The following day was the day that votes would be cast and counted for the new minister. Each candidate was given the opportunity to make one last address to the assembled witches and wizards; they did so with varying degrees of success. The two who stood out to Harry as the likeliest candidates of winning the seat were Jericho Irons and Hadrian Calley, although that was from his relatively new standpoint. Luckily, that meant that the day was most likely going to be significantly shorter than the previous two. The method of vote-counting employed was different than any Harry had yet seen, but appeared to be in keeping with the organization of the Wizengamot.
The first ballot given to each of the Wizengamot members had the names of all of the candidates listed on it. All each voter had to do was press their family ring to the space next to the name of the candidate they wished to elect to indicate their selection. The first votes were then all counted and the witch or wizard with the least was disqualified from the running. That candidate was then given the opportunity to recommend to their supporters who they should put their votes behind in their stead and why, and another ballot was cast. This went on until only two candidates remained. From there, the one with the most votes won. This all worked out splendidly with the premise of houses representing the people, and the lesser houses following a noble. If the noble was nudged out of the running, then he and all his supporters would lend their support in turn to the noble's second choice. It was in cases like these that alliances and feuds between houses became evident.
Narcissa explained all this to Harry the night before during dinner at the Tonks' to which he had been invited once again in order to prepare him for the coming vote. Narcissa explained that Harry, while holding the title to a very influential house and being fairly influential in his own right, would probably have a very insignificant following if any at all. This was, of course, due both to his young age and his extremely recent introduction to the world of politics, and yet it comforted Harry all the same. He still found the idea of people listening to what he said and doing what he told them to be slightly nerve-wracking (using the DA the year before as an example) and the very thought of the same thing happening but on such a larger and more consequential field was quite overwhelming to him.
The voting system was a fairly straight forward process of elimination which followed the tradition of Lords running with small bodies of Barons following them. The candidate with the least votes was cut from the running and was permitted tol give a short speech announcing who they wished their voters to back in their stead, and why. Usually, the voters would follow their Lord's lead and thus the votes had a collaborating effect, eventually leading to a two-man race in which the winner was prnounced Minister of Magic. Simple enough.
The entire process was a quick one. By noon, Scot Scott, Meredith Kittling, Uriel and, unfortunately in Harry's opinion, Macaulay were all out. Left were Garrett Morgan, Irons, and Hadrian Calley.
After much deliberation, Harry decided to follow Macaulay's closing advice and vote for Baron Irons. Although he had his reservations about the man, he recognized that as a seasoned business man, he was most likely to be practical above all else, which was a very useful quality to have in a Minister, and very different from Fudge (which was always a point in one's favour). Time, he supposed, would prvoe whether this was a good decision or a poor one.
Narcissa, surprisingly, had little to say on the matter of who to vote for, which Harry found to be very odd behaviour. He half suspected Ted's involvement in her sudden lack of opinion on who he should support.
After the breack came the second-to-last vote and the clean elimination of Garrett Morgan. The final vote was down to Irons and Calley. His nerves jangling slightly, Harry pressed his Lord ring to the ballot he was given next to the name 'Jericho Irons'. Though he imagined Irons' nerves were far more frayed, his face betrayed nothing of them, stoic as ever.
The room was quiet as Dumbledore counted out the final votes. "And the new Minister is..."
At that moment six men stood swiftly and took careful aim. "Avada Kedavra!" six voices shouted clearly.
Harry saw across the surreally quiet room three of the six bolts of green light coming swiftly in his direction from theree opposite sides of the room.
Luckily, they were from reather far away, giving him time to assess his position. If he ducked, two would hit his seat, missing him entirely. The third, however, came from far to his right and would hit Narcissa. Thinking quickly, Harry realized that the timing of his actions would have to be precise. Doning the only thing he could under the extreme pressure of the situation, Harry grabbed his godfather's cloak from the seat next to him. Tossing it into the air, he threw a quick spell at it and dove onto Narcissa, forcing her to thre ground and covering her body with his in one go.
The explosion behind him was deafening.
Pain lanced across his back, neck, and legs as peices of chair and worse still, the bits of stone that Harry had transfigured his cloak into cut into his flesh. Harry lay still, stunned for a moment by the force of the blast.
Narcissa, however, was moving already. Sliding out from underneath him, she whipped out her wand, unusually lond and the same gold colour as her hair, Harry noticed dazedly.
"Come cousin," she said brusquely, surveying the chaos and screamin crowds around them. "We must away. It is not safe here, for either of us."
So saying, she helped drag a still stuneed and bleeding Harry to his feet and into the rush of fleeing politicians and flashes of coloured spells to the apparition point.
Just as they were about to disapparate, Harry spotted a bearded man shoving his way through the crowd towards them. Grabbing Narcissa, he spun them on the spot and disappeared just as a jet of dark purple light was to have hit them. They were safe. For now.
"Phew. Close one," Harry said lightly, grinning at Narcissa's expression. It looked to be something in between incredulous, exasperated, and amused. "Shall we have a cup of tea?" Harry asked and started making one without waiting for her answer.
Narcissa looked around the small, bare flat that was Harry's home mildly. "This is your home?" she asked with, surprisingly, little distaste in her voice at its lack of personality.
"Mmhm," Harry replied, which did cause a flicker of annoyance to cross her face.
"Yes," she corrected him as he served her tea and pressed a cool cloth to the ack of his neck to staunch the shallow cuts.
"Yes," he repeated automatically after years of doing the same for Aunt Petunia and his various teachers. "How do you like your tea?"
"Milk, no sugar," she replied, watching him.
"Same as me," he sai with a little smile as he glanced up, and then caught the calculating glint in her eye. Uh oh. "What?"
Her look grew more predatory. "I beg your pardon?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "I mean, whatever is the matter, dearest Cousin Narcissa?"
"Better," she conceded, ignoring both his sarcasm and his question. "When is your birthday?"
Harry was perplexed by this new line of questioning. "July thirty-first. Why?" He had no doubt that this was leading somewhere; with Narcissa there was always a reason or a lesson, but that glint in her eye made him distinctly nervous.
Again, she ignored his questions. How immensely frustrating.
"And what sort of event have you planned for your coming-of-age?"
"Event?" Now Harry was stumped. "What do you mean?"
"Your coming-of-age ceremony. Surely you're having a party of some kind?"
"Uh." In actual fact, Harry was planning nothing of the sort. He had always spent his birthdays alone. The extent of his celebratory traditions was to stay up until midnight to ring in another year of life and open gifts from his close friends. And that cake from Hagrid when he turned eleven. That was it. He'd never really had a party before. He didn't really know how to go about hosting one. "Do you think I should?" he asked her seriously.
"I do," she replied briskly. "I think you should have two."
"Two?" Now that just seemed excessive. "Whatever for?"
"One for your close friends and acquaintances. And one for public consumption."
Harry made a face and opened his mouth to protest but was cut off neatly.
"If you plan on entering society as a budding politician it pays to have allies and it is at social functions such as these that such connections are often made. As the Head of two prominent Houses, one might even consider it your duty to hold at least one a year, if not two."
"Of course. These parties are not really for you, per say. That's what the private one is for. This is you providing an opportunity for high society to gather and mingle and play political games. And of course," she finished almost absent-mindedly, "there is the matter of charity."
Narcissa raised a critical eyebrow at him. "Of course, cousin. What did you think your titles meant? You have a responsibility to look after the magical population. Where do you think the money comes from to run St. Mungo's? To fund research in new medical magic? To prevent unemployment? Education, even? Hogwarts is expensive and yet must educate every magical child in Great Britain and Ireland. All these projects are funded in part by the functions held by High Society."
"Oh," Harry replied somewhat lamely.
Narcissa seemed to take some pity on him.
"Each Noble House hosts one a year. The Blacks traditionally held one at Yule, a tradition that the Malfoys carried on after Aunt Druella died. The Blacks supported St. Mungo's, each function carrying a different particular project: the long-term ward, a research grant for preventing Dragon Pox, and so on. The Malfoys favoured a Hogwarts donation which eventually earned them a seat on the Board of Governors. Perhaps the Blacks can carry on that tradition," she trailed off.
"And the Potters?" Harry asked, strained.
She looked at him. "They provided for the poor. Again, a little different every time, quidditch camps for children and filed trips to magical animal reserves and so on, but hey always held the Beltaine celebration; although that one has since been taken over by the Bonses. Hm..." she tapped her lips with a long, dainty finger. "Perhaps you can do a mid-summer's Eve celebration in coincidence with you birthday? That would be most appropriate, and would be most convenient as you would then cover both ends of the year..."
"Oh," said Harry again. His brain felt over-loaded with information. It suddenly seemed as though there was much more to being a Lord Baron than he'd originally thought.
Narcissa looked as though she was about to ask him more overwhelming questions that had never occurred to him before when the fire flared up and Aunt Andi and Nym strode out one after another, both looking rather harried.
"Harry!" they both exclaimed in relief upon seeing him. "Are you alright?"
Nym bounded over the sofa and threw herself at him, nearly sending them both tumbling to the ground.
Aunt Andi took a more stately approach and walked around the couch ,but she did it quickly nevertheless, and was soon clutching the hand of her fairer-haired sister.
"We just received news that you'd been attacked," she said, sounding quite shaken. "No one could find you at the Wizengamot so Nymphadora came looking for you at the Den. When I hadn't heard from you, we thought you might have come here."
"Oh. We're fine. thanks for worrying, though," Harry said amiably.
"Why didn't you tell us you were okay?" Nym demanded from where she still clung to Harry's arm.
Harry looked over at Narcissa a bit sheepishly. "Uh, I dunno. I guess it just never really occurred to me. We just got out of there and then I made tea and we started talking about my birthday coming up... What?"
Nym and Aunt Andi were looking at him, shocked.
"You just made some tea..." Aunt Andi murmured faintly, incredulously.
Harry scratched the back of his head nervously. Apparently he'd done something wrong, but he din't know what it was. "Erm, should I not have?"
She just stared at him.
Nym took over. "Harry," she began firmly. "Whenever an attempt on your life is made, I want you to report your state of being to one of us, or Dad, or the Weasleys, or Dumbledore, or somebody. Okay? Every time. Can you do that?"
Harry nodded hastily. "Sure. No problem. Report. Every time. Gotcha."
Aunt Andi was still looking a little faint and she clutched Narcissa's hand even tighter. "Maybe you should just lie low for a while, Harry. It's dangerous for you right now."
Narcissa chose this moment to speak up. "Actually, if you don't mind, I have plans for Harry this week as the Wizengamot sessions should now be over..." Harry gulped. That look was back and he did not know what it meant.
It was not until they'd all left to bring word of the good news to others that he realized that neither had objected to Narcissa's being in his flat. He smiled.
"One must always begin with the guest list."
Harry watched blearily as Narcissa spread a fresh sheet of parchment crisply across Aunt Andi's desk and dipped her quill cleanly into the ink pot. The sight of such efficiency and organization so early in the morning was nearly unbearable to him and he quickly gulped some more steaming tea in an effort to reach full lucidity. Instead, he burned his throat, which did nothing to improve his concentration.
It was eight o'clock on Saturday morning and Harry had fully expected to be sleeping at such an hour like any reasonable person. Instead, here he was, showered and breadfasted, having received an aggravated floo call from Uncle Ted an hour earlier. Apparently, not having had access to Harry's floo address herself, Narcissa had decided that the best solution was not, in fact, to wait until someone was awake who did know, but rather to rouse her brother-in-law now and have him call. Harry suspected that she took some sort of sadistic glee in the action, but knew better than to voice such a thought.
After negotiating his way through Harry's worse than usual morning disorientation, Ted had promptly returned to bed. Harry, on the other hand, was nowhere near so fortunate, and had forced himself to get into a shower so hot that it made his skin blotch and sting. Twenty minutes later, he was as sore as he had been upon entering and had given up in favour of doing some thorough stretches. They had helped a bit, and after an enormous bowl of oatmeal and some apricots, he was feeling approaching-human.
Bombing over to the Den, Harry was met with an irate cousin, vexed at the length of the wait. According to her, they had a lot to do, though what it all included, Harry could not fathom.
"The guest list?"
"Yes the guest list, cousin, the guest list. Without it, one cannot hope to begin planning the food, the wine, the location, even the time of day, among a thousand other things. What of the decor? What code of dress should be set? Will there be a sit-down meal? Who can set next to whom?"
Narcissa sighed. "Perhaps you should have some more tea while I draw up a preliminary draft."
"Preliminary... draft?" Harry sipped. Deeply.
He knew he should have stayed home today.
Five hours of party-planning later, Harry was ready to take drastic action if it only meant that the torture would end. Luckily, such lengths were not necessary at that moment as Narcissa put down her quill and cracked her knuckles one by one.
"Well, that should do for now. From here, I shall be able to make the more minute decisions, though getting a decent location with only a week's notice at this time of year will be like rousing a Himalayan Yeti."
Harry stared blankly (much as he had been for the entire morning).
Narcissa sighed. "They hibernate almost perpetually, emerging one day once every year to fee on hikers' lunches."
She rolled her eyes. "Pray, go occupy yourself with some mindless game, or sport, or whatever it is you do to amuse yourself, cousin, for I doubt you will get much work done today."
Harry smiled at her ruefully. "Sorry. I know I'm useless at all of this. I really do appreciate that you're taking care of this for me."
Narcssa scoffed lightly and looked down at her notes. "Consider it my birthday gift, received in advance."
Harry grinned at her. "Done."
She handed him a gargantuan stack of envelopes and squares of thick card. "Now, stick to the wording we decided on and these should go smoothly. You must have them done by tomorrow if we are to give a week's notice, and even that is horrendously little warning. And for Merlin's sake, make sure to write the important ones first, before your hand start cramping up, which I guarantee you, it will."
"Right." Harry hefted the stack and was about to leave when he turned back around, a question in his mind. "Your birthday is in May. Isn't that when the Narcissus blooms?"
Narcissa, back deep in her notes already, looked up, startled. "Yes, it is."
Harry nodded thoughtfully. "I'll remember that." He smiled again at her perplexed expression before actually leaving this time.
When Harry returned to the Lair, someone was waiting for him. He had barely brushed himself off from his typically violent landing hen he was struck from the side. A moment of being squeezed painfully, then everything went brown.
"Oh Harry, I've missed you so much!"
"Hermione! What the devil are you doing here! Not that I'm not glad to see you, but aren't you supposed to be in France?"
Hermione released him from the death-grip she had on his ribs and stepped back so he could see her face.
"Well, we were, only the wards on my parents' house got finished way quicker than expected - something about a sudden influx of ward stones and a drop in ward taxation. Anyway, my parents realized, I think how badly I wanted to be here to help you and they said that as long as I promised to be home for dinner everyday to spend time with them that it was alright if we cut our trip short! So I flooed to the Weasleys this morning from the Leaky Cauldron, except Ron and Ginny were out working at the twins' joke shop, can you believe that they've actually done it, I don't know where they got the money to rent in Diagon Alley of all places, but apparently Bill took the morning off to escort them, did you know he's dating that Fleur girl, Ginny told me in her letters, and she's living with them and everything, but she must have been at work because only Mrs. Weasley was home and she was so worried about Ron and Ginny, I don't think she's let them out of the house once yet, but Bill must have convinced her, which is a good thing because Ron sounds in his letters like he won't stand for much mor of it, but anyways, she told me the address and password to your floo, and I've only just arrived, I hope it's okay, I didn't even look around, well, just a bit, and I made lunch, I hope you haven't eaten yet, and what's this I hear about you taking advice from Mrs. Malfoy of all people, Harry why are you smiling like that at me?"
Harry hadn't been able to stop the silly grin that had plastered itself across his face at her pent-up rant of information.
"No reason. C'mon, let's eat and I can tell you all about Cousin Narcissa."
Hermione's eyebrows rose at that, but she went along to the table without complaint and they dug into her homemade fish and chips with pumpkin juice, talking hard.
"I guess it's like Sirius said that time," Hermione said thoughtfully a short while later. "The world isn't only split up into good people and Death Eaters. There are all sorts in the middle."
Harry beamed at her, relieved at her approval of his decision.
"So what are all these cards for, Harry?" she asked inquisitively.
"Oh, those. I'm supposed to write and address those by hand by tomorrow. Here, you can have the first one."
Harry snatched the top card, a practice one he and Narcissa had done earlier as a template. Grabbing a quill from the coffee table, Harry wrote Hermione's name at the top and then signed his full name at the bottom with a flourish. He handed it across the table to his friend.
"It's supposed to come in an envelope with a wax seal of the Black Crest and everything, but since you're already here..." he shrugged.
To Miss Hermione Granger,
You are cordially invited to the sixteenth-year celebration of Harry James Potter-Black.
The festivities will take place on the eve of Summer's Solstice between the hours of eleven and fifteen.
Please note that the doors will close after thirty minutes and that we will end promptly in an effort to accommodate other Midsummer Celebrations.
Formal attire is required.
Donations will be accepted at the door for St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, Children's Ward.
For security reasons, directions to the festivities will be provided only to attendees who have R.S.V. positively closer to the date.
We wish you a fruitful Solstice and hope to see you in attendance.
Harry James Potter-Black