Albus Dumbledore Severus Snape
Multiple Eras
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Order of the Phoenix
Published: 10/14/2004
Updated: 11/05/2004
Words: 419,861
Chapters: 24
Hits: 157,499

Harry Potter and the Veil of Mystery


Story Summary:
Suddenly with a higher profile after being proved right about Voldemort's return, Harry's use of Voldemort's name around Hogwarts gains popularity. It also attracts Voldemort's attention in the form of a series of attacks, and Harry soon finds that he is shouldering a burden even greater than the prophecy--the likelihood that Sirius's fate could come to his friends, who will stop at nothing to protect him.

Chapter 19

Chapter Summary:
Ron has a very eventful seventeenth birthday, both for good and bad; Harry is less than pleased to be paid a visit by Cornelius Fudge.

Chapter 19

Ron's Birthday

Harry woke up at his usual time on a Thursday, two weeks later. He was unusually conscious of what day it was because it was the first of March, which was Ron's birthday. It was important for two reasons: one was that it was Ron's seventeenth birthday, which was a very special one for a wizard. Ron was now 'of age,' meaning that he was an adult for all legal and practical purposes, and could learn to Apparate. Ron had been looking forward to that for a long time, but would not be able to get his license until the summer.

The second reason that it was important, at least from Harry's point of view, was that this was the day he had arranged to have Ron's Firebolt delivered. Harry was a little nervous, because while in Diagon Alley Ron had indicated that he was tempted to allow Harry to buy it for him, he had never given explicit approval. Harry thought Ron would be happy, but he was still concerned.

As Harry climbed out of bed, he noticed that Ron had already left the dormitory. Harry changed into his normal robes and headed to the portrait hole, where he met Ginny, heading out as well. They smiled at each other in anticipation of what was to come.

"You going to sit with us?" Harry asked.

"Are you kidding? Of course," she said as they climbed through the hole and started walking towards the Great Hall. "I want to see his face. You have the note that Mum wrote, right?"

Harry took it out to double-check. "Right here," he said. "I don't want his enjoyment of it to be spoiled by his wondering what she'd think."

"Well, let's hurry up," she said, walking more briskly. "We don't want to miss it. I know the owls never come this early, but still..."

They took their seats, Harry his usual one next to Neville and across from Ron and Hermione, while Ginny took a seat next to Neville. "Happy birthday, Ron," said Harry. Ron nodded his thanks, and said to Ginny, "You're sitting with us today?"

"Of course. After all, how often does your older brother turn seventeen?"

"For you, this'll be the sixth time," Ron pointed out.

She shrugged. "I hadn't thought of it that way, but somehow it seems more important now... maybe because I'm not that far from seventeen myself. Just another year and a half."

"I'll admit I'm pretty excited about it," said Ron. "Not that it does me a whole lot of good right now, since I'm here and can't Apparate anyway, but Dad's promised me that the day after I get back for summer vacation, he'll go with me to the Apparation Test Center so I can get my license."

"And then you'll move from room to room by Apparating, not by walking, right?"

"No, I'm not going to do that," he said. "I know all the stories, how some wizards just stopped walking when they could Apparate, and got into bad physical condition because they never used their legs. Personally, I think those are just horror stories the Apparation Test Center tells you to make sure you don't do it too much. I don't think that could really happen to anyone."

"Oh, no, Ron, it really does happen, it's well documented," said Hermione. "For example, there was a man in Edinburgh..." she trailed off as she saw his expression, then finished, "...whose story I'm sure you're not interested in hearing." She took another bite of her food as the others laughed, including Ron.

"That usually doesn't stop you," Ron pointed out.

"Today's your birthday," she replied, patting him on the face deliberately to annoy him. He gently swatted her hand away in pretended annoyance.

"Ah," he said, in a tone that suggested that she had been caught. "You won't go into endless detail now because it's my birthday, but every other day of the year, you don't mind, even though you know I don't care."

"Well, I do it naturally, you know that, but the fact that it annoys you is kind of a bonus, yes."

Ron looked at Neville. "She must do that all the time with you, Neville. How do you stand it?" Harry knew he phrased the question that way to get back at Hermione for her last comment.

"Oh, she doesn't do it to me, Ron. She likes me," said a smiling Neville, as the rest burst out laughing, even Hermione, to Harry's surprise. "No, seriously, I don't mind at all. I learn a lot. For instance, did you know that in 1682, at the thirteenth Warlocks' Convention..." Neville trailed off as the others laughed again.

"I'm glad I came over here this morning," said Ginny, smiling at Neville. "Neville's in good form."

"Yes, he is," said Hermione, leaning across the table to take Neville's hand.

"Hey, now," said Ron. "None of that at the table. It's my birthday, after all."

"They should do it if they want to. I think it's nice," said Ginny.

"Anyway, it's not like they're kissing or something," added Harry, partly to annoy Ron a bit himself.

"That would be fine, too," said Ginny. "Why not?"

Ron rolled his eyes as Hermione and Neville chuckled. "Be serious," he said, taking another bite of his breakfast.

Harry was curious, and asked, "Where do you go if you want to do that, anyway? There's not much privacy around here."

"Oh, there are places," said Hermione, still holding Neville's hand. "I mean, there have always been couples at Hogwarts, and they've found many places over the years."

Ginny gave Ron an evil grin. "And it's not just kissing, either. Some people-"

"Ginny!" Ron almost shouted as the others laughed loudly. He looked at them distastefully, then said, "It's Ron's seventeenth birthday, so let's annoy him even more than usual."

"Anyway, Harry," said Hermione after she finished laughing, "if you really want to know... I'll tell you once you have a girlfriend." Now the others chuckled at him.

Harry shook his head. "Just curious," he said, hoping this branch of the topic would stop there. Just then, the owls flew into the Hall, and seven cards and small packages landed in front of Ron, followed by a long, thin one, wrapped in such a way as to make it obvious that it was a broom. Ron's eyes were as wide as Harry had ever seen them.

"You didn't-" gaped Ron. Harry handed over the note he had made sure to bring to the table. "It's from Mum," Ron said, and read it out loud. "Dear Ron, It was sweet of you to decline Harry's offer that day in Diagon Alley because of how I might feel. So, part of my gift to you is to give my blessing for Harry to do this. Your present broom can go to your sister. Happy birthday. Love, Mum."

Ron still looked shocked. He took the package and ripped off the wrapping, looking at the broom as if it were a priceless treasure, from every angle. Harry was smiling broadly, greatly enjoying Ron's pleasure. "You know that there have been some minor modifications on this since I got mine, so technically, yours is a better broom than mine is." Ron didn't comment, still gazing at the broom rapturously. Harry looked down the Gryffindor table, but to his surprise, no one seemed to have noticed the broom being delivered, or saw it now.

The others were all smiling as well, happy for Ron. Finally, Ron looked up from the broom and at Harry. "Harry, I... I don't know what to say."

"You don't have to say anything, Ron. You know I wanted to do this, and your seventeenth birthday seemed like a good time. Just enjoy it."

"Believe me, I will," said Ron fervently. "Thank you." Then, in a bit of humor Harry absolutely did not expect from him, Ron turned to Hermione and said, "Hermione, where can I go to give him a kiss?"

The other four howled with laughter. Finally, Hermione said, "Wow, you must be really happy, Ron, to even make a joke about something like that."

Neville had noticed that they were now getting interested looks due to all the loud laughter. "I'm wondering, people are going to be asking who gave you that, Ron. Are you going to tell them?"

Hermione responded before Ron could. "Why wouldn't he, Neville?"

Ron chuckled. "Wow, it's pretty rare for me to catch the drift of a question that you didn't, Hermione. He means that people are going to think it's strange that Harry got me such an expensive gift. Frankly, Neville, I don't care. People know we're good friends. I don't know if they know how much money he has, but it's no skin off my back if they wonder."

"I didn't assume you would care, really, but I just wondered," explained Neville.

"It'll just add to Harry's legend," said Ron. "'And you know, he buys his friends extremely expensive presents!'"

"Who buys his friends extremely expensive presents?" asked Professor McGonagall, who Harry assumed had seen the broom from a distance and come to investigate. "Is that another Firebolt?" she asked, obviously impressed.

"Yes, it is," answered Hermione. "Today is Ron's seventeenth birthday, and that's his present from Harry."

They all enjoyed her astonished expression; she looked as if she couldn't think of anything to say. Finally, she raised an eyebrow at Harry and said, "And the gold that you spent on this, Harry, was it also tainted in some way?"

Everyone laughed at this rare joke from McGonagall, including Harry. "No, Professor. I've never done something like this before, and I may never again. But it's not like I can't afford it, and it just felt good to do it. So I did."

She nodded in understanding. "It was very good of you, Ron, to allow him to do it."

Ron raised his eyebrows, impressed at her grasp of what had happened. "He practically begged me to let him," he said. "I think most people won't believe that, but who cares."

"A very good attitude," she said approvingly. "I understand because I grew up in a family of limited means. I know that this is a substantial act of trust on your part. But I suspect it is not misplaced. A pity you are a Keeper, however, as it will not be useful for Quidditch."

"Well, Professor, Ginny's going to get my old broom, but I've just decided something. Before every game and practice, I'm going to switch brooms with her. I'll use my old one, and she'll use this. That way it can be put to good use."

Ginny looked shocked. "No, Ron, you shouldn't do that. It's yours, you should use it."

Ron shook his head. "Ginny, it's completely wasted on me as a Keeper. I wouldn't do it if you weren't my sister, I'm not sure I'd trust anybody else with something like this. But it makes sense, and you know it."

"Your brother is right, Miss Weasley," said McGonagall. "It will still be his broom, you will just be borrowing it. I find myself rather looking forward to the match against Ravenclaw. Good day, everyone." She walked back to her seat at the teachers' table.

"Ron-" started Ginny, but was interrupted by Harry.

"He's right, Ginny. It's good of him to do it, and he doesn't have to, but it makes perfect sense. I didn't get it for him for being a Keeper, I did it because it's a great broom to have, especially if you're a Quidditch fan and player. But he'll still have it whenever he wants it, just for flying around."

"Say, how about a fly later on?" Ron asked Harry. "After lunch?"

"Absolutely," Harry agreed. "We can race." Ron grinned.

Neville spoke up. "What did Professor McGonagall mean when she said that Ron accepting the broom was an act of trust? I didn't get that."

Ginny answered. "What she meant, Neville, is that that kind of gift can cause problems if things are handled badly. Sometimes, people buy other people expensive gifts but then make demands later, or imply that they're indebted to the person who gave it to them. They can hurt them by making them feel bad about receiving something like that, or making unkind comments. Now, if Harry were to remind Ron about how he got the broom, or act like Ron owed him something-even as a well-intentioned joke-Ron would feel bad. Ron is trusting Harry that Harry won't do that. Now, we all know Harry, and that's the last thing he'd ever do. He'd feel terrible if he even accidentally said something that made Ron feel that way, that's why McGonagall said his trust wasn't misplaced. But that's what she was talking about. If she came from a poor family, she would know about it firsthand. In a way, Ron really is doing Harry a favor."

Neville seemed to understand. "You know, it's funny," said Harry, "I'd never even thought about what Ginny just said. I can see where it makes sense, but wouldn't you have to be mean or stupid to do that? It just seems so obvious, not to act like that."

"You'd be surprised, Harry," replied Ginny. "A lot of people can be mean or stupid... not all the time, but especially at stressful times. People get mad, look for a nasty thing to say, and it comes out. Ron'll probably have that broom for the rest of his life, so McGonagall's right, it is an act of trust."

"Thank you, Ron," Harry said sincerely. "I really do appreciate it."

"You're welcome, Harry," replied Ron, amused. "Now, let's see what else I got. Just because it won't cost a huge amount of money doesn't mean it won't be good."

"Good attitude, Ron," said Hermione, as Ron picked out a card. "Oh, this one's from you," he said to Hermione. She smiled and looked a little nervous.

Ron opened the card and read. Harry saw Ron's face change little by little as he read it, gradually softening. By the time he finished, Harry could tell he was touched. Ron looked at Hermione, saying nothing, but she could obviously tell from his expression how he felt, and her small smile got wider. "I'm not going to do that every year, Ron," she said. "I know it embarrasses you. But you're seventeen, and I just wanted to."

Now Ron smiled. "Usually it would, but for some reason, right now it doesn't," he said quietly. "Thank you, that's the nicest thing anybody's ever said to me." She leaned over and hugged him, whispering something into his ear. Harry saw Ron whisper back, but couldn't hear what it was. Harry exchanged a smile with Ginny; they both knew what they thought, and hoped, it was. Ron's come a long way this year, Harry thought.

After a hastily eaten lunch, Harry and Ron went out to the Quidditch pitch for a quick fly, as Ron had a one o'clock lesson. They flew for a half hour, taking great pleasure in executing pinpoint maneuvers accurately. As they walked back to the castle, Harry asked Ron if he could tell him what was in the card. Ron smiled in mild embarrassment and said, "Sorry, Harry, but I think it's one of those things that's supposed to stay between her and me. She said Neville doesn't even know what she wrote. Besides, you saw what happened, you could probably guess pretty well."

"I suppose I could," Harry agreed. "I hope I get one like that when I turn seventeen."

"I think you will, Harry. She knows you're not bothered about that kind of thing." Changing the subject, Ron enthused about his Firebolt. "This thing is amazing, isn't it? I mean, I've ridden on yours before, of course, but... somehow it's different when you know it's yours. It almost makes me want to be a Chaser."

"You could switch positions with Ginny," Harry joked.

Ron chuckled at the notion. "No, not with the championship match coming up. But we're going to crush Ravenclaw now, I'm sure of it. This broom will leave their Chasers in the dust, and Ginny's good, she'll make good use of it."

"Yeah, but you know what Hermione said... if I don't get the Snitch-"

"You'll get the Snitch, Harry. You always do," said Ron.

"I wish I could be as sure of that as you are," Harry replied. "But you saw what happened last time, Cho got the Snitch in twenty-eight seconds. Of course that's not going to happen again, and I'm not going to get it in twelve. But it just makes the point that anything can happen. You said so yourself after the last match."

Ron considered this, then, with the barest hint of a smile, said, "You'll get the Snitch, Harry. You always do."

Though he was a little annoyed, Harry couldn't help but chuckle. "Good to see that you take my opinion so seriously."

"No problem," said Ron, sounding as if he took Harry's sarcasm seriously. They entered the castle. "Oh, Harry, I'm almost late for History of Magic. Could you-"

"Put it in your trunk? Yeah, sure," said Harry, accepting Ron's Firebolt.

"Thanks, see you later," said Ron, as he headed off for his class. Harry went back to Gryffindor Tower, put his and Ron's brooms away, then headed back out to the staff room.

As usual, he was greeted in a friendly fashion by the other teachers as he entered. He sat down on a sofa next to Flitwick, who said, "Say, Harry, as long as you're handing out Firebolts..."

Harry chuckled along with the others. "I guess I shouldn't have expected Professor McGonagall to keep that to herself."

"It certainly was not going to be a secret," she pointed out. "It would have been noticed in practice, if nothing else. Besides, it is rather extraordinary."

"I don't see what's so strange about it," replied Harry. "I have more gold than I need or will ever use, he's a very good friend, and I knew it would make him really happy."

"Ah, Harry," mused Sprout. "As brave as anyone I'll ever meet, but in some ways, naive even for a sixteen-year-old."

In response to Harry's raised eyebrows, Flitwick explained, "It's not the thoughtfulness of what you did, Harry, it's the scale. People just don't do things like that, even if they're rich. The butterbeer for the first and second years, that was thoughtful. This is something else entirely. Even if you didn't see it that way yourself, you have to understand that others will. Now, we know you, so we don't think it's strange, for you. You have a certain... innocence, I think is the best word, that is one of your better qualities. You do something because you think it's the right thing to do, and you don't think of reasons not to do it. You don't let others' cynicism or expectations sway you. It's kind of nice, really. I hope you don't grow out of it."

"What would I do, except what I think is the right thing to do?"

Flitwick smiled sadly. "What a lot of people do, Harry. They do what people expect them to do, what they feel is appropriate, what is usual. Society tells us that we should do things a certain way, and we do. Most of us, anyway. Professor Dumbledore is a bit like you, in this way. He would wear unmatched socks, or eat highly unusual food, or make Hagrid a teacher. Don't get me wrong," he added as Harry reacted to what he said, "I like Hagrid, we all do." Harry understood that even though Flitwick said 'all,' he was not including Snape, who was in the room, and not known to 'like' anything. "It's just that a lot of eyebrows were raised when he was hired. He's not what you'd call a conventional choice. But Professor Dumbledore does what he thinks is right, not what people would expect or be comfortable with. I just meant that you're a bit like him in that way. Giving a friend a gift like that is something I could see him doing." Harry saw the other teachers nodding in agreement.

Harry thought about this. "Well, it's always a compliment to be compared to Professor Dumbledore. But then, I was a pretty unconventional choice for this job, too, wasn't I?"

"Yes, exactly," Flitwick agreed. "Even those of us who had taught you and liked you would have thought you were too young, or didn't have enough experience. Those are the usual, traditional factors in thinking about a teacher. We would have said, give him five or ten years, he'll make a good teacher. You probably would have thought that too. But Dumbledore somehow knew, and he didn't let how it would look stop him. With Ron's broom, I don't think you even considered how it would look to anyone else. But there will come a time when you will, in such situations. I only hope that you'll do the same things as you would have done before."

"I have a feeling I will," said Harry. "I can be pretty stubborn."

Some of the teachers chuckled. "As Voldemort found out," said Flitwick.

"Not to mention Dolores Umbridge," agreed McGonagall. To Harry's surprised look, she said to him, "I told them what you did, Harry. I did not assume it was a particular secret."

Harry grunted. "I bet it's still on my hand, if you look closely enough, so no, I suppose not."

"We were all appalled, Harry," said Sprout, kindly. "Not surprised, mind you, but appalled."

"It's ironic, though," said Harry, "because she was right: I will not tell lies, even though she wanted me to."

John nodded. "Yes, very Orwellian." Answered by blank looks around the room, he sighed. "There really should be a class on the classics of Muggle literature. Nobody except Hermione would want to take it, of course, but still..." John spent the next few minutes explaining the plot and theme of 1984.

"Yes, John, I do see what you mean," said McGonagall. "These themes often come up, both in art and real life. But I have read much of Shakespeare's works, if that makes you feel any better."

"A little bit," said John. "But I'll refrain from my usual diatribe."

Harry hesitated, then said, "Excuse me, what's a 'diatribe?'"

A few teachers chuckled. Sprout said, "Don't say that, Harry, you're making his point for him."

"A diatribe is a usually lengthy recitation or exposition of strongly held opinion," explained McGonagall. "We would not characterize it as such, however, because the word has negative connotations. John is referring to the fact that he feels that Hogwarts focuses too strongly and exclusively on magic-related education, and not enough on subjects which are also taught at Muggle schools, subjects which cause people to be more well-rounded. For example, he feels that History of Magic should be a subset of a more general history course, and that there should be courses in literature, geography, and sociology. I do not disagree, in principle, but the fact is that most parents do not think that such subjects are necessary, and we must pay attention to what parents wish."

"Parents shouldn't be making that kind of decision for us," said John.

Before McGonagall could respond, Harry spoke. "Excuse me, but I want to ask something... could everybody-except John, of course-raise their hand if they know what happened to Japanese-Americans in World War II?" McGonagall raised a hand, but she was the only one, out of seven teachers present. Of course, Harry realized, Snape wouldn't raise his hand even if he knew.

Harry saw John wince. "Everybody should know that, no matter what country they're from." He gave a three-minute lecture to the other teachers on the subject, then asked Harry, "How did you know about that? From when you went to Muggle schools?"

"No, I heard about it at the Weasleys'," he replied. He went on to relate the main points of the conversation.

"I've never met Arthur Weasley, but he sounds like someone I'd like to get to know," said John. "He's right, of course. Granted, there are such parallels in wizarding history as well, and one could argue that understanding wizarding history is enough from which to draw lessons. I would disagree, of course."

"Speaking of which, Harry," said Sprout, "I don't know if you've heard this already, but I have a few friends high up in the Ministry, and they say that your name's been coming up in their talks recently. Apparently you've become popular enough in wizarding society that some are thinking of trying to use your popularity for their own ends. They've been debating some anti-Voldemort measures, and they might want your public support for them."

Flitwick shook his head. "Talk about a babe in the woods..." Sprout nodded.

"Why wouldn't I support anti-Voldemort measures?" asked Harry.

"Because, Harry," said John, "the rounding up of Japanese-Americans was considered a 'security measure.' The phrase overlooked the human cost of what was done, and caused very few to question it. The phrase 'anti-Voldemort measure' sounds suspiciously similar. If you're a politician, you can wrap up questionable actions in a nice-sounding phrase, and attack people who disagree with you. I strongly suspect that whatever these measures might be, they won't only affect Voldemort. If the Ministry talks to you and asks for your support, you have to be very careful, or they could end up saying you support something you really don't."

"Given the events of last year, I think Harry has more than sufficient reason to be suspicious of the Ministry's motives. I do not think he is quite so 'innocent' as to overlook that," said McGonagall. "As to the rest, I'm sure Professor Dumbledore will give him such guidance as he requires."

"He always does," agreed Harry. "But I have to say, I'm not thrilled about the Ministry asking me to do anything. Why do they need me? Can't they do what they want to do?"

"They can't do what they want without certain levels of public support," explained John, "and they may think you supporting them publicly can help them get that. Despite your age, what you did in September and the fact that you survive all these attempts on your life gives you a kind of moral authority, which is something Fudge lacks. They'll want you to lend them your moral authority. But the problem is, and this is what they won't tell you, that the more you speak publicly, the less people will listen. If you started being a Ministry spokesperson, soon nobody would listen to you, no matter what you've accomplished. If you publicly support the Ministry in anything, it had better be something you want badly, not just something they want badly."

Harry shook his head, lost in thought. Finally he said, "One thing I know for sure, I never want to work at the Ministry."

Sprout looked at him kindly. "Believe me when I say, Harry, that I mean this as a high compliment... you would make a very poor politician."

Harry chuckled along with the rest. "I'm beginning to get that feeling," he agreed. "But can I really say 'no' to the Ministry if they ask me for something? Won't it seem like I don't want to help, or don't care?"

"There are many people," said McGonagall, "who will take their cue from you rather than from the Ministry. If this were not the case, the Ministry would not bother to court your support. If you do not cooperate with the Ministry, those who admire you will assume that what the Ministry asked was not worthy of your support."

Harry found that hard to believe. "But I'm only sixteen! I hardly know anything about politics, or this kind of thing. Why should anybody listen to what I say, or think? I barely know what I think!"

Flitwick regarded Harry compassionately. "I'm afraid that this is an example of the maxim 'no good deed goes unpunished.' With your incredible courage, you've inspired people to act in ways that make our society stronger. But the price that you pay for that is that you get dragged into politics. There's really no avoiding it. I mean, you could always ignore the Ministry, but it doesn't help your cause to do so. But to answer your question, people will listen to you, not because of your expertise on the issues, but because they trust the instincts of someone who's been willing to face Voldemort and put his life on the line like you have. And frankly, Harry, I can think of worse reasons. I mean, I used to say You-Know-Who, and I can't say that I wouldn't still be if it weren't for you." Harry saw other teachers nod in agreement. "Now, I'm not saying that people don't have their own opinion, or will mindlessly support anything you say. But because of what you've done, many people will know that if you feel strongly about something, it's not for self-serving reasons. They give it weight, whereas if Fudge supports something, many people will assume his motives involve his personal political interests."

"Now, why would they think that," muttered McGonagall.

Harry didn't say anything for a moment; he felt overwhelmed by what he could be facing. "I'm just not sure I'm ready to deal with this."

To his surprise, Snape finally spoke. "You had better get ready to deal with it, Professor. You cannot waste the status you have while you wallow in indecision, feeling put upon. Those who would undermine your efforts will not be idle."

Harry looked at Snape in annoyance. He wanted to say, I'm sixteen, for crying out loud, haven't I done enough? But a part of him knew that Snape was right, cold and clinical though he was. Still, Harry was annoyed enough that he couldn't stop himself from annoying Snape right back. He looked up and said, "You're just saying that to make me feel better."

A few teachers snorted in efforts to keep from laughing, and some let out a chuckle. Flitwick muttered, "Wow, you really are brave."

Snape looked at Harry very coldly and said, "You appear, Professor, to already have plenty of people ready to do that for you." Harry wondered if that was a swipe at the other teachers for laughing at his comment.

He sighed. "You're right, of course, Professor Snape. I know I have to deal with it, ready or not. Professor Dumbledore would excuse my acting like this, he'd say I was still too young. Maybe I am, but I guess that's just too bad. I'd better get some opinions, and be really careful if I have to deal with the Ministry. And have a talk with Professor Dumbledore, which you can never go wrong doing. I wish Fawkes were here." Just as Harry finished saying the word 'here,' Fawkes materialized and perched on his shoulder. Harry chuckled and reached up to pet him. "Thank you, Fawkes. I guess I tend to forget that I can ask you to come, and you actually will."

"Perhaps Hagrid will remind you," said McGonagall. "You are doing phoenixes today, are you not?

"Yes, he mentioned that last time," said Harry. "Maybe I'll learn something I didn't know."

"Perhaps, but he will probably ask you a few questions about Fawkes as well," she replied. "He has never had a phoenix companion as a student in such a class before. He will want to use you as a resource."

"I won't do that for the Ministry, but I will for Hagrid." He left and headed out toward Hagrid's hut, even though the class would not start for another half hour.

As McGonagall had predicted, Hagrid asked Harry several questions about Fawkes's behavior. Hagrid spent some time talking about the transition period between the older and younger companion, since that was what was occurring with Fawkes. Fawkes spent the entire lesson on Harry's shoulder, despite Hagrid's requests to Fawkes that he move. "Sorry, Hagrid, but I was feeling kind of down earlier, and I think he knows I need him around right now," Harry had said. Hagrid had then talked about the phoenix's effect on its companion's mood.

After the class, still with Fawkes on his shoulder, Harry and his friends headed off to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom to meet Pansy. Sometimes Harry still met with her privately, but now that she was on friendly terms with all of them, sometimes one or two would join Harry and Pansy in the office while the others stood watch in the classroom. Today Ron joined Harry in the office, while Neville and Hermione sat in the classroom.

"Good to see you, Harry, Ron," said Pansy as they all sat down. "And happy birthday, Ron."

"Thanks," he said. "I assume you heard about my big present by now."

"Hermione's card? Yes, I did," she replied with a straight face.

Harry and Ron looked at each other, startled. "She told you what was in it?" asked Harry. "He won't tell me."

"She didn't say exactly what was in it, she just gave me a sense of it. Please don't look so put off, Ron. She tells me about what's happening in her life, and this card was important to her. I just wished I could have been there when you opened it."

"It was very... heartwarming, you could say," said Harry, to Ron's further embarrassment. "It had the effect that Hermione intended."

Pansy smiled. "I'm so glad, she was really nervous. She was afraid you might not take it seriously, or be too embarrassed. Ron, are you still upset that she told me about it?"

Ron squirmed. "Well, not really, it's just that-"

Ron was interrupted by Hermione, who had just walked into the office, obviously having overheard the conversation. "Ron, come on," she said impatiently. "This isn't gossip. You know how isolated Pansy is, she needs to hear about stuff like this. Do you think she wants me to bore her with stories about goblin rebellions all night? You take it for granted that you can talk to anyone you like, anytime, but for her-"

"All right, all right!" Ron almost shouted. Confident that her point had been made, Hermione walked back to the classroom without another word. Ron looked at Pansy guiltily. "I hate it when she's right," he whispered. Pansy giggled. In a normal voice, he said, "I'm sorry, Pansy. I do forget that, and I shouldn't. I was just... anyway, it was a great card, and it made me really happy." Harry was impressed; now Ron seemed to be trying to be more open to make up for his earlier reaction. "Unlike his lousy gift," Ron added, smiling at Harry.

Pansy smiled too. "Yes, I knew about that, too. I also heard that Harry was nervous about it. People seem to be nervous about giving you nice presents, Ron."

Ron looked annoyed. "Well, they shouldn't be," he said defensively. "I didn't have a fit or anything after either one, did I?"

"Well, I was nervous about giving you mine, but since you say you won't have a fit, then I won't be nervous. Happy birthday, Ron." She got up, leaned over, and gave him a kiss on the cheek. He smiled. "Thank you, Pansy," he said. She happily sat back down. Harry wondered if Ron was more accepting of the gesture than normal because of Hermione's reminder of Pansy's situation, but he hoped not.

"So, yes, of course the broom is fantastic," Ron allowed. "Had a fly on it earlier, it responds so quickly, it almost seems to know what you're thinking. And the acceleration... well, I shouldn't ramble, I know you're not that interested in brooms."

"That's all right, Ron," she said. "You should talk about the things you're excited about. I'm glad you liked Harry's gift so much."

Ron chuckled. "It would be hard not to, considering what it was. I bet Malfoy had a few choice comments about it when he heard."

Pansy's expression didn't change, but Harry winced just a little. He said to Ron, "Ron, we don't talk about that here."

Ron looked confused. "Why not?"

"Let's put it this way," said Harry. "If your job was cleaning up vomit all day long, would you want to talk about vomit when you got home?"

Pansy giggled, but Ron looked thoughtful. "I hadn't thought of it that way," he admitted. "Sorry, Pansy."

"That's okay," she said. "I really like Harry's analogy. Right now, I feel like spending a day cleaning up vomit would be a nice change of pace. Too bad I can't share that with Malfoy. Anyway, yes, he found out in mid-morning, and he's been going on about it ever since. He really couldn't believe it, he thought he must have heard it wrong. He can't imagine why Harry would do such a thing. He's been thinking maybe it's to make sure Gryffindor wins at Quidditch, or for Harry to show off how much money he has-which is funny, because Malfoy's always done that, just not by being generous-or just because Harry's addled, he's always liked that one. Later on, he started making insinuations about the two of you."

Harry laughed as Ron rolled his eyes. "Ron, next time we see Malfoy, let's have a big hug, how about it?" Ron gave Harry a 'very funny' look as Pansy now laughed.

"Yes, that's the sort of thing we need to encourage," said Ron dryly.

"I'd almost do it, just to see the look on his face," chuckled Harry. "Funny, if I'd given this to Ginny instead of you..."

Pansy nodded. "The whole school would assume she was your girlfriend. They wouldn't even ask, they'd just assume, and if you denied it, they wouldn't believe you. I've heard people talking, and even people who like you don't know quite what to make of it. It is pretty unusual."

"Yes, the teachers were telling me that earlier," said Harry. He related the conversation about the broom.

"Yes, I think 'innocence' is a good word," she agreed. "And the parts about you doing what you think is right, and not caring what people think, that's absolutely true. I like that about you as well."

Harry smiled wryly. "Remember, I'm Harry Potter. If I'd spent my life worrying about what people thought of me, I'd be insane by now. I think I learned to ignore it just as a kind of self-defense."

"Oh, I have to tell you what happened in our Care of Magical Creatures class," she said. "It was phoenixes, of course, same as yours, and he had Fawkes there. He read-did he do the same thing in your class?-this quote from a book-"

Harry and Ron nodded. "Yes, the same one, I'm sure," said Ron. In the class, when discussing how phoenixes chose their companions, Hagrid had read a quote from the author of the definitive text on phoenixes: "Many phoenixes do not choose to companion humans, of course, and those that do are highly selective about those they choose. Invariably, the person the phoenix chooses will be a person of great stature, one who is respected and admired by his peers and has leadership qualities. The person will also be highly compassionate, possessing great courage, modesty, and strength of character. But the phoenix is most attracted of all to one with a kind and loving nature."

"Oh, you should have seen the look on his face," chuckled Pansy. "He was acting like the author didn't know what he was talking about, of course. He asked Hagrid if the author had a phoenix, and Hagrid said no, he didn't. Then he said there must be something wrong with Fawkes, and the Ravenclaws started in on him. Padma said, 'I don't see you getting any scrolls, Malfoy,' and then Anthony asked Hagrid if there was anything about them liking people who cheated at Quidditch." Both Harry and Ron were laughing heartily now, and Harry could hear Hermione and Neville also laughing in the classroom. "Most people had heard about your giving Ron the Firebolt by then-it was just before lunch-and Mandy asked whether 'generous' was in the list of qualities. Hagrid said it wasn't mentioned specifically, but that the idea fell under the heading of a kind and loving nature. Terry mentioned the butterbeer, and soon there was a five-minute discussion of your good qualities and which ones in particular caused Fawkes to choose you. It was so hard not to laugh at Malfoy, having to listen to all that."

Ron was still laughing. "I just would've loved to see Harry have to listen to that, although we teased him fairly good ourselves. But what they did was better, because Harry wasn't there, so they were serious." He chuckled more, as did Pansy, at Harry's discomfort. "Poor Harry, subjected to so much praise."

"Even in our class, when Hagrid read the quote, I wanted to crawl into the ground," said Harry. "Well, as long as I can be a source of entertainment for my friends, then it's all worth it. Did he say the thing about why he read the quote?"

Pansy nodded. "He said because he was personal friends with two phoenix companions, he wanted to read us something from a book so he couldn't be accused of bias. It got a bit of a laugh."

"It got a bigger laugh for us, probably because Harry was there, being all embarrassed," said Ron. "Parvati said, 'At least the part about modesty seems to be accurate.' I almost felt sorry for Harry."

"Not sorry enough not to make a few comments yourself," Harry pointed out.

"I did say 'almost,' didn't I?" Ron replied. "Besides, you have plenty of laughs at my expense."

"I can't deny that," Harry agreed.

"Oh, I don't want to forget to mention," put in Pansy, "after that class, all through lunchtime, Malfoy was on a real tear about you, Harry. Not that that's important, but a few things he said were new to me. I got the feeling he wouldn't have said them if he hadn't been so angry at you. He made reference to 'the stuff that disappeared,' and suggested that you wouldn't be here right now if it hadn't. When I looked at him like I was surprised, he just waved his hand and acted like it was nothing. The next thing he talked about was overly casual, as if he were making too big an effort to change the subject. One thing that's always true about Malfoy, he's never very subtle. I didn't push it, of course. But the obvious conclusion was that he did smuggle some Dark Arts items in here after Christmas, and that they were found and taken. And that surprised me, because I was sure from what Dumbledore said that he wouldn't do that. What do you think?"

"Snape," Harry said simply. "Has to be."

Pansy nodded. "That was what I thought, too."

"Couldn't Dumbledore just have changed his mind, considering the danger Harry was in?" asked Ron.

Harry and Pansy shook their heads together. "We heard him talk about that," Pansy said. "He was serious. He's willing to risk Harry's life for the principles of treating students properly. He wasn't going to change his mind."

"But it's just exactly what Snape would do," said Harry. "Snape is the realist, the hardheaded one. After the Goyle thing, the next time all the students were out of their dormitories, he must've gone into the Slytherin sixth years boys' dormitory and searched it, found some stuff, and taken it, without telling Dumbledore. The only thing I find hard to believe is that he would betray Dumbledore's trust like that."

"He probably figured he was doing Dumbledore a favor, saving your life," suggested Ron. "He doesn't care about Dumbledore's principles."

"But he cares about Dumbledore, I know that," said Harry. "He couldn't tell Dumbledore what he did, because it violated his trust. But he knew he was accomplishing the result that Dumbledore would want, even if he was doing it in a way Dumbledore wouldn't want. For Snape, the result is the important thing."

"So, do we go to Dumbledore and tell him this?" asked Ron. "I'd say no, you shouldn't. Let Snape keep doing it, it'll help keep you alive."

"I absolutely agree," said Pansy. "I respect Dumbledore's principles, but I'm not ready to put them above your life, Harry."

Harry stared straight ahead and said nothing as Hermione entered the office. She looked at him, and he saw a look of resignation on her face; she was obviously thinking the same thing he was. To Ron and Pansy, she said, "I agree with you both, but Harry's going to tell him. I'm not happy about it, but I understand his reasons."

Pansy looked shocked; Ron was looking at him as if he were crazy. "I can't lie to him," Harry said simply.

"So, you don't have to," said Ron, as if surprised that Harry could have overlooked something so obvious. "Just don't say anything about it."

"That's what's called a lie of omission, Ron," said Hermione quietly. "Harry knows that Dumbledore would want to know. It's really the same thing."

Ron was still bewildered, and getting angry. "So what? Since when did not lying become something that you're willing to risk your life for? Or is it because you think he's going to find out, that he'll be able to tell?"

Harry shook his head. "It wouldn't matter if he were a Legilimens or not, and I don't know if it would let him recognize a lie of omission. But his trust means a lot to me... I just feel like I have this relationship with him... I just couldn't get myself to do it. I don't even know if I can explain it, I just can't do it."

Ron was obviously not persuaded. With more emotion than Harry had ever seen from him, Ron looked at Harry and said, "You have to let Snape continue searching. This could get you killed." He paused for a moment, then added, "It could get us killed, too."

Harry was looking at Ron's face, but no longer seeing him; he was seeing the room in the Auror offices after the department store attack, remembering how he'd felt, how desperate he'd been for no harm to come to them. The thought that harm could come to them by his being honest with Dumbledore was very painful, mainly because he knew it could happen. At the same time, he knew he couldn't not tell Dumbledore this. He took off his glasses and put his hands over his eyes, trying to hold back the tears he felt coming.

"I can't believe you said that, Ron!" said Hermione angrily, trying not to shout. "We all know that it's him you're worried about, not yourself, you're just using that argument because you know it'll affect him. Do you think he's forgotten about how he felt after the department store? You think he forgot about Pansy's body flying out of that chest? That's his worst fear! So, naturally, you wheel it out when you want him to change his mind about something?" She paused to rein in her emotions. "I can't believe you said that," she repeated, glaring at him.

Harry moved his hands aside and glanced at Ron; even without his glasses, he could see that Ron was both still angry at what Harry was going to do and chastened by what Hermione had said. Harry took a deep breath, and saw Ron do the same thing at the same time. Harry put his glasses back on, and looked up at Hermione. "Unfortunately, he's right, it is something I should think about. It's my responsibility, and-"

"No, it's not!" said Hermione urgently, again seeming to shout without raising her voice. "You're responsible for you, not us! He even said that to you that day! He seems to have forgotten it now," she continued, turning to glare at Ron again for a moment before turning back to Harry, "but what he said was true then, and it is now. You have to do what you think is right, and that's all. After that, we're responsible for what we do."

Nobody spoke for a minute, as all three seemed to need time to calm down. Finally Ron spoke, his expression contrite. "Harry, I'm-"

"It's all right, Ron, you don't-"

"No, it's not all right, I want to say this," said Ron determinedly. "Hermione's right... yes, it's such a shock, that never happens... anyway, I'm sorry, I really am. It's just that... maybe I shouldn't say this, either, but..." He took another deep breath, then continued, looking Harry in the eyes. "If I'd been the one opening that chest, it might very well have been your body flying out of there. And I don't think I'm the only one," he added, glancing at Hermione and Pansy, who both looked down. "That doesn't excuse what I said; I should never have said it, I wish I hadn't. I guess I just want you to understand why I'd do that. I really wasn't thinking... I just really wanted you to change your mind."

Harry fought back tears again, this time for a different reason. He knew how hard it must have been for Ron to say that, and it was a strong indication of both how sorry Ron was and the extent to which he feared for Harry's life. "I understand, and I'm sorry too. It's like what you said to me after the boggart," he said, looking at Pansy, "that you didn't realize it was like that for me. I guess I'm so busy worrying about all of you and feeling put upon because of the risks you take because of me that I don't think about what it's like for you, I don't think about you worrying about me... but I suppose you do, don't you, all of you..."

"Of course," said Pansy softly.

"I try not to talk about it to you," admitted Hermione. "It's not like you don't have enough to worry about. But yes, sure I do."

They heard Neville's voice from the classroom, saying, "Me, too," just loud enough for them to hear. They all chuckled, breaking the tension for the moment.

"Thank you, Neville, I appreciate that," replied Harry, raising his voice enough that Neville could hear.

"Any time," they heard Neville respond. Harry smiled, but turned serious again as his mind came back to the main topic. He looked at Ron. "I'm sorry, Ron, I know you worry, and you know how I feel about you guys being at risk... but even with all that, I still can't do it. I'm not even sure I could say why, it's just there. I mean, I'll plead with him to allow the searches, but-"

Ron shook his head. "You don't have to do that, Harry, and you don't have to apologize. I can tell how much it means to you, and that's all I really need to know." He paused, then continued. "It's funny... we were making fun of you just a while ago, talking about the qualities that got you chosen by Fawkes, but it actually just occurred to me that this might be one of them, that this is how strongly you feel about Dumbledore, how you don't want to let him down, that lying to him is just inconceivable. It's very noble, even if it's frustrating."

Hermione nodded and looked at Harry sympathetically. "I had that thought too... not that it does Harry much good."

There was another silence, then Hermione said, "Well, you might as well go to his office now, get it over with so we don't have to keep thinking about it. I guess Pansy should go too, since she's the one who heard Malfoy say it."

"I'm going too," said Ron. "I want to be there, maybe say something."

Harry raised his eyebrows a bit, but had no objection. Neville walked into the office, holding Hermione's map. "There's a clear path to Dumbledore's office, so you won't be seen, but Snape's in there with him," said Neville.

"Good," said Ron. "Maybe he can persuade Dumbledore to allow the searches."

Pansy and Hermione shook their heads. "It's not going to happen, Ron," said Pansy sadly. "I've heard him talk about this, he's really serious about it."

"We can always hope," said Harry. "Let's go."

He and Ron walked up to the gargoyles, gave the password, and approached the office. Outside, they waited for Pansy to catch up, then Harry knocked and the door opened. Snape raised his eyebrows; Dumbledore appeared surprised, but was his usual gracious self. "Harry, Ron, Pansy, what can I do for you?"

"There's something I need to tell you, sir," said Harry. "I got some new information from Pansy today. We don't know for certain that it's true, but we strongly suspect it, and I know you would want to know. Pansy, would you tell him what Malfoy said?" Pansy told him, after which Harry continued, "Even if what we suspect is not true, I know you would still want to know it, so that's why we're here."

"And what is it you suspect, exactly, Harry?" asked Dumbledore.

"As I'm sure you know, sir, to us the obvious conclusion is that some time soon after the attack by Goyle, Professor Snape searched the Slytherin sixth year boys' dormitory and removed whatever Dark Arts items Malfoy had hidden there."

Dumbledore was silent for a few seconds. Then he looked at Snape. "Is what they suspect true, Severus?"

Snape looked levelly at Dumbledore. "Yes, Headmaster."

Harry was sure he saw a flicker of pain cross Dumbledore's face, but it was gone very quickly, and Dumbledore appeared to be his usual serene self. He thought for another minute, then said, "Harry, I sense that you tell me this only with the deepest reluctance. May I ask why?"

"I'm sorry, sir... do you mean why I told you, or why I'm reluctant?"

"Both, if you would."

Harry nodded. "The reason I'm reluctant, and I'm reluctant to say this as well, is that I approve-"

"We," interjected Ron.

"We approve of what Professor Snape did. We agree that the principle is important, and for myself I would take the risk, but right now, any risk to me is a risk to them. Maybe this means I don't have the right strength of character to be a leader, but I can't bring myself to put the principle above their safety.

"As for why I told you anyway... I just couldn't bear to lie to you. I couldn't live with it."

Dumbledore nodded, and thought some more. "Ron, I see that you feel strongly about this. Is that why you accompanied them here?"

"Yes, sir. I wanted to tell you that I tried hard-too hard-to persuade Harry not to tell you this. I reminded him of the danger to the rest of us, hoping it would change his mind. I shouldn't have done that. I just..." Ron trailed off; Harry didn't know whether he couldn't think of what to say next, or was just reluctant. Dumbledore finished it for him.

"You reacted emotionally; you were desperate to keep him from being exposed to any risk not absolutely necessary. I understand, Ron," said Dumbledore gently. "I have been through this sort of thing before, and I know how you feel. As I have said before, it is only with the greatest reluctance that I put Harry at risk for the sake of principles. I fully understand why you cannot bear to subject Harry to this sort of risk for the reasons I have."

He was silent again for a few moments. "Severus... had you not conducted your search, what are the chances that Harry would still be alive?"

"Zero, Headmaster," said Snape simply.

Harry could easily believe that. Dumbledore considered further. Finally he said gravely, "Severus, after Easter vacation, you have my permission to conduct such searches as you consider necessary."

Harry and his friends gaped at each other; this was the last thing Harry had expected. Snape raised an eyebrow. "Very well, Headmaster," he replied.

Dumbledore regarded Harry, Ron, and Pansy. "You wish to ask me why I did that," he observed. They nodded. "I am a leader, but not a dictator," he explained. "I cannot lead where others are not willing, or able, to follow. I do not need to ask Professor Snape to know that he was extremely reluctant to violate my trust, and did it out of what he felt was the most dire necessity. You three badly wish to be able to agree with me in this matter, but you cannot. I must recognize that there is nothing more you can do. I should have recognized that you would feel as strongly as you do, and not asked of you what I have."

"I'm sorry, sir," said Harry sadly. "We should be stronger-"

He stopped as Dumbledore shook his head. "I am not infallible, Harry, as you have already seen. This issue is most definitely not a black and white one; it would be foolish to say that setting aside principles for reasons of necessity is never justified. It is a matter of judgment, and people of good conscience can differ. I feel so strongly about it because it is my judgment that the first step down the slippery slope is the easiest, the most defensible... and the most dangerous. But I can respect other opinions."

"I don't think it's so much a matter of opinion, sir," said Pansy. "In principle, I agree with your opinion. I hate to take that first step, I really do. I know the possible consequences. Maybe I'm just falling into the same trap that so many people have, and it'll just be one more chapter of folly in a history book. I know the right thing to do, I just couldn't do it."

Dumbledore shook his head again. "It is not that simple, Pansy. You have heard about instances in history where the thin end of the wedge widened quickly and disastrously, but you do not usually hear about instances where the wedge did not widen and did no further damage. Nobody remarks on the dog that did not bark, as it were. It is not totally clear-cut."

"You must have thought it was, sir, to put Harry at risk when it was the last thing you wanted to do, " Pansy said.

"That does not mean I am not making an error in judgment. All it means is that I feel very strongly. But Professor Snape has said that Harry would be dead now if not for what he did, and I know we all believe that is true. I cannot be unaffected by that. There is no right and wrong to this, and all your actions indicate to me that I have gone too far in one direction. While a leader cannot follow those he leads, he must also take note of their feelings and incorporate them into his judgment. For example, you may think I will be angry at, or disappointed in, Professor Snape for violating my trust. In fact, I feel remorse that I put him in a position in which he felt he had little choice but to do so. If you ask someone to do something, you must know what you are asking of them. I have made a misjudgment, and I am simply recognizing that.

"There is another aspect to this, as well," added Dumbledore, after another moment's thought. "Harry, you were willing to risk your own safety, though not that of your friends, for the sake of principle. But you were willing to risk both for the sake of not lying to me. I am deeply touched by this, by the trust you place in me even though you do not agree with my judgment. To be worthy of that trust, I must give you reason to know that your trust will not be misplaced. I do so by giving your feelings and opinions their due consideration."

Harry didn't know what to say. "Thank you, sir." He again hoped that he might someday become the sort of person Dumbledore was.

"You are welcome, Harry. Is there anything else I can do for you?" Harry and the others shook their heads and prepared to leave, but they stopped when Snape spoke.

"Professor Potter, Miss Parkinson... and you, Mr. Weasley, and your friends... Mr. Malfoy's items were found easily, because he did not expect his belongings to be searched. After Easter, he will expect it, and take measures. There are magical ways to secrete items in such a way as to make them unfindable even by one who knows what he is looking for. You must all be on a high state of alert at that time. He can be expected to act shortly after vacation, for he will fear that his items may be found no matter how well he hides them."

"Believe me, sir, we'll be as ready as we can be," said Pansy fervently, as Harry and Ron nodded. They turned to leave, Ron and Pansy adding their thanks to Dumbledore.

Harry and Ron had another fly just before dinner. They couldn't fly over the pitch because Ravenclaw was having a practice, but they came near a few times as they raced. A few Ravenclaws interrupted their practice to wave them over for a chat, and to check out Ron's Firebolt.

"Really nice," said Terry Boot, examining what he could as Ron was sitting on it, hovering. "But what are you going to do with it as a Keeper?"

Ron shrugged. "I probably shouldn't tell you this, but for Quidditch I'm going to let Ginny use it, for practice and games."

A few Ravenclaws shook their heads in annoyance, as Cho came over and joined them. "What, Harry having a Firebolt against Cho's Shooting Star wasn't good enough for you?" complained Michael Corner.

"I didn't get it for him so we could win at Quidditch," protested Harry. "I would have done it even if we couldn't use it for Quidditch."

Boot nodded. "You can't question his word, Michael. He's a phoenix companion, after all."

Harry and Ron chuckled, as did all the Ravenclaws except Corner. "Thanks, Terry. Oh, and thanks to all you Ravenclaws for sticking up for me in class earlier. I appreciate it."

Boot shook his head. "I just wish Malfoy would leave, he's such a creep."

"I'm afraid he's not going anywhere until he's got a knife in Harry's back, or has done his best to do that," said Ron unhappily.

"If we're anywhere around, he'll have to get through us to do it," said Cho fiercely. "I know the Diffusion Shield too, you know."

Harry felt a wave of emotion at this show of support. "Thanks, Cho... I really appreciate that." Ron nodded his agreement.

"Well, you'd better let us get on with our practice," said Boot. "Clearly, we're going to need as much as we can get."

Harry felt a bit guilty. "Okay, see you later," he said, and he and Ron flew off. As they flew out of the Ravenclaws' hearing range, Ron said, "You don't feel guilty about having better equipment, do you? I mean, we've beaten the Slytherins every time despite their brooms. You have to have good people on the brooms, Harry. You're good, and so is Ginny. If we win, it'll be because we deserve it."

Harry nodded, not wanting to argue with Ron, but he knew the brooms could make the difference in a close match. He reflected that often life was not fair; it just happened to be unfair in their favor this time.

After dinner, Harry and the others went back to Gryffindor Tower. He practiced dueling with Neville for an hour, then they turned their attention to teaching the others. Ron and Hermione were getting better at real dueling, as was Ginny, though she was behind the others, not having had Dumbledore's lessons on dueling. After explaining one of the ideas he and Neville learned from the Aurors, Harry heard a voice behind him saying, "I see that teaching four hours a day is not enough for you, Professor." He turned to see McGonagall regarding him with amusement.

"Professor!" Harry said, surprised. McGonagall's appearances in the Gryffindor common room were rare. "Did you want to talk to me?"

Her manner was that of one delivering bad news. "You have visitors, Professor. Two people from the Ministry of Magic, including Minister Fudge, wish to speak to you."

Harry shook his head and swore mildly. "I do hope that you will be more diplomatic than that," she said, almost smiling.

"I wouldn't bet on it," said Harry. "You know this isn't exactly my strong suit."

She nodded sympathetically. "I'm afraid that this is the time to take Professor Snape's advice."

He reluctantly agreed. "Neville, could you finish this up?" Neville nodded.

Hermione stepped up. "Remember Harry, don't agree to anything until you've had some time to think about it, and be careful what you say that they could misrepresent later. Also, be sure you don't-"

"Would you like to come, Miss Granger?" interrupted McGonagall. "You could wear his Invisibility Cloak, sit next to him, and whisper."

Harry laughed, and Hermione smiled. "I really would, Professor. Okay, Harry, go on."

"It should make you feel better to know that Professor Dumbledore will be there with him," said McGonagall to Hermione.

"It makes me feel better, that's for sure," said Harry. "All right, I'm ready."

They left Gryffindor Tower and headed for Dumbledore's office, which Harry was glad to know would be the setting; he tended to feel comfortable there. They went past the gargoyles and knocked on the door, which opened. "Ah, thank you, Minerva. Harry, please come in. You know Minister Fudge, of course." Harry politely shook hands with Fudge, who seemed to be putting on his friendly-uncle manner. Harry had seen this before and believed that to be what Fudge was like, but here, he knew it was nothing more than a mask. The real Fudge, he felt, was the one he had seen trying to railroad him at the disciplinary hearing a year and a half ago.

"And this gentleman," continued Dumbledore, gesturing to the man Harry had never met, "is Archibald Dentus, a former high-level Ministry official."

Dentus extended his hand. He was older, Harry guessed he was in his sixties, with short gray hair and a trimmed beard. He smiled as he shook Harry's hand. "It's good to meet you, Professor," he said. "Professor Dumbledore has told me about you."

Harry looked at Dumbledore in mild surprise. "Archibald is an old friend, Harry," he said. "He and I have been known to differ, but I have always respected him and his views."

Dentus grinned. "Well, I suppose that amounts to an endorsement, under the circumstances." They sat down, and Fudge spoke.

"Firstly, Harry, I, and the Ministry, would like to express our regret for what happened last year..." He was going to continue, but Harry didn't feel Fudge was sincere, so he decided to be aggressive, even if it was the wrong thing to do.

"I'm sorry, Minister, but do you mean for not believing that Voldemort was back, or for the abuse I took in the Prophet?"

Small grins crossed the faces of Dentus and Dumbledore; Fudge looked flustered. "Well, there was some unpleasantness, that's true, but I am hoping we can-"

"'Unpleasantness', Minister?" Harry asked, trying to keep his emotions out of his voice, and not doing very well. "I don't think you would just call it 'unpleasant' if you knew, like I did, that Voldemort was back and that nothing was being done about it, that in fact there were many people trying to make sure nothing was done about it. He's had a whole extra year to prepare. Maybe if that hadn't happened, he wouldn't have so much spare time to try to kill me."

Fudge looked like he was simultaneously abashed and trying not to be angry. "Harry, we had to have proof of his return. With no impetus from us, the Prophet had already printed articles that suggested that you were... not quite right. I realize now that they were incorrect, of course, but you must understand, nobody would have believed you, and there could have been a panic. The rational thing to do was to try to keep emotions down. As I was starting to say earlier, I regret what was done. I wish that we had acted differently."

Harry still didn't believe it, but at least it sounded more genuine, and he decided to accept it for now. "I understand, Minister. But please don't use words like 'unpleasantness.' I'd really rather you called it what it was."

Dumbledore put in, "You must understand, Cornelius, that Harry is sixteen years old and not well versed in political nuance. Words such as 'unpleasantness' or 'regret' will be interpreted correctly by those versed in politics, but to Harry, it sounds as though you are trivializing what he has been through, which I assure you is a great deal. If you can discard the political language and speak more directly and plainly, I think Harry will be more receptive to what you have to say."

Fudge nodded, trying to keep his impatience down. "I'll try, Dumbledore. Harry, what happened last year was unfair and wrong, and I'm sorry about it."

Harry almost smiled, and nodded. "That, I can understand. Thank you. I want you to know, Minister, that I don't hold a grudge against the Ministry. I know the Ministry represents the people, and I want to do what I can to help people fight Voldemort."

Fudge smiled, and Harry tried to repress the instinct that he'd done something wrong. "Excellent, Harry, thank you. We may have been late, but that's what we're trying to do now, and we're pleased to know that you want to help. And that's why Undersecretary Dentus is here. What he's going to tell you about is something he believes is necessary to fight... Voldemort, which we know you want as well." Harry noted that Fudge was not comfortable saying the name, but at least he made the effort.

"Excuse me, Minister, I thought Professor Dumbledore said he used to work for the Ministry, but not anymore."

"It is a common practice, Harry, for high-level officials who are retired to still be referred to by their titles afterwards," Dumbledore explained.

"An affectation, but it makes us feel better," joked Dentus. "You should know, Harry, that I left the Ministry in July two years ago, shortly after Voldemort came back. I know Albus, and I knew that if he said Voldemort was back, then he was back. I quit my position in protest of the Ministry's policies. I don't work for the Ministry, but now that the Ministry is on board, I want to do what I can to help them."

Harry nodded, but said nothing. He had a fairly favorable reaction to Dentus, spurred mainly by Dumbledore's recommendation. Dentus also seemed more genuine, and didn't talk or act like a politician.

"I'm working with the Ministry, Harry," continued Dentus, "to try to increase security for all wizards during this dangerous time. And none are better equipped than you to understand just how dangerous it is."

Harry smiled a bit. "I try to take the fact that Voldemort wants me dead so badly as an indication that what I'm doing is right."

Dentus chuckled. "That's a good attitude, Harry, but you'll have to excuse me if I don't wait for an attempt on my life as confirmation that what I'm doing is a good idea."

"No, I didn't mean to say that that was the only way to know," said Harry. "Anyway, just what is it that you want to do?"

"The idea I support, Harry, and many prominent wizards do as well, has to do with the regulation of Apparation. You are of course aware that wizards must be licensed to Apparate, as the Ministry gave you special dispensation to Apparate early. You are also aware that the Ministry has methods of detecting various kinds of magic, including Apparation, wherever they occur." Harry nodded, wondering where this was going.

"There have now been three attacks on Muggles in the past three weeks, and of course the attack that killed two wizards last Tuesday. These signal the beginning of a new terror offensive by Voldemort, one that could severely disrupt our society. We want to do what we can to make it more difficult for Voldemort and his Death Eaters to conduct these attacks, and to get away after they do so. As I mentioned, we can detect Apparation, but since anyone licensed can Apparate freely, this ability helps us little when it comes to catching attacking Death Eaters. Aurors cannot arrive on the scene until there has been a report, and by that time, usually people are dead, and the perpetrators Disapparated.

"What will vastly help our security efforts, Harry, is to temporarily suspend Apparation privileges for all but specifically authorized people, such as Aurors." Harry's eyebrows shot up; he imagined Muggles being told they could not drive. Dentus noticed his expression. "I know it seems like a lot, Harry, but think about it. Most wizards do not, strictly speaking, need to Apparate to get around. It's convenient, but there are fireplaces everywhere wizards normally go, and there are always brooms for the rare areas in which there are no public fireplaces, not to mention Portkeys if need be, and the Knight Bus. What would be asked of the public would be nothing worse than enduring a small inconvenience. Against that, think of what would be gained. If no one but Death Eaters were Apparating, Aurors would not have to wait for a report of an attack to respond. Ministry magic observers would detect an Apparation and alert Aurors, who would be on the scene instantly-probably soon enough to save lives, and perhaps in time to catch Death Eaters."

"Wouldn't they just stop Apparating, and use other types of transportation?" Harry wondered.

"Yes, they would," agreed Dentus, "and that would mean that we would have taken a powerful weapon away from them. They would not be able to use fireplaces, because those can be monitored. They could use Portkeys, but those have to be arranged at both ends, so they would have to set one up in advance before it could be used as a means of attack or escape. We have thoroughly analyzed the possibilities, Harry. The best the Death Eaters could do would be either to fly to the scene of an attack on a broom, or set up a Portkey in a specific location prior to an attack. Then they could escape by the Portkey, or if they flew to the site on a broom, they could escape by Disapparating, then taking a Portkey from the Apparation point to their base. It would not stop attacks; people would still be killed. Nobody claims this will solve everything. But it would slow them down, make them have to work harder to conduct attacks. It would take them extra time to reach their destinations and to prepare their getaways. It would deter casual attacks; Death Eaters wouldn't decide on a whim to go kill some people, because of the risk of being caught if they have not made preparations. Overall, it is hard not to believe that some lives would be saved. That seems more than worth the temporary inconvenience of people being unable to casually Apparate. But I'd like to know what you think of this."

Harry thought for a solid minute, in silence. He could, so far, find nothing wrong with it, and he could see that in a way, it made perfect sense. It would indeed take a weapon away from Death Eaters. He wondered about the arguments against it, and except for the obvious one, he could not think of any. "Mr. Dentus," Harry asked, "it seems like you know this issue very well, and you must know the arguments against it. If you had to argue against it, what would you say? Or, what would an opponent of it say if he was sitting here?"

Dentus glanced at Dumbledore. "He may well be," he said humorously. "That's a very good question, Harry. It's exactly what you should ask. He would first point out something I have already admitted, that the plan would not stop attacks. If he were honest, he would not dispute that it would slow them down; he might legitimately differ on how much they would be slowed down. He could argue that it would only slow them down a little, and that would not be worth the difficulty it would cause.

"The most important argument against this idea is one you must have already thought of-the unsettling thought that the government would be telling people what they can and cannot do in their private lives, taking away a privilege to which people have become accustomed. Many will argue that this will be the first of a series of increasingly harsh and restrictive measures, until finally little personal freedom would remain. Once this is done, it could be considered a precedent for taking away other privileges, and then rights as well. As you must know from your History of Magic classes, history tells us that this is a serious concern, not to be taken lightly.

"Other arguments against this are, I feel, not truly serious. Some would say that such personal freedoms such as the right to travel should never be compromised, whatever the reason. But this is not a restriction of the right to travel, just on one particular type of travel. People could still go wherever they wanted by other means, so it is not an infringement on any personal liberties. Honestly, there is nothing else I can think of worth mentioning as an argument against it."

Harry thought it over some more. "Well,-I'm sorry, I have a question. How private is this conversation? Can what I say be told to other people, or quoted? I don't mean any offense," he added quickly, noting Fudge's darkening look. "I just don't know how this sort of thing works."

Amused, Dentus looked at Dumbledore. "Did you suggest he ask that?"

"I had no opportunity to confer with Harry before you arrived, Archibald. I have suggested nothing to him."

"It was Hermione," Harry admitted. Dentus nodded with a small smile.

"Yes, I've read about her in the Prophet. She sounds like someone whose advice should be taken seriously. And it is a good question, if you don't know about this sort of thing. But no, you will not be quoted. The Minister or I may mention anything you say to colleagues, unless you specifically ask that we not do so, but you may assume that you will not be held to account for anything you say."

Harry nodded. "Well, my first impression is that it sounds reasonable. I like the idea of taking Apparation away from them, and I would have no problem giving up the ability to casually Apparate so that this could be done. But I am concerned about the argument you raised. So I'd like to ask the Minister a question, if I could." Fudge blinked; Harry wondered if his attention had wandered. "Minister, earlier today I learned a phrase I hadn't known before: 'the thin end of the wedge.' My question is, if this was done, how much more of this sort of thing do you imagine would be done in the name of stopping Voldemort?"

Fudge swelled with determination and, Harry felt, a little self-importance. "Stopping him is obviously our number one priority, Harry. We will do anything we have to in order to ensure his defeat."

Harry blinked, somewhat alarmed. That hadn't been the answer he'd expected; he thought Fudge would give him bland reassurances that it wouldn't happen. Dentus visibly winced; Dumbledore remained serene.

Harry decided to press a little. "So, you could imagine that other similar measures could become necessary?"

To Dentus's credit, Harry felt, he did not intervene to try to save Fudge from himself. Looking slightly baffled, Fudge said, "Well, I can't think right now of what kind of thing could be necessary. I would recommend something, though, if it made as much sense as this makes. It's a minor loss, and a big gain."

Harry felt it was a reasonable thing to say, but it hadn't really addressed the thrust of his question. Dentus pressed on.

"I can tell you, Harry, that the people have a very strong influence over what the Ministry does. The Ministry cannot do things that are highly unpopular; our system of governance is very good in that way. If unpopular measures started being taken, the people would register their disapproval, and the measures would stop. Our government is capable of great flexibility.

"There is another reason for me to mention what I just did, Harry. This idea is not the most popular thing in the world. The Minister will not benefit politically by suggesting it; in fact, it would be a risk for him. As you no doubt have guessed, we are here to seek your public support for this. Your accomplishments have created a great reservoir of goodwill among the wizarding public. If you asked people to support this, there are many who would for that reason alone. You could help us make wizarding society safer, and make life harder for Voldemort and his Death Eaters."

"Well," said Harry, "as I said, it makes sense in general to me, except for my concern that I mentioned. Why would it not be popular? If people are concerned like I am, couldn't the Ministry reassure them that they're aware of the danger?"

To Harry's surprise, Dentus chuckled. "I'm sorry, Harry, I don't mean to laugh at you, but your naiveté is showing. The reason it will not be popular is not because of the dangers you are concerned about. You assume that everyone will act with the same integrity as you would, and unfortunately, that is wrong. I'm afraid you must get used to the idea that most people are not as noble as you are.

"The problem, Harry, is that many people will react selfishly. They will think only about how the measure affects them. They will think, 'I like Apparating, I don't want to stop, so I'm not going to support it.' Some people won't even listen to the reasons for doing it, never mind giving it long and considered thought. They'll just reject it out of hand. Or, they'll latch onto poor reasons to reject it, as an excuse to indulge their selfishness. I'm not saying a majority will react this way, but a substantial number will, a number high enough to concern the Ministry if they suggest it. You could help reduce that number considerably."

Harry couldn't believe it. How could people behave like that? Didn't they know what was at stake? Incredulous, he looked at Dumbledore. "Is that right, sir? Can that possibly be true?"

Dumbledore looked grave. "I am afraid, Harry, that what he says is quite true. I know it is hard for you to believe, but it is a part of human nature. I believe you need look no further than your Muggle relatives for evidence of this."

Harry could not argue; he had heard enough of Vernon's political opinions to know he would oppose anything like this which affected him personally. Still, this seemed a bit much.

"I'm sorry, Harry," said Dentus seriously. "I feel like I just told you there was no Santa Claus. But those of us involved in politics in any way are long since used to this fact. It tends to limit what we can do which involves asking people to make any sacrifices. Again, that's a big part of why we need you."

Harry didn't know what to say. "Professor Dumbledore, can you think of any arguments for either side that Mr. Dentus hasn't mentioned?"

"No, Harry. He has articulated them all quite thoroughly."

He thought a bit more, then said, "I didn't know people would react like this, that it would be this hard to get people to give up a convenience. It's almost amazing, when I think about that, that I've gotten so many people to say Voldemort's name."

"It is, in fact, Harry," agreed Dentus. "But amazing as what you have done is, there are still many people who will not say his name, and some of those are the ones I am talking about."

One thing Harry did know for sure was that he couldn't give them the answer they wanted, at least not right then. "Look... as I said, my first reaction is positive, but a bit concerned. But I can't give you any kind of answer tonight. I have to think it through just to decide if I support it myself, never mind tell a whole bunch of people that they should do it. I mean, I'm not that comfortable doing that. I did it for the thing about fighting Voldemort, but only because I answered questions for an interview, I wasn't going out of my way to talk to people. I just did what I thought was right."

"I know," said Dentus, his respect clear on his face. "And that is what Minister Fudge is here trying to do. Believe me when I say, for a politician to try to do what is right is often not an easy thing. They tend to get punished for it."

"To be honest, Harry, I'd rather not do this," said Fudge, and Harry found that he believed him. "I'd rather tell people, we'll take care of... Voldemort, you can go on about your lives. But people tell me this would be important, and I can't ignore that. It's not that much we're asking. One Prophet interview is all it would take, we would take it from there."

Harry shook his head. "It's not the trouble that makes me hesitate, Minister. I would do much more to keep people safe. I just need to be comfortable with it first. Like I said, I'm not comfortable with the idea that I should be telling people what to do."

McGonagall opened the office door. "Excuse me, Headmaster, would you step out here for a moment, please?" Raising an eyebrow slightly, Dumbledore excused himself, and got up and left with McGonagall. Harry had the impression that Dumbledore was not often called out of his own office.

"I understand that," said Dentus. "But you must understand the substantial influence you have. Saying Voldemort's name is very hard for many people-harder than giving up Apparating, by far-but you managed to convince many people to do it. It would be a waste of your stature not to use it to help do something like this. I mean, it isn't just Chocolate Frog cards, Harry."

Harry looked defensive. "I didn't ask for that," he said.

Dentus nodded. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply that you did. I get the feeling that you don't even care that much. I just mean that there are rewards to being famous and honored as you are, and there are also responsibilities. In a way, Harry, I feel bad even asking you for this. You're only sixteen, and can't be expected to have strong opinions on subjects like this, not to mention that you've done far more than your share, carried huge burdens. It's just that, and again nobody knows this better than you, we're in a difficult situation, and anything that can help us save lives-"

Dumbledore stepped back into the room. "I'm sorry, Cornelius, Archibald, but we shall have to end this meeting. An emergency has come up, and Harry's presence is required elsewhere."

"What has happened?" asked Dentus.

"I believe you both know that Harry is very close to the Weasley family," said Dumbledore. "He and they both consider him to be a part of their family. A Weasley family emergency has arisen, and Harry must be with them."

Harry felt a surge of dread. Please, he thought, let nothing have happened to Arthur and Molly, or the twins, or-

"There has been an attack outside a restaurant frequented by Ministry wizards, Harry," said Dumbledore solemnly. "Two wizards and a witch were killed by Death Eaters. One of them was Percy Weasley."

Harry was stunned. He didn't say anything, and didn't move. He heard Dumbledore say, "Cornelius, Archibald, I am sorry, but I will need the use of my office. Minerva is fetching the other Weasley children, and she will attend to you after she has returned with them."

Fudge and Dentus nodded, rose, and headed out. As he passed Harry, Dentus said, "I'm sorry, Harry." Harry didn't react. The door closed, and Harry was alone with Dumbledore. Neither spoke. Harry didn't know how long it had been, but the door opened, and Ron and Ginny walked in. They, too, had dread on their faces; McGonagall had clearly not told them, but they knew that the last time Weasleys had been collected like this, their father had almost died.

Dumbledore faced them and told them exactly what he had told Harry. He saw Ron and Ginny react in almost exactly the same way as he had, with stunned looks and almost no visible reaction. Dumbledore was quiet for a moment, then said, "The other family members are being gathered, and a Portkey is being set up at the Weasley residence. You will go there once that is done. Excuse me, I will return when it is ready." He left his office, leaving the three alone.

Harry exchanged looks with the other two; nobody said anything for a moment. Then Ginny said, hesitantly, "Are you two thinking the same thing that I'm thinking? I hope you are, because if you're not, then it means I'm a terrible person."

Ron looked down, then at her. "I think I am. I guess you mean, something like, if it had to be someone in the family..." She nodded, and they both looked at Harry.

"You're a good person, Ginny," Harry said quietly. "When Dumbledore interrupted the meeting with Fudge, he said there was a Weasley family emergency. I knew what it meant. I started thinking, don't let it be your parents, or the twins... and soon, Percy was the only person I hadn't named in my mind, and just as soon as I thought that, Dumbledore said his name. Then I felt somehow responsible, as though I had wished it on him. I know it's stupid."

She nodded. "I feel so guilty for even thinking it, I just can't help it. He was never mean to me, he was just... being Percy..." She started to sob, stepped up to Ron, and hugged him.

Looking extremely somber, he held her. "It's not your fault, Ginny," he said softly. "We can't help what we think." Harry felt that Ron, however, did not look all that comfortable with what he was thinking, either.

Ginny stopped crying and dried her eyes. "Mum's going to be destroyed," she said sadly. "Bad enough for it to happen to any of us, but the one who they had a rift with... it's doubly bad, not only did he die, but they never got a chance to put it together, to make it right."

Ron nodded. "Now I feel bad for saying-thank goodness I never said it to Mum-that I didn't care if Percy rejoined the family. I mean, I meant it, but I didn't think about this happening, how we would feel. I should have, with Voldemort around."

"Percy wasn't deliberately targeted, was he? Because he was a Weasley..." she trailed off. Harry knew she was thinking of their connection to him. He closed his eyes.

"Oh, Harry, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said or thought that," she said. "I was just thinking out loud... I shouldn't do that."

Harry shook his head. "It's okay, Ginny. You're not the only one who's going to wonder. Dumbledore didn't say, and they probably don't know. But I don't think so. Dumbledore said that Voldemort doesn't think to kill family members for that kind of reason. Considering where it happened, I think it was just coincidence that he happened to be a Weasley." I hope to God that's true, he thought fervently.

"We probably shouldn't try to say too much to Mum," she said. "We shouldn't even try to say anything to try to make her feel better, because it's not going to happen. We should hug her, try to do things for her-but she may want to do things herself, too, to be doing something-and just be supportive, but there's just nothing we can say. It's like it was with you last June, Harry. We wanted so badly to do something to help, but we knew we couldn't. You just needed time, and it'll be that way for Mum, too. Probably quite a bit of time. They say there's nothing worse than losing a child, and I believe it."

Harry nodded, and told them about her experience with the boggart a year and a half ago. "Don't tell her I told you, but this is how bad it is for her."

"I wonder if she'll be mad at us," said Ron. "You know, for not being more willing to take Percy back."

"If she is, she'll take it out on Dad, he was the one most opposed to dealing with Percy," pointed out Ginny.

"Oh, I hope she doesn't do that," said Harry. "It's not like it won't be terrible for him, too. He may regret more than anyone not talking to Percy."

They fell silent for a minute, then Dumbledore entered the room. "The Portkey has been set up," he said. "Security for the Burrow has been arranged. We will not expect you for classes tomorrow. Your classes will be made up next week, Harry, and if you wish, I will send your regrets to the Aurors for Saturday."

"No," Harry said, quickly. He hadn't even thought about it, but he knew what he wanted. "I'll do the Saturday training, as usual. I'm fighting to stop just this sort of thing. I think the Weasleys will understand why I don't want to take a break from it."

Dumbledore nodded. "I thought you might feel that way," he said. "Lastly, Hermione tracked me down just now. She wants you all to know how sorry she is, though she knows you would know anyway. She also gave me this to give to you." He produced Hermione's notebook which she used to communicate with Pansy. "She did not say to whom it should go."

"I'll take it," said Ron, standing nearest to Dumbledore, who handed it to him. Dumbledore gestured to the Portkey. Harry, Ron, and Ginny touched it together, and found themselves in the kitchen at the Burrow. Fawkes materialized, and perched on Harry's shoulder. They could hear Molly crying in the living room, and they headed in.

All the rest of the family was there. Molly was on the sofa, crying on Bill, who was holding her. Arthur was on her other side, Charlie next to him. Fred and George were in chairs near the sofa. Molly saw the three of them enter the room, and still crying, got up and walked to them. She hugged Ron first, then Ginny, then Harry. Her hugs were much stronger than usual, gripping each child as if in thanks that she still had them. Harry guided her back to the sofa, where she sat, now being held by her husband. Harry, Ron, and Ginny pulled up chairs and sat, as Fawkes started singing.

No one said anything for about ten minutes, at which point Molly stopped crying. "It's strange," she said as she blew her nose, "I feel like I could cry all night long, but my body won't let me. It just has to stop at some point."

Harry nodded. "That's how it was for me, after Hogsmeade, when I woke up. I still felt like I wanted to cry, after I don't know how long, but I couldn't."

"You poor dear," she said. "At least I don't have to feel responsible for this. For other things, maybe, but I know he would have died no matter what his situation with us was."

"You weren't responsible for that, Mum," said Fred. "He was. He left us, he made his decision. Don't get me wrong, I feel terrible that he's dead. I feel terrible that we weren't on good terms with him when it happened. But you can't go blaming yourself. You did the best you could, you did more than any of us."

Molly looked like she might cry again. "I raised him," she said. "I praised him, I encouraged his ambition. He embraced it so much, and I was so proud of him. I never stopped to think of the negative side of it."

"Mum, that was him, that wasn't you," argued Ron. "I don't know, but I feel like we're born a certain way, with a certain personality. I mean, look at Fred and George. They've been making jokes for as long as I can remember. Do you think they got that from you? Or Harry, he's got so many good qualities you can't even list them all, he was chosen by a phoenix, for goodness' sake. Do you think he got any of that from his aunt and uncle? We are how we are, and Percy was ambitious. He would have been even if you'd discouraged it, I'm sure. He just... made a wrong choice at some point. There's nothing you could have done about it."

"You're right, of course, Ron," said Harry. "But I know how Molly feels. I blamed myself for Hogsmeade, I guess it's just natural to do that."

Molly reached out to Harry, meaning she wanted him to come over to the sofa. He did, as Bill moved aside, and Harry sat where he had been. Molly pulled Harry into a hug, and then started crying again. Harry just held her, and it was silent again, except for Molly's sobs and Fawkes's song.

After a while, Ron went upstairs, but the rest stayed in the living room, talking at times, silent at others, taking turns comforting Molly. Arthur didn't cry; Harry wondered what he was going through, and how he was dealing with it. At one point, about three hours after they'd arrived at the Burrow, Arthur asked Harry about the meeting with Fudge. "I'd heard at the Ministry that they were going to see you, and about what. Had you finished talking to them when this happened?"

"Almost," said Harry. "I think we were just about finished." Harry then explained to the others what had been discussed, and Arthur asked him what he thought. "It seemed like a good idea," he said. "It would slow them down, and after what happened tonight, it seems like an even better idea. It would make it harder for them to do this kind of thing. I would support it completely if I could trust the Ministry not to slide down the slippery slope. But I don't trust them at all, so I have to decide just how much I don't trust them, compared to the good this could do. I was going to ask what you and Molly thought. I need advice and help."

"I'm sorry, Harry, but you're not going to get it from me," said Molly, looking angry. "Right now, I'd support the use of the Cruciatus Curse on captured Death Eaters. I don't mean to get information, I mean just to make them suffer. So I'm not a good person to ask right now."

Harry could understand that. "Believe me, Molly, I wasn't going to ask now. I meant, I was going to before this happened."

The hours trickled by. After four in the morning, Charlie Apparated back to his home, saying he'd be back when he got up. Bill stayed, as did the twins, but they fell asleep in their chairs; Harry couldn't help noting that they always seemed to do the same thing, even if it was fall asleep. He and Ginny sat next to Molly on the sofa. At one point, Ginny fell asleep on Harry's shoulder. She awakened when he moved, and went upstairs to the bathroom. When she came back down, she whispered to Harry, "I peeked in at Ron when I passed by on the way back. He's in his room, lights out, but the desk light by his bed on. He's writing to Pansy, that's what he's been doing for the past... what is it, over six hours now."

"How is she doing that?" Harry marveled in a whisper. "She's going to be falling asleep in her classes tomorrow. But it's really good of her."

"I thought so too," she said. "Probably it's good for Ron to talk to someone not that close to the family, so he can be more honest about his feelings. Also, I've written to Pansy in that book, and there's something about it that encourages you to talk about stuff you wouldn't normally. I'd say that's good for Ron too."

Harry nodded in agreement. She whispered, "Now, where was I..." She snuggled against Harry's shoulder as if it were a pillow, trying to get comfortable; he put an arm around her. The physical contact was a comfort to both of them. Harry found himself wondering how much that was true for Arthur and Molly, next to him on the sofa, or if they were too deeply in grief to notice much else.

Harry didn't end up sleeping at all, spending the last few hours of the night talking to Molly, Arthur, Ginny, and Bill, listening to them talk about Percy. Molly had bouts of crying intermittently, during one of which the twins woke up, again together, and stayed awake, joining the conversation. At about six o'clock, Arthur and Molly went up to their bedroom. Harry assumed it was to talk privately; he very much doubted that either one would be sleeping any time soon. Bill went into the kitchen to make some breakfast, and Fred and George sat next to Harry and Ginny on the sofa.

"What's up with Ron?" asked George.

Ginny shrugged. "You could ask him," she said indifferently. Harry was pleased that she didn't want to violate Ron's privacy.

"Nah, he's probably sleeping by now," said George. "We wanted to know what you really thought."

"What do you mean, 'what we really thought?'" asked Harry, but he had a feeling he did know.

"I kind of exaggerated to Mum before, using the word 'terrible,'" explained Fred. "I wish it hadn't happened, and I'm especially sad for Mum, so I'm trying to be nice. But just because Percy's dead doesn't make him a saint or something. It doesn't change what he did. If we're going to mourn him, let's mourn who he really was."

"And that's why I said, we want to know what you two think," added George.

Harry waited for Ginny to go first. "I don't know, but I kind of feel the same as you," she said. "I think Ron does too. We thought about how it would affect Mum before how it affected us. The sad truth is, even before Percy turned his back on us, we hardly had any kind of relationship with him. You know how formal and distant he always was, I feel like he was sort of the black sheep of the family, the answer to the question 'which one of these doesn't belong?' So for me, it was hard to say I knew him so well. I almost feel sadder that I didn't really know who he was inside and I'll never have the chance than anything else. Maybe he would have become a better person later on."

"You're a bit generous, Ginny, but I suppose we can't know you're wrong. Harry, how about you?"

Harry reflexively looked around before answering. "I can't have the same view as you, not being a natural-born member of the family, not spending most of my life around him. What I remember most was that month I spent here before second year, when you broke me out of the Dursleys' with that car." Fred and George exchanged a grin at the memory. "Everyone in the family made me feel at home, except him..."

"Not me," Ginny interrupted. "I must have made you feel like, what in the world is wrong with her?" Harry smiled, as did the twins.

"Not that he was nasty or anything," Harry continued. "But you know what I mean, he couldn't be natural like everyone else. He never let you see beneath the mask."

"What's a bit scary is that we think the mask was all there was," said Fred.

"No way," said Ginny. "There was a person there somewhere, with feelings, fantasies, whatever makes us who we are. We did get glimpses occasionally."

"That's true, remember the first time we won the Quidditch Cup? He was going crazy just like everyone else," recalled Harry. "I think that was the only time I saw it, though."

"But how do you feel, Harry?" asked George.

Harry looked at the twins with an expression that suggested that he didn't want to answer the question. They exchanged a glance. "That's what we thought," said Fred.

"I'm sad that he's dead," Harry clarified, "but it's as if it happened to a stranger. What makes me really sad is how it affects your parents."

"Us too, Harry," agreed Fred. "And part of me is mad at Percy for making this worse for them than it otherwise would be. If it had been one of us, it would have just been grief. But with him, it's that and the unresolved conflict."

"And the feeling that he rejected them," added George.

Ginny looked impressed. "I didn't know you could be so sensitive."

"We admit, humor is our mask," said Fred. "But at least it's a much nicer mask than Percy's. And we know it's a mask, and we can take it off if we want to. For example, Ginny, I want you to know that if it had been you, we would have been crying right along with Mum." Ginny gratefully threw her arms around Fred. George added, "And that's true for you, too, Harry."

Harry smiled sadly. "I know, and thank you. And it's the same for me with you, of course," he said, as Ginny now hugged George.

"We really appreciated what you said in the Prophet about us," said Fred. "About us looking out for you. We just sort of did it, we weren't that conscious about it. You just seemed like the kind of person we should want to help. But it seems that's not an uncommon feeling." He reached over to pet Fawkes, who was perched on the back of the sofa.

"And if it means we pounded a few Slytherins with our Bludgers, or our bats, then it's all the better," added George.

"Speaking of Fawkes, the sixth years had their phoenix lessons today," said Ginny, now smiling. "I heard all about it, both the Ravenclaw/Slytherin lesson and the Gryffindor/Hufflepuff one." She spent the next five minutes telling Fred and George the details she'd heard, their laughter punctuating her story. They tried to keep their laughter down, though, not wanting to offend their parents. "So," she went on, nearing the conclusion, "the Ravenclaws had heard about the Firebolt, so they started asking Hagrid-"

"What do you mean, 'heard about the Firebolt?'' interrupted Fred.

"Everyone knows Harry has a Firebolt," added George.

Harry and Ginny exchanged surprised looks. "They don't know?" he asked. She gestured for him to go ahead and tell them. "Well, yesterday was Ron's birthday, as you know. I got him a Firebolt."

Harry enjoyed the expressions on the twins' faces. They were speechless for a moment. Finally, Fred said, "Harry, I think it is safe to say that you are one of a kind."

"Ron must've been over the moon," mused George.

"He was pretty happy," agreed Ginny. "But he's going to let me use it for Quidditch practice and games, since he's a Keeper."

They raised their eyebrows. "Practical, yet generous," said George.

"You'll take the Cup for sure now, even if Harry takes longer than twelve seconds to get the Snitch," said Fred.

They talked about Quidditch and the Firebolt for a while, and the twins asked more about the Care of Magical Creatures lessons, which Harry reluctantly described, to the twins' great amusement. Soon thereafter, Bill came in and said, "There's breakfast for anyone who wants it. Is Ron up?"

"I'll go check," said Harry. He knew that even if Ron was still talking to Pansy, he couldn't continue for long, as it would not be long before she would have to go to the Great Hall for breakfast. He walked up the stairs quietly so as not to disturb anyone who might be sleeping.

He silently walked into Ron's bedroom. Ron was sprawled out on the bed, asleep, obviously not having intended to fall asleep in that position. The notebook and pen were near his hand. Harry picked them up, and saw writing on the left side of the book. He saw the words, "Ron? Ron?"

He sat down and wrote, "Are you still there, Pansy?"

The reply came back almost immediately. "Yes, is that you, Ron? The handwriting looks different."

"No, it's me, Harry. I came up to see if Ron wanted breakfast, and he had fallen asleep while writing. None of us have really slept here."

"I can imagine. I was going to have to go for breakfast in a bit, I'm glad you let me know what had happened. He hadn't answered for a few minutes."

"It was really nice of you to do this. You gave up a whole night's sleep."

"I don't mind at all, as I told him three times. He kept asking me if I was sure I didn't want to go to bed. It was great. It was an amazing talk. He really opened up, told me all kinds of stuff. Like you do, but I didn't expect it of him."

"I'm really glad. I'm sure he needed it. You were there for him, like you were there for me after Hogsmeade."

"(blush) Thank you, Harry. How are you doing?"

"Tired, but mostly okay. I'm sure Ron told you, we're mostly sad for Molly and Arthur. It's like, we really feel bad that we don't feel really bad."

"Yes, Ron told me. I remember Percy a little, what he was like. Ron told me he hardly knew him better than I did. That's so sad."

"Yes, Ginny and I and the twins were talking about it downstairs. Molly and Arthur went to their room an hour ago, and we've been talking since then. They feel the same way. By the way, are you going to be okay today? Malfoy's going to notice there's something wrong."

"Don't worry. If I'm really bad, I'll skive off a class or two. I think I'll be okay, though. As for Malfoy, if he notices anything, I'll just hint that it's my time of the month. He won't ask any more questions."

"(laugh) I'll bet. You must have been really surprised to open up the notebook last night and find out it was Ron."

"Yes, I was amazed at first. I hadn't heard about Percy, he told me how he got it. That was so thoughtful of Hermione."

"Yes, it was. It's the kind of thing I've come to expect from her."

"I know what you mean. Look, before I go, I wanted to say, in case he doesn't... he feels awful about what he said earlier. He brought it up twice, said he really wished he could take it back. I just wanted to make sure you knew that."

"I know, but I'm not bothered anymore. Part of me feels like I deserved it, like I needed to be reminded that I need to look at that kind of decision thinking about how it affects the rest of you, not only me. I mean, I dragged the rest of you into this campaign."

"You didn't drag us, we decided to come. Hermione would give you a long lecture about it, but I'm afraid I don't have time, I have to go to breakfast soon. But she was right. You just do what you think is right, let us worry about the rest. And you did not, repeat not, deserve it. I would feel the same way as him if I had said it. But if you think about it, what it really means is that he cares about you so much that he'd go to any length to keep you safe."

"I know, maybe that's also part of the reason I'm not mad at him. Now I feel like I'm just lucky to have him, to have all of you."

"I'm glad, Harry, and I'm proud to be included in that. But I'm afraid I have to go, I'll miss breakfast if I don't go soon. I'll be thinking of you today, all of you."

"I know, Pansy, and thank you. You're a very good friend."

"You too, Harry. See you later."

"Bye," Harry wrote, and closed the book. He put it and the pen on the desk near Ron's bed, and headed back downstairs. He joined the others. "He's asleep."

The twins raised their eyebrows. "Your powers of observation are slipping, Harry, if it took you five minutes to determine that," smiled Fred.

"Just a few things I wanted to do before eating," said Harry. The twins resumed their conversation with Bill, and Harry and Ginny exchanged a significant look. He was sure Ginny knew what he had been doing.

Friday went by in a kind of haze for Harry, even though he did catch two hours of sleep in the early afternoon. Quite a few people were in and out of the Weasleys' fireplace, as friends and Arthur's colleagues came by to pay their respects. Tonks and Kingsley came by, and Harry told them he would be there the next day as usual. They were surprised, but understood his reasons, as did Arthur and Molly.

At around five-thirty, Harry was lying in the extra bed in Ron's room, but not sleeping. Ron came in; it was the first time they'd spoken privately since last night.

"Are you sleeping, or hiding?" Ron asked.

"Hiding," Harry replied. "I did greet some people with your mother earlier, but this is one of those times that it's not so good to be Harry Potter. Everybody has something to say to me. It's always positive, of course, I'm not complaining, it's just... kind of draining. So I'm hiding. How about you?"

"I don't get the Harry Potter treatment, but it's the usual stuff. We're so sorry about your brother, like that. I feel like I should pretend I'm sadder than I really am. And like you say, that's draining too."

Sitting up, Harry nodded his understanding. "How do you feel now?"

Ron thought a moment. "About the same, I guess. Sometimes it's hard to know what to think, since there's such a difference in the relationship we had-being brothers-and our actual relationship, which, well, there almost wasn't one. That's what makes this kind of hard."

"I'm glad you were able to talk to Pansy. I'm sure it helped."

Ron raised his eyebrows. "Were you the one who-"

"Yes, I came up to tell you about breakfast, and you had fallen asleep. She was still there, so I picked up the notebook and let her know what had happened. We talked for a few minutes, and then she had to go to breakfast."

Ron looked a little nervous, but it seemed to go away quickly. "Good. I felt bad for falling asleep when I woke up. Did she tell you what we talked about?"

"No, no details. Just that you opened up, but I could have guessed that. You weren't up here for seven or eight hours writing about nothing."

"Guess that makes sense," Ron allowed. "It really helped. It was... very good of her to talk for that long. I mean, I wasn't going to be going to sleep anyway. She was, but she still stayed up."

"I know her well enough now to not be surprised, but yes, I told her that I thought it was really good of her too. She said she was happy to do it, and I could tell that she was, she said it was a 'great' conversation. Let me ask you, when Hermione gave us the book, do you think she had one of us in mind?"

"I asked her that, and she said she didn't think so, just that Hermione must have thought that one of us would need it more than she would. I was glad to talk to her, because... downstairs, we couldn't really talk. I did feel kind of bad about leaving, but I figured there were more than enough people, they wouldn't notice one missing."

"I don't think they did, really," agreed Harry. "Nobody mentioned it, anyway."

"I don't want them to think I don't care," said Ron. "There just wasn't much I could do, anyway." He sat down on his bed, thinking. "This is so strange. I still don't know what I should be thinking. I mean, Pansy said there's nothing I should be thinking, that I think what I think. I'm sure she's right-after all, I said something similar to Ginny-but I still feel this way."

"I know what you mean. I could be wrong-and I feel that way too-but maybe it's because we don't feel how we're 'supposed' to feel, so it's as if we don't trust our actual feelings, but we just question them. We can't say them, except to each other. We can't tell anyone who we think might tell others."

Ron nodded. "I think she actually said something like that... it's almost hard to remember, we talked so long. Anyway, I guess we're stuck with it. Have you talked about it with Ginny and the twins?"

"After your parents went to bed, at about six, we all talked, and we all felt pretty much the same way. By the way, the twins asked about you. Ginny knew what you were doing, but she acted like she didn't."

Ron chuckled. "She wants to encourage me, I'm sure. Doesn't want them making fun of me for something like this. I don't think they would, not at a time like this, but she's just being careful. The fact is, though, I'm pretty well beyond caring if they make fun of me or not."

"I think she's just respecting your privacy, is the main thing. I mean, she told me, of course, but that's different."

They were silent for a moment. Then Ron sighed. "Poor Mum and Dad... they didn't deserve this. You know... and I told Pansy this... I'm kind of mad at Percy for leaving it this way, because it just makes it harder for them."

"Fred and George said the same thing," said Harry. "I bet your father feels that way too, but he'd never say it to anyone. This has to have been so hard for him... and what makes it worse is that everybody at the Ministry knew what was going on, and now everybody will look at him when he goes back and know exactly what he's been through. So if I'm mad at Percy for anything, it's what he did to your father."

"And we're not supposed to be mad at people who just died," said Ron. "But we are anyway. And you know what else..." Ron looked as if he both wanted to and didn't want to say something. "This is really terrible... and I told Pansy this too, but... there's a little part of me that's unhappy that this happened on my birthday. Not because it messed up my day or anything, but there'll always be this... association. It'll always be my birthday, and the day Percy died. And I didn't even like him." He looked at Harry, obviously feeling very guilty. "That's awful, isn't it?"

Harry's heart went out to Ron. He shook his head. "That's how you feel, Ron. We can't only have the kind of feelings we're proud of. We're human, we have all of them. I guess we just have to recognize them and accept them."

"I suppose so... I guess I just have to live with it, with myself. Maybe it'll make me a better person, who knows."

"You're already a good person, Ron. I should know, and you should trust my judgment. I was chosen by a phoenix, after all." Ron chuckled, then Harry did too.

"I thought that just meant that you were a good person," Ron said.

"Yes, but if you're my friend, then that says something about you, too," Harry said, half-seriously.

"Ah, it's goodness through association," Ron surmised. He got up from his bed, walked to the center of the room, and gave Harry a look. Not sure if he was understanding it correctly, Harry slowly got up, and took a step toward Ron. Ron reached out to Harry and pulled him into an embrace. "Thank you, Harry," Ron said. He didn't say for what, but Harry understood.

"Any time, Ron," he said. "You've been there for me, lots of times." A few seconds later, Harry said, "Where's Malfoy when you need him?" They both laughed, and slowly broke the embrace.

"So, are you ready to come out of hiding and come with me downstairs? A few of Mum's friends are down there, they're doing some cooking. Dinner should be pretty soon."

"All right, let's go," Harry agreed. He followed Ron downstairs, feeling a little better than he had all day.

Exhaustion having caught up with them, no one in the Weasley family went to sleep that night later than nine o'clock. Harry went downstairs after waking up Saturday morning and gave Molly, who was cooking breakfast, a long hug. He found himself wondering if she could detect their ambivalent feelings about Percy, and if she would ask.

Breakfast was eaten in relative silence. Fred and George were still there; they had decided that they would open the shop, and each would do a half-day while the other stayed at the Burrow. Harry told them he felt a little bad for going, and they all admonished him not to. "If you end up catching the scum who did this, Harry, I'll be very happy," said Molly. Then she paused, and said, "Well, maybe not happy. I can't imagine being happy right now. I would be satisfied."

The Aurors greeted Harry somberly, as did Neville; they all gave him their condolences, and a few said things showing they understood the unusual situation the Weasleys were in. They had their normal morning training, and broke for lunch shortly after noon. As they sat down, Tonks said, "So, Harry, we heard you met with Fudge. How did it go?"

"I was just going to ask that," said Neville. "What did they want?"

Harry answered, and explained the issue a bit for Neville's benefit; he knew the Aurors would be well versed in it. "So," he concluded, "I can see it's a good idea and will be helpful. But I don't trust the Ministry not to abuse any power I help them get. So I'm still not sure what I'm going to do. I want to know what people have to say about it, and of course, I wanted to ask all of you. So tell me what you think."

"Well, Harry," answered Kingsley, "It's safe to say we support the idea; I don't think there's a single one of us who doesn't. It would affect us most directly, and most favorably. As you know, and not to be overly dramatic, but we're the ones who put our lives on the line every time we Apparate out to the scene of a situation. Anything we can do to slow them down is a big plus. It's true that this won't stop attacks, but Dentus is right, it'll deter casual ones. Every less situation we have to Apparate into on no notice is one less where innocent people die, one less where one of us might be killed. To us, this is a no-brainer."

"And you're not worried about the possibility of it leading to worse things?" Harry asked.

"The problem is, Harry," said Tonks, "is that it's like saying you should never have a drop of alcohol, because you might become an alcoholic, or you should never gamble even once, because you might become a compulsive gambler." She paused and grinned at her colleagues. "You can't take absolute positions, not in real life. There are always balances to be weighed, and in this case, there's no contest. People really don't need to Apparate. We really need to slow down Voldemort. It's pretty simple."

"But Harry is right, the Ministry can't be trusted," said Jack. "Who knows what they'll do next, Harry said Fudge nearly admitted as much. And we all know how Fudge is, he'd do anything that was popular at the time."

"Yes, but he's doing this, and it's not popular," pointed out Kingsley. "We should encourage it by giving him support in doing something unpopular. The only reason we haven't supported it publicly yet is that he hasn't proposed it. When you read the article in which it's announced, you'll see the phrase 'the full support of the Auror community.'"

"In that case," countered Jack, "the 'Auror community' had better keep our eyes on what they do after that, because then it gets easier. What if the next thing is intercepting owls, or even searching people's homes? We may not be in favor of that, but another politically important group could be. If we support this, we're obligated to be vigilant, to make sure it doesn't get worse."

Harry looked confused. "I thought you said that all the Aurors supported it," he said to Kingsley.

Jack answered. "I do, Harry. I just take it upon myself to be the local contrarian. I take the opposite side of an issue if no one else will, just for practice. But I do believe what I say. We can't just give the Ministry support, then close our eyes."

"Jack has a good point, of course," agreed Kingsley. "And we will keep an eye on things. One thing about Aurors, we always keep an ear to the ground politically, we kind of have to."

"Do you think the whole Auror community appreciates the danger?" asked Harry.

Tonks shrugged. "You don't have to have an O.W.L. in History of Magic to be an Auror, but most of us are pretty well educated. I'd say we have a better-than-average understanding of the issues here."

"Look, Harry, we don't want to pressure you," Kingsley assured him. "You're only sixteen, you're not experienced at this sort of thing. Coming out in favor of this, though we want it, isn't something we would have asked of you. It's not going to affect your relationship with us if you don't do it. You should do what you're comfortable with."

"No, no, you're not pressuring me," said Harry. "I wanted to know what you thought, and if you have a strong opinion about it, then I take that very seriously. As you say, you're the ones who this affects most strongly. That matters to me."

"Thank you, Harry," said Tonks. "We like you too." Most everyone at the table chuckled.

Neville spoke up. "What does Professor Dumbledore think, Harry?"

"I don't know. He didn't give an opinion at the meeting, and I didn't have a chance to ask him afterwards, because the Percy thing happened right after that. I'm going to ask him when I get back to Hogwarts."

"Ten Galleons says he opposes it," offered Tonks.

The other Aurors at the table chuckled. "Don't think you'll find any takers, Tonks, even if you give odds," said Temble.

"Five to one?" she suggested. The others shook their heads. "You'd have to go to twenty to one before I'd even think about it," said Kingsley.

Harry was confused. "I'm sorry, I don't know much about odds. Does this mean that you all think he's going to oppose it?"

"Yes, Harry, that's what we think," said Kingsley. "Don't get us wrong, we have tremendous respect for Professor Dumbledore. He's a great man, no question. But he's known as an absolutist when it comes to this kind of thing. He would sacrifice lives for principle. I can respect that attitude, but I can't agree with it, and most people don't, either. Most of us feel, as Tonks said, that there should be a balance."

"Is that why," asked Neville, "he doesn't throw Malfoy out of Hogwarts even though it's obvious he's going to try to kill Harry at some point?"

Harry was startled; it wasn't like Neville to be so outspoken, never mind in opposition to Dumbledore. Seeing Harry's expression, Neville continued, "I've talked about this with Hermione, Harry. She feels strongly about principle, she's closer to him on this than I am. But even she would throw him out, even without a reason."

"You seem not to need an answer to your question, Neville, but yes, that's why," replied Kingsley. "Needless to say, any of us would have thrown Malfoy out by now."

"I would've used the Confundus Beam as an excuse," said Tonks. "And it wouldn't even be that thin an excuse. Use of a potentially debilitating weapon against a Hogwarts teacher?"

"When it happened," Harry explained, "he said that it couldn't be considered an assault on a teacher, because it happened on the Quidditch pitch, where since I play for Gryffindor I can't be considered a teacher."

This was greeted by a few snorts and a general shaking of heads. "Technically, he's right," conceded Kingsley. "But most of us live in the real world, where people suffer and die because bad guys aren't dealt with properly. He feels so strongly about this that he's willing to risk your life over it, important as you are."

"Do you guys know how he feels about me?" asked Harry, curious.

Kingsley nodded. "My understanding is that he loves you like a son, which makes his actions all the more impressive. No one's questioning his sincerity, Harry. We know he would prefer to risk himself over these principles rather than you. And who knows, maybe at the end of the day he's right. Maybe if everyone stuck so closely to principle, fewer lives would be lost in the long run. Or you could argue that even if that's not true, principles are still worth dying for. That gets into values, and even mysticism. Maybe spiritually, dying for principle is particularly noble, and you get extra credit in the afterlife, if there is one. Any of that could be true. Also, there's the man himself, his greatness is just self-evident. I assume you feel the same way about him?" Harry nodded. "So if I were you, I might also let him risk my life over principle, just because if it meant that much to him, I'd want to honor that. It's just that most people wouldn't do what he's doing."

"Most people don't have a phoenix, either, Kingsley," pointed out Jack. "You know what it means to be chosen by a phoenix. Don't you think that maybe we should listen to him a bit more carefully, with that in mind?"

Kingsley shook his head. "I already factored that in, Jack. I said he was a great man, and Fawkes is reflected in that. But even a great man can be wrong on any given issue, and he's the first to say he's not perfect."

"Harry," asked Neville, "suppose you were the headmaster, or let's say you had the power to expel people, and there was a student you knew beyond any doubt would try to kill Hermione as soon as he got the chance, and you were sure he'd eventually get the chance. Would you expel him, even without a good reason?"

The room was silent as Harry thought about it. "Yes, Neville, I would," he said quietly. "But that doesn't mean he's wrong. Maybe it just means I'm not strong enough."

"If that's true, Harry, then I hope you never are," said Neville firmly. "I know it doesn't mean he's wrong. But it also doesn't mean you're wrong. All I know is, I don't know how he can expose someone he loves to that kind of risk when it's in his power to prevent it. I couldn't."

Two days later, Harry finished recounting the conversation to Dumbledore, as the portraits of past headmasters listened attentively.

"I respect Neville's opinion, and those of the Aurors," he said. "No one can say they are wrong. It is simply a matter of judgment, and we each must make our own. For example, you have not said so yet, but I observe that you have decided to publicly support the measure restricting Apparation, but you hesitate to make your decision final, as you have not yet had my input. The fact is that you do not need it. I would tell you if there was more information which you needed but did not have, but there is not. You know the benefits, you know the dangers, you simply must weigh them. I would not attempt to persuade you, or to substitute my judgment for yours. We must each make our own decisions in such matters."

Harry breathed deeply. "I know what you're going to say before I even say this, but... I feel as though if I don't make the same decision that you would have made, then I made the wrong one. I know I shouldn't think that way, though."

"Quite true, though I cannot deny being flattered that you feel that way," said Dumbledore, amused.

Harry smiled. "I'm glad, sir. By the way, I do want to talk to Mr. Dentus before I make a final decision. Do you know how I can talk to him privately?"

"Yes, Harry, your office has a fireplace. I believe you used it a few times last year, when it was not your office. I will give you the name of his fireplace, and you can simply talk to him through that, if he is there. He has no specific job right now, so I believe it likely you will find him available." He wrote down the information on a piece of paper, and Harry took it.

Twenty minutes later, his head was in a fireplace, and he saw Dentus sit in a chair facing his fireplace. "Harry! This is quite a surprise. What can I do for you?"

"Well, Mr. Dentus, I-"

"Please call me Archibald, Harry."

Harry blinked; Dentus smiled. "Harry, you may be only sixteen, but what you have done makes you more than worthy to be treated with the same respect as any accomplished adult. You might as well get used to it."

"If you say so... Archibald."

"You were going to say 'sir,' weren't you, Harry?"

Now Harry smiled. "I guess some habits are hard to break. Anyway, there were a few things I wanted to talk to you about, that I didn't get to last Thursday but I couldn't have asked you at that time anyway."

"Because the Minister was present," Dentus guessed.

Harry nodded. "And also, I hadn't had much time to think about it. Now I have. It's kind of frustrating, because I can see this would be a good thing to do. I'm just extremely concerned... when I made that comment about the thin end of the wedge..."

Dentus nodded. "Frankly, Harry, I wanted to strangle him." Harry chuckled. "I really think he wasn't paying full attention to what you'd said-you shifted your focus from me to him suddenly, he may have been wandering mentally. He shouldn't, of course. For some reason he thought you were looking for a confirmation of the idea that we'd fight Voldemort as hard as possible."

"It's partly that," Harry agreed, "but also... you remember four years ago, the Chamber of Secrets was opened at Hogwarts." Dentus indicated that he was familiar with what had happened. "After several students had been Petrified, Fudge came out to Hogwarts and had Hagrid taken away to Azkaban, just on suspicion, no proof at all. His exact words to Professor Dumbledore were, 'got to be seen to be doing something.' I can't help but wonder, Archibald, this is the person I'm thinking of giving more power to?"

Dentus nodded solemnly. "That sort of thing, Harry, is exactly why Albus pays such scrupulous attention to principle. I respect him for it, even when I don't agree. Just because there are people like Fudge doesn't mean we can't exercise our judgment in difficult situations. Before I answer, I'd like to ask... I assume he opposes the measure?"

"I think so, but he didn't say it to me directly. He said it was a matter of judgment and that I had to use my own, that I didn't need his opinion and he shouldn't try to persuade me."

"Again, that's Dumbledore. See, he treats you like an accomplished adult, even if some don't. Most people in his position would use their influence to try to get you to do what they want. You respect him so much that you might very well do what he wanted you to do; he knows that, and so won't express a preference. He's really quite extraordinary.

"As to your question about Fudge... it's definitely a concern. I hadn't known that about Hagrid, but it doesn't shock me. Granted, I've been around politics long enough not to be surprised by much. Most politicians are more concerned with how something looks than with how it is. I know what kind of person Fudge is... and you may find this hard to believe, Harry, but fundamentally he means well. He wants to do the right thing. The thing about Voldemort coming back... that was probably the biggest mistake of his life, it was just too much for him to deal with. It was almost like finding an eight-year-old and saying here, lead this army into battle. The kid'll want to run and hide, and that's what Fudge did. You might ask why he was made Minister of Magic, but that's another long, long, story. The story about Hagrid, and when Voldemort came back, those are probably two of his worst misjudgments. He's not as bad as he would seem based on that."

"Well, I'll take your word for that, since I can't have seen it, and you have. So you think there is a danger from Fudge, but it's worth risking because of the benefits?"

Dentus nodded. "We just have to keep an eye on him. When you give the interview, without being too blunt, you'll want to make it clear that you're supporting the policy, not Fudge personally. You want to keep your distance somewhat. Given your experience with him, I'm sure that won't be hard. But keep in mind that supporting this gives you an influence you wouldn't otherwise have. If it goes on too long-let's imagine they wanted to continue the restriction even after Voldemort is defeated-or if they wanted to create more restrictions, you can help oppose it. Since you support this, people will take you seriously if you say it's gone on too long, or if they start doing other things that are too restrictive. By relying on your support, they are giving you a measure of influence, of power. You can use it to make sure this doesn't go too far."

"I hope you're right." Harry shook his head. "Just what I want, to get drawn more into politics."

Dentus smiled sympathetically. "Sorry, Harry. But you can learn a lot by how Albus has handled it throughout his career. He's always done what he thought was right, without regard for any desire for power or influence. Ironically, that's partly why he has both. Maybe not so much with the public, but with those like you and I, who know him. Just stick to what you think is best, don't try to please anyone else, and you'll be all right."

"I think I can do that much. Oh, I was going to ask another thing. The Aurors were really solidly in favor of this when I talked to them on Saturday. Why didn't Fudge just go to the Aurors and get them to get me to help?"

"He did, Harry. They want this, but they refused to use their influence with you in that way," said Dentus in admiration.

Harry was also impressed. "They didn't even give me their opinion until I asked for it," he said. "Well, thank you, Archibald. I assume you'll be keeping your eyes open at the Ministry. Will you let me know if you start seeing anything disturbing?"

Dentus laughed. "I couldn't help but think, disturbing things happen there all the time, but I know what you mean. I'll certainly do that, Harry."

"Thanks, Archibald. See you later." Dentus said goodbye, and Harry withdrew from the fireplace. He sat back in his chair, lost in thought. The Apparation restriction was obviously a good idea. He had canvassed the teachers after lunch, and they were generally in favor of the idea itself, though distrustful of the Ministry. The Aurors thought it was a good idea, and so did his friends. Only Dumbledore apparently did not. As he prepared to lend his name to the idea, Harry couldn't help thinking that if Dumbledore didn't support it, it must be a mistake. Then he thought, if Snape hadn't searched the Slytherins' belongings, in violation of Dumbledore's wishes, I would be dead. This thought mitigated the disquiet he felt, but only a little.

* * * * *


Voldemort Foe Says Proposed Regulation "Will Save Lives"

(Hogwarts) Hugo Brantell, Daily Prophet

Hogwarts Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts Harry Potter, whose continued defiance of the evil Dark wizard Voldemort has earned him four Voldemort-ordered attempts on his life in the past six months, yesterday announced his support of the proposed Apparation Restriction Act (ARA). The ARA, proposed by the Ministry of Magic two days ago, would temporarily suspend Apparation privileges for all but specifically authorized witches and wizards. (For full details of the act, see page 1 of yesterday's Daily Prophet.)

Asked why he supported the measure, Professor Potter said that he strongly felt that it would increase security for the wizarding community. "I've seen enough Dark wizards to know that Apparating is a very important weapon for them. Without the ability to Apparate freely, they'll be able to do less than they have."

Professor Potter also cited the support the measure has in the Auror community, a community he hopes to join after he graduates from Hogwarts. "The Aurors are out there taking risks every day so the rest of us can be safe," he said. "If we can make their job safer in a dangerous time by enduring a little inconvenience, then it seems like the least we can do."

The Ministry pronounced itself pleased by Professor Potter's decision. Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge released the following statement: "We are pleased to have Professor Potter's support for this necessary measure, and we hope that all wizards and witches will take his words to heart. We all want the most secure society possible."

Former Ministry Undersecretary Archibald Dentus, a strong proponent of the ARA, praised Professor Potter's statements. "Professor Potter's support is extremely welcome. Though he has led the fight against Voldemort with a seeming lack of concern for his own personal safety, he is obviously very concerned for the safety of all witches and wizards. I have met and talked with Professor Potter, and my strongest impression was that he simply wants to do the right thing. I hope he will give guidance to future politicians by his example. He exemplifies all the qualities one would expect to find in one chosen by a phoenix."

The following are excerpts from an interview that took place at Hogwarts yesterday morning.

Q: Professor, do you have any concerns about the measure?

A: Not about the measure itself, but about where it could lead. This gives us more security at a low cost. I wouldn't support anything that truly restricted our ability to travel. But this only restricts a particular type of travel. We have to be careful not to take away people's rights.

Q: Some people are surprised to see you supporting the Ministry. The Ministry, after all, spent most of last year conducting a campaign to discredit your claims that Voldemort had returned.

A: I'd be lying if I said that what happened last year didn't leave scars. I hope such a thing never happens again, to me or anyone. But the Ministry is supposed to represent the people, and it's the people I support. If the Ministry does something like this, which increases our security while not taking away rights, then I want to support it.

Q: That's the second time in a row you've mentioned the possibility of people's rights being taken away. That seems to be a strong concern of yours.

A: Yes, it is. In a dangerous time like this, security is very important. But history is full of examples of bad things happening when security becomes the only thing that matters. There has to be a balance, and we have to be vigilant.

Q: Your support for this measure comes shortly after the death of Percy Weasley in the most recent Death Eater attack. You are very close to the Weasley family. Is your support for this measure related to this attack, and his death?

A: This idea was explained to me, and I thought it was a good idea, before Percy's death, so it didn't influence my opinion. But it did remind me very strongly, all of us, what we're fighting against. Maybe this wouldn't have happened if this measure had been in place, I don't know. But any death is a tragedy, not only people I'm close to.

Q: Your mentor, Albus Dumbledore, has not expressed an opinion publicly on this measure. Does he support it? Did you ask for his guidance?

A: His guidance, which I always seek, was that I should make the decision that I felt was right, that I would be comfortable with. He felt that since I was the one being asked to give a public opinion, and that it was a matter of judgment, even giving me his opinion would be a form of pressure, which he wanted to avoid. And to tell you the truth, he's right; I would always be highly influenced by his opinion.

[Professor Dumbledore was unavailable for an interview by press time.]

Q: Thank you very much, Professor Potter.

Author notes: In Chapter 20: Malfoy returns from Easter break with some of his father's Dark Arts collection, hoping to succeed where Voldemort has failed; Harry's friends are determined not to let Malfoy get anywhere near Harry, but they know that may not be enough.