Failure to Thrive - Part V
Ron and Hermione were waiting outside the courtroom, looking about as unenthusiastic as he felt. No one had said so out loud, but they were all grateful there would be no prosecution for their Polyjuice-enabled infiltration of the Ministry the previous year.
"Alright, mate?" Ron asked as Harry approached.
"Just great," Harry snarked as they did the one armed man-hug that had become their habit of late. "You?"
"Keep your eyes and ears open," Ron warned. "I won't be convinced she's really out of our hair until she's convicted and transported."
Hermione hugged Harry, and he could see she was nervous. “I’d be happy to not have to see her again, but it obviously has to happen. A couple of hours from now, it will be over.”
"Right," Harry agreed.
They entered the court and waited to be called for their testimonies. There were many familiar faces scattered among those seated in attendance. Harry nodded in greeting to Minerva McGonagall and each of the surviving Hogwarts professors from fifth year, and finally to Lucius. He had a fleeting moment of dearly wishing that Professor Snape was there, even if he would have likely spent the entire time glowering at Harry. Somehow, knowing that the potions master had reviled the pink clad, kitten-obsessed witch almost felt like camaraderie between them.
The defendant was led into the courtroom and seated in the magical confinement behind a transparent partition. She wore her standard pink, and while her overall body had reduced in size during her incarceration, her toad-like jowls had expanded and now drooped enough to obscure her neck entirely from view. The council for the defense called Lucius to testify as a character witness. The blond wizard was overtly blunt in his honesty about his own manipulative actions at the time, and ultimately portrayed Dolores Umbridge as the power-hungry puppet of former Minster of Magic, Cornelius Fudge. After that fiasco, the defense tried a new tactic, asking for leniency each and every time he had the floor. It was an obvious ploy, but not without merit, as the defendant was now beginning to come across as a victim herself, who was easily prone to breakdowns. The entire hearing seemed to center around the fact that ol' Dolores had lost her sanity. Again.
"Of course she's lost her sanity," Ron muttered. “Only a nutter would wear a bloody bow like that in her hair!"
The Golden Trio were the last to be questioned, and were only asked to recap their time at Hogwarts under the High Inquisitor's reign of terror. When it was Harry's turn, he looked Dolores Umbridge in the eye and saw with absolute clarity that she was completely in control of her faculties. His skin crawled, and his sensory memory of her creepy, vile taunting as she'd supervised his lines came rushing back. He refrained from revealing that she'd made him use the blood quill, having no intention of admitting in her presence that she'd had that much power over him. That he still bore scars from her cruelty. He was dismissed after he had done his part to confirm the facts that were the basis of the charges against her.
A mob of reporters swarmed them as they made their way out of the court. "First one to reach the LC grabs the table!" Ron called over their heads as they were forced apart by literal walls of determined observers. Harry ignored all of the questions directed his way and eventually darted around a very tall and fat wizard, ducking behind the enormous robes for cover while he slipped under his invisibility cloak. It took some maneuvering, but he managed to get over to Hermione and get the cloak over her as well. Ron's height and solid build were enough to cause the crowd to part on his behalf.
"It's not over, not by a long shot," Harry told Ron and Hermione as they regrouped and exited the Ministry together. "She's no more insane than I am. There's more trouble brewing with her."
"She's in custody, Harry. What could she possibly pull?" Hermione reasoned.
Ron muttered something raunchy under his breath about exactly what Umbridge could pull, inducing a bark of laughter from Harry and a scornful look of reproach from Hermione.
They'd not gone a block when a familiar screech of rage sounded from a short distance behind them. They each flinched involuntarily, shooting each other looks of utter disbelief, and the next three seconds passed in a blur.
Harry was hit with a blasting curse that sent him flying through the air. A split second later he landed against a hastily cast cushioning charm at the very same time that his counter curse hit his assailant, who had already shot a slicing hex at Hermione, who had shielded with wicked precision, in time for Ron's well-aimed petrificus totalis to slam into Madame Umbridge, quickly followed by Hermione's incarcerous. None of the Trio cast verbally any longer, so the scattered yells of alarm in the middle of it all came from the onlookers, and simultaneously buffered the sounds of the spells and their impact on Dolores Umbridge. Red robed aurors raced to the scene to surround the escaped prisoner and take her back into custody.
"Harry!" Several voices yelled as people charged towards him.
"I'm fine," Harry said as he picked himself up from the sidewalk in front of the building he'd just been thrown against. "How in the bloody hell did she get loose so fast?" He brushed off his clothes. Lucius was the first to reach him, pulling him into a panicked embrace. Harry could hear the man's heart pounding beneath his ear. "I'm fine, honestly," Harry told his pseudo guardian. He hugged Lucius back, but pulled away first as the rest of the crowd reached them.
"Have the aurors got her then?" Harry asked.
"Yeah," Ron said. His face broke into a grin. "Nice recovery, mate. She can try all she likes, but she'll never best you, will she?"
Harry smirked at that.
"From what I could see, it looks like none of you was bested," Lucius noted.
"And clearly not as rattled by it all as the rest of us." Minerva inserted. "Are any of you hurt? I think we should adjourn to Hogwarts and let Poppy look you each over."
"Nothing happened," Harry protested, but a firm grip on his shoulder made him close his mouth and answer reluctantly, "Yes, ma'am."
Minerva gave Lucius an approving look for his assertion with Harry. "You come along as well, Mr. Malfoy," she said. "It's time to adjust the wards to grant you access to the school again."
Harry shot a look up at Lucius and saw the poorly disguised emotion on the older wizard's face and decided not to protest any further. "I suppose it would be better to be there when the aurors come to get our statements."
When they had assembled in the infirmary, waiting for Madam Pomfrey to appear and having been joined by Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Harry began to feel the need to beg off of all the attention. He realized belatedly that having Lucius there would put a strain on the Weasleys and Hermione, who had thus far not questioned Harry's relationship with the Malfoys. In all truth, he had no idea where they stood on the subject.
The school's healer came into the crowded infirmary with eyebrows raised and her standard tsk-tsk-ing at the situation that The Golden Trio had yet again managed to find themselves in. "Honestly, even now when we're in peacetime, the three of you have to go and take on the likes of Dolores Umbridge."
"We're all fine," Harry insisted. "Ron and Hermione handled her."
Ron snorted. "Come on, Harry, we all saw the ferocity of your stunner. Took her right down, you did. Hermione and I simply finished her off."
"You practically cast it simultaneously with your cushioning charm!" Hermione declared. She was smiling, clearly impressed.
"And what about your shield?" Harry argued. "You cast just as quickly as I did!"
"I wasn't flying through the air, was I?" Hermione returned.
"A small detail," Harry muttered dismissively, but caught Ron's eye and grinned back at him.
Lucius had been standing beside Harry the whole time. He cupped his hand around Harry's head and ducked down to say in a quiet voice, "Do let Madam Pomfrey give you a thorough check, alright?" He lay his cheek on Harry's temple and stayed close, waiting for the boy's acquiescence.
Touched by the nurturing gesture, Harry nodded. When he dutifully asked the medi-witch for a full evaluation, he pretended not to notice the triumph in the eyes of the Headmistress, the Weasleys, the- well, everyone present.
As the autumn season progressed, the school board officially announced that rather than have a late start in the term, the entire school year would be cancelled while the reparations continued. The following year would offer all of Harry's class a proper repeat of their 7th year along with Ginny's and Luna's class. Harry and Lucius had again had a battle of wills, this time regarding the completion of Harry's education. Harry had no intention of returning to school. He had conceded to Lucius' demand that he keep an open mind, if only to once again avoid finding out what would happen if he did not. But Lucius was not fooled, and worried that the boy would still refuse to go when Hogwarts finally reopened. He concluded that he'd have to continue on with his dedicated interest in the boy's progress. Thus far, he could see minor improvement in Harry's physical appearance. He had grown perhaps an inch and gained a few pounds, but was still far from having recouped what he'd lost when the condition had set in. It was unknown just how long recovery should take, but Madam Pomfrey had insisted that if Harry acquired and maintained a better state of health, he should regain the lost time in at least a two-to-one ratio, returning to his full adult size in less than eighteen months. He was far from achieving this, but he was moving forward.
And that was how things would stand until the day that found Severus Snape gracing them with his presence, one month before the one year anniversary of the Final Battle.