Chapter 35 - Reborn
The more Poppy considered their idea for the Longbottoms, the more she began to think it might be the only way to break them free of the potion prison this couple were trapped in. "They've been getting a little of Dumbledore's magic fed to them in potion form for well over a decade. With this abominable misuse of power, that magic has had plenty of time to infuse into every single cell of their bodies. I can't see a few doses of magic-infused antidote overcoming that amount of damage. Deliberately preventing healing is bad enough, but to plot and scheme to keep them in this condition - the old goat should face the veil for this abuse alone."
The Italian mind healer was swearing in his native language again, only for his Minister of Magic to gently point out that all staff and students of the Institute were currently learning Italian. He instantly offered his apologies.
"This Dumbledore has deliberately stopped this couple healing for all those years to further his own goals! I have no English words bad enough to say about him. I offer my services to aid you with this…this…agh - again no English words strong enough."
After discovering what they were going to attempt, Neville wanted to try right away. Augusta didn't seem inclined to say no to her grandson so Poppy laid down the law.
"We will be doing these attempts a patient at a time, so you need to choose. I will then administer the maximum dose of antidote potion and, an hour later, the attempt will be made. During that hour, the people making the attempt need to eat and rest. This has never been attempted before but we all think this is our best chance of success."
Turning to his grandmother, Neville said what was on his mind. "How am I supposed to choose between mum and dad? What if this doesn't work?"
Ruffling his hair, Augusta was so proud of her grandson and tried to answer his questions as best she could. "There is no doubt in my mind that Frank Longbottom would insist you try to help Alice first. As to this not working, there is no way your magic could ever hurt either of them. If it only pushes some of that old bastard's magic out of your mum, it's still an improvement. It's something that may have to be repeated a few times - we just don't know. Just do your best and we'll see what happens, and remember - you won't hurt them."
Hermione had asked Dobby to fetch Luna, and then some snacks. As soon as the little blonde discovered what they were about to attempt, Neville was plonked into a chair and Luna promptly sat on his lap - feeding him snacks between kisses. When it was time to act, Luna tenderly kissed him before resting her forehead on his. "You can do this, Nev. Use the mountain of love you have within you to push every last scrap of that hateful old man out of your mum."
With his arms wrapped around his betrothed, and his gran smiling at him, Neville felt ready to deal with anything. Moving toward the bed that held his mother, Poppy had last minute instructions for them.
"I'll be monitoring Alice, while Dr Russo will be monitoring Neville. If either of us shouts stop, that's what you'll immediately do. Don't make us have to stun you."
Nodding, Neville placed his right hand on his mother's forehead while his left rested on Alice's abdomen. He felt Hermione's hand on his left shoulder while his godbrother gave his right a reassuring squeeze before resting his hand there.
Looking over at Luna and his gran, both wrapped in each other's arms for comfort and support, Neville knew exactly what he had to do here. Thinking of introducing Luna to his mum and dad was a dream for him, and the focus Neville would use here. Gathering his magic, he pumped all the love he had for the people around him in there too - as if casting his patronus - before releasing his magic into his mum. As Neville felt his magic leave in one enormous burst, an ocean of reserves was suddenly available to him as Harry and Hermione began pouring their magic into him. Gratefully accepting their gift allowed Neville to continue with this level of magical transference into his mum.
It was with a sense of awe Poppy watched as a visible nimbus of magic surrounded the witch currently lying on the bed. As the silvery cloud grew denser, she glanced toward the Italian doctor who was monitoring Neville. Poppy could see the word 'stop' form on Dr Russo's lips before an audible snap saw the cloud of magic being absorbed into Alice's body.
The three teens slumped to their knees, only holding onto each other keeping them from collapsing to the floor. Luna soon joined them as an exhausted Neville managed to squeeze a few words out.
"Did it work?"
Poppy was scanning Alice as she answered. "It's a little too soon to say yet, but you three couldn't have given any more."
The Minister and Pomona helped Harry and Hermione onto beds, while Luna and Augusta did the same for Neville. Dr Russo had to ask them to let go of Neville's hands so he could run some scans.
"Mr Longbottom, your betrothed is correct. You could not have given any more, and I was just about to stop you trying to do so. You are magically exhausted and should not perform any magic for at least a few days. I'm sure Madam Pomfrey will give you a more precise time, as she is your healer. I have to say, that was one of the most amazing things I have seen, and would be honoured to assist you when you repeat the process with your father."
Augusta quickly agreed with all of that, as Neville appeared too exhausted even to speak.
After the Italian doctor had checked over Harry and Hermione, Dobby knew the best medicine for them. After joining their beds to make one, he soon fetched his little Miss.
Joan was initially worried until Dobby explained they were just exhausted. She trusted Dobby implicitly, knowing the little elf would never lie to her. Joan climbed over Harry and inserted herself in the middle of their loose embrace. She felt both their arms tighten around her and everything was once more perfect in Joan's world. All three were soon sleeping peacefully.
Minister Rossi noticed the smile on the Headmistress's face and ruefully shook his head. "How do you deal with this on a daily basis? My mind has just been totally blown, and it's barely lunchtime."
"It's easy to forget that's my boss lying there, because that's exactly what Harry wants me to do. He's an exceptional young wizard, who draws the best out of everyone around him. Yet, lying there, Harry has everything he wants in his arms. I've heard his betrothed joke Harry has a saving people thing, you just got to witness the latest episode of those adventures. The rest of the time, he's happiest being surrounded by family and friends while attending the Institute. He's insisted since my first day as Headmistress that I treat him like every other student. Most of the time I do."
Poppy had been concentrating on Alice, and approached Augusta with her findings. With Neville now asleep, Luna moved around the bed to hold Augusta's other hand as they waited on the news. Augusta nodded toward Pomona and both Italians, indicating that they should come over and here this to.
"First of all, their efforts were successful! Dumbledore's hold on Alice wasn't just broken - they shattered it."
Stoic Augusta Longbottom broke down in tears, hugging her grandson's betrothed to her. Poppy's hand on her shoulder wasn't just for comfort though, she had even more good news.
"After their magic defeated Dumbledore's potion, it didn't dissipate - but rather sank into Alice. That magic is now helping her repair the damage the initial attack and over a decade of lying trapped inside her body caused. She's currently in a healing coma and my best guess is it will be a couple of days before she awakens. At that time, Alice might not dance out of that bed - but there's a good chance she'll walk."
There were tears in the eyes of all present - but Poppy was forced to introduce a note of caution. "Until we discover how this has affected Alice, and the three teens lying sleeping, we can't go forward with this on Frank. We'll know a lot more in a few days though."
Augusta couldn't help herself. She stood and hugged Poppy for all she was worth, before working her way around the room. "We had all but lost hope. Just having some again is wonderful. You get to tell Neville, Harry and Hermione that they need to wait though."
It was a smiling Poppy who answered. "Gee, thanks for that."
Alice felt herself drift on a journey. She'd experienced this a few times lately, lately being a relatively loose term as time had ceased to be a concept for her. It felt like she was drifting to the surface of a deep and dark lake. When Alice had momentarily breached the surface of this lake previously, there was barely time to draw a breath until she was somewhat inevitably dragged back below the surface.
This time felt a little different though. For one thing, Alice felt she was rising from the depths faster than she ever had before. This time she didn't gently break the surface - Alice burst through it and flew away.
The former Auror gently opened her eyes, trying to make sense of what she was seeing. Alice was obviously in an infirmary of some sort, though she certainly didn't recognise this as somewhere she'd visited before. The low lighting didn't stop Alice recognising the person sitting next to her bed. Though her voice hadn't been used for many years, she did manage to croak out one word.
Augusta was dozing in her chair. She was getting too old for this, sitting here at three a.m. - hearing that one word however shot a bolt of energy through the grandmother. She was out of her chair in an instant, holding Alice's hand while seeing recognition in her daughter-in-law's eyes for the first time in thirteen years.
"Oh Alice! It's really you… I need to get Poppy, I promised I would if you awoke."
The healer was already hurrying towards them. "No need, Augusta. My monitoring charm just woke me. How are you feeling, Alice dear?"
As Poppy's wand carried out its scans, Augusta helped Alice take a few sips of water to aid with her speaking. It worked.
"Odd is the only way I can describe it. Mum, where's Frank and Neville? How long have I been out for?"
Poppy made Alice take another drink before any of those questions were answered, only this one was laced with a mild calming potion. Understanding that Augusta would be the one answering most of the questions, she decided to get some reassurance in first.
"Alice, Frank is here and under my care too. He's in the exact same condition that you were - until a few minutes ago. We tried an experimental procedure to bring you back to us, a procedure that obviously worked. We plan to use the same procedure on Frank too, though the preparations might take a few days. Neville is also here, and one of the finest young wizards I've ever met. You are going to be told some things that will be hard to hear. I want you to focus on the fact that your family is fine."
Appreciating the help Poppy was providing here, Augusta knew though there was no way to sugar-coat the truth. "Alice, you and Frank haven't been with us in spirit for thirteen years…"
Neville couldn't sleep, he was magically exhausted but his emotions were all over the place - denying him the slumber his body so badly needed. The minute hand on his alarm clock appeared to be crawling around its face. His roommate Ron's snoring, which he had years of experience in ignoring, was also getting to him tonight.
Dragging himself out of bed, and pulling on his housecoat, Neville decided that looking in on his mum again might be the only reason he'd get any sleep at all tonight / this morning. He needed sleep, needed to recover, before they would be allowed to heal his dad. Knowing this though still couldn't placate the desire to see his mum wake. So Neville shuffled his way toward the infirmary. Walking through the doors, Neville was sure he must still be lying in bed dreaming. Otherwise, he would have to believe that his mum was sitting up in bed and chatting with gran.
Having been alerted that someone had entered her infirmary, Poppy found Neville standing just inside the doors - absolutely spellbound.
"Mister Longbottom, you were supposed to be following my orders and getting a good night's sleep. Since you disobeyed those orders, I have to add an extra day onto the time before we can try to revive your father. Just to prove I'm not a complete ogre though, you can stay and have a chat with your mum."
Having heard Poppy the instant she began speaking, nothing was going to keep Alice lying in that bed. She swung her legs out and, with Augusta's help, took a few steps toward her beautiful boy.
Neville was sobbing and moving before he realised it, seconds later he was enveloped in a hug with his mother.
"My wonderful boy. I've missed so much, but I'm here now. Your mother is here for you now…"
Neither said any more, nothing else needed to be said. There wasn't a dry eye in the infirmary, as Neville led his mother back over to her bed and sat beside her. They would have plenty of time to talk, at the moment both were content simply holding each other.
Cedric watched as a tearful Cho headed out the castle to catch the Hogwarts Express, going home for Christmas. Cho's manipulative claims that her Christmas would be ruined if he wasn't here with her too had fallen on deaf ears as Cedric simply refused to pull out of visiting the Potter Institute. Her ultimatum had Cedric thinking perhaps Cho wasn't the girl for him after all, as the excitement of visiting Italy easily compensated for Cho telling him they were through if he went. He wondered if his lack of reaction was the reason Cho was still crying, since they had broken up nearly a week ago.
They were portkeying from just outside the Hogwarts wards, but the gathering group had a couple of unexpected visitors, both the Headmaster and his Deputy.
"If everyone supposed to be here has arrived, let us make our way down to the portkey point."
It would have to be a Gryffindor who asked the question, so Lee promptly obliged. "Excuse me, Headmaster, but are you traveling with us?"
"We have been granted a meeting with Headmistress Sprout, along with the Minister of Magic - who will be meeting us at the portkey point. We will be returning home today, so won't be interfering with your holidays."
Now that was good news for all the students traveling to Italy.
Filius, Percy, Penny and the Weasley twins were there to greet the Hogwarts arrivals. It certainly took a minute or so for them to get accustomed to their new surroundings. They'd had to trudge through the trampled snow to reach the portkey point at Hogwarts, and now Filius was leading the visiting officials alongside the pool area, through Pomona's garden and into her office.
It was a pretty flabbergasted trio who sat down to cappuccinos that had a chocolate version of the school logo floating on top of the froth. Pomona and Filius were sipping theirs when Fudge asked the first question.
"Will Lord Potter be joining us today?"
Knowing this would be asked, Pomona was ready with her answer. "I'm sorry but Lord Potter is currently indisposed, under healer's strict orders to rest - or he might miss Sirius's wedding tomorrow."
"What happened? Did he have an accident? Is it serious?"
"Oh, nothing like that, Minister. He, his betrothed and Mister Longbottom all took part in a procedure to awaken Frank Longbottom. All three are magically exhausted. Since they'd already performed the same procedure successfully on Alice Longbottom, all three know they really need to rest today."
They found this hard to believe, and the Minister wanted confirmation. "Are you saying Alice Longbottom is now aware of what's happening around her?"
"You'll see her when we tour the Institute. She'll be sitting in the infirmary beside her husband, we're hopeful he'll wake today."
This had Cissi sitting her cup back down. "If you don't mind, Headmistress, I'll miss that part. After all, it was one of my sisters who was responsible for torturing them into that condition."
As Severus was putting a comforting arm around his wife, Cornelius couldn't hide his enthusiasm. "That is amazing news. I came here today to provide an update about the Triwizard Tournament, and give you the latest information on Dumbledore's trial. I'll have to pass this news on to the ICW…"
Pomona hated to interrupt Cornelius, but didn't want him making a fool of himself. "Excuse me, Minister, but I believe Minister Rossi has already informed the ICW. He was present, along with a very respected Italian healer, when the procedure to heal Alice was carried out. Watching that had a profound affect on all of us, and I think this helped make his mind up to push for Dumbledore to be put on trial as quickly as possible."
Sensing Cornelius's disappointment that Pomona appeared to be better informed than him on this matter, Severus changed the subject for a moment. "Headmistress, your office appears to be as different to Dumbledore's as possible - was that a deliberate choice?"
This actually got a chuckle from the witch. "Yes. My stipulation was no hiding behind a gargoyle - no hiding at all. We have a general office in the Institute, with a rota of staff covering it, and my door is always open to anyone. Most chats take place in my garden, as I try to be behind my desk as little as possible. I apologise as you won't see the Institute running as normal, but you said it was urgent and today was the only date available. Today most of our students are portkeying into the London branch of Gringotts, tomorrow we have a wedding - and getting the Institute prepared for an influx of orphans the following day."
Having recovered, Cornelius then passed on news he was certain Pomona couldn't hear from any other source. "Well my next bit of news should be an early Christmas present for a couple of your students. The Triwizard Tournament is being cancelled…"
"I though that was impossible - champions would lose their magic. If it could be cancelled, why wasn't it done before?"
Holding his hands up, Cornelius agreed with an angry Pomona and explained how the Unspeakables had come up with a method. "Until we got rid of Dumbledore, Magical Britain was shackled by the number of people unknowingly under his control. Add in the death eaters we finally dealt with and it's a wonder anything ever got done in the country. We're keeping this a secret, until Dumbledore has had his trial and been sentenced. Should he somehow escape during this process, we can schedule the second task and he has to turn up. As Albus has the lowest marks, his name will be shouted first. He either turns up - and we deal with him - or doesn't and the Goblet of Fire will carry out one last act before being thrown into the veil. No other champions will be required to attend."
"That really is great news. Speaking of good news, congratulations Severus - on your marriage, impending fatherhood and promotion. Now, would you like a tour? Minerva and Remus are currently in London, making certain all our students make it home. They will be back in time for dinner, we hope you can stay and join us?"
With all three agreeing, they took a shortcut by crossing the winding swimming pool on a couple of decorative bridges and arrived at the student accommodation block just as Penny was explaining the 'no magic' rules to their Hogwarts holidaymakers.
Seeing the questioning looks from their three visitors, Pomona soon set them straight. "Our students quickly adapted to this, and none of the visiting parents have had any problems following this rule either."
Spotting a telephone shocked the Minister. "The students have these devices in their rooms? We don't even have them in the Ministry."
"Yes. Being able to chat with their children from the comfort of their own home is a concept that has pureblood families scrambling to have telephones installed in their homes. This entire wing and a few classrooms are kept free from magic - though we're sure one day a solution to magic affecting electronics will be discovered. Anyone who can put TV's into a magical home will not only make a fortune, they'll start a revolution."
They were next led to the Muggle Studies class. "The classroom in your new building will look very similar to this, though I believe you are also getting a Computer Suite and a muggle flat. This will make a huge difference but I can't recommend visits to Muggle areas highly enough."
The next classroom was a riot of colour. "One of the first things I noticed upon arrival at Lord Potter's house at the summer was just how bright and colourful everything was. Professor Palazzo teaches our students - and staff - the Italian language. She just loves her posters and pictures, they're educational too. We aim for our students to have the best education we can supply, and part of that education is to see them being comfortable in magical or muggle society - in English and Italian."
This had the Minister asking a question he didn't quite want to know the answer to. "What will happen to your students after they graduate? Will the Institute really prepare them for returning to Britain?"
Understanding exactly what was being asked here - that no matter what qualifications certain students achieved, there simply wasn't a life available for them in Magical Britain - Pomona confirmed Cornelius's worst fears.
"Our students are taught that working hard and giving your all can put their goals within their reach. We all know that in Britain, other factors are taken into consideration too - deliberately excluding most of them from ever achieving their goals. A magical village is currently at the planning stage, with the land where it will be built already purchased, Francesca's appointed as the architect and Amelia Bones in charge of overseeing the entire project. There are already some Institute staff who are thinking of spending their retirement there, with Penny and Percy already looking to buy or rent something in this village too. You might have noticed both being very happy here. Penny is apprenticing under Filius while Percy has a talent for administration and pursuing further training in that. Both have bright futures here."
Pomona was watching Severus closely as they led the three of them into their potions lab, she wasn't disappointed. His stoic expression collapsed as Severus's eyes struggled to take in the most advanced potions lab he had ever seen. Rosa was finishing off writing her findings on the potion she'd developed to help the Longbottoms and was delighted to show her lab off.
Narcissa was standing beside Pomona, knowing Draco's passion was also potions, yet neither her son nor her husband would ever have access to these facilities. "Headmistress, we haven't seen half of your Institute yet, but already I feel safe congratulating you on this achievement. I thought the photographs published had prepared me for what we would see today, they didn't even come close. It's simply breathtaking."
Cornelius was quick to agree. "Severus won't mind me saying we wanted yourself or Minerva to head Hogwarts, Augusta told me point blank that neither of you would leave here - I can see why now."
"Minerva's name is top of the list for a little home in the new village. The way of life here is so different from back in Britain - we all greatly prefer it."
Severus approached with Rosa, and they were surprised to see him wearing an angry expression. "Were you aware of what that old fool did to the Longbottoms? Whatever punishment he receives won't be strong enough, based on their case alone. Feeding someone a potion, infused with your magic, to deliberately prevent their healing is one of the most disgusting things I've ever heard of. At least Riddle made no pretence about being anything other than a Dark Lord. I truly think Dumbledore is darker. Absolutely brilliant work by Professor de Marko here, some of the finest I've seen…"
They were interrupted by a group of laughing young children, two of whom clearly belonged to the Professor. Joan approached the group. "Sorry, Headmistress. We didn't know you were in here, or that you had guests. Professor de Marko promised to help us with the decorations we made - for the orphanage visit. We were just looking to see if she was finished her work."
"It's fine, Miss Potter, we were just leaving anyway." Using the name Potter meant she led three stunned adults out of the potions lab, heading for the Library. It was predicable that Cornelius would ask the question, he didn't disappoint.
"I had heard Lord Potter had brought an orphan into his family. Can we assume that was her?"
"Yes, Joan is simply adorable. She calls Harry's account manager 'Uncle Barchoke', and has that wise old goblin wrapped around her little finger - along with everyone else she meets."
The library proved another massive hit with their visitors, appreciating the frames on the wall holding the 'history' of the Institute.
"I can't see us ever having a trophy room like Hogwarts, tucked away where the only students who see it are those forced to clean them during their detention. We like everything and everyone to be accessible - nothing to hide is almost as big a motto here as Inspire is." Pomona then took their guests up a level, with Filius leading the Minister and Severus into the infirmary. She led Narcissa up onto the roof terrace.
Sitting at a table with Pomona, an emotional Narcissa couldn't help but get some things off her chest.
"Our entire world has changed in an incredibly short space of time. Seeing this today has me utterly convinced there will be more changes to come - and they will be permanent. The child I'm carrying will be born into a totally different world than Draco was. Since they won't be classed as a pureblood, I think these changes are for the greater good. Is it wrong of me to be glad that Lucius was killed - rather than put on trial for all of Magical Britain to discover what he did in the name of blood purity? At least Draco was spared discovering the atrocities his father carried out. We were all set to leave Britain, had jobs lined up and everything, but Cornelius said he needed us at Hogwarts. He needed us so badly, he leant on Severus to ensure he said yes."
Pomona summoned an elf, and soon there were two cups of herbal tea on the table. Narcissa needed a sip before she could say any more.
"Hogwarts could never match what you have here. If the castle closes, we could all be dragged down too…"
"Narcissa, we started here with a blank slate, and had someone who was willing to fund everything. Traditions are fine, but they must never become a mechanism to trap everyone in the past. The Institute isn't just a building, it's so much more. We're here to teach our students, but also to nurture their hopes and ambitions. When faced with choices, my yardstick is always 'what would Dumbledore do' - I then do the opposite. Your first task for Hogwarts is to discover what you want it to be. That's why those drawings on our library wall are so important to us. They represent the birth of the Potter Institute, and are precious to all of us who were involved in creating what you see here."
Narcissa dabbed at her eyes with her hankie, before drinking more of the calming herbal tea. "Thank you, Pomona. I don't know whether it's hormonal, or simply that our lives have all been turned upside down, but our chat has really helped me. So has seeing just what is possible, when everyone works together. Hogwarts can never be this, but that doesn't mean it can't be the best version of Hogwarts we can manage. What you're saying though is that we need to discover just whose version of Hogwarts is best."
This had Pomona smiling. "We took opinions from everyone involved, some were included and some not. You won't get it right first or even second time. It should be constantly evolving, pushing what works while fixing or losing what doesn't. We use questionnaires for visiting families, asking them what they like or don't. You never know where the next good idea will come from."
Filius led the other two guests up to the roof terrace, where they all enjoyed the birds eye view of the Institute. Cornelius was amazed by their infirmary, but totally blown away by the opportunity to have a chat with Alice Longbottom.
"This is wonderful news - simply unbelievable. Do you think this news could appear in the British press? It would really give the entire country a lift - at Christmas too."
"Sorry Minister, I can't help you there. This is entirely a matter for the Longbottom family and not the Institute. We simply assisted with our facilities and staff. Xeno Lovegood will be spending Christmas with us, and since his daughter will one day become a Longbottom, I would guess that the Quibbler would be the publication to break the story in Britain."
An elf appeared at Narcissa's side, handing her a notepad and pen.
"Ma'am should be taking notes. Much, much more to see here." Watching his former mistress's eyes almost pop out as she recognised the elf - and certainly the crest he wore on his robes - had Dobby smiling.
Pomona enquired how Harry and Hermione were, Dobby quickly assured her they were sleeping and would be fine for tomorrow's celebrations. He popped away, leaving Narcissa staring at the strange stationary.
It also left Cornelius shaking his head. "Shit, even the bloody house elves are different here!"
Hermione was sitting in front of her mirror, supposedly getting herself ready to be Francesca's bridesmaid. Instead though, she had spent the last few minutes looking at the reflection of her mum helping Joan get ready for the wedding too. Joan was of course chatting away at a rate of knots, while the beautiful smile her mother was beaming toward her honouree granddaughter was not an expression Hermione recognised from her own childhood. Rather than being angry or jealous, Hermione was delighted with the relationship Joan and Emma shared.
She must have zoned out because her mum taking the unmoving hairbrush from Hermione's hand brought her back to the present.
"You're not too old that your mum can't help you get ready. I can't imagine it will be too long before you and Harry are doing this yourselves."
"We need Harry to be sixteen first, mum."
"It will come soon enough, love. Your father and I have no doubts it will happen. With school, Joan and your friends - it will be on you both before you know it."
"You forgot to mention family in there, mum. I happen to think we've got a great one, a family that will grow today too."
As Emma pinned Hermione's hair up, she leant down and hugged her precious daughter - exactly the same way she'd just hugged Joan. "I love our family too."
Sirius was calmly standing beside Harry, awaiting his bride-to-be's arrival.
"Not in the least bit worried, Padfoot?"
Instead of an answer, his Godfather posed Harry a similar question. "How will you feel the day you're standing here waiting on Hermione?"
Harry's wide smile was its own answer.
"Exactly. I know this is the best thing I've ever done in my life. Waiting in Hogwarts that night, I was sure my life was over. You and Hermione turning up was like being reborn. You then gave my life meaning, a purpose - and that was before you introduced me to Francesca. I've honestly never been happier, actually I didn't think I could be this happy. What I'm trying to say is that you, Hermione, and of course Joan, are in for some incredible Christmas presents this year - that's if Francesca and I can actually find time to do some shopping!"
This set Harry off chuckling. Even now, his Godfather was still cracking jokes. "Sirius, just bringing Francesca into our family is a present for all of us…"
Neither said any more as Joan was walking down the aisle, sprinkling rose petals for the bride and her father to walk on. With Hermione following on behind, both the groom and his best man didn't need words to describe their emotions.
The excitement and love in the room was palpable, and only when Minister Rossi got the wedding party settled down could he begin the service. The cheering when he eventually introduced Lord and Lady Black to the invited guests was thunderous.
Back in London, another Minister of Magic was facing a crowd too. There might not have been thunderous applause but with a public meeting, just having them listen to you was a bonus. Cornelius desperately needed to feed the British wizarding public a 'good news' story on the run up to Christmas - let them know that things were getting better.
Ideally, he would have loved to release the news about the Longbottoms. Having a chat with Alice while she sat at her husband's bedside was simply amazing. With his shaky position at the moment, Cornelius simply couldn't afford to antagonise Augusta Longbottom by releasing the news before the family was ready for that step.
Most of those who had dealt with Cornelius would be mildly surprised that he had a plan of his own. They would be utterly shocked that he had a Plan B too.
Cornelius began speaking about the changes currently underway at Hogwarts, now they had gotten rid of Dumbledore. Staff changes, course changes, these were all greeted with polite applause by those present. The Minister of course knew it would be the next part that should generate the excitement he was after.
"It would appear Dumbledore was deliberately undermining the Muggle Studies course taught there. The course hasn't been updated since before he became headmaster, and this dreadful oversight has left us woefully unprepared for dealing with muggles in this country. As Minister of Magic, I couldn't allow this to continue. A new Professor was appointed to totally revamp the course, and she approached the Potter Institute for help in this matter."
Just the mention of the Institute piqued everyone's interest in what Cornelius had to say next, he didn't disappoint.
"This will see Hogwarts teaching the exact same course as the Potter Institute, now called Modern Studies. Now, having all seen the Institute's pictures in the press, your first thoughts will probably be the same as mine were - how will this be possible? An unbelievably generous offer from Lord Potter will see a brand new facility added to Hogwarts. This new addition will be designed and built by the same architect that produced the Potter Institute - the new Lady Black."
Behind the Minister, drawings of the new building were being displayed. Rather than going into great detail and risk losing his audience, Cornelius then invited the very same people to ask the questions they wanted answers to. The press section were all over that - sharing their amazement with their readers about how knowledgeable the Minister of Magic was on this subject. Being able to throw in the Potter name, and wildly estimate how much gold this project would cost him was the real kicker. Being able to show that Harry Potter had not abandoned them would be a real Christmas present for the vast majority of their readers.
At their latest bolt hole, the newest edition of the Prophet certainly didn't generate the intended Christmas Cheer amongst a particular quartet of Death Eater readers - quite the opposite. If it wasn't for the fact everyone considered them already dead, the more suspicious amongst the group might think the entire issue had been specifically designed by the Ministry with the intention of causing Bella's mercurial temper to spectacularly explode.
She fumed while reading how Narcissa was now married to that betraying bastard Snape, and carrying the half-blood's child. The news that her already disgraced sister, Andromeda, was going to be teaching Muggle studies also added fuel to her temper. The real kicker though was that utter bastard Sirius, having the audacity to try and pass a squib off as the Lady Black. She was cursing up a storm, and swearing to painfully kill all of the Blacks.
Only the projected date for the opening of this new building gave Bella something to focus on.
"Fudge will want to make a spectacle of its opening. The traitor Snape, his bitch of a wife, my other bitch of a sister, Sirius and his squib - even Potter - they'll all be there. Fuck their stupid tournament, here is an occasion that will provide the targets we crave. It will also give you three time to plan how we get in there, cause murder and mayhem, and then get out."
She stormed from the room, leaving the three Death Eaters left sitting there in no doubt Bella didn't really care about the last part. Murdering as many as possible would be more important to her than escaping after springing the attack. Their world was rapidly changing around them. Bella would never accept those changes, appearing ready and willing to lay down her life in protest against those changes - in her own inimitable style of course.
Rabastan, Rodolphus and Augustus were left with the task of plotting their extraction from the grounds of Hogwarts after the initial attack - or accepting going in that this was actually a mission they wouldn't be coming back from. Since none of them were ready to sign up for the latter, they had better get busy scheming. Their only certainly was that there would be no stopping Bella attacking this event. This was now personal for her, with all Bella's targets conveniently in the same place.
A/N been a while but still here and still writing. I always complete my stories - Robert