A/N: Something, something, I'm slow, something, something, not abandoned yet, something, something.
Thanks to those that reviewed. It is wonderful to see that even with my horrendous update rate that people still care enough to comment.
I hope you enjoy this latest chapter. Not quite the monster of the last but still around 16k. I got to end it where I wanted to, so that's good enough for me.
Thanks to Baja B and ZanyMuggle for their advice. All errors (of which I suspect are a lot) are mine. Sorry 'bout that.
Chapter 21: The Deal
"I have no idea where the Auror training facilities actually are," said Tonks. "We've always taken Portkeys. Kingsley said he knew the old facilities, but when the transition happened a few months ago only a few people were meant to know the new sites due to the suspected leaks coming from the Ministry."
Albus Dumbledore stood deep in thought at the head of the table, stroking his beard.
"Curious," he said quietly, "Most curious indeed."
The two dozen occupants of the dining room at Grimmauld Place were talking quietly amongst themselves, regaling the key points of the successful defence of the Norwich Auror outpost and the consequences of it. Harry stood alone against the wall across the room from Dumbledore observing the events.
"Clearly our caution was not unfounded," said Dumbledore plainly. "Perhaps Tom has reached far deeper into the Ministry than anticipated. I am certain he knew the training facility was there. I cannot fathom any other reason for three times the average amount of Death Eaters on what otherwise should appear an unremarkable target."
"And Rufus continues to drag his feet with the Veritaserum legislation," added Clarke, whom Harry recognised as the black haired lady who'd praised him at the end of the battle at Norwich. He didn't know her first name. "I wish I could say I'm surprised he cares more for his popularity than fighting You-Know-Who. At this rate those spies in the Ministry will tell You-Know-Who everything."
"If only Amelia were alive, we would've had a competent Minister," agreed Doge.
This sentiment seemed popular as many murmured solemn agreements.
Discussion continued for another quarter hour until Hestia Jones arrived with news.
"Ah, Hestia, have you news of the injured?" asked Dumbledore.
"I do. Canning's wand hand was shattered, but the Medi-Witch fixed him up right quick. He'll need a few days to regain full use. Harper is suffering a concussion and one hell of a headache, but he'll be right by nightfall. White was touch and go for a little while. The Piercing Curse went deep, but he was stabilised when I left. Don't expect him up and about for a week or two."
Breath Harry hadn't realised he was holding expelled, but the sound was lost amidst the sighs of a relief from the Order. Whatever their differences, it was evident from watching the tension and relief from that short exchange alone that these people cared what happened to each other.
Harry, however, was simply happy White would be alright. He seemed a decent enough bloke. Had White died when Harry could've spent more time searching for him amidst the trees… well, Harry was glad that reality hadn't come to pass.
"Thank you, Hestia," said Dumbledore. He turned to the Order with a weary smile. The lines of his face were more pronounced than usual; however, he and the room at large were a little more cheerful than a moment prior.
"Tonight we can be proud of what we've accomplished. Let's all get some rest and reconvene after the interrogations of the captured have concluded. Thank you all, as always."
Conversation and movement began immediately. Many began to take their leave – it was, after all, past three a.m.
Harry leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. It had been a long night and bed indeed sounded inviting. However, he was quickly chased from his thoughts of sleep by a familiar voice speaking to him.
"Mr. Weasley, Auror Tonks and Mrs Clarke informed me of your actions tonight as the situation deteriorated," said Dumbledore, his tired features graced with a smile. "You've exceeded my expectations once more, and I believe you've won yourself some respect from those who don't know you tonight. I'm proud of you."
"Thank you for letting me participate tonight, sir."
"Think nothing of it. Now, I know you have more questions you wish to ask, but I fear I must put you off once more." Dumbledore grasped Harry's shoulder and squeezed. His expression truly was apologetic. It twisted, however, into one of wry amusement. "You'll forgive my weary mind and bones for demanding some rest. I am not as resilient as I once was."
"That's okay, sir." And it was. Harry completely lacked the drive to demand answers he usually had, his exhaustion was that extensive.
"Thank you, Harry. I will ensure I make time upon your return to Hogwarts so we will discuss what you wish."
Thirty minutes later Harry found himself staring at the ceiling of his bedroom once more.
A lot had happen over the night, from the argument with Bill (whom had returned Harry's cloak with naught but a curt 'Thanks'), to the battle itself, to the new information from the meeting. Scrimgeour was still dragging his feet in fighting Voldemort. The Order knew Voldemort had spies in high positions in the Ministry, but appeared to be unaware who was compromised or sympathetic.
It was a lot to take in, and Harry had to wonder if his thoughts lingering on Fleur Delacour more than the Ministry spoke to his priorities or feelings on the matter. She'd been absent from Harry's thoughts for some time, but the tightness in his chest he'd felt when arguing with Bill was telling, even to his usual dense self.
Harry twisted and turned under the sheets, feeling like he was betraying the romantic thoughts he harboured for Padma. And Hermione. They were both important to him. They were both far more prominent figures in his life. They were both so much more attainable. But if he acted on his feelings and it ended like his disaster of a relationship with Cho did – not to mention how he and Fleur hadn't spoken since he thanked her for her message box – how could they possibly remain friends?
And, Harry knew he couldn't leave Hogwarts and search for the Horcruxes without Hermione there to help him, keep him company, and be herself – a normal, constant, reassuring figure in his life. Could he possibly risk their friendship for the possibility she felt the same and their relationship worked?
Harry fell asleep without answers to a whole lot of questions.
When Harry awoke, the sun was already streaming through his curtains.
Sometime later he stumbled into the kitchen to find the remnants of a breakfast for several people and Remus sipping a cup of tea, reading the Prophet. The man looked ragged, with dark lines beneath his eyes, but he smiled warmly at Harry's arrival.
"Good morning," said Remus, folding the paper and placing it aside.
All Harry managed in response before he yawned was, "'Lo,"
Remus chuckled. "I've heard about your adventure last night. I'm very proud of you."
Amidst his weariness Harry thanked the man, not certain what else to say. He could count the number of times on one hand he'd been told that before the last twenty-four hours.
"Take a seat, Harry, and I'll fetch you some breakfast and coffee."
Ten minutes later, a few sips of coffee and bites of a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich later, Harry felt considerably more alert. With focus, questions began to form.
"What's the latest?" he asked between bites.
"The interrogations of the prisoners are happening as we speak," began Remus. "We'll know more within the next few hours if anything useful is learned, but we're not overly optimistic that we've hit a gold mine. None of the Death Eaters captured are those who escaped from Azkaban."
Harry put down his mug of coffee. "Who was fronting the attack? If Norwich was an Auror training facility, surely there was someone high up in charge?"
Remus crossed his arms. "As far as I know, the man in charge is someone unfamiliar to us – a man named Aldrich Jamieson."
"What about the other attacks?"
"Cambridge was a slaughter," said Remus with a sigh. "All five Aurors died with no Death Eater casualties or prisoners. Oxford and Reading both lost two Aurors, but succeeded in capturing two young Death Eater recruits each and some casualties. Again, we'll know more in a few hours once Tonks or Kingsley reports in."
Harry absorbed that as he finished off his coffee and roll.
"In that case, shall we finish working on the – my – house in the meantime? We didn't finish all the protections yesterday.
It was a strange concept still, but he was warming up to the idea of owning a house that was his. While he owned Grimmuald, it was visited and used by so many people that it would never be a home as it stood now as headquarters for the Order.
A distant but insistent tapping sound interrupted Remus's response. They both recognised the sound – an owl seeking entrance. Harry stood and went back upstairs to the sitting room and spotted a regal looking brown eagle owl outside a window. In its claw was an official looking envelope – the Ministry's seal evident.
Harry opened the window and retrieved the letter. Remus entered the room a moment later.
"Who's the addressee?" asked Remus.
"Me," said Harry, and he tore apart the seal and began reading the letter.
Remus didn't miss the scowl that crossed Harry's face as he read the missive.
"I'll assume this isn't good news?"
"Scrimgeour wants to meet at his office," replied Harry. "In two hours. He has something he wants to discuss with me, but it has to be in person."
"This could have something to do with the events last night," he reasoned. "An Auror may have reported your presence."
"What does that matter?" asked Harry. "You've told me the Order isn't illegal."
"Not as much, no." Remus rubbed at his chin. "The Order as a group exists in a grey area – we're far from sanctioned, but not prohibited by any form of legislation or decree. By passing on our prisoners to the Ministry immediately we are safe from illegalities in that regard. We are lucky nobody who actually is aware of the Order wants to take a stance against Dumbledore to make organisations like ours illegal."
Harry sighed. A meeting with the Minister was not something he was keen on after their last conversation.
"Should I even attend?"
Remus considered his words. "Keep in mind, the Minister is a man with the power to make many things happen, especially to make one's life difficult. It isn't wise to unnecessarily antagonise him."
Remus parted ways with Harry outside Scrimgeour's office, citing his intentions to speak to other Order members in the Ministry. He promised to return within an hour. Harry assured him he would be waiting should the meeting be over.
The Minister's receptionist was genuinely welcoming, albeit stressed. In the time Harry took to first lay eyes upon her practical bun, brown eyes, sharp chin and small mouth, and reach her desk, four airplane memos had joined the already two dozen long line floating above her head.
While waiting for her to address him it was difficult to tear his eyes from the jumble of paper as each one appeared to duel for priority amongst other memos. One poor memo took a simultaneous attack from three others which caused a dent in the left wing. All it seemed capable of after that was flying in circles… to left, of course.
"Take a seat, Mr Potter," the receptionist said eventually. "The Minister is running late and will be with you shortly."
She gestured to her right and Harry turned to see a group of eight chairs positioned around a coffee table against the wall. Really, the setup wouldn't have been that out of place in a Doctor's office – an extravagant one, Harry thought, but the parallels were certainly there. The chandelier above the table that kept the area lit must've cost thousands of galleons alone, not including what appeared to be non-conjured leather seating – you never could tell in the wizarding world.
Harry crossed the room and took a seat, pursuing the newspapers and periodicals of the wizarding world. To his disgust there was a copy of Witch Weekly under International Quidditch Monthly, a splash of Oliver Wood on his broom with a dramatic expression on the cover. The heading "Wood's Winning Witches with his Wizardly Wiles" showcased the continued love of alliteration among wizardly authors, periodicals or otherwise.
Harry picked up a copy of the Prophet, the headline "A Win in Norwich" catching his eye. Twenty minutes passed while Harry was ensconced in the newspaper. Only passing mentions were made to the other attacks in Cambridge, Oxford and Reading, the article's focus instead on the successful capture of Death Eaters with one Auror requiring St. Mungo's care. There was no mention of any other force besides the Aurors and the Death Eaters in the battle. The capture of the Death Eaters was attributed to the vigilance of the Aurors and the leadership of the current Minister. It was all garbage, but nothing more than Harry had expected. After all, if the public knew the Order had been the only reason this attack had failed, what faith would they have in the Aurors to protect them?
Harry looked up as someone entered the anteroom, the sound of heels clipping on the marble floors. His eyes lingered on a woman, perhaps in her late-twenties or early-thirties (it was hard to judge, due to the different rates at which wizards and witches aged compared with Muggles), with immaculately crafted and maintained light brown hair that cascaded to the small of her back. Her skin was a shining bronze, not by tan but a natural tone. She wore black robes that, when the light hit right, shone. Her feet were wrapped in a pair of black high heels, and her walk was one of pure, unadulterated confidence.
She commanded attention in a far different way than Dumbledore, or even Snape. No, it was the confidence that drew the eyes of others.
He was reminded of Fleur and her self-assurance that defined her movements, but without the added magical allure.
The secretary wasn't immune. She ceased her secretarial duties to watch as this woman approached, something not afforded to Harry.
Words were exchanged, but Harry didn't catch any of it despite straining his ears out of curiosity. The woman then turned in his direction and met his gaze.
Her eyes were black, but vibrant. Her lashes were unnaturally long, her eyebrows painstakingly groomed. She was the result of potentially hours of careful maintenance. It paid dividends. She was beautiful.
Harry, caught out, gave a smile and hastily returned to reading the Prophet.
The clip of heels began again, heading in his direction. After what seemed an inordinate amount of time, the woman reached a chair and took a seat – the one two to his side. Harry, still curious, watched her out of the corner of his eye and saw her pick a second copy of the Prophet. She began flicking through it.
Harry scanned his own for a distraction, feeling incredibly self-conscious next to this woman. He didn't know what it was about her but she felt as if she belonged to an entirely different league to all the women Harry knew.
A small piece on the decline in UK Quidditch ticket sales caught his eye. The article went on to theorise a great deal of reasons, though left out the obvious one: Voldemort.
"I swear Rufus keeps us all waiting these days. But I imagine in these troubled times nothing ever runs on time."
Harry turned to see the woman watching him now with interest, her Prophet discarded. He closed his Prophet and replaced it on the coffee table.
"And you are…?"
She laughed delightfully.
"My, and here I thought it was polite to introduce oneself first."
Harry felt embarrassed.
"I'm Harry P–"
"– Of course you are, and aren't you growing up wonderfully. My name is Danielle. It is my pleasure to meet you, Harry Potter."
"And you too." Harry struggled to think of something to say. "You're well acquainted with the Minister?"
"My, yes, Rufus and I have known each other for years," replied Danielle following another laugh. "I often snatch him up to assist in promoting my various groups and charities."
"You do charity work?"
"Oh my yes, quite a few years running now," said Danielle. She tossed her hair over her shoulder and leaned in a little closer, her voice a stage whisper. "I came into a little wealth and a cause or three I believed in. Why not, I said."
She clasped him on the arm. He felt the coldness of a pair of rings on her middle and ring fingers. With a smile revealing nothing, she leaned back, removing her hand, and said, "I'd like to think I'm leaving a good mark on our great world."
"That sounds wonderful," said Harry sincerely. He crossed his arms surreptitiously as possible, placing his hand over where hers had been a moment ago. There was something peculiar about this woman; he'd never encountered anyone like her and wasn't certain what to make of her. However, Harry could sense no ill will or any indications she was disingenuous.
"What kind of charity work?" he asked after a moment to collect himself.
"Oh little things here and there," she said with a wave of her hand. "The first charity I managed was for orphans of the first war with You-Know-Who. Donations doubled during my tenure, I was shocked I tell you. But once they were on a strong footing I moved on to other great causes. One of my proudest achievements was increasing the funding for St. Mungo's research into magical diseases – Dragon Pox is still almost always often fatal in this modern era, and it is poor form that we as a society are not more dedicated to curing it!"
Harry raised his eyebrows the more this Danielle woman continued. He could feel her passion and had no trouble believing she was successful at her work – she'd barely begun speaking and he was inclined to help her.
"How old are you now, Harry?" asked Danielle instead. "Fifteen? Sixteen? I would love to sit down with you and discuss business someday. My latest efforts are directed at those like yourself – Magicals growing up in the Muggle world, disconnected from our society. With your influence at the helm, you as a shining example of what I seek – by Merlin, the good we could accomplish I can scarcely picture."
Doing charity work was something he'd never remotely considered. Certainly, the concept held some appeal. As he begun to think lately, if he had to live with his fame he might as well accomplish something good with it.
However, a small alarm bell went off inside Harry. He'd been warned on more than one occasion by Remus, Dumbledore, and even Ragnok of the Goblins about reading between the lines and offers too good to be to true. He knew nothing about her or her work aside from her own claims.
His reticence must've shown for Danielle laughed again. "Oh, Harry, pardon me, I'm making conversation – or thinking aloud. Perhaps when you're of age we can broach such a topic. You just enjoy your youth, dear."
"Perhaps," he responded noncommittally.
The sound of a door opening and several people entering the room amidst conversation interrupted any further response on Harry's part. Four men Harry had never seen before emerged from Scrimgeour's office and immediately left, too absorbed in their own discussion to notice their surroundings.
A moment later, the secretary stood and approached Harry and Danielle.
"Mr. Potter, Minister Scrimgeour will see you now."
"Thank you," he replied. He turned to Danielle.
"Ah, it appears out chat draws to a close. It was lovely to meet you, Harry."
"Same to you, Miss…?"
"Danielle, Harry." She smiled benignly but offered nothing further.
Confused, Harry bade her farewell and followed the secretary through the door to Scrimgeour's office.
Having predicted comparable extravagance to the waiting room, Scrimgeour's office was unexpectedly tame. The room was large – larger than Dumbledore's office – but utilitarian and considerably less personalised. The walls were cream coloured where they were not covered with dozens of portraits, not dissimilar to wall behind Dumbledore's desk in his office. The faces were mostly unfamiliar, but the sleeping face of Cornelius Fudge in one of the frames led Harry to believe he was in the presence of the previous Ministers of Magic.
Large swathes of meticulously polished floorboards separated the few pieces of furniture in the room. Two packed bookshelves sat against the wall on Harry's left, while two three storey cabinets sat against the right. At the back of the room an ancient looking fireplace dominated the wall. A large wooden desk dominated the back of the room, but appeared more functional than attractive. Standing by the cabinets was the imposing figure of Rufus Scrimgeour.
The man had not changed one iota since their last meeting upon first glance. However, Harry did note the absence of the cane that he had used to assist his movement.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Potter," began Scrimgeour. "Please, take a seat."
Harry stepped forward to the sound of whispers and murmurs from the portraits. The journey across the room was just long enough for the murmurs to unnerve him.
Meanwhile, Scrimgeour was filing some papers, presumably from his previous meeting. Harry, curious, watched the files disappear the moment they were placed in a drawer. He took a stab and guessed the files were transported somewhere else within the Ministry.
The wooden chair Harry was offered was also more functional than attractive, though the needlepoint covering was more comfortable than Harry expected. He sat and glanced at the mess of files, parchments and quills on the table before him, noting that there was little in the office that he could identify as Scrimgeour's own possession.
Scrimgeour stepped passed him, his movement relatively unimpeded without the cane, and took his seat opposite Harry.
"Given our previous meeting, I'll save us both the time and effort and be blunt."
"Works for me."
Scrimgeour nodded to himself. "Your presence was noticed at Norwich early this morning."
So it is about the Order? Harry didn't respond. He knew he'd been noticed. But how would Scrimgeour play this out?
"I was under the impression you and Dumbledore were not on strong terms."
Harry's déjà vu sense tingled. "I thought we established last time that talking about Dumbledore would get you nowhere."
"Indeed," said Scrimgeour, whose gaze seemed to intensify, and Harry couldn't quite shake the feeling of being watched by a predator. "You were quite adamant in your refusal to speak about Albus Dumbledore and in your unwillingness to help your Ministry."
"My refusal to being used, you mean."
Scrimgeour scowled. "Let us leave our last meeting in the past. I called you here to reassess our positions in regards to our relationship in light of recent events and see if we cannot arrive at a more beneficial resolution – for you, for me, and for the betterment of our society at large."
Huh, thought Harry. Though he didn't know the man well, Harry had expected Scrimgeour to aggressively lobby his agenda akin to their last encounter. It was early days but that sounded as if Scrimgeour were more willing to compromise now. Harry could only presume Scrimgeour's situation had deteriorated as the Prophet often implied.
"What makes you think my decision will be any different?"
Scrimgeour set his hands in a steeple. "As I said, your presence was noticed at Norwich this morning by one of my Aurors in the presence Dumbledore's vigilante organisation. This suggests to me you have some level of interest and or intent to engage with the world beyond Hogwarts. Given the situation you were seen amongst, I can only presume your interest lays in defending our world from the criminal actions of You-Know-Who and his Death Eaters. If I am correct, I believe you will soon realise that life is filled with collaborations among those who disagree where a common goal is found. You will find yourself severely restricting your power base if you were to limit yourself so.
"To put it simply, I believe we can cooperate and assist each other despite our differences."
Harry crossed his arms to his chest. "So what that boils down to is you still want me to make you look good. I'm yet to see what's different."
Scrimgeour didn't allow his irritation at Harry's deliberate contrariness to show, but Harry could sense something shifted within him.
"Despite your assertions in our previous meeting that my concern was only for position, I do in fact care for the fate of those I sworn in to serve. I spent twenty-six years in the Auror department before assuming a more managerial position in the DMLE. That length of time in a position with the purpose of protecting our citizenry does not pass without empathy for those you protect. I assure you I have not lost it.
"I have successfully passed several small policies to extend the power of the DMLE and Aurors not unlike those in the previous war. However… there have been problems progressing further."
Scrimgeour at this point sighed and after several moments stood. He turned and walked toward the wall of portraits behind him, only for the wall to part at the centre before him as he approached, giving way to another room. The moving walls became new ones to the new room, which appeared to be an expensively furnished sitting room. What was most eye-catching was the floor-to-ceiling window at the back that stretched across the entire back wall of the room and afforded a stunning view of the English countryside.
Harry couldn't resist standing and moving closer as he saw a pristine river flow through a valley, soft green grass covering the floodplain and up the valley walls the river flowed between. With a flick of Scrimgeour's wand the view changed to one from atop a mountain still covered in snow. Harry had to guess it came from somewhere far north in Scotland, if it were even still within the realm of the UK.
It was only when Harry finally stood aside Scrimgeour did the man speak again, his voice low but hardened.
"My attempts to enact significant policy changes are stonewalled by a caste of old purebloods and politicians jockeying to take my place in this office. The last action to help the citizenry now is to lose another leader, but politicians are politicians no matter the crisis. Faith in the Ministry suffered significantly after Cornelius's year of denial. It will shatter completely should his replacement be ousted too."
Harry glanced briefly at the older wizard, trying to judge how much was self-preservation and how much was genuine concern for others. The man offered no clues, and Harry turned back to the charmed window.
"You may not like me, Mr. Potter, but I can assure you that there are those out there who are employing all legal and some extra-legal means to oust me from this office that are far less concerned with opposing You-Know-Who, what he stands for, and the murders of half-blood and Muggleborn. I am aware of spies and leaks within my administration, both those for You-Know-Who and for less extreme but equally destructive causes. However, neither I nor my Head Auror can act upon my suspicions without evidentiary proof – we have no legal right to interrogate those I suspect work against me for You-Know-Who, and certainly not for the use of Veritaserum, without it. That is a legislation I am putting my weight behind but have reached an impasse with. I fear this is jointly due to sympathisers, political opponents who seek my removal, and a number of old purebloods and politicians who wish to keep their skeletons safely entrenched in their closets."
"You're the Minister of Magic," said Harry sceptically. "Can't you work around them, or remove them from their positions? You're supposed to have power."
Scrimgeour shook his head. "I am not a king. The Wizengamot will generally have the final say on passing new legislation where it all comes down to votes. This revered position of mine has significantly less power independent of the Wizengamot than I believed. "
This wasn't at all what the Order had been saying the night before. But Harry did not know anywhere near enough to know whether Scrimgeour was spinning tales or the Order was less informed than they acted.
"What about taking action outside of the realm of Ministry's power?" Harry countered. He was interested to see just where Scrimgeour stood on this. "I'm certain your predecessor managed to bend the rules plenty and for much less worthwhile reasons."
Scrimgeour scowled, and his response was curt. "No. I will not conduct an illegal operation, nor will I follow in the footsteps of my incompetent predecessor. Such a tactic would immediately spell the end of my time in office should it come to light, and given who I will target I can guarantee no amount of legal measures in place to prevent leaks to occur will be sufficient."
Harry chewed on that for a moment, and then said, "So what you're telling me is that you're powerless right now, stuck in a deadlock with a bunch of politicians who are competing for this office, and you have no ability to actually fight a war we're losing? You're not filling with me with much confidence, Minister. Your role is clear – serve the people. Right now that means fighting Voldemort. You're failing."
The Minister scowled once more before he turned and walked over to a cabinet, retrieving a bottle of some amber liquid and a tumbler glass. A few conjured ice cubes joined the liquid in the tumbler, and was downed almost immediately.
"Your perspective on the Ministry is understandable perhaps given your past treatment as well as a lack of understanding of the complexities inherent in politics. However, our differences must be pushed aside for now. I have one play left that I know will work and won't involve any illegal measures," said Scrimgeour quietly. He poured himself another glass, swirled the liquid and downed it again, before turning back to Harry and looking in the eye.
And Harry figured it out. "You still want me to endorse your Ministry."
"Yes. The situation is not so lost to the point where a direct endorsement from you would not be beneficial for the populace or myself for improving morale and for giving me enough political capital to push through my Veritaserum legislation."
Harry stared at the Minister.
"I don't understand," admitted Harry. "The Ministry spent a year denouncing every word I said as attention seeking and a lie. Why should a bunch of old purebloods and Wizengamot members give a damn about what I would say about the Ministry and your office?"
"Because you're the Chosen One," replied Scrimgeour simply. "Whether you are or not, the public believes you are and that is what's important. Call it misleading them if you wish, but you are wanted and you are revered, at least for now. Public opinion does still matter, and the public will listen to what you say. If it is popular to want the Veritaserum legislation to be passed, it will be passed."
Harry had to admit there was a certain amount of logic to that which he could understand. However…
"I'm not going to spout your lies just to help you."
Scrimgeour stepped forward across the again and placed a strong hand on Harry's shoulder.
"I am not asking you to lie. I am asking you to help me pass the laws that enable me to fight You-Know-Who. Anything I ask for you to say will be the truth and will work toward defeating He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."
Harry examined the Minister as best he could. His instincts were telling him that the offer was genuine. But he was still reluctant. The Ministry had screwed him before.
"What do you want exactly?" asked Harry. He needed to know more before he made any decisions.
"Exactly what I said – I want you to endorse this administration and its policies in the fight with You-Know-Who."
His hesitation was clear enough the Minister could feel it.
"Think this through, Harry. I am not asking you for your loyalty or for your service any further than to speak at press conferences on a few occasions."
Harry turned away, and Scrimgeour removed his arm.
Honestly, the proposal wasn't that bad. If he could help the Ministry become more useful in the war, he had to give it a good thought. But having been burned so badly in the past by the Ministry, Harry knew he couldn't agree to what Scrimgeour wanted so easily, nor could he trust Scrimgeour's word on face value.
Perhaps sensing Harry's leanings, Scrimgeour then added, "Your support will be invaluable, Harry, and what you and I could accomplish through cooperation will be far more than we can apart. There are also benefits to cooperating with me. What do you want in return for your assistance?"
Indeed, what did Harry need?
And the answer immediately came to mind.
After two minutes thought, weighing the pros, cons, and formulating a plan, Harry finally faced the Minister again and spoke.
"I'll give you one press conference in exchange for the removal of the Trace from Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood and Su Li, and early Apparition tests for Neville and Su. And I decide what to say at the press conference."
The Minister was silent. Then,
"I'm not. I think you have this meeting the other way around. You're struggling, your public support is flagging – I've seen the Prophet – and you need me. I'll be no worse off if we leave this meeting with no agreement. You on the other hand… No, we're going to make a deal, and those are my terms."
Scrimgeour's irritation was obvious.
"You are one difficult boy to deal with."
"So I've been told," replied Harry with a shrug. "I'm not trying to be the bad guy here. I just don't trust you or the Ministry. I can't be sure anything you've said is true without a lot more research or transparency from yourself. But if you give me what I asked, I'll play my role. I'll endorse you and your Ministry, and I'll endorse the Veritaserum legislation. But I will decide what to say. And if you fully follow through with your end of the bargain without any games or sabotage or changing the deal, maybe we can start to build some trust and we can revisit an arrangement then and perhaps make a real go of it."
"Why ever do you wish for these particular people to be removed from the Trace?"
"That's not your concern, just that those requests are the price."
Scrimgeour did at least spend a good deal of time thinking on the deal. But his response was not surprising.
"One press conference is insufficient for your demands. Three is a generously low amount for your cost."
Harry expression became determined.
"You're getting one. I'm not going to play this game. The deal is what it is. Take it. The Ministry needs to be cleansed of Death Eaters and sympathisers – that Voldemort knew there was a training facility at Norwich when this was supposed to be highly restricted knowledge is proof enough there is corruption high in your ranks. This is your chance. You say that you care, that your focus is on protecting the people. Prove to me you're trustworthy, that you care, that you're actually worthy of your station, and then we can cooperate properly."
Scrimgeour had scowled heavily at the remark about Norwich, but kept his mouth shut.
For a long moment, Harry thought he'd gone way over the top. Perhaps he had regardless. But it didn't matter. He meant what he said; he'd be no worse off if nothing came of this.
"I am not pleased to be backed into a corner by you," Scrimgeour said in a low voice. "However, I am forced to agree to your terms. What must be accomplished to fight You-Know-Who takes priority over your intolerable attitude."
Harry ignored that, knowing it was partly true (he was being intentionally aggravating) and partly Scrimgeour attempting to placate himself for getting the shorter end of the stick. Instead he offered his hand.
"We're in agreement?"
Scrimgeour hesitated a moment, but only a moment. Then he grasped Harry's hand, his grip firm and powerful.
They shook hands.
Harry smiled despite himself. What he'd just done… he'd forced the Minister, using his knowledge and understanding of the situation, to take a deal that certainly heavily favoured himself over Scrimgeour.
Daphne's going to be proud of this, he mused.
"Alright," began Harry. "We should sort out some details. When do you propose your press conference?"
Scrimgeour crossed the room to his desk in the front part of the office and collected a few documents. He returned and took a seat around a coffee table. Harry took one opposite.
"This was a rough outline of the points I wished you to address in your conference," said Scrimgeour, handing over a few pieces of parchment. "I urge to read them over and consider them thoroughly before deciding what you wish to say."
Harry took the parchment and began to peruse them.
"As for when, it is a matter of re-examining the paperwork and resubmitting it to the Wizengamot. It will no doubt be stalled for some time by my detractors but I will force it through as quickly as I can. A fortnight perhaps would be ideal. This, of course, will conflict with your Hogwarts lessons."
Harry shook his head. "That won't be a problem. I'd like a copy of the final submission well before the day though. I want to know exactly what I'll be endorsing, even the minutia, or I will not participate."
"You will have it."
Harry looked back up from the parchment and studied the Minister. He admired for a moment how completely Scrimgeour had pushed aside his feelings about their deal and moved onto the business of making the most of it. That was a skill Harry needed to pick up, that much was certain.
"In return, I would appreciate the Trace removal to be accomplished sooner rather than later – preferably within the week. The Apparition tests can wait for a little longer."
"I will put the paperwork through today. By mid-week, it will be done."
Harry privately thought he'd make certain the Trace was removed prior to the press conference. If Scrimgeour reneged on the deal, Harry would still give the press conference, but it wouldn't be a positive one.
"I will contact you again regarding the time and place of the event," continued Scrimgeour. "The likely location will be the Atrium, or at Diagon Alley. I will expect you to arrive well in advance for us to discuss the conference itself."
"If this is everything for me to study, then I take my leave," he said gathering the parchment and standing.
Scrimgeour stood with him. He reached out his hand. Harry took it.
"Let me be perfectly clear," began Scrimgeour, holding Harry's hand firmly. "I require your assistance, but I have not appreciated you strong arming me. Were it not something so vital I would have you tossed out of here. However, the times call for me to perform distasteful acts. I will entertain your demands. I will abide by my deal to the letter and prove to you that I am neither a cheat nor a liar. In return, you will do your duty to the very best of your ability."
It was clear. Despite their arrangement, Scrimgeour was anything but a friend.
Harry relaxed his grip and walked away. Their meeting was over.
He felt the eyes of the former Ministers of Magic watch him as he crossed the room, their whispers providing an unsettling companion on the walk. When he reached the door, however, he opened it without hesitation, and did not look back.
The afternoon passed quickly as Harry, under Remus's tutelage, set about completing the final protections on his house. It wouldn't be the most secure dwelling in the country, but it would it stall long enough for the occupants to organise their escape.
Remus did a poor job of disguising his curiosity about Harry's meeting with the Minister. All Harry intimated was a deal had been struck that benefited both parties. The details of the deal however Harry kept mum on. It wasn't that he didn't trust Remus, but it was more that he did not wish to deal with the scepticism of Scrimgeour's trustworthiness when he already was considering it.
Maybe it was naïve of him, Harry thought, to believe that Scrimgeour could be trusted now Harry was going to give him what he wanted. Maybe it was also naïve to believe that his condemnation of Scrimgeour's government would matter at all to anyone of importance should the Minister betray their deal and Harry follow through on his silent promise. However, though he was going to proceed with caution, he was definitely going to proceed to best of his ability. He had to start somewhere after all, and this was where he'd chosen in the moment to begin.
It was after nine, and a quick takeaway meal, that Harry and Remus returned to Grimmauld Place, both exhausted from their late nights and long days.
"Thanks for all the assistance, Remus," whispered Harry as they crossed the threshold into Grimmauld Place, mindful of the portrait of the Black matriarch. "I can hardly believe I return to Hogwarts tomorrow."
"Indeed, time has flown," responded Remus, "and you're welcome. I was happy to teach you."
"I've been thinking I'll stay here until the afternoon and Apparate to Hogsmeade if that's alright?"
As the pair approached the stairs, the sound of several voices emanated from the kitchen. Harry traded a look with Remus.
"No meeting was planned for this evening," said Remus in anticipation of Harry's question. At the sound of laughter, Remus added, "Likely a few Order members are having the night off after last night. It's not that uncommon for a few members to have a few drinks after work."
This effectively killed Harry's curiosity. The last thing he was keen on right now was interacting with a bunch of people significantly older and more inebriated than him.
"I'll pass," he said. "Don't let me stop you though. I'll see you in the morning."
Harry climbed the stairs and crossed the hallway to the door of his room. Just before opening it, however, he heard another door down the hall open. He looked to the source, and Harry sucked in his breath at the sight before him.
Dressed in a pale blue halter top and a pair of extremely tight, form-fitting black jeans was Fleur Delacour. Her silvery-blonde hair was loose, but held back over her head by a black hairband. The length of her hair fell over one shoulder below her chest. They met each other's gaze, and her dark blue eyes widened at the sight of him.
"'Arry," she said softly, and something within Harry's chest ached at the sound of her wonderful, breathy pronunciation of his name. It was something he'd dreamt about, missed and wished to hear again. But now that it was here, it had rendered him unable to speak. Almost all the air in his lungs had vanished, and he was certain his heart had skipped a beat. Or three.
"Hi," was all he could manage in response, and barely at that.
For a moment, neither spoke, stunned at the sight of each other. Then, Fleur broke the silence.
"'ow 'ave you been? Eet is wonderful to see you again." She briefly smiled at him. The swooping sensation is his chest that begun at the sight of her slowly began to die down and Harry welcomed his cognitive functions returning.
"Busy," he said truthfully. "There's been a lot going on."
"I 'eard you were part of ze battle zis morning."
Harry nodded. "Yeah I was. I helped a bit."
"Non," she replied with a shake of her head. "More zan a bit. I 'eard you captured four Death Eaters. Zat is a leetle more than a bit!"
From nowhere a surge of pride emerged within, stunning Harry with how much her word affected him.
"How about you?" he asked, deflecting her attention as he attempted to pull himself together.
Fleur's expression shifted to something he couldn't read. "Ze same can be said for me. Zere is much to do between Gringotts, ze Order, and Bill."
"I can imagine."
A silence fell, and the pair locked eyes. Harry noticed the softness around her eyes, recognising the fond look she was giving him. But there were barely noticeable (but definitely there, where there had never been any before) lines under her eyes too – was she not sleeping? Was she stressed?
Whatever she saw in his eyes caused her to step toward him. Drawn, not by her allure – that was there, background noise but easily discarded – but by something much more than that, he almost involuntarily stepped toward her too.
Thoughts not entertained in months returned, unconcerned by his desire to leave their… whatever in the past. Harry cursed them more than he welcomed them, cursed the betrayal of his thoughts, reminding him how he'd felt in her presence, but also reminding him what was not possible.
"'Arry… I meant what I said, zat you could call on my assistance if you ever needed eet."
She was close now. A step, if that. Her scent was divine – it reminded him of her room, and that brought a wealth of other thoughts he struggled to quash.
"I know, and I will."
Whether he believed he would was another matter. When Fleur opened her mouth to speak the sound of footsteps approaching them stopped whatever she was about to say. Harry turned to see Remus approaching.
"Good evening, Fleur,"
Fleur smiled, and Harry noticed how disingenuous it was. "Good evening, Remus, I 'ope you are well after ze full moon."
"Tired, but surviving, thank you," he replied. "I apologise for intruding, however Bill is ready to head home. He will be after you momentarily."
Remus nodded, stepped past the two and headed upstairs. The pair watched him depart and returned their attention to each other.
Now, however, what had transpired between them just moments ago was lost, replaced instead by the weight of Bill's presence.
Fleur was the first to break their silence. "Eet was wonderful to see you again, 'Arry. I have missed speaking with you. Another time we shall talk more, oui?"
"Yeah, another time," he replied.
Fleur began to move, but hesitated. What was she thinking, Harry had to wonder. Did she want to say something else? Was she going to do something else?
What did he want her to say? What did he want her to do?
Ten minutes prior it was Padma, or perhaps Hermione, that he wanted. Despite his assertions to move on from Fleur, however, apparently his heart hadn't quite made that leap if his reactions to her just now were any indication. And goddamned if that wasn't equal parts infuriating, depressing, and – god, something else he didn't have the vocabulary for.
And suddenly she was closer than before. Her very presence was inescapable. He could smell her scent, she filled his sight, the sound of her soft breathing, and nonsensically amidst all this he noticed that he may be slightly taller than her now.
It was Bill's voice that called her name. The pair looked in the direction of the stairs and saw Bill standing atop the final step.
"It's time to leave."
Fleur hesitated again, a moment longer than perhaps appropriate, and then began to move again.
"Goodnight 'Arry," she said as he passed him.
Harry watched them interact but was too thrown to make much note of what he saw: Bill's suspicious expression, Fleur's stiff shoulders, Bill's furrowed brow, Fleur's distance – she did not initiate contact, and was indifferent to his – and not even Ron could've missed the look Bill gave him as Fleur made her way downstairs first.
Then they were gone and Harry sighed.
The distant sound of the front door closing and the crack of Apparition spurred Harry into movement, though his destination was not clear. His feet apparently had ideas his brain hadn't elaborated on to him, and Harry promptly found himself flopping down on Sirius's bed face first.
He didn't understand a lot of things when it came to relationships, the opposite gender, and certainly the disconnect between his brain and his heart. How could one say one thing and the other say the opposite?
Harry rolled over and adjusted himself so he was lying properly on the bed, staring at the ceiling. He had no idea how to deal with his emotional turmoil.
I wonder if Sirius could've helped, he wondered. A useless thought, but he let himself be distracted as his mind pursued the thought, imagining what the conversation would entail. It didn't last long, having no idea what could be said in such a dialogue.
Hermione would be his ideal choice to speak to about feelings for a woman, were he even willing to share them, but speaking to her of his potential feelings for another woman didn't feel right anymore. Padma, too.
Neville, the great bloke he was becoming, in his earnestness to help, Harry could easily picture attempting to impart advice but not knowing any more than he did.
Daphne would straight up walk away from the conversation should he even broach the subject.
Harry smiled at the thought.
A soft knock at the door drew Harry back to his surroundings.
"May I enter?"
Remus stood in the doorway with an expression of concern. Harry contemplated for a moment whether he wanted to be left alone or not.
He decided on a no.
Remus stepped in the room, eliciting a creak from a certain floorboard, and took a seat at the desk on the opposite side of the room, turning the chair to face Harry. Meanwhile, Harry had returned to stare at the ceiling.
For a solid minute neither spoke. Finally, Remus broke it.
"I appreciate you may wish to keep whatever transpired private," he began, "However, it does not take a genius to notice that something happened between yourself and Miss Delacour. Even if I were unable to sense anything when I encountered the two of you in the hall, your current disposition would be sufficient evidence."
Harry couldn't say he was surprised Remus had noticed. Thinking on it, an outsider observing their interactions probably couldn't mistake their encounter as having anything but a history.
And that was the problem.
Remus was speaking again. "If you need someone to talk to about it, I – I was not there for you before, but I'd like to be now if I can be of help."
Did he want to reveal that history to Remus?
Harry knew he was an intensely private person. It had been necessary but difficult to impart the memories of his encounters with Voldemort to the rest of his DA, but this was another, far more important and meaningful set of memories to him. But he needed help, and maybe, just maybe Remus could provide it.
"After… After being attacked at Diagon Alley late last year, I spent three nights at Fleur's house," said Harry in a soft voice. He still stared at the ceiling, believing if he looked Remus in the eye he would not be able to speak. "While I was there… We kissed."
Remus kept silent, letting Harry speak at his own pace.
"She took care of me while I recovered and it… it sort of happened. I knew it wasn't right, that she was with Bill, but it happened anyway. And I was happy. I enjoyed it, and hell I feel guilty for not feeling guiltier than I do now – though I do, feel guilty that is."
"Did you fall for her?"
Harry couldn't answer that question easily. This was a touchy topic, something he suspected Hermione at least had sussed out over the years. But to admit to it? It took a lot, but admit to it Harry did.
"I – I don't feel as if I understand what it means to be in love to answer that. But I think maybe I did."
It took some prompting, but Remus gradually drew the cliff notes version of the rest of the story out of Harry.
"And seeing her again, it's as if nothing has changed in the last four months since I last saw her."
Harry sat up and edged to the corner of the bed.
"I honestly haven't the faintest how to put her in the past. I thought – I thought I might be heading toward something with someone else, but how can I do that to her while I still feel this way?"
Remus crossed his arms and sighed before surveying Harry with a severe gaze. "There are some important questions you need to ask yourself and you must be honest. If you have fallen for as you think you might have, are those feelings strong enough to pursue her?"
"Do you understand what will happen if you do?" interrupted Remus. "Not only will alienate Bill, the Weasley's, their friends, and others further, but Fleur too will be placed in a situation where she will have to make a similar decision and reap the consequences of her choice, whether accepting or declining your advances and presumably ruining any friendship you might have. I'll admit I have less sympathy for her given the choices she has made. However, you, I imagine, do."
Harry thought – really thought – before answering. "No. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I ruined their relationship. If she and Bill hadn't been together…"
Remus sighed again, but this time it was with a small smile. "Don't do that to yourself, Harry. Don't play the 'if' and 'maybe' game. It'll hurt you and accomplish nothing in the process. I should know…"
Harry's curiosity ignited at the tone the last sentence had been said. He'd never heard of Remus ever being in a relationship. Had their ever been anyone, or had the werewolf condition scared off any potential love interests?
"Regardless," continued Remus," You need to move on."
"How? I've tried. I told you, I made a decision to move on, and I stopped thinking about her. What else can I do?"
"It isn't an easy process, but perhaps the easiest way to move on is to find someone else who interests you and pursue them. Find someone, ask her out, have some fun, and see what happens. You'll gradually forget Fleur Delacour, and if you're lucky you might find love – not the same, but something different and no less powerful – with her. And if you are that lucky, grab onto them with both hands. You should experience love, Harry. It is the most wonderful thing in the world to have someone you love, love you back. It will keep you grounded amidst any insanity that befalls you."
Harry's expression turned pained. "But what if all I can think about while I'm with this other person is Fleur? I can't do that to someone."
"Many never forget their exes, certainly not the most recent, until someone else can replace them in their memory. But more importantly is your desire, Harry, to move on, and your willingness to open your heart to another and allow them the chance to develop feelings between you two."
Harry stared into the empty fireplace in front of him for a long time, thinking through the advice. Honestly, a lot of it made sense, and the rest might make more sense with more experience. Perhaps Remus was right. Perhaps he ought to strike up a relationship, or at least pursue the potential for one, with another person, and give them the opportunity to shift his feelings, or create new, different ones in their place.
"None of this easy," added Remus quietly. "Relationships or moving on. When you truly care for someone, the hardest thing is letting them go. It helps to find another. Some aren't so fortunate."
"Are you speaking from experience?" asked Harry softly. "Have you ever loved anyone?"
Remus stared off in the distance for a long time before answering. "Werewolves are near-universally shunned, Harry. It is rare any of us finds reciprocated love, and rarer still that it lasts more than a few fool moons. But yes, I have known what is like to love, be loved, and to struggle to move on.
"However, I am and perhaps always will be more of an observer than a participator. I see and I listen to the relationships of others, their highs and their lows. I know a lot, but I have experienced little."
Harry looked over at his father's friend and saw just how worn out the man looked. He'd not had an easy life either and it showed. If it hadn't been for James, Sirius, and even Peter, what life would Remus had lived?
Thoughts of Sirius brought Harry back to a question he'd asked before to no avail. He decided to try again.
"What was in the letter that Sirius left you?"
Harry watched as Remus turned away and thought for a long moment. Then, Remus drew his wand and tapped a drawer – the one at the bottom that Harry had been unable to open – and muttered a few phrases under his breath that Harry couldn't catch.
The drawer, now unlocked, slid open easily to reveal a couple of bottles of some liquid, some lowball tumblers, and a few additional papers at the bottom. Harry inched closer to gain a better view, his curiosity piqued. Remus, meanwhile, withdrew a partially drunk bottle, a tumbler, and – after hesitating – a second.
Placing the tumblers on the desk, Remus picked up the bottle and began unscrewing the lid. This action allowed Harry an angle to see the label – Ogden's Finest Firewhiskey.
Remus filled a glass to mid-way, and the second only fingernail high. This second one was offered to Harry.
"Just this once, Harry," said Remus, and despite the gravity of their conversation there was some levity to his voice.
Harry accepted the drink carefully. He'd had Butterbeer many times over the years, but never any hard liquor. Uncertain, he watched as Remus picked his own tumbler and downed it in one go. He swallowed, opened his mouth and a small stream of flame exited, dissipating almost instantly.
"Don't be afraid, it's harmless," assured Remus with a grin. "Just be wary of other people's hair at parties. Sirius once set alight three people at once in the Gryffindor dorm during a celebration after a Quidditch match in our sixth year. Finley, someone a year below us, bet he couldn't. It was always a mistake, betting against Sirius Black."
Harry grinned at the anecdote. Then, with one last look at the liquid, he titled his head back and downed it in one go.
Instantly his throat began to burn, the taste and sensation of the liquid passing his throat too much for his unprepared self. Harry began coughing, each time a little bit of smoke emerging.
Nearby he heard Remus laugh.
"That stuff is awful," rasped Harry, recovering after his coughing fit. "Why would anyone want to do that to themselves?"
He withdrew his wand and cast a silent Agumenti, filling his glass with water and quickly downing it before refilling and downing it twice more.
Remus wiped at his eyes, having laughed until he cried. "Oh Merlin, I'd forgotten how rough that first taste is for some people. Quick, this arrogant sort from Ravenclaw – smart as a tack, but absolute torrid personality – vomited all his bed after his first glass. It was all anyone spoke of for a week. Simpler times, I suppose."
A second shot was down for Remus with ease.
"Here, try one more," he said, leaning forward with the bottle. "The first one is always the worst."
"Ah, I –" began Harry, but seeing Remus already pouring he changed his mind. "Alright, one more shot."
Remus poured himself a third. Then, locking eyes, they tapped their drinks together and downed them.
The second time was better than the first, but only marginally. The coughing fit only lasted ten seconds instead of twenty.
"Never again," muttered Harry while filling his glass with water for the eighth time before downing it once again.
Meanwhile, Remus had downed one more shot before setting the bottle and his tumbler down on the table. The man had a laxer atmosphere about him, no doubt somewhat more relaxed thanks to the alcohol.
Harry himself was feeling lighter now. His movements felt easy. He had the strangest urge to just move his body about.
Before he could follow through with some of the stranger urges, Remus again spoke, suddenly solemn once more.
"It was an apology," said Remus, his voice weighed with emotion. "Pad-bloody-foot apologised for suspecting me as the traitor in the Order back before your parents died. Now, Sirius Black was never a man to apology. He even admitted it in the letter that he was too stubborn and too cowardly to apologise to my face. But he did it. In the letter, damn him."
"But it didn't end there. No, he had to say… he said…"
At this point Remus leaned forward, elbows on knees. Even messed as he was, Harry could tell the man before him was dealing with his own issues, his own grief.
Harry reached across and set a hand on the older man's shoulder, squeezing gently. Remus seemed not to notice.
"Sirius," began Remus, before shaking his head. "Sirius said he forgives me for not being around for you."
Harry sat back on the bed in surprise.
"He had no right to say that. It was own cowardice that kept me from facing my demons and checking in on you, at a time you needed me. I don't deserve forgiveness just like that."
"Look, I won't pretend to understand the intricacies of what happened between you two, my parents, and Wormtail in the lead up to that Halloween," said Harry. "But I can't picture Sirius writing this down for you and not meaning it. Remember what I said the other day? As far as I see it, what's done is done. Do things right from now on and you'll make all of it right."
Remus nodded slowly. Without looking he grabbed the bottle and poured an extra-large serving of Firewhiskey before quickly downing it, turning aside and letting the stream of flame flow unharmed from his mouth.
"Lily and James would be proud of you, Harry," whispered Remus. "Without a doubt."
Harry smiled at the sentiment. After a few minutes of quiet, Harry took the bottle away from Remus and helped the man up. The effects of the alcohol were beginning to take effect on the older man, who stumbled and nearly fell face first onto the bed. Indeed, it was so much effort to move Remus to the door Harry gave up halfway and lay Remus down on Sirius's bed instead.
Ten minutes later Harry found himself in his own bed thinking on the advice Remus had given. He knew he didn't know what the right move was, but it was high time he quit sitting on his hands and make one. The feelings he had in Padma's presence – the lightening of the load on his shoulders, the warmth in his chest, the sensations he felt at her smile – were real and he wanted to see where they would lead.
Hermione was difficult. Harry knew he cared for her deeply, but he had no idea if her own feelings toward him were anything more than platonic.
However, with Padma…
He recalled their conversations over the last few months, how she'd been there and he in return, how much he'd enjoyed their private conversations and found himself wishing they were longer. But he also tried his best to recall how she'd looked at him, how she'd sought him out for assistance, and how she quietly but quickly had become an important figure in his life. He was as certain as he'd ever been that she had feelings for him too.
He crossed his fingers, hoping that she was successful in her attempt to convince her father to allow her to return to Hogwarts. He felt a little guilty, knowing she would be lying for him, placing herself in danger. But it had been her choice. And he would be glad to have her with him.
Regardless, whether the advice he'd received was sound or not, it was time to cease deliberating on the subject and start making decisions and accepting their consequences. It was clear that nothing was going to change at the rate he was going. If his decision would be the right one, again, he didn't know. But he was going to find out.
Harry woke slowly.
Having no need to rise early for a stressful rise to King's Cross, Harry chose to stay in bed as long as he could. It was a luxury he had lacked this holiday break, but one he chose to thoroughly enjoy now.
Eventually though he emerged from beneath his covers to shower and dress. The whole time he thought of his friends and how much had happened in such a short span of time since he'd seen them. He could already picture now the smile and warm hug he'd receive from Hermione, the grin and handshake he'd get from Neville, or Padma's…
A knock at his door interrupted his thoughts.
"Come in," said Harry, stepping out of his bathroom buttoning a blue shirt over his black jeans. He looked over as Tonks, dressed nicely in casual clothes. "Knocking now are we?"
Tonks grinned widely. "Remus is a grouch this morning. Says I should respect your privacy and knock now that you're a man."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "Is that so?"
"So," said Tonks. "Seems to be something happened last night between you two involving a fair amount of alcohol? Found him still dressed in yesterday's clothes passed out on Sirius's bed, a bottle of Firewhiskey almost empty over on the table."
"What makes you think I was involved?"
"Please, Harry, it doesn't take an Auror to notice the second glass, or conclude that you – the one in his company all week – were the likely accompanier to Remus's shame."
Harry smiled, fixing his collar. "Alright, I'll give you that. How's he doing?"
"Poor man has the tolerance of a sixteen year old I think," she winked at Harry, her grin wider than ever.
More seriously, Tonks said, "It is rare Remus drinks. You two must've discussed something difficult."
"We did. But I think it helped both of us," said Harry. "Anyway, what brings you up here?"
Tonks withdrew a letter from her pocket. "For you. A rather agitated owl left this for you. It has the Gringotts seal."
Harry grabbed the letter while absentmindedly setting spells up to pack his trunk. Turning over the letter he did indeed notice the seal. Curious, he opened the letter revealing several parchments separated into two sets.
The first was a letter from an accounts manager. It detailed that the six month period had passed and the offered money for Narcissa Malfoy should she seek a divorce from her husband was being transferred into Harry's accounts. The amount caused Harry's eyes to widen. It more than paid off the house he'd just bought and furnished.
"Can't say I'm surprised though," he muttered to himself as he turned to the next page. This page detailed the account history since the will readings. Harry discarded this quickly, seeing everything in order as far as he knew.
The second set was also two pages. The first was another letter. Harry's hands clenched the parchment as he read the missive once, then twice, and parts a third.
"You've got to be kidding me."
"What's wrong?" asked Tonks. She'd patiently waited hoping to satiate her curiosity at the contents of the letters. "Bad news?"
Harry didn't hear her as his mind whirled at the implications. Honestly, it wasn't the greatest surprise. But the revelation was enough to begin to ignite the ire within him once more. Then it was the implications of what had been done that brought him to borderline angry.
While Harry had been reading, his possessions had packed themselves away. Harry shrunk his trunk and put it in his jeans pockets, shrugged on a jacket – it would be much colder back in Scotland – and set off with purpose.
"Where are you going?" asked Tonks as Harry walked passed her.
"To speak to Dumbledore," replied Harry tersely.
Harry entered the hallway to find a Remus groggily sipping a cup of coffee – a rarity for the man. He looked as Harry, closely followed by Tonks, appeared.
"Morning, Harry," said Remus, wincing a little. "Let me be a lesson. Don't drink more than you know you ought to."
Harry, however, wasn't really listening, barely registering the man's presence. Instead, he strode passed the man toward the stairs without acknowledging him. Reaching it, he put out a hand and began his descent. He was stopped by a gentle hand on his atop the balustrade.
"Harry, talk to me," whispered Tonks. "What was in that letter?"
Turning to face Tonks, he spoke in a controlled voice. "Part of my parents will was expunged by someone outside of the Goblin nation. The Goblins were investigating for me who possibly could've had access to the will. That letter was part a list of suspects they had narrowed down to and the rest was the section of the will was removed. I don't know the first two names on the list, but third is Dumbledore. He's the one."
"What gives you the impression Albus is guilty?" asked Remus.
Harry turned to face the man and looked him in the eye. "The section of the will relates to who was to take care of me if my parents passed. I know Dumbledore is the one behind my staying with the Dursley's. He had to know of the will and what it said, and he directly contravened it."
His expression turned pensive. "I knew that I was placed there for the protection of the blood wards. But this suggests what Dumbledore did was highly illegal. I'm… I need to understand why exactly he thought that this was the best decision under whatever the circumstances were. Why couldn't I have been placed where my parents wanted me and protected there?"
Tonks and Remus were silent. Then, Tonks removed her hand, offering her silent consent for him to go.
Harry looked at her and gave her a half smile. Then, he turned to Remus and stepped toward him.
"Thank you for the last week. I've really enjoyed your company."
"I have yours, too, Harry," replied Remus. The pair shook hands.
Without another word, Harry descended the stairs, opened the front door and Apparated away with a near-silent crack.
The Anti-Apparition zone around Hogsmeade dumped Harry in front of two Aurors, with seven more in close proximity. Harry had almost forgotten its existence, and the sensation mid-Apparition of being redirected out of his control had been momentarily alarming. A quick once-over, however, showed he was intact.
"Name and purpose," barked the Auror to Harry's left. The voice was bored and impatient, and from the mouth of someone certainly not much Harry's senior.
"Harry Potter," said Harry. "Hogwarts."
That drew the attention of all the Aurors in the vicinity. Harry sighed inwardly at the blatant curiosity on their faces.
"I'll be," said one of Aurors further away, but loud enough to be heard. "It is."
After a few more choice comments from the group, the partner of the Auror who originally addressed Harry spoke. "All clear, Mr. Potter. If you'll follow me, I will escort you to the castle gates." The man gestured for Harry to move first. Harry complied.
"Islay, take my spot until I return," the Auror said authoritatively to a short woman in her late twenties, or early thirties.
Harry walked at a slow pace, allowing the Auror to catch up. Soon, they matched strides as they reached the outskirts of the village. It turned out the place Harry had landed was several hundred meters from the furthest house on the opposite side of the village from Hogwarts. Now Harry knew what Remus meant when he'd said the Anti-Apparition zone frustrated commuters and visitors.
"Not that I'm not appreciative, but why are you escorting me?" asked Harry.
The Auror – a middle-aged man with dark hair, with perhaps one or two greys sneaking in, and plain features – glanced sidewise at Harry briefly, but kept his attention of their surroundings. "Minister Scrimgeour's orders: Keep an eye on you while you are within our jurisdiction."
Harry turned this titbit over in his head. "Are you reporting back to him what I'm doing or just protecting me?"
"I haven't received any orders one way or another," replied the Auror. Harry couldn't discern the truthfulness of that statement, but was hardly expecting honesty. He'd have to wait and see if Scrimgeour was on the level or keeping an eye on him under the guise of protection.
Hogsmeade was busy despite the hindrance of the Anti-Apparition zone. Soon enough, however, Harry neared the iron gates of Hogwarts.
"I'd like to thank you, Mr. Potter, off the record." The Auror said without looking at him. "My little brother was at Norwich the other night. He said you were there and helped save their lives. So, officially I should inform you that the Aurors have the situation under control and you should leave the fighting to us. Unofficially, thank you. You and those you were with likely helped save his life."
The Auror stopped in front of the iron gates which immediately began opening of their own accord. Harry observed the man take in the area around them, watching perhaps for other presences in the area. When he was satisfied, the Auror acknowledged Harry once more.
"Have a good term, Mr. Potter."
Harry turned to watch as the Auror began to walk back on the path into town. Curiosity overwhelmed Harry, so he called out to departing man.
"What's your name?"
The Auror smiled. "Michael. Michael Barnsley. See you again, Mr. Potter."
In all honesty, the Anti-Apparition zone and consequent extended walk probably did a lot of good. By the time Harry entered the castle he had calmed down from his initial reaction. Oh, he was still displeased, but he wasn't angry. Somewhat upset, yes, however 'cooler heads prevail' was the saying. It had been awhile since he'd conversed with Dumbledore one-on-one on touchy subjects without being frustrated or angry at him. Perhaps he'd manage it this time.
The stone gargoyles guarding the entrance to the Headmasters office parted on Harry's approach. One day, Harry knew, he'd discover how the Headmaster knew someone was approaching.
"Good afternoon, Harry," greeted Dumbledore from his usual seat behind his enormous desk. A large number of books and parchment covered in ink were scattered across all available space, suggesting the Headmaster was embroiled in some significant research. Harry quashed his curiosity as the sight of Albus Dumbledore focused his attention solely on the latest revelation in his storied life.
"What brings you to my office today?"
Taking a seat, Harry met the inquisitive gaze of elder man and began to speak matter-of-factly.
"I received a letter from Gringotts today in response to an investigation started back in September. Turns out you altered my parents' will and ignored their desired wishes."
Dumbledore maintained his inquisitive gaze, letting Harry continue to speak his piece.
"You told me last year why I needed to continue to stay at the Dursley's. I understand that." Harry took a moment to choose his words carefully. "What I don't understand is why I couldn't be placed where my parents wanted and protected there. I'm not going to pretend to understand the laws regarding wills and whatnot, but even I know that what you did was extremely illegal. I what to understand how what you did could that be the best option."
The older man watched Harry for a long time, before sighing and suddenly began looking decades older.
"Let me reassure you on one thing. No matter what you may believe it was not an easy decision." Dumbledore looked out his window at the clear day, oblivious to the mood. "Before you judge my choice, consider my position. Your parents were betrayed by one person they entrusted to keep them safe. Tom was defeated, but his followers were still there. Dozens more people were killed in the days, weeks afterward – Tom's fall did not lead into peace immediately. You had to be kept safe, and what better way to hide you than outside the wizarding world where the vast majority of Tom's supporters would be ill equipped to find you?"
"But you left me there for a decade without a single word or sign that someone cared about me," said Harry shortly, an old grievance resurfacing. "The way they treated me, left unchecked – how could that have been the best decision?"
"I have already apologised for my oversight, Harry," said Dumbledore gently. "I overestimated Petunia's ability to make peace with her jealousy of Lily in the aftermath of her passing. I knew when I placed you there that it was an imperfect matchup. However, even considering your parents' will I believed your relatives the better option.
"In the immediate aftermath I knew the safest place for you was outside the wizarding world. However, once the Death Eaters had been caught or killed and life began to ease back into normality, there were several problems with abiding by your parent's wishes."
"Such as?" prompted Harry.
"Sirius was in Azkaban for what we all believed was the betrayal of your parents." Dumbledore shook his head twice. "We had no reason to suspect otherwise until you met Peter Pettigrew yourself three years ago.
"The Longbottom family were close to yours when they and young Neville's parents attended this institution. However, sending you to stay with the other potential child of prophecy would have presented more danger than ever for Frank and Alice. That is had they not been attacked by Bellatrix Lestrange and Barty Crouch Jr."
Harry nodded. He'd managed to figure this much out for himself quickly enough. But the last two names were less easily discerned. "What about the other two families?"
Dumbledore scratched at his beard. "Young Miss Susan Bones lost her parents nearly two months before that Halloween night. Amelia took in Susan, but at the time I could not know that they would be safe. Even then Amelia had been an important enemy of every last Death Eater. Nevertheless, only Susan's birth parents, not her aunt, were specified in the will. That avenue was not legally necessitated."
"What about Fairley?" Harry asked. "I don't know that name."
Dumbledore sighed. "The Fairley's were a muggleborn family. Their eldest daughter, Elizabeth, was in the year above your mothers and Head Girl. Lily was a conscientious prefect and it appears they grew close, however I did not personally know her very well. Near the end of November the year prior her entire family was murdered in their home by some of the last Death Eaters that had evaded capture. Elizabeth had been fortunate enough to be out during the attack. The last I had heard about her welfare was that she had moved to Wales and had reintegrated completely with the Muggle world."
Harry remained silent. So much death…
"I was faced with a dilemma, Harry," continued Dumbledore. "Do I trust Elizabeth Fairley whom I knew little about? She would have been fairly well suited to you, allowing you a normal Muggle childhood while aware of magic. But would she remain safe? Would she understand the danger of housing you and be able to cope with that responsibility for ten years before you were old enough to attend to Hogwarts? I could not be sure whether she would even have you in the aftermath of her two siblings, parents and grandparents all lost in the same night. In the end, it was the blood wards that were possible around Petunia's residence that overrode any concerns I may have had with leaving you in a purely Muggle household."
And that was it, the answers he had sought. If he were honest, Harry thought he could understand why the decision had been made even if it had led to a miserable decade. But Dumbledore was right – he had apologised previously about his oversight of his wellbeing in the intervening years, even if it was still a sore spot at times. There was little to be gained by rehashing the disagreement further.
Dumbledore meanwhile was contemplative.
"Examining my decisions in retrospect is a double edged sword. I fear I should have pursued Miss Fairley as your caregiver after all."
Harry sighed. "It's alright, sir. I believe that you made the best decision you could in the circumstance. I'm still not pleased that you left me without checking in on me, but I can accept why you placed me there. Let's leave it in the past now."
Dumbledore nodded in acknowledgement.
"The greatest challenge I face in this role I have been placed in and taken upon myself is dealing with the belief that I know what is best for others. It can take a truly monumental error – the loss of someone's faith and trust, their respect, their wellbeing or even their life – to remind myself that I don't, and I don't have the right to make choices for them."
A chord was struck inside Harry. Dumbledore had made a difficult decision with the best of intentions. It hadn't panned out as well as it could have, but Harry had remained safe. Arguably it wasn't a decision he had the right to make – indeed, the law would say it wasn't. But he had made it believing it was the best thing for Harry. And then kept it from him, believing it was right.
And Harry had more or less done the same thing.
Harry was keeping what Malfoy had said about Hannah's parents from her – that they were attacked to retaliate against Harry's injuring Malfoy in the bathroom. Were he honest, Harry knew his reasons for keeping the truth from her were selfish. He didn't want her to blame him anymore than she already had in the past. Sure, he was genuinely concerned for her safety should Hannah retaliate against Malfoy in turn. But his motives weren't totally pure.
This wasn't right and he knew it. How could he sit here and judge Dumbledore, give him the third degree for keeping secrets and making decisions that weren't his to make, while he was doing the same thing. No, this couldn't stand any longer. When Harry saw her next, he had to make things right with Hannah. It probably wouldn't end well for him, but he had to face this head on as an adult and not hide behind selfish desires.
"I'm proud of you, Harry," said Dumbledore softly. "The man you are growing into is more than I could've ever hoped for. I am sad that it has happened so fast. But you are becoming strong – as a person and as a wizard, growing more confidence in yourself, and you've proven yourself a natural leader. I am very proud of you."
"Thank you, sir."
It was all he could say right then. He didn't feel he deserved the praise, not after how he was treating Hannah, and certainly not given how he suspected they would come to blows again before this meeting was done.
A minute passed where both digested what had transpired between them. And then it was broken.
"I believe you had something else you wished to discuss?"
Harry set Hannah to the back of his mind for now and debated for a moment which of the two topics he wanted to discuss to begin with. Horcruxes or Malfoy…
"I want to know what's being done about Malfoy," said Harry. "Look, I know you told me to let it go. I'd like to, but I can't in good conscience do so without knowing that you intend to stop whatever he is doing. I mean, I know he is helping Voldemort. I'm certain he has the Mark. I can't understand why you've left him to his own devices so long, and frankly I should've stopped him myself already."
Dumbledore steepled his fingers and said, "I wish for Draco to remain where I can keep an eye on him. He will truly be lost if he is removed from Hogwarts. I ask that you are patient a little longer. I will not allow him to harm anyone."
"He already has," said Harry pointedly, thinking of both Daphne and Hannah's parents. The thought of them made him less calm that he was hoping to stay. "Maybe not directly himself, but definitely through others. He's not some – some innocent in the wrong place. I don't know how much you know about what happens in this damn castle, but a few months ago when he wound up in the Hospital Wing? I gave him a chance before that. I offered him the chance to switch sides when I found him in a moment of weakness. You know what he did? Do you?"
Dumbledore watched him, revealing nothing.
"He cast an Unforgiveable at me. For me, Malfoy made his choice then, if not a long time ago." Harry stared down the Headmaster. "If I try to put myself in your shoes, I just don't see why you haven't stopped him. I suspect that you want to save him, and I can respect the idea in theory, but he is surely beyond redemption now. Since the moment he stepped in the castle he's been hurting people – then it was words, but now it's more than that. He's tried to kill me, you, cast the Imperius on Madam Rosmerta, something we both know to be true even if we have no proof, and he does not care about who he harms that's in his way."
He paused for a breath only to find he'd stood at some point. He sat down again and tried once more to calm himself. "Look, Malfoy may be a product of his upbringing, but he still has chosen to follow Voldemort. You said the difference between Voldemort and me was choice. Well, Malfoy chose Voldemort."
Dumbledore watched Harry for a moment. Harry met his gaze with determination.
"There are elements involved that you are unaware of, Harry" said Dumbledore. "Lucius and Narcissa – his parent's safety is being held over Draco's head. His success or failure will determine the fate of his family, and certainly his own life hangs in the balance. He has little choice. I believe his actions are in effort to protect them and nothing more."
That was indeed something that Harry hadn't known. But it didn't change anything really.
"I'm unaware of them because you haven't told me. But regardless, he's already hurt several people that we know about, sir, and likely more. At what point does Malfoy become responsible for his actions, in defence of his family, self-preservation or otherwise? When someone turns up dead or once his parents are safe?"
"That is unfair, Harry. Draco faces an impossible choice. Like any of us would, he is trying to save –"
"You'll forgive me if I don't shed any tears over yet another man who has tried to kill me. Lucius and Draco can live with their decisions – or not, if that's the case."
Harry surprised himself somewhat at how harsh he sounded, but knew he meant what he was saying. To hell with the Malfoy family. All three of them had meant him harm. He wouldn't miss them.
Even Dumbledore appeared somewhat shocked at Harry's words. "I believe that Draco is not beyond saving, as you do."
Harry looked away, only now realising he had his fists tightly clenched. He deliberately unclenched them and crossed his arms, thinking carefully. "I want to trust you on this, but you're making it very difficult."
"I have my reasons, as well as confidences I must keep. It is not my place to share them."
"I am sure you do, sir. But on my side, in the dark, I don't know what those are, or what you plan. So I have to assume you're doing nothing, and I won't sit idly by and let whatever Malfoy is doing come to pass."
Dumbledore still, infuriatingly, offered nothing.
Harry ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "You know what; I don't think this is going to work. Us working together, that is. I thought this resolution to be open with each other would lead to somewhere productive, but here we are at odds again and again over something that shouldn't even be an issue in the grand scheme of things. Voldemort is out there plotting something we're in the dark about and here we are unable to agree on Malfoy of all things! I can't work this way, being left in the dark until you feel it's necessary."
Dumbledore sighed and seemed to age before him once more. "It pains me that you feel this way. If you feel us ceasing our cooperation is necessary, I will not stop you. You are an adult in the eyes of our world now, Harry, and it is only fair that you are allowed to make decisions as one."
As he stood, a flash of flame appeared at the corner of his vision, revealing Fawkes. Dumbledore stood and approached the Phoenix, who released a letter into the Headmaster's grasp. Fawkes then turned to Harry and let out a few sorrowful notes. Harry walked over and stroked him a few times.
Dumbledore returned to his desk, but observed the interaction.
"It might interest you to know that in all my years with Fawkes by my side, you are the only person he has let pet him besides myself," said Dumbledore wistfully.
Harry smiled a little to himself, but it wasn't a happy smile.
"I want you to understand that this wasn't an easy decision," he said, still focusing on Fawkes. "I really, really want to sit back and let you take care of everything. But I've witnessed and learned too much not to act. I will stop Malfoy. If this ruins whatever you planned, then so be it. I just want you to understand that I'm not doing this out of spite or anything like that, but because I can't sit idly by any longer knowing what I do."
"I understand, Harry," responded Dumbledore solemnly.
Harry petted Fawkes a few more times and then gave the Phoenix a real smile. In return, he received a few happier song notes. Satisfied, Harry faced the Headmaster and nodded, before turning again and leaving the room.
Three hours later saw Harry watching the arrival of the Hogwarts Express at Hogsmeade Station. Despite the sour feeling he had from how his conversation with Dumbledore had turned out, Harry still had it within him to be excited to see everyone again.
Whatever Dumbledore's reasons for keeping secrets about Malfoy didn't matter anymore, so Harry found after spending the interim contemplating their conversation. Harry was going to act and that was the end of it.
He was also going to make things right with Hannah and tell her the truth. It potentially was going to be the loss of her support, but it was better than lying to her indefinitely.
The steam from the Express filled the station. Finally, the doors to the train opened and students began to emerge. The loud chatter of excited students quickly filled the air. Soon enough Harry spotted a face that he was keeping an eye out for. Hermione saw him simultaneously. She turned and spoke to another familiar face: Padma.
Harry let out of a breath. She'd gotten permission to return for another semester after all.
He'd suspected as much, having not heard otherwise from Padma. But it still was a load off his shoulders to see her in her school robes once more, and it warmed him inside to see her again.
Hermione reached him first.
"Hey," said Harry as she reached him. He hugged her, but her grip was looser than usual and she didn't quite meet his eyes when she returned his greeting.
He wasn't able to pursue the feeling that something wasn't right with her yet as Padma commanded his attention when she greeted him. Padma reached in for a hug, and she held him tightly when he embraced her.
"I'm glad you're back," he said sincerely.
"Me too." She smiled beautifully at him. "It was a near thing, but Parvati really came through and helped me convince Father."
Before he could say anything else, Padma was knocked aside. Harry tightened his grip to steady her, but his attention was drawn almost instantly to the sight of Hannah, eyes red and wild, her hair dishevelled.
"You," said Hannah accusingly. "It's your fault that they're dead. I will never, ever forgive you."
Then she slapped him, hard. Harry, stunned, was unable to respond as Hannah went in for a second strike, only for Padma to catch her arm mid-swing.
"What in the name of Merlin is wrong with you?" demanded Padma.
Hannah let out an angry noise and wrenched her arm free. She sent a venomous look at Harry and fled, only to be immediately replaced by Susan.
"Oh Merlin, Harry, are you alright?" she asked, placing her hand on his shoulder, her concern genuine. "It – oh, it was Malfoy! I went to the bathroom and when I returned Malfoy was talking to Hannah. I missed some of what he said, but he asked how she felt about you being the reason he – Malfoy – ordered her parents murder and – and when she said she had no idea what he was talking about he said that you did. She hit him, and I tried to calm her down… but she blames you again."
Harry shook his head, still rubbing his cheek. It still smarted.
And then Susan asked the inevitable. "Did you know?"
The question was loaded – accusatory but hopefully, understanding but suspicious.
"Oh, Harry," said Susan. There was so much in those two words. The look she gave him wrenched his heart. And then she left in pursuit of her friend.
Harry watched her disappear into the crowd. Feeling a hand squeeze his shoulder, he turned to Hermione and she met his eyes this time. He could tell what she was thinking: it had been his mistake to not tell Hannah. It wouldn't matter now that he'd wanted to make things right and come clean. He'd screwed up by not telling her earlier and Malfoy had capitalised, potentially ruining their friendship for good.
The plan had been to leave by the end of the week. Now he was definitely down two of his group, for where Hannah went Susan would too.
But he couldn't delay any further, not for Hannah. Even if she were to join him, could he honestly trust her to have his back and could she trust him anymore? The damage may now be irreparable.
Harry looked between Hermione, Padma, and even a few members of the crowd that were giving them curious looks, and sighed.
A truly monumental error, huh?
A/N: The Order may not know Scrimgeour as well as they think. But Scrimgeour could just be playing Harry after all. Scrimgeour will appear a fair bit in the remainder of Sixth Year.
The part relating to the wills dates back to 2007 when I wrote the corresponding chapter at Gringotts. I cannot believe it has almost been eight years. (Jesus I'm slow these days.) Originally, this was to be more a source of conflict in this scene, helping Harry to separate from Dumbledore and work alone, but screw that. It would've fit right in with the fandom up until maybe 2009 when people began growing sick of the idea en masse. Now? Not interested. Consequently, that conflict with Dumbledore may feel a little more forced than before. His reasons for not telling Harry are legitimate (or at least I think they are) but it will be a bit longer before those come to light.
Honestly, my greatest concern about this chapter was the talk with Remus about moving on. This is a topic I suspect people will think differently on based on their own experiences. In this respect I decided to just write what I know. But it's a tough topic to write about!
Second concern was that there were two large conversations with Harry basically lecturing an older guy. I couldn't shake the feeling that this was quite annoying to read, but also couldn't quite figure out how to work around this and push the characters into the places I want them. Oh well. Hopefully they weren't too horrible.
Next chapter will be the final chapter featuring Hogwarts for quite some time.