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Out of Exile
Nearly ten years had passed since the Fall of Lord Voldemort, the most powerful dark wizard of the age. Wizarding Britain had thrived in the years since. Peace had been restored, political stability ensured; Minister Shacklebolt's reform package had done its job well. The Death Eater trials had sent hundreds of wizards and witches to a wizard-controlled Azkaban.
In the ten years since the Fall of Voldemort, the Saviour, as he was called, had made very few public appearances; his first since the defeat of Lord Voldemort had been an endorsement of Kingsley Shacklebolt for Minister. Since Shacklebolt's ascent to the highest office, however, Harry Potter had been nearly invisible.
He had disappeared with his girlfriend less than a month after the Dark Lord's defeat. Where he and Ginny Weasley had disappeared to was, for a time, the most valuable information in all of Europe. To the average citizen, it was clear why Harry Potter and his girlfriend had disappeared; post-war Britain was a dangerous place to be for someone who had so totally polarized the country.
While the majority viewed Harry Potter as the saviour, the one who had delivered them from evil, there was a sizable minority who had had a great deal to gain from Voldemort's victory. A great number of old and respected families had invested much of their fortunes into Voldemort's side. With his fall, many found themselves in a position weaker than they had been before and during the second war; further, some families, the Malfoys prominent among them, had been vilified in the press as war profiteers and had been investigated and prosecuted for a number of crimes, amongst them treason and the bribery of public officials. While the Malfoys had been acquitted, their name was stained forever.
When, however, he had not been seen in public in three years, Wizarding Britain having now been stable for more than two years, public opinion began to regard Harry Potter with greater fascination still. Privacy was respectable, but Harry Potter having become a recluse was a national obsession.
Within a few months of his reclusion having become front-page fodder, Harry Potter gave an extensive interview to the Daily Prophet, detailing his life in the aftermath of the second war. In it, a number of truths were corroborated, a number of lies invalidated. To the amusement of some and the obsession of many, nearly an entire page of the interview was dedicated to his love life.
For the first time, Wizarding Britain knew for certain that he had not married; that he was still living with girlfriend Ginny Weasley; that he would not seek to challenge Kingsley Shacklebolt in the next ministerial election; that he spends every Christmas with his girlfriend's family; and, most importantly to an unfortunate plurality, despite his marital status, he was most assuredly not single.
It was later reported by the Prophet that St Mungo's Hospital had seen a 300 rise in the average number of young witches admitted to its Extreme Emotional Disturbance ward on the weekend of the interview's publishing. The Prophet also mentioned that a petition was circulating among the staff to rename the Extreme Emotional Disturbance ward after the saviour.
For the next three years, Harry Potter was silent. Occasionally, a Potter piece would find its way into the Daily Prophet, but such articles were restricted to the occasional quote from one of the Weasleys or a prominent person's call for his return to public life. It was not until the controversial appointment of Draco Malfoy to the position of Hogwarts teacher of Defence Against the Dark Arts that Harry appeared in public for the first time since his endorsement of Kingsley Shacklebolt.
At a press conference held in Hogsmeade, Harry addressed a crowd of two thousand in support of Malfoy's appointment. The quote that the Daily Prophet ran from the press conference was an excerpt of Harry's support speech.
"Draco Malfoy was cleared of treason by the full Wizengamot, was a valuable asset in the hunt for the remaining Death Eaters, and it is in large part because of his aid that so many murderers no longer walk our streets. Draco Malfoy has renounced his support of You-Know-Who; to the Dark Arts he lost his two closest childhood friends, and it is this intimate knowledge of its evils which makes him an ideal choice for Defence Against the Dark Arts professor."
The next day was chaos. Nearly half the Prophet was about Harry and Malfoy's relationship in school; everyone knew of the mutual hatred that existed in their school days. Quote after quote was given to the Prophet by people who remembered them from school, all of them in wonder as to what could have brought Harry Potter out of reclusion to endorse his once bitter enemy, a Death Eater no less.
Nonetheless, in large part because of Harry's support, the Hogwarts board of governors confirmed Malfoy for the Defence position. Although many members of the board, comprised mostly of members of the oldest pure-blood families, were friendly to Draco Malfoy, if not his father, Harry's support provided them the political cover they needed to confirm one of their own without facing an immense political backlash; without the endorsement, confirming a known Death Eater would have been nearly unthinkable.
Why, exactly, Harry came out in support of Draco Malfoy was something that was known only to Harry, Ginny, the chair of the Hogwarts board of governors, and Draco Malfoy himself. Some believed him to have had a change of heart about his old enemy; others, in the more cynical, if hopeful, corners of Britain, saw this as the prelude to Harry's presumed run for the office of Minister for Magic. They saw a man embrace an enemy for political gain; by ensuring the ascent of an old pure-blood to an important position within Hogwarts, Harry had, the cynics thought, made a peace offering to the old and powerful families he had long distanced, and with their support, he would be able to secure the job of Minister. The media ran with this theory, and before long the public was convinced of it.
For the first time in nearly two decades, the political team at the Daily Prophet had an actual job to do. Since Fudge's ministry came to power, there had been little need for speculation on who the next Minister would be, little need for debate on the matter; since the rise of Cornelius Fudge, there had always been a clear frontrunner. Following Fudge's resignation, Scrimgeour had very quickly gained popularity with his credentials as head of Aurors; Thicknesse, who had provided a strong face to the nation, had avoided a proper election on the grounds of national emergency; Shacklebolt, as soon as Harry had announced his endorsement of him, had risen to frontrunner and then Minister presumptive with the help of his resistance credentials. And so, for the first time in decades, a competitive election looked to be fought.
Six years in to his ministry, it appeared to the all that the wildly popular Minister Shacklebolt was about to face a challenge from the only one with a prayer: their saviour.
Weeks of speculation followed.
In large part due to his massive popularity and great successes in the political field, Shacklebolt retained a great many of his supporters. Although the Harry Potter was the Wizarding world's darling candidate, Shacklebolt had done much to reverse the fortunes of Britain. He had lifted up a collapsing economy, had instituted and defended national neutrality, had brought murderers to justice, had been both architect and mouthpiece of his ministry's massively popular and successful political and social reforms, and seemed to the public to have rebuilt a crumbling nation with his bare hands.
Harry Potter's political inexperience and naivety, argued Shacklebolt supporters, rendered his a weak, even insignificant candidacy. For the first time since the very infancy of Shacklebolt's initial bid for Minister, however, Shacklebolt's supporters were on the offensive, as if they were the underdog. The Ministry gave no official statement, and no interview with Shacklebolt had so much as mentioned Harry Potter.
After six weeks of little but speculation, Harry Potter sat down with the Prophet for another interview, his last for years, in which he denied the claims that he would be challenging Kingsley Shacklebolt for the position of Minister. He reiterated his support for Kingsley Shacklebolt, stressing the good he had done the country and pointing out that he himself had no political ambitions, and that his support of Draco Malfoy was because he honestly believed him to be the best man for the job.
When the story ran, it was met with general disappointment. The idea of a new Minister, a new ministry, was an exciting idea to a lot of people. The lack of a serious opposition candidate was a blessing and a curse for Kingsley Shacklebolt; Harry not entering the race essentially cemented his own retention of power in the next election. At the same time, however, a lot of unsavoury things had been said of him by those who had supported Potter for Minister; for the first time in his career, a significant opposition movement had been directed at his ministry. For the first time in his career, he was politically vulnerable.
Four more years passed.
On the twenty-second of April, ten days before the tenth anniversary of the Fall of Voldemort, it was announced by Kingsley Shacklebolt in a full press conference that Harry Potter would return to Hogwarts for the first time in one decade to address his nation.
The announcement set the country afire. This was it, every Potter For Minister supporter knew in his bones. With the general election to be held the next year, this was Harry Potter's declaration of his intent to ascend to Minister for Magic. This was it.
Article after article was printed in the Daily Prophet.
Harry Potter Returns to Hogwarts
Harry Potter to Seek Highest Office?
Shacklebolt: I Will Seek Third Term
Harry Potter: A Much-Needed Fresh Face
Poll: Potter Tops For-Minister Wish-List
Supreme Mugwump: We Would Welcome a Potter Ministry
On Wednesday the second of May, Harry Potter awoke in his bed, his girlfriend of ten years' head resting on his bare shoulder. Today marked a decade to the day since the second war had ended, since the Fall. Today he was to address a crowd of thousands on the grounds of Hogwarts, a place to which he had not returned since events now ten years gone.
Harry turned his head toward their nightstand, noting the red digits of the clock's face. It was a little before six in the morning. He and Ginny had to be at Hogwarts in two hours. Resigning himself to wakefulness, he shook his bedfellow lightly, smiling as she gave a resistant incoherence.
"Come on, Ginny," he murmured. "It's back to the real world for us."
She made another incoherent sound. "What time is it?"
"Five minutes to six."
"Can't you make the speech next year?"
"You know, I could. What do you think, we stay here for another eleven months, get up again sometime around April?"
She kissed him sleepily. "What would we do in bed for eleven months?"
"Oh, I don't know," he said silkily, tracing a finger up her stomach.
She giggled a moment. "No sense in doing that now; tension makes for a better speech."
"Mmm." He kissed her lightly, then, inhaling, he untangled himself from her. "You know we've spent a decade doing nothing but..."
"Isn't it fantastic?"
He kissed her again; sitting up now, he put his feet to the hardwood floor and lifted himself up. With yawn, he stepped over discarded articles of clothing on his way to the bathroom. He stepped in, then looked back, wearing the devil's grin.
"Aren't you coming?"
An hour later, Harry and Ginny exited their bathroom with eyes semiglazed. Determined to be fashionably late, they took their time in getting dressed. Ginny had decided for the both of them that they would wear black dress robes. Although not every word to be said in Harry's address was sombre, the mood was to be one overwhelmingly of hope-tinged sorrow. With a third of the Wizarding population killed, injured, or displaced, much had been taken away from them all.
"I still think we should cut the middle bit," Harry said donning socks.
"That one line is enough to keep it," protested Ginny for the twelfth time in a week. "Besides, you remember what Hermione said: You need a bridge. If you cut the middle without replacing it with something else, the mood-shift will be too quick."
"It just feels like filler."
"It is filler, love," Ginny smiled, "but you cannot go from speaking about the death and displacement of thousands to announcing your return without some sort of transition." She looked at him with pity. "Hermione's been over this with you already. It's an impossible pivot."
"I know, I know." He laced his polished black shoes. "Just nerves, I suppose."
Although it was his speech, Hermione, probably the only witch in the country not involved in politics who had studied rhetoric and oratory, had done a large bit of editing. By her suggestions, what had been a ten-minute speech on reform and reconstruction had become his grand return to public life. Shock and awe, she had called it with a curled nose.
Most of her suggestions on the actual writing were relatively minor; he sent her a draft of the speech nearly a year ago, when he had first completed it, or at least thought he had completed it, just to show off a bit. She sent it back to him covered in scarlet ink, nearly every line containing a little note or strange symbol; she'd sent along a key with which to interpret her markings. Most of her suggestions included switching around related words or phrases (occasionally with a note about a mysterious concept called assonance), the deletion of conjugations (with a small 'sp.' next to it; the key she sent along told him that this meant it was to speed up the speech; he was quite offended at first), or small changes in words if not meaning (alliteration, alliteration, alliteration, she'd written in the key corresponding to the note 'all.').
He was thankful to her; what once was a small speech he'd intended to give as one of many speakers had grown to the size of a keynote address. He was thankful to her, that is, until she decided that he needed to practise it aloud.
Twice a week.
For nine months.
He and Ginny half-suspected that this was just a petty trick to get to spend time with the self-exiled couple, but Harry had acquiesced to Hermione's ridiculous demand on the basis that practice makes perfect, even grudgingly.
The first run-through had been by far the worst. Ron and Hermione sat with Ginny on their couch, Harry standing before them holding a note-covered draft, stuttering and stumbling too often to be effective; Ron had ended up laughing at a part that spoke of Cedric Diggory's death, because Harry had said "Dedric Ciggory." It had been years since he'd been so glad to see Ron smacked aside the head.
On the first reading, the speech had taken twelve minutes.
Hermione then spent triple that time explaining to him what she meant when she said he should speed up the speech, appearing to contradict herself by telling him to slow down, that half the time, she couldn't even tell what he was saying, and she'd memorized it already. That was very helpful. Harry himself had not memorized it. He thanked her for his inferiority complex and went through it again.
Reading at what to him was a funeral's pace, the second read-through clocked in a little over seventeen minutes. On the third run-through, he was up to eighteen and a half minutes, but Hermione told him the speech needed to be around twenty-seven minutes. And so, to be a prat, on the fourth run-through, he stopped reading and sat down for five minutes after the third paragraph, then resumed again, clocking in still three minutes under. The evening ended in disgrace.
It took two weeks and twenty-six readings for him to get the pacing right. And then Hermione set on him a truly cruel task: He was to read every word of the speech in reverse order every night before bed. Feeling like he was in Hogwarts again, Harry rebelled. And then Hermione found out.
There had been tears – actual tears – shed. Hermione had taken it as no less than a personal insult that Harry had not followed her instructions exactly, had ignored her task completely. He found out only later that she and Ron had gotten into a fight earlier that day, that she was transferring her frustration from her husband to her reclusive schoolfriend. He spent the rest of the night jumping through every hoop Hermione could throw at him.
He still didn't think it was necessary that he sing the speech in the shower. He thought it less necessary still that he sing it to the tune of Pop Goes the Weasel.
After a few months of practicing the speech to his girlfriend and her brother and sister-in-law, Hermione decided that Harry needed to practice in a more realistic fashion. To this end, a podium was conjured and Harry was made to cast the Amplification Charm on himself. Hermione then dictated that he ought to try whispering and murmuring portions of the speech, that he should introduce more conjunctions to slow down the language at most sombre moments, then eradicate them at moments of hope or energy. She dictated he ought to make gestures, make use of his hands, his arms, his face.
Before long, Harry was feeling like little more than Hermione's pet project. But now, as he stood dressing to deliver the speech he had been working on in some fashion for a year, he was thankful. Gone from him was the stuttering and stumbling, replaced with confidence and vehemence. Hermione had crafted the speech along with him to enchant, to confound, to shock, to inspire, and each of these things, with the proper delivery, the proper tone, it would accomplish.
He just dreaded what the Prophet would make of it.