Harry had no intention of mentioning it to Hermione, but as they all sat waiting for Amos Diggory, he had a nasty feeling that Umbridge's plan had worked very well. She apparently thought so too; she was sitting on the opposite side of the room wearing such a smug expression that Harry had to bite his tongue to stop himself using it to imitate the sound of a centaur's hooves.
Worse still, Rita Skeeter was there too Quick-Quotes Quill at the ready and a few spectators had turned up carrying copies of the morning paper. It was hard to ignore their curious stares in the rather cramped surroundings; it seemed that a spare meeting room had been turned into an impromptu courtroom. In front of the far door someone had set up a raised platform on which a large desk had been placed. There was a chair on a small dais off to one side, presumably for the use of witnesses, and a few rows of benches at the other end of the room arranged to create a central aisle.
When Diggory arrived through the door in the back wall, Harry noted with trepidation that he too had a copy of the paper tucked under his arm, and it was folded open at page five. Andromeda Tonks had obviously spotted this too, and held little Teddy even closer. As Diggory sat down behind the desk, Harry exchanged concerned glances with his friends; they were once again relying on Hermione's brains to get them out of a sticky situation. He made a mental note that he really ought to let her know sometime how much he appreciated it.
"This is a tribunal duly appointed to hear a complaint concerning a breach of the provisions of the International Werewolf Agreement of 1741, Amos Joshua Diggory, presiding. Scribe " he nodded to a hapless-looking functionary who was taking notes " Alan Clarence Boot. Complaining witness, Dolores Jane Umbridge." Harry bit his lip; if he'd understood Hermione's hastily researched explanations of wizarding law correctly, that meant Umbridge would in effect be acting as prosecutor. "I must confess, I've never had to deal with an actual hearing on this law before, so we'll take this slowly, step by step. The purpose of the tribunal is to determine the status and provision for the upbringing of Teddy Remus Lupin, son of Remus John Lupin, werewolf, and Nymphadora Andromeda Lupin, wife of the aforementioned "
Harry was distracted from the reflection that he now understood why Tonks hadn't just used her middle name by a familiar irritating cough. Diggory looked up in annoyance at the interruption. "Yes, Dolores?"
"I'm terribly sorry, Amos, but I would just like to point out that the Ministry's contention is that this baby's parents were never, in fact could never have been, legally married. Although I understand Nymphadora Tonks chose to go by this werewolf's name that she was never entitled to bear, it would be wrong for the tribunal to use it, wouldn't it?"
Harry could sense Andromeda Tonks stiffen next to him, and Ginny made a disgusted noise, but Diggory didn't seem to object. "Oh, very well, I suppose you're right. I see the defence seem to be amply supplied with witnesses do any of you wish to speak on this point?"
Hermione promptly stood up, and held up a document that Harry could see was on ordinary paper, not parchment. "Yes, sir. Hermione Jean Granger, witness for the defence. I have here an official certificate of marriage for the parties, which ceremony took place in the parish of St Edmund on 16th July 1997." Her voice took on a slight edge. "This is why Nymphadora Lupin certainly felt she was entitled to bear her husband's name if she so chose."
Diggory looked interested. "May I see that, Miss Granger?" Hermione presented him with the certificate; he examined it briefly, then nodded. "Very well. I see this is a Muggle document, but that's normally accepted as sufficient proof of intention for the marriage to be registered under wizarding law as well. Did the Ministry refuse approval for it to be registered, Dolores?"
"Yes indeed, Amos." She rose and approached the desk. "While the Ministry is of course prepared to graciously accept such an otherwise irrelevant document under normal circumstances, sadly these circumstances are far from normal, as Mr Lupin was a somewhat notorious werewolf." She shuddered theatrically. "The International Confederation of Wizards wisely decided many years ago that marriages between such creatures and normal wizards and witches should be strongly discouraged, as should their reproduction, because of the obvious risks to all concerned but especially the innocent children of such a union," she added with a broadly insincere smile. "When we received news of the birth, I even heard people in the Ministry itself threaten to take the law into their own hands to ensure that the boy would never be allowed to grow up in the company of normal children, so really it's better for everyone, isn't it?" Harry, taken aback, thought for a moment and realised the 'people in the Ministry' must have been her Death Eater cronies, still in charge at the time the news came through. "I hope you'll allow me to draw the attention of the tribunal to the Confederation's words, insofar as they bear on this matter: 'Be it hereby decreed by the will of Wizardkind expressed in the Proceedings of the most noble International Confederation of Wizards '"
Diggory listened in silence, but with the occasional nod, as Umbridge recited the same clauses of the Statute that Hermione had read out at The Burrow; it was possible to actually hear the capital letters in her enunciation. "Thank you, Dolores. You can state on behalf of the Ministry that no recognition of validity was given in this case?"
"I certainly can, Amos. Naturally, we had no choice but to bring this action when I dis when we were informed of the birth of this poor child to such parents a clear crime in the absence of a valid marriage. Of course, such an attempt to evade the law by taking part in an unrecognised ceremony merely compounds the criminality. I think it's best for all concerned if the child is removed to the safe and secure place for which the statute provides, in case it has inherited the infection, don't you? We can't tell when it might show itself, and one has to think of the safety of other children it may come into contact with."
Andromeda made as if to rise, but Hermione flapped a hand to warn her off, a gesture that Diggory noticed. "Miss Granger? You seem to be the spokeswitch for the defence here. The wording of the statute seems quite clear, I'm afraid the parents of this baby quite evidently committed a crime. Or are you in turn disputing that?"
"No, not at all," said Hermione, taking the question in her stride. Harry exchanged grins with Ron; she seemed to be in her element here. "Given the wording of the statute, we're perfectly prepared to concede that prima facie, it seems that Remus and Nymphadora Lupin must have committed an offence. But I'd like to point out that any such offence is of little consequence for the future of Teddy Lupin. As both of his parents were killed while defending Hogwarts against the Death Eaters, there is no way to prosecute them, nor impose punishment by removing their child from them. Teddy is currently in the care of his closest surviving relative, Andromeda Tonks, and there is no reason to remove him from her."
"But the law requires that the child be raised in secure surroundings, Miss Granger," said Umbridge sweetly, a tone of voice that Hermione matched.
"Exactly, Madam Umbridge. But as you will note and may I take this opportunity to thank you for reading the Statute into the record so that there can be no argument about the wording? it lays down no requirements as to the actual nature of such secure surroundings, leaving that to the decision of the individual Ministries. I would like to draw the tribunal's attention to the cases of Ministry v Jenkins, 1788, Ministry v Cadwallader, 1844, and Ministry v Wadcock, 1921 I have copies of the rulings here in which it was accepted that the child of a werewolf could be placed in the care of a relative or other legal guardian who were not themselves sufferers of the curse, provided that they were willing and that sufficient precautions were taken."
Umbridge looked somewhat nonplussed that Hermione had all this information at her fingertips, and Harry grinned. Ginny squeezed Andromeda's hand as Diggory read the notes and nodded slowly. "And is Andromeda Tonks willing, and capable of taking sufficient precautions? This is a serious matter, you know."
"Yes, sir. Andromeda Tonks is not only an extremely able witch in her own right, but has the full support of many friends, and is perfectly able to provide secure surroundings for Teddy Lupin until his nature becomes clear."
"Welllll I suppose it would be better for the boy to be brought up by a competent family member "
Harry could see Hermione clench her fist momentarily at Umbridge's latest interruption. Fortunately, Diggory didn't seem happy to be interrupted. "What is it now?"
"Well, it's just that I think we're getting ahead of ourselves a little, Amos. Before you make a ruling, don't you think that we ought to question Madam Tonks on what she proposes to do, rather than accept Miss Granger's mere word that she is a satisfactory guardian?"
Diggory flushed. "You don't have to tell me my job, Dolor Madam Umbridge. I had every intention of asking those questions. Madam Tonks, would you please step forward?"
Andromeda handed Teddy to Ginny and made her way to the front of the courtroom, and Harry was heartened to see that she held herself proudly, like the daughter of generations of Blacks that she was. Diggory pointed to the chair at the side and indicated that she should sit there. "Let's start doing this thing formally for a change. Your name?"
"Andromeda Elladora Tonks. Witness for the defence." Her voice was magnificently cold, and the look she directed at Umbridge would have made a less self-satisfied woman quail.
"Very well. Will you please confirm that you are the mother of Nymphadora Tonks "
"Hem, hem "
"Yes, yes, all right! Let's not get sidetracked again. We'll express it this way, Madam Tonks; you are the only surviving grandparent of Teddy, the child in question?"
Andromeda Tonks swallowed, but her tone remained level. "I am."
"And you are willing to raise him as your own, despite his rather unusual parentage?" His distaste was obvious.
"I am indeed!"
"And you are willing and able to take all due precautions to protect against the possibility of him being lycanthropic? In particular, by isolating him on full moon nights?"
Her lip curled. "If you mean that I should abandon an innocent child to cry all night while the full moon is in the sky then yes, I'll do that until the Ministry is satisfied that he poses no threat to anyone, if that's really what it takes! I suppose I can dose him with a Sleeping Potion and reinforce the walls of his room with spells. It's what we needed to do for his father, and it always worked perfectly well."
Diggory nodded. "Well, that does appear to be adequately secure, especially as if I understand correctly the likelihood of Teddy Lupin actually having werewolf characteristics is very low. In that case, I suppose there's no reason you shouldn't be granted "
Harry could have sworn he heard Diggory grit his teeth. "Yes, Madam Umbridge?"
"May I just ask a few little questions too, Amos? It wouldn't do to make a mistake, now would it? Let's be sure that Madam Tonks can be relied upon to continue to do what she says she will."
"Oh, very well." He sighed in resignation. "Go ahead, then, ask your questions."
"Madam Tonks." Umbridge smiled sweetly. "What will you do if Mr Diggory's understanding is not correct, and the child does turn out to be affected by the curse of lycanthropy?"
"I would still love him as my grandchild regardless," said Andromeda Tonks heatedly. "And raise him, because it is the right thing to do, and because that is the only thing I can now do for my daughter." There was a tremor in her voice, and Harry felt slightly alarmed that she might break down, but she made it through to the end of the statement with her head held high.
"And for your well, let us call him your supposed son-in-law for the sake of this discussion is it the only thing you can do for him too?"
"Yes, for him as well."
"You seem to lack a certain enthusiasm when talking about him, my dear. Could it be that you have a natural antipathy towards werewolves? One that might show itself in a certain lack of determination in raising this child?"
"Remus Lupin was a good man regardless of his affliction," she said stiffly. "My daughter would not have married him if he had not been. And I had time to get to know him well enough to see that for myself. I will not lack determination in raising my grandson."
Umbridge ignored this last claim. "You had 'time' to get to know him, you say? Then surely you didn't approve of him at first. What mother could?"
Mrs Tonks moved uncomfortably in her seat. "Well no, I wasn't happy at first. I admit that. My husband and I attended the wedding under protest, to an extent, merely in order to support our daughter. But opinions change."
Harry glanced at Umbridge and felt a sudden sense of foreboding; her eyes seemed to be gleaming, and her expression was the one he'd always felt meant that something very unpleasant was about to happen. "Under protest, Madam Tonks?" she said with a wide smile. "Dear, dear. Do you mean that you actually attempted to prevent this so-called wedding when you attended it?"
"No, of course I didn't!" snapped Andromeda. "I sang along with the hymns, I watched them sign the register, I kissed my daughter " her voice trembled again " and offered both of them my congratulations. I may not have been happy with the marriage at the time I may even have been disgusted but Nymphadora was a grown woman and my only child, and I would not be so uncouth as to refuse to attend her wedding, nor to make a scene while there!"
Umbridge nodded. "I see. Yes, I see. Are you familiar with the Miscellaneous Provisions Order of 1809?" she asked, abruptly changing the subject.
Andromeda Tonks blinked. "No. Should I be?"
"Oh yes. Oh yes, indeed, Madam Tonks, you should have been." Umbridge's voice was honeyed now, and Hermione turned to glance back at the others with a look of alarm on her face. They all knew that tone, and what it might presage, far too well. Umbridge rummaged in her notes and selected a sheet of parchment. "I fou I myself was reminded of it only the other day when looking into a different matter. Let me read you the text of Clause Fourteen
"'Whereas it has been observed that the Number of so-called Marriages between Wizards or Witches and those affected by the Curse of Lycanthropy, performed according to the Practice of the Muggles, and not approved by the Ministry of Magic, has been increasing; And whereas it has also been observed that Persons of good Standing are frequently in attendance at same, and do offer encouragement to the Procreation of the Werewolf by their assistance in the Raising of Offspring of such illegitimate Unions; And whereas it has further been observed that in both Matters this is in defiance of the Law of the Land laid down in an Agreement of the International Confederation of Wizards, and contrary to Public Policy; Be it therefore enacted by the Ministry of Magic, and by the consent of the Wizengamot duly assembled, that it shall be a Crime to attend any Marriage that would be Illegal and Invalid according to the Laws regarding Werewolves then in force, or to assist with the Arrangements for such, without reporting same to the competent Authorities in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, to enable them to take Action to prevent it, or if Time be pressing and such a Report not possible, without taking all Steps that may be feasible to prevent its Completion; And that it shall also be a Crime for such an Attendee to assist in raising the Child of such an attempted Union, as being a Person of insufficient Propriety for the Task; And that the Penalties for such an Offence shall in all Cases be the same as those to which the Parties attempting to contract such a Marriage would be liable under Clauses XVII and XVIII of the International Werewolf Agreement of 1741.'"
She paused for a moment to savour the stricken expressions on the faces of everyone in Harry's party. "We already have your confession that you took no such action and made no such report, Madam Tonks," she said softly. "Your daughter and her unfortunate choice of mate may be beyond prosecution, but you are not. But we can determine what charges should be brought against you later the important thing at the moment is to consider whether you are a fit person to raise Teddy Lupin. And since the law states that you are subject to the same penalties as your daughter would have been clearly, according to that law, you are not fit."
Andromeda Tonks turned white; she sat frozen in her chair, and appeared to have gone into shock. Hermione too looked absolutely stricken, although Harry suspected that this was partly because she had failed to find the law that Umbridge had just read out. In some trepidation he looked up at Diggory, whose mouth had dropped open in surprise; he now closed it again, cleared his throat, and tried to find words. "Madam Umbridge, you must have known of this law if you had a copy of it to hand why didn't you tell me this before?"
"Well, I'm afraid I didn't know I would need to until the defence decided on this line of argument, Amos," simpered Umbridge. "But one should always be prepared for such eventualities, should one not? Naturally I assumed that a respectable woman such as Madam Tonks would never have lowered herself to condone and commit such crimes. It was only when she broke down under proper, detailed questioning that the full sad nature of the case became clear."
Diggory flushed again, and Harry could tell he was stung by the criticism. "And what do you want me to do?"
"I think the answer is obvious, Amos. I leave it to you to rule on whether Madam Tonks should be prosecuted, in this time of leniency for past crimes." Ron snorted and muttered 'not for you' under his breath, and both Harry and Ginny nodded fervently. "But we return to the question of what should be done with this child, and I must insist that it be sent away as the law demands. After all " she giggled girlishly " Madam Tonks is its only blood relative of consequence, and I see no sign of any other relation who is willing and able to take charge of it."
Harry was on his feet before he even realised what he was doing, and everyone turned to look at him. Diggory raised his eyebrows. "Mr Potter? Do you wish to speak?"
There was a murmur of excitement from the spectators, but Harry ignored them and nodded. "Yes, sir. Harry James Potter " he resisted the urge to say 'Trouble' instead of 'James', because this definitely wasn't the right time for sarcasm " witness for the defence and godfather to Teddy Lupin." He swallowed, ignoring the gasps in the background. "I understand from my own experience that a godparent constitutes an acceptable legal guardian. So I would be willing to raise Teddy."
Everyone stared at him. Hermione had an unflatteringly sceptical expression, Ron gave the impression that he doubted his friend's sanity, and Ginny simply looked stunned. Harry felt exceptionally foolish. But in Andromeda Tonks's eyes there was a sudden tiny gleam of hope, and so he threw a defiant look in Umbridge's direction, and added, "Isn't that right, Hermione?"
Hermione shook herself and nodded vigorously, and any doubts she might have felt were not audible in her tone as she said, "Yes, that's correct. In fact, there's even precedent here in the case of Ministry v Cadwallader previously mentioned, the child was placed in the care of her godfather."
Diggory seemed to be struggling to find words again. "How old are you, Mr Potter?"
"Seventeen nearly eighteen," replied Harry. There were a few titters from the back of the room, but he ignored them.
"But do you really think you're capable of the challenge of bringing up a child?"
"I'm of age," he said defensively. "And my parents weren't that much older when they had me. And let's face it " if he was ever going to play the 'Chosen One' card, now seemed as good a time as any " over the last few years, I've had to deal with challenges a lot harder than bringing up a child!"
"And Harry too has plenty of people he can call on for help," added Hermione softly, and the two Weasleys nodded. All three of them had odd expressions as they looked at him a mixture of pride and exasperation although Hermione seemed worried as she glanced across at Umbridge, which was ominous.
Amos Diggory sat back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. "Godfather, eh?" he said weakly. "Where's the parchment with that Cadwallader ca"
Diggory closed his eyes and appeared to be counting slowly to ten. His voice when he spoke suggested that he regretted ever having agreed to take on this tribunal. "Madam Umbridge. You wanted to speak?"
Umbridge's expression was furious, but her tone remained honeyed, albeit slightly mocking. "Thank you, Amos. Mr Potter, you amaze me. You were able to take time off from saving us to become a godfather? How did the parents ever manage to find you when none of us knew where you were?"
"My friends knew where I was," replied Harry coldly.
"Surely you would be a very dangerous choice of godparent for a newborn child?"
"I would have been then, yes," snapped Harry. "Not so much these days. You'll probably have noticed that Voldemort is dead now." He felt a rush of pleasure when Umbridge flinched. "Remus and Tonks both wanted me to be Teddy's godfather."
Umbridge tilted her head to contemplate him. "Wanted? I see. Where did the ceremony take place, dear? Was it also at this, er, accommodating St Edmund's?"
Too late, Harry saw the problem that Hermione had obviously already spotted. "Ceremony?" he asked, sparring for time.
"I believe it's traditional, isn't it? Do you mean to tell me that there has been no christening ceremony for Teddy Lupin?"
"Not yet," said Harry, just as Hermione desperately interjected, "The intention of the parents was clear "
"But not officially recognised, Miss Granger." Umbridge was triumphant now. "If Mr Lupin and Miss Tonks merely expressed a wish to have Mr Potter as godfather, that is not sufficient to make him one, I'm afraid. Especially when said parents are clearly criminals who have tried to evade international wizarding law, and produced a half-breed of their own who is best kept away from innocent children in case it puts them at risk!"
Harry opened his mouth to retort, but before he had the chance to speak Ron had rocketed to his feet. Diggory coughed. "Er, do you want to "
"Yes! Ronald Bilius Weasley, witness for the bloody defence!" snarled Ron. His ears had turned brick red, which was usually a sign that he'd heard enough to reach breaking point. "Lupin and Tonks are war heroes, not criminals! They just gave their lives in the Battle of Hogwarts, you might have noticed er, this tribunal might like to notice oh, whatever. Amos, what the hell are you playing at here? You know me, you know my dad he always said you were a good bloke. You must know they weren't 'putting innocent children at risk' at Hogwarts, they were protecting them unlike half the Ministry top dogs, I might add, who turned up to help the Death Eaters attack the place! We ought to be giving them posthumous bloody Orders of Merlin, whatever some centuries-old law nobody's bothered to throw out yet says not trying to ruin their kid's life by taking him away from his family and especially not to please somebody who did nothing all war but sit on her arse in her courtroom and persecute Muggle-borns because she liked Voldemort's mental theories!"
Harry blinked. Ron seemed to have covered the main points, and his tirade had clearly made an impression on Diggory. And unless Hermione could come up with yet another legal argument, an appeal to common sense seemed to their best indeed only remaining option. "Er, yeah, what he said. Both of them were in the Order of the Phoenix, they fought against Voldemort right from the start that's more than the Ministry did."
Hermione broke off from giving Ron an excessively glowing look and quickly turned to the wavering Diggory, although Harry's heart sank as he realised that this time, she didn't have another legal alternative to pull out of her beaded bag. "And what's more, Andromeda Tonks has now lost her husband, her only child " Diggory's face tightened momentarily in pain " and her son-in-law to the war," she added. "It would surely be grossly unfair for the Ministry to now deprive her of her grandchild "
"Hem, hem!" Harry had been expecting this well before now, and turned to look at a spluttering Umbridge, whose face was like thunder. "If I could just be heard "
"We've heard far too much from you already," muttered Ginny from the benches (slightly too audibly), but Diggory just nodded helplessly.
"Thank you." Umbridge scowled at Ginny and then hitched an unconvincing smile back on her face. "While I am of course sympathetic to Madam Tonks's plight, I must point out that she has brought it on herself," she said sweetly. "And I am not aware of any law that contains provision for special treatment in cases where the werewolf or the witch they have defiled " a few of the spectators gasped at this, but by no means all " have been of service to the Ministry in partial recompense for their crimes. I see no argument for not following established procedure here."
"The Ministry doesn't always bother about established procedure, does it?" said Harry sarcastically. He held up his right hand so that the scars were visible.
"Yeah, remember Fudge trying to fit up Harry for defending himself against Dementors?" added Ron. "Oh right, of course you do you were the one who sent them after him in the first place!"
"But we're trying to change that now, Mr Weasley!" trilled Umbridge. "I seem to recall the new interim Minister claiming that he wanted to re-establish a culture of respect for the Ministry and its laws "
"However monstrous and prejudiced those laws are?" interrupted Hermione with heat. "I seem to recall the complaining witness showing similar enthusiasm for the Death Eater-inspired laws promoting persecution of Muggle-borns, ones which the interim Minister has declared were so offensive that no responsible wizard or witch could have found them acceptable perhaps this is another case for allowing natural justice to prevail!"
Amos Diggory's unexpected yell managed to effectively silence the quarrelling witnesses. He sat back with an agonised look, rhythmically stroking his beard while he deliberated. "I need to think about this," he said eventually, holding up a peremptory hand to still any arguments. "I'm going to consider it overnight. I have to say that I don't think I'm entitled to overrule the ICW statute law of the Medes and Persians and all that but I intend to thoroughly check the precedents to see whether I have any room for manoeuvre. I'm instructing everyone to return at noon tomorrow for my decision." He paused to glare at Umbridge and Hermione, who both looked as if they wanted to say something. "You may make any further relevant arguments that occur to you then. And don't waste your time trying to get the baby christened overnight since the parents didn't put anything down in writing, I'm not having the grandmother appoint substitutes until her own status as guardian is determined. This tribunal is adjourned."
He rose and disappeared through the door behind him so quickly that he might have Disapparated. Umbridge turned to Harry, smiled at him in triumph, and strode out of the courtroom with Rita Skeeter hastily following on behind. Harry could hear her asking for an interview as they trotted down the corridor. The spectators slowly filed out behind them, leaving Harry's party alone in the room.
"No!" Harry's attention jerked back as Andromeda Tonks stood up. "No! Give me Teddy!" she snapped at a startled Ginny. "Give him to me right now!"
"Mrs Tonks " began Hermione in a placating manner.
"NO! I am NOT letting that that Ministry creature take Teddy away!" The note of hysteria which had been on the edge of Andromeda's voice for days was beginning to break through again; Ron put a firm hand on her arm, but she continued to shout as she tried fruitlessly to shrug him off. "Give him to me! I'll take him away where she can't find him "
"Where's that, Mrs Tonks?" asked Ron, slightly out of breath from the exertion of keeping her from running out. "Look if you run off now, they'll see, they'll stop you before you ever get out of the building! That Umbridge cow is probably off right now telling her pet Auror Dawlish to come and watch you!"
"Then what are you going to do?" she yelled. "How are you going to stop her?"
"Don't worry about that," said Harry fiercely. "One way or another, we're going to. But now's not the time to do it look, just go back to The Burrow where it's safe, and give us time to work out the details." He turned to Ginny with a pleading look. "Can you take charge of her?" he added in a low voice of them all, she was the one Andromeda Tonks had seemed most comfortable with and after a moment's hesitation she nodded and brought Teddy over.
"Come on, Andromeda," she said quietly. "Let's get back home. I trust Harry." As Teddy began to cry and Andromeda comforted him, Ginny muttered so that the older woman couldn't hear, "What are you going to do?"
"I'm not sure," he replied grimly, and just as quietly. "I'll come back and tell you if we think of something. But first, we're going to go and see Kingsley Shacklebolt and find out what he can do about it."
Ron and Hermione followed along right at Harry's heels as he strode out of the Magical Creatures department and took the lift to the Ministerial level. "Do you think he'll see us?" asked Hermione, slightly out of breath as she tried to keep up with Harry's near-run and Ron's long strides.
"You heard what he said, Hermione 'you've earned the right not to stand on ceremony'," Ron pointed out.
"He'd better have meant it," said Harry, skidding to a halt in front of a desk outside the Ministerial offices, at which a haughty-looking secretary was writing memos. He took a second or two to gather himself for a courteous request. "Excuse me, we need to see the Minister. I know it's short notice but it is rather urgent "
"I'm afraid the Minister is very busy and isn't seeing anyone without an appoint" She looked up, trailed off as she saw who was asking, and practically bounced in her chair. "Oo! Harry Potter!"
"That's me," said Harry, fixing a polite smile on his face. "Scar and everything."
"Of course you can see the Minister, Mr Potter!" In two seconds flat, her manner had been transformed from something resembling Aunt Petunia at her worst to something resembling Lavender Brown at her worst, but the change was nevertheless distinctly promising.
"Told you," muttered Ron succinctly.
The woman looked round at the sound and gasped. "But you're Ron Weasley! And you must be Hermione Granger! Oh, I'm so honoured to meet you all! Would you " she took a moment to gather herself " I mean, if you don't mind could I possibly have your autographs?"
Harry exchanged glances with the others; as he expected, Ron was preening, and Hermione blushing and trying to conceal how flattered she was. They all scrawled their names on a piece of parchment, and the witch clutched it to her chest as she knocked on the Ministerial door and went in.
"Blimey, that was easy," said Ron, grinning. "I might have been less miserable last year if I'd known that being a war hero would get you in anywhere."
"Worked for me," said Hermione innocently.
Harry was distracted from Ron's spluttering by the door opening again, as Kingsley's secretary escorted out a youngish man who looked vaguely familiar. "The Minister will see you now, Mr Potter," she said. "Mr Proudfoot, I'm sorry to interrupt your meeting, would you mind waiting here until the Minister has finished?"
"No problem," said the man, with a wink at Harry. "It's a madhouse downstairs at the moment, it's nice to get away for a bit." He dropped into a chair and settled down to read the morning paper.
Kingsley appeared in the doorway. "Harry, Ron, Hermione good to see you. Come in." As they followed him into the office, he continued, "Can I assume that everything's satisfactorily resolved?"
"No," said Harry bluntly, and Kingsley's face fell. The new Minister listened grimly as Hermione took over to explain what had happened, then sat back in his chair and spat one very emphatic expletive.
"Snap," said Ron.
"Can you put a stop to this?" asked Harry. Other questions could wait.
Kingsley ran a hand across his head he gave the impression of wishing he had hair to run his fingers through. "I don't think I can, Harry."
"Why ever not?" said Harry over Ron and Hermione's protests.
"Because the Minister isn't supposed to interfere with an official tribunal especially when his own position on the matter now appears somewhat compromised."
"Compromised?" said Harry in disbelief. "What do you mean?"
"Uh-oh. Were you at that wedding too?" asked Ron.
It only took one look at Kingsley's face to know that Ron had hit the nail on the head. "Since you mention it, yes. I was Remus's best man, in fact. If Umbridge realises that well, let's say that she could use it to stir up quite a lot of trouble. And if that Skeeter woman gets to hear about it, she might just go and interview the vicar. Damn!" He slammed a fist down on his desk. "This sort of complication is the very last thing I needed right now. Are you sure she's got this Miscellaneous Provisions Order thing right?"
Hermione nodded sadly. "It looks like it. What will happen if they know you were there?"
"That depends on the Wizengamot or what's left of it. If I start throwing the Ministerial weight about too obviously too early, they might panic, and if they decide to get picky over my confirmation, I'm out of a job. We'll probably get the old order back."
"Old order?" asked Harry.
Kingsley's expression was ugly. "I've had people keeping an ear to the ground an Extendable Ear in some cases. I'm hearing hints of a group who don't want the Ministry to make any 'precipitous changes', and would prefer to install a 'compromise candidate' who will 'restore stability to the government'. And yes, those are direct quotes. All it means is that they want everything to go back to how it was before the Death Eaters took over, without making any effort to change the underlying attitudes. Teddy Lupin and his grandmother are probably just targets of opportunity for them, a way to cause consternation for the new Ministry. I don't know how strong the faction is or who they all are, but I'll bet you Galleons to Flobberworms that Umbridge is right there among them helping them out. After all, if we take over, she's likely to be arrested for crimes against Muggle-borns once the dust settles."
"Who do they mean by a 'compromise candidate'?" asked Hermione suspiciously.
"Cornelius Fudge was the name being floated." He shook his head at their disbelieving protests. "No, think about it. He was out of office last year out of the country, in fact so he didn't get his hands dirty. He has experience, and the worst people will say about him is that he's incompetent. When compared to what came after him he suddenly looks a great deal better. Of course, he's always been far too impressed by the old pure-bloods, but that's what they want someone easy to manipulate. Not all of them were active Death Eaters, and there are still plenty of their sympathisers around. I need time, dammit."
"We don't have time! Amos is going to rule on this tomorrow!" shouted Harry, his frustration finally bursting through. He was uncomfortably aware that Kingsley was probably right about the bigger picture, but he'd still hoped for a lot more than this from him. "Whatever happened to the idea of a Ministry based on justice? Or all that stuff you said at the funeral about how important it was that Remus and Tonks got married as a blow against prejudice? What are we supposed to do, let their son be stuffed into some German prison for kids who might, just possibly, if everything we know about werewolves these days is totally wrong, be dangerous? Hell, Grindelwald's dead now, why not lock the kid up in his old cell in Nurmengard to really be on the safe side?" He took a deep breath; he was dimly aware that this time, Ron and Hermione had not attempted to interrupt his rant, nor felt embarrassed by it although he had a nasty suspicion that he himself might later on. "You can't do that, Kingsley!"
Kingsley looked as if he was controlling anger, but if so, he managed it better than Remus had done. "I have no desire to do that, Harry, I just don't have any choice! You saw the slant the Prophet put on things this morning, if that's the line they're pushing, I can't be seen to interfere " He paused, looking unhappy with what he'd just said, and sat and thought for a moment. "You can do things I don't have the chance to do," he said slowly. "That's why I really need your help to keep Teddy safe. And while we're on that subject "
He rose from his desk so suddenly that he was halfway to the door by the time Harry realised that he'd finished speaking. He opened it and called, "Proudfoot! Come in here, I have a job for you."
The man they had turfed out of the office strolled in. "What's that, Minister?"
Kingsley turned to them. "Hermione, didn't you tell me Umbridge said people had made threats against Teddy Lupin?" Following her surprised nod, he continued smoothly, "I thought so. If Amos rules against the grandmother, the Ministry would take charge of the child and until we reconnect the fireplaces he could only be taken out of the building via the visitor's entrance. The street above is very vulnerable to attack by someone lying in wait." Harry exchanged startled glances with his friends; did Kingsley know of their escapade the previous year? His voice had risen and Harry was sure it must be carrying through the open door to anyone listening outside. "We can't tell what groups those spectators were with. It would be very embarrassing for the Ministry if an anti-werewolf faction were allowed to get away with defying the law. We must take steps to prevent that. Proudfoot, I'm ordering you to take personal charge of the security arrangements I'm sure you've seen the details of the case in the Prophet. It'll do you good to get back into the old routine again." There was a suspicious lack of expression on his face as he examined Proudfoot. "Do you think you can handle it, Mike, or should I assign someone else to work with you?"
Proudfoot too was wearing an innocent look. "Oh, I'm sure I'm still capable of taking one baby out of the building all by myself, Minister, even if I am a bit rusty after a year off the broom, like."
"Good. Well, Harry, it's been nice talking to you all, but I have work to do. I'm sure you can find your own way out and the same goes for this case." He had been gradually shepherding them to the door as he spoke, and Harry noticed that there were now several people waiting to see him. His voice had now become so bland it was practically soporific. "Try to persuade Amos Diggory to make the right decision, but let's hope everything works out for the best anyway. I'm sure it will." Harry could have sworn he saw Kingsley wink at them as they left.
Proudfoot walked with them as they passed the people waiting for Kingsley, a couple of whom looked both very senior and not at all comfortable with the new Minister. "Bit of a blow being given this case, you know," he said chattily as they stepped into the lift. "I worked with Dora Tonks looking after you lot. She was a great girl by way of being a personal friend. I'm going to miss her."
Harry suddenly realised where he'd seen the man before. "You were in Hogsmeade, guarding the school! You're an Auror!"
"Was an Auror. Will be again, if Shacklebolt gets the Department sorted out. I'm Muggle-born, so I had to leg it when they started asking for Blood Status. At the moment I'm just helping out." He paused as they reached the fifth floor. "I'll be down in the courtroom tomorrow to collect the child if need be. Although I'll have to stop off to do some paperwork first before I can leave the building with him, so I hope nobody sets a trap or anything while I'm doing it. Still, I suppose the worst anyone can do is Stun me, as long as I can't remember their faces, right?"
"Right," agreed Harry solemnly. As the lift doors closed, he, Ron, and Hermione looked at each other in speculation not to mention trepidation. They had some serious planning to do.