Harry Crow

Disclaimer - I do not own Harry Potter and write here purely for my own pleasure. I am constantly amazed that people appear to enjoy these efforts and can only offer my thanks to those who take the time to read them.

Chapter 32

After dinner, the four friends headed up to the seventh floor. Harry didn't want there to be any way this conversation could be overheard. He also appreciated Hermione waiting until now to discover why he'd suddenly announced to all of first year he had no intention of sitting his O.W.L.'s, even though she was obviously desperate to know.

Hogwarts provided the quartet with a cozy room that held a couple of sofas facing each other, Harry and Hermione slipped into one, leaving Neville and Padma to occupy the second.

Taking a deep breath, Harry began to tell his friends why he'd asked them here. "Padma, Neville, there are things going on behind the scenes you need to know about. I'm sorry that I can't tell you everything but I think you deserve to know what might affect the four of us. Neville, this is going to be hard to hear mate. It's only certain things we've just discovered that have me telling you this now."

Padma shifted closer to her friend. The way Harry was talking, Neville would soon need any comfort she could offer.

"We have to go back before we were born to discover where all our troubles started, they began with a prophecy that links me to Voldemort. You see, until Voldemort visited Godric's Hollow that Halloween, the prophecy could have applied to one of two boys - Harry Potter or Neville Longbottom."

This was a revelation not even Hermione had heard before, it shocked the three listeners as Harry continued. "It wasn't until Voldemort cast his spell at me that I became the child of the prophecy. Had he chosen to visit the Longbottoms first, Neville could have been saddled with being the boy-who-lived - and I would be the one visiting my mum and dad in St Mungo's. Those death eaters knew about the prophecy, with the Potters dead they went after the Longbottoms - looking for some answers."

Both wizards now found themselves being comforted by the witch sitting next to them, telling the story was affecting Harry nearly as much as Neville hearing it.

"We knew the prophecy was made to Dumbledore and assumed Sirius had told Voldemort about it, while betraying my mum and dad. When we found out Sirius was innocent, my father began an investigation into the people who were responsible for an innocent man being sent to Azkaban. That's when we discovered what Crouch was up to, and got Sirius free. The investigation didn't stop there though, and has just provided us with the name of the death eater who told the prophecy to Voldemort. It was Snape!"

It was only Padma's arm around Neville that stopped him springing to his feet. He looked to Harry, hoping this horror story wasn't real. "Harry, why is Snape still walking around Hogwarts?"

"Believe me, Neville, I so want to hack the bastard to pieces. The problem is Dumbledore, he knows what Snape did and has been protecting him all these years..."

This proved a revelation too far for Padma, she spat out a string of words that they assumed to be Hindi before reverting to English. "How could that doddering old arse be stupid enough to keep Snape in the school with you two at Hogwarts? If it wasn't for Master Pitslay, both of you would even be in his class - that's just sick!"

Neville was having a revelation of his own, Harry's outburst in class now made perfect sense. "You think Dumbledore gave that information to Snape so he would pass it on to Voldemort? It's the only thing that makes any sense because I know how much I want to attack that greasy bastard. For you not to, there would need to be a very good reason."

Harry was delighted to see how far his friend had progressed from the boy who was almost frightened of his own shadow. "My father manoeuvred Dumbledore into a position where he would reveal how Voldemort got to hear about the prophecy. The only problem is, Dumbledore has no idea he was set up and hasn't twigged we know about Snape. If we go after Snape, Dumbledore is bound to realise some of what's going on. There are things happening that should destroy any public credibility Dumbledore has left, and may even see him heading to Azkaban - if we can provide enough information for the ministry to go after him. There is a chance Snape may slip out the country before we can drop the shit onto Dumbledore, I think it's a chance we need to take. Given Dumbledore's track record, the odds of Snape being someone he manipulated to get what he wanted are better than even money."

There was still something troubling Neville though. "I just can't work out why he would do that, what's in it for Dumbledore?"

"Henrica spelt it out for us in history class, Neville. Voldemort and his death eaters were killing any and all opposition, the estimate at that time was the ministry would fall by Christmas. Sirius told me our parents were very close, and also part of a group that opposed the death eaters. This group was led by Albus Dumbledore."

The implications behind this hit Hermione hard. "He would be able to manipulate situations to meet the terms of the prophecy, you told me your parents had defied Voldemort three times..."

Padma was on the exact same wavelength as her friend. "...and if he had Snape on the other side, he could pretty much do what he liked."

"Henrica tries to get us to look behind the facts of history. Can't you just see Dumbledore thinking the Potters and Longbottoms being wiped out was a fair price to pay for stopping Voldemort, especially since it was costing him nothing." The mental picture that Harry was painting was one that his friends had no trouble recognising.

Hermione had just put two and two together, and hoped harder than she'd ever hoped for anything in her young life that the answer she was seeing was actually three hundred and twenty seven - anything but four. "Is this all a mission for Gringotts, Harry, is that why you're not going to sit O.W.L.'s?"

Seeing the panic in her eyes, Harry took his girlfriend's hand in both of his. "I came to Hogwarts as a goblin warrior. My mission was to promote goblin / wizard relations, with getting rid of Binns at the top of my list. Harry Crow's personal mission was to make friends, and get some idea of where his place was in the world. When I spotted a young witch struggling to get her trunk onto the express, I thought here was someone else looking for a friend. I had watched you approach that group of Slytherin girls, I didn't hear what they said but I'm certain it wouldn't be welcome to Hogwarts."

Hermione leant into Harry, the panic in her eyes now replaced with an apology.

"After the troll in the infirmary, when I thought you and Padma wanted nothing more to do with me, I had decided not to return after Halloween. I was sure my father would have a replacement history teacher by then, just as I was sure there was nothing left for me at Hogwarts. I understand keeping secrets is bad, which is why I told the three of you as much as I could that lunchtime with my father. You three now know more about what's going on than officials at the ministry."

Pulling her boyfriend toward her, Hermione then instigated their longest kiss to date. This kiss wasn't about passion, rather both confirming they hadn't lost something that was so important to the young couple - the fact that they were still a couple. "I can say I'm sorry, Harry, but I thought it would be better if I showed you. I have been racking my brains all day to figure out why you would do the work and then not sit exams. With all this talk of manipulation, I added up the facts and came up with a totally stupid answer. The answer was so shocking though, it actually stopped me thinking straight. Since the day we met, you have been as honest as you could with me."

Harry now had a smile on his face, thinking that one day kissing Hermione might actually overtake hugging Hermione as his favourite thing in all the world. "I'm sorry too, the reasons I gave in class were the truth but it was really something I should have talked over with you first though, rather than just springing it on you along with everyone else. Dumbledore just makes me so mad that I announced my decision on the spur of the moment, I'll need to stay out of his way until the holidays. I could actually feel my armour slowly starting to slide over my body, getting ready for action - I didn't even know it could do that by itself!"

Padma had been ready to slap some sense into her friend, she thought they had been slowly breaking Hermione out of her habit of over-thinking every situation. Hermione had then saved the situation by relying on her instincts, and changing Harry's frown of disappointment into a goofy grin. "We'll help you with staying out of Dumbledore's way, he's not someone I think any of us want to be around. Miss Granger there may just have suffered a brain fart, but Neville and I never doubted you for a second."

It was a blushing Hermione who tried to tease back, desperate to put her clanger behind her. "I'll have you know, Miss Patil, that young ladies do not suffer from flatulence - of any kind. I will admit to having a moment worthy of Ronald Weasley ..."

Her boyfriend interrupted before she could say any more. "Thanks for that vote of confidence guys. Em, Hermione, please don't take this the wrong way. I would rather think my girlfriend suffered from the occasional brain fart than she was in any way comparable to Ronald Weasley." The kiss on the cheek that came with this comment confirmed to Hermione that Harry had forgiven his girlfriend's faux-pas. For that, he could call it whatever the hell he wanted.

Turning his attention to Neville, Harry again pushed the conversation into an uncomfortable area. "I said you were the closest thing to family I had left, Neville, I still believe that. Because of this, there's something I want to ask. The next time you visit St Mungo's, could I go too? I would really like to meet my godmother."

Neville's head was now down but he drew comfort from Padma's arm slipping back around him. This was a subject he found incredibly difficult to talk about yet these were his friends, Harry even considered him family. "She won't know you, Harry, she doesn't know me. We take her some sweets my gran says were mum's favourite. She eats the sweet and then slips the wrapper into my hand, gran says to throw them away but I like to think of it as a present from my mum. I've kept every single one, I have them all carefully folded in a drawer in my bedroom."

As he slowly and painfully told his story, they could all see the moisture gathering in Neville's eyes. To be honest, his three friends were suffering from the same condition.

"Neville, the goblin healers have a lot of experience with this curse, my father is going to offer their expertise to your gran when we meet over the holidays. They may not be able to do anything, but it couldn't hurt to try. The offer is being made because your mum is my godmother, any steps toward good relations that come from this is purely a secondary benefit."

Padma could practically feel the surge of hope that rushed through Neville. She agreed with Harry, there really was nothing to lose. His second comment prodded something that had been fermenting at the back of her mind, Padma decided just to ask her friend about what was troubling her. "Harry, why are Gringotts pushing so hard for better relations with wizards? It goes against everything I've ever heard about goblins."

Knowing they deserved the truth, Harry laid it out for them. "The very pureblood policies that are slowly killing the magical community are having the same effect on Gringotts. It's all about maintaining power, and bloodlines. You two are purebloods and will probably have betrothals negotiated for you, I understand in some families they are even considering cousins now as spouses."

The betrothal comment added a green tinge to Neville's complexion but Harry continued before anyone commented on it.

"They are so desperate to hold onto their power that every year, brilliant and talented witches and wizards are forced to leave Britain. This is simply because they don't possess the proper ancestry to be considered for decent jobs or as proper spouses. In a few weeks, the seventh years will graduate and discover that the bigotry in Hogwarts was only a sample of what they'll be faced with in magical Britain. These policies not only effect Hermione's future, but mine too."

He turned toward his girlfriend, "You've seen some of our city under Gringotts and, while it's large, that's all there is. In Britain, witches and wizards outnumber goblins by at least ten to one. Current ministry policy prohibits goblins living anywhere else but under Gringotts, causing us the same problems as you. Every year, more and more bright young goblins are deciding their future doesn't lie in pureblood controlled Britain, and are heading off to less restrictive countries. With an ageing population and increasing numbers of younger goblins leaving, we are only a few generations away from serious population decline. Now perhaps you can see why we're pushing for this?"

Harry's story had them enthralled. "We don't even know if this will work but have to be able to show some progress to stand any chance of slowing the numbers leaving, putting even more pressure on the decision I've got to make about my future. Not all goblins will get behind this plan though, we have our fair share of bigotry too. There are those who, if Dursley had left me on their desk, would have fed me to a dragon and considered there being one less wizard in the world as a good place to start."

This drew a yelp of fear from Hermione, and saw her burrowing even closer into her boyfriend. "My father is a very clever goblin, he saw the possibilities immediately. His original intention was simply for Harry Potter to turn up at Hogwarts and be sympathetic to goblin views. As I grew up, it was me who kept pushing for more. Extra tuition in history, economics, languages - anything to make my father proud of me and show him, and the nation, he was right to adopt a young wizard called Harry. Being awarded centurion status was way beyond anything we could have ever dreamed of."

His attention was once more focused on Neville. "Our healers were able to remove that fragment of Voldemort out of my head, the only solution the wizards have is to hit the 'container' with a killing curse." This drew yelps from his three friends but Harry was determined to get his point across. "I'm not saying our healers are better, Neville, just different. Since there has been a lot of study into that curse, those differences just might be able to help your parents."

Neville was holding on to the glimmer of hope this offered. "Harry, I will talk to my gran about this, and you visiting. I think you're right, we really have nothing to lose."

"My father knows far more about this than I do, the two of them can chat about it when we're all on holiday."

That feeling of having barely scratched the surface of goblin culture was back with a vengeance, something Harry had now mentioned twice was niggling at Hermione so she asked her boyfriend if he could explain it. "Why have the goblins done a lot of research on that particular curse?"

Realising that this would be something that could affect the Longbottoms' final decision, Harry told his friends some information that had been conveniently forgotten by wizards. "It's called the torture curse for a very specific reason, about four hundred years ago this vile thing was invented by the British Ministry of Magic - for the sole purpose of torturing captured goblins."

This was met by a trio of disbelieving stares. "Goblins are pretty tough, beating them up or breaking bones doesn't usually get you much information - other than having your circumstances of birth questioned. The ministry had a war on their hands and needed information from their prisoners, something new was needed. The curse was supposed to be kept secret, not much chance of that happening in the ministry. It was only after the war was over that this particular curse was classed as an unforgivable, when wizards started using it on other wizards. Ministry law states that using this curse on a human being can see the caster get a life sentence in Azkaban, you do remember what ministerial department deals with goblins?"

All three friends were struggling to answer that without using the word 'barbaric', Hermione though had jumped to a different situation. "Does that mean Lucius Malfoy could have cast the torture curse on you that day in defence class and nothing would have been done?"

"Technically yes, though my knife would have been buried in his chest before Malfoy could cast. We're classed as dangerous beasts, Hermione, is it any wonder goblins are leaving Britain? If Gringotts ever reach the stage where we have to bring in staff from abroad, it would be the beginning of the end. We would need to pay them a higher salary to compensate for the poor conditions in Britain, meaning the bank would have to charge its customers more - our only alternative would be to close Gringotts. Either way, there are no winners."

Padma checked her watch and got a surprise. "Guys, we've been chatting for ages. If we don't get a move on, we'll miss curfew."

They were heading back to their dorms and Neville was enjoying Padma holding his arm, she'd been there for him tonight when he needed a friend. Harry's words from earlier struck another chord, and Neville didn't want Padma's hand on his arm replaced by that of a stranger his gran picked out. "Can we extend our dating deal to include betrothals? If our families see us close, then maybe they won't start negotiations with people we don't know."

It was a shocked Padma who had to clarify what her friend just said. "Are you sure, Neville, I would hate to think I was taking advantage of you?"

"We're friends and have a lot of fun together. You would be doing me a favour, some of those girls scare the life out of me. I'm not talking about becoming boyfriend and girlfriend, just being good friends and looking out for one another. If you get a boyfriend, I would be fine with that."

Padma knew Neville Longbottom would be considered quite the catch, he was also someone she really liked and was delighted he wasn't looking to be her boyfriend - yet. "I can live with that, though I think it's you who'll get a girlfriend first."

Neville just smiled with relief, giving Padma a friendly hug before saying goodnight to his friends and entering Gryffindor. The three Ravenclaws headed for their own house, with Hermione nervously asking Harry if they were okay.

"A misunderstanding that we talked out, we're fine, Hermione. I knew what not knowing why I wasn't going to sit those exams must be doing to you, I should have spoken to you earlier. I was just so busy trying to figure out how much I could tell Padma and Neville, sorry too about the history lesson that turned into."

With Neville safely tucked up in Gryffindor, Padma could now focus her attention on the Ravenclaw couple. She'd been surprised and delighted at how open Harry had been tonight, even Neville had crawled out of that shell of his a little more. "Oh don't be daft, Harry. apologising to Hermione for extra lessons! You put a lot of trust in us tonight, and offered Neville some hope. I'll spare you another Patil sister jumping you for a hug and just say thank you for that."

The three friends made curfew with mere minutes to spare.

-oOoOo-

Gordon had heard fanciful tales of this special room inside Hogwarts, watching those four leave breakfast and head off for the second morning that weekend had him determined to investigate.

His patchy information led him to this seventh floor corridor where he made straight for the only door that was available. Upon entering, he couldn't have began to describe what the room looked like, probably because Gordon couldn't take his eyes off the boy.

Harry had a metallic shield over his left forearm and that knife of his held in that same hand, this was because he was wielding the sword of Gryffindor in his right hand. A kilt would have dated him back when the highlanders fought the English redcoats, though the redcoats never fired spells at their enemies.

The boy was fighting two duelling dummies, these were the top of the range versions that actually fought back. His three friends were cheering him on while the redheaded tutor studied a stopwatch.

"Time!" This led to much cheering, before they noticed Gordon. Harry's smile vanished as he made his way to confront his uninvited and unwelcome visitor.

"Can we help you, Mr McPhee?"

Gordon couldn't miss that neither sword nor knife were returned to their sheaths, the boy was ready for battle. "When I heard you received extra tutoring in defence, I was naturally curious..."

"My father pays for private tutoring in defence, and that's exactly what it is - private. I would like you to leave, now."

Not believing the cheek of this brat, Gordon addressed himself directly to Bill. "Do you allow your students to talk to ministry officials like this?"

"I work for Gringotts, not the ministry or Hogwarts. My job here is to teach these four to fight, you are disrupting my lesson."

Gordon focused once more on the boy. He'd come here for information and intended to get it, one way or another. "If you've been trained to fight, let's see you throw me out this room." This would at least provide Gordon with a measure of this boy's capabilities. The idea that he could be forcibly ejected from the room never even crossed the examiners mind, he was looking forward to wiping the smirk of this brat's face.

"Okay, sir, goodbye!"

Gordon thought he was ready for anything but the boy turning his back and returning to his friends caught him by surprise. A stinging hex to his arse should enrage the brat enough to fight, that was when the second surprise kicked in. The examiner couldn't move a muscle as vines suddenly had him tied like a joint of butchered beef, his feet then left the floor as he shot toward the door. Gordon hadn't seen the boy cast a spell yet here he was, flying through the open door and smacking straight into the tapestry that was hanging in the corridor.

His bindings may have vanished but it still took a moment to untangle himself from the tapestry and get his bearings. What was throwing those bearings off was the lack of a door he'd just been thrown through. None of his diagnostic spells returned any evidence of a room existing, a room he'd been standing in moments before. He was going to be in the castle until Friday and would be keeping a close eye on those four. His report to Dolores would certainly make interesting reading, though he now agreed with her this boy was a threat to their way of life.

"Sorry about that, guys, Hogwarts will make sure we're not disturbed again."

"Just as well we were running defence drills, and you weren't firing curses from your sword. How did it feel holding both weapons and your shield?" Bill was pleased to see the honesty once more shine through in Harry's answer.

"It felt slightly awkward, but I think that's more because this is an attacking configuration - and I wasn't allowed to attack. Using two blades that can cast spells proved successful against Master Sharpshard but it would leave me too open against multiple opponents, especially if they had wands. That's why I wanted to add my shield. Can I try it again, where I can fight back?"

Bill nodded and started his stopwatch, what they saw next threw any concept of time out the door quicker than Hogwarts had got rid of McPhee. Harry was suddenly in full Centurion armour and charging the dummies, he moved like liquid gold as he dodged and deflected curses while laying down a double barrage of his own. The dummies had been programmed by wizards on how to respond to attacks, they had no program designed for an attack like this. Harry was on them in seconds, and you didn't need a stopwatch to know the fight was over only a couple of heartbeats later.

His shield knocked the dummy's wand arm away as the knife he now held in that hand did the real damage. As the shield did its job, Harry's knife slashed across the dummy's torso before a blasting curse sent it spinning backward. If anything, it got off lightly. The other dummy lost its wand arm to the sword that then buried itself into the artificial torso of its opponent. A banishing charm saw dummy number two then fly across the room along with the first one, leaving both lying in a tangled heap.

Harry stood panting, though more with adrenalin rush than effort, as the other four watched while only the ticking of Bill's forgotten stopwatch broke the stunned silence. It was predictably Padma who had something to say.

"Wow, Harry, McPhee doesn't know how lucky he was that Hogwarts threw him out the room and not you. That was scary to watch from here, I never want to be on the other end of it."

"Thanks, Padma. I felt as if I'd been ignoring the goblin part of me for too long, that's how I would fight - against goblins or wizards. What do you think, Curse-breaker?"

The words were out before Bill had time to think of what he was saying. "I reckon any wizard seeing you charging like that would shit themselves." It was only the giggling coming from his other three students that alerted him he'd said something inappropriate. "I also think we might need new training dummies, dummies we might need to put armour on - if you are going to attack like that. Really devastating attack, Harry - and no webbing."

"I learned my lesson with Master Sharpshard, put your opponent out of the fight so they can't attack you again."

Bill didn't know if a reparo would actually work on the dummies so had them on shield drills for the remainder of the lesson. He asked Harry for a quiet word, after escorting them to the great hall for lunch. Ducking outside for a moment provided the privacy they needed. Bill didn't waste time and got right to the heart of the matter.

"My father is determined to invite Ginny to this ball, he thinks her sitting at your table would be a father making a daughter's dream come true. I wanted to check that you were okay with this arrangement?"

This drew a frown from Harry. "When we suggested three tickets for the Weasley family, we assumed you would be the third guest."

This was actually an embarrassing situation his father had placed Bill in, and didn't bode well for future wizard / goblin negotiations. "My father had no sisters, and then six sons before Ginny was born, he dotes on her. It's actually killing him waiting on Fudge making his goblin announcement to the Wizengamot so he can tell Ginny she's invited to the ball."

This left Harry shaking his head as another potential problem raised its head. "You do know we are all going to the nation's tailors and having our clothes made for the ball? There will be five girls sitting there in a certain style of dress and your sister will be the odd one out. If she wears the same as the rest of us, it could be construed as the ministry already bending over backwards to please the goblins. It is well known Susan is already part of our group, and will be on holiday with us, so her dressed like us won't matter. Ginny is a totally different case since her father will be the ministry's direct link to the nation."

Harry thought hard for a minute before answering. "I have no objection to your sister being there, though not at the expense of even one vote being changed against us. I think you'll need to run this past my father, I will happily abide with what he decides."

The senior Weasley was supposed to be the ministry's leading expert on muggles, it would seem he had a bit to go to get his head around goblins. It would be interesting to hear Dan and Emma's opinion of the man, after meeting him at the ball.

-oOoOo-

Fudge had judged his moment perfectly. Half the Wizengamot were almost asleep, and the other half couldn't wait for this session to finish so they could get back to their own lives. As Dumbledore asked if there was any other business, the minister stood before the old fool could bring his hammer down.

"Excuse me Chief Warlock, I have a matter to bring before the members. It concerns the ministry summer ball, an event that has all of Europe talking - and scrambling for tickets." This drew a few laughs, Johnny Foreigner wanting to attend their event, and not being able to get tickets, was considered the way things should be by most of this body.

"This is easily the premier event on this year's social calendar, and one that I know we're all looking forward to. Why I'm standing before you today is to inform this body that the event nearly never took place."

He now had everyone's complete attention so Cornelius pressed on with his presentation. "A brave young man will become this country's youngest ever recipient of an Order of Merlin, First Class. Now, through no fault of his, if anyone at the ministry wants to officially contact young Harry, our own laws state it must be done through the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Labelling young Harry as a creature is not something I can stand here and support, that is why I am proposing legislative changes for this house to consider."

This created a right hullabaloo, with Cornelius and Amelia the only calm people in the chamber. Even Albus had worked himself into a state, though that was more likely to be because he didn't know any of this beforehand. The minister knew they would all be running scenarios through their heads, attempting to second-guess what he was up to. His hope was that, when he provided details of his proposal, they would see it was nowhere near as bad as they were now considering.

When the first challenge came, Cornelius was disappointed - he now owed Amelia five galleons as she had predicted correctly.

"Hem, hem, excuse me, Minister. Surely you don't expect the Department of International Magical Cooperation to now incorporate our liaisons with goblins?"

"No, Madam Umbridge, I was suggesting no such thing. That raises a very interesting point though. Both members of the Crouch family only received justice because young Harry passed information to Madam Bones through her niece, who's a friend of Harry's at Hogwarts. That department now has a new head because of that information. It also highlights a need for a more direct channel to a nation that every single person in this chamber, with the exception of Albus Dumbledore, does business with."

This actually generated some sniggers in the chamber, and broadcast to everyone just how far Dumbledore's star had waned when he was a figure of ridicule for the minister to have a pop at.

It was time for Cornelius to reveal his plan to the chamber. "We currently have a department that deals exclusively with muggles, mainly the misuse of their artefacts. My proposal would see that department tasked to take on our relationship with the goblin nation, and its current head promoted to handle all the ministry's dealings with both. As many of you will already know, Arthur's oldest son is currently employed by Gringotts as a curse breaker - and as a personal tutor to young Harry."

That last morsel was indeed news to many, though welcome news. "Through this very fortuitous link, a preliminary inquiry allows me to stand before this chamber with the complete proposal you'll hear today. While the ministry would be represented by Arthur Weasley, the goblin nation have proposed Senior Accounts Manager Barchoke to be their Ambassador to the ministry. This chamber may know him better as the goblin young Harry calls father..."

This was a bombshell that silenced the chamber. If they rejected this proposal, they would effectively be rejecting the boy-who-lived's father.

Umbridge came back for more. "Hem, hem, excuse me again, Minister. Just what powers will this new department have?"

"Madam Umbridge, I'm surprised at you! This proposal is not about granting any one person or department the ability to make sweeping changes, have you forgotten that only this chamber has the power to make any alterations to our laws. The new department will be tasked with opening a dialog between ourselves and others. If, in the course of time, this dialog leads to any proposed changes in those laws, it will then be debated and voted on in this chamber. I believe Barchoke is also considering having William Weasley as his assistant, hoping this will help avoid any issues of protocol from delaying this project becoming a working entity."

This drew nods of agreement all around the chamber, two purebloods should be more than able to keep a goblin in line. It wasn't even as if the ministry would be granting them a great boon, classing goblins the same as muggles wasn't much of a step-up. If it meant they had a way to intervene when Gringotts threatened to close another pureblood's vault, it would be well worth the goblins meagre gain in status.

Dolores just couldn't leave it alone though, she was like a dog with a bone it didn't want to be parted from. "Minister, are you aware the boy in question declared publicly that he wouldn't be sitting his O.W.L.'s?"

Cornelius had been prepared for this, and understood he had to kill this story stone dead. "I am aware of Harry's declaration, and the circumstances surrounding why he made it. I have spoken to Harry on many occasions, and Madam's Bones and Longbottom will be holidaying with him over the summer. I'm sure I can speak for all three of us and say we are of the opinion that he is a fine young man. We are also aware how he reacts to attempts to manipulate him, especially by Headmaster Dumbledore. We have four years yet before he needs to make the final decision on that subject, and we all know a lot can change in four years."

Here was the minister's clearest indication that Dumbledore was on his way out. The entire Wizengamot had witnessed the boy's reaction to Dumbledore in this very chamber, so it was Cornelius who was being believed here - despite Albus' strong protest.

The minister still had the floor and finished his presentation. "The normal period for proposed legislation like this to sit before this chamber is forty days. I do not want to face the accusation of rushing this through the chamber, so I am proposing we defer voting on this until the third of August."

Amelia immediately seconded that proposal and, with no one willing to publicly put their name to an objection, the proposal was passed.

Albus still sat in his seat, even although the chamber had now emptied. He was supposed to be the great manipulator, but Cornelius Fudge had just ran rings around him in a chamber he previously owned. The old wizard though was grudgingly forced to admit this was a work of sheer genius, even down to the date of the vote. Instead of allowing extra time for members to organise their debate, Cornelius had craftily scheduled the vote to be right after the ball. People would enjoy themselves that Friday night, then come to this chamber Monday morning to vote.

He had attempted to get William Weasley to work for him, and been vigorously rebuffed at every turn. Yet Cornelius not only managed it, the minister apparently had Barchoke onside too. Scholarships, Order of Merlin ball and an ambassador, everyone walking away from the table thinking they got what they wanted. Albus found himself tipping his hat to Cornelius and Amelia as the pair made their way back into the chamber and headed toward him.

"Very well played, Cornelius, very well played indeed."

"We're not there yet, Albus, and you're forcing me to do something I really don't want to. This is a very prestigious event, an event that I can't have anyone upsetting the guest of honour over the course of the evening. You have proven time and time again that you cannot leave young Harry in peace, therefore I can't take the chance of you being there. Sorry, Albus, but you are barred from the ministry ball."

He really only had one question. "Did Harry or his father ask you to do this?"

"No, they know nothing about this. The two of you in the same room is too much temptation for you not to interfere, it was my decision not to allow that to happen."

Both walked away and left Albus sitting there a broken man.

Albus was actually trying to decide if he could bring himself to play the last card he held, giving up Severus to Barchoke. The goblin's comment about seeking him out on Harry's birthday now made perfect sense, Barchoke fully expected Albus to be at the ball. For Albus not to attend would send signals around Britain, and even Europe, that his days in a position of power were numbered. Whatever decision he made about Severus was now pushed a couple of weeks closer by this, he would need that time to convince Barchoke and Harry that he should be invited to the ball.

-oOoOo-

They left their history exam arm in arm, Hermione stretched up and kissed Harry on the cheek before resting her head on his shoulder as they walked.

"Why thank you, Miss, and pray tell what I did to receive such an honour. I want to make sure I repeat it, often."

Hermione couldn't help but laugh at the playfulness of her boyfriend, the pressure was now off all of them. "Our last exam, Harry, they're all over. Normally I would be worrying myself sick by this point, going over every paper in my head and working out how many points I had dropped. Now, I've got you, we've got friends and a whole summer to look forward to. The first ten days jumping between all our homes and getting prepared for the ball, then we're off on a worldwide adventure. I've never been this happy that school is ending, in fact, I've never been this happy!"

This earned Hermione a return kiss on the cheek before Padma interrupted.

"It's too nice a day to sit inside, let's grab some food from the hall and eat it down by the lake?"

This proved to be such a popular idea that most of first year ended up down by the water, the summer holidays were just around the corner.

A/N thanks for reading.

A/N2 it's official, Britain has just had its 2nd wettest year since records began. As a cyclist, I didn't need people with Ph.D's and supercomputers to tell me that - it started raining at the end of March and still hasn't stopped! Evening classes in ark building are proving rather popular.