Alliances, Part One: Correspondence
: I am taking liberties with the O.W.L. scoring system, as well as the names of professors that weren't revealed until well after this story was begun.* * * * *
Molly Weasley shuffled restlessly about her kitchen, feeling vaguely guilty about neglecting the dishes soaking in her sink, all of which could stand a good scrubbing magic was ill-equipped to provide. Her eyes wandered errantly toward the family clock, about to strike midnight, and she felt again the need to verify the safety of her children.
Bill and Charlie’s tines indicated they were sleeping, which was good, of course.
Bill had only recently transferred back from Egypt after accepting a promotion at Gringotts Wizarding Bank. Molly was inordinately proud of her eldest child, a former Head Boy of Hogwarts, who was now the only wizard to hold a position of any accord at Gringotts; all other posts belonged to goblins. Bill was still dating Fleur Delacour, a situation which Molly found intolerable, though little recourse had been left to her. She had been telling Bill for years to settle down and marry, and when he had finally begun to pursue a committed relationship, it had been with that...that woman
It wasn’t that she was bothered by the fact that Fleur was part Veela, but that the girl was so obnoxious and so
French and so much a host of any number of things which Molly found objectionable. Still, the couple had been together almost a year, a record for Bill, which was an indication of its seriousness, as well as a sign that Molly needed to begin truly to let him go. She sighed wearily and commanded herself not to chastise Bill’s hair the next time she saw him.
Charlie was still stationed at the dragon preserve in Romania, an occupation which filled her with alarm whenever she stopped to consider what it must actually entail. Though the family had visited him on occasion, those excursions had done little to quell her thoughts of the impending doom with which her second child contended on a daily basis. She tended to worry about Charlie perhaps more than that which was healthy, but he was so isolated from the rest of the family, she just couldn’t help herself. Of course, he had always been a bit of a loner, even as a small child.
He was closest to Bill, but nothing approaching the bond the twins shared, or even like the one between Ron and Ginny; Charlie was like Percy in that regard. Molly fretted that Charlie had become so consumed with his work that he was allowing the rest of his life to pass him by. She suspected that other than Bill, she was the only who knew Charlie preferred men, and the idea that he had held his silence either out of shame or fear from his family’s reaction absolutely sickened her. All she had ever wanted for her children was their happiness.
Her eyes slid to Percy’s tine, which several of her other children had insisted should be removed, and was unsurprised to discover he was still at work. She had hoped that after Umbridge had been dispelled from the grounds of Hogwarts and Fudge had been relieved of his position, Percy would have come to his senses and tried to reconnect with the family. She had made all the overtures she could and was left with little to do but wait. Still, she knew the longer Percy doggedly clung to his sense of entitlement, the more difficult it would be for the family to accept him back. Arthur, Bill, and Charlie continued to hold out hope, but the twins, Ron, and Ginny had written Percy off and were quite content with their decision.
As much as she wanted to, Molly couldn’t blame them. She had always been proud of Percy’s accomplishments, but had disdained his pomposity and arrogance. Honestly, she didn’t know how he had come by those traits. She suspected it was because he felt a duty to live up to the reputations of his older brothers, while distancing himself as far as possible from the twins. Too, she could not actually blame him for craving the spotlight; Bill had shined in academics and Charlie in athletics. Fred and George cringed at Percy’s officiousness and rebelled whenever the opportunity arose. Molly was torn. She loved all of her children, but she knew that until Percy had the grace to apologize for his actions against the family, as well as against Harry, half of the Weasleys would never speak to him again.
And the twins! Molly didn’t understand just where she had gone wrong with them. She had been scandalized when she had learned they had hopped their brooms and abandoned Hogwarts. And before they could take their N.E.W.T.s! Then they had gone and opened that ridiculous shop. She was still bemoaning whatever they might have done to get the seed money for that
Making money selling novelties? Capitalizing on other’s misfortune? It was all so unseemly, yet apparently they were doing quite well for themselves. And while there were many things for which she could fault them, their enterprising nature was not one of them. Still, it just wasn’t respectable. Merlin only knew what Arthur’s colleagues at the Ministry were saying about their family behind her husband’s back, not that Arthur would care, of course. Too, Charlie and Bill thought the twins brilliant, which they were, and there was the rub. Fred and George were remarkably talented and could most likely do whatever they wanted. That they were in fact doing what they wanted and were successful at it brought Molly little solace, however.
Ron and Ginny had seen and done more in their short lives than all of her other children put together. They had seen the true face of evil up close and still had the wherewithal to rail against it. Percy had blamed Harry for Ron and Ginny’s lot, and the latter two had been so furious at their older brother, that Molly fretted what they would do to Percy where they ever to encounter him again.
All of the Weasleys, save Percy, considered Harry Potter to be another brother, but for Ron and Ginny, he was something more. Molly still wasn’t sure just what that was
, exactly. She had known that Ginny had fancied Harry for years, and while she seemed to have moved past her schoolgirl crush, there was a fierceness which overtook her whenever Harry was involved. Ginny was fighting for what she believed in, but Harry had spurred that fight.
As for Ron, Molly well knew that while he, Hermione, and Harry might have their squabbles, they were a force unto themselves, and woe unto those who tried to separate them.
She still wasn’t sure what exactly had happened that night in the Department of Mysteries, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to. The longer she and Arthur didn’t know the extent of Ron and Ginny’s involvement in the fight against Voldemort, the longer they wouldn’t need to sleep in shifts.
Ron had been utterly devastated when Hermione had been hurt in the attack, and that was when Molly had realized just how deeply her son’s feelings ran for the girl, as well as for Harry. Truthfully, it didn’t sit well with her, and she didn’t often like to consider it. He was still so young, and Ginny even younger. Realistically, she knew there was little she could do to shield them from the war. Voldemort had managed to infiltrate Hogwarts successfully for the past five years, despite Dumbledore’s assurances that the school was impenetrable. She couldn’t expect Ron and Ginny to stay clear of the war when the Dark Lord was recruiting amongst their classmates. Ron and Ginny had declared their loyalties early, and had chosen the right side. She wished she could find more comfort in that then she did, but was all too aware that it was most likely she would be mourning at least some of her children before Voldemort was finally dispatched.
The moment Molly Weasley had set eyes on that boy, she had loved him as her own. It had been apparent that this had both shocked and bewildered him, as if he simply couldn’t understand why anyone should love him. When Ron had told her that the jumper she had knitted for Harry back in the kids’ first year had been the child’s first Christmas gift, she had gone on a tearing rampage throughout the Burrow, demanding answers about what hells that boy had been subjected to and, almost six years later, she still didn’t have any good answers.
She certainly had her suspicions, though, and they began and ended with the Dursleys. Oh, if she could just have five minutes alone with those people, she...well, she’d probably end up in Azkaban. How Harry could have grown up as she suspected he had and still retained his overwhelming capacity to love and a nobility she considered as much a detriment as a gift was beyond her, but the boy was remarkable.
After the fiasco in the Ministry, Percy had owled and promptly placed the blame for everything squarely on Harry’s shoulders. Ron and Ginny had gone spare and, before Molly could stop them, had each replied to their brother with some truly vicious Howlers, which had put her past ones to shame.
Bill and Charlie had declared their belief that Dumbledore was ultimately responsible because he refused to give Harry information which the boy desperately needed. Molly knew Arthur agreed with them, though he had never voiced that agreement.
She herself was on the fence. She certainly didn’t blame Harry for anything that had occurred. She knew Ron and Ginny all too well, and devotion to Harry aside, if they hadn’t believed in what they were doing, they never would have gone. She was still unsure as to what to feel about Dumbledore. She knew the man was keeping secrets and engineering plots which put children directly into harm’s way, but she didn’t think him malicious. Still, he unsettled her. For the moment, she was content to lay all the blame at the feet of Voldemort, which was really quite proper, she thought.
Harry had lost so much: his parents, his godfather, classmates. He had almost lost Hermione. There was still so much that Molly didn’t know about what Harry had been enduring. She wasn’t sure she wanted
to know, because she guessed she might not be able to handle it. It saddened her greatly that a sixteen-year-old had been saddled with the weight of the world and that there was so little others could do to assist him. Yet it hadn’t stopped him. At twelve years old, he had gone into the Chamber of Secrets and faced off with Voldemort to save her daughter; the entire Weasley clan owed Harry Potter a life debt which could never be repaid. Earlier in the year, he had saved the life of her husband. Percy insisted these events would never had arisen if not for Harry, but Molly well knew that without that boy, Voldemort’s reign of terror would have continued unabated and her family most likely would have long been dead. She would never turn from him.
If only there was something more she could do.
Molly was startled when a house elf she vaguely recognized unceremoniously popped into her kitchen and handed her a letter, before disappearing without a word. She had frowned and looked down, her eyes widening when she recognized Harry’s distinctive script, before confusion set in. Ron had been ranting and raving that Harry had not responded to any of his owls, so why was her son’s best friend writing to her
? Not that she was displeased, of course. Again abandoning her dishes, she had leaned against one counter and slit open the envelope, eyes immediately welling when she saw that he had addressed her for the first time as Mum and not Mrs. Weasley.
She had sagged the more she read, her deepest fears confirmed with every sentence. Everything she had long suspected of those dreadful people, those Dursleys, Harry was finally admitting, writing that he had wanted to tell her for years, but was ashamed and fearful of her reaction. Still, she got the sense he was holding back many things. He implored her not to reveal his secrets to anyone, not even her husband, and she silently vowed to comply; she knew what Harry was entrusting to her and what it had cost him to do so, and she would not violate his confidence.
And that was when Molly realized that despite all her desires and insistence to the contrary, Harry Potter was not a child. He never had been because he was never allowed to be.
She inhaled sharply, knowing that while it would be extremely difficult and that she would most likely falter more than once, she must shift her treatment of Harry in a fundamental way. For so long, she had hoped and prayed in vain that he would be able to emerge from this conflict with some shred of his childhood innocence intact, but she now understood that was folly. As Voldemort continued to move against wizarding Britain, Harry’s role in the war would become compensatory. He wouldn’t tolerate her mothering for much longer; of course, she had always been surprised that he had allowed her to get away with as much as he had.
She gave a gentle sigh and returned to the letter.
Harry detailed for her his suspicions regarding Dumbledore, many of which were little more than echoes of her own thoughts, ones to which she had never given voice, and her ire instantly ignited. The Headmaster insisted on running the war as if it were all some elaborate game, where Harry was the Knight waiting in the wings. This was no longer acceptable to Molly Weasley. James and Lily Potter had been dear friends who had sacrificed their very lives, believing their child would be kept safe, and instead Dumbledore had commandeered the boy’s life and had, inadvertently or not, made it heinous. This she would share with her husband, and together they would observe Dumbledore more carefully during Order meetings.
Unbeknownst to most, though Molly Prewett Weasley had given birth to seven Gryffindor children, she herself was a Ravenclaw, and while she often allowed emotions to rule her, especially where her children were concerned, she was quite capable of thinking logically and analytically, and was well versed in designing and implementing plans of action. Such things were necessary when raising a brood as large as hers on so little money. Harry had no way of knowing, of course, but both she and Arthur were quite skilled in Occlumency; for Arthur, it was a necessary requirement for his job at the Ministry, and the ability simply came quite easily to Molly, so there was little worry about Dumbledore being able to ferret out her suspicions. If he ever did, he would simply dismiss them the histrionics of a concerned mother.
Harry’s letter then expounded at great length about the events at Hogwarts over the past five years, things of which she had never conceived possible, and he made no bones about the fact that without Ron and Hermione, he would be dead several times over. As Molly read his words, her heart thudded as she realized just how much Ron had been keeping from her, so devoted to his friend that he would say nothing which might have caused her to separate him from Harry.
The letter begged her to step back and objectively look at Hermione. Harry had taken great pains and been brutally honest about Hermione’s contributions, which amounted to more than Harry or Ron had ever managed, and stating quite frankly that Ron would have flunked out of school long ago without her help; that she had stood by him always while there had been times when Ron had not; and that whatever their feelings between the three of them, and despite their current lack of contact, he had no doubt that if Molly ever pressed the issue, Ron would choose Hermione over his family, and so would Harry. She wept at reading those words, but it was the final sentence which was like a knife through her heart.Hermione is not Percy, Mum.
The woman wiped errant tears from her eyes as she folded the letter and stowed it in her apron, focusing again on the task before her, those obnoxious dishes, as she thought of her treatment of the girl over the past years. She had been kind to Hermione during the Trio’s first three years at Hogwarts, but even she had recognized that her behavior had changed drastically after the Triwizard Tournament and those nasty articles. She was suddenly shamed by how easily she had believed a pack of lies over the word of her son and the girl who had done so much for him.
No, Hermione wasn’t Percy. While her intellect was just as great, so much so that Molly believed the girl should have been placed in Ravenclaw, Hermione’s ambition was pure and not selfish. She broke rules only when she thought it necessary, or when she believed said rules stupid or counterproductive to helping her friends. She put people and what was right before everything else. Hermione had never treated her with anything less than the utmost respect, even when it was not returned, and was strong enough not to put up with any of Ron’s nonsense or petulance. She never sought the glory for which Ron often seemed so desperate, preferring instead to do whatever it took to ensure the survival of Harry Potter. She had never wavered in her loyalty or courage.
And in those moments, Molly Weasley recognized she had more in common with Hermione Granger than she had ever realized, and perhaps that had been the problem all along. The girl wasn’t trying to take anything or anyone from her; there was no competition. And if Ron did choose Hermione over his family, Molly knew that she would only have herself to blame. Well, enough of that.
So tomorrow would be a new day in more ways than one. When the time came, she would welcome Hermione Granger into her home with the respect and courtesy the girl deserved, that she was owed, both for the Trio’s sake and her own. She quickly wrote a reply that she would send first thing tomorrow with a post owl, her handwriting disguised with a charm, and hoped her words would indicate to Harry that she had understood and accepted his message.* * * * *
Augusta Longbottom was sitting in the parlor of her manor house and ruminating over recent events, deciding she did not particularly care for them at all.
She had been outraged when she had discovered that Neville had left Hogwarts to battle Death Eaters at the Ministry of Magic. What on earth had the boy been thinking? Not that she wasn’t proud of him, of course. She was so proud she was fit to burst, but that did little to smother her anger and anxiety. She had already lost her son and his wife, both permanently convalescing in St. Mungo’s and staring blankly at nothing. She wasn’t going to lose her grandson, as well. He was more than the Heir of Longbottom, he was the last of the line. Should anything happen to him, her family would become extinguished, and she was not about to let that happen.
Neville was under the mistaken impression that she blamed the Potter boy for these events, but that notion was rubbish. How could she blame a sixteen-year-old child for succeeding where wizards thrice his age and older had failed so miserably? That boy had courage in spades and inspired great and welcome changes in her grandson.
Harry Potter had defeated Voldemort when he was a year old, and again when he was eleven, and when he was twelve, and when he was fourteen, and then this last year. Who else alive could say as much? Not the Aurors, and certainly not the Ministry. Not even Dumbledore could lay claim to such victories. She had been a young girl during the war with Grindelwald, and while that miserable wretch had been finally defeated by Dumbledore, it hadn’t been accomplished singlehandedly.
Augusta Longbottom knew power when she saw it, and Harry Potter practically glowed with the magical strength which coursed through his veins. She understood that had Voldemort not been thwarted by a baby, he would have kept wreaking havoc for the past sixteen years, and she was under no illusions that had that been the case, both she and Neville would long be dead.
Not that she was ready to throw her lot in with Potter. He had proven that he could defeat Voldemort, but the infernal wizard kept coming back like a nasty case of the trots. She wanted Neville away from all of that nonsense, though she knew she had little chance of that occurring.
He had always been so timid, so unsure even in his right to exist. Sadly, she had done little help him. Instead, she had goaded and chastised him at every opportunity to be more like the parents he couldn’t remember, to live up to a standard he didn’t understand and which had been poorly explained.
No, she had handled him all wrong, and until he had gotten to Hogwarts, he had suffered for it. But then he had found friends, good ones, for whom he was willing to die and who were willing to do the same for him. She couldn’t just dismiss that, and she didn’t want to. Neville had, with the help of Harry Potter, carved out a niche for himself which otherwise would have been denied him, and she could find no fault with that. His grades were up, as was his confidence and magical strength. He was finally blossoming into the young lad she always known him capable of becoming, and that was due not to her, but Harry Potter.
She had known James and Lily Potter, and while James had been a bit much for her tastes, there was no denying that Lily had been an incredibly gifted witch and an incomparable woman. Both had been extremely close to Frank and Alice, and Augusta had always regretted that she had not done more to help the Potters’ only child. She had tried, of course, but Dumbledore had exerted his will and had spirited Harry away before anyone had really known what was happening.
She had been waiting for it. She had known that when Harry had defeated Voldemort all those years ago that it wasn’t truly over. The entire wizarding world had allowed itself to be deluded by the victory, thinking it was like Grindelwald all over again, but they were fools. Voldemort was more powerful than Grindelwald had ever been, more invested in dark magic, and more efficient in his ruthlessness. He had used fear itself as a weapon and had instilled in his followers a fealty previously unmatched.
She had herself mostly withdrawn from the world, preferring instead to sit back and watch as events unfolded. She had watched as allegedly former Death Eaters like Lucius Malfoy rose through the ranks of the Ministry, mortified that those in power had been willing to be manipulated by excuses of the Imperius curse as they lined their pockets with tainted gold. It was appalling. She had watched as that utter moron Fudge had been placed in office time and again, failing miserably when anything of any import occurred. When Amelia Bones had finally led the charge to rid the Ministry of Fudge, Augusta had utilized every old contact she had to assist the woman. Now Fudge was gone and a woman of sense was installed in his place, but Voldemort still loomed large.
Her family was a target once again, but she had learned much over these last years, and she would be damned if she would allow that creature to take anyone or anything from her again.
She blinked when a house elf popped into her study.
“Message for Lady Longbottom,” it squeaked.
“I am Longbottom,” she thundered.
“Letter from Harry Potter, Lady.”
Augusta raised a brow and held out a hand, grasping the proffered missive. She then glared at the creature. “Was there something else, elf?”
The elf pulled on its ears. “Dobby is to stay while Lady reads her letter and then destroys it. Cannot have such information floating around.”
Her gaze sharpened. What the hell was the Potter boy playing at? Whatever it was must have been serious, so she would comply. “Very well.” She turned her gaze toward the letter in her hand and tore open the envelope.
Someone really needed to teach this child proper penmanship.
She read as Potter detailed what had occurred in the Department of Mysteries just months ago and what had been Voldemort’s goal. She read as Potter revealed to her the prophecy made more than sixteen years ago by Sybill Trelawney. She read as Potter explained that Dumbledore had told him that both he and Neville had fit the prophecy, and it was only by a madman's twist of fate that Voldemort had chosen him and not her grandson.
Her breath caught in her throat as she read his words. “This can’t be!”
Augusta swallowed heavily and thought about what had been written. She had no reason to disbelieve him; in fact, she found it desperately easy to accept his words at face value. She also doubted that he had told Neville the prophecy. Indeed, from what she could infer, he had told no one. He was only telling her now so that she would understand that Neville was a target for being more than Harry Potter’s friend; that her son and his wife had been tortured not because they had been Aurors, but because they had a child who had fit the prophecy.
Indeed, Potter was more concerned with Neville’s life than his own!
She turned back to the elf, who regarded her with solemn eyes. She cleared her throat and continued to read.
Her rage simmered as the boy detailed what his life had been before coming to Hogwarts. Abuse, neglect, ignorance of magic, his parents and their world.
“Unacceptable!,” she roared.
She gave pause as she reread that particular passage, at his clinical and detached tone, certain he was keeping things to himself. These relatives of his needed to be dealt with immediately.
She read about the Weasleys and Hermione Granger and Sirius Black.
Then she read that name: Bellatrix Lestrange. And Augusta’s furor knew no bounds.
She read with perverse pleasure as Potter explained how he had tried to cast the Cruciatus curse on the bitch, but had failed. As far as she was concerned, the point was that the effort had been made. That he had made her to suffer at all, for himself, for Black, for Neville, and for her grandson’s parents, touched something deeply within her, and she knew a satisfaction she thought she would have been forever denied.
She shrugged off his guilt, though she errantly hoped he would get over it and realize he had had little recourse. In fact, she suspected that he had included this bit of intelligence as a calculated manipulation to help sway her. Well, good for him! She admired cunning when it wasn’t being employed for nefarious use, and this letter certainly indicated that Potter had a far more keen mind than that which had been publicized.
She read his doubts about Dumbledore and became further incensed. What if Voldemort had chosen Neville over Potter? What would Dumbledore have done to her grandson? Oh, he wouldn’t have taken Neville away as he had Harry, she never would have allowed it. But once Neville had matriculated at Hogwarts, she had no doubt that he would have been manipulated by that old man far worse than Potter had been. Neville was just too innocent, too guileless to have had the doubts which Potter was experiencing, and she doubted Neville would have gone behind Dumbledore’s back in the manner Potter now was. Too, she also knew that Neville simply wasn’t powerful enough even to survive Voldemort, let alone defeat him.
Potter had somehow determined that she was on the Board of Governors for the school, and was thus indirectly asking if she would keep an eye on Dumbledore. She would, of course, both for the boy and for Neville. In fact, she now realized she had been far too lax on the old man. Now, she wondered about that. When she thought about the events of the last five years, of students being murdered, Death Eaters infiltrating the castle disguised as professors, that horrible Umbridge woman, she knew that she, as well as the other Board members, had been far too complacent and too accepting of Dumbledore’s excuses, which were well and truly pathetic. Could he have been compelling them in some manner? Best to look into it, as well as to decide how to deal with Malfoy’s vacancy, now that the man was on the run.
Augusta sighed and closed her eyes. She felt compassion for what Harry Potter had been put through, both by Voldemort and Dumbledore, but she also gave thanks that it had been him and not Neville. She felt no guilt for this. However, she also resolved to do whatever she could to help Harry from now on, because this was no longer just his fight. She would help him so that she could help Neville, and perhaps help herself to some long overdue vengeance for her son and his wife.
She turned back to the letter. “What?!”
Voldemort was Riddle? That megalomaniacal murdering bastard was Tom Riddle
With shaking hands, she refolded the letter, placed it beside her, withdrew her wand, and cast Incendio. She then banished the ashes and turned back to the elf.
“Master Potter will have my answer by tomorrow,” she curtly stated.
The elf bowed and disappeared.
Augusta Longbottom tented her fingers and considered things.
Potter was asking for help. She would give it.
He was asking for information. She would unearth it.
He was asking for an ally. He had found one.* * * * *
Albus Dumbledore woke early the morning following his conversation with Narcissa Malfoy and summoned the Heads of House to the Headmaster’s office. As he instructed an unusually subdued Dobby to lay out a repast, the old man carefully examined his options, trying to decide as to what to inform his colleagues of these latest developments.
He had to give credit where it was due, and Narcissa Malfoy had proven herself to be incredibly shrewd in planning this venture. However, Albus also knew that he could not reveal to the staff the woman’s involvement.
He was already pressing his luck with Severus Snape, the Potions Master and Head of Slytherin House. He had successfully installed the man as a spy in the service of Lord Voldemort, but also knew that Snape had personal ties with the Malfoy family, particularly with Narcissa, with whom he had been close in school, and her son, Draco, of whom Snape was godfather. Dumbledore was actually surprised that Narcissa hadn’t first gone to Snape and extracted some vow of protection for Draco. This caused him to question just what else Narcissa might have gleaned of Severus and his activities, for she had never admitted the extent of her knowledge with regard to the man’s actions.
Also sure to protest would be Minerva McGonagall, the Deputy Headmistress and Head of Gryffindor House. Eventually she would capitulate, believing him to know best, but she would question his every move and decision until she had suitable answers. She was incredibly tenacious, a credit to her House, and also extremely devoted to Harry Potter and any danger which might threaten his safety. While she was able to conceal that devotion quite brilliantly under the guise of intractable sternness, the woman had often taken it upon herself to serve as Harry’s sentry with the adults of the Order of the Phoenix, and did so much more effectively than Molly Weasley; she would ferret out any nonsense Albus might throw at her.
In fact, Dumbledore was beginning to wonder just how firm a grasp he had over the woman. Perhaps not quite the one he had thought. That was a rather frightening realization.
So, he decided to inform Snape and McGonagall of almost everything, for he would need their assistance were he to actualize this plan. However, additional measures would be necessary. As for Filius Flitwick and Pomona Sprout, the respective Heads of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff Houses, Dumbledore was confident they would be accepting without being demanding.
The movement of the gargoyle outside his office heralded the arrival of the others, so he took his place behind his massive desk and adopted his trademark look of nonchalance. Predictably, Snape led the charge, with McGonagall all but nipping at his heels. Flitwick and Sprout followed more sedately, but the looks of curiosity lighting their eyes was unmistakable.
“Dumbledore! What is the meaning of this summons?,” Snape immediately complained. “I have much to do before the coming term, and I do not have to time to suffer one of your impossibly boring and pointless meetings.”
McGonagall pursed her lips. “As if you are the only one whose attentions are not needed elsewhere.”
Snape paused to sneer at the woman, who replied with a steely gaze. The Potions Master soon found something else at which to glare. Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled with merriment as he observed the interaction. Even a man as prickly as Severus Snape eventually checked his attitude around Minerva McGonagall.
The Headmaster steepled his fingers after indicating that the others should take their seats.
“I am concerned,” he began, pouring tea for his faculty, “with the rather poor O.W.L. results of those entering their sixth year.”
The four teachers stared back at him with wide eyes.
“What do you mean?,” McGonagall, the first to recover, demanded. “The scores of that class exceed all previous records!”
Albus shook his head. “Not quite. While it is true that we have a number of exceptional students, particularly Hermione Granger, Padma Patil, and Draco Malfoy, many more received substandard scores, and I worry that the Board of Governors may take action.”
“What kind of action?,” Snape barked.
He was now fearful of what this might mean for his Potions curriculum, as his tendency of learning through intimidation usually resulted in a rather poor showing on standardized tests. If the Board became involved and called into question his methods, his cover as a spy for Dumbledore might be blown. His only true protection from Voldemort was that, as a member of the faculty and a Head of House, he was required to live on school grounds, thus the Dark Lord’s access to him was relatively restricted. However, if his damnable students had mucked it all up by actualizing their pathetic potential, his status might be compromised.
Albus looked at him harshly. “Yes, Severus, you have cause for worry, as once again Potions was amongst those subjects to earn the fewest O.W.L.s.”
“However,” the old man qualified, “Mister Potter’s surprising score will undoubtedly assist me in arguing with the Board to keep you on.”
Snape was surprised. “And what was Potter’s score?,” he asked nastily, annoyed that he had yet to be informed.
“Exceeds Expectations for Theory and Outstanding for Practical,” announced a pompous Minerva. “No thanks, I am sure, to your harassment and abuse. It just goes to show that when Potter isn’t being terrorized and his work is being judged by an impartial party, his skill is quite remarkable.” Her eyes narrowed. “I wonder, Severus, what I might discover should I examine Potter’s past graded assignments for your class.”
Snape rolled his eyes. “Honestly, woman! The way you kowtow to that boy and his friends is ridiculous and entirely inappropriate!”
McGonagall colored so darkly that a few of those present worried she might start seizing.
“Rubbish!,” declared an unusually annoyed Sprout. “Name one student to whom Minerva has ever showed favoritism, Severus. Do not blame her because your atrocious behavior toward Harry Potter hasn’t caused him to crumble as you had so desperately hoped.”
Snape raised an eyebrow, stunned that the normally placid woman had dared to speak to him in such a manner.
Sprout nodded, her gaze becoming narrow and rather vicious.
“We’ve all been watching you these past five years, Severus, and the only reason we haven’t interfered is at Dumbledore’s insistence.” She paused and narrowed her eyes. “However, if you continue antagonizing that boy, action will
be taken. I have grown extremely tired of your obnoxious arrogance where Potter and his friends, particularly Neville Longbottom, are concerned. Merlin knows how many potential Potions Masters have turned to other fields because of your tactics. Not to mention how many talented students also refrain from further studying Herbology due to the close nature of our specialties.”
She slammed a closed fist down on her the palm of her free hand. “I refuse to suffer this anymore. Either learn to do your job, or I will bypass Albus altogether and take my complaints directly to the Board, as I should have done years ago!”
Flitwick, McGonagall, and Dumbledore were all shocked by the outburst, but Sprout simply pursed her lips and indicated that the Headmaster should continue.
“Yes,” the dumbfounded man began, realizing he had made several errors in judgment, “well, thank you for your assessment, Pomona. Unfortunately, you are correct.
"Severus, I have been quite lenient with regard to your treatment of Harry. However, if the Board does become involved and insists on an audit of past and present students, you must realize there is very little I will be able to do; even my influence has limits. Indeed, it will soon be time for Hogwarts to undergo again the credentialing process, and an international panel of evaluators will be installed. Therefore, it is advisable that you begin to treat Harry with the same loathing you have for all of your students. That is, do not show him special treatment by any means, but no more will you actively engage in provoking him. Is that understood?”
The final sentence was posed in a tone so chilling, all those present were taken aback.
Severus said nothing, but his silence indicated compliance. The man knew that while Dumbledore ran the school as he saw fit, he did have people to whom he must answer, and there were already a number of complaints on file against himself and the Headmaster. If an audit was ordered and Snape was declared inept, Dumbledore might go down with him, and then Voldemort would have free rein over Hogwarts.
“Is that all?,” McGonagall asked in her clipped tone.
“No,” Dumbledore replied. “The scores for Muggle Studies once again declined, and the results for Divination, with one exception, were absolutely abysmal.”
McGonagall and Snape both snorted. When it came to the subject of Divination and its teacher, Sybill Trelawney, they were in complete agreement.
The Headmaster indicated his wish for patience. “I am well aware of Sybill’s reputation, both amongst the students and the faculty. Nevertheless, I have reasons for maintaining her position, which do include some prophecies she has made which have proven valid. However, Pomona’s point about Severus’s attitude toward his students also applies to Sybill.”
McGonagall and Flitwick nodded, and Snape was appalled that he could possibly have anything in common with that fraud of a professor.
“We will never know how many potential Seers have rejected their callings because of Sybill’s penchant for melodrama,” Albus continued. “Hopefully, the addition of Firenze might counterbalance that. Similarly, the problem with Muggle Studies needs to be addressed, and rather quickly, as Professor Cornwell has been insisting these past some years. As the Pureblood lines continue to thin, more and more of our matriculating students are Muggleborn, and it is time we more closely examined their difficulties in adjusting to our world.”
“Why do I believe this meeting is only a formality?,” Minerva grunted. “You’ve already decided upon a course of action, correct?”
His eyes twinkled. The others sighed.* * * * *
Harry Potter rose with the sun.
Dressing quicly, his eyes roamed over his small room, establishing that everything of value had been packed the night before and locked away, lest those whom others insisted were his family felt particularly nosy this day. Hedwig was away, hopefully either at Hogwarts or the Burrow; Harry was rather rueful that he had no idea where his owl preferred to spend her time alone. He resolved to make more of an effort to understand his familiar. He owed her at least that much.
He was startled by a sudden, insistent pecking at his window. Throwing an annoyed glance over his shoulder, Harry was surprised to see the blazing orange eyes of a rather official-looking owl glaring at him. He trotted over and threw open the sash, but the bird did little more than sit on the sill and demand Harry relieve it of the post.
“My O.W.L.s,” he whispered.
He quickly detached the letter and offered the owl one of Hedwig’s treats, which prompted the bird to look at him with suspicion and then a dawning respect. The owl refused to take the treat, however, but clucked at Harry with approval before flying away.
“Guess the Ministry doesn’t want their owls taking food from other people,” Harry mused. “Probably a good thing.”
He looked down at the envelope in his hand and was suddenly wary. This would determine his opportunities for the future, providing he actually had
a future beyond Hogwarts, or even beyond this coming term. Grimacing, he sighed and decided he could wait until later to learn his fate. Perhaps he would ask Luna to read him his scores. At least he wouldn’t have to suffer in solitude.
Harry quickly made his bed and secured the locks on his trunk. He quietly exited the room and made his way across the hall to the upstairs bathroom. His only opportunity to bathe was while the Dursleys slept. With luck, he could complete his morning ablutions and be out the door before his porcine cousin Dudley was awakened by his breakfast cravings.
Surprised and a little giddy at his success, Harry didn’t even bother to leave a note explaining his absence. He knew they wouldn’t care; they were barely tolerating him as it was, despite his efforts to avoid them completely. Already they were dreading his return next summer. That dread was a better parting gift than anything else Harry could possibly proffer. Smirking, he exited the house and raced out toward the curb. He held out his wand, and before he could blink, that familiar whoosh of air signaled the arrival of the Knight Bus.
“Why it’s ‘Arry Potter, it is!,” crowed the driver, seeing the famous scar peeking through the fringe of black mop.
“Hullo,” Harry said in a low voice. “I gather Stan is still in Azkaban?,” he asked of the unfamiliar helmsman.
“Aye,” the man grimly answered. “That troll Umbridge had him arrested and Fudge was too far up her wide arse to bother investigating the charges. If he had, he’d have known that Stan is no Death Eater! The man is barely able to put on his shoes!”
Harry sighed inwardly. In the panic surrounding Voldemort’s still-questioned return, the Ministry of Magic was rounding up hapless citizens on the say-so of anonymous tips and the murmurings of those who should be suspect. He hated to think of the hell someone like Stan Shunpike must be unjustly enduring in the wizard’s prison. It only further resolved Harry to end this madness as soon as possible, before the persecutions turned to murders in the ensuing hysteria.
“Where to, Master ‘Arry?,” the driver queried.
“Right, then. Off we go!”
Harry chose a seat and threw a glance over his shoulder, nodding to a doddering old woman with violet hair and suspiciously familiar green eyes. Tonks seemed incredibly put out that he had so easily discerned her ruse, and Harry suppressed his smirk. The bus tore off toward London, and Harry briefly wondered if traveling by Knight Bus was any worse than traveling by portkey. Each sensation left him queasy and slightly sick.
As he wasn’t expecting Luna until midday, Harry had decided to tour more completely Diagon Alley, though he remained conscious of his friendly second shadow. It had been a while since he was allowed to explore unencumbered the wares of the best stores in wizarding Britain. He knew the Weasleys would be taking he and Hermione to the Alley prior to the start of the term in order to procure that year’s supplies, but Harry wanted the opportunity for a little freedom between leaving his literal prison for a figurative one. Besides, perhaps he might stumble across something which would aid him in his newfound decision to get a life.
Harry watched impassively as the Bus tore down Charing Cross Road and came to a screeching halt before the Leaky Cauldron.
“Diagon Alley!,” the driver called.
Harry sighed and hauled himself to his feet, making sure to thank the driver before exiting the bus.
He might have to face Voldemort, but he would do it, finally, on his own terms.* * * * *
Luna Lovegood was happy. Of course, she usually was.
Even on this day, the sixth anniversary of her mother’s death, she was happy, because her mother had long ago revealed to her the secret of contentment. Happiness wasn’t something which one could demand or expect. It didn’t seek you out, and it wasn’t a reward for good behavior or a job well done.
People were happy because they chose to be. It really was just that simple.
Most people didn’t understand that, and Luna felt truly sorry for them. They were so wrapped up in the mundanity of life, too busy existing rather than living, that the subtle mysteries of the world slipped past their notice.
She admired people like Hermione Granger who were so dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, an admirable and worthy goal, but at the same time, Luna mourned for the Gryffindor girl, who believed only in what books told her. She knew that Hermione had a well-developed sense of intuition, but it often went ignored in the face of logic and reason. That was too bad. Luna had realized a while ago that there were just too many unexplainable phenomena in the world, and wasn’t it sad that people were so close-minded that they neglected these things? It must be terribly boring.
Then there were those like Ronald Weasley, genuinely kind and decent people who, for some reason, were simply unwilling to look past their visceral needs and desires. Ronald was a nice boy, but he was too easily trapped by irrationality and temper. He felt as if the world owed him simply because he demanded it did. Not that selfishness was a bad thing in and of itself; everyone was selfish to some degree, and it often inspired greatness, fueling the drive to confront and overcome those who sought to oppress others. People were often more willing to sacrifice and give of themselves when a friend or loved one was in peril, and the same held true for Ronald Weasley.
Still, his problem, as Luna saw it, was not lack of ambition, but one of laziness. He wanted so many things, but was unwilling to work for them. He wanted to be Harry Potter’s best friend, but when the tide of public opinion would turn against Harry, so would Ronald. When Harry received something Ron himself wanted, he became sullen and jealous. When he did achieve something of note, he became pompous and arrogant. The prefect position was a good example.
Luna knew that Ronald had neither the grades nor the leadership skills such a job demanded, and she knew Ronald was aware of this, as well. She was also quite sure that the job had originally been intended for Harry, but he had bypassed it and had most likely encouraged the Headmaster to give it instead to Ronald, who was perfectly willing to ride on the coattails of his friends and older brothers when it suited him, but took offense when someone called him on it. Well, that was just ridiculous. He should and would have been expelled from Hogwarts were it not for Hermione. Not that he was stupid; quite the contrary, actually. Ronald was simply one of those people who required constant attention and goading in order for him to take an interest in even the most important things, but then resented it when he was forced to comply. Silly, really.
Ronald and Hermione were good people, Luna knew, and good friends, but they didn’t truly understand what a life like Harry’s entailed. They relied too much on the advice and approval of others, when it was inefficient to do so. There were times which called for instinct, for proactive and reactive responses, and Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley were either unable or unwilling to think outside the proverbial box.
Harry was, however, and so was Luna. Therefore, she had decided they would make a good team.
Not that she intended to replace either Hermione or Ronald, of course, but merely to compensate for the areas in which they were severely lacking. Each had problems with trust, each indulged in spitefulness and envy, and while Luna had no doubt that each would give their lives for Harry, they rarely stopped to consider how their personalities affected their best friend. Harry needed their support, not their approval; he needed their friendship, not conditional toleration; he needed to believe that he had friends who were willing to listen to him and not beg off when his thoughts became too maudlin or discomforting.
Neither Ronald nor Hermione knew what it was to lose a parent. Luna hoped they never would, though she knew that was unlikely. Circumstances dictated in part one’s outlook on life, and Ronald and Hermione simply didn’t understand Harry’s approach. Neither one had a prophecy hanging over their heads.
Luna paused in her thoughts and made a mental note to discuss with Harry that prophecy. She thought it purposefully vague and severely unhelpful. Of course, that it had been spoken by Trelawney probably had a lot to do with it. She frowned. Trelawney had her talents, but they were not without flaw, and her Divination course was a lot of malarkey. If the woman truly knew how to read a Tarot deck, Luna would eat her roaring lion hat. Though doing so would of course require mustard; perhaps a spot of fennel, as well.
She sighed. Perhaps she was judging Ronald and Hermione too harshly, or possibly she was allowing their judgments and dismissals of her to color her perceptions. She didn’t expect them to be perfect, of course, but she did believe Harry had the right to demand more of them as the friends they claimed to be. He was far too noble for his own good, and had been all but abandoned by those who were supposed to protect and assist him.
Perhaps Luna had been remiss in confiding her own doubts to the man to Harry, but she truly didn’t think so. Instead, she believed she had merely voiced Harry’s own suspicions, and that he was happy to know he wasn’t alone in having them. Truly, why had Death Eaters been allowed access to Hogwarts? The wards should have kept them out. How had an illegal portkey slipped beneath the notice of so many accomplished professors? There were too many things which didn’t make sense and for which no one was providing acceptable answers. Maybe it was time to ask her father to step up the investigative journalism side of the Quibbler
and focus the lens firmly on what was not
Luna had enjoyed being part of Harry’s illicit defense organization and was cemented in her belief that she had chosen the right side. That side was not about light or dark, or good versus evil, for such things could not be qualified as easily as people insisted they should be.
She had chosen Harry
and had never regretted it. Being back in the Ministry, however, had been painful, and had forced her to confront things with which she believed to have dealt long ago. That had not been the case, however, but she had become too invested in Harry to look back.
So she would help Harry stay alive and to have better relationships with his friends.
She would teach him to choose happiness for himself because he deserved it.
Oh, and she would help Harry defeat Voldemort, of course. The man really was quite a nuisance.