Chapter 28

Fudge drew himself up and straightened his robes with importance. "Obviously, the Boy Who Lived belongs with his rightful family or under some suitable guardianship. Allowing him to be whisked away by some Muggle teenager cannot possibly be allowed. Our investigation revealed that you had no preparation for parenting a Wizarding child, and as the representative of the Ministry of Magic, I do not consider you to be adequate to care for the Boy Who Lived." He drew a deep breath, ready to continue, but Nell cut him off.

"Who would you consider suitable?" she asked, as mildly as she could. She couldn't decide if his pompous little speech, so obviously rehearsed, was amusing or horrifying.

"Either close family or proper Wizarding guardians," repeated Fudge stubbornly. Nell took a step toward him in frustration, but he held his hand up in alarm, backing up. "Don't bother trying to bully me into changing my mind, Miss Burton," he said. "There is no room for compromise here."

"But there is room for blackmail," she said, casting an eye back at Michele, who smiled and raised her note-parchment and readied her quill.

He puffed up, cheeks reddening in anger. "Are you threatening me?" he asked, taking a step forward. "I would advise you to have some respect."

"I would advise you to earn it," Nell shot back.

"Now, now," said Dumbledore, stepping forward. "Surely we can reach a compromise, Cornelius, Nell."

Fudge shrugged. "You know the laws as well as I do, Dumbledore. Without parents or guardians, children become wards of the state. And I am the head of state here, so it is up to me to decide where Harry should be placed." He smiled benevolently at Harry.

Harry scowled back. "If my dad were here--" he started, then his eyes lit up and he ran forward. Fudge took another hasty step backward, his back pressed nearly against the wall, but Harry's target was a small book lying innocently on the coffee table. "Here," he nearly shouted, waving the book excitedly. "You want to ask my dad? Ask him!"

Fudge stared at him blankly. Nell coughed. "He doesn't understand, Harry," she said.

"Me either," confessed Michele. Indeed, most of the people in the room were looking as blank as Fudge; Lupin, on the other hand, simply looked guilty.

"My dad's in here," Harry said, flipping the book open. "Talk to it, you'll see."

Fudge took the proffored book gingerly and, looking rather foolish, stared at the pages. Eventually, he mustered a tentative "Hello there."

Nell couldn't read the book from where she was standing, but she could read Fudge's face. As she watched his eyes widening, she began to have a bit of real hope that perhaps things would work out.

Her hopes were dashed when Fudge closed the book and nearly threw it onto the table. "Who is responsible for this?" he demanded.

"That would be me," said Lupin, stepping forward with the air of a man approaching a judge. "James Potter and I, as well as some fr-friends," he stammered, "created conscious objects while we were at Hogwarts. This one was created using the Transcribo charm with a variation on," he took a deep breath, "a Splitting curse--a minor variant," he added hastily, but too late.

Nell had only a moment to wince at the bad Latin before the room erupted in shouting. Between Fudge demanding that Lupin be arrested for his illegal use of charms, his underage magic, and a few things besides that Nell didn't quite catch, Lupin defending himself, and Dumbledore trying to restore them to peace, not to mention Harry adding his own opinion to the mix, she was quite overwhelmed. Backing off for a moment, she sidled over to Michele and nudged her. "Getting good notes?" she whispered.

"This is brilliant," breathed Michele.

The shouting died down eventually, as each wizard realized that no one was listening to him. Nell simply scowled at them. Quarrelling like schoolboys. Something of her disgruntled expression had evidently made an impression, for Fudge coughed and straightened his robes, Harry perched anxiously on the couch, and even Dumbledore looked a bit sheepish.

"Thank you," she said crisply. She turned to Fudge. "Is the spell illegal?" she asked.

"It certainly is!" he said, and looked ready to expand on that, but she held up a hand.

"Since he did the spells, or whatever, when he was in school, can he still be in trouble for it? In the Muggle world, we have a statute of limitations for minor crimes…"

Fudge subsided slightly. "I suppose it is rather old--however serious," he added, glaring at Lupin.

Lupin looked offended. "Do I look that old?" he asked, a bit plaintively. But he held up his hands a moment later. "Sorry, sorry," he said. 'Thank you. As I was saying, the Splitting had the effect of removing a small portion of each of our personalities--enough to retain essential parts of the consciousness. A bit like a good portrait would," he said pointedly.

"But you will recall that the process for portraiture is quite different from schoolboys creating a sentient object," said Fudge, looking as though he might change his mind about allowing Lupin a measure of leniency.

"Nevertheless," said Lupin hastily, "a portion of James Potter does remain attached to the book. I believe that regardless of the process, he is capable of consenting to his son's adoption." He turned to Professor Dumbledore. "Am I correct, sir?"

"Yes, of course, my boy," he said fondly. "You were always one of my brightest students. Minister, if you ask the book, I am sure James will have an opinion. I cannot recall him being short on those, as I remember the dear boy." He shared an affectionate glance with Lupin, and Harry edged nearer, seemingly intent on absorbing the memories through sheer effort of will.

Fudge grudgingly picked up the book again and asked it loudly, "James Potter, do you wish to have your son adopted by an unrelated, single, young Muggle girl?"

Professor Dumbledore took the book gently from Fudge's fingers. "'I don't know from girls, but Nell's a right sort', he read, and looked up, eyes a-twinkle. "That sounds fairly definitive to me, doesn't it?" he asked rhetorically.

Fudge scowled.

"Oh, our readers will just love this," gushed Michele suddenly. "When I describe the brilliance of Minister Fudge in finding such a diplomatic and wise solution, I'm sure we'll get hundreds of letters!" She put her head down and appeared to become absorbed in taking notes while the others in the room stared at her dumbly. Nell tried hard not to smirk as she understood--it was even harder not to grin when Fudge started to puff himself up to his previous level of pomposity.

"Oh, no, Miss Zabini," he said expansively. "Surely not hundreds."

"Oh, yes, indeed," she said, not looking up. Nell could see the corner of her mouth twitch.

"Is there any paperwork?" she asked, trying to distract the Minister.

He frowned. "No, I believe we will let the papers stand as they are. Do keep in mind that parental permisson or not, you will be subject to periodic review? Don't get complacent," he warned, shaking his finger at her.

Nell didn't mind a bit, as it seemed that he was, miraculously, consenting to leave Harry with her. "Thank you," she said, meaning it as much as she had ever meant anything. "Thank you so much."

He coughed. "We'll just be on our way, then," he said. "Come along." He gestured imperiously and the young man with him followed him out the door.

As the door shut behind them, the room was silent. Nell could only look around, eyes wide in shock. Harry breathed a gusty sigh of relief that seemed to echo, and after a moment, they began to laugh in sheer relief. Harry ran over for a celebratory hug, and Nell couldn't help but feel as though everything was as it shoud be.

Epilogue

Everything wasn't quite perfect, as happy as Nell had been right then. There was quite a lot of sorting out to be done, and the whole thing had to be explained, more than once, to Audrey and Mrs. Burton. Nell and Harry were soon ensconced at home, however, and their lives settled back into a pattern, as lives have a habit of doing. Nell graduated and took her job, Harry continued going to school--quite as far away from Dudley as was possible while still being in the same city--and Fudge kept trying to make trouble every six months or so.

But for all that, they were quite happy. There wasn't trouble again until--

But never mind that. That's another story entirely.