(Brief author's note: this story is in four parts so novella- rather than novel-length, about 30K words. Fuller notes after Part 4, but if you were wondering what Ron and Hermione were doing during the first part of this story well, let's say it might be something very like my earlier In The Bleak Midwinter. :D)
Harry felt fairly sure that Minerva McGonagall would be willing to do anything she could to help them, and he was right. He and Ginny found her supervising the repairs to Hogwarts; she listened, tight-lipped, as he described the events at The Burrow, and looked as if she would have liked to spit when Umbridge's role was mentioned.
"So we need to look up the legal stuff," he finished. "Can we use the library here? I don't want to spend more time that I have to in the Ministry at the moment," he added.
"No, I don't suppose you do, Potter," she replied, with a look that was more pointed than Harry felt was strictly necessary. "Too many people wanting a word with you, no doubt?" He nodded, and McGonagall's face softened. "Very well. Of course the two of you and Miss Granger and Mr Weasley when they return can use the Hogwarts library, you hardly needed to ask." Her expression became serious. "But, Harry " he noticed her use of his first name and was mildly surprised " I think you should consider your unique position. At the moment, you could ask for almost anything from almost anyone in the wizarding world, and get it. You could do a lot of good "
"Yeah, I've had Kingsley Shacklebolt and everyone else telling me that already," muttered Harry. He'd heard it far too often in the past few days, and could have done without McGonagall adding her two Knuts. "I don't want everyone to keep thinking of me as special. I've had people gawking at my scar since I was too young to even know. Isn't that enough for them by now?" He seemed to have made replies of that kind far too often as well.
"Maybe it should be." Her tone was sympathetic, but her reply was as crisp as ever, although what she had to say was very familiar. "But Kingsley is right. I'm afraid they're going to think you're special whether you want them to or not, because you are. Think about what you want, Harry. We'll all support you, of course, whatever you decide. You'd even be welcome to come back and finish your education if you wished."
That was a new suggestion. Harry hesitated. "Thanks, Professor, but I'm not really sure that'd work." He gazed around him at the familiar surroundings except now they were jarringly unfamiliar. Many of the walls were lying in ruins where curses and giants had done their worst, the grounds had been torn and trampled, and he swallowed as a lump rose in his throat. He'd really missed the place the castle had been the first true home he could remember, despite the less pleasant experiences he'd had there involving giant spiders, Ministry interference, and of course repeated attempts to kill him on Voldemort's part. "I'll think about it, though."
McGonagall smiled. "Well, I'd say you've earned an Outstanding in Defence Against the Dark Arts, anyway. And whatever he decides, I expect to see you back to finish your N.E.W.T.s, Miss Weasley," she added with a significant look at Ginny. "I plan to reopen this school in September even if we have to teach all the classes in the open air!"
Harry poked his head around the door of the Hogwarts library with a sense of foreboding, but was heartened to see that it had escaped from the fighting with very little damage. Better yet, there was what appeared to be a complete archive of Ministry documents tucked away in one corner, going back to what Harry vaguely remembered was the date of its foundation. When they had finally located the volumes they wanted and taken a seat at one of the old tables, he found himself in astonishingly high spirits even though the dull legal tomes in front of him would, in years past, have filled him with a sense of gloom when he contemplated the task of searching through them for the titbits of information he needed.
For a few moments, he felt a wild desire to take McGonagall up on her offer, catch the Hogwarts Express as usual next September, and start classes as before. He couldn't pretend, even to himself, that he cared overmuch about actually studying for N.E.W.T.s especially if Kingsley Shacklebolt was right in his opinion that he wouldn't need them but the idea of attempting to relive the many happy times he had enjoyed here was enormously appealing. Then he glanced out of the broken window and caught sight of the shattered tower opposite, and memories of the last year suddenly came flooding back. He turned away; it was as if the missing glass had allowed a chill wind to blow through the library.
"Are you OK, Harry?"
He started; for a moment, he'd actually forgotten Ginny was there. Her voice was low and gentle, and the way she was looking at him reminded him painfully of a quiet conversation about Sirius when things had been very different.
"I'm not I don't belong here any more, Ginny," he said, fighting to avoid the embarrassment of his voice breaking up. He dropped his gaze to the table. "Things have gone too far. I know McGonagall meant well, but I don't think I could come back. I'd only be pretending, wouldn't I? No-one's going to let me be just an ordinary student again even if I tried, and I probably wouldn't feel comfortable trying anyway "
"You've grown up, Harry." He looked up to see her staring at him. "I can see it, you know."
"I don't want you to think I've changed," he said uncomfortably.
Ginny smiled. "I don't think you've changed exactly. You've " she visibly struggled for words " I don't know, you actually seem more you than you've ever been. And no, I don't think it's just because you've lost that bit of Voldemort," she added, cutting him off before he could speak. "I mean, ever since the end of last year. You seem to have become the man we always knew you were really everything I saw in you in the first place," she finished.
She was blushing slightly, in a way that had once been familiar whenever she was in his presence; but now, her brown eyes met his steadily instead of shying away, with a blazing look in them that he'd come to appreciate. He found himself acting on a sudden overriding impulse one his brain didn't consciously identify as the desire to lean forward and kiss her until he was already doing it. As soon as it did, he drew back, alarmed that he might have taken her approval for granted; but Ginny was apparently acting on her own overriding impulse, and impatiently put her hand on the back of his head and pulled his lips back towards her own.
He couldn't have said how long this pleasant state of affairs had lasted (except that it definitely wasn't long enough) when they were interrupted by a loud and rather shocked cough. Harry glanced up, and to his horror saw Madam Pince staring at them with an expression of complete disbelief.
"I er we " he began, trying to find some way of explaining why it was entirely reasonable for them to be snogging in the Hogwarts library, and realising immediately that the attempt was futile. Next to him, a scarlet-faced Ginny was making equally incoherent attempts of her own; but then, incredibly, Pince's expression changed. He wouldn't have described it as a smile, exactly, not even by McGonagall's standards, but the librarian's pursed lips did straighten very slightly.
"This library is for studying, Mr Potter, Miss Weasley," she said, her beaked nose jutting forward. "It is not here for you to conduct other activities, even under the present exceptional circumstances! Please remember that in future!" She turned on her heel and marched back to her desk, and Harry breathed a small, astonished sigh of relief.
"I thought she was going to set flying books on us again," he muttered.
Ginny grinned, then bit her lip. "I think she likes me, you know," she whispered. "Because of the way we fought the Carrows. It was horrible in Hogwarts last year him teaching everyone the Dark Arts, her ranting on about how terrible it was that blood traitors made laws saying Muggles should be given the same rights as wizards. It actually made us wish we had Binns back even if he didn't cover whole chunks of the O.W.L. syllabus because he'd forgotten it had changed since 1922. Honestly, you wouldn't believe it, but the library was one of the best places to be. You could lose yourself in a book, as if failing your N.E.W.T.s was the worst thing you had to worry about. And stop looking guilty, Harry! It's over now, and it wasn't even your fault in the first place."
Harry nodded. "We, er, need to talk about that, don't we?" he said awkwardly. Despite all the occasions during the last year when he'd wondered what things were like for Ginny at Hogwarts, he hadn't yet actually given her a chance to tell him.
"Yes," Ginny said seriously. Then she grinned again. "If we have time " She glanced at the tottering stacks of books next to them, and her expression sobered. "Later though, right? We need to get to work on this lot first."
Harry nodded. It was a fair point it was, after all, what they had come to Hogwarts to do, even if there had been interesting developments in the meantime. "Yeah, OK. You take that pile, I'll take this one."
He opened the first book and stared at the title page without any real enthusiasm although the inner warmth he felt when he contemplated what had just happened removed any possible tendency towards gloom.
Harry wouldn't, however, have blamed Andromeda Tonks for feeling gloomy, although it was hard to tell quite what she was feeling. despite Molly Weasley's best efforts to draw her out, she'd been alarmingly quiet and withdrawn ever since arriving at The Burrow. He saw her sitting in the garden with Teddy the following morning, and reluctantly decided he ought to go and make some sort of attempt to reassure her that things would be all right (although neither he nor Ginny had yet found much that seemed likely to help).
"Er, Mrs Tonks, are you OK?" he asked, wishing he hadn't as soon as he'd said it. Under the circumstances it was a question with a fairly obvious answer.
She turned slowly, and he could see that she was collecting herself. "Well, I have been better," she said. "Thank you for helping us, Mr Potter. I know I don't have any claim on you "
"Teddy has. And I'd want to help even if he didn't. I really liked your daughter and Lupin," he added awkwardly. "They were good friends to me, and, well, you know how sorry I am about what happened. Really, I am. Um, really."
She nodded, and even managed a tentative half-smile. "I don't blame you, if that's what you were thinking. I don't I'm sorry I haven't been much of a guest to you all I just can't believe all this is happening to me!" she cried suddenly, and Harry jumped. "First Ted, then Nymphadora and her husband, and now they want Teddy too? He's the only family I have, can't they leave me with anything?"
"What about " Harry paused, remembering Mrs Malfoy's name next to a hole on the tapestry in Grimmauld Place, but wasn't sure it would be tactful to mention her, even if she had helped him in the Forest.
"Narcissa?" Her scorn was evident, although at least her outburst seemed to have brought a bit of colour back to her cheeks. "My dear sister has never spoken so much as a word to me since I married Ted. Oh, she's not as bad as " again, her expression turned ugly " well, anyway, let's not talk about her. I sometimes wish I'd been an only child like like Nymphadora "
For one moment of discomfort Harry thought she might break down again, but instead she swallowed compulsively and turned to stroke Teddy's hair, which had just turned a especially nauseous shade of orange. He seemed to be the only thing that was keeping her from complete collapse, and as he watched them Harry resolved again to do everything possible to win the case.
"Brothers and sisters aren't too bad if you've got decent ones," he said quietly and hesitantly after a second or two. "I've got people who are like brothers and sisters to me. I hope it'll be the same for Teddy " He trailed off. He'd been thinking of himself: even now. The Weasleys treated him as another son, and Hermione was practically a sister to him, but the sudden consideration that substitute siblings for Teddy might include his own kids was quite a shock. It seemed almost abstract, unreal and definitely not something to contemplate seriously right now. After all, he and his girlfriend were still finding out if they could manage so much as a few weeks together without major dramas. "And I'll be there for him too as godfather, I promise," he added quickly. "I know it meant a lot to me to have Sirius. I wish I'd been able to live with him. I'll do everything I can for Teddy, Mrs Tonks."
"Ah, Sirius." Andromeda Tonks's smile was both fond and regretful. "One of the few decent members of my family. He didn't come round to visit us very often, but I was always pleased to see him. So was Nymphadora, even as a child. He used to tease her and call her 'Nymph' she'd have thrown a tantrum if anyone else had done that, but somehow he managed to get away with it. I'd forgotten he was your godfather, Mr Potter he was so proud of that when he told me, although he hoped he'd never need to actually take over as your guardian. I wish I'd had the chance to tell him how terribly sorry I was for thinking he'd killed those people, but at least I knew from Nymphadora that it wasn't true a good year before it all came out publicly. She told me afterwards that she'd apologised to him on my behalf, and he asked her to thank me."
"He said to me once that you were his favourite cousin," said Harry, remembering.
"Did he?" She sounded extremely touched. "I'm glad Nymphadora had the chance to meet him as an adult. She couldn't tell me she was in contact with him while he was alive 'Order rules', you see." She took a deep breath. "I was always proud of her, Mr Potter. Always. For becoming an Auror, for joining the Order of the Phoenix, for wanting to do some good in the world. And I was always terrified for her because of the danger she was in. Sometimes your nightmares just come true, don't they?" Harry didn't know how to answer this other than 'yes' but Mrs Tonks didn't seem to expect a reply. "But she always did what she believed in whether it was fighting Dark wizards or standing up for her friends at school or marrying Remus Lupin." Her eyes had moistened, but strangely enough talking about her lost loved ones actually seemed to be helping.
"Tell me more about her," said Harry on impulse. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Ginny crossing the yard from the back door, obviously expecting him to join her for another trip to the Hogwarts library, and he gave her a tiny shake of the head. She looked puzzled for a moment, but comprehension dawned as she heard his next words, and she didn't interrupt as she sat down next to them. "And and tell me more about Sirius, too, if you want to. I'd like to know "
Ron and Hermione turned up the following day, to Harry's delight although privately, he had to admit to himself that spending time in the library with Ginny had definitely been more fun than it ever had with Hermione. On the other hand, her expert assistance made their task a great deal easier. She had soon filled several feet of parchment with notes, and acquired a expression that he could only describe as wistful longing whenever she looked around the school. Harry exchanged sympathetic glances with Ron as she heaved yet another deep sigh; his friend probably cared even less about taking his N.E.W.T.s than Harry did, but they could both tell that for Hermione the loss of their last year at Hogwarts really hurt.
"I don't like the look of this much, but it's not as bad as it might be," she told them once they were back at The Burrow and safely camped in Ron's room, in order to prevent Andromeda Tonks overhearing anything that might further distress her. She'd seemed a little more at ease since their talk the previous morning, but there was still an understandable hint of panic in her eyes whenever the subject of the tribunal was mentioned.
"Remus and Tonks definitely broke the law by getting married without permission. Kingsley had his secretary look up the records; she found a separate summons issued for that shortly after they got married, but nobody seems to have made any serious attempt to enforce it I don't suppose they had proof, and it probably got lost in the chaos when the Ministry fell. They wouldn't have been able to find them to arrest them anyway."
"I thought Muggle marriages were valid?" objected Ginny, and Ron nodded. "A couple of our cousins got hitched that way, and all they had to do was register it with the Ministry."
"Yes, but they weren't werewolves, were they? That 1741 Agreement says that no werewolf may marry at all unless it's deemed to be valid by their local Ministry, and if they'd well, lived they'd have been in trouble, because Ministries often don't grant approval for a werewolf to get married, even when they're not being run by the prejudiced. That must be why they went for a Muggle marriage, to thumb their noses at people like Umbridge. McGonagall said Remus told her once that he hadn't even looked up that part of the law, because he never expected to get married in the first place."
"Poor sod. We'll have to have a word with Kingsley about that policy, then, won't we?" said Ron, and the smiles he and Hermione exchanged seemed to have something private about them.
Harry, amused, glanced at Ginny, who smirked and rolled her eyes. Their friends had arrived back at The Burrow holding hands as if it had never occurred to them to do anything else, and in response to Harry's raised eyebrows admitted that they were now (in Hermione's words) 'an item'. Naturally, this piece of good news had resulted in a round of cheers, hugs, ribald jokes, and pats on the back from everyone present. It was hard to tell whether Ron or Hermione had blushed more. In the rush to work on Teddy Lupin's case, they hadn't really talked about it much (although Mrs Weasley had begun to offer advice, before being dissuaded by a tactful cough from her husband), but Harry was sure everyone would have worked it out anyway. It was hard not to notice a difference in the way they were behaving towards each other.
He hastily dragged his attention back to what Hermione was saying: " also a clause directly relating to offspring, it's Teddy's birth that seems to have actually triggered the summons for Remus and Tonks to appear before the Ministry." She saw Harry's puzzled expression and explained, "It's dated three days before Voldemort's fall and signed by some minor official. Umbridge must have discovered it after the battle and decided to enforce it, I suppose."
"What does this Agreement actually say, anyway?" asked Ron.
Hermione rummaged among the many rolls of parchment currently littering the bed. "Hang on, I made a copy OK, these are the relevant bits:
"Be it hereby decreed by the will of Wizardkind, expressed in the Proceedings of the most noble International Confederation of Wizards, that in order to prevent the further spread of the dread Curse of Lycanthropy, which has caused such general Alarm and Distress, it is necessary that certain Steps shall be taken, as follows
"XVII. Since the Purpose of the Institution of Marriage is in the general Circumstance for the Procreation and Raising of Offspring, and it is considered that there is great Risk of the Curse being passed in the Blood, no Werewolf shall be permitted to marry, except that in exceptional Cases where such a Marriage may be considered expedient or an act of Mercy, the several Ministries may permit the same and recognise such a Union as valid, at their Discretion and according to their applicable Laws. And each Ministry shall set for itself the severity of the Punishment that shall be meted out to those who offend against this Rule, except that in all Cases such a Marriage shall be deemed never to have been valid if Approval be not given.
"XVIII. As the necessary Complement to the previous Clause, no Werewolf shall be permitted to father Offspring, nor to raise them, regardless of their state of Wedlock, unless they shall first have been married in a Ceremony recognised as valid under the Requirements of said Clause. And the Punishment for the Breach of the Rule shall also be at the Discretion of each Ministry, except that under no Circumstance shall the Werewolf in breach be permitted to raise Offspring, and any that they have sired shall be placed in safe and secure Surroundings to be Raised such that the Risk of Infection be the least possible. And the several Ministries are charged to make provision for such Surroundings as best they may see fit."
Hermione paused to catch her breath. "I suppose they must have put that 'already married' clause in to allow for werewolves who already had children when they were bitten "
"Father offspring? What about bearing children, didn't female werewolves count?" interrupted Ginny angrily.
"Um, it wouldn't apply the first transformation by a pregnant werewolf kills the child, and often the mother too," answered Hermione, looking upset. The other three winced. "Knowing Remus, he probably worried it would work in reverse and beat himself up over it, but that's silly."
Ron's thoughts had been on a different track. "What's that 'risk of infection' thing about?" he asked. "Teddy Lupin was born over a month ago, wasn't he? There must have been at least one full moon since then, and if he didn't grow a tail or anything it's got to be pretty obvious he's not a werewolf."
"There's only Andromeda Tonks's word for that now, though." Harry opened his mouth to comment on this, but Hermione hastened to add, "Yes, we believe her, but the Ministry don't seem to. And they might claim it takes time to develop as far as I can tell that was why the Statute was written that way in the first place I mean, the whole thing's nonsense; lycanthropy can't be passed in the blood but they didn't know any better in 1741, and they've never changed the law. "
"And that 'secure surroundings' bit?" said Ginny. "Where does it say Teddy should be put in a home?"
"Oh, that's in a coda to the Agreement," replied Hermione, looking inexplicably happy. "Ministries of Magic were supposed to encourage the founding of orphanages where the children of werewolves could be raised safely until they came of age."
"There isn't one," Harry objected. "Kingsley said so."
"Not in Britain, no. But I remember reading a footnote in An Appraisal of Magical Education in Europe saying there was only one on the continent willing to accept such children. It's in Germany; apparently they have a problem werewolf population in the Black Forest. That must be where they're planning to send Teddy Lupin."
Harry blinked; no part of this sounded like good news. "So why are you looking so pleased about it?"
"I think they're overreaching," said Hermione smugly. "Obviously Umbridge didn't pay enough attention to those old records Kingsley had her going through, because she doesn't seem to have looked closely at the case histories. There's definitely precedent for putting children in the care of a non-lycanthropic family member instead, if there actually is one willing to take them, like Andromeda. It just hasn't happened very often. Most of the time, I'm afraid, the families had already disowned the werewolf's spouse, and wanted nothing to do with a grandchild who was the offspring of one."
"Dumping their own grandkids? That's sick," said Ron with a expression of deep disgust on his face, and Hermione gave him another tender look that made Harry squirm. He couldn't pin down exactly what had caused the difference in the way they acted towards each other; although as soon as he thought that he quickly decided not to try..
"So you think you can counter whatever Umbridge has to say, then?" he asked.
"I hope so. It all depends on who's running the tribunal. If they're willing to listen to a reasonable alternative proposal, and I can manage to explain it properly "
"Course you can," said Ron loyally, and Harry bit his lip to prevent himself smiling. His friends weren't quite at the Bill and Fleur level of general soppiness yet, but they seemed to be getting there, and it had the potential to become every bit as excruciatingly embarrassing as he'd once feared it might. On the whole, though, he felt relieved; ever since their return from Australia they finally seemed officially and comfortably together. Occasional moments of awkwardness for him were a small price to pay for that. And at the very least it meant they weren't driving him mad by dancing around the subject during every conversation
An unexpected visitor arrived at The Burrow the following lunchtime.
"Oh, Kingsley!" cried Molly, looking somewhat flustered. "I didn't know you were coming, Arthur never mentioned "
Kingsley Shacklebolt held up a hand. "That's all right, Molly. I'm just claiming the Ministerial privilege of an extended lunch break. Actually, I wanted to see Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Do you have anywhere private we can talk?"
"My room," said Ron before his mother could answer. "It's been our headquarters for the last few days. Mrs Tonks is in the sitting-room, so we can't use that for a Ministerial conference this time." Kingsley looked puzzled, but Harry grinned; this meeting was a lot more welcome than the previous occasion the Minister for Magic had visited The Burrow to seek them out. On the other hand, he had a bone to pick with the Minister this time as well.
"So why does Umbridge still have a job where she can make trouble?" he asked as soon as they'd closed the door and cast Muffliato on it.
"Or any job at all, for that matter," added Ron.
The interim Minister's expression was grim. "I daren't sack her yet." He waited for the storm of protest from the other three to subside. "Look, if I kick her out, I can't give her orders. As soon as I took over, I assigned a large pile of routine paperwork to all the people I thought were corrupt, to keep them from causing mischief while I worked out who was playing politics with whom. If I dismiss her, she can devote all her efforts to undermining me. It's ironic really, normally she's the sort who always follows the party line that the Minister hands down. But even someone as stupid as she is must know she'll be in trouble once we start formal investigations. She has a sadistic streak a mile wide, and the regime last year gave her opportunities to indulge it that were just too good to miss."
"Yeah, we know. We saw her," said Harry. His eyes flicked involuntarily to the back of his right hand. "Does it matter what she might or might not do?"
"I don't know," said Kingsley. "Believe me, Harry, I didn't get this job without a hell of an argument! In the end, the rump Wizengamot only agreed to appoint me interim Minister because there wasn't anyone in a senior position left who hadn't been compromised, or marginalised, or simply Imperiused and they had to have someone in charge who knew what they were doing. They haven't confirmed the appointment yet, and there are others angling for it who never thought much of the Order or the way we went about things. Far too many high-ranking people got their hands dirty last year either because they liked the stance of the new regime, or did a little too well for themselves while cosying up to it. It's left them in a very shaky position, and they could be a powerful faction if they get their act together. And since Umbridge is in a shaky position herself, and knows more than most about the internal workings of the Ministry, she'd be a valuable recruit. She might be very sympathetic to the idea that the new Minister should be someone who won't attempt to punish people just because they followed the Ministry line, even if it was laid down by Voldemort."
"Only obeying orders?" said Hermione bitterly.
Kingsley nodded. "Exactly. As the Muggle Prime Minister once said to me about his political opponents, better to have them inside the tent hexing out than outside the tent hexing in. Allowing for differences in terminology, of course."
"I suppose so," said Harry unwillingly. "Why is she so bothered about Teddy Lupin, anyway? It's not something she'd normally deal with, is it?"
Kingsley heaved a deep sigh. "No, it's not. It would have been a routine matter when news of the birth came across somebody's desk. I don't suppose for one minute that they actually expected Remus and Tonks to attend the hearing under the circumstances, especially since they'd ignored the previous summons and had been out of contact with the general public since then well, except on Potterwatch, of course. Unfortunately, the second summons must have been in the batch of routine paperwork Umbridge got. Damn the woman! It never occurred to me that there'd be a problem we all spent the last six months in hiding without bothering ourselves overmuch about what the Ministry thought about anything. But you know how she hates part-humans and people who oppose Ministry policy. She must have seen it as a golden opportunity to cause trouble and attack the Order's reputation."
"How did they even know Tonks had had the baby in the first place?" said Ron angrily. "They weren't thick enough to register it, surely?"
"The Hogwarts quill, obviously," said Hermione. She looked at Ron and Harry's surprised faces with a familiar exasperation. "You know, the one that records the birth of all magical children in Britain? The Carrows would be bound to watch out for any babies born to people who opposed the Death Eaters. It would be an extra threat to hold over them, wouldn't it?"
"Exactly, Hermione," said Kingsley with approval. "At least it confirms that Teddy Lupin is a wizard, though, and he should have a good future if you can win the case tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" yelled Harry, as Ron swore and Hermione stared open-mouthed. "You didn't tell us the bloody thing was tomorrow!"
"I tried to, Harry, that's why I came here, but you started asking me about Umbridge before I had the chance," said Kingsley with equanimity. "She still has friends in the Ministry, and evidently they would like this case heard before anyone can think of a legal way to spike it or the next full moon comes along and renders the main argument moot. The tribunal's scheduled for noon tomorrow in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Are you confident you can win?"
Harry glanced at Hermione, who nodded uncertainly. "Yes, Minister. We've got all our notes in order, and I don't see that Umbridge really has a leg to stand on as far as Teddy's custody is concerned, so long as the presiding official isn't one of her cronies. She can definitely show that Remus and Tonks acted illegally in getting married in a Muggle ceremony, but since they can't be brought to trial now that won't make any difference, will it?"
"No. Good. And it's Kingsley please, Hermione, not Minister, unless it's a formal occasion. After all that you three have done for us, the risks you've taken, you've earned the right not to stand on ceremony." Hermione turned pink and exchanged another look with Ron, who seemed extremely chuffed. Harry grinned. It made a nice change to have a Minister who was willing to work with him. Although since he'd mentioned risks "Erm, how did it go with the goblins, by the way?" he asked, hoping he would want to hear the answer.
"Oh, we made good progress once we'd looked up all the agreements we needed to cite. I suspect they already knew them and were hoping we didn't remember. A couple of junior goblins were muttering some shared joke about me having problems due to not knowing our own laws."
"I thought you said they were big on keeping agreements?"
Kingsley snorted. "Goblins study Ministry rules and regulations carefully, but if you don't know enough about them to present your side of the case, they certainly don't feel obliged to remind you. Especially when they're already offended."
They all nodded, remembering Griphook's smug comment to his fellow fugitives in the wood. "Do you think they wanted you to overhear that?" asked Harry.
"I doubt it. By an odd coincidence, one of my colleagues at the meeting was a fluent speaker of Gobbledegook. I didn't see fit to mention that fact to them, as it happens. We all have our negotiating tactics. So, is there anything else you need?"
"Will we be able to get in without a lot of fuss?" Harry didn't especially want to have to run the gauntlet of another crowd wanting to congratulate him.
Kingsley slapped his forehead. "Good grief, I'd forgotten about that." He rummaged in his pockets and pulled out a handful of tokens. "All the fireplaces are still blocked, you'll need these to get in through the visitors' entrance. There should be enough here to cover you, Andromeda, and anyone you want to bring as a witness. You know how to use them?" When Harry nodded, he added, "OK. Remind me to get the system changed back to how it used to be as soon as possible!"
Mrs Tonks appeared to take this new development stoically, but her frayed nerves were very evident. Harry had to admit too that Hermione's frantic manner as she explained her strategy for the hearing wasn't really helping. Ron was attempting to calm things down, but unfortunately he clearly had no idea how. As Hermione bent over her notes for a moment, he looked up at Harry with a grimace of enquiry.
Harry shrugged. "I'll, er, I'd better go and tell Ginny what's happening," he said, beating a hasty retreat to give himself time to clear his head.
He found her in the garden, staring moodily at a gnome that was chewing on something unidentifiable. Her expression darkened as he outlined what Kingsley had told them. "Poor Andromeda," she said. "Have you got your plan all worked out, then?"
"Hermione has," said Harry. Honesty compelled him to add, "At least I hope she has."
"I should think so. She's a smart girl. You'll let me know immediately how you all get on, won't you?"
Harry gaped at her. "Aren't you coming with us?"
"I don't know, Harry. Do you want me there?" She sounded oddly hurt.
"Of course we do!"
"We?" she said pointedly. He stared at her, confused, and she rolled her eyes. "Not you?"
"Well of course me " He trailed off, with an uneasy feeling that he was missing a very important point somewhere. "We've all been working together on this, haven't we?"
"Then why didn't you ask me to join you when Kingsley came?" She turned away and kicked a stone at the gnome, who swore at her and disappeared under a shrub, and Harry began to see dimly what the problem was. "I thought we'd got past 'go away, Ginny' by now. And I'm hardly going to be in danger talking to the Minister for Magic!"
"No. Right." He tentatively put a hand on her shoulder, but she shrugged it off. "Look, I didn't mean it like that. Kingsley said he wanted to see me, Ron, and Hermione, so "
"He and you and everyone else are so used to it being just you three that you didn't even think to ask me to join you?" she finished, without turning her head to look at him. "Harry, you're not out in the middle of nowhere in a tent any more! I want us to do some things together I've been wanting that for a whole year and now I can't tell if you have or not!"
Her voice had grown louder as she went along, and Harry found himself reacting to it. "Of course I have! I used to watch you every night on the Marauder's Map, make sure you were all right "
"What?" she cried, spinning on her heel to face him. "Oh, not that again! It was a war, Harry, nobody was all right! Is that all you were worried about? You didn't miss me, or want to know what the DA were doing to fight back, or wonder whether I was missing you like mad, dammit "
"Of course it wasn't all I was worried about!" he yelled, firing up. "Of course I missed you like mad! Don't you think I want a normal life for a change? I just don't ever get the chance to have one!" Bitter words suddenly seemed to flow out of him. "I want to spend time with my girlfriend, and go flying, and turn on the WWN and listen to the Cannons losing again! But every time I try, something comes up, someone asks me to 'use my influence', somebody wants me to be the sodding Chosen One Who Lived! Those few weeks last year with you at Hogwarts they really were out of someone's else's life, weren't they? Someone else who got to do all the nice normal things without having to fight Dark wizards every other week! I've had to get so used to it I wouldn't know how you're supposed to be normal even if they'd let me!"
"Harry?" He and Ginny spun round to see Ron and Hermione staring at them in shock. "Er we think we've got everything sorted now," said Ron, making a visible effort to collect himself. "We'll all Apparate to that alley outside at eleven tomorrow and get to the room early, it'll give us time to get the lie of the land and all that. Anyway yeah. Right." Harry was expecting him to comment on the argument, but instead he simply added, "Sorry we interrupted, mate. C'mon, let's leave them to it, eh?" He took the arm of a surprised Hermione and led her back into the house.
Harry looked at Ginny and felt regret wash over him. If even Ron was demonstrating more discretion than he was, things had clearly got out of hand. Maybe Hermione wasn't the only one who was experiencing reaction setting in. "Sorry," he said quietly. "I mean, it's not your fault. Yeah, you're right, it's been just me, Ron, and Hermione fighting a war for so long I'm not used to having the chance to be ordinary."
Ginny took his hands in hers. "You'll never be ordinary, Harry," she said softly. He could tell she was fighting the urge to shout, but just like him she did seem to be making a real effort to choose her words carefully. "You won the war. People are bound to ask you to help. You don't have to do it, but we both know you will if you can, it's what you're like. But it doesn't mean you can't do all the ordinary things too, now the war's over. Especially the spending time with your girlfriend part!"
Harry smiled. "I have to get the hang of that. Look I'll try not to leave you out of things again," he added seriously. "Bad habit, obviously. Give me time to get used to it, though?" His voice sounded far more plaintive than he'd intended. "I don't want to keep having arguments about it every five minutes."
She hesitated for a moment, then nodded. "Don't worry about that," she whispered. "I've wanted this for ages. I really did miss you like mad last year. Now we've come this far, I'm not letting the fact you're being a prat get in the way. I I suppose I'm being a bit of a prat myself, to be honest. And talking about prats " She stared at the door where Ron and Hermione had been. "Maybe he's learning. Or do you think we should warn Hermione that someone's kidnapped my brother and replaced him with a Polyjuiced impostor?"
Harry laughed out loud in sheer relief. "Nah, she's a smart girl, she'll work it out for herself. All she has to do is ask him about the Cannons' chances for next season, and if he talks for less than half an hour she'll hex him "
The following morning brought another unexpected message from Kingsley. This one was delivered by owl, and informed them that the hearing would be presided over by Amos Diggory.
"Amos?" said Ron in disbelief. "Who asked him to do it?"
"Your father had a word with him," called Molly from the kitchen, where she was standing over Andromeda Tonks and insisting that she eat a proper breakfast to keep her strength up for the hearing. "He thinks he's the best chance we've got."
Hermione was studying the note. "Kingsley agrees. Umbridge's clique are happy with him because his anti-werewolf views are well known " Harry scowled " but he may be sympathetic to Andromeda in this case, because, well "
"He knows what it's like to lose a kid," finished Harry. Any annoyance at Amos Diggory disappeared as he thought of Cedric, and he shook himself. "Right then, let's tell her we're ready "
"Oh, no!" Ginny's gasp interrupted him, and he turned to see her look up from the morning edition of the Prophet. "Have you seen page five?"
"We haven't read it this morning," said Harry as Hermione snatched it from her hand. "I take it that means we're not going to like it?" he added in resignation when she gasped in turn.
"Rita Skeeter again," said Hermione grimly, rapidly scanning the page. "She's found out about the hearing. Oh, I don't believe this! She's just rehashing all that stuff they wrote before about Remus being dangerous, and going on about Tonks being fired as an Auror for consorting with Undesirables and Dark Creatures "
"You and Lupin, mate," said Ron sagely.
"Exactly! Of course, she doesn't mention that Voldemort was setting Ministry policy at the time! She even insinuates that it 'raises questions' that Kingsley was a friend of theirs, and there's a long sanctimonious editorial saying that he needs to 'separate himself from the more unsuitable elements of the resistance' now he's Minister! And " her expression turned from furious to stony " she says they were both killed in the battle of Hogwarts, but she doesn't say who they were fighting for. She makes it sound like they were with the Death Eaters!"
"Umbridge must have tipped her off, I'll bet," said Harry darkly.
"Well, of course she did," snapped Hermione. "She's obviously hoping to influence Mr Diggory. Ooh, I can't wait to see the expression on her face when she realises her little plan hasn't worked."