Disclaimer - I don't own these characters and my writing certainly couldn't be considered canon. If my efforts don't fit your idea of what a Harry Potter story should be, I can only offer my apologies and make a suggestion. Writing your own really is the only way to ensure the story progresses exactly the way you want it to, it also gives the rest of us something to read.
Harry entered the great hall for the leaving feast, and walked right into a storm of protest. The reason for this storm wasn't hard to ascertain, Harry was in his dress tunic and carried his helmet under his arm. A blue cloak/cape, trimmed in bronze, completed his ensemble. Hermione was of course on his free arm. The source of this tropical depression of protest wasn't too difficult to spot either, the robes the headmaster was wearing would probably be deemed as too outlandish by Elton John.
"Mr Crow, that is not proper Hogwarts uniform."
"It's Centurion Crow, and this is proper attire for someone of my station to receive an award. To dress otherwise would be to demean both the award and the occasion."
Dumbledore wasn't so easily swayed, he tried a different tactic. "This award is being presented to you as a Hogwarts student, surely school uniform would be more appropriate for this occasion?"
"When I was offered this award, it was presented to me as being a school occasion. On arrival though, I can't help but notice the Minister of Magic is here - along with the press. Your inclusion of these outsiders alters this event to a formal occasion, which requires formal dress. Your alternative is to ask the outsiders to leave and then I would gladly change, you can't have it both ways headmaster." Harry gave a rather wry smile at the dilemma he'd just dropped on Dumbledore. "In anticipation of you changing the conditions of the award presentation, I dressed appropriately."
Albus decided to put his foot down, after all - this boy was a mere student and he was the headmaster. "I'm sorry, but I must insist you go and change. We will hold the beginning of the feast until you return." From previous experience, he should have realised how well this tactic worked on Harry. Albus discovered his mistake pretty quickly.
"I am also sorry because, if my dress uniform is unacceptable, I will of course leave - though I won't be returning tonight. For a centurion to receive an award in the presence of a national leader, and not be in the proper uniform could be construed as an insult. Therefore, it is with regret I must decline your award."
The first flash of the photographer's camera captured forever Dumbledore's expression as he was once more publicly told 'no' in his own school. He also had no idea things were about to become much worse as his planned positive publicity perished right in front of his twinkling eyes.
Harry had plans for a ceremony of his own design. "Hogwarts, your champion begs an audience."
The four house ghosts made their way to the front of the hall as Harry donned his helmet, he then reached into his bag that Hermione was carrying. "Master Flitwick, could I have a moment of your time please?"
The diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw was sitting on a blue and bronze velvet cushion that Harry held in his outstretched arms. The tiara captured light from the hall and reflected it back in a kaleidoscope of colours as Rowena's fabled diadem majestically sparkled on its journey to the front of the now hushed hall. He knelt before the ghosts and offered the diadem up like a royal crown. "What was lost has been found, what was tainted has been cleansed. Your champion returns this precious artefact to its rightful home."
The great bell of Hogwarts rang out once more. This though was no dong of doom, here was the sweet chimes of celebration that spread throughout the entire castle.
The Grey Lady made no attempt to hide her delight. "Hogwarts is jubilant at your achievements young champion, as am I. Professor Flitwick, can I ask you to accept my mother's diadem on behalf of her house? We will make arrangements for it to be publicly displayed so everyone can have a chance to see it, before it returns to its rightful place in Ravenclaw Tower."
Albus stood there, still as any statue, as the press practically fell over themselves in their desire to ensure they missed no detail of this unbelievably historic event. That this story was not the one they originally thought they would be covering mattered not a jot to them. It was glaringly obvious though that this wasn't a view shared by the minister. Cornelius' complexion almost matched his famous bowler hat as he sat there experiencing the worst thing in the world for a politician - being totally overlooked and ignored.
What was really concerning Albus was the bold and reckless move of broadcasting this event to the country, he knew exactly what Harry meant by 'tainted'. Here was the horcrux that must have been hidden inside the castle, hidden right under his nose for all those years. He considered this a reckless move, very publicly providing the dark lord with proof at least one of his horcruxes had been discovered and destroyed. That this had all happened in his school, again without his knowledge, worried Albus a lot more than the bad press they would get for Harry refusing his Hogwarts award. Dumbledore was actually hoping that, in the furore over the diadem's return, this little fact may be overlooked.
Albus almost overlooked Harry's next move. Even as he watched it though, the headmaster wasn't sure if he actually believed what he was seeing.
Harry approached the staff table and bowed deeply. "Potion Master Snape, it is our custom that a precious gift should be reciprocated in kind. I could never dream of matching the gift you gave me and can only hope you'll consider this worthy."
A slim but obviously ancient book passed between the two. The normally sneering persona of Severus Snape vanished like a wisp of smoke, this version wore a look of wondrous astonishment - currently matching the one displayed by Harry's still speechless head of house. Severus was also struggling for words. "Where...how...this was thought lost forever. How in Merlin's name did you find a copy of this?"
A smiling Harry was reminding himself to thank Master Pitslay the next time they met. "Like the diadem sir, it's all a matter of knowing where to look."
This had given Severus the time needed to regain his composure, he respectfully stood and performed the centurion salute before replying. "Centurion, to the both of us, the subject in question is precious and irreplaceable - but this is still a priceless gift! I thank you and think she would be very proud of the young man her son is becoming."
Harry took no insult at being described as a young man, instead accepting the compliment in the spirit it was offered. He sincerely returned the salute. "That is more than enough for me sir, I wish you a Merry Christmas."
He strode past Dumbledore once more, not even acknowledging the headmaster before offering his arm to Hermione and leaving the feast supposedly being held in his honour. Padma and Neville were hot on their heels, with the vast majority of their classmates deciding to show their support and follow on behind.
Harry was heading for the room they now used when training in the morning. Harry asking a corridor wall for a room in which to hold their Christmas Feast saw some funny looks heading in his direction, these were followed by gasps of astonishment as a door simply appeared. This was nothing though to their reaction upon entering the room. It sparkled and shone like some fairy tale ice palace - thankfully without the expected severe drop in temperature. The massive table constructed of this 'warm' ice was rapidly filling with food from the Hogwarts kitchens, the barrel of ale immediately caught Hermione's attention. "Is that what I think it is?
"My father sent it with Curse-breaker Weasley, he figured that since you loved it so much, our friends probably would too. Its been hidden in the kitchens since last weekend."
"You knew what the headmaster was going to attempt today." Hermione offered this more as a statement than a question.
"I have my sources Hermione, and those sources warned me what he was up to." He didn't want it known that the sorting hat was passing what went on in Dumbledore's office to Lady Helena, keeping Harry one step ahead of the headmaster's plans.
Padma was standing there with her mouth open. "This looks nothing like the room we were in the last time."
"You should see it for our training in the morning - its brilliant!"
"Hermione, I don't care if the room was dripping with diamonds and gold - nothing will get me up at that time to do exercises."
Harry was busy inviting everyone else into the room. "Grab a seat and help yourself to some food. Neville, Terry, Michael and Anthony - can you guys give me a hand dishing out some goblin ale for everyone."
Terry just about summed the rest of the first years' thoughts up. "Merlin Harry, you certainly know how to throw a party. I was sure you would have something up your sleeve but all this and ale too? Really impressed mate."
Hermione didn't want Harry getting a bad reputation, she decided to set everyone straight before rumours started to spread. "Goblin ale is non-alcoholic, it's also the best thing I've ever tasted."
Soon everyone was sitting and the goblin ale was passed around, they were all waiting to start and looking at Harry for permission. "Hey, I'm not Dumbledore. No speeches here - just tuck-in."
So they did.
McGonagall couldn't find the rest of the first years anywhere, all the ghosts would say was that they were still inside Hogwarts, perfectly safe and eating dinner. She walked with her Gryffindors from the great hall back to their tower, curfew was approaching and she wanted to see her missing first years in their dorm before retiring for the night. She heard her five lost cubs long before laying eyes on them, they were laughing, joking and apparently saying goodnight to some people.
They entered through the portrait hole and weren't perturbed in the slightest by her presence, in fact the two girls couldn't wait to tell her what they'd been up to.
"Oh professor, you should have seen it. Harry spoke to a wall and then this wonderful room just appeared - it was gorgeous."
"We had a fantastic party, Harry even brought goblin ale into the castle. It's a bit like butterbeer - only much better."
Neville was quick to defend his friend. "There's also no alcohol in it professor, did you have a good evening?"
Only years of practice stopped Minerva from smiling, she did have a stern reputation to maintain after all. "Apparently, not as good as yours. Now I want to see all of you heading for bed, the express leaves directly after breakfast."
With a chorus of 'yes professor', a group of happy children headed up the stairs. Minerva was sure Albus would see this as evidence that Harry was gathering followers around him, just like a certain Tom Riddle had done all those years ago. Everyone else could see the situation for what it really was, an enigmatic young man making friends with his peers, but the headmaster could not accept the obvious explanation. Albus was worse than any pit bull sinking its teeth into something, when he got an idea in his head - there was just no letting go.
The only first years not at the alternative feast were Malfoy and his diminishing band of cronies, and of course Ronald Weasley. This meant there was a mixture of all houses at the 'party', and every blood persuasion she could think of. Minerva couldn't get over that every single one of them had all voluntarily walked out of the great hall, trusting that Harry would have made alternative arrangements. Add to that the lad was spending Christmas in his best friend's muggle home and Harry seemed to be going for inclusion - rather than exclusivity based on any form of blood status.
They were all heading for their respective dorms when Harry leant into Hermione and spoke softly enough so that only she could hear. "I need to speak to Susan Bones, and pass on a gift from my father. Can you stick close and not ask any questions?"
Hermione agreed at once but had a suggestion. "Would you prefer me to ask her for a quick word?" Harry's smile was all the answer she needed.
Susan wasn't sure how she ended up staring into those intense green eyes from close range but Harry mentioning her Aunt Amelia soon had her focusing on the matter at hand.
"Could you pass a message on to your aunt? This is very important and can't go anywhere near official channels, my father would like to speak with her at her earliest convenience." Harry handed over a small inlayed lacquered box. "If your aunt enters Gringotts wearing this brooch, she will immediately be taken to see my father. This will save her having to draw attention to herself by asking for him by name. Please accept this brooch as a gift to the House of Bones, without obligation and irrespective of whatever your aunt decides to do."
Susan recognised the language being spoken here, and also replied formally. "On behalf of the House of Bones, I'm honoured to accept this gift in the spirit it was offered." It was only then Susan's control slipped. "Can I open it and take a look Harry?"
"Of course you can."
Hermione thought that's how she must have appeared when she first opened the box containing her bracelet. Susan's eyes nearly popped out her head before she quickly shut the box again. "Oh Harry, it's simply beautiful. I'll speak with Aunt Amelia the instant I get her alone. I assume this is something to do with her being head of the aurors?"
"I'm pretty sure that's the case, all I know is my father wants to urgently speak with her. When he uses words like 'urgent', it must be important. We better get a move on too, otherwise we'll be out after curfew. Thanks again Susan."
They were walking quickly to Ravenclaw tower. Hermione thought it would be alright to ask a question now, since it was just the two of them. "Do you really not know what's going on?"
"No, which has me slightly worried. You must have noticed, letters from my father are not written in English. Even with that security though, he wouldn't take the chance of writing it down. That brooch will tell Madam Bones this is serious, a gift like that to House Bones is not to be sniffed at. Her wearing it into Gringotts will alert every goblin Madam Bones is under our family's protection, and see her service improve a hundred percent. My father will probably fill us both in later."
The journey home on the express couldn't have been more different from the one that delivered them to Hogwarts. Gone were the two lonely children reaching out to one another. In there place sat a young witch and goblin who were sharing the compartment with their friends. This time, there was no searching up and down the train looking for the boy-who-lived. Everyone on the train knew who Harry Crow was, and Hermione Granger too. Now, when someone popped their head into the compartment, it was to wish them a good holiday and Merry Christmas.
When it was once more just the four of them, Harry broached a subject he'd been struggling with. "Padma, I know that, like me, you don't celebrate Christmas. I wanted to experience the full thing though, so I asked Curse-breaker Weasley to explain it to me. I loved the idea of getting small gifts for your friends..."
This met a wave of protests that Harry only stopped by holding his hands up for silence. "Hey, this matched the only written reference we could find to these customs. We could understand the gold bit, it was the frankincense and myrrh that had us really confused..."
Harry was once more interrupted, but this time by Hermione almost choking with laughter. Every time she looked at Harry it would start again, only him offering his handkerchief allowed the witch to get control. Thinking she must look a sight was enough to do it.
"Anyway, before being so rudely interrupted..." Hermione showed her maturity by sticking her tongue out at him, "I was about to ask for your help with a problem. It wasn't the gifts as such that caused the problem, rather who to get them for. You three were of course top of my list - then I hit problems. I got our Ravenclaw year-mates sweets but it was Parvati that gave me the biggest headache."
He now had two young witches staring intently at him, which left Harry wondering if he'd gotten it wrong again. "She's not just Padma's sister but her twin. I feel quite bad that we seem to have monopolised all Padma's time, and now she's spending the holiday with us too. I've gotten Parvati a gift yet I'm trying to avoid there being any misunderstandings why I did it. I'm still not a hundred percent sure what I got wrong that morning after the troll but Parvati's tears were real enough. I need help in avoiding a problem like that again."
Padma glanced toward Hermione and her smile gave the unnecessary permission. She leaned over, hugging and then kissing Harry on the cheek. "Harry, that is so thoughtful, thank you. If you want, I could give it to her and avoid any problems?"
It was a relieved Harry who reached into his bag and handed a wrapped present to Padma, she left to find her twin sister. Harry pulled another package out his bag and handed it to Neville. "We won't see you until after Christmas so I think it's best to give you this now."
Neville opened the package to find a small goblin-made sheath knife. It had an ivory handle and a three-inch razor sharp blade, all enclosed in a reddish dragon hide sheath. "It can be used to take plant cuttings or preparing potions ingredients."
"It's brilliant Harry, thanks a lot."
Hermione was smiling and shaking her head at the same time. "Harry, you continually surprise me."
He smiled back at her. "That's a good thing - right?"
Ginny was waiting with Bill on the platform, her new dress not quite long enough to hide the fact her knees were shaking with nerves. As the bright red engine pulled the carriages into the station, it took almost the same amount of herculean effort for Ginny to remain standing by her brother's side. The desire to hide behind Bill was practically overwhelming the young witch. The students soon began pouring out from the carriages as hundreds of witches and wizards in high spirits erupted onto the platform, Ginny was focusing all her attention on spotting one particular student.
Being the youngest of seven children meant Ginny already had a well-honed ability for watching everything that was going on around her. Being the smallest, and female, saw her continually ignored and overlooked, thus providing even more opportunities for her to develop this skill. Living in the same house as Fred and George, this could also be considered a necessary survival technique.
She soon spotted the smartly dressed boy with long black hair, the witch on his arm helping Ginny confirm his identity. She also noticed the Indian witch and another wizard who were remaining close. A stunningly beautiful Chinese witch practically ambushed the group as she attempted to claim Harry's attention. Even from this distance, Ginny could see her ploy was doomed to failure. Harry's body language had instantly shifted from relaxed to stiff formality, and both witches in his company clearly resented this intrusion.
The little scene was soon shattered by the speedy arrival of another witch, this one had an entirely different interpretation of how an ambush should be carried out. She raced up to a clearly unsuspecting Harry and threw her arms around his neck, a quick greeting was followed by a kiss on the cheek. She rapidly disentangled herself before cheerfully greeting the rest of his friends and then dragging the Indian girl - who could only be her twin sister - away.
Whatever the Chinese girl had planned, this clearly unscheduled intrusion destroyed her play as effectively as a brace of well-hit bludgers. She quickly mumbled something before departing, a distinctly unhappy witch. Saying a much more heartfelt goodbye to their other friend saw the pair start to make their way toward them.
Even now though, the number of people who warmly greeted the pair as they passed was impressive. A redhead witch, who was clearly more 'developed' than little Ginny Weasley, waving and smiling as they passed each other also had the effect of allowing Ginny to finally say goodbye to her fantasy. Ginny wasn't sure if she even have the right to claim it as 'her' fantasy anymore, it was painfully obvious most of the witches who got off the train harboured strikingly similar fantasies of their own toward Harry. She wondered how the girl on his arm coped with all the clearly unwanted attention, Ginny knew her Weasley temper would see her wanting to curse anyone who so blatantly flirted with someone she considered as hers.
It was too late to hide now, they were here. A greeting to her brother was followed by the most gorgeous pair of eyes focusing on her, and Ginny finally understood Harry's popularity. When this boy focused his attention on her like that, Ginny's insides totally melted. She forgot all about the fame, wealth and deeds, here was someone you just had to get to know.
"Hello Curse-breaker Weasley, this must be the sister you were telling me about?"
"Hi Harry, Hermione, yes this is Ginny, and she'll be going to Hogwarts in September."
Ginny was suddenly faced with a hand held out in front of her, not necessary the one she wanted though. Ginny was learning first hand - no pun intended - how Hermione coped with all the witches chasing Harry, and also that here was a witch who she didn't want to cross.
"Hi Ginny, I'm Hermione. Bet you're desperate to get to Hogwarts? We'll look forward to seeing you there. Don't worry too much if your not in Ravenclaw, we have friends in all four houses."
Even in the short time she'd been watching them, Ginny had already noticed that the only way to get near the 'real' Harry was through this witch. Even with the Indian twins, you could easily see which one Hermione approved of. She quickly held her hand out and shook Hermione's. "I would like that - a lot. My brothers tend to forget I'm there sometimes."
Her hand was soon in Harry's and Ginny's battle now was not to hyperventilate. "Well you're welcome to join us anytime, we've always room for more friends."
Ginny's blush might have been bright enough to stop every train in Kings Cross but her wide smile warmed Bill's heart. He'd known all along this was a gamble but this time he was betting on a goblin, Harry had said exactly the right thing. Ron's arrival threatened to ruin the moment but Bill managed to convey with a glare just how much trouble Ronnie would be in if he opened his big mouth - and the moment passed.
Padma's arrival saw her introduced to Ginny too, before she apologised to her friends. "Sorry Harry, I thought I had it covered. Parvati must have opened her present the moment I left and decided she really had to thank you personally. It is a beautiful scarf and she'll probably never take it off, she does understand why you gave her it though. My parents were pleased too, and rather keen to meet you. Could we arrange that for sometime later?"
"No problem Padma, I'm glad she liked my gift."
Bill took the opportunity this presented to offer some thanks of his own. "Speaking of gifts, please thank your father for me Harry. He provided a portkey so our brother Charlie could travel from Romania to spend Christmas with us. You can't imagine how happy my mother is that the entire family will be together over the holidays, it certainly made her Christmas."
The arrival of the twins instantly introduced some of the the chaos they were rapidly gaining a reputation for. This time though, all present thought the chaos was unintentional. "Hey everyone, hi Little Snitch - what brings you here?"
"That dress tells me your not here to greet your handsome twin brothers...ouch!"
Ginny's shoe had connected with Fred's shin. "Horrible twin brothers more like..."
Hermione's laughter stopped the assault becoming more serious. "Oh Ginny, you're going to fit right in. We'll look forward to seeing you at Hogwarts. Let's go guys, mum and dad will be waiting and the car's probably on the meter."
As the trio was leaving, the Weasleys all heard Padma address Harry. "Please tell me you had no idea what that last bit meant either?" His shake of the head surprisingly appeared to reassure the young witch.
A pair of eyes with a lot more experienced at observing people than Ginny's had also carefully watched events on the platform unfold, but with far more sinister motives and intentions. Lucius was looking for potential victims to pass the diary on to, and had quickly discovered he was spoilt for choice. His plan called for the chosen victim to be one of two things, either a person close to the boy or someone holding a grudge.
He preferred the first option, imagining Crow's distress as someone close to him became enveloped in darkness, but wasn't prepared to cross anything out at the moment. The Chinese girl fawning over the boy and being spurned put her on the list of possibles, as did the youngest Weasley practically passing-out when meeting the boy. Lucius well remembered her brother threatening to blow his head off, and her father was also near the top of his shit list.
The young Bones bitch was also clearly on friendly terms, and simultaneously getting back at her aunt would be a really sweet revenge. That particular choice of victim would certainly have to be classed as a high risk strategy though, one that could easily come back to bite him on the arse. Amelia Bones was no fool, something that would have to be considered before making his final decision.
His three closest friends would clearly be Lucius' best bet, though each came with their own particular problems. The mudblood would surely cause Crow the most distress but Lucius was loath to admit he wouldn't have a clue how to even find her, never mind slip the diary into her possession. She wasn't being discarded just yet but that particular outcome would require a great deal more luck rather than his careful planning. Longbottom would practically fit into the same category, Augusta was renowned for never letting her grandson out of her sight. The Indian witch was one he would need to garner more information on, and his source just walked up to him.
"Come Draco, time to go home."
The young indian witch in question was currently congratulating her friend on how she'd handled the Weasley situation.
Now that it was just them, Hermione was free to rant. "It's bad enough having older witches hanging over Harry, now I'm going to have to put up with younger ones making 'doe eyes' at him too!"
"It could be worse Hermione, at least it's only witches hanging over me." Harry's face as he made that remark had both his friends laughing. It was a happy trio who made their way through the portal to what what was another world for two of them.
Bill wanted to know how his sister was feeling. "I'm fine Bill, though no thanks to these jokers. I can't wait to get my wand and then a few people are going to see some payback."
This started Bill laughing, or rather the fear in his twin brothers eyes did. "I know some good curses Ginny, and promise to teach you before you head to Hogwarts. At least it seems as if you've made some friends before you get there?"
Ginny's blush was back in full force. "I thought he looked good in that picture on the front page of today's Prophet, he's far more handsome in real life..."
"Oh I think I'm going to be sick..."
Bill was in like a shot, he'd worked too hard to get Ginny to this stage to let anyone's jealousy ruin it now. "That's probably because you've been eating like a pig again Ronnie. Harry's on the front page of the Prophet for returning a priceless founders' artefact to Hogwarts, and you're still on probation for another six months. If your sister wants to make friends with them, that is her business. Any Weasley who has a problem with that will have to take it up with me. I'm going to be keeping a close eye on her at Hogwarts."
Fred was trying to atone for his earlier screw-up with his sister. "Hey, Harry's a friend of ours, why would we have a problem with that?"
"Yeah, we heard he held a great party last night for all the first years - except Ron here. Why would we have any problems with the boy who got us out of Snape's class? Em, sorry about earlier Ginny..."
Her smile let them know they were off the hook.
When Percy had finally said goodbye to his girlfriend, the Weasleys portkeyed to the Burrow.
Padma was lying in bed trying to get her head around the things she'd seen, things the Grangers took for granted. Harry had never tasted Indian food, so they all decided that's what they would have tonight. Out came a menu and choices were made, it was the next bit that blew her mind.
Simply by picking up something called a telephone, their order was soon delivered to the house. Here were dishes her mother would work all day to prepare, sealed in containers and delivered right to your table. As if that wasn't enough of a jolt, discovering that the same service was available for most of the world's cuisines by simply punching different numbers into the telephone almost put her into shock.
A light knock at the door saw Hermione enter. "Everything okay Padma?"
Hermione was sitting on the bed beside her before Padma had sorted out her reply. "I'm beginning to appreciate just how big a shock it must have been for you, and even Harry, entering the magical world. Thank goodness staying in Crawley comes without the drama that you two provide in Hogwarts, I think we could all do with a break from that. Your mum and dad are great too, Harry fairly gets on well with them?"
Her friends slight blush was still there, even behind the wide smile. "Mum simply adores Harry, the fact that he has me exercising and learning defence put him straight into dad's good books too. I'm glad you like it here. Apart from that surprise weekend with Harry, this is the first time I've actually had friends staying."
"Well snap, this is also the first time I've ever stayed with friends." Both girls hugged at that before Hermione headed out the room, Padma couldn't resist a parting shot before her friend left. "Are you now going to tuck Harry in?"
Hermione though was getting used to her friend's teasing, and decided to tease right back at her. "I don't think that's a good idea. Last time I did that, we ended up spending the night together. Goodnight Padma." She went to bed with a satisfied grin on her face, Hermione though Padma's look of utter shock was worth the grilling that would surely follow tomorrow.
Padma was desperate to ask Hermione for details but the girl was long gone before she got her brain back in gear. Apart from experiencing a whole new world, she was finding her friend was this whole different girl away from Hogwarts. Padma wanted this holiday to be an experience, and so far she was anything but disappointed.
Amelia Bones was also having a new experience, walking into Gringotts wearing her new brooch saw her approached at once and led straight to Harry's father's office. No queueing, no surly teller, just courteously accompanied where she needed to go. After the introductions, Barchoke immediately got down to business.
"Let me start by apologising for involving our children in this. Unfortunately, I didn't really have any other options. Circumstances have provided me with proof of major corruption at the very highest levels of the Ministry of Magic, I really had nowhere else to turn."
Amelia was instantly on guard, wondering just what game was being played here. "Can I see this proof, and ask how you came to have it?"
"We were carrying out an investigation about an entirely different matter, and this just fell into our laps." Barchoke had removed a folder from his desk and now slid it across to a wary Head of the DMLE.
She cautiously opened the folder and felt as if she had been physically struck by the photographs displayed there. Barty Crouch was sitting having dinner with his son, a son who supposedly died over a decade ago. Barty Jr had clearly aged from the young man she remembered but his identity was undeniable. The picture of him laying on a bed before being covered by an invisibility cloak was particularly telling, and somewhat explained how he could be kept hidden for so long.
"I must asked how you obtained these pictures, and why?"
Barchoke had expected nothing less. "We employed Miss Skeeter to investigate the trial of Sirius Black, Mr Crouch was instrumental in this process. In her own inimitable style, she practically fell over this deceit." He deliberately didn't mention Sirius' innocence, or even lack of a trial. If Amelia Bones was half the witch he thought she was, discovering Sirius never received the due process of law should see her heading back to Gringotts, if only to find out just what the hell they were up to. There was also a danger of pushing too hard too soon, one terrifying revelation at a time would do for now.
"We were as shocked as you clearly are by this development but left unsure who to approach, whether Mr Crouch was working alone in getting his son out of Azkaban was our main concern. That this feat has never been achieved before suggested there were others involved, and left us second guessing what our next move should be. Had we contacted the wrong person, his son could simply disappear and relations between our nations could disintegrate to an all time low."
Amelia understood that would be her main problem, how to catch Barty in the act without tipping her hand. One sniff of an investigation and Barty Jr would never be found, how the hell was she then supposed to organise a search for a dead man? These pictures alone wouldn't be enough to bring Crouch down, all he would have to do was claim they were faked and ask for further proof. Without that further proof, they were screwed. This led Amelia to ask the obvious question.
"What is your interest in Sirius Black?"
This Barchoke was able to answer with total honesty. "We recently discovered he is Harry's godfather."
Amelia's 'Oh Shit!' was in recognition that her task just got even more complicated. Apart from the goblin involvement, throwing in the names of Sirius Black, James and Lily Potter and of course the boy-who-lived just dictated she was going to have a very busy Christmas.
A/N thanks for reading