Sorry I didn’t post this yesterday, but today we’re back on track with a new chapter and looking forward to this Friday. Again, I am posting from my phone (I’m on lunch at work), so please forgive any misspellings or mistakes.
Chapter 5–Dinner and a Show
The following days at the Burrow were as blissful as any Harry could remember in his life. Without the threat of Voldemort hanging over him like a perpetual shadow, he felt liberated of the guilt that had plagued him any time he had stayed in the Weasley home. Through the menace of the Dark Lord, through Harry’s infamy in the wizarding world, through the extreme sacrifices they had made for him, the Weasleys had remained the only true family he had ever known.
He also delighted in the stolen moments with Ginny. Taking up Ron’s suggestion, they met often in secret where they could hide away from the prying eyes of the others. Everywhere Harry looked around the Burrow ignited memories of times spent with Ginny. They took long walks through the fields surrounding Ottery St. Catchpole, even venturing into the village itself–a foray than wound up on the front page of the Daily Prophet. All the attention from the outside world, though, meant little to Harry, absorbed in his own contentment and the soft touch of Ginny’s hand.
The other Weasleys, having accepted Harry as a fixture in their family for years, made efforts to stay clear of his and Ginny’s marathon kissing sessions. On several occasions, Mrs. Weasley had intruded upon them–behind the broom shed, in the tall grass near the garden, on the top landing of the stairs–and apologized profusely as she hurried away.
“Guess that means I have her blessing,” Harry remarked after one such interruption.
Ginny, her head nestled against his chest, took a deep smell of his t-shirt and sighed.
“I’d say so.”
Ron, despite his earlier threats, overlooked the bond between his sister and his best friend. The three of them spent a great deal of time together playing Exploding Snap or teaching Ginny the finer points of Wizard’s Chess, but the time Harry and Ginny spent alone, Ron could usually be found in his room, writing to Hermione. Some days, he would not be seen for hours, instead sitting alone in his room, staring at the news clippings of Hermione that surrounded his bed.
At first, Harry felt guilty for being so involved with Ginny while Ron waited for Hermione to return from Australia, but Ron stayed in good spirits.
“Well, we have the rest of our lives, don’t we?” Ron explained one evening when Harry admitted his guilt. “She’ll be back soon and then you’ll think someone’s cast a Sticking Charm on our faces.”
Harry spent his days lost in Ginny and his nights enjoying the benefits of being a Weasley–the food, the friends, and the conversation. George’s spirits had lifted since the night Harry visited him at Fred’s grave and, though prone to long periods of brooding silence, he began to show signs of the old, fun-loving George Weasley that Harry had come to know. During dinner, he told tales of experiments he and Fred had conducted, often with disastrous, but hilarious, results.
Even Percy, so long estranged from his family, came to dine with them. During his three years apart from his family, he had continued to see Penelope Clearwater and, to his mother’s shock, had proposed following the Battle of Hogwarts. Harry, who found Penelope rather quiet and shy, still appreciated the effect she had on Percy, who could often be boastful of his accomplishments.
“Penelope keeps me grounded,” Percy explained one evening, causing his fiancée to blush nearly as red as his hair. “She’s my better half in every way.”
One evening, as Harry was beginning to think of returning to Grimmauld Place, the family poured into the kitchen for dinner, accompanied by George reliving one of his and Fred’s experiments gone awry.
” . . . and the pixie picked the lock on the cage and got out!” he said to the peels of laughter from Harry, Ron, and Ginny. “Fred told me not to leave my lock picks so close to the cage, but I didn’t listen . . .” He stopped and looked at the table, where an extra setting had been placed. “Percy coming tonight?” he asked his mother.
“No,” Mrs. Weasley said, sounding flustered. “Arthur’s bringing the Minister for dinner.”
“Oh, Mum,” Ron snorted. “It’s just Kingsley. It’s not like he hasn’t been here dozens of times before.”
“I know,” Mrs. Weasley said. “But this is the first time since he was elected Minister and I want everything to be perfect.”
“That means go wash your hands, Ginny,” George said, waving his wand at his sister. A layer of soot appeared on her hands, so thick that it looked like a pair of black gloves on her dainty hands.
Ginny roared in frustration, mumbling under her breath all the things she would do to George once she turned seventeen.
Harry, to avoid trouble himself, waited until Ginny was out of the room before bursting into renewed gales of laughter.
Used to the routine of preparing a Weasley family dinner, everyone, including Harry, pitched in to get ready for Kingsley’s arrival. Plates, cups, and silverware floated this way and that, landing in their appropriate spots on the long table. Sumptuous dishes followed, forming a queue from the counter to the table, landing and sliding across the wood to settle where they would be most accessible. Ginny, the only one unable to use magic to assist the preparations, stood by and watched with her newly scrubbed hands, staring hard at George.
As the last of the food, a steaming bowl of lima beans, slid into place, Mrs. Weasley looked out the window and gave a squeak of surprise.
“They’re here!” she gasped.
Arthur Weasley, his red hair aflame in the evening light, walked beside Kingsley Shacklebolt, the two of them engaged in conversation as they crossed the garden. To Harry, Kingsley looked the same as he always had, but the title of Minister of Magic made him even more formidable than the Auror he had been. An aura of power and confidence seemed to surround him as he walked toward the back door with his long strides.
When they entered, however, Harry’s gaze was drawn by Mr. Weasley, not the newly-appointed Minister of Magic. As though seeking to match his red hair, Arthur’s eyes were bloodshot and rimmed in bright red. He looked around quickly, trying to avoid his wife’s gaze and failing spectacularly.
Mrs. Weasley walked over and greeted Kingsley, then stared hard at her husband. “Arthur? What is it?” she asked, fear dripping from her voice.
Mr. Weasley ignored the question and moved toward the table. “Oh, good, dinner’s ready. Kingsley, sit anywhere you like.”
Kingsley shook hands with Harry, Ron, George, and Ginny before sitting down at a corner of the table. When Harry looked back up, Mrs. Weasley was holding the chair her husband was trying to sit in, her wand out.
“You tell me what has upset you, Arthur, or so help me, you’ll not eat.”
Arthur looked down at the gorgeous array of food on the table and sighed. “Molly,” he started, “sit down so we can have dinner. Kingsley will explain everything once we’re done.”
Mrs. Weasley turned and regarded Kingsley, who looked up as though he had not heard the brief exchange. As Molly took her seat across from Kingsley, though, Harry saw him turn to Arthur and wink.
The dinner passed as so many at the Burrow had in recent weeks. Kingsley and Mr. Weasley discussed matters at the Ministry since the fall of Voldemort, including the rounding up of several more Death Eaters who had not been present at the Battle of Hogwarts.
“They’ve gone into hiding,” Kingsley said in his deep, slow voice. “Thanks to Harry, the head’s been cut off the snake, quite literally, and now the body is dying.”
“I still think there’s something going on,” Mr. Weasley said. “Rumor has it they’ve found a new leader and are organizing again.”
Kingsley looked at Harry. “The two you and Ron captured told us that someone has been contacting the Death Eaters that are left, but they wouldn’t, or couldn’t, tell us who. You have any idea, Harry?”
Harry, savoring a bite of pudding, tried to speak, choked, and shook his head. “No, but they seemed to be looking for something,” he said after he managed to swallow.
Kingsley nodded. “They told us that, too. Trouble is, they didn’t know what they were looking for. Whoever sent them told them they would know if they found something valuable.”
“If they don’t know this new leader is,” Ginny asked, “who sent them?”
This time, it was Mr. Weasley that answered. “Correct me if I’m wrong, Kingsley, but didn’t they say that they never saw who sent them, that he was wearing a Death Eater mask.”
Kingsley nodded again. “They said they had heard the voice before, but they couldn’t place it. We tried every spell we could think of to get them to remember, but we found out nothing.”
Harry suddenly remembered the letter he had found in his parent’s ruined bedroom. “Wait a second,” he said, retrieving the letter from his jeans pocket where he had been carrying it around since returning to the Burrow, “take a look at this.”
He handed the letter to Kingsley, who unfolded and read it. Mr. Weasley leaned over the corner of the table and read it, as well, his brows furrowing as he drew near the end.
“Golden Sepulcher?” Arthur asked Kingsley. “Have you heard of that before?”
“No,” Kingsley said, refolding the letter and handing it back. “But, Harry, you’re parents were given a lot of tasks by Dumbledore that none of the rest of us knew about. He suspected someone in the Order was a spy, so he told us all only what he felt we needed to know.
I know the feeling, Harry thought, having been given the same treatment by Dumbledore during his years at Hogwarts.
“Speaking of Dumbledore,” Kingsley said, pointedly looking at Mr. Weasley, “there’s another reason I came here besides to enjoy Molly’s superb culinary skill.”
Mrs. Weasley flushed and looked at Arthur, whose eyes started to go red again.
Kingsley stood, his tall frame towering over those seated at the table. “On behalf of the Ministry of Magic and the entire wizarding community, I would like to congratulate you, Harry, and you, Ron, and Hermione on being selected to receive the Order of Merlin, First Class, for your involvement–“
The rest of Kingsley’s words were drowned out by Mrs. Weasley, who burst into a thunderstorm of tears and buried her face into her husband’s chest. Mr. Weasley, sobbing just as hard as his wife, buried his face in her red hair.
Harry and Ron looked at each other, stunned. While they understood, better than anyone, what they had accomplished, neither of them had given thought to such an honor.
“I’ve got to write to Hermione,” Ron whispered. He stood and disapparated, only to reapparate in the same spot, reach across the table to shake Kingsley’s hand, and disapparate again.
Harry felt numb until Ginny kissed him, and even then the only sensation in his whole body was confined to his lips, warm and quivering against hers.
Kingsley, still standing, looked at the scene around him with a wide smile stretching across his handsome face. “Congratulations, Harry,” he said, reaching across and shaking Harry’s hand. “We’re planning on holding the ceremony at Hogwarts on the first day of term. We couldn’t think of anywhere more appropriate.”
“That’ll be great,” Harry replied. His voice sounded, to him, as though it was coming from the end of a long tunnel.
Kingsley turned then to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, patting them both on the back. “Congratulations, Arthur, Molly. I’ll leave you alone now.”
Mr. Weasley, his face still buried in the mass of red hair, waved his hand. Mrs. Weasley did not even look up, apparently leaning on her husband to keep from collapsing into the floor.
Kingsley waved to them as he left through the back door into the garden.
Harry, awakened from his daze by the sound of the door closing, hurried after the Minister, hoping to catch him before he disapparated.
“Kingsley!” Harry yelled as he ran out the door. “Can I have a word with you?”
The Minister stopped and turned, the wide smile still on his face. “Sure, Harry.”
Harry had been wondering how to word his question, but all thoughts of tact had fled in the face of being offered the Order of Merlin. “I want to be an Auror.”
Even though Harry would not have thought it possible, Kingsley’s smile widened. “I’ve heard that and I have to say that I don’t know anyone with better qualifications than you.”
“What do I need to do?”
“Tell you what,” Kingsley said, dropping his voice so that only Harry could hear. “Come to the Ministry on Thursday. You can talk to Dawlish–he’s running the office now–and we’ll go from there.” He paused and looked back at the house. “And bring as many Weasleys as you can, especially Molly.”
“Why?” Harry thought bringing his adopted family to a meeting about his becoming an Auror seemed inappropriate, but he doubted Kingsley would do anything to sabotage his chances. “I mean, why do they need to be there.”
“Just trust me,” Kingsley answered, giving Harry another wink. “Remember, especially Molly.”
Harry watched as the Minister of Magic walked through the garden gate and vanished into the night.
Harry spent the next few days figuring out how he would convince Mrs. Weasley and the rest of the family to accompany him to the Ministry. Through meals, games of Exploding Snap, and even his time alone with Ginny, he ran through hypothetical conversations where he had them all agreeing to go without knowing any more than he did about why they were needed.
Finally, in a fit of desperation, Harry decided to tell the truth.
He found Mrs. Weasley outside hanging laundry to dry and, after hexing a group of garden gnomes pulling on a wet sheet, he pitched in to help. For a long time, neither of them said anything, focusing on their work. Harry waited until all the laundry was hung before plunging into what he wanted to say.
“Mrs. Weasley,” he started. “Kingsley said he wanted you and the others to come with me to the Ministry tomorrow.”
Mrs. Weasley gathered up the empty basket and looked at him, her face red from the heat of the day. “Did he say why?”
“No, but he said it was important.”
Mrs. Weasley looked away out over the fields near the Burrow as though she could see into the future. “I don’t know,” she said, more to herself than to Harry. “I have so much to do here. I’m just starting to get caught up on housework.”
Harry waited, not daring to breathe. He wondered what impression it would make to be given what seemed like a simple assignment by the Minister and failing to complete it.
Mrs. Weasley looked back at Harry and smiled. “I guess if Kingsley says it’s important, then we should be there.”
Harry breathed a sigh of relief as Mrs. Weasley went back into the house, calling for her children to find good clothes for their trip to the Ministry.
“What do you think he wants Mum there for?” Ron asked Harry after dinner that evening.
“No idea,” Harry replied. “Maybe he wants to discuss the Order of Merlin ceremony.”
Thinking of the night when Kingsley announced that he and Ron would receive their honors, they had approached Mr. Weasley about this new development. Ron’ s dad, however, had been just as perplexed as they had. He offered to ask the Minister himself, but could not find Kingsley over the next few days to ask him.
“That’s not for another two months,” Ron said. “Besides, what can he tell us at the Ministry that he can’t tell us here?”
“Maybe it has something to do with our wanting to be Aurors.”
Again, Ron shook his head. “Does he think we need my Mum to hold our hands while we talk to Dawlish?”
Thursday morning came and they still had no idea why there were all being summoned to the Ministry. Up and dressed before dawn, they ate a quick breakfast and left at the same time as Mr. Weasley, just before the sun peaked over the eastern horizon.
At such an early hour, very few witches and wizards were at the Ministry. The few that did pass them in the large foyer stopped to greet Mr. Weasley, then, seeing Harry and Ron, greeted them also, congratulating them on their Orders of Merlin. They crowded into one of the lifts at the far end of the hall and soon found themselves waiting outside Mr. Weasley’s office.
“There’s a Ministry-wide meeting at ten,” Mr. Weasley said, tidying the massive stack of papers teetering on his desk. He looked at Harry and Ron “Dawlish said he could meet with the two of you after the meeting.”
The morning passed slowly. Mr. Weasley composed several responses to inquiries he had received, read a number of reports, and made frequent trips for coffee. Mrs. Weasley spent the time reading a book titled Witches in Love: Romantic Tales for Hopeless Romantics. Ginny, her nose stuck in Harry’s copy of Flying with the Cannons, looked like a smaller copy of her mother. Ron slept, leaning against the wall, his snores echoing down the long hallway.
Harry wished he could be as relaxed as Ron. Instead of sleeping, he paced the tile floor, hoping the movement would shake some answers to his questions out of his brain. The back and forth finally got to Ginny, who looked up at him over her book.
“You keep doing that,” she said, “you’re going to wear a hole in the floor.”
“Okay, Weasleys,” Mr. Weasley said, emerging from his office before Harry could answer. “Let’s go see about this meeting so Harry and Ron can go see Dawlish.”
Ginny slapped her book shut in front of Ron’s face, causing her brother to jerk awake.
“Bloody hell,” he said, rubbing his eyes. “Don’t do that.”
“I have to go see Kingsley a moment before the meeting, so you lot go on to the meeting hall,” Mr. Weasley said, waving to them as he moved down a side hall.
They made their way back to the lift and saw the halls were more crowded than they had been earlier in the day. Harry had been in the Ministry a few times, but until seeing this mass exodus, he had no idea how many witches and wizards worked in the Ministry of Magic. Hundreds of people lined up for the lifts, piling in a dozen or so at a time, most engaged in quiet speculation as to what the meeting was about.
“This must be important for the Minister to call everyone together,” a middle-aged witch said from beside Harry. “Practically shutting down the whole place.”
Another witch, this one only a few years older than Harry, shrugged in front of the one who had spoken. “Fine by me,” she said. “As busy as I’ve been, I could use a little break.”
Another figure in the line beside him caught Harry’s eye. Though the wizard’s back was turned, Harry immediately recognized the short blonde hair and thin frame. He tapped Ron on the shoulder, who yawned and looked in the direction that Harry pointed.
“Malfoy?” Ron said, his voice loud enough to carry some distance over the crowd.
Draco Malfoy turned and looked for who had called his name. Seeing Harry and Ron, he sneered and turned back away from them without a word.
“What’s he doing here?” Ron whispered to Harry. “Does he work for the Ministry now?”
“If so,” Harry said, “it’ll be easier to catch him when we’re Aurors.”
Ron laughed as they watched Malfoy enter one of the gated lifts and disappear from sight.
Harry stared after Malfoy long after the blonde young man was gone from sight. In truth, he did wonder why Malfoy was at the Ministry. If Ron’s suspicions were correct and Malfoy had gained employment here, where did he work? In what department? He had heard nothing of Draco or his family since he had given testimony as to their role in the defeat of the Dark Lord. He knew that, because of him, the Malfoys had avoided Azkaban. Then, the image of the two Death Eaters in his parents’ house returned to him, as did their conversation.
Could Lucius Malfoy be the one rallying the Death Eaters? Could Draco?
As he entered the lift with the Weasleys, he thought of the possibility of a Malfoy leading the remnants of the Dark Lord’s supporters. They certainly seemed like good candidates with their long involvement with the Dark Arts and their former status as favorites of Voldemort.
Still, something inside Harry railed against the idea of Draco or his father leading a revival of the Death Eaters. The two of them had almost as much to lose from Voldemort’s followers returning to power as he did. Had they somehow convinced their old comrades that they had not been involved in the Dark Lord’s fall?
The lift stopped and Harry led the Weasley’s down the hall toward two large double doors. As the wizards and witches poured in, they spread out across the large room which, Harry saw with some awe, was easily the largest room he had ever seen. The room more resembled a stadium than a meeting hall, reminding him a great deal of the stadium where he had seen the Quidditch World Cup four years before. The buzz of conversation here grew louder, with several shouts of people greeting each other from across the expansive space.
“We’ll sit over there,” Mrs. Weasley said, pointing to a nearly deserted section near the top of the hall.
Harry agreed with this decision and followed Molly through the mass of people. A few people, recognizing him, offered Harry a seat closer to the front, but he preferred to stay with Ron and Ginny, waving his apologies to the disappointed parties.
They took their seats and Harry studied his surroundings for the first time since they had entered through the double doors. The seats formed a semicircle, faced on the opposite side by large banners representing the different departments within the Ministry. Harry’s throat constricted when he saw the banner for the Aurors, reminding him of what he would be doing following the meeting. In the center of the room, a stone dais rose level with the front row of seats and a few members of the Ministry sat there. Kingsley sat in the middle, leaned over the arm of his chair speaking to a witch with flyaway gray hair that Harry recognized as Mafalda Hopkirk of the Improper Use of Magic Office. With a flush of embarrassment, Harry recalled how Hermione had used Polyjuice Potion to impersonate Hopkirk so they could break into the Ministry and steal one of Voldemort’s horcruxes, then in the possession of Dolores Umbridge.
Harry looked on the stage for Umbridge, expecting to see her toad-like form filling one of the plush chairs, but did not see her. Instead, he saw several witches and wizards he did not recognize and a few more he did. Dawlish sat to Kingsley’s right on the opposite side of the Minister from Hopkirk. Slouching in his chair, he stared at Kingsley like a date who had been dumped at the dance. Arthur Weasley sat on one end, looking uncomfortably up toward the crowd.
“There’s Arthur,” Mrs. Weasley cried, waving at her husband.
Mr. Weasley saw his wife and gave a weak wave. He looked ill.
“I guess they wanted the heads of the departments down there and since Arthur was the Head of Muggle Artifacts Office, he was asked to be there,” Mrs. Weasley said.
Harry then turned his attention to finding Draco Malfoy in the crowd. He wanted to know who Malfoy was sitting with, who he was talking to, hoping that it would give him some idea of why Malfoy was at the Ministry. He scanned those in attendance, seeking the recognizable white-blonde hair, but after four passes over the audience, he conceded that Malfoy was not in the crowd.
“Where’s Malfoy?” he asked Ron, who teetered on the edge of sleep again.
Ron opened his eyes and looked around much as Harry had done. “Dunno,” he said. “Maybe he’s in the loo.”
Harry wanted to get up and look for Malfoy, but before he could, Kingsley stood up and the crowd of wizards and witches drew silent.
Kingsley waved his wand and a podium appeared before him. He stepped forward and spoke, his deep voice magically enhanced so that, even in the upper reaches of the hall, Harry could hear him perfectly.
“I know there has been a lot of speculation as to why we’re all here today,” he began. “And the time has come to answer those questions.”
An excited buzz rose from the audience, but stopped as the Minister spoke again.
“As some of you know, Dolores Jane Umbridge, former Senior Undersecretary to the Minister, was taken into custody last week and, following her trial before the Wizengamot for crimes against Muggle-borns, has been sentenced to Azkaban.”
Numerous cheers rose from the audience, the loudest of which coming from Ron and Ginny.
“Did you know about that?” Ron asked Harry.
“No,” Harry answered. “It wasn’t in the papers.”
Kingsley cleared his throat and silence fell once again. “That said, we have a decision to make here today. It seems we are in need of another Senior Undersecretary.”
The buzz rose again, making the assembly sound like an angry swarm of bees.
“Over the past few days, I’ve given this a lot of thought,” Kingsley said. He walked along the stage, all eyes captivated by the powerful presence of the Minister. “And I would like to nominate the person I think would be best for the job. This person is someone almost all of you know, someone who has long been a supporter of everything the Ministry stands for while opposing many of the practices of the previous administration.”
“Oh, dear,” Mrs. Weasley said from beside Harry. Looking over, he saw that she had gone pale, her hands on either side of her white face.
“This person risked much through the recent dark times. Perhaps no one here risked more. Throughout the past few years, he and his family have faced constant threat from Voldemort and his followers, but never failed to do what was needed for the good of the Ministry.”
“Oh, dear,” Mrs. Weasley repeated, growing paler still.
“Finally, this person, who has always been fond of Muggles, will repair the damage caused by Dolores and help the Ministry regain the confidence of the wizarding world. In short, I would like to nominate Arthur Weasley for the post of Senior Undersecretary to the Minister and hope you will appreciate the sacrifices he and his family have made by confirming my choice.”
All around, the audience erupted.
“Oh, dear,” Mrs. Weasley whispered. She stood and started to clap, but fainted before her hands could meet. Harry and George, sitting to either side of her, dove in to catch her and returned her to her seat.
“All in favor,” Kingsley said over the cacophony of voices. “Please raise your wands and vote now.”
Harry watched in awe as nearly every wand in the room pointed toward the domed ceiling above them. Points of light shot from each wand tip, flying to a large sign above the departmental banners. As the lights struck the sign, numbers appeared and tallied the votes.
Even George and Ron stuck their wands in the air, though no lights jumped from theirs as they were not Ministry members.
“I don’t think it’ll matter,” Harry said, pointing to the crowd.
“All opposed,” Kingsley said, having to shout over the tumult.
Less than a dozen wands rose to oppose the nomination. George stood, hoping to recognize the people voting against his father.
“Is that Bernie Sanks?” he asked, pointing out one young wizard near the front. “I know where that git lives. Guess I’ll have to pay him a little visit.”
“Then it’s confirmed,” Kingsley said. “Congratulations to the new Senior Undersecretary.”
The crowd broke into a chorus of cheers and cat calls as Mr. Weasley stood and staggered forward. Even from such a distance, Harry could see that he was an unpleasant shade of green. He gripped the sides of the podium and looked out over the assembly.
“On behalf of my family and myself, I thank you all for your vote of confidence and–“
Mr. Weasley stopped speaking. A person was approaching the stage and all eyes in the meeting hall turned to watch his progress. Like the new Senior Undersecretary to the Minister, the young man was tall and thin, with bright red hair.
Percy Weasley leapt onto the stage and walked up to his father, all sound in the room dying until Harry could hear his own heart pounding in his chest. For a long moment, the two Weasleys looked at each other, then, to the surprise of everyone, Percy clasped his arms around his father as though the rift between them had never existed.
Mrs. Weasley, coming around just in time to see her husband and her son embrace, sank back in her chair and cried with joy.