"Today marks the beginning of a new era of freedom in our world," Kingsley Shacklebolt said. He ran one hand a bit nervously over the heavy tapestry of his robes. The other hand held his wand to his throat, casting his words across the open lawn in front of Hogwarts with an amplification charm. "Battles have been fought, and lives have been lost, but hope," he paused and nodded to Harry across the crowd, "lives on."
Harry joined the applause that followed this statement. It was a surprisingly small group today. The staff of Hogwarts had been instructed to attend by Head Master McGonagall, and although Harry recognized a few faces, here and there, Hagrid of course, Professor Flitwick, Professor Sprout, all of whom were paying excellent attention to Kingsley's speech, there was a distinct look of unease on the remaining faces. Chief among the fidgeters was Horace Slughorn, and the rest of them, Harry didn't even recognize. There were no students present. A few reporters for the Daily Prophet, and some ministry officials. In fact, the Weasley family comprised the largest contingent of the audience, dotting the crowd like freckles with their red hair.
"We are here to dedicate this memorial to the lives lost during the Battle of Hogwarts, and during the greatest struggle against Evil that has occurred in our age," Kingsley said.
"He still won't say the name," Hermione muttered by Harry's side.
"Pay attention," Ron muttered back.
"I am paying attention," Hermione retorted, "he won't say 'Voldemort' because he doesn't want to anger the Death Eaters, politics that's all." She frowned at Kingsley. "You'll see," she whispered to Ron.
Harry smiled. Somehow during this exchange, Ron had managed to slide a hand across Hermione's back.
"And now," Kingsley said, turning to his helpers, "unveil the monument."
Four wizards dressed in the most solemn Ministry robes drew their wands and with a quiet Revelio lifted the obscuring charm from the memorial. The little group once again clapped appreciatively.
Harry thought it was an excellent likeness of Dumbledore. It was about twenty feet high, and made of solid granite, probably would last longer than anyone would remember who it was. Thousands of years, perhaps. Dumbledore stood in stone, with his hand outstretched to welcome untold generations of students through Hogwarts' gates, his face smiled, but there was a hint of defiance in the expression, a quiet peace, a look that said 'thus far and no further'. In fact, it was the very expression that Harry had seen in his eyes, the night that he had died.
Harry's breath caught in his chest involuntarily, and his throat got very dry. He coughed and pulled at his tie a little.
"Look Harry," Hermione said.
Harry raised his eyes again.
"His hand, he's holding-"
Dumbledore's other hand pressed close to his bosom, clutching a precious single lily into the stone folds of his robes.
Harry met Kingsley's eyes across the crowd. He nodded at Kingsley and was gratified to see a smile spread across the other's face in turn.
It was a fitting tribute.
"Then, let us have the dedication," Kingsley said, turning behind him.
Another group of Ministry officials moved forward carrying a long train of golden streamers. Leading the group were four first-years one for each house, two young witches and two young wizards, only eleven years old, their faces flush with the excitement of the day and the promise of learning about the magical world that they lived in. Harry thought back on his first year. How young they seemed to him now, but how old he had felt then!
A ministry official handed each one of the first-years the golden globe that was attached to the end of the streamer.
Ron elbowed Harry sharply in the ribs.
"Undersecretary," Kingsley said, "Will you give the call?"
"Certainly," was the answer. And Dolores Umbridge stepped out of the shadows and raised her wand. "Ready children?" she asked, and then on call the four students threw their globes in a great arc over the monument. The streamers trailed behind, snapping through the air in a great long suspended arc. When the globes touched the ground on the other side, the ribbons exploded into an iridescent rainbow, red, green, yellow and blue.
There was enthusiastic cheering from the crowd. Or at least from part of the crowd. The Weasleys did not seem to be as enthusiastic as the rest. A lump formed in Harry's throat.
He stared at Umbridge, willing her to meet his gaze, but she would not look at him.
"Thank you all," Kingsley said, "for your sacrifice, and personal commitment that crossed the untold boundaries of sea and sky and have brought us here today, on the other side of the fight, to a world that is safe for our students once again."
"You see," Hermione said.
"How did she get here?" Harry hissed, the first moment that he managed to pull aside from the general group and snag Hermione and Ron alone. Umbridge had disappeared after the speech, diapparated no doubt.
"I told you," Hermione said, "Her trial was to be today." She took a glance back at Kingsley, who was shaking hands with Professor Sprout. "She was acquitted."
"But why? She's a Death Eater, everyone knows that." Ron said.
Harry got a sinking feeling.
"The Ministry was full of Death Eaters," Hermione told them, "the Wizengamot as well. Now that it's all over, they are all saying that they were Imperiused. It's just like last time."
"Coo," Ron said.
Not the most eloquent expression, but it summed Harry's feelings up pretty well.
"Tell me more, Hermione."
"They felt that due to the fact that she was never directly involved with any of Voldemort's murders, and also that there were so few people left to run the Ministry that she was acquitted of all charges and retained her post as Undersecretary to the Minsiter."
But she is evil, Harry wanted to say. He didn't.
"Shacklebolt agreed?" He asked instead.
Harry smacked his fist against his leg. He looked back across the grass towards the monument, at it's sparkle and promise. It would headline the Daily Prophet tomorrow. The War is Over! Justice Done! Free At Last! And yet Umbridge would remain at the Ministry. And who knows how many countless others. And Kingsley agreed.
"Mad Eye wouldn't have agreed." Harry said.
"What's the plan?" Ron asked.
Harry and Hermione looked at him.
"What?" Ron said, "No I mean it, what's the plan? We can't just let her go roaming around the countryside making children write with those quills. She headed the mudblood registration comittee! Let's find the proof, have another trial and send her to Azkaban."
A vision flashed before Harry's eyes. He saw the faces of Azkaban escapees over the years, dozens, maybe scores of them. Bellatrix LeStrange. They got out. Umbridge wouldn't get out.
"Azkaban is a shambles," Harry said, " We need another answer. A better answer to this."
Hermione grabbed his sleeve, "Harry Potter what makes you think that...well just because you won against..."
"What, old toad face will be too tough on him?" Ron said, laughing.
Harry laughed too. Hermione didn't.
"Times are changing," she said. "We're grown up now. We can't solve everything with optimism. The Ministry is rebuilding. They can't convict every Death Eater. There's just too many. It's a fact. It's political." She crossed her arms. Harry realized she was trying to stop trembling.
"We'll yours is an enlightened opinion, anyhow," Ron said.
Hermione glared at Ron, turned on her heel and walked away.
"I mean, it's bloody well only been a few months," Ron said to Harry, but a little too loudly not to be heard by Hermione. "What's happened to her?"
"What's happened to whom, Mr. Weasley?" Headmaster McGonagall said from behind Harry's shoulder.
They both jumped and turned around. McGonagall was standing a few inches away. How long she'd been there, Harry couldn't tell.
"It is impolite to refer to someone in that tone of voice in the third person," McGonagall said squarely. "Potter I would like to speak with you briefly in my office if you can spare the time."
"Yes," Harry said, "Of course."
Ron just looked sheepish. Harry smiled at him and poked him in the ribs as he followed McGonagal away. Here they were, graduated from Hogwarts, full wizards and McGonagall could still tweak Ron's nose.
Dumbledore's office, for it would always be Dumbledore's office to Harry no matter who occupied it was the same. McGonagall hadn't made any changes really, no personal touches. The shades were drawn across the windows, the paintings hung sleepily. There were a few scattered papers on the desk, the only sign that McGonagall used the room at all.
She glided over to the desk and rested her fingers on its edge before she spoke to Harry.
"You realize of course, that this is probably best not spoken of outside this room," she said.
"What? What's the problem?"
McGonagall gestured behind her. "Don't say anything. Up there, on the wall. Don't say the name."
Above the desk chair, in fact right next to Dumbledore's painting was an excellent likeness of Severus Snape. He was standing in dutifully Napoleonic fasion, with one hand stuck inside his waistcoat and the other resting on the back of the chair. The face was vacant of the expression and the eyes stared dead ahead. It wasn't a magical picture. Just a painting.
It should have been obvious that since Snape had been Headmaster at Hogwarts for a time, that his picture should go in the Headmaster's gallery. It startled Harry for a moment, but once he thought about it, he sympathized. In fact, Harry approved.
"I still don't understand," he asked McGonagall. "but why isn't it a real picture?"
"It is," McGonagall said, "He's just being stubborn, if you watch him for a while, he blinks every now and then."
"If you say his name you'll attract his attention," McGonagal said. "I'd like to tell you about something without him hearing, if possible."
Harry noticed that Snape's picture was attracting attention of another sort. From the next picture frame over, Dumbledore was wadding up a spit ball and elaborately preparing to insert it into a straw and fire it. Harry observed that the floor under Snape's feet were littered with such missles.
"Mr. Potter, Hogwarts is in serious financial trouble," McGonagall said. "And likely to soon be in greater."
She wavered a bit. It looked like she was going to fall over so Harry took a step forward to help. McGonagal waved him away and sat down in her chair.
"The truth is," McGonagall, "That Beauxbatons and Durmstrang have both been playing a dangerous political game. I'm sure it's crossed your mind. Neither school has ever acknowledged the legitimacy of the war, or the existence of...Voldemort..." The pause was brief, but significant to Harry. Even McGonagall was not free from the svengali spell that the name held.
McGonagall gathered herself and continued, "Durmstrang may have been actively flirting with the Death Eaters and their Recruiters. Beauxbatons as you know has many connections with the non-human magical world, Giants, Veela, Centaurs, Mermaids, and their loyalties have always been somewhat divided. The fact is, both of them managed to stay out of the war. I thought that their political wavering would be detrimental once we triumphed, but it seems that is not the case."
"Once people realize," Harry interrupted, "the significance that Hogwarts, Dumbledore, played in freeing our world-they can't fail to recognize it!"
"No," McGonagall said, "fifty students died during the Battle of Hogwarts. The fact is, that Hogwarts is no longer perceived as safe." She sank back against her chair, "and I? I can't say I blame those parents who only want to see their children live to adulthood. Enrollment is almost half of what it was the previous year."
Harry's eyebrows shot up. Half? "But," he said, "I thought you had, you know, districting. You mean that all the students are going to Beauxbatons and Durmstrang?"
"Or simply staying home. Harry, we're already faced with raising tuition," here McGonagall paused and looked at him over her glasses, "oh that's right, I'd almost forgotten. James and Lily Potter's Family Trust provided for your education. Dumbledore himself was the Trustee. You were not involved in any direct way with tuition payments."
Harry had honestly never thought about it before. He had been to his vault at Gringotts, obviously he could afford to attend Hogwarts, it had simply never occurred to him that the teachers had to make a living. He almost smiled. Hermione. Hermione would have words to say to him if she'd known. Her father's tireless efforts at dentistry suddenly made more sense.
"The minute we raise our tuition, the more students will have to move to the other schools," McGonagall said. "Already we've pared the staff to a bare minimum. You wouldn't believe the kindness Harry-" she leaned forward, clearly excited, "did you know that Trelawney and Sprout have refused to be dismissed? That they've pledged to work without pay, business as usual and have taken a flat together to minimize expenses?"
Harry shook his head, "No," he said, "I hadn't."
"And Flitwick has volunteered to sell the orchestra instruments, which he privately owns, in order to keep Hagrid's brother Grawp in good stable. Is stable the best word? No perhaps not. Flitwick's leaving, but he's leaving a legacy behind him. Hagrid and Filch have teamed together to keep the grounds in order, though goodness knows we don't know how we'll feed them."
She stopped speaking, and Harry didn't have the heart to say anything for some moments. He had never seen McGonagall in this kind of state. Of course, he had never heard of Hogwarts being in this kind of position. It didn't make sense to him. Hogwarts was famous, and for things like honor, integrity, passion, and courage. Students were afraid of attending? Hogwarts didn't have enough money to operate?
"We need help, Mr. Potter," McGonagall said finally, straightening up and regaining a firm grip on the arm of her chair. "I appeal to your loyalty to the House of Gryffindor, to say the very least. You are the perfect person to conduct the kind of marketing campaign that we need to set Hogwarts back on a competitive track. We need an Ambassador."
"But, what I don't understand is," Harry said, "why does Hogwarts need to be 'competitive' with Durmstrang and Beauxbatons? I thought that we were supporting each other with cooperation, not competition. If I go out and get more students to come to Hogwarts, then the other schools will suffer the same way we are now. The magical world needs friends, not competitors. We need to rebuild our society."
"Potter," McGonagall said, "We need to be competitive for one simple reason. I have no intention of moving to France."
It was a strangled, whispered, groaning, mumbling kind of sound. It came distinctly from Snape's painting. Both Harry and McGonagall turned to look at it. Snape had not moved.
"If we cannot raise our headcount," McGonagall said, turning back to Harry, "Hogwarts will have to close. I don't think either of us will agree that this is a fair outcome for the school that single-handedly fought off Voldemort's return."
"No," Harry had to agree, "it isn't."
"Get some rest, Mr. Potter," McGonagall said, sighing, "I'll contact you tomorrow with an itinerary. I suspect that you'll have a few things to talk about with Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger between now and then. I have no objections to them accompanying you, goodness knows the three of you are joined at the hip. However, it will affect the travel and lecture schedule. All in a day's work, all in a day's work."
She picked at her skirt with slender wrinkled fingers. For the first time, Harry noticed that it was getting a bit threadbare. Maybe Hogwart's financial problems had been going on longer than he'd suspected. Years perhaps.
"Thank you Headmaster," he said, "I'll think about what you've said."
Harry turned to leave, but then he turned back.
"Did you know that Dolores Umbridge was going to be at the ceremony today?" He fired at her, all the anger that he felt surging to the surface. He was bloody well not going to be a Diplomat for Hogwarts if capitulating to petty tyrants and bureaucrats was what it entailed.
McGonagall shook her head. "No."
"Well?" Harry prodded, "What are we going to do about it!"
"She's not a Death Eater. She was acquitted," McGonagall said, "Heavens, can you imagine her with the Dark Mark? A tattoo? She's got an unfortunate personality, true, but evil? She's too petty to be evil."
"She's a fiend," Harry said. And then he stomped out of the room before McGonagall could reply. He didn't want to talk about this. It was settled. Umbridge was a bad person. His right hand burned, and he wasn't going to lie about it now just to stop from making waves.
He ran into Kingsley Shacklebolt at the bottom of the stairs.
"Oh," Kingsley said.
Harry did not greet the man at all. He would have walked right by him, had not Kingsley reached out and taken hold of his arm.
"Harry," Kingsley said, "We have a very important, grave matter to discuss."
"Yes," Harry said snappishly, "I suppose we do."
"I'll send you an owl when it's safe to talk," Kingsley said.
"Oh," said Harry, and then he pulled his arm away from Kingsley and left.