Disclaimer: I'm looking into a rent-to-own plan, but for now, not mine.
A/N: Ah, I had this big apology/explaination planned, but it was really long, and nobody wants to read that anyway. Suffice it to say that life is crappy sometimes and difficult chapters always seem to come when it is. Or maybe it's just crappy life that makes writing harder… I dunno. This chapter may be subject to changes (hopefully minor) in the future. It's taken so long that I just wanted to get it up.
Warning: Some slightly different points-of-view in here. I don't think it's confusing, but I'm the writer, I wouldn't know. Tell me if it's unclear.
"What the bloody hell is this supposed to be?" Harry growled as he paced his small home. Simon and Hedwig watched him, and while Hedwig seemed concerned, Simon appeared almost amused.
"That's it. I'm going to Dumbledore," he huffed just before slamming the door. A sad sounding whine made him open it again and let Simon out with a quick apology. The dog loved Hagrid, and any chance to see his giant friend would be delightful for them both. The thought almost made him smile, until Simon nuzzled the expensive piece of gold and silver embossed parchment crushed in his palm. With renewed fury he all but ran up to Hogwarts. Harry barely noticed Simon leave his side to trot towards Hagrid's hut as he took a deep breath and walked in the front doors.
Voices from the Great Hall reminded him that it was still early and he hadn't had breakfast, yet. Not that he had food on his mind at the moment, but the smell of those Hogwarts eggs made his stomach growl at his inattention. He started to march in and stopped when he saw more than only the Headmaster seated at a small round table. It never occurred to him that the other professors might enjoy their morning meals in the Great Hall as well, even though few were there for the summer.
Suddenly feeling awkward, he cleared his throat loudly. He thought of knocking on the doorframe, but that was just too strange for the large room.
"Ahh, Harry, I was wondering when we would see you this morning. Care to sit for a bite?" Dumbledore asked with a smile. Harry scowled at the fact that the old man knew, he always knew, even when it was something as simple as him missing breakfast.
"Thank you, Profes – Albus. I was wondering if I could have a word with you… perhaps when you're finished eating? I don't want to interrupt your meal." Like swimming hippogriffs I don't! Harry thought impatiently, but he tried to keep his temper under control.
"Oh, you will not have to wait if you don't mind including Minerva, Severus, Filius, Pomona, and Poppy. It is, of course, up to you, Harry."
The amused attitude of everyone, excluding Snape, in the room was only making him more irritated by the minute. He figured he should get this going sooner than later. He hadn't thought of anything specific to ask, though, so he just took the crumpled sheaf out of his clenched hand and slammed it on the table.
"What is that-that… Minister on about?" he ground out, feeling very proud that he hadn't resorted to any name-calling… yet.
His face contorted with rage as he read the missive once more.Our Esteemed Mr. Potter,
It is with great privilege that I, Cornelius Oswald Fudge, Minister of Magic, invite you, Harry James Potter, to the First Annual Celebration of Light as the Guest of Honor. We will celebrate the beginning of a new era of peace and prosperity, as well as acknowledge those who gave us this newfound freedom. Please see below for a brief schedule.
An opportunity to exchange greetings will begin at six thirty on the evening of July the thirty-first.
Dinner will begin at seven o'clock, prepared by only the most qualified house elves in the magical community.
Tribute: Harry Potter, a Life of Light will be given at eight o'clock.
The ceremonial awarding of Orders of Merlin will take place at nine o'clock where you will receive an Order of Merlin First Class and the first "Inlustris sideris" honor for performing actions above and beyond the level of any of Merlin's Orders.
It will be a pleasure to see you on such a joyous occasionYour respectful Minister of Magic,
Cornelius Oswald Fudge
Harry jerked his head up at the sound of Snape's angry voice.
"Is this not extravagant enough for you, Potter?" Snape spat. The look on
his face was one of anger and distaste, but Harry thought he could sense something else hidden behind the annoyed mask.
"Wh-what are you talking about? You know I hate this stuff!" he sputtered back. He didn't understand. He and Snape had been getting along much better recently. It had been a long time since he'd heard the venom and true disdain in the Professor's voice.
Without responding beyond a glare, the older wizard left the hall and slammed the large door. Everyone was silent for a few minutes. Harry was confused and hurt, his annoyance at the announcement forgotten for a time.
"I don't understand," he said in a small voice. "I thought he finally" -respected me- "tolerated me."
"Give him time. His own announcement was somewhat lacking, I'm afraid," said Dumbledore with a shake of the head.
Harry's head snapped up at that. "He wasn't invited?!"
"You misunderstand me. Yes, he was invited; however, the committee is
still deliberating on the status of his award."
Understanding finally dawned on Harry. "They're not going to give him one because of his past, are they?" He didn't wait for an answer before continuing. "Do they know what he did? Do they know that I'd be dead and Voldemort would still be here if not for him? Do they understand anything?" He was fuming by this time and tried to calm himself. "Who else will not be recognized?"
"I know that Minerva, Filius, and I are to be awarded, as well as Mr. Weasley and Ms. Granger. Those are the only people of which I am aware at this time."
"So, Remus won't be awarded either?" Harry snapped.
Dumbledore looked sad and somewhat angry as he replied, "Unfortunately, only wizards are entitled to this award. I know, Harry, that he is a wizard like you or me, but he is still seen as only one thing in this world, no matter how wrong we think it is."
Harry couldn't hold it in anymore. He was so angry he could taste it. His vision began to blur with the rage he felt and his body heated to an extremely uncomfortable level. He knew he needed to calm down or release some energy before he hurt himself or the others in the room.
All at once, several golden plates and goblets cracked and melted on
the table. Some of his energy gone, he sat down, tried to remember standing, let it go, and dropped his head onto his arms.
"I'm sorry, sir," he whispered.
The others in the room seemed to let out their breaths simultaneously.
He felt guilty that he had scared them, but his anger was still strong enough to push the guilt out of mind.
"Quite understandable, dear boy. I'm proud to see that you have more
control of your outbursts than in past years."
Harry looked up and saw Dumbledore smiling and thought of Aunt Marge. He laughed self-deprecatingly, "Yes, well, I'm not sure it would have been so
controlled if our esteemed Minister was here."
"Be that as it may, you have a full two weeks to calm yourself and prepare for the ceremony," said Dumbledore with a small smile and suspiciously returning twinkle.
"I'm not going to the blasted ceremony," Harry grumbled like a petulant child. He knew he would go, but he had to put up some sort of argument first. It was just his way.
"I hope you will reconsider. Don't think of this as a political stunt for the Minister or the publicity that will undoubtedly come your way; instead think of the people out there who look up to you."
"Look up to me…?"
"Naturally, and they need a chance to celebrate their heroes. There has not been an official celebration of the end of the war, yet, and the public finds that disquieting. They take it as a sign that all is not finished. The people need closure, and only you and the Ministry can provide that."
Harry sighed. He'd already made up his mind, he just didn't like his mind very much at the moment. "Alright, I'll go, but you have to help me with Fudge. If he pulls anything… well, maybe I'll just send him one of those melted goblets as a preview," he smirked. He knew he was being a bit cocky, but he couldn't help it when it came to the pompous git. "I'm sorry for overreacting like that, but I just…"
"We know, Mr. Potter," said Professor McGonagall with a tight smile. "Have no worries; we'll all be there to dilute the rancid rubbish he decides to spew –"
Thank you, Minerva," Dumbledore interrupted. "Now, Harry, did you need help with anything else?"
"No, sir. Thank you all for, er, listening to me… Ah, Albus?" Harry asked uncertainly, still finding it odd to use the man's first name. Dumbledore looked up and indicated for him to go on. "Could you maybe – what I mean is, do you think Professor Snape will," get over it, see it's not my fault, not want to spit on me next time I see him, "be busy next week?"
"Severus likes to keep himself occupied, but I'm sure he'll have time to meet with you." Dumbledore looked confident that Snape would see Harry, but then again, the old wizard rarely looked anything but confident and knowledgeable.
"Thanks, I need to talk to him about the Wolfsbane potion." Maybe he'll talk to me civilly again by then. I hope he doesn't go back on making the potion for Michael because of his contempt for me, Harry thought.
He left the castle and slowly walked home. The time had slipped by without his notice, and he cursed rushing to the hospital. He had only little over an hour before work.
By the time he reached Remus's room, Harry was panting. He flopped down on a chair next to the bed and poured himself a glass of water, then another once he drained the first.
"Were you chased?" Remus asked in amusement.
Harry snorted, a bit of his irritation leaving him now that he was in Remus's calming presence. "No, but I have to work in a bit, and I wanted to see you first. Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to see you today."
"It's alright, Harry. I understand that you have a life to live. I don't expect you to sit in a hospital during all your free time."
"What? No, I wanted to come. This isn't a chore, Remus; you know that." Apparently, not all the irritation was gone. It was the letter's fault that he was late getting to the hospital and missed time with Remus. "Er, sorry for sniping at you. It's been a long day."
Remus smiled, pulled Harry's hand up to his chest, and held it there for a moment, rubbing soothingly on a tender spot at the base of his thumb. A few minutes later, Harry felt much more relaxed.
"No need to apologize, Harry. I can tell you are very stressed right now. Care to tell me what it is?"
"I got this today," Harry said, hading the invitation over.
Remus read it quickly, but didn't comment right away. Harry thought he saw something in his guardian's face for just a moment, but it was gone too quickly to be sure what it was. Then Remus was smiling at him again.
"I'm so proud of you, Harry. I know how you feel about Minister Fudge, but don't let his presence ruin this for you. You deserve to be honored, never doubt that."
"You deserve it too…" Harry said quietly. This time he caught the quick pained expression on Remus's face before it was, once again, brutally shoved aside for a reassuring smile.
"I have your acceptance, Harry. It means more to me than you know."
"I know, Remus, but it's still stupid. You've done so much more than –"
"Harry, please! I don't want to discuss it anymore," Remus stated with finality. It was the firmest tone he'd used since he'd been back, and Harry instantly felt bad for saying anything.
The awkward silence was broken by a nurse bringing Remus's afternoon potions. Harry wasn't sure what else to say, plus he had to get going or be late for work, so he gave Remus a hug and headed for the door.
"I'm sorry I brought it up, Remus. I'll see you tomorrow, ok? Get some sleep."
"See you later, Harry. Thanks for dropping by."
It felt good to be back at work that night. The hectic pace and noisy atmosphere helped him keep his mind off of the dinner. He was angry that his birthday had turned into a day to dread this year, instead of the fun, private party he'd hoped to have. His anger dissipated once Ginny, Ron, and Hermione showed up near closing time. They had a few drinks, probably a few too many, but Harry felt much better about the upcoming celebration afterwards.
"Harry, are you alright?" Hermione asked after his fourth 'Spinning pixie,' a new drink he'd learned that night.
He turned slightly glazed eyes towards her and grinned. "I'm perfefly fine, Hermy. How are you on this… this… fluffy evening?"
Hermione and Ginny giggled at him, while Ron was enthralled watching a charmed ice-fish swim circles in his glass. The girls had been sipping on the same drinks all night, so they were in much better shape than their boys, who were just getting sillier by the minute. Hermione and Ginny didn't try to stop them, however, because they'd come here to try and cheer Harry up. After receiving their own invitations to the Ministry party, they knew Harry would be in one of his darker moods. So, when Madam Rosmerta had suggested they sit down and try some of Harry's mixing, Hermione and Ginny agreed as long as the other two didn't get out of control. The proprietress was having a grand time watching the four teens. She cherished any moment that Harry let himself go even a little and wasn't blind to the fact that it only happened in the presence of his friends and no one else. She felt a strange sense of pride, knowing that Harry could relax in front of her as well.
"I think I'll put this away for the night," Rosie said as Harry reached for more of his drink.
Harry pouted cutely, "But Rosie, I'ven't tried all flavors, yet."
"You can try the others next time, Harry. I'm not going to let you drink yourself sick. You have to work tomorrow, remember?" She winked at the girls.
"You're right. I'm sorry, Rosie." Harry stood up and attempted to straighten himself out, but he found that he was considerably more wobbly then when he sat down two hours earlier.
"Did someone take the bones outta my legs?" he asked in confusion, which only grew as the girls laughed at him. His only consolation was that Ron didn't look much better. Glancing around, he found his eyes to be strangely slowed as well.
"Come on, you slobs. Let's get you home, Harry. Rosie, do you have a sobering potion?" Ginny asked.
"No!" Harry protested. He couldn't remember what he felt like before, but he knew it wasn't as good as his current state, and he wanted to hold onto it a while longer. "Please, just a little?" he asked, unaware of the fact that the question didn't completely make sense.
Ginny looked at his ruffled close and even more mussed up hair than usual. Those combined with the shiny green eyes broke her. With a smile she conceded, "Alright, Harry. We'll get a dose of the potion to take home and you can take it later."
Harry grinned and pulled her into a spontaneous dip. "Thank you my beautiful Ginny-pop!"
"Harry!" she squealed. "Let me go before you make us both fall!"
He pulled her up and kissed her hand like a gentleman. Madam Rosmerta shooed them out the door with a laugh, and the girls led their respective men to Harry's house.
Simon greeted them with a whine, as if he could sense something was wrong with Harry and Ron. It took a good fifteen minutes for the four of them to convince him otherwise. After that Harry, Ron, and Simon played a very interesting game of tag in the backyard. Hermione and Ginny were trying to figure out the rules, if there were any, when the boys got hungry and decided a movie with popcorn would be fun. They didn't make it twenty minutes in before passing out on the floor next to each other. Hermione and Ginny grinned and enjoyed the rest of their sappy romantic comedy curled up on the couch together.
"I'm glad we did this tonight," said Ginny.
"So am I. Harry gets too stressed about things. Even though I don't think those two should drink often – I'd go mad baby-sitting them all the time – it was fun, wasn't it." They laughed again. "Well, we should wake them to take the sobering potion before they sleep through the night."
Harry hardly registered the fact that he woke up, took a potion, and moved to his bed before falling asleep again.
Harry woke then next morning feeling much better than he had the previous day. He showered and donned his most impressive-looking robes and flooed to the Ministry. Charming the dust and soot off himself, he remembered that he needed to ask Madam Pomfrey when he'd be allowed to apparate. Of course, it was hard to ask her anything when he was avoiding going to see her. He was sure that she would catch up with him at some point and just set up an appointment for him, considering it had been well over a week since they were supposed to meet. Harry wasn't really trying to avoid the nurse, but he hadn't exactly gone out of his way to get checked out either. In the small hours of the morning or when he was feeling ill, he worried that his sickness was getting worse. But in the light of day and during good times, he just assumed that he was being extra negative those other times.
Harry took a deep breath, clearing his mind of anything not directly related to his visit, and set off toward the Minister's office.