Justice for Christmas
A warm Christmas sun had risen high in the air by the time the sleigh swooped down upon a stately old manor house just outside Edinburgh. "I'll be living here now!?" Derek was impressed at what lay below.
"Indeed you shall, Master Whitesell; Susan is a dear old friend of mine who managed to have a fairly successful life for herself. Still, she's had a rather lonely life due to notable errors made when she was younger," Dumbledore seemed melancholy again, Harry thought, "I daresay, however, that you shall serve well as a cure for that. You may take us right to the front door, Hagrid," he instructed the gamekeeper, who descended right to the ground. Harry followed Dumbledore and Derek out and waited with anticipation as the headmaster rang the front bell. "Can I help you, sir?" a formally-dressed butler answered.
"I am here to see Susan; tell her it is Albus, and I have a Christmas present beyond compare for her," Dumbledore said grandly.
"This way, sir," the butler stared a bit suspiciously at Dumbledore's robes, but opened the door all the way and gestured them inside. The manor house was lavishly furnished, but Harry noticed a layer of dust on almost everything, as if the house wasn't as well taken care of as it could have been. The butler led them to another door, presumably to one of the parlors, and knocked on it. "Albus here to see you, Madame," he called in.
"Send him in, Cork," came the elderly voice from inside. It was indeed a parlor, Harry noted when the butler opened the door, and he took note of the white-haired woman rising up from a sofa, leaning heavily on a cane. "Albus, old friend, good to see you," she croaked, hobbling over to embrace him, "A merry Christmas to you. Please, sit; my new caretaker should be arriving soon with Christmas breakfast. She's had to handle it since the cook died a few months ago. I really ought to hire her full-time..."
"So, you and the Professor are old friends?" Harry asked her, shaking her hand.
"Indeed we are, Harry. Allow me to introduce Harry Potter, Susan; he's the one I've told you so much about," Dumbledore introduced him to her, "Yes, Susan is a dear old friend of mine; she proved quite a help during some years in my youth when I needed confidence to-well, to take care of very important business. We had a number of adventures together in a place very far from here that made me wiser than I had been before...although, as I understand, those aren't as well known as some of her other adventures..."
"The famous Harry Potter; it is an honor," Susan was impressed to be in his presence, "Albus has told me so much about you; it is clear you are destined for great things, just as I once was..."
She sighed sadly. "It's been so long...I thought maybe there would have been a sign, but I guess...I guess they really are gone for good," she mumbled softly to herself.
"Um, who?" Harry inquired.
"Susan is technically an orphan herself, Harry-although, I'm sorry to say, of her own choosing," Dumbledore told him with a sympathetic glance at his friend, "Susan made a few wrong decisions many, many years back, and her family moved on to another place, a better place, without her."
"It's been so, so long...I've tried to follow them after I came to my senses, but it appears I can't get there anymore," Susan cast a mournful look at a large object covered with a sheet in the corner...an object that Harry somehow felt a terrific sensation from looking at for some reason, as if it led to something wonderful...why, though, he had no idea...
"Yes, it is painful how the decisions we make when we're younger can come back to haunt us so much in our older years..." Dumbledore was definitely saddened now, Harry saw. He quickly banished that expression, however, and announced with a smile, "But that, Susan, is why I came here this Christmas morning. I know how lonely you are anymore, so I wish to help alleviate that issue for you. Allow me, Susan, to introduce Derek Whitesell," he gently gestured the boy forward, "He has no family either. I was looking for a place he would be welcomed at, and it stood to reason you could offer him the best in that regard."
"Hello," Derek introduced himself shyly. "A child," Susan mumbled softly, putting her hands on his shoulders, "I always wanted one, but...maybe not having one was my punishment for being foolish enough to miss my chance to..."
"Derek has long been searching for a good home, Susan. I knew you would be able to provide it in whatever amount of time you do have left," Dumbledore said with a smile, "And who knows; perhaps if you are a good parent for him, maybe, just maybe, you'll get that chance to be with your family again. After all, the road to that special world can appear at the most unexpected times, as it did for me."
"Perhaps. You look exactly like I hoped my child would be like," Susan smiled warmly at Derek, "Oh, I'd love to have you here. I'd love the chance to be a mother, finally."
She pulled Derek into a warm embrace, both of them smiling. Harry grinned himself, glad to see Derek was having a happy ending. "Uh, sir," he turned to Dumbledore, "Which world? Who...?"
Before Dumbledore could answer, the butler knocked on the door again. "Miss Joanne is here, Madame," he stuck his head in again.
"Oh good, send her in," Susan told him. It was a younger woman, harried-looking, with reddish-blonde hair, that entered the room with several boxes in hand. "Good morning, merry Christmas, Susan," she greeted the old woman, "Well, I see we have company for once...unusual company," she was a bit surprised at Dumbledore's attire as well.
"Merry Christmas to you too, Joanne," Susan greeted her, "How was the train ride up?"
"Slow and miserable; truth is, Susan, even with your generous payments, I'm still way behind on the rent," Joanne sighed, setting the boxes down on the coffee table and sinking into the chair, "Would it at all be possible to double the salary? Jessica really needs more..."
"Miss, would they take gold coins?" Harry spoke up, "I happen to have quite a bit in the bank...do you think they'd allow it, Professor?" he asked Dumbledore.
"I'm not sure, Harry, but I think your willingness to help is laudable nonetheless," the headmaster told him with a smile.
"Hold the phone," Joanne was squinting at Harry, "Aren't you the boy in all the papers, the one who ran away when his aunt and uncle went crazy...?"
"Uh yes, I'm Harry, Harry Potter; no, it's not quite that simple, it's...it's rather a bit more complicated than that," Harry shook her hand, "Pleasure to meet you nonetheless."
"Joanne Rowling; pleasure to meet you too. But who's...?" her gaze turned back to Dumbledore.
"Allow me to introduce myself, Miss Rowling; Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," he shook her hand as well, "You may not be aware of it, but Harry here has done many, many great things that many people may find rather interesting."
"Professor, what are you doing?" Harry frowned, "I can understand with Derek but...suppose the Ministry gets word that you're telling...?"
"Ministry? Hold the phone, what's all this about?" Joanne glanced at Susan, still hugging Derek close, for an answer.
"I believe I can answer that, Miss Rowling," Dumbledore was staring right into her eyes, "And how convenient; you've always loved writing, I see. I would like to make you an offer-one, Harry, that I think will provide a certain amount of leverage should the Ministry attempt to do anything in revenge for Cornelius's blunders embarrassing it," he turned to Harry and explained, "I believe, Miss Rowling, I can solve your monetary issues through your natural talents. I believe Harry's story would be quite enjoyable to many non-magical persons all around the world-indeed, I suspect it could help people decide to live a better life. If I were to arrange for outlines of how things have gone for him to be delivered to you, would you be willing to complete them into book form for publication?"
"Professor, that's going to be more fame; I don't want more fame!" Harry protested, "Rita will blow this way out of proportion and make me look...!"
"I do not think Rita will dare that when the entire world, wizarding and not, will come to know the type of person she is, Harry," Dumbledore assured him, "And I can arrange it so that the books, once released, are all fitted with anti-disappearing charms so that the Ministry cannot simply eliminate them."
"But sir, the secret will be out to all the Muggles..."
"Some secrets are meant to be spilled eventually, Harry. And less harm done if the rest of the world thinks it only fiction. So, Miss Rowling, do we have a deal? And I assure you, this is not a trick, it is a genuine offer," Dumbledore extended a hand to her. Joanne seemed uncertain. "Wizarding world? I want to believe it, but...something doesn't seem right..." she mused out loud.
"You can trust Albus, Joanne," Susan assured her, "He only has the best intentions for all."
"Well...if you say so, Susan. I suppose, I guess, we sort of have a deal, sir," Joanne shook Dumbledore's hand, "Although, if it's not my story, won't that be plagiarizing...?"
"Not for a biography, I think not. And besides, if you put your own spin on it, it will still be your story, will it not?" Dumbledore raised a knowing eyebrow, "I think that you will gain much profit financially from it, Miss Rowling-although of course, we must remember there are far more valuable things than money in this world..."
"Of course, I know that," Joanne nodded firmly, "I value my daughter more than all the money in the world. So, then, how will...?"
"I shall deliver an outline for the beginning of the story immediately after the new year; I believe there should be enough for a bare minimum of seven titles in the end if things were to continue at their current course. And I shall arrange it so that they will continue to be delivered even in the event of my passing, so that the entire tale, no matter how it does end, shall be known. Come with me, and we'll discuss a bit more of how it shall work," he started towards the hallway.
"All right then," Joanne cast a glance back at Harry, "Who would think, though, that one runaway boy from a nowhere town could have that interesting a life, possibly mixed up in something...magical?"
"If only you knew, Mrs. Rowling," Harry grinned at her, warming to the idea now, "If only you knew..."
He turned back to Derek as Dumbledore led the aspiring writer outside, just catching Dumbledore starting to ask Joanne to look after Derek in the event of Susan's passing. "Merry Christmas, Derek Whitesell, it looks like you got a terrific Christmas present," he told his friend.
"I...I guess so," Derek still seemed in awe of this amazing turn of events, "If this lady does really want to care for me..."
"A child will definitely brighten this old place up, much as it did so many years ago when I and my sister and brothers were the children here-and I won't be lonely anymore," Susan smiled warmly at him, "And there's plenty of children your age in the area for you to meet; you'll be quite at home here. I guess you're hungry for breakfast now?"
"I am," Derek nodded.
"Well, let's go get ready for it, then," she hobbled excitedly out the parlor door. "Well, anyway, I guess this is goodbye then, Harry," Derek appeared somber as he turned to him, "But I want to say, thank you for everything; for saving my life twice, and helping pull me out of the gutter to this."
"It's not goodbye, Derek; I'll stop by when I get the chance," Harry assured him, "And I'm glad to have helped, because you were the only one who even tried to go around Dudley and be friends with me. For that, you'll always be a special friend. And take pride; you've done things no Muggles, even those who'd read a book about me, will ever get to do. So, anyway, enjoy your new improved life; it's going to be all uphill for you from here; I just know it."
The Christmas Day edition of the Daily Prophet had a simple headline: DARK PLOT FOILED, with the comparatively brief follow-up:
An attempt to unleash dark magical powers for a possibly alive and well You Know Who was thwarted late last night by a group of concerned wizards. Sources say a large group of witches and wizards were able to infiltrate what might have been You Know Who's current headquarters on the Isle of Drear and stop him from gaining those dark powers. About six dozen Death Eaters are now in custody at Azkaban.
"We thank those who participated in this effort that ultimately saved a number of lives," Minister Cornelius Fudge acknowledged briefly before leaving on an emergency trip to the Continent, "Our apologies for declaring You Know Who dead when he apparently might not have been so; sometimes the evidence one is given can be a bit mistaken. We assure the public, however, that he is no longer a threat to them at this time, even if he is alive and well, and I guarantee he will not be coming back again after this. All charges against Harry Potter are thus dropped, and all offered rewards for him voided."
In contrast, the Christmas Day edition of the Quibbler was much more elaborate, with an image of an angry, wand-wielding Fudge and Umbridge on the cover under the headline, CORRUPTION, COMPLACENCY BY MINISTER AND CLOSE AIDES ALMOST DOOM WIZARDING WORLD, with the accompanying story:
Tonight, Muggles and non-Muggles everywhere can sleep well for Christmas, thanks only to the Boy Who Lived and the Order of the Phoenix, who gallantly risked their lives to stop You Know Who-who, despite what the Daily Prophet appears to have claimed entirely upon the Ministry's request, is still very much alive and well-from gaining powers that would have made him invincible. You Know Who ordered a terrible attack on Hogwarts to get the sacrificial victims he needed to gain these powers-an attack that likely could not have taken place if the protection set up around the school by Albus Dumbledore had not been ignorantly taken down on Minister Fudge's orders. Because of this shortsightedness, several students are dead-a fact not announced in today's edition of the Daily Prophet, it appears-and the Minister's office remained silent when asked by Quibbler reporters for comment.
"There was severe negligence on the Minsitry's part, I'm sorry to say," Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt said grimly in an exclusive interview with the Quibbler, "The Minister was so bent on nailing Harry Potter with something for a personal vendetta that he willfully ignored clear evidence the Dark Lord was planning something."
Background checks would have helped as well; killed in the pitched closing battle on the Isle of Drear was former Azkaban warden Charonius Swims, a man the Minister's office previously had full confidence in. Also, among the many Death Eaters arrested was the previously well-regarded Lucius Malfoy, rumored to have been the leader of the attack on the school. That more thorough checks were not made on both these two and many more of the arrested Death Eaters calls into question Ministry policy.
And of course, there's the matter of the supposed dead body of You Know Who that was found with great fanfare just yesterday. An unnamed high-level member of the Ministry, speaking on express condition of anonymity, confided with the Quibbler that he was summoned secretly two nights ago to a location deep in the bowels of the Ministry, where an anonymous body was set up on a table. The official said he was ordered by the high-ranking Dolores Umbridge to transfigure the body into that of You Know Who at once. When he refused, Umbridge pushed him against the wall, thrust her wand in his face, and angrily warned him that if he didn't do it-and kept his mouth shut about it-he would not only be fired and shipped straight to Azkaban, but his entire family would be driven out of wizarding Britain and forced to live as Muggles for the rest of their lives, at which point he reluctantly acquiesced. "Umbridge is flat out insane," he complained to Quibbler reporters, "It's a big strike against the Minister that he places someone so out of control that high up." Indeed, an official letter from Umbridge's office was delivered to Quibbler headquarters today, threatening "grave consequences" for everyone connected with this paper if this article was published. Rest assured, however, that the Quibbler does not bow to such threats and shall continue publishing whatever it deems newsworthy.
And what does the Minister himself say to these allegations of corruption and intimidation? All Qubbler reporters were able to get from Fudge when attempting to interview him this morning was a stream of complete contempt. "Listen and listen good!" he barked angrily while boarding a thestral for Luxembourg at Ministry headquarters, "All your claims of cover-ups and corruption are flat out false. Everything I have done is for the betterment of the wizarding world, and you'd better tell that like it is. Now leave me alone; I have an important meeting on the Continent to attend, and I won't be back till after the new year!"
An important meeting that conveniently was not in the records as being scheduled up till now? Or could it be that the Minister's simply running and hiding from his critics now that the rest of the Ministry, and soon the whole wizarding world, knows he screwed up in a major way? Either way, it appears that when Fudge does get back from his meeting, real or imagined, he'll also have to face scores of angry parents of injured and slain Hogwarts students, many of whom, upon learning the Ministry had openly declared itself in charge of the school at the time of the attack, have told the Quibbler they plan to sue him heavily for what happened last night.
Fudge, while running away and hiding from Quibbler reporters, also did not respond to a claim by Mrs. Evelyn Gregorian, who reported having witnessed her grandfather's body being stolen from its grave in Kent two nights ago when she'd gone to visit it, and identified Mr. John Dawlish, another high-ranking Ministry official known to be close to Fudge, as among those taking it. Dawlish could not be reached for comment this morning; family members have confirmed that Mr. Gregorian's dimensions were awfully similar to that of You Know Who's. Meanwhile, we must strongly consider: if it is true the Minister ordered a false body be presented as You Know Who, then he and Umbridge and anyone else involved are more than deserving of time in Azkaban as this paper sees it for grossly endangering the entire wizarding world.
Either way, however, it appears Cornelius Fudge's days in office are limited as it is: Amaralda Dickinson, the very powerful member of the wizarding community, whose daughter was abducted and almost sacrificed by the Death Eaters to try and make You Know Who invincible, announced in an exclusive interview with the Quibbler (because, she claims, she was turned away from the Prophet this morning by the Minister's order when she attempted to give the story there-) that she had demanded the return of every single knut she'd donated to the Ministry over the last three years within a week, and would not give anything else to it until Fudge and Umbridge both resign or are fired. Dickinson says she will also be pressing bribery charges against Fudge, claiming he made two overt attempts to pay her off to keep quiet about his mistakes. She also claims that Umbridge used an Unforgiveable Curse on her daughter-possibly with Minister Fudge's consent-to force her to lie and say that Potter had attacked her after a Quidditch match-an attack actually the work of her teammate Draco Malfoy, son of the imprisoned aforementioned Death Eater. Dickinson is thus demanding the Aurors arrest Umbridge at once for the alleged attack, and consider doing the same to the Minister if it is proven he knew of the torturing of her daughter. Earlier today, St. Mungo's Hospital, bowing to pressure from Dickinson, agreed to keep Master Malfoy, who is recovering at the hospital from wounds attained during the attack on Hogwarts last night, under armed detention in his hospital room for a yet undetermined amount of time.
"Children do not belong in Azkaban, but having seen what Draco did to my daughter, he must be punished in some manner, and as I've recently come to see, I can't trust the Ministry as it's currently being run to enact proper justice," Dickinson told the Quibbler, "So I arranged for his stay in St. Mungo's to become a de facto prison experience. In the deal I worked out with hospital administrators, he will not be allowed outside his room at all, will not be allowed visitors without extensive screening, will have no special privileges or perks, will be held to an ironclad schedule each day that will have him in bed at specific times each night without exception, and will have at least one armed witch or wizard in direct eyesight of him at all times. I'm pressing for him to be retained in St. Mungo's till the end of the school year, or until such time before that as he can express genuine remorse for assaulting Emma. If he has not expressed sufficient remorse by then, I'll press to have him sent to a maximum security juvenile detention facility, or a place that can simulate that experience, and I don't care what Narcissa says about it."
Narcissa Malfoy, the boy's mother, has already made a public statement decrying the new terms of her son's stay in St. Mungo's, and is reportedly trying to cut a separate deal with the hospital to instead release Draco to home care immediately upon coming out of the coma he's currently in. Dickinson angrily says she will do everything in her power to block any early release attempt for Draco. "If Narcissa tries anything under the table to get Draco out of this without any consequences, I'll press charges against her for bribery, tampering, and anything else that might stick," she remarked coldly, "And if she and Lucius want to try and explain why he did what he did, they need only take a good look inside. I considered the Malfoy family among my best friends for years, and over the last few days, they've doubly betrayed me-as I now understand Lucius also did years ago when he helped kill my husband." Lucius Malfoy had been Tiberius Castlebert's Secret Keeper when he'd gone into hiding after discovering a major plot of You-Know-Who; following his arrest last night, his claim of having been forced to give up Castlebert's location under duress to the Death Eaters rings very hollow.
Dickinson is also asking all other major Ministry donors to join in a general boycott to force Fudge and Umbridge out, and push hard for major Ministry reforms. Early word is that more than a few donors seem ready to follow her lead on this matter. One worried Ministry treasury official, when appraised of this, lamented the Ministry may have to cut back its services severely or shut down if its donation flow dries up like that.
"The question now is not whether Cornelius Fudge will fall as Minister of Magic, but when," he said firmly, "No one has survived in the office once Amaralda Dickinson turned on them-and if all the allegations are true, I'm not sure the wizarding world is safe with him in charge."
At any rate, it appears possible candidates to replace Fudge are starting to line up already; earlier today, no fewer than seven witches and wizards announced their intention to seek the office of Minister of Magic when it next opens. Fudge thus may want to consider not bothering coming back from Luxembourg, as it appears his position has been all but opened already.
And also, praise must be given to The Boy Who Lived, who selflessly pushed through heavy security set up by You Know Who around his lair, and managed to stop him before he could gain the powers that could have made him permanently invincible. The Quibbler has pressed for an interview with him in the near future, and would be delighted to give its readers the full account of his epic quest.
Further back inside the issue, another major picture had been published, of a scowling Rita, a quill in one hand and a flashing wand in the other, to the caption RITA SKEETER: TYRANNY OF THE PRESS? and the article:
Rita Skeeter's Christmas is bound to be a merry one. An anonymous Minister official claims he saw Skeeter get a personal invite into Minister Fudge's office earlier in the week, and overheard Fudge offer her ten million galleons if she could dig up something, anything on The Boy Who Lived. Given the history of Rita going after Harry Potter for stories, it would not be surprising that it appears she jumped at the chance; witnesses have attested to seeing her shopping up a storm in Diagon Alley with money they're certain she didn't have before the other day. Never mind that the so-called Muggle, Derek Whitesell, is descended from the wizard Andric Vydzaal due to a dark spell gone wrong centuries ago that made him a Muggle; the evidence makes it clear Rita jumped to quick conclusions to write her "shocking expose" on Potter "willfully breaking the wizarding secrecy code." And also never mind that Potter only brought the boy among us to save him from Death Eaters, either, a fact he has said he will tell in full in the Quibbler in the near future. Nor that his alleged "attack" on Rita in Azkaban was in fact very much provoked by her bullying him, contrary to what she'd claimed.
"Facts never mean anything to Rita," grumbled Arnold Lawrencius of the Magical Law Enforcement Squad, who claims Rita took him well out of context to make a statement against raids he had authorized against dark wizards some years back, "It's all about her; she wants to be the center of attention, and damnation to any who get in her way."
Indeed, her mad crusade to tarnish Potter, as it clearly is, may not be the least of Skeeter's sins, this paper has learned. Livinia Huntsworth of the Department of International Magical Cooperation says Skeeter blackmailed her over several small scale but improper transactions made with foreign wizards that the reporter had uncovered unless she came clean about it-then pilloried her even after she'd confessed to her superiors in a fraudulent article that exaggerated her crimes and got her suspended for a year. Linus Coppersmith of Sussex says Rita framed him for blowing up a rune depository in Wales, a crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to three years in Azkaban. "I know she did it; she'd been badgering me for weeks trying to find something to print against me because I'd spoken out against her taking my brother out of context in an earlier story she'd written," he complained to the Quibbler, "I know she blew up the repository and doctored the evidence to make it look like I did it. The Prophet protected her at the trial, I can prove it if I'd get a chance to."
Worse yet, however, is the claim of Caroline Hazleton of Dublin, who insisted Skeeter left her father, Caractacus Hazleton, permanently brain damaged. "He worked in the Department of Mysteries on high-level matters," she emotionally recalled, "Rita was pestering him for weeks; she hadn't had a big article in a while, I remember, and she wanted to pin something on him. He held out, though. When I stopped by to visit him one night shortly thereafter, he was lying on the floor, in leave of his senses. It was clear someone had broken in. He managed, despite his horrible condition, to enunciate that she'd done it. It was easy to piece together the rest: she broke in to search for something, anything to use against him, he caught her, and she tortured him until he went insane to keep her name clean. I pressed charges, but it never went to trial; I've always believed the Prophet, and perhaps the Ministry itself, conspired to suppress a trial. He's permanently stuck in St. Mungo's today and hardly recognizes me now."
And, considering Rita broke the story of the not-really Muggle Derek Whitesell, which in turn led to the Minister disabling the protection around Hogwarts that led to his capture by the Death Eaters, it is strongly arguable that Rita is in part responsible for what happened at Hogwarts: for all the student deaths that, as far as we're aware, are not being mentioned at all in the Prophet at the moment, and for You Know Who almost gaining terrible powers. Not to mention the fact that she eagerly took credit for "finding You Know Who's body"-which, from what we know now, hints she was a willing accomplice in the Minister's plan to discredit Potter with a supposedly dead You Know Who...and certainly was eager to burnish her own image with such a terrific scoop if nothing else.
Fortunately, though, it appears Rita's time, like Minister Fudge's, may soon be up. Amaralda Dickinson, who as noted earlier in this paper was directly affected by the events of the last twenty-four hours-and as also noted before, Skeeter lied about Potter attacking her daughter when it was really Draco Malfoy that did so-told the Quibbler that she intends to sue the Prophet for five hundred million galleons unless Skeeter is immediately suspended indefinitely without pay, and an independent commission with no direct ties to Fudge or his office be formed at once to investigate her actions. If Rita is found guilty of anything, Dickinson says, she'll press the commission to sentence Skeeter to Azkaban for the maximum possible term. The Prophet had no comment at this time. Attempts to reach Rita for comment at her home proved too hazardous, as she furiously fired hexes of all kinds out the window at Quibbler reporters. Later this afternoon, Rita then sent an angry howler to the Quibbler's office, that, in its rare coherent moments, accused Amaralda Dickinson of plotting to set up a community of half-blood Muggles, or something like that, that would then march on London and seize the Ministry by force. Your guess as to how this could possibly be pulled off is as good as ours. In the meantime, it is the privilege of the Quibbler to announce a true news scoop, that Rita Skeeter is an unlicensed Animagus and has been misusing this fact to get many of her stories. So, we announce in the genuine public interest that if you see a mosquito buzzing around you closely, try not to say anything detrimental; it could very well be a disguised Rita trying to dig up something on you...
Harry chuckled as he read the article. Finally, Rita was about to get a taste of her own medicine-as well as a few other people that deserved the same...
"Well, all's well that ends well, more or less," he turned to a cheerful Ron and Hermione across from him at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall, where the Christmas feast for the evening was in progress all around them, "I'm sorry we couldn't stop him from taking lives in the process, but we stopped his mad plan, and those who deserve to have some justice slammed in their faces are getting it."
"Including Slytherin," Ron triumphantly gestured at the Slytherin table across the hall. Whereas the remaining students feasting on Christmas dinner at the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables were at least somewhat joyous despite the horrible events of the previous night, the Slytherins were utterly depressed. And a quick look up at the points board at the front of the Great Hall confirmed the reason: Malfoy's attack on Emma after the Quidditch match-now that everyone knew he was the real culprit-had cost Slytherin six hundred points, all but destroying any chance they'd had of winning the House Cup for this year. Even Snape looked bitter and miserable about it up at the teacher's table. Of course, this wasn't all making him miserable, Harry knew, for Lupin and Sirius-who was out of disguise and who had openly milled among the students earlier, perhaps Dumbledore's way of flaunting a humbled Ministry-had been given seats next to him by Dumbledore for the banquet. Harry gave his godfather a wave, now, which was returned by a smiling Sirius. It was so good to have him around for the holidays, he felt with a grin...
"What goes around comes around, I always say," Ron continued, with a big bite of ham, "And how about another Special Award for Services to the School, huh Harry? I'll say we certainly earned it, didn't we?" he grinned at his brothers next to him.
"You know we did, Ron," George nodded emphatically, "And I guess some of us learned our lessons as well?" he stared knowingly at Percy next to him.
"Please don't word it that way, Fred; I had merely been following standard procedure the whole time. But again, yes, thank you, Harry; you did open my eyes to a few things, and I'm glad to have helped to stop You Know Who from almost becoming unstoppable," Percy confessed to Harry.
"Certainly, Percy; just try and be wiser in the future," Harry advised him.
"Perhaps the same thing can be said of you, Harry; I don't think this whole thing about a book series is a good idea," Percy frowned, "This could constitute an even more serious breach of wizarding protocol if they ever get written..."
"Oh relax, Percy; you'll be famous once they're written; isn't that worth it?" Fred raised an eyebrow at him.
"Not if it means we're exposed, Fred. The Ministry may have possibly made some mistakes last night, perhaps, but we've..."
"Sorry, Percy, but it's going through; Dumbledore made all the arrangements with Mrs. Rowling earlier, and they'll be set up so the Ministry can't simply wipe them out," Harry told him with a grin, "So you're going to be a star either way-so maybe that'll give you impetus to think more reasonably from here on."
"And that may be good and well, Harry, but I think Percy does have a point, though," Hermione frowned, "Exposing us like that just doesn't seem right..."
"I thought the same thing myself at first, Hermione, but the more I thought of it, it's for a good cause," Harry told her, "And seeing how well you do coming from a Muggle background ought to inspire a whole lot of people who might not think they can do the same."
"Well, she inspires us, Harry, that's for sure," Mr. Granger stepped forward and put his arms around his daughter with pride. Dumbledore had made the decision to open up the Christmas feast to all the student's families this year, even those who were Muggle-born, and thus the Grangers finally had the chance to see where Hermione went to school at. A week with the Weasleys had taken some of the edge off their surprise of the wizarding world, but Harry suspected they would still be amazed by some of the things that there were to see at Hogwarts...
"We're very glad you two could come," Mrs. Weasley told them from a few seats down with a delightfully freed Mr. Weasley, "Give how close your Hermione is with Ron, it's fitting we could share this all together."
"Indeed. And Harry, thank you," Mr. Weasley smiled at him, "I owe you for getting me out of Azkaban for the holidays."
"Well, don't thank me, sir," Harry told him, "That was..."
"Harry," it was Mrs. Dickinson behind him with Emma, "I didn't get a chance earlier, but I should say, thank you for giving me my daughter back."
"Glad to help any way I can, Mrs. Dickinson. Families should always be together on Christmas. I should tell you, I'm sorry my father was fooled that badly by the Death Eaters back then," Harry apologized to her, "I can't change what happened, but I hope that bringing Emma out of that cave alive redeemed him in a way."
"It did, Harry, it did," Mrs. Dickinson gazed warmly at her daughter, "You know, I never knew she had Tiberius's eyes till now."
"That she does, Mrs. Dickinson," Harry nodded knowingly, "That she does."
"All this time, I've been running away from him," Mrs. Dickinson mused softly and regretfully, "Thinking that what he was doing was wrong. Thinking it was best to leave the fight against evil alone. After what it almost cost me again, now I know what Tiberius was fighting for, and it was a wonderful cause. Now I think I finally see what I loved in him-and somehow, it feels like he is alive again."
"I'm starting to realize, Mrs. Dickinson, people don't really die if they're loved," Harry told her, "My parents aren't really gone; they're walking with me every step of the way. I could feel them with me last night. And I'm sure Tiberius Castlebert's been there with you all this time too; you just didn't realize he was there."
"Perhaps so," she dug out a wallet and flipped it open. Harry noticed a moving picture inside of a younger her and a man he guessed was in fact Tiberius happily embracing at the seashore, "Maybe he has been here. Best news I've heard in a long time..."
"I've got news too, Harry," Emma turned to him, "The headmaster said I could transfer out of Slytherin if I wanted to."
"Oh really?" Harry mused softly, "I think he made a good offer, then. Where will you be going now?"
"Well, wouldn't want to spoil the surprise," she grinned mischievously at him. Harry reasoned there was going to be a new Gryffindor when term started. "Take that, Malfoy; now we'll be unbeatable at Quidditch," he thought with a grin. "And thank you, Harry, for everything you've done for me over this past week," she thanked him as well, following it up with a hug, "You've changed my life for the better too."
"Well, since you're done eating now, how about we go down to the pitch, and you can show me more of what you can do on a broomstick," Mrs. Dickinson told her daughter with a smile as they walked away, "I only saw a part of what you could do the other day; I'm sure you're meant to be a star someday..."
"Good for them," Ron nodded happily at the departing Dickinsons, "It's good to see everything worked out for them."
"I think she's got a crush on you too, Harry," Fred grinned teasingly.
"Crush? No, no, I'm not in love with her; we're just friends, Fred," Harry said firmly, "And yes, I'm glad they're a family again now...and that Derek has a place to call home too."
He raised his glass. "In the meantime, I propose a toast," he told the Weasleys and Grangers, "To the best friends anyone could ask for, who make my life rewarding, who stick with me through thick and thin, who believe in a fair wizarding world which everyone can have a place in."
"Amen," his friends agreed, clinking glasses with him. Harry didn't care if he ever came into a fortune or held high office; he had great friends, and that was all that mattered to make his life meaningful. And he could rest easy knowing Voldemort had been defeated again, too. All was well in his world...and that, he knew, was perhaps the best Christmas present of them all.
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