Chapter 3 – A Class Act
As the five of them made their way from the Leaky Cauldron along Diagon Alley they noticed the turned heads and the occasional mouth dropping open as they passed. Harry had to admit that between the five of them they looked pretty good. As they walked, the boys talked of Quidditch and the upcoming world cup, where it might be held and the possibility of getting tickets to it.
Fleur and Hermione were walking along, arms linked, behind the boys. Discussing what Harry could only assume was the mysterious subject that had stolen Hermione away from the Quidditch game at Muriel's the day before.
As they approached the bank, the boys slowed to allow them to catch up and they all checked each other over to make sure they all looked perfect before entering through the large gold doors at the bank's entrance.
They entered into a large marble atrium that had a set of oak double doors leading into the main room where the goblin tellers were normally positioned. Harry looked through the glass to find that the room had been completely remodeled after they brought the dragon through the floor and the ceiling. It had effectively trashed the whole room as the dragon had spun around destroying everything.
Rather than the long sets of benches that used to be there, they had set the room into several different sections. Each section had a gold sign hanging saying what the section's work was dedicated to.
Harry could see only a few of them clearly, but the ones he could see were Stocks and Shares, Coin withdrawal, and Investments and Loans. There were several goblins sitting at the different sections scribbling away in ledgers.
Fleur told the group that given what had happened with them last year that she would go and find out who the account manager of the Will was, and she pointed them to a waiting room to the side of the atrium that they were standing in, while she went and found the required goblin.
As Fleur went through the double doors leading into the banking hall, Hermione spotted Kingsley Shacklebolt along with some other ministry personnel standing in the waiting room already, while a witch exited the waiting room looking to be off on some errand or
other. They caught each other's eye briefly and waved to each other.
Even though Kingsley was now the new Minister for Magic, Hermione and the others had fought at his side and, in Hermione's case, had saved one another a few times when getting Harry out of Little Whinging the year before.
A smiling Kingsley came out of the waiting area and approached, followed by his entourage at a respectful distance away, while looking over the group as if accessing any danger to the minister. Kingsley, upon noticing Harry and Ron sizing up his staff, turned to them and told them all to relax because they were all friends.
Turning to Harry and the others, they all congratulated him on his appointment, which he humbly accepted.
"It's a bit of an adjustment going from being an auror where your job is made easier if you are not noticed to minister where your job is to make yourself noticed." Kingsley said with a slight shake of the head.
"You'll do well at being minister, you've got the right temperament and actually listen." Hermione commented.
"Yes, the best leaders are normally the ones who don't ask people to follow but are naturally followed." Harry added
"Well you would know that better than most, and I'm starting to understand why you never really liked not being in the spotlight so much." Kingsley replied giving Harry a smile.
"How come you're at Gringotts today, Minister?" Neville asked.
"Yeah have you been invited to this Will reading as well, do you know whose Will it is?" asked Ron eagerly.
Yes that's what I came here for in part, although I'm not a beneficiary. I'm here to act as a government official in its activation and distribution as it were."
"So whose Will is it then?"
"All will be revealed to you shortly, but I also am here for other reasons. It involves the four of you, and I wanted your opinion or your preference first." Kingsley replied.
"Our preference to what?" asked Harry while sharing a confused look with the others.
"Neville, it is the opinion of the Wizengamot and the International Confederation of Wizards, ICW, that you should receive the order of Merlin Third Class for your assistance and aid in the bringing down of the Dark Wizard Lord Voldemort and your efforts in the Battle of Hogwarts." Kingsley announced to a thunderstruck Neville, who was looking back at him like he had grown a second head.
The others all had smiles on their faces and Ron gave Neville a pat on the back. Harry told him that it wasn't anything less than he deserved as he was key to making sure that no one gave up.
"To you Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley they have decided to give you both the Order of Merlin Second class for the same reasons, and they have decided that you should be awarded the Order of Merlin First Class, Mr. Potter, as you actually took part in the decisive duel and the previous duels you had with him in the past." Kingsley added, silencing the trio.
"Are you serious?" asked Ron
"Surely Harry…" Hermione started before Harry cut her off.
"Don't even think about trying to belittle the effort and work you and Ron put in to helping get rid of Voldemort, Hermione. If it wasn't for you two, I'd have been dead and he'd have won, so please don't try and down play how important you were in getting rid of him." he interrupted, while fixing his stare on Hermione causing her to blush furiously and look down at her feet as she felt her cheeks start to burn.
Harry shifted his gaze to Ron who nodded straight faced and Harry had a grin break out on his face as a thought struck him.
"That is something that you've done before your brothers Ron, and you're not even out of your teens yet." added a grinning Harry causing Ron to bark out a laugh as he remembered telling Harry all those years ago that it didn't matter what he did that his brothers had always done it before him. Well this is one time in his life he could stand before his family for something that none of them had ever received before.
"Well all your awards are more than deserved and I need to inform the recipients of a few more later today, but what I really wanted to ask you was when and how you wanted to receive your awards?" asked Kingsley, looking between the four of them.
"I don't follow." replied Neville, confused.
"You've just given us them." added Harry as he was just as confused as Neville.
"No, I have just informed you that you are receiving them. Normally when an Order of Merlin is awarded there is an official ceremony by the Wizengamot, where you are presented with the actual award before the House of Lords of Great Britain and top members of the Ministry of Magic, members of the International Confederation of Wizards and members of the muggle Royal Family, then there is normally a formal reception afterwards as well which the media are invited to attend as well." Kingsley explained.
The thought of being the center of attention with all the press and everything didn't really appeal to Harry although this wasn't only about him, it was about the rest of them as well, which would make it a lot more tolerable.
"The only exception to this was when Dumbledore received the Order of Merlin and he asked that it just be sent to Hogwarts, because he didn't want all the pomp and ceremony. I think that was agreed to at the time, because Dumbledore had become somewhat of a recluse and was hiding himself away at Hogwarts." Kingsley added.
"The thing is that given what happened with Voldemort and the number of people involved in the battle and who witnessed you defeating Voldemort, I'm not sure we'd be able to keep it as low key. You've spent enough time hiding last year while Voldemort was hunting you down."
"I know that you don't like all the publicity Harry," he said giving Harry an understanding look and putting his hand on his shoulder in a fatherly way "but it would send a good message to the wizarding world at large about your efforts and heroics, and see you are alive and that you are well. It will give you a platform to speak about it, to get whatever you need off your chest. I think it's time that you embraced your fame a little and make it work for you, rather than react to it, because if you return to Hogwarts you'll only have another year of being able to hide away from the media and not have people asking you questions."
"I don't want to be asked questions or have to go over what happened with Voldemort every time I speak with someone!" Harry exclaimed.
He really didn't want to have to keep reliving what happened with Voldemort. Every time he spoke about it, it just reminded him of all the people that he had loved and lost because of a power hungry man's crazy ideals.
He just wanted a normal life. He wanted to know what life would be like without the knowledge that someone was out to hurt or destroy him and those he cared about. He wanted to finish his education because he believed that his parents would have wanted him to do the best he could. Even though he had slacked off initially with Ron, he was without guidance of parents to report back to. The Dursleys hadn't cared whether he passed or failed.
He had had a taste of what an almost normal school year would have been like in his sixth year at Hogwarts before Dumbledore had been killed in the Death Eater's attack on the school. He had enjoyed the two things being concerned about his lessons and Hermione trying to get the Half-Blood Prince's text book off him all year.
He did want to go back to school to finish his NEWTS, but he really wasn't sure about whether he could handle walking those halls again, where he'd seen Fred killed, or whether he could go into the Great Hall and not think about Tonks and Remus lying side by side having been killed or not think about Dumbledore and Snape being killed there. Granted he'd get to see Dumbledore in the portrait there and speak with him again but that would be too painful. He just didn't know if he could do it.
If he did go back, then he would only be able to do so with Ron and Hermione at his side but he wasn't sure whether they'd want to go back at all. 'Hermione is probably having withdrawal symptoms from not having been in the library for over a year,' he thought to himself with a chuckle.
He promised to speak to them both about what they wanted to do later but it would probably be best to do it individually, so that he got their honest opinions rather than them influencing each other's decisions, trying not to upset each other. They were now a couple and if they did go back to Hogwarts it would be a very different experience.
Yes, Harry was still into Ginny in a big way and she was only getting more beautiful as the years went by, but Harry wasn't sure whether they would get back to the point that they were at before he left to go hunting for horcruxes. If he returned to Hogwarts he would be in her year and would get more chances to spend time with her. However, something wasn't right with Ginny and himself.
Every time he went near her these days or kissed or touched her, she seemed to tense up or find an excuse to leave the room. He felt that he was always trying to chase her to get some time alone with her. He was feeling very alone and she wasn't really appreciating the fact that he needed to feel close to someone. Ron and Hermione had each other now and he didn't have anyone to lean on.
It was a very strange feeling because he had always had Hermione by his side through all the things that he had been through but now that was going to change because she was with Ron. He felt like a part of him was starting to fade away and it was a part of him that he never realized was important and that Hermione had filled that part of him so completely without Harry really noticing.
He was going to lose the person who he told absolutely everything to, well not everything. Who he depended on for answers and help and advice, the person who was always trying to improve Harry and help him understand and better himself. He wouldn't lose her completely since they were friends and always would be, but their little group dynamic had completely changed now and would never be the same again.
They would either go off and get married and live happily ever after with Harry on the edge of their world or they would end up splitting up potentially causing a permanent fracture to the group, which probably wouldn't be recoverable. He'd seen what jealousy had done to their friendship when Hermione went to the Yule ball with Viktor Krum and while he hated to admit it he might be able to live his life without Ron but he knew he couldn't ever live his life without Hermione in it to some degree.
While he knows that he didn't have as Hermione would say "the emotional range of a teaspoon" like Ron did at times, Harry was well aware that she still was always there to help him figure out what was going in the hearts and heads of other people and also himself, but it was only now it was too late that he was realizing what that meant in regards to Hermione.
It would all be different now, through his time at Hogwarts he had always had Ron or Hermione there whenever they had fallen out with each other. As long as they were together it would be him that was isolated and pushed out because they would want to spend their time together possibly without him and he would be the spare wheel. He didn't know if he could just drift in and out of their lives like that and it would take a long time until he was comfortable enough to see them acting in a romantic capacity with each other.
Harry had always had them there and while he was friends with Seamus, Neville and Dean along with others in Gryffindor he had never really been left to his own devices with them as he was always with Ron or Hermione when they were fighting. Maybe Harry was going to have to accept that he was now going to have to strike out on his own and be prepared to be engaged and make friends and build on relationships with others now and not fall into the same trap of spending all of his time with Ginny if he decided to go back to Hogwarts.
Would Ginny understand that it was too painful to go back to Hogwarts, to the place where he'd seen his friends die? It had been hard enough moving around the halls and seeing the places he'd spoken with Cedric that reminded him of the night he had been killed.
Could he walk around the halls now? There were so many more places where he'd seen others die that he would be hard pushed to walk around the school now without remembering something happening there.
He couldn't go back there. No matter how much he wanted to go back to how life was in sixth year with a happy environment when everything was going well. He was doing well in his studies, he was with Ginny and Ron and Hermione were getting on well and weren't constantly sniping at each other after Ron had split up with Lavender.
When he looked back on that now, he would probably be better with his studies because Ron and Hermione would be spending all their free time together and if Ron and Lavender's antics were anything to go by he'd be having to watch them snogging, which he knew that he couldn't bear to be around.
"So would you be alright with that Harry?" asked Kingsley snapping him out of his thoughts as Harry looked up to see Kingsley, Ron, Neville and Hermione looking up at him.
"Yeah sure that's fine." Harry guessed as a response as he hadn't been listening or paying
"Excellent, a bit of a surprise, but a wise decision nonetheless. I'll get everything sorted and will owl you all regarding the arrangements. I'll get on it right away. I'd imagine that you'll all be getting called in shortly." said an elated Kingsley as he turned and walked off to speak with one of his aides who nodded, turned, and made his way out of the room.
"You feeling alright Harry?" asked a stunned Neville.
Harry turned to look at them all and saw them all looking at him as if he'd lost his mind,
"Yeah fine, why?"
"Errrr because you've just agreed to a public presentation in front of the ICW, Wizengamot and the media." replied Ron.
"And that you are happy to go to a formal ball held by the Ministry of Magic." piled on Hermione.
"I'm more than a little shocked Harry, because for as long as I've known you, you have always tried to stay out of the spotlight, but you've just agreed to be slap bang in the middle of it. You didn't even appear to be listening." said a troubled Hermione.
Harry was shocked as he had completely tuned out of the conversation while thinking about Hogwarts life if he returned.
"I wasn't paying attention and didn't hear what he was saying and when I looked up you were all looking at me and I guess I just panicked and guessed what I was meant to say." said a pleading Harry, a feeling of dread settling in the pit of his stomach.
Ron shook his head and said "You better go and have a word with him and tell him you've changed your mind or something."
"Yeah that bloke he was talking to was one of his aides, I think. So you best go speak with him." Neville explained, looking over Harry's shoulder to see an excited Kingsley speaking with one of his other aides.
"I agree. I can't believe you weren't paying attention Harry when it was something so… public that he was discussing." Hermione chimed in.
"I know I can't believe I agreed to that. I'll go and have a word." as Harry turned to leave however Fleur came into the room with Griphook, the goblin who had helped Harry and the others break into Gringotts the previous year.
To say Harry, Ron and Hermione were shocked to see him there was an understatement.
"What are you doing here?" Ron asked bluntly to Griphook.
"I happen to be the one who wrote to invite you all here!" Griphook replied defensively.
"We thought you had been fired?" asked Hermione.
"Ah yes Miss Granger, well my position amongst the goblins was reinstated and I was when I returned the Sword of Gryffindor back to the goblin world even though the magic on it made it vanish again a short while later. I was never actually fired from Gringotts. I and others had to go into hiding because of intimate knowledge I had of the accounts I was managing, the contents of the vaults of those accounts and the information that needed to be protected.
Not for the benefit of wizards, but because the Goblins and Wizards signed a treaty and we are honor bound to protect our client's information and keep their property private."
"So you've been brought back now that the threat has passed then?" Harry asked.
"Yes Mr. Potter and I will have to speak to you later in regards to the events that took place here last year. There are certain things I need to explain, however now is not the time for this as we are all expected in the conference chamber so if you would all follow me, " and Griphook turned and left the room.