Chapter 33 - Knock Knock
Cornelius was finishing off his Sunday lunch, sitting at the Professors' table in Hogwarts. He'd arrived early, expecting to find resistance to his plan from the two foreign schools. Instead, they couldn't wait to go home and both would be leaving before dinner tonight. Putting his knife and fork down, it was time to disrupt their lunch. Knowing that cake and ice cream would be served after he finished speaking should help sweeten the impact of what he had to say.
Making his way toward the podium, Cornelius took out his list of points he needed to cover here today. There were rather a lot, and he couldn't afford to miss any. "Good afternoon everyone. I can't remember ever addressing Hogwarts students before like this but, after the events of the other morning, there really was no other option. I wanted you to hear these things from your Minister, rather than read some journalistic interpretation of what I was supposed to say. Firstly, Albus Dumbledore was arrested and is being handed over to the International Confederation of Wizards to face trial for his many, many crimes. He will never return to Hogwarts, which has now been placed under the control of the Ministry of Magic."
This was greeted by stunned silence, so Cornelius pressed on. "The new Headmaster of Hogwarts is Professor Severus Snape. I offer him my congratulations, as well as my promise of aid to wade through the mess Dumbledore has left Hogwarts in." When the Minister of Magic started clapping, the rest of the school joined in on the applause for their new Headmaster.
"I would also like to congratulate Professor Narcissa Snape on being appointed Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts. The school now has a leadership team in place ready to make the changes necessary to take Hogwarts where it needs to be."
Again there was applause at this announcement. "I'm pleased to see Mister Krum up and about once more, after his efforts in the first task resulted in a short stay in Hogwarts infirmary. Miss Delacour was taken to the Potter Institute where Healer Pomfrey is confident she'll make a full recovery, and she too will be up and about in the next day or so."
Cornelius got to experience the difference in his audience's attention even mentioning the Institute's name invoked. "Now, due to the changes we need to make at Hogwarts, we find ourselves unable to host our guests from Beauxbatons and Drumstrang. They will both be leaving for home later on today, and returning on the date of the second task. This also necessitates the moving of our planed Triwizard Tournament Ball, from Yule to summer…"
The Minister had expected a reaction at that news, just not the one he got. Amos Diggory's son shot from his seat and raced to speak with a Gryffindor witch. The discussion seemed to be far more involved, rather than him asking her for a date, but he left the table with a wide grin on his face nevertheless.
Severus knew for a fact Cedric wasn't asking the Gryffindor chaser for a date, but that short conversation had seemed intense - that bore investigation. "Mister Diggory, perhaps you could enlighten us to what you thought important enough to interrupt the Minister's speech?"
Cedric now looked like a badger caught in a searchlight. "Eh, sorry sir. The Yule Ball being moved to summer freed me to do something else at that time. I was just checking that I hadn't missed my chance."
"Pray tell, what this something else is that has you so excited?"
Cedric was left with Snap staring at him, looking for an answer, in front of the entire school. "I'm free to spend the holiday with some friends… abroad…"
The Minister saved Cedric having to say anymore. "I'm going to take a wild guess here and say these friends are currently in Italy?" Watching the boy crumble in front of him, and a number of students heads going down too, convinced Cornelius he was right. It was time to put this distrust in his Ministry - and Hogwarts - to bed.
"Mister Diggory, Lord Potter is not an enemy of my Ministry. His Institute not an enemy of Hogwarts. Albus Dumbledore was the reason Lord Potter left Hogwarts. Albus Dumbledore is the reason the Potter Institute now exists. I cannot fault Lord Potter on any of his decisions, only congratulate him on what a magnificent achievement his Institute clearly is." Seeing the Diggory boy still rooted to the spot, he advised him to sit as the Minister decided to tell them the full story.
"A week or so before the end of last term, Lord Potter, his Betrothed and Healer Pomfrey witnessed Dumbledore obliviate me in the Hogwarts infirmary. As Dumbledore turned his wand on them, they managed to overcome him - and knowing they wouldn't be believed - Pomfrey obliviated Dumbledore and they started to plan their departure right there and then. I've since had my memories returned, and Lord Potter was reaching out to me for help with his innocent godfather that night. With Dumbledore illegally taking that option away from the lad, Lord Potter was left with very few options available to him - other than to get him and his friends as far away from Dumbledore as he could."
They were now hanging on his every word, and Cornelius didn't disappoint. "McGonagall, Vector, Babbling, Clearwater and Weasley - all former Hogwarts Professors who had their minds messed with by Dumbledore. I arrived here today with two healers, and every Professor in the castle has now been examined to ensure they were free of Dumbledore's influence. Here was a man who believed in his own legend, and listened to no one attempting to tell him any different. Is it any wonder then that some of the best Professors at Hogwarts left - and others of the same caliber refused to work under a Headmaster like Dumbledore. When you look at the people who shaped and built the Potter Institute, they were all in this castle last term. All that talent, all those ideas - but Dumbledore didn't want to listen. He obliviated me because I was listening to Lord Potter, and was about to help him - we can all see the consequences Dumbledore's actions that day have led to."
Moving back to the Professor's table, Cornelius lifted his tumbler of juice. He hadn't planned on saying this much and his throat was now dry. Refreshed, and his thoughts reordered, he put his tumbler back down and continued.
"Today is a new beginning for Hogwarts, and we only have to look toward the Institute to see what can be achieved when everyone pulls together - and I do mean everyone. We're looking for your ideas too, your suggestions on how Hogwarts can be improved. It's your school after all, it's time to reclaim it from a person hell bent on keeping our entire society stuck in the last century, instead of preparing the students under his care for the next. You'll see new Professors arriving from tomorrow, your courses are being evaluated with History of Magic and Muggle Studies in line for complete overhauls. My Ministry and you're new Headmaster will be working closely and tirelessly to ensure everyone here gets a Hogwarts education that's second to none. Some of these changes start today and we intend to have most things we want changed in place by the time you return from your Christmas Holidays - wherever your spending them."
The applause started of sporadically but quickly grew, Cornelius had just gone for it and this response was exhilarating. Just standing here and speaking to the students was having such an affect - on him and them. He needed these students to stay in Hogwarts. By their response today, he'd just convinced most of them to do so. Cornelius hadn't had the time to sit down and work out what effect the removal of Dumbledore's influence on him was having, but he certainly felt a lot more decisive.
"I've merely given you a broad outline here today, many more announcements - and a lot more details - will be provided by Hogwarts new leadership team. Thank you for your attention here today."
He shook hands with Severus, kissed Narcissa's knuckles, before saying goodbye to both the visiting heads. One thing a politician learned early on was not to overstay your welcome. He would leave the people at Hogwarts to enjoy their sweet in peace.
The atmosphere during lunch at the Institute was a lot more jovial. Ron was taking a right ribbing over his actions yesterday, but nothing seemed able to wipe the wide grin he was wearing from his face.
"You do realise you traumatised poor Colin for life?"
"Apparently he woke up screaming from a nightmare last night."
"Yes, he was dreaming he caught the snitch - and you snogged him."
Harry was rolling with laughter at the twins antics, he was by no means the only one. "Sorry mate, I need to permanently resign from ever playing seeker again. Even Oliver Wood - 'catch the snitch or die trying' - never snogged his seeker."
There wasn't much eating getting done at their table as everyone was too busy laughing. Luna of course didn't help. "Harry, did Oliver at least tell you what to do after you caught the snitch?"
This saw the twins entering the fray again. "Hey Harry, remember how you caught the snitch in your first match?"
"Do you reckon Ron was checking to see if Luna had caught the snitch by the same method."
Hermione was keeping her eye on Joan. The little witch didn't really understand what was happening here, but Luna and Millie were two of her absolute favourite people on the planet. The thought of Ron hurting either would have resulted in a severe ankle kicking. Only the fact both girls were loudly laughing along offered a stay of execution for the boy she'd considered an uncle. Hermione decided to end this, before things got out of hand - and she knew just how to do it.
"Could have been worse, Ron. Imagine if you'd played Ginny at seeker?"
That wiped the grin off Ron's face, he even put his knife and fork down. "That's it, Millie is seeker for our next match!"
This resulted in howls of laughter, with neighbouring tables joining in too.
Pomona really enjoyed the more relaxed atmosphere inside the Institute, she had also recognised exactly what Hermione just did. The atmosphere was again going to take an upturn as Poppy led the three Delacours to a table, with Fluer moving rather gingerly as the quartet sat down to lunch. Spotting them, Joan was quick to grab Hermione's hand and start dragging her over there. Harry soon followed, greeting Fleur as Joan had shot straight to Gabrielle.
"Good afternoon Miss Delacour, I'm delighted to see you up and about. I hope you weren't looking for a quiet lunch though, everyone's still a bit high after the quidditch match yesterday."
Apolline invited the trio to sit with them as Fluer answered Harry. "My bed was pushed over to 'ze window, we got to watch 'ze full match. You and 'Ermione fly fantastique. Krum 'zought next task would be easy win for us, 'e 'as never seen you fly."
Hermione let out a harumph of annoyance. "His teamwork leaves a lot to be desired. Considering he's a professional quidditch player, that's a really bad flaw in his character. I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him."
A grinning Harry couldn't help but answer that. "Not really a fair comparison there love. After all, you could probably throw him quite a distance."
Hermione was now smiling too - though it was mainly due to watching Joan and Gabrielle chat - with Apolline acting as interpreter.
"It's great to see 'er again, and so 'appy too. I must 'zank you for your 'ospitality, and inviting 'zem."
That had Harry shaking his head at Fluer. "I keep telling everyone, I'm just a student here. Nobody believes me. I employed two people for the Institute, Professor Sprout and my favourite healer here - the Headmistress took care of the rest. If I went into the infirmary and started telling Poppy what to do, I'd get a smack to the back of my head. Why then does everyone think the Headmistress is going to do what I tell her."
"Too true, Mister Potter. Everything he just said there is correct, Miss Delacour, including Poppy being employed before me. Having experienced her care, you'll perhaps understand why I was delighted with her appointment. With the shenanigans these two got up to at Hogwarts, both were well aware of Poppy's abilities."
A chuckling healer couldn't help but joke back. "Pomona stop - you're making me blush - or should I be asking for a raise?"
It was then the Headmistress's turn to fire the joke right back at Poppy. "Our boss is sitting right next to you, ask him for me too!"
Harry's groan had both witches laughing at him. Fluer had never seen anything like this, Professors sitting beside and joking along with students at lunch. Thinking back to the castle, where the staff sat at a raised table and looked down on everyone, Fluer just had to ask the question that was puzzling her. "'Ow did you stand 'Ogwarts, when everything is so different 'ere?"
Pomona was instantly serious. "We work very hard to keep things like this, the students and staff all enjoy and actually benefit from the more relaxed atmosphere. Things will be changing in Hogwarts now too, Dumbledore was arrested, the school is now being run by the Ministry and Snape's the new Headmaster. Who knows what will happen there next, but we'll just concentrate on keeping on doing what we're doing - following the plans we made and the goals we set ourselves. Seeing you up and about, we must be doing something right."
Poppy nodded in agreement. "She's still a bit sore, and the new skin will need a little time to let her move more freely but overall I'm delighted with her progress." Fluer staring at Poppy in disbelief started Harry laughing.
"You can't fool Poppy, she just knows things."
This left Poppy shaking her head. "I wish I knew what was in those potions? I'm sure Dumbledore was giving them something to keep Frank and Alice in that condition."
Pomona thought so too. "Rosa had to admit defeat, and take the potions to a Ministry lab for better equipment. She says they're like nothing she's ever seen before, and Rosa de Marco is one of the top Potions Mistresses in all of Italy. They are certainly not potions normally handed out in any hospital, which lends credence to our theories that someone else was supplying them. If that turns out to be the case, that's another set of charges that can be laid at Dumbledore's door."
The knock on their door was expected by both Snapes, they were certain of just who was on the other side of their door too. Severus opened the door and invited a clearly flustered Charity to come in and take a seat.
She refused all offers of refreshments, wanting to get right down to business. "Severus, I sat at lunch and listened to our Minister of Magic announce to the school that there would be a complete overhaul of the subject I teach here - in the very near future too. My first question would have to be why wasn't I told beforehand?"
It was an apologetic Severus who tried to explain the situation to his Muggle Studies Professor. "If I was in your position, I would be asking the exact same question. Sorry Charity, our meeting with the Minister - where Narcissa and I officially accepted our new roles - ended just before lunch. There wasn't time to tell anyone anything, and then the Minister said a lot more than he was supposed to at that podium. The Ministry are really pushing bringing Muggle Studies up to date, we've no option but to back him. Fudge witnessed Augusta Longbottom pick up a phone and talk with people at the Institute. Telephones were not part of the course when he sat his NEWT, and I don't think the course materials have been updated much since then."
"Severus, how is this possible - I'm going to need lots of training."
"Charity, the experts at the Ministry all learned from the same material you still teach. They're looking for someone not only to teach this new material, but to update and rewrite the entire Muggle Studies course."
You could practically see the cogs whirring in her head, and coming up with an answer the Professor didn't like. "There's no way I could have a new course up and running in the time-scale Fudge was talking about. That can only mean he's already got my replacement in mind - surely he doesn't think a muggle, or even a muggleborn is going to be able to teach this 'updated' course? This isn't Potter's Institute, they simply won't be believed."
Both Severus and Narcissa had known this conversation was inevitable from the moment Fudge had made his announcement in the Great Hall. That had at least given them a little while to prepare.
"Fudge thinks he might have a solution to that problem, we weren't really in a position to argue with him. What I will argue though is that Charity Burbage is an excellent Professor, and Hogwarts needs to hang on to as many of those as we can."
Narcissa now put a much needed cup of tea into the witch's hand. "I can understand that would have been hard to hear at lunch today, but did you happen to pick up on the other course that's getting a complete overhaul too? Changing your subject to History could be a smart career move."
Severus was quick to back his wife on this. "One of the first things the Ministry wants to investigate is when and why Hogwarts broke away from the higher standards of exams sat by students all over Europe. That investigation might lead to all of our courses being revamped. With History though, you will have Ministry experts who would at least be able to set guidelines on what needs covered at what student level and how in-depth that material would need to be taught. In other words, you wouldn't be just thrown in there and left to fend for yourself."
Again Charity's mind was in overdrive, thankful that Severus immediately offered that she didn't need to make her mind up right this minute. While drinking her tea, Charity found herself giving a little chuckle at the situation she found herself in. "I would need to be a pretty poor Professor to be considered worse at teaching History than Binns. I still intend to think about this a lot more but I'm certainly interested. I'm also interested in Fudge's solution for teaching Muggle Studies."
"Charity, the Ministry will be looking at whether a currently unused part of the castle could be outfitted to teach Muggle Studies, or if they have to construct a new building on the edge of our wards. That's how serious the Ministry are taking this, and why we really couldn't say no."
A flabbergasted Charity was left struggling to form words, until her expression hardened. "I approached Dumbledore all the time, you've both heard me at staff meetings, trying to get funds for new teaching materials. Every time the answer was no, no matter what I asked for. Do you think this was deliberate on his part? Keep our world ignorant of muggles to avoid awkward questions like why Wizarding Society seems determined to resist any and all changes."
The three people present could easily see this as something Dumbledore would want, and the whole country would soon learn that Dumbledore had many different and devious ways of achieving what he wanted.
"I think you might be right there, which will make our new History of Magic classes even more important. The rise and fall of both Riddle and Dumbledore will have more far reaching effects on our society than any goblin rebellions from centuries ago. I wonder if that's why Dumbledore left Binn's in place too? No one has learned anything in that class for decades, everyone just studies the materials in their textbooks to pass the exams."
This revelation from her husband actually had Narcissa letting out a loud sigh. "We're going to be double-guessing everything Dumbledore had a hand in for years to come. And since that big nose of his seemed to poke in everyone's business, it's going to take years to sort this all out."
They could see the truth behind her words, and Severus quickly agreed with his wife. "I'm sure that's why the Ministry are concentrating on Hogwarts, and especially the two subjects the Minister mentioned today. We were all watching Hogwarts slowly die before our eyes, Narcissa and I already had new jobs lined up - away from the castle - from summer. If we can't keep Hogwarts open, it will literally mean the beginning of the end for our way of life in Britain. The damage done by Voldemort and Dumbledore is so great, drastic action needs to be done to prevent that demise. That's why we're seeing such a reaction, there's a lot more than our jobs on the line here."
It was Charity who had the last word. "Is it just me, or is a competent Ministry and Minister as big a shock to both of you as well?"
After watching them face the Dragon, Joan had become all clingy again for the last few days. The only time they'd been apart since returning from Hogwarts - with Joan naturally needed to stay with them that night - was Friday's classes and Saturday's quidditch match. After dinner on Sunday though, they were all ready for things to go back to normal - with Joan leaving to stay with Dan and Emma.
Sitting snuggling on their sofa, the betrothed couple finally had a chance to 'celebrate' the events that just changed their lives. "I can't believe both of them are gone, so quickly too. It feels too good to be true."
Harry kissed her doubts away. "Riddle is certainly gone for good. Even if Dumbledore pulls something out the bag, he's already finished in Britain and Europe. With all the shit he's pulled for the 'greater good' becoming known, no one will ever trust him again. I think the ICW will throw everything they have at him, Dumbledore has been hoodwinking them for decades too."
More kissing, and less discussion followed - before a knock at their door put an end to their enjoyment for now.
"We could ignore it?"
"As much as I'd like to, mum and dad may be having a problem with Joan."
That was all Harry needed to hear, he was up and answering the door - and received a surprise."
"Hey, pup, glad we caught both of you before you headed off to bed - your own beds of course."
Knowing what he'd just interrupted didn't put Hermione in the mood for Sirius's poor attempts at humour. "Harry, kindly remind your godfather we've dealt with two Dark Lords in the last week. Throwing him out of our rooms won't exactly present a problem. Hi Francesca, you of course are welcome here anytime. Him, not so much."
This had Francesca giggling like a schoolgirl. "Sorry Hermione, but that might cause a problem. You see, I've decided to keep the big mutt." Still giggling away, she held her left hand out so Hermione could see the diamond sparkling away on her brand new engagement ring.
In a flash, Hermione was beside Francesca and offering her congratulations. The two ladies were now sitting on the sofa, leaving Harry to shake Sirius's hand before leading him over to a couple of chairs.
"The only other people who know about this are Francesca's parents."
Hermione was now the one making bad jokes. "I'll bet that was a hard sell. Their daughter, the famous architect, marrying a man who doesn't even have a job. Did they threaten to kick you out too?"
Carrying on as if he hadn't heard her, Sirius continued with what he wanted to ask. "We needed to check with you two first, before announcing the date and venue to everyone else. We know Hermione's really busy on the comedy circuit, and we wanted to book her to do a turn at our wedding - give our guests a good laugh..."
They all tried to hold straight faces, but Harry broke first. Seconds later, they were all laughing away. Sirius recovered, and put his serious face on. "I really wanted to ask if we can get married in the place where Francesca and I first met - your villa."
Francesca had more to add. "Sirius has told me everything, how you two even bent the laws of time to save his life. Hermione might joke about it, but you really did get rid of two Dark Lords in the last few days too."
She smiled before moving on to what else needed to be said. "You might not realise this but you both also changed my life out of all recognition, and not just because you brought Sirius into it. Being the architect of the school that's once more front page on every Italian magical newspaper changed my career forever. Designing the Black Orphanage didn't do me any harm either, but Le Armonia is going to take everything to another level. You two have affected our lives to such a degree, and in so positive a way, we want you both to stand with us on the day we get married…"
Harry immediately turned to his godfather. "I thought you would ask Moony to be your best man?"
"Remus won't mind me asking you, anyone else though would see him get annoyed. There's a day deliberately built in between the changeover of students leaving the Institute for their holidays and the orphanage arriving, that's the day we want to get married."
"Not giving Francesca any time to change her mind there."
"Oh my mind's already made up, your godfather is going to be stuck with me for the rest of his life. What about you two, will you stand with us? Joan would make an adorable flower girl…"
Hermione was beaming a smile measured in gigawatts. "Oh you both knew we would say yes, though Joan is adorable no matter what she does."
As plans were being discussed, Dobby popped in with refreshments - and also offered the couple his congratulations too. Hermione of course had started making a list, and no one said anything because Francesca had her notebook out too.
"This is rather a lot to get done in such a short space of time. You'r planning a wedding in less than three weeks!"
"Don't worry, Hermione. If we can build a school in a couple of months, we'll manage fine with a few weeks to get ready for our wedding. Both Sirius and I have never been busier, and neither of us have ever been happier. Students go home on Friday the eighteenth, we get married on the nineteenth, with the orphanage arriving on the twentieth. We both want to be here for their arrival, then a few days away for a honeymoon, before returning to celebrate Christmas Eve."
"When you say it like that, it sounds doable." Hermione was interrupted by their phone ringing, picking it up Harry quickly answered.
"Yes, he's here. Is anything wrong?" Harry was obviously assured everything was fine before handing the phone over to Sirius. "It's Jillian. Apparently she has a visitor at the orphanage who's desperate to speak with you. They didn't kick them out because this person claims to be family."
"Hi Jillian, it's no bother. Yes, Andromeda is my cousin and I'd be happy to speak with her." Sirius then put his hand over the mouthpiece, as Jillian was calling this cousin into her office. "Andi is the only member of my family I like. She told her father to stick a betrothal contact up his arse before marrying a muggleborn she loved. Got herself kicked out of the family, same as my mother tried to do to me… Andi, is that you? How's Ted, and little Nym? What, she joined the aurors - not so little anymore then. How can I help?"
Sirius listened for a few moments before asking an important question. "Andi, is this something you want to do - or are you being pressured into it?"
"Ok, are you still staying in the same house - and can you get away for the weekend - you can bring Ted along too, if I can swing this. Leave your number with Jillian. I need to talk with some people then I'll contact you. Too late to do anything tonight but I promise you I'll be in touch - probably Tuesday. Take care, and say hi to the family for me."
Sirius took a seat before filling the rest of them in on the other side of the conversation he'd just had. "Andi works at St Mungo's as a medi-witch. This afternoon, she was approached by Fudge, to see if she was interested in teaching Muggle Studies at Hogwarts. She'll double her salary and not have to work any more night shifts, but for that the Ministry want her to design the course she would be teaching. Andi knows she's out of her depth, and is desperate to talk with the people who produced the course taught at the Institute. Since this Friday is December's family visit weekend, I was thinking maybe she and Ted - her husband - could maybe tag along. Andi could see the Modern Studies classes being taught on Friday, before talking Dan and Emma's ears off all weekend."
"Mum and dad would love that, having someone else to talk over their course with. They'll more than likely pick a few things up from Andi too. With their agreement, Pomona would probably approve the visit. Now Dumbledore's gone, helping Hogwarts improve is something we can all get behind. I can't see us losing any staff or students to them, but we shouldn't have a problem helping them keep the ones they've got."
Sirius promised to speak with Pomona in the morning, before saying goodnight and then he and Francesca headed home - to Harry's villa.
As the young couple settled back down on their couch, both were rather blown away by the events of the evening. "Francesca says we've had a big impact on her life, but she's had a huge impact on ours too. We literally wouldn't be sitting here if it wasn't for her. I'm so excited to see what she comes up with for the village, and love the name - Harmony."
She could feel Harry's thoughts whizzing through his head, the conclusions he was reaching totally floored her. "Are you sure?"
"We know the problems they will face, they simply don't - and don't have the time to lose figuring that out either. After a thousand years, there isn't a single piece of stone in the castle that isn't saturated in magic. They will spend ages before realising it can't be converted to what we have here. The Ministry apparently doesn't have any expertise in designing a relevant Muggle Studies course, what chance would they have of designing a building it could be taught in? With Sirius's cousin possibly teaching the course too, this just feels like the right thing to do."
This earned Harry a kiss from his beaming betrothed as she saw his thoughts on the matter. "The Lily Potter Faculty of Modern Studies, designed by Lady Francesca Black, I absolutely love it. Wizards and witches in Britain all think of you as this 'Dark Lord Destroyer' now, and totally fail to see the wonderful, caring man you're growing into. My parents adore you, Joan loves you to bits and I can hardly wait until you become my husband. I love you, Harry, with everything that I am."
Her kisses almost had Harry forgetting his name, never mind what he wanted to ask. "I loved Sirius's idea of celebrating where he and Francesca met by getting married there. I wanted to mark the spot where we met my parents, shared our first kiss and you told me you loved me. Having pureblood witches and wizards learning Modern Studies on the exact same location would seem a fitting way to mark the spot where our lives changed forever. What do you think?"
The tears in Hermione's eyes were clearly of the happy variety. Both understood the British Ministry of Magic's reactions to the current situation would determine whether this idea became more than just a discussion between them. She didn't care though, just Harry thinking about helping was enough to make Hermione even prouder of her betrothed.
Her lips once more on Harry's put all other thoughts out of both their heads. With their future now assured, they could actually relax and just enjoy these wonderful moments together.
The first thing Albus's senses acknowledged as he slowly awoke was the bitter cold. There were cold iron shackles around his wrists, a slight movement by him was all that was needed to confirm his ankles were shackled by that same cold metal too. Whatever he was lying on was cold as well, so it was time to open his eyes and discover just how much trouble he was actually in.
The room was brightly lit, overly so in his opinion. Having a glance around, Albus realised calling this a room was wishful thinking on his part, this was nothing more than a bare cell. After further examination, Albus had to revise his assumptions again. This was a rather special cell, with its walls, floor and ceiling constructed of cold iron - a substance that reacted to magic like a soaking wet blanket would to being thrown over a campfire. You may still get some smoke but there would be no flames - unless the blanket was removed.
Knowing the Ministry of Magic building held nothing like this just added to the apprehension Albus was feeling - where the hell was he? As a section of the wall opened and a short, balding wizard entered, Albus was certain he was about to get some of those much needed answers.
"Where am I? Why have you brought me here? How long have I been here? Do you know who I am?"
"Oh, Mister Dumbledore, has your memory been affected? Do you not know who you are?"
"Of course I know who I am, I just wondered if you did."
"Since I'm your chief interrogator, you can rest easy on that score - I know exactly who and what you are. As for the rest of your questions, sorry but you didn't give me time to explain - or even introduce myself. My name is John Smith, and the way this works is I ask the questions - you are here to provide answers to them."
"I won't be answering any questions, until all of mine are answered to my satisfaction first."
"You really haven't grasped how this works, have you? If you refuse to answer, we have no choice but to use truth potions on you. Before that though, just in case you have ingested anything to negate our potions, you will be fed a series of purging potions. Now, due to the specific construction of this room, no magic can be cast in here. That means we either leave you lying in your own shit, or turn a hose on you. In a moment, we'll let you experience that phenomenon, fortunately without the purging potions, to help you decide what path you want to choose on our journey to the truth. Oh, the Italian Ministry are really interested in the potions you charmed healers to administer to a pair of aurors for well over a decade - under the guise of treatment. You have a little think about that, before starting to shout about how harsh our treatment is of you."
As the wizard stepped from the cell and the door disappeared, jets of ice cold water shot out of the walls and ceiling. Albus found himself struggling to breathe, not from any water hitting his mouth or nose but rather the shock from being drenched with intensely cold water. It actually took Albus a moment to realise the water had stopped hitting him, though lying there in a soaking robe did nothing to lessen his severe bout of shaking and shivering.
As the water ran into the drain on the floor, the little man entered once more and attached a clockwork timer to a wall of the cell. "I will return in one hour to ask you some questions. Should you not wish to answer, we'll begin you regime of purging potions. We are not deliberately withholding food from you, but just don't see the point of giving you any when your digestive system won't have time to do its work - before that food would be violently expelled from your body. I'll bring a weak cup of tea with me when I return, a couple of sips won't do you any harm. Think carefully on what you want to do next, the choice is entirely up to you."
It took Albus four attempts to say what he wanted to, his teeth were actually chattering with cold. "I'm a Triwizard Champion, you'll lose your magic if I can't compete."
"Who says I've got any magic to loose? Anyway, your Ministry are being very cooperative. After discovering just how many people in the Ministry and Wizengamot you had spelled to do your bidding, they can't do enough to assist us. They'll schedule the second task for whenever we want."
He set the timer to countdown his sixty minutes before leaving an Albus Dumbledore who simply couldn't believe what he was hearing. If they had found all his people, then it really was over for him.
Stepping outside the cell, the interrogator quickly entered the room next to it.
"How's he doing?"
"Cold, more irritated than frightened, certainly confused and stressed out his box. Nothing too worrying at the moment, he's probably lying there trying to figure out who we are, just how we know all you've just told him and how he's going to get out of here."
Looking at all the gauges, and seeing none of the needles were in the red zones, was good enough for him. All the sensors built into the table were connected by cables to the control room that was monitored by a technician twenty-four / seven.
"Oh I didn't think the old guy would get Bruce Banner or Peter Parker. I want him to know I'm lying about my name, and didn't want to call myself Godric
"You really are a twisted bastard, the old guy has no idea what's coming his way."
"Listen Hugh, compared to that old guy in there - I'm a fucking angel. That is, without doubt, the nastiest piece of shit to ever lay on that table. Our bosses know he's going to be a hard nut to crack but want it done. I feel like I need a shower from just being in the same cell with him, and we haven't even started on the potions yet."
Looking at the old bald guy on the monitor, the technician had to ask a question. "If he's as bad as you say, how the bloody hell did he wangle becoming Headmaster of a boarding school?"
A grinning Harry was getting ready to face the new week when loud knocking on their door interrupted his pleasant memories of last evening. With a quick 'I'll get it love' over their rings, Harry headed for the door. This time he found a pair of red headed twins excitedly waiting on him.
Thrusting a letter into his hands, while demanding he read it, they took chances each at telling him exactly what the letter said.
"It's from Angelina, all the people the Headmistress invited said yes."
"Fudge now knows about their visit, but doesn't care."
"Says you and the Institute are not their enemies."
"He actually said he was going to help you, and Dumbledore obliviated him."
"You told us about that, so we know it's true."
"Fudge said Dumbledore's to blame for everything."
Hermione had now joined Harry, and quickly read the note. "There's a mistake here, guys. Why is Lee's name not down as a visitor?"
"We didn't get to pick the names."
"Didn't know who's names were on the list."
"Do you think the Headmistress would add him?"
"I think Lee and Antonio would have great fun commentating on any pick-up games we have - and our little visitors would love it." Hermione handed them their letter back, knowing they would need to take it to Pomona. "Just ask her, one more visitor isn't going to make a great deal of difference."
With that, the excited twins shot off down the corridor.
"I wonder if we're curbing their enthusiasm a little too much, perhaps we could find them a safe outlet to have a bit of fun."
Hermione had an answer for Harry almost instantly. "A fireworks display, New Year's Eve. Set them off on the quidditch pitch and we're practically spoilt for choice of places to watch them from."
"I think it should be Remus who suggests this to Pomona. She'll want him to work with the twins on the project, keep them in hand, and they'll love working on this alongside a Marauder."
This resulted in Harry receiving his morning kiss from Hermione. "Mister 'I'm just a student here' Potter, that was downright devious - and utterly brilliant."
The effortlessly switched to speaking through their rings, while heading out for breakfast. They wanted this to be kept between them for now, with Hermione's thoughts quite clear on the matter. 'Looks like the Ministry are really pulling their finger out with this one. We already know teaching wizards and witches properly about the mundane world will change them forever. There's no going back once they start down that road, you can't put the genie back in the bottle once it's out.'
'I think we wait and see what this cousin of Sirius's is like. Probably more importantly, what your mum and dad think of her - as a person and a potential Professor. If we're all in agreement, we'll break the news to her before she goes back to Britain.'
Hermione also had a wide grin, and not just because of last evening. 'If she returns to the Ministry with not only a Modern Studies course, but a building to teach it in, Fudge will kiss her feet and triple her wages.'
'Ew - could have done without the image of Fudge kissing anyone before my breakfast.' Joan was already seated, and waved madly at them - just in case they didn't spot her.
Hermione waved back as they headed over. If Professor de Marco was still working on the Longbottom potions, they would have a double period of Penny and Percy to start their week off. Knowing Rosa would leave the substitute Professors clear and precise instructions as to what she wanted taught in each class, neither was worried about the quality of their lesson.
Sitting beside Joan, Hermione just had to ask her parents. "Have you seen Sirius this morning?"