A/N: As much as I love reading and imaging reactions, many sections of this chapter were really difficult to write…probably because they are a bit cliché. I've tried to keep them fresh, but I can see where I lagged, so likely you can as well. The fun sections for me were towards the end, I'm sure you'll know when you get there! The last few scenes of this fic are the ones I really want to write and post, but I know I can't skip how everyone reacts to what Harry has done. I'm open to suggestions and will take them into consideration when I do another edit on this in a couple months. I had real problems with the letter fragment in this chapter, I know it still needs lots of work, but it wasn't worth holding back the chapter.
Let me know if the length is a real problem. I wanted to end the chapter at a specific point and it seemed to take me many words to get there… Would you prefer if I'd cut it off halfway and posted this as two chapters?
Thanks for reading. BTW - the next chapter of Two Sides is approx 3/4 done. The goblins are finally starting to talk to me! ;-)
Minerva walked slowly through the corridor in a daze. She would walk a few steps, pause and look at the paper in her hand, then continue towards the headmasters office. Her mind kept spinning around the idea that this just couldn't be happening. Albus couldn't have read the boy so poorly and lost control so completely, the boy wouldn't do such a thing as publicly expose Albus' machinations and declare neutrality. Then she'd look at the proof in her hands. Incontrovertible. The Boy-Who-Lived wasn't going to fight for them against Voldemort. The Boy-Who-Lived was now the Boy-Who'd-Had-It.
She knew Albus wouldn't give up, that he might go to extremes to regain control, but she was slowly coming to the realization that there was nothing they could do to change things at the moment. By going public, Harry had very effectively tied their hands and backed them into a corner. They could take the boy to battle wrapped in chains and drop him at Voldemort's feet, but they couldn't make him fight. They couldn't make his magic fight. Albus would be tempted to use Imperious, but Harry could easily toss it off and the other kinds of controlling magic or potions wouldn't do the job. Sure, it might get him to the battle and cause him to exchange words with the enemy, but a magical duel required a certain degree of independent action, not to mention the necessary training. Against someone of Voldemort's caliber, he'd need to be able to react and have full access to his magic. Imperious allowed this, but the other choices… If he had enough will and presence of mind to access strong magic and make dueling decisions, he'd have enough to resist. A controller would have to order each spell in the duel with the boy's mind fighting every step of the way. The time delay would cause him to be taken out in the first exchange.
It was a moot point anyway now that the other side all knew the boy didn't want to fight. If they came across him in battle, they'd likely just stun him, take him away and later free him once they purged him of whatever magic Albus had used. They could correctly claim to the world that they had freed the Boy-Who-Lived from those who sought to use him -- a child -- in battle after he had publicly declared himself neutral. They would come off as the hero's and the Order and Ministry would look worse than the Death Eaters.
Minerva shuddered at the brief mental picture of Harry, wand raised, running toward the Death Eater lines only to have them welcome him, split, swallow him up, and begin shielding his escape. No, to try and control him by magical means would end up a political and publicity nightmare. The knowledge that they had nothing else had struck her hard.
She had always known that Albus preferred to keep Harry's personal circle very small (ie: controllable), and she was intimately familiar with the duplicity of Ronald, Hermione, and Ginny - his first tier friends, but she had never really analyzed that situation and the possible repercussions of exposure. With Sirius gone and Albus' manipulations revealed, the first tier was non-existent. All they had left was a very small second tier, and as the boy implied, nobody risks death for second tier acquaintances. Especially since most of those would no longer be trusted due to their association with Albus and the Order. She wondered where Remus ranked and wished that they hadn't worked so hard to discourage a friendship with Neville. The reasoning had been obvious at the time. Nobody wanted to risk Augusta Longbottom's wrath by bringing him into Albus' plots, and without being controlled, he would likely tell Harry things Albus did not want him knowing. The child's hesitant nature had made it simple to intimidate him from calling on the old Potter-Longbottom family friendship. They'd had more interactions last year, but Ronald and Hermione had claimed they had it under control and it meant little. Humph! Based on the letter, they'd obviously misread Harry's feelings. But then, the very existence of the letter demonstrated just how poorly they understood Harry.
Perhaps the hardest discovery was when she read how Harry felt that this wasn't his world, his people. It had never occurred to her that he felt no tie to the magical world as a whole. The magical world was everything to her and she couldn't imagine it being different for any witch or wizard. She knew that some muggleborn children had difficulties bonding to the magical world, but the commonly held theory believed that to be due to their families tying them back to the muggle one. Harry had a poor relationship with his family and no muggle friends in Surrey; he'd also been born into the magical world. This was his true home in her view. They had all assumed that he felt about the magical world as they did, that he had nothing else. Albus had been so certain he'd ensured there was nothing else.
She'd never thought about the muggle culture itself being the binding link; the comfort of knowing the customs and beliefs, how to live day to day, and where to go for the things you needed. Other than the Leaky Cauldron or the Three Broomsticks, the boy likely had no idea how to live in the magical world. He had no idea of how to find a place to live, where to buy groceries or even how to cook without muggle appliances and electricity. She knew Albus had purposefully not wanted Harry to know how to become independent, but she wondered if the other muggle-raised had managed to glean this information from their peers, as was expected.
Minerva stood before the Headmaster's gargoyle remembering all the times she had supported Albus in fighting those Wizarding Life & Culture classes Lucius Malfoy and the old line purebloods had been trying to add to the curriculum for over a decade. Albus had firmly maintained that they were just excuses to spread blood purity / pureblood supremacy propoganda. She'd always followed Albus's lead in these areas and with Harry. She hadn't known everything that letter said he'd been up to, but she'd known a lot, suspected more…and she had remained silent about it all. The shame was beginning to make her feel very uncomfortable. She remembered her suspicions that his real problem with those classes had been that they contained information he didn't want Harry to have. Once the classes were part of the curriculum, he wouldn't have been able to suspend them for Harry's years here, nor keep him out of them as they had been proposed as required for every student, magical and muggle-raised alike.
It was impossible not to appreciate the irony. Albus had blocked the very programs that might have given Harry the attachment he needed to fight for them. Indeed, pretty much everything Albus had done to increase his personal control over the lad had led to a decrease in Harry's knowledge of, and feelings for, the magical world and its people as a whole. Now that very lack was to be their downfall.
As the letter had said, the isolationist policy had prevented his building any sense of affiliation. They had only themselves to blame, or perhaps Albus, but they had all followed his plans with only the occasional token argument. She remembered just how easily she'd given in about the Dursley's, against all of her instincts, she'd walked away that night leaving that baby on the doorstep. With a heavy heart, she spoke the password and ascended the stairs to the office.
Albus Dumbledore smiled as he signed his name to the final piece of parchment on his desk and placed it in the special basket that sent it onwards to his Deputy. He was late getting down to breakfast in the Great Hall, but he'd put off this paperwork last night and it had to be finished. The great man rose, adjusted his bright robes, and moved around his desk just as chimes sounded announcing a visitor. He quickly sat back down in his desk chair and perched his spectacles on the end of his nose. Once his calm, slightly batty expression was firmly in place, he waved open the door to admit his Deputy.
"Ah, Minerva! I was just finishing some paperwork before joining the rest of the staff. Lovely morning, isn't it? A lemon drop?"
He held out the ever present candy dish, eyes twinkling madly. The deputy headmistress sniffed, and waved off the bowl.
"Really, Albus. At this hour of the morning!" She took a seat and adjusted her robes. "Have you seen the Daily Prophet today?"
He popped a sweet into his mouth and sucked, hiding his wince. The things he suffered for his persona…his greatness was truly under-appreciated. "Not as yet, I prefer to have it delivered to the Great Hall to read with my tea. Something of importance in today's issue? I haven't heard any news of attacks and the Ministry has been quiet."
Without a word, Minerva passed over her copy of the paper and settled back into her chair to watch. His twinkle began to fade almost instantly as he read the title of the advert and his face alternately paled and flushed as he continued reading. By the time he reached the end and the paper was flat on the desk, his face was stone cold and his eyes as hard and angry as she had ever seen them.
"I want Potter up here NOW! Have Severus bring whatever potions he thinks will work to bring him back under control. By lunchtime the boy will issue a retraction or claim the whole thing is a lie and-"
Minerva interrupted. "It's too late for that, Albus. Harry was down in the Hall when the paper arrived. He's already verified the article and likely had a showdown with the Weasleys and Miss. Granger - in front of everyone. The entire school is talking about it and I wouldn't be surprised if some of the owls that delivered mail haven't left already with a return note including some quotes of Harry's words."
She shifted in her seat at his glare. He looked to be completely beyond words and she could feel his magic rising.
"It's best if you don't talk to him until you have completely calmed down, Albus. Otherwise you may do something we all will regret." Another heavy sigh escaped the woman. "What's done is done, and can't be undone. He can't take it back; everyone has read it and heard his confirmation."
The sound of Albus's fist pounding on his desk made her jump in her seat. "I do not accept that! Anything short of death can be undone! The owlery can be locked down until I'm satisfied. I've done large scale obliviates and memory hazes before -"
Minerva sat forward and interrupted his tirade. "You can't obliviate the entire school; the younger children are too young to have their minds manipulated without risking permanent damage. That would be a much greater scandal and threat - you'd find yourself in Ministry custody by nightfall. As would anyone who allowed you to carryout such a plan. I can assure you the staff has no desire to spend time in a cell let alone damage the children under our care. You are forgetting that there are likely children here that have methods of communicating with their families that do not involve the school Owlery. Besides, it wouldn't handle the rest of the country who've read the letter, nor any information that has already left the school. I thought about this all the way to your office Albus, magical means of coercion cannot be used. I know once you calm down and think about things, you will agree. That door was closed once he made everything so public. Your actions here will come under perusal. Nothing will be able to remain hidden, so it's best that you do nothing requiring hiding."
His face mottled with his frustration and he began looking for someone to bear the brunt. "I want Weasley and Granger up here before lunch. They should have known what he was up to; at least that something was happening. That's what I pay those two for - what kind of observers are they! Useless braggart and jealous prat, that's what they are, what a waste of my effort and tutelage. They obviously slacked off on their duties."
He fumed in his chair for a few moments before he came up with his next method. "Ginny will convince him. Teenage boys will always follow their hormones. He'll fight just for her approval."
His deputy placed her head in her hands and groaned.
"What? Manipulating with hormones always works with lads."
"No Albus. You are forgetting all the points in that letter. It states to the world that he despises her and that she is trying to use love potions on him. If he suddenly starts mooning after her, or anyone, all of England will gossip that he's been dosed."
She tapped her finger on his desk to emphasize her words. "For once, right this moment, things aren't going to go your way, Albus. You can't obliviate anyone, nor can you use magic or potions to control Harry. He has publicly declared himself neutral by this action. If he were to retract now, the entire world would be screaming that you were using illegal mind controls on an underage student. It could - not - be - hidden. The cause would be irreparably damaged."
Albus clenched his hands convulsively, forming the paper into loose balls, his rage causing the air to feel heavy. "And this doesn't do the same! The boy MUST fight! The prophecy demands it and I've spent years setting everything into place and molding him. He is mine!"
The man was almost apoplectic as his magic blasted the paper upwards, shredding it into small pieces of confetti that rained down upon Minerva. She placed both hands on his desk and leaned forward between them.
"This isn't the end of the issue, that's not what I'm saying. Please calm yourself and think about what I'm actually saying. It shouldn't harm anything if he remains neutral for a short time; we just have to keep him from meeting face to face with Voldemort. That wouldn't be safe at all, for anyone. If they don't meet, there won't be any bargain, and this will eventually go away by itself. In the meanwhile, we need to work on giving him a reason to fight, making him feel a part of this world instead of the muggle one. Best thing to do is show disappointment but pretend to go along. Anything we force will be obvious and the other students will report to their parents and the press. When they go home for winter break and Harry stays, then we can work on him and expose him more to the magical world outside of Hogwarts. Let things die down for a couple months and make sure he doesn't leave Hogwarts and has no opportunity to meet with Voldemort. That's my recommendation."
During her rant, Albus had begun to calm and settle into his chair, thinking and plotting. She was rather surprised he'd allowed her to finish. At her pause, he raised his head to meet her now stern gaze.
"You'll just have to weather the fuss over the money Albus. You should have kept your fingers out of his accounts. Why on earth you were ever taking money anyways…" She shook her head in disappointment, sat back in the chair, vanished the paper bits from her person and rested her hands on her lap. "It would be best if you stayed out of them from now on and maybe began to repay the more obvious, hmmm, 'loans'."
He glared back. "You go too far Minerva."
"No, I think that is your specialty Albus. You need to pull back and let things calm down or you risk loosing more than just the boy. You have a school full of students, a faculty and an Order to deal with as well as a werewolf and Arthur & Molly. I do hope for all our sakes that those three were part of your inner circle and aware of all your plans." She sniffed. "I daresay you'll also be hearing from the Ministry and the press."
She rose and moved to the doorway while Albus sat stunned. He'd forgotten about all of them. Damage control was going to take some work and planning…
Minerva paused before leaving. "There is one other point to consider. Détente takes two sides to reach. There is no guarantee that Voldemort will even allow for this neutrality of Harry's. That whole issue may just be a storm in a teacup and the only issues you need to deal with are the ones that affect you personally, the fall out from your own actions and the loss of your spies. Next week could well bring an owl from Voldemort telling Harry he refuses. Harry's foray into neutrality can always be dealt with later, that's the beauty of neutrality, Albus. Meanwhile, your own house could well be burning down while you play with the fence he's sitting upon. You should also remember that when you force someone off a fence, they may not land on the side you want. It really is safest for us all to simply let him sit up there Albus, just for now."
As she stepped onto the descending staircase, Minerva could hear the sounds of glass breaking and metal clanging against stone. Albus was having a tantrum to rival Harry's.
In the early morning hours, a snowy owl perched in a tree watching a hodgepodge house that could only be The Burrow, home of the Weasley family. She had deliveries to make, but had instructions to wait until the right moment. It took an intelligent owl to understand, but luckily Hedwig was a very superior owl - and she knew it.
Molly had just placed a full plate in front of her husband and was sitting to eat her own breakfast when an owl arrived with the morning paper. Arthur removed the paper from the owl's leg and settled back, as always, to scan the headlines while enjoying his meal. Molly heard a gurgling sound, looked to her husband and found him sitting stiffly upright reading the front page with his jaw dropped, eyes wide, and face pale.
"Dear? Are you alright? Has something happened?"
Arthur didn't reply. He seemed riveted by what he was reading.
(another excerpt from the letter)
…Suffice it to say that I've found very little in my admittedly limited interactions with the Magical world that is true. My two supposed best friends, Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger, are false. In actuality, they are my keepers. Arranged, bought and paid for by Albus Dumbledore using skimmings off my own inheritance and various bribes. In exchange for their regular payments and perks over the last five years, they spy on my every move, thought, and feeling. All of which are passed on to the puppet-master… oops! I meant Headmaster. They receive their instructions: what I am to believe, who I am to like and dislike, how to make me fall in line with Dumbledore's plots and, most importantly - what I'm not to find out about, namely the Potter family history and my rights as a Potter and a wizard.
The most vital weapon in their arsenal is the ability to keep me isolated from the other students, their abrasiveness serves them well here. Only an abused child who'd never had a friend in his life would have put up with them for as long as I did, although I must admit I came close to ending the game last year. I don't think I can truly describe how much I despise them and how glad I am that going public means I no longer have to suffer their company and pretend to enjoy it. What kind of person decides at the age of 11 to befriend someone for the sole purpose of subverting their free will and to later betray them completely upon the demands of a twisted old man? And this is supposed to be the light side?
Ron Weasley was chosen early on, before our first year, and well schooled in how he was to become my friend on that crucial first train ride. His most important task was to get in that first peer level indoctrination of house wars and 'Slytherin Bad / Gryffindor Good' mentality that Dumbledore loves. It wouldn't have done at all if the BWL, Dumbledore's destined Gryffindor Golden Boy, had ended up in Slytherin. Yes Tom, you read that line correctly. The hat wanted to place me in Slytherin where I would be with others like myself. After all, most abused children are sly children; it's the only way we can survive. Ron worked hard at convincing me Slytherin was evil, but oddly enough, it was due to Draco Malfoy that I begged for any other house. In the interactions we had prior to the sorting, he reminded me far too much of my spoiled, bullying Muggle cousin and I wanted as far away as possible from someone like Dudley.
I began to doubt Ron early on in first year. Let's face it, he was only 11 and he's never been the most subtle of people. The more I learned about his family, specifically how many older siblings he had, the more that whole first meeting began to smell. By the end of the first week, it was obvious to me that my meeting the Weasleys outside the barrier to the train platform had been a complete setup. I mean really; I'm supposed to believe that Molly Weasley has forgotten the platform number and location? That she would so ignore the Secrecy Statute to loudly discuss muggles and access to platform 9 ¾ for the Hogwarts Express in a crowd of muggles? After spending seven years at Hogwarts herself and taking children to and from the train several times a year -- every year since Bill turned 11 -- she likely can find her way there blindfolded.
At that point I recognized the scam. It seemed harmless then so I decided the benefits outweighed the negatives and pretended not to see the obvious; I'm very good at that. I also couldn't deny the fact that I knew very little about the world and situation I found myself in, it's always best to lie low when that happens. I learned long ago the benefit of outwardly following the path of least resistance while keeping alert and safe until it's time to make my own moves. You might even say that lesson was beaten into me. Having never been allowed a friend before, I was perfectly willing to settle for the appearance of friendship in those first months. You know, someone willing to talk to you, sit with you at meals, in the common room and in class; someone who tells others they are your friend, even when you know it's a complete lie… but, as it was more than I'd had before, it seemed a benefit. I knew I had no social skills and no idea of how to go about making and keeping friends, especially while I was trying to get a handle on this new environment. Since he was using me, I felt no guilt at all in using him in my experiments into social interaction.
Sometimes I would forget that he was planted into my life, but luckily for me, Ron can always be counted on to show his true colors on a regular basis. He did tax my skills and patience, but thankfully I'm a better actor than him with 10 more years of hard experience. I had no idea until recently that he was being paid with my own money and that he, his sister, Hermione, and others, were planning to take it all once I met my oh-so-convenient demise -- at your hands after killing you of course. If I was so crass as to survive our encounter, they had plans to ensure I didn't survive my 'wounds'. Since their plan involved my marrying Ginny in a love potion induced stupor by the end of the school year, they truly believed their access to my money would never end. I actually heard them discussing their plans for my money once I was dead.
I hate to burst their bubble, but they were never in my will. Their plan would have failed. After a BWL fan-girl tried to dose me with a potion sometime back, I made arrangements that no marriage of mine would be considered valid until I'd been checked for potions and magical influences, by professionals I chose long ago. They thought they had kept me from learning about the Protection Acts developed by the Pureblood families. I not only learned about them, I invoked them - every single one. It was obvious to me that a society with so many ways to manipulate someone magically would have long ago developed legal systems for wealthy families to protect themselves from unscrupulous gold diggers. It wasn't difficult to manipulate someone into telling me what I needed to know.
If they had somehow completed their plan, Ginny wouldn't have seen a knut and any child would have been automatically disinherited and declared a bastard. I'd rather see the entire Potter fortune given to a kneazel and house elf shelter than for any of them to see a single coin. Luckily, I plan ahead and I'm not planning on dying a martyr's death anytime soon -- especially if you and I can come to an agreement.
Some friends, huh Tom? This is why I've decided to act now instead of staying with my policy of 'better the spies you know' and 'keep your enemies closer'. Dumbledore's plots have become more and more life threatening and hearing their plans for my demise told me it was time for a public separation. My chances of living to graduate are greater if they all understand their new permanent distance from the Potter vaults.
I'm sure you must be a little more curious about these three and I must admit I am enjoying the chance to publicly state my complete and unvarnished opinion of my so called friends. So, I'll explain everything in a further display of my sincerity. Once you understand this is real, I hope you will see how my neutrality will serve both our interests.
In the beginning, Ron was more than eager to pretend friendship with someone famous. Being close to the famous is, in and of itself, a sort of fame, and he is desperate for recognition and acclaim. I think in those first two years that there were times his companionship was true, but regretfully, his resentful temperament and sense of entitlement meant that he would ultimately have issues with a peer so rich and famous as the Boy-Who-Lived. I don't mean me, the person Harry, but that mythical being with the odd hyphenated name. Contrary to popular belief, they aren't the same person, but Ron, among others, could never see that. It wasn't helped that his jealousy spiked every time he noticed me 'getting something', whether I asked for it or not.
In his thick-headed twisted logic, he sees others abilities and accomplishments as detracting from him, as if others do well simply to spite him. There are times when he can't hide how he sees my inherited wealth as a personal affront. I sometimes get the feeling he believes there is a set amount of 'specialness' in the world, and whenever someone gains something, it rips possibilities out of his grasp. In his mind the world revolves around Ronald Weasley and it definitely owes him something for having to put up with his deprived life as a younger son in a family that loves him. Sometimes I wish he could be forced to live part of my childhood, or perhaps yours, but it wouldn't do any good. He would never comprehend the lesson.
Ronald has become almost totally driven by greed and jealousy. He thoroughly enjoys the idea of getting one over on me and having my money. With his drive to be someone, anyone, he should have been a Slytherin, but he's not cunning enough nor truly ambitious. His ambition is of the sort where he simply wants it to drop into his lap with no effort on his part; he has no interest in actually working for anything. He mostly wants whatever I have, or what he perceives I have: easy fame and fortune, and talent on a broom. He never notices the cost's I've paid. I heard him once brag how he would be a much better Boy-Who-Lived - oblivious to the concept that it would have meant the death of his entire family and that his sister would never have been born.
Yes, he truly is that thick to wish he were an orphan in exchange for fame and fortune - just ask the children of some of your followers, or maybe just Pettigrew. Having spent years as his pet rat, he can likely verify much of what I'm saying.
Ron thrives on the position as the best friend of the Boy-Who-Lived; except when that boy is getting bad press. Then he demands extra payments and benefits such as prefect status and an unearned spot on the Quidditch team to compensate for his trouble and damage to his 'reputation' caused by being around me. I don't know how he's managed to delude himself there; even I have to work hard at pretending I don't see the disdainful glances he gets from other students. I can't imagine what reputation he thinks he's protecting, but the idea always makes me laugh, when I'm not reminding myself of the old adage "with friends like these, who needs enemies?"
His main role, besides spying, seems to be bullying others from getting too close to me and distracting me from schoolwork. After all, it wouldn't do for the pawn to learn too much, he might get ideas and self confidence. This is just another demonstration of Dumbledore's miscalculations. My childhood gave me a thorough grounding in how to learn while pretending to know nothing. It was second nature to me when I arrived at Hogwarts and I maintained the pattern out of habit. Ron's complete lack of discretion soon made it apparent that I needed to keep the pretense of a poor student with bad study habits. Someone obviously wanted it that way and I've never tied my self-worth to posted grades, so I didn't really care. As long as I know I've learned to the best of my ability, I could care less what others think I can do. I believe I was 7 when I stopped trying to earn the approval and good opinion of those around me. It was a useless endeavor and I learned the only opinion that matters is my own.
Fooling Ron wasn't hard to do; he is incredibly dense and easily distracted by Quidditch talk and a couple of charms to make everyone ignore the book in my lap. I doubt it's occurred to him that all this distracting business has a negative impact on his own education, nor did he notice that I managed to get the minimum required OWL for every subject where I wanted to take a NEWT. OWLs only count for getting into NEWT classes and I saw no need to risk my cover, I balanced my successes by failing horribly in those classes I wasn't continuing. I sometimes enjoy thinking about that being the ultimate karmic payback for his actions. One day he'll need the skills and knowledge he's disdained while pursuing Dumbledore's agenda, and it won't be there, and neither will Dumbledore. I watch he and Hermione bludgeon their way through the other students (not to mention their behavior to some of the Order members) and marvel at the bridges burning behind them and their complete obliviousness. For someone so good at chess, he doesn't appear to have a Plan B. One where he doesn't have my money nor the cachet of being a friend of the Boy-Who-Lived. Very short sighted if you ask me. You may want to watch the next few years, especially right after graduation; it's bound to be entertaining. I know I'll enjoy myself!
Ginny, well there isn't much to say about her, she isn't worth much discussion. In my eyes she has always been that irritating stalker fan-girl obsessed with the Boy-Who-Lived hero image. I doubt she has a clue as to who I am as a real person. The problem came from her being the younger sibling of my forced pretend friend, so I couldn't distance myself from her. I'm not sure why I was surprised by the love potion plan. I should have remembered Weasley family gossip that her mother once used a potion. I don't see how they thought this could fly - I've never shown the slightest interest in her and can barely stand to be in her presence (the way she stares is spooky), something I know others have noticed.
I'm not sure why they thought people would believe a sudden obsession on my part since I wasn't bothered by her snogging every boy in sight last year. Apparently, all that snogging was supposed to make me jealous and see her in a desirable light. Who was advising her?? It only made me see her in a sleazy light. Watching a 14 yr old go at it that heavy publicly was disturbing. Even I know it's so not done and completely against all bounds of acceptable public behavior. One can't stop ones mind from asking the question - if that's what she does in public, what is she willing to do in private? She wasn't coming across as the kind of girl you'd be proud to take home to mum and show off to your mates; especially when those mates are likely to have personally experienced her 'charms'. Now, a quick trip to the broom closet would be another thing if you were the kind of bloke into meaningless encounters. Not my style I'm afraid, I value myself a bit more than that. At least she was well paid for her efforts. I wonder if she ever made the connection that being paid to seduce someone gave her something in common with certain females hanging about Knocturn Alley?
Simply to put the issue down once and for all: I have absolutely no interest in Ginny Weasley, romantic or otherwise, and despise her just behind Hermione. I would never, NEVER, date or marry her voluntarily. Enough said.
Just as an aside, I always wonder about the mental and emotional stability of those who resort to using potions or magical false means to gain a romantic partner. Who in their right mind would want someone who is only with them because they aren't in their own right mind? Have they no self respect? Are they so hideous inside and out that this is the best they can do? To use a potion is to admit that you have no redeemable qualities that would cause someone to fall in love with you or perhaps you are simply too lazy to expend the effort to attract a partner on your own. Now that I think about it; that reminds me too much of Ron…
Arthur finished reading and stared unseeing out the window. Tired of trying to get his attention, Molly slipped the paper out of his hands to see what he'd been reading. She let out a small shriek as she saw the advert, looked up at her unresponsive husband, and began to read.
While Molly's face went through a gamut of emotions, Arthur's was completely blank - except for his eyes. His wife managed to only read half the letter before her temper took over and she began exclaiming and shouting. He slowly turned from the window.
"Molly! Please, don't do this now. You need to read all of it, before you say any more. All of it Molly!"
Startled, she paused with her mouth open, harrumphed, squirmed and went back to reading. She angrily shoved the newspaper into the middle of the table when she'd finished.
"That boy! How dare he! To-"
"Did you know?" Arthur asked quietly. Molly seemed not to hear his question and continued her rant. He reached across the table to take one of her hands and get her attention.
"Molly. Did you know what Ron and Ginny were up to?" He squeezed her hand tightly and tried to hold her eyes with his own.
"It's lies, all lies! You can't have believed any of that, Arthur."
"What about your part Molly. Were you on the muggle side asking after the platform? Did Albus set that up?"
Molly began to shift on her seat. "There was no harm in it Arthur. He asked me to look out and see if Harry had any trouble and help him find the train. Nothing wrong with that! Harry was just standing there looking confused. He had no idea where to go, I just spoke loudly so he knew we were going to the same place and made sure he followed us. How could anyone see any harm there?"
She was a bit shrill. Arthur tapped her hand.
"Why would he need that Molly? Why was Harry the only muggle-raised child with no idea how to get on the platform? There's a whole section in the orientation materials and every authorized contact specialist makes sure the child and parents know how to find and pass the barrier so they won't attract attention. Why would Albus even think there would be a problem? And, if he did, why didn't he assign someone to escort Harry from his home? Or make arrangements for Harry to travel with another muggle family? Why didn't you go up and introduce yourself and say that Albus had asked you to look out for him? Those are my questions Molly; did you ask any of them?"
She stared at the table, biting her lip and refusing to look at him. Relentlessly, Arthur continued on pushing at her illusions.
"I can't help but recall Albus spending time here before Ron's first year. He hadn't done that since shortly after the war ended. But then he shows up two summers beforehand and I was surprised when he spent time with those two. He mentioned they would be going to Hogwarts with Harry. They'd never thought of it before, but after his visit, all they talked about was being friends with The Boy-Who-Lived. Ginny started telling me how she was going to grow up and marry the Boy-Who-Lived, be rich and live happily ever after. I put it down to her hearing too many fairy tales and latching on to a real figure for her little girl fantasies instead of Prince Charming. Several times that August before Ron left, I came home to find Albus here, walking in the orchard with Ron. What was that about Molly?"
She looked up at him, face pale. "He said he was just chatting with Ron, trying to make him feel comfortable about going to Hogwarts. Said he understood how younger brothers often needed a bit of extra attention to feel special when they had to follow the older ones. I didn't think anything of it Arthur; I thought it was kind of him to single out Ron for something special. It was Albus, Arthur. Why would I think anything bad of Albus? He would never hurt our family… he wouldn't. He's Albus Dumbledore!"
She suddenly returned Arthur's grip and squeezed his hand. "It's all lies. Harry is lying or the paper is… it's lies…it has to be…" her voice fell off.
Arthur sighed and dropped his forehead into his other hand. They sat there for a few moments then both jerked when the silence was filled by the sound of an owl tapping insistently on the window.
"It's Hedwig!" Molly exclaimed. "It must be a note from Harry telling us it's all a mistake!"
Arthur opened the window and slowly took the letter. Unlike Molly, he recognized too much of Harry in the Daily Prophet letter. It wasn't a mistake, Harry had written every word. Whatever Hedwig had just delivered, wasn't going to be pleasant.
He opened the letter and sank back down into his chair and began reading. Inpatient, Molly interrupted.
"Well, what does he say?"
Arthur sighed deeply and rubbed his hand over his face. "He says that he has no direct evidence you and I were involved in anything beyond the game at the station, but he also has no evidence that we weren't involved with more."
Molly loudly sucked in a breath.
"He mentions Albus' embezzlements and says that there are no records indicating that you took more from his Gringotts vault than you spent on his school supplies plus what you returned to him as spending money. The numbers from the goblins showing withdrawals made by you match up with what he received in supplies and cash. But, he has to acknowledge that there isn't anything to show that we didn't receive coin from Albus, just like Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and other Order members. Coin that originated from his vaults and was taken without his permission."
"How could he think you or I would ever steal from him!" She demanded shrilly.
Arthur sounded tired as he answered. "Why not Molly? Everyone else was, including two of our children. How is he to know the difference?"
When she failed to answer, he stroked her hand and continued. "He goes on to say that he doesn't hold Ron and Ginny's actions against us. But, since they were so young when all this began, we are ultimately responsible for their actions. Especially since he has no way of knowing if we approved of Albus' plans or not. If we didn't specifically give our blessings, well…we may not have seen what was happening because we didn't want to see it."
"What…what else does he say?"
"Do you want to read it yourself?"
"Not now, I will later, but now, I think I just want you to tell me the main parts."
While they looked at each other, communicating silently in that way long time married people tend to do, the Floo went off and two bodies stumbled out into the kitchen.
"Dad!" Said one twin.
"Mum!" Said the other.
"Have you read the Prophet?" They said together.
Harry wandered down a dead-end corridor, looking for a quiet place to spend his break period. Charms had been crazy with everyone gawking and buzzing. He had quickly tired of the madness in the common room. His 'friends' had yet to make an appearance, so he'd no opportunity to enjoy their situation. He twitched when a quiet voice spoke as he passed one of the deep window embrasures.
"Hello Harry. You must be very relieved everything's out now, I couldn't help but notice Hermione and the Weasleys' Nargle infestation was worse this year than usual. These last weeks must have been quite unpleasant having to deal with that."
He grinned. What a perfect distraction. He loved chatting with Luna and deciphering her conversation.
"Hullo Luna. Well, we can't blame everything on the Nargles. I think they're more of a symptom rather than a cause."
She nodded solemnly while Harry took a seat on the window ledge facing Luna and leant against the casing. He stretched his legs out, sharing the ledge space with Luna's legs.
She tapped his foot. "I'd have to agree with you there. I felt sorry for the poor little Nargles."
Harry couldn't help it and burst out laughing. Luna gave him a sly smile and joined in the merriment.
"Thanks. I needed a laugh." He wriggled her foot. "I didn't realize you had this period free."
"It's actually a free morning for me; my first class is after lunch. I like catching up on my reading here, it's a lovely view. I'm trying to pick my classes for my new school, The Nullabor Magical Academy. The curriculum is so different; it's harder than I thought it would be. Have you decided yet if you're going to enroll there or just do home study?"
He goggled at her, unable to say a word.
"No decision yet? Well, we do have lots of time, what with the season reversal down there. They're just finishing the school year now and getting ready for summer, you know. Leaving when you do, you're going to completely miss winter this year. I'll have some since I'm going to finish the term, but it will feel strange celebrating Christmas when it's hot. Going from snowy Scotland directly into the heat of an Australian summer…it will feel very odd at first. Since you're going to be on the beach, I told Daddy we should get a place in the mountains. Then we can visit back and forth and have some of each. Do you think we'll ever get used to Christmas in the summer?"
"What… How… LUNA!"
She giggled. "Don't try and figure out how I know what I know, Harry. I just do. I won't say anything and Dumbledore and Snape never peek into my mind, it makes them nauseous somehow. Last time the Headmaster tried, he turned positively green and almost fell over."
"But I don't even know. I haven't definitely settled on the beach yet."
"But you will." She shrugged. "We've got a great place in the Blue Mountains. Daddy found several options and I went down before school started and picked one. I think you'll really like it when you join us for Christmas. "
"Luna… How did you …?" He stared at her for a few minutes, then came to his senses, looked around the empty hallway and put up a privacy spell just in case. "Why did you move? What about the Quibbler?"
"It's very simple Harry. I don't know why you need me to explain it all." She reached over and patted his knee. "That's alright Harry; the Wrackspurts outside must have been distracting you. You're usually much quicker on the uptake."
Luna straightened the papers she'd been reviewing, placed them in her satchel, then folded her hands in her lap and smiled. She looked oddly serene and Harry couldn't decide if that was calming or if it freaked him out even more.
"Daddy and I discussed it this summer once I knew you'd made a deal and were leaving. It only makes sense to leave with you; I don't think the Dark Lord will like the Quibbler, so it's best to publish it somewhere else. It's also better for me as well. I don't want to end up married to some prat like Malfoy just because I'm a pureblood. Worse, I could end up with Crabbe." She shuddered. "Euuuwww. It makes much more sense to leave. Daddy didn't care where we went and I don't have all that many friends really, so I thought it might be nice to go to the same country as you. Then at least I'd know somebody I liked."
She smiled softly as she hopped down from the window and slung her satchel over her shoulder. "Don't worry Harry; it's all going to work out just fine for everyone. Daddy's very excited. Australia has lots of interesting animals, especially in Tasmania and deep in the Outback jungle."
"Jungle? The outback's a desert…there's no jungle there."
"Oh Harry, it only looks like a desert to muggles. The aborigine wizards hid everything from the European muggles. There's the jungle, lovely rolling grasslands, and a wizard city across the lake from the school and so much more. I read in the pamphlet how the school brooms are charmed so that riders look like these huge eagles or vultures to the muggles on the ground. You don't have to worry about being seen. Quite sensible I think and students often fly to the coast to wizard only beaches on the Blight. They have specially trained magical sharks in the water to keep the muggles away. Great Whites they're called, Daddy can't wait to study them."
She pulled a card out of the satchel's side pocket. "Here's our new floo address. You can come over for Christmas anytime after the 20th and you're more than welcome to stay past New Year's. I can help you shop for furniture for your new house if you'd like. I have some ideas for the back decks. I think you should change the stairs between the levels. Not only are they in the wrong places, they don't match very well. See you later Harry."
Luna meandered down the hall, humming. Harry found himself still speechless; all he could do was follow her with his eyes. As he leaned out to keep her in sight, he heard her say "Close your mouth, Harry." He reflexively closed his mouth, leant too far and fell off the ledge. Sprawled on the stone floor, he started to laugh. Luna. He should have expected it really; the world just seemed to work differently for her. He rolled onto his back. She was right; it would be nice to know someone else there, to look forward to having at least one friend in the whole country. Even though he wasn't sure where he was going to settle, and definitely didn't have a house, he was positive that when he found it, the back decks would have stairs needing work. The certainty was oddly comforting.
Later that night after dinner, Harry finished setting the rune cubes around his bed. With his finger on the last cube, he mumbled the final phrase, lifted his hand and watched the wards rise around his portion of the dormitory. He grinned down at the elf holding his other hand.
"Well, that's that. Nobody should be able to get in here without waking us both. We should be tied into the wards so you can come and go if you need."
"Dobby will stay up and guard Harry Potter Sir from bad Wheezys and Dumblydores."
"It's not necessary Dobby. The wards will give us plenty of warning."
Hands on hips, Dobby replied stubbornly. "Dobby will guard. Dobby took nap so Dobby could sit on Harry Potter Sir's old trunk and stare at Bad Wheezy all night long. Harry Potter Sir will not take away Dobby's fun." He added with a sly look.
Harry laughed. Dobby was definitely learning how to manipulate him, and heaven help him, but he loved the idea of Dobby staring at Ron all night. It would likely drive the redhead barmy.
"Alright. Feel free to add cushions, pillows, even a chair to the top of the trunk if you want. Make yourself comfortable."
Dobby nodded, snapped his finger and a thick velvet cushion covered the trunk. He settled on top, cross-legged, obviously waiting for Ron to appear. Harry snickered again and closed his curtains. Privacy charms in place, he settled down. It had been a tiring day and he'd not slept well the night before, he was hoping for a good 10 hours tonight.
Four hours later his dream was interrupted by an odd sensation akin to knocking. Harry swam out of his dream and shoved his consciousness down a tube in his mind. His imagination had created the tube to mimic a picture he'd seen of a water slide at a park. He shot out of the tube and dropped, soaking wet and laughing, onto a pile of cushions. A thought dried him and he rose to stand in a room that wasn't really a full part of his mind, but also not a full part of anyone else's. They called it the half-way room and he smirked up at the other occupant.
"Hello Tom, you rang? Anything interesting happen today? Perhaps a member or two of your inner circle dropped dead of a heart attack while reading the morning paper? Mmm? Did my fondest dreams come true?"
A mental representation of a 45 year old Tom Riddle stood in front of a fireplace, arms crossed. He looked very much like an older version of the youth Harry had seen in the Chamber his second year. Not a hint of snake features nor red eyes. Here, attached to Tom's mind, the image showed he still saw himself as the charismatic man who convinced hundreds to follow his path.
"I do wish you'd enter the room with a bit more decorum. You're not eight, and my inner circle is much too capable to be brought down by a newspaper."
His tone was scolding and superior, but Harry could see the amusement hiding in his eyes and tugging at his lip.
"Are you sure you're counting Bellatrix? Alright, alright, not a heart attack, but I can see that someone had a reaction that your still laughing over… who was it?"
Tom unfolded his arms. "They were all entertaining, but the best part came when I told them I was seriously considering agreeing. Lucius paled to the extent that he actually wavered a bit on his feet and almost passed out. He was unable to move or put together a coherent sentence for half an hour. Pettigrew squealed then turned into a rat and tried to run out of the room."
Tom examined the nails on one hand. "He didn't get far; I'd brought up the animagus wards. I told the ones still standing to chase him down. They were so flustered, they actually did. They ran around that room for almost ten full minutes before Rookwood came to his senses and summoned the rat. It was…" He smiled slowly. "Quite an amusing morning."
He moved over and sat in a club chair. "You have kept to our bargain. I admit the letter was well done. I liked the additions you made to the one you actually sent me over the summer, and also appreciated the omitted portions."
Harry sat in the other club chair flanking the fireplace. "Well, part of our goal was public humiliation for Dumbledore and his side. I found the venting to be surprisingly cathartic; I know I went overboard in a couple sections, but…"
Harry shrugged. "The more information out in the public domain, the less able they are to manipulate me so I left it alone. I wanted there to be no doubt in anyone's mind just how I saw those three and Dumbledore's other stooges. It seemed to be the safest option, removing the tiger's teeth you know. So we both gained from this maneuver. You got to humiliate the other side and strike a major blow for morale and I got to declare my independence from Dumbledore, free myself of the spies and tie their hands with publicity for a while."
"Yes, morale. All of Britain was in an uproar today. I don't think I've ever enjoyed receiving reports like I did this evening. Not a bad one in the bunch. From the Ministry to Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade; confusion and angst everywhere."
Tom reached down to pick up the Brandy snifter that suddenly appeared on the table between them. After swirling and sipping, he moaned, exaggerating the pleasure from the drink.
Harry wrinkled his nose. "I don't know how you can stand to drink that stuff, let alone pretend to enjoy it so much. It tastes horrid!"
"All a matter of style, lad. It takes a mature palate; you're many years away from being able to comprehend the enjoyment of a complex Brandy or Cognac." He glanced pointedly at Harry's water tube poised above the pile of cushions.
Snorting, Harry raised a butterbeer. "Don't bother trying to go there. I'm not biting tonight. I'm just barely sixteen and fully within my age rights to enjoy a good water slide and act childishly when I desire. You may have forgotten how to laugh and enjoy the simple things; I plan to spend the next several years wallowing in it."
"Idiot child! You have no concept of power and - "
"Unh unh unh… remember the prophecy. It might very well be in your best interests for me to wallow in fun. We agreed to this test, remember? You must admit that you are already seeing benefits. My hypothesis is looking better and better. It sure beats scurrying about trying to kill each other."
They sat for a few moments, sipping their chosen beverages. Once again, Tom was the one to speak.
"So…onto our bet. What time did the werewolf show up?"
Harry's expression turned completely smug. "He didn't. No letter yet either. I've had Dobby and the snakes monitoring Dumbles Floo and Remus hasn't made any contact."
Tom's face hardened into anger, he'd been so sure…he knew werewolves, had seen Fenrir go into rages. "That makes no sense. Something external must be physically stopping him. Werewolves are very territorial and protective over their 'pack', especially the young cubs born into the pack! He should have been down Dumbledore's throat demanding some kind of satisfaction or revenge! Wolves are pack loyal - where's his loyalty to you!"
"You forgot, Remus has spent most of his life denying the wolf, ignoring and suppressing those instincts. If I was that important to him as a cub, I would have seen him before my third year and he would have made some kind of link with me then. He never did. I doubt he would have even said goodbye when he left if I hadn't walked into his office while he was packing. He may have called me 'cub' as an infant, but that tie fell years before I started Hogwarts."
Harry looked oddly at his bottle of butterbeer, then put it down on the table and picked up a mug of steaming hot cocoa. He wrapped his hands around the mug and curled his legs up underneath him in the chair. His voice and face thoughtful, he sipped while he spoke.
"I think of him as the penultimate sad man. He floats along being controlled by stronger personalities, without which he flounders a bit. He's very fearful of making waves. He won't stand up for himself nor anyone else unless a stronger personality takes the stand first. Just like when he was in school, he won't exert himself. He never stopped James or Siri from bullying or doing anything he felt was wrong, he looked the other way and ignored it. They controlled him then and now Dumbles does."
Harry shifted his legs and stared into his mug until tiny marshmallows appeared.
"Remus has never really tried very hard with me and I think maybe he works a bit not to see what he doesn't want to see cuz then he'd have to do something about it and that's something hard and he doesn't like to do the hard thing on his own. He's also just too tired and terrified of being rejected by his controller or alpha. He would never risk much for me, he never has in the past and I don't see why that would change."
Tom leaned forward. "He was one of your father's closest friends - he owes you in memory of that relationship. Pettigrew has told me how he was with you as an infant. You were the wolf's cub. He was quite protective. Aren't you angry at his behavior? His betrayal?"
"Not really. I don't feel that he and I had much of a relationship for him to betray. He had a relationship with my father, any betrayal of that is between them. I don't remember it so I can't judge. Anyway, I think he's just following his nature. In the sense of real wolf behavior, he's that guy at the bottom of the pecking order that's bossed around by everyone else. He lost his old pack and now has a new one centered around Dumbles and he'll do whatever he's told. He won't come to the school, not unless Dumbles tells him to so he can make contact with me and get info or become my new best buddy. He's behaving how I expected him to behave. That's why I bet the way I did."
Harry peered over his mug at Tom and delivered a smirk worthy of a slytherin. The man sighed in defeat.
"I can't believe you won the bet… my information had the wolf as much stronger, more like your godfather."
"He is strong magically, and good at defense… he's just weak in some areas of his personality. When he's around Siri, he behaved much more like him towards me. Without Siri, he's reverted to before. It doesn't matter to me, I never really thought he'd show or be involved. Remember, he spent 12 yrs ignoring my existence and only tried to see me once." Harry laughed. "Aunt Petunia found him very easy to put off."
"Well, I'll win the next one. What shall we bet on? The ministry?"
"Naw, there isn't anything bet worthy at the moment. It's all a gimme at this point. We both know what they'll do, I'm sure we'll come up with something later. Don't forget, I want my contract and vow. I won the bet fair and square."
Tom's voice was surly. "I won't. Whatever country you settle in will be exempt from all death eater related activity during your residence. Remember, this only holds for one country at a time. Residence means long term, we won't plan around your vacations. If you're stupid enough to walk into one of our operations, you'll just have to get yourself out. Although if you identify yourself, my people will let you pass. In addition, Potter and Black properties around the world will remain untouched by my people. I'll have it written up and we can fine tune the wording. We'll execute the magical vows and contracts at Gringotts before you leave."
"Agreed." Harry nodded.
"With this, you certainly won't have any trouble convincing a country to let you stay. They'll be begging once they understand the implications." The Brandy swirled, catching the firelight.
Another smirk from Harry. "Yes, I'm counting on it…"
A/N: I'm not the first to have Harry and Tom / Voldemort meet in a mental room. I remember reading that device in at least three different fic's. I'd mention them, but I don't remember exactly which ones they were and I don't even know who was the first to come up with it… it just wasn't me… but I do think the water slide entrance is mine! ;-)
Revised Loaded July 28, 2008