A/N: Sorry for the long delay! Between reality and writer's block this chapter has been the most problematic I've ever had to write. I really do not like it, but now it is done and hopefully the rest of the chapters will flow easier. Many thanks go out to Nancy for all of her pre-beta work and Pascal for the final beta.
Professor Dumbledore frowned as he looked at the note he had just penned. It was a request for Harry to come and see him to re-start his Occlumency training. He had tried to see Harry in person several times over the last few days, but each time the lad caught sight of him, he disappeared down some side corridor of the castle. It was already Wednesday and he was anxious to get started. He wondered for a moment how to get the letter to Harry and decided to pass it on to Hermione first. Perhaps she would be better suited to the task than he was.
The flutter of owl wings distracted him momentarily. A large, important looking brown owl landed on his desk and held its leg up to the headmaster.
Professor Dumbledore snorted as he recognized the emblem of the International Quidditch Association. He shook his head, wondering to himself how anyone could be worried about Quidditch while Voldemort was on the loose. He looked the owl in the eyes.
"Please take your letter to Professor McGonagall," he told the owl. "She is the official school representative to the International Quidditch Association."
The owl hooted, obviously displeased that it wasn't being relieved of its burden.
"Professor McGonagall," repeated the headmaster.
The owl finally took off and flew out one of the open windows. It winged its way around the castle turrets quickly and flew in through an open window into Professor Minerva McGonagall's office. A moment later it landed on the only clear space on the deputy headmistress's desk.
Professor McGonagall looked up from the essay she had been grading to see the owl holding its leg, with the letter attached, out to her. Her curiosity was piqued as she noticed that it was from the International Quidditch Association. She removed the letter, pulled a treat out of one of her desk drawers and gave it to the bird. The owl hooted in gratitude and flew off.
She frowned as she noted that the letter had been originally addressed to Professor Dumbledore. Being Hogwarts' official representative to the Association, McGonagall wondered why they would want to contact the headmaster rather than her. She broke the seal on the letter and opened it up.
Greetings, Headmaster Dumbledore,
This letter constitutes a notice of legal action undertaken by the International Quidditch Association against Mr. Harry James Potter, a student of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. After a re-hearing on Case Number 253,546, the International Quidditch Association has decided to re-instate Mr. Potter's lifetime ban from the game of Quidditch. This ban takes effect on September 9, 1995. A copy of the proceedings has been attached to this notice as required by the bylaws of the International Quidditch Association Chapter 7, Section 9, Subsection D and under the Wizarding Laws governing the British Isles Article XIX Subsection 3.A.a.
Mr. Potter has the right to appeal this decision. Either he or a designated representative may present his case to a quorum of the representatives of the participating member states. The Quorum has the right to either uphold or reject Mr. Potter's lifetime ban from Quidditch. The next Quorum of member states representatives will convene in November at the International Quidditch Association Congress in Paris, France.
If an appeal is not presented before the member state representatives prior to one year from the issuance of this notice, the lifetime ban will become permanent and irrevocable. For any questions regarding this notice or assistance in planning an appeal, please contact the International Quidditch Association Legal Affairs Department, Player Conduct Governance Group by either owl or Floo.
Sincerely, Svetlana Yurchenko Undersecretary for Legal Affairs International Quidditch Association, British Office
"I don't believe this," stated McGonagall indignantly as she shook her head and wondered what could go wrong for Harry next. She quickly flipped the parchment over and examined the first page of the proceedings. "Barking mad, the lot of them," she muttered under her breath as she read that it was the work of the Bulgarian national office of the International Quidditch Association that was responsible for instigating the action against Harry.
As tempted as she was to throw the offending document straight into the fire, she knew she would need it if she wanted to do something to help Harry. A dues paying member of the International Quidditch Association, she would use her right to address the assembly on Harry's behalf. The only question was whom could she get to support her? She didn't think much help would be forthcoming from the Ministry, given Fudge's intense dislike for Dumbledore and Harry.
McGonagall then smiled as she remembered that Hermione had gone to the ball with Viktor Krum, a member of the Bulgarian national team. "Hmm," she said quietly as she considered that Victor Krum was the Bulgarian national team for all practical purposes. She wondered if he and Hermione were still keeping up. She smiled to herself and determined that she would find out, although the first order of business was to inform Harry of the Association's decision. Her smile vanished and she sighed. She was not looking forward to this.
"Yes, Professor Moody," replied Harry as he turned to look at his professor. Class had just been dismissed and he was gathering his books together before heading to dinner with Ron and Hermione and hopefully Ginny.
"Professor McGonagall asked me to deliver this to you after class," Moody stated as he handed a bit of parchment to Harry. "That was a good job you did today with Miss Parkinson, Potter."
Harry shivered a bit as he noticed Moody's magical eye focused on him rather than rolling around in his head.
"Keep that up and I see you not only as a future Auror, but as one of their instructors as well."
"Thank you, sir."
"See you next week," added Moody as he limped past Harry, his leg making that characteristic clunking sound as he went. "And don't forget, Hermione."
"CONSTANT VIGILANCE! I know," she replied.
"That's my girl," laughed Moody as he exited the classroom.
"So what's McGonagall want?" asked Ron as Hermione looked on curiously.
Harry broke the seal on the parchment and unrolled it.
"She wants to see me immediately after class," he replied, thinking she probably wanted to discuss his tutoring schedule. "I'll meet you in the Great Hall as soon as I can."
Harry made his way to McGonagall's office quickly. As he entered, he noticed that she was extremely agitated, possibly more than he had ever seen her before.
"Ah, Mr. Potter," she muttered. "Please sit down." She stopped her pacing and also sat down, appearing to try to get her thoughts in order before she spoke. "Potter, I'm afraid I have some bad news for you. The Rules Council of the International Quidditch Association has voted to reinstate your lifetime ban."
At that moment a cold numbness began to grow in Harry's stomach and he felt the walls beginning to close in on him.
"But why, Professor?" asked Harry, his eyes beginning to mist over.
"This has become a political game and a very dirty one at that. The Bulgarian National Committee for Quidditch instigated the proceedings. My guess is that they don't want you playing for England in the next World Cup. Bunch of cowardly scoundrels."
"Me play for England?" muttered Harry.
McGonagall looked down the length of her nose, the expression on her face betraying her feelings that an extremely stupid question had been asked. Ordinarily she would never have rendered such lavish praise; however, given Harry's circumstance, she felt the need to build him up so he could withstand the difficulty of the situation the International Quidditch Association had placed him in.
"Why of course, Potter. You are one of the finest Seekers I have ever seen and you are still growing. You're a shoo-in; just give it time."
McGonagall noted that her praise seemed to have little effect on Harry as he grew quiet and withdrawn.
"So what happens now?" asked Harry finally.
"Because of the seriousness of the case the International Quidditch Association has determined that they will need a full quorum of members to vote on the issue. As a member of the International Quidditch Association I will use my right to address the assembly on your behalf. Professor Dumbledore, as your headmaster, will also be allowed to address the assembly."
"When will they meet to make the determination?" asked Harry as he felt his stomach go cold.
"A meeting of the full assembly is not scheduled until November," replied McGonagall. "I'm sorry, Potter. I was hoping this would all be behind us by now." She watched in nervous trepidation as she saw the hope leave Harry's eyes. "Harry, I want you to remain on the team as their coach," she stated. The look Harry gave her broke her heart.
"Please, Harry. You are one of the finest Seekers Hogwarts has seen in decades, if not centuries. I need you to stay on board as coach and train Miss Weasley." She watched as the tears began to fall down Harry's face and he began to shake his head 'no'. "Harry, please, I'm sure we can have this all cleared up by November and you can begin playing again in the spring."
Harry shook his head 'no' again and McGonagall could have sworn she saw his tears dropping into the dust on her office floor.
"Mr. Potter," said McGonagall in a soft, stern voice. "Look at me." She paused as Harry lifted his eyes from the floor. They were misty from the unshed tears she could see Harry trying to hold back. "The Gryffindor team needs you. You must stay on as their coach. Can you do this for me?"
Harry heaved an enormous, sad sigh. "All right, Professor," muttered Harry as he wiped away the tears, which continued to pour from his eyes. "I'll do as you ask."
"Thank you, Harry," replied Professor McGonagall, smiling tentatively. "Why don't you go down and get some dinner?" she added, remembering that she had requested Harry come immediately after class.
Harry stood up numbly and left the office without saying another word. He made it back to his bed in the dorm somehow, sat down, and stared at the wall…
"Where's Harry?" asked Ginny as Ron and Hermione came up to the Gryffindor table and sat down without him.
"McGonagall wanted a word with him," replied Ron.
"I hope nothing's wrong," said Ginny.
"No telling," mumbled Ron as he dug into his dinner. About twenty minutes later he finally noticed the worried looks from Ginny and Hermione.
"Ron, would you do us a favour and check up on Harry?" asked Hermione.
"Yeah," replied Ron, who then proceeded to push himself away from his dinner plate.
"I'll meet you in the common room in a bit," added Hermione. "Professor Dumbledore wanted to have a word with me after dinner."
Ron nodded and shuffled off to Gryffindor Tower thinking that if Harry wasn't in the common room or his dorm room, he would most likely be on the Quidditch pitch. He might as well check Gryffindor Tower first. If Harry wasn't there, he would be able to grab his broom before heading out to the pitch.
After passing through the portal he quickly scanned the Gryffindor common room. Not seeing Harry there, he strode up the stairs to their dorm room. He spied Harry just after opening the door. He was sitting on the edge of his bed, staring at the wall, his eyes misted a bit.
Ron sighed, wondering to himself what was wrong with Harry this time. After a moment or two he screwed up his courage.
"Harry, are you all right?"
"No," answered Harry as he continued to stare at the wall.
"What's wrong?" asked Ron.
"They won't let me play Quidditch," he answered sullenly.
"What do you mean they won't let you play Quidditch?" asked Ron, beginning to become agitated. "Who won't let you play Quidditch?"
"The International Quidditch Association," replied Harry. "They reinstated my lifetime ban."
"What? Those bastards! Those BLOODY BASTARDS!" Ron yelled, loud enough to wake the dead. "What's wrong this time?"
"Some of the other countries in the International Quidditch Association are trying to block my reinstatement so they won't have to ever play against me. McGonagall said it was dirty politics and cowardly behaviour."
"So what's she gonna do about it?" asked Ron. "You know McGonagall's not going to take this lying down."
"She's going to address the Association in November."
"November," muttered Ron. "Bloody hell. So what are you supposed to do until November?"
"McGonagall wants me to coach," mumbled Harry.
Ron turned an apprising eye on Harry.
"That would be great for Ginny. Get a half a year's play in as Seeker until you can play in the spring time."
"If I can play in the spring time," retorted Harry.
"Yeah, if," echoed Ron as he shook his head. "Bloody hell," he muttered softly.
Harry stood up slowly. "Come on, Ron. Let's gather the rest of the team in the common room. I'll break the news to them and then we can get a start on practice."
"What are you going to do if we get a letter from the International Quidditch Association?" asked Ron.
Harry laughed. "Use it for target practice, of course."
Ron snickered. "I'll go round up anyone who's not in the common room."
"Thanks, Ron," replied Harry as he grabbed his Firebolt out of his trunk.
As Harry and Ron made their way down the stairs from the boys' dorms Harry noticed that all of the other members of the Gryffindor Quidditch team had already gathered, brooms in hand, and were waiting for him and Ron. He tried to smile and then just sighed. "Might as well get this over with," he muttered to Ron and then turned to look at the rest of the team. "Guys, I've got some bad news…"
"You wanted to see me, Headmaster?" asked Hermione as she approached the large desk in the centre of the headmaster's office.
"Yes, Miss Granger," replied Dumbledore warmly. "Please sit down," he said, indicating the chairs in front of his desk. "Lemon drop?" he offered as Hermione took her seat.
"No, thank you," replied Hermione. "My parents never did like me eating sugared sweets."
Dumbledore chuckled as he remembered that Hermione's parents were dentists. He regarded her fondly for a moment, noting that she was perhaps the brightest witch to pass through Hogwarts since Lily Evans. The memory of Harry's mother brought Dumbledore's thoughts back to the reason he had requested Hermione to report to his office. He cleared his throat before speaking.
"Miss Granger, I am getting ready to re-start Mr. Potter's Occlumency training. Don't worry," he added as he saw Hermione getting ready to speak, "I will be conducting his training myself, not Professor Snape."
"Erm, Professor Dumbledore," said Hermione nervously, "Harry is rather angry with you at the moment and doesn't want to see you."
"Yes, I had got the feeling that Mr. Potter didn't want to see me. I was hoping you could speak to him on my behalf and try and talk some sense into him."
"I'll try, sir," replied Hermione, unsure of whether or not she could persuade Harry to do what Dumbledore was asking.
"Thank you, Miss Granger."
"I can't take your Firebolt, Harry," said Ginny, her face a vision of concern and sadness.
"You've got to, Ginny," replied Harry. "You're going to need a good broom when you have to go up against Malfoy." Ginny looked as if she still wanted to refuse. Seeing this, Harry gently placed the broom in her hands. "Ginny, I want to win," said Harry. "Please… take it."
Ginny relented and took the broom from Harry, gripping it carefully. A broom, she noted, that was worth more Galleons than her parents' house, and Harry had just handed it to her. The broom had been a special gift from Sirius, Harry's godfather, when Harry's Nimbus 2000 was destroyed. Ginny didn't know what to say.
She was spared the need to answer as Hermione came through the portal and spied Harry.
"Harry, there you are," said Hermione, breaking in to the conversation between the Quidditch players, "Professor Dumbledore wants to see you in his office right now."
"No," replied Harry firmly.
"Harry, he wants to re-start your Occlumency training," added Hermione.
"No," replied Harry once again.
"Harry, he's the headmaster. You have to see him," demanded Hermione.
"Professor Dumbledore can f**k off and die," muttered Harry malevolently. "I'm never talking to that bastard ever again," he replied as he turned back to face his teammates. "Come on, let's get practice started." He stomped out through the fat lady's portrait followed by Katie, Demelza, Kirke and Sloper.
Hermione looked to Ron. "Ron, help me," she said through clenched teeth, desperately trying to hold her temper in check lest she be forced to deduct points from Gryffindor for Harry's behaviour.
A set look came across Ron's face. "Hermione, this is Dumbledore's fault and he'd better get off his arse and fix things. I listened to him a year ago and look where it got Harry. Do you realize that Harry has just had his lifetime ban from Quidditch reinstated?"
Hermione's jaw dropped.
"And that he was cooped up all summer with the Dursleys again? Dumbledore had the nerve to suggest he could stay at number 12 Grimmauld Place of all places! He's barking mad, I tell you."
"Ron, you're a Prefect, for heaven's sake," hissed Hermione.
"If he wants the ruddy badge back, he can have it," answered Ron. "From now on out, I'm sticking by Harry's side and you'd better, too," he added, eyeing Hermione carefully. "After all," he continued as he turned and headed for the fat lady's portrait, "he did save your life. You owe him." Ron threw his broom over his shoulder and ducked out the portal. He knew better than to look back into Hermione's face.
Hermione sighed as she watched Ron head through the portal. "Twice," she whispered, remembering all that Harry had done for her. She hated it when Ron was right, but he was right nevertheless. Things with Harry had got way out of hand and it was time for all of his friends to stick by his side.
At that moment, she noticed how quiet the common room had become. As she turned around, she saw all the eyes in the common room staring at her. Ginny was staring at her, red-faced with embarrassment, most likely for Harry. She had Harry's Firebolt slung over her shoulder and was getting ready to follow Ron out of the portal.
"I can't believe this," muttered Hermione as she shook her head and looked at Ginny. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Still interested in 'The Boy Who Lived'?" she asked.
Ginny swallowed nervously. "It's not fair what Professor Dumbledore did to him," she answered defiantly.
Hermione smiled at her. "I know," she muttered as she finally realized Ginny had Harry's broom. "Er, Ginny, why are you holding Harry's broom?"
"He gave it to me. He told me I'm going to need a good broom if I'm to go up against Malfoy."
"Bloody hell," muttered Hermione quietly as she remembered how much that broom meant to Harry. "Go on, Ginny, and keep an eye on Harry for me, okay?"
"Don't worry, Hermione. You know I will," replied Ginny as she went out the portal and hurried to catch up with the rest of the team.
Hermione stood and watched as the portrait slammed closed on the portal. Her thoughts were muddled and she was having difficulty sorting through it all. Ron was right – Dumbledore had put upon Harry too much of a load for him to bear. He was going to have to do something to lighten it, or Harry was going to crack.
She shook her head and sighed, hoping that the long walk back to the headmaster's office would clear her thoughts. She stepped through the portal hesitantly and made her way back to Dumbledore's office slowly. She barely heard the slow, steady clicking of her shoes against the cold, stone floor and barely noticed the flickering of the torchlight against the walls. More than anything else, Ron's words came back to haunt her.
She had been shocked to learn of the reinstatement of Harry's Quidditch ban. She knew how much it meant to him. She had also been shocked that Harry had been confined to Privet Drive for the entire summer. Hermione shuddered as she realized that Harry had had no one there to comfort him after Sirius's death. Whatever it was that Dumbledore was expecting of Harry, it was all becoming too much. Something needed to give or Harry was going to go round the bend.
Hermione stopped suddenly as she noticed the winged griffin guarding the entryway to Dumbledore's office.
"Blueberry scones," she said and it moved out of the way to reveal the stairs it was guarding. Hermione stepped on and rode the stairs up the tower. At the top she stepped off and knocked on the large oak door.
"Come in," replied Dumbledore.
The door opened of its own accord and allowed Hermione into the office. She went straight to the large desk in the centre of the room and waited to Dumbledore to lift his head from the stack of paperwork he was reviewing.
"Miss Granger? I didn't expect to see you so soon again in my office," said Dumbledore.
Hermione sighed. "Sir, it's about Harry. He is unwilling to meet with you." She paused for a moment, trying to gather her thoughts to explain Harry's behaviour to Dumbledore.
Dumbledore gave Hermione a puzzled look. "What are Harry's reasons for refusing to report to my office?"
"Sir, he's angry at you. He feels that you abandoned him to the Dursleys last summer and he blames you for the circumstances that lead up to Sirius's death."
"Sir, you kept him in the dark all last year."
"I did what was necessary," replied Dumbledore, his manner indicating a dismissal of Hermione's argument. "Now please go and find Harry and order him to report to my office, Miss Granger."
"Miss Granger, what did you say?" asked Dumbledore, surprised at what he thought he had heard.
"I said 'no,' Headmaster," replied Hermione, this time a little more forcefully.
"Miss Granger, need I remind you of your duties as a Prefect?"
Hermione pulled the silver badge off of her robes and stared at it. It was a physical confirmation of everything that she had striven for. She fingered it for a moment, watching the reflected light sparkle off the silver.
"Professor Dumbledore, I do not think I am capable of fulfilling the duties of a Prefect any longer," said Hermione flatly as she placed the badge on the desk between herself and Dumbledore. A look of shock passed across the headmaster's face. "If you keep this up, you are going to crush Harry. I will not stand idly by and watch my friend be destroyed by your insensitivity. If this is what I have to do to get your attention, then so be it."
Dumbledore stared at Hermione for a moment, not quite believing his ears. A quick wordless, wandless use of the Legilimens spell confirmed that she was indeed serious. "You are dismissed, Miss Granger," replied Dumbledore tersely, reacting in a manner to preserve the authority of his position.
Hermione choked back a tear. "Yes, Headmaster," she replied. She turned from the desk and walked out of the office without any further word or a look back.
Dumbledore shook his head as he watched her go. Things weren't going at all the way he planned…
Hermione stopped her slow shuffle and wiped the tears from her eyes as she heard the Deputy Headmistress call her name.
"Yes, Professor McGonagall?"
"Do you have a few minutes?" McGonagall asked as she caught up to her.
Hermione nodded as she wiped away her tears once more.
"Miss Granger, what's wrong?" asked her Head of House, who had noticed her tears and her red eyes. "And where is your Prefect's badge?"
Hermione sniffed. "I turned it in to Professor Dumbledore."
"But why?" asked McGonagall, knowing how much Hermione loved being a Prefect.
"To protest what he's doing to Harry… and… I was sort of insubordinate."
McGonagall's eyebrows rose in surprise. "You, insubordinate?"
"Yes, ma'am. I refused to order Harry to report to the Headmaster's office."
McGonagall suppressed a smirk. "I see. Well, I'm sorry that I've lost you as a Prefect. Hmm… I will have to speak with the Headmaster about that," she muttered contemplatively. "Can you come to my office? I have something of a personal nature I need to discuss with you."
McGonagall patted Hermione on the back and then they both headed off in the direction of McGonagall's office.
"Well, I suppose you're wondering why I've asked you here?" said McGonagall, getting down to business as they arrived. She sat down behind her desk and reached for a tin of shortbread biscuits. "I need your help," she stated as she opened the lid and offered one to Hermione. "Are you still keeping in touch with Viktor Krum?"
"Erm, yes, Professor," replied Hermione as she shook her head "no" in response to her offer of a biscuit.
"Miss Granger, I don't know if you've heard the news, yet, but Mr. Potter's lifetime ban from Quidditch has been reinstated by the International Quidditch Association." McGonagall put the tin down, extracted a biscuit and replaced the lid.
Hermione nodded. "Yes, Professor. Ron told me about it," she replied, somewhat in a daze.
McGonagall paused for a moment and looked at her student. "Miss Granger, are you all right?"
Hermione shook her head noncommittally to clear her thoughts. "I'm fine, Professor," she said.
McGonagall frowned and observed Hermione for another moment. She wasn't satisfied with her reply, but she would discuss Hermione's situation with Dumbledore later. She needed to deal with Harry first before that boy did something stupid.
"Are you sure you are all right?"
Hermione sighed. "I'll be fine, professor, honestly."
"If you say so, Miss Granger," replied McGonagall. "Well, I hope you will find the task I am setting before you a bit more enjoyable. I need your help in getting Harry's lifetime Quidditch ban rescinded."
Hermione was surprised at McGonagall's request and sat up straighter, forgetting her own problems for the moment and paying closer attention.
"It's the Bulgarians' fault that Harry has been banned from the game again. Their national office called for the re-institution of the ban against Mr. Potter. My guess is they don't want to have to play against him in the future."
"So how can I help?" asked Hermione, a bit puzzled by the entire affair.
"I was hoping you could win Mr. Krum's support in this matter." McGonagall noticed Hermione was still puzzled. "Mr. Krum is, for all intents and purposes, the Bulgarian national team. If we could win his support, it might force the Bulgarian national office's hand."
All of a sudden it was as if a light bulb went off in Hermione's head. She remembered how much admiration Ron used to have for Viktor and how the Weasley twins had anticipated him ending the International Quidditch Final on his own terms.
"Erm, it's definitely worth a try," replied Hermione as she began to think about it.
McGonagall smiled as she saw Hermione nodding as she contemplated it.
"I can't promise anything…"
"Perfectly understandable, Miss Granger," replied McGonagall tersely, not wanting to delve into the nature of Hermione's relationship with Viktor Krum.
Hermione nodded in agreement. "I'll do it."
"Thank you, Miss Granger," replied McGonagall.
"So when are you going to start practice with Ginny in the Seeker's slot?" asked Ron, who was floating on his broom high above the Quidditch pitch in front of the hoops on the far end of the field, Hogwarts castle looming large in the distance. Harry was close by, both of them watching as the three Chasers circled around the pitch practicing passing the Quaffle in order to get Demelza used to their game.
Harry sighed. Ron's question had brought him back to a reality he could normally escape while playing or practicing Quidditch. He looked at the sun, which was already starting to get low on the horizon. A little bit longer and it would be twilight and too late to practice considering it was Wednesday and they all had classes tomorrow. "Not tonight, that's for sure," he replied in a tired voice. "We've got to get Demelza up to speed before we bring Dean into the mix."
Ron nodded in agreement and turned his attention back to the Chasers, who were beginning to fly in his direction. He concentrated on Ginny, who was clutching the Quaffle tightly and manoeuvring her broom to fly straight at him. Ron drifted closer to the goals, anticipating that she would either break and shoot at the left or right goal or pass to Demelza. He watched carefully as Ginny flew straight at him, passing the Quaffle behind her to the rookie. Ron dropped as his sister flew past and then shot up to block Demelza before she could take a shot. He grinned as he blocked the Quaffle, sending it down to the pitch.
"Nice one, Ron," said Harry.
"Thanks, mate," replied Ron, still eyeing the Chasers carefully as they regrouped for another try on the goal.
"I think playing against Ginny has helped your game."
"Yeah," agreed Ron. "She never lets up, does she?"
"Nope; not even in practice," added Harry as he watched the Chasers begin their assault on the hoops again. He was distracted as he caught a flicker of motion out of the corner of his eye. Harry, mindful of the three Gryffindor Chasers headed this way, backed away from the hoops to get a better view of what he now saw to be an owl headed in his direction.
It was a large, impressive looking brown owl, one of the birds that the Ministry of Magic used for official business. It flew up to Harry, landed on the handle of his broom, and held up its leg, which had an impressive looking envelope on it.
Harry quickly removed the envelope from the bird's leg. The owl, freed from its burden, hooted and flew off quickly, apparently not pleased about being in the midst of a Quidditch practice. Harry looked down at the envelope. It was addressed to him and had come from the International Quidditch Association, British Office. None too thrilled, he tore it open, removed the letter, and began to read.
Mr. Harry Potter,
This letter is to serve notice that you are in violation of your lifetime ban from Quidditch as set forth in Case Number 253,546. You are hereby ordered to immediately cease and desist from playing Quidditch. Failure to do so will result in legal action being brought against you by the International Quidditch Association under the rules set forth in Article…
After reading the first sentence, Harry felt his anger building. Midway through the second sentence he became as angry as he had been during his time at the Dursleys'. By the time he reached the third sentence he thought he was seeing spots in front of his eyes, but quickly realized the parchment had burst into flames and dropped it. It burned as it drifted down to the sand on the pitch, falling apart on impact. Whatever parchment was left was quickly consumed by the fire and turned to ash and then to dust as it was blown apart by the wind.
"Harry," said Ron nervously, "you're scaring me, mate. Did you just do wandless magic?"
Harry looked up from the pitch and noticed his best friend next to him. Ron had left the hoops to come check up on him.
"Must have been an accident," he replied tersely, trying to keep his anger under control.
"Yeah," agreed Ron softly as he remembered how bad a day it had been for Harry. He forgot about the parchment's fiery demise and hurried back to his Keeper's duties as he noticed Katie, Ginny, and Demelza flying toward the goals again.
Harry watched impassively as his three Chasers attacked the goals again. True to form, Ginny was in the lead again. Harry felt his anger lessen as he watched her. She passed back to Demelza again and then broke hard on her broom and sped to the right. A fraction of a second later she had the Quaffle again as Demelza passed it back. Anticipating that Demelza was going to try to score, Ron had moved to block her leaving the right goal completely undefended. Ginny fired the Quaffle through the hoop, finally scoring against Ron. Harry laughed as she pumped her arm in the air and flashed him a smile.
"Good shot!" yelled Harry as he ignored Ron's muffled cursing.
"I swear," began Ron loudly as the Gryffindor Quidditch team made its way into their common room, "I don't know which one of you two is worse to Keep against, you or Ginny. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear that both you nutters like to practice harder than you play!"
Ginny stuck her tongue out at her brother playfully while the rest of the team laughed at Ron's observation. Laughing along with them, Harry finally felt his anger dissipate. He wondered what the International Quidditch Association could do, but decided that he would just bring it up with McGonagall the next day and let her deal with it. After all, she was the one who insisted that he stay on as the team's coach.
"Where's Hermione?" asked Ginny.
Harry looked around the common room. He had expected her to be there studying after they came back in from Quidditch practice. After all, it was only the second week of school and it was also close to curfew.
"She's probably in the library," replied Ron. "You know how she is."
Knowing Hermione as she did, Ginny had to agree with Ron and, not thinking any more of it, she went up the staircase to the girls' dorms to get her books for a little bit of studying before she went to bed.
As she passed the sixth year's dormitory she thought she heard someone crying. Curious, she pushed the door open and went in. Looking further in, she saw Hermione sitting on the side of her bed with tears streaming down her cheeks.
"Hermione, what's wrong?" asked Ginny as she sat down next to her and put her arm around her.
"I turned in my Prefect badge," replied Hermione, wiping her eyes as fresh tears began to break out.
Ginny shook her head in amazement. After having lived fifteen years with Fred and George there were few things that could surprise her. This was one of them. "You did what?" she asked.
"I turned in my Prefect badge," repeated Hermione.
"Why?" was all Ginny could think to say.
Hermione sighed loudly and began to tell Ginny what had happened in Dumbledore's office. She explained how the headmaster wanted Harry to come see him and resume his Occlumency training and how Harry was fiercely angry at Dumbledore and refused to report. Hermione also confided in Ginny that the more she thought about, the more she thought Harry was right. Dumbledore was asking too much and she felt like she had to make a statement in order to get his attention. "And that was when I turned in my badge. Ron's right; we've got to stick by Harry's side."
"I can't believe that barmy old sod let you turn in your Prefect badge," said Ginny, shaking her head as she listened to the end of Hermione's story. "You're the best Prefect we have, Hermione! How could he do that! Wait 'til Ron and Harry find out about this."
"Hermione, have you gone around the twist? You can't hide this! They're going to find out in the morning no matter what."
"It will take Ron at least a week or two to even notice," replied Hermione bitterly.
"Not if I have anything to say about it," muttered Ginny under her breath. "Come down with me, Hermione. If you don't feel like telling them, then I will."
"Can you give me a few minutes to get myself together?" asked Hermione, wiping away her tears fiercely.
Ginny nodded. "Yeah. I'll go back down and talk to Ron and Harry."
Hermione sniffled and squeezed out a few tears. "I'll be down as soon as I can."
Ginny rubbed Hermione's back one last time before she stood up. She gave Hermione a reassuring look and left to find Ron and Harry.
She found the two boys settled in two of the squashy armchairs by the fire. They both had their Potions books open, but were ignoring their studies in favour of discussing what they still needed to do to get Demelza up to speed as Chaser. Ginny huffed; she was a little miffed that they were having that conversation without her, but she had more important business to take care of.
"Ginny, I'm glad you're here," said Harry as she sat down in another one of the chairs. "Ron and I were discussing what sort of training we think Demelza still needs and I wanted to get your input."
Ginny smiled, almost forgetting about Hermione for a moment as pleased as she was that Harry was seeking her opinion. The memory of her friend's tears quickly brought her back to reality.
"Harry, Ron, we need to table the Quidditch discussion for a moment. I've got something much more important to talk to you about."
Harry looked surprised, but ready to listen. Ron, on the other hand, looked at Ginny like she'd grown an extra head.
"Are you barmy?" demanded Ron. "What could be more important than Quidditch?"
"Hermione turned in her Prefect badge," replied Ginny, a look of utmost seriousness on her face.
"Now I'm certain you're barmy," muttered Ron. "Hermione would rather die than turn in her badge."
Harry snickered and nodded in agreement with Ron.
"Ron, Dumbledore was trying to force her to order Harry to report to his office."
At that, Harry looked upset. "And what happened then?" he asked.
"She refused to do it and handed the badge in to Dumbledore," she answered.
"And he took it?" demanded Harry.
"But why?" asked Harry. "She could have just asked me again. I'd have said 'no,' of course, but why did she hand in her badge?"
"She did it to protest how Dumbledore's been treating you. She wanted to get his attention."
Ginny could tell from the looks on the boys' faces that they were having trouble digesting the news.
"What are we going to do?" asked Ron, breaking the silence. "I suppose I'm going to go and turn in my badge, too."
"You will do no such thing, Ronald Weasley!" ordered Hermione in a voice that reminded the three of them of Molly Weasley when she was angry.
Harry, Ron, and Ginny all turned to look in the direction of Hermione's voice and saw her coming down the stairs from the girls' dorm.
"If you turn your badge in, who's going to keep Draco Malfoy in check?"
Ron sighed, not wanting to make Hermione any madder than she already was, but at the same time, not wanting to give cause for her to be jealous of him.
"Whatever you say, Hermione," replied Ron, not liking the situation one bit.
"Listen, Hermione," began Harry, "I'm sorry; I'll go and see Dumbledore. Don't give up your Prefect's badge because of me."
"Harry, you need to make that call based on what you think is right, not based on what I've done," said Hermione while she forcefully made her way over to the threesome. "It's like I told Dumbledore: if he keeps this up, he's going to destroy you. This whole bloody thing is ridiculous! You're out there risking your neck time after time! We're in the firing line time after time, getting attacked by three-headed dogs, trolls, Dementors, disembodied brains, Death Eaters, Voldemort, and WHO KNOWS WHAT ELSE and NOBODY was telling us what the bloody hell was going on! For Merlin's sake! We even had to teach ourselves Defence Against the Dark Arts last year! This is RIDICULOUS!" Hermione stopped her rant and looked at everyone, turning pink as she noticed the astonished looks on their faces.
"Erm, sorry, I kind of lost it there, didn't I?" she stammered as she felt the embarrassment at her rant beginning to set in.
"No, Hermione," said Harry forcefully. "You're right. We are the ones risking our necks over and over again and I for one am sick of not being told what's going on."
"So what are we going to do about it?" asked Ron.
"Well, for one thing," said Harry as he looked in Hermione's direction, "we're going to restart the D. A." He felt better as he saw her perk up a bit. "If we're going to be in the firing line, we may as well be prepared to defend ourselves."
"Are we going to expand the membership?" asked Ron.
Harry thought for a moment. "I'm not sure about that," he replied. "I want to keep things as quiet and secretive as possible. If anyone wants to join us, let them ask," said Harry. "We'll go from there. I don't want a repeat of what happened with Marietta last year."
"So when are we going to start?" asked Ginny, anxious to begin lessons again.
Harry groaned as he considered his schedule: Occlumency and Legilimency with Snape, tutorial with McGonagall, and Quidditch. It looked as if his plate was getting rather full. "We'll have to see about that," replied Harry. "We may be restricted to the weekends or we may have to come up with times on the spur of the moment and whoever can come, comes."
"You'll have to coordinate Quidditch practice schedules with Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff," added Ron.
Harry nodded and wondered who had been named captain of the Hufflepuff team. He hoped that he or she would be a member of the D. A. so they could coordinate practices to their advantage. He frowned as he thought about Cho Chang; he wasn't sure if he wanted to involve her or not after what had happened with Marietta.
"We can pitch in," added Ginny. "We've been training with Moody all summer long. Hell, even Ron here has learned how to be a good teacher."
Harry snickered and watched as Ginny dodged the pillow Ron threw at her.
"You don't have to do it by yourself this time, Harry," said Ginny. "We can fill in whenever you aren't available."
"Yeah, now that you mention it, Ron did do an excellent job with Neville the other Sunday," said Harry as he thought about it. "I think you've got something there, Ginny."
"You wished to see me, Headmaster?" asked McGonagall as she entered the headmaster's office.
"Yes, Minerva," replied Dumbledore. "Please have a seat."
McGonagall sat down in one of the comfortable chairs in front of the massive, carved desk.
"I'm sorry to have called you to my office at such a late hour, but there is an issue that needs to be dealt with immediately. Professor McGonagall, are you aware that one of your students, Mr. Harry Potter, has refused instruction to report to my office?"
"Yes, Headmaster, I am," she replied.
Dumbledore's eyebrows lifted in surprise. "So… how do you suggest we proceed to handle this issue?"
"Quite frankly, I find your conduct of this entire affair to be completely unacceptable. You had better change the manner in which you are handling Mr. Potter or you are going to lose him. Do you realize that he showed up in my office on Sorting Night nearly suicidal?"
Dumbledore grimaced. He hadn't realized things had got to that point. "So that explains your absence the night of the Sorting?"
"Yes, it does. It took me over two hours to get that poor boy returned to some semblance of normal. And do you realize that the International Quidditch Association has re-instated his lifetime ban?" she added.
Dumbledore swallowed nervously. "Erm, no, I had not."
"As far as refusing to meet with you, I can hardly blame him. How could you send him back to Privet Drive last summer after all that he had been through?" she demanded, keeping her anger at Dumbledore's handling of the situation from breaking to the surface. "How could you be so heartless?"
"Minerva, I'm fighting a war, for Merlin's sake!" answered Dumbledore in his defence. "Number four Privet Drive is the only place I'm sure Harry will be safe."
"Yes, he's safe from Voldemort and his Death Eaters, but he's not safe from himself. He's not safe from the loneliness and despair brought about by losing Sirius. And most of all, he's not safe from those barbarians he's living with."
"Minerva, we are at war!" replied Dumbledore.
"Albus, Harry is a child. He is not a soldier. You need to realize that. We never should have left him with those horrid Muggles. I thought it was a mistake fifteen years ago and I know it is a mistake now," said McGonagall.
"Professor McGonagall, I did not call you into my office for a treatise on how to handle Mr. Potter. I called you into my office to ask what you are going to do about his insubordination."
"Professor Dumbledore, as what you are asking him to do is completely extracurricular to his education and well within his rights to refuse, I am not going to do anything other than give him a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on should he need it again," stated Professor McGonagall, her glare daring Dumbledore to say anything to her.
Dumbledore sighed, realizing the argument was lost and he would get no help from her. "So be it," he muttered and dismissed McGonagall with a wave of his hand. As he watched the Deputy Headmistress leave his office he dropped his head into his hands, suddenly feeling much older than his years, which was rather a bad thing considering how old he already was. As he lifted his head up, he looked at Fawkes. "Am I really doing that bad a job of things?" he asked.
Instead of trilling, Fawkes stared Dumbledore down.
"I see you agree with Professor McGonagall," said Dumbledore wryly. He sighed again as he watched Fawkes nod at him. "I'm afraid I just don't know what to do anymore. We came so close to losing everything last year. Voldemort murdered so many of our number last summer." He paused and then recited a long list of names from memory. A tear slipped from his eyes as he placed his head in his hands once again. "No man should have to live through this twice, much less three times," he muttered.
As he relaxed, Dumbledore heard the flapping of wings and felt Fawkes land on his shoulder. A moment later, the phoenix began trilling in his ear. Strength and courage filled his heart once more as the sound of phoenix song filled the ancient office. After a few minutes Dumbledore sat up and looked at Fawkes, a tired smile coming over his lips.
"Thank you," he said softly and was silent, drinking in the sound Fawkes was making. "Fawkes, what am I going to do with young master Harry?" asked Dumbledore after the phoenix had finished with his song. "I just don't know anymore." Just then, an idea came to him, and he smiled a tentative smile. "Perhaps a little Glenn Miller might do the trick," he muttered to himself thoughtfully and then looked at his familiar.
"Fawkes, would you do a favour for me? Would you go and cheer Harry up for me?"
Dumbledore was heartened as the phoenix nodded and took to the air, gloriously wheeling about the office and then flying out through an open upper window. "Thank you, Fawkes," shouted Dumbledore just as the great bird disappeared from view.
Dumbledore stared out the window, lost in his thoughts for the moment and all of a sudden extremely grateful he had been distracted prior to being able to go back and see Glenn Miller one last time…
Harry watched the fire in the Gryffindor common room crackle and spit from the comfort of one of the closest, squashy chairs. It was late and the fire had burned down a good deal, but it was still lively. The little fire and Ginny's presence were a soothing influence after the craziness of their day and Harry was enjoying them both.
"Are you sure you want me to keep your broom, Harry?" asked Ginny, still feeling a bit guilty for accepting the Firebolt.
Harry turned away from the fire in the Gryffindor common room and stared instead into the fiery halo of hair surrounding Ginny's face. She looked so beautiful with her hair wild from Quidditch practice.
"Erm, what was that Ginny?" asked Harry, embarrassed at how distracted he was.
Ginny laughed gently. Perhaps Hermione is right, she thought to herself. "I asked if you were sure you want me to keep your broom. It's just so unfair."
"No worries, Ginny. It's not like I need a Firebolt for coaching and I know I can come get it whenever I want to go flying."
"If you're sure…"
"Yeah, I'm sure," he replied and smiled tentatively at her. Harry was distracted once again, this time by the flutter of wings from the large red and gold bird that flew through an open window.
"Harry, that's Fawkes, isn't it?" wondered Ginny.
"Yes, it is," answered Harry, rather surprised to see the beautiful bird.
"What's he doing here?"
"I don't know," answered Harry.
They both watched as Fawkes flew toward them and landed on the back of Harry's chair. Harry looked up in wonder at the great bird. Seeing Fawkes had always been a treat for him.
Fawkes eyed Harry quizzically for a moment, almost as if to see if he were all right, and then hopped onto his shoulder. He ruffled his feathers, shook himself out, and then nuzzled Harry's cheek, trilling softly. Harry was a bit surprised at the gentleness of the phoenix. He was more used to Hedwig's nips to his ear or fingertips. Harry reached his arm up slowly and began to tentatively stroke Fawkes's feathers. He became surer of himself as the phoenix began to trill louder. Ginny watched, amazed. She remembered Fawkes saving Harry's life and then rescuing them from the Chamber of Secrets, but that had been the last time she had seen him.
"Do you think he'll let me pet him?" asked Ginny.
Harry looked at Fawkes, trying to guage the mood of the phoenix. Fawkes looked back at him and trilled gently.
"I don't know, but it couldn't hurt to try."
Ginny came over to Harry and slowly moved her hand to stroke Fawkes gently. The phoenix trilled again and regarded her with his head cocked to the side. Encouraged, Ginny petted him some more. After a few moments, Fawkes shook himself, stretched his neck up and began to sing. Phoenix song filled the common room, imparting to all of the Gryffindors within a certain sense of courage and warmth. Fawkes kept up his song for several minutes, drawing quite a few observers out of their dorms. The stairs were lined with those not yet asleep and having been drawn from their beds by the curious sound.
After finishing, Fawkes seemed to smile. He nuzzled Harry, then Ginny, and after that he jumped into the air and flew a lazy circle around the common room and disappeared out the same window he came in through.
As Harry watched Fawkes go, he realized how much better he felt and wondered if Dumbledore had sent the phoenix to cheer them up. He smiled a tentative smile at Ginny, who returned it with a much surer smile of her own.
"Bloody hell," muttered Cornelius Fudge as he awoke from a nightmare where he was being chased by Voldemort to the face of Percy Weasley in his bedroom fireplace.
Fudge sighed. "This had better be important, Weatherby," said Fudge, as blinked his eyes to get them used to the bright firelight.
"Minister Fudge, you asked me to personally contact you if the use of wandless magic were ever detected in Harry Potter's vicinity again."
"Wandless magic?" groused Fudge sleepily. "Oh yes. I remember now. What happened?"
"The British Quidditch Association has reported that one of their warning notices to Harry Potter had been set on fire before it was allowed to deliver its message."
Fudge looked at Weasley quizzically.
"The International Quidditch Association has re-instated Mr. Potter's lifetime ban from Quidditch, sir."
"Anyway, I checked with Mafalda Hopkirk to see if she had any surveillance in the area. As it turns out, the magical detectors around Hogwarts have been upgraded." Percy looked at Fudge and detected no surprise at this statement.
"No use of a wand or accidental magic was detected, which means it had to have been wandless magic."
"I was afraid of that," muttered Fudge under his breath.
"What did you say, sir?"
Fudge pulled his wand out from underneath his pillow and pointed it at Percy. "Obliviate!"
"I said there was no wandless magic. Mafalda Hopkirk contacted me and said there was a mistake with the calibration of one of the magical detectors. It was just a burst of accidental magic. Powerful, but nothing to worry about."
"Yes, Minister," replied Percy as if in a trance.
"And Weatherby, don't forget: if there are any more detections of possible wandless magic around Harry Potter contact me immediately."
"Yes, sir," replied Percy.
"Goodnight, Minister," replied Percy as his face disappeared from Fudge's fireplace.
The light from the fireplace dissipated as Percy's face vanished, leaving the ornate room in darkness once again, but not in a darkness that was as dark as Fudge's thoughts. The Minister tossed and turned, wondering how this was going to affect things. This time when he finally fell asleep he was tormented not by dreams of Voldemort, but by the vision of Harry Potter coming after him for what he had done to him last year…