Chapter 68 - Perceptions
In the morning, Harry and the Jewels awoke refreshed after their sleep. In one room, the New Cranleigh girls managed to wake before their Harry for once, for the clones had taken one look around in the morning, seen the girls were still resting, and decided that was a wonderful idea. Thanks to their love, he knew he was safe and could allow himself to relax that extra degree.
While his clones were resting, the five girls plotted how best to take advantage of the rare role reversal. Eventually, they decided on doing to Harry what he liked to do to them to wake them up. The other Harry's in the room were woken by similar ways.
The girls stayed in the room all day, only sending out clones to fetch food and drink when they needed it.
None of the Jewels begrudged Jennifer and the others taking up that opportunity. Mostly because they were doing the same. It was a rare day that they did no training at all, but this was one of them, a day devoted to each other and their relationships. Any spare clones of Harry and the ladies in his life were also forbidden from doing anything that counted as work, ie. anything they didn't enjoy.
Harry smiled as he encountered Hermione in the library annex, lounging back with a book in her hands and a stack beside her. "Hermione?" The girl just sat up a little, expecting Harry to settle in behind her which he did, his hands on her stomach as she relaxed against him.
"I was wondering if you would be up for some experimenting." Harry asked when she finished the chapter she was reading.
"Not now, Harry, I want intellectual stimulation, not the other kind."
Harry laughed gently. "I can see where you got that idea, but I didn't mean sex. "
Hermione put the book down and snuggled deeper into his arms. "So what kind of experiment did you have in mind?"
"There are a number of references in the Restricted Section to various power enhancement rituals, spells and techniques. A fair number of them are, well, horrible as well as disgusting, lots of them are criminal or involve harming innocents. Real nightmare stuff."
Hermione hummed. "Mhmm that sounds right. Professor Babbling mentioned something like that just before the OWLs. Much of it has been lost or hidden and considering how bad they were supposed to be, that's a good thing."
"Exactly, but not all of them were bad. The Ministry of Magic has classified them as Light, Grey or Dark, and books on any of them are restricted and generally frowned upon given the potential for abuse not to mention the outright murders some of the rituals required." He waited for her to nod in understanding then went on. "Back to my experiment, I was wondering if you would be interested in learning about the better rituals and later in using them yourself. The texts also mention that the most powerful wizards of their times were all healthy in body and that staying healthy was important for keeping your magic strong. Also, they were dedicated in their practice, growing more powerful than their peers the more they tried."
"I can see that. I mean, my magic grew a lot stronger once your parents strengthened my muscles and bones. Since my body was in better condition, my magic was no longer used to keep me healthy and I had more available. And the bit about getting better with practice is just good sense anyway even if it didn't improve the base power as you implied."
"And the rituals?" Harry kept his voice neutral, wanting her honest opinion.
"I'd want to look them over first- oh, you said that." Hermione blushed and smiled when Harry cuddled her. "Yes, I do want to look them over. If they aren't inherently unethical, then I don't see any reason why we shouldn't look at doing them ourselves. We'll just have to be careful, of course."
"Of course." Harry replied. "Have you ever known me not to be careful?"
Hermione laughed and turned around. Before she said a word, however, Harry pulled her head down gently and kissed her.
That evening, Harry brought the idea up with the other Jewels. He had shown Hermione the books and his notes, and the pair of them were able to answer the various questions from the others, including Amelia's.
"Yes, Dark rituals are banned by definition. The ones that have been labelled Dark are the ones that previous Ministers have wanted to ban. Whether or not they were right to ban them is another question. The power to label a ritual or spell Dark is one that the Ministry took to itself as part of the administration of the original ban on Dark rituals. The Wizengamot of the time didn't want to have to look at hundreds of different rituals one after another."
"Do you mean that Amelia can redefine any of these rituals?"
"Basically. The decision was originally left to one of the Departments but it was a delegated power that can be resumed at any time according to the original Act. The Act does require that a current list of banned rituals be available to the public at all times but that was considered to be fulfilled by having a book of them in the DMLE archives."
"I have no intention to legalise those monstrosities!"
"No one is asking you to." Angelique soothed her.
"No, but you do want her to look them over and see what ones you can use." Sandra replied.
"Naturally." Fleur replied. "However, if a ritual was banned improperly, then it should be fixed, like any other bad law. You are already reviewing other things in the Ministry, fixing the problems. This is merely one more job on the pile."
"There are plenty that I would never want to see the light of day," Harry agreed, "but there are also some good rituals. Even the blood rituals have some ethically sound in their number."
"So why does everyone think Blood Magic is so Dark?" Sally-Anne asked.
"A lot of it used horrible crimes to perform it." Luna replied seriously. "My Daddy once investigated it, wondering if the whole thing was part of the Rotfang Conspiracy, but the trial records are clear. Dozens of wizards and witches were killed or worse, and thousands of people eventually paid the price for the actions of the few."
"So the reaction was to shun all Blood Magic in the wake of it, much like many in our society had a reaction against anything nuclear after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl." Ashley mused. The stampede against nuclear power didn't make too much sense to her.
"Or any of a number of other things," Harry agreed, "that kind of emotional reaction is all too common in the wake of traumatic events." He knew the witches would be relieved that it wasn't just the Wizarding World that did that.
"So why should we use any of it if it's so horrible?" Leanne asked as she looked around at the others.
"For a start, because not all of it horrible. Some of the rituals are at worst a bit icky." Hermione answered. "You prick your thumb, rub the blood on a bit of parchment, cast the spell, and presto! You can't use magic to clean up the mess or Bad Things happen but that's all."
"There are other rituals that use more blood," Angelique put in thoughtfully, "but like most things, it's not all black or white. Certainly there are ones we won't use, like the ones that drain the blood of a victim and require that it be forcibly taken rather than found or given."
"Like the one Voldemort used on me." Harry added. "That was certainly one of the Dark ones and for good reason."
Amelia nodded. "I'm glad you are being sensible about this. But why do you want to use any of the rituals?"
"The more power you have, the safer you are." Harry looked vulnerable. "I.. It's one of my greatest fears. One day, Voldemort or his lackeys could get lucky and harm any of you despite everything I could do. The stronger you are, the less likely he'll be able to hurt you, and the better I like it."
"Aww." Jennifer cooed as she wrapped herself around Harry. Any further discussion was stopped while Harry and the Jewels reassured each other once again.
Once they got serious again, Harry reminded them about the coming meeting. "There's some new information about Riddle's past. If you recall, I had a mission from Dumbledore to recover something hidden. I completed it the night before we left Hogwarts. I had to tell Amelia and Professor McGonagall about it already, but it is very sensitive information. If any of you aren't sure of your Yamanaka defences, then you may want to sit out that bit of the meeting." Harry groaned, hating himself for saying it, only for Susan to come up and give him a backrub.
"I think what Harry's trying to say is that unless we can protect the information, we shouldn't learn it at all. It isn't that he doesn't trust us to do our best to keep his secrets, but that our best might not be enough." Daphne summarised it nicely for him.
Hermione added, "That and he doesn't like having to keep secrets from us or hurting our feelings." She gave a wry smile. "He does try his best to keep us happy, doesn't he, ladies?"
Astoria spoke up. "Harry, I don't mind sitting out the meeting. I know I have a lot of work to do on my defences and I wouldn't want to worry my mum and dad about it by trying to attend a meeting for 'grownups'. There are lots of other things we can do to pass the time."
Harry was grateful to her. By volunteering and breaking the ice, it allowed the other Jewels to consider it more rationally. A few other Jewels also dropped out. Ginny and Sally-Anne were first, Ginny because she placed Harry's welfare so far above her own that it would have hurt her to go, no matter how curious she was, and Sally-Anne because she wasn't that interested in politics. Hannah likewise sat it out to keep them company as did Yvette. The rest were politically motivated or just curious like Hermione. Cho and Luna were on the fence but decided they would go if their defences were good enough.
The meeting promised to be very interesting. Really, Harry was glad they could relax that night and just catch up, mending their relationships and the wear and tear from living. They had a pyjama party in the living room with hot chocolates and pillows and falling asleep cuddled together.
Elsewhere in the country, a number of witches were dreaming of the black haired young wizard. One particular witch found herself in a beautiful glade with a witch either side of her. To her left stood the tall and thin figure of Aurora Sinistra and to her right, Septima Vector stood, both looking radiant and nervous. She looked closer and noted that they were each wearing wedding dresses, just like her. 'Just as they should be.' She smiled as she saw her true self rather than the glamour she always kept up. To a regular man on the street, she could easily have passed for being in her thirties though her natural grace showed her true age.
As for the other witches, they were getting married too. Instead of calming them down, the witch found herself the most excited of the lot, nattering on about her husband-to-be. That was okay, too, though, since they were all marrying the same man. She felt a special thrill as Harry came into view with Hermione and Susan at either side and left them, coming straight over to her to give her a kiss. The effect was instant. All her nerves and fear melted away as she felt her love for him wash over her. She let him go then, her smile conveying her gratitude better than words could ever have done. He then kissed Aurora and Septima and she saw that it was just as wonderful to witness from the outside.
Suddenly, she was standing next to Harry or one of his clones, just like all the other ladies in the glade, all of them dressed to marry Harry Potter. The flash of magic as they gave their vows was the brightest she had ever heard of, not that this was a surprise with so many sources.
Without warning, the scene changed again in the way dreams do. Now, they were at the wedding reception. Since there were so many brides, it was decided to skip many of the speeches. The only people to speak, in fact, were Remus Lupin looking fine in a Muggle suit and tie and Harry himself with yet another clone. Otherwise, they would have been there for days with speeches and that was not how anyone wanted to spend their time, let alone their wedding night.
The Harry next to her distracted her effectively during 'his' speech, kissing tenderly just as she started to cry and only finishing just before the toast "To my beautiful brides!"
She blushed as the scene skipped to the part that her dream self was so eagerly anticipating, taking off her dress and taking her husband to their bed. He reached out for her—
Minerva reflexively reached for her wand to destroy the damned alarm clock but it wasn't there. Groaning she got up, finding it on her bedside table rather than under her pillow, and shut off the annoying sound. Merlin, it was only seven o'clock and she was sure she had reset the alarm for eight thirty to enjoy a sleep-in. She sighed and grumbled to herself but she knew it was no use. She could never get back to sleep and after having The Dream again, she wasn't sure she should look forward to it in any case.
Minerva got up, not even bothering to get changed yet, and curled up on her lounge as she thought over everything. Sacking Slughorn was obvious, but it left her needing to find another Potions Master. Well, failing to renew his contract, technically, not sacking him, but that was just semantics.
While she was at it, she also needed to see about getting assistants for Filius, Pomona, herself, and the DADA professor. On that note, she should ask the current one if he was going to stay on or if the Ministry was intending to offer another Auror. She smiled as she figured that by now, Harry would be able to fill in for him well enough. He'd read more on the Dark Arts than the last half a dozen people hired for the task, and he had the authority to get students to listen to him except for a few of the Slytherins.
No, while tempting, it was a bad idea. Minerva shuddered as she pictured the trouble that dozens of seriously annoyed witches would give her for placing him off-limits like that. Much better to see if she could get a couple of qualified candidates from elsewhere. They might not be as qualified or powerful but she was sure Harry would be happy to tutor most of the students.
Minerva's plans were interrupted, however, as she discovered over breakfast. A house elf, wearing an actual uniform with a grinning fox badge over its heart, turned up and presented a letter to the bemused Headmistress as she was buttering her toast.
The note inside was cosigned by Harry and Naruto in their roles in the Potter Alliance. They had invited her to a meeting to discuss 'important news developed from recent intelligence regarding common goals', an overly formal way to say they were going to talk about what Harry learned from Slughorn.
While Minerva busied herself with her other tasks, noting that several LPF employees had been recommended for each post with notes attached describing their current skills, the time of the meeting approached. Shortly before eleven o'clock, she grabbed her pointy hat and summer robes, summoned her bag and stepped through the Floo.
Harry was waiting for her at the other end and he guided her into one of the largest rooms in the Compound. 'The round table is an interesting touch,' she thought as she took her place. Soon, the table was filled with a number of faces she recognised as past students of hers, and Harry stood.
"Thank you all for coming. As my letters indicated, today we have a rather important piece of information. As I am sure you will all understand, this information falls under our mutual secrecy Oaths." Harry paused and looked each of them in the eye before speaking again. "Nearly fifteen years ago, a certain terrorist leader decided to pay a visit to a young family with a baby. While he was defeated there, he didn't truly die as we would have hoped. Recently, we discovered why."
There was scattered whispering at that. Harry allowed it to die down and resumed talking. "The reason he was able to stick around and cause trouble for us now is that he had created items to preserve him in the event someone did have the luck and skill to take him down. We now know what one of those items was, as it was destroyed three years ago, and while we certainly cannot prove it, we know who used it at that time in an attempt to resurrect his fallen master."
"The diary!" Minerva gasped.
"Exactly, Headmistress McGonagall." Harry gave a short bow in her direction. "That was one of the anchors he was using. I destroyed it during the Chamber of Secrets incident after talking to the 'memory' of the young Tom Riddle who had already chosen to assume the name Lord Voldemort when he began his attempt to usurp power." Harry was pleased to see that there were none of the flinches or shivering he first encountered from that name.
"So what are the others?" Nym asked from where she sat next to her mother.
"We don't know yet. But that does not mean we won't. Right now, we are much better off than we were since we know to start looking. And we are not the only enemies of Voldemort in the hunt so we will have help. Our information indicates that he was likely to use items of personal significance to him, such as his diary from the days when he first found a home, at Hogwarts. This may also include Founders' items since he was something of a hoarder and felt a personal connection to Salazar Slytherin, believing himself to be the true Heir of Slytherin."
Some people nodded, the rest waited to hear more.
Amelia stood up next to Harry, taking up the thread of the conversation. "As Minister, there are certain things I will do to make the hunt more successful. First of all, we will cover whatever expenditures you make and give rewards, but all of this will have to be off the record until we have recovered all of them. Second, I will provide Auror escorts for any hunting expeditions and the Lily Potter Foundation has offered to pay for the services of curse breakers and other specialists as required. Thirdly, as long as you have a good lead, warrants will be issued to make all of this legal and by the book." Her expression here could have made a shark proud. "And anyone knowingly harbouring any of these items will answer for their crimes."
The Potter Alliance matched her, all of them eager to see the back of the latest Dark Lord and his minions. After that, they sat down to discuss ideas as well as get updates from the various members of their alliance and dealt with issues as they were reported.
After a pleasant lunch interlude, the meeting had continued. Minerva left a clone at the meeting to give her input while she returned to her suite at Hogwarts. Once returned to the castle and behind the wards, she called for a cup of tea and sat down to review the exam results from the school-wide exams.
These special exams, administered by the Wizarding Examination Authority with the aid of 'volunteers' from the LPF, were set to the older standards from before the budget cuts led to falling standards at the WEA. As the Headmistress sifted through the marks, one thing was abundantly clear. Apart from a few Ravenclaws and Harry and his Jewels, very few students would have passed the older exams.
While the results were worst in Potions, not surprisingly after so many years of Severus and only months with a real teacher as Potions Master, they were down across the board. Even her own Transfiguration results were not anything she would consider satisfactory.
Minerva allowed herself a minute to wallow in self-pity before she ruthlessly quashed it. 'Yes, I made mistakes. Many of them involved listening to Albus bloody Dumbledore,' she admitted to herself, 'but that does not mean I cannot fix them now that I am aware of the problems this school is facing.'
She worked her way through the rest of the results, taking advantage of the memorization techniques the Clan had brought, and acknowledged to herself that this was why Harry and his young ladies were clearly better off. 'That and they have the most time to study,' Minerva thought.
Finally finished examining the results and looking up, Minerva stretched and headed over to a second Floo that had been installed in her office, this one purely for conversations and as such it was elevated so she didn't have to bend her knees or neck. Calling out her prospective new Head of Gryffindor, Minerva had a moment of doubt that she quickly suppressed.
"Remus, would you like to come through?" she invited.
"Thank you for coming. As you know, I have a lot of work to do to fix Hogwarts. I am still at a loss to understand how we fell so far."
"I think using a ghost with the most boring manner in the Wizarding World was a strong indication. Merlin knows I had some of the best sleep in my life in his class and I was trying to stay awake! The fact that no one replaced him before your ascension to Headmistress and no one made a fuss shows one glaring weakness in our society."
"Which one did you have in mind?" Minerva asked tiredly.
"We are too passive. As long as someone in authority tells us it's fine, most of us don't bother to question it. Sometimes it doesn't even take an authority figure for us to accept it."
Minerva nodded. "Now, the reason I called you was to ask if you would be interested in returning to work here at Hogwarts."
"What would be my duties?"
"I have decided to hire on assistant Professors for the core subjects, including your old job, as well as dedicated Heads for each of the Houses. The Heads would do a little tutoring, mostly on how to write the assigned essays and checking that their writing is easily legible. Simple things that will improve their homework for the rest of their time as students but do not require the Head to do any other teaching work. In fact, the Heads of House will reside full time in the castle, same as now, and will be available to their House ahead of any other concerns or priorities. School facilities may be used for certain personal projects, mainly research, and meals will be provided, in exchange for being on call at all hours to help the students."
Remus smirked. "You want me to take over as Head of Gryffindor, don't you?"
"Yes." Minerva admitted. "You always were the brightest of the Marauders."
Remus chuckled. "You flatter me, Minerva. Very well, show me the contract and I will go over it tonight."
Minerva let out a relieved sigh. "Thank you, Remus. I look forward to working with you again."
The werewolf smiled at her and let himself out. Minerva let out a tired sigh.
'One down, seven to go.'
While Minerva was working to fill the gaps in her staff, Liz Granger was working to fix a more personal problem. Her marriage to her school sweetheart was on the rocks. Where she wanted to fix the problems in her marriage, Matt seemed to refuse any of her suggestions and never offered any of his own. 'No, he is always off trying some insane stunt or other.' Liz mourned to herself.
Over the years, they had built their own business together, raised not one but two bright and loving daughters together and coped with finding out their daughters were witches, together. Along the way, they had got so caught up in the minutiae of their lives that the passion had been left behind somehow. "I thought it would all be better when we got more time together." Mrs Granger said quietly.
It hadn't, though. At first, they took advantage of the clones, using them to take care of paperwork and chores freeing up time for each other, and Liz had loved it. Matt had paid her more attention than ever and they went out on real dates for the first time in years. They had started trying new things too, both in the bedroom and out of it, and Matt had got a taste for adrenaline that worried her. "According to him, he's just exploring life in a way he never had the chance. Sure, he's invited me along but honestly! Why would any sane person throw themselves out of a perfectly good airplane?"
Liz looked up and nodded to herself before calling the Kitsune Compound, letting the Clan transport her to their home. Harry greeted her with a smile that faltered when he saw her expression.
"Hello, Harry, could you take me to Hinata please?"
"Sure, this way." Harry replied and led the way. "How are you today?"
"I could be better." Liz admitted. "How are you?"
"I'm well, thank you." Harry said as he opened the door and Liz walked in, sitting down to talk with Naruto's senior wife. Harry left them to it after Hinata signalled for privacy. A second later he felt the chakra surge of the privacy seals' activation.
Liz relaxed as she felt the same surge. "Thank you for seeing me on such short notice."
"Not at all. How can I be of help, Liz?"
Liz took a deep breath, then another to get her courage together. "I think I have a problem." When Hinata didn't respond, Liz added, "With my marriage. I-" She broke off, unsure how to explain it.
"Start wherever you like, Liz." Hinata said softly to encourage her.
"I am not happy with my marriage any more." Thankfully, Hinata didn't comment at how obvious that was. "I miss the little things with Matt. The smiles just because we're in the same room. I miss the way he made me feel special. I have tried to adjust, tried to encourage Matt to return to what we had, but he is always thinking of the next big thrill."
"And never about you?"
Liz blushed. "That's how it feels, at least."
"You know he loves you." Hinata offered.
"I know that up here," Liz tapped her temple, "but I don't feel it from him. I felt more love from Harry when he treated me to that spa day than I have from Matt in the last month and-" Liz broke off guiltily. "I don't know what to do. Matt is always sending clones to do crazy things, rockclimbing on high mountains, skydiving, diving deep, it's like he needs the adrenaline."
"Have you talked to him about this change?"
"He says he's just taking advantage of the opportunities that you and the Clan have made available. He works hard in the clinic, he takes care of the chores around the house without complaint, and Lord knows he doesn't neglect me in the bedroom." Liz added, unsure how she came to be this honest this quickly. "But I often feel like his heart is elsewhere."
Hinata held back a bitter sigh. Over the years of her life in the Elemental Nations, and now here on Earth, she had seen many couples grow apart. This time, it could even be argued that she was partly to blame by providing the trigger. She rejected that viewpoint, feeling that if the marriage was healthy, these factors wouldn't matter.
"I see." Hinata said instead. "Does he understand the problem as you see it?"
"If he does, he's hidden it very well." Liz answered, holding back a tear. "I have tried to explain it, but I don't feel like I am reaching him."
"Are you willing to work to save your marriage? Are you willing to change your habits?"
"Yes. Yes, I am." Liz replied, tears falling anyway.
"That may not be enough," Hinata warned. "But it is a start. We will have to find out if Matt is willing to do whatever it takes, too."
Liz didn't reply and Hinata moved in, comforting her as best she can through her distress. Liz was worried more than ever that Matt wouldn't see how serious this was until it was too late.
While her mother was having a painful heart to heart, Hermione was burying herself in research. She was nowhere near as bad as she used to be about books, but they were still her weakness, able to drag her away from the world and her friends. Nowadays, she rationed herself, only truly giving in when she had a good enough excuse, and Harry had given her just that with their talk on rituals.
It was fascinating, in a morbid way, just how many rituals there were that involved some sort of forced participation, ranging from taking hairs from an animal in order to change your hairstyle permanently through to horrible ones involving the murder of babies or digging up the bones of your ancestors to get some sort of immortality, like Riddle had used to make a soul anchor and to regain a body. And there were far too many rituals that required forcibly taken blood of a virgin! Something that made her glad in a new way that she had given hers to Harry years ago, and that almost all of them were banned, with the remaining two so obscure that the only references she had found were incomplete and useless.
When her stomach rumbled its hunger, Hermione looked around, glad no one had caught her and got up reluctantly, heading out to grab a bite to eat and finding an interesting group waiting for her in the kitchen.
"Hey, want to hear what I have found?" she offered and they followed her to a private little room where she set out her notes and her snack. She quieted her stomach as Harry, Sakura, Amelia and Angelique read over duplicates made by Angelique with an easy spell.
"Okay, first, Luna was right about the Blood Rituals. They were all banned at once after a big scandal that brought down the previous Minister and Chief Warlock. It also saw half a dozen regular members of the Wizengamot sent to Azkaban for their parts in the murders of several Pureblood families' heirs."
Amelia nodded at that. One of her own ancestors had lost her husband to that.
"However, Harry was right that there are some good ones that were caught up in the hysteria. While they do call for bloodletting, they can use, or even require, blood from the wizard or witch performing the rituals. That loss can be restored by Blood Replenishing Potion, indeed according to one source that was the reason the potion was created."
Sakura nodded thoughtfully, absorbing the information like a sponge but Angelique decided to speed things up. "So if we leave out the ones that are unethical, what remains? How much of a boost is possible?"
"There are all sorts of boosts available. This 'Light' one here, for example, is not much use to us though it's one we might consider using on others in the LPF to make bones nearly unbreakable and long-lasting, requiring various items from the caster, skin, nails, hair, and some plants properly prepared and so on. Then there is this power boosting ritual, listed as Dark for a reason, though. You need to enchant a ritual dagger, draw blood from thirteen thirteen year old children 'of pure blood' over thirteen days and scarring each of them for life, then, well, it gets worse. In return, your base power is increased fairly heavily for a period of seven years and you sacrifice three years of your own lifespan too."
Amelia glowered. "I am certainly not going to allow that!"
"Good!" Harry replied immediately, defusing Amelia's anger before she could get truly started.
She blushed. "Alright, Harry, I get it."
"Good." Harry repeated in a gentle voice. "Hermione, what about rituals to boost the power of spells or speed of recovery?"
"Well, the most powerful ones earn their Dark label, sadly, all involving sacrifice or generally horrible behaviour. There are a number that are left even after removing the evil ones from the list. Based on the notes, the benefit you get depends on a number of factors. If you're healthy and have already worked to master your spells, you won't notice as much of an increase. These rituals work off some sort of 'base' levels, but if we did all of them, I calculate that we should get up to double our current spell power, energy recovery rate and maximum capacity. It will take time to do all of the rituals as several of them call for specific phases of the moon or solstices and such, and there are a couple that are unavailable to us for, err, reasons, but the biggest problem may be the cost."
"How much?" Sakura asked. "I have a pretty good idea of Alliance and Foundation finances, you know."
Hermione nodded and took a deep breath, afraid of their reactions. "Approximately four hundred and fifty Galleons."
"Sacre bleu!" Angelique swore.
Sakura just reached for the list that Hermione passed over to her. "Hmm, I see. Ah. Ok." She looked at the others. "You made a couple of errors in your estimates, dear. Nothing bad. You just didn't allow for economies of scale and the fact that we supply a number of these ingredients. We should be able to knock off at least sixty Galleons from that total."
"That's still nearly four hundred Galleons!" Hermione cried.
"Yes, Hermione, it is." Sakura's smile was challenging and Hermione was unable to resist it.
"We can't ask people to spend so much!"
Harry interrupted his mum's fun. "We don't have to, Hermione. For just us, I can easily afford it out of the money left to me, and as Sakura-mum will confirm, the Foundation can afford to make that investment in a number of our people too."
Sakura nodded and grinned. "Really, it's only about the cost of a year or two at Hogwarts. From that investment, it will boost the amount of work we can get from our employees further, making them more valuable to the Foundation and better able to defend themselves as a bonus."
Amelia and Angelique joined Hermione in looking incredulously at Harry and Sakura. "Vraiment? Really, you would pay for it?"
"We would give loans and cover some of the costs," Sakura corrected, "and it wouldn't be everyone at once. That would cause market fluctuations and-. Well, it would be bad if we tried it that way. But yes, as soon as we check that it is safe and gives the advertised results, it seems like a sound investment in our workforce. We would probably have to boost production of certain materials to meet the increased demand, which means reworking our development strategy. However, I believe we could do it without harming profits in the medium to long term."
She had lost Angelique and Hermione with the business talk but Harry smiled and they understood that.
"So let's get started!" Angelique replied.
"Not so fast." Amelia said regretfully. "First I need to know if any of these are currently restricted or illegal."
Hermione blushed. "I will write up the list now?" she offered.
"Thank you, Hermione." Amelia gave the younger Jewel a smile.
A few minutes later, Hermione passed over the completed list. She had noted the names of each ritual she wanted to recommend, if they were banned and when, and noting cases on each that had gone before the Wizengamot, as well as the ingredients for each as applicable.
"All I asked for was their legal status." Amelia said with a laugh as she read the information. Hermione blushed a little then stuck her tongue out at the Minister for teasing her, and cuddled up to Harry who was reading his own copy.
"Our Hermione is very thorough." Harry said in her stead as he rubbed her shoulder.
Amelia nodded absently then gave a big smile to the brunette. "While I will still check through each of these more thoroughly at the Ministry, Hermione, I expect you are right about the rituals. In a week, no more, I will have the final answer for you on these rituals."
"That reminds me." Sakura put in. "How are you going with the legal review, Minister Bones?"
Amelia groaned. "You had to ask that. I can feel a headache coming on already." She got a few chuckles at her dramatic reply. "Really, it is going quicker than I had feared but slower than I had hoped."
"That sounds perfectly normal." Angelique said.
"It is, but the scale of the task is still daunting. There are several centuries of Wizengamot meetings and deliberations, centuries worth of Ministry regulations to examine. The archives have tens of thousands of records and the older ones are all but impossible to understand without a translation handy."
The others nodded sombrely.
"And since only the Minister has the authority to rescind various Ministry restrictions or bring the Wizengamot laws to be repealed, though members can put the matter to a vote too, that means I have to read through all of those myself. Already I have been able to remove two hundred and thirty-three old Ministry regulations from the books. I would have removed more but there is a Wizengamot law that the Minister can only remove one regulation per day. The motion to repeal that restriction has been tabled until the twelfth of never by those old codgers, too."
Harry smiled. "At least the regulations of rituals are not subject to that since you are modifying the existing regulation rather than repealing it entirely."
"Very true, Harry. Otherwise we would have to wait even longer to get anything done!"
Over the next week, Amelia was as good as her word. She examined the rituals in question and their histories, before quietly heading down to the DMLE for a talk with her old department. While there she inscribed the new changes to the public registry of rituals just before lunch on Friday, then heading through to the Compound. She informed Hermione in person that her research not only exceeded expectations for a Ministry bureaucrat, it was outstanding.
That afternoon, the rest of the Potter Alliance was informed of the changes to the law via Floo, telephone or hand-delivered letter as befit their status as allies. Each of them heard the reasoning, and while they weren't all in favour of the change, it would be unreasonable to expect over a thousand people from such diverse backgrounds to have the same opinion on anything. There were a few grumbles but nothing serious on the horizon.
On the weekend, Hinata had another visitor when Matt Granger dropped by to drop off some water-skis. She managed to talk him into staying longer and subtly turned the conversation to his marriage. After some prodding, Matt, like Liz before him, was opening up more than he would have thought he would have allowed.
Matt sighed. "I know Liz is unhappy but I am trying my best to give her what she wants. I'm not that young any more but she keeps dressing like she is a uni student again going out to parties every night. So I invite her to anything exciting I can think of, and I am trying my best to keep up with her wild desires, but it seems like I can't satisfy her any more." Matt was miserable as he added, "I don't know if I can keep trying much longer."
Hinata gently coaxed out more from Matt, helping to examine his feelings as well as trying to help him understand Liz's feelings. She was afraid that it might already be too late for their marriage without the use of some invasive techniques. These techniques were restricted in the Clan for good reason given their potential for abuse. They would make the offer but Hinata couldn't blame anyone who refused to have their minds altered by outside forces.
Since Voldemort was quiet after his demonstration in Diagon, Harry and a few others were taking the chance to examine his memories of the events Dumbledore had shown him in Hogsmeade. They quickly went through the one of Voldemort's family, only stopping to note that Slytherin's Locket was something Voldemort would value highly. Therefore it had a high enough chance of being a Horcrux that it should be examined at the earliest opportunity. The Gaunt family ring should also be checked given its personal significance to him. They also went over Dumbledore's statements after showing that memory.
The second memory, at the orphanage, merely indicated that a close eye should have been kept on Tom Riddle, though Hermione suggested that they should check out the orphanage for themselves.
The third memory with Morfin Gaunt and Tom Riddle was interesting but almost useless except for a suggestion from Daphne that they should check out these old homes as well.
The fourth one was Slughorn, but they already had the original for that. "I still can't believe that Old Sluggy thought his fake would pass muster!" Susan griped. "Did he even bother to do any work on the details?"
"I doubt he checked the results before he handed it over to Dumbledore." Daphne replied.
"We'll come back to that later." Harry told them so they could get through the rest. The house elf's memory identified another object to hunt down and examine, Hufflepuff's Cup, and seemed to confirm that Slytherin's Locket would be worth finding.
Next was Riddle's application for the DADA position where he was rejected. "Dumbledore seems fairly convinced that Hogwarts is important to him. I think I will have to give it a thorough search." Harry mused.
Last of all was the battle against Grindelwald that was settled with the two leaders duelling it out.
"Well, that was a big waste of time." Leanne moaned when it finished three hours later.
"I wouldn't go quite that far." Hermione responded. "There were quite a lot of interesting spells there."
"And how many of them would you use in combat yourself?" Daphne asked neutrally.
"Ok, not that many, but that one to create a dozen autonomous honey badgers looked rather nasty. Good for a distraction, at least." Hermione defended.
"True, Hermione, but it takes so long to cast." Harry pointed it out. "Even if Professor Sprout would love to learn it." Harry gave her a lopsided grin. "Still it was decent for an action movie. Lots of action, not much character development or plot and what there was didn't make much sense, but the special effects were great."
"Besides," Leanne put in getting back on topic, "they barely moved around at all. They concentrated on creating magical and physical shields far more than simply dodging whatever was coming their way."
"Exactly, Leanne. While none of us have as wide a repertoire as Dumbledore or Grindelwald, we may stand a chance against wizards like them in purely magical combat based on our dodging and alteration of the environment in our favour. Not that I want any of us to put that to the test."
"Amen to that!" the girls chorused.
In the end, despite devoting most of a day to the task, little of value was gained beyond watching the action movie, and they were glad they were only clones. To celebrate finishing their work, they went into town for ice-cream, putting the war and everything related to it out of their minds for the evening.
For the rest of the month, the Potter Alliance had no attacks on Wizarding targets to worry about but they were painfully aware that the Death Eaters were still out there and could resume their attacks without warning.
As the day drew near for the Summer Solstice, wizards and witches across the northern hemisphere prepared to mark the occasion. For potioneers, it was an important date as any potion intended to empower the drinker became slightly more potent if any of a number of ingredients were added as the sun rose to its zenith on the longest day of the year. Likewise for the few wizards interested in ritual magic, the date had a special significance.
In a hidden home turned fortress in Wiltshire, the self-styled Lord Voldemort had spent Lucius' money like water to create a grand spectacle, a re-dedication of his Death Eaters to his cause. He had invited his minions to scurry across Europe on errands, obtaining rare, illegal or just expensive items all so they could present them to him as a sign of their devotion. What the Death Eaters didn't know was that by doing so on the anniversary of his resurrection, on a day when magical empowerment was especially favoured, they would be consigning a small portion of their magical power and reserves to their master.
At local midday, at the exact moment of noon, all the Death Eaters swore anew their allegiance to the former Tom Riddle, dedicating their power to him. As he felt the power flow through him, he wanted to laugh again at the ignorance of his 'noble' followers. Too late, he saw that some of his slaves realize their error. By voluntarily taking part, they had sealed their fate.
In Cranleigh in Surrey, the Clan had invited their friends and allies for a party in the afternoon and evening. They explained it as allowing their friends to have their own celebrations before the Potter Alliance event but the truth was that they wanted the excuse for fireworks. And everyone knows those look better at night.
From four o'clock onwards, upwards of two thousand people made their way to the Compound, showing the value of Fuinjutsu in expanding their home and creating a luxurious venue for their guests. At six o'clock, the Clan guided their guests into the formal dining hall, suitably decorated for the occasion. By eight o'clock, everyone was relaxed and people were contemplating dessert when Harry and all his Hufflepuff yearmates slipped out of the hall.
Harry's clones wove techniques, encouraging people to silence just as the real young man and his companions opened the double doors. Their entrance drew all eyes to them, just as they had planned. Despite Harry's best efforts, the others had refused to 'dress up like bees' as Susan had put it, all in black and yellow, but they did agree that some costumes were in order.
In a single row, the ten Hufflepuffs advanced to the edge of the central dance floor, drew their wands in unison and called out "Tassolegra!"
A cloud of smoke poured out of their wands. When it cleared, to Professor Sprout's delight, scores of badgers were arranged in rows of ten, marching onto the dance floor where they proceeded to pair off and dance a lively waltz. At the conclusion of the first dance, both students and badgers took a bow and the badgers scurried up to the Professor's table, hanging around her feet.
She looked up at a polite cough to see her old friend Filius grinning at her. "Would Milady care for a dance?"
The pair danced and laughed.
After clapping Harry on the shoulder, Justin and the other three Hufflepuff boys headed back to their other friends.
"So what happened to the badgers?" Terry Boot asked without preamble.
"They got collected by Hana and old Hagrid." Ernie told the curious Ravenclaw.
"Yeah, they're going to be checked and then released into the forest at Hogwarts. Since the Acromantulas were removed, and the Centaurs moved out, there's room for a good colony of badgers in the area. Hagrid's already spoken to the Headmistress. They're planning it as a surprise for Professor Sprout." Justin grinned as did the others.
Neville shook his head. "No more surprises, Harry?"
"None targeted at you, Nev."
"Yeah, you did say that. Besides, I like Professor Sprout and I think she deserves a good present."
"Too true. I heard from Hagrid that she put a lot of her own salary back into the greenhouses at Hogwarts."
"He was right." Harry confirmed. "Someone mucked up the school budget and of course, they cut back on the greenhouses. Anyway, rather than let her students suffer, she put in her own time and money to save the Herbology program."
"A true Hufflepuff." Wayne pronounced seriously. "To Professor Sprout!" He raised his glass in a salute to the quiet teacher.
"To Professor Sprout."
At the Solstice celebrations, Professor Sprout laughed delightedly when a dozen ranks of honey badgers marched up to her table and performed a dance for her.
And quietly, the Lifeguards tried to master various spells demonstrated by the 'great' Albus Dumbledore with moderate success.
Thank you all for reading. Thank you for all your reviews too.