A/N: Happy New Years Eve, guys!
Anti-Litigation Charm: I do not own.
It was strange for Harry to see Selenius tackle Sirius when they ventured down to the kitchen for dinner. Harry was used to having his godfather to himself—the one person who was like a real parent to him, who he didn't have to share with other siblings the way he did with the Weasleys—and to see that he now had what amounted to a little half-brother vying for Sirius's attention was a new experience. Harry wasn't sure what to think. But the moment Selenius released him, Sirius's arms were around him in a giant bear hug, and Harry grinned with relief that he hadn't been forgotten.
Hermione was there as well, and Harry let out a breath he hadn't realized he had been holding that Snape was not. Bill and Fleur were also there, and the tension between Mrs. Weasley and her future daughter-in-law was palpable, manifesting in a bit of a hash over the Wizarding Wireless.
Remus was there as well, looking as ill-drawn as ever, but he looked surprisingly happy. It took a moment for Harry to realize the significance of the fact that Tonks was ruffling his hair and kissing him on the cheek, or the fact that Hermione was giving the werewolf a sort of smug, self-satisfied smile, as though she had known something all along. Harry watched her closely—or as closely as he could without garnering suspicion—and saw Gaunt's ugly old ring on her finger flash every so often as she moved her hand, whether it was to pick up a mug of eggnog or to tuck a strand of curly hair out of her face.
Crookshanks seemed to follow Selenius around wherever he went, and when they sat down in the living room for a loosely-organized dinner, curled up on Selenius's lap and refused to let him budge off the floor. Hermione and Sirius were talking with Remus in an undertone near the fire, though Harry knew it couldn't be a serious discussion or they would have taken it elsewhere. Fred and George were teaching Selenius to play Exploding Snap, which Harry and Ron joined in. The sound of cards blowing up and the smell of singed hair occasionally permeated the otherwise quiet, peaceful evening. Ginny was adding more paper links to the decorations around the room, and Crookshanks eventually padded over to see what she was up to when he became fed up with cards exploding in his face.
Harry fell over backwards in time to avoid having his glasses blown off his face again, and he and the other players devolved into helpless laughter as they set themselves to rights again. Harry chanced a glance over at the three Marauders, and for a moment, was struck by an odd feeling that something was missing. For a moment, he saw himself and Ron sitting in Sirius and Remus' place—the way they would have been, had things stayed the same, had Hermione not gone back in time—and now he saw just how much he and Ron had been pushed away from Hermione's inner circle of friends. There was an enormous gap between them now, and he felt an odd bit of jealousy and heartrending at the realization.
Ron was giving him a strange look, as though he was wondering why Harry seemed so far away, and then cast a furtive glance over at the three by the fire—and then Harry saw his expression transform into one that remarkably copied Harry's own feelings on the matter.
"It happens," Ron said, as Fred collected the cards and began dealing them out again. "Can't be helped sometimes…"
Selenius stood up. "I need to go to bed," he said, snapping his fingers at Crookshanks, who quickly stood up and trotted over to him, winding around his ankles.
"What? It's not even nine," Ron said, surprised.
"I'm tired," Selenius said, by way of explanation.
"No problem," Harry said, keeping his tone perfectly neutral. "Good night."
They watched him head up the stairs, with the ginger half-kneazle following close behind, and then Ron shook his head.
"He doesn't even act like a first-year sometimes. Too responsible," he said loftily. "Oi, Ginny! We've got an open spot."
Harry felt his face heat up as Ginny rushed to take Selenius's place, and mentally thanked Selenius for the opening. He and Ginny were together, and Ron was being remarkably good about it, but it was still awkward for him to ask her to join the two of them. To be the one to insist that Ginny join him, when it wasn't just him, but when Ron would be expected to stick around and endure it.
When Harry and Ron finally went up to bed, half-shooed half-cued away when Mrs. Weasley began turning up the volume on the Wizarding Wireless to drown out Fleur's attempt to copy Celestina Warbeck's number, it was to find Selenius lying on his camp bed with an open book.
"I thought you were going to sleep," Harry said, as he undressed for bed.
"Not with the racket going on downstairs," Selenius responded without looking up from his book. "If I have to hear 'A Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love' one more time…"
There was a sudden shout from downstairs that caused them all to jump. Selenius sat up, alert, and Ron hastily pulled up his pajama bottoms before sticking his head out the door and peering down the stairwell, where Fred and George could be seen a floor down, heads bent as they leaned over the railing.
"What's going on?" Ron whispered, as Harry joined him.
"Dunno," Fred said, looking up at them, and then toward George. "Reckon we should try the old Extendables?"
"Would be downright immoral thing to do," George responded sagely, as he pulled the flesh-colored strings from his pocket and began lowering it. Harry and Ron quickly slipped down to their landing, followed by Selenius, and divided up the strings amongst themselves. George didn't have to lower the other end very far, before they got a very good earful of what was being said.
"Do I look like I give a damn, Sirius?"
"You're putting everything on the line for the Malfoy boy!"
"For reasons I can't give—"
"It's for Snape, isn't it?" Sirius said accusingly, his voice hushed. The initial volume of their argument had become subdued, but was no less heated. "Malfoy is Snape's godson, that's—"
"I said I have my reasons!" Hermione's voice was low, and dangerously close to a hiss. "But I can't leave the country without garnering suspicion, and I can't send an owl. It's not secure, and I wouldn't have an excuse. But you remember Faulkner, Sirius. That's why I need you to find him."
"I could send Kreacher," Sirius remarked sullenly, but it was clear that he didn't think much of the idea.
Harry heard Hermione pause, and then she said quietly, "Actually, you could."
"I—what?" Sirius asked, as though she had lost her mind.
"Kreacher has more respect for the Malfoy family than he does for you. If he knows we're doing this to protect one of them… the heir, especially… this could work in our favor. Might even endear us to him, really…"
"Why would I care about the good graces of the deranged little blighter?" Sirius sniped.
Hermione murmured a response that sounded suspiciously like something Harry had heard all too often, back when she had been promoting SPEW.
"You're mad," Sirius said muttered. Harry recognized his tone; it was the kind of voice Harry had come to recognize from someone who had lost an argument with Hermione. It was a familiar phenomenon. "This is insane…"
"Then bring Kreacher here," Hermione said, but quickly reversed herself. "Scratch that, I'll stop by Grimmauld Place tomorrow," she said brightly.
Harry, Fred, Ron, and George all exchanged looks. Selenius frowned, deep in thought, not quite present as he absorbed the conversation. There was a sudden creak, and George quickly began pulling up the Extendable Ear, just in case it was someone coming into the stairwell. He realized a bit late that it wasn't, but that it was rather the sound of the front door opening and shutting, as Hermione left after a muffled farewell to the few adults still downstairs.
Harry awoke the next morning to something flat and pointed smacking onto his bed, and he groggily sat up in time to realize that Ron was eagerly going through his Christmas stocking, and had tossed one of Harry's gifts onto his bed. He fumbled around for his glasses, and put them on in time to see Ron tearing the wrapping paper off the sweater his mother had knit for him.
"Prezzies!" he said happily.
Harry leaned over for the stocking at the end of his bed, and quickly began unwrapping them.
"Oy," Ron said, suddenly looking around. "Where's Selenius?"
Harry leaned over his bed to look at the first-year's unmade camp bed, and saw that his stocking had been emptied over it. A pile of sweets were neatly stacked in one corner, with a Christmas note from Sirius. It was guarded by a wooden dragon carving, which Harry knew had to be from Hagrid. Everything else had been put organized rather haphazardly over the sheets. A colorful box of products from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, with an open letter taped to the outside, which ended in the words Love, Mum in Hermione's neat scrawl. A pair of Quidditch gloves, which Harry had bought him on a whim. There was the familiar wrapping that Mrs. Weasley used, which Harry figured meant that she had given Selenius a sweater.
Harry felt like there was something missing from the pile, as he slowly unwrapped his own gifts (a refilled Broomstick Polishing Kit from Sirius, an expensive-looking Sneakoscope from Hermione), and it wasn't until he had pulled on his socks and stood up to go downstairs for breakfast that he realized what it was.
There was a carefully peeled-back envelope lying tucked underneath the candy, missing its letter, and Harry bent down and turned it over. Snape's spiky scrawl cut through the paper.
To Selenius. Love, Dad.
"Whazzat?" Ron asked, through a mouthful of chocolate cauldrons Sirius had given him.
Harry felt his stomach lurch oddly, feeling as though he had trespassed on something very important and private that he was not meant to see, as he quietly tucked the envelope back underneath the candy pile. They both finished unwrapping their things, and were tugging on their new sweaters when they finally made it down the stairs. The first thing Harry saw was the midnight-blue, diamond-patterned hat Mrs. Weasley was sporting; the second thing he realized was that the Minister of Magic was sitting at the table with Percy Weasley. Beside him, Ron stumbled to a halt, and out of the corner of his eye, Harry could see his freckled face turning red as he took in the sight of his estranged brother.
The table was somewhat subdued by the unexpected presence, but almost before Harry had finished taking in Scrimgeour's appearance, the Minister stood up, dabbing at his mouth with a napkin before coming around the table. Harry noticed that Percy didn't move an inch—he sat at the table like a child waiting to be excused, stiff-backed and awkward. Fred and George were eyeing him with dislike, and Harry rather suspected that Percy would be subject to one of more of their untested joke items before he was finally allowed to leave.
Selenius was sitting hunched over in his chair in his new red-and-gold sweater, cradling Crookshanks in his lap and eyeing the Minister balefully. He was half-hidden behind Sirius, who Harry could tell had not yet stood up to order him out because he didn't want to leave Selenius exposed. Better he be the first thing the Minister laid eyes on, rather than his youngest godson.
There was a moment of stiff silence as Harry stood almost toe to toe with the lion-like man, and then Scrimgeour extended a hand.
"I've been waiting for several months to have the opportunity to speak to you, Harry. Would you mind showing me around the yard while we have a little chat?"
Harry didn't take his hand, but eyed the Minister up and down, assessing him.
"Okay," he said at last.
He exchanged glances with Ron, and Ginny looked as though she might have liked to stand up and follow, but thankfully had the good sense to remain in her seat. Sirius looked as though he would have quite liked to insist on coming, but refrained. Molly and Arthur were the only ones who didn't look enormously worried, which put Harry at ease just a bit as they stepped out into the frozen yard.
"Your godmother is quite a remarkable woman," Scrimgeour began conversationally, as they ambled off a ways, stopping by the garden fence. "She was the one who gave me leave to speak to you. At last."
Hermione hadn't warned him about that. Harry frowned suspiciously and Scrimgeour, sensing his distrust, reached into the pocket of his robes to retrieve a letter. Harry took it, unfolding it. He recognized Hermione's handwriting immediately, and Scrimgeour continued to speak as Harry's eyes slowly scrolled down.
He felt rather than heard Buckbeak stride up behind him, when the great beast nudged Harry in the back so forcefully that he nearly tripped over a gnome hole.
"Beautiful creature," Scrimgeour said with all the tact of a diplomat, trying not to blink as the hippogriff turned a beady eye onto him, his head cocked in bird-like consternation. "Madam Snape has gone out of her way to advise me to be as forthright with you as possible, so I shall cut to the chase," Scrimgeour continued, with a tight smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "The war against You-Know-Who is at an impasse, but we are making progress. Public opinion of us continues to fluctuate, but for you. Everyone is looking up to you, Harry, and we need all the support we can get."
Harry nodded slowly, folding up Hermione's letter and patting Buckbeak on the neck. "You want me to show support for the Ministry, so that the people who believe in me will also support you?"
"How well do you think the Ministry's doing?" Scrimgeour prompted, and Harry thought he rather heard a slight note of pride in his voice. "This is confidential, mind you, but we're constantly flushing out spies and turning them. We've saved countless lives, both magical and muggle, and Great Britain is still relatively stable despite the threat. There hasn't been a single successful attack in Diagon Alley since last August—"
"No," Harry said. There was a crackle as the letter in his hand let out a papery protest at being squeezed. "The Hogwarts Express was attacked by a dragon in September. What have you been doing about that?"
He saw Scrimgeour's brow furrow, and knew that he had been expecting a little more understanding from him, but Harry didn't care. He could handle himself, and perhaps Hermione was starting to rub off on him, but there had been countless other students on that train, and the Ministry had made no effort to protect them—no Aurors, no guard stationed on the train. If Hermione hadn't been there, the ensuing wreck alone would have probably killed most of them, never mind what would have happened after that.
"Yes," Scrimgeour admitted heavily, and Harry could see it was taking quite a bit out of him to concede this. "That was extremely short-sighted of us. We've assigned a pair of Aurors to the train since then, and will continue to do so until the threat of He Who Must Not Be Named is… past."
"So," Harry said casually, "if you're doing so well, why do you need me?"
"Because people are frightened," Scrimgeour stated. "They don't understand why the Ministry hasn't done more—hasn't been able to do more—and we can hardly give them our reasons without playing our hand. Part of what protects us is the fact that the other side is in the dark. If we tell them that the Ministry hasn't the manpower to protect Wizarding Britain against a mass attack of giants and dementors, we might as well sign our own death certificates."
Harry found himself quietly thinking that Scrimgeour had a point.
"But the people must have faith in us, Harry. We need their cooperation. And that's where you come in."
Harry glanced down at the letter in his hands, thinking rapidly. Hermione had given the Minister permission to seek him out, but to what end? He knew she was pulling strings in the Ministry—Harry suspected that Scrimgeour's purpose in all of this was to act as her puppet, a figurehead for her, while she did what Voldemort himself had been hoping to do, which was to control the Ministry from behind the scenes. Scrimgeour had still made a convincing argument, and if Harry was honest with himself, he rather thought that the Ministry was doing a much better job than he had actually hoped for.
"Alright," Harry said at last.
"You'll do it?" Scrimgeour asked, looking extraordinarily pleased. "Excellent, excellent."
"But it has to be on my terms," Harry said determinedly, stuffing Hermione's letter back into Scrimgeour's hand. "I won't be paraded about. If you want a statement from me, it has to be because I want to give it. I won't be the Ministry's puppet."
He saw Scrimgeour frown slightly at this, but then it disappeared, and Harry knew that Scrimgeour had decided that this was the most he was going to get from The Chosen One at this time. Harry wasn't about to trust the Ministry blindly—it had seemed so much more efficient and purposeful when he had been much younger, but by the time he was fifteen, any delusions he had clung tightly to had been destroyed by stark reality. He agreed that Scrimgeour was making several fine points now, but he wasn't committing himself indefinitely, and would proceed with caution.
The idea of him proceeding with caution made him laugh.
"I think we'll get along very well, Minister."
Buckbeak let out a low screech that could have been mistaken for laughter.