Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Puppet of Time

Chapter 17

Harry Potter wasn't quite sure what was happening. About an hour ago a squat, vaguely toad-like witch had fetched him from Hogwarts and brought him to what was apparently the Ministry of Magic. The only information he had been given was that it somehow concerned the Dursleys and that he wasn't in trouble.

They had escorted him out of Hogwarts just after breakfast. Then they used something called 'side-along apparition', a very unpleasant method of transportation, to teleport them somewhere else. It was a city, but Harry had not gotten a good look before he had been ushered into a warehouse. Then a cargo lift had taken them underground. After traversing several corridors Harry had been ushered into an empty meeting room and told to wait. Nothing had happened since then. His attempt at leaving the room had been prevented by the two guards.

Nobody told him what was going on. Frustration, boredom and fear were slowly building. He was already considering way to slip away from the guards.

Harry looked up when the door opened. A young witch with a pale heart-shaped face and violet hair entered, holding a stack of paper in her hands. When she saw him she stopped, blinked, raised her finger and opened her mouth. Then she closed it again.

"Excuse me for a second."

"Um, okay?" Harry answered, not entirely understanding what was going on.

Meanwhile, the witch had turned around and marched back out of the door. Harry could hear her voice, but the answers of the guards were unintelligible. "Did you simply leave him alone in there?… For how long?... For Merlin's sake, he's a thirteen year old kid… Yes, I understand this is what Madam Umbridge ordered… Madam Bones won't like this… No, she's still busy… Yes, I'll take care of it."

Then the woman entered again. Harry could hear her muttering under her breath. "Bloody toad has no idea how to treat children." A moment later she switched to a louder voice and smiled. "Wotcher, Harry! I'm Tonks. Sorry about this. There seems to have been a snag somewhere. You shouldn't have been left like this. Do you have any questions?"

"Erm, hi. What's happening? Nobody explained anything."

"Weeell, I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to tell you. I'm just a secretary." Tonks seemed to think for a few seconds. "There's a really big investigation ongoing in several departments. The Ministry is in an uproar. I don't know all the details or what it has to do with other things, but your aunt and uncle have been taken in for questioning last evening. Madam Bones, my boss, wants to interview you personally, but she didn't say anything else to me."

Harry nodded. "Okay. Thanks. Who is this Madam Umbridge? She collected me from Hogwarts and treated me like a retarded five year old."

The woman grimaced. "She's Minister Fudge's right hand." Tonks lowered her voice conspiratorially. "You didn't hear that from me, but she's an evil old hag. Never cross her under any circumstances. Vindictiveness is her second name. She probably tried to be nice, so count yourself lucky. I'm so glad she isn't my boss. Oh, that reminds me…"

Tonks scribbled something on a sheet of paper before removing her wand from her sleeve. Harry didn't recognize the spell, but the piece of paper folded itself into a paper plane and zoomed out of the room through a slit above the door.

"What was that?" Harry asked curiously.

"I just sent a message to my boss. We use the paper planes for communication here in the Ministry."

They continued talking over the next minutes. Harry found Tonks very funny, especially after she demonstrated the ability to change her face and hair color at will. Tonks asked about his Hogwarts life, having graduated the year before he began his schooling. In return she told him about her work at the Ministry.

Time passed so quickly Harry hardly noticed. When the door opened and several people entered it came as a complete surprise to him. Tonks immediately reverted her appearance to what it had been originally.

The first to enter was a middle-aged wizard with an utterly forgettable face. A square-jawed witch with close-cropped grey hair and a monocle followed. Umbridge and a wizened old wizard brought up the rear.

"Good morning, Mr. Potter. Please excuse the delay. Any problems, Miss Tonks?"

"No, Madam Bones."

A minute later everyone was seated and introductions had been finished. The first wizard belonged to the Muggle Liaison Office while the second one was a member of the Wizengamot Administration Services, not that Harry really knew what that meant. It was only then that Harry realized that this Madam Bones was actually Susan's aunt Amelia. That fact made him immediately feel more at ease. Despite being friends with Susan since he started Hogwarts he had never met the woman before; it had always been the Abbots who met Susan at the Hogwarts Express. In fact, Susan spent most of her time with the Abbots. According to his friend her aunt was distant, very stern and always far too busy with her work.

Madam Umbridge was the first to address him. "Mr. Potter, I am sure you are wondering why we brought you here. An internal investigation has brought up serious misconduct in various departments. When we followed one of the leads we discovered certain irregularities in your home life."

Icy fear spread through Harry. He didn't want other people to find out.

Before he could say anything the wizard from the Muggle Liaison Office spoke up. "We know about the starvation. We know about the forced isolation. We know about the cupboard."

'Uncle Veron will kill me.'

Seeing his panicked expression, Madam Bones intervened and made a calming gesture. "Don't panic. You won't have to return to the Dursleys ever again; that much I can promise you."

Harry couldn't really believe it, but hope overshadowed the panic for the moment. "Really?"

Madam Bones nodded. "Really. In fact, they will be facing prison time for what they did."

Harry was silent for a few seconds, emotions and half-formed thoughts whirling chaotically in his head. "I don't want other people to find out."

Susan's aunt sighed. "Mr. Potter, I won't lie to you. It is virtually certain that the details of your home life will be plastered on the front page of the Daily Prophet sooner rather than later. Too many people are involved in the investigation. Someone will leak the facts to the press. You are a celebrity with all that entails."

He was about to object when he remembered several conversations with Draco about his unwanted fame. The blond boy had always insisted that Harry should come to terms with his status. Hiding would never work.

Harry nodded glumly, hoping it wouldn't be that bad. "Where will I live now?"

The man from the Muggle Liaison Office cleared his throat. "There are procedures for cases like this. An underage wizard being mistreated by his muggle guardians happens on occasion, unfortunately, although I do have to admit that normally only pertains to muggleborn. A wizard child should never end up with muggles in the first place. We try to keep the worlds separate, after all."

"The circumstances of your placement with the Dursleys are something we are looking into." Madam Bones interjected. "The end of the war was a chaotic time, but it should never have happened."

The second, ancient wizard nodded ponderously. "I quite agree, especially since there were a number of magical blood relatives still alive when you were orphaned. Even if not you should have been placed with a magical family."

Harry's head was swimming. Magical relatives? Still alive? "Who?" he heard himself ask.

"Your great-aunt Cassiopia Black, great-uncle Pollux Black and Arcturus Black would have been the ones with the closest relation. They are dead by now, to be sure. Currently your closest living magical blood relative in good standing is Narcissa Malfoy nee Black."

"Draco's mother?"

The ancient wizard blinked. "Ah yes, I remember now. Narcissa's son is your age. Yes, that makes things easier. Anyway, when a child of one of the Old Families is orphaned, no other adult members of the family remain and a will is absent or successfully disputed it is custom to assemble a small council of guardians. Usually three or four, chosen by the Wizengamot. In the interim period either the Minister or the Chief Warlock holds your guardianship. It has been quite some time since the last case, but the precedent is clear. I clearly remember…"

Before the wizard could pontificate further Madam Umbridge cut it. "Minister Fudge has already assumed guardianship since Chief Warlock Dumbledore is currently away on the continent."

"Does that mean he can sign my Hogsmeade slip?" Harry blurted out, interrupting the woman.

Tonks giggled while the others looked bemused. Redness crept into Madam Umbridge's face, but before she could say anything Madam Bones placed a hand atop her arm, shaking her head slightly.

"I'm sure that can be arranged, Mr. Potter. By Christmas the matter of your permanent guardians should be settled." Madam Bones steepled her hands. "Now, there is another reason we brought you here. We would like to hear your statement regarding your treatment at the Dursleys' hands."

"My statement?"

"Yes. The Dursleys confessed to a number of crimes and we gathered other evidence, but you verifying at least some of the incidents would make things much easier and certain to stand up in court. I have a list here. A simple true or false will suffice. If you feel up to it you can expand on things, but at this time we mainly want to confirm the facts we already know. Since you are a minor we have special procedures for this." She gestured at the other occupants of the room. "Between the people present we can witness your testimony and present it to court, vouching for its accuracy. You won't have to appear before the entire Wizengamot that way."

Harry didn't know what to do. He had never even thought of such a development. Finally he nodded. "Okay."

Amelia Bones had to try hard to resist the urge to massage her forehead and utter a sigh of relief when the last in a string of meetings finally ended and the people filed out of the meeting room. The day had been beyond stressful. Productive, but stressful.

The Dursleys had been most unpleasant people to deal with. The woman had clammed up at first while the husband never really stopped talking. His raving and ranting about 'freaks' had been annoying, but in the end they had gotten the evidence they needed. They had even brought in the husband's sister, a Marjorie Dursley. She had been surprisingly open about her and her brother's family's treatment of Harry.

'They are really the worst kind of muggles.'

Interviewing Harry had brought no new facts, but it had shored up the case. Testimony from a wizard was a useful thing to have and it did spare the boy a public appearance.

The investigation into the Obliviators was bringing lots of corruption and abuse of power to light, but that was really incidental to Amelia's main purpose. Oh, she didn't like corruption, but she was old and cynical enough to have accepted it as an unavoidable fact of life. A few scapegoats would be punished harshly; everyone else would lie low and actually do their jobs properly for a time until they backslid sooner or later. The trick was to do an investigation or audit often enough to keep the government working in a semblance of efficiency. The investigation would probably be neutered soon anyway by the various powerful people invested in the status quo.

No, the main purpose was stirring up trouble for Dumbledore and removing a few of his supporters. The investigation was only beginning, but Amelia already knew that there seemed to be no proof of any criminal activities on the old man's part. He was far too careful for that. Questionable decisions, deliberate misunderstandings and insinuations, yes, but none of the people taken in had given them hard proof for anything illegal on Dumbledore's part. It was frustrating, but not unexpected. If the man had been easy to pin down someone would have taken him down decades ago.

In the end Amelia had decided to resort to character assassination. In fact, that had been what the last meeting had been about. They would publically investigate while staying just short of slander, making sure that every little accusation found its way onto the front page of the Daily Prophet. The accusations would probably come to nothing in the end, but throw enough mud at someone and something would stick, at least in the court of public opinion.

Tonk's voice interrupted her thoughts. The woman had remained behind when everyone else left. "Boss, are we really doing the right thing here? Shouldn't Professor Dumbledore have a say? What if he didn't know anything about the abuse? Petunia Dursley is Lily Potter's sister, after all. He might have acted in good faith."

Amelia eyed the young woman appraisingly. She was reasonably sure Moody had intended to introduce her into the ranks of Dumbledore's supporters sooner or later. Nothing official or outright illegal, of course, only another link in Dumbledore's web of supporters. The mental aftereffects of Tonks' close encounter with werewolves had scrapped her career as an auror trainee, but Amelia had taken her on as secretary as a favor to her old friend Rufus Scrimgeour, the head auror.

She liked the young woman, but she didn't quite trust her yet. Having her keep the minutes of the different meetings was a risk, but her other, more trustworthy secretaries had even more sensitive tasks to attend to. Besides, this way she could keep an eye on Tonks.

"It's possible Dumbledore doesn't know anything, of course." Amelia finally said. Then she paused for effect. "That is if you don't know that Arabella Figg, a squib and long-time member of Dumbledore's Order of the Phoenix organization, just happened to move into a new house one street from Privet Drive after Harry was delivered there. She has been watching Harry regularly."

Tonks opened and closed her mouth without saying anything. That piece of information had not come up in the meetings; Amelia knew it only thanks to Abraxas Malfoy's information package. On its own it wasn't very important (and certainly not useful in court), but the implications were nasty. If Amelia could use it to shore up Tonks' loyalty towards her she would consider it well applied.

"She didn't do anything illegal, of course, meaning we have no reason to take her in. Well, I suppose we could ask for her testimony regarding Harry, but I doubt she will spill anything incriminating. After all, her presence and involvement with Harry could be sheer coincidence… just like all the other things Dumbledore set in motion."

"But… but… he's Dumbledore!"

Amelia sighed. "Yes, and exactly this attitude is the problem. You heard some of the Obliviators. Dumbledore asked them to keep trouble away from the Dursleys and Harry and they simply did it without questioning anything." She gestured at the stack of paper in Tonks' hands. "Think about it, Tonks. How many coincidences does it take? He leaves Harry with muggles without even speaking with them and doesn't visit even once for ten long years while he has someone watching the boy unobtrusively. Hypothetically, assume that he knows everything or at least expected the abuse when he dropped Harry off. What does your Auror training say about his behavior?"

Tonks was silent for almost half a minute. "He is distancing himself from Harry's treatment. All interaction with the Dursleys is separated from him by at least one degree. Encounters at Hogwarts are probably casual and limited to short conversations. He can successfully argue that he had no idea and is appalled that his well-meant protection efforts turned out this way. But boss, what if it is really a number of coincidences? I can't believe Dumbledore would let something like this happen."

"Dumbledore is only a man, Tonks, not a saint." Amelia said gently. "His image and legend have grown over the decades, but in the end he is only a man. He has interests, plans and failings, just like everyone else. His status only allows him to get away with more. By now you should be familiar how the Ministry works. Dumbledore has been playing a prominent role for decades. I can tell you firsthand that you don't stay important by being all flowers and goodness."

There were actually tears visible in the corner of Tonks' eyes. "Is that really it? Everyone is a bastard only out for his interests or follows some screwed up ideology?"

Amelia sighed. "This is the way of the world, Tonks. I have done a lot of things I'm not proud of to get where I am. I will not sugarcoat my actions and motives, but I try to achieve some amount of fairness in the world. More importantly, people still challenge me and my views. You know, I belonged to Dumbledore's supporters once."

That seemed to startle the young woman. "You did?"

"Yes. Once upon a time I looked up to Dumbledore."

"What changed?"

"I saw where he led us. Dumbledore might be the most skilled wizard alive, but he is an atrocious leader. We were always reacting to the Death Eater attacks, never acting. He doesn't take council from other people either, always keeping vital information to himself. Good people got killed for nothing that way more than once. It was only after I lost my brother and had time to reflect on what happened that I began to see him for what he is."

"I don't understand."

The older witch looked at the ceiling, searching for the right words. "Dumbledore has this aura about him. He always seems to know what is best and what to do to achieve it. It makes you trust him implicitly." Seeing Tonks confused expression, Amelia elaborated further. "Imagine the following scenario. It's the war against You-know-who. The Ministry doesn't seem to make any progress in the fight, so you join Dumbledore's Order of the Phoenix to make a difference. Dumbledore asks you to do something. Maybe it's dangerous, maybe it's illegal. Maybe it's nothing of the sort, just a task you don't necessarily understand the purpose of. You never question why you are doing this, trusting that Dumbledore knows best and has some sort of plan."

Tonks remained silent, listening carefully.

"The problem is that Dumbledore's plan is crap. It simply doesn't work and only gets people killed for nothing, but since nobody has the complete picture due to the old man's secrecy you never notice that. It only ties up resources and people that could be used for the real fight. Most of his supporters believe in him to this day. Everyone thinks Dumbledore has solutions, but he doesn't. In fact, his influence in the Ministry often prevents the solving of problems." She sighed again. "The truth is we would have lost the last war if not for Voldemort's sudden disappearance. By the time the Ministry was ready to treat it like a real war it was already too late. Dumbledore wasn't solely responsible, but he delayed many necessary measures like Barthemius Crouch's wartime act for years and tied up many people willing to fight in his ineffective order."

Tonks nodded slowly. "Okay, I think I understand that. But what is the connection with Harry and the Dursleys?"

"This is complicated and I have to resort to speculation. Firstly, there is one important fact you have to know: Dumbledore believes that You-know-who is still alive and will return." Amelia raised her hand, forestalling an interruption. "I do not know if that is true or what led him to that belief. Even so, he seems to believe that Harry holds the key to defeating him again. I can only imagine he has some sort of plan to facilitate that."

The young witch looked skeptical. "And that is a reason to leave Harry with his abusive muggle relatives and preventing anyone from noticing or intervening?"

Amelia shrugged. "It isn't that far off considering some things Dumbledore pulled before. He was never shy about sacrificing the people on his own side when he deemed it necessary. Most did it willingly. You have to consider that Dumbledore was the one to spread the tale of the Boy-who-lived surviving the killing curse in the first place, making Harry a target. Besides, senility is a real concern for people of Dumbledore's age. In the interest of Harry and the whole magical world we need him gone from power."

Tonks remained silent for a minute before she nodded and stood up. "Thanks, boss. You gave me much to think about."

Amelia remained sitting when Tonks left the room. She hoped this would be enough to prevent the young witch from ever throwing in with Dumbledore's lot. She didn't mention things like the old man's mind magic. At the current time she had no proof and such outlandish sounding claims would only weaken her case.

Then her mind turned to the next issue: Leaking information to the Daily Prophet and Rita Skeeter. It was a betrayal of Harry's trust, but she needed the public outcry. Sooner or later it would happen anyway, but she needed a proper smear campaign. Unfortunately it would incite resentment against muggles in general and play into the hands of Malfoy and his faction, but it was necessary.

Amelia only hoped it would be worth it in the end.

Draco stared at the headlines of the Daily Prophet.


'This definitely didn't happen in the other timeline.'

Harry's home situation had never come up in public there. Apparently nobody had grown suspicious and after the second Voldemort war the matter had been moot. Well, it wasn't as if the Harry Draco knew talked about his home, either.

Looking around, Draco saw that the other recipients of the newspaper were growing agitated. Dumbledore was absent, but the other professors were not looking happy. McGonagall in particular looked almost sick while Sprout maintained a grim expression. Harry was leaving the hall, accompanied by Justin, Susan and Hannah. The expression on his face was resigned, but unsurprised.

'I guess he expected the news getting out sooner or later. This story is far too juicy to stay secret for long.'

Considering that Harry had been collected by Umbridge only the day before yesterday this was probably 'sooner'.

Draco carefully read the rest of the article while loud conversation erupted all around him. The facts matched with what he knew. It seemed Skeeter had gotten accurate information even if the presentation was somewhat sensationalistic. The question of who exactly had placed Harry with the Dursleys was only tangentially mentioned, but he supposed that was a matter for follow-up articles. In fact, this could easily be seen as the beginning of a smear campaign.

If that was the case it was starting one and a half years early. The Ministry had only started with it after the events of the Triwizard Tournament and Voldemort's rebirth in the other timeline. They had needed only two months to remove Dumbledore from the office of Chief Warlock on pure slander. This time they could connect him to actual wrongdoing.

'Then again, by that time his position was far more weakened than it is now. The Sirius Black affair and the Tournament fiasco did real damage to Dumbledore's reputation. This will probably be a drawn-out fight.'

Draco wondered what exactly had caused the change. He knew his grandfather had planned on something like this, but he had died before he could finalize his plans. On his own Draco couldn't really do anything, not as a thirteen year old. His options were limited. The thought of a teenager bringing down someone like Dumbledore was laughable. Politics, especially such high-stake ones, were for adults. He had access to some of Grandfather's contacts, but most of them would be hesitant to deal with a boy his age.

'Grandfather said he planned to set up a contingency for his death. This was probably done by Lord MacDougal or Madam Bones.'

Either way, there was nothing Draco could do to influence those events, although the development suited him just fine. All the changes had apparently finally caused the timeline to go completely off the rails.

That left the question of how to deal with Sirius (who was currently doused with Draught of the Living Death and safely stored in a hideout on the Malfoy lands). He simply didn't know what to do with the man. Oh, he had said to his friends they would interrogate him regarding his guilt, but Draco already knew of his innocence. One problem was that nobody could actually prove Sirius' innocence. There were enough witnesses to Pettigrew's 'death' that the sentence couldn't be overturned easily. Another problem was that Sirius still believed in Dumbledore, at least if what the other Draco had learned still held true.

Then there were Sirius' prejudices to consider. Those Draco knew well enough from hearing the old Blacks talk about him. His mother had added to that, too. Sirius just wouldn't work with anyone he perceived as pureblood traditionalists. Unfortunately the Malfoy family fit squarely into that pattern.


Draco blinked. Morag was poking him in the side and Stephen was almost shouting to get his attention. "Sorry. I was deep in thought."

"We noticed. Breakfast's finished. Class is starting soon." Morag said in a dry tone.

Grabbing his book bag, Draco and his friends headed to their class room. Defense against the Dark Arts had started mediocre and stayed that way for the past months. Emmeline Vance just wasn't that good a teacher. Granted, she was considerably better than Lockhart, but that was faint praise. At least she stuck to the curriculum.

"… Grindylows survive on a diet mainly consisting of fish, algae and small sea creatures, but they will eat human flesh if the opportunity presents itself. This man-eating behavior led to their classification as dark creatures. Their primary habitats are the weed beds at the bottom of lakes in Great Britain and Ireland, but occasionally they have been encountered in rivers and near coasts. The most effective defense…"

Vance droned on and on while the students whispered among themselves. As long as the class wasn't markedly disrupted Vance didn't care. She seemed to grow more unenthusiastic about teaching by the week anyway.

'She probably only took the job as a favor to Dumbledore.'

Last year Professors Flitwick and Snape had taken over Defense against the Dark Arts after Lockhart's mishap. Between them they had actually done a good job, but the workload was too large to keep that up for longer than absolutely necessary.

The second part of the class was spent on practical lessons on spellwork. It was better than the droning, at least. Unfortunately the lessons held little appeal for Draco. He spent much of his nominally free time to improve his skills and learn ahead. Professor Vance strictly kept to the standard stuff, making sure the class could successfully cast the required spells and nothing more.

Granted, this year mostly covered specialized spells that were only good against a particular kind of creature. Draco had not bothered learning most of them until now. Even now he only put enough effort into learning them to get good grades. It was likely he would never use them again after the exams. Apart from a few exceptions more general spells would do the job almost as well.

"Finally it's over. I thought it would never end." Stephen exclaimed when they left the classroom.

Draco only shrugged. "Look at the bright side. At least her voice isn't as monotonous as Binns'."

"Right, we have to keep thinking positive. There's only one and a half months to go until Christmas Break. Well, I'm off to Muggle Studies. See you later."

The crowd was thinning out as people left in different directions, leaving Draco alone with Morag as they trailed behind. There was no need to hurry; a free period was occupying their timetable. Since they had chosen the same electives (although Morag had foregone Care for Magical Creatures) they were almost always together.

"Want to visit the library, Draco?"

"No thanks." He looked out a window. The sky was grey, but the weather seemed to hold. "I think I'll fly a few rounds outside. A day without rain is rare and soon it'll be freezing."

Morag nodded in acceptance. "Okay, have fun. I'll track down Daphne. Her grandmother sent a whole photographic album about her stay in Venice. We are thinking of incorporating some things into our dress robe designs for the next season." She frowned slightly. "It's annoying to do that every year, but at least Daphne enjoys it."

Morag was generally uninterested in society life, but as a member of the prestigious MacDougal family she was expected to appear fashionable when she appeared in public during the summer season. Granted, at their age they didn't set any trends and missteps would be (relatively) easily forgiven. It was still prudent to get into the proper habits early. Morag could have gone against the wishes of her mother and ignored it, but she figured it wasn't worth the trouble.

Draco himself had little trouble with that aspect of belonging to the upper class. He didn't exactly thrive on fashion, but he did care for his appearance and the image he projected. The long sessions when he was fitted with new robes were annoying, but thankfully current fashion trends didn't require anything extravagant from men.

Ten minutes later Draco had retrieved his broom and was soaring into the sky. The cool air helped him to clear his head. He settled on a slow course that would take him around the castle and across part of the lake. Considering the presence of the Dementors it was safer not to stray too far.

His thoughts soon turned towards the matter of Sirius again, continuing his interrupted train of thought from earlier. He had still not forgiven himself for his carelessness. His romance with Daphne had distracted him so strongly that he had completely forgotten about the man and his attempt at invading Hogwarts.

'Okay, I didn't know for certain it would happen in this timeline, but I should have been prepared for the eventuality.'

As it was only pure luck had allowed them to capture Sirius. He would have to think carefully of what to do with him, but until the Christmas holidays nothing would happen. Using the vanishing cabinet to sneak out of Hogwarts was pretty safe, but each use carried the risk of being discovered.

'Decisions, decisions. Well, I have the time to make up my mind. There's no need to be hasty.'

Draco was about to turn back to the castle when he spotted a patch of color at the shore. Shielding his eyes against the wind, he made out a familiar figure wearing a yellow scarf sitting on a boulder.

'There he is.' Draco thought when he adjusted his course.

Setting down gently, Draco secured his broom and approached the figure. "Hey, Harry."

The dark-haired boy looked up from staring into the dark waters of the lake. "Hey." Then he turned back to the lake. Draco sat down on the boulder to Harry's side, keeping his silence. Finally, after almost a minute, Harry spoke again. "You aren't here to say how sorry you are, are you?"

Draco shrugged. "Since I doubt it will make you feel better, no."

"Thanks for that." Harry was silent again. "Everyone seems hell-bent on expressing their pity and that they are sorry they didn't do anything earlier or didn't notice anything. I just couldn't take it anymore and had to get away."

"It's what people do. It makes them feel guilty and apologizing now eases their conscience." Draco shrugged uncomfortably. "I too did notice something wrong, but I figured you didn't want to talk about your life with the muggles. I don't know much about muggle fashion, but the clothes you wore when I met you at Madam Malkin's were a pretty big hint that something was wrong. Grandfather said he would look into it. Unfortunately he never managed to get details from the Ministry about where you lived before he was murdered."

Once again they lapsed into silence. Draco considered releasing the block on Harry's memories regarding the summer spent with Aunt Cassie. The situation looked good right now with the abuse exposed. On the other hand Dumbledore was still Headmaster and Chief Warlock for the time being. If he somehow learned that Draco had been involved in getting Harry away from the Dursleys after their first year it would cause all sorts of alarms going off in the old man's head. Considering how Dumbledore had turned things around during sixth year in the other timeline Draco really didn't want to give the man any reason to look to closely into Draco's activities. Dumbledore's ignorance regarding Draco's knowledge and plans was one of his most valuable assets.

'Now is not the time.' Draco finally decided.

Mindful of the time, Draco stood up. "We should return to the castle if you feel up for it. It's nearly time for lunch."

Harry sighed. "I don't feel like suffering through all those expression of sympathy. I think I'll stay here for a little while longer."

Draco put a hand on Harry's shoulder and looked into his eyes. "It's your decision, but you can't hide in the long run. I can't imagine being in your shoes. I can only tell you how I dealt with all the people approaching me after Grandfather's death. Don't hide. Stick to your friends, but thank them politely for their sympathy and assure them they did nothing wrong. It makes them feel better about themselves and less likely to bother you in the future."

Harry sighed again. "I guess you're right. Let's return to the castle. I only hope this blows over soon."

Unfortunately for Harry the press coverage didn't get any better. As the days and weeks passed the Daily Prophet's campaign only got worse. Even the tiniest detail of Harry's life was brought up and dissected with gusto. Soon questions were asked how he had ended up with the Dursleys. Then it changed to attacks on Dumbledore's character.

Witnessing the political struggle only via newspaper and letters from home, Draco felt like a bystander. He had no way to influence those events.

Fueled by the reports of Harry's abuse the disdain for muggles reached new heights in the student body. Fortunately this hostility spared the muggleborn. In fact, many of them had to deal with inquiries by concerned schoolmates about their home life. The divide was not seen as between muggleborn and purebloods but between wizards and muggles.

Dumbledore was rarely present in the castle. When he was there he looked old and worn, but looks could be deceiving. People seemed almost eager to sacrifice themselves for the man who denied all knowledge of Harry's mistreatment and professed profound sadness and guilt. He certainly didn't surrender his political power quietly.

It could never be traced back to the old man, but embarrassing details about multiple members of the Fudge government came to light in quick succession. Several key figures like the head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures had to step down in disgrace. Heated debates in the Wizengamot grew increasingly bitter and vicious as old enmities flared to new life. Sessions were interrupted by challenges to duels, several brawls and displays of accidental magic caused by the heightened emotions as some of the venerated members of the Wizengamot lost their cool.

The most famous incident occurred between the life-long enemies Lilith Blackwood and Griselda Marchbanks when a screaming match about Dumbledore's integrity, policies and sexual prowess escalated into physical violence. The frizzy-haired Lilith punched Griselda so hard that she broke her nose, knocked out several teeth and crashed through the wall of the room.

Then the old biddy got up, re-entered the Wizengamot chambers through the hole her body had created and punched her enemy so hard she turned into a duck. The healers were still baffled.

Fudge's government was tottering at the edge of collapse, but it finally became clear that it wasn't falling. Dumbledore had already lost too much influence in the last couple of years.

Finally, after more than a month of vicious political struggle and political crises the Christmas holidays offered a short reprieve. Until the Wizengamot reconvened in the new year the formal political process would rest (although the informal part would actually reach a peak considering the number of parties and other social events).

Draco had just finished saying goodbye to his friends (many of whom he would meet again over the course of the holidays) when their parents arrived to collect them from King's Cross. Daphne's father gave him the oddest of looks, but didn't say anything.

It was only when the Malfoy family arrived back home that the matter became clear. Instead of allowing Draco and Aquila to retire to their rooms Lucius led them to his study. "There is important news to share. Draco, I have negotiated a betrothal on your behalf. Liam Greengrass has seen fit to promise House Malfoy the hand of his niece Daphne. The alliance between our houses will be strengthened by that union. Congratulations, son."

Dolores Umbridge was not a happy witch. Getting rid of that old fool Dumbledore was proving to be much harder than expected. It was the last day before the Ministry mostly closed for the holidays and they had still not found anything illegal they could pin on Dumbledore. Whenever something promising came up one of the old man's lackeys admitted to the wrongdoing (of course without Dumbledore's knowledge) and took the fall. It was frustrating. Dumbledore was more slippery than a Blibbering Humdinger (a very rare and very slimy species of worms).

She was perusing everything they had learned in the faint hope of finding anything, anything they could pin on the old man and had overlooked before. Suddenly she stopped, re-reading a section of the document in her hands.

A broad grin spread over her face and a giggle escaped her throat. That giggle soon turned into malicious, cackling, full-blown laughter so strong tears were streaming from her eyes.

'Yes. Yes, that will serve beautifully.'

Author's notes: Thanks for all the reviews.

Well, this chapter took a lot longer than it should have. Unfortunately my available time to write grows ever more limited, especially uninterrupted time. Hopefully the waiting time for the next chapter won't be as extreme.

So long.