AN: If you're ever interested in how the next update's coming along you can always check out my profile. I keep that top part up to date and update it whenever I write so checking in every once in a while will at least let you know if there's been a delay, what it is, and how far along I am.
Anyway, ALL ABOARD!
Harry didn't really know what to think about the end of summer vacation. The beginning of it back on Privet Drive had been grueling and awful and best left forgotten but looking back at it now made him feel… strangely lighter in a way that was difficult to explain. Somehow it went beyond the fact that he was away from the Dursleys. While that feeling was great, he'd felt it last year when he'd left and what he was feeling now put that feeling to shame.
Hermione said that what he felt was a kind of liberation, which she took to be a good thing. That he could look back and feel good in any way at all she said had less to do with what he thought of them and more to do with how he was looking forward to having a whole new life without them. And of course she was right.
He knew that he shouldn't get ahead of himself because things could still go disastrously wrong – something Lichfield was happy to remind him of when he stopped by several days ago to see how he was doing – but it was hard to look at what's happened in the last week or so and not believe that there was no way they'd make him go back to the Dursleys' again. Lichfield had said a long time ago that the Daily Prophet would go mad once they heard about his case against Dumbledore but this was making 'mad' look like a bit of an understatement. It was even making 'scandal' look like an understatement.
As far as things went, Harry had thought that it couldn't get any better than Uncle Vernon getting shot in the face and Aunt Petunia being labeled 'the Goblin Lady of Surrey' but that was just the start of it. The readers of the Daily Prophet hadn't taken too well to hearing what his 'monster' relatives were like and decided to pay them a visit, resulting in what they were calling "one of the largest breaches of the Statute of Secrecy in a hundred years." It had gotten so bad that the Dursleys were put under constant guard and both the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and the Minister of Magic himself had to come out to urge people to calm down and stay away from them.
He hadn't been thinking of any of that though, as soon as he saw the word 'breach' in the paper all he could think about was dozens of little Barchokes running around Privet Drive yelling "BREACH!" at the top of their lungs. Hermione tried to scold him for laughing about something this serious but her lips quirking from trying not to laugh said that she knew it was funny. Harry could only imagine what must be happening to the Dursleys now but hopefully it was worse than having their brains sucked out and put on display.
After that it was all about Dumbledore being the one who put him there, vague details about what his case against him was, followed by wild speculation about how much money the old man could've stolen and whether or not he'd left him without a knut to his name. That was something Harry had found somewhat irritating; telling people about what was going on was one thing but inventing stories about him over nothing was something else entirely.
Hermione tried to console him with the fact that it happened all the time with celebrities but that didn't really help though because that was the last thing he ever wanted to be; he didn't see why anybody would. Still, he supposed that it could've been worse. If they'd ever heard Aunt Petunia go on about how strange and abnormal he was then who knows what kind of things they'd be writing about him.
Still, Harry didn't know how he felt about all of this coming out. It'd been weird enough last year when everyone had known who he was and their eyes darted to his scar but now everyone was going to know a whole lot more. What was that going to be like? Were they going to be trading ridiculous stories behind his back only for him to be plagued by people constantly coming up to him wanting to know if they were true?
Harry didn't know if they were trying to make it better or worse but the Daily Prophet certainly got the ball rolling early by bringing up those 'Boy Who Lived' books again. They had mentioned them before, thanks to Lichfield getting their suspicions about Dumbledore being real person behind the reclusive author Ida Beeman into the paper, but everyone had kind of forgotten about it when the whole Sorcerer's Stone thing made them all flip out at once. This was just the thing they needed to talk about them again.
It might've made the guys get awkward and avoid looking at him for a while because their sister had been a fan but somehow that made him feel better about all of it coming out. Maybe it was because the Harry that the books describe and what his life was like was so completely different than his own that they both seemed equally odd just from the other one being there. Of course, it also could've been the fact that the Prophet blamed Dumbledore for lying to the public about what his childhood was like through the books in order to cover up what a horrible life he really had too.
Harry didn't want to think that he was feeling better just because everyone was beating up on an old man but… he had to admit that it did help, at least at first. In their effort to come up with things to write about though the Prophet seemed to think that criticizing everything the books said was a good idea and he hadn't thought Hermione would take such an interest in what they were like. He tried to avoid what it was saying and ignore the feeling that he was the butt of the joke and bury himself in a proper school book – like they were supposed to be doing – but her shaking her head and the exasperated sounds she kept making made it impossible.
He didn't want to say anything – and that took a lot not to do – but Hermione must've picked up on his sour mood anyway because she suddenly put it away and started studying in silence again. That only made him feel worse, like he was forcing her to stop the one break she'd taken just because what she was doing was annoying – even though it really didn't have anything to do with him at all when you got down to it. Neither of them said anything about it but it loomed over the rest of the day, even after she left.
He had never understood the strange funk that Lichfield had gone into weeks ago that seemed to flip his personality inside out and going into one himself with this hadn't taught him anything – besides the fact that he didn't like them. At the time Barchoke didn't seem to know what had caused Lichfield's funk – and he certainly didn't know what it really was that had caused his own – which made him wonder if Lichfield even knew what had made him funky. He'd ask but how can you ask a man about his funk without making him get funky?
He didn't want Lichfield to go into a funk, didn't want to be a funky person himself, and certainly didn't want to get funky with Hermione so he thought it might be better just to forget about it. Still, he supposed it could've been worse; he could've blown up at her like he had blown up at Lichfield that one time. If he'd done that then she really wouldn't want to talk to him again… not that she'd come back since his funk.
That funk had happened on Friday and even though she'd been showing up every other day she didn't show up like she was supposed to that Sunday. Harry didn't think it was because of what happened but it had made for one worrisome and disappointing morning either way. They'd seen so much of each other in the last two weeks – almost three – that he never realized how much he looked forward to it or how it just didn't feel the same when she wasn't there.
He tried to shrug it off because it wasn't like he or the Burrow had changed, things there were much the same from day to day, but after thinking about it he came to realize that things changed there quite a lot; all the time, actually. The main staircase at Hogwarts changed throughout the day for seemingly no reason so that the corridors it lined up with were almost never the same from one time to the next – but you could somehow always find your way, once you got a feeling for it that is. Life at the Burrow was like that except that it wasn't the staircase that moved it was the people.
The kitchen table was like a tiny great hall where everyone met up at the beginning of the day but after that things would shift about so that Percy could hole himself up in his room like it was his own private tower to live in. Mrs. Weasley would do the same in the kitchen itself while Fred and George would join Ron and him as things shifted them out to the Quidditch pitch – but only on days where Hermione wasn't due to show up. Things would shift around again and again after that so that there'd be visits to the chess-playing common room for him and Ron while the twins would venture through the forbidden Annoy-Percy forest.
Nothing controlled life at the Burrow, but you could almost think it did. It was almost like the Burrow itself was alive and changed things around however they needed it to be. Harry didn't know what things had been like before he got there but he imagined that it was much the same. He had disturbed it when he arrived though and it'd taken a while for it to accept him, which might've been what had made the guys so suspicious of him in the first place.
In the beginning he'd had a habit of dropping whatever he'd been doing when a letter came from Hermione, and they had written a lot. Those sudden changes must've gone against the natural shifting flow that life at the Burrow went through, at least until the guys had learned about him and Hermione. After that, things were… different. That shifting about still happened much like it had before but once she had started visiting that shifting had resulted in a different corridor opening up that hadn't been there before. He didn't know what to do with it.
Rather than being stuck in a cupboard under the stairs it felt like he'd been told to live in that third floor corridor at Hogwarts, though thankfully without the big drooling Fluffy. The place was large, somewhat scary, and definitely wasn't a place that anyone would be comfortable in, but it wasn't so bad as long as Hermione was there. After a while Ron had started stopping by too, so while it still didn't feel like the Gryffindor common room at least it didn't feel like they were sneaking around where they weren't supposed to be.
He liked the thought that the Burrow was shifting things around so that he could have his own private corridor to carve out a life in like the others had, almost like it was becoming his home too. Harry knew that the private corridor feeling was really just the Weasleys choosing to be elsewhere though, that way they could spend some time alone together without someone else constantly gawking at them. Something like that, while considerate, didn't make it a home though.
Much like the room he'd commandeered when he arrived it still didn't feel like it belonged to him and he didn't think that it ever would. He had certainly been made more welcome here than he ever had been with the Dursleys but that didn't make it his home any more than it made the Weasleys his family. He was glad to have them though because even if they weren't like his family they were like a family full of friends – almost like they were cousins that were happy he was there rather than the cousin he actually had.
…Maybe they weren't really so unlike family after all. Still, Hogwarts had felt like a home to him and look how that turned out. He knew that he shouldn't hold everything that Dumbledore did against Hogwarts but that was hard not to do when Dumbledore pretty much was Hogwarts. Compared to where the old man had left him though he guessed that maybe having a place where people liked him but didn't feel like home was a step in the right direction.
None of that mattered much right then though because stalking around the house wondering if he'd messed everything up was threatening to put him right back into that funk again. The stifling feeling of it made it feel nothing like the Burrow but he'd never been free enough to feel like this back on Privet Drive so it didn't feel like that either.
It might not have been so bad if he could've distracted himself but the Burrow's shiftiness had already put everyone in their own personal corridors for a Hermione-visiting day and thinking of joining one of the others made him feel like he'd be intruding. Stuck in that corridor of his all alone now made it feel more like a dungeon, and that made him the greasy-haired potions git that was prowling around looking for mop-headed Gryffindors to scowl at. It was not a happy feeling.
That feeling popped with a pop! when a smiling Mipsy appeared in front of him hours after they should have arrived. She didn't have Hermione with her though but she did have a letter. He was almost too worried to read it but figured that if Mipsy was smiling then it couldn't be too bad.
It seemed as though the weight of the world went sliding off his shoulders when he read it and the blocky confines of his Burrow-Hogwarts fell away. If anything Harry smiled, almost able to see her furrowed brow and rolling eyes as she described how "completely unreasonable" that her dad was being in not letting her come over for the rest of the summer just so that they could spend a little more time together as a family.
So as unpleasant as it was being unable to see her, at least he knew she still wanted him to. Plus when you really looked at it they only had to wait two more days, seeing as that was September first. And while he guessed that he'd been making more out of that whole thing than it should've been, funks were still something that Harry was going to try to avoid if he could.
With that in mind he went to see how Ron filled the Hermione days when they didn't rope him into studying. It turned out that he had a collection of comic books called, 'The Adventures of Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle' and he'd been rereading them to kill the time. They were actually pretty funny, but that was mainly from the fact that they got everything wrong and he couldn't imagine anyone being so stupid as to actually believe it.
Helping Ron carry his trunk down the twisting wooden staircase, Harry wished that all of their books were as light as those comics because it felt like it weighed a ton. At the last minute Flourish & Blotts had slashed the price of all of Lockhart's books down to almost nothing so Mrs. Weasley was able to buy the whole lot for everyone, though thankfully she'd thought that he'd already had them because he didn't know how he would've crammed them into his trunk if she'd gotten them. It was bulging from all the new clothes he had to begin with, and he was even wearing some of them!
Mrs. Weasley had gotten them up at dawn to make sure everything was packed and there was a mad scramble when people couldn't find what they wanted to take. That was at least until they realized that Dobby had already done most of the cleaning and packing while they slept and the only things left were the bits of odds and ends that he couldn't have known that they had wanted to take. After that Ron went back to sleep for a while.
The guys had still had to trudge out to the shed for their brooms, and there was some mention of fireworks, but besides that it seemed like just about everything was taken care of. The only chore then was bringing it all downstairs. With that though Mrs. Weasley was continuing the odd and ever-changing rules she had for what she'd allow Dobby to do and what she wanted everyone else to do instead.
He'd done all that work during the night so she was the one that made breakfast and they'd have to bring their own trunks downstairs. She still didn't consider the Anglia fit to drive in public either – somehow still being banged up despite the amount of time Mr. Weasley had spent working on it. So Dobby would be popping their trunks to the platform for them while they were going to the Leaky Cauldron by floo and then walking the rest of the way.
As they carried the trunk through the kitchen Harry could see Dobby looking about, if only for the chance that someone needed his help. He would've gladly let him take over for them but didn't want to get on Mrs. Weasley's bad side; he still needed somewhere for Dobby to stay until he could ask Professor McGonagall whether he could bring him to school. Ron didn't see why they couldn't just sneak him in – he and his brothers have done it with Scabbers for years – but Dobby was a bit bigger than a pet rat.
Stacking the trunk outside by the other trunks and brooms, Harry paused to pet Hedwig through her cage before they went back inside to get ready to go. Mrs. Weasley was reading a letter that'd just come for her while Fred tried to get their dad to see that walking to the platform was the most roundabout way to do anything.
"Nonsense," Mr. Weasley said with a wave. "A walk in the muggle world will do you good."
"Right," Mrs. Weasley said as she shoved the letter in her handbag. "Since we're a little early we just have time for one last check."
Fred, George, and Ron may have groaned but Percy looked ready to hike back up to his room without complaint.
"You boys can groan all you want but I'm the one that'll have owls pelting me for the next week asking to send all the things you've forgot," she groused. "If you're sure that you've got all your robes, quills, books and things then I'll ignore–"
"Oh! I almost forgot!" Ginny cried before running to her room.
"Now can we go?" George asked seeming to think that settled the issue.
Since no one seemed to feel the need to dart away for anything else she finally let them walk into the fire.
Dobby watched his master and his master's friends start to disappear in burps of green fire. The littlest of his master's Wheezies came running back through the kitchen and outside to put a small book in her trunk before darting back inside and disappearing in another green burp. Now it was time for Dobby to count so Dobby didn't go too soon.
'Pinky… not-pointer… pointer… thumb…,' Dobby counted on his right hand before switching to his left. 'Pinky… not-pointer… pointer… thumb….'
Dobby gasped. Dobby had run out of fingers! Master had more fingers. Was he supposed to use more fingers? Where does Dobby get more fingers if Dobby doesn't have more hands? Does Dobby use feets? And how many feet-finger-toes have passed with him thinking about more fingers?!
'Dobby needs to go!' Dobby thought as he grabbed the first trunks and panickingly spun-travelled his way to where his master would soon be.
The place was full of chatter and noise and there was a big red thing belching smoke and wizards were standing around so this had to be the place. Dobby popped back and forth moving and stacking trunks, brooms, and owls so they would be out of the way of everyone else but close enough and findable enough for his master to find.
Dobby ducked behind the trunks so that he could keep an eye out for his master without being seen. Dobby knew that he shouldn't feel this way but this place didn't feel safe. Harry Potter had said that they were all perfectly safe but how could his master be safe in a place that felt like this? This place felt like the home he'd just left – and Harry Potter had been happy there – but that place had felt like his old master's home too – and that place was not a happy place!
Dobby lifted his arm to his nose and sniffed himself, then sniffed his pillowcase. Did Dobby bring that bad feeling with him? Was it Dobby that was somehow wrong? Dobby didn't think so but Dobby didn't know. Harry Potter always said that Dobby was a good elf and good elfs aren't bad. No, Dobby couldn't be bad. The bad had to be something else, something here.
Dobby creeped along the back of the trunks and looked around; the bad thing felt very near. Suddenly out of the crowd and mist came old master Lucius! Scared of being taken away from Harry Potter, Dobby snapped the nearest trunk's lock open and scrambled inside and closed the lid before he could be seen. The bad felt somehow closer now! Dobby opened the lid a crack to see what old master Lucius was doing.
"Of all the things I thought would happen," Dobby's old master Lucius said from not very far away, "I never thought to be meeting you, Mr. Carter."
"Are you sure this place is safe, Mr. Malfoy?" an old man with a hairy lip asked quietly. "I feel very exposed. This is very public."
"And all the better for it," old master Lucius agreed softly. "Everyone here is far too concerned with their own children than to notice who else is here or who is speaking to whom. So why did you wish to meet? I never thought we had any shared concerns."
"We don't," the man old master Lucius called Carter said. "Or at least we haven't before but that may have changed. I am above all a practical man, and a sensible one. I didn't spend all those years as–," the man looked around, "–as the Head Clerk for our last Chief Warlock without becoming politically astute and I know you to be a man of power and influence."
"And to my knowledge you are still Head Clerk for the new Chief Warwitch."
"The new Chief Warlock," the man corrected old master Lucius; Dobby thought the man must be very stupid to correct old master Lucius and Dobby tightened himself into a ball in case a bad thing happened. "She insists upon being called Chief Warlock for some reason and that's not the only way she's spitting on propriety," Mister Carter-man said. "It's making my intention to remain Head Clerk more difficult by the day."
"I still don't see how this is my concern," old master Lucius drawled.
"A well-functioning Wizengamot should be everyone's concern," the man whispered. "That woman seems intent on causing headache and embarrassment for everyone involved – particularly the Minister if he comes anywhere near what she's planning. Very few people have enough influence in to get someone placed as Chief Warlock in the first place much less have it done so quickly, so I fail to see how this could suit either your or the Minister's ends."
"You're an intelligent man, Mr. Carter," old master Lucius said seeming pleased. "I could use an intelligent man in your position to oversee the work of our next Chief Warlock, so long as he knew whose lead to follow. If you're interested in that being you, why don't we start with what the current one's planning?"
The voices got quiet as the man and old master Lucius moved away. Dobby could still see them from the trunk though so he lowered the lid and stayed where he was. The bad feeling was still very near so Dobby had to be careful if Dobby was to protect Harry Potter and Harry Potter's friends.
Dobby didn't know how long Dobby waited but it seemed like a long time; the smell of fresh laundry made him feel better though so Dobby snuggled into it. When Dobby lifted the lid a crack again old master Lucius wasn't there. Old master Lucius being gone made Dobby breathe a little easier, though the feeling of bad was still there.
'Maybe the whole world is bad,' Dobby thought before shaking his head at it and lowering the lid again. 'Harry Potter is not bad and Harry Potter's Wheezies aren't bad. Even most of the Wheezie house isn't bad, just the one little bit.'
Dobby turned a bit and bumped his butt against something hard – that gave him an idea.
'Were girls bad?' Dobby wondered, remembering that looking for the bad feeling had led him to fall on the littlest Wheezie. Harry Potter's Myknee wasn't bad though and neither was the biggest Wheezie-ma'am. And if girls were bad then Mipsy would be bad and Mipsy was very very not-bad, so girls couldn't be bad.
Dobby wanted to smile thinking of Mipsy's smile and squeaky cleanness but quickly used his hands to stop him. He didn't want old master Lucius to find him and stop him from smiling ever again. There was a loud whistle from somewhere and more noise than ever, so Dobby knew that his master should be near by now. When he lifted the lid again to leave the trunk it slammed back down on his head!
"Here they are, boys!" a voice that sounded like Mrs. Wheezie-ma'am said as the locks on the trunk were closed again. "Hurry and grab your seats."
Before Dobby could think of what to do the whole world lurched forwards and fell, sending him tumbling forward in the darkness. His butt was now above his head and his head was against something hard as sounds of scraping trunks echoed around him. But Dobby couldn't be happier though.
'Dobby's going to school just like Harry Potter said!'
In the three days since she'd seen Harry, the last two of which were spent mutinously fuming in her room at the arbitrary and misguided patriarchal system of parental oppression that her father was employing against her to keep her from doing what she wanted, Hermione had had plenty of time to think. It hadn't been intentional on her part but the more she thought about it the more she thought that her incredulity at the pure idiocy that was 'The Boy-Who-Lived Saga' may have contributed to the markedly sullen attitude that Harry had gotten during her last visit.
'When you thought of it objectively though,' she said to herself again, 'that absurd series really has nothing to do with him. Any work, even one based on supposition and a loose interpretation of another person's life, can only be judged on its own merits – or complete lack thereof in this case. And even then, comparing a fictionalized series to the life of the real, living person they purported to depict is an equally valid source of literary criticism that opens the topic up to a wider discussion – not to mention all the mockery and derision that it so richly deserves.'
She hadn't said any of her critiques out loud because she didn't think the subject was one that Harry would be interested in discussing but she had to admit that some of what she thought and felt must've made itself known in the nonverbal involuntary responses that accompanied a particularly insane description of what happened from the books. It was simply mind-boggling how anyone with any sense at all could've possibly believed that the inane stupidity that was passed off in them as commonplace could in any way reflect reality.
Still, making the distinction between scoffing at the inferior tripe that was sold with his name on it and not holding the same sort of scorn for him personally might've been a bit beyond Harry at the moment, and indeed the souring attitude seemed to support that conclusion. Perhaps she could have mentioned it to clear up the issue but if he wasn't in the mood to talk about it then mentioning it would've only made things worse. And worst of all, if he wasn't able to see the distinction between deriding a book and deriding what the book is based on then the only way that would've ended was a fight where who knows what kind of hurtful things would've been said, and she certainly didn't want that.
High-pitched squeals audible from her compartment drew her from her thoughts to see that the Talkative Two, Lavender and Parvati, had successfully reunited and were gushing on the platform about something in the latest issue of Rumormonger Monthly or whatever the publication they had between them was. How any girl – let alone two of them – could be like that was beyond her but she had other things to worry about. Looking at her watch she wondered how far her father had gotten on his trip back home and whether she'd been too hard on him.
She still felt mostly justified in displaying her disapproval for keeping her home for no reason whatsoever – though she had the sinking suspicion that it due to the fact that he finally figured out that Harry wasn't just a boy but a boyfriend-in-all-but-name. On the other hand though he hadn't freaked out, moved them to Australia, or forbid her from ever going to school again so that was at least something. And even if he was hiding it well there weren't many potentially over-protective parents that would make the six hour round trip to drop their child off to catch "the magical school bus," as he put it, to the boarding school where she'd spend the next nine-to-ten months with the boy he might now be paranoid about.
It'd been roughly an hour since he left and if he made good time – unlikely with the London traffic he always hated – then he might still be half an hour away from his blessed Newmarket stop-off and two hours from home. A nagging sense guilt made her look at her watch again and wonder if there were still time enough for her to run off and find a payphone so that she could leave a thankful message at home for him on the answering machine. It wouldn't do to show up for the train an hour early though only to miss it by getting off five minutes before it departed so perhaps it was already too late.
'Then again,' Hermione thought, 'leaving the train for just a little bit probably wouldn't hurt anything and leaving the message would give me a chance to see if anything was holding Harry up. On the other hand,' she debated with herself, 'if they did somehow miss the train, since Harry has Dobby to call on now and he could probably apparate them all onto the moving train or even to Hogwarts itself for that matter.'
If there was one thing that made her seriously reconsider calling her dad it was that. Sure, it was nicely parental in a way to get up early just to drive her down here and try to spend time with her but that attempt at father/daughter time would've been much more effective if it hadn't come on the heels of costing her time with Harry and the opportunity to plan and coordinate their arrival so there wouldn't be so much worrying involved.
'Honestly,' she fumed, 'it's like parents go out of their way to make things more difficult than they have to be just on general principle. Then again, it doesn't seem like Harry and the Weasleys are that keen on planning in the first place,' Hermione mused, 'so really the only worry that would've been lessened would've been my own. The only worry Harry really seemed to have was seeing his private life splashed all over the front page.'
Retrieving this morning's edition of the Daily Prophet from her bag – and replacing her father's traitorous Heartseeker Quill that tried to escape when she did – Hermione wondered if the story she found buried in it would help with that or hurt. While it was related to 'the Boy Who Lived' books that he seemed so easily irked at, and therefore a potential problem as far as attitude went, it was also tangentially related to more academic things that she could safely skew the conversation towards if she had to. Even with the dangers though Hermione knew that she was going to do it; who knew when the next opportunity to run up to him and say, 'I was right!' would be?
More than a little stir-crazy, she got up and left the compartment thinking that waiting on the platform right next to the train posed an infinitesimal risk at best. Just as she got to the door though streaks of red and black shot onto Platform 9 & 3/4 from the barrier that resolved into her friends Harry and Ron. The Puckle part of her said she should scold them for drawing too much attention to themselves by running through the station but she stubbornly pushed that aside because she wasn't about to scold her boyfriend for being on time.
'Besides,' she thought critically, 'I have no evidence that they ran at all until the last five feet, really. That means that if I don't make the presumption that they ran through the station, and don't ask them any questions about it, then I don't have to hold it against them – so take that mother!'
Harry and Ron scanned the platform as Fred and George darted through the barrier. She had just leaned out of the door a bit with a smile blooming on her face when a giant FLASH! from somewhere close suddenly blinded her. Her first thought was of that boy from the Hopefuls meeting weeks ago followed closely by, 'Did the flash really have to be that bad in order to work?! Honestly, even Dad's old Polaroid was better than that.'
It took a moment for the purplish-white blob to fade from her sight but when it cleared it was to see Ron nudge Harry and point right at her. Harry started walking towards her with a smile and that sent her running towards him, her outer school robes billowing behind her as she ran; a smiling Harry was a happy Harry and one that was glad to see her and that made her a happy Hermione. She pulled up at the last minute so she didn't go slamming into him hard enough to send both falling over but she still carried a bit of force when she crashed into him and hugged him but all it drew was a chuckle.
"It's good to see you too," he said in the midst of their first public hug since her father had refused to give them any privacy.
While trying for private moment in the middle of the Leaky Cauldron might've been a bit much to expect, it would've been nice if he had at least pretended to look the other way like Tom the barman did. Either way she thought it best not to push the public/private boundary too much when it came to physical displays of affection though because not only were they both private people, Lavender and Parvati were still on the loose and who knows what they would make of this. Just as she made to move back though there was another flash! though this one wasn't blinding.
Looking around, Hermione didn't see the boy from the Hopefuls but couldn't see who else it might've been. With everything about Harry in the Prophet lately she briefly thought of mentioning it to him but pushed the thought aside lest it ruin his mood.
"You've got to take a look at this," she said with a growing smile on her face as she showed him the Daily Prophet.
'Bagshot is the Real Queen Bee,' the headline of the cramped article said next to a black-and-white photograph of angry-looking elderly witch. 'After weeks of what she calls unfair criticism, the noted author and historian Bathilda Bagshot has stepped forward to snatch the title of Ida Beeman away from Albus Dumbledore. "I am the real Ida Beeman," Bagshot told us in her Godric's Hollow home. "Anything you naysayers say of my books only proves that you're too ignorant to see them for the literary masterpieces that they are."'
Practically bouncing with excitement, she could barely wait for him to finish the first paragraph.
"She even admitted, when they pressed her about it, that Professor Dumbledore not only helped her get the book company started but suggested the name of both the press and the pseudonym she wrote under," Hermione cheerfully explained to him. "That means that I was right about both of them! All of those names did point to him and there was a connection between them," she smiled, ecstatic at getting the answer completely right.
Predictably though Harry didn't look like he knew whether to share in her triumph or not.
"I don't even know what to say to that," he said instead before his brow furrowed and his mind shifted itself to something he was more comfortable dealing with. "Do you think Lichfield knows about this?" Harry asked.
"Seeing as his plan was to get her to expose the truth like this herself?" she asked rhetorically. "He's probably already hard at work pulling files and kidnapping people."
"Oh, that's just a normal day at the bank then," he smiled.
Hermione sighed at the joke but chose not to redress him for taking civil liberties so lightly. After all, if the same happened to him he'd be the first to protest – though he strangely didn't do that when the goblins had done it to them, but that might've been because his lawyer was already with them. With how their last visit ended though it was all the more important to her to keep him in a good mood, and joking – even if it was about objectionable things – was still a good sign.
"Where's your trunk?" she asked, hoping to sweep the 'Boy Who Lived' issue under the rug completely. Before Harry could respond though the train whistle blew and everyone on the platform started moving towards the carriages to claim their seats.
"Here they are, boys!" Mrs. Weasley called from off to one side as she fiddled with one of the trunks. "Hurry and grab your seats," she said as they swarmed over to claim their luggage.
"Bloody hell," Ron groused as he and Harry pulled their trunks towards the train. "It feels like it's even heavier than before."
Ginny had never really seen much of the muggle world before because when they had gone when she was younger it they'd always been in the car and she had either been too small to see over the dashboard or the trip had been too boring and the Harry books too interesting to see anything else. Unlike what her father had said though a walk in the muggle world hadn't done her any good at all. The buildings and everything were all really weird-looking; not like Diagon Alley at all.
The smallest of the buildings were Diagon Alley height, which was two floors tall, but even then most of those were made of stone or brick rather than normal wood, and took up as much space as four or five shops combined – and those were just the little ones! The middling ones were as tall as the Burrow or Luna's house, but weren't just built to go straight up in the air but to also spread out along the ground like the others did, so they looked more like strange versions of the bank than anything else.
She also saw what must've been the world's biggest building – no less than twelve floors tall and all made from vertical stripes of stone and glass! Her bewilderment at that had lasted only a minute though because right across the street from it was one that was fifteen floors tall and looked like someone had quilted a bunch of windows together so that it was almost nothing but glass! One question kept popping into her mind though as they went: how could muggles do all this without magic? It didn't seem to make any sense.
Another thing that didn't make any sense was all the people that were running around.
She had once asked how many witches and wizards there were and her dad had told her, "There's bound to be a hundred thousand or so up and down the country." He had even written the number out for her – a one with five zeros behind it – so that she could see just how big of a number that was, but that didn't happen until she had spent the rest of the day making little stick figures on paper. She, her mum and dad, and her brothers came to nine and adding one for Luna easily made one row of ten.
Ten rows of ten figures were a lot of people but it didn't seem too large to all be in Diagon Alley at once though. It still wasn't anywhere near that bigger number though since five zeros meant that she had to keep going with rows and columns since she was only at two. Putting ten of those smaller squares of stick figures into a row would bring her from two zeros to three – which was a thousand – and making ten rows of them brought it up to four zeros and ten thousand, but that seemed like an impossibly big number of people to her.
How could her dad have been right about how many witches and wizards there were when making another row of all that would've come up with so many people that it was hard to imagine there being that many in the world at all let alone just this country. Ten thousand people was way more than there was in all the Quidditch teams in the entire league, even including reserve players, and even though she didn't know how many of those people still had their mums and dads, how many kids there were, how many people worked in shops or at the Ministry it was hard to imagine that there'd be so many of them to fill out the huge mass of a hundred thousand stick figures.
Walking through that tiny piece of the muggle world though gave her the feeling that maybe she had seen a hundred thousand people on that single street. There were so many and it wasn't just the people that you had to watch out for. The streets were crammed so full of cars so that no one else could use them, though some brightly-dressed people on odd-looking two-wheeled things did try to worm their way through.
That left everyone without a car to walk on these little side streets beside the streets that weren't remotely big enough for everyone to walk on without being in danger of getting separated or bumping into strangers – strangers in suits. For some reason many of the muggles were dressed like goblins, which just made everything that much more creepy.
It was almost a relief to get somewhere she recognized but even that didn't last for long. Ginny had always thought of Platform 9 & 3/4 as a magical place but now she wondered why that was. It was home to the Hogwarts Express, the train that had taken her brothers to Hogwarts and was now taking her, but besides where it went, and the wall you had to run through to get there, what made it magical?
Was the train magical or was it only special because it took magical kids to school? Where'd it come from? Who built it? And who built the building that the platform was in? They had passed other, different-looking trains that had to be muggle to get to the platform, and the platform itself looked like the other platforms, so did that mean that the muggles had made it all or just the building? If the muggles had made the train too then how did the wizards get it? Did they steal it?
Ginny couldn't help but feel that muggles were somehow better than everyone as she watched Harry go off with Ron and the enemy while completely ignoring her like she didn't exist.
"Here you go, Ginny dear. You've got to hurry now," her mother said as her three elder brothers hauled their trunks off to find their seats while her father waved goodbye to them; Percy towards the front of the train and Fred and George towards the back. "And don't you forget to write and let us know how the Sorting goes," she said with a warm hug that made her feel even worse.
Everything about this – Harry, the girl, all her brothers ignoring her – was just so wrong.
'It's not supposed to happen like this,' Ginny thought as she clung to her mother and began to cry. 'This is supposed to be my time, not hers. Maybe I could just stay home and write in Tom all day, that way when I wake up again all of this might be the way it's supposed to be.'
"Not to worry, dear," her mother said reassuringly as she wiped the tears from her eyes with a thumb. "You'll have a wonderful time at Hogwarts," she smiled as she escorted her to the train with her trunk. "You'll have so much fun and make so many friends that you'll never want to come home again, you'll see. It's happened every time."
The words didn't really make her feel any better. With her mum and dad standing there smiling at her though there wasn't much else she could do but get on board. Besides, running away and crying wasn't the Gryffindor thing to do.
'Then again,' Ginny pouted to herself as she put on a brave face and went to find a seat. 'Running and crying might get me attacked by a troll but I doubt Harry would be in any rush to save someone like me.'
Hope suddenly bloomed again when she saw her brother Ron still standing at a compartment door waiting for his turn to stow his trunk inside. Him being there would mean that Harry and that girl would be there too but maybe she should do the opposite of what she wanted to do to get everything to work out like it's supposed to. Maybe this would be the sudden turn-around moment that really changed everything!
"Go away, Ginny," Ron said, dashing all of her hopes.
She scowled at him before turning and going back the other way but what she really wanted to do was punch him in the nose.
'That would've been the Sporty Girl Ginevra thing to do,' she thought as she looked for another compartment. 'Sporty Girl Ginevra wasn't really real though,' Ginny moped as she came across a compartment that was empty except for another person's trunk that was already inside. Thinking that it was better than nothing, she took it and stowed her trunk.
She was just thinking about getting out Tom to write to him when she heard a voice behind her.
"Did the sylphs guide you?" it asked, causing her to jump and spin about as the train started to move. "They're little spirits of the air that help girls find their way," Luna explained and Ginny gave a big sigh of relief that her friend was there. "I thought I saw them floating around earlier; they're very helpful."
"I must have missed them," Ginny said, feeling better about everything already. After all, as long as she still had Luna how bad could things possibly be?
"Oh, there's your mum," Luna said looking through the window to the platform behind her as she started to wave as the train pulled away.
She and Arthur waved as the older boys fled, waved to Harry, Ron, and Hermione as they passed by, and waved to Ginny and Luna as they scooted along not far behind. She hugged Arthur and continued to wave goodbye as the platform thinned and the train turned the corner and slipped out of sight. They would've lost sight of her long before but she carried on until then since it gave her a sense of comfort, which she desperately needed; it seemed to carry away the last bit of her heart.
It always felt like a little bit of heartbreak having to see a child go off on their own but they couldn't stay a child forever; they had to grow up, which was precisely what Hogwarts was for aside from education. People who didn't know better would deny the importance of this day and stubbornly say that children were children no matter what until they were seventeen – and she would too when it came to mothering – but that didn't change the fact that you couldn't send a child to live on their own for nine months of the year and not have them come back different. They could visit for Christmas and Easter holidays and return to your roof full time in the summer but whenever they did they were always older, more independent, and thought for themselves more and more.
You couldn't really call them children when they seemed to change so much, though Merlin knew she tried to keep them as young as possible.
'A mother is always protective,' Molly said to herself as the smoke from the engine dispersed in the air, 'but you can't hold on too tightly, even if you want to. All that would do is crush your chicks before they had the chance to fly.'
As sad as it will be to have an empty house Arthur was right, she couldn't go through all this again. Bill had been excited to go off and explore the unknown, Fred and George down right eager, and Ron had accepted it as the most normal thing in the world. There had been a few bumps – like Charlie's sudden outbreak of caution when his time came or Percy's panic about whether any of his teachers would like him – she had never thought that Ginny would be the one to cry when it came time to leave though.
"Tell me she'll be alright," she told Arthur, wanting more than anything to chase after the train and drag her little girl home again so that she could protect her from the world. She had always been so anxious to go, why would she cry now?
"She'll be more than alright," her husband said bracingly as he squeezed her shoulder. "She'll have such a good time that we'll hardly be able to recognize her, you'll see. Just look at Ron," he said as if the boy were still right in front of them. "For almost two years he sat in his room like a ghoul in the attic, reading those comics and playing chess against himself, and all it took was one trip to Hogwarts and suddenly he's spending half the summer outside."
"That's true," Molly said as a different view of Ron's childhood forming in her mind.
She'd noticed all the time he'd spent outside lately of course but Ron had always been trailing along after the twins whenever they went anywhere so she'd thought that it was just him getting back to normal. Left in the house with only his mother and little sister for company, and all the basic education with reading, writing, and numbers already taken care of, she had thought that he'd take the chance for a bit of freedom and strike off on his own… except he never had. It had never occurred to her to think about just how lost he might've been once the twins were gone.
'That also explains why he hadn't wanted Ginny to tag along with them this summer too,' she thought. 'If Ron's trip to Hogwarts had not only gotten him friends of his own but also back into the twins' group of friends – and Harry being on the Quidditch team might've provided that link – then Ron might've seen Ginny as a threat to him being accepted, like it'd show that he was tagging along too, not that he'd intentionally exclude her of course.'
"And Fred and George make a good show of playing around like everything's just a game like they always have," Arthur continued on, seeming to go in a different direction. "But almost every night during the summer you could catch them whispering in their room about different spells and potions – and sometimes smell them brewing them in the dark."
"They're doing magic outside of Hogwarts?" she said scandalized at him for keeping this from her. "You should have said something and stopped them."
"And what – keep them from studying?" the man asked defensively. "Why? They haven't been hurting anyone."
"That's not the point," Molly said. "They could still get in trouble for it–"
"–Only if you tell the Ministry or Hogwarts about it," her husband interrupted.
"That still doesn't change the fact that their schooling belongs in school," she stubbornly maintained with a nod.
"But how is it any different than then what Percy's been up to or what the others have done with their studies?"
"They weren't doing magic," Molly reminded him.
"Right, Percy and Harry were just writing and spending time with their girlfriends," Arthur said with a smile. "That's doing a different kind of magic entirely."
She gave him a look that said that she was not amused.
"Well, you didn't mind when we were the ones doing it," he shrugged. "Anyway, some people just learn differently. By not keeping their schooling at school and bringing it home with them so they can figure it out on their own," Arthur smilingly explained, "it lets them get ahead of everyone else so they can coast through part of the year and do other things with their time – which I think is why we get those notes from McGonagall about them goofing off in class."
"And they shouldn't be goofing off in class," Molly reprimanded him for supporting their efforts.
"Oh, and I agree," he said supportively. "But the free time does let them get involved in activities they wouldn't normally have time for – like Quidditch – which is good for them. It's also why I like your 'At least an A' rule for it. That should keep them from goofing off too much."
Unable to find anything easy to criticize because of the praise for her he'd sprinkled in to it, she grasped around for something else in it to latch onto so that she wouldn't be wrong. Unfortunately though too much of what he said already matched up with other things that she'd been thinking to be easily denied.
Blatant rule-breaking or not, if what Arthur had said about the twins was true and their illicit studying had been preoccupying them then she couldn't deny the results. They caused far less of a disruption at home than what they had before Hogwarts – which she supposed they could be saving for the audience there, though she had been hoping that they were growing out of it. And she couldn't dismiss the possibility that Quidditch had been good for them; the practices and all could've given them a bit of structure for when it's time to work and when frivolity is acceptable, though she'd never tell them that.
The 'At least an A' rule had just been a threat to get them to do their homework but perhaps she should send that on to McGonagall. Who knows? Maybe everyone would benefit from the extra attention it would put on students' grades; Ron certainly would. And if the sport really was a positive influence on the children playing it then perhaps she should hope that Ginny got on the team too when her time came for it. It was a pity that First Years weren't allowed a broom though – though they had bent that rule for Harry now that she thought of it.
'If Ginny did get on the team, or even that other one the twins wanted to have, then she could have a ready-made group of friends right from the off,' Molly thought speculatively. 'I can't think of many things that could be wrong with that, though that might put her closer to Harry when it might be better for her to forget about him. Still,' she thought, 'seeing who he really is in real life might make the Harry in her head disappear for good.'
'Yes,' she nodded, 'as rough and tumble as she'd been in the last few weeks perhaps that would be good for her, though it's nowhere near what I always thought her life would be like. And who knows? She might actually make friends with her brothers this year, even Ron, and next summer would be more peaceful than ever – except for the amount of dirt they'd drag into the house from all their horseplay.'
Molly tried not to run too far ahead with her mental picture of what her family's lives would be like but it was a difficult thing to do when all you wanted was for everything to work out for the best. The last thing she wanted though was a repeat of what had happened before. She wasn't about to take all the blame for Ginny's obsession with the Boy Who Lived since she hadn't done anything to cause it in the first place, she just couldn't deny that what she had wanted for her daughter hadn't helped it in the least.
"Oh, would you look at the time," Arthur said, looking at his watch when she failed to come up with anything to say about the kids. "I should be going. I've got an appointment with Madam Bones soon."
"What are you meeting with her for?" Molly asked, her thoughts immediately going to when the woman had paid the Burrow a visit to see Harry.
"She is technically my boss even if I work on my own and everyone including her forgets that I exist from time to time."
"Yes, but what are you meeting with her for – are you trying to get your Muggle Protection Act back underway?" she asked, proud that her husband was trying to do something good but Arthur's brow furrowed instead.
"I don't think there's any hope of that," he shook his head with a perturbed look. "I might try to repackage it as something else in a few months but far too many people associate it with Dumbledore to go anywhere near it right now; this is something new – and it doesn't actually deal with muggle artifacts, which is why I need to talk to her. I'd tell you about it but I don't want to jinx it," he ended with a smile. "What about you, just home for you or is it time to grab a broom and see if you can beat the train to Hogwarts?"
"I am not that bad," Molly said with a look. "Only you would be foolish enough to think of flying to Hogwarts – and don't pretend that you aren't going to be asking for her favorite waffles tomorrow," she said thinking that she could do with some comfort food herself now that her only girl was gone.
"Well you do make the best waffles," Arthur said noncommittally.
"I'll go out and buy some things to make some of her favorites for dinner," she said after a moment, thinking that it was better to think of today as something to celebrate rather than something to mourn. "But that'll be after I go by the Daily Prophet, Mr. Cuffe sent a letter just before we left and he wants to see me about something."
"Well then, I don't want to hold you up," he said supportively. "You have a good day at the office, dear," her husband said in what he must've thought would pass for her voice before bending down to peck her on the cheek like she'd done for him so many times before.
"You are so much like the boys sometimes that I don't know whether to kiss you or ground you," Molly scowled at his lack of seriousness.
"Maybe a bit of both?" Arthur shrugged before disappearing in a pop! before she could end up doing either.
'Even if I did end up grounding him he'd probably spend the entire time in the garage fiddling with his muggle things until well after dark,' she thought before something else popped into her head. 'So that's where Fred and George get it from! I knew that it had to be his fault somehow.'
Shaking her head at her lot in life, Molly disapperated.
While it was in no way unusual for her to appear in the Leaky Cauldron to do a bit of shopping it certainly felt that way when she entered for two reasons. The first and most understandable one was because of the date. Everyone knew what today was and even if they didn't have children of their own to see off then they'd probably be thinking about the fact that it was happening which would've made doing anything else seem a little odd.
The second reason had to do with how she entered in the first place: through the front door. Like everyone else in the wizarding world, when traveling from home – which was where she usually was – it was far easier to use the floo. The only times she'd really ever apparated and then entered was when the children were very small and she'd had to carry them. Though she had done it when she'd come to see about the Glinda Goodwitch position and hadn't wanted the ash to mar her appearance, the act still didn't sit right with her.
Molly hoped that it wasn't the guilt she felt about having to spill all that about Harry to that Rita Skeeter woman that made her feel uncomfortable doing so but she thought it might be. The barman smiled neighborly at her as she passed through the dingy London pub but she couldn't help thinking that his eyes were filled with resentment and questions about why she'd done it and why she was there. That was silly, of course; Harry had never so much as hinted that he was upset that the truth about his relatives had come out so continuing to feel bad about it made no sense at all.
Diagon Alley itself raised her spirits quite a bit for it seemed as though all the ugliness between the Ministry and the goblins had been all but forgotten about. Shoppers went about their errands purposefully, once again full of confidence that any danger from dragonfire was at an end – so long as the bank's doors were closed – and closed they were. That wasn't to say that everything was back to normal; with the bank's doors closed there was still a need for the goblins to man their station outside on the steps, but one goblin sitting alone seemed rather trivial after what had happened.
As she watched, Molly saw one of the doors open part of the way and she didn't need to see the camera flash or the reporter beckoning for attention to know who the exiting woman was. For some time now Gringotts have been allowing a few select loved ones to visit "the Ministry guests" – as everyone was calling the captured hit wizards now – that were being detained somewhere within those stone walls. That woman had to be one of the wives; she wondered which she was.
As much as it seemed like prying into their personal affairs Molly had to admit that it was good to read their stories in the Daily Prophet for it made it seem like they were all a part of it together. And while she hoped for a speedy end to the situation she had to admit that she'd miss reading about the sense of family unity that Mrs. Dryden had fostered in her husband's absence. The woman's methods were a bit bizarre though; how the woman had come up with the idea to feed her family the same sorts of muggle food that the goblins were feeding their guests in a show of solidarity with her husband she had no idea.
Those women weren't the only ones with family unities to preserve though so Molly shoved the issue aside and walked on.
With Bill working for the goblins and Arthur with the Ministry, the last thing they needed was the standoff between their employers to break out in the Burrow. To their credit, the men – which she grudgingly had to admit that her beautiful baby boy, Bill, did qualify as that – had been wise enough to avoid the topic at home after it'd first been raised. But while she was glad that no disputes had broken out she was having a hard time knowing what she thought of it.
Certainly both sides had their reasons for what they did but it wasn't just the potential discord that made her uneasy, it was the innocents that had nothing to do with the dispute at all but who'd still be drawn into the fray and become casualties regardless. It was just like what happened with Arthur's Muggle Protection Act. That had been a good bill that he had worked hard on that would've protected muggles from cursed objects, thereby also protecting the wizarding world from being discovered, but also would've given his office the authority it'd always needed to really go after the people who had them hidden away before they ever posed a threat to anyone.
Now, because everyone had rightfully turned against Dumbledore and anything related to him, Arthur wouldn't get the recognition that he deserved. As disheartening as it was having all their hardships rewarded with nothing but hardships it shouldn't have been surprising; that was what seemed to happen throughout their lives since the day they'd run off and eloped. Her mother had disowned her, Arthur had struggled to find work, and his office was repeatedly downsized and given no respect to the extent that they had had their Ministerial Seat stripped from them before Arthur had ever had a chance to sit in it.
'No,' Molly thought to herself determinedly. 'I'm not thinking about that anymore. Arthur and I are done hoping that our luck will change. If anyone's going to change our luck it will have to be ourselves by doing the real hard work to change things on our own.'
She thought that it would've been a much more rousing sentiment if her stomach hadn't answered it by lurching and flipping over as she got to the door of the Daily Prophet's offices. With a calming breath Molly recalled why she was there and tried steel herself with Bill's words. She would be a good role model for Ginny and insure her schooling; she would.
The offices of the Daily Prophet were much less active than they were just a week ago but with how close it was to lunchtime that may have had something to do with it. Lunchtime or not though it didn't seem to stand in the way of the gray-haired Mr. Cuffe pacing back and forth down the aisle of desks with an unlit cigar in his mouth.
"It's good," the editor said to the shorter goateed man that followed along beside him, "they both are. This one has advertisement written all over it," the slender Mr. Cuffe said approvingly as he handed a pair of photographs to the man
"Yes, it's a remarkable image, even as a hasty proof," the unknown man said as they turned to walk away from her again. "But what do you think of the other shot though? That one would look wonderful front and center above the fold tomorrow, don't you think?"
Mr. Cuffe stopped suddenly and took the cigar out of his mouth to bark out a short laugh.
"You've always done a good job promoting the shots you get, Bozo," the man said good-naturedly, "but I've had you working with Rita for too long if you think this is lead-worthy when there's no story to go with it that hasn't already been printed somewhere else."
The man he called Bozo looked unpleasantly up at him.
"That's not to say it wouldn't cause a stir in an already interested group," Mr. Cuffe continued. "It'd certainly do that; but that's not news, let alone something to build an entire Prophet around. I'll tell you what," he said, biting down on the cigar again and sounding as if he were compromising. "We'll shop it to one of the gossip rags. We've done it with Rita before and one of them has got to be covering it. Don't worry, we take care of our own," the man said to Bozo with a wink.
The man named Bozo scrambled away clutching his prized photographs to his chest as Mr. Cuffe turned to pace back towards her.
"Ha!" he cried as he looked towards her. "There's my newest star. There's my pretty Polly!"
More than a little puzzled, Molly looked behind her to see if she was blocking anyone's entry.
'Certainly he can't mean me, can he?' she wondered as he beckoned her forward.
"Cynthia," Mr. Cuffe called over to his secretary as she walked towards him. "Where's that list you showed me earlier? Polly here will be needing it."
"I'm sorry but–," Molly said uncertain about how you were supposed to correct your employer, "my name is Molly, not Polly. Molly Weasley."
"Right, right," he said with a dismissive wave of his cigar. "I've gotten used to seeing the pseudonym we've come up with for you that it's hard to remember what you were before."
"Um – I'm sorry?" she asked not really understanding what he was saying.
"The name you're writing under – like Glenda Goodwitch before you – that's a pseudonym," Cuffe explained. "It's for writers to punch up their name a bit for the byline or to keep their privacy at home, and you're going to be wanting it for both. No offense but Rita was right, the name Molly Weasley just doesn't pop and the best that the ad guys could do was 'Ask Molly Weasley, She'll Get You Through It Easily.' Ugh!" the man shuddered. "It's too clunky. You see?"
"I think so," Molly said only following him so far. "But I'm not sure where 'Polly' comes in."
"That was my bit," he said with a self-satisfied nod. "I wanted to give you something young-sounding and as close to the original as possible. Plus the P sound goes great with that maiden name of yours."
"–Gets You Through It," Cuffe said with a wink and a pointed cigar. "That's the name of your column. The old Ask Glenda Goodwitch always sounded like some nattering old biddy and we wanted to go with something modern and it's got a younger-though-still-matronly sound to it. So what do you think?" he asked happily.
"Well, it's very close to the name I was born with," Molly said with a shrug, "so I guess I can get used to it."
"Attagirl," the man smiled at her as his honey-haired secretary approached.
"Here ya go, pop," she said as she handed him a sheet of paper.
"Thanks honey," Cuffe said immediately before he caught himself. "I've told you, not at work, pumpkin," he said with a look.
"Sorry, Dad – er, Mr. Cuffe," the woman said, seeming to grow younger as she got a second look at her; she couldn't have been more than six or seven years older than Charlie.
"Kids, what are you gonna do?" Mr. Cuffe said with a shrug when the young lady slunk back to her desk. "Anyway, this is a list of companies that've expressed an interest in getting you to shill their products for them," he said as he passed it over to her.
"Oh my," Molly exclaimed as she looked at the list.
"Believe it or not, that's been pared down," the man said with a smile. "You wouldn't believe how many were interested. There was actually a small bidding war between Mrs. Skower's and Sir Scrubsalot when they saw the Prewett name."
"I'm not so sure that I'm comfortable with this," she said, ill at ease with trading on her family's name like this. Merlin knew what her great-aunt Muriel would say about it.
"Now I'm not saying that you have to lie, pretend that you're from one of the high families, or promote anything that you haven't used," Mr. Cuffe explained. "In fact you're free to go out and buy whatever's there that you're not familiar with and use them at home first. Just make sure to turn in the receipts to Cynthia and we'll reimburse you."
It was certainly a nice offer but she didn't really think–
"–You remember those stories Glenda would use about particularly tough stains, troublesome coughs, or disappearing socks?" the man continued. "That's all I want from you. If in the course of giving people advice you want to suggest a product that'll make their lives easier, all we'd like is for some of these to make it into your response; and if you don't like these, we'll get you others. I don't see how there's anything wrong with both telling the truth and getting paid for it, do you?" Cuffe asked with a gesture of his cigar.
"Well, I – I suppose not," Molly said a bit out of her depth. There seemed to be something a little underhanded about it, even if she couldn't quite put her finger on it.
"Splendid!" her boss said as he motioned to his daughter again, hustling her over with a bulging brown linen sack. "These are the first letters that you've got to work with," he said as he took the sack from the girl and gave it to her; it was heavier than it looked. "All you need to do with these is look through them for three or four short, decent ones that you know you can handle easily.
"–Don't respond to them directly," he said with a point of his cigar. "Not ever. You don't get paid for that. Just look through them, find the ones you want, and take the next few days to write up your responses. On Friday, you come back in and we'll pair you up with someone to make sure everything works. If it does, one of them will be winging its way to thousands of homes first thing on Monday with more to follow. Sound good?"
"It – yes. Yes it does," she replied, feeling much more relieved now. Arthur was right, when you describe it that way it really didn't seem like work at all. "I think I'll like working here, Mr. Cuffe. Thank you again for the opportunity."
"No, thank you," he said, biting on his cigar so that he could take her hand in his. "And call me Barnabas," he said with a smile. "I think this is the start of something good."
AN: You may have noticed that the kids finally being on the train wasn't that big of a deal; that was to show that while the school year is starting that doesn't mean that the rest of the world just stops. The important matters in the adult world will recede a bit in importance to the story but they'll always be around and progressing on their own and thus will need to be shown from time to time. After all, while Harry is a figure of importance in this story the whole of the story isn't completely about him, it's about the world itself.
As always, thanks for reading.