Alliances, Part Four: A Spoonful of Sugar
* * * * *
“You cannot be serious!,” Snape thundered, rising to his feet.
“I assure you I am quite serious, Severus,” Dumbledore snapped, his eyes twinkling now with impatient menace.
“Perhaps,” McGonagall smoothly began, hoping to quell a potential maelstrom, “if you explained yourself for once
, Albus, we could avoid any unpleasantness.” Her brow quirked. “Or at least lessen the fallout.”
Flitwick frowned. “Albus, are you quite sure this decision is sound? Appointing a Muggle to the Hogwarts faculty?”
Sprout’s eyes were narrowed as she sat back and watched the other three. She would wait until everything was said before offering an opinion.
“The reasons are very simple,” Dumbledore offered, “as well as practical. I will not have Harry Potter’s experience here repeated.”
“What do you mean?,” McGonagall demanded.
“Minerva, there are many things you do not know with regard to Harry,” Albus quietly stated.
“And whose fault is that!,” the woman bellowed in reply.
Snape was so taken aback, he immediately sat down in his chair. Flitwick and Sprout, their eyes the size of saucers, trained startled gazes on the witch.
“I understand your anger, Minerva, and you are entitled,” Albus continued. “There is something of which you are all unaware regarding how Harry came to Hogwarts. Several things, actually, and I have been remiss not to inform you of them before this time.”
He cleared his throat, knowing in advance his next words were going to cause an uproar.
“Harry Potter was raised not knowing that he was a wizard. He knew nothing of his parents, save their names, and had been told they were killed in an automobile accident. Until I sent Hagrid to fetch him, Harry did not know that magic was real. He knew nothing of Hogwarts, of Sirius Black, or of Voldemort. Nothing.”
Minerva McGonagall turned an unhealthy shade of crimson while Snape paled even more than usual.
“Outrageous,” Sprout commented, sitting on her hands to dispel the urge to strangle something, thinking it would be quite lovely to send anonymously some Devil’s Snare to Albus Dumbledore. “There is simply no excuse for this.”
“No there is not,” Flitwick angrily agreed. “I well understand the need for secrecy regarding our world, but for someone as important as young Mister Potter...Albus, you have badly miscalculated.”
“Did you ever once check on that boy, Dumbledore?,” Minerva hissed. “We’ve all seen it. How Potter recuses himself from touch; how he comes back each year impossibly thin; how he trembles when any adult other than Severus scolds him. What the hell happened to him in that Muggle house?!”
“I do not know,” Dumbledore whispered. “He will not speak of it with me, and probably for good reason. I am sure he holds me accountable.”
“As well he should!,” she roared. “I told
you! I told you before Hagrid ever brought Harry to that house. I warned you about those people!”
“They are his kin, Minerva. The blood wards were the only real protection afforded to Harry.”
“Nonsense,” Sprout insisted. “I have never bought into that excuse. There were any number of families willing to take him in who were more than capable of protecting him. He could have been raised here, with us, under the defenses of the castle. There have been exceptions in the past for orphans, and they certainly would have applied to the only child of James Potter and Lily Evans.”
She paused, shaking her head as she thought of how to phrase her next words, before finally deciding she didn’t, at the moment, care for tact.
“I could forgive a lapse of judgment Dumbledore, but that you knowingly send him back to that...domicile...year after year? No, that I cannot forgive.” She stood. “I am finished. There is nothing more you could say that I wish to hear. My House is noted for its loyalty, but be warned that my loyalty to you has almost run its course. If you wish to appoint a new faculty member, that is within your discretion, but know this: I will be keeping a careful watch on that boy this year.”
“As will I,” Flitwick interjected.
She turned to her colleague and nodded. “And if we see anything untoward, if we see that boy being manipulated or abused in any fashion by anyone, we will take action, and if that results in the loss of a Headmaster, so be it. I refuse to be a pawn anymore. You may have leverage with Severus, but you have no power over me. You will not be able to bend me to your will so easily, Albus. Never again.” She took her leave.
Flitwick then stood. “Pomona speaks for me, as well. Remember, Albus, I was here before you. Whether or not you remain here after all of this depends on how you handle this situation. I hope you make the right decision.” Nodding to McGonagall and Snape, who stared after him, he left.
“Dumbledore,” Snape sighed, running a hand over his face, “you have fucked up.”
“Indeed,” Minerva agreed, her lips pursed.
“I made the best decisions I could at the time.”
“No,” Snape countered. “You made the decisions you did based on some grand master plan which you have convinced yourself is the only viable alternative and which you refuse to share with anyone else. If Potter truly is our only salvation against the Dark Lord, you have wasted eleven years of his life. He should have been trained much sooner. As it is, he is far behind where someone of his potential should be, even in Defense. While he excels rather remarkably in the more difficult areas of that field, he is severely lacking in essentials. You allowed me to believe that he understood his role in all of this. Instead, you threw him to the wolves and allowed a child to sink or swim. It’s amazing the boy is still alive.”
“Why Severus,” Dumbledore twinkled, “one would think you cared.”
“I don’t. I care about the Dark Lord’s defeat, and Potter is the only one who has managed to accomplish this; not just once, but several times. You not only perpetuated but encouraged my delusion that he was an attention-seeking brat who was in this for glory. I summarily dismissed his fear as good acting, his accomplishments as dumb luck. Had I truly understood what the brat has endured, I would have used different methods in teaching him.”
He closed his eyes and shook his head. “Why did you do this, Albus? If you had explained things, so much might have been prevented. Quirrell, the death of the Diggory boy, the Dark Lord’s resurrection. Regardless of my personal feelings, Potter deserved better. You owed him, Albus, and you owed his parents; you owed all of us. No matter what Potter believes, I will always regret submitting to the Dark Lord. Once, I thought turning to you would be my salvation, but now I am forced to consider that you are simply the lesser of two evils.”
Dumbledore sighed heavily.
“This was all orchestrated, wasn’t it?,” McGonagall growled. “From the very beginning. You kept him separated from his magic, from our world, and to what end? To make him strong? To make him self-reliant? To build his determination? Rubbish! And what was the cost? What did the boy have to endure in order for you to make your plan a reality? We shall probably never know. I doubt even Weasley or Granger are aware of the damage you have inflicted upon that child for, if they were, Weasley would be in my office pleading to allow Potter to return with him to the Burrow, and Granger would turn away from you so sharply that the snap might break all our necks. It would be unwise to anger that girl.” She pointed a finger at him. “Mark my words, Albus: with her goes both boys, and perhaps a good portion of your allies.”
“Potter is not your weapon, Dumbledore,” Snape spat. “He is a child, and he is far more powerful and vulnerable than I think even you are aware; he is perhaps even unstable. What will happen when he realizes your schemes? What will happen when he turns on you? Because make no mistake, Albus, he will. Eventually, he will determine your machinations and he will vilify you, and where does that leave the rest of us? Dead like Black? Exiled with Lupin? Slaves to the Dark Lord? How many more have to die?”
Minerva nodded. “You stood back, refusing to interfere when the press maligned that boy; when they blamed him for poor Diggory’s death; when they accused him of being mad about Voldemort’s return. Do you know he still has nightmares almost every night about Diggory? Do you know how often he has awoken his dorm mates by screaming for the boy? You allowed a child to participate in the Triwizard Tournament! I should have known then, but no, I allowed emotion and blind trust to overrule reason. Rules, indeed! All you had to do was declare a draw and have the contestants resubmit their names. Upholding some ridiculous ordinance when the fundamental entry laws were perverted? Nonsense! A minor cannot be compelled to honor a magical contract!”
“By the gods,” a horrified Snape whispered. “It was you, wasn’t it? You meant for him to compete all along! We all thought it was Crouch, but it was you.” He gave a bitter chuckle. “Oh, you might not have slipped the brat’s name into the Goblet, but neither were you surprised when the cup regurgitated it. You knew it was going to happen, and if Crouch hadn’t taken the initiative, you would have.”
McGonagall gasped. “Of course! It could have been no one else. What were you thinking?!,” she screeched. “A fourteen year old boy pitted against dragons? Maybe you are just as senile as many have long proclaimed.”
“I had my reasons,” Dumbledore calmly contended.
“And they were the wrong ones!,” Snape roared, bringing his fist down on the Headmaster’s desk.
“And as of now, they are finished,” Minerva declared. “I will not allow you to interfere any more in this boy’s life. The entire wizarding world has placed their burdens on the thin, trembling shoulders of a child; a child who, for all accounts, has been systematically beaten down into submission. It is pathetic; you
are pathetic, Albus. The fact that he continues to rally says more about the boy’s character than any of your so-called reasons. What happens when he decides to give up? How far away do you think he is from deeming it all worthless and either disappearing or simply taking himself out of the equation?”
“Minerva!,” Dumbledore scolded.
“Don’t you dare,” she snarled. “For all we know, he may have already tried. You have allowed yourself to disregard the very real fact that, whatever else he is, Harry is a human being. There is more to his life than Voldemort!” She curled a lip. “Heed my warning, Albus, for I won’t give you another: stay away from him. If Severus and I have put all of this together in only a few minutes, Merlin only knows what’s been percolating in Potter’s head these past years, and with whom he might have shared those thoughts.”
The Headmaster stared, and McGonagall glared right back. Snape smirked at both of them.
After several moments, Dumbledore again cleared his throat. “Harry is coming to the castle today to discuss his class selection for the upcoming term. Luna Lovegood will be accompanying him.”
“Tremendous!,” Snape sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “He has added yet another to his collection of strays.”
“Miss Lovegood will surprise everyone, I think.”
“Another scheme? Another intuit?,” McGonagall sneered. “So be it. If Potter has become her friend, perhaps there is something more to the girl than her dazed approach to life suggests; she is a Ravenclaw, after all.” She nodded once. “Very well. I will take this meeting; as his Head of House, that is my right. If he wishes to speak with you, I will return him to your office.”
She snorted. “I’m sure your spies or your spells or whatever it is you have in this castle that informs you of every whispered conversation will no doubt report back to you the particulars, so do not think me so daft as to believe you are capitulating out of guilt or magnanimousness.” The Headmaster glared, but the witch remained unmoved. “Now,” she continued, “about this Muggle teacher. I want the truth and I want it immediately.”
Albus sighed. “As I stated before, every class has more and more Muggleborns. We are doing them a disservice by not better addressing their transition into our world. A large portion of the Muggleborns of each graduating class often choose to attend Muggle university, and they are ill-prepared for the curriculum. Having a Muggle on staff will afford these children someone to speak with, a counselor if you will.”
“And how does that translate to a faculty position?,” Snape demanded.
“There is more you don’t know.”
McGonagall and Snape turned to each other, sighed, and rolled their eyes. “Well of course there is,” they groaned.* * * * *
Harry was slurping down his sundae with relish, delighting at the explosion of flavors across his palate, and was startled out of his reverie as a shadow fell across the table.
“Hello, Harry,” said a dreamy voice.
“Luna!” He immediately stood and gave the slight girl an enormous hug, and she kissed him gently on the cheek.
“How are you?,” she asked. “Really?”
“Today’s a good day,” he smiled. “Much better now that you’re here.”
“I’m glad,” she replied, smiling and nodding in gratitude as he pulled out her chair. “The Heliopaths freed from Fudge’s tyranny suggested as much,” she confided, “but I thought it best to ask you directly. You can’t really trust them, you know.”
They sat and looked at each other.
“Sirius?,” she prompted.
“It’s becoming…manageable,” Harry whispered, his eyes still trapped in her even gaze.
“You’re fine, but not okay?”
“That’s it exactly,” he said, a small smile on his face.
She nodded once. “So, tell me about these plans of yours.” She finally noticed all of the packages surrounding him, shrunken and otherwise. “And about these, as well. Your last letter left quite a lot to be desired, I’ll have you know.” She peered at him more closely. “Seen the twins, have you?”
“You’re firing on all cylinders today, aren’t you, Luna?,” he smirked, eyes sparkling.
“Muggle phrase,” she noted. “Apparently I am. It must be the company.”
His face lighted and he leaned forward, whispering his ideas and pressing a sheaf of papers into her hand.
Luna sat and absorbed the information, finding it quite fascinating, and then read the letters, which were even more intriguing. She was so very glad that she and Harry were closer friends now. He was so interesting
. Still, she worried about the leprechaun who was lurking behind him and dancing a jig.
After all, leprechauns were notorious perverts.* * * * *
Dumbledore delighted in the looks on the faces of McGonagall and Snape, picturing that this must have been how he had looked after Narcissa had dumped this information in his lap.
“Muggle witches and wizards?,” McGonagall repeated. “With no ties to our world? No wizarding heritage? Entirely wandless magic?”
“Mouth of Hell?,” Snape croaked.
The Headmaster nodded.
“And what of this person? This new teacher?,” Minerva barked, recovering her glower.
“I honestly have no idea. Plans were made via an envoy. All I do know is that this person, whomever they may be, is in need of asylum. They are a True Seer.”
“Sweet Merlin,” McGonagall breathed.
“You are speaking of a conduit,” Snape sharply said. “A direct link between the Powers That Be and one of these so-called Champions.”
Again, Dumbledore nodded. “This person is apparently a Champion in their own right.”
“How is all of this possible?,” McGonagall questioned.
“I rather believe that question has been asked by any number of our Muggleborn students the moment they receive their Hogwarts letter,” Dumbledore smoothly replied.
“What is this person to teach?,” Snape asked. “Divination? Are you finally replacing that twit?”
“No,” Albus replied. “It goes no further than the three of us, and Poppy, the nature of this person’s gift. Can you imagine what would happen were Voldemort to learn of their existence?”
“Fuck,” McGonagall softly swore.
“Minerva!,” Snape snickered. “Whatever would your Gryffindors say?”
“I imagine they’d say exactly the same thing,” she primly answered.
“All right, then, Albus,” McGonagall snarled, “out with it. What is it you intend to do with this person? The only open position is Defense, and even I doubt you’re that daft.”
“Thank you for your confidence, Minerva,” Dumbledore smiled.
“You’re lucky I have any left.”
The wizard sighed. “Yes, I am aware. Right, then. Sybill will remain as Professor of Divination for the time being. Severus, you will be taking over Defense, with the caveat that you will continue to produce the Wolfsbane potion for Remus Lupin.”
“You’re not serious!,” both McGonagall and Snape sputtered.
“Indeed I am.”
“You cannot mean to have me instruct Potter in Defense!,” Snape bellowed. “Not only would he never agree, you would be giving the Dark Lord even more access to the boy’s mind!”
“Which is why you will also be continuing his instruction in Occlumency.”
“You will, Severus. That you both deplore the sessions is of no consequence to me. Harry must learn the art, and that is final. It is the only chance he has to keep Voldemort out of his mind and manipulate his actions. Like it or not, you are the only one qualified to instruct him. I cannot do it, as I suspect that your earlier statement is, in fact, true. Harry no longer trusts me as he once did, and that would interfere with his progress. The fact that he does not trust you at all is actually a gift, for he will strive all the more to keep you out of those memories he does not wish you to see, and that should help accelerate the construction of his shields. However, certain conditions will apply, for both of you. We will speak more of this at a later time.”
Snape set his jaw but held his tongue. Yes, conditions indeed.
“Now,” Dumbledore continued, “as to the position. I have decided to make Muggle Studies mandatory for all first through fourth year students. They will be required to endeavor in the course until they qualify for their O.W.L. I cannot impose this restriction upon the Seventh Years, however, so they will be exempt. I ask that both of you begin meeting with Professor Hayslip to coordinate those aspects of wizarding society which you believe should be included in the class.”
Snape was secretly pleased. For once, one of the old fool’s ideas had merit. “Potions,” he promptly said. “Had I been informed that Potter had been brought up as a Muggle, I would have realized that his complete incompetence in the course had nothing to do with a lack of intelligence on his part – perhaps – but simply a matter of gross ignorance, which is easily remedied. Ignorance is curable; stupidity is eternal.” He glared at Dumbledore and left no doubt as to which he believed the Headmaster, but Albus replied with a benign smile.
McGonagall swallowed her snicker at their antics. “Severus has raised a good point. Finally
. I think it has been taken for granted that Muggleborns would simply adapt once they found themselves within the walls of the school. We have to remember that their previous educations consisted of methods with which we are largely unfamiliar and subjects which are not taught here. It is a bit unreasonable to assume an easy transition from arithmetic to Arithmancy.
"Most Muggle children are not instructed in a second language until secondary school, so Ancient Runes, which is so far removed from a modern language as to be ridiculous, must come as quite a shock. Potions is a difficult and exacting field, and we have poorly served our Muggleborn students by not adequately preparing them before they enter Hogwarts. Currently, we hold no classes related to Wizarding Law or Wizarding Customs, so it should not come as a surprise that more than half of those Muggleborns who graduate then turn their backs on our world. It has never been properly explained to them.”
Dumbledore sighed. “As you have been saying for years, Minerva. Yes, I should have listened to you, and students have suffered for my hubris, but this is not the time to discuss these things.”
Snape and McGonagall snorted. Loudly.
The Headmaster cleared his throat. “The Fifth and Sixth Years will be required to take a new class: Muggle Literature and Dramatics. That is the position this new person will fill.”
Snape sneered. “Literature? Are you completely spare?”
“Actually,” a thoughtful Minerva interjected, “it’s a rather good idea. There is some wonderful Muggle literature in existence, and the students do need to be instructed in how to write a thoughtful and intelligent essay. Too many of them rely on merely transcribing facts from books without bothering to learn the theory behind them. Instruction in literature will encourage critical thinking and analytical skills in a majority of the students who are sorely lacking. Further, it will force them to think like Muggles, to learn how Muggles experience life and resolve their struggles.”
Dumbledore smiled, but Snape remained unconvinced. “And how is it you propose to implement this plan? I can guarantee that many of the students will rebel, particularly those of Slytherin House.”
“They can complain all they wish,” the Headmaster replied. “Neither they nor their parents have any control over the academic curriculum. If they do not like it, they can look into attending another institution, but I think we all know that will most likely never happen. Those who sympathize with Voldemort will wish to keep their children here as spies, and those who do not know there is no safer place for their children to reside than Hogwarts.”
“I highly doubt it will be that simple,” Severus contended.
“Perhaps not,” Albus demurred, “but either way, it is out of their hands. Muggle Studies is an established and perfectly acceptable course. I also believe that a simple challenge to those who would prefer not to take the class will compel them to do just that: if they are made to believe that it is doubted they could achieve an O.W.L. in the subject, or if they believe others might think them inferior to the Muggleborns who excel in the discipline, they will rush to prove otherwise.”
Snape grunted. “That is an...intriguing idea.”
Dumbledore beamed. “Now, there are several things which must be undertaken. First, appropriate quarters must be appointed. I need to apprise Poppy of this situation. Severus, there are several potions I will need you to brew in preparation for this person’s arrival.”
“Such as?,” Snape drawled.
“Determinative elixirs. This person may have innate magical ability of which they are unaware. We need to ascertain that ability, for instruction must be given. We need to know their strengths and weaknesses, possible Animagus traits, and the like. I honestly have no idea if the Americas have in place a system such as ours to identify Muggleborns.”
Severus nodded and began mentally preparing lists of spells and ingredients.
“American?,” Minerva repeated. “This person is an American?”
Snape curled a lip.
Dumbledore glared at both of them. “I will not tolerate such foolishness from either one of you. It is certainly no secret that the majority of wizarding Europe views the United Kingdom as inferior, so you would be ill-advised to perpetuate that same prejudice with regard to Americans. Let us not forget they have never produced a single Dark Lord, while we have produced many; instead there are several Light Lords and Ladies to which they may lay claim.”
“And who is to take over Potions for Severus?,” an embarrassed McGonagall asked.
At this, Snape raised an eyebrow.
“I will,” Dumbledore said. “I myself am a Potions Master, and there are very few qualified instructors on record in Britain. If I can successfully procure an acceptable candidate within the month, than I shall be happy to relinquish my current plan of action. Minerva, I will need to you amend all outgoing letters, both to new and returning students, to make them aware of this new course. Materials will be provided by the school, so that there are no additional financial penalties for families to consider.”
“As you wish,” she tartly replied.
Suddenly, the fireplace began glowing.
“Ah,” Dumbledore noted. “That will be our young Mister Potter. If you two would please excuse me. Minerva, I shall send Harry to you shortly.”
She nodded and left the room. Snape followed, his robes angrily billowing out behind him.* * * * *
Amelia Bones, the interim Minister of Magic, ignored the piles of work on her desk which demanded her immediate attention, preferring instead to reread for the umpteenth time the letter delivered to her home last night by house elf, startling both her and her niece, Susan. While she had encountered numerous surprises since Cornelius Fudge had been ousted by a vote of no-confidence from the Wizengamot and she had been installed temporarily in his place, nothing had taken her more aback than a communiqué from Harry Potter.
After she had read the contents and pondered them for a while, she had approached her niece and subtly interrogated the girl about what she knew of her classmate. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, Susan had known little other than that which most of Britain’s wizarding population was already aware: how Harry lived with Muggles during the summer; his close relationship with Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley, and indeed the entire Weasley family with the exception of Percy; how the students frequently turned against him when something dodgy occurred, whether or not such an event had anything to do with the boy.
Susan also had explained how Cedric Diggory had stood up to his own House for Harry during the tournament, insisting the boy had not put his name into the Goblet. The girl had proceeded to relate a few more stories, but the overall impression Amelia received from her niece was that Susan was quite impressed with Harry Potter, though in a quiet and considerate manner. This only reaffirmed Amelia’s own perceptions of the boy.
The more Susan talked, the more Amelia had realized that she herself knew little of what actually occurred at the school, and she chastised her myopia. These past years had been so consuming as she silently fought behind the scenes in the Ministry to roust Fudge while performing her duties as a member of the Wizengamot, that she had been complacent in her duties as Susan’s guardian. While she had a place on the Board of Governors of the school, she had allowed herself to be lulled into a sense of security by Dumbledore, despite the odd occurrences which took place with regularity at Hogwarts. She cursed herself for allowing his damnable twinkle to override her caution. She had never fully trusted Dumbledore and had flatly refused more than once his invitation to join his ridiculous and illicit Order.
The Potter boy’s letter certainly reinforced her opinion of the Headmaster. Amelia had read the epistle several times with disbelieving eyes until cold fury asserted itself and settled her loyalty firmly in Potter’s camp. How could the boy not know such things? What had Dumbledore been telling him? More importantly, what had the old man left out? Quite a lot, apparently. It was disgraceful. The entire wizarding world was dependent on a child to save it, while its de facto leader was content to let that child languish in ignorance. She should have looked into this before, back when Susan was in her first year, probably even before that, but no, she had wanted to believe Dumbledore’s half-truths and machinations because it was easier and she had thought other things more important. Merlin, James and Lily would have been ashamed of her.
Amelia Bones snapped out of her fog and gently laid Harry’s letter aside. Bureaucracy could wait; this could not. She sat back in her chair and crossed her legs, wondering who else in the Ministry she could truly trust. She was sure that already factions were forming against her, despite the temporary appointment, and she had yet to decide if she would run during the next general election. She didn’t have Fudge’s patience for politics and she was no bootlicker; thus, she would need an operative whom not only she could trust, but one who would trust Potter and vice versa.
She looked outside her door where young Percy Weasley was waiting for an audience. She had a good mind to sack him immediately for his ridiculous support and defense of Fudge and Umbridge, for his love of power guaranteed that despite his learnedness, he was an idiot. It was true that he appeared contrite for the moment, but how could any man, a Gryffindor no less, disown himself from his family for the sake of a entry-level job? It was pathetic. Still, he might have other uses.
Amelia then considered Nymphadora Tonks. She knew the young woman was an excellent Auror, but was also a member of that damnable Order, so her loyalties were in question. Amelia got the sense that Tonks liked Potter a great deal, but was convinced that the woman answered ultimately not to Harry or the Ministry, but to Dumbledore. Amelia wasn’t willing to risk Albus catching on to any of her plans. Not until she wanted him to, at any rate.
She was jolted out of her thoughts when Tonks herself burst through the door, panting heavily, her eyes wild.
“Minister! Harry was attacked in Diagon Alley!”
Amelia stood and took note of Percy’s horrified gasp. “Death Eaters?”
Tonks shook her head, somewhat sadly, Amelia noted.
“They were just ordinary people,” the Auror whispered, her disbelief plain. “At first, they wanted autographs and conversation, but then they converged and began molesting him. They nearly ripped the clothes right off his body. When he tried to get away, it got ugly. They screamed and ranted that Harry owed them, that he should die for them. Several even offered to help him with that, convinced it would placate You-Know-Who to leave all of us alone.”
Bones’s expression became murderous. The very idea that grown adults would accost a child in a public place in broad daylight because they were scared was outrageous. If they had listened over a year ago when Potter had warned everyone, this panic could have been avoided. Blasted Fudge! He had managed to malign Potter so badly in the press that most people were convinced the boy was either insane or on the verge of becoming the next Voldemort, yet they still believed him their only hope. Pathetic.
And where the hell was Dumbledore in the middle of that fiasco? Sitting in his office and playing with his toys and sucking on his infernal lemon drops, no doubt. Well, this wasn’t Fudge’s ministry anymore, and wizarding Britain was in for a rude awakening.
“First things first. Is Potter well?,” she demanded.
Tonks nodded. “A couple of healing and mending spells, and he went on his way to see the Weasley twins.”
Bones looked past Tonks to Percy, whose head raised sharply at the mention of his brothers. The Minister could see the young man’s eyes were pained; still, she was wary of his sincerity. Perhaps a small test was in order.
“It’s only a matter of time before The Prophet
gets a hold of this and goes after Harry again,” Tonks fretted.
“We’ll just see about that,” Amelia snorted, nibbling on a delightful little morsel Potter’s letter had revealed about a certain reporter. “Tonks, bring in young Mister Weasley and have a seat. There is much to discuss.”* * * * *
“Headmaster,” Harry nodded. Luna said nothing.
“Hello Harry, Miss Lovegood,” Dumbledore greeted them. “How are you both?”
“Fine, sir, thank you,” the boy politely replied.
Luna remained silent, staring, and unnerving Dumbledore all the more for doing so. It was rare someone had the tenacity to engage in eye contact with him for any length of time. Perhaps he too had underestimated the girl, and now he wondered how much that mistake would cost him.
As if reading his thoughts, Luna raised an eyebrow to let him know that she knew exactly what he was thinking and that, yes, he had a right to be worried. Instantly, her face smoothed as she once again donned her trademark vagueness.
Dumbledore blinked; the girl’s mask was quite disarming, and even now he wondered how much of it was an act or whether her moments of lucidity were simply fleeting.
“Excellent, excellent. Now, Harry, it is my understanding you wish to discuss your courses for the upcoming term?”
“Very well. You shall do so with Professor McGonagall in her office. As your Head of House, curriculum guidance is her responsibility, one in which she takes exceptional pride in delivering. Miss Lovegood, of course, is welcome to accompany you.”
“Thank you sir,” Harry responded. “However, I should like to speak with Madam Pomfrey first, if possible.”
Dumbledore became concerned. “Are you not well, dear boy?”
“I just have some questions.”
The Headmaster frowned. “Very well. You will find her in the Infirmary.”
Harry nodded. “Thank you for all of your help, Professor. We shall see you again shortly.”
Dumbledore nodded and Harry left, Luna floating after him and not giving so much as a passing glance back at the Headmaster.
“What are you up to, child?,” the old man muttered, wondering to which he was referring.* * * * *
“Poppy! Is it all clear?”
Madam Pomfrey looked up from her desk, her face a stormy mask of annoyance at the whispered intrusion until she discovered the speaker. At once her features relaxed into one of rare and undisguised pleasure as she saw the head of Harry Potter peeking in at her from behind a swinging door. After his first year, he had spent so much time in her domain, she had insisted that he address her by her given name when they were in private. Though it had taken him another two years to accomplish such a forbidding task, they had come to enjoy an extremely warm and congenial relationship.
“Harry!,” she beamed. “What are you doing here? No one told me you were coming.” She cocked an eyebrow. “Isn’t it a little early in the year for you to be in the Infirmary, young man?”
He snickered and entered the room as she waved him in. He had left Luna in the hall, searching for pixies whom, as she had explained, flitted about the hospital wing in relentless pursuit of wizarding hair with which to build their nests.
Poppy narrowed her eyes. “I’m detecting traces of healing spells. What happened.” She watched him gulp and presumed that whatever had occurred would displease her.
“I was mobbed in Diagon Alley,” he whispered.
Her mouth settled into a thin, grim line. She noted from his choice of verb that what most likely had transpired was that some of Harry’s more aggressive fans had gotten out of control, for had he been attacked by Death Eaters, he would have said as much. She did not appreciate that the boy gave blanket dispensation to those rabid individuals who believed they were entitled to a piece of him, as if he were cake. She stood and from a distance ran some quick diagnostic spells to determine if further care was needed.
“Adequate,” she grudgingly admitted. “Who was the caster?”
She grunted. Not the best, but certainly not inept, which was in and of itself surprising. She walked around and stood before her desk in more appropriate greeting, careful to ensure she was in his line of sight at all times. Sometimes he permitted her to hug him, but she well knew that he much preferred being the one to instigate an embrace. When he rushed into her arms, she concluded it was indeed a good day, despite the earlier scene, though she frowned at how prominent his vertebrae were. Nutrient potions would be necessary.
“Now,” she briskly said after he broke the gesture, “what can I do for you?”
He blushed and ducked his head. “Well, I have a favor to ask.”
“Which would explain the hug,” she nodded, though tempered the sharp remark with a smile. “Very well. What is it?”
He raised hopeful eyes. “I thought perhaps you might allow me to intern with you this year?”
Her eyes widened. “Here? In the Infirmary? But you hate it here!”
“I hate being a patient,” he qualified, grinning, “but I’m rather fond of the company.”
“Cheeky! You are entirely too charming for your own good,” she scowled. “Your father would be inordinately proud of this moment.” His nose scrunched as he upped the cuteness factor. She sighed in resignation, having not yet developed a defense for that particular maneuver. “Before I consider this, I wish you to explain your reasons for asking.”
His eyes became grave. “Because I know what’s expected of me once I leave Hogwarts, Poppy, if he doesn’t come for me sooner. I don’t want to be an Auror anymore. I don’t want to dedicate my life to taking the lives of others.”
She snapped her mouth closed and set her jaw, determined not to cry at the frank and rather depressing admission. She swallowed heavily.
“An admirable conclusion and a good reason to study mediwizardry,” she declared. “You have my permission. As soon as you know your schedule, send me an owl and we’ll determine your hours.”
Poppy smoothed his hair and disregarded his rather befuddled expression. “You’re a very bright boy, Harry, and an exceptionally powerful wizard. I have no doubt you will succeed. However, I demand that you study hard and pay attention. We will be dealing at times with serious injuries, and I will tolerate neither foolishness nor laziness. While you will by no means have your own patients, I will come to depend on your assistance. You will be here at the appointed times; you will not skip out or skive off; you will complete all of your assignments on time and without the assistance of Miss Granger. Is that understood?”
“Excellent. Now,” she began, as she made her way back over to her desk, “I am going to give you a list of preliminary reading materials. I want you obtain these as soon as possible. If you have any difficulty in doing this, you are to notify me at once. In order for this practicum to be effective, you will have to maintain the grades in your other classes. Have you learned your O.W.L. scores yet?”
He nodded and dug the sheet out of his pocket, handing it over into the woman’s already-outstretched hand, as he took in his other the list she already held. He would send a school owl to Flourish and Blotts before leaving Hogwarts.
“You haven’t opened them,” she noted.
He looked down at his shuffling feet. “I’m not sure I want to.”
She rolled her eyes. “May I?” At his nod, she ripped open the envelope and silently read the document. “This is...rather remarkable,” she allowed.
Harry frowned. “How so?”
She gave a haughty sniff. “Well, Mister Potter, you certainly have no further excuse to claim ever again ignorance or lack of cleverness. In fact, should you ever do so in my presence, I will personally box your ears.”
His eyes widened.
“You honestly have no idea?,” she shrieked, her brows drawn.
He shrugged. “Well, I think I did well on Defense, and probably Charms, but I know I flunked Divination and most likely History of Magic.”
“Well, you’re mostly right,” she snorted, and held out the record, which he warily accepted.
He sighed, braced himself, and began reading.* * * * *Ordinary Wizarding Level ResultsHarry James Potter
... (E/E)Care of Magical Creatures
... (O/O)*Defense Against the Dark Arts
... (O/O)History of Magic
... (O/O)Total O.W.L.s Earned: 16Please note that there are varying determining factors in computing the final scores, not limited to but including raw magical power, strength of performance, length of spellcasting, and others. Those courses which have both Theory and Practical portions have been assigned a score for each.Special Notes
:Congratulations, Mister Potter! Your exceptional scores and the breadth of knowledge and power you displayed on your Charms and Defense Against the Dark Arts exams have qualified you for N.E.W.T. level credit in those disciplines. As such, the Founders’ Award for Magical Excellence has been conferred upon you. Information regarding the award ceremony will be delivered by owl at a later date. Incidentally, it might please you know that this award was last presented to your mother, Lily Evans.
1. Hermione Granger (Gryffindor)
2. Padma Patil (Ravenclaw)
3. Harry Potter (Gryffindor)
4. Draco Malfoy (Slytherin)
5. Blaise Zabini (Slytherin)
6. Neville Longbottom (Gryffindor)
7. Ronald Weasley (Gryffindor)
8. Justin Finch-Fletchley (Hufflepuff)
9. Lisa Turpin (Ravenclaw)
10. Susan Bones (Hufflepuff)* * * * *
Poppy watched with bemusement as Harry’s face shifted from fear to disbelief to shock and, finally, to sadness. She gathered he must have read the portion referring to his mother.
“You’re quite a bit like her, you know,” she quietly said.
Harry looked up at her and blinked furiously. “Like my mum? But everyone else says I’m like my dad.”
“You look like your father, except for the eyes, of course, and I’m sure you’ve grown quite annoyed at both descriptions. And yes, you often display several of your father’s characteristics, but those who knew your mother well see much of her within you. Lily was an extremely gifted witch, much along the lines of Miss Granger. While I know that many thought it strange that you and Hermione became so close so quickly, those of us who knew your mother were unsurprised.”
“Poppy! Hermione and I aren’t dating!,” he scolded.
She smirked. “Yes, well, your mother and father, before anything else, were best friends. But I digress. Lily was exceptional in practically everything, and her sheer determination ensured that she would excel in that to which she set her mind. You have her tenacity, Harry, and you have her intelligence.” She frowned and looked at him more closely. “I gather most people who knew your parents remark only on the physical resemblances, or that James played Quidditch, yes?”
Harry nodded. “So many people expect me to be like my dad. Sirius, Remus, even Snape. I guess I’ve just become used to it, though I’m not really sure how much like him I am truly am. It’s not like I have anything to go by, do I?” He sighed and lowered his voice. “I’ve never...I try not to think about her, you know? About what she did, what she sacrificed. It...it hurts, Poppy. And part of me hates her for it, hates her for saving me and leaving me alone, and that makes me feel guilty and ungrateful.”
This time, she didn’t hesitate in engulfing him in an embrace. “The instinct to protect our young is far older than magic or even humanity, Harry,” she whispered. "It’s visceral, it’s primal. Would you ever do less for your own child? Would you do less for Ron or Hermione? What about what you did for young Miss Weasley?”
“I never thought of it that way.”
“Because in such instances, there is no time for thought. You do what needs to be done. It was more important to Lily that you survive. Harry, you need to understand something. Whether or not you had ever been born, your parents were targets for Voldemort before they even married. That he came to Godric’s Hollow that night had little to do with you. Oh, in the abstract, you were a large part of it, of course, but, and I’m sorry to be blunt, he had been trying to kill them for years. But the bottom line is that their deaths are certainly not your fault.”
He clung to her and wept like she doubted he ever had before. Indeed, despite his lengthy list of injuries and ailments, she had almost never seen him cry. That more than anything made her own eyes well. Poppy was startled when the doors to the Infirmary were suddenly thrown open and Luna charged into the room, wand drawn, and looking quite feral.
Luna ignored her. “Harry, are you all right?”
He nodded. “I’m fine. Just got a bit soppy over my O.W.L. results.”
The girl stalked over and thrust out her hand, and he gave her the parchment. She perused it restlessly and when she looked back up at him, she raised an eyebrow.
“Only an E in Astronomy, Harry? Is it so difficult for you to look at stars? Perhaps you need new glasses. Madam Pomfrey, would you please check his prescription?”
Poppy gasped but Harry began snickering and loosened his grasp on her.
“Only you, Luna,” he wheezed.
“Ronald will be pleased by his standing.”
“I hope so.”
Luna sighed in exasperation. “Harry, are you honestly going to apologize for being more gifted than Ronald? I know you’re his friend and your modesty is admirable, but it’s really past time you accepted that you’re a powerful wizard. Your continued persistence that you are not is frankly boring, and the Heliopaths quite agree.”
He giggled despite his best efforts.
“Miss Lovegood,” Poppy said warily, “are you quite well?”
“Oh, I’m fine, Madam Pomfrey, thank you, but did you know you have a pixie infestation in the capital above the third window in the hall? You really should dispel them, or they’ll be attacking students for their hair. They quite prefer redheads, you know, so perhaps you should warn the Weasleys and Professor McGonagall.”
Poppy gave the girl a ruthless appraisal. Luna Lovegood was as much her mother’s child as Harry was his. It was tragic such two exceptional children had been forced to grow up without their mothers’ love, though at least Luna had experienced it for a time. She was rather surprised not by Luna’s storming into the room, not by her easy friendship with Harry Potter, and neither the girl’s subtle sense of humor nor obvious wisdom, but that Luna Lovegood had seen fit to appear sober in her presence. How interesting.
“Well, Mister Potter, shall we continue our discussion? Miss Lovegood, you are free to stay, but you will remain quiet.”
Luna shrugged and plopped down on a bed, sticking her wand behind her ear and staring off.
“As I was saying, Harry, your scores are quite remarkable. I confess I never would have believed you would do so well in Potions,” Poppy frankly stated.
“Me neither!,” he blurted.
She twitched her lips. “An O in Transfiguration; I’m quite sure Minerva was ecstatic. Os in Herbology and Charms, as well as your Potions score, will help you greatly with your internship, as will your O in Care of Magical Creatures. The fact the you earned N.E.W.T. level credit for both Charms and Defense speaks of your ability and tells me I can expect a lot from you. And make no mistake, Mister Potter, I will have very high expectations. You’ve managed to earn an O.W.L. in every course. Well,” she snorted, “those which matter.” Harry snickered and though Poppy wished to join him, she refrained. “Now, do you know what classes you plan to take this year?”
He went through his list.
She frowned. “Harry, you do understand that if you are to consider mediwizardry as a career, you must continue with Potions?”
“With all due respect, ma’am, I think we both know that I will most likely not even be alive to have a career.”
Luna clucked her tongue but said nothing.
“Do not dare speak such utter rubbish in my presence!,” Poppy roared. “That kind of defeatist attitude will kill you much sooner than any Death Eater!” She lowered her voice. “Harry, I understand your desire to abandon Potions, but this score tells me you’re far more talented than you believe, despite of the treatment you received from your...instructor.” She hemmed and hawed for minute. “Very well. I will tutor you privately in the potions you will need to learn for your internship, as well as any other you wish to learn to brew. Many healing potions are analogues for the more useless concoctions you would learn in class, but you should nevertheless learn them.”
“I can’t ask you to do that!,” Harry protested.
“Well, it’s a good thing you didn’t ask, then, isn’t it?,” she briskly replied. “Now, then, you will learn whatever potions I decide you need to master, and you will brew them only in my presence until I am assured of your competency. In fact, I believe I will make that one of your primary duties, and then perhaps I shall not be forced to rely so much on Professor Snape for hisgenerosit,” she sneered.
“I simply do not have the time to brew potions on my own. You should learn more than enough to sit for your Potions N.E.W.T.” She nodded. “Now, I gather you also have an appointment with Minerva, and you would be wise not to keep her waiting. Inform her that you have my consent to intern here in the Infirmary, and if she has any questions or concerns, she can broach them with me herself.”
Harry blushed. “Thank you, Poppy.”
She nodded gruffly. “Now get out, both of you!”
She watched in satisfaction as they made a hasty retreat and wondered why, according to her diagnostic spells, Harry was slightly more than one year older than he was supposed to be.
She doubted it meant anything good, but she’d keep it to herself. For now.* * * * *
Viktor Krum frowned as he again read Harry’s letter before laying it down next to him and rubbing his eyes with his hands.
When it had been delivered last night by a rather exhausted house elf, Viktor had been surprised and not a little scared, dreading that he was about to be informed of Hermione’s death. After word had leaked out of Harry’s escapade in the Ministry, Viktor had been horrified to learn that Hermione had been attacked by that cretin Dolohov. It had taken all of his self-control not to give chase to that murderer and exact vengeance; it disgusted him that he was distantly related to such a loathsome man.
A cooler head had prevailed, however, and he had refrained, knowing that such action might do more harm than good. He didn’t want to bring unnecessary attention to Hermione and further compromise her safety. Of course, he realized, she would have likely hexed him into oblivion. He gave a small smile. She was an uncommonly clever witch, and she had known what she was doing when she had aligned herself with Harry. The last thing she’d want was him swooping in and trying to rescue her. She didn’t need a hero; she already was one.
Viktor sighed. He wished he had been more faithful in his correspondence with Hermione, but his training and touring schedules left little time for friends, though he still did consider her a close friend and hoped she thought the same. She had been the only one during the Tournament to be unimpressed by him, which had made him all the more impressed with her. His fellow Durmstrang students had indicated that this was so because Hermione was a lowly Muggleborn and thus was ignorant of his importance. He snorted at the reminiscence; Hermione was about as ignorant as Athena and almost as powerful.
No, she had treated him as if he were any other boy, and it had been a long time since he had felt that kind of freedom. She liked him because of who he was; because he was Viktor. Sometimes he forgot that people might want to be his friend not because he caught a Snitch. Of course, Harry had been equally kind to him, not even asking for so much as an autograph, which left little hope that Viktor could ask for an autograph of his own. When he had returned to Bulgaria after his time at Hogwarts, all his friends and family wanted to know about was Harry Potter. Not the Tournament, not Voldemort, but Harry.
The more Viktor had thought about Harry, the more curious he had become. His interactions with the younger boy had been brief and superficial, as most contact between contestants was barred lest it seem they were colluding together in the Tournament. On first glance - actually, on the first several glances - Harry Potter hadn’t seemed particularly remarkable, but the First Task had been an eye-opening experience for Viktor. As he had watched Harry outrace a dragon - and how embarrassed he had been for never thinking to summon his own broom! - the boy’s Seeker reflexes absolutely amazing for his age, and Viktor had understood finally why Harry Potter had been named a Champion.
Not that he had believed the boy had placed his name in the Goblet in the first place; as he had watched Harry’s eyes widen with surprise and then horror when his name was called, there was no way he had believed Harry would have subjected himself to that. When he had later overheard Diggory telling Harry that he believed him when Harry said he hadn’t entered, Viktor had most of his questions answered; at the hope and happiness which had sparkled in Harry’s eyes at Cedric’s affirmation, he had all of his questions answered.
Harry liked boys. Harry had liked Cedric. It made Viktor very sad that Harry had never told Cedric, for he was fairly certain Cedric had liked Harry, as well.
The news was not about Hermione, however; she was apparently safe, thank the gods. Instead, he had found out more about Harry Potter and his friends than he ever wished to know, which meant he had some tough decisions to make.
His initial perusal of the missive had left him stunned. He had read it several times in an effort to comprehend exactly what Harry was telling him. Viktor had experienced myriad emotions in those minutes before sending his owl to inform his manager that he was taking an immediate leave of absence of unspecified duration. He wanted to be ready to depart at a moment’s notice when Harry sent for him.
He would help his Hermione. He would help his Harry.
Viktor retrieved from his bedside table a letter he should have delivered more than a year ago after it had been entrusted to him, but had never been able to bring himself to do so. Perhaps now was the time.