Harry Potter reclined on the bed in the room he and Ron shared. The final volume of Practical Defensive Magic and Its Use Against the Dark Arts was propped open in his lap. Things had become very slow around number 12 Grimmauld Place in the two weeks since they'd arrived. Karl Zorn, Harry's temporary bodyguard of sorts, had returned to France to bury his brother-in-law, Jean-Phillipe Durand, so that left Mrs. Weasley as the figure in charge most of the time.
Even with the newfound joys of his relationship with Ginny Weasley, Harry found life at number 12 quite monotonous. Mrs. Weasley, while approving of Harry and Ginnybeing a couple, did not approve of certain activities of an amorous nature - nothing beyond a chaste kiss on the lips, it seemed.
To this end she kept Harry and Ginny both busy doing housework in different rooms or at separate times as often as she could - Grimmauld Place had improved quite a bit since Harry's first visit, but it still had a long way to go before it was anything remotely resembling homey, from Mrs. Weasley's perspective.
Ron and Hermione didn't escape the eagle eye of Molly Weasley, either, however. They didn't seem to get quite as much housework as Harry and Ginny, but Harry had overheard Ron complaining that someone always seemed to be around when he and Hermione were in a room together, whether it was Mrs. Weasley herself, or one of the Order members who had time to spare. Fred and George in particular seemed to take great delight in spending as much time with Ron and Hermione as was physically possible.
Harry found the whole thing quite frustrating, an opinion which was obviously shared by Ginny, Ron, and Hermione. If Mrs. Weasley had known about some of Harry and Ginny's hidden activities when they found a free moment, Harry was quite sure that she'd take up sleeping in Ginny's bedroom and following her into the loo.
There really wasn't much to do at Grimmauld Place, beyond talking Quidditch, snogging, and reading. The first option didn't happen often, as Harry had spent very little time alone with Ron, and Quidditch talk tended to bore Hermione. As for Ginny, well, when he was fortunate enough to be alone with Ginny, their conversations often started along the lines of Quidditch, but usually ended up going elsewhere very quickly.
That left reading, which was what Harry was doing now. He had exhausted all of the books he hadn't read, and was doing second read-throughs. Once those were done, there'd be nothing left to do but homework.
If Harry didn't keep busy, his thoughts would usually wind their way back to the death of his godfather. Harry had more memories of Sirius Black at number 12 than in any other location, so painful reminders were everywhere.
Still, he supposed that boredom, worry, and even depression were better than dodging curses and losing friends. The Death Eaters had been pretty quiet since the second big Azkaban breakout, but they were probably just regrouping somewhere and planning their next move.
Suddenly the silence that had been prevalent in the house for the past hour was pierced by a loud whoop.
In other locales, hearing such a sound might have inspired Harry to grab his wand and run to investigate.
However, since he suspected Dumbledore would sooner elope with Umbridge than give up their location, Harry was content to leave his wand on the bedside table and seek out whatever happenstance had courteously broken the monotony.
He was halfway down the stairs when Ginny rounded the corner, a copy of The Daily Prophet in hand. "Harry! You won't believe the good news!"
Harry grinned. "Try me. What happened?"
She showed him the paper. "Emmeline Vance is running for Minister of Magic, they've called a re-election."
"I met her once. I think she was part of the group that came to get me last summer."
Hermione rounded the corner accompanied by Ron, her own copy of The Daily Prophet tucked under her arm. "Harry, Ginny, you've heard the news?"
"Yeah," said Harry. "But how do wizarding elections work?"
"They're not too far different from Muggle ones," said Hermione. "Fudge has to run for re-election, and if he loses, Ms. Vance gets the job."
"Do you think he stands a chance?" asked Ron.
Hermione threw him a look. "Honestly Ron, don't you read?"
"Er... I was about to ask the same question, actually," Harry said.
Hermione shook her head and sighed. "Boys."
"Can I help if it if I don't read a newspaper that insults me whenever bad weather hits?" Harry snapped. He'd seen no need to read the Prophet of late; anything major he'd hear about anyway, now that he was away from the Dursleys.
"Calm down, mate," said Ron. "You need to learn to chill a little."
Harry's jaw dropped for a second. Over the past year Ron had taken to backing down whenever it seemed like Harry was about to tirade. "What, you pick now to get a backbone?"
"He's always had a backbone, Harry, maybe you've been just too thick to notice!" Ginny cut in.
"What is this, pick on Harry day?"
"No, that's tomorrow," said Ron.
Harry was able to crack a smile at that; tomorrow was his birthday. "I'm sorry. I'm just a little tense is all."
"We all are," said Ginny. "And Mum isn't helping the situation. Damn it, if I get one more pointless chore..."
"At the risk of slipping back into argument, I'd really like to know: does Fudge stand a chance of winning the re-election?" Harry asked.
"It might be close actually. Ms. Vance hasn't done anything with politics before, and that could hurt her. But she does come from a Pure Blood family, and considering the noted bias in the wizarding community, that does count for something." Hermione huffed.
"Yeah, but Fudge is Pure Blood too," said Ron.
"Well, Ms. Vance works for the International Magical Office of Law, so she has knowledge of the rules going for her."
"Hermione," Ginny asked, "do you still have connections to Rita Skeeter?"
Hermione frowned. "Yes and no. My ban on her quill has been lifted, as per our agreement."
"Would she answer, if you wrote to her?" Ginny asked.
"I don't know," Hermione admitted. "We could always try. Why?"
"The cow had herself a grand old time trying to destroy Harry's reputation...she's tried the same with you, Dumbledore, Hagrid, and Merlin knows how many other people. The record shows it's something she likes to do."
"I'm not sure I like where this is going," said Harry.
"Bear with me, Harry, for just a moment," said Ginny. "In the past, she's tried to destroy reputations with half-truths and outright lies. What if she could ruin them using the truth?"
Hermione shook her head. "So far I'm with Harry on this one; I put that ban on her in the first place to so she could learn to live without writing horrible things about people."
"Honestly, Ginny, you sound like a Slytherin," added Ron.
Ginny sighed. "I don't mean we directly go after Fudge's reputation. I'm not saying we should target his personal life, or his friends, or anything sick like that. But what if we could get her to write an article about Sirius? We tell the public who he was, and what he really did for the wizarding world. The truth of that will reflect more badly on Fudge then any stupid details we could dig up."
"I don't know," said Hermione. "It sounds like a very good plan, actually, but I'd want to talk to someone in the Order before we tried it."
"You didn't talk to anyone in the Order before you did the thing for Harry," Ron pointed out.
"That was different," Hermione protested.
"Not really," said Ron. "It's the same thing. Harry told the truth, and that made the Ministry look bad, didn't it?"
"That's not the point," said Hermione, who was clearly starting to get annoyed.
Harry exchanged an amused look with Ginny as Ron and Hermione kept going.
"How is it not the point? It's the same bloody situation!"
"No, it isn't!"
"Tell me, then, tell me why it isn't! Or is it that I'm too thick to understand?"
"Well you certainly aren't being terribly clever at the moment!"
"I think I'll go see what's for dinner," said Harry.
He turned to Ginny, but she had already slipped away and was beckoning to him from the stairway.
Harry stepped away from Ron and Hermione, who were now quickly escalating to one of their infamous full-blown rows, and hurried to the stairs.
He started go down the steps, but he wasn't halfway down when Ginny put her arms around his waist from behind. "Where are you going, Harry? All that noise is perfect cover."
Harry turned himself around and pulled her to him, capturing her mouth in a bruising kiss that only deepened as the seconds passed. He slipped his hands around her waist and shut his eyes, enjoying the taste of her, the feel of her body pressed to his.
Ginny's hands went from his face to his bum as she kissed him back with barely-checkedpassion.
Harry held the kiss until they were both nearly out of air, then broke free, inhaling the hot summer air and moving his attentions down to her throat. He could feel Ginny stifling a moan at his touch, which only caused the feral desires rising in him to come that much closer to the surface.
Suddenly they heard the telltale sound of the front door being unlocked.
They reluctantly broke apart, both cursing under their breath as they hurriedly tried to fix their appearances.
Upstairs, the sound of quarrelling had stopped completely, replaced with a suspicious silence.
The door opened and Bill, Fleur, and Mad-Eye stepped in.
The French half-Veela eyed them with a knowing glance and cracked a smile. "Good evening Harry, Ginny."
"Hello," said Harry. "How was your day?"
"Oh, you know, the usual," Bill put in. "Paperwork, tea-time, assassination attempts..."
"Assassination attempts!" Ginny exclaimed. "Bill, what happened?"
"We met Kingsley for lunch in Diagon Alley," said Fleur. "We were halfway through ordering when three Death Eaters appeared out of nowhere and tried to kill us."
"Actually, they were focusing more on Kingsley," said Bill. "Fleur and I got hit from behind with the full-body bind, and from there they started trying to use the nasty stuff on Kingsley."
"Three on one? Is he all right?" asked Harry.
"He's fine. I happened to be in the neighbourhood," said Moody. "He didn't need much help though, he got that first one with a Stunner and then went to duelling the second two simultaneously. I stepped in and took one of them down, but the third Disapparated before we could get him."
"That's not the first time he's done that, fighting two at once," Harry said, thinking back to the Battle of the Ministry.
Mad-Eye's lopsided mouth twisted into a grin. "That's standard Auror faire, lad, if you've been on the job as long as Shacklebolt has. I could do three in my heyday."
"How many can you do now?" asked Ginny.
Mad-Eye laughed, "At my age, with one leg? I might be able to handle multiples, if they're young and green, but up against You-Know-Who's inner circle I can maybe take one."
"Oh," said Ginny, looking unsure of what to say next.
"I'm old, missy, old and broken. That's what happens if you accept too many suicide missions."
"I was under the impression that you got old by not accepting suicide missions," Bill said, clearly holding back a laugh.
"Well, you don't have my weird run of luck," said Moody.
"What's this about weird luck?" Mrs. Weasley walked into the room. "I've got a roast nearly done, if you'd all like to stay for dinner?"
"Weird luck," said Moody, "is the reason I'm not on the cover of Witch Weekly. And I'd love to stay for dinner."
Dinner was nearly over when the door opened and Mr. Weasley walked in. He was carrying a large bundle of file folders in his arms, which he promptly set down in a clear spot on the table.
"Arthur, you look exhausted!" said Mrs. Weasley, walking over and welcoming him with a kiss.
"It's been an exhausting day," said Mr. Weasley, "and I have some bad news."
"Another assassination attempt?" asked Bill.
"No," sighed Mr. Weasley. "I hadn't heard about that, actually. Who was it?"
"Ah. Best not get into that right now, dear," said Mrs. Weasley. "Suffice to say no one was hurt."
"All right," said Mr. Weasley, sinking down into a chair.
To Harry's eyes, he looked not only exhausted, but defeated, as if someone had taken a siphon and sucked all the joy from his eyes.
"As of 5 o' clock this afternoon, I am no longer employed by the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office," Mr. Weasley said softly.
There was a clattering of dropped silverware around the table, and everyone began asking questions at once.
Mr. Weasley held up one hand for silence and put the other to his forehead; he was clearly nursing a headache. "At approximately ten o'clock in the morning, Dolores Umbridge sent one Christina Snodgrass down to 'take charge of things,' as she put it. Within half an hour she was making addendums, changing laws; the same sort of thing you lot had to put up with at Hogwarts, really," he said, looking up at where, Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny were sitting.
"I don't understand, Dad," said Bill. "Fudge didn't trust you before, why didn't he try this a year ago?"
"I don't know that Fudge is aware of the action," said Mr. Weasley.
"Well, you can appeal then, can't you?" Hermione asked.
"I don't think it would do any good, Hermione," said Mr. Weasley. "Bill is right, Fudge hasn't been happy with my being at the Ministry at all for well over a year. Besides, I highly doubt Fudge would even hear of the appeal, it would go straight to Umbridge, and no further."
Mrs. Weasley slumped back into her own chair. "What are we going to do now, Arthur? How are we to afford Hogwarts?"
"I'm sure we'll think of something, dear," said Mr. Weasley.
Harry shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He'd gladly give half the money in his Gringotts account to the Weasleysat the drop of a hat, but for the fact that they wouldn't accept it.
"Something," said Moody, who had been rather quiet throughout the meal. "Funny thing - I reckon I have that something right here."
"What do you mean, Alastor?" asked Mrs. Weasley. "I won't accept any charity."
"Well, think of it as a gift, rather than charity if you like, but I'm afraid you don't have a say in the matter," said Moody.
Mrs. Weasley's expression turned dangerous. "Excuse me? I don't think I heard you correctly. Would you care to repeat that?"
Mad-Eye reached into his robes and pulled out an official looking document. "Dumbledore reckons it's about time we dealt with Sirius' will. Lupin was named executor, but as he's incapacitated at the moment, he officially requested that either Dumbledore or I take care if it. Dumbledore's got enough on his hands, so I took the job."
"Is that allowed?" asked Hermione, frowning.
"It's standard Gringotts policy," said Fleur. "I do not know about elsewhere. Are things different in ze Muggle world?"
Hermione frowned. "I'm not sure, actually. It just sounds a bit odd to me."
Harry sighed heavily. He didn't want to think about Sirius' possessions belonging to anybody but Sirius just now, the pain was still too raw.
Mad-Eye cleared his throat. "Anyway, this will is why I was in Diagon Alley when Kingsley was attacked. I was planning on dropping in at some point today to deal with it anyway."
"It would have been nice of you to mention this beforehand," grumbled Mrs. Weasley.
"I was going to send word along, but I got a bit sidetracked," growled Moody. "Anyway, the sooner we get started, the sooner we finish."
"All right," sighed Mr. Weasley. "Let's hear it."
Moody cleared his throat and read:
Last Will and Testament of Sirius Black
To Whom It May Concern: Let it be known that I, Sirius Black, a resident of London, being of sound mind and clear memory, do hereby make, publish, and declare this document to be my last will and testament, hereby revoking any and all wills and supplements by me at any time heretofore made.
As the last male heir to the Black family estate, it is within my power to transfer ownership of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, London, England to one Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, to use as he sees fit.
To my godson, Harry James Potter, I give the sum of 15,000 Galleons, transferable from my personal Gringotts account. Harry is also to receive all of my personal possessions, not including any salvageable objects formally owned by the Black family at 12 Grimmauld Place and my guitar.
To Remus John Lupin, dearest of friends, I give the sum of 10,000 Galleons, transferable from my personal Gringotts account. Remus is also to receive my guitar on the condition that he uses it (so no more slacking off with practice, Moony).
To my friend and business associate, Mundungus Fletcher, I award 500 Galleons, transferable from my personal Gringotts account. Mundungus is also to receive any salvageable object (not including household furniture and appliances) formerly owned by the Black family at Number 12, Grimmauld Place.
To the Tonks family, I give the sum of 1000 Galleons, to be split among the three of them, on the condition that Nymphadora uses part of her third to buy tickets to see the Weird Sisters, should they still be actively playing gigs at the time of my death.
To Arthur and Molly Weasley, I give the sum of 12,583 Galleons, transferable from my personal Gringotts account.
And finally, the remaining 520 Galleons, 9834 Sickles and 88 Knuts are to be divided evenly amongst the Weasley siblings and Hermione Jane Granger.
Signed, sealed, and declared by the above named Sirius Black to be his last will and testament, in the presence of I, Remus J. Lupin, on this first day of December, 1995.
Moody finished talking and dead silence descended upon the room. Harry's surprise was not at Sirius' gifts to him, nor to Lupin or Tonks, though he was a little surprised that Mundungus was in Sirius' will. The utterly shocked expressions on the faces of all five Weasleys present summed up Harry's own feelings perfectly.
Surprise slowly gave way to a smile, however, as he came to the realization that Sirius had been able to do what he, Harry, had not - force the Weasley family out of poverty.
Mr. Weasley finally broke the silence. "T-t-twelve thousand galleons!"
"Twelve thousand, five hundred, and eighty three galleons," Mad-Eye reiterated.
"Good lord, we're rich!" shouted Mr. Weasley. "Wait until we tell Fred, George, and Charlie!"
"Maybe...maybe Percy will come back now," said Mrs. Weasley, looking at once sad and hopeful.
"Oh no," said Ginny. "If the git decides he wants back in, he'd best do it before our new money is public knowledge. He doesn't get to crawl back to us that easily now that we're no longer 'lacking ambition' or however he put it. And Fred and George are already rich. Or getting there, anyway."
Mrs. Weasley was clearly fighting back tears.
"I think we'd best drop this subject," said Mr. Weasley sternly.
"Where's Kreacher?" Ron asked suddenly. "Not that I miss him, but I haven't seen him since we got here, and that's pretty unusual."
"Mrs. Black's backstabbing house elf? Dumbledore put him in stasis. He's too dangerous otherwise,and he's caused enough trouble for a bloke ten times his size," said Moody.
Hermione looked shocked and indignant. "You didn't!"
Moody shook his head. "No, I didn't. Dumbledore took care of that all on his own. I think he was afraid one of us might do something to him if he gave the job to us."
"That's really unfair!" said Hermione. "Whatever Kreacher did isn't his fault! I'm sure Mrs. Black put him up to it."
Harry bristled and started to stand, drawing in a breath to begin shouting at Hermione.
He felt a firm, restraining hand on his arm and started to push its owner off of him when he realized it was Ginny. Harry took a deep breath and slumped back into his chair. "It is Kreacher's fault," he muttered.
"Harry, you know that's not true!" said Hermione.
"I'm afraid that it is," said Moody.
Hermione was about to shoot off another reply, but Harry interrupted her. "If Kreacher hadn't done what he'd did, Sirius would still be alive."
"You can't say that!" Hermione protested. "And if pointing fingers at Kreacher is okay, why doesn't Dumbledore put us in stasis too?"
"What's 'stasis'?" asked Ron.
"It's a state of suspended animation, wherein the victim enters a permanent coma like sleep and cannot be awaked except by extremely powerful witches or wizards," said Hermione.
"Sounds like a useful spell," said Ron, who Harry realized was trying to steer the subject clear of emotionally-tryingconversation topics.
"It'snot a spell, it's a ritual," said Hermione. "And it takes about three hours to cast. And it's also illegal to use the ritual in question on human beings. What makes Kreacher so different?"
"Hold on," said Harry. "You said a minute ago that there was no difference in the ways Kreacher's actions lead to Sirius' death and what we did trying to rescue him."
"Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying," said Hermione, vehemently.
"Calm down, Harry," said Bill, apparently sensing that Harry's anger was about to erupt. "She doesn't know the full story."
"She knows enough!" said Harry. "She knows that Kreacher lied to me about Sirius having left Grimmauld Place that day."
"Will you both please stop referring to me as though I wasn't here!" Hermione snapped. "And it isn't right to put someone into stasis just because they told a lie!"
"A lie? A lie? In the singular? What the hell is your problem, Hermione? You think all he did was tell a single lie?" Harry barked.
"It doesn't matter how many lies he told!" Hermione retorted.
"Enough!" said Mr. Weasley. "Harry, why don't you and Ginny head upstairs for a little bit? I'll give Hermione the real story, as I know it, and we can move on from there."
"What, and I don't get to hear it?" asked Ginny indignantly.
"I'll tell you. Come on Ginny," Harry said, quickly rising from his seat and pushing his chair in. Without another word he turned on his heel and walked out.
Harry walked out of the basement and upstairs, heading in the direction of his room. Soft footsteps behind him told him Ginny was following. When he got to his room, he threw open the door and angrily stalked in, throwing himself down on the bed.
Ginny lay down next to him and brought a hand up to stroke his cheek. "Hey."
"Hey," said Harry, his anger slowly lessening with her touch.
"What did Kreacher do? Do you want to talk about it?"
Harry started to shake his head and stopped. Taking a deep breath, he told Ginny everything Kreacher had done.
When he was finished, Ginny slipped her arms around him, pulling him closer to her. "I understand why you're angry at Kreacher. I don't blame you, and I think Hermione is being rather stupid about the whole thing."
"What is it with her?" Harry growled, annoyed again. "The little tart would still be trying to make excuses for Kreacher if he'd tried to butcher me with a kitchen knife!"
Ginny took Harry's chin in her hand and turned his head to face her. "First off, you're not to call Hermione a 'little tart' ever again. Second, for Merlin's sake Harry, she's a human being - she's not making sense right now, but you can't expect her to be rational all the time."
"Oh, and I suppose you think I should be?" Harry shot back.
Ginny sighed and shook her head. "No. I know you're not a saint. I love you despite your flaws and because of them. They're a part of you, and some of them are truly endearing. Others...well, aren't, but we'll just have to work on them."
Harry looked into her eyes. "Merlin, Ginny, I don't deserve you. I... I don't even know how to respond to something like that."
Ginny smirked. "You make it sound as though I made a legal decree..."
"It's just that... well, I don't think I have the words in me to respond to something that deep," said Harry.