Harry and his team meet with two law-wizards. Susan attends the funeral of her parents and aunt.
Of Law Wizards and Funerals
(Author's Note: I have seen plenty of stories where people assume that Dumbledore simply put Harry with the Dursleys. Nowhere have I seen a reason why it was allowed apart from that `Dumbledore managed to prevent the execution of the Potters' will.' Given the extreme prejudice in the wizarding world against non-magical humans, I think that it is most unlikely Dumbledore would have been allowed to put Harry with the muggles if there were an alternative in the wizarding world. Consequently, I will be taking a very different approach as to how Harry was placed with the Dursleys.
One assumption I have made is that Cho is of age and can apparate - she has finished her sixth year, and as Harry and Hermione could apparate at the end of their sixth year, I guess she would be capable of the same.
As usual, all criticism is welcome.)
---(Beginning of the Chapter)---
Harry Potter and Mei Chang, having finished their business with Sniplock in Gringotts, walked out into the Diagon Alley to meet with Cho and Hermione, who were completing their shopping. Harry, who had assumed the appearance of Mrs. Chang's assistant, smiled at Hermione, who had taken the appearance of Cho's grandmother. "Your idea of using polyjuice potion to move around without being recognised is great, Hermione. For once, no one gawked at me." Hermione smiled back, and spoke, "Did you try the ring, Harry?" Harry nodded, "It accepts me. Sirius knew what he was doing." Both girls squealed with delight and congratulated Harry on his success, and finally Cho asked, "Okay, now what?"
Mei Chang answered, "We must leave Diagon Alley now, and wait for the polyjuice potion to wear off. Then we shall go and meet Tarnissus and Wilford - their offices are here in London. I have scheduled appointments with both of them, but to inspire confidence, Harry will have to be in his real form."
Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Cho Chang and Mei Chang were seated in a large office, in front of a large and elegantly polished mahogany desk. Tarnissus Surcase was an slender, elderly law-wizard, with grey hair and eyebrows. After being sworn into confidentiality, he had listened to the question of Mrs. Chang whether he had submitted the application for the adoption of Harry Potter, and smiled, "Certainly, Mrs. Chang. Indeed, I submitted the application for the adoption. But what is the interest now? It is over twelve years since I handled it."
"Well, you see, you may have heard of the demise of Mr. Sirius Black. With his passing, he has included a provision relating to the emancipation of young Mr. Potter here. However, considering that his present guardians are muggles, we wondered how it was that they gained custody passing over the various wizarding families that seemed to have greater claim."
Tarnissus Surcase nodded, "Normally, I take client confidentiality seriously and would refuse to answer your questions. But considering that the principal is dead, and the answers concern a living person whose interests are at stake, we may take a more liberal view. In reply to the question, I may state that I was representing the interests of Lady Walburga Black."
"Sirius's mother! Why on earth would she want a half-blood like me?", burst out Harry surprise stamped on his features.
"Indeed, in the normal course of events, you would not be welcome in the Black home, where they took the purity of blood rather seriously. However, in this event, your celebrity status overrode any concerns they may have had."
Mei Chang's eyebrows rose at that, "Would you care to elaborate, Mr. Surcase?"
The elderly law-wizard hesitated a moment, and then began in a carefully neutral and scrupulously balanced voice, "Well, I should put on record that this is just my opinion." Seeing Mei's understanding gesture, he continued, "At the end of the last war, the Blacks were in a very bad state. Not financially, you understand, but politically. Their reputation was in the mud. With the death and disgrace of the favourite son of Lord Orion and Lady Walburga, Regulus Black - he was a Death Eater, as you may know - the political position of the Blacks took a very serious beating. Old Barty Crouch was hounding out all supporters of the Dark Lord from the Wizangamot, and he was moving to get the Blacks proscribed from the High Council. Later on, with the death of Lord Orion Black in the year before the fall of the Dark Lord, it had become painfully clear that the Black line would have to be headed by Sirius Black, who was not in any great favour with Lady Walburga. So, it was either lose power in the Wizengamot and the High Council, or leave it to Sirius, who, Lady Walburga feared, would use his position to support Dumbledore and his Order of the Phoenix. As such, she herself ordered delaying the formal accession of Sirius Black to the headship of the Black family, using every technicality that could be found while fighting Crouch's efforts to disenfranchise the Blacks. Then came the fall of the Dark Lord, and the arrest of Sirius Black - I take it you know the story?" When his audience assented, he continued, "This was a golden opportunity for Lady Walburga. She knew that her son was the godfather of Mr. Potter here, and that if she got custody of Mr. Potter, it would not only be a tremendous boost to the sagging prestige of the Black family, but she would also gain at least temporary hold over the Potter family influence. Thus, she could rebuild the Black family position."
"The old hag wanted me as a trophy! I was nothing more than a pawn on her political chessboard!", snarled Harry.
Tarnissus looked at Harry for a long moment, and then smiled, "It is quite likely, Mr. Potter. But one thing I can assure you - you would have been better prepared to shoulder the burden of being the head of two families had you lived with the Blacks."
"So why did she not get custody of Harry", queried Cho.
"That is an altogether different story. Lady Walburga was elderly and infirm at the time. She had long suffered from ill-health, so she was not all that active physically. The entire guardianship business and lobbying in the Wizengamot was being handled on her behalf by her niece, Lady Bellatrix Lestrange."
The mention of Bellatrix had had a terrible effect on Harry, who had nearly jumped to his feet. He fell back in his chair, however, his hands clenched, his lips drawn back in a snarl. Hermione laid her hand on his sleeve, gently reassuring him, while Tarnissus Surcase looked in astonishment at the boy's reaction.
"But do continue, Mr. Surcase", cut in Cho. "What happened?"
"I suppose Bella got herself chucked in Azkaban, and that sank the old hag's hopes", muttered Harry.
Tarnissus looked very seriously at Harry as he continued, "Quite true, Mr. Potter. The sentencing of Lady Bellatrix and her husband had a terrible effect, not only on the political prospects of the Black family, but also on the health of Lady Walburga. With her husband and favourite son dead, and her other son and niece incarcerated in Azkaban, Lady Walburga lost her grip on sanity."
Harry's mouth fell open in horror at the pronouncement, as the law-wizard continued, "Lady Walburga became a broken woman, who spent her last years aimlessly rambling in the Black Manor, shrieking insults about muggles and those of impure blood." He shook his head gloomily, "Death, when it came to her a few years later, was a mercy."
There was a long, shocked silence as the older man finished his account. Then Mei Chang asked, "Were there any other claimants for the custody of Mr. Potter? Apart from those muggles, I mean?"
"Not as far as I know. But all this occurred much before any legal summons to the muggles could be issued. Dumbledore had acted and put Mr. Potter in the care of those muggles. We were the challengers. It usually takes a couple of months or so before the investigations into the resources and compatibility of any would be guardian are completed and the clearance obtained. As Lady Walburga lost her sanity, there was no point contesting the placement of Mr. Potter. No one would even have considered our case."
"Well, we found another person who had filed an application for the custody of Mr. Potter. One represented by Mr. Wilford Smethyck." She looked up questioningly at Surcase. The older man shook his head, "It may have been filed, but it certainly never came to the level of having a contest in the High Council. I would have known had it occurred."
Thanking Tarnissus Surcase for his help, the group departed.
A few minutes, Harry and the three witches were ushered into the office of Wilford Smethyck. Wilford Smethyck was a much younger man, with deep brown hair and a pleasant smile. He knew Mei Chang by reputation, and on learning of her latest client and the interest in Harry Potter's guardianship, he was quite open and affable. "Of course, I remember filing those papers. I was acting on behalf of Frank Longbottom and his wife, Lady Alice. Lady Alice is Mr. Potter's godmother, you know."
"We noticed that your application, dated February 1982, was much later than the other two - which were filed in November and December 1981 respectively. Why the delay?", queried Mei Chang.
"The Longbottoms were in hiding, you know. I never knew where they were hiding, or what the danger that threatened them, but for some months, they had been completely out of public life. They returned only a few days before the application was filed."
"Was ... anyone upset with their seeking my custody?", inquired Harry.
"Well, given that they hinted to me that they heartily disagreed with Dumbledore's choice - putting you with those muggles, I believe - I would imagine that he did not concur with the course of action Frank and Alice were contemplating. However, I do not know if they ever had a positive quarrel over the issue."
"So why was Harry still left with the muggles?", questioned Hermione.
"The attack on the Longbottoms, of course. It left Frank and Alice permanently disabled. After the attack, I was visited by Frank Longbottom's mother, Lady Augusta, who ordered me to drop the contest, saying that it was imperative that Mr. Potter stay with his relatives for his own protection. I dropped the challenge then."
The law-wizard could not add anything further to the knowledge of his interviewers. They thanked him and left. Once out of the office, Cho and her mother bade Harry and Hermione goodbye and apparated away, leaving the two Gryffindors with a few hours to kill before they met up with Nott and his allies.
Harry and Hermione had a late lunch in a muggle restaurant and decided to wait in a park until it was time to meet Nott. They were both seated on a bench, and Harry had been strangely quiet since the information he got from the law-wizards - he seemed sad and preoccupied.
Hermione spoke gently, "Is there anything bothering you Harry?"
"No .. yes", he answered vaguely.
"I am sorry, Harry, but your answer eludes me", there was a slight quirky smile on her lips.
Harry looked sombre, "Sirius's mum. What we learnt was rather horrifying, wasn't it?"
Hermione nodded as Harry continued, "And look at Neville's parents. The Blacks and Longbottoms were trying to gain custody of me, and both get conveniently eliminated in one stroke? Was it coincidence, Hermione?"
"What are you saying, Harry?"
"I am not sure what to suspect, except that I am cursed. Anyone who gets close to me gets killed."
"Stop it, Harry James Potter!"
"But you could get hurt, or killed. Everyone .."
Hermione had pulled Harry into a fierce hug. "I am not leaving you, Harry and you had better get it into your thick skull."
"I am poison, Hermione. You should look out for yourself, except I am selfish .."
"There are some poisons I could get to like, Harry. And I am being selfish as well."
The implications of Hermione's statement struck home as Harry looked up with hopeful eyes, "Hermi..", he began - what else he would have said was cut off, as Hermione kissed him.
The church bells tolled solemnly and mournfully as the coffins were placed near the altar. The officiating priest was gravely extolling the dead, preaching a sermon of some sort, but all of this flew over Susan's head, as she sat quietly, tears trickling down her cheeks. Katie Bell sat next to her, an arm around the Hufflepuff girl's shoulder, as her body shook with silently repressed sobs. A whole horde of Ministry officials, including the highest and the mightiest in the land were present, and many were making grand speeches, praising the virtues of the deceased. All of it served only to increase the bitterness Susan felt for the hypocrisy - all of them greatly romanticised her aunt, mentioned her parents in passing and completely ignored Katie's sister. `Funny', she thought cynically, `they never recognised her virtues when she was alive.' Only decorum of decency prevented her from marching towards the pulpit and slapping Fudge and his cronies. Finally, the service was over and people began to file out of the church quietly. At length, the church was all but empty, and Susan and Katie too rose from their seat when they heard a quiet voice, "A moment if you please, Ms. Bones."
Turning round, they saw the tall, saturnine figure of Gawain Robards walking towards them, "Pray permit me to offer my condolences Ms. Bones, not only for your aunt who was amongst the greatest witches I have known, but also for your parents, who were the noblest in the land. They embodied the ideals of Hufflepuff, Ms. Bones."
"Thank you, Mr. Robards", returned Susan tonelessly.
"But I wanted to speak about a more practical matter, Ms. Bones. I remember your request to check if there were any requests for additional protection for your parents and aunt. Having checked the records, I found that there were no specific threats listed or requests made. However, there was a note that spoke of a `possible threat of uncertain seriousness'. With the return of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, such vague threats are not sufficient to warrant additional protection, Ms. Bones. So there was no additional protection."
Susan nodded, as Robards continued, "Is there anything bothering you, Susan?"
Susan had been too well trained by Mme. Bones to give away her suspicions to anyone. So she simply queried, "Who made that note, Mr. Robards?"
"It was Auror David Greenberry. He got a warning from Prof. Dumbledore. From interviewing him, I think he got the impression that the threat was not serious nor imminent - it was merely that Dumbledore was reporting a hearsay, rather than an identifiable problem."
"Thank you, Mr. Robards", replied Susan.
"If there is anything else, Ms. Bones, I will be glad to help."
"No, Mr. Robards. There is nothing else for the moment."
"Very well, in that case, I will wish you luck."
Katie and Susan exchanged a look as the man left. They two girls had made a search of Eileen's effects and ascertained for themselves that Susan's warning letter had never reached Amelia Bones. It was Katie who broke the silence, "Well, that is interesting, isn't it? Your letter does not even reach your aunt, while the warning from Prof. Dumbledore gets passed off as `a mere rumour'. Do you know this Greenberry?"
"I know him very well", replied Susan Bones. "He was one of the few who were hand-picked by my auntie and trained. He was very loyal to her. I think we had best have a talk with him."
Greenberry drew a cigarette from a packet and lit it with nervous, shaking fingers - the cigarettes helped his nerves. He wished that he had a bottle of firewhisky, except that drinking on the job was likely to get him fired. Already, he had an adverse remark filed against him for ignoring the threat to Amelia Bones and he had been degraded to being a paper pusher in the headquarters. He shook his head - how could he have known? If he acted on all rumours, he would be chasing wild geese day-in and day-out. Sighing, he picked up the next file, when an owl flew in,
Dear Mr. Greenberry,
My friend Katie Bell, and myself wished to speak to you on a matter of importance. If you would be free sometime, we would be glad to meet you. Please let us know as soon as possible.
Greenberry sighed - he remembered Susan Bones, Amelia's niece, when the Director had brought the girl to the office a couple of times. If he could help her, he would be glad. He wrote back
Dear Ms. Bones,
We can meet at lunch in the Ministry Cafeteria today if you can come over.