Harry Crow

Disclaimer - When carrying out DIY, it isn't always about saving money. To me, being able to stand back and say 'I did that' is equally as important. That is why the first person to click on this chapter is also the first person, other than me, to read it. I realise this might not be everyone's cup of tea and can only suggest they get the professionals in. I can heartily recommend J K Rowling's early works, she really makes the character of Harry Potter her own.

Chapter 33

Albus sat at the leaving feast and couldn't remember when he'd experienced a worst year at Hogwarts. The reason for his personal annus horribilis was sitting at the Ravenclaw table, along with two Gryffindors and a couple of Hufflepuffs. While they had remained at their own tables as Slytherin were awarded the House and Quidditch cups, the four first years had moved toward Ravenclaw as soon as the feast commenced.

He'd since learned that this group would not only be holidaying together, they were attending the ministry ball as Harry's guests. Harry would have muggles, a goblin, a veela and a wizarding family from India as guests at his table. This was certainly a provocative mixture - yet Albus Dumbledore was the one barred from attending. Unlike Cinderella, Albus didn't need a fairy godmother - being perfectly capable of transfiguring his own horse and carriage. Glass slippers or a suitable wardrobe wouldn't cause him any trouble either. His problem was that, while Cinderella had an invitation to the ball, Albus Dumbledore didn't!

An even bigger shock to Albus though was the reactions of both Weasley parents at his visit to their home. After reading of Arthur's potential new position at the ministry, Albus had thought this would give him an 'in' to what was happening with the goblins - and more importantly, Harry. To say he'd been given short shrift at the Burrow was putting it mildly.

Molly had delivered a personal howler from as close as her rather large bosom and their height discrepancies allowed, Albus was hoping everyone had forgotten the Quirrell incident. Arthur then took over the hazing from his wife before practically throwing him out of the Burrow, apparently endangering four of their children and then attempting to blackmail their eldest son was not appreciated by the Weasley family.

Barchoke's deadline of Harry's birthday also caused scheduling problems, since the goblin was going to be out the country for most of the summer and their meeting at the ball was now no longer an option. Albus was left with no choice but to pass a message to Barchoke through Sirius, at least the answer took some pressure off. The Goblin was prepared to wait until the beginning of next term, giving Albus the entire summer to make up his mind.

Albus was still torn though, he badly needed an opening to get closer to the boy as every other door he'd tried had been slammed in his face. With the celebratory ball causing a stir, and the proposed new goblin initiative, he couldn't see any way Severus could survive being 'outed' as the person who gave Voldemort the prophecy - leading directly to the Potters being murdered. His potions professor would draw scant comfort from the great hall being bedecked in green and silver if this was his last summer as a free man.

Hogwarts deputy though held polar opposite views to those of the headmaster. Apart from Slytherin house winning both trophies, Minerva thought this had been a stellar year. Her tough stance on discipline may have seen quite a number of students on probation but had improved all the students' general behaviour by a noticeable amount. With a line drawn, and the consequences for crossing it known, Hogwarts had purred along nicely since Christmas.

You then had to factor-in the new history curriculum and its professor, plus completely changing the way transfiguration was being taught to first year. It was also hard to dismiss the impact Harry's private tutors were having on the school. Bill Weasley was not only teaching most of first year, his revision classes for students facing O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. had been very well attended. The Weasley twins had actually come to Minerva with Master Pitslay's opinion that they would be beyond O.W.L. level by next summer, and could sit their exams a year early if they wished. Both had actually confided in their Head of House that Harry was well ahead of them.

Minerva noticed that it wasn't just Slytherin who were celebrating. It looked like the group of mixed first years sitting at the Ravenclaw table were ready to party too, and their good cheer was spreading to the rest of the hall. Albus may be disappointed that Harry Potter didn't come to Hogwarts but Minerva thought Harry Crow had been the conduit through which all the positive changes had flowed.

Minerva couldn't help but smile at the thought she would be seeing this group over the summer, not only at the ball but when they met to shop with the Potter scholarship students. The woman with the reputation for being the strictest person in Hogwarts had probably smiled more this year than any other since she started teaching here.

-oOoOo-

There weren't too many smiles at Kings Cross after the express arrived. That wasn't strictly true though, Emma, Dan and Sirius all thought it was funny the way Hermione and Harry were holding on to each other - as if they would never see the other again. Gone was Harry's stoic public face and Hermione actually had tears in her eyes at the thought of being parted. After a couple of minutes of this, Emma leaned toward Sirius.

"Dan and I are actually working next week, we finish up for the holidays on Friday. How about we take them both home with us for the weekend, and then Harry can use his portkey on Monday morning?"

"The alternative would be these two mopping around their houses, poor Eargit would end up knackered carrying their letters back and forth. I think that's a great idea, I'll let his father know to expect them Monday morning. Would it be okay if they spent a couple of days at my house? Henrica's going to be very busy at Gringotts for the first half of the holidays."

Dan was trying to appear miffed at this arrangement, and failing miserably. Emma made no attempt to hide her excitement at having them home, though she could still tease the man who had quickly become a good friend to both her and Dan. "You have a library, Sirius, we may never see them again. Just go, and we'll see how long these two take to notice you've left."

Harry's goblin upbringing was telling him this was totally irrational, but it didn't help one bit. He also knew they were meeting up next weekend to get their outfits for the ball, that just made him feel worse. His head told him he'd be fine but Harry's heart was screaming it couldn't last a week without Hermione's hugs. She'd gotten him addicted since the first day they met, it was an addiction he had no intention of fighting. That Hermione apparently felt exactly the same was the reason they were still standing on the platform, long after everyone else had left. He didn't know how long they had been standing there but it was now quiet, a state that couldn't exist when Sirius was around.

Harry removed that hair he loved so much from his eyes, to see a pair of parents smirking at him. With no sign of his godfather anywhere, he was forced to ask the obvious question. "Do you know where Sirius is?"

This got his girlfriend's attention, she recognised the smirks on her parents faces at once. They were up to something.

Dan didn't keep them waiting. "Oh, he got fed up waiting on you two to let go of each other - your godfather left ages ago! I suppose that means we've got a lodger for the weekend, but only if you take Hermione with you to Gringotts on Monday?"

Dan was soon experiencing his own personal patented 'Hermione hug'. He wasn't sure if it was her sword fencing or all the practice his daughter was getting with hugging Harry, but Hermione could now make his ribs creak with the ferocity of her embrace. She quickly moved on to her mother, any thoughts of the blues banished now that Harry was coming home with them.

The boy in question had a mad grin on his face, and finally remembered to answer Dan. "That would be...bloody fantastic!"

Lucius had watched all this from the shadows, still hoping for a break. He'd easily discovered where the Patils lived, the information proved useless though. In the middle of a moonless night, he'd attempted to get close to the house - purely on a fact-finding mission. The arm that Voldemort branded all those years ago was burning as if it was going to burst into flames, this was before he could get anywhere near the house too! Lucius was forced to get out of there fast, just in case his mere presence had triggered an alarm.

If the Patil home had wards like that, Lucius was glad he didn't know the mudblood's address. This little bint was already the one person who possessed the power to completely destroy this boy, unfortunately she would also be the best protected. Even slipping her the book in Diagon Alley wouldn't help, the wards around her house would probably fry Tom's diary the instant she returned home. With the Patils being equally protected, this left the head of the Malfoy family with a bit of a dilemma.

Did he pass the book off to some nonentity, like that Chinese witch - or even blood traitor Weasley's daughter - or did he wait until the last minute and take an attempt at a bigger prize. He knew they would all be here come eleven o'clock on the first of September, a packed platform should provide the cover for him to slip the slim volume into an unsuspecting pocket. Lucius understood this would be a massive risk, leaving everything to the very last moment. He also acknowledged there would need to be a large slice of luck involved too for him to achieve the result he wanted.

Lucius could console himself with the though that, if he couldn't get anyone close to the boy, he could still ensure the diary made its way home to Hogwarts in some poor, unsuspecting child's pocket.

-oOoOo-

Harry was trying to be there for his friend as they both made their way along the St. Mungo's corridor, it was as if Neville was experiencing every emotion humanly possible with each step that took him nearer to his parents' room. There was joy, yet tinged with sadness - excitement flavoured with trepidation. This was clearly something he looked forward to, but at the same time dreaded.

"Harry, just don't expect too much..."

"Neville, I'm going to meet my godmother and your dad, that's more than enough for me."

Augusta walked behind them both, not having words to express how proud she was of her grandson. He had changed beyond all recognition from the timid little boy she'd practically had to force onto the Hogwarts express last September, and Augusta knew who was responsible for this dramatic transformation - his friends.

The way they had set this summer's holiday itinerary, it was one week busy - followed by seven days of rest. Because of her age, Augusta had no wish to hold the youngsters back. She gave the first week in Florida a miss, joining them in the Turkish villa beside the Black Sea. There she spent one of the best weeks of her life, listening to her grandson try to explain this whole other world they'd visited in Florida.

She also watched him like a hawk, delighted with what her old eyes were seeing. The group of four were even closer than she remembered, with Padma and Neville always being together. The affection they had for each other was clearly visible, giving his grandmother hope she might actually see him settled with a good wife and family before her time came to leave this world behind. The Longbottoms were purebloods, and proud of their heritage. The family didn't let that fact define them though, she would be ecstatic if her grandson decided on either of these girls.

She had spent the week in the very good company of the Grangers, with Barchoke and Sirius dividing the week between them - both had business in Gringotts to occupy the rest of their time. Watching this loving couple care for the children made a nonsense of all that pureblood dogma, and the academic results from Hogwarts bore this out. Minerva had confided in her that Neville was not only the top first year student in Gryffindor, he placed seventh overall amongst all his peers. Augusta expected that his three Ravenclaw friends finished higher, and was fine with that. That there were nine Ravenclaws in first year meant her grandson had out-performed at least three of the cleverest house, that was totally unexpected and a phenomenal achievement on his part.

When the youngsters had tired themselves out with swimming and games through the day, the adults then got to spend quiet evenings sipping drinks and enjoying each other's company. Each were fascinated by the others and the subjects discussed were wide and varied. Neville had talked with her about the offer of help for Frank and Alice, Augusta was more than willing to listen. Watching them for the last ten years had left her ready to talk to the Devil himself if it offered the slighted glimpse of hope.

Barchoke had arrived with some goblin ale for the youngsters earlier that day, and it was this he was drinking as the four sat watching the sun go down. It was time for the serious conversation. "Augusta, the last thing I want to do here is raise any false hopes for you or Neville. Our experience has taught us that there are no absolutes when dealing with victims of this curse, and that no two victims react the same to the treatment. I have to be honest here and say that sometimes there is no reaction at all, and we have never attempted this treatment on victims after such an extended period since their exposure."

Dan asked for an explanation of the treatment, and what it hoped to achieve.

"This curse is a vicious thing, Dan, the most disgusting curse ever invented. While the Avada Kedarva kills its victims, it is instantaneous and therefor relatively painless. The cruciatus curse triggers every nerve ending in your body to send messages of great pain to your brain."

As dentists, Dan and Emma were used to dealing with people in pain. Neither could wrap their heads around a body coping with that much agony.

"The wizarding theory is that a body can only stand so much pain, before reverting to madness. Forgive me ladies but we goblins think that is a pile of dragon shit. One of the differences between goblins and wizards is that we question everything and anything, and are constantly trying to find better answers to most problems. Goblin pride was also at stake here, the very thought of a pain so terrible that it would drive us into this madness was repugnant to our nation. A lot of research was done to discover that Mother Nature is indeed wondrous."

Barchoke certainly had the other three's attention but he was no healer, he offered the explanation that had made sense to him. "The treatment is purely potions based. Not possessing the specialised knowledge of how they work on the mind, this is how I understand it. Living underground, fire is essential - it can also be a dangerous thing. A fire breaking out is usually a minor matter, easily dealt with. Should one happen when we're sleeping, taking hold before it can be brought under control, we have stringent evacuation procedures and choke points where the fire can be contained from spreading. We have discovered our bodies react in a similar fashion, closing down routes to the brain in an attempt to keep itself alive."

He could see they were following his explanation so continued. "The fact that a patient is still alive shows the body was successful in this most basic function, though we have no way of measuring the damage done. Our treatment is like the cleanup crews who move in after the fire has burned itself out. Repairing the damage and rebuilding, making that section habitable once more. As you can imagine, no two fires are ever the same and sometime it takes years for a section to recover."

"Emma and I are well aware of the measures the body can take to protect itself, though neither of us could be considered experts on the subject. What we could offer is a way to assess the damage and measure any progress. There are private clinics with machines that can measure brain activity and perform scans inside your head."

Watching the reaction to her husband's revelations, Emma felt she needed to clarify something. "These procedures are entirely non-invasive and totally pain-free, sometimes an indicator dye will be injected into an arm to provide better images but that's the only thing that may be required. Mostly the patient undergoing these tests just lay on a bed. We could look into getting a full range of tests done before any treatment, those same tests carried out say six months later would provide proof of what effect your treatment was having."

This was something Barchoke was not expecting and immediately the goblin asked Dan if he could get more information on these procedures for their healers. Barchoke then turned his attention back to Augusta. "In a small number of cases, this treatment has brought about a complete reversal of the damage caused. I think we have to be realistic and say that is probably unlikely when dealing with patients who suffered this curse so long ago. Sadly, there are those that show no improvement, we can only hope they don't fall into this category. Between these extremes lie different degrees of recovery that are as wide as the sea currently in front of us. Would a mother recognising her son, or a son recognising his mother be considered a success? Only you and Neville could really answer that."

Augusta had been glad of the glass of port in her hand that evening, it helped her distill the entire problem down to one question - did she trust these people? With that question instantly answered, the rest was easy. The Grangers had made some calls and Sirius had picked up the brochures that had been delivered to their home. Augusta hadn't been able to make head nor tail of these glossy coloured pages but everything looked 'safe', Barchoke admitted the copies Sirius had dropped off at Gringotts had left their healers drooling at the possibilities this would provide.

At the end off their week, Augusta had parted company with the group. They were heading off to Rome, where the rest of the Patil family would be joining them for a week of sightseeing. She had been busy making arrangements of her own, arrangements that would come into play today. They had the ministry ball tomorrow and then the entire group was heading off to spend a nice quiet and restful week in the Maldives, though, with their numbers swelling to seventeen, Augusta questioned how quiet it might be.

She entered the room to find precisely what she expected, her son and his wife in exactly the same condition as they had been for the last decade. This state of affairs was no longer acceptable to the acting head of the Longbottom family, not now that she knew there were possible alternatives. St Mungo's were about to discover that Augusta's reputation as a formidable witch was well earned, and she was about to add some new chapters to that reputation today.

-oOoOo-

The portkey had barely deposited the father and son to the Grangers' back garden when Harry was running for the door. The way he was feeling, only one thing would help. Hermione was waiting with open arms and soon both were wrapped in a needed hug.

"How did it go?"

Barchoke took a moment to watch the distress flowing out of his son before answering. "Augusta said it went exactly as planned, Frank and Alice are traveling by private ambulance to the clinic. After some tests, they'll spend the night there before more tests tomorrow and then heading back to London. Those nurses Augusta found will stay with them on rotating shifts and then, after returning to the city, portkey with Neville's parents into Gringotts. Neville appeared every bit as upset as Harry, he could have done with Padma there too."

Just being in his girlfriend's arms had calmed Harry enough that he could answer. "She'll be there tonight for Neville's birthday, Padma's like Hermione and seems to know instinctively what to do. I've not been here five minutes but already I'm feeling better."

He gave his girlfriend a kiss on the cheek in thanks before continuing. "It's easy to see why the sorting hat couldn't put Neville anywhere else but Gryffindor, walking down that corridor when you know what's waiting at the other end takes real courage. We have to help them, father, whatever it takes!"

"We will, son, everything we possibly can will be done. These tests will also tell us if the muggle doctors have any way of treating this, our healers were very impressed that these facilities existed - far less could be used on anyone."

Emma was now busy fussing over Harry and making sure he was feeling better, it was Dan who followed up on that. "Our doctors are always striving to increase their knowledge of how our brains work, they may be able to offer some form of help."

"We find it strange but refreshing that your healers are so willing to share information between each other, it must make things so much easier?"

"We have dentistry publications that are periodically delivered to our practice, as do most dentists in Britain. They not only keep us up to date with any new developments in procedures and technology, they have information on anything interesting that's happening in dentistry anywhere in the world. For at least a hundred and fifty years, the Lancet has been providing the same function for doctors the world over. Shared information in that publication has let to more than a few medical breakthroughs."

The more time Barchoke spent with these people, the more he found his views on the world changing. Seeing Harry was back to himself with Hermione at his side reminded Barchoke there was another matter he wanted to discuss with the Grangers. It would require the use of their memory viewer though.

Only Barchoke had seen this before and could understand the shock, fear and anger that he found himself surrounded by. The memory ended as Harry approached the stricken Hermione and her golden protection dissolved back into her bracelet. Harry and Hermione were of course in each other's arms, but Emma had them both in an embrace and she didn't appear ready for letting go any time soon. Dan was very angry that Hermione had been hurt but incredibly moved at the way Harry had fought like a demon to avenge her.

He'd gotten to know Barchoke though and understood they hadn't just watched this as a means of entertainment. "I have to assume you had a reason for terrifying the life out of us with that?"

This drew a wry smile from the goblin. "I think it's fair to say that Hermione's safety is a very high priority for everyone sitting here, and is the reason for you watching my memory of that morning. Your daughter's safety was such a high priority, her bracelet has more protection runes than any piece of jewellery ever worn by a witch or wizard. Our problem is, it shouldn't have been able to protect her like that - this has never happened before."

Emma was puzzled at this. "Harry's do it all the time, isn't this a good thing?"

"As a centurion, Harry's are specifically designed to do that. They are also bound to him by blood and will never come off. We are still trying to determine how his magic allows the armour to increase his speed and strength when Hermione gave us a whole new problem. Her bracelet expanding to become body armour is not a good thing, it's a great thing - but only if she can repeat it."

His daughter having the ability to suddenly be protected by armour was a bloody brilliant thing in Dan Granger's book too. "How do we go about achieving that?"

"We want to blood-bond the bracelet to Hermione and see if that works, the director has promised to consider using the centurion enchantments on it if need be. Tomorrow will thrust Harry even more into the spotlight, and we all know who will be right by his side. As a friend of the goblin nation, we intend to do everything in our power to offer Hermione protection."

Both parents immediately wanted to know what this blood-bond entailed, and any side effects.

"She merely has to prick a finger and rub her blood into the disks containing runes, then I need to perform some enchantments. The only downside for Hermione is that the bracelet will never leave her wrist after that."

Dan realised this would mean his daughter walking around for the rest of her life wearing Harry - Hermione - best friends forever on her wrist, he also realised that the world Hermione had entered could be a dangerous place. He considered the slim possibility that these two wouldn't remain best friends, leaving Hermione with this constant reminder of that fact, a small price to pay for the protection this would afford his daughter. He glanced toward Emma to see his wife already nodding her consent.

Barchoke returned his attention to the youngsters. "This is going to take some work, Hermione, but you'll have Harry to help. I also think this should be kept a secret, and hope you never need it. If we keep it to the group who know about Harry being able to cast with his sword, that should allow you to practice without alerting anyone. You'll probably need to wait until you return to Hogwarts though, you have other friends with you for the rest of the holidays."

Hermione had a question that was worrying her. "That shield formed over my clothes, will it form under them if my bracelet is blood-bound?"

"This is so unusual that all I can do is offer my best guess, which would be yes."

This drew a blush from the young witch, Harry might not have a problem with displaying his chest, Hermione had no intention of letting that happen to her. At least not for a few years anyway, and then only when she and Harry were ready for that.

-oOoOo-

Despite Harry's repeated protests that it was Neville's special day, those protests were ignored - especially by Neville - and the party at Longbottom Manor was held for both birthday boys. Neville managed to turn Harry's opinion around halfway through the evening when he confessed this was already his best birthday party ever. It was a group in very good spirits who were gathered in the ante-room at the ministry, waiting on tonight's events getting started. As the guests of honour, they would only enter the ballroom after everyone else was seated.

An aide then informed them that the minister had just taken his seat, it was time to go.

Arthur Weasley brought up the rear of the procession, with Molly on one arm and a wide-eyed Ginny on the other. Ginny was dressed in the finest robes she'd ever owned, yet still didn't fit-in. She was here though, which was more than any of her brothers had managed. She didn't really need to console herself, just being here tonight was magical. She was drawn out of her dreaming by a loud fanfare of trumpets.

"What's that, daddy?"

"Oh, that will be Harry..."

"Oh wow! He can play the trumpet too?"

Molly's harrumph was ignored, just like her husband had ignored her opinion on tonight. With Bill no longer having to spend his weekends at Hogwarts, he had switched to spending that time in the Burrow. He was still teaching though, trying to prepare them for what they would face tonight. Three things very quickly became apparent to Molly - this was a really big night for the Weasley family, they were woefully under-prepared and they'd be leaving the biggest asset the family possessed sitting at home.

Arthur had ignored her advice to take Bill, instead plumping for giving his beloved daughter the best early birthday present he possibly could. Tonight could make or break them, the Weasleys were the ministry's representatives at this table. Instead of having an expert on goblins - Bill probably knew more about muggles than his father too! - they had an out of her depth, starstruck, soon to be eleven year old little girl.

Her husband obviously hoped this would be a foot in the door for Ginny, trying to avoid another situation like Ron at Hogwarts. Molly couldn't fault him for that but already knew this attempt was doomed to failure. These were very nice kids but they were talking about a party they attended last night, shopping in Rome and all were looking forward to going on holiday together soon after tonight's ball. What was Ginny supposed to talk about with them? The swimming hole is quite muddy but the apples needed the rain is hardly going to be riveting conversation.

After Ginny attends Hogwarts, they would all have some common ground to chat about but tonight was a mistake. Molly had begun to wonder if the goblins weren't a lot cleverer than they were being given credit for. It was assumed that Bill becoming Barchoke's assistant was to save the goblins making silly mistakes, Molly now though her son's real job would be to stop Arthur putting his foot in his mouth. If tonight backfired on them, Molly silently swore that Arthur would be sleeping in that bloody shed of his until at least Christmas.

Hermione was on Harry's arm as he led their procession into the ballroom, she sparkled at his side - literally. The goblin tailors had recognised their work would be featured in the wizarding press all over Europe, so only their very best would do. They would be pleased to know the photographers were practically fighting with each other to capture images of their fine work.

They had chosen pastel colours as the basis for their designs, with Hermione's being pale green. The goblins had taken the designs handed to them and applied their own stamp though. Hermione's dress was high at the neck with the bodice delicately embroidered and deep green semi-precious stones reflecting any available light. All the other dresses had sashes around the waists - ending in bows at the back - but hers had a wide and bejewelled dark green belt, from which her sword hung in its sheath.

The dress was almost to the floor and the puffed shoulder sleeves were covered by an embroidered shawl that appeared to have gold thread running through the green material. Add in the jewellery from Barchoke and Hermione was a show stopper. The goblin tailors had achieved that most difficult of tasks. Instead of attempting to dress young girls as women, their designs merely hinted at the beautiful women these young witches would one day become. Harry's waistcoat matched the shade of his date's dress perfectly, while his frock coat was dark green to match Hermione's accents. Of course, the young couple sported matching swords too.

Dan, Emma and Barchoke followed their children into the ballroom, Dan thought his wife was the most beautiful women at the ball as her cream dress highlighted the tan this year's holiday had provided. Unlike the girls' dresses, Emma's was a more traditional look for this period. The bodice, while lower, was adorned with pearls and her dark brown shawl and sash matched the shade of Dan's frock coat perfectly.

That Emma was the most beautiful lady present was not a view shared by everyone, as they were followed by Sirius - and a simply stunning Henrica. Like each couple the goblins had designed clothes for, Sirius' dusky pink waistcoat matched his date's dress perfectly - and the dark maroon frock coat complimented those highlight colours. Sirius had Minerva on his other arm but all the attention was elsewhere. Photographers that had been almost fighting over Harry and Hermione nearly started a riot trying to get closer to Henrica.

Neville came next, with Padma on one arm and his gran on the other. As all the elder witches had done, Augusta had chosen to wear what she normally would to an occasion like this. She thought her grandson looked incredibly handsome in his chosen clothes though. They in turn were followed by the other three Patils. While Parvati was dressed in the same style as the other young witches in their party, Smita and Ramrao had chosen more traditional Indian wear.

Amelia was behind this riot of colour, though Susan and Hannah were almost as bright as they too shone in their goblin made dresses. The Weasleys brought up the rear as the special guests were escorted to their table.

There was a small band-stage in front of the guest of honour's table, and it was to this stage that the minister soon made his way. Harry's table was front and centre, with the nearest surrounding tables populated by ministry officials - and those willing to pay the asking price for getting close to the boy who lived. Cornelius cleared his throat before beginning his prepared speech.

"Good evening everyone, it gives me great pleasure to greet you all at this very special event. Our guest of honour made a couple of requests regarding tonight, requests I was delighted to comply with. First, young Harry asked if some of the formality could be removed from this evening, as it's his birthday - how could I say no?" This drew some laughter, cheering and a good few shouts of 'Happy Birthday'. Cornelius wasn't lying, he was just being a politician and stretching the truth. Harry had asked that he be awarded his medal as just that, Harry - hence losing the formalities.

"There was also a request made that we do the presentation before dinner, getting the speeches out the way and allowing everyone to enjoy their evening."

Yes, a request had been made, but the minister had no intention of saying the request came from him. With the presentation done, his hope was that the press would stay for the free food - perhaps the first dance - and then bugger off. Cornelius was well aware of the undercurrent of animosity that was presently flowing amongst some sections of their society. One glance at Harry's table was enough to know that here would be the lightning rod for those animosities, especially as the night progresses and the drink flowed. The minister wanted the press long gone before any incidents presented themselves.

"It was Halloween nineteen eighty one when the dark lord visited Godric's Hollow, tonight is about this country acknowledging the debt that we owe the Potter family for their bravery and selfless sacrifice. The ministry wanted a way to express their gratitude and from this, the James and Lily Potter scholarships were born. A panel consisting of Madam Bones, Professor McGonagall and Harry's godfather, Lord Black, were convened and tasked with administering this scholarship. In September, a young first generation wizard and a pureblood witch, who tragically lost her mother in an accident, will be the first recipients of this scholarship. Young Harry though is taking his involvement even further, he and his friends intend to meet these recipients in Diagon Alley and make sure their transition into Hogwarts students is as painless as it can possibly be."

This was met with loud applause, helping children through Hogwarts was not something that anyone could really publicly oppose.

"We are now at the portion of the evening that everyone is here for. Rather than me standing here and talking about the boy-who-lived, I think we would all rather see Harry receive his Order of Merlin, First Class - and then hear from him."

Harry rose with the applause and purposely walked toward the minister. He'd gone over this speech with his father and Hermione, and was as ready as he would ever be. While wizarding speeches appeared to be long and flowery, goblins tended to be more direct and leave less room for misinterpretation. 'Kill the bastard before he guts you' might be appropriate but would hardly go down well tonight.

The minister pinned Harry's medal onto his coat as his table led the loud cheering that followed. He was then invited forward to say a few words and an expectant hush fell over the ballroom.

"I would like to thank the minister and his ministry for this prestigious award, I hope you will all forgive me if I say that the honour tonight's event is bestowing on my mum and dad means so much more to me. Yes they gave their lives fighting a great evil, as did a lot of witches and wizards who will have relatives and friends sitting here tonight. I see this scholarship as something that honours all those who fell fighting the good fight, this is their honour too - their remembrance!"

The applause started slow, shocked and tearful faces were now reflected back at Harry. They had come tonight to see and hear a boy, instead they found themselves entranced by this charismatic young man. The applause quickly built, and, like a powerful wave, soon engulfed the ballroom. When it died down, Harry began the part of his prepared speech that he knew would be controversial.

"Yes, my mum and dad died fighting a great evil, but that great evil wasn't Voldemort." Harry used the shock of him saying that dreaded name out loud to remove a small glass vial from his waistcoat pocket. "No, Tom Riddle was nothing more than a powerful wizard who used existing prejudices to almost bring this country to its knees. I have here a vial of blood, can anyone tell me how pure it is?"

This was greeted by total silence, it felt as if someone had asked the queen if it was her that just let one rip. Not expecting an answer to his question, Harry continued. "My three best friends and I are a pretty strange mixture. A daughter of an ancient Indian pureblood line, the scion of one of Britain's oldest pureblood families, a first generation witch and then me - a wizard raised by goblins. Do you think this vial here tells you any of that? Prejudices in nineteen eighty one dictated my mother should be slaughtered like an animal because of her circumstances of birth, yet we are all here tonight honouring her."

Harry turned to face a minister who was turning paler by the second. "Minister Fudge's courageous stance on this matter should be applauded, and certainly has my full support. It takes a brave man to say this bigotry will no longer be tolerated in Britain, tonight's awards broadcasts that message out like a welcoming beacon to the rest of the world. As does his recent attempts for a closer relationship with the goblin nation." This had the colour returning to the minister, and it got even better as Harry's attention once more shifted to the audience.

"As you probably know, I've spent most of my life living as a goblin and I can honestly say I see a lot of similarities between our cultures. My father is a brave and honourable goblin, traits I know both cultures hold dear. He is also a head of family, a head who, just like every other head of family, hopes one day his eldest son will follow in his footsteps. I really could never see myself becoming a banker, but an ambassador is certainly a position worth aspiring to."

Harry had made that as plain as he possibly could and it was now time to finish up. "A few days ago my friends and I were in Rome, we took the time to visit that city's ancient colosseum. I found it sad that the civilisation who built this magnificent structure were wiped out, simply because they couldn't adapt to the changing world around them. The sterling efforts and forward thinking of Minister Fudge's administration should ensure a fate like that will never befall this society, and see our country go from strength to strength. I would like to thank you all for these awards, listening to me and hope they're serving the food soon. I'm a growing lad and am really looking forward to dinner!"

Cornelius led the applause, and shook Harry's hand as the boy returned to his table where they were all on their feet. The boy-who-lived had just given him and his ministry an endorsement that no amount of gold could buy, he had also cleverly made that support conditional. Providing his ministry stayed in the light, he could count on Harry's support. Since this was the direction he wished to go, that shouldn't be a problem.

Cornelius almost shit himself when the boy took out that vial of blood, this was a subject one didn't talk about in polite company. He couldn't think of anyone else who could have pulled it off. All that was needed now was for his vote to pass the Wizengamot on Monday and Cornelius could relax, for a little while at least.

Harry returned to his table to a rapturous reception, and a congratulatory kiss from his girlfriend.

Molly had listened while Bill talked about this young man, but seeing him 'in action' so to speak had practically taken her breath away. He'd just stared down the pureblood elite of Britain, Europe too, and told them they had been wrong. This was no childish rant though, he stood there like a warrior and verbally tore their former leader to shreds - before finally outing their pureblood superiority beliefs for the nonsense that they are. She wondered how many of them would enjoy their meal after that, being reminded they were here to honour a muggle born witch and her 'goblin' son. Something was bothering her though, so when the table quietened Molly asked her question.

"Harry, I hope you don't mind me asking but you never actually said who that blood belonged to?" She felt the full force of those green eyes and that devilish smile, framed by his long, jet black hair. Molly suddenly realised this boy had the charm, charisma and confidence to pull off just about anything.

"That was precisely my point, Mrs Weasley, it didn't matter whose blood it was. Actually, it's not really blood at all. This is fake blood that I bought out of a joke shop in Crawley, it's supposedly edible and strawberry flavoured - if anyone wants to try it?"

Sirius, Dan and Ramrao suddenly had their respective wives and girlfriend pounding between their shoulder blades to alleviate their choking, a consequence of trying to burst into laughter while eating soup.

Not sure whether her hearing had suddenly malfunctioned, Molly asked for confirmation. "You faced down this entire crowd using something you bought out of a joke shop?"

Harry's smile went up another notch in answer as Arthur suddenly had a horrible premonition of what his new job could entail. "Bill tells us you are friends with Fred and George?"

"Oh yes sir, they're great guys - especially after we came to an understanding that meant no more pranks on us."

Of course, that was a story the entire table wanted to hear. It left Molly certain she was right, they had really underestimated the goblins. Arthur thought his wife was correct too, he wasn't anywhere near prepared for this job.

Dolores hadn't been prepared for that speech, at least she wasn't alone in that, it certainly ruined her appetite. She'd been working quietly behind the scenes for the last few weeks, trying to ensure this disgusting goblin proposal was kicked out on Monday. That speech from the boy-who-lived just destroyed all her endeavours. That wasn't the real reason she was currently stirring her soup, rather than eating it. Glancing over at the top table destroyed any appetite she had.

How were you meant to enjoy your food with mudbloods, muggles and even creatures sitting in the heart of the ministry. Why didn't they just invite a centaur along too and be done with it? She was sure the caterers would have arrange for a bale of hay, save the curtains and upholstery from getting chewed. A house elf could have been ordered to follow the beast around with a shovel, centaur shit on the ballroom floor would really have made everyone's evening!

It was time for Dolores to stop her musing and face facts. Unless something was done here tonight that would show this boy for the child that he was, the goblin proposal would sail through the Wizengamot on Monday. It was also looking increasingly likely that she would have to be the one to do it too. Now all Dolores needed to figure out was just exactly what 'it' could be?

A/N Thanks for reading

A/N 2 Running a bit late this week, though this is the longest chapter of HC to date. I've also been very busy with a project, a project I could use your help with. I've been working with some 13/14 y.o. kids to produce a film against knife crime in Scotland. This is a national competition, run by the Scottish government, and we've reached the semi-final stage. Around the beginning of February, the competing videos will go online and people will be invited to electronically vote for their favourite - sussed where I could use your help yet? Will post more details when they come into the school.