Looking at the poll for which story I should work on next, there are several frontrunners, but none of them has a clear majority. Therefore, I need everyone to go and vote again so I can narrow it down from four to one. Thank you in advance.

Credit for this week's disclaimer goes to David305.

Disclaimer: Did the trio spend months on the run, living in a tent and being cold and hungry, when they could have just called Kreacher's or Dobby's name at any time and the little guys would have popped in and catered to their every need? If so, I don't own the Harry Potter franchise; it belongs to J.K. Rowling, Scholastic Press, Warner Bros., and whoever else she sold the rights to.


Chapter 43
Unexpected News

"Oh, shite."

The Dark Lord Voldemort glanced up at the quiet curse. It was not the words themselves that were strange, but the fact that he had heard them from across the throne room he had built in the Malfoy's grand basement and through the heavy oak doors. He grimaced as the movement, however slight, made him dizzy. The supersensory charm was not a piece of magic he particularly enjoyed; it enhanced every sense, and while it meant he could see movement from the corners of his eyes as clearly as if he were looking straight at the object in question and hear conversations otherwise inaudible, that same enhancement being applied to all his senses explained why no wizard lived his life under the effect of the spell.

Well, Wendelin the Weird had spent nearly a decade with the supersensory charm up if he remembered correctly, but no one used that man as a role model for anything.

Shrugging his thoughts away, he returned to his bland porridge. It was something he had not eaten since he had lived in the disgusting Muggle orphanage – which he had taken great pleasure in burning down to its foundations, along with everyone inside it, as a graduation present to himself – but any spices or seasonings were simply too strong for his magically enhanced sense of taste. Until he was sure which of his Inner Circle had betrayed him, he had to be on guard for assassination attempts, including 'tasteless' poisons in his food. Once again he considered purchasing a house-elf of his own rather than rely on the Malfoys', but he despised the little pests, however useful they may be.

"What's got your pants in a wad, Nott?" asked Amycus Carrow.

"Oh, I forgot that I need to be somewhere," Nott answered, and Voldemort fought back an incredulous snort. Timothy Nott possessed a silver tongue at times, but he had gone to school with the man's father Thaddeus. He knew full well when a Nott was lying. Carrow, on the other hand, apparently had no such experience. Nott continued, "Here, take this and give it to the Master. You know how he gets when his morning Prophet is late."

The skin where his left eyebrow would have been had he hair quirked upwards. Is there something in the Prophet Nott doesn't want me to see?

"But I already… had… Merlin damn it," Carrow growled. "What is so im— Bugger. Hey, Avery!"

"Not a chance, Carrow. I already know what it says. You're on your own."

Tiring of the argument beginning to brew and curious as to what they were hinting at, Voldemort raised his highly polished yew wand and opened the double doors. His enhanced sight easily saw Carrow's Adam's apple bob with a quick, terrified swallow. "I'm. Waiting."

Visibly steeling himself, Carrow hesitantly entered the room and made his way to his master's side. "Y-Your paper, milord. If you have no further need of me—"

"Stay there," Voldemort said with more than a touch of sadistic amusement. Watching proud Purebloods squirm was always entertaining, and he might need a messenger to relay orders depending on what the news he was not supposed to see turned out to be.

He took a sip of his weak tea and unfolded the newspaper. Immediately he spat it out as the Dark Mark, his Dark Mark, grinned toothily at him from the front page. His eyes caught Carrow trying to sidle away, and with white-hot rage he jabbed his wand at the other wizard and screamed, "Crucio!" After a few seconds, his fury had been sufficiently satiated that he could grab the bundle of parchment and force himself to read the article underneath the mocking photograph.

He had to curse Carrow another five times by the time he finished the final paragraph.

"Out! Get out!" he bellowed, rising from his throne and kicking his Death Eater when the man did not crawl away fast enough. Throwing the paper into the air before hitting it with an overpowered blasting curse increased Carrow's speed substantially, and soon he was alone again.

This spy is making me look like a fool! He had been extraordinarily cautious about assassination attempts since he discovered that one of his Inner Circle was plotting against him, since that unknown individual destroyed one of his precious Horcruces. The supersensory charm, keeping himself away from his servants when they were not immediately needed, revealing none of his incomplete plots, all meant to hamstring the traitor in their midst. He thought that would be sufficient to deter any further attacks, at least in the short term.

Instead, the spy had struck him on an entirely different front.

My servants in Azkaban, dead. Every single one of them. How?! How did he know I planned to lead a strike there to retrieve them? Voldemort paced the wide underground room, the closed door meaning no one saw him stagger each time he whirled around and his too-sensitive sense of balance caused a moment of vertigo. Nervous energy bled off him, and he clutched the iron pendant he always wore around his neck. Even with the ironwork hanging on the walls and the metal wires woven into his robes, he still felt unprotected without that last line of defense on his person. The old witches' tales he had read as a student were quite clear on the dangers the fae posed to any who wished them ill, and as much as he coveted their incredible powers over time and the elements, he knew he was not in a position to declare war on them just yet.

The wizarding world was first, then the Muggle world, and only after he was the undisputed ruler of the mortal realm would he strike against the faeries and take their Queen's crown for himself. It was very much a long-term goal, but time was one thing he had plenty of.

Unfortunately, I can't just outlast this traitor. He is working too quickly for a slow game like the one I'm playing with Dumbledore. The unknown wizard had already launched two attacks in as many weeks; would that pattern continue? Where would the next blow land? I can't let this go on. Waiting won't do me any good, just let him keep bleeding me. Even though he can't kill me, my loyal servants have no such protection. He shivered at that thought. Without any Death Eaters available to resurrect him, he could not risk letting the traitor land a lucky blow against him personally.

He did not want to go back to being a helpless wraith.

His mind made up, Voldemort flung the doors open and went to search for one of his followers. It was past time he called the Inner Circle in for a little chat.


Minerva squared her shoulders as she walked through the entrance of the Orders headquarters. Though she was glad the portrait of Walburga Black had been permanently muffled, the ensuing silence meant her closing the front door boomed ominously. Or perhaps it was just her worry that made the sound seem so loud?

Whatever the case, the person soon bustling up the stairs was none other than Molly Weasley. "Oh, Minerva, what a surprise! I didn't realize you would be coming over today."

"And I did not know that you had already been released from St. Mungo's," she returned.

"Just this morning, as a matter of fact. It's a good thing, too; I was not looking forwards to spending the New Year wasting away in one of those beds." The redhead rubbed her hands over the bandages still wrapped around her forearms, and noticing where Minerva's attention lay, she explained, "The Healers said I needed to keep the bandages on for another few days. Everything's fixed; it's just to get rid of the last of the scars."

"I see. You are otherwise well, though? We were all worried when Arthur told us you would have to be there for several weeks."

Molly nodded back happily. "Good as new, though it's terrible to see how much disarray everything has fallen into while I've been gone. I've had the children going through and cleaning up the mess, though Harry and Hermione have been most unhelpful. They've spent all their time gallivanting about and snogging and who knows what else! I have to say that I've never been more disappointed in that girl; this summer she just seemed to lose all control of herself, and…"

Her carefully schooled expression did not reveal that she had tuned out Molly's rant, nor the tiny touch of disappointment she felt at learning that the Weasley matriarch – and more importantly, her mouth – was back in full force. She knew it was terrible thing to think, but she, and she suspected most of the Order, had been more relieved than they ought upon learning that Molly would not be in headquarters ordering them about as if they were all members of her recalcitrant brood. Many had had private words with her about that habit, and Minerva herself had nearly hexed the younger woman on more than one occasion, instead settling on pointedly reminding her about who had found whom in compromising positions as a student.

The head of Gryffindor house had never been all that impressed with the young Molly Prewett, and Molly's marriage to Arthur had only worsened her more irritating traits. Though Minerva would never tell the trio, she was ever so glad that Hermione's relationship with Harry and – still a surprise, even after six months! – Miss Lovegood had mellowed her out. If only she had accepted being the girls' prefect…

That thought reminded Minerva sharply of her purpose in coming here, and she interrupted, "That's terrible, Molly, truly, but I'm afraid I don't have the time to chat. Would you happen to know where Ronald is?"

"Of course, he's in the kitchen, eating lunch. I swear, I don't know where that boy puts it all. He's still skinny as a rail—"

"Thank you, Molly. I just need to borrow him for a few minutes." She slipped past the dumpy woman and headed down the stairs. Unfortunately, Molly followed her, and at the door to the basement kitchen she said, "You don't have to come in. This is really just something I need to speak with him about. Privately."

"Oh pish, Minerva, I'm sure whatever it is you want to talk to him about isn't so important that I am unwelcome."

The cat Animagus's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. "No, really. I insist."

Molly did not miss the subtle dismissal, nor did she take it well. Placing her hands onto her wide hips, the redhead countered. "As I'm sure you know, Ronnie isn't always the most… forward-thinking boy. And since I am his mother, I just want to make sure he understands everything you have to tell him. It wouldn't do for him to do something silly because he misheard something."

You want to play it that way, fine. On your own head be it. Nodding in reluctant acceptance, she pushed open the door and made her way to the opposite side of the table from the fifteen-year-old devouring a plateful of food. She did not take a seat.

"Ron, Professor McGonagall is here to speak with you!"

The boy looked up from the task that had been consuming his attention and hastily swallowed as soon as he spotted Minerva. "Professor? What are you doing here?"

"I came to speak with you in regards to your position as the fifth-year Gryffindor boys' prefect," she explained. "After this past term, I must confess that I am quite disappointed in what I've been hearing."

"Huh?"

"What are you talking about? I'm sure Ronnie's been doing an excellent job."

She pulled a roll of parchment out of her robes' inner pocket. "No, Molly, he has not. I've had many, many complaints about how he is performing – or, more to the point, not performing – his duties, both from other Gryffindors and from his fellow prefects." Unrolling the list, she read, "'Prefect Weasley is seemingly unconcerned with patrolling the corridors, often wandering to the kitchens or hexing Slytherin students sent back to their common room.' 'Weasley keeps taking my things, even stuff that isn't against the rules, and won't give them back. He says prefects can confiscate anything they want.' 'Possibly the worst example of a prefect I have ever seen in my seven years here, Weasley does not take his job seriously. He arrives late to half our meetings, even completely missing several, and everyone agrees that we spend a large portion of our patrols with him making sure he doesn't break the rules.' I could go on, but I think you get the point," she said sharply, glancing over the scroll at the shocked mother and son.

"That can't be true! My Ron would never act like that," denied Molly.

"Nevertheless, before the term ended I was presented with a letter, signed by all seven of the other fifth-year prefects and a few of those in sixth and seventh, stating that they refused to continue working with him. If that weren't bad enough, Professors Slughorn, Flitwick, and Sinistra, as well as Madam Grubbly-Plank, have all mentioned that he has been doing quite… poorly in his coursework. Specifically, turning in assignments late, hurriedly and badly done, or not handing them in at all; not practicing assigned spells; and, in the case of Potions, not preparing for class discussions, nor brewing adequate potions. I have noted the same thing in Transfiguration, as well.

"Much as I hate having to say this about one of my Lions, Ronald is, quite frankly, failing a full half of his classes. Due to the complaints from both students and staff, I cannot permit him to continue representing Gryffindor house as prefect. Mr. Weasley, I will expect you to relinquish your badge to me upon your return to Hogwarts."

"What?! You can't do this!" he denied in horror.

"On the contrary, I very much can." Not for the first time did she wish she had done as Hermione so pointed suggested before the year began and argued with Albus about having Harry as the boys' prefect. He had been her first choice, but Albus had persuaded her that it was too much responsibility to put on him and that the youngest Weasley boy would do just as well. That had been a mistake.

Not to mention, I could then have had Hermione as the girls' prefect. She made it quite clear that she would not do it were Harry not the boys', and in retrospect – though I'm sure they would have used their shared patrols to find an unoccupied broom closet – they would have also made a fantastic pair, not unlike James and Lily their last year. Miss Roper is admittedly doing a decent job, far from the worst I've ever seen, but Hermione would have been so much better.

Molly edged towards her. "Minerva, can't you just give him a second chance? I'm sure that he can do a better job, and he's worked so hard to earn this position that it would be a shame to waste all that effort."

Ha!, she laughed derisively in her mind. Worked hard to earn it? Looking through my notes on him this summer, he was my last choice till Albus suggested him. "I have already given him a second chance. And a third. And a fourth. If he still has not figured out what he's doing wrong, I do not know that a fifth opportunity would work any better than the others have. My decision is final."

"You can't do this!" the mother hen exploded, echoing her son. "Professor Dumbledore promised that Ron would have a chance to prove himself this year! You can't just take that away!"

Minerva forced herself not to roll her eyes. What a preposterous claim. Albus's name is not an incantation that will get you whatever you want. A tiny portion of her mind niggled at her, pointing out how convenient it was that Molly would make this statement and that Albus would suggest the boy in question, but she forced it away. It would do her no good to think about it here, and she trusted the headmaster to be better than that.

Didn't she?

"I can, and I have. I am the head of Gryffindor house, and the choice of prefect is ultimately up to me." She turned from the spluttering pair and left the room. That was the hard part, she hoped; her next task should be much easier.


Mr. Draco Malfoy,

Due to the behavior you have displayed over the course of the three months since I returned to Hogwarts, it is my unfortunate duty to inform you that you no longer qualify to be the Slytherin prefect for the fifth-year boys. In addition to having respectable marks in all his classes, a prefect must embody the traits of our noble house: discernment, cunning, discretion, wisdom, ambition, and the drive to achieve said ambition. With a heavy heart, I must say that you have not demonstrated these traits in your dealings with other students, inside or outside Slytherin, and so the duty of representing our house must now fall to another.

Your prefect badge has already been magically reclaimed, and all point deductions and credits are to be examined to ensure the system was not abused during your tenure. Should this be determined to have occurred, those points will be redistributed during the returning dinner of the new term. A new schedule, without patrol rotation, will be given to you prior to your first class.

Enjoy the rest of your winter holidays.

Potions Master Horace Slughorn
Head of Slytherin House


Harry could not help but smile as he flipped through a sheaf of extremely detailed schedules for the Dark Houses on their list, each sheet of parchment charmed to appear as class notes to anyone who did not already know what they truly were. "These are really good, Dobby. You and Winky did an excellent job."

Standing at attention by his feet, the elf's face lit up with a verdant blush. "Master Harry is too kind. Obeying Master's orders is what house-elves live to do."

"Still, you two went above and beyond the call of duty on this one, and I bet Mione and Luna would agree with me. I don't know what we would do without you." Indeed, the elves had been invaluable to their illicit undertakings. How much better could the third war against Voldemort have gone had Dobby lived through the second?

He pushed the momentary flash of melancholy away with practiced ease. These thoughts cropped up from time to time, echoes of old wounds he doubted would ever entirely go away. Dobby demonstrating his almost embarrassing degree of devotion, Sirius acting like an overgrown child, Hedwig landing on the Gryffindor table for bacon and a few scratches of her breast feathers; loved ones who had died, whom he had mourned, but were now alive and well again. Rather than bring him down, each remembrance just made him that much more driven to ensure they would not die before their proper time this go round.

Dobby's fidgeting distracted him, and watching the clearly nervous being, he asked, "Is there something else you wanted to talk to me about?"

"No! No, no, Dobby not bes wanting nothing…" The elf glanced up at him quickly before lowering tennis-ball-sized eyes back to the ground. "Yes…"

"Dobby, you should know by now that you can ask me anything. You and Winky both," he gently prompted.

"Well… Dobby and Winky has bes busy with Master's jobs and not keeping Master's house as clean as clean should be. We can't be in two places at once. So…" The elf took a deep breath. "Dobby be wondering if Master Harry could be taking on another elf?"

Harry sighed slightly and rested his hand on Dobby's bald pate, turning the elf's head so the two were eye to eye. "If you needed help, you should have told me earlier. I don't want you two exhausting yourselves." He thought for only a minute before nodding. "Sure, if you find an elf you wouldn't mind working with and who's willing to leave—"

"Dobby already finds one!" A snap of the elf's long fingers, followed by a quiet pop, caused another small figure to appear. The female house-elf was clad in a patchwork manner reminiscent of how Dobby had been when the little guy was employed at Hogwarts: a shrunken jacket over a too-long shirt that had several belts cinched around her waist to keep the billowing fabric from getting in her way, two pairs of mismatched children's gloves over her hands, and heavy work boots stuffed with flowers and what looked to be colorful neckties completing the ensemble. She looked familiar, but it was not until she squeaked and gave him a low bow, enabling him to see the worn and tattered fuzzy red slipper secured behind her back, that he recognized her.

It was Floppy, the elf he had forced Julius Rookwood to free when they raided the man's manor right after the school year began.

After a moment, the little elf raised her eyes just the tiniest amount and almost whispered, "Hello, Mister Harry Potter Sir. My name bes Floppy."

He slipped off the couch and knelt next to Floppy, surprising the elf if her rapid blinking was any indication. Dobby's bright beam, on the other hand, indicated it was exactly what the little guy had been expecting from him. "Hello to you, Floppy. Dobby tells me that you want to join our family?"

"Y-Yes. If it not bes trouble."

She was rather shy the last time I saw her, too, wasn't she?, he asked himself. Out loud, however, he simply said, "It's not any trouble at all. I'd love to have you as a Potter elf."

Her eyes suddenly grew wide, and she took a moment to shake her head briskly. "Floppy never served Master or Missies from future before."

I forgot all about that. Upon taking Dobby as my elf, he immediately knew that secret, too. His wand vibrating in his pocket, a sign that someone had crossed his perimeter charm on the stairwell, made him hurry as he told her, "Hermione will call you to her in a few days to explain the house rules; you are to obey her and Luna as if their words were my own. Dobby, get her kitted out and make sure her outfit goes with yours and Winky's. Buy her anything she needs to make the manor feel like home, too."

"Yes, Master Harry." With twin snaps, the elves disappeared.

Just in time, too; Harry barely had time to stand before the door to the library opened and, strangely, Professor McGonagall walked in. "Ah, there you are, Mr. Potter. I was wondering if I could have some of your time?"

"I suppose I could spare a moment for you, Professor. Two, even," he joked.

She smiled slightly. "Quite magnanimous of you." Closing the door behind her, she strode over to the opposite couch and settled herself on the middle cushion. Harry did the same, pushing the schedules out of the way. "To get straight to the heart of the matter, as it were, I have found myself with a bit of a conundrum. You see, I do not have a prefect to represent the fifth-year boys."

He raised an eyebrow in confusion. "I thought Ron was the prefect."

"He was, yes, the operative word here being 'was'. Due to a variety of reasons, he can no longer fulfill the duties of his position—"

"Was it because he was failing his classes or because no one had a good word to say about him?" Noting her shocked expression, he elaborated, "I share a dorm with the guy, Mione does the same with Roper – and more importantly Lavender and Parvati, the gossip queens – and Luna has always kept an ear out for mutterings in the Ravens' nest. Between the three of us, it wasn't hard to puzzle out the major details."

"Oh. Well, then, I suppose it can't hurt to say that both factors played a role in my decision. I am now in the unenviable position of having to find his replacement."

"And I bet you aren't here just to ask me my opinion about which of us would be the best fit, are you?" he asked with a sinking feeling.

She shook her head. "No, Mr. Potter, I am not. Actually, I was hoping you would be willing to take Mr. Weasley's place."

He had to think about it only for a moment before shaking his head in reply. He had no need or desire to be an authority figure in the school, he could not care less about house points, and the additional responsibility meant he would be required to attend the quidditch games and Hogsmeade weekends, prime times for either tutoring the stripped-down D.A. or going on heists. The only potential advantages he could see were the extended curfew, which he ignored anyway, and being able to escort Luna to Ravenclaw Tower when she stayed over too late, which was a non-issue thanks to the Cloak of Invisibility. "I'm afraid I can't accept, Professor."

"Why?" she groaned.

"You want the honest answer?" he asked, to which she nodded vehemently. "Every year since I reentered the Wizarding World, some crisis has taken place inside Hogwarts. First year it was Voldemort coming after the Philosopher's Stone, then it was the basilisk, then it was a 'mass murder' coming after me and Dementors 'guarding' the students, and then it was the Triwizard Tournament. Now, though, there are no dangers threatening me or anyone else, no mysteries that need to be solved. It's… rather relaxing, actually. This year is the most fun I've ever had, almost a vacation." He laughed faintly, though there was little mirth in the sound. "I'm only fifteen, yet I've already fought a genocidal Dark Lord three times and saved the school once for certain and arguably two other times as well, achievements that would be incredible enough for someone twice my age. It's selfish of me, I know, but I think I've earned a year off with no responsibilities other than being a good boyfriend and doing well in my studies."

McGonagall gaped at him but offered no rebuttal. After a few moments her brain reengaged, and she quietly asked, "Then who am I supposed to give the badge to? There can't be an empty spot next term."

"Have you thought of giving it to Neville?" She blinked in confusion at the question. "He's been doing a lot better in class this year, and he's shown more confidence than in his previous four years put together, wouldn't you agree? Handing him that responsibility would tell him that you feel like you can trust him, not to mention it might get his gran off his back for not being exactly like his father. Either one of those would be good for him, and both together? I think you'll be surprised by how much he will have grown at the end of the year."

"Mr. Longbottom?" she repeated, though he could see her seriously considering the suggestion. "You think so?"

"Couldn't be worse than Ron. I think he'd work with Roper much better, too. But, ultimately, it's your decision." Not to mention, I'm curious if Dumbledore would try to interfere with the other potential 'Chosen One' being offered a position of power. Was it the prophecy or the Horcrux that made him want me kept downtrodden and alone?

"I… will give it some serious thought. You are sure you don't want the badge?" She sighed at his nod. "Very well. Thank you for your time, Mr. Potter."

"Always a plea—" The door slammed open, revealing Ron with his face red with rage. Well, this is bloody fantastic. "You know, a shut door generally means you shouldn't barge in."

"You're taking away my badge and giving it to him?!" the boy screamed.

"In case you weren't here from the beginning, I turned her down when she offered that. I don't want to be a prefect."

Ron sneered. "So you're too good to be a prefect, is that it?"

"Mr. Weasley!"

"Make up your mind, Ron," Harry sighed in exasperation. "Am I trying to take your badge away, or am I dismissing it as worthless? It's one or the other."

"You and Hermione were having a grand old time laughing at me behind my back, weren't you?! 'Ron's just gonna screw it up'; that's what you two have been saying about me all year! It wasn't enough that you took her away from me, but you turned her against me, too!"

"Mr. Weasley!" McGonagall thundered, cutting Harry off before he could offer a scathing retort. "This is why you are no longer a prefect. You are not mature enough to deserve the responsibility I gave you, and it was my mistake for thinking you were. A mistake I am now correcting." The witch seemed to gain a few inches of height, that or Ron shrank. "This may not be Hogwarts, but if I hear that you are hurling this kind of abuse at a fellow student over the rest of the holidays or during the upcoming term, you can be assured that you will be spending every night in detention for the rest of the year. Out!"

Ron scampered out of the library, and the professor turned to Harry. "I'm sorry, Mr. Potter. Had I known that he would be listening at the door, I would have cast a silencing charm before we had our conversation."

"You had no way of knowing that he would eavesdrop," the time-traveler returned, picking up the schedules to continue leafing through them. "Don't waste your time apologizing for his mistakes."

He heard the woman leave the room, and only then did he allow his eyes to roll. Ron's reaction is no one's fault but his own. He always was extremely defensive to anything he considered a slight against him; that's a large part of why he and Hermione had such massive rows. Maybe that will change when he finally grows up – if he ever grows up – but I'm not going to concern myself with coddling him. Not when I have much more important things to do.


Byakugan789: The actual prison is warded from Apparation and portkeys, yes, but the road leading away from the dock isn't. The magical flashbang was so the trio could get past the Aurors just far enough that they could Apparate away.

Silently Watches out.