A/N: Well, this chapter hit 8k a couple of weeks ago, and I've resisted posting because it just isn't the most exciting, heart-stopping chapter I've ever written. But, it's going to be another week or two before I can sit and write, so I thought I might as well let you have what I've done. Plot-wise, I am cleaning up after the last chapter and beginning to line up my ducks for the final triumvirate of rapid-fire climaxes. Once those go off, I'll probably only have a chapter and epilogue up my sleeve for you.
Next chapter will feature Harry revealing some information about his time travelling to the Order. It can be a longer scene or a shorter scene. It can include some things and brush over other things. I'm willing to take requests for how that scene should be written. Just keep in mind that I won't be altering the scope of Harry's revelation or the implications on the story's plot. This is basically a question of what portions of what happens anyway gets screen time. My Yahoo group is the ideal place for your suggestions, but your reviews, of course, also end up in my inbox. (And incidentally, many thanks for the many reviews that came pouring in for the previous chapter.)
Chapter 39: The Leaders' Leader
Hermione jumped from her seat in Harry and Bellatrix's bedroom as a flash of fire appeared on the bed and vanished to reveal Harry holding Bellatrix in his arms. With a sigh, he let her unconscious form slowly fall back onto the bed before allowing himself to slump and lie down beside her.
"Harry's back!" Hermione yelled to Leo, who had been pacing throughout the flat since Harry had left for the Ministry and the battle raging there. She turned her attention directly to Harry. "Is everything all right? What do you need me to do?"
"Dark Lord retreated," Harry said in between rapid breaths. "Casualties did not seem too bad from what I saw, but I'm not entirely sure on that front. See to Bella. She might need to be taken to St. Mungo's."
Hermione rounded the bed and performed a cursory inspection of Bellatrix while Harry sat on the bed fighting to stay awake. After a few diagnostic spells, Hermione was able to offer her opinion. "It's mostly just bruising, I think. Probably some cracked or broken ribs. All the blood is from minor head wounds. Was there glass or something?"
"Exploded marble, maybe," Harry said.
"I think she could avoid St. Mungo's," Hermione opined. "You two certainly keep enough potions on hand. Between sleep, pain, and regenerative potions and me cleaning her up, I suspect she would be mostly recovered within twenty-four hours and completely recovered within seventy-two."
Harry nodded sleepily. "See what you can do, then. If she wakes before I do, please ask her what she would prefer and then do what you can to honor her requests."
"Naturally," Hermione said.
"There's going to be a whole lot of confusion and questions now that everyone knows I'm alive," Harry said slowly. "I'm putting you and Leo in charge. Answer what questions you can, but mostly just hold everyone off. Maybe take notes of anything Bella or I will need to deal with later. Remember that currently, only you two and Ron are allowed past the wards on this flat."
"We'll take care of everything," Hermione reassured Harry. "Now does this mean that we're released from our oaths?"
"Yes," Harry said. "You have permission to tell everybody anything you happen to know. I don't know about you, Leo. You gave your oath to Bellatrix, not me."
Hermione nodded. "I'll be the one telling things, I think. She rounded the bed again and mixed up a potion cocktail. "Here, why don't you drink this? It will help with your pain and make you sleep better."
Harry accepted the potion gratefully. "Oh, and when you get a chance, see if you can find a vial of basilisk venom in Bella's lab."
"Okay," Hermione said, watching Harry.
"Kreacher!" Harry called, trying to make his voice carry. The house elf appeared with a pop. Harry gave it instructions. "Do whatever Hermione, here, wants." Harry looked at Hermione. "Have Kreacher deliver the venom to Alastor Moody. He's supposed to destroy the horcrux. You might have to help him if he needs it, but I should think it would be easy."
"Of course," Hermione nodded as Harry downed the potion and fell asleep.
Hermione took the potion glass out of Harry's limp hand and cracked a smile at Leo. "If I was smarter, maybe I would have had him get under the covers before knocking him out."
"That's easy," Leo said. "Just kind of roll him over and we can pull the covers out from under him.
Hermione shook her head and drew her wand. "How about I levitate, and you pull out the covers?"
"I guess that would be even easier," Leo admitted as Hermione levitated Harry. He pulled back the covers, and soon, Harry had been tucked into his side of the bed.
Then, Hermione surveyed Bellatrix before looking at Leo. "That's going to take some more doing. Fetch me some hot water and towels. Then, we'll see about getting her washed and patched up.
Leo blushed, but departed to fulfill Hermione's requests speedily.
By the time Ron made it to the atrium from his perch well above the battle, most of those involved in the battle had wandered home or had been taken to St. Mungo's. Only higher-ranking members of the Order and Aurors who had been called into work to handle the aftermath stood in the atrium. He found his mother standing with the Potters. They were busy talking to Amelia Bones about what had happened.
"How did you get here?" Molly Weasley asked, clearly surprised to see Ron. Her exclamation drew the attention of the Potters and Amelia Bones. They looked at Ron expectantly.
The oaths that bound Ron to secrecy were now causing him a problem. "Uh . . . I was brought here," he said lamely.
"By who?" Molly demanded.
"I can't really say because of magical oaths," Ron hedged.
"Harry brought you here, didn't he?" Lily said excitedly, holding her arm gingerly and wincing every time she moved. Ron thought the arm looked broken.
Ron shrugged. "It's a fair conclusion."
"Where did you find Harry Ashworth?" Molly asked, clearly confused about this new turn of events.
"At Bellatrix's flat, no doubt," James said. "Rose must have known about Harry, too. That is why she demanded I send the patronus signal to Leo in the middle of the battle. She must have known that Ashworth could break through the wards."
"Yeah, we got the patronus message," Ron confirmed. "Hermione made liberal use of certain potions that can force people to wake up. And then, at some point I volunteered to be the one to launch the instant darkness powder into the air. The breaking of all the windows was my cue."
"Where is Mr. Ashworth now?" Amelia Bones asked, butting into the conversation.
"I cannot answer direct questions like that," Ron said.
"Do you know where Leo is?" Lily asked.
"Yes," Ron said. "He's at Bellatrix's flat."
"We'd appreciate it if you would go and inform him that he's needed at St. Mungo's," James said, his voice sounding a little heavy. "His mother got caught in the explosion. It's not looking good for her."
The number of casualties of the recent battle at the Ministry was overwhelming the emergency ward at St. Mungo's. To add to the burden, the ward and hospital lobby was full of Aurors, Ministry officials, and news reporters who were demanding answers from anyone who looked like they could have participated in the battle. Each minute brought more and higher ranked Ministry officials.
The triage nurse had been kind enough to put a temporary cast on Lily's arm until the mediwizards and mediwitches could finish with the more seriously wounded. It left Lily feeling distinctly uncomfortable, but it was about as good as the cast she had been given when she had broken her arm as a child.
Avoiding eye contact with everybody in the room, Lily pushed out the door and made her way down the hall to the room where the staff had placed Professor Dumbledore. Inside, she found that he was awake and listening to James's report on everything that had happened since the explosion had knocked him unconscious.
"So, he took Voldemort's wand?" Dumbledore chuckled, his blue eyes twinkling. "He once told me that he was far better at Defense than he was at Potions."
"It would appear he was not exaggerating," James said drily.
"And how are you faring, Lily?" Dumbledore asked.
"A sight better than you, I should think," Lily replied, taking a seat.
Before Lily could properly involve herself in the conversation, Minister Prewitt rushed into the room, escorted by Amelia Bones. Lily also noted that a pair of Aurors that remained outside the room, serving as sentries. "I need to know precisely what happened," Prewitt said firmly.
"We've already explained to your Aurors that everything is under control," James said, barely maintaining a mask of respect for his ultimate superior.
"If that's the case, then you can start by telling me precisely what started tonight's spectacle," Prewitt said, addressing his comments to Dumbledore.
If the Minister had annoyed Dumbledore, it was not obvious, for the headmaster disguised it well as he sat up in his bed. "Tonight, I and a number of other concerned witches and wizards were conducting an operation in conjunction with Madam Bellatrix Black. The objective was to take possession of a valuable object Voldemort had concealed in the Ministry atrium. I do believe we succeeded, despite Voldemort making a personal appearance in an attempt to thwart our efforts."
"And how did Harry Ashworth fit into all of this?" Prewitt demanded.
"It would seem that Mr. Ashworth, or rather, Mr. Black, was the one directing the operation," Dumbledore said. "When Voldemort showed up, Mr. Black took it upon himself to appear and force Voldemort into retreat."
"I am going to need to speak with Mr. Black," Prewitt said, having absorbed the information and already moving on to map and accomplish objectives. "I also want that object you captured."
"It has been destroyed," came Alastor Moody's voice, "as per Mr. Black's directions."
Prewitt glared at Moody as the retired Auror entered the room and shut the door behind him. He addressed his next comment to Dumbledore, still. "I hope that was the correct course of action."
"I think Mr. Black knows what he is doing," Dumbledore said. "Now that we know he is alive, I am hoping to meet with him and get some answers. It has been clear to me for some time that he can see the path toward Voldemort's defeat far better than any of us."
"We've had access to Bellatrix," James commented. "Surely she's told us just about everything."
"I am not completely sure of that," Dumbledore sighed. "It is my observation that even Madam Black was blindly following orders tonight. I was there when Miss Granger was conveying Mr. Black's instructions that we attack the atrium and only the atrium immediately."
Prewitt frowned. "Wait, so this Miss Granger was relaying Mr. Black's orders to Madam Black?"
"Miss Granger is a recent graduate of Hogwarts," Dumbledore informed Prewitt. "She has been assisting Madam Black in the past little while. Though, it appears that tonight, she was functioning as a part of Mr. Black's personal detail."
A knock sounded on the door, and it opened to reveal Hermione, who entered and pushed the door shut behind her.
"Ah, the very witch appears," Dumbledore said, smiling at her over the rims of his half-moon spectacles.
Prewitt wasted no time. "Miss Granger, I need to know everything that you know."
"I will be happy to oblige," Hermione said, eying the Minister nervously. She looked to Lily. "I brought Leo to the hospital. One of the nurses directed him toward his mother's room. Is it very bad?"
Lily looked at James for the answer. "I think so," James said. "She suffered a lot of spell damage atop injuries from the explosion. It seems that too much of her life bled out before we could get her here."
"That's very sad," Hermione said.
"It is," Dumbledore acknowledged, alternating between giving Hermione sympathetic glances and Minister Prewitt a stern warning gaze. "We were rather hoping that you could give us more information about Mr. Black."
"Yes," Hermione said, "the oaths I took have been removed. Harry has put me in charge of answering any questions and making any personal arrangements until he or Bellatrix are more able to take care of things for themselves."
"And how is Harry?" Lily demanded before even Minister Prewitt could say anything.
Hermione eyed Lily curiously, plainly wondering how it was that she was so interested in Harry. "The events of tonight were quite exhausting for him. The magic to discover . . . where we should attack tonight drained him considerably. I sedated him, but later had to revive him so that he could rush to the Ministry and do what he did. I have since re-sedated him. Bellatrix is fine, too, by the way."
Prewitt looked like he wanted to say something, but Dumbledore help up his hand and silenced him. "Tell me, Miss Granger. Tonight, Harry told Voldemort that in their last duel, Harry had suffered grievous injury at Voldemort's hands and only just recovered. Do you know anything that you can tell us about that?"
"No," Hermione said. "Harry has always struck me as being an extremely powerful and healthy wizard. I haven't sensed any weakness that could be attributed to an injury. Rose or Leo might know the answer to that, though. They've been acquainted longer." She withdrew a sheet of parchment and a self-inking quill. "I'm sure Harry would be happy to answer a lot of your questions in person. Perhaps I'll just take down your names and let him know to visit with you. I doubt that he's going to stay in hiding like he has been lately."
"Yes, put my name down," Dumbledore said.
"And mine," Lily said.
"Well, I'm sure I could arrange something for the entire Order," Dumbledore said.
"I would think that he owes me more of an explanation than the rest of the Order deserves," Lily grumbled.
"She has a little bit of a crush on him," James whispered loudly.
Moody laughed raucously. "Send him my congratulations for a well-fought duel," he directed Hermione. "Though, I sure hope he can fight better than that when he isn't exhausted."
"Right," Hermione said, quickly scribbling on the parchment. She looked up at Minister Prewitt. "Shall I put your name down, Minister?"
"Yes," Prewitt said. "Tell Mr. Ashworth, or Black, or whomever he is, that I want to him in my office the instant he is able to come and visit. Anytime will do. My people will show him in the instant he arrives."
"His formal name is Harry Ashworth Black," Hermione said as she jotted down Prewitt's name and instructions. "Mr. Black will do, I think."
"Very good," Prewitt said glancing around. "I am about to hold a press conference. Once the newshounds have their story, they will be able leave the hospital in peace, I hope. Would you be so kind to join me, Miss Granger? The Blacks would probably appreciate your answering some questions on their behalf and giving directions for how correspondence to them should be handled."
"I suppose I could do that," Hermione said.
Once Minister Prewitt had carried out the formalities of saying goodbye to Dumbledore, the Potters, and Moody, Hermione found herself being whisked by Prewitt and his Auror bodyguards back down the hall to the main lobby of St. Mungo's.
Ministry officials had cleared a space and set up a platform and podium for Minister Prewitt's press conference. Without wasting any time, Prewitt trotted up the stairs to the platform and made his way to the podium. A wave of questions were suddenly directed his way, not only by reporters, but by concerned citizens who had happened to already be at the hospital.
In the clamor, Hermione felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned around to find Amelia Bones looking at her.
"Miss Granger, would you mind putting my name on that list?" Amelia said quietly.
"Of course," Hermione said, already moving to scrawl Amelia's name down for Harry's later attention.
"Is there any chance that you will be giving the list directly to Mr. Black rather than to his wife?" Amelia inquired.
"Well," Hermione said slowly, "Harry was the one who asked me to keep track of things."
"All right, then," Amelia said, sounding a bit reassured.
Prewitt raised his arms and signaled that he wanted silence. "This evening, a number of witches and wizards under the personal command of Albus Dumbledore and Bellatrix Black engaged a large number of Death Eaters in battle at the Ministry of Magic."
Hermione listened suspiciously as the Minister droned on and gave a rather convoluted and cloudy tale of the events without actually telling the reporters that the Order been trying to steal something from Voldemort. Dumbledore and Bellatrix were praised, but somehow, the Ministry came off looking just as heroic as anybody who had been in the battle, though Hermione did have to admit that Prewitt emphasized the sacrifice of those who had died or been injured in the fight.
"What about Harry Ashworth?" one reporter hollered. "I've had multiple witnesses tell me that Harry Ashworth personally appeared, dueled You-Know-Who, and took his wand."
"Yes," Prewitt said. "It has come to our attention that Harry Ashworth is alive and well. The operation against the Dark Lord in the Ministry tonight was personally overseen by Madam Black and Headmaster Dumbledore, but it is my understanding that Harry Ashworth was the mastermind behind the entire thing."
Prewitt's statement launched off a tidal wave of noise and questions as the reporters tried to get information from him, each other, and anybody that looked like they knew something. Silence eventually reigned after Prewitt raised his arms. "Harry Ashworth has appointed Miss Hermione Granger to serve as his personal representative. She has kindly made herself available to answer any of your questions. But first, let me emphasize to all of you that the Ministry will be working with Mr. Ashworth extensively in the near future."
This launched another wave of questions, but Prewitt forestalled them by using Hermione as his shield. Her knees wobbling slightly, Hermione made her way up onto the platform and to the podium, which seemed to have some sort of voice amplification charm on it. The press was annoyed with Prewitt's dodge, but they were equally pleased to have Hermione at their disposal.
"Let me emphasize," Hermione said, struggling to master her voice and trying to be heard over the commotion, "Mr. Ashworth's legal name is Harry Ashworth Black. It would be proper to refer to him as Mr. Black."
"Mr. Black is married to Bellatrix Black, am I right?" yelled a reporter.
"That is correct," Hermione said, squinting through the camera flashes.
"And he is in fact Lord Black—the head of the Black family and controller of the Black estates and fortune," demanded another reporter.
"Err, yes, I think that is accurate," Hermione said.
"He succeeded Orion Black, didn't he?" another voice called. Hermione was not sure that one was a reporter, though.
"As far as I know," Hermione said slowly, realizing for the first time that she did not actually know all that much about Harry or Bellatrix.
"Is he Orion Black's illegitimate son?" a reporter from Witch Weekly called out.
Hermione blushed. "I don't know anything about Mr. Black's parents."
A reporter that Hermione recognized as Rita Skeeter asked the next question. "But it is entirely possible that Mr. Black is in fact the bastard son of Orion Black and that he married Bellatrix Black to secure the family fortune, isn't it? It would not be the first time the Blacks have intermarried to consolidate their power and wealth."
"I don't think that question deserves a response," Hermione said tightly.
"Where was Mr. Black all these years?" demanded an Auror who had somehow become a part of the crowd.
A reporter seized on this. "Yes, where was he? As a former advisor to Cygnus Black, didn't he realize his counsel would be needed at the inauguration of Minister Prewitt's administration? Surely Mr. Black was cognizant of information that could have been invaluable to Minister Prewitt."
"No comment," Hermione said, now wishing that she had asked Bellatrix or Harry this question herself.
Minister Prewitt stepped over to the podium. "It is my understanding that Mr. Black has been indisposed for many years as a result of a duel he lost against the Dark Lord in the seventies. Only recently has he made a full recovery."
"He was indisposed for twenty odd years?" a reporter exclaimed indignantly. "And then he just waltzes in and duels You-Know-Who into retreating?"
"Obviously, he got better at dueling," Hermione stated in a waspish tone. "I think I've answered enough questions tonight. If you want more information, you can send an owl, but do not expect an immediate reply."
"I am quite sure that an official information packet outlining information about Harry Black will be prepared," Prewitt said, reclaiming the podium in its entirety. "We'll excuse Miss Granger so that she may attend to her duties."
Harry snickered as he eyed Hermione's face displayed on the front cover of the Daily Prophet alongside an older picture of him leftover from the seventies. In addition to those two photographs, pictures of Orion Black, Cygnus Black, and Bellatrix filled the first three pages of the newspaper alongside articles detailing the events of the night previous and relaying information about the Ministry's actions. The Prophet also featured a special written by Rita Skeeter in which she speculated about Harry's parentage and about whether he might be having an affair with Hermione.
"It's outrageous!" Hermione voice came from the kitchen. "How dare she?"
"It's par for the course," Harry said, setting down the paper as Hermione entered the dining area carrying on a plate a sandwich she had made for Harry.
"Aren't you going to do anything about it?" Hermione demanded, drawing her wand and summoning a bottle of butterbeer for Harry as she sat down at the table to watch him eat.
Harry shook his head as he picked up the sandwich and began to eat. "I'm sure Bella will take care of it."
"Revel in it, more like," Hermione retorted. "Are you going to respond to any of these people?" she asked, gesturing to the large stack of correspondence that had begun gathering at sunrise. "Professor Dumbledore is most anxious to speak with you as is Minister Prewitt. Prewitt said that you should feel free to drop by at any moment."
"Yes, I imagine they both would be," Harry sighed, staring at his sandwich before taking several bites. "I think I'll have another look in at Bella and then toddle over to the Ministry. I'm afraid Professor Dumbledore will have to wait. But, you can report to him that I intend to tell him a great deal when I do get around to seeing him. I think he'll find some of my revelations startling."
Hermione did not look overly pleased to discover that Harry was assigning Prewitt a higher priority or that Harry understood that whatever he said was likely to be reported to Dumbledore. "Are you sure that Prewitt is the best person to cozy up to? Last night he tried to twist things to make himself and the Ministry look awfully good."
"He is a politician, after all," Harry acknowledged as he finished the sandwich. "But, he's also the Minister of Magic. I cannot expect the Order to fight the war alone. We're feeling the cost of that today, what with Leo's mother, among others. I suppose that's another stop I'll make on the way back. But, in any instance, it is far better that I try to get the Order and the Ministry pointed in the right direction and on the same page. It'll make the Dark Lord's job harder."
Hermione followed Harry into the kitchen and watched as he dropped the plate in the sink and washed up. "What if Prewitt decides he doesn't want to cooperate with you? What if he shuns you?"
"I would be surprised if he did that," Harry said as he led Hermione down the hall to his bedroom. "If he does, I am sure we can sic Bella on him."
Bellatrix was still unconscious in bed. Hermione had informed Harry when he woke up that she had further sedated Bellatrix until her injuries could heal more fully. "If we let her wake up later tonight, she will escape experiencing all but the pain from the initial impact," Hermione now informed Harry. She pulled back the sheets and bared Bellatrix's chest for Harry. "As you can see, the bruises have faded quite a bit."
"You've done wonderful, Hermione," Harry said as he reached out and gently stroked Bellatrix's face while Hermione replaced the covers over his wife. "I would appreciate it if you stayed while I was away. If you have to leave, see if you can get Ron to step in."
"Of course," Hermione said unselfishly.
"Thank you," Harry said, trying to sound sincere. "If you don't mind, now, I've got to change into my political battle robes." Hermione smiled wryly as she left Harry alone in the room with Bellatrix. As soon as she had exited and walked down the hall, Harry went through his closet and drawers searching for some of the fancy robes Bellatrix had helped him buy not long after he had arrived in the past.
Eventually Harry concluded that he would be wearing black with red, green, or purple. Unfortunately, the black and red set of robes was plainly a product of the seventies. That left green and purple. Not wanting to convey the impression that he was a Slytherin, Harry settled on purple and donned the black and purple robes along with some of the dueling accessories Bellatrix had purchased for him since their arrival in the future.
Harry completed the ensemble by strapping a wand holster to each arm and reminding himself that he needed to check with Ollivander about whether he could safely use Voldemort's holly wand. Finding that the black and purple robes featured a hood concealed in the lining, Harry brought that out and shielded his face as he left his flat and apparated to the Leaky Cauldron. From there, he used of the Floo to take him to the Ministry atrium.
Stepping out of the fireplace and into the corridor leading to the central portion of the atrium, Harry removed the hood and strode purposefully to the main desk, noting that nearly all the damage from the night before had been repaired, the notable exception being the central fountain.
The guard at the desk was not really paying attention to traffic in the atrium, but seeing Harry's shadow loom over the desktop, he made his cursory inquiry. "Name and business, please."
"Harry Black," Harry declared. "I'm here to see Minister Prewitt."
Eyes bulging, the guard jerked his head up and stared into Harry's green eyes. Harry did his best to make them look intimidating, hoping that maybe he could eventually discourage people from staring at him. At least he's not looking for my scar, Harry thought to himself.
"Mr. Black," the guard said, scrambling around for a badge. "Of course, of course. Uh . . ."
"Ahem," came another person's voice.
Both Harry and the desk guard looked over to find Percy Weasley studying them.
"Minister Prewitt has sent me to escort Mr. Black up immediately," Percy said in a rather formal tone as he handed Harry a badge.
"Should I check his wand?" the guard asked.
"I believe protocol requires that," Percy said stiffly.
The guard nervously accepted the yew wand from Harry and looked relieved when his machine declared that it was registered to Harry Ashworth Black. He handed it back and gestured to where Harry had the holly wand holstered. "The detector says you have one there."
"I think we all know where I got that wand," Harry said.
The guard looked to Percy who nodded and motioned for Harry to follow him. It was in the lift that Percy decided to address Harry directly. "Were you the one who was at our flat that one night?"
"Yes," Harry said. "I'm sorry if I unduly distressed your wife."
"You bloody well saved us," Percy said, his overly formal façade breaking for a moment. "Any distress was well worth it. Were you specifically eyeing our flat like you were probably eyeing the Burrow when it was attacked?"
"I'm afraid it was just mere luck that led me to your flat that night," Harry admitted. "You should be careful. I don't think they were just randomly targeting you."
Percy nodded. "We figured that out. The Ministry sent out a crew to bolster the security on our flat soon after."
"Good," Harry said as the lift dinged an announcement that they were on the Minister's floor.
After a bit of clamor, Harry found himself in a chair in Prewitt's office with both his wands, despite the strenuous objections of Prewitt's bodyguards. Prewitt, who had been forced to rise from his perch at Harry's arrival, returned from where he had conversed with his bodyguards at the door and sat down behind his desk. "Harry Ashworth Black," he said, eyeing Harry has if he was seeing a ghost.
"Feel free to call me Harry, Minister," Harry said, sounding perhaps a bit impatient.
"And me Davian," Prewitt responded.
"Very well, Davian," Harry said. "What can I do for you today?"
"I want this war to be over," Prewitt said. "I want victory. I want the next generation to know peace."
Harry nodded sympathetically, though his response seemed a bit cold. "Just about everybody wants that."
Prewitt arose from his seat and wandered to one of the windows behind his desk that overlooked the atrium. He stared out it for a moment, perhaps pondering the events of the night before. "But do you want to see the end of this war, Harry? You are the one surviving member of the cabal that pushed things in this direction. You started this war."
"The war was inevitable, Davian," Harry said. "The Dark Lord would have launched his activities sooner or later."
"I suppose you are correct in that regard," Prewitt admitted, walking back from the window and slumping into his chair. "Would you be so kind to explain to me how precisely things played out between you and the Blacks?"
Harry shrugged. "Orion assigned me to nose around Hogwarts for clues about the source of the unrest we were seeing in society at that time. I discovered the Dark Lord's existence and reported everything I could learn to Orion. At that point, Orion and Romulus took steps to put Cygnus into power. I think you know how everything else played out from there."
"You were a spy for the Blacks, then," Prewitt observed. "And now you are Lord Black. Would you care to explain how that happened?"
"Sorry, but no," Harry said. "It was an unanticipated consequence of my more private interactions with the Black family."
"So, the story about you being Orion's bastard son might be true," Prewitt said, bringing his withered face into a smile.
Harry frowned. "I cannot deny that the bastard theory is logical even if it is not true."
"At least reassure me that you legitimately gained control of the Black wealth," Prewitt said.
"It was completely legitimate," Harry said. "But, I do not want to explain to you or anybody."
"How much did you know about Cygnus's administration? Particularly after Orion died?" Prewitt asked, moving on.
Harry shrugged yet again. "I knew some things. He wasn't really Minister long enough for anything major to happen."
"True," Prewitt agreed. "It seems odd that he would leave you teaching at Hogwarts when he could have drawn on your talents more directly.
Beginning to feel irritated by Prewitt's suspicious nature, Harry still managed to be civil. "If you must know, Cygnus announced his intention to make me one of his undersecretaries on the very night he died. Obviously, his death nixed that plan. I do wonder, Davian, are you planning to discuss the war here and now?"
"Yes, the war here and now is what I want to talk to you about," Prewitt said. "But first, I just have one last inquiry about the past."
"And that is?"
"Where have been all these years?"
Harry sighed. He was not prepared to admit to time traveling, even if he could trust Prewitt to keep his mouth shut about it. "I dueled with the Dark Lord in the past. During the duel, I was seriously injured. The result is that I was recuperating until I started the Ghost of Ashworth ploy to scare the Dark Lord away from some of my friends."
"An injury that took that long to recover from?" Prewitt asked, disbelief plain in his voice.
"I am willing to swear a magical oath that because of a duel with the Dark Lord, I was unable to do anything productive until this past December," Harry said.
Prewitt eyed Harry shrewdly for several moments before nodding. "I'll accept that, as well as an oath that you consider yourself an enemy of the Dark Lord and the Death Eaters and that you have no intention to harm me or other innocents."
"Fair enough," Harry said before performing the oath to Prewitt's satisfaction.
"Now, Harry, how do you think I should proceed in advancing the cause against the Dark Lord?"
"I think now might be an opportune time to start aggressively bringing in Death Eaters," Harry said.
"We've been trying that," Prewitt retorted.
"I've developed more effective methods just recently," Harry said diplomatically. "My Ghost of Ashworth ploy forced me to get good at locating Death Eaters in the act of causing trouble."
"Well done, then," Prewitt said. "All right, if we start bringing in Death Eaters by the bushel, that still doesn't solve the Dark Lord problem."
"Yes," Harry said. "I'm getting to that. As you might know, Professor Dumbledore and some of his associates helped to capture and destroy a magical object precious to the Dark Lord. I know of two other objects the Dark Lord values very much. If you were to exert some effort to capture and destroy those objects, the Dark Lord would find himself in a rather vulnerable position."
"Vulnerable to capture or death, perhaps?" Prewitt inquired.
"Yes," Harry said solemnly.
Prewitt leaned back and looked at the ceiling. "So, you fancy that perhaps I send out my Aurors and we gradually bring in lots of Death Eaters and that we somehow get our hands on these objects and destroy them."
"Roughly, yes," Harry said.
"And then when the Dark Lord is vulnerable, you will duel him to the death. Is that it?" Prewitt demanded.
"Well," Harry hedged, "fate seems to have led me into multiple duels with the Dark Lord. But, I imagine that Dumbledore would likely be able to kill the Dark Lord in a duel once he is at his most vulnerable state."
"Quite," Prewitt mused. "He is after all, the most powerful wizard of our age, though rumors are starting to go around about you."
Harry shrugged, doing his best to look non-committal. Dumbledore was powerful and far more educated than anybody alive, but Harry knew from hard experience that Voldemort had more sheer power than Dumbledore. Then, there was of course, the prophecy that had declared Harry to be Voldemort's equal and the only person able to kill Voldemort. Something told him that the essence of the prophecy was still applicable.
"Well, Harry," Prewitt said, finally removing his gaze from the ceiling and focusing on Harry directly, "I am not about to make good on Cygnus's offer to make you an undersecretary. I don't need you wasting your time trying to navigate the bureaucratic channels that have been dug around me. But, I am going to make you a Special Deputy. You'll have whatever authority I want to give you, and you'll answer only to me."
"I see," Harry said slowly, a little bit surprised and wondering what Fudge and Umbridge from his own future would think. They would probably be appalled.
"The Special Deputy position can only be temporary," Prewitt informed Harry. "But, if you help bring this war to a good conclusion, I will see to it that you're appointed to a good position in the Ministry before I retire. If you keep your nose clean and your Wizengamot wife happy, you can be assured of a bright future in Ministry service. In fact, I would not be surprised if you became Minister of Magic one day."
"I do not think I would enjoy being Minister of Magic," Harry said. "I mean, it does seem like a very tough job."
Prewitt nodded. "When this war is over, I'm going to retire. I'm far past retirement age, you know."
"It seems like you were very close to it already back in the seventies," Harry commented.
"Quite," Prewitt said. "Is there a particular part of the Ministry that is attractive to you? You know, for when I appoint you after the war to a position."
"I don't know," Harry admitted. "I've never really been able envision myself in a world free of the Dark Lord. I used to play Quidditch. It would be a lot of fun to go professional."
"You're too old for the professional leagues," Prewitt said eyeing Harry, "though you certainly have retained an appearance of youth."
"Perhaps you're right," Harry said.
"There's always Magical Games and Sports," Prewitt said to Harry. "Not a bad department to work in, you know."
"We shall see," Harry said. He withdrew a pocket watch from his robes and made a bit of a show of examining it. "I think it is nearly time for me to leave. Before I go, perhaps you could tell me what authority you will be giving me as Special Deputy."
"Your authority will pretty much come in the form of commanding Aurors, for now," Prewitt said. "At the moment, all I can spare you is an Auror squadron under the command of an Auror captain. That's the way it will be unless until you can change the balance of this war. If you had any formal Auror training or familiarity with the Auror Corps, I could simply make you a captain and skip this Special Deputy nonsense. But, it seems I must assign a captain to follow your orders for now."
"Very well," Harry said. "I shall make use of the Aurors and set to capturing Death Eaters. If events develop favorably, I might even use them to help me capture the two objects that the Dark Lord will not want destroyed, though I might need more than a squadron in those instances."
Prewitt shrugged. "If you need more, for a specific situation, contact me anytime. We will discuss your needs."
"Very good, then," Harry said. "I should also let you know that I will not bring in every Death Eater I capture. In some cases, it will be more profitable to let them go."
Prewitt sighed. "Don't broadcast that policy to the public, but do what you feel is necessary. Just keep in mind that if you go off your rocker, the Aurors will be letting me know."
Harry nodded. "I wouldn't expect anything less. And, I am wondering. Could I choose the Auror captain that will be helping me?"
"Who did you have in mind?" Prewitt asked, arching one of his eyebrows.
"Amelia Bones," Harry said.
A slight smirk covered Prewitt's face. "Done."
When the door to his mother's room at St. Mungo's opened, Leo was surprised to see Harry enter instead of his father. Bravely, Leo tried to summon a smile as Harry shut the door. "You look pretty spiffy, Harry. Who dressed you in that?"
"I did, I suppose," Harry said, sparing a deprecating glance for his black and purple robes. "As impressive as they are, I think I would prefer something a bit more subtle. I only wore them today because I was meeting with Minister Prewitt. How are things here?"
"Not too good," Leo said from where he was sitting in a chair as Harry sat down in the chair Sirius had occupied while in the room. He jerked his head to where Cassie Black lay unconscious on the hospital bed. "She's already dead, really. It's just a few potions keeping her hear beating and whatnot."
"I see," Harry said sympathetically. "I'm sorry."
There was a moment of silence while Leo struggled to keep his composure. Harry, recognizing Leo's emotional state, refrained from speaking.
"Are either of your parents dead?" Leo asked.
Harry took a breath as if to speak, but then paused for a moment. Eventually, he answered. "I was orphaned when I was a very young child. I don't remember very much of it, really. My childhood was difficult at times. It wasn't quite like you losing your mother. You'll always remember her and remember how she died."
Once again, silence permeated the room. After a while, Harry stood. "I should probably leave."
"All right," Leo said.
"Yeah," Harry said slowly. "Look, if there are any hospital bills or funeral expenses, I would be glad to pay them. You are family, after all."
"I think we're okay," Leo said. "You'd have to speak with my dad, anyway, and I'm not so sure that it would be good to do that right now. He's pretty unhappy, you know. Not quite rational. It's lucky he's off getting dinner, now. I wouldn't say that he blames you for this, but the timing is awkward with you showing up and being head of the Black family and doing some things that could be construed as high-handed."
Harry stared off into space as an expression of deep sadness passed over his face. "To be honest, I think I have been high-handed, Leo. In some ways, at least. Well, maybe not. I was trying my best. War is tough, Leo. I hate it."
"I believe in you, Harry," Leo said.
Harry smiled. "You're very kind. I'm going to be telling some of the members of the Order a lot of information. If you can't be there when I do that, I'll see to it that you learn everything they know."
"I'll look forward to it," Leo said, smiling wanly. "Say, could I see the wand? You know, the one you took from You-Know-Who?"
Harry grinned, drew Voldemort's former holly wand from his holster, and showed it to Leo. "If it wasn't for you, I would never have even thought of stealing his wand, and I would not have been able to do it so smoothly."
"Wicked!" Leo said, eyeing the wand.
Harry holstered the wand. "I'll be seeing you around," he said to Leo before departing from the room. "Give your father my condolences if you think it wise."
On the way home, Harry stopped at one of Bellatrix's favorite restaurants. There, he ordered one of everything on the menu as well as a copy of the menu while the cashier at the counter eyed his attire with a critical eye. Eventually, Harry received his order in neat take-out boxes, which he managed to shrink into a single bag before apparating home to his flat.
There, he found Ron and Hermione sitting on the couch and looking as if they had been snogging. "Entertaining ourselves, are we?" Harry grinned as he walked into the kitchen and methodically reversed the shrinking spells on each takeout box.
Ron easily overcame his embarrassment and followed Harry into the kitchen. "Planning on having a party?" he inquired as he eyed the takeout boxes that Harry was organizing on the counter.
"It's Bella's welcome back party," Harry said. "Once we figure out what she wants for dinner, you can help ourselves to anything that looks good."
Harry left the kitchen and found Hermione waiting for him in the hall. "Are you ready to wake up Bella?" Harry asked.
"Yes," Hermione said, sounding very business-like. "There haven't been any complications."
"Excellent," Harry said, motioning for Hermione to lead the way into the bedroom.
Soon, Harry and Hermione were watching Bellatrix clear her throat as she sat up in bed and tried to get her bearings. "What happened?" she asked, sounding a bit weak.
"You became a casualty of war," Harry said. "But it seems you've survived." He handed her the copy of the menu from the restaurant. "What do you want for dinner?"
Bellatrix eyed Harry and Hermione suspiciously. "What are you trying to cover up?"
"Nothing," Harry said. "I just thought it would be nice to get you something for dinner."
It seemed that Bellatrix recognized the menu, for she requested a specific shrimp dish after glancing at the menu for only a second. Harry handed the menu to Hermione. "Would you be so kind?" He pointed to another dish on the menu. "I think I'd like that one. You and Ron can have all the rest if you like."
Hermione obliged, leaving Harry and Bellatrix alone.
"Tell me what happened," Bellatrix demanded, still sounding suspicious.
Harry found a chair and sat down on it backwards, resting his chin on the back of the chair. "It seems you and Dumbledore managed to get taken out of the game early on. Then, the Dark Lord paid a visit just as Moody found the horcrux and ran off with it. Fortunately, Rose had the presence of mind to send a distress signal to here to the flat. Hermione woke me up, and I rushed to the Ministry where I stole the Dark Lord's wand and sent him packing until the next time. I even brought you back here with me," Harry concluded slyly.
At that point, Hermione returned with the meals for Harry and Bellatrix. The conversation resumed once Hermione had retreated from the room and after Harry and Bellatrix had a chance to begin eating.
"So, you stole the Dark Lord's wand?" Bellatrix asked curiously.
"Yes," Harry said as he gave a detailed explanation of how he learned to steal wands and how he had done so during the duel with Voldemort.
"Bravo, Harry. Bravo," Bellatrix said softly. "And the horcrux?"
"Good," Bellatrix said. "I suppose everybody knows that you're alive now."
"Yes," Harry said, smiling. "The dining room table is groaning with all the mail we've gotten."
"I will handle all of that," Bellatrix volunteered.
"As long as you promise to let me sign you up for interviews or meetings that I feel would be advantageous."
"I'd prefer not," Harry sighed.
Bellatrix shrugged as she poked at a small shrimp with a fork. "It's a small price, Harry, really.
"Did you do anything today?" Bellatrix asked.
"I got appointed to be a Special Deputy to the Minister," Harry said, finishing his meal and yawning. He then launched into an explanation of his meeting with Prewitt and answered Bellatrix's questions.
"This is a very good development," Bellatrix declared. "Do try to avoid arresting Wizengamot members if you can, though. They could be valuable later on. Save them for last unless they are likely to become, as an individual, a serious public nuisance."
"I'll see what I can do," Harry promised, eyeing Bellatrix askance. "I take it you already have plans for the Wizengamot."
"I intend to set up shop as a fully active Wizengamot member," Bellatrix said. "I have done all I can with the horcruxes, I think."
"Yes," Harry agreed. "I'm sorry about not figuring out the third horcrux. I saw some things, but it will take me a while to sort them out, I think."
"Let me know if you need help," Bellatrix said as she too finished her meal. She then sat there staring at Harry.
Harry set aside the takeout box that had held his dinner and took care of Bellatrix's as well. "You know Bella, when I saw you on the floor of the atrium, I was very . . . sad. It was horrible having to think that I might lose you."
Bellatrix looked at Harry tenderly. "That's very sweet of you, Harry. But, I am quite sure you would have gotten along without me eventually. I wouldn't want you living out your days as a grieving widower."
"I don't think there is anybody who could replace you," Harry said. "Don't you feel the same about me?"
"Of course," Bellatrix said, perhaps a little too quickly. She grinned impishly at Harry. "Why don't you give me a kiss and show me how much you missed me? Just be careful on my ribs, though."