Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling.
Parts of this chapter are quoted from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
"You really think this will work?" Sirius said.
"Well, now that I've found the public trial records from 1981 with you not on them, I think we have a good case," Hermione replied. "In a similar situation in the muggle world, I'd say it was nearly certain."
"You'll be okay getting out of the country, right?" Harry asked.
"No trouble there," Sirius answered. "I did it before, and they were putting in a lot more effort to find me then. Just tell me where and when."
"As soon as we get an answer, I'll tell you," Hermione said.
The remaining days leading up to the hearing were a period of anxious waiting. They didn't have a lot of time to get a reply by overseas Owl Post to ensure their plan would work. Meanwhile, Harry was growing anxious about how his other friends would react. The Weasleys were like the family he never had, even though Sirius was his official family, and he felt like he was abandoning them. However, once he had made up his mind, Hermione took it upon herself to keep him from talking himself out of it. He was in danger in Britain, she reminded him, and just about everybody with real power was out to get him. By his own estimation, staying there was worse than useless.
Harry accepted this and assuaged his guilt by writing letters to the Weasleys and to a few of his other friends like Neville explaining why he was leaving. He would give them to Remus to hold for him. If they were his true friends, he thought, they would understand. They might be hurt, they might complain loudly, but they would understand. The trouble was, he wasn't sure if Ron would flake off again like he did with the Triwizard Tournament. He had a tendency to take things like that personally. And if Ron was bad, he wasn't sure if anyone would be able to talk Mrs. Weasley down anytime soon.
He still almost backed out, but the last straw was Dumbledore. Harry wanted to talk to him one more time before the hearing to demand answers as to why he was kept in the dark and isolated from his friends all summer. And he let the Order know it in no uncertain terms. But Dumbledore only came once that week, two nights before the hearing, when he was already asleep, and no one came to wake him up.
"I tried to, pup," Sirius told him, "but he didn't stay long, and I couldn't get away without him or Molly figuring out what I was up to."
"Why did he even come, then?" Harry demanded.
"Just to make sure you were ready for the hearing, that the plan to get you to and from the Ministry safely was in place, that kind of thing. Oh, and to warn me that on no account was I to go with you."
"But you'll be able to get out, won't you?" Harry said worriedly. "You need to be able to get out of here for the plan to work."
"Oh, I'll be able to. Don't worry. I asked Remus to cover for me if there was any trouble. I felt like I was kicking a puppy when I had to tell him, but when I explained everything, he agreed it was for the best. We're good to go for tomorrow."
"Alright, good to go," he agreed.
Hermione had been so excited to receive a positive reply to one of their letters two days earlier that she'd run into Harry's room and nearly jumped on his bed to hug him. This had resulted in a very embarrassed Hermione trying to pass it off to Ron that she'd just discovered something useful for the hearing. It had taken a while to get Ron to believe her. But in passing, she whispered in Harry's ear, "Uganda."
That would certainly make things easier. Hermione had got hold of an almanac that said English was spoken enough in Uganda for them to get by, although the most widely-used language was Swahili, so there were no worries there. No one in the magical world really cared what she and her family did, so they could prepare to leave in the open, using that as a cover to take care of Harry and Sirius as well. Some quick transfiguration and Confundus Charms would get them through security and customs—Sirius as Hermione's uncle Stephen, and Harry as himself, although the passport would be fake—and the Uganda Ministry had agreed to expedite the immigration process and smooth out any problems on the muggle side. It was laughably easy in retrospect. No one paid attention to a muggle-born. Even Dumbledore, while he wasn't prejudiced, would never expect a pair of muggles like her parents to interfere in the magical world, so they had no interference. Meanwhile, Hermione carefully coached Harry about what to say at the hearing. By the night before, everything was in place.
Harry recognised at once that he was being railroaded when Fudge moved the hearing time up an hour without telling him. Mr. Weasley was frantic as he pulled Harry along, trying to get him down to Courtroom Ten before they convicted him in abstentia, but for Harry, as he reflected on the irony of the situation, it was all he could do not to burst out laughing.
"Now, don't be nervous, Harry," Mr. Weasley said, clearly mistaking his reaction. "Just tell the truth, and you'll be fine. Now get in there."
Harry was shoved inside the courtroom. He was dazed momentarily. It was the same dark stone dungeon in which the Death Eaters had been tried in Dumbledore's memories. The same chained chair was even there in the centre of the room.
"You're late," said Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge. "Your hearing was scheduled for eight o'clock sharp."
A week ago, and Harry would have been nervously apologising and trying to offer a weak justification. However, thanks to Hermione's intensive coaching, he found himself able to think on his feet quite well. "Minister Fudge," he said, "I can produce a witness to the fact that the notification of the time change was sent at seven fifty-five. Isn't there some regulation about due diligence that would apply here?"
Several of the fifty or so Wizengamot members sent withering looks at Fudge, who suddenly appeared rather uncomfortable. "Well…be that as it may, you're here now, so let's get started," he said. "Take a seat, Mr. Potter."
Harry gingerly sat down in the chair. If they chained him up, he might be in trouble. Fortunately, the chains rattled, but stayed put.
"Disciplinary hearing of the twelfth of August," said Fudge in a ringing voice, and Percy began taking notes at once," into offences committed under the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery and the International Statute of Secrecy by Harry James Potter, resident at number four, Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey.
"Interrogators: Cornelius Oswald Fudge, Minister for Magic; Amelia Susan Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement; Dolores Jane Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister. Court Scribe, Percy Ignatius Weasley—"
"Witness for the defence, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore," said a quiet voice from behind Harry, who turned his head so fast he cricked his neck.
"Oh, now you show up," he said loudly enough for the Wizengamot to hear. I've only wanted to talk to you all summer."
"My apologies, Harry, I was preoccupied," Dumbledore said unconvincingly without looking at him. He stepped forward to the bench. "But let us focus on the matter at hand."
"Ah, Dumbledore," Fudge said nervously over the rising murmurs of the Wizengamot. "So you got the owl that the time of the hearing had been changed?"
"As a matter of fact, no, but by a happy accident, I arrived at the Ministry three hours early."
Harry couldn't see Dumbledore's face, but he could imagine him giving Fudge a smug smile. He didn't feel particularly moved to join in, though. At this point, the old man was just wasting time.
Fudge called for a second chair for Dumbledore, but the Headmaster just conjured his own: a chintzy armchair that looked calculated to annoy Fudge purely by how out-of-place it looked. Fudge then read off a long (and surprisingly accurate) description of the charge again Harry, specifically, casting the Patronus Charm in front of a muggle, and he started in on his questions.
"You are Harry James Potter of number four, Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey?" Fudge said, glaring at Harry over the top of his parchment.
"Yes," Harry said.
"You received an official warning from the Ministry for using illegal magic three years ago, did you not?"
"And you conjured a Patronus on the night of the second of August?" said Fudge.
"Wait a minute—" Harry said.
"Answer the question, Mr. Potter."
"Now hold on! Aren't I supposed to enter a plea?" Harry spoke over him.
"What?" Fudge said. "Oh, very well, how do you plead?"
All hell broke loose. Dumbledore nearly fell out of his armchair, and several of the Wizengamot members started shouting at each other. The shadowy witch on Fudge's right, a squat, toad-like woman with a black bow in her hair, stood up with a cry of triumph: "You see? He admits it!", to which a man Harry recognised as Elphias Doge shouted back, "Outrageous! He must be Imperiused! No one would plead guilty to that!" Fudge himself looked too shocked to be pleased, while the monocled witch on his left merely raised an eyebrow at Harry.
A moment later, Dumbledore came to his senses, and he spun around, looking Harry in the eye, just for a second. Harry felt a flash of anger and a pain lancing through his scar. Dumbledore looked away. "Harry, what are you doing?" he asked. "I have witnesses in your defence."
The monocled witch cracked her wand, since Fudge didn't seem to be doing it, and the Wizengamot calmed down enough for her to speak. "Yes, I would be interested to know that as well, Mr. Potter," she said in a booming voice. "Why would you admit to a charge that could see you losing your wand and your place at Hogwarts without raising so much as an affirmative defence?"
"Amelia Bones, Mr. Potter."
"Ah. Well, Madam Bones, this hearing is a waste of time," Harry said. "You obviously aren't going to give me a fair trial. Changing the time and place with five minutes' notice? Summarily expelling me, which you don't even have the authority to do, before backtracking and giving me a trial date? You've made it pretty clear you don't want me around—or rather, the Minister has; I assume he's behind all this. I'm just making this easy for you, Minister." Harry felt strangely giddy. He could hardly believe what he was saying. He was sure he'd be a complete wreck right now if it weren't for Hermione's coaching, but he was pushing through.
Madam Bones glared at Fudge. "Is this true, Cornelius?" she demanded. "Those would both be breaches of regulations, and I wonder if I would find any others."
"Hem hem," the toad-like witch interrupted. "The Minister isn't on trial, Madam Bones. This isn't relevant to the case."
"It is if it would lead to a mistrial, Madam Umbridge. And even if it doesn't, you can be sure I will be investigating internally."
Umbridge flashed a predatory smile: "We can discuss that at another time then. If Mr. Potter is pleading guilty, then we can move on to sentencing, Minister."
"Minister, I would like to declare Mr. Potter's plea invalid and enter a plea of not guilty on his behalf," Dumbledore said quickly.
"And I contest that!" Harry cut in. "I made the decision to plead guilty with careful consideration."
"Mr. Potter is a minor and can be overruled in legal decisions."
Harry rolled his eyes: "Do we really need to do this, Professor? It's not like they're going to listen to you. They already kicked you out of your Chief Warlock job."
"I would still be remiss in my duties if I did not represent you to the best of my abilities," he replied.
"Oh, so now you want to help me?" Harry asked bitterly. "Hey, Fudge! Can I dismiss Dumbledore for ineffective counsel or something?"
There was another round of shouting, this one more out of surprise than indignation. That was just about the last move anyone would expect Harry to use, even Dumbledore's opponents. When the noise died down again, it was not Fudge who spoke, but Madam Bones again: "Mr. Potter, you haven't accepted any counsel at all."
"Honestly, I don't see much point, ma'am," Harry said.
The toad-like woman whispered in Fudge's ear, and he said. "Well, I don't see any problem with it if Mr. Potter agrees. Motion sustained. Dumbledore, you are relieved of duty."
Dumbledore looked back and forth between Harry and Fudge with a mixture of betrayal and fear on his face. Even as he tried to muster a counterargument, Fudge charged ahead: "And you're right, Dolores, we can move on to sentencing. Mr. Potter, as per your plea, you are hereby found guilty of violating the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery and the International Statute of Secrecy. Aurors, please relieve Mr. Potter of his wand."
"Yes, about that," Harry held up a finger in interruption as an Auror stepped forward, "you actually don't have the authority to confiscate my wand."
"Excuse me?" Fudge said haughtily.
"According to the ICW Convention on Wand Use of 1692, qualified witches and wizards have a right to carry a wand at all times. The main things that could dis-qualify me are being in prison—and this charge doesn't carry a prison sentence—or not having a passing O.W.L. mark in Transfiguration, Charms, or Defence while also not being enrolled in any certified magical school."
"Ah, and the Wizengamot does not hold the power to expel Hogwarts students," Dumbledore jumped in, his face suddenly brightening. Apparently, he'd finally caught on that Harry had some plan. "Excellent thinking, Harry."
"Thank you, Professor, but I wasn't talking about that. I'm actually withdrawing from Hogwarts."
And the rug was pulled out from under him. Harry smiled to see the look on his face. Maybe that would give Dumbledore a clue as to what it was like for him. "Harry, I don't know what you're doing," Dumbledore tried again, "but withdrawing from Hogwarts will only make matters worse for you."
"Headmaster, if they want to expel me from Hogwarts, I'm sure they'll find a way to expel me from Hogwarts," Harry said flatly. "As I said, I know I still need to be enrolled in a certified magical school to keep my wand." He reached into his robes and withdrew two items: a letter and a beautiful piece of polished green mica inscribed with his name. "And I've accepted a place at the Uagadou School of Magic in Uganda."
That got the loudest shouts of all.
There were so many people talking over each other that Harry couldn't make out anything they were saying very well, but he did hear a lot of variations on "He can't go!" It figured they'd change their tune when he threatened to leave the country, he thought. However, Fudge and Bones both called for order, Fudge cracking his wand several times. Once he did so, several comments along the same lines were repeated in a more orderly fashion before Elphias Doge managed to butt in.
"You really wish to leave the country, Mr. Potter?" he asked.
"I'm sorry, but I don't see much point in staying, sir," Harry replied.
"And that stone? Is that what I think it is?"
Dumbledore cleared his throat. "Harry, may I see that?" he said gently.
Harry hesitated for a moment, but he still had the letter, so he wasn't worried. He held the stone out to him. Dumbledore inspected it for a moment and handed it back. "It is a Uagadou Dream Stone," Dumbledore confirmed. "Harry does have a place there." He glanced at Harry with a hurt look, but he told the Wizengamot, "Legally, you cannot keep him from attending."
"No! You can't escape justice that easily, Potter!" Umbridge cried. "Aurors, arrest him!"
Harry shot to his feet. "For what?"
"Attempting to flee custody."
"I'm not in custody," he said, "and you can't prohibit me from travelling overseas." He edged away from the chair, getting ready to run. He wasn't expecting things to escalate this fast. If the Ministry wanted to go what Hermione called "full Orwell" on him, she'd warned, they would just send him to prison on no grounds at all, like Sirius, but he'd thought he would have more time to get away.
Fortunately, it looked like Madam Bones was on his side. "Stand down, Auror," she snapped. "Minister, Mr. Potter is correct. If his enrolment at Uagadou is good, then we have no grounds to confiscate his wand."
"If he were sentenced to prison…" Umbridge started.
"But he was also correct there, Madam Umbridge. The charges against him today do not carry a prison sentence."
"There are other charges we can bring," Fudge protested. "Slander! Sedition!"
"What sedition, Minister?" Harry said with a smile. "I haven't made a public statement all summer."
"Your statements at the end of the Tournament in June—"
"Were made under extreme emotional distress and are therefore suspect," he cut in. "Not confirming or denying, of course." Thank you, Hermione.
"The death of Cedric Diggory, then?" Umbridge said smugly.
Harry frowned. He wasn't sure how to handle that one, but Dumbledore had it in hand: "Was officially ruled an accident. Madam Bones, have you reopened that investigation?"
"No, Dumbledore, I have not."
"And Mr. Potter's and Mr. Diggory's wands? Did you check them?" Dumbledore asked.
"Objection! Defendant has dismissed his counsel," Umbridge said.
"Sustained," Fudge snapped. "Sit down, Dumbledore."
Dumbledore did so. However, Bones said, "Nevertheless, I'll answer his question. Both wands were inspected at the scene that night for any spells that were consistent with Diggory's injuries, including the Unforgivable Curses. Both came up negative."
No one spoke for several moments, and it took that long for Harry to catch on to Dumbledore's game and ask, "Then, you don't have any reason to reopen the investigation, do you?"
"No, I don't, Mr. Potter."
"Good. Then unless you have something else I've done wrong, Minister?" he said. "That you can prove?"
Fudge and Umbrige whispered to each other, clearly looking for something. They then realised that Madam Bones was listening in and—reluctantly, as far as he could see—pulled her into the conversation. A few minutes of heated whispering later, and they reach a consensus. From the sour look on Fudge's face, Harry could guess it was a good one for him.
"Very well, Mr. Potter," Fudge announced. "You are hereby fined one thousand galleons, and the Hogwarts Board of Governors will be petitioned for your expulsion unless your official withdrawal is received. Also, I warn you that any further indiscretions may result in charges that we can take your wand for. Other than that…" he grumbled, "you're free to go."
"Thank you, Minister," Harry grinned. "I won't waste any more of your time." He walked to the door, but just before he reached it, he stopped and called back, "By the way, Madam Bones, you might want to look into why there were dementors running around in Little Whinging." He walked out before Fudge could contradict him.
When he left, he saw Mr. Weasley standing just outside the door, his face lined with worry. "Harry, what happened in there?" he asked. "I heard a lot of shouting."
Harry sighed. He really didn't want to mess with Mr. Weasley the way he had Dumbledore and the Wizengamot. "Mr. Weasley," he said, "the outcome of that hearing was a foregone conclusion from the start. I just had to make sure it would still work out for me."
"Harry, what do you mean?"
"I'm leaving, Mr. Weasley." He produced the letter from Uagadou. "You and your family have been really good to me the past four years, but if I want to get a good education and actually learn to defend myself properly—if I'm going to stay safe—it's not going to be here—at least not as long as Fudge is around."
"The Mountains of the Moon, Uganda," Mr. Weasley read the letter softly. "Harry, I had no idea things were going that badly for you. We could have found another way."
"I'm sure you would have done your best, but there's more to it than that. I have other reasons that I can't tell you yet. I promise you'll find out in the next couple weeks, but for now, I can't say anything where people might overhear it."
"Well, then…I can respect your decision Harry," Mr. Weasley said. "I must say I'm very surprised. And the children will be very disappointed. May I ask where this is coming from? This isn't something I would have expected from you."
"Actually, it was Hermione's idea. She's going, too."
"Blimey! This is a lot to take in…Wait a minute, you didn't actually say how the hearing went."
"Oh, I plead guilty."
Mr. Weasley was stunned into a wide-eyed silence just as Dumbledore burst through the door. "Harry, come quickly," he ordered.
"Why?" Harry said.
"Because the Minister may yet try to move against you."
"Dumbledore, Harry says he's leaving Britain," Mr. Weasley said.
"So it would seem," he replied. "We must talk, Harry, and it is not safe to do so here."
"Well, okay, but I have to meet Hermione's parents at lunchtime," Harry said cautiously.
Dumbledore paused worriedly. "Why?" he said.
"To go to the airport."
"The airport?" Mr. Weasley said interestedly. "You're leaving by aeroplane?"
Dumbledore sighed heavily: "We will discuss this, Harry. For now, we will go to Hogwarts."
Dumbledore hurried both of them through the Floo before Harry could protest, taking them to Hogsmeade, from where they took a second Floo trip to his office. The Headmaster sat heavily at his desk and stared across at Harry sadly. "Harry, why do you feel the need to leave Britain?" he asked.
"I thought I made my point pretty clear, Professor," Harry responded. "The Ministry's out for my blood. They want me out of the way, one way or another. If it wasn't the hearing today, it would have been something else. Meanwhile, Voldemort wants to kill me, and the Ministry isn't doing anything to stop him."
"We will protect you—" Dumbledore started to say.
"I was attacked by dementors in broad daylight in a muggle neighbourhood," Harry interrupted. "Nice job. Do you even know how they got there?"
"Alas, no. I suspect a Death Eater sympathiser within the Ministry, but I can no longer leverage my position to find a trail."
"Then you really aren't in a position to protect me, are you?"
"Harry, fleeing the country will not stop Voldemort from pursuing you." Dumbledore said.
"Yeah, I figured as much, but since nobody around here seems to be doing anything, it can't hurt to put some distance between me and him, can it?"
"Even compared with a hideout overseas, it would be safer for you at Hogwarts, or under the Fidelius Charm at Headquarters, or even behind the special wards I have set up at your Aunt and Uncle's house."
"Safer at Hogwarts? I doubt it. The way I understand it, the entire city of Uagadou is protected like Hogwarts is and then some. Voldemort would have to fight an entire Auror force to get in there. Besides, Hogwarts hasn't been all that safe for me the past four years…has it, Professor?"
"Harry," Mr. Weasley said gently, "I know a lot of things have gone wrong at Hogwarts over the past few years. Believe me, Molly and I have had fits about what's happened to Ron and Ginny, and you've had it even worse. But the fact remains that Hogwarts is the safest place in the wizarding world."
"No. The safest place in Britain, maybe, but the world's a lot bigger than just Britain, Mr. Weasley," Harry said. "Everyone seems to forget that, but Hermione's done her homework. Uagadou has been threatened by seven dark lords in the past fifty years alone and repulsed all of them easily."
"That doesn't exactly sound safe," Mr. Weasley said.
"Compared with Voldemort or his servants successfully breaking into Hogwarts four years in a row and nearly killing me every time?" he snapped.
Mr. Weasley blanched and backed down. Dumbledore, however, wasn't so easily swayed. "You do not realise the consequences of your actions, Harry," he said.
"I doubt that," Harry said. "This was Hermione's idea. You know she'll have thought of everything. Or, if you're referring to leaving Britain less protected without its 'Saviour', it's the Ministry's that's doing that."
There was silence for a minute. "Harry, I'm afraid I can't allow you to leave," Dumbledore said.
"Actually, Professor, as I'm no longer a student here, you don't have the legal authority to keep me here," Harry responded.
"Sirius does not have legal standing—"
"I wasn't talking about Sirius. Look." He held up a piece of paper. "Letter signed by my aunt and uncle saying I'm free to switch schools and leave the country with Hermione's family as long as I don't ever darken their doorstep again."
Mr. Weasley examined this new letter in surprise. "How did you convince them to sign something for you?" he asked. "For that matter, when did you?
"Hermione's parents are well-off and work in a respected muggle profession," Harry explained. "The Dursleys would listen to them any day of the week."
"But the wards, Harry," Dumbledore said. "Your presence is required to maintain them. Your relatives will not be protected."
"You can set up new wards there, can't you? Besides, if I publicly make a break with them and leave the country, there won't be much reason to go after them, will there? And I am making this as public as possible. All of it."
Dumbledore didn't seem to have anything to say to that.
"Is that all, Professor?" Harry said. "Because I'd very much like to pack up to leave."
"And you believe you will be able to travel to Africa by muggle aeroplane without trouble?" Dumbledore asked.
"We've got it in hand," Harry said.
"I'll make sure he gets there safely, Dumbledore," Mr. Weasley added. "And You-Know-Who is smart enough not to attack a muggle transit hub…Harry's right, you know. You can't keep the lad here if he doesn't want to stay."
Dumbledore looked between the two of them and bowed his head. "Unfortunately, I fear you are right, Arthur. If I cannot change your mind, Harry, I will convey you back to Grimmauld Place. I would be remiss if I did not continue to protect you until you go."
"Thank you, Professor."
They made it back to Grimmauld Place in short order, where they saw Remus, Hermione, and the Weasleys standing around waiting for him. No one spoke at first as they seemed to be trying to read the expression on Harry's face.
"So, how'd it go?" Ron broke the silence.
Harry smiled a little. It was hard leaving, but he was at least happy to get out the mess he was in. "Exactly as planned," he said. "Fudge won't be bothering me anymore."
The Weasleys were stunned. That clearly wasn't the result they were expecting. Getting him off, sure, but getting Fudge off his back entirely? That wasn't even on their radar. "Say what, now?" Ron said.
Harry turned and locked eyes with his other best friend. "Hermione, I said it before, but you're brilliant," he said. "Your plan worked perfectly. All I had to do was know my rights and tell them to shove it, and they folded."
"What?" the Weasleys said in confusion.
"Harry, that's wonderful!" Hermione squealed. She ran to his side, hugged him tight, and kissed him on the cheek, as she had done last spring. But then, on impulse, Harry turned his head and pecked her on the lips.
They both froze and pulled apart slightly. Harry wasn't sure where that had come from, and he worried it might have been too forward. But soon, a small smile crept onto Hermione's face. "Harry…" she said, "I think you found a way to get me to switch off my brain."