You know the song: everything belongs to JK Rowling. Only the Congregation and a few side characters are my own.
This story is the sequel to „Second Chances". I'll write about the events of Harry's fifth year at Hogwarts. In "Second Chances" I wrote about his fourth year and mostly followed the canon events. The most important differences were:
- Harry has been adopted into the Greengrass family at the age of fourteen
- Harry was able to catch Peter Pettigrew alive and Sirius now gets his trial at last (Cedric lives)
- Dumbledore has been sacked (Filius Flitwick is the new Headmaster at Hogwarts)
The stories are slightly AU with a manipulative Molly Weasley, an extremely jealous/angry Ron and a Dumbledore who is willing to use Charms and every other tool to further his plans.
To avoid confusion for new readers:
The maiden name of Roxanne Greengrass (the Mother of Daphne and Astoria) was Pinegrew. It's the name her mother, Agatha Pinegrew, still wears and sometimes she gets addressed as Roxanne Pinegrew. She lives at Pinegrew Manor with her husband Cyrus, her daughters and Harry.
Pairings: Harry/Daphne, Hermione/Neville (lesser: Draco/Astoria and Blaise/Tracey)
Harry Potter and the Congregation of the Asp
Pinegrew Manor – Harry's room – 11th of June 1995
"He's a wonderful boy, Lily."
It was a gorgeous summer day, comfortably warm with a light breeze and only a few clouds dotting the iron blue sky. Harry and Daphne had left an hour ago to use the time until tea for a bit of flying – and kissing as Roxanne assumed. She was happy to watch her daughter and godson together, much more confident in their relationship now after months of having to endure the meddling of Molly Weasley and Albus Dumbledore. But that was a part of the past, and now they could enjoy each other's company without any fear of love potions or mind-altering charms. She had 'the talk' with both of them already, not that she really thought it would be necessary for the moment. But a mother had to be careful.
She would be there for them next year. While she had only been an 'interims professor' last year, meant to help out Filius Flitwick as he became the new Headmaster after the sacking of Albus Dumbledore, the board of governors had accepted her appointment as the regular Charms Professor at Hogwarts. For a few years she would only teach the classes up to fifth years, while Filius would work with the NEWT students and help her finish her education as a Charms Mistress. Until last summer she had always expected to continue her healer education someday, something she started before Daphne was born. But now she really liked to teach, especially with a caring Headmaster like Filius to help her along.
For a moment Roxanne was fuming as she remembered what happened five months ago. Dumbledore had tried to separate Daphne and Harry, dreamed about getting Harry together with Ginny Weasley, a dream shared with his partner-in-crime Molly Weasley. He even dared to use potions and charms in his attempt to manipulate them, and in the end it had been so oppressing to the poor Weasley-girl that she tried to escape the manipulations of her Headmaster and her mother through suicide. Only the timely use of a rare healing spell – cast by Daphne with the help of the twins and done with a great risk to all three – had brought her back to life. Since then, as far as Roxanne knew, Molly Weasley hadn't been allowed back into the Weasley home. And Albus Dumbledore had been sacked after a grandiose trial in the Great Hall of Hogwarts.
It had been the third time Daphne had used her special healing powers since she started to follow this part of her destiny. And while Roxanne was happy to know about this side of her daughter, she was afraid too. Her spirit healing powers were especially dangerous to her if not used properly, and Daphne had already shown that the welfare of her friends was more important to her than her own. A trait she certainly shared with her boyfriend.
"He seems to be happy," Lily answered.
The woman with the fiery-red hair and the emerald eyes smiled down from the picture. It was a marvel of magic, created not even a year ago. Unlike the Headmaster pictures at Hogwarts this one hadn't been created during the lifetime of the painted person – or persons, as it showed both parents of Harry – but many years after their deaths. It wasn't through the participation of Lily and James Potter but the memories of friends and foes added to the painting that had made it possible to interact with it. They were still gathering new memories from old friends, colleagues and Order members, to add to the picture – its mental 'performance' depended of the amount and diversity of memory input – but a week ago it already had been enough to awaken the painting. Since then Harry spent every morning and most evenings with his parents. And sometimes they got a visit from Roxanne, too.
"Yes," Roxanne responded with a soft and content smile. "Since Sirius has been acquitted, he's grinning all day."
It had only been two days ago that Sirius Black had been cleared of all charges. With Peter Pettigrew's testimony, even the most doubting critic had to admit that a great injustice had been committed thirteen years ago. He was free now, free to live in the open and to spend time with his godson. Sirius was happy enough about this to forget – at least for now – about Dumbledore's part in his detention to Azkaban – or better his lack of activity, as he neither tried to stop Crouch senior thirteen years ago nor was willing to help Sirius to clear his name one year ago.
"Sirius wants to live at Potter Manor for now. Remus is still working there at his library project and Sirius apparently likes your old summer house."
Lily nodded: "I wasn't surprised to hear from him that he had no intention to go back to Black Manor. He never liked it, hated the memories clinging to the dark house. He was thinking about offering the house to Narcissa after her summer vacation with Draco. I think she would match far better with such a location. And Kreacher always adored her."
"I still can't really believe it that she wants to be a Black again." Roxanne hesitated for a moment and shook her head. "No, I can believe it, but I never expected her to do it even now. Perhaps after Draco finished Hogwarts, but now?" She grinned evilly. "I would love to be a fly at the wall when she tells precious Lucius that she leaves him." At the beginning she had been surprised to watch the new Narcissa. She had been flabbergasted that morning in Hogsmeade when Narcissa had addressed Nymphadora Tonks for the first time, begged her to present her compliments to her mother Andromeda – Narcissa's sister. It had been the first contact between both women in twenty years. Since then both sisters had been seeing each other – without the knowledge of Lucius so far. And then – a few months ago – she had started to speak with Sirius in his capacity as Lord Black.
Lily sighed. "I never really liked her in my youth, was never her friend as you have been. But she didn't deserve a husband like Lucy. Nobody deserves a husband like him."
"She changed, Lily. She really changed. I don't know what happened and when but since last summer she had been thinking about leaving her husband. I assume a big point is her son. And with 'his' return it is only more urgent to get Draco away from his father. He'll be a sour point in all of this. Lucius will try in every possible way to get a hold on Draco. And I fear he'll succeed with Draco being the sole heir to the Malfoy bloodline."
"The same accounts for you, Roxanne. You know Cyrus; you know how he has been the last time Voldemort was around. You have to protect your daughters from his influence."
"I know," Roxanne answered sourly. "Since I saw him at the cemetery, I wasn't able to think about anything else."
For a while she stayed silent, pondered about that day. With the false Moody revealed, they had hoped that the third task would be less dangerous for Harry. But they had been wrong. Crouch junior had still been able to abduct Harry. He brought him to the cemetery of Little Hangleton and – together with Pettigrew – brought Voldemort back to life. Only the rescue party – Agatha, Daphne, Roxanne and her cousin Ana Hernandez – had been the reason that Harry was free and still alive. Voldemort had been able to flee, but they had caught Peter Pettigrew. And Crouch was dead, killed by his own spell, reflected from a shield cast by Harry to protect his godmother.
He had been shocked. It had been the first human he had killed. Roxanne grimaced as she remembered Dumbledore. It had been one of the few good deeds of the former Headmaster, even if unintentionally. Hearing about the fight and Crouch junior's death he had been scolding Harry, mumbling something about the danger of turning dark, rambling about the use of stunning spells. The whole nonsense had been stupid enough to make Harry so angry that he had been able to overcome his grief.
"Don't be so crestfallen. Harry will help you to protect them."
"I know," Roxanne showed a weak smile. "They're extremely protective of each other – Harry and Daphne. And I'm happy that Astoria is closer to them now than last Christmas. But… I only wished there wouldn't be a reason to be this protective."
"They have you and your family. Remus and Sirius will do their best – and Remus little girlfriend too." Lily had been happy to learn about the blossoming relation between her friend Remus and the clumsy Auror Tonks. "Do they have other close friends – Harry and Daphne, I mean."
"Yes," Roxanne nodded. "Daphne is very close with Tracey Davis and Blaise Zabini. You'll meet them in a few weeks. And naturally there are Neville Longbottom and Hermione Granger. They'll spend the second half of the summer break at Pinegrew Manor."
"Neville, I remember him as a little toddler. I was close to his parents, you know? I'm very sad about their condition. And who is this Hermione Granger?"
"Harry's very best friend. You'll love her. She is very much like you: Muggleborn, strong-headed, a bit stubborn and fiery sometimes. Extremely loyal and she loves Harry like a brother. She's an only child and like Harry she always wanted a sibling. Harry and Hermione more or less adopted each other as brother and sister. Luckily she is good friends with Daphne too. All four are really close, much like the Marauders back then – without the traitor naturally," her face darkened. She hated Peter Pettigrew nearly as much as Sirius and Remus did, and had been a bit disappointed that he had been sentenced to Azkaban and not to the veil. At least he was wearing a bracelet that denied him the possibility to escape in his Animagus form like Sirius did. "There are some others too. They have friends in all houses, Susan Bones, Luna Lovegood and Padma Patil being the closest, I suppose. But our 'four riders of trouble' are a category in itself."
"I'm happy that he found a family here," Lily sighed.
Suddenly a knock interrupted them and a second later Cyrus Greengrass entered the room. His face still showed how angry he was. He had been furious to hear about Harry's substantial donation of money gathered after the sell to victims of the Basilisk. Cyrus had hoped to get a hold on the money himself. He needed it and certainly he believed that he deserved it far more than some students, most of them Mudbloods in fact. It was bad enough that they had survived the Basilisk attack two years ago. Certainly it wasn't appropriate to throw this amount of money at them. Nearly 100,000 Galleons the Goblins had offered for the cadaver of the Basilisk from the Chamber of Secrets – he nearly fainted every time he thought about the sum.
With much effort he showed a polite smile. "Your guests arrived, Roxanne. I'll leave in an hour. Lucius is expecting me. I'll stay there for a while."
Roxanne nodded slightly, partially to hide her frown. How could he live in the same house, not only with Lucius but Voldemort too? As far as she knew from Severus, he had chosen Malfoy Manor as his new Headquarter. She had to be really careful around her husband in the future. "Give him my greeting. Enjoy your evening." She hated Lucius with a passion, despised the man and his worldview. But he had been her political ally in the 'Dumbledore case' and until she knew more about the repercussions of Voldemort's return, she wasn't willing to cut all ties.
"I have to go, Lily."
Hogwarts – Greenhouses – same time
Neville whistled away to himself, with much enthusiasm and not too bad. It was one of the traits Hermione didn't like too much about him. It too often disturbed her reading. But at least he had been able to soothe her with a shy smile or a kiss every time until now.
He was working at one of the greenhouses that belonged to Hogwarts. Not even a handful of students were at the school these days, only those that had to repeat some exam or – like him – were working on a special project. Because of his intended education Madam Sprout had allowed him to use this greenhouse all for himself. She had helped him repair it and now he was working on some flower beds. Hermione and Luna had promised him to return from their vacations with some flower seeds and he wished to be ready in advance. Neville looked around and sighed. He was nearly finished with his work. The simple work was helping to sooth his mind and allowed him to rethink what he had read the last few days.
In consultation with Madam Sprout he would approach his OWL in Herbology in six weeks already, nine months before the others. It was the first step towards his intended position as the new Junior Teacher. It had been one of the many changes at Hogwarts to introduce this position. Every teacher was allowed to take a Junior Teacher at his side, which was meant to mostly teach the classes one to five. The main teacher would help, especially with the OWL, would train with the NEWT students and offer special lessons for gifted students. Some of them like Professor Snape would use a part of their new spare time to produce Potions and items, meant to be sold, the earnings going towards the school budget.
Professor Snape had been the first teacher to hire someone: Penelope Clearwater. She was very young – had only finished Hogwarts a year ago – but she was well-liked by the younger students and even Snape seemed to be content: If only because he hadn't to spend any more time with the dunderheads. To Neville's regret, Snape would be teaching his OWL class next year, because Miss Clearwater wasn't ready for that assignment yet.
Sometimes Neville felt afraid of the future. In two months he would be in the classroom again, but not only as a student. While he continued most of his classes with the others, he would get his Herbology NEWT class in private coaching and help Madam Sprout to teach the first and second years. She believes in me, I can do this.
Another look around: Finished. It was nearly time to depart. Today he wouldn't have time to work on his Animagus training. In preparation of the lessons in August Agatha Pinegrew had given him some books and instructed him which exercises he had to do. Two hours of Animagus training, at least six hours of Herbology, two of them with Madam Sprout – that had been his schedule for the last two weeks and would be for the rest of the month. His grandma had been a bit disappointed about the lack of time together, but she agreed he needed to use his time in the best possible way. And she was so proud of him now.
Neville's sigh was a happy one. Since Ana Hernandez had noticed that his lack of magical strength was a result of a misalignment spell, followed by the Pinegrews' removal of the spell, he had made much progress. He still wasn't on par with Harry, Hermione or Daphne, but he was certainly closing the gap. And it helped his self-confidence. Neville grinned. He had even improved in Potions and now Snape didn't hate him as much as before. Less melted cauldrons do this to a Potions Master.
As he walked towards the castle to wash his hands and change into clean clothes, he thought about the afternoon. They expected him at Pinegrew Manor. He would see them again, not only Harry and Daphne but Hermione too. Hermione – he paled slightly. Neville was still unsure about his plans regarding her. Hermione – being one of the oldest students of their year – was already fifteen. He would be too in three weeks. Augusta – being not only his grandma, but also the Longbottom matriarch and Hermione's magical guardian since last winter – already had assented with his intention to offer Hermione his ring at his birthday.
Would she say yes? Would she understand? While it was not unusual to engage at the age of fifteen among pureblood families, Neville knew that Muggle families – and wizard families with strong Muggle ties – normally waited longer to take this step. He had only been her boyfriend for less than a year, but he had known her since they were eleven and for him there was no doubt that she would be the one. Would she say yes?
House Granger – same time
Only twelve books, Hermione sighed. Her mother had been adamant about it: You're only allowed to take twelve books with you. Two of them would be books about the Animagus spell. While she wouldn't be able to cast the spell, she was more than determined to help Neville as much as possible. In the beginning – eight months ago, right after the testing – she had been more than a bit disappointed to hear that she lacked the talent or at least the mindset to be an Animagus. But since then she had been able to get over that point. Neville and Harry would learn to change their form and their girlfriends would stay firmly at their sides.
Daphne – for her it had been even more complicated. Able to use the spell – not really surprising with the Transfiguration talent running high in the Pinegrew family – but denied the possibility nonetheless: Her aunt had explained that the mindset of an Animagus was the opposite of the one she had to develop to be a Spirit Healer. She had to decide: Animagus or Spirit Healer, family tradition or developing an extremely rare skill, something useful and 'cool' or the ability to help people like precious few people could.
The decision hadn't been easy to her but still clear at the end. And this was even before she learned about the chance to heal Neville's parents. Harry had told Hermione about their visit to Neville's parents three months ago. He had been terrified to 'watch' Daphne in the mind of Alice Longbottom, terrified to lose her to the unconscious fears of the witch. But he was determined to help her. Harry had made Hermione promise not to speak with Neville about it, but they hoped to be ready for a second try to heal Alice before the end of the summer.
Neville – I hope so that you'll see your mother again.
She would see her boyfriend this afternoon again. She would take a little break of her summer vacation preparations to make this visit. Hermione smiled softly. Six months ago it had been a ruse to speak with Claire Roussevalle, one of the Beauxbatons students, about her home city Orleans. She wanted to distract the girl from some spells Daphne wanted to cast on her, and so she had asked her about the places of interest of Orleans.
But she had really liked their conversations and so the idea formed in her mind to actually visit the city. It hadn't been difficult to convince her parents. On the contrary they had been enjoyed to spend some time with their daughter. And so they would depart in three days only to return the day before Neville's birthday. She still needed a present for him, but hoped to find something in France – apart from the promised flower seeds. Perhaps she would even visit Claire. She had already written her twice since the end of the school year and the departure of the Beauxbatons delegation.
Hermione blushed as she thought about another book she wanted to take with her. It had been given to her from Augusta: 'Customs of the Wizarding – Engagement and Marriage'. It had been part of Augusta's purpose to teach Hermione about the customs of this magical world that was still so foreign to her in many ways. But this exact title still troubled her a bit. Was she ready to deal with this?
Without answering the question to herself she addressed the last stack of books: Muggle sciences. She had promised to reread her old books and prepare some mindlink lessons with her friends. Most of the topics she knew well enough, but naturally she loved to be prepared as good as possible. Astoria would be part of the lessons too. She knew about the mindlink and was even more interested in the topic than her older sister.
Hopefully 'his' return won't influence her, Hermione pondered. She had loved to watch how Astoria had changed from a cold bastard into a caring sister to Daphne and Harry. But with Lucius Malfoy following you-know-who and Draco Malfoy being engaged to Astoria, this closeness could well change for the worse.
I'll hope for the best, Daphne.
House Lovegood – same time
Luna felt giddy with happiness. Tomorrow she would leave for New Zealand together with her father. They would visit the Ruapehu and hopefully she would be able to watch the Crumple-Horned Snorkacks at last. So long she had hoped to see them; so long she had hoped that her father would get his wish. They had been deeply disappointed last year after their visit to Iceland. Her father Xenophilius had been so certain that the magical creatures live on the Iceland, but there had been no sign of them. For weeks he had been depressed and for months he had been unwilling to make new travel plans.
But then the third task happened. One of the obstacles Harry had to overcome had been a Sphinx. And like her sisters this one wished to have some riddles answered. Harry had already succeeded, as she offered him a special chance.
"Do you want to solve another riddle? If you don't solve it, you aren't allowed to pass. But if you're successful, I'll have a message for your little riddle friend. It is your decision, Harry Potter. What shall it be: Pass or riddle?"
His little riddle friend had been her, because she had helped him to prepare for tasks like that, asking riddles while Hermione and Daphne sent curses and bludgers his way in the training lessons. Harry had accepted the chance and had solved the riddle.
"What she searched on Iceland last summer wasn't there because they like to visit volcano eruptions. Instead they had been at Mount Etna. And this year she should think about a visit to the Ruapehu."
And really: There had been a volcano eruption at the Ruapehu this year like there had been a year ago at the Mount Etna. Luna was still shocked that Harry had risked this to help her. But he had done exactly that. He had been her friend – a friend like Daphne, Neville and Hermione. They all had been at her side the last months, protected her from Ron's insults and the pranks of her housemates. Hermione had been able to offer her some maps about New Zealand and Daphne had searched for some spells that would help her, especially one charm that would protect her father and her from the toxic fumes around the volcano.
Yes, the last year had been good to her.
The Burrow – same time
With a happy smile Arthur Weasley watched his children. With Charlie back for a few days – he was doing a stopover before he met with Fleur Delacour and her family – Ginny and the twins decided to use the opportunity for a little family Quidditch.
It was the first time in a long time that his daughter looked and seemed really relaxed. To be exact, he didn't even know when she had been like this before – certainly not in the past three years. With the events around the Chamber of Secrets and Molly's constant harassing about 'getting closer to Harry', she had been depressed most of the time and tense around her family. Not even the twins had been able to alter this. Only Charlie sometimes got her out of her shell, but he was in Romania most of the time.
Since her suicide attempt four months ago she had stayed at home, in the beginning with the twins and since spring break with her father alone. Alright, not completely alone, because Remus Lupin had visited them three times a week to help with her studies. In six weeks, when the new school year started, she would be able to continue with her education. She still feared her return a bit, but she would have friends helping her.
Arthur sighed. He owed the Pinegrews so much. Owed to a family Albus had only been speaking badly about for months since they learned about Harry's adoption. The former Headmaster had – with the help of Molly – tried his best to separate Harry and his new family. Luckily he didn't succeed. Not only had Daphne been the one to rescue his little girl, but Harry and his friends had written countless letters to her, telling her to be happy again and that they still were her friends. They had provided Remus'help for Ginny's training. And Arthur – having taken an unpaid leave from his work for a few months, had only started to work again two weeks ago. It had only been possible because Roxanne had given him some money to compensate for his missing wage. She alone knew about it, and it had been hard enough to accept.
"Stop it right now, Arthur," Roxanne had fumed right there in the sitting room. "I know you don't want pity. I know you have your pride and that you want to care for your family alone. But this isn't about you or me, this is about Ginny. Your daughter needs you now like never before. She needs you every day, every hour. We'll find a way to repay this, but for now please accept this money Arthur. Nothing is more important than our children, not our wealth, not our life and certainly not our pride."
She had been right and in the end he accepted.
After another glance at his children Arthur stared at the letter he was holding in his hands again. He had received it two days ago and was still unsure about it.
Dear Mister Weasley,
At the behest of Mister Harry Potter I wish to inform you about some business transactions that concern your family. Two years ago, as you'll remember, a Basilisk had been at the school of Hogwarts. Its existence had been a danger to all students and teachers, but some of them had been more affected than others.
One month ago the cadaver of this Basilisk has been salvaged. The greater part of the money is meant to be given to the school of Hogwarts to help pay for some sorely needed modernizations. But Mister Potter wishes to compensate the victims of the Basilisks rampage for their duress. Following this wish he decided to pay the Hogwarts school stipend for the rest of their education – among other students – for:
Miss Ginevra Weasley
Mister Ronald Weasley.
In addition both will receive an allowance of 200 Galleons each. The Headmaster of Hogwarts is informed about this contract.
There is an additional clause in the contract regarding your daughter. I would like to invite you to inform you personally – you and only you, as Mister Potter declared his wish that nobody, especially not Mrs. Molly Weasley, was to be informed of this clause.
Please send me an owl about the appointed times that would better suite you.
Gringotts, Account Manager
This would help immensely. It had been difficult enough to pay the education for all children. More than once they had spoken about ways to solve that problem. He knew that Molly wished to take Ginny from school after her OWL, not only because of the money but because she thought it to be a waste for a future housewife. Apparently Harry – like Arthur – didn't share that opinion.
With a sigh he grabbed a piece of paper to write an answer.
House of Muriel Prewitt – same time
It was quiet in the house of Muriel Prewitt aside from the sound of a brush scrubbing the floor. Molly Weasley was mumbling to herself with an angry voice, not really impressed with her Aunt's lack of talent as a housekeeper. For a woman so eager to criticize everybody in sight, she really should invest more of her energy into the cleaning and well-keeping of her house, Molly grumbled.
Not for the first time she missed her home. How much would she love to work in her own garden now, de-gnoming it, putting new plants into the ground, enjoying watching them grow, harvest them. But it was not meant to be – at least not now. She was working on the matter, but Arthur was still adamant. Perhaps at the end of the summer break, he had answered last time. This meant another six weeks staying at this rotten place. Molly sighed. It had been nice from Muriel to offer her shelter, but still…
Thinking back it was incredible to imagine how all of this could ever happen. Albus sacked. Arthur siding with snakes. Evil running rampant at Hogwarts. In no time the sky would come crushing down if they were unable to stop this flood of madness. Mortified Molly remembered the moment she had shared this madness. After Ginny's suicide attempt she had been so shocked and angry, angry even towards Albus. When Arthur decided to send her away, she had no spirit left to fight this. Only after weeks of silence and thinking, she had been able to understand what happened.
Albus had helped her, good ol' Albus. Thank Merlin he hadn't a single resentful bone in his body. Despite her former angry words he had instantly been willing to accept her apology.
"Molly, these past weeks were terrible for you. I understand this. You don't have to apologize. Your anger only proves how much you love your family. It is one of your best traits."
After clearing the air they had spent long evenings speaking with each other, trying to understand what really happened. She simply knew that Ginny would never attempt something like this. This simply wasn't her baby girl. And the Ginny she knew would never believe these lies about Albus and her mother. Naturally they had been lies. She only had her daughter's best at her motherly heart. How could anybody assume otherwise?
But the answer to the problem was very simply: Daphne had used charms to influence Ginny. She was very good at those, Molly had to admit. And with her skill at Occlumency the snake-girl had been able to hide her plans even from Albus. What fifteen-year-old girl even needed those skills? Only those planning really evil, disgusting things, was the answer. What had been her intention? About that not even Albus was certain. Had her intent been to kill Ginny, to eliminate the only serious competition? Had she only rescued the girl because the twins had been at Ginny's side too early, the poison worked too slowly?
Or had her intended scheme been the idea to appear as the heroic rescuer? Everyone treated her now as such, especially most of the Weasley family. But Molly knew that this had only been part of her scheme. Albus had lent her a book about the spell Daphne had supposedly used, that famous, rare and dangerous spell, like all believed. But the book proved that it was unable to do what it apparently did. It was unable to pull someone back from the grave. So she had obviously confounded Madam Pomfrey – poor woman – or cast something else. Perhaps she had even given Ginny that poison, prepared something together with a purging spell. It was easily conceivable to imagine such a snake-scheme.
But nobody would believe her now, not after all this time, not even her own family. Albus had convinced her that it would be the best course of action to blend in, at least for the near future. She had exchanged letters with Arthur, even wrote an apology to Ginny, explained that she had only intended to help her daughter, and explained that she never agreed with Albus plans. That part had been the most difficult for Molly. But again Albus had convinced her, that –at least for now – they would keep their distance, at least officially. If Arthur needed a scapegoat, Albus was willing to play that role. Molly snivelled. Albus was really a great man, a great friend.
But he was right again: It was most important to get her back into the folds of her family. Only then would she be able to influence them, slowly but steadily. Oh yes, she would live with them again. She would grovel and apologize, cry and hug – but in the end they would believe her. No snake-girl: You may have won the battle, but I'll win the war.
Grounds around House of Muriel Prewitt – same time
With no small amount of annoyance Ron Weasley was glaring onto the small pond behind his aunt's home while he sat on the wooden, incommodious bench. It was awful to be here, he really despised his aunt. It was awful that his mother had to stay here for now because of what had happened. He really wanted to have the life again as he knew it: Back at the Burrows, with her, being her favourite son and Ginny doing what he wanted her to do.
But all of this had changed in the last months.
"Good afternoon, Ron."
Surprised he turned around and stared at the intruder. He hadn't expected so see the former Headmaster at this place. Thinking about it, he hadn't seen Albus Dumbledore since he left Hogwarts and Ron had no idea where he lived now.
"And a good afternoon to you too, Professor," Ron frowned slightly, wondering why he was here, speaking with him.
Dumbledore sat down and sighed. "I'm sorry, Ron. I should have been there for you."
Ron looked up, his frown deepening. What was he speaking about?
"It shouldn't have happened like it did this year. I really wanted to make you Prefect. You deserved it after all you did for your housemates."
"I won't get a Prefect badge?" Ron hadn't really expected to become Prefect like his older brothers. But still he felt a pang of disappointment getting this confirmation.
Albus Dumbledore shook his head sadly. Slowly he fetched a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to Ron. It was a letter, addressed to Professor McGonagall, written in the handwriting he knew so well from many assignments he had copied in the past: Hermione's.
"How did you…"
Albus smiled knowingly. "I still have some friends. A few of the house elves at Hogwarts are still following my orders." They wouldn't go against direct orders of Filius now, but Ron hadn't to know that piece of information.
Ron nodded and slowly began to read. Slowly his cheeks turned red and anger turned his stomach into a knot. He hissed: "They don't want to be Prefects. They suggest Parvati and… Seamus."
Albus nodded sadly. "She'll follow that suggestion, I'm certain." He hid his smile. In reality he had considered this choice to be a very clever one. In the stolen letter Hermione and Harry – anticipating Minerva's choice – begged her not to make them Prefects. They wanted to use the time for additional training, Albus was certain. Security and preparation were more important than status now. That Hermione – who certainly had dreamed for years about becoming Prefect and Head girl – was willing to step back, only showed how serious they took the threat of a returned Voldemort.
"It should have been you and Miss Brown."
Ron nodded. It had been the content of many wet dreams of him: He walking at Lavender's side through dark corridors, using the moment to get to know each other much better. Lavender had turned into a very attractive girl last year and he had intended to go after her next year. This change was a grave nick into his plans.
"But please don't hold this against Mister Finnigan. I suppose that's exactly what they want to achieve: Alienate you from your friend. I always wondered why you had been with Potter all these years. Mister Finnigan and you have much more in common."
Ron slowly nodded. In a way Dumbledore was right. Without his mother's urgings he wouldn't have tried so hard to be Potter's friend. Seamus was much more like him: Funny, loving to drink and eat, adoring Quidditch and not taking the education too serious.
"I hoped that Minerva would follow my wish about you becoming Prefect, something like a last wish from a fellow Gryffindor. But she's listening to the wrong people now." Ron nodded gravely: Snakes. They were everywhere now at Hogwarts. He glanced at Dumbledore. Sometimes he forgot that the former Headmaster had been a Gryffindor too. "I don't expect her to follow my other wish now."
Albus sighed: "I wanted to see you in the Quidditch team next year, not only as a Keeper but as the team captain."
Ron paled. Prefect and Quidditch team captain – it would have been perfect. His mother would have been so proud and his brothers: At last they would realize his worth. "But I'm not even in the team. How could I be team captain?"
"Ron, I may be old, but I'm still able to see real talent. Without the tournament you would have been keeper last year. Quidditch is a Weasley family trait. Look only at your older brothers. You would have been the same. And a captain needs knowledge and ideas. Please don't tell me someone like Potter would know anything about Quidditch you didn't explain to him? And by the way: Minerva told me that Miss Johnson will be the next captain. Between you and me: I don't know a single female captain with a real grasp of the game."
Ron hung on every single word of Albus Dumbledore. He was willing to believe. He needed to believe. He needed to prove himself and this man would have been his chance. But all was lost now. Deflated he sank back against the backrest. "But all of this won't happen now."
"You could still go to the tryouts."
Ron nodded, apparently not convinced that he would succeed. "Harry won't let me into the team, not now."
"You don't know for sure," Albus shook his head.
Albus grabbed his shoulder and pressed it firmly. "Ron, I expect you to do your best. It's your duty to look after your housemates next year. We can't allow the snakes to win. We're lions, not rabbits."
"But what can I do?"
"There is always a way." Albus smiled, his eyes twinkling. "I remember my own youth. It was a situation not unlike this one. A group of boys bullied everyone, behaved like they were the kings of the school. I don't have to tell you which house they came from?"
"Slytherin," Ron growled.
"Slytherin," Albus nodded gravely. "After a while we had enough. We built our own group: The Red Lions. We showed them what happened to bullies. As expected they were cowards at heart, only strong in numbers. Within a few weeks everybody noticed: Don't mess with the lions." The twinkle intensified: "And the evenings in our club room weren't bad either."
"You had a club room?" Ron's mind raced. His own group – with him at the centre, not Harry or Hermione or… - no: He would be the one they listened to.
"Yes, it was really nice. Cozy, with music, undetectable by the other students. And one of the house-elves ensured that we always had enough to eat and drink."
Ron knew exactly what heaven was: That kind of club room, Lavender at his side and a plate with food on his knees. Perhaps she would feed him with grapes. He read about that. "This room – does it still exist?"
"Yes," Albus narrowed his eyes, pondering. "I'll tell you, but only if you promise me that this will be our little secret. You only share it with people you trust."
Ron happily nodded and so Albus told him about the room of requirements. Like an afterthought he added: "Perhaps you should write something – akin to a club rule. You know: Secrecy, no contact with snakes, and defend each other." Ron agreed eagerly. They would be his little army. "You know what? Write something and at our next meeting I'll charm it. If you let them sign the paper, it will enforce secrecy," Albus offered.
That was a splendid idea, Ron assumed.
"I have to go, Ron. But we'll meet again. Oh, and don't forget to give your group a cool name. A cool name is half the battle."
As he walked away, Albus no longer had to hide his smile. Ron Weasley was even more gullible than his mother. He was eager to prove himself and this was exactly the way he would like to follow: Power but without much work. In the beginning Albus had thought about a kind of duelling club or DADA learning group, but Ron lacked the knowledge to execute such a plan. No, it had to be something simpler. With Ron gathering the malcontent and Umbridge harassing the teachers, he would be able to play Hogwarts like a piano again.
Last year was horrible.
Next year would be better.
Yes, Molly Weasley and Albus Dumbledore have their very own and bizarre point of view. Especially the explanations of the Weasley Matriarch have nothing much in common with reality. So please don't be confused.
Next chapter: A deeper explanation of the nature of the Congregation.
About Ron: if you're confused about his house affiliation, he got resorted into Gryffindor in the epilogue of "second chances" because forcing him to stay with the Slytherin would have been too dangerous for him. Perhaps I'll completely delete the whole resorting affair one day. It caused too many confusions.