Disclaimer - Harry Potter is a fictional character, owned by she-who-must-not-be-named. Fan fiction authors borrow that fictional character and place him in stories of their own making. If the reader doesn't like these efforts then sorry, but my management company impose a strict 'no refunds' policy on all my stories.
Chapter 1 - Words said in Anger
Hermione had both arms locked around the big dog's neck, holding on for grim life while her tears soaked into the mutt's black fur. Only her tight headlock was stopping the dog attacking its chosen target. The large dog was still making his intentions known though - the room reverberated to his deep barks and fierce growls.
As the door finally closed, both girl and dog slumped to the floor. All the fight had now gone out of them. The dog may have been whining but Hermione was heartbroken, she sobbed uncontrollably as the dog now tried to offer a modicum of comfort.
"Oh Snuffles, what have I done? This is all my fault…"
He just couldn't let that pass without comment. The most wanted criminal in all of Britain was now sitting on the Hogwarts infirmary floor, attempting to comfort the distraught witch. "Hermione, there is more than enough blame for tonight to cover everyone. This certainly wasn't your fault."
"If only I would learn to keep my mouth shut, this wouldn't have happened…"
-oOo- earlier -oOo-
Hermione had been living on her nerves all day, Mrs Weasley throwing her dirty looks because she believed everything written by Rita Skeeter didn't help. Today was the final task though, and it was Harry she was really worried about. He'd somehow survived the first two tasks but this one just felt different, Hermione couldn't shake the feeling something bad was going to happen.
She had no fingernails left, after sitting staring at those boring hedges. Fleur, and then Viktor, getting led out of the maze injured didn't improve her disposition in the slightest. Hermione couldn't care less who won this stupid tournament, she just wanted Harry to be alive at the end of it.
The tension steadily mounted as everyone could now sense this was taking far too long, the crowd of spectators were really getting restless before a battered and bleeding Harry arrived by portkey with the cup. The cheering ended before it had time to really begin, Harry had a dead Cedric with him too.
When Harry was eventually helped away from all the resulting madness by Professor Moody, Hermione knew there was really only one place her best friend could end up. Harry Potter was no stranger to the Hogwarts infirmary - and you didn't need to be a genius to deduce he would need Madam Pomfrey's ministrations again tonight. Grabbing Ron by the sleeve of his robes, Hermione began dragging her redheaded friend toward the castle. Mrs Weasley and Bill eventually followed them to the infirmary. Hermione wasn't interested in any speculation or small talk as they waited on Harry's arrival. All her attention was focused on the infirmary doors.
When he did finally arrive, Professor Lupin was practically carrying Harry. Padfoot was at his side as the headmaster took the totally unnecessary step of telling them Harry had a hard night, and not to badger him with questions. As Dumbledore then left, he had some grieving parents to comfort, Madam Pomfrey began her ministrations. She worked on his wounds before finishing with some dreamless sleep potion and Harry's eyes slowly closed. Hermione was sitting at the side of his bed, Harry's hand held in hers. She could feel the tremors passing through her best friend, this she now knew was the result of being under Voldemort's torture curse. As Harry lay sleeping, Professor Lupin had quietly explained to them what the young injured wizard had endured earlier tonight.
Their group's whispered conversations were soon being drowned out by a loud argument that appeared to be heading in their direction, or should that be Harry's. The screens currently around Harry's bed prevented them seeing the approaching commotion but all recognised the voices of Professors Snape and McGonagall. There was also no doubt about who they were rather loudly arguing with, the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge.
The screens were pulled back just as Dumbledore returned to the infirmary, he too began berating the Minister for his rash actions over having Barty Crouch Junior kissed by a dementor. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the Minister simply refused to believe Voldemort could have returned. Even Professor Snape showing him the now livid dark mark on his arm couldn't convince Cornelius otherwise.
It was then Harry spoke, no one had even realised he was once more awake.
"It's true, Minister. He's back."
The Minister was originally sympathetic to Harry, that sympathy heavily leaning toward condescending. Fudge rather contemptuously assigning the boy's ordeal earlier tonight for Harry believing that such a bizarre and outrageous story could possibly be true. That all changed when Harry began naming the death eaters he had seen summoned to the graveyard by Voldemort.
To Fudge, these names were all upstanding citizens, ministry employees - and a few were even personal friends. He practically called Harry a liar to his face, claiming the whole thing was some grand conspiracy Dumbledore had dreamed up to discredit his ministry. He was the Minister of Magic, and certainly not about to be fooled by this rubbish - he stormed away.
Fudge had almost reached the door when he paused. He turned around, strode back down the infirmary, and stopped at Harry's bed.
"Your winnings," he said shortly, taking a large bag of gold out of his pocket and dropping it onto Harry's bedside table. "One thousand Galleons. There should have been a presentation ceremony, but under the circumstances …"
He crammed his bowler hat onto his head and began walking out of the room.
It was then Hermione finally snapped. Harry had been called a liar and a cheat by everyone since Halloween, with even Ron originally getting in on the act too. Now here was the Minister of Magic continuing that trend, a trend that would soon be blazed all over the Daily Prophet's pages. Displayed there for everyone to read, and then follow the Minister's lead.
"You're calling Harry a liar, yet still handing him a thousand galleons for winning the tournament? You say Voldemort can't be back but who do you think killed Barty Crouch or Cedric? How does your conspiracy theories explain that, Minister Fudge?"
Cornelius had stopped as if petrified. When he turned around though, the sly smirk he was now wearing warned everyone this would not be good. They just had no idea how bad it was going to get.
After calling for the aurors who were stationed outside the door, Cornelius then turned to Albus. "The young lady is of course correct. I have two dead wizards and the ministry needs to be seen to be doing something. Aurors, arrest Mister Potter. By his own admissions, he's been involved with both of these wizards dying. We'll soon get to the truth of this matter, and end this you-know-who has returned nonsense once and for all."
Hermione was shocked but when Padfoot left her side to attack the minister, she acted without thinking. With both arms locked around the big dog's neck, the pair watched helplessly as Fudge refused to listen to any arguments - and Harry was practically dragged out of bed by the aurors. As the infirmary door closed behind Harry, that was when Hermione collapsed sobbing to the floor.
-oOo- present -oOo-
Hermione was sobbing so hard, she missed all the commotion Sirius revealing himself caused. After Dumbledore had somewhat calmed the adults, informing them Sirius was innocent of all charges certainly helped, it was time to get down to business.
"Severus, you know what I must ask of you?" The professor in question solemnly nodded before leaving the infirmary, still glaring at Black.
"Molly, I hope I can count on your family's support?" Receiving another nod, Dumbledore's attention switched to Bill. "Will you inform your father of what's happened here? Since Cornelius refuses to see the truth, we'll need to reform the old crowd. Arthur will know what I need him to do."
As Bill then left, it was Sirius' turn to receive instructions. "I expect Fudge will be having Hogwarts watched, we'll really need to meet elsewhere. Sirius, can we use your family property for that?"
"I said no, Albus."
"Sirius, I know this was a shock tonight, and we'll get Harry back. We need to concentrate on Voldemort though..."
"Fuck Voldemort, and the hippogriff he flew in on. You can enter my house when Harry is at your side, not before. If you need my house so badly, perhaps you'll get your finger out and do something about this..."
Hermione was getting herself back off the floor, she was done crying. Hermione Granger was now one angry witch, a witch who just had her deference to authority figures well and truly crushed. She reckoned having the Minister of Magic drag your injured and innocent best friend out off a hospital bed on manufactured charges of murder would do that every time.
"Don't hold your breath, Sirius, Dumbledore never does anything..."
"Miss Granger, show some respect. I know you're upset but that outburst merits an apology to the headmaster." The head of Gryffindor though was about to discover she was dealing with a different Hermione Granger.
"Don't expect any help from McGonagall either. We discovered back in out first year we were basically on our own. You'll notice we haven't come to you for help since, Professor."
She may have added a touch of sarcasm to the title, professor, but Hermione was saving her real ire for the headmaster. "Our second year, you let that same small-minded man put Hagrid in Azkaban - even though you knew Hagrid wasn't responsible for the attacks. Third year, the same man had dementors posted around a bloody school! You were going to let Fudge administer a dementor's kiss to a man again you knew was innocent. It was Harry and I who had to save Sirius, in your own school. Tonight we have Cedric dead, and Harry dragged off to Merlin knows where - and it's your fault. Since Halloween, you all knew this tournament was a trap for Harry, but Hogwarts had to play by the rules..."
The tears were now back in force as Hermione tried to finish what she started. "The most powerful wizard in the country let that little shit of a minister drag Harry out of here because Albus Dumbledore plays by some set of rules. When the other side don't follow those same rules, that leads to what happened here tonight. You failed us, again."
Jumping back in before her head of house could interrupt, Hermione verbally cut the legs out from under McGonagall. "Save your detentions and points deductions, I don't care about them anymore. With his precious dark lord returned, his father once more back at Voldemort's side and Harry arrested by the ministry, Malfoy and his cronies will now be dangerous. We've seen first hand for the last four years that neither you nor the headmaster will protect us, so I will be leaving Hogwarts at the end of term."
She tried to hold her head up as she left the infirmary but all could see the silent sobs that still racked Hermione's body.
Witnessing that just hardened Sirius' attitude so Dumbledore looked toward Remus for support, only to find an unexpected rebuttal waiting there. "I agree with everything Hermione just said. You could easily have stopped Fudge tonight but chose not to. You play your games, Albus, and people keep dying..."
"You think this is a game?" Dumbledore let his frustration show but the marauders were not impressed, and certainly not intimidated. It was Sirius who answered him.
"We know this is not a game, it's our friends and family who are doing the dying. Come on, Remus, time to take a dog for a walk." He had one more thing to say though before they left. "Get Harry away from Fudge, Albus, then we'll talk. I think Hermione has got the right idea, we should all get out of Britain. Some things just aren't worth trying to save. Fudge left here with the only person in this world I give a damn about, you'd better get him back."
Sirius became Padfoot as they headed out the castle. With Peter now confirmed to be back alongside Voldemort, news of his animagus form would soon be circulating amongst the wrong people. He was going to have to stay holed up in Grimmauld Place.
Harry awoke to discover this wasn't a nightmare after all, he really was in a ministry cell. Looking around didn't take long, a self-emptying bucket being the only item in his tiny new accommodation.
That wasn't strictly true though, Harry glanced at what had caused him to wake. A tray had been slipped in through a hatch on the door, it contained breakfast and a copy of today's issue of the Prophet. Boy-who-lived arrested for Murder was the main headline, blazed across the top of the thing that called itself a newspaper. Harry ignored both it and the tray as he took stock of his situation.
Having been raised in a cupboard under the stairs, one where he was locked in more often than not, this cell held no fears for him. The bed was as basic as could be but was still more comfortable than the thing he had to sleep on in Privet Drive. He didn't even need to beg to be let out for the toilet, this cell came with his own bucket. Harry had spent the summer after his first year locked in a room almost as small as this, with bars on the window and meagre rations of food being passed through a newly fitted cat-flap.
This time he at least knew Hedwig would be looked after, either Hermione or Hagrid were sure to care for his familiar. He also didn't have to worry about Dudley spitting in his food or water, though Harry wouldn't put it passed the ministry to slip something else in there. Eat your breakfast and by lunch you would be proclaiming Fudge as the greatest Minister of Magic Britain has ever known. Harry understood he could probably make all his problems disappear by doing that very thing but that was never going to happen. He was too much of a Gryffindor to hand Fudge an easy victory.
The newspaper too was a ploy Harry was well used to. For years, his aunt and uncle would leave flyers for the circus, newest theme park or their latest holiday brochure lying where he couldn't fail to notice them. They would then derive great pleasure from informing him that of course it was only Dudley they were taking, freaks like him got to stay with Mrs Figg. He had found early on that ignoring these devices of mental torture denied Vernon and Petunia their delight at rubbing his nose in his exclusion from whatever they had dreamed up for their spoiled son. Living with the Dursleys, small victories like these were really all Harry had to keep himself going.
Fudge had no idea who he was dealing with here. Placing a pampered prince like Draco Malfoy in this situation would see them crack under the solitude and lack of life's luxuries. Harry was left counting his blessings - no Dursleys, no chores, Hedwig was safe and they apparently weren't going to starve him.
While checking over the new scars on his arm and leg, Harry knew he was going to have to wait this one out. It just wasn't in him to privately or publicly kiss Fudge's arse, meaning his only way out of this cell would be if outside pressure forced the door open. The problem he could see with that scenario was the Prophet had been effectively assassinating his character all year, starting with Skeeter dragging him into that broom cupboard for her exclusive. Her fabricated and poisoned follow-up articles resulted in most of the magical community thinking he was already some deranged, attention seeking nutter. With the Prophet securely in Fudge's pocket, that cell door wouldn't be getting forced open anytime soon.
Harry ignored the offered tray, preferring instead to lie there and think what he would do with his life, when and if he got out of here. He clearly remembered Hermione having a stranglehold on his dogfather, Remus eventually having to help too. Ron stood there totally gobsmacked but Harry really couldn't blame his mate for that. Mrs Weasley, Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore had all objected on his behalf, Fudge had simply forged ahead and done exactly what he wanted. Harry now joined Sirius and Hagrid in the ranks of those who had been flung in prison, simply because politically powerful people wanted them there.
This was not a country in which Harry wanted to live his life, hopefully even raise a family one day. There were decisions to be made, and only him here to make them. It was going to be a different Harry Potter who left this cell. He had no idea just how true that thought was.
If anything, Hermione had a worse night than Harry. Sleep wouldn't come as she mentally tortured herself by replaying her actions over and over again in her head. The last thing she needed this morning was an episode with Malfoy and his cronies, it appeared though that's just what she was about to get. Draco and his posse had clearly been waiting on her as she hadn't yet entered the great hall for breakfast.
"Hey Granger, looks like your nutter of a boyfriend has finally been caught out. Two murders! Even Dumbledore won't be able to get his precious golden boy out of this."
Giving no acknowledgement or reaction, Hermione just pushed past the Slytherins. This didn't please Draco. "Hey Granger, I'm talking to you..."
Hermione neither listened or stopped, until a now enraged Draco chased after her and grabbed her shoulder. She'd been expecting something like this and her wand slid into her hand. Helping Harry train for the tournament had improved her own skills too, not to mention her confidence.
She spun around and her wand poked Draco in the groin. His friends couldn't see what was happening and Hermione whispered so they couldn't hear either.
"Listen worm, I've had more than enough of your shit to last me a lifetime. I'm leaving Hogwarts at the end of term, which is the only reason I'm offering this deal. You promise to leave me alone, and I won't cast a cutting curse. Do we have a deal?"
Draco was looking into Hermione's eyes from a distance measured in inches. What he saw reflected there was a mixture of revulsion and determination, leaving no room for doubt that she would carry out her threat. With a gulp, he managed to get his heart back into his chest before saying 'okay'.
Hermione's wand shot back up her sleeve as she walked away, leaving a startled Draco now being questioned by a jealous Pansy.
"What did that thing want, Dray?"
Thinking on his feet, he soon had something suitably derogatory manufactured. "Oh, she's missing her boyfriend and looking for a suitable replacement to keep her company. I told her I wouldn't poke a mudblood with a broom." Seeing Pansy's shocked reaction had the smirk back on Draco's face, that story would be all over the castle by lunchtime. He may be staying away from Granger, that didn't mean he couldn't make her last eight days in Hogwarts an absolute hell.
Hermione had barely made it into breakfast when Dumbledore stood to speak, she had no idea he'd been delaying this speech until she arrived.
"Students of Hogwarts, and our visiting friends. Last night we lost one of our own." With a wave of his hands, Dumbledore had all the banners hanging in Hogwarts turning to black.
"There is a lot of speculation around what happened last night, I'm here to tell you the truth - even if certain people don't want you to hear it. Harry and Cedric reached the cup at the same time, both urging the other to take the trophy. Neither would, so they finally decided to share the victory - they clasped it together.
Albus Dumbledore was a masterful orator, and was talking here about people and events that mattered to everyone in the hall. He had their complete attention.
"Unfortunately the cup was a trap, they were portkeyed hundreds of miles away to a cemetery where a dark ritual was being prepared. Cedric Diggory was murdered almost immediately, while Harry was tied to a gravestone and had some of his blood forcibly removed as part of this ritual. That ritual was successful, Lord Voldemort has returned."
This resulted in some screams, lots of tears and a few students momentarily fainting. It took a couple of minutes before Albus could continue. "After his rebirth, the dark lord summoned his loyal followers before proceeding to torture Harry. With guts, bravery, and not inconsiderable skill, Harry was able to engineer his escape. He also, at great personal risk, managed to return his fellow champion's body to us."
Holding up a copy of today's Prophet, Albus drove home his point. "There are those that don't want people to know the truth, and will go to any lengths to avoid the truth getting out. Harry Potter refused to lie about what happened last night, and was arrested to stop his version of events being heard and believed. Soon, all of us will be faced with some difficult choices. As an educator it is partly my responsibility to equip you with the tools and information needed to make those difficult choices. That is what I am doing here this morning, giving you the information needed. Sometimes we must do what is right, not that which is easy."
Hermione couldn't miss Dumbledore was staring at her as he said that last part, she didn't care. Hermione was still intent on speaking with Madame Maxime directly after breakfast finished. She was also far more interested in the witch who had shakily just stood at the Ravenclaw table.
The silence soon became total as everyone in the hall wanted to hear what Cho Chang had to say.
"Harry approached Cedric just before the first task and told him they would have to face dragons. His only reason for doing so was because all the other champions apparently already knew. Cedric then returned the favour by offering Harry a clue on how to solve his egg. Harry was first to reach the hostages under the lake, yet refused to leave any of the hostages behind and finished last."
Cho was surrounded by her friends, their support allowing her to finish what she wanted - no, needed to say. "I can certainly see both of them deciding to share the victory and grabbing the cup together, I can't see any situation where Harry would deliberately murder Cedric. Having spoken to both of Cedric's parents for hours last night, I know they think the same. Those two wizards were far more likely to help one another than harm each other..." A tearful Cho sat back down amongst her friends, unable to say anymore. It was then left to Dumbledore to break the respectful silence that had descended over the great hall.
"I too spoke at length with Amos and Tabitha Diggory, I can confirm Miss Chang's assumptions as being totally accurate. I would ask everyone now to stand and raise a salute to a fine Hogwarts student, champion, and an outstanding young wizard, Cedric Diggory."
Even the Slytherins stood for that, Cedric was a Hogwarts champion - and a pureblood.
Hermione's gaze was now locked on another target, one that was hard to miss. As Madame Maxime began to leave, Hermione's half-eaten breakfast was forgotten about as she chased after the witch she hoped would be her new headmistress come September.
Lord Voldemort was having a rather more pleasant time than expected. He'd raged for hours last night at how Potter had escaped him, only for one of his returning death eaters to bring the wonderful news that Potter had since been arrested.
Snape's excuse that Dumbledore was watching too closely for him to slip away almost cost the potions master his life, until Severus released that unbelievable titbit of news. That the dark lord had lost one of his most loyal death eaters was also a blow, but Harry Potter in prison was priceless.
"Well Wormtail, it would appear you're now two for two. First Black and now Potter, both put in prison for crimes you committed. Lucius, I want you to pander to Fudge's ego, tell him this is a fabulous decision. Promise Fudge anything, just keep Potter rotting in jail. When we're ready to take over, we won't have to go looking for him. Fudge is doing our job for us, I might even let him live after the ministry falls to me. Brilliance like that deserves a reward, even if it's only to live in Potter's former cell."
Sitting in the luxury of Malfoy Manor while having that news confirmed by the Prophet had certainly brightened up the dark lord's day.
Hermione's day was looking a little brighter, spending all morning, and most of the afternoon, chatting to Madame Maxime about switching schools almost had a smile back on her face. The Beauxbaton's headmistress didn't believe Harry was guilty either, and Hermione swore to try and convince her best friend to make the switch from Hogwarts too.
Any semblance of that better mood vanished as she walked into the Gryffindor common room. Silence descended and she soon found all eyes now upon her. Cormac McLaggen boldly strode out to intercept Hermione's route through the room.
"Granger, if you needed a wizard to keep you company with Harry gone, there's no need to approach snakes. We lions take pride in looking after our own. I think you'll find I'm more than up to the job..."
Cormac had now invaded her personal space and, while her peripheral vision spotted three redheads racing to intervene, Hermione could cope with this buffoon. As his hands reached out to touch her body, Hermione's Petrificus Totalus spell had Cormac as stiff as a board. A slight nudge from her saw him topple over backwards and slam into the stone floor. Hermione wasn't finished with this prick though, not by a long shot.
Hermione placed her foot carefully on his throat, more concerned this bastard couldn't see up her robes than she was about not hurting McLaggan. "Listen carefully, McLaggan, it's your only warning. Depending what version of events you believe about last night, Harry either committed murder or fought Voldemort to a draw before escaping. Do you honestly think those are shoes you could ever fill?"
Cormac could only move his eyes but that was enough for Hermione to see he was terrified, her wand was pointing right between his eyes too.
"I don't know what anyone has heard but Harry is simply irreplaceable. Try laying hands on me again and I won't be so lenient, I might even let the Weasleys get their hands on you..."
"Me too, Hermione. He wasn't getting near you..."
"Thanks Neville, never saw you there behind me."
Hermione then spoke to the entire common room. "I was there when Harry got arrested, it was a disgrace. Fudge presented Harry with the prize money, while calling him a liar. I called Fudge an idiot, he then arrested Harry just to prove me right. Harry forgave a lot of people who earlier in the year thought he was a cheat and a liar, I can't see him being so generous to those who accuse him of being a murderer."
With that, Hermione turned and left the common room.
It was about fifteen minutes later when Ron found her in the library. He could see through her facade, Hermione was close to the edge.
"Hey, it's Harry we're talking about here. He'll be fine, and certainly won't blame you for Fudge being an idiot." This earned Ron a weak smile so he continued along the same lines. "It's the ministry that has him, Hermione, they will have to follow their own rules. They won't be able to do much more than keep throwing questions at him. You being his friend for the last four years will have him easily able to deal with that."
The tears were forming at the corners of Hermione's eyes as Ron asked how she was feeling. "I'm worried sick about Harry. I've had to draw my wand on two wizards today, and spoke with Madame Maxime about switching to Beauxbatons in September. So, just a normal day for Hermione Granger at Hogwarts..."
"Hermione, you're really leaving us?"
"Yes, Ron, and I'll be doing everything I can to convince Harry to come with me. Some of those people in our common room have known me for four years, yet seemed more than ready to believe whatever the latest rumour is about Hermione Granger. I'm assuming it was Malfoy who started it..."
"Was he the other wizard you pulled your wand on?"
"Yeah, I threatened to end the Malfoy line with a cutting curse."
"Oh wow, and I missed it. Still can't make up my mind what my best memory of Hogwarts is. It's between the incredible bouncing ferret or you smacking him one back in third year. I think third year just edges it because I could see the expression on his face after you hit him." Seeing a slight smile from Hermione pleased Ron no end. He'd abandoned Harry earlier on in the year, when his mate really needed him too, that wasn't going to happen again. He knew Hermione would blame herself for what happened in the infirmary, only Harry being released and forgiving her would ease that pain. His job would be to stick close to their friend and try to stop her sinking into despair.
"Ron, you need to work on making some better memories - preferably ones where you're actually in them."
He then changed the subject totally on her. "Have you guys been holding out on me? When did you become his girlfriend?" It was now Ron's turn to smile as he'd made Hermione blush.
"You know we're not. Everyone just assumes that we are, and me denying it just now would feel like I was abandoning Harry. You know I could never do that. We've spent a lot of time together this year and gotten even closer, I guess that's what people are picking up on. In all honesty, I was too worried Harry wasn't going to survive that bloody tournament to think about anything else."
Ron had known this, he also knew his friends might have taken steps along that path after the tournament - only for Fudge to ruin that for them too. Harry just couldn't catch a break. "I don't know what I'll do next year without you two at Hogwarts, Ginny will be heartbroken."
Ignoring the Ginny remark, Hermione focused on what else Ron had said. "Do you really think Harry will leave Hogwarts?"
"Hermione, sometimes you can be really dense. You said you would never abandon Harry, I know that's true. Do you think this same Harry is going to let you go all the way to France on your own?"
She couldn't help but smile at her sometimes clueless friend, and hope he was right about Harry. "Ron, you do know that Beauxbatons is closer to London than Hogwarts is?"
"Aw Hermione, that just can't be right..."
Albus was at the ministry, trying to drum up support to get Harry freed. He wasn't having much luck. Cornelius had blocked Albus from seeing his student so he was having to use different routes.
"Amelia, surely you don't support this?"
"Of course I don't. Neither me nor my department are being allowed to intervene, or get near the boy. By using a ministerial decree, Cornelius has effectively blocked all interference."
"But Harry's underage, this shouldn't be allowed."
The Head of the D.M.L.E. had some very bad news for the headmaster. "They have thought of that too. Since Harry was allowed to compete in a competition where you had to be of age, Fudge has used this fact to push the lie Harry is now an adult through the ministry. In our community, Harry James Potter is now declared of age, and will face whatever charges Fudge finally brings against him as an adult wizard."
She took Dumbledore's shocked silence as a cue to continue. "Fudge has Harry in a secure isolation cell, no visitors of any sort. I'm hearing rumours of Voldemort's return but am denied access to the one person who can tell me more about it. I'm being stopped from doing my job, and I think this is deliberate. If Voldemort is back, we need to begin making preparations and taking some action now. Fudge just point-blank refuses to contemplate the possibility of Voldemort's return, something those he listens to will certainly approve of."
Albus seemed to age decades as he sat and contemplated what Fudge's actions could mean. He reached out and lifted a small silver framed picture of Amelia's niece, Susan Bones, from her desk and cast the portus spell on it.
"Amelia, I fear dark times are ahead of us. Voldemort will be quietly recruiting those who will help with his planned endeavours, before starting to eliminate anyone who stands in his way. I am well aware you fall squarely into the latter category, it's only a matter of time before you are paid a visit. This emergency portkey will take you, and anyone else holding it, straight to my office in Hogwarts. I trust you won't let it fall into the wrong hands."
She gratefully accepted the gift, more for the girl in the picture than herself. Amelia would sleep easier at night knowing she now had a method of ensuring Susan's safety.
Hermione wasn't looking forward to this but knew it had to be done. Calling on all her courage, she knocked on McGonagall's door and entered when invited to do so.
Minerva's tone was icy as she stared at the young witch in front of her. "What can I do for you, Miss Granger?"
"I would like a copy of the form needed to transfer my schooling. I am hoping to have it completed and authorised before the Beauxbaton's students leave, Madame Maxime could then receive my Hogwarts records in person."
"So, you really are determined to leave us?"
"Yes, Professor. Could I have a copy of the form for Harry too? I intend to do my utmost to convince him it would be in his best interest to transfer schools as well. For obvious reasons, I have no idea when I'll see him next. Having a copy of the form means I can at least be prepared for when I do."
Minerva waved her wand as a couple of forms made their way from the filing cabinet onto her desk. "I doubt whether these forms will accept a certain godfather's signature, it will need to be Harry's guardians. There is also the matter of tuition fees. Harry's parents set up an account to pay for his attendance at Hogwarts, I doubt very much if the Dursleys will be allowed to change that arrangement at Gringotts..."
Both witches had been so busy staring daggers at each other, they had missed Dumbledore entering. "That will not be a problem, Minerva. Because of his participation in the tournament, the ministry have declared Harry an adult."
"That means Harry will be able to make his own decisions..." Hermione's jubilation then crumbled as she realised what the other side of the coin brought to the situation. "...it also means the ministry can charge him as an adult. I read juveniles couldn't be sent to Azkaban, Harry, as an adult wizard, now could be. You know the effect dementors have on him, what are you doing about this?"
"I'm sorry, Miss Granger. The Minister of Magic has decreed Harry can have no visitors or letters. It's also impossible to change the decision about his age, the magic involved won't allow Harry to take a step back like that - even if he wanted to..."
"This is your fault, again. You were the ones that forced a fourteen year old to compete in this tournament, and now Harry could end up in Azkaban over it. Now you stand there and tell me there's nothing you can do about the situation. If and when I see Harry again, you better believe I will be doing my damnedest to have him leave Britain with me. At least he'll never have to go back to the Dursleys..."
Dumbledore's head went down at that. "The Dursleys' residence is no longer safe for him anyway. Harry being declared of age will see the wards I placed on that house come crashing down. With Voldemort's return, that family are now vulnerable. We will need to visit and tell them this. The Dursleys can no longer stay in Privet Drive."
Hermione stood and stared at Dumbledore for a moment before she could find her voice. "Harry told me his relatives used to scream at him they weren't given a choice about raising him, he was just left on their doorstep with a letter. Now, because of that, they are going to lose their home. What gives you the right to make these decisions, Headmaster?"
McGonagall wasn't going to stand for that. "Miss Granger, that is quite enough..."
Hermione wasn't cowed in the slightest. "No it bloody isn't, it's nowhere near enough. When it suits him, the headmaster plays god with people's lives. When it doesn't, he stands back with his hands in his pockets and says he can't do anything - meanwhile Harry gets dragged out of a bed in the infirmary and sent to prison. I'll ask again, Headmaster, what gives you the right to make those decisions?"
"Alas, Miss Granger, that is a question I can't answer at the moment."
"Yeah, not that I expected an answer. Just don't be making any decisions about me. Have you told Sirius this news?" A glance was all that was needed to tell that was a no. "I'll have Hedwig drop a note off when she's taking this form home for my parents to sign." With that, Hermione left McGonagall's office.
"Albus, if Miss Granger asks, Mr Potter would follow her to the ends of the earth. No matter what happens now, we're going to lose both of them."
"I know of Harry's affections for Miss Granger, Minerva, just as Miss Granger effectively ripped her headmaster and head of house to pieces in defence of Mr Potter. I came to ask if you would accompany me to the Dursleys? This is going to be even more unpleasant since Miss Granger is once more correct, I left them no choice in the matter of their nephew."
As she picked up her traveling cloak, Minerva managed to resist saying she told him so with regard to the Dursleys. Her mind was moving in a different direction. "Miss Granger seems to have the ability to cut right to the heart of the matter."
"That she has, Minerva. Losing both her and Harry from the country would be a catastrophe, one I currently have no idea how to prevent."
With that, both set off for what was sure to be an unpleasant encounter in Little Whinging.
Harry had lain on his bunk for hours. He'd barely moved, and certainly not touched anything that had been pushed through the door. He had spent that time looking back at events in his life, and not liking where these thoughts were taking him. Since Halloween, his outlook on studying had to undergo a radical rethink. When you weren't studying to pass exams though, rather survive what was coming your way, Harry found that situation to be far more motivating.
Without the distraction of Ron or quidditch, Harry also found he liked being able to keep up with Hermione. His friend was in his thoughts as the door began to open. Harry had known the approach would be coming soon. A night and day in a cell was supposed to soften him up, only Harry was anything but soft.
He just continued to lie on his bed, staring at the ceiling and totally ignoring his visitors.
"Hem, hem. Show some respect, Boy. You should stand when the Minister of Magic enters a room."
Harry left her hanging for a moment before gracing that comment with an answer. "Respect is earned, that is why I have none for Fudge. I have nothing but contempt for him, basically because his actions are contemptible."
This immediately got under the skin of whoever this was that Fudge had brought with him. "You are not helping your case here, Mr Potter. The Minister holds your fate in his hands..."
"Look, I don't know who you are but you obviously kiss Fudge's arse, not something I'm prepared to do..."
The squat witch exploded at that. "I am Madam Dolores Umbridge, Senior Under-Secretary to the Minister of Magic..."
"Okay, sorry. So you're Fudge's chief arse kisser?"
The minister tried to intervene before a war broke out here. It was also rather disconcerting to see this young wizard lying back there as if he hadn't a care in the world. He hadn't altered the volume nor the relaxed tone of his voice once, even when so cruelly slapping Dolores down. "Harry my boy, I don't think you appreciate the seriousness of your situation here."
"First, I never have been, nor ever will be, 'your boy'. Secondly, I believe it's you who severely underestimates the situation you are in..."
Dolores couldn't resist that. "Oh, so you know better than the Minister of Magic? You are right, Cornelius, the BOY is delusional."
Even her deliberate attempt to needle him didn't break through Harry's indifference. He calmly explained what the minister and his toad-like assistant were so oblivious to. "Voldemort didn't expend all that time and energy on being reborn, just so he could then go for a holiday to the Bahamas..."
Harry just quietly lay there, letting them get their protestations that he wasn't back out of their systems before continuing. "You stating that he can't be back doesn't make that true - I actually wish it did. Here's the thing though, sooner or later Voldemort will make his move. At that point, the entire country will know I was right - and that their Minister of Magic is a lying bastard who locked up a fourteen year old to cover his own arse. Once that happens, you and anyone connected with you will be run out of the ministry..."
With both Fudge and Umbridge standing there with their mouths open, Harry calmly finished what he had to say. "All I have to do is lie here and wait, wait while you're committing political suicide. Every article in the Prophet, every time you deny Voldemort's return, every day longer you keep me in here - those are all nails in your political coffins."
Harry then slowly sat up on his bed, wanting to make sure there could be no misunderstandings here. "If I walk out of this cell with you, we can shake hands and call this all a terrible mistake. This is a one-time offer that vanishes as soon as that door closes behind you. After that, I will make sure the entire country knows exactly why you placed the boy-who-lived in jail - purely to stop the British magical community knowing the truth."
He could see Fudge was wavering. The thought of being able to put this behind him, call it a misunderstanding, and have a publicity picture with the boy-who-lived was very tempting. His under-secretary though had other ideas.
"Don't be preposterous. You-know-who isn't back so why should we release you?"
Harry lay back down and stared at the ceiling again, he still answered her though. "Because the Under-Secretary to the Minister of Magic, and the Minister of Magic himself, can't even say Voldemort's name. I've now fought him four times - and never lost. Lord Voldemort is just an anagram too, his real name is Tom Marvolo Riddle. He told me that himself when I was in second year, just before I defeated him again." In the silence that followed, Harry finished what he wanted to say.
"Oh, I'll even help the ministry save some money. Stop pushing the Daily Prophet through my door. I simply refuse to read the lies in that excuse for a newspaper. Please shut the door on your way out, it's draughty in here with it open."
He'd known that his strategy was a gamble, and one that didn't have a great chance of success. Harry would now have to play the waiting game, hoping that if Voldemort attacked the ministry they would at least let him out to fight.
It was a nervous Fudge who sat sipping an exquisite single malt in his office, Dolores had her usual sickly-sweet sherry. "I need that boy broken, broken and bent to my will - not Dumbledore's. There was obviously some bluffing going on in that cell but I just can't see keeping him in there achieving the result I need."
Having witnessed Potter's performance, Dolores really had to agree. "Dumbledore has the boy convinced you-know-who has returned. Under those circumstances, he would be correct in his assumptions. If you-know-who was ever to be sighted, what he claimed would come to pass. We have to undo all Dumbledore's brainwashing, and that won't happen by keeping him in that cell."
"What are you suggesting?"
"I'm suggesting you leave it to me, I'll break him."
Cornelius had just been handed the politician's dream answer to his problems, along with deniability if those dreams turned into nightmares. "Okay, Dolores, he's all yours. I don't need to know the details, just let me know when you have the result I want."
A cruel smile may have been on her lips but it never reached her eyes. She would have this little bastard screaming for forgiveness over his arse-kissing remarks. Dolores now just needed to buy the time needed to achieve that result. "This won't be quick, Cornelius. Dumbledore has had years to work on the boy."
"Take all the time you need, Dolores. I'll keep feeding the Prophet stories about Potter and Dumbledore, that will neutralise any and all attempts to have him freed. We'll use Potter to bring Dumbledore down, that will end the old fool's attempts to have me removed as minister. I'll show him who really runs magical Britain, and it's not Albus Dumbledore."
After a few days, Harry was getting bored with just lying on his bed. He never thought he would miss painting Uncle Vernon's shed, or weeding between Aunt Petunia's roses. There was no natural light in his cell, and they were placing food in his room at irregular intervals of time. Harry no longer knew what day it was, or if it was day or night.
It was actually three in the morning when his cell door opened to reveal the toad-like woman standing there again. The minister was nowhere in sight, and it soon became blindingly obvious why. Fudge would want nothing to do with this.
"Potter, you seem far too comfortable here so we're switching your room. You'll even be able to receive visitors in your new accommodation. I'm told the dementors on Azkaban like to spend as much time as possible with the ministry's specially invited guests.
Thanks to Alix33 for checking over my efforts