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Harry Potter and the Years of Rebellion
Rue Britannia

By Mike [FP]

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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Chapter Thirty-eight

RUE BRITTANIA

September 21

After a terse and mercifully brief breakfast, Harry had little if anything to do. He wasn't especially interested in what the workmen were doing nor did he wish to stand in their way. He spent the balance of the day with his books and papers – writing a scroll for Croaker, drafting a strategy for Flitwick, going over the plans for the Defence Club, reading ahead for Detheridge and making notes for his sessions with Dumbledore. His schedule was far fuller than it had ever been, but it didn't seem a drudge to him. Hogwarts exerted a different sort of pressure now. He wasn't competing for marks anymore; his final examination would be scored based on survival. Oddly, he found this challenge more comfortable than his previous five years of study.

At four o'clock, he was interrupted by a knock at the door to his guest room. MacLeish's house elf, Bluey, stood at the door with an armload of long plastic bags. “Bluey is pleased to bring Mr. Potter garments for this evening,” he said.

“Come in, come in,” Harry said quickly. He had planned to wear his dark suit, but wasn't surprised that MacLeish would provide something for him. Bluey snapped his fingers; one of the bags vanished and the clothing within was hung in an armoire Harry hadn't noticed. The tuxedo reminded Harry of his dress robes for the Yule Ball during his fourth year. There was a small velvet case at the bottom of the armoire. Harry opened it to find two pins.

“Mr. MacLeish provides these pins for Mr. Potter,” Bluey explained. “These are the crests of Mr. Potter's noble houses.”

Harry looked over the tuxedo and grimaced at the bowtie. “I think I can tie one of these...” he said.

“Bluey ties them for Mr. MacLeish – best Mr. Potter keeps that to himself,” the house-elf said quietly. “Madam MacLeish ties the ties for Mr. MacLeish in days past.”

“You like her, don't you – Lucia, I mean?” Harry said.

Bluey said, “Yes, Mr. Potter. Madam MacLeish is good for Mr. MacLeish,” then added not quite under his breath, “even if they fight like two kneazles in a trunk.”

“Oh, I like you,” Harry chuckled.

“Mr. Potter is too kind. Mr. MacLeish greets you and Madam in the entry hall at fifteen minutes to the hour,” Bluey said with a bow and then disappeared with the faintest of pops.

Harry gave five fruitless minutes of attention to his hair – which was especially uncooperative – before he turned to his bowtie. After a dozen attempts, he wished for a talking washroom mirror that had some idea of how to tie a proper knot. He was happy to be interrupted by a soft rapping at the door.

Covelli was wearing an off-white dress without sleeves and cut low enough in the front to favour a quite expensive-looking pendant. She looked Harry up and down, and stopped on the bowtie draped limply across his shoulder. “It is rather different than a Windsor knot, yes?” she said.

“I think the one with my dress robes must have been charmed,” Harry grumbled.

“Allow me,” Covelli said, and she proceeded to put the bowtie in perfect order in a single attempt.

“Er... thank you,” Harry said.

Covelli gestured to the corridor. “Keith's protocol staff will have a difficult evening, I fear,” she said. “It would be best if we made our way to the hall.”

They found MacLeish pacing at the foot of the large stairs. The hall was spotless. There were rows of hors d'ouvres to each side, stations to serve drinks, and a small army of people attending to details that were unfathomable to Harry. He figured that if MacLeish's intention was to impress, then this should manage the job nicely.

“There you are!” MacLeish exclaimed. “We sent out entire wardrobes – entire bloody wardrobes! How difficult can it be to dress oneself? At least women's dress robes come close to blending...”

“Oh, dear...” Covelli said.

“I've four people working the reception tent, and at this rate it'll be midnight before we get everyone past,” groaned MacLeish.

“Keith... it may be for the best to keep the gatherings separated,” Covelli said.

“I’ve already separated the social hours and the meals,” MacLeish admitted, “and only a few of us will be going between the two. There's no practical way to carve up the performance. I don't care if they can't talk with an ordinary without being tongue-tied; they just need to look the part. Could you…?”

Covelli sighed, “Very well; I shall see what you have wrought.” She left for the tent outside, and MacLeish led Harry to a room just off the corridor that joined the doorway and the entry hall itself. There was a bar in one corner, from which a manservant was prepared to serve drinks.

“We’ll be pulling aside some of the guests – dignitaries and the like – so they can be introduced,” MacLeish explained. “You’ll enter just before I do. This is a chance for you to meet some of the wizarding elite, not just from Britain but from around the world. Let’s take advantage of it, shall we?”

The room filled and in short order, MacLeish was leading Harry around the hall from one wizard to the next. Harry was surprised at how many of the guests had come from abroad. Some were investors in MacLeish's magical ventures around the world and others were public officials of various stripes. After several introductions, MacLeish was drawn into a conversation about American wizarding radio that Harry could barely follow. He moved to slip away just as Dumbledore entered. If he hadn't already seen the Headmaster with his beard and hair shortened back in St. Ebb, Harry might have missed him entirely. It was the Headmaster's guest who took Harry by surprise.

“Ron?”

“Harry! Quite a crowd, isn't it?” Ron returned.

“You're looking dashing today, Harry,” Dumbledore said. “That applies to you as well, of course, Mr. Weasley.”

Ron, who was perfectly dressed, shrugged. “It's not maroon, there's no lace and I don't look like a goblin on parade,” he said.

“I'm glad you're here, mate, but... er...” Harry started.

“I thought it might be helpful if a familiar face or two were present,” said Dumbledore. “And thus Mr. Weasley is spending the evening completing a special assignment for the Headmaster. That in and of itself should be good for a common room story or two, I imagine?”

“Amazing...” Ron said. “Quidditch stars... that bloke over there's the sporting reader for the WWN, I think... is that Celestina Warbeck?”

“Where?” Dumbledore asked.

“There, with that… um… that’s a hat, isn’t it?” said Ron.

“That is Miss Warbeck indeed,” Dumbledore said, “and I can think of nothing suitable to say about that hat. Nonetheless, we shall be gentlemen on this occasion and keep our amusement to ourselves. If you will excuse me, I should see if Mr. MacLeish and his courtiers might benefit from my assistance.”

“This should be fun to watch,” Harry murmured.

“Is Dumbledore always like this?” Ron asked.

Harry kept his eyes on the Headmaster. “Like what?” he said absently.

Ron shrugged. “You know, like he's being today – funny, friendly, that sort of thing?”

“Sometimes,” Harry said.

Dumbledore appeared almost jovial as he approached MacLeish. MacLeish met Dumbledore with an equal smile and an engaging handshake. The surprise of the assembled witches and wizards was palpable.

Ron squinted at the other side of the room. “Neville?” he called out.

Neville raised a hand. “Harry! Ron...?”

Harry clapped Neville on the shoulder. “What are you doing here?” he asked.

“Same as you, I expect,” Neville said. “Gran insisted that I come – gave the Headmaster a right tussle over it. Susan Bones is here somewhere as well, and Serena Fawcett – she was a Ravenclaw, remember? – and a few others, as well…”

“Mr. Urquhart? Madam Urquhart? If you please...?” someone called. A younger student who Harry dimly recognised and a woman who looked to be his mother made their way to the door from the anteroom to the entry hall. They stood framed in the door as a polished voice announced, “Mr. Quentin Urquhart, fourth year student in Slytherin House at Hogwarts School and Heir Presumptive to the House of Rackharrow, accompanied by his mother, Madam Ursula Urquhart.” With that, they strolled into the hall.

Susan Bones emerged from the crowd. “I should have known you'd be here, Harry,” she said with a smile. “Father, this is Harry Potter.”

A man of similar height to his own with Susan's hair extended a hand. “Leonard Bones, Mr. Potter. My daughter speaks highly of you, as does my sister.”

“I like Madam Bones,” said Harry; “She’s honest.”

“This MacLeish certainly knows how to put on a spectacle, eh? I haven't seen anything on this scale since... well, since 1981. What do you think of all this?” Mr. Bones asked.

Harry said, “He wants to show his influence. He has interesting ideas.”

“Is that so? I'd like to hear about it some time,” said Mr. Bones. “At any rate, I couldn't miss a chance to escort my Susie to the biggest event of the year.”

“Dad!” Susan said as she flushed.

Ron and Mr. Bones made small talk about Quidditch and Susan nervously downed two drinks before their names were called. “Mr. Leonard Bones, 6th Lord of the Noble and Most Respected House of Bones, accompanied by his daughter, Miss Susan Bones, Heiress Presumptive to the Noble and Most Respected House of Bones and Inheritor of the House of Marchbanks.

Ron turned to Neville but was quickly distracted. “Will you look at that? Didn't expect to see him here...”

Mr. Viktor Krum, Seeker for the Bulgarian National Team and newly signed by the Fitchburg Finches Quidditch Club, accompanied by Her Royal Highness Emilia, Master Enchantress, Duchess of Solversborg and daughter of Christian III, the Muggle King of Sweden.

“Bloody hell!” Ron said, loudly enough to attract attention; “And how did Fitchburg pick him up, anyway? I can’t believe Vrasta would let him go!”

“Krum doesn't aim low, does he?” Neville said. “I'm sure you'd agree, Harry, since you're aiming at Hermione these days.”

“Aren't you the cheeky one?” said Harry.

“I took a shot from the bar,” Neville whispered. “Don't tell Gran – she'd flay the skin off my back.”

“A shot? Do you mean firewhiskey?” Ron asked.

Neville snorted, “I’m not stupid; steam rushing from my ears might be a bit obvious, what?”

“Dunno… doesn’t sound so bad,” Ron said nervously.

Neville slung his arms around Ron and Harry. “Morgana's tits! Is that who I think it is?” he blurted out.

Ron gave a sad sigh. “I'd heard he was out of St. Mungo's. Hermione mentioned seeing him, didn't she?”

“Not to me, at least that I remember,” Harry said. “I can't believe that git's running free.”

Mr. Gilderoy Lockhart, best-selling author of 'Joined Up Letters: Rediscovering the Real Me and How the Wizarding World Should Be”, and assistant director and chief spokeswizard for the Dark Forces Defence League.”

Ron turned to Neville. “Er... Morgana's tits...?”

“Just slipped out,” Neville winced. “Looks like it's my turn – I'd best stop hiding from Gran.”

“He really did have something from the bar, didn't he?” Ron said in disbelief as Neville drifted away.

Mr. Neville Longbottom, sixth year student in Gryffindor House at Hogwarts School, Heir Presumptive to the Noble House of Longbottom and the House of Croaker and Inheritor of the House of Castor, accompanied by Madam Augusta Longbottom, Matriarch of the Noble House of Longbottom and the current year’s chair for the Daughters of the Goblin Wars.”

And so it proceeded, one after the next, until few remained. One of those was a girl he knew that he'd seen around Hogwarts, who looked to be quite alone. Harry took a deep breath and made his way to her. “Hello,” he said, “You're...?”

The dark-haired girl bore herself up and shook his hand. “Serena Fawcett; I know who you are, of course,” she said, and then turned to Ron. “You're a Weasley, aren't you?”

“Ron Weasley,” he said and put out his hand.

“Are you here on your own?” Harry asked.

Serena nodded. “I hate society functions,” she said. “It’s hard to fathom I tried to put my name in the Goblet of Fire, isn't it? I'd rather have faced a dragon than to have come here, but my aunt insisted.”

“My brothers tried to enter; it didn't go so well for them,” Ron said.

“Yes, we had matching white beards for a time. I should have known better, but I thought I had a charm that would do the trick,” she said.

“It's just as well for you that it didn't work,” Harry said flatly.

Serena paled and said, “Oh, sorry… it wasn’t my intention...”

“It's nothing,” Harry waved her off.

“You could walk with us if you like?” Harry said abruptly to Serena.

“It might be taken a bit odd were I to enter with two men in tow, wouldn't you think?” she returned.

Ron said, “Wouldn't have thought of that... look, why don't you go in with Harry? It really isn't a bother...”

Serena stopped him. “How would you like to create a stir, Weasley? We can be uncomfortable together, if you like?”

“Are you sure?” Ron asked. “I mean, I'm glad to do it but I wouldn't want you to think I'm... er...”

“It goes without saying that you’re absurdly brave. If you've spent five years standing at Harry Potter's side and he hasn't turned you away, then it stands to reason that you’re a loyal friend and certainly not a gold-digger,” Serena said. “Why wouldn’t I wish to be seen with you? Shall we?”

Ron pursed his lips, and then said with a shrug, “Why not? You really think there'll be a stir?”

“Oh, most definitely,” Serena said. Harry and Ron approached the staffer closest to the door, who appeared annoyed but scribbled changes on two cards.

“Miss Fawcett?” the staffer called.

“Are you ready for this?” Serena asked Ron uncertainly.

“Erm... sure?” Ron said, and she let out a nervous giggle.

Miss Serena Fawcett, Heiress Presumptive to the Noble and Studious House of Fawcett… accompanied by Mr. Ronald Weasley, captain and Keeper of the Gryffindor House Quidditch Club, and known across the wizarding world for the mid-air rescue of his sister from the clutches of the notorious terrorist Peter Pettigrew.”

Ron caught Harry's eye and mouthed in a panic, “Studious?”

Harry had to turn away to keep from laughing. He did wonder what it really meant to be an Heiress or a Master or a Lord in wizarding terms; it was one more thing that no one had ever bothered to explain. His thoughts were disturbed by the shrill voice of Minister Fudge, who was in the midst of a tirade launched at Dumbledore. Covelli looked on in amusement. A woman Harry presumed to be Madam Fudge watched in discomfort.

“Now see here, Dumbledore, I'm the Minister for Magic! I shan't have a schoolmaster follow my introduction!” Fudge blustered.

“I am somewhat more than a schoolmaster; you must admit that much,” said Dumbledore.

“Dumbledore -” Fudge began

Dumbledore held up his hands. “Cornelius, if you had been listening previously, then you would have heard clearly that I have already conceded your argument. Surely you do not believe that the order of introductions is of any significance to me?”

Fudge stood there for a moment with a look on his face that somehow reminded Harry of Aunt Marge's dog, before he straightened his coat and said, “Well... well... that's settled then, isn't it?” Dumbledore whispered something to Covelli, who responded with tinkling laughter, and left Fudge in consternation. They took their places before the door.

The Honourable Albus Dumbledore, Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards; Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot of Scotland and England; Headmaster of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; Grand Sorcerer; Master Alchemist; and honoured with the Order of Merlin, First Class, for his defeat of the Dark Lord Grindelwald... accompanied by Doctor Lucia Covelli, practitioner of Muggle healing arts; instructor of the History of Magic at Hogwarts School and apprenticed to the school in alchemy and historical research; and recipient of the Order of Merlin, Third Class.”

There were noticeable intakes of breath at the references to alchemy for some reason. Harry shook that off and half-listened to Fudge's interminably long introduction. The room was emptied now and he expected that he would be next.

MacLeish moved smoothly beside him. “Your friend Weasley went with the Fawcett girl, eh?” he said. “It's just you and me, then. After you?” Harry took his place hesitantly and the man with the polished voice looked over a card, then looked at Harry, and then returned his eyes to the card.

Harry Potter -

The hall went abruptly quiet and hundreds of pairs of eyes turned to face the corridor. Harry forced a smile onto his face. The speaker licked his lips and began again.

Harry Potter, 13th Lord of the Noble and Courageous House of Potter; 21st Lord of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black; Inheritor of the Houses of Wright, Molyngton, Piggott, Waldegrave, Bartelot, Grimsby, Milhollen, Bennet, Farthing, Stanwix, Boothby and Henshawe; and apprenticed in specialised studies to the Honourable Albus Dumbledore.”

Harry knew all of that from the Potter tapestry that he and Luna had examined, but it was startling to hear it aloud. He nearly caught his foot on the corner of a rug. The applause that erupted ranged from enthusiastic to perfunctory; all Harry knew for certain was that it was loud. As he looked into eyes filled with greed, laud, lust, disgust, and hope, it occurred to him that perhaps being introduced simply as The-Boy-Who-Lived wasn't so awful after all. He found himself shaking hands with people he’d never seen before, and then was quickly flanked by Dumbledore and Covelli in such a way that the message to the crowd was clear: stay clear of Harry Potter unless invited. The speaker lightly cleared his throat – just enough via the Sonorus charm that he captured everyone's attention – and then announced,

Your host for the evening is Mr. Keith MacLeish, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Vox Corporation, a 1945 graduate of the Hogwarts School from Gryffindor House, and the new publisher of The Daily Prophet.”

MacLeish made his way into the hall without making any remarks. He shook hands with Minister Fudge and Dumbledore, before the speaker finished by saying, “Please avail yourselves of refreshments. The evening meal will begin in forty minutes.”

Dumbledore patted Harry’s shoulder. “A spectacular event, is it not?” the Headmaster said; “I recommend that you take a moment for an Occlumency meditation. The machinations of others in several languages can be quite oppressive.”

“Is that why I'm looking for an exit?” Harry asked.

“Perhaps so,” said Dumbledore. “Take a moment to still yourself and shut out all the conflicting thoughts in the room.” He waited patiently whilst Harry closed his eyes and put himself through one of Covelli's calming exercises.

When he was finished, Dumbledore added, “This event calls to mind a gathering of the International Confederation: instructive but tedious. Tell me, Harry – what do you believe is happening around us?”

Harry saw Fudge stood to one corner, immersed in conversation with a coterie of witches and wizards. “MacLeish is making Fudge look like an idiot,” he said.

“And that should matter to whom?” Dumbledore asked.

“The people he's speaking with, I suppose?” Harry returned.

“Some of those are his sycophants, but others are less closely tied,” observed Dumbledore. “This is a rare opportunity to contrast Minister Fudge with his international counterparts. Mr. Robbins, the Australian minister, has already ingratiated himself with most assembled here, including those now with Minister Fudge. It doesn't do at all to pale against the colonials, I assure you. Even Mrs. Grolier, the consul from the American government, appears weightier than our Mr. Fudge this evening. What else do you see?”

“MacLeish wants to show he has power,” Harry said.

“Clearly, but to whom?” asked Dumbledore.

“Fudge...?”

“Certainly.”

“Fudge's supporters...?”

“Quite so.”

“The wizards from other countries...?”

“This is an opportunity to strengthen his influence, yes, although that does not come with risk.”

“To me, I suppose...”

“That is clear.”

“To the other students he invited?”

“He would seem to be cultivating your generation. I was not pleased by the prospect of allowing students leave during the term, but would have looked petulant by objecting,” Dumbledore said. “What if I were to tell you that a fair number of my school colleagues from around the world are in attendance?”

“Is that how he's putting on for you?” Harry wondered.

“In that he may be making a statement about the quality of your tuition, yes... yes, I do believe you are correct,” agreed the Headmaster. “Do you see how persons with sympathies leaning to both sides of the fight with Voldemort are present? He is making it plain that he is open to speaking with anyone. At the same time, he shows a bias toward international cooperation, freedom of commerce and freedom of enquiry. For most, these are difficult points with which to disagree, but they do seem to set Mr. MacLeish against Voldemort. Do you think this to be accurate?”

“I think he's on his own side, honestly,” Harry said.

Dumbledore smiled. “Perhaps this sort of thing is your cup of tea?” he said. “If I might have a few minutes of your time, there are a few of my colleagues and friends whom I should like you to meet.”

Now it was Dumbledore who led him through introductions. Instead of being introduced as MacLeish's business partner, he was now the Headmaster's apprentice. He was introduced to Mrs. Grolier, who identified herself as the wizarding attaché for the American embassy; and to Mr. Robbins, the Australian Minister. Harry shook hands with Amos Diggory, who was cordial but visibly uncomfortable. There was a quick exchange with Madam Bones; she reminded Harry that they needed to establish a regular meeting regarding his affairs. He also met a man introduced only as Mr. Whyte, who was apparently the head of the Department of Mysteries. Mr. Whyte seemed untroubled by the damage wrought in June, but eyed Harry rather like a walking laboratory experiment. Dumbledore took him past several of the wizarding nobles, some of whom he had already met.

The rest were the Headmaster's counterparts from around the world. Most of them ran together in Harry's mind, excepting John Bear. Bear was the principal of the Rogue River School for Shamans and Sorcerers. He said that the school was in Arcadia but then talked of the Rocky Mountains, which Harry understood to be in America. His manner was casual and his dark suit was of a cut Harry had never before seen. There was something about the way he spoke that captivated Harry, something powerful and unclouded. Bear mentioned that the next conclave of the International Confederation would be held in Arcadia and he invited Dumbledore to bring Harry for a visit. Dumbledore was unreadable on the matter but Harry hoped that it might happen.

MacLeish caught up with them. “Hello, Dumbledore,” he said. “Listen, I’ve someone at the other reception who Harry must meet.”

“Ahh, this is about Mr. Lowell?” Dumbledore asked.

“Edward’s a good man for Harry to know,” MacLeish said.

“Lowell… Edward Lowell… you want me to meet the PM?” Harry realised.

“Right in one, Harry,” MacLeish said jauntily.

Harry took a deep breath and nodded. MacLeish led him toward the doors and outside to one of the massive tents; Dumbledore followed them. MacLeish gave a nod to two men standing at the entry to the tent; they gave way, and the three of them entered the crowded tent.

“I have met the man on one occasion, in the company of Minister Fudge,” said Dumbledore. “He seemed bright and rather decisive. Mr. MacLeish may offer an introduction, or I may do so. Which would you prefer?”

Harry searched the room for the Prime Minister, whose face he knew from the telly. Lowell was near the centre of the tent, shaking hands with a throng of people despite being surrounded by several black-suited men. Harry thought for a long moment, and then said, “I'll manage it myself.”

“Harry... I am not sure that would be the wisest course...” Dumbledore said.

“His security is expecting me –” MacLeish began.

Harry shrugged. At that moment, a knot of guests drifted past; he took the opportunity and darted forward before either man could follow. He worked his way into the crowd around the Prime Minister, and was very surprised to see one of the men in black suits.

“Shacklebolt?”

The bald wizard nodded in recognition. “Hello, Potter,” he said; “Mr. MacLeish said you’d be dropping by. Mr. Prime Minister…?”

The Prime Minister gave a practiced smile and extended his hand automatically. “Good evening,” he said to Harry.

“Hello, sir... erm... I’m Harry Potter,” Harry offered.

Prime Minister Lowell crooked an eyebrow and turned to Shacklebolt. “This is Harry Potter?”

“He’s much more than he appears,” Shacklebolt returned.

“I see you shook off MacLeish,” Lowell noted.

“I can speak for myself,” said Harry.

“If half of what I’ve heard is true, I've no doubt. Walk with me,” the Prime Minister said. With a nod, four of the black-suited men took up places around them. Shacklebolt remained behind. Harry let himself be led out of another door from the tent and to a large limousine.

“Let’s sit for a while, Mr. Potter,” Lowell said. One of the guards moved to open a side door, and Harry followed Lowell inside.

Despite feeling at a remove from both the wizarding and Muggle worlds, Harry couldn't help but feel a thrill at meeting the PM. Edward Lowell was a popular and powerful figure. He was Britain's first true wartime PM since Churchill, and many older Englishmen compared him favourably to his famous predecessor. If it weren't for the Scottish Problem, he would have faced only a semblance of opposition.

“It's a pleasure to meet you, sir... er, Your Honour...?” Harry began.

The PM laughed aloud. “Your Honour... oh, that's rich! 'Mr. Lowell' will do nicely,” he said.

Harry cleared his throat and then asked, “What can I do for you, Mr. Lowell?”

“I'm well informed of your world, Mr. Potter – better than any of my fellows in a century or more, I'll wager,” Lowell said.

“Do you have a squib in your family?” Harry wondered.

“A squib... that's one of your sort with very little magic, is that it? No, I've no squibs in my past – at least none of whom I'm aware,” Lowell said. “Your man Fudge gave me the customary briefing a month or so after I took office. A few weeks later, MacLeish revealed himself to me. I take what he says with fair suspicion, but he has made some useful contacts for me. He also discovered that a childhood friend of mine attended your school; she and I take tea now and again.”

“So you know about me...?” Harry ventured.

“Not only does my old friend have interesting tales to tell, but my office takes both of your magical papers,” Lowell returned. “I don't entirely know what to make of all of this, in truth. If there’s one certainty, it’s that there’s no middle ground about you: either loved or reviled. I respect that in a man – it means you're not afraid to speak up.”

“I do my best,” Harry said nervously.

“I imagine that you do,” said Lowell. “My youngest is about your age – he's in his final year at Eton. John's biggest worries are his maths. You're apparently a national hero... heady stuff for a school boy, isn't it?”

“I don't let it go to my head, if that's what you're getting at, sir...?” Harry protested.

Lowell went on, “This Voldemort chap – your man Fudge spent a year denying his... well, his return from the dead, apparently. Now MacLeish's paper is printing self-defence instructions, that other paper is starting to make a bit of sense, and Fudge spent the best part of an hour last week dancing around my enquiries. What should I make of that?”

“If you do take the Quibbler, then you know what I had to say on the matter, Mr. Lowell,” said Harry.

Lowell looked at Harry in a penetrating fashion. “If I were to ask your Mugwump – that’s his title, correct? – I wonder what he'd say on all of this?”

“You'd have to ask Dumbledore himself. I'm sure it would be well thought-out,” Harry said quickly.

“Your people can mess about in a person's memories – is that right?” Lowell asked.

Harry stammered, “Er... did MacLeish bring that up... sir?”

“Is this something that's done routinely?” Lowell demanded.

Harry pulled at his collar. “I... er... you should probably be asking someone else...”

Lowell said, “Too many of the items in your papers would be noticed otherwise – dragons swooping above a beach filled with holidaymakers, for goodness' sake?”

Harry took a notable interest in his own shoes. “It's done to Muggles quite a lot, I think,” he admitted. “It's part of how the magical world remains hidden.”

“Three weeks ago, the Crown Office official authorised to know about you people suddenly lost all memory that magic exists,” Lowell continued. “Can you explain that?”

“What are they up to?” Harry blurted out.

“You think it's your Ministry people at work, do you?” Lowell asked sternly.

“It's either the Ministry or Voldemort's people. This fellow might have stumbled across something important...” Harry considered aloud.

Lowell said tersely, “The bridge collapse in Wales – it matches up with the report of some sort of creature on the rampage... The sleeping sickness spreading in the North Country – it's the work of those Demented creatures, isn't it?”

“Dementors, sir,” Harry corrected him.

“Your world is about to go to war -” Lowell began.

“It's already at war,” Harry cut in. “People might not think so, but it's already started.”

“MacLeish says this Voldemort of yours is a terrorist, but you're acknowledging this as a war. Your papers have begun to call you the Chosen One. They seem to think you're the one to end this mess. Do they have it right?” Lowell asked.

Harry thought a long while before he gave a single nod to the PM.

“Your world is at war, the outcome rests on a school boy, and meanwhile the leadership of this nation are expected to simply forget? I won't have the British people victimised by a foe that they can't even see! I won't have it!” Lowell snapped. “MacLeish is a newspaperman; he shades the truth without a thought. Fudge won't say whether the sky is blue. It sounds as if your Mugwump won't be of much help... Potter, are you or are you not a citizen of the United Kingdom?”

“Er... as far as I know, Mr. Lowell,” said Harry. “I have a passport...”

“Are you therefore one of Her Majesty's subjects?” Lowell demanded to know.

“I suppose that I am,” Harry said. “Erm... what do you want, exactly?”

“What I demand is to be kept informed by at least one of my countrymen,” Lowell answered.

Harry started, “I'm not sure that I can -”

The limousine door opened and Dumbledore cheerfully moved past the black-suited men, who showed no inclination whatever to stop him. He entered as though expected and seated himself next to Harry. “I see that you have acquainted yourself with young Harry, Mr. Prime Minister?” he said.

“What the devil...?” Lowell gasped.

“You will find that an accomplished wizard is able to go more or less wherever he wishes,” said Dumbledore. “However, you may be assured that I mean you no harm.”

Lowell squinted at him. “Unless I’m mistaken, you’re the Mugwump.”

Dumbledore bowed his head. “Albus Dumbledore, at your service,” he said.

“Now see here, I was speaking with Mr. Potter! I understood that he was considered an adult in your world, and allowed to keep his own counsel,” protested Lowell.

“Indeed he is,” Dumbledore said. “Doubtless you were hoping to round out your perspective on recent events in the wizarding world? It is what I would do in your place, especially when a young man of unimpeachable character and unique insight is made available... so much the better that he is inexperienced in the realities of politics, wouldn't you agree?”

Lowell's eyes narrowed. “What are you implying? I have every right to speak with British citizens as I please!”

“It is worth noting that not only is Mr. Potter an accomplished young man, but is also my apprentice,” Dumbledore said. He turned to Harry and asked, “Now that you have taken the Prime Minister's measure, do you feel that his brief from Minister Fudge has been adequate?”

“Are you asking if Fudge is telling Mr. Lowell what he needs to know?” Harry wondered.

“Yes,” Dumbledore said.

“Absolutely not, sir,” Harry said without hesitation. “I'd be furious with Fudge if I were Mr. Lowell, especially over this business with the Crown Office.”

Dumbledore frowned. “Pardon?”

The Prime Minister explained the likely obliviation and the Headmaster's frown deepened. “Oh, Cornelius... what are you doing…?” he said softly.

“Surely Fudge serves at Her Majesty's pleasure just as the rest of us,” Lowell said; “I'm of a mind to arrange for his sacking.”

Dumbledore stroked his beard for a time before he said in a most cautious way, “Minister Fudge is… that is to say his position is rather antiquarian in nature, Mr. Prime Minister. In the very strictest sense, Queen Margaret lacks the authority to dismiss the Minister for Magic. Minister Fudge was within his rights as we understand them to order the obliviation of this fellow at the Crown Office – the modification of his memory, in other words. In fact, he could order Her Majesty's obliviation, were her knowledge of the wizarding world deemed to have come from a source outside the Royal Family itself. We would never permit that to occur, of course.”

Lowell opened and closed his mouth silently several times, before he exclaimed, “You must be joking!”

“Alas, no,” said Dumbledore. “Although the Parliaments of Scotland and England approved the Acts of Union of 1707, the Wizengamot – our legislative and judicial assembly – did not. We had already formally separated from Muggle authority by that time, and had strenuously opposed the Union of Crowns by King James. As you can imagine, we were not enthralled by King James; he was rather interested in the persecution of supposed witches and wizards. Although we commonly refer to the British Ministry for Magic, it is, in fact, the Ministry for Magic of Scotland and England. We are obligated by law and charter to advise as necessary the highest Muggle civil authority in Scotland and England – that would be you, Mr. Prime Minister. We have as a matter of courtesy briefed the Crown Office since the early nineteenth century. However, we have never officially recognised an invested monarch of the United Kingdom, nor have we recognised the invested monarch of Scotland and England since 1688.”

Lowell closed his eyes. “1688... that's when James II was deposed...” His eyes snapped open, and he asked, “Are you saying that you magical sorts are Jacobites?”

“If you are asking whether the wizarding world accepted the ascension of Mary II and William of Orange, the answer is no, we did not,” Dumbledore returned. “As for Jacobites, I do know that at least two wizarding clans covertly supported Bonnie Prince Charlie.”

Lowell laughed nervously. “So Her Majesty can't sack Fudge because you people consider the House of Stuart to be the lawful Royal House,” he said. “Who is the King or Queen of England, then?”

Dumbledore replied, “The rightful King of Scotland and England is at present the Duke of Bavaria, I believe... although the Princess of Liechtenstein may now be the Queen, if the Duke has passed on. I confess that I have not kept abreast of these matters for many years.”

Lowell rubbed at his forehead in agitation. “Obviously, we won't be having the Duke of Bavaria do anything whatsoever on behalf of the Crown. The people at the heart of the Scottish Problem are glorified Jacobites; they'd probably agree with you that he's the King.”

“Quite so,” Dumbledore agreed. “I am afraid that the unseating of Mr. Fudge remains a matter entirely in our hands. If this were to be undertaken today, I must warn you that we would face a very real and rather dangerous vacuum. For example, I could take on the position in an interim capacity, but would then have to leave the Wizengamot – a body that currently houses a number of members sympathetic to Voldemort’s public agenda. If the Wizengamot were to elect a new Minister, even with my presence, it is possible that a candidate sympathetic to Voldemort could receive an interim appointment by plurality.”

“So you're saying that Fudge is the least of all evils... this just gets better, eh?” Lowell sighed.

“Let me lay out my present concerns, Mr. Prime Minister,” Dumbledore said. “First, you must receive necessary information. It would seem that Minister Fudge is not meeting this burden. Second, we must resume our courtesies to Her Majesty's Office. Third, we must assure that both you and Her Majesty are appropriately protected against Voldemort and his men.”

“You think we're directly in danger from him, do you?” Lowell asked. “That explains why Fudge placed Shacklebolt – he’s a good man, by the way.”

“I was responsible for Mr. Shacklebolt’s placement through the offices of the Wizengamot; Minister Fudge showed an unwillingness to take that step, and I disagreed,” Dumbledore returned. “Yes, Mr. Prime Minister, I do believe you may be in direct danger. Voldemort was born and raised in the Muggle world – in your world. He is well aware of your leadership role and the importance of the Queen. Voldemort could walk unimpeded into your residence this evening if he so chose. It would be foolish to understate the danger, and we have an obligation to protect you accordingly. Now then, as Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, I am empowered to provide you with a brief independent of the Minister. I should like to meet with you as soon as possible to address the concerns I have named.”

“I appreciate that, Mr. Dumbledore. This is an unexpected turn of events, given what I've been told about you,” Lowell admitted.

“Have you been speaking out of turn, Harry?” Dumbledore asked; his mischievous smirk gave him away.

“Neither Fudge nor MacLeish painted a flattering picture,” said Lowell.

“I imagine you are well accomplished at negotiating your responsibilities amidst a sea of manipulation, innuendo and even vendetta, Mr. Prime Minister? I fear it is a professional hazard for the both of us,” said Dumbledore.

“Indeed,” Lowell said.

“In any event, I place a good deal of faith in Harry's opinion on these matters; he is my apprentice, after all,” the Headmaster said. “I am disappointed by Minister Fudge's conduct. This will be addressed.”

“I hope so, Mr. Dumbledore. Let me be perfectly clear on this point: if this war of yours escalates, we will take action,” Lowell said. “I'll be moving to disseminate information about your world across a larger number of people within the government. You won't be able to erase enough memories to hide away from us –”

“Please be cautious in this,” Dumbledore requested. “There are compelling reasons for the wizarding world to remain hidden.”

“That is your problem, and not mine,” Lowell said coldly. “We've already lost hundreds of British citizens to this madman, and I won't allow it to continue. A fair number of people know about your world. There are students with ordinary parents, there are these squib folk, and there are people like MacLeish. All it would take is one: a single motivated person could lead us to your Ministry, your homes, your shopping districts, or the school you lead. I suspect you've heard of the SAS and the RAF...?” Harry went pale.

“I recall the Battle of Britain and the invasion of Normandy. I know of the firestorms in Germany, and of the great bombs used in Japan. You need not remind me of the horrors that can be visited by Muggle armaments,” Dumbledore said. “Please, let us not descend into threats –”

“I don't threaten; I make decisions,” Lowell said. “I'm told that there are fewer than fifty thousand of you people in Britain. If the government of the United Kingdom is drawn fully into this war, then all of you will lose. Unless or until that happens, we will cooperate as may be appropriate. For the moment it seems that you are the only avenue, Mr. Dumbledore, but I don't like your ministerial situation – not in the slightest.”

Dumbledore said, “I wish to see the end of Voldemort and the danger he poses to all of us. We are indeed your countrymen, Mr. Prime Minister, despite Minister Fudge's view of Her Majesty’s right to rule.”

“I'll be looking for deeds rather than words,” Lowell warned. “Now... how do I contact you? I imagine that odd portrait leads directly to Fudge and his staff?”

Dumbledore stopped to contemplate his options. “An owl would be rather conspicuous, wouldn't it...?” he mused.

“Erm... I could give you the number for my mobile...?” Harry suggested.

Lowell said absently, “I hope you mind the tolls better than my son; he ran up a hundred quid last month.”

“It's hard to arrange service where I live,” Harry said. “I ended up with a pay-as-you-talk price plan; it does mount up, doesn't it?”

“Indeed it does...” Lowell murmured as he withdrew a business card from within his suit coat. As he put it in Harry's hand, he began to laugh. Harry's lip twitched and he couldn't help but join in. Even Dumbledore was caught up in the absurdity of the moment, as a young wizard and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom finished the exchange of mobile numbers.

Dumbledore said nothing to Harry after they left the company of the Prime Minister; he merely patted Harry on the back. As they returned to the wizarding reception, MacLeish tried in every way imaginable to find out what Lowell had said to Harry, without actually asking. The attempt wore on Harry, and he spent the last few minutes before the meal was served in the company of Ron, Neville, Susan Bones and Serena Fawcett.

The table at the front of the hall was round and had eighteen places set. It was a few steps from a sleek podium; MacLeish took the place closest to the podium. Harry was ushered to the seat at MacLeish's right. Dumbledore was directed to the seat at MacLeish’s immediate left, but he smoothly moved Covelli into his place and instead took the chair to her left.

Harry was surprised when Madam Longbottom took the seat to his right; Neville sat next to her. “Good evening, Mr. Potter,” she said. “How are you enjoying the dance thus far?”

“Er… dance?” Harry said.

“All events such as these are a dance,” she said with unexpected lightness. “I must say that it is best to simply enjoy oneself and hold to the pleasantries. It wouldn’t do to dance too closely with the pretty ones, however… that would be unseemly and quite premature. One must always remember the rules of proper courting. Ah, I see Miss Warbeck is approaching… good evening, Celestina! What a grand hat you’ve chosen for the occasion.”

Celestina Warbeck, the well-known wizarding songstress, drew near in such exaggerated fashion that Harry struggled to keep from laughing. “Augusta darling, it’s wonderful to see you gracing the head table. Isn’t Keith a dear?”

“He appears to be a nice young man,” Madam Longbottom said.

“Celestina… of course… it has been far too long,” came a voice from behind Harry, with an undertone of pompous cheer that was all too familiar.

“Gilderoy! How smashing to see you! And your new book – it’s so deep, so deliciously provocative!” Warbeck fawned.

“You’ve read it, have you?” Lockhart said.

“Of course not, darling – I pay people to do that sort of thing… but if Reichard says your book is deep and provocative, then surely it is!” said Warbeck.

Lockhart turned to Harry. “Ahh, Harry Potter! I see you’ve taken my advice to heart, and then trumped it! To completely turn your relationship with the press by purchasing a part of it… such a cunning use of resources, I must say.”

“I see they’ve let you out. Good on you,” Harry said flatly.

“I gather you’ve not read my book, either?” Lockhart returned. “Let me take the opportunity to thank you personally, young Harry: you saved my life that day in the chamber, literally and figuratively. I shan’t forget it.”

Harry was caught flat-footed. “I… uh… er… how much of your memory have you gotten back?”

“Oh, I remember everything,” Lockhart said smoothly. “It’s astonishing how clear my thoughts have become, really. I’m a new man now. I do hope you have the chance to peruse my book, Harry; I’m most curious as to your reaction.” Before Harry could say anything, he added, “I assure you, it’s nothing like my other books. My days of claiming credit for the feats of others are over. I prefer to find my own greatness.”

“Is that so…?” Harry managed. Lockhart did look like a changed man: his flamboyant robes were exchanged for a subdued tuxedo, he was still well-coiffed but less grandly so, and his smile fell within normal human proportions.

“Absolutely so,” Lockhart said. “I’ve mastered my fears and I know where my life shall lead from this point forward. It’s liberating to put aside fear, Harry; I highly recommend it.”

Harry was bewildered. “Erm… I’ll keep that in mind…?”

“Do read my book,” Lockhart said. “I provided a copy to your friend, Miss Granger. Has there ever been a more accomplished and able Muggle-born? Ahh, it appears young Mr. Weasley shall be joining us as well. I trust that Mr. MacLeish has all the brooms under lock and key?” After a pause for a bit of polite laughter from the surrounding witches and wizards, he nodded to Harry. “A pleasure, Harry Potter… I do believe I shall speak with Mr. Weasley now.”

Conversation around a table that seated eighteen was cumbersome at best. Harry spent most of the meal talking with Niall Pucey, Adrian Pucey’s father. Mr. Pucey was a wizarding barrister who represented the Wizarding Law Society of Scotland and England, and Harry made certain to congratulate him on Adrian’s appointment as Head Boy. Seated next to Mr. Pucey was Orson Montague, who represented the Magical Merchants Association. Mr. Montague threw around business terms that sounded thoroughly Muggle to Harry despite Montague’s own admission that he was a Slytherin.

Lockhart made a point of smiling at Harry every so often, and once raised his glass to Harry for no obvious reason. He did the same to Ron once, who blanched at the sight. Harry made a mental note to ask Ron what Lockhart had said.

Eventually the pudding course was collected and conversations ebbed. MacLeish was introduced once again, and he made his way to the podium. Without prelude or notes, he began, “Thank you for joining me this evening, all of you. As the new publisher of the Daily Prophet, I take seriously the responsibility that comes with serving as this community's principal source for news and information. In these challenging times, it is more important than ever for the people to have a fair source for information, and a balanced presentation of the day's events. You have doubtless noticed changes in our format and substance, and there will be more changes to come.” Murmurs arose from several places around the hall.

“Expect that we will look upon our institutions and civic life with a critical eye,” he went on. “Expect that we will entertain and even shock from time to time, but that we will always inform. The Daily Prophet shall not be the voice for a favoured few; it shall no longer be a repository for folderol, and it shall not be an instrument of propaganda.” Minister Fudge turned a Vernonesque shade of puce at that.

MacLeish shook his head and said, “I hear the same rumours as the rest of you. Ignore anyone who says that the Prophet is now a tool for Americans or Australians to invade British culture or to overrun British merchants. Ignore anyone who suggests that the Prophet is moving offshore, or that it shall be replaced by the Quill or the Shaman, or other such rot. I took my schooling in Britain. It should now be abundantly clear that I reside in Britain. Ladies and gentlemen, the Daily Prophet is and shall remain Britain's newspaper.”

With that, the wizards and witches assembled broke into applause that continued to build until many of those assembled rose to their feet. Dumbledore clapped heartily and gave an approving nod. The only person at the head table who failed to applaud was Fudge; it appeared as though he couldn't decide whether to be angry or pleased.

MacLeish raised his hands to quiet the crowd. When everyone was once again seated, he said, “My table mates this evening are an accomplished group. First of all, I am joined by the Minister for Magic of Scotland and England, the Honourable Cornelius Fudge, and his enchanting wife Wilhemina. Thank you for gracing us with your presence this evening, Mr. and Mrs. Fudge.”

MacLeish went on to introduce the rest of the people at the head table, and Harry began to puzzle out the man's reasoning. Covelli was present as Harry’s advisor and guest, and her presence surely affected MacLeish as well. Obviously, the politicians were in attendance: Fudge, the Australian minister Robbins, and the American attaché Grolier. Harry placed Dumbledore in that category as well.

There were both social and business interests represented. Serena Fawcett and Neville were heirs to very old families – as was Harry, of course. Mrs. Longbottom was recognised by MacLeish in her capacity as the chair for the Daughters of the Goblin Wars. Mr. Montague and Mr. Pucey’s presence was self-explanatory in Harry’s mind. The Longbottoms were well known as supporters of Dumbledore. Harry knew that at least parts of the Montague family supported Voldemort. Harry had no idea where the Fawcetts or Puceys fit on that score.

The last group was made up of celebrities, Harry decided – and that apparently included Ron. There were also Celestina Warbeck, Lockhart, Gwenog Jones from the Holyhead Harpies, and Glenda Chittock from the Wizarding Wireless Network.

Harry marvelled at MacLeish's comfort with speaking before a crowd. The man knew how to raise and lower the spirits of listeners, when to speak boldly and when to fall nearly to a whisper, and how to compliment someone he clearly couldn't stand in a way that was both respectful and infuriating to the recipient. There was no magic involved, Harry was sure of it – this was art.

Conversations resumed, and Harry attempted to avoid Celestina Warbeck, evade Glenda Chittock from the WWN, and to deflect some rather odd questions from Serena Fawcett. It was something of a relief when someone whispered in MacLeish’s ear, and MacLeish announced that it was time to move outdoors for the entertainment.

The events of the weekend had been so encompassing that Harry had forgotten about Heather until they left the manor and began to descend a gentle hill that had been converted to an amphitheatre. The stage backed up to a cliff and the sea lay beyond. A broad aisle split the seating in two; wizards were led to the right and Muggles to the left. Harry was placed in the front row of the right side, in the seat closest to the aisle. Ron sat to Harry’s right, Neville to Ron’s right, and the others from the head table took up the rest of the row. MacLeish took the aisle seat on the left side, across from Harry.

Ron’s eyes swept the stage. “How many are there in that band, do you think? Fifty? A hundred? This is going to be something, eh? Flitwick’s teaching Gin to play like one of them, is that it?” he asked.

“I honestly don’t know what he’s teaching her,” said Harry.

MacLeish rose from his seat and sauntered toward Harry. Curly Royston made his way onto the stage. Harry felt the telltale tingle of a ward being raised; the audience on the left side of the amphitheatre very clearly became distracted. MacLeish nodded at Royston, who raised his wand to his throat.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” Royston said. “I’ll wager that not a few of you have ever been in a crowd this large before, eh? There are two different groups of musical performers on this stage; sometimes they’ll be playing together, and sometimes separately. The small group, behind me, is a popular band… an ordinary version of the Weird Sisters, if you know them. The much larger group, to my right and your left, is called an orchestra. There are more than five dozen musicians in the orchestra, playing more than a dozen different sorts of instruments. They will be a fair bit louder than you’ve heard from the Wireless, unless you’re like my grandchildren and run the bloody thing loud enough to split your head in two. There will also be very bright cones of light, some bright flashes of light from time to time, and perhaps even a few things that might seem like spells being cast. All of this is perfectly ordinary and should be no cause for alarm. This entire property is very heavily warded and is also secured by a force of nearly one hundred; we do not expect any disruptions to occur. If an emergency of any sort does arise, either I or another of Mr. MacLeish’s associates will come to the stage. Please enjoy the performance.”

The orchestra began to tune up, and Harry nearly felt the collective gasp from behind him. It was a much bigger, bolder sound than Harry had expected – quite different than classical music heard through stereo speakers. Harry watched Kirley Duke fuss with several guitars, one after the next; he was recognized by more than a few witches and wizards despite his well-groomed appearance.

Ron leant toward Harry and said, “Sounds like they found Kirley out… wouldn’t have expected Susan Bones to squeal over him.”

Neville turned his head and said casually, “Don’t mind hearing Susie squeal, myself…”

Ron’s eyebrows shot toward his hairline. “Bloody hell, Nev! How much did you have?” he whispered forcefully.

Harry smirked at Neville. “Susie?”

“Er… just slipped out…?” Neville said sheepishly.

Mrs. Longbottom, at Neville’s right, glowered at Harry and Ron and snapped, “Decorum, please!” She cuffed Neville on the back of his head and added, “You know better, young man!” Harry and Ron both straightened in their seats. Neville rolled his eyes and made a conscious effort to slouch.

After a few minutes, the lights that ringed the seats dimmed and then went out entirely. A spotlight shone on the stage and Heather appeared. She was a vision, Harry thought, in a gossamer gown that was longer than her dress on the beach but nearly as close-fitting. He heard a few nasty remarks about Heather’s weight waft from the rows behind him; she was certainly fuller than the sort of women who turned up in adverts and what-not, but not in a way that should have provoked those witches. Hermione wasn’t particularly slender – probably about average, based on Harry’s observations – but that didn’t keep her from being beautiful in his eyes. Not even Lavender and Parvati, who were perfectly capable of serious cattiness, had ever commented on another girl’s weight – at least not within his hearing. He resisted the urge to loose a few minor curses.

When the orchestra began to play and Heather began to sing, the comments stopped. She was in fine form, Harry thought. When she hit an exceptionally high note against the backdrop of the orchestra, Celestina Warbeck’s monstrous hat fell to the floor; both Ron and Harry shook in their seats to keep from laughing. Harry took several opportunities to look at the first few rows of spectators. Most were transfixed; even Fudge uncrossed his arms after a time, and appeared at least noncommittal. Warbeck seemed flustered, particularly after the loss of her hat. Lockhart seemed noticeably interested in Heather, which was peculiar given that he was used to being fawned over rather than doing the fawning himself; beyond that, Harry found the man’s interest both unpleasant and more than a little untoward given his age.

The performance went on for an hour and a half without interruption. There were only two truly awkward moments between the Muggles and the wizards. The first came when Kirley Duke was featured as a soloist. A good share of the wizards hooted and cheered, whilst the Muggles looked on in confusion. The second came when Heather launched into a Scottish folk song. MacLeish winced and a good share of the Muggle crowd stiffened. A number of the wizards seemed to recognize the song, however; they clapped along and cheered at the finish.

Near the end, Heather sang the song she had sung in the club, the one during which they had fallen into each other’s minds. Harry resolutely closed his eyes from start to finish. When he opened them again, he saw that she had spotted him despite the lighting. Heather made her way to the front of the stage. It surely looked to the balance of the crowd that she was singing to MacLeish, but Harry knew better. She sang notes that Harry knew were impossible to sing. Ron was absolutely gobsmacked and Neville’s mouth hung open. Warbeck was riveted, her hat tightly wrapped in her hands.

As the performance moved toward its conclusion, Harry could feel the power of the orchestra. It brought to mind Dumbledore’s comment in St. Ebb that music was a magic of its own. He was sure that Dumbledore had said that previously as well, but couldn’t remember when or where. He glanced around and knew that he wasn’t the only one to feel it; even the Muggles showed signs. By the end, Harry was lost in the music. The rising to their feet of the applauding crowd brought him back to attention.

Heather gave a friendly wave to the audience, but there was something off about her – a tired emptiness in her eyes, a stiffness to her posture. Harry was immediately concerned but it occurred to him that Harry Potter didn’t know Heather Magruder, not as far as either the Muggle or wizarding worlds were concerned. As much as he wanted to slip behind the stage to find out what was the matter, he knew that he could not. Kirley Duke and the other musicians in Heather’s band – her ‘boys’, Harry remembered – came forward, obviously excited about the performance. Duke pulled her into a warm hug and then gave her a kiss that Harry thought was a bit more than a friend would give. For a moment, he felt a pang of jealousy, but only for a moment. She took a stumbling step forward as they all bowed; Duke caught her by the elbow and frowned.

The Muggles began to move out of their seating. Curly Royston made his way toward Harry, but stopped short, cast several wide-area spells and then Sonorus at his throat. He said, “You are invited to meet the orchestra conductor, principal performers and our vocalist for the evening, Miss Heather Magruder. Please keep in mind that with the exception of Mr. Duke, these people are unfamiliar with the magical world. If you feel that you cannot pass through a receiving line without asking a suspicious question or making reference to the magical world in some fashion – and that would include Mr. Duke’s tenure with the Weird Sisters – please do not join the queue. On behalf of the Vox Coporation and Mr. MacLeish, I do hope that you enjoyed the performance and our evening together, and I offer our best wishes for your good health and the vitality of your magic. Good evening.”

Most of those who had been introduced at the banquet joined the queue, which led to the side of the stage and toward a good-sized tent placed to the rear. Harry found himself behind a score or more of witches and wizards, bunched together with Ron and Neville and just ahead of Madam Longbottom, Celestina Warbeck and Lockhart.

“The young lady was truly remarkable, was she not?” Lockhart said grandly.

“She did strike some notes that I would have thought beyond a Muggle,” Warbeck sniffed.

“One might think you were jealous, dear friend,” Madam Longbottom said.

Warbeck waved her hand dismissively. “She’s a stripling of a girl – just wait until the years catch up with her range. If I were that age today, I could match her best without a thought.”

“Would that be without a potion?” Lockhart said casually.

Warbeck took the posture of a Veela ready to throw fire. “I have never resorted to enhancement potions, Mr. Lockhart! That is why my repertoire has changed over the course of my career, unlike some who I will not name!”

One side of the tent had been drawn completely open. Heather and her band mates and several members of the orchestra stood in a row just inside, with MacLeish positioned at the end. She still wore her dress from the performance and Harry saw her shudder. He figured that she was cold, and would have cast a quiet warming charm if he hadn’t been surrounded by other wizards. As they drew closer, he saw that her eyes were glassy, and that the movement was more of a twitch than a shudder. She appeared nervous as she clasped hands and spoke to the wizarding well-wishers.

“Look at that dress - you can almost see through it!” Ron muttered.

“Really?” Neville said; he leant forward and squinted into the tent.

“Something’s not right,” Harry said quietly to Ron. Just then, the witch shaking Heather’s hand stiffened as if in fear and took an awkward step back. The queue continued to move, but Heather began to receive consistently queer looks.

“She looks potted,” said Neville. “Do you think she might have taken a shot or two herself?”

“I don’t know…” Harry said as he continued to watch.

There were five wizards and three witches between Harry and Dumbledore, so Harry couldn’t quite make out what was exchanged when the Headmaster reached Heather. Covelli moved to Heather quickly, and Dumbledore moved down the line directly to MacLeish. Harry wanted to bolt the queue but kept himself in check. Despite the confusion, the queue continued to press forward.

Heather reached toward him. “Harry! It’s too much… it’s too much!” she blurted out.

“It’s too… what’s too much? I don’t understand,” Harry said.

Kirley Duke pushed past the orchestra conductor. “Heather? What’s this about? Do you need some air?” he asked.

“I don’t know… it’s just too much…” she managed.

“Miss Magruder is obviously confused, Mr. Potter,” said Covelli quickly. “She seems to know things that she shouldn’t know. Albus is fetching Keith. Mr. Duke, I’ll ask you to leave her some room, please?”

Ron moved uncertainly to Harry’s side. Neville took a deep breath and ploughed forward. He took up Heather’s hand. “Neville Longbottom,” he said; “You were magnificent, Miss.”

Heather’s eyes fluttered. She rambled, “I… ohhh… your parents… I’m so sorry, Neville, truly I am! But… no, you really are courageous, you just need to trust… never doubt who your friends are… Harry would be the best of friends if you’d simply ask it, and Ron as well… never doubt, Neville… never…”

Neville snatched back his hand. “Harry, you didn’t…? How could she know…?”

Celestina Warbeck sauntered forward in her exaggerated way and presented her hand as though Heather was supposed to kiss it. Covelli moved to stand between them and said, “The young lady is exhausted. This reception is at an end.”

“That’s right,” Kirley said firmly.

Warbeck’s brow creased. “Is that so? I doubt that is your decision to make, young man.” She fixed her gaze on Covelli. “And you are…?”

“I am a physician,” Covelli said haughtily, “as well as a close friend of Mr. MacLeish. I must see to Miss Magruder’s needs now – if you will excuse me?”

Heather looked deeply into Warbeck’s eyes. “Sing what’s in your heart,” she said weakly. “Tell your fans to sod off – what do they know, anyway? You know you want to make a change, right? Sing what’s in your heart. Always sing what’s in your heart…”

Warbeck caught her hat as it fell to one side. “Er… thank you… I… you’re a remarkable talent…uh… it was a privilege…” she managed.

Heather locked eyes with Lockhart. “Wha… you… how… YOU!” she spluttered.

“I’m sorry? I don’t believe we’ve met?” Lockhart said jauntily.

“How could you… how could you do the things you’ve done?” Heather thundered. She pulled herself free from Covelli, shaking all the while. “HOW COULD YOU?”

Lockhart took a step forward. “Clearly something is troubling you, young lady. I merely wished to compliment you on your performance – Celestina is right to say that you are remarkable.”

“HORRIBLE! HOW COULD YOU DO THOSE THINGS?” Heather railed at him. Covelli attempted to seize her by the hands but failed. Harry readied himself to head her off. He wondered if he might have to stun her.

“Heather, that’s enough; let me take you back to the dressing rooms,” Kirley insisted.

Lockhart sighed. “I’ve done all that I can to apologise for the things that I’ve done,” he said. “Everything is out in public view now.”

Heather’s eyes bugged. “APOLOGISE? THAT COULD NEVER BE ENOUGH! WHAT YOU’VE DONE, IT’S UNFORGIVABLE!”

Kirley snapped, “Heather, that’s enough! Now, let’s go… Doctor, will you help me get her back to her room? I think she has some medicine…”

“What I’ve done to Harry… to Mr. Potter here?” Lockhart asked. “I’ve apologized personally to Harry, Miss… and how can you know of such things? It’s not possible for someone to…” His eye twitched and Harry realised that Lockhart was being drawn into Heather’s unconscious legilimency. Suddenly everything made sense, and he leapt forward so that his body came between their eyes.

“YOU MUSTN’T!” Heather shouted. “HARRY, YOU CAN’T FORGIVE HIM, NOT EVER! SOMEONE LIKE HIM WOULD NEVER REALLY APOLOGISE – HE'LL NEVER TELL THE TRUTH! HE CAN’T MEAN IT! DUMBLEDORE, WHERE ARE YOU? GET AWAY FROM HIM WHILE YOU CAN, HARRY! YOU STAY AWAY FROM HARRY – STAY AWAY!” She rushed forward and Harry wrapped his arms around her before she could claw at Lockhart.

“She… she’s mad!” Lockhart gasped.

“Someone conjure the poor girl a chair!” came a voice from one side. Three chairs appeared from thin air all at once.

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake – what are you thinking?” Lockhart snapped. In a flash his wand was drawn, and everyone in the receiving line save for MacLeish and Kirley Duke went slack. Heather let out a keening wail for a brief moment and then slumped into Harry’s arms so heavily that Ron had to steady the both of them.

Kirley rushed to Heather, prised her from Harry’s grasp and began to lower her to the ground. “What in the Nine Hells have you done?” he hissed at Lockhart. Covelli went to her knees and immediately began to examine Heather.

“I fulfilled the requirements of the law,” Lockhart said firmly. “Conjuring chairs before a group of Muggles – of all the foolish things that could have been done!”

The crowd parted and Dumbledore and MacLeish passed through. “You performed an obliviation on someone in obvious physical distress without first finding the source of the distress, Gilderoy?” Dumbledore said. “I would not expect such incompetence from an upper form student, let alone someone who is a known expert in obliviation!”

“You could have killed her, fool!” Covelli snarled. “As it stands, she will live, but Merlin himself could not predict the extent to which she will recover!” She looked to MacLeish, and added, “She needs to be transported to St. Mungo’s immediately. Arrange for it.” MacLeish rushed from the tent.

“The demands of secrecy always come first, Professor Dumbledore,” said Lockhart. “These are all well-known and well-travelled Muggles. As such, they would have posed a special risk to us. I stand by my actions and the Wizengamot will do the same should you press the issue – you know that. Now then, it would be best if the DMLE were to complete the rest of the obliviations. I find myself rather shaken by all of this business. As for the young lady, I assume that she will in fact recover. That would be in your best interests, Mr. MacLeish, so I’m sure you’ll use all of your special privileges to make it so. If not… I’m afraid that is the tragic but unavoidable cost of the security of our world.”

Kirley stood up and pushed back his sleeves. “Tragic cost? She’s a squib, you son of a bitch! If you’d stopped for half a second to ask…!”

Lockhart hesitated, but only for a moment. “Is that so? A squib…? Well, I suppose that explains the extent of her talent, doesn’t it? Still, did it seem as though she was capable of maintaining our secrets? I think not, and there is no exception for illnesses. It still merited –”

Kirley advanced on Lockhart, but before he could reach him, something inside Harry snapped. A gust of hot wind ripped through the tent. Lockhart flew backward and tore through the canvas, and Harry tore after him. He grabbed Lockhart by the lapels and threw him back into the tent; then he seized Lockhart’s jacket again and repeatedly slammed him into the ground. “WHY DID YOU OBLIVIATE HER? HOW MANY LIVES HAVE YOU RUINED ALREADY? YOU HAD NO RIGHT! WAS IT YOUR JOB? ARE YOU AN AUROR? I DON’T THINK SO! YOU MIGHT HAVE… you might have killed her… you might as well have… what gives you the right…?” Ron and Neville pulled him away, and Kirley proceeded to take up where Harry had left off. A half-dozen wizards had to tear him away. Lockhart rolled over and coughed uncontrollably; it was the only sound to be heard in the tent.

Amidst the hush, Dumbledore’s quiet voice was nonetheless commanding. “This has been a most unfortunate affair,” he said. “Something clearly happened to this young woman, and it was quite obviously magical in origin. Because of Mr. Lockhart’s quick and unthinking action, not only will it be difficult to determine what has happened, but great harm may have been done. We do not obliviate when it may cause harm. The DMLE does not do so, the Aurors do not do so, and certainly a private citizen – however well intentioned – should never do so.”

“That’s why we don’t mix with Muggles. MacLeish, this whole business was a mistake,” someone called out sharply.

“That is a discussion for another time,” Dumbledore said. “Mr. Lockhart has in turn suffered the results of Mr. Potter’s quick and unthinking action. At this point, it would be for the best for all parties to let cooler heads prevail, and for the young lady will receive the healing that she requires.”

Lockhart sat up and rubbed the back of his head. He reached for his wand and collected it from the ground. Four long scratches across the top of his hand dripped blood; he was able to stop the bleeding with some effort, but the scratches were still raw and looked as if they would require a healer. “You want me to absolve your apprentice, do you?” he asked as he vanished bloodstains from his skin. “I may have acted hastily, but I didn’t earn a beating. Who am I to do what I did, you ask? Who are you to attack me, Mr. Potter? Are you an Auror? Are you a member of the Wizengamot? Were you carrying out a sentence? Who are you?”

Ron squeezed more and more firmly on Harry’s wrist until Harry forced himself to say, “I was wrong. I shouldn’t have done that. I wasn’t thinking.”

“Perhaps the Hogwarts Board of Governors was right about you?” Lockhart said. “Perhaps it’s not safe for you to be at Hogwarts, even under the watchful eye of the Headmaster?”

“I’ve been no trouble at Hogwarts,” Harry said.

“No… no, you haven’t… not to-date, at least,” said Lockhart. “In any case, you would be at the mercy of the Dark Lord anywhere else. I will not be the instrument that sends you away, not for the crime of punishing me for my wrongs. Consider this a repayment of my debt to you, Harry Potter. There will be no hearings, no punishment for your actions this evening – at least not by my hand. Professor Dumbledore, you have staked your reputation on Mr. Potter; I suggest you modify your approach toward him.” Lockhart struggled to his feet and extended his hand to Harry.

Though he would have rather shaken a nundu’s paw, Harry took the hand that Ron pushed forward and let Lockhart take it. Lockhart gave a respectful nod, and released him. All was quiet for a moment, and then the crowd in the tent began to applaud.

“As for you, Duke,” Lockhart said, “I owe you nothing. I’ll see you before the Wizengamot for assault –”

MacLeish reappeared with three healers in tow. “You may have cost me ten million galleons through your negligence, Lockhart,” he snapped. “As your publisher, that does not make me happy. Perhaps our next meeting will include a goblin adjudicator?”

Lockhart gave a hollow laugh. “That’s how it’s going to be, is it? You’re rather transparent, MacLeish. For all the airs you’ve put on this evening, I think everyone can see exactly what you really are. Very well – Mr. Duke, be sure to thank your employer for his intervention. Mr. Potter, I leave you in the hands of your master.”

The crowd hushed. Dumbledore hesitated for a moment, and then stood before Harry. “Mr. Potter, I expect better of you,” he said. “You should expect better of yourself. With the exception of such activities as may be necessary to manage your affairs, you are confined to the Hogwarts grounds until the term break. Professors Detheridge and Flitwick will accompany you to Hogsmeade in the morning to collect your belongings and move them to the castle. Is that understood, apprentice?”

“Yes, Headmaster,” Harry said in a small voice.

As the attentions of the crowd drifted away from Harry and toward Lockhart, Ron came forward to Dumbledore. He said in a near-whisper, “Headmaster, Heather’s mum and dad… were they with the Muggles tonight?”

Dumbledore paused for a moment before he quietly returned, “I believe they were, indeed. Mr. Weasley, would you be so kind as to fetch them on my behalf? I would rather not alert Mr. MacLeish or others to the situation, so please act quietly but with haste. I will meet you at the front of the stage in two minutes.”

MacLeish slowly walked toward Harry and Dumbledore. He stopped two paces away and folded his arms. “This didn’t turn out as I had expected,” he sighed. “I’d hoped for gains, not losses.”

“With high risks come great rewards… or great failures,” Dumbledore said gravely.

MacLeish rolled his eyes. “Thank you for the wisdom, but I didn’t order Chinese take-away, Dumbledore,” he snorted.

Dumbledore cocked his head. “Pardon…?”

“Never mind; I’m too tired to explain it,” said MacLeish. “Will you want Lucia to see Harry back to Hogwarts?”

“A Portkey will do, thank you,” Dumbledore said. “Harry dislikes them rather intensely, and a journey of several hundred miles should do him a world of good.” He handed Harry a copy of the evening’s program. “This leaves in sixty seconds.”

“Please… I want to know if Heather’s all right,” Harry told the Headmaster.

“Either Dr. Covelli or I will see that you are kept abreast. Good evening, Harry,” said Dumbledore.

Harry shuffled from foot to foot as he said to MacLeish, “Look… I’m sorry that I… er…”

“What, sent my party arse-over-teakettle? You certainly did that, didn’t you? Duke was no help, either,” MacLeish frowned. “You’re not responsible for whatever happened to Heather Magruder –”

“Yes, I am; it wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for me!” hissed Harry.

“Yes, well, you’re not the centre of the world, Potter – hate to be the one to break the news, but that is my job, isn’t it?” MacLeish fired back. “Now, are you going to fuss like you need your nappies changed, or are you going to figure out who did this?” He glared over Harry’s shoulder at Lockhart. “I think we can safely name the prime suspect, eh?”

“I haven’t time to explain, but I really do think I’m responsible,” Harry said.

“Fine, then!” MacLeish snapped. “We’ll look into it anyway, if someone can spare the time. Oh… one last thing for now: the next time you decide to lay someone out, I suggest that you finish the job. If you don’t finish the job, then it’s likely he’ll return the favour eventually. Be seeing you.” A moment later, the tent and the stage and the rolling hills of the former Black estate swirled away.

& & & & & & & & &

Harry landed hard on the lawn about two hundred feet sort of the castle’s main doors. Flitwick rushed out the doors to meet him. “Albus let us know you’d be on your way. Obviously something untoward has happened…”

“I’d rather not talk about it, Professor,” Harry said. He brushed the grass from his tuxedo and took up a brisk walk to the doors.

“It’s Filius, Harry – we’re not amongst students,” insisted Flitwick as he hurried to keep stride.

“Can we do this tomorrow, Professor?” Harry asked.

“Very untoward… it must have been very untoward, indeed,” Flitwick said. “In any case, Albus said that you could occupy the spare bed in the sixth year Gryffindor dormitory this evening. Marcus and I will look at the vacant staff housing in the morning. Honestly, I think it’s for the best that you reside in the castle, for a number of reasons.”

“Yes, Professor,” said Harry.

Flitwick stopped him at the doors. “If you continue in this fashion, I shall have to demand an explanation,” the professor said in a tone as close to stern as he could muster.

“My apologies, Professor Flitwick; it’s been a very long weekend and I wish to retire,” Harry told him.

Flitwick crossed his arms and let forth a harrumph. “I see. We’ll have ample time to speak of this in the morning, Harry. I trust you can find your own way to the Gryffindor entrance?”

“Good evening, Professor,” Harry said, and he nearly ran across the entry hall to the stairs.

When he entered the common room, everything came to a stop. Katie Bell broke the silence. “Harry! Er… wasn’t expecting to see you here… in a tuxedo… a grass-stained tuxedo… looking quite fit, though…”

Hermione, who was in her usual seat near the hearth, let her book fall into her lap. “Are you all right? Where’s Ron – is he still with the Headmaster? What’s happened?”

“It’s wonderful to see you, as well,” Harry snapped. “Ron’s fine. I’m going to bed.”

Dean Thomas did a double take. “To bed? Here?”

“Yes, Dean: here, in the dormitory, in the bed that all of you were keeping for me,” said Harry.

“Sure, sure – we kept it for you. But why here, when you’ve your own place in Hogsmeade?” Dean asked.

“As of tomorrow, I won’t have my own place anymore. I’m sure it’ll be in all the papers,” Harry returned. He stopped at the first step leading to the boys’ dormitories and turned to face the common room. Everyone gaped at him; no one even blinked.

Hermione was the first to move. Her lips pursed in the way that signalled questions or unwanted advice or admonishment, and Harry wouldn’t have it. His mouth moved and words came out and he couldn’t stop them. “Are there any more questions? Does anyone else need to know everything about my day, what I like to eat, who I fancy, or whether I’m an attention-seeking lunatic? Oh, wait; I’m the Chosen One this week, aren’t I? That’s Britain, isn’t it? Build someone up for the pleasure of tearing them down: that’s the ticket. Blather on about how bad things have become, and do nothing to fix them… or worse still, pretend they aren’t bad at all and force everyone to agree with you. I know! You can support one side until they stumble, and then tell everyone you’re for the other side – always have been, right?

"You should have seen your embarrassing bloody Minister tonight, and your bloody nobles and the famous people and all the rest... Gilderoy Lockhart was there! He was sitting there just like nothing had ever happened, and then he had the nerve to Obliviate someone without knowing the first thing about the situation! He didn’t know anything – just figured it was another random Muggle, so it was perfectly fine. Cast first and ask later! Oh, she was a squib? She already knew about us? No worries, then – she was just a squib. It’ll be no great loss if her brains are scrambled, anyway.

"And we’re supposed to go to war against Voldemort to save this mess? Oh, yes, of course we are! We’re Brits, stiff upper lip and all. Rule Britannia, right? Rule Britannia… it should be Rue Britannia! Rue Britannia; Britannia, rue the day! Oi, Rue effin’ Britannia!” He stopped, heaving for air.

Seamus Finnigan broke the silence. “Um… we just wanted to know if you were all right, mate,” he said nervously.

Hermione stood. “Harry… the obliviation… was it your friend…?”

Harry’s voice cracked as he said, “Not tonight, I… I can’t talk about this tonight.” He rushed up the first few stairs and out of sight.

Dennis Creevey’s voice wafted up the stairs from behind him. “Is it going to be like last year again?”

“Let’s just hope for the best,” Harry heard Katie Bell say.

“Should we keep our fingers crossed?” someone asked.

Harry stopped halfway up the stairs and breathed raggedly. “Great… just smashing,” he muttered under his breath. “I proved myself crazy twice in one night.” It was an effort to reach the sixth year boys’ room. He closed the door firmly behind him and tumbled onto his old bed without prelude. He didn’t expect a good night’s sleep, and his expectations were met.

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