Narcissa Malfoy apparated into Diagon Alley with a loud cracking sound. Only years and years of training in comportment kept her from frowning sadly at the sight. What had once been a busy bustling street filled with shoppers was now nearly deserted. The once thriving shops were closed with their shutters down. Nowhere was the disaster that Voldemort's rule was proving to be more apparent than in Diagon Alley.
As long as they stayed home, stuck inside their manors the purebloods could perhaps convince themselves that nothing had changed. That things were in fact much, much better now that the Dark Lord ruled Britain but all it took was one visit to Diagon Alley for the cold stark reality to smack them in the face with all the finesse of a heavy, wet dead fish.
The economy was...well there wasn't much of an economy any more. More and more businesses went bankrupt every day. They had clung on for dear life as long as they could; swallowing the assurances of the Ministry that things were going to get better any day, but there was only so long that a business could continue to stay open once a majority of its workers and customers disappear.
As she continued down the street towards Gringotts, Narcissa wished that things were different. If only…if only someone, anyone had stood up to the Dark Lord. If only someone had been able to oppose him. But no, no one had. Dumbledore, along with his cronies, was holed up at Hogwarts. The castle was no longer a school. No, it had reverted to the purpose for which it had been originally designed. It was once again a fortress.
Scrimgeour had proven to be as useless as Fudge and now he, and the few members of the original Ministry that had followed him, was in Hogwarts as well, begging for the scraps from Dumbledore's table.
Pathetic, the whole lot of them were absolutely pathetic.
Voldemort had tried of course. He had mustered his forces and attacked Hogwarts soon after he gained control of the Ministry. They had laid siege for months. Then there had been a few skirmishes. Both sides had lost people, although the attackers had of course lost a lot more as tends to happen to forces attacking a superbly fortified position.
A few Ravenclaws had done some projections. They had claimed that if the losses exceeded a certain number then not only would they no longer have the forces to hold Britain but in the worst case scenario the magical population of Great Britain would soon drop under sustainable numbers.
That had certainly thrown a large bucket of icy cold water on the fight. The calculations had even shocked Voldemort. Oh, he had ranted, raved, and thrown crucios around as they were going out of style but in the end, he could not gainsay the cold, hard, brutal facts. Attacking Hogwarts would have to wait.
They had been in a sort of cold war with the remnants of Dumbledore's forces ever since. Both sides were reluctant to engage the other. The best that Voldemort could manage was to ensure that Dumbledore stayed at Hogwarts.
The Death Eaters were not even allowed to relieve their frustrations on the muggles. The Death Eaters did not have the strength to oppose the ICW and the ICW - while the ICW did not care who was ruling Britain, they did care about the Statute of Secrecy. They had made it very clear that they would deal with any violations with swift and decisive action.
While the ICW would never bother if the occasional wizard took advantage of a muggle, a wizarding government doing it or failing to police their own citizens - That was another matter all together. After all, what the ICW did to the last wizarding Government that had openly taken large-scale action against the muggles was not something anyone wanted to see repeated. The wizards of the once great city of Tunguska could testify to that. If there had been anything left of them or the once proud city they lived in. Which there wasn't.
There wasn't even much point in stealing from muggles any longer. In the past, unscrupulous wizards had always been able to pick up a spare bit of change by stunning and looting an unsuspecting muggle. Now the goblins had stopped exchanging pounds for galleons. With the disappearance of the muggleborns not only had all trading with the muggles stopped but the goblins, who by ministry decree and treaty had been long forbidden from direct interaction with the muggle world, had also lost all their intermediaries. Who else would have willingly worked with muggles?
Muggleborns had also been the prime reason that the currency exchange even existed. They were the only ones who would ever need to convert galleons to pounds after all, to change the money they earned in the Magical world to a currency they could spend in the muggle world. Once it was clear that no one was converting from galleons to pounds any longer, the goblins had swiftly shut down their pound to galleon currency exchange counters.
Still, Narcissa did not really care about that. She would never stoop so low as to engage in muggle baiting. No, what did bother her was that the Magical World was now a dull and dreary place. She could not even partake in a quick visit to the muggle world for some entertainment. If anyone saw her heading to the muggle world for a night of Opera or the theatre...no, that did not bear thinking about. They would brand her a muggle sympathiser or worse and then not even her husband's position within the inner circle would be enough to save her.
The stupidity of the thugs that made up the majority of Voldemort's forces never ceased to amaze her. Here they were struggling to get along. The economy was in the toilet. They didn't have enough people to conquer Hogwarts. Hell, the problem was that they didn't have enough people, period. Did they do anything about that? No. Did they try to make the country more attractive to magical immigrants from other countries? No. What did they spend their time doing? They went around interrogating people on their blood status.
That woman Umbridge had to be the worst. She had wormed her way into a position of power at the Ministry and she used it to form a group of thugs called Snatchers. They were originally meant to find and detain Muggleborns. Unfortunately, for the rest of them there were no muggleborns left in Britain so now the Snatchers went around bothering whoever they could find. I mean really, did it really matter if someone had a muggleborn for a Grandparent. She knew of at least a dozen people who Umbridge had drummed out of the Ministry for precisely that fact. Did it matter to her that they only had one muggleborn for a grandparent and that the other three had been purebloods. No. That was not good enough for Madam Umbridge. Didn't she realise that a pureblood ancestry only went so far? A single muggle or muggleborn Grandparent - Hah!
While one may not want to invite such a person over for dinner there was nothing wrong with putting them to work. Why couldn't people like this Umbridge understand that? Fools, the whole lot of them. Just look at Snape for example. Even though he was only a half-blood, the Dark Lord had still made him a member of the inner circle. Why? Talent. Pure, unadulterated talent. Umbridge and people of her ilk would never understand that.
It was finally getting too much for her to bear which was the reason behind her trip to Diagon Alley that day. She was going to audit the Malfoy vaults. Hopefully, Voldemort and Lucius had not managed to squander all of what had once been a vast fortune. Hopefully, there was enough there for her to live a comfortable if not luxurious life in another country. It was high time she said farewell to England. Brazil should be lovely this time of year.
She would not regret leaving Lucius. The once proud pureblood she had married was now no more than a mere lickspittle. The fool who would let Voldemort lead them all to ruin did not deserve her sympathy. She would regret leaving Draco though. She had tried to talk to him but had found it futile. The idiot boy seemed hell bent on following in his father's footsteps. Why couldn't he see that those footsteps were leading him to penury and ruin? Voldemort would bleed them all dry before he was through. All of them, except for her.
Head held high, Narcissa Malfoy entered Gringotts.
Harry Potter was extremely nervous. The next few hours were incredibly important for his future. He was here at the central testing centre in Chicago. A pilgrimage that magical students from all over the States had to undertake at least once in their lives usually during their final year in high school. He was here for that most dreaded of events. He was here to take his MSAT.
Magical Education in the States only really kicked off after the student enrolled in college. Prior to that, most American students tended to enrol in the same schools and high schools as their non-magical peers. Of course, they usually spent the summer months learning all that they could about magic but there was really no fixed curriculum or syllabus that the magical summer camps followed. People studied whatever they were interested in and the standards varied widely from camp to camp. This was the main reason behind the MSAT. A standardised test was the only fair way to evaluate the student's college applications.
What the Mages of America had done was to ensure that their people received the very best college education that the States had to offer. This meant that they had long ago infiltrated the top American Universities and Colleges. There, unseen to non-magical eyes, existed departments of Magic in nearly every top tier University.
The true brilliance of that fact as it pertained to Harry was that it made getting into an Ivy League college that much easier for him. While, his SAT scores were extremely good his high school grades weren't as good as they could have been. His transcripts for the last few years were decent enough but they weren't quite good enough for him to get into an Ivy League school. This was mostly due to the four-year gap in his non-magical education rather than any lack of brains or talent upon his part.
He could have easily gotten into a decent state school or a second rung University but why should he settle for second best when there was a chance to get the very best education that the States had to offer.
All he had to do was get a decent enough score in his MSAT, where the M stood for Magic of course, and he could have his pick of almost any university in America. The admissions department of the magical sections of the American universities were famous for ignoring the student's non-magical grades. An MSAT score was everything.
He didn't even have to major in a magical subject. No, a minor would be good enough. This meant that if he did well enough in his MSAT he could, in theory, study something like Computer Engineering at MIT or Business at Harvard. As long as he supplemented it with a minor in a something like Enchantment or Transfiguration, he was free to study whatever non-magical subject he liked.
Personally, he was praying that he would score high enough to get into Princeton. Their warding program was the best in the country and a minor in warding would certainly help him keep himself secure. Not to mention that any non-magical degree he received from there would ensure that he would certainly be able to get a high paying job or two after college.
The testing centre was a grim place with beige walls and anti-cheating charms upon all the desks. Stone-faced proctors were busy distributing the Question papers to hundreds of students. Harry checked his supplies. He hoped a dozen number 2 pencils would be enough. The first section of the test would take five hours and would consist of multiple-choice and essay questions. He would have to come back the next day for the practical portions of the tests.
He had to restrain himself from ripping the question paper open as soon as he got it. He had to wait for the proctors to notify them when they could begin. He forced himself to keep calm, utilising some of the occlumency techniques he had picked up at camp. Soon enough the bell rang and the proctors signalled that they could begin. He opened the question paper and read the first question.
1) The ? charm can be used to repel Dementors.
e) Demonos Repellus
He grinned and tapped his charmed No 2 pencil upon the little oval marked with a 'c' in his answer sheet. It instantly filled with black to mark his answer and he turned to the next question. He hoped they would all be as easy as the first one.
Five hours later an exhausted Harry finally put down his pencil and rubbed his aching wrist. The MSAT had proven to be remarkably difficult but he thought he had done well enough. All around him, the other students were beginning to gather their supplies and leave. Some of them were discussing their answers with each other. Harry did not see the point in that. Either he had done well enough or he hadn't. What was the point in discussing it? He might as well just wait for the results. He finished putting away his pencils erasers and other paraphernalia and stood up to find himself facing a petite blonde girl. She was staring at him with an intent look that was somehow rather disconcerting.
"Why do you look like someone I think I should know?" she asked him, rather bluntly.
"Err," said Harry, feeling rather flummoxed.
"I don't remember ever meeting you before and yet there is something about you that makes me feel like I should know who you are. Why is that?" she said, staring at him all the while.
"I don't know. Have we met before? Maybe, at Summer Camp? My names Jim, Jim Dobbins," said Harry.
"No, I don't think so. I would have remembered meeting you before, I think." She paused and tilted her head to the side, studying him intently. "It's funny, you don't look like a Jim," she said.
"Uhhh, unfortunately that is my name," said Harry.
"Are you sure? Jim wouldn't be short for James would it? Somehow, I think James would fit you much better. It's still not quite right, but it fits you better than Jim," she explained before abruptly turning and walking away, leaving a startled Harry staring after her.
"Bloody Hell!" thought Harry. "What the hell was that? Did my Fidelius Charm fail? She knew. She bloody well knew my middle name was James. Is she playing with me? Is she a Death Eater? Are there more Death Eaters waiting outside to ambush me?"
He was starting to panic and staring around for the nearest exit. He would have to run. Run immediately. The Death Eaters had finally tracked him down.
He was halfway to the exit when he forced himself to slow down. "Calm down," he told himself. "What would Dr. Rivers say? You're letting your paranoia get in the way of living your life, she'd say. No, she wouldn't be happy."
Dr. Rivers was Harry's therapist who he had been seeing for a little over six months. The previous summer he had suffered from nightmares a couple of times while he was at camp. The camp counsellor had noticed and suggested he see a therapist to help him deal with his problems and Harry, after much resistance and denial, had finally gotten around to finding a muggle therapist.
He had changed the story somewhat. He had told her he was having nightmares about the death of a former classmate. Cedric, a competitor in a cross-country race organised by his previous school, had been murdered, murdered by two drug dealers who he had been unfortunate enough to stumble across during the race. They had been in the middle of a drug deal and had not been happy about having a witness. Harry had seen the whole thing and had barely escaped himself. He had made up a story about how he was in the Witness Protection Program and how he was sure that the drug dealers were still out to get him in order to stop him from testifying.
She had promptly diagnosed him to be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and had been treating him for the same for the last six months. She was also helping him to deal with his feelings of paranoia, his incessant need to always have an escape route planned out and his inability to be comfortable sitting with his back to a door.
She would not be very happy to learn that Harry had panicked after a single conversation with a young teenage girl.
"Okay," thought Harry. "First things first, I need to check if the Fidelius is still active. How do I do that? Oh, yes."
He tossed a quick muffling charm around himself just to be safe. "My name is Har-urk," he whispered out loud. "Fine, I still can't introduce myself by my name. That means that the Fidelius is still working," he realised, with an enormous sense of relief before dispelling the charm.
He walked out the door of the testing centre and looked around for that blonde girl who had so startled him. She was making her way down the street, her long blonde hair floating in the breeze.
"Okay," he thought. "If the Fidelius is still active then there's no way she could know who I am. That whole Jim – James things must just be a coincidence. If she's not a Death Eater and my Fidelius charm is still active then...then...then a ridiculously cute blonde girl just came up and talked to me."
He stared off into space for a moment, thinking furiously.
"A gorgeous blonde just came up to you to talk. She's obviously interested in you. What are you going to do about it? Are you going to let your paranoia stop you from living your life? No, hell no," he told himself.
He raced after the blonde and came to a stop next to where she was standing on the street.
"Hey," he blurted out, giving her a bit of a start. "You never did tell me what your name was."
She turned to him and gave him an appraising look. "Luna," she said. "My name is Luna Lovegood."
"Well, Luna, how about we go and grab a cup of coffee. I know I could use one after that exam."
She didn't say anything for a long moment and Harry was steeling himself for disappointment and rejection when she said - "I think I'd prefer a Gillywater, actually. There's a place not too far from here on Michigan Avenue that makes a rather nice one."
"Oh, great - I don't think I've ever had a Gillywater," said Harry.
An hour later, Harry was entranced. Luna was a little strange at times but she was also smart and clever, incredibly insightful and ridiculously witty. She was a year younger than he was and was still taking the same exams as him, which just illustrated exactly how brilliant she was. She was also planning to attend an American University and wanted to either become a journalist like her father or a crypto zoologist. She had yet to decide. She hoped that she might be able to do both.
There had been an awkward moment when she brought up the fact that she used to attend Hogwarts. That had almost been enough to send Harry running out the door but luckily he had managed to restrain himself. He wondered how on earth it was possible that he had never noticed her at Hogwarts. After all, they must have been at the same school for three years. Of course, he had always kept mostly to himself and at Hogwarts for whatever reason students never interacted much with the students in other Houses outside of class. Even within Gryffindor, apart from the boys in his dorm, Hermione, the Weasleys and the Quidditch team, he barely knew anybody, so perhaps that was it. Still, it was quite surprising that he had never noticed her before. She was a rather unique girl after all.
He didn't say any of that of course. Jim Dobbins had been born and brought up in America and had never so much as set foot in England. That was his current story and faint traces of an English accent or not he was going to stick to it.
He shook his head and forced his attention back on the conversation with Luna. He had a job to do. He had to get her to agree to go on a proper date with him after all.
A/N: So what exactly is happening with Luna and the Fidelius Charm? I have no idea. I do know that in the Deathly Hallows, Luna was able to see right through Harry's polyjuice disguise at the Weasley wedding. She didn't even seem to notice it was there. I don't think that was explained either.