The Prime Minister shook his head wearily and tried once more to make sense of the Ministry of Defence report that lay on his desk. His fruitless efforts were interrupted by a sudden flash of green flames in the empty fireplace from which a spinning figure emerged. Ah, just the chap to explain this, thought the Prime Minister, looking up expectantly. But to his surprise it was not the Minister of Magic at all. Instead, a thin, bespectacled, balding man, whose most remarkable feature was the bright red colour of his remaining hair, stepped from the grate, brushing ash from his tattered, long, green robes, which looked much the worse for wear.
"Who the devil are you?" demanded the Prime Minister, leaping from his seat. "Why were you not properly announced by the little froggy fellow in the painting over there?"
"Err, sorry about that, Mr Prime Minister. Terribly sorry, sir … err, new to the job and all that, haven't quite caught up on all the protocol yet, but —"
"Err … dead, unfortunately. He was killed by —"
"Err, do you mean He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?"
"Yes, yes, He-Who-Whatever-His-Name-Is. It was him, wasn't it?"
"Yes, Prime Minister, it was."
"Then you are the new Minister of Magic, I suppose?" queried the Prime Minister, looking doubtfully at the scruffy individual standing uncomfortably before him.
"Well, err, yes, sort of — Acting Minister of Magic, actually. Arthur Weasley's the name, sir," he said, holding out his hand and smiling enthusiastically.
"Weasley? Where on earth do these people get these ridiculous names?" he muttered under his breath, before gingerly shaking the proffered hand and resuming his seat behind his impressively large desk. "Have a seat, Weasley," he added, waving his guest towards the visitor's chair.
Arthur Weasley sat awkwardly. "Look, I don't mean to be rude, Mr Prime Minister, but I really can't stay very long. I've just come to introduce myself, really, and to assure you that everything is under control. I must get back to the Ministry of Magic immediately; my goodness, you have no idea of the state things are in. It will take months to get everything back onto a proper footing. And then there are all those Death Eaters to be charged and tried —"
"I was hoping you might be able to explain this to me," said the Prime Minister, picking up the report from his desk and waving it under Weasley's nose. "It's from General Fotheringay-Eccleston, the commander of the SAS. Two days ago, his troops finally found Stonehenge, only to discover some kind of crazy country dance in progress. Before they could shoot anyone, they found themselves frozen and unable to move, and they were forced to watch a most unnatural display. To use the general's precise words: 'There were several hundred weirdo-hippy-degenerate-types in medieval fancy dress, dancing what appeared to be the tango — many of them were disgusting poofs who were dancing with each other.' He goes on to say that some of the freaks who were not dancing walked around pointing sticks at the dancers, making them disappear. His men were unable to move until all the weirdoes were gone. All that was left was a small ferret, cowering behind one of the enormous stones. Apparently, it led his men a merry chase before being finally caught and caged. The men enjoyed the sport so much that they decided to adopt it as their company mascot."
"Yes, well, it was all a bit chaotic really, Prime Minister. You see, the wards and all the disillusionment charms were removed to allow the Order in to arrest all the Death Eaters. We completely forgot about those Muggle chappies with their big sticks, err … what do you call them?"
"Guns," said the Prime Minister, shaking his head despairingly.
"Guns? Is that what you call those things? How fascinating. I've always wondered how they work. Err, well, anyway, we were so busy with the Death Eaters that we didn't have time to memory-charm the chaps with the, err … big sticky things. But don't worry, we'll send some Oblivators around to make them forget all about it."
"These Death Eaters, as I recall, are He-Who-Done-It's henchmen. Does this mean the terrible villain has been defeated?" he asked hopefully.
"Yes, indeed. In fact, he's dead — completely dead."
"Completely dead?" asked the Prime Minister hesitantly. Was there any other way of being dead, he wondered.
"Oh, yes," replied Weasley enthusiastically. "He's definitely dead. He won't need to be killed again — ever!"
"Wonderful, wonderful!" said the Prime Minister, his face lighting up. "So was it that boy? Harry what's-his-name?"
"Harry Potter? Yes it was, Prime Minister. As you can imagine, he is quite the hero of our world. He saved us all — and you Muggles, too."
"And what about those dreadful misdemeanours, which make everyone feel miserable — and then blame the government?"
"Dementors? Oh, they were all destroyed at Twickenham, sir, last week."
"Ah, I was sure your lot must have been involved. Of course, the bible bashers have been having a bit of a field day. The Catholics got most of the Irish spectators, of course, but it's been a bit of an unholy free-for-all for the souls of the English fans. The evangelists have been telling them that those terrible things they felt — but couldn't see — were Satan's hordes, which where driven away by the angels of the Lord. They're claiming it was a miracle. And then, there was that terrible disaster at Heathrow, with the planes crashing —"
"Err … yes, look … I'm terribly sorry, Prime Minister, about the appalling loss of life; it was all You-Know-Who's doing."
"Yes, of course, I guessed as much after Fudge's warning. Naturally, all the terrorist groups immediately claimed responsibility: Hezbollah, the PLO, the Real IRA, and so on; and every bunch on the loony fringe put their hands up too. There were the Anti-Vivisectionist Vegan Vanguard, the Welsh Liberation Lobby, the Foxhunting Abolitionists, and on and on. It was all rather fortunate really."
"Fortunate?" asked Arthur uncomprehendingly.
"Well, of course. I decided to stay out of it and let them slog it out for the limelight in front of the television cameras. And, of course, everyone thinks the same people must have been behind the Stonehenge bombing, so we're off the hook on that one too … it's all rather convenient really."
"But surely, Prime Minister, you are going to tell them the truth? Well, maybe not about You-Know-Who, and magic, but, err … yes … I see your problem. You can't really tell people the truth, can you? How unfortunate."
"Unfortunate? Tell them the truth?" snorted the Prime Minister incredulously. "Good heavens, man, you are green! Listen, Weasley, you won't last a week in politics if you go around telling people the truth. What an absurd notion," he said, shaking his head disbelievingly. "Anyway, all the terrorists and other loonies are enjoying the free publicity. Mind you, the evangelists, who were on a bit of a roll after Twickenham, are having none it. As far as they are concerned, the Heathrow catastrophe was the hand of the Lord — Sodom and Gomorrah all over again. Lloyds and all the other big insurance companies are actively supporting the churches on this one — because if it's an Act of God, they don't have to pay out. Depending upon which bunch of bible bashers you listen to, it was either divine retribution for our sins; a warning to repent and mend our evil ways before it's too late; or the work of the devil, himself. The evangelists haven't had it so good since Africa was discovered and divvyed up."
Arthur didn't have a clue what the Prime Minister was talking about. He had been waiting impatiently for him to pause for a breath; he was dying to ask him how Muggles got aeroplanes to stay up in the air without magic. But he became distracted by all the fascinating Muggle contraptions in the room. There were four felly-tones on the Prime Minister's desk!
Arthur reached a hand out tentatively towards a bright red one, but before he could touch it, the Prime Minister gasped, "For heavens sake, man, don't pick that one up! It's the hot-line to the White House. I really don't think the President is ready to hear about witches and wizards and magic, just yet … although, apparently he still believes in the tooth fairy. You know, this Potter boy of yours deserves a knighthood — I would even be prepared to waive the customary voluntary contribution to our party's electoral war chest; but of course that's not possible, because your world must remain secret. I suppose you have your own special awards?"
"Yes, we do, Prime Minister. In fact, we have created a special class of the Order of Merlin just for him; but unfortunately he's refusing to accept it. Harry hates fame and notoriety. He can't stand all the acclaim and accolades."
"How extraordinary," said the Prime Minister, who could never seem to get enough.
It was the day before Christmas and Harry, Ron, and Ginny were sitting comfortably in the lounge, together with Hermione, who had changed her plans for the Christmas break and was spending it at the Burrow. Mrs Weasley had invited most of the Order for Christmas Day, so it was going to be a huge victory celebration, and everyone was feeling excited.
"Is Percy coming tomorrow?" asked Harry. Ron almost choked on his pumpkin juice.
"I just thought your mum would want to invite him … you know, being Christmas and everything."
"Come on, Harry," said Ron. "Percy wouldn't get past the gate. We'd be standing in line to hex the git! Of course, we could always use any bits of him that were left to decorate the Christmas tree."
"Actually, Mum did invite him," said Ginny, "like she does every year. But fortunately, he can't make it — due to work commitments."
"Work commitments?" asked Hermione. "But surely he doesn't have a job anymore?"
"Dad gave him one," said Ginny. "I think Mum insisted. It was pretty generous, I thought, after Percy fired Dad."
"So, what job did he get?" asked Harry. "I hope he's back measuring cauldron bottoms."
"Or Blast-Ended Skrewt bottoms," added Ron, grinning wickedly.
"I don't think he'd like that much," sniggered Ginny. "You know how he always wanted to have a big title and be in charge of something important? Well Dad made him Deputy Undersecretary of Corrections in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement."
"Which means what, exactly?" asked Harry.
"Percy is the Residential Superintendent of Azkaban — meaning he's stuck on the island along with several hundred Death Eaters — and his Special Assistant."
"And guess who the Special Assistant to the Residential Superintendent of Azkaban is?" asked Ron gleefully. "Umbridge! Isn't that so romantic?"
The four of them were rolling around in fits of laughter.
"It was actually a pretty smart move on your father's part," observed Hermione. "It was probably the only way to save Percy from the retribution of the twins and his other brothers."
"And sister!" added Ginny, bristling. "But he can't hide in Azkaban all his life. The Bat Bogey from Hell will be waiting patiently for him."
"Looks like he'll miss the Order of Merlin presentation ceremony next week," said Ron. "Not that he was going to get one, anyway."
"I just wish I could miss it," said Harry irritably.
"Harry, you are going to have to accept the special Order of Merlin Award the Ministry want to give you; you'll have no peace until you do," said Hermione.
"I just want to be left alone to get on with my life," complained Harry. He was sitting on the couch snuggled up close to Ginny. "There's been this horrible, dark cloud hanging over the horizon for years. I couldn't see any future, except for the final fight with Voldemort. Whenever anyone looked at me or talked to me, I knew they were thinking about it too … about me being the Chosen One who was destined to fight him. It feels so good, now that it's all over — you have no idea. It's like a huge burden that I'd been carrying for years has suddenly gone. Now, all I want to do is live a normal life, just like everyone else."
"Harry, that's not going to happen, and you're just going to have to get used to it," said Ginny, squeezing his hand sympathetically. "After a while, people will stop making such a big fuss, but you are always going to be someone special in the wizarding world."
"But why me?" asked Harry. "What about Jason? He did at least as much as me. And what about Dumbledore? He did more than anyone in bringing Voldemort down. And there were others, too: like Snape. And you destroyed the Horcrux in Ravenclaw's wand, Hermione. You all know perfectly well that I didn't defeat Voldemort by myself."
"Look, Harry," said Hermione, "it's just the way the media always present things. They never show the real complexity and detail of life, just simplifications and celebrities. Most people just want something simple to latch onto and to believe — and the media provide it. Just ignore it all! Your friends know the whole story; we know it wasn't just you. And we know the real you, Harry. We're not going to believe all the cardboard-cut-out superhero nonsense that Rita Skeeter and her cronies are dishing up these days."
"Yeah, that's right, mate," said Ron with a grin. "Anytime all that invincibility carry-on starts getting to you, I'm always ready to put you in your place with a good trouncing at wizard chess. Look, just let them give you their special Order of Merlin Award, make a short speech, and then forget about it. Anyway, we'll all be there at the ceremony; the eight of us who put up the inner circle shield at Stonehenge are also getting Order of Merlin Awards," said Ron, not looking the least bit unhappy about it.
"And in your speech, you can tell people that it wasn't just you who defeated Voldemort," said Ginny. "You can tell them that there were others and that Dumbledore was the architect of the whole campaign."
"That's right," said Hermione, "but I don't think Jason will appreciate it if you mention him. He kept a low profile at Stonehenge, and I think he wants to keep it that way. If word gets out about his real role, he might disappear back to his cave in the Himalayas or go walkabout in Australia. McGonagall would not be happy — she'd have another position to fill."
"So he's definitely staying, then?" asked Harry eagerly.
"I talked to Professor Lupin when he came by earlier today," replied Hermione. "You know he's accepted the job of rebuilding the Auror division, and Tonks is going to be working with him?"
"Yes, that sounds nice and cosy. I hope they get some work done," said Ginny, grinning impishly. "Did Lupin tell you who will be taking over their teaching positions?" she asked.
"Apparently, Professor McGonagall will be filling in as the Transfiguration teacher until she finds a replacement for Tonks. She's persuaded Jason to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts."
"Wow, that'll be great!" said Harry enthusiastically. "It's amazing, the stuff he knows. I wonder if he'll agree to keep teaching me sometimes in the evenings."
"I'm sure he will," said Hermione. "You two seem to have really bonded, which isn't surprising, given his feelings about your mother."
"Yeah, I guess, you're right, Hermione. It's funny, it used to really bother me — you know, about Jason and my mum — but not anymore. I really hope he stays around after the end of the school year. I've kind of gotten to like him. But, hang on … if Jason's teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts … then who will be teaching Potions?" he asked warily.
Hermione grinned. "I think you've guessed, Harry."
"Oh no!" groaned Ron. "Don't tell me Snape's coming back! Do you think it's too late to drop Potions and switch to Muggle Studies or Care of Magical Creatures or something?"
"It's funny," said Hermione, "but I really feel different about him now I know the whole story about him and Miranda. You can see his human side and how much he's suffered. After meeting Miranda, I can really understand how she felt about him."
"Oh, my god!" snorted Ron. "Here we go — it's Gilderoy bloody Lockhart all over again! Are you going to be sending Snape a Valentine, then?"
Hermione blushed. "Stop being ridiculous, Ron. You are such an immature prat! I suppose you'll be accusing me of going off to snog Snape now, whenever I go down to the Potions dungeon to brew Lupin's Wolfsbane," she said angrily.
"Won't Snape be brewing it?" asked Ginny.
"Err … well, no. Lupin asked me if I would continue making it for him each month — he prefers mine to Snape's."
"Oh, dear! Snape is not going to like that," said Ginny. "He'll be furious when he finds out. I don't think you need to worry about love blossoming down in the Potion's dungeon, Ron," said Ginny with a wicked grin.
"Why would I be worried?" asked Ron innocently. Then, quickly changing the subject, he said to Harry, "You know, Snape might treat you a bit better, mate, after you saved his miserable life."
"You've got to be joking," replied Harry. "He'll never forgive me for saving him."
"Yes," said Hermione, grinning wickedly. "He probably would have preferred to die after you used his own curse on him to show everyone at Stonehenge his undies. I think you are going to rather wish you weren't taking Potions, Harry. Of course, you could always try apologising to him tomorrow."
"What? Is that git coming for Christmas?" spluttered Ron.
"Of course," said Ginny. "He's part of the Order. He played a crucial role in Voldemort's defeat. Of course Mum's invited him."
Harry and Ron groaned loudly.