Disclaimer: The Harry Potter world and all the marvelous characters therein belong to The Great J.K. Rowling, Mistress of 21st Century Fantasy, World-Builder Extraordinaire, Goddess of Magic Lovers Everywhere…you get the idea. Not a darn thing in abovementioned world is a product of my pathetic-by-comparison imagination, this story was merely inspired by Ms. Rowling's brilliant yarns. This fanfic is two parts speculation, one part wishful thinking. Stir well. I am receiving nothing in compensation except the praise and/or criticism of my readers, and both are accepted with glee.
Author's Note: This is my first Harry Potter fic. It attempts to bring to a resolution one of the more interesting turns of events from Order of the Phoenix. Quite a few other fanwriters have attempted this, and I'm throwing my cap into the ring as well. It's a short story, already completed, (since my LOTR readers will tell you I am badly susceptible to writer's block) and I'll be posting every few days, as soon as they're formatted. Please let me know what you think.
Chapter One: Fighting Blind
"The problem with political jokes is they get elected." Henry Cate VII
"Tell me again why I'm doing this," Harry muttered as he, Ron, Ginny, Hermione, Luna, and Neville piled into the back of the Ministry car.
"Because the Or—I mean the Aurors are being gits and won't let us get out of it," replied Ron.
"All set back there?" asked the driver cheerfully as Tonks shoved the door closed from the outside and hurried to another car behind theirs. "Right-o, then. Off we go!"
Luna, her eyes fixed upon a small rip in the material of the car's ceiling, said, "It is a very great honor, you know. No underage wizard has received an Order of Merlin in nearly a century."
"Right she is, lad," said the driver. "Then again, everyone rather thought you'd be getting it sooner or later, eh? And when better than after beating back You-Know-Who yet again?"
"Oh, I can think of a better time," Harry said, but got an elbow in the ribs from Hermione. He shot her a quick grimace to let her know he wasn't going to say anything he shouldn't. She smiled and patted his hand. Both his friends and the Order knew how Harry felt about this.
When a great horned owl had swooped majestically through the kitchen window in Privet Drive, sending Aunt Petunia screaming into the living room (bloody bird had almost a five-foot wing span!) Harry had suspected something was up. He had feared since the beginning of the summer that the Ministry would try some silly stunt to put themselves back in Harry's (and the wizarding public's) good graces, and their solution had apparently been to give everyone who was in the Department of Mysteries that night an Order of Merlin.
Everyone, that is, except the person who deserved it most.
Harry had protested, argued, ranted, raved, griped, groused, and finally, to the astonishment of everyone including himself, begged Professor Dumbledore to put a stop to it. "Please, Professor, I'll do anything to get out of this! I can't stand there and let them pin some medal on me, and watch everyone else get medals when they haven't even cleared Sirius of the murder charges!"
Remus Lupin and Mad-Eye Moody had been firmly behind Harry. "Tell Fudge and the rest of his lackeys to stick it, Albus," Moody had said. "Boy has every right to refuse. Give 'em a sugar-coated reason if you must, but you know this whole bloody thing's just a publicity maneuver from Fudge to get the public's approval back!"
But Professor Dumbledore had shaken his head. "I'm sorry, Harry. Truly, I am. And I quite agree, it is yet another terrible injustice to Sirius that his name has not yet been cleared. But surely you can understand that there are greater reasons to accept this gesture, as empty as we all know it to be."
"After what Fudge did?" Mrs. Weasley had said quietly. "They'd best be very good reasons."
Professor Dumbledore had, this time at least, been looking at Harry. "I've explained the situation to Harry."
Harry had sighed heavily and sat down at the kitchen table. He'd been taken back to Grimmauld Place the day before his birthday, only to discover that not only was the Ministry ignoring his attempts to refuse the honor, they were making it a public ceremony. That combined with the intense emotions he had felt at being back here again…it was too much. Still, Professor Dumbledore had told him the reasons. "If Fudge gets to have his picture taken with me a few times, he'll give Professor Dumbledore and the Order a free hand against Voldemort," he told Mrs. Weasley and the others. "And he'll be more willing to listen to your suggestions about how to build up a defense."
"Concessions?" Professor Lupin had exclaimed. "Harry has to prostitute himself to Fudge for concessions?"
"Remus!" Mrs. Weasley had snapped, smacking him.
Harry had just rubbed his eyes, trying not to notice the crack in the tabletop where a knife had embedded itself a year before. "No, he's right. If it'll give the Order a chance of getting things done…I'll do it."
Professor Dumbledore had smiled. "I do know how unpleasant this will be for you, Harry. But I'm afraid Minister Fudge will not allow us any legitimacy unless we first give him this gesture."
This time it had been Harry who had refused to look at him. "I'll survive, I guess."
And now here they were, driving in shiny black Ministry cars to a huge public ceremony, wearing their Hogwarts robes (Fudge had suggested dress robes, but that at least Harry and the others had managed to get out of, by arguing that they were still students and wanted to represent Hogwarts.) What made it even worse was that the presence of their Ministry driver prevented them from describing all the ways they hated Fudge. So they endured the trip in silence, broken by idle remarks (usually from Ron) about how many reporters were likely to be there, and saying as much as they could with the occasional roll of the eyes or muffled groan.
The car trip alone seemed to take forever, as long, tense rides are wont to do.
At last, they rounded the last corner toward the Ministry building. This time they were headed toward the Ministry's "public entrance," an impressive, marble façade with shining steps and large glass doors—which appeared as a run-down, abandoned apartment building to Muggles. And it was charmed with a ward that made prospective buyers decide the whole neighborhood didn't look promising. As usual, Ron spoke first. "Oh…bloody…hell."
The bright flashes of cameras were already going off as the car rolled up to the building's entrance. Harry shrank down in his seat. "Donwannadothisdonwannadothisdonwannadothis…"
Ginny reached past Ron to ruffle his hair. "Courage."
As the girls and Neville climbed out to face the swarm of journalists, Ron leaned very close to Harry, and whispered so the driver wouldn't hear. "Just try your best to embarrass Fudge as much as possible."
That cheered Harry up, and he gritted his teeth and stepped out into a wildly flashing glare of camera bulbs, and a thunderous roar of applause. Moody and Tonks pushed through the crowd to flank him, and marched him through the throng. "Make way, there, make way!" Moody was snapping, waving his wand menacingly at the reporters, who hastily stepped aside. Harry kept his head down and tried to concentrate on not tripping over his feet.
They got through the doors and left the mob outside. Harry sighed in relief, but Tonks warned, "Don't relax too soon, there's another swarm waiting in the atrium to get the actual ceremony."
"Oh, damn," Harry muttered, and she snickered.
"Buck up, mate. We'll make it."
They reached the security desk, and Harry started to hand over his wand, but heard someone shout, "No, no, no, I told you, Mr. Potter doesn't need the usual protocols! For goodness sake!"
It was the voice Harry had been bracing himself against hearing. Minister Fudge fairly bounced up to them. The frazzled guard muttered, "Sorry 'bout that, sir," and waved Harry and his escorts in.
"Afternoon, Minister," said Moody gruffly.
"Ah, Mr. Moody, always a pleasure," bubbled Fudge, then thrust out a hand at Tonks. Harry thought furiously, For the Order, for the Order, for the Order, waiting for the inevitable moment when Fudge seized Harry's hand in both of his and pumped it vigorously. "And Mr. Potter. I say, my boy, you've put on an inch since the last time I saw you! Growing into quite the capable young man, aren't you? Well, yes, yes, we certainly expect nothing less, given your talents. Been looking forward to this all summer? Of course you have."
Sirius, if you were here, I'd have the courage to hex him. Harry could almost imagine the scowl Sirius would have given the man, and the low growl in the back of his throat normally reserved for Snape. It might have been enough to ward the Minister off, if Sirius had been here. If only…Sirius, I miss you!
"Shouldn't we be running along then?" Tonks asked. She looked downright respectable today, taller than usual, with dark brown hair pulled into a neat bun, wearing a pressed navy blue suit. Did she ever wear robes? "I'm sure you understand, Minister, with things the way they are, we really shouldn't risk keeping young Mr. Potter in too public a location for any length of time. Even one as…secure as the Ministry of magic."
"Oh, nonsense, Miss Tonks, we're perfectly safe--"
"Do pardon me, sir, but I'm sure you'll agree that underestimating He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is a mistake we do not need to be making where Harry Potter's safety is concerned." Harry bit the inside of his mouth hard. She sounded like Professor McGonagall!
At least it had the desired effect on Fudge. "Ahem. No indeed. You're quite right. This way, Harry, let's get this show on the road."
Git git git git git! Harry thought, but followed silently down the Atrium to the place where the Fountain of Magical Brethren had once stood. Now there was an elevated platform surrounded by witches and wizards eagerly awaiting Harry's arrival, and another swarm of reporters—at least these were held safely at bay behind a red velvet rope. The cameras popped wildly as Harry followed Fudge into the frenzy of shouts and cheers.
His friends were waiting for him just in front of the platform, and Harry spied the rest of the Weasleys (minus one), several Hogwarts professors, and other members of the Order scattered among the nearest members of the crowd. Professor Dumbledore, however, was absent. Fudge had not wanted anyone drawing the attention away from himself, it seemed. The Order at least, looked solemn, aware of how much Harry despised this, and Mrs. Weasley gave Harry the barest little smile as he passed her, and raised a finger to lightly nudge her chin up, clearly advising him to do the same. He gave her a little smile back, then went to stand next to Ron. Mr. Weasley, standing tall and dignified beside his wife, winked at them.
"How long've we been here?" he muttered to Ron out of the corner of his mouth.
"Five and a half minutes," Ron mumbled back. On the other side of him, Ginny moaned softly, and it made Harry feel a little better.
Fudge was stepping up onto the platform to "say a few words commending these fine young witches and wizards for their outstanding bravery and service to the magical community," and Harry and the others were at least granted the respite from facing the crowd. On the other hand, they now had to face Fudge. "Ahem. Sonorus Yes, now. First of all, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us here to commemorate this momentous occasion in these troubled times. I consider honoring these heroic young people to be one of the many duties vested in me by the wizarding community as your Minister of Magic!"
He paused, apparently expecting applause, but before the Ministry workers he'd brought with him could do so, they were brought up sharp by a very loud and very…personal…noise, that seemed to come from the platform. Fudge turned an odd shade of purple as a low ripple of muffled laughter went through the crowd. Harry bit the inside of his cheek again, so hard that it bled. Hermione had quietly brought a handkerchief to her mouth, but couldn't hide the way her shoulders shook, and Ron was making odd squeaking noises. On the edge of the platform, Harry spied a small piece of flesh-like substance disappearing from view, and dared a look behind him at the Weasleys. Fred and George were the pictures of innocent dignity at this solemn event. Of course. He turned back and cleared his throat, covering his mouth with his hand to hide a broad grin. I owe them one!
"Ahem. Yes…" Fudge collected himself. "As I was saying, er, we are gathered here today for the rare event of bestowing the Order of Merlin, Third Class on these six young heroes. Mr. Neville Longbottom, Miss Luna Lovegood, Miss Ginny Weasley, Mr. Ronald Weasley, Miss Hermione Granger, and Mr. Harry…"
"Harry! Harry! Harry!" several voices in back began to chant.
Harry wished he could sink through the floor. Fudge smiled and nodded. "Yes indeed, the one we've all been waiting to meet again. Mr. Harry--"
"Harry! Harry! Harry!" more members of the crowd started shouting. "Harry Potter! Harry Potter! Harry Potter!"
"Er, yes, as I was say--"
"HARRY! HARRY! HARRY!" Now half the crowd was at it! "HARRY! HARRY! HARRY!"
"Oh, bugger," Harry muttered. No one could hear him anyway. "Someone kill me now."
"At least it's shutting Fudge up," Ron whispered back, seeing Fudge growing flustered and starting to sweat as the Ministry security officers failed to restore order.
"HARRY! HARRY! HARRY! HARRY!"
Neville had his hands clapped over his ears, and even Luna was looking troubled. Fudge was trying to calm the crowd down so he could continue his speech, but all Harry could see was his mouth moving. Then, somewhere in the crowd, Harry picked out one voice.
"Harry! Oh, Harry!"
It brought him spinning around, whipping his wand out, and the crowd began to silence, startled. Harry scanned frantically through them as the chanting died down. Hermione grabbed his arm. "What're you doing?!"
"She's here," said Harry, not lowering his wand.
Fudge was apparently as dumbstruck as the others, and now the members of the Auror were also searching the faces of the onlookers. "Who's here?" pleaded Hermione, tugging on Harry's shoulder.
Harry knew he hadn't imagined it. He'd know that mocking, babyish, singsong voice until the day he died. Nothing else could make his stomach turn like that. Not even Voldemort. "Bellatrix Lestrange."
The people closest gasped, and now Moody turned, pulling out his own wand. "What did you say?" Harry heard Fudge say behind him.
"Harry, are you sure?" whispered Ginny, coming past Neville to join them.
"She's here," Harry repeated.
"Who?" Fudge cried. "Who's 'she?'"
Might as well say it. "Bellatrix Lestrange," Harry said loudly, causing a wave of gasps through the room as everyone looked around. "She's here." Come out here, you bloody bitch. I may not have been able to get you before, but I will this time.
A cackling laugh brought his head sharply toward one of the fireplaces, and a black-robed figure sprang out, pulling off her mask. "'Ello there, little Harry. Miss me?"
As screams rang out from every direction and people started to run, Harry aimed his wand and roared, "Avad--" but Neville was knocked into him by the stampede, which gave Hermione time to aim and shout, "Stupefy!"
Bellatrix dodged the curse, but as half a dozen red-robed Aurors charged toward her, they were struck by curses from behind. Harry spun around. "Oh no."
With shrieks and yells, figures in black robes poured through the fireplaces all along the Atrium. As Harry grabbed Ginny with one hand, Neville with the other and dove out of the open, shouting at the others to get down, he heard Moody bellow, "Why the devil weren't the fireplaces secured!?"
Fudge's babbled attempt to reply was drowned out in the chaos. "Ron! Ginny! Harry!" Mrs. Weasley cried, grabbing for them. As Harry and his friends gathered around her, she raised her wand and fired a stunner that threw a Death Eater back ten feet.
"We've got to get out of here!" Bill yelled, raising a shielding charm that another curse bounced off of. "To the fireplaces!"
Fortunately, the Death Eaters' attempt to attack in a major public event had the drawback of causing a massive hysterical crowd, which was hampering them as much as the Aurors. But there were a lot of them, and Harry and the Weasley twins were cut off from the others at one point by an Auror being thrown through the air into their midst, followed by a flurry of curses. "Get Potter!" he heard a Death Eater shout. It might have been Malfoy. Had they sprung him from Azkaban already? "Get the boy!"
"Down, Harry!" said Fred, sounding for once deathly serious, and fired a curse over Harry's head at another approaching black robe. But they'd been spotted, and more Death Eaters were converging toward them.
Harry froze in panic when he saw that the rest of the Weasleys, his friends, and several members of the Order were still directly between the Death Eaters and their objective—him. "Fred, George, I need a distraction!"
"I need to draw them away! They're headed straight for your parents!" he shouted. He couldn't see a thing in this mob! He needed to get clear.
Fred stared at him, obviously horrified, but then George gave a sharp nod, reached into his pocket, and then there was an ear-splitting BANG that caused everyone in the vicinity to falter and grab their ears. Confetti rained down, and Harry bellowed in the brief lull, "Come get me then, you bloody bastards!" and bolted away from the Weasleys.
"Harry, no!" he heard Mrs. Weasley cry, but George's shout of, "Mum, come on!" told him they would get their family safely out.
Harry didn't look back, but dashed toward the quieter side of the Atrium as hard as he could, knowing the Death Eaters would follow him. He threw a few stunners over his shoulder and was relieved to see that most of them had broken off their attacks on the bystanders and were giving chase. "Come on, you filthy buggers, come on!"
It sounded like there was an army of them behind him, and he didn't dare look back. Then from someone far down the Atrium, he heard Fred's shout of, "Harry, go!" followed by another loud bang which filled the Atrium with smoke.
Harry coughed and blinked as a gray sphere still emitting smoke rolled past him. He aimed with his wand and sent it rolling back, hoping it would confuse the Death Eaters long enough for him to get out. He couldn't see to throw a curse, but neither could they. But he'd passed the area with the fireplaces! Blimey, I wish I could apparate. He didn't think he'd be able to operate the old visitor's entrance telephone booth fast enough. The running footsteps were still coming, he'd have to hide.
A hand clapped over his mouth, while another pushed his wand hand away. "Mmph!" Harry squeaked in surprise and tried to squirm aside.
"Ssh!" hissed the stranger, and Harry saw enough of the robe sleeve to realize a Ministry worker had found him. "Quick, this way!"
Harry was pushed ahead to a single door along the Atrium wall, which opened as he approached. He needed no urging to dash through, and his rescuer shoved it closed behind them. "Colloportus"
Gasping for breath after choking a little on the smoke, Harry turned around, and the thanks he'd been about to express died on his lips.
To be continued…
The upcoming chapters will delve a little into Percy's mind—from Harry's point of view as they flee for safety—and try to examine what's been going on in our poor Wayward Weasley's head. Oh, and we'll also get a glimpse of Harry's outlook on the wizarding government, the Weasley family, and the events of the past year in general.
Please don't forget to review! Praise, encouragement, and constructive criticism all received with glee! I have thick skin! Hold back nothing!