A/N: This Cho/Cedric storyline is all thanks to Alia Ziaen, who pitched this idea and helped me develop it. These next couple of chapters would've been completely different without her. Again, sorry for the wait. I'm on Twitter now, as grillingnaked, so if you want to know what's going on—I'll be keeping tabs on my progress there.
# # #
The Ministry lift was dead silent, save the slight shuffling of impatient paper airplanes, pushing against the metal door. Harry pulled slightly on the collar of his Oxford, betraying his anxiety by the sheen of sweat covering his entire body. It was unbearably hot in the lift.
His escort was a morose looking Arthur Weasley, who, in addition to being a highly respected Order member, was also pressured into volunteering for the assignment by his wife, who had welcomed Harry into the family with open arms, after a discussion with Moody.
The hearing was more of a formality; there were about a hundred credible witnesses that said Fudge has been disguised as Voldemort, and was more than likely under the Imperius Curse at the time he fell to his death. Thus, the whole business had been delayed two months, which was just enough time for Harry to get the D.A. (this time under the name Defense Association) back running.
The silence between the two men stretched out; becoming such an unmanageable thing that Harry hardly knew how to break it. It had been downright awkward staying over for the Christmas holidays, and Harry knew he would have to clear the air at some point. Everything else he needed to do would be hindered without Arthur Weasley on his side.
"Sir, I would like to apologize for this summer, and any stress I put you through by taking Ginny," he said in his most innocent voice.
Arthur took in a breath, tapping his foot impatiently while the lift chugged along at an unsteady pace.
"You are hardly a teenager, Harry; you cannot imagine the pain one goes through when he can't find his child. You put me in that position, Harry. I don't know how you did it, Merlin, I doubt Albus even knows how you did it—but even unimaginable power doesn't excuse the fact that you put my daughter in danger and put our home into crisis mode."
"I can understand your position, sir," Harry said, trying hard not to be resentful. Images of Ginny's pale face, her slender, motionless body draped in a soft green dress. Oh, how wrong Arthur was. Harry knew more than anything the pain of losing someone—only his had been much worse. Harry had known exactly where Ginny was after she died, and he knew there was no hope of getting her back. "However, I would hope you could understand that I did the best that I could in the time allotted. If I hadn't taken Ginny and Hermione when I did, I'm not sure you would have a daughter right now."
"There are professors at Hogwarts for a reason. You-Know-Who was at Hogwarts, yes, but there was no earthly reason why you couldn't have taken the girls up to the Headmaster's office and asked him for help."
The doors opened, and an aging wizard took a step forward, as if to enter the lift, but sensing the tense air and both wizards' scowling faces, he thought the better of it, waving his wand to shut the doors again.
"As her father, I would think you could understand that my sole concern was for the safety of the girls. Hogwarts was compromised and having two of the most important people in my life in a hazardous area was not agreeable to me. I acted brashly, and for that I am sorry."
"I'll figure you out, Potter," said Arthur. "You may think you're smarter than all the adults set to protect you, but you're wrong. I'll figure it out."
"Good luck," he said flippantly. "My reality makes your wildest dreams seem dull."
The lift dinged again, and they stepped off onto one of the lower courtrooms, where the entire Wizengamot was waiting to acquit Harry of all charges. He knew as well as they all did that there would be hell to pay—a Public Relations nightmare—if they didn't.
The reason for the big to-do was, of course, because no matter how innocent Harry, the questionable death of a high ranking Ministry official warranted such proceedings. It didn't matter the outcome, the Wizengamot just had to meet and make a consensus.
He and Arthur crossed the threshold into the court room, and met with the stares of the full Wizengamot—a sight that, though Harry was prepared for it, was marginally intimidating.
"I'm sure you're aware, Mr. Weasley, that you cannot accompany Mr. Potter any further," called a voice from the center seat, looking toad like and irritable.
"Of course, Madam Umbridge," Arthur said stiffly. He didn't acknowledge Harry but with a brief nod of the head before he exited the room.
"Murder hearing the twenty-third of December," Umbridge began in a pompous voice, eliciting an eye roll from the monocle wearing Amelia Bones.
"I hardly think this constitutes the label murder, Madam Umbridge. This is clearly a case of accidental death."
"Hear, hear!" called a man toward the back of the seated members. Several other members clapped.
"As Senior Undersecretary to the Minister, I have to express my—"
"I hear the Minister has to hide in the Auror division to get rid of you," muttered the scribe snidely from his seat.
Umbridge looked aghast. "If this is the manner in which we address a member of the Wizengamot—"
"Investigators: Amelia Susan Bones," Madam Bones interrupted. "And Dolores Jane Umbridge."
The Minister's seat was taken by Madam Umbridge, but she was not, nor would she ever in her overly long life, the Minister for Magic. Rufus Scrimegour, as head of the Auror Department, had claimed the title of interim Minister, but was not around very much, claiming his attentions were needed in the Department that had the best chance of dealing with Voldemort. Early detection, he said, iss key. There would be no remake of the first war. Early detection, he had said again. Harry, Hermione, and Ron, when reading the statement in the Prophet, had thought it sounded rather like Voldemort was a pimple. Or an STD. Early detection, indeed.
"Any witnesses for the defense?" Umbridge asked smugly.
"Albus Wulfric Percival Brian Dumbledore," said another voice from the back of the courtroom, stunning everyone, Harry included.
"You're late," Amelia Bones said with a slight smile, reminding Harry of Professor McGonagall.
Umbridge just scowled.
"Oh, yes, do forgive me, I spilled a bit of tea on my cloak this morning and once I had gotten to the trouble of cleaning it up, well, I must admit I was more than a little late."
He turned his twinkling blue eyes onto Harry, which, for once, did not dim upon seeing him.
"Hello, Mr. Potter, might I enquire after your health?"
"I am well, sir, very well. And yourself?"
"I am well, I thank you."
Umbridge hissed. "I hope I'm not interrupting your little tea party, but as important members of the Wizengamot, we do have other matters to attend to."
"Which prompts the question: why have all the members of the Wizengamot met to question a thirteen year old boy in a matter that is so obviously a case of accidental death?" asked Dumbledore, blue eyes flashing.
"I thought the death of our beloved Minister necessitated the full court," Umbridge replied.
"Then I would suggest we put aside our squabbling and begin the inquiry," Madam Bones said, looking at Harry with a curious look in her eye.
"Excellent," Dumbledore said.
# # #
After several hours of questioning, Harry was cleared of all charges. Even Umbridge was loath to vote against him, not wanting to risk the news leaking out (in all probability, Harry would've owled the Prophet himself) and destroying her career in politics.
Arthur and Harry joined the rest of the Weasley family at the Burrow, where Ron (Hermione had been taken to by her parents on holiday to Spain) immediately tried to take him up to the attic to question him on the court proceedings. Unfortunately, Arthur ordered both of the boys to help degnome the garden. This time around there was no shouting of "He got off," just the bustling of Mrs. Weasley downstairs cooking away for Christmas dinner.
It wasn't until late at night, when finally Molly went to bed, that they had a chance to speak about the inquiry. Arthur had retired hours before, claiming a headache, but Fred and George had coaxed them into a game of Exploding Snape, which was a variation on the original 'Exploding Snap' except that the twins had bewitched the deck to contain cards depicting the likeness of Snape, which, if not discarded immediately, were liable to burst into flames in the player's face.
"So, how was it? How'd it go?" Ron asked, from in his bed on the other side of the room.
"It was… weird, I guess. I mean, I was cleared of all charges, but it's not like I was expecting to be convicted of anything. It was just…"
"The Wizengamot members were bickering, and not in a subtle way. It was confusing."
"Dad says they've been fighting over succession," Ron answered. "There's one woman in particular who is trying to take more power than is her due. She doesn't like that Auror Scrimgeour is cutting back her duties."
Harry thought about that for a moment, wondering what would happen if he let things with the Minister just lie for a while. What could he do to get Umbridge out of the way so he could usher in another Minister for Magic? He had a candidate in mind, but with Umbridge's claws in anyone looking to move up in rank, it wouldn't be easy. He couldn't very well invite her back to Hogwarts; he'd never get another moment of peace—but she couldn't be allowed to keep her place as Undersecretary. Not only was she causing strife within the Wizengamot, but she was distracting Scrimgeour, who was actually putting an effort into capturing Voldemort. The interim Minister seemed wholly unconcerned with politics at the moment.
An idea sparked off in his mind, and he was about to share it with Ron, but the snores sounding from the other side of the room signaled that Harry had let the silence stretch on too long. Ron was asleep.
# # #
"I'm afraid I see death in your future, lad," said Trelawney, blinking her bug like eyes at him. Next to him, Ron chortled.
"Unless you find a cure for aging," Hermione sniffed. "I imagine everyone will have that pesky problem."
Trelawney did not look amused. "Premature death," she said airily. "I assume you can identify this line here," she ran her fingernail down Harry's palm. "As the Life Line. The line is disrupted, and branching off in different directions." She finished her sentence with a slight smirk on her face.
"I foresee a mighty enemy—" she began, only to be broken off by Hermione's hysterical laughter. A girl in Hufflepuff gave her a sour look from a nearby table, before returning her eyes to the professor, with rapt attention.
"That's it!" Hermione said, standing up and shoving her books into her bag, glaring at Ron and Harry who didn't immediately get up to join her. "I'm done with this class! It's complete rubbish!"
"Other pupils seem to appreciate the art of Divination," said Trelawney, wrinkling her nose at Hermione. "I foresaw you would be the one person to leave our ranks our very first time together. Now, if you would all like to see just how I Saw this—"
"You were wrong," smirked Harry. "Two of us will be leaving this class."
"Make that three!" cried Ron, pushing the sleeves of his robes up and slinging his bag—which he hadn't even opened—onto his shoulder.
In the end, Hermione's little rebellion took five students from third year Divination, all Gryffindor. Neville and Dean accompanied them, which Hermione found hilarious.
"We just walked out of class, can you believe it?" she asked, short of breath.
"No, Miss Granger, I cannot," said a very ruffled McGonagall, from the door of her office. "I may expect this sort of stunt from Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley here—and more especially the elder Weasley brothers—but I do not expect this sort of behavior from you, Miss Granger."
"I'm sorry, Professor," Hermione began in a shockingly calm voice, the boys standing behind her. "But we simply could not stomach the thought of another year hearing outrageous predictions of death!"
"Oh yes," McGonagall said, her mouth giving way to a small smile. "Which of you is destined to die this year?" Seamus and Dean snickered.
"I am, Professor," Harry said. "Evidently my life-line is strikingly short."
"Pish, posh," McGonagall said. "She once claimed my life-line was short. And look at me; I surely haven't died young. Yes, the problem is, though, that I can't give you study periods just yet, and the Arithmancy class during this hour is full—I can't have a group of third years doing nothing!"
"Correct me if I'm wrong, Professor," Hermione said. "But I believe Professor Lupin has no class this hour. Would he be able to supervise us in a class of our own creation?"
"What would you suggest?"
"I was thinking it could be a kind of Independent Study of Defense Against the Dark Arts," Hermione replied. "He would be a sort of adviser to us, while we go into more advanced curriculum."
Harry grinned, looking from Seamus to Dean to Ron with a smug look on his face.