The British Isle, by a fortuitous intersection of ocean currents and latitude, is seldom called upon to endure the extreme temperatures at either end of the meteorological pendulum. Certainly it rained quite a bit, and there were the odd weeks here and there where the snow fell unexpectedly deep, but by and large the weather was a remarkably well- behaved phenomenon.

However, every now and then Mother Nature threw a wobbler and let all hell break loose. Or, more specifically, opened a doorway to the nether regions themselves and let a blast furnace of heat settle over Europe, then sat back and watched the suffering. Number Four Privet Drive was in no way exempt from these conditions and as July had settled in so too had the heat, leaving the lawns and flowerbed parched, the streets absorbing and radiating the heat back with a gritty, merciless efficiency. By late afternoon, Harry Potter was seriously considering adopting his cousin's method of coping with the relentless heat and flopping down in front of a fan wearing nothing but a pair of cut-off trousers.

Or perhaps not, he reconsidered, glancing sidelong at the vast expanse of pale blubbery flesh currently spread-eagled on the floor of Aunt Petunia's immaculate lounge. He could just imagine his aunt and uncle coming back from their shopping trip to find Dudley lying on the floor. His aunt would most likely jump to the conclusion that her precious son had been laid low by some illness, while his uncle would assume Dudley had been assaulted by his freak of a cousin. They'd be closer to the truth if they considered the possibility that their enormous son had suffered a coronary.

Padding barefoot into the kitchen for another glass of water, Harry decided to leave on the long sleeved shirt he currently wore, though the cuffs were unbuttoned, as was the front and the tails untucked from the voluminous jeans he wore belted tight to his waist. He preferred to leave the shirt on to cover the wand strapped to the inside of his left arm; after the events of his last year of school, his paranoia had reached levels that Alastor Moody would approve.

A grunt of sorts from the lounge brought Harry back from his contemplation of the freezer, wondering if anyone would notice him sticking his head inside of it for an hour or so.

"What?" Harry asked, coming to the doorway of the kitchen.

"Get the door, you freak," Dudley bellowed in a fair imitation of Uncle Vernon, even as another knock came from the front of the house.

"Lazy git," Harry muttered under his breath as he walked past his cousin's impression of a beached whale. Confronted with the front door, he wished for just a moment that Uncle Vernon had bought the type with a window in it when he'd replaced the front door. Really, though, what kind of dark wizard would knock? It was more than likely their neighbor, complaining about the Dursleys violating the hose restrictions again.

That idea went completely out of Harry's head when he pulled open the door and gaped at the wizard on the front stoop.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded rudely, even as he pulled his wand from his sleeve.

Percy Weasley drew himself up to his full Weasley height, and might have been slightly impressive if it weren't for the perspiration drops forming on his face. His cheeks were bright pink as well, and the color clashed rather horribly against his red hair and formal business robes.

"I'm here on official Ministry business, Mr. Potter."

Glancing quickly up and down the street, Harry grabbed the front of those same robes and unceremoniously dragged Percy inside the house.

"Now see here," Percy protested, but Harry ignored him as he shut the door emphatically.

"Very suave, Perce," Harry observed. "Nice attempt to blend."

"As I stated, I'm on Ministry business. Muggle clothing would not be appropriate."

"Bugger appropriate," Harry told him shortly. "What do you want?"

Percy did his best to look down his nose at Harry, but unfortunately Harry had shot up since the last time Percy had seen him, and was now practically eye to eye with him. Before he could speak, Dudley appeared in the hallway.

"Who's he?" Dudley goggled at Percy's robes, torn between fleeing in terror and attempting to enforce the 'no magic' edict instituted by his father. Percy nearly goggled in return at the amount of Dudley on display.

"He's a git named Percy Weasley," Harry muttered. "At least, I think he is. You can't be too careful, right Perce?"

"What?" Percy protested. "Of course I'm Percy Weasley."

"Huh?" Dudley added.

"Well, you never really know, Dudders," Harry elaborated, starting to enjoy himself just a bit. "He could be a dark wizard in disguise." If anyone deserved a hard time, it was Percy Weasley, especially after the way he had treated his family over the past year.

"Now see here," Percy blustered, only to shut his mouth as Harry leveled his wand at Percy's long, narrow nose.

"No, see here. This is a wand. I'm really, really good with it. So you either prove you're not a Death Eater using Polyjuice, or we'll see just how good you are at defensive spells."

"Polyjuice is a restricted potion," Percy told him impatiently. "It's against the law to use."

"Like that means anything," Harry said with a sneer. "I've seen it brewed in the girl's loo at Hogwarts, Percy, IF that's who you are. It's not like it's hard."

"It's exceedingly difficult to produce, and I think you're making it up just like every other story you've invented over the last few years," Percy said hotly.

"Made it up?" Harry was getting quite angry now. "I didn't make up Voldemort blasting away in the Ministry last month, did I?" He leveled his wand at Percy's forehead, making allowances for the inevitable wince at the Dark Lord's name. "Either you prove you're really Percy Weasley or I'm going to use this."

Dudley's head was going back and forth like a spectator at a tennis match, but Harry ignored him.

"How in the name of Merlin do I prove I'm who I say I am?" Percy demanded.

A nasty little smile formed on Harry's face. He would have been appalled to realize he looked quite a bit like Professor Snape just before that gentleman cut some unsuspecting student to the quick, but it likely would not have stopped him asking, "You used to work for Barty Crouch, right? Tell me, what did Crouch use to call you?"

Percy frowned. "He called me Weasley, of course," he replied fatuously.

Harry made a rude noise. "Nope, wrong answer. He never once called you Weasley where I could hear him. He called you something else. What was it?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Percy tried to insist, but Harry wasn't letting him get away with it.

"Last chance, Perce. Give me the right answer, or so help me..."

"You're underage. You'll lose your wand," Percy added, sounding a bit panicked. "You don't dare."

"I'm being hunted by Voldemort," Harry told him in a low voice, ignoring the flinch the name elicited. "I'll take my chances with the Ministry – somehow, I think they'll understand me being a bit suspicious."

Percy's face twisted in distaste and outright hatred, until he bore a striking resemblance to Professor Snape, but his mouth finally opened. "Weatherby, all right? He called me Weatherby."

"There! That wasn't so hard, was it?" Harry asked nonchalantly, putting his wand away. For just a moment, he felt a pang of remorse for bullying Percy. It was only a small pang, however, for he still could not forgive Percy for causing his family so much unhappiness over the past year. It had been Percy's choice to ignore everything his family had told him or stood for, and instead had toed the party line right along with the Ministry in insisting Harry Potter was off his rocker and that the Dark Lord Voldemort had not returned. Harry only regretted he hadn't been there when Percy learned that even the Minister of Magic himself was convinced of Voldemort's resurrection.

"Now, what do you want?"

"I'm here to deliver your provisional O.W.L. results," Percy replied, doing his best to dredge his dignity back into place as he pulled a sealed envelope from his breast pocket of his robes.

"All right," Harry said, taking the envelope. "Wait a minute. What do you mean, provisional?"

"That's the other bit of business," Percy announced loftily. "You are hereby summoned to appear before the Hogwarts Board of Governors, day after tomorrow, at ten o'clock on the morning, to answer an official inquiry regarding the irregularities in the O.W.L. results for your class this year." Another envelope, thinner and longer than the other, appeared from the same pocket.

"What irregularities?" Harry was too busy ripping open the envelope to look at Percy, but he could tell the pompous manner had returned by the tone in his voice.

"The recent fifth year class at Hogwarts received some very odd marks on their O.W.L.'s this year," he said with a sniff. "This has brought the attention of the Board of Governors, and they are looking into the possibility of fraud. Naturally, your name came up."

Harry was busy checking his levels, not entirely sure he was reading the sheet in his hand correctly. Tranfigurations - E, Potions - E, History of Magic - T... that was certainly no surprise, considering he'd fallen asleep in middle of everything and not even finished his exam. "D.A.D.A. – O! That's for Outstanding, right?"

"Yes," Percy told him. "For now, that is."

Something in the young man's smirk sent a warning down Harry's back, but before he could insist on an elaboration, Percy pulled a limp rubber spatula from his robes. "Here is your portkey. It will activate at promptly nine forty-five the day after tomorrow. You will be expected to present yourself before the Board at ten. Don't be late."

"As long as no one changes the time on me, I won't be," Harry shot back. Percy shifted uneasily, but pretended he hadn't heard that parting shot. With a curt nod, he Disapparated, leaving behind only the sharp crack of air rushing into the vacated space.

Harry tucked the summons under his arm while he looked over the results again. An Exceeds Expectations in Potions... he tried to remember what the dour Potions Master had said about the requirements for his N.E.W.T. level potions class, but was distracted when he realized his cousin was still standing in the doorway to the lounge, blocking most of it with his own girth.

"What?" he demanded.

"Those are your O levels, then?" Dudley asked.

The urge to look over his shoulder was overwhelming; surely Dudley could not have been talking to him. It was possibly the most polite tone he'd ever heard out of his cousin's mouth in all the years he'd known him. "O.W.L.s," Harry corrected. "Fifth year examinations."

The pudgy head nodded sagely, as if Harry had performed a trick on command. "Well?"

Again, Harry stifled the urge to look over his shoulder to see who Dudley was really addressing. "I failed History of Magic, but the rest are all right." Harry was puzzled at his cousin's curiosity. "What do you care?"

"Well, you can, you know, change them, right? Can't you? You know," and he made a twinkling movement with his pudgy fingers, "like that?"

Harry looked at the sheet in his hand. It didn't say so, but he was fairly sure the faint glimmer on the parchment was a charm of some sort to prevent any such tampering.

"I doubt it," he told Dudley. "They're probably prepared for kids trying to use magic on things like this. Besides, if you could figure a way around the charm, you probably didn't need to cheat." Hermione Granger could probably figure a way around the charm, but knowing his brainy friend, she not only would object to doing so from a moral standpoint, she probably scored O's across the board and would have no incentive to do any such thing.

Dudley's face fell, and Harry realized that his cousin had probably already received his O levels and hadn't shown them to his parents. The thought briefly puzzled him, knowing how indulgent the Dursleys were, before he realized that the marks were probably quite bad if Dudders was worried that his father was likely to go starkers about them.

"You know I can't use magic to change my grades," Harry warned him in an apologetic tone. Dudley nodded as though he had expected that answer, but his expression revealed the exact opposite.

"So that's it, then?"

"Well," Harry hedged, "I'm supposed to go see the Board of Governors in two days." Pulling the other envelope from under his arm. The missive, when he opened it, did not elaborate any further than Percy had, merely requiring his presence due to irregularities in the O.W.L. scores.

"So how did you cheat on the test then?" Dudley asked.

"I didn't cheat," Harry shot back, feeling his temper flare. "DADA is my best subject."

"Dada?" A familiar smirk spread across Dudley's fat lips. "Do you have a mama class, too?"

"Defense Against the Dark Arts," Harry told him coldly. "Like that Dementor you met in the alley last year. Remember that?"

Dudley swallowed loudly. "Defense... against things like that?"


A heavy frown replaced the smirk as Dudley worked through that idea. "You have a lot of things like that, where you go to school?"

"The school is usually safe," Harry managed to unbend slightly. "It's out in the real world that you can get in serious trouble."

A thought seemed to be forming beneath the thick thatch of blond hair on Dudley's head, and was apparently painful as it came to the surface. "That man you're afraid of – Lord Whatsit."

"Voldemort," Harry supplied, wondering where his cousin was going with this.

"Yeah, him. Is he as bad as those dementing things?"

"They follow him, Dudley. He provides them with food, so they do what he says."

"But.. you said – you said they eat your soul."


"Then.." Dudley's face screwed up as he tried to add the two facts together. "He gives them people to eat?"

"I suppose so. He's a murderer, Dudders. Two years ago I saw him kill a classmate of mine. He's killed lots of people, including my parents."

"I thought they died in a car crash," Dudley said, confused.

"That's what Aunt Petunia told everyone, but that's a lie. They were killed. By Voldemort."

Because of me, he thought. Because I'm supposed to be able to kill him. Because I'll have to kill him, or he'll never stop.

Harry didn't elaborate any further; his cousin was having a hard enough time wrapping his brain around the concept of wizards fighting each other. Besides giving a credible impression of Gregory Goyle at his most dense, Dudley looked as though he might come down with a heat stroke if he were forced to use his brain any harder than he already had that day.


Two days later Harry had brushed the wrinkles from the longest set of robes he owned, made a mental note to visit Madame Malkins' when he visited Diagon Alley for school supplies next month, and did his best to tame the thatch of black hair on the back of his head that refused to lay flat. At nine forty-three he grasped the rubber spatula, double-checked his wand was firmly seated in the cheap leather watchband he used to keep it strapped to his arm, and took a deep breath.

When the portkey activated, he tried to ignore the nausea and memories the hooking sensation behind his navel gave him (Kill the spare!) and waited for the world to stop spinning. After a moment the three copies of Ron Weasley's face became one, and split into an enormous grin.

"Harry! We've been waiting for you!"

A cloud of brown hair blocked his face as Hermione Granger enveloped him in a hug. He thought she constituted the rest of the 'we' but when she released him he was greeted by a double handful of his classmates.

"We've all be talking while waiting for you, Harry," Hermione began as she and Ron flanked him on each side and began to walk him swiftly down the corridor. "I realize Professor Dumbledore probably asked that you not be brought in too early, but it really is too bad; I wanted to talk to you about what we're going to say."

Harry frowned at her, trying to keep up with her rapid-fire words as well as her swift pace; they were all hurrying around corners and down several hallways. Everyone seemed to know where they were going except him; even Neville Longbottom was ahead of him and seemed impatient for him to keep up.

"Professor Dumbledore's been delayed, somehow," Ron added. "He's sent McGonagall instead. We expect Fudge had something to do with that, but until he shows up we're on our own."

"We'll be fine," Hermione insisted. "Just stick to the plan."

Harry would given a lot to know exactly what the plan was, but there was no more time to discuss it. Halfway down the last hallway, Harry spied the familiar stuffed vulture and pea-green dress Neville's grandmother wore nearly everywhere she went.

"Do hurry, Neville," ordered the formidable witch, greeting Harry and the others with a barely perceptible nod. "We're ready to start."

"Neville's gran is on the board of Governors for Hogwarts," Ron whispered in an aggrieved tone, glaring at Neville. "She's the one who the put up a fuss because Neville got such a good score on his O.W.L."

The pudgy boy shrugged, embarrassed, and led the way into the chamber.

Unlike the Wizengamot hearing Harry attended the year before, this chamber was smaller, but no less impressive. Twelve witches and wizards sat in chairs on a small raised dais at one end of the room. Several more sat in the spectator's galley at the other end, most noticeably Ron's mum, Minerva McGonagall, and several of the teachers from Hogwarts. Harry and his fellow students clustered in the center of the room, looking about uncertainly.

Except for Hermione, of course, who was speaking rapidly and urgently to Susan Bones and Neville. She quieted when the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge entered the room, followed by Percy Weasley and another wizard Harry didn't know. Fudge and Percy joined the Governors, exchanging greetings and handshakes like Father Christmas giving out sweets. After a few minutes everyone settled down and turned their attention to the students before them.

"We are here today," Fudge began, "to address the irregularities in regards to the results of the most recent O.W.L. examinations administered at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry." He paused importantly, exchanging significant glances to the wizards on either side of him before staring down at the young people.

"Well?" he demanded.

"Well, what?" Hermione answered back coolly.

"Miss Granger," Fudge said in a puzzled voice, "your presence was not required here today. May I ask why you decided to thrust yourself into this proceeding?"

"I'm afraid I can't answer that," she replied, "except to say I learned of this by corresponding with a fellow student. I thought I'd come along and lend my support."

Harry was just as puzzled as Fudge, but the Minister settled for giving Hermione a suspicious look before motioning to Percy.

Smoothing his hair down, Percy stood and rattled the parchment in his hands. "The fifth-year class at Hogwarts were almost universal in their poor Defense Against the Dark Arts scores," Percy announced. "However, certain individuals who were expected to perform poorly instead received scores far above their perceived abilities." Neville cringed slightly at this, but stuck his hands in his pockets and didn't say anything as Percy continued.

"The Ministry and the illustrious Board of Governors would be amiss if they did not address this obvious example of fraud. Therefore, the students suspected of these actions have been brought here this morning to explain themselves."

"Fathead," muttered Ron, just barely loud enough to be heard. In the gallery Molly Weasley made an exasperated noise, but it was hard to tell which of her sons that noise had been intended for.

"All right, then," Fudge continued, waving Percy to his seat. "What do you have to say for yourselves?"

Swallowing, Harry looked at his friends, wondering what they were supposed to confess. Hermione, however, did not hesitate.

"We have nothing to say," she responded in a loud, clear voice.

"What-what's this?" Fudge stammered. "What did you say?"

"We have nothing to say," Hermione repeated. "As long as Educational Decree number Twenty-four as instituted by the High Inquisitor Delores Umbridge remains in effect, we, the previous fifth-year students, have no response to your accusations."

This announcement created a small stir among the governors, and apparently caused a pain in the Minister's ample belly, judging by the expression on his face. One of the witches on the board, an older woman Harry had never met before, leaned forward.

"Delores Umbridge is no longer in a position of authority at Hogwarts," she told Hermione in a reasonable voice. "There's no longer any reason to worry about the decrees."

"I'm beg to differ, ma'am, but there is," Hermione replied seriously. "I've checked the bylaws of Hogwarts charter and past Ministry decrees thoroughly. While the individual may no longer holds the office, the decrees are still in effect."

The attention of the entire room was now centered completely on the slim girl with her wild crop of brown hair, and she stood firmly up to that scrutiny, her fingers laced together in front of her.

"If any student confesses to a violation of any of the Educational Decrees, or any part thereof, you would be within your rights to have us expelled. However, if an accusation of cheating cannot be proved, the harshest punitive action the board can take is to disallow our results completely. It won't count as a bad grade, it simply won't count at all.

"So, we respectfully decline to answer any questions on this subject."

In the absolute silence that followed Hermione's words, Fudge simply sat and blinked at her.

"Now, see here," he began in a reasonable tone. "No one here is looking to expel you," he said, chuckling a bit at the very idea.

"You were certainly eager enough to expel Harry Potter last summer," Hermione replied.

Fidgeting visibly, Fudge harrumphed and looked around the Board for support. He found none; the others looked remarkably interested in what his response would be to this challenge posed by a fifteen-year-old girl.

"I daresay we're not concerned about any decrees here. We've only come here to address the issue of the O.W.L. results."

None of the students replied to this. Neither did the Board.

"The decrees instituted by the interim Headmistress of Hogwarts are expected to be revoked next week," Fudge told the assembly, an air of desperation beginning to creep into his voice. "It won't be an issue."

"That does us no good at all," Hermione pointed out. "Repealing a law does not mean that a confession of breaking that law during its enforcement will not be punished."

Finally, the Minister caved in completely. "All right, Miss Granger. What, exactly, do you want?"

"I want assurance that no student or former student of Hogwarts will be held accountable for having broken any part of the Decrees," she answered promptly.

"You have my word," Fudge replied wearily. "Can we get on with this?"

"You're offering complete amnesty for any student who violated the Educational Decree?"

He nodded and waved one hand in an irritated, dismissive gesture. "Yes, of course."

"Can I have that in writing?"

Fudge was practically smoking at the ears by now, but he imperiously demanded a sheet of parchment and quill from his assistant. He scribbled on is furiously for a moment, stabbing the quill into the bottle Percy held, making it slop all over the younger wizard's fingers. Hermione contributed a helpful phrase here and there, until Fudge signed the document with a frenzied flourish and thrust it at the girl, nearly smearing the ink in the process.

"Will that do?" he demanded as she read it over.

"Perfectly," she told him sweetly. She blew on it gently and carefully rolled it into a large cylinder before turning towards Harry expectantly.

"Okay, Harry."

"What?" Harry replied, confused. He'd been perfectly happy watching the Minister of Magic being worked over by a Muggle-born witch who wasn't even of age. This was not part of what he was expecting.

"Your turn."

"Me?" he repeated.

"You. You're the leader of the D.A.," she pointed out sensibly.

With a push from Ron, Harry shuffled forward uncertainly. A long-suffering look appeared on Fudge's round, florid face.

"I thought it might come to this. Well, Mr. Potter, what tale do you plan to spin today?"

"No stories," Harry replied slowly. It's just -- nobody cheated, least of all Neville. They all deserved to get an Outstanding, or at least an Exceeds Expectations."

"Then how can you explain twenty Outstanding scores among your best friends, Mr. Potter," Fudge demanded, regaining a bit of ire in his voice, "while the rest of your class were lucky to scrape up D's?"

"Because -- I taught them."

"You?" Fudge snorted. "You taught what, exactly?"

"Defense Against the Dark Arts. We formed a study group of sorts. Umbridge found our roster, the D.A. It really stood for Defense Association, but we called ourselves Dumbledore's Army because – well, we thought it was funny."

Nobody laughed, but several members of the Board leaned towards each other, their low comments undecipherable.

Fudge looked as though he were slowly being filled with hot water. "Why would you form an independent study group when such a thing had been forbidden?" he demanded.

"Well, Umbridge's classes were rubbish, weren't they?" Harry asked. "Nobody was learning anything. We had to do something. So we did."

Mrs. Longbottom moved forward to the edge of her seat, staring at Harry intently. "You're saying the Ministry appointed teacher was inadequate?"

Harry's face twisted as he tried to find an appropriate euphemism for the first colorful words that sprang to mind. "The classes were a nightmare. It was nothing but reading theory. We never discussed anything, and we were never allowed to cast the spells."

"Just because you weren't throwing spells left, right, and center," protested Fudge.

Harry cut him off. "Ever. We were never allowed to use our wands. Not once."

"Supposedly the theory would let us cast the spells properly for our exams, but of course we'd never need to cast any outside our exams since there weren't any threats to be prepared against," Hermione added. "No Lord Voldemort, no Death Eaters."

Her voice was perfectly respectful, but the words dropped like rocks in the otherwise silent room. Everyone who came into the Ministry these days still shied past the missing golden statue in the lobby as quickly as possible, and the return of the Dark Lord was on the front page of the Daily Prophet on a regular basis.

Fudge shuddered when Hermione mentioned the Dark Lord's name, but doggedly kept his focus on the subject at hand. "So, you're saying all of you learned your defense spells from Harry Potter."

The group of students nodded as one.

"I don't suppose you can prove it," he challenged.

Harry stared back at the Minister before calling over his shoulder. "Hermione. Cast a Rictusempra at Ron. Ron – block it."

The spell was barely out of Hermione's mouth before Ron had drawn his wand and thrown up a Protego spell. The curse bounced off and dissipated against the wall.

"Lavender," Harry called out. "Incarcerous. Padma – Silencio."

The Indian girl cast her spell a fraction of a second before her best friend, and Lavender's voice shut off in mid-spell.

In quick succession, Harry called out to the members of the D.A. to cast the spells he'd drilled them on, and one after another they each cast them. Some of them were missing their usual partners; Ginny Weasley was in a different year than her ex-boyfriend so Michael Corner had to partner with Anthony Goldstein, but each of his students were unhesitating as he snapped out spells and their counter-measures.

They performed flawlessly, and were understandably flushed with pride as Harry reached the last student. Neville waited nervously, a tight grip on his wand. Feeling reckless but invincible, Harry decided to go for the brass ring.

"Neville," he called evenly. "Cast a Patronus."

The boy flinched. "Harry," he hissed in protest. "I never got that one!"

"I know you can do it, Neville. You watched my back all the way through the Ministry that night. You know you can do it."

"Remember your happy thought," Hermione prompted. "Remember how you felt when you saw your O.W.L. scores!"

The round chin grew determined, and Neville nodded at Harry. His face screwed up with concentration, and a moment later his wand slashed through the air decisively.

"Expecto Patronum!"

A great silver blob erupted from Neville's wand, shimmered, and spread out into wings. The enormous bird flapped mightily, banking sharply in the limited space, and then landed with a silent ungainly thump onto the flagstone floor.

Ugly and bald, the vulture's head turned from side to side, glaring at the assembled board of governors with a defiance reminiscent of the ever- unpopular Professor Snape. Even its hooked beak looked a bit like the grim Potions Master, but its beady eyes were pure silver and the fluffy feathers ringing its neck were nearly incandescent.

Stunned, Neville nearly dropped his wand.

Harry wasn't sure who started applauding, but he was one of the first who crowded around Neville, patting him on the back and congratulating him. The students were loud and boisterous, but the governors were busy talking among themselves and made no attempt to halt the youngsters' celebration. It wasn't until the door of the hearing room opened and Professor Dumbledore stepped within that they quieted down.

The Headmaster closed the door behind him and smiled genially. He made no move towards either the gallery or the board, but remained near the students, his hands clasped behind him, his face composed in mild inquiry.

"Well," managed Mrs. Longbottom. She cleared her throat, but her voice had developed an unusual rasp to it. "I believe these students have adequately demonstrated their grasp of the subject. I withdraw my objection, and suggest the O.W.L. scores stand."

"Seconded," came another voice, the witch who had first addressed Hermione. "I'd also like to take this moment to suggest a review of Educational Decree number 24, this notion that the Ministry should be allowed to appoint instructors at Hogwarts."

"Now – wait just one moment!" Fudge objected, but he was quickly drowned out. The voices began to raise louder and louder, until Dumbledore moved forward through the students and lifted one hand for silence.

"The Hogwarts governors obviously have business to discuss," he began in a moderate tone. "Perhaps we should let these young people enjoy the rest of their day."

That notion was quickly approved, and Harry and the others found themselves outside the hearing room in no time at all. Dumbledore gave him a wink just as he closed the door. Harry shot him a grin before turning to the other students and found them all waiting for him, an expectant look on their faces.

For one second, Harry had no idea what they wanted from him, but something that might have been more than just force of habit prompted an idea into his head.

"Let's go to Fortesque's for ice cream," he suggested.

A hearty cheer rose up at this idea, and Harry soon found himself leading the group through the ministry halls to the Floo corridor. Ron and Hermione were at his side, the D.A. at his back... for just one moment in time, he felt that all was right with the world.