interest at heart!"
"Really?" Harry asked idly, before turning to face the third person in the room. "Albus, did you bring your Pensieve?"
The old man nodded. "As it so happens, I did."
"Great!" Harry exclaimed. "May I show Director Bones a few things with it?" Albus wordlessly placed the stone basin on Amelia's desk. Concentrating on a few choice encounters of his with the esteemed
Cornelius Fudge and his personal assistant, Harry extracted the memories and placed them in the bowl.
"Would you mind accompanying us for a stroll down memory lane, Madame?" Harry inquired politely.
"Very well," she agreed shortly. The three mages bent over the bowl and
activated the device. After a disorienting few moments, the three mages found themselves standing in a small cottage.
"We are currently in Rubeus Hagrid's house on Hogwarts' grounds," Harry announced for Amelia's benefit. "This memory is a little over three years old, by the way. This event occurred shortly after the Hogwarts students had started becoming petrified. By a strange turn of events, my friend Ron Weasley and myself were witness to the proceedings." Giving a wordless command for the Pensieve to play, the frozen scene
sprung to life.
Hagrid dropped the fruitcake. Harry and Ron exchanged panic-stricken looks, then threw the Invisibility Cloak back over themselves and retreated into a corner. Hagrid checked that they were hidden, seized his crossbow, and flung open his door once more.
"Good evening, Hagrid."
It was Dumbledore. He entered, looking deadly serious, and was followed by a second, very odd-looking man.
The stranger had rumpled gray hair and an anxious expression, and was wearing a strange mixture of clothes: a pinstriped suit, a scarlet tie, a long black cloak, and pointed purple boots. Under his arm he carried a lime-green bowler.
"Bad business, Hagrid," said Cornelius Fudge in rather clipped tones.
"Very bad business. Had to come. Four attacks on Muggle-borns. Things've gone far enough. Ministry's got to act."
"I never," said Hagrid, looking imploringly at Dumbledore. "You know I never, Professor Dumbledore, sir-"
"I want it understood, Cornelius, that Hagrid has my full confidence," said Dumbledore, frowning at Fudge.
"Look, Albus," said Fudge, uncomfortably. "Hagrid's record's against him. Ministry's got to do something - the school governors have been in touch-"
"Yet again, Cornelius, I tell you that taking Hagrid away will not help in the slightest," said Dumbledore, his blue eyes full of fire.
"Look at it from my point of view," said Fudge, fidgeting with his bowler. "I'm under a lot of pressure. Got to be seen to be doing
something. If it turns out it wasn't Hagrid, he'll be back and no more said. But I've got to take him. Got to. Wouldn't be doing my duty -"
"Take me?" said Hagrid, who was trembling. "Take me where?"
"For a short stretch only," said Fudge, not meeting Hagrid's eyes. "Not a punishment, Hagrid, more a precaution. If someone else is caught, you'll be let out with a full apology-"
"Not Azkaban?" croaked Hagrid.
Before Fudge could answer, there was another loud rap on the door, which Dumbledore answered.
Mr. Lucius Malfoy strode into Hagrid's hut, swathed in a long black traveling cloak, smiling a cold and satisfied smile. Fang
started to growl.
"Already here, Fudge?"
he asked approvingly. "Good, good..."
"What're you doin' here?" said Hagrid furiously. "Get outta my
"My dear man, please believe me, I have no pleasure at all in being inside your - er - d'you call this a house?" said Lucius Malfoy, sneering as he looked around the small cabin. "I simply called at the school and was told that the headmaster was here."
"And what exactly did you want with me, Lucius?" said Dumbledore. He spoke politely, but the fire was still blazing in his blue eyes.
"Dreadful thing, Dumbledore," said Malfoy lazily, taking out a long
roll of parchment, "but the governors feel it's time for you to step
aside. This is an Order of Suspension - you'll find all twelve signatures on it. I'm afraid we feel you're losing your touch. How many attacks have there been now? Two more this afternoon, wasn't it? At this rate, there'll be no Muggle-borns left at Hogwarts, and we all know what an awful loss that would be to the school."
"Oh, now, see here, Lucius," said Fudge, looking alarmed, "Dumbledore suspended - no, no - last thing we want just now."
"The appointment - or suspension - of the headmaster is a matter for the governors, Fudge," said Mr. Malfoy smoothly. "And as Dumbledore has failed to stop these attacks-"
"See here, Malfoy, if Dumbledore can't stop them," said Fudge, whose
upper lip was sweating now, "I mean to say, who can?"
"That remains to be seen," said Mr. Malfoy with a nasty smile. "But as all twelve of us have voted-"
Hagrid/ leapt to his feet, his shaggy black head grazing the ceiling. /
"An' how many did yeh have ter threaten an' blackmail before they agreed, Malfoy, eh?" he roared.
/"Dear, dear, you know, that temper of yours will lead you into trouble one of these days, Hagrid," said Mr. Malfoy. "I would advise you not to shout at the Azkaban guards like that. They won't like it at all./"
"Yeh can' take Dumbledore!" yelled Hagrid, making Fang the boarhound cower and whimper in his basket. "Take him away, an' the Muggle-borns won' stand a chance! There'll be killin' next!"
The scene suddenly froze, at Harry's silent behest.
"Yes, such a paragon of virtue, your stalwart defender of justice," Harry noted sarcastically. "Hagrid was very nearly correct, you know. Had it not been for a fortuitous series of events, there would have been several lives lost in the ensuing chaos. Any Minister of consequence would have taken measures to ensure the students' safety regardless of any indictment of a board of governors. However, as you witnessed,
Fudge's sole concern was to be 'seen doing something'."
Harry seemed to be lost in thought for a moment. "Oh, just for your information, Hagrid is not the first soul to be chucked into Azkaban
without trial. I have personally spoken with two other people who have suffered similarly at Fudge's hands - one of whom just so happens to be my godfather."
Before the woman could voice a protest, Harry interjected, "Let's continue this little presentation first, shall we?" The environment around them shifted once more to reveal three schoolchildren, two adult men, and two animals in a ratty shack. "This charming locale is the Shrieking Shack," Harry explained, "and occurred a few short months after the scene with Hagrid that you just watched."
Harry then allowed the vivid scene to play through to its conclusion, revealing what really happened at the Potter home on that eventful
night. After the mismatched parade began their ill-fated trek back to Hogwarts Castle, the younger wizard interrupted the Pensieve yet again.
"Sirius Black... was innocent?" Amelia asked disbelievingly.
"Yes," Albus spoke up, "he most certainly was."
"Why was the Ministry not informed of this?" she demanded.
"Just watch," Harry instructed with a slight smirk. The scenery morphed once more, this time showing Harry's recollection of the Hospital Wing after warding off the swarm of Dementors.
Madam Pomfrey now came walking briskly up the dark ward to Harry's bed. He turned to took at her. She was carrying the largest block of chocolate he had ever seen in his life. It looked like a small boulder.
"Ah, you're awake!" she said briskly. She placed the chocolate on Harry's bedside table and began breaking it apart with a small hammer.
"How's Ron?" said Harry and Hermione together.
"He'll live," said Madam Pomfrey grimly. "As for you two, you'll be staying here until I'm satisfied you're - Potter, what do you think you're doing?"
Harry was sitting up, putting his glasses back on, and picking up his wand.
"I need to see the headmaster," he said.
"Potter," said Madam Pomfrey soothingly, "it's all right. They've got Black. He's locked away upstairs. The Dementors will be performing the kiss any moment now-"
Harry jumped up out of bed; Hermione had done the same. But his shout had been heard in the corridor outside; next second, Cornelius Fudge and Snape had entered the ward.
"Harry, Harry, what's this?" said Fudge, looking agitated. "You should be in bed - has he had any chocolate?" he asked Madam Pomfrey anxiously.
"Minister, listen!" Harry said. "Sirius Black's innocent! Peter Pettigrew faked his own death! We saw him tonight! You can't let the Dementors do that thing to Sirius, he's-"
But Fudge was shaking his head with a small smile on his face.
"Harry, Harry, you're very confused, you've been through a dreadful ordeal, lie back down, now, we've got everything under control..."
"YOU HAVEN'T!" Harry yelled. "YOUVE GOT THE WRONG MAN!"
"Minister, listen, please," Hermione said; she had hurried to Harry's side and was gazing imploringly into Fudge's face. "I saw him too. It was Ron's rat, he's an Animagus, Pettigrew, I mean, and-"
"You see, Minister?" said Snape. "Confunded, both of them... Black's done a very good job on them..."
"WE'RE NOT CONFUNDED!" Harry roared.
"Minister! Professor!" said Madam Pomfrey angrily. "I must insist that you leave. Potter is my patient and he should not be distressed!"
"I'm not distressed! I'm trying to tell them what happened!" Harry said furiously. "If they'd just listen-"
But Madam Pomfrey suddenly stuffed a large chunk of chocolate into
Harry's mouth; he choked, and she seized the opportunity to force him back onto the bed.
"Now, please, Minister, these children need care. Please leave."
The door opened again. It was Dumbledore. Harry swallowed his mouthful of chocolate with great difficulty and got up again.
"Professor Dumbledore, Sirius Black-"
"For heaven's sake!" said Madam Pomfrey hysterically. "Is this a hospital wing or not? Headmaster, I must insist-"
"My apologies, Poppy, but I need a word with Mr. Potter and Miss Granger," said Dumbledore calmly. "I have just been talking to
"I suppose he's told you the same fairy tale he's planted in Potter's mind?" spat Snape. "Something about a rat, and Pettigrew being alive-"
"That, indeed, is Black's story," said Dumbledore, surveying Snape
closely through his half-moon spectacles.
"And does my evidence count for nothing?" snarled Snape. "Peter Pettigrew was not in the Shrieking Shack, nor did I see any sign of him on the grounds."
"That was because you were knocked out, Professor!" said Hermione earnestly. "You didn't arrive in time to hear-"
"Miss Granger, HOLD YOUR TONGUE!"
"Now, Snape," said Fudge, startled, "the young lady is disturbed
in her mind, we must make allowances-"
"I would like to speak to Harry and Hermione alone," said Dumbledore abruptly. "Cornelius, Severus, Poppy - please leave us."
"Headmaster!" sputtered Madam Pomfrey. "They need treatment, they need rest-"
"This cannot wait," said Dumbledore. "I must insist."
Madam Pomfrey pursed her lips and strode away into her office at
the end of the ward, slamming the door behind her. Fudge consulted the large gold pocket watch dangling from his waistcoat.
"The Dementors should have arrived by now," he said. "I'll go and meet them. Dumbledore, I'll see you upstairs."
As the memory ground to a halt yet again, Harry observed the DMLE Director stare at Fudge as if she could not believe what lay before her
"But wait - there's more!" Harry interjected snarkily. "How about another fine piece of impartial community service from the man of the hour? This little jewel is only a year old."
Harry hurried through the gap in the walls, and stepped onto the foot of a spiral stone staircase, which moved slowly upwards as the doors closed behind him, taking him up to a polished oak door with a brass doorknocker.
He could hear voices from inside the office. He stepped off the moving staircase and hesitated, listening.
"Dumbledore, I'm afraid I don't see the connection, don't see it at all!" It was the voice of the Minister for Magic, Cornelius Fudge. "Ludo says Bertha's perfectly capable of getting herself lost. I agree we would have expected to have found her by now, but all the same, we've no evidence of foul play, Dumbledore, none at all. As for her disappearance being linked with Barty Crouch's...!"
"And what do you think's happened to Barty Crouch, Minister?" said Moody's growling voice.
"I see two possibilities, Alastor," said Fudge. "Either Crouch
has finally cracked - more than likely, I'm sure you'll agree, given his
personal history - lost his mind, and gone wandering off somewhere-"
"He wandered extremely quickly, if that is the case, Cornelius," said Dumbledore calmly.
"Or else - well..." Fudge sounded embarrassed. "Well, I'll reserve judgment until after I've seen the place where he was found, but you say it was just past the Beauxbatons carriage? Dumbledore, you know what that woman is?"
"I consider her to be a very able Headmistress - and an excellent dancer," said Dumbledore quietly.
"Dumbledore, come!" said Fudge angrily. "Don't you think you might be prejudiced in her favor because of Hagrid? They don't all turn out harmless - if, indeed, you can call Hagrid harmless, with that monster fixation he's got-"
"I no more suspect Madame Maxime than Hagrid," said Dumbledore, just as calmly. "I think it possible that it is you who are prejudiced, Cornelius."
"Can we wrap up this discussion?" growled Moody.
"Yes, yes, let's go down into the grounds, then," said Cornelius impatiently.
"No, it's not that," said Moody, "it's just that Potter wants a word with you, Dumbledore. He's just outside the door."
"Quite a lot of respect dear Cornelius holds for visiting officials, isn't it?" Harry asked idly. "One wouldn't ordinarily expect such blatant prejudice from as exalted a personage as the Minister of Magic, now would you?"
Amelia attempted to speak again, but Harry held up a hand. "Please - not yet," he instructed.
"We aren't quite finished. Now, this next event occurred just last year, after we discovered that Barty Crouch Jr. was impersonating Alastor Moody for an entire school year."
"Regrettable, but all the same, Minerva -" Cornelius Fudge was saying loudly.
"You should never have brought it inside the castle!" yelled Professor McGonagall. "When Dumbledore finds out-"
Harry heard hospital doors burst open. Unnoticed by any of
the people around his bed, all of whom were staring at the door as Bill pulled back the screens, Harry sat up, and put his glasses back on.
Fudge came striding up the ward. Professors McGonagall and Snape were at his heels.
"Where's Dumbledore?" Fudge demanded of Mrs. Weasley.
"He's not here," said Mrs. Weasley angrily. "This is a hospital wing,
Minister, don't you think you'd do better to-"
But the door opened, and Dumbledore came sweeping up the ward.
"What has happened?" said Dumbledore sharply, looking from Fudge to Professor McGonagall. "Why are you disturbing these people? Minerva,
I'm surprised at you - I asked you to stand guard over Barty Crouch-"
"There is no need to stand guard over him any more, Dumbledore!" she shrieked. "The Minister has seen to that!"
Harry had never seen Professor McGonagall lose control like this.
There were angry blotches of color in her cheeks, her hands were balled
into fists; she was trembling with fury.
"When we told Mr. Fudge that we had caught the Death Eater responsible for tonight's events," said Snape, in a low voice, "he seemed to feel his personal safety was in question. He insisted on summoning a Dementor to accompany him into the castle. He brought it up to the office where Barty Crouch-"
"I told him you would not agree, Dumbledore!" stormed Professor McGonagall. "I told him you would never allow Dementors to set foot inside the castle, but-"
"My dear woman!" roared Fudge, who likewise looked angrier than Harry had ever seen him. "As Minister of Magic, it is my decision whether I wish to bring protection with me when interviewing a possibly dangerous-"
But Professor McGonagall's voice drowned Fudge's. "The moment that - that thing entered the room," she screamed, pointing at Fudge, trembling all over, "it swooped down on Crouch and- and-"
Harry felt a chill in his stomach, as Professor McGonagall struggled to find words to describe what had happened. He did not need her to finish her sentence. He knew what the Dementor must have done. It had administered its fatal kiss to Barty Crouch. It had sucked his soul out through his mouth. He was worse than dead.
"By all accounts, he is no loss!" blustered Fudge. "It seems he has been responsible for several deaths!"
"But he cannot now give testimony, Cornelius," said Dumbledore. He was staring hard at Fudge, as though seeing him plainly for the first time. "He cannot give evidence about why he killed those people."
"Why he killed them? Well, that's no mystery, is it?" blustered Fudge. "He was a raving lunatic! From what Minerva and Severus have told me, he seems to have thought he was doing it all on You-Know-Who's instructions!"
"Lord Voldemort was giving him instructions, Cornelius," Dumbledore said. "Those people's deaths were mere byproducts of a plan to
restore Voldemort to full strength again. The plan succeeded. Voldemort has been restored to his body."
Fudge looked as though someone had just swung a heavy weight into his face. Dazed and blinking, he stared back at Dumbledore as if he couldn't quite believe what he had just heard.
He began to splutter, still goggling at Dumbledore. "You-Know-Who... returned? Preposterous. Come now, Dumbledore..."
"As Minerva and Severus have doubtless told you," said Dumbledore, "we heard Barty Crouch confess. Under the influence of Veritaserum, he told us how he was smuggled out of Azkaban, and how Voldemort - learning of his continued existence from Bertha Jorkins - went to free him from
his father, and used him to capture Harry. The plan worked, I tell you. Crouch has helped Voldemort to return."
"See here, Dumbledore," said Fudge, and Harry was astonished to see a slight smile dawning on his face, "you - you can't seriously believe that. You-Know-Who - back? Come now, come now... certainly, Crouch may
have believed himself to be acting upon You-Know-Who's orders - but to take the word of a lunatic like that, Dumbledore..."
"When Harry touched the Triwizard Cup tonight, he was transported
straight to Voldemort," said Dumbledore steadily. "He witnessed Lord Voldemort's rebirth. I will explain it all to you if you will step up to my office."
Dumbledore glanced around at Harry and saw that he was awake, but shook his head, and said, "I am afraid I cannot permit you to question Harry tonight."
Fudge's curious smile lingered.
He too glanced at Harry, then looked back at Dumbledore, and said, "You are - er - prepared to take Harry's word on this, are you, Dumbledore?"
There was a moment's silence, which was broken by Sirius growling. His hackles were raised, and he was baring his teeth at Fudge.
"Certainly I believe Harry," said Dumbledore. His eyes were blazing now. "I heard Crouch's confession, and I heard Harry's account of what happened after he touched the Triwizard Cup; the two stories make sense, they explain everything that has happened since Bertha Jorkins disappeared last summer."
Fudge still had that strange smile on his face. Once again, he glanced at Harry before answering. "You are prepared to believe that Lord Voldemort has returned, on the word of a lunatic murderer, and a boy who... well..."
Fudge shot Harry another look, and Harry suddenly understood.
"You've been reading Rita Skeeter, Mr. Fudge," he said quietly.
Ron, Hermione, Mrs. Weasley and Bill all jumped. None of them had realized that Harry was awake.
Fudge reddened slightly, but a defiant and obstinate look came over his face.
"And if I have?" he said, looking at Dumbledore. "If I have discovered that you've been keeping certain facts about the boy very quiet? A Parselmouth, eh? And having funny turns all over the place-"
"I assume that you are referring to the pains Harry has been experiencing in his scar?" said Dumbledore coolly.
"You admit that he has been having these pains, then?" said Fudge quickly. "Headaches? Nightmares? Possibly - hallucinations?"
"Listen to me, Cornelius," said Dumbledore, taking a step towards Fudge, and once again he seemed to radiate that indefinable sense of power that Harry had felt after Dumbledore had Stunned young Crouch. "Harry is as sane as you or I. That scar upon his forehead has not addled his brains. I believe it hurts him when Lord Voldemort is close by, or feeling particularly murderous."
Fudge had taken half a step back from Dumbledore, but he looked no less stubborn. "You'll forgive me, Dumbledore, but I've heard of a curse scar acting as an alarm bell before..."
"Look, I saw Voldemort come back!" Harry shouted. He tried to get out of bed again, but Mrs. Weasley forced him back. "I saw the Death Eaters! I can give you their names! Lucius Malfoy-"
Snape> made a sudden movement, but as Harry looked at him, Snape's eyes flew back to Fudge.
"Malfoy was cleared!" said Fudge, visibly affronted. "A very old family - donations to excellent causes-"
"McNair!" Harry continued.
"Also cleared! Now working for the Ministry!"
"Avery - Nott - Crabbe - Goyle-"
"You are merely repeating the names of those who were acquitted of being Death Eaters thirteen years ago!" said Fudge angrily. "You could have found those names in old reports of the trials! For heaven's
sake, Dumbledore - the boy was full of some crackpot story at the end of last year, too - his tales are getting taller, and you're still swallowing them - the boy can talk to snakes, Dumbledore, and you still think he's trustworthy?"
"You fool!" Professor McGonagall cried. "Cedric Diggory! Mr. Crouch! These deaths were not the random work of a lunatic!"
"I see no evidence to the contrary!" shouted Fudge, now matching her anger, his face purpling. "It seems to me that you are all determined to start a panic that will destabilize everything we have worked for these last thirteen years!"
Harry could not believe what he was hearing. He had always thought of Fudge as a kindly figure, a little blustering, a little pompous, but essentially good-natured. But now a short, angry wizard stood before him, refusing, point-blank, to accept the prospect of disruption in his comfortable and ordered world - to believe that Voldemort could have risen.
"Voldemort has returned," Dumbledore repeated. "If you accept that fact straight away, Fudge, and take the necessary measures, we may still be able to save the situation. The first and most essential step is to remove Azkaban from the control of the Dementors-"
"Preposterous!" shouted Fudge again. "Remove the Dementors! I'd be
kicked out of office for suggesting it! Half of us only feel safe in our beds at night because we know the Dementors are standing guard at Azkaban!"
"The rest of us sleep less soundly in our beds, Cornelius, knowing that you have put Lord Voldemort's most dangerous supporters in the care of creatures who will join him the instant he asks them!" said Dumbledore. "They will not remain loyal to you, Fudge! Voldemort can offer them much more scope for their powers and their pleasures than you can! With the Dementors behind him, and his old supporters returned to
him, you will be hard pressed to stop him regaining the sort of power he had thirteen years ago!"
Fudge was opening and closing his mouth as though no words could express his outrage.
"The second step you must take - and at once," Dumbledore pressed on, "is to send envoys to the giants."
"Envoys to the giants?" Fudge shrieked, finding his tongue again. "What madness is this?"
"Extend them the hand of friendship, now, before it is too late," said Dumbledore, "or Voldemort will persuade them, as he did before, that he alone among wizards will give them their rights and their freedom!"
"You - you cannot be serious!" Fudge gasped, shaking his head, and retreating further from Dumbledore. "If the magical community got wind that I had approached the giants - people hate them, Dumbledore - end of my career-"
"You are blinded," said Dumbledore, his voice rising now, the aura of power around him palpable, his eyes blazing once more, "by the love of the office you hold, Cornelius! You place too much importance, and you always have done, on the so-called purity of blood! You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what
they grow to be! Your Dementor has just destroyed the last remaining member of a pure-blood family as old as any - and see what that man chose to make of his life! I tell you now - take the steps I have suggested, and you will be remembered, in office or out, as one of the bravest and greatest Ministers for Magic we have ever known. Fail to act - and history will remember you as the man who stepped aside, and allowed Voldemort a second chance to destroy the world we have tried to rebuild!"
"Insane," whispered Fudge, still backing away. "Mad..."
And then there was silence. Madam Pomfrey was standing frozen at the foot of Harry's bed, her hands over her mouth. Mrs. Weasley was still standing over Harry, her hand on his shoulder to prevent him rising. Bill, Ron and Hermione were staring at Fudge.
"If your determination to shut your eyes will carry you as far as this, Cornelius," said Dumbledore, "we have reached a parting of the ways. You must act as you see fit. And I - I shall act as I see fit."
Dumbledore's voice carried no hint of a threat; it sounded like a mere statement, but Fudge bristled as though Dumbledore was advancing upon him with a wand.
"Now, see here, Dumbledore," he said, waving a threatening finger. "I've given you free rein, always. I've had a lot of respect for
you. I might not have agreed with some of your decisions, but I've kept quiet. There aren't many who'd have let you hire werewolves, or keep Hagrid, or decide what to teach your students, without reference to the Ministry. But if you're going to work against me-"
"The only one against whom I intend to work," said Dumbledore, "is Lord Voldemort. If you are against him, then we remain, Cornelius, on the same side."
It seemed Fudge could think of no answer to this. He rocked backwards and forwards on his small feet for a moment, and spun his bowler hat in his hands.
Finally, he said, with a hint of a plea in his voice, "He can't be back, Dumbledore, he just can't be..."
Snape/ strode forwards, past Dumbledore, pulling up the left sleeve of his robes as he went. He stuck out his forearm, and showed it to Fudge, who recoiled./
"There," said Snape harshly. "There. The Dark Mark. It is not as clear as it was an hour or so ago when it burnt black, but you can still see it. Every Death Eater had the sign burnt into him by the Dark Lord. It was a means of distinguishing each other, and his means of summoning us to him. When he touched the Mark of any Death Eater, we were to Disapparate, and Apparate, instantly, at his side. This Mark has
been growing clearer all year. Karkaroff's, too. Why do you think Karkaroff fled tonight? We both felt the Mark burn. We both knew he had returned. Karkaroff fears the Dark Lord's vengeance. He betrayed too many of his fellow Death Eaters to be sure of a welcome back into the fold."
Fudge stepped back from Snape, too. He was shaking his head. He did not seem to have taken in a word Snape had said. He stared, apparently repelled, at the ugly mark on Snape's arm, then looked up at Dumbledore and whispered, "I don't know what you and your staff are playing at Dumbledore, but I have heard enough. I have no more to add. I will be in touch with you tomorrow, Dumbledore, to discuss the running of this school. I must return to the Ministry."
"In case you missed it, that was us telling the esteemed Minister of Magic that Voldemort had returned and would most certainly recall the Dementors as soon as he had need of them," Harry highlighted.
"Not that it did any good in the end," he added.
"I... I can't believe it," Bones breathed.
Albus nodded sadly. "Yes, I too was disheartened. Cornelius truly had the potential to be one of the greatest Ministers of all time, but his pettiness and gullibility have rendered him quite the opposite."
"I believe that you remember that farce of a trial last year, so you already know that the Dementors were restless even then," Harry announced, "not to mention Fudge's several infantile comments and decisions during the court hearing. I do, however, have a little more information on the incident that you might find enlightening. This next memory is from Mr. Fudge's delightful personal assistant and is not more than a month old."
"I want to know why you are in my office," said Umbridge, shaking the
fist clutching his hair so that he staggered.
"I was - trying to get my Firebolt!" Harry croaked.
"Liar." She shook his head again. "Your Firebolt is under strict guard in the dungeons, as you very well know, Potter. You had your head in my fire. With whom have you been communicating?"
"No one-" said Harry, trying to pull away from her. He felt several hairs part company with his scalp.
"Liar!" shouted Umbridge. She threw him from her and he slammed into the desk. Now he could see Hermione pinioned against the wall by Millicent Bulstrode. Malfoy was leaning on the windowsill, smirking as he threw Harry's wand into the air one-handed and caught it again.
There was a commotion outside and several large Slytherins entered, each gripping Ron, Ginny, Luna and - to Harry's bewilderment - Neville, who was trapped in a stranglehold by Crabbe and looked in imminent danger of suffocation. All four of them had been gagged.
"Got 'em all," said Warrington, shoving Ron roughly forwards into the room. "That one," he poked a thick finger at Neville, "tried to stop me taking her," he pointed at Ginny, who was trying to kick the shins of the large Slytherin girl holding her, "so I brought him along too."
"Good, good," said Umbridge, watching Ginny's struggles. "Well, it looks as though Hogwarts will shortly be a Weasley-free zone, doesn't it?"
/Malfoy/ laughed loudly and sycophantically. Umbridge gave her
wide, complacent smile and settled herself into a chintz-covered armchair, blinking up at her captives like a toad in a flowerbed.
"So, Potter," she said. "You stationed lookouts around my
office and you sent this buffoon," she nodded at Ron - Malfoy
laughed even louder - "to tell me the poltergeist was wreaking havoc in the Transfiguration department when I knew perfectly well that he was busy smearing ink on the eyepieces of all the school telescopes - Mr. Filch having just informed me so."
"Clearly, it was very important for you to talk to somebody. Was it Albus Dumbledore? Or the half-breed, Hagrid? I doubt it was Minerva McGonagall, I hear she is still too ill to talk to anyone."
Malfoy/ and a few of the other members of the Inquisitorial Squad laughed some more at that. Harry found he was so full of rage and hatred he was shaking./
"It's none of your business who I talk to," he snarled.
Umbridge's slack face seemed to tighten.
"Very well," she said in her most dangerous and falsely sweet voice.
"Very well, Mr. Potter... I offered you the chance to tell me freely. You refused. I have no alternative but to force you. Draco - fetch Professor Snape."
Harry looked back at Umbridge, who was watching him closely. He kept his face deliberately smooth and blank as footsteps were heard in the corridor outside and Draco Malfoy entered the room, closely followed by Snape.
"You wanted to see me, Headmistress?" said Snape, looking around at all the pairs of struggling students with an expression of complete indifference.
"Ah, Professor Snape," said Umbridge, smiling widely and standing up again. "Yes, I would like another bottle of Veritaserum, as quick as
you can, please."
"You took my last bottle to interrogate Potter," he said, surveying her coolly through his greasy curtains of black hair. "Surely you did
not use it all? I told you that three drops would be sufficient."
"You can make some more, can't you?" she said, her voice becoming more sweetly girlish as it always did when she was furious.
"Certainly," said Snape, his lip curling. "It takes a full moon-cycle to mature, so I should have it ready for you in around a month."
"A month?' squawked Umbridge, swelling toadishly. "A month! But I need it this evening, Snape! I have just found Potter using my fire to
communicate with a person or persons unknown!"
"Really?" said Snape, showing his first, faint sign of interest as he
looked round at Harry. "Well, it doesn't surprise me. Potter has never shown much inclination to follow school rules."
"I wish to interrogate him!" repeated Umbridge angrily, and Snape looked away from Harry back into her furiously quivering lace. "I wish you to provide me with a potion that will force him to tell me the truth!"
"I have already told you," said Snape smoothly, "that I have no further stocks of Veritaserum. Unless you wish to poison Potter - and I
assure you I would have the greatest sympathy with you if you did - I cannot help you. The only trouble is that most venoms act too fast to give the victim much lime for truth-telling."
"You are on probation!" shrieked Professor Umbridge, and Snape looked back at her, his eyebrows slightly raised. "You are being deliberately
unhelpful! I expected better, Lucius Malfoy always speaks most highly of you! Now get out of my office!"
Snape/ gave her an ironic bow and left./
"Very well," she said, and she pulled out her wand. "Very well...
I am left with no alternative... this is more than a matter of school discipline... this is an issue of Ministry security... yes... yes..."
She seemed to be talking herself into something. She was shifting her weight nervously from foot to foot, staring at Harry, beating her
wand against her empty palm and breathing heavily.
"You are forcing me, Potter... I do not want to," said Umbridge, still moving restlessly on the spot, "but sometimes circumstances justify the use... I am sure the Minister will understand that I had no choice..."
Malfoy/ was watching her with a hungry expression on his face./
"The Cruciatus Curse ought to loosen your tongue," said Umbridge quietly.
"No!" shrieked Hermione. "Professor Umbridge - it's illegal."
But Umbridge took no notice. There was a nasty eager, excited look on her face. She raised her wand.
"The Minister wouldn't want you to break the law, Professor Umbridge!" cried Hermione.
"What Cornelius doesn't know won't hurt him," said Umbridge, who was
now panting slightly as she pointed her wand at different parts of Harry's body in turn, apparently trying to decide where it would hurt most. "'He never knew I ordered Dementors to go after Potter last summer, but he was delighted to be given the chance to expel him all the same."
"It was you?" gasped Harry. "You sent the Dementors after me?"
"Somebody had to act," breathed Umbridge, as her wand came to rest pointing directly at Harry's forehead. "They were all bleating about silencing you somehow - discrediting you - but I was the one who actually did something about it... only you wriggled out of that one, didn't you, Potter? Not today though, not now -" And taking a deep breath, she cried, "Cruc-"
"NO!" shouted Hermione in a cracked voice from behind Millicent Bulstrode. "No - Harry - we'll have to tell her!"
"In case you're curious, Hermione and I tricked Umbridge into heading out to the Forest, where she had an unfortunate run in with some centaurs," Harry added helpfully.
"So that was how the Dementors winded up in Surrey!" Amelia breathed out
angrily. "That vile... oohhh!"
Harry smirked at the woman's vexation. "If you think that's unacceptable, then take a look at her detention handiwork." Harry extended his hand out so that the etched words were more clearly
"My word!" she exclaimed. "How did this happen?"
"Umbridge insisted that all of her detainees write lines with her Contract Quill," Harry supplied. "It didn't actually stay with me until after ten hours or so of repetitions. You'd have to ask the others if they have similar problems; no one else had quite as many encounters with her as I, so they may be undamaged."
"She made you - and others - write lines in your own blood?" the woman demanded. At Harry's nod, Amelia turned to Dumbledore and ordered, "Give me a list of names; I'll see to this case personally!"
Albus dipped his head in acknowledgement but made no further action, instead focusing his attention upon the scarred hand.
Looking back at the younger wizard, the Director stated, "I'm not as young as I used to be, and I'm not sure how many more surprises I
can take, Mr. P... Harry."
"There is just one more, Madam," Harry replied, "I promise."
The Atrium was full of people; the floor was reflecting the emerald green flames that had burst into fire in all the fireplaces along one wall; and streams of witches and wizards were emerging from them. As Dumbledore pulled him back to his feet, Harry saw the tiny gold statues of the house-elf and the goblin, leading a stunned-looking Cornelius Fudge forward.
"He was there!" shouted a scarlet-robed man with a ponytail, who was pointing at a pile of golden rubble on the other side of the hall, where Bellatrix had lain trapped only moments before. "I saw him, Mr. Fudge, I swear it was You-Know-Who, he grabbed a woman and Disapparated!"
"I know, Williamson, I know, I saw him too!" gibbered Fudge, who was wearing pajamas under his pinstriped cloak and was gasping as though he had just run miles. "Merlin's beard - here - here! - in the
Ministry of Magic! - Great heavens above - it doesn't seem possible - my word - how can this be -?"
"If you proceed downstairs into the Department of Mysteries, Cornelius," said Dumbledore walking forwards so that the newcomers realized he was there for the first time (a few of them raised their wands; others simply looked amazed; the statues of the elf and goblin applauded and Fudge jumped so much that his slipper-clad feet left the floor) - "you will find several escaped Death Eaters contained in
the Death Chamber, bound by an Anti-Disapparation Jinx and awaiting your decision as to what to do with them."
"Dumbledore!" gasped Fudge, beside himself with amazement.
"You - here - I - I -"
He looked wildly around at the Aurors he had brought with him and it
could not have been clearer that he was in half a mind to cry, "Seize him!"
"Cornelius, I am ready to fight your men - and win again!" said Dumbledore in a thunderous voice. "But a few minutes ago you saw proof, with your own eyes, that I have been telling you the truth for a year. Lord Voldemort has returned, you have been chasing the wrong man for twelve months, and it is time you listened to sense!"
"I - don't - well -" blustered Fudge, looking around as though hoping somebody was going to tell him what to do. When nobody did, he said, "Very well - Dawlish! Williamson! Go down to the Department of Mysteries and see... Dumbledore, you - you will need to tell me exactly - the Fountain of Magical Brethren - what happened?" he added in a kind of whimper, staring around at the floor, where the remains of the statues of the witch, wizard and centaur now lay scattered.
With the cascade of memories concluded, the three mages found themselves back in Amelia's office. Harry immediately collected his memories from the device and passed it to Albus. While the elder wizard returned the Pensieve to his robe pocket, Amelia collapsed back into her chair with a desensitized expression on her face. The pair of wizards just sat
idly and patiently waited for their hostess to assimilate all of the pertinent details to which she had just been made privy.
Fiddling with her monocle, Madam Bones finally roused herself enough to look at her elder visitor, almost as if she hoped for the ancient mage to announce that she was the victim of some huge prank. Not receiving any succor from that source, the DMLE Director seemed to diminish slightly as she finally accepted the truth of the matter.
Moments later, her posture straightened as she assumed a more determined expression. Looking first at Albus before letting her gaze drift to Harry's own visage, Amelia asked, "So, what can the Department of Magical Law Enforcement do for you?"
'Oh, yes,' Harry decided. 'Madam Bones will work out just fine.'
A/N: I apologize for the monstrous delay regarding this update. There have been several R/L irregularities for me these past several months, not the least of which is an insane work schedule. As it is, my free time is very limited and must be budgeted carefully. As a result, my fanfic publishing schedule will be retarded greatly for the near future.
Thanks to FF.Net purging my story from their system, I have lost my previous reviews, so I shall only be able to respond to the comments posted on the FicWad system and my Yahoo! group. In any event, I hope you liked the 15,000+ word chapter, beta'd by Yenom and James. Please remember to review.
Onto the Review Responses:
Several readers have commented - both privately and not - that the ratio between Salazar and Harry appears to be heavily skewed in the Slytherin direction. To reassure those individuals, I wish to clarify that my ultimate goal is to portray a more mature Harry who can draw on his Slytherin side/life/experiences to properly handle situations which would be foreign to "Harry Potter". I will endeavor to make this plainer in future postings.
Sethsitha: The mental affects of the connection between Harry and the Blacks will play a larger part as the story progresses - I just haven't gotten to that point yet.