An Inconvenient Truth


Chapter 015




Chapter Fifteen

The Gathering Storm

… --- …

Saturday 4 March

While his head of house was contemplating what to say to the dentists, Harry opened the letter that Amelia's owl had delivered to him.

Dear Harry,

Thank you for showing such faith in me. As Connie explained, I'm putting the gold that you have loaned me to good use. I have ordered lightweight battle armor for each of the Aurors. Training in offensive small-unit battle tactics will begin next week.

While I'm certain that the Ministry will choose to repay your loan within the terms that you signed, I have signed my home at Welshpool over to you as collateral. The deed is in your vault at Gringotts.

We will prevail against the darkness that has begun encroaching on our land. Have faith.



Hermione watched Harry as he nodded in grim satisfaction, while he read the letter. He didn't offer any explanation, but as she'd come to be a bit less nosey than in previous years, she didn't attempt to force an answer from him. He looked at her and nodded, before saying, "I have my lesson with Rufus in a few minutes. I'll see you later this afternoon."

… --- …

At nine AM, Minerva McGonagall apparated to the back garden of Miss Granger's parents' home. In every way possible, she felt that she had broken their trust. Minerva had read Hermione's mother's letter a total of five times. Emma Granger hadn't exaggerated her words or somehow taken them out of context. She had very carefully and methodically provided the Grangers with the light, happy music version of the wizarding world when she first met them. She hadn't mentioned the danger inherent in learning spellcraft. She'd intentionally ignored the prejudice which their muggleborn daughter was almost sure to encounter. She completely sidestepped the issue that if their daughter was successful in integrating into the magical world, they'd rarely see her. She never mentioned that if their daughter was a failure in the wizarding world, almost nothing that she'd learned would be applicable in one of the prestigious collages that they'd been considering.

She'd never mentioned her own surprise that Hermione had only received minor injuries in her first year. She'd completely hidden her astonishment that the girl hadn't been killed and eaten by the beast that had been roaming the hallways two years ago. As such, it came as no surprise to her that Amelia Bones was sitting in the Granger's family room waiting for her arrival.

Emma greeted her in a neutral voice, "Good morning, Professor."

"Good morning, Dr. Granger. May I come in?"

Armed with a harder face than her daughter, Emma replied, "Please have a seat. You remember my husband, Dan, and know Amelia Bones from the Board of School Governors?"

McGonagall replied, "Yes. Good morning, Dr. Granger, Amelia."

Dan Granger nodded but didn't say anything.

Minerva conceded defeat before either of the Grangers said a word. She began, "Doctor and Doctor Granger. Your letter accurately stated what has occurred relative to your daughter since she entered the magical world. When we first met, I clearly stated to you that Hogwarts would be the safest environment for your wonderful daughter to develop and refine her magical gifts. While in general, I still believe that statement to be true; it certainly hasn't been your daughter's experience. As such, I will happily support whatever decision you make, write any recommendation letters that she may require to transfer to Beauxbatons or the Salem Academy – whatever you wish. I have failed you, Doctor and Doctor Granger. I accepted full responsibility for your daughter's safety and I've let you down. For that, I apologize with all of my heart."

Emma wasn't certain what she expected, but the fact that Professor McGonagall had accepted promising a safe environment for Hermione and not delivering it came as something of a surprise. She had rather expected some weasel-worded, half-truth statement that there had been extenuating circumstances. She stood and said, "Professor, if you and Director Bones would excuse us for a moment - Dan, could I speak with you for a minute in the kitchen?"

… --- …

After they had closed the door, Dan asked, "How do we know she'd be any safer in France or Massachusetts?" While he believed that Hermione would be safer away from Britain, he felt compelled to ask the question. He typically assumed the role of devil's advocate in these types of discussions with his beloved Emma.

"We don't," admitted Emma. "Maybe their ability to heal these sorts of severe injuries has so jaded their perspective that they think nothing about it. Let's ask Amelia and get her opinion. She has a daughter in Hermione's class. We were at their home last summer for Harry's birthday, remember?"

"That's right," replied Dan. She seems a bit old for having teenage children."

"Probably, but I'd keep that opinion to yourself, if I were you," suggested Emma.

… --- …

The dentists walked back into their living room where the two witches sat silently – each fully expecting to be asked to leave within the next minute. Emma surprised Amelia, stating, "Hermione mentions Susan and Harry in each of her letters. As a parent, how do you feel about their safety?"

Bones was in a bit of a quandary. She felt that full disclosure was the only right choice in this situation. She looked at McGonagall and said, "Minerva, could you excuse us for five minutes?"

She replied, "I shall be in the back garden."

Emma thought that Amelia's request may have been a bit extreme, but didn't say anything. She wanted the other parent's perspective.

When McGonagall had closed the door, Amelia began, "What I'm about to tell you hasn't been published in any newspaper. It doesn't yet represent official Ministry policy, but I believe it to be true. I consider it to be State Secret level, but as it affects you both, you have a right to know. As such, I ask your agreement to keep the information confidential. Is that acceptable?"

The dentists both nodded their heads slowly and replied, "I do, er, yes."

Amelia briefly explained as best that she could about the threat that a reborn Voldemort might represent, both to their daughter and Harry, but also to every living being on the planet. She explained about placing an Auror undercover at the school and that no one there, save the Headmaster and Healer Pomfrey knew her true identity.

The dentists were shocked at her words. They hadn't read anything like what she was saying in the Daily Prophet.

Bones explained that, while not yet announced to anyone, this was Professor Dumbledore's last year as headmaster, and that a search would soon begin with a vetting process taking place as soon as the short list was compiled.

She explained that Hermione had been noticed by those within the school and within the government. She personally hoped that talented young women like her daughter would play a significant role in moving the British wizarding world into the new millennium.

Dan asked, "How different is Hogwarts from another magical school or non-magical school, in terms of risk of injury to the student? The Daily Prophet that we subscribe to indicated that the headmaster from the Bulgarian school, Durmstrang, was outraged over weak planning of this event. I've heard of sports injuries at most colleges, but Hermione's been seriously injured on several occasions, and has never been involved in organized sports.

Amelia considered his question and statement for a moment and replied, "I have read each of the injury reports related to the school for the last ten years. On average, I see one a week. I must admit, that relative to studying chemistry or computer science, a student is many times more likely to be treated for injury in a school that teaches magic. In the same breath, it is fair to state that the magical world is much better equipped to rapidly treat those same injuries. My son, Harry, by example, injured his arm playing Quidditch two years ago and broke his arm. He spent the night in the hospital wing and the school healer regrew his bones overnight."

Emma acknowledged, "I think what you're saying is that while there are more dangers, there are also faster treatments. Is that correct?"

Amelia replied, "Yes – that's a fair statement. Back to the aspect of magic itself, the fact remains that your wonderful daughter has been given the gift of magic. Ultimately she will be in a fight against those who see the people of the world as theirs to enslave. My own children are in the same situation. I have responded by trying to help them acquire the skills that they will need to prevail in such a fight. As a parent, the last thing in the world that I would want is for my children to be hurt again. As parents of a magical child, here are some things that you can do to increase her protection and yours as well…"

A few minutes later she suggested, "If you wouldn't mind going and collecting Professor McGonagall, I'll be on my way." She believed that the dentists and the transfiguration master could eventually work out their differences, and left them to their own discussions.

Emma invited Minerva back in and mentioned, "Amelia answered most of our questions and suggested that we finish our conversation with you. She informed us about the inherent risks of learning to control magic and handling magical creatures. I really only have one observation and one fundamental question for you."

Optimistic that Amelia had miraculously changed their perspective, McGonagall nodded encouragingly.

Emma continued, "As an observation, you would have prepared us much better if four years ago, you had somehow offered a one-day seminar demonstrating what we could expect to see, as parents of a magical child. I doubt that you would have scared us away, but we would have felt like we were much better informed."

McGonagall nodded, admitting that their idea was good.

Emma finished, saying, "My real question remains, how could an obviously responsible professional like yourself fail to recognize that a parent would expect to be asked – asked, not informed – that their child was going to be involved in such a dangerous activity? How would you react, if, as a parent, you had read about your daughter in the newspaper?"

Minerva hung her head in shame. The easy answer would be, 'I had nothing to do with it.' In fact, it would have been the truth. Yet, she felt that the blame ultimately rested on her shoulders, since parent communications were in her area of responsibility. Certainly Albus's horrible injury had been a significant distraction, but it shouldn't have changed the Granger's expectations – or Amelia's for that matter.

She replied, "You both deserve an answer to your question. I can't honestly say that I have one for you. Someone should have explained the situation clearly and asked for your permission to allow your daughter to participate in this event, and it didn't happen. I can only relate that Hermione wasn't the only student to have participated in this event without their parent's permission. Amelia's niece was also a 'hostage' in the second task." She regretted using the term the moment that the word left her lips.

Emma replied, "Obviously we're not happy about this and do not consider it to be a settled issue. My inclination remains to remove our daughter from your school at the end of the year, though my husband and I will want to talk about it more over the next few days. As such, I would ask two things from you – first, to state that our daughter is specifically prohibited from participating in any non-classroom activities. Secondly, I ask that you send us a withdrawal and transfer application form to the schools in France and Salem. Is that acceptable?"

Minerva nodded and replied, "Certainly. I shall honor your wishes and send you the forms that you requested this afternoon."

Emma replied, "Thank you, Professor. Last, but not least, I ask that you not discuss this with Hermione. We will certainly ask for her input, but the decision is ours."

Minerva replied, "I understand, and will certainly comply with your wishes. I appreciate your allowing me to talk your daughter's situation over with you. If I can be of any assistance, I would be happy to help you."

"Thank you for your time, Professor. We'll contact you with our decision before the end of the school year."

With that, the older woman walked out into the Granger's back garden and disappeared. She felt that Amelia had left this in her hands as a test of her aptitude as Headmistress. She felt like she had failed.

… --- …

While Minerva was out with the Grangers, Headmaster Dumbledore saw Harry sitting with Hermione Granger and Susan Bones eating their breakfast together. After collecting a newly arrived student, he led him over to their table and announced, "Peter, this is Mr. Harry Potter. Harry, I would like to introduce you to Mr. Peter Krum. He has agreed to represent Durmstrang for the remainder of the Tri Wizard Tournament."

Harry held out his hand and greeted the other teen, "Hi."

Peter took Harry's hand and in halting English slowly asked, "Did you know my brother, da?"

Harry looked at the other teen for a moment. Whereas Viktor had been broad-shouldered and solid, the teen in front of him was slightly built, and Harry sensed that he was much more interested in academics than sports. His features were softer than Viktor's as if he took after his mother rather than the chiseled-faced man that Harry had seen with Viktor, who he presumed had been his father. Harry replied, "Yes, I knew your brother. We talked several times."

Peter asked, "He was a good Champion, da?"

Harry replied, "He was a very good Champion. I'm sure that you will be too."

Peter shook his head and replied, "Me books. No sports. Fifth year. You?"

"Fourth year. Would you like to eat breakfast with us? This is my good friend, Hermione and my girlfriend, Susan."

Peter had seen the pictures in the Bulgarian newspapers of Hermione and his brother at the Yule Ball and recognized her. He replied, "Da, I will sit with you."

They didn't say much as they ate, but as Dumbledore watched them, he knew it was a start.

… --- …

Saturday 1 April

Even if it hadn't been a weekend, McGonagall and Dumbledore would have been tempted to declare it a school holiday. Fred and George Weasley were celebrating their seventeenth birthdays. Everyone who knew them expected a display of utter mayhem.

With Harry's sponsorship, Lee Jordan had arranged to rent out Aberforth's pub for the afternoon. Herman Wintringham, lute player for the Weird Sisters, and his sister Lisa, who was the lead singer, were there, singing highly suggestive tunes, designed to delight the crowd and thoroughly embarrass the birthday twins.

Unable to embarrass the twins by her ribald songs or highly inappropriate gestures, Lisa turned to a tried and true crowd pleaser for the younger than normal audience – Snape bashing. It seemed that the largely Gryffindor and Hufflepuff crowd didn't have any Snape supporters, and as the songs centered around 'hooked nosed, under equipped, grease spots' the crowd cheered and hooted with every new verse.

Mundungus was there, on his usual stool, watching the entertainer with a drunken leer. He slurred, "Old Snape-face must have made… must have made quite an impression on the bird, calling him a worthless bog-roll."

The old barman replied, "More like a dog-end in my book. With his charm, he couldn't get laid in a whorehouse. The greasy bastard would probably fall off the bed. I honestly don't have a clue what Albus sees in him."

Fed and fueled, the crowd wandered back to the castle to resume the party in the Gryffindor common room.

--- …

While Fred and George were being entertained, Dumbledore reached for a fresh piece of parchment in its accustomed upper left drawer of his ornate headmaster's desk. For about the hundredth time, he rolled his eyes and muttered something not intended for student ears. He had no left arm. His overconfidence had cost him that pound of flesh and was still collecting its tax in a thousand cruel ways.

Irked, he used his wand with a trifle more zeal than necessary and the innocent drawer flew open until stopped forcibly by the drawer stop. Half the loose sheets of parchment in the drawer continued onward, however, their momentum taking them airborne.

Dumbledore was beginning to get angry, but Fawkes intervened with a moment of pure melodic tranquility. The music of his song was the essence of serenity, helping the old wizard to calm himself and find humor in the rather grim situation. He grinned ruefully, chiding himself on the first tantrum of his second childhood.

At length, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore had a sheet of fresh parchment, a quill, and an inkwell. He set himself to write, only to have the paper spoilt by it sliding beneath the quill.

He closed his eyes and counted ten. He had always held the parchment still with his left hand. After a sigh, Dumbledore conjured a small sandbag, which he placed on the parchment to hold it steady while he wrote. Then he charmed the offending, errant ink from the parchment and began to write again.

"My dearest Amelia…"

And so it was that he and Amelia were greeted by Oliver Giles, owner of the exclusive Stirring Stick in Beckfoot, the finest wizarding restaurant north of Hadrian's Wall. Indeed, many felt it also superior to any south of the wall, as well.

"Headmaster! Director! Two of my favorite people in all the world," exclaimed Giles. "It has been too, too long since either of you have come to see us. And Headmaster, I was grieved to read of your misfortune in the south. I'm so terribly sorry to see that for once the Daily Prophet got the story right."

Turning slightly to face Amelia, he continued, "And Director, I have followed your brilliant career with great interest and enthusiasm. I ask only that the burden of your duties not keep you away so long between visits to us here."

Dumbledore smiled at his former student and replied, "Oliver, it is a pleasure to see you again. I daresay I speak for my charming companion as well in telling you how glad we are to be here tonight."

Amelia smiled and nodded; she had not been eager to accept this invitation, and Dumbledore's selection of this landmark restaurant was no small part of her decision to hear him out.

Giles smiled and gestured subtly to the maitre d'hotel. As the headwaiter approached, he continued, "You both know Morris, of course, but Gavin has retired." He lowered his voice and continued, "I prefer to hire our countrymen, as you know, but I simply could not find a sommelier in the Kingdom. I had to go abroad and hire an Italian. No help for it, none at all. But as you will see, Antonio truly knows his wines and is a most worthy successor to Gavin."

Morris - somehow, neither Dumbledore nor Amelia had ever learnt whether that was his surname or his given name - smiled at two of his favorite celebrity customers. Giles finished the hand off, saying "You both know that I am at your command for anything. Morris and Liam will both be happy to get me at any time. Please, enjoy your time with us."

"Thank you, Morris," replied Dumbledore.

"Now, Professor," asked Morris, "you'll be wanting your usual table tonight?"

Amelia wanted a private conversation and dreaded the extroverted headmaster's likely favorite table. She guessed that it would be chosen more for its visibility to the clientele than for its privacy. She looked relieved as Dumbledore answered, "I think not, Morris. My friend and I need a quiet place tonight, one where we will not be interrupted. We have much to discuss."

Morris had not risen to headwaiter by ignoring VIP requests. "I believe I have something suitable, Headmaster, Director. Would the Rose Room serve your needs?"

Amelia and Dumbledore shared a glance of assent before Dumbledore agreed to the small private dining room. While it was more often used for proposals and anniversaries, it saw frequent service for small, private dinner parties.

Amelia was impressed, despite herself. In her experience, Dumbledore loved outlandish robes in garish colors. He was not averse to attention either, chatting with virtually everyone. In fairness, though, she knew he knew virtually everyone, having been the Transfiguration professor or Headmaster for practically every witch or wizard under seventy-five. His international contact list was almost as impressive thanks to his ICW roles over the years. Even his muggle circle was enormous, partly due to the influence of generations of muggleborn students and partly due to his Wizengamot position, which drew him into contact with many in her Majesty's government. But tonight, Dumbledore was in a dark, deep green set of robes with black piping accents. He was avoiding undue attention, although not doing so in such a manner as to arouse comment. Amelia wondered what sort of evening was in store.

They followed Morris to the Rose Room, where he introduced Liam, their server before withdrawing. Liam left them with menus and the wine list, promising to bring Antonio over once they had decided on their entrees. Dumbledore and Amelia barely glanced at the menus, both having decided before arriving what they would have. Amelia was fond of Dover sole, and the Stirring Stick was rightly famous for theirs. Dumbledore was more a traditional beefeater, but chose a prawn salad that he could eat with only one hand.

Having taken their orders, Liam returned with Antonio. "Headmaster, Director, please allow me to introduce Antonio. He is intimately familiar with our menu and our wine cellar. I know he can help you choose something perfect to complement your dinner."

"Signore, signora, how pleased am I to meet you," breathed Antonio in almost flawless English. "Liam has told me of your choices and I must say that you have chosen wisely. Both the prawns and the sole have been exquisite this season. Have either of you a particular wine in mind for your dinner?"

Dumbledore looked to Amelia, silently bidding her to speak first.

Bones accepted the unspoken challenge and replied, "We'll have a bottle of Blue Nun Riesling.

The old headmaster was a bit surprised. He expected her to accept the selection of a more complex Chardonnay than the popular German wine.

She gave a slight shrug and commented, "I've always liked it."

Dumbledore smiled at her as the somewhat disappointed wine-master walked off to let them begin their discussion. While a skilled politico in her own right to have punched through so many glass ceilings within the male-dominated Auror corps, she was refreshingly honest. He admitted, "I don't always have beer, but when I do I generally prefer the American Lager, Bud Light, myself."

During their very brief and unsuccessful attempt at small talk, Dumbledore was discreetly placing privacy charms around their small dining room as Amelia looked on. She wondered at some of his spellwork; as a law-enforcement professional she knew the charms for secrecy well. Still, some of his choices were fiendishly difficult. She wondered whether he was really that concerned with their confidentiality or merely showing off.

His casting complete, he began, "The sun is setting for me, Amelia. I find myself - how shall I put it…" he trailed off.

"Professor, everyone faces their own mortality at some time. You simply have a better idea as to the nature and timing of your fate," said the witch, herself no stranger to death as a result of her service.

Dumbledore countered, "Perhaps you misunderstand. It is not fear that troubles me. It is the sure and certain knowledge that I must leave much undone that bothers me. I must make the best of the time I have. I have been unsparingly separating the nice from the necessary. It is not enough; not nearly all of the necessary can be accomplished by mid-summer."

Amelia pondered a moment. Despite the frustrations Dumbledore brought her, his knowledge, skills, and insights had been brilliant far more often than flawed. What he considered necessary was likely valuable, indeed. The danger, Amelia saw, was his fixation on the greater good; he would think distant goals to be as necessary as destroying Voldemort or protecting her son. She set about leading him to eliminate the "necessary" items that didn't work to further Harry's prospects for survival.

Strategy decided, Amelia turned to tactics. She had to make the man focus on the critical time element. "How long are you trying to keep this…" looking pointedly at his missing left arm, "a closely held secret?"

"As long as I can," Dumbledore returned. "The truth could inspire questions that must not be asked lest they be answered."

Amelia was exasperated with the old man's stubborn pride, and it showed. "Professor, I hardly think that your reputation…" She got no further.

"Again, I have not been clear, Amelia," Dumbledore interrupted. I thought my errand a few days ago was a simple matter, well within my capabilities. I never counted on a muggle taxicab and the Statues of Secrecy costing me my arm."

Before Amelia could speak, he continued, "Now, I doubt even my ability to keep our conversation completely private in this well-visited restaurant. Surely you can understand an old man's desire to keep his foolish mistakes to himself?"

Amelia went silent, thinking hard. Dumbledore was telling her that despite his charm work, he was still concerned about eavesdropping. He repeated the fable about his "accident" and linked it to his arm in a way he knew that she knew was false. What was he really saying?

Then it hit her: If Riddle knew how Dumbledore had been injured, he might suspect one of his Horcruxes' defenses was responsible. While Riddle would be thrilled to know he had at last dealt a mortal blow to his ancient adversary, he would have a very different kind of thrill at knowing that the secret of his immortality was broken.

He would immediately check the safety of the remaining Horcruxes. He would redouble the protections on the remaining ones. Connie and Anna might never get another clue were that to happen. Worse, she reckoned that they would get clues, but clues leading to lethal traps, not to soul fragments.

Her comprehension showed in her face and voice as she said, "Quite right, Professor. My apologies; I hadn't meant to bring that up. I perfectly understand your concerns and I assure you that I share them."

Dumbledore gave both a slight smile and a slight nod. "Thank you, Amelia. I appreciate your indulging me on this."

Amelia regrouped. Dumbledore had his shortcomings, and his pride would be protected by the fiction she had agreed to promote, but she knew he had it right. Riddle must not come to suspect his Horcruxes were being hunted. If that meant the legend of Dumbledore's infallibility survived a bit longer, she didn't mind.

But - she still had to keep Dumbledore focused on the tasks that would protect Harry. She soldiered on. "Can you not stop this Tournament? Surely the risks it creates and the burden it places on you are both unnecessary and distracting?"

Dumbledore lost the remnant of his earlier smile.


He continued, "A year ago, after Harry showed me the diary that he destroyed, the Tri-Wizard tournament was the best idea that I could think of to bring the key students from Durmstrang and the Beauxbatons Academy together with the students from Hogwarts. Now it has resulted in the death of a fine young man and has placed young Harry's life in even greater jeopardy than it usually is."

"Then why not simply cancel it," pressed Amelia. She expected him to refuse, but she couldn't understand why the Tournament was so important to him.

"Because, Amelia, it is part of the binding magical contracts at the core of the Tournament. The headmasters of the schools must take binding vows to complete the Tournament. I could not hope to contribute much to our cause were I to lose my magic."

Bones's eyes widened. "I had no idea the headmasters were so bound!"

"It is not widely known. It was done centuries ago to prevent schools withdrawing when defeat seemed certain. Beyond that, consider it to be Harry's first opportunity to meet witches and wizards from other nations on a peer basis, rather than simply as fans. In this instance, Igor had the opportunity of selecting the second of his choice, but he was bound to present another student to complete the final task."

Acknowledging his point, but remaining focused, Amelia suggested, "I understand your dilemma. Perhaps you should cut down on some of your other responsibilities. Gray from the States would do a fine job heading up the ICW."

The old chessmaster caught himself saying, "But he doesn't always see the..."

"Greater good? I think that is too narrow a view. Rather, I think he sees the greater good differently than you do. I place a much higher priority than you do on the rights of the individual, be it an individual witch or wizard or an individual nation. I believe that Gray sees the greater good as protecting freedom of choice, just as I do. With him leading the ICW, the United States will not get dragged into our civil war. That doesn't make him bad, either as a leader or a builder of bridges."

"But, Amelia…"

"No, Albus. You would only be changing a date on a calendar. Your time is short, as you yourself said. Someone else will lead the ICW very soon now. You would be advancing that change of leadership by a mere few months. In return, Gray would know you selected him. That will give you a better chance to influence his thinking than if you force him to wait until you are gone, as well as give Gray more influence within the organization, as everyone will know that he's your choice."

Amelia could see the old mage was at least considering her point. She figured that if the argument worked once, it might work again. She pressed on.

"The same is true of the Wizengamot. You've wrangled the proxies of ten percent of the chairs - those with minors as their heads of houses. It's time to give those back to their rightful owners. They're the leaders of tomorrow."

That idea proved to be a harder sale. The old Professor countered, "They are still children, Amelia. You know the law; they cannot vote their seats until they are fourteen and even those that are old enough are too busy with their school to be distracted by the arm-wrestling of our politics. What would you have me do? I've relied on those votes to keep the ultra-conservatives at bay," declared Dumbledore with some passion.

Amelia wasn't giving up. "No doubt it seems so. Yet again it's a page or two on a calendar. None of them are ineligible to take their seats. They're mostly sixth and seventh year students now – Harry's the youngest. You should spend a few evenings with them, guiding them and introduce them at the next meeting. They will need to act, whether they are ready or not, lest Lucius offer to become their steward or mentor. The British wizarding world has fallen fifty years or more behind the continent, let alone the Americans. It's time to look forward."

Dumbledore wasn't giving up, either. "You still haven't answered the question, Amelia. If not me, then who? Votes come up all the time, as you know perfectly well. If the Riddle faction knew those votes were in play – or worse, abstaining until their rightful holders were ready to wield their voices and votes – we would see barbarism made law almost overnight."

Amelia returned, "By sheltering these houses from real decisions, you have left them impotent and dependent on you. Only one of those houses has no one left but the minor child - and that one is the Potter seat. All the rest have other family members who will be influencing the teen. Again, alive during the transition, you can mentor them. If you delay, then on your death, they have this burden dropped on them like an anvil! And it will come during times as dire as any we've ever seen!"

Dumbledore sagged at that realization. He knew she was right and he knew his pride was resisting the truth. He began to suspect that he would give in from a distance, after he had time to reflect. The truth, he knew, was that he should acquiesce right here, right now. He really didn't have the luxury of pondering the obvious.

He reflected on Gray, the plainspoken, crafty wizard who was heir apparent as Supreme Mugwump of the ICW. Amelia was probably right about his view of the greater good. And Gray wasn't an all-bad sort; he was muggleborn and very progressive in most of his views. He was just so confounded stubborn! Once he settled on a principle, he could only see it in clearly-defined terms. As Gray himself had said, he didn't like shades of grey. Dumbledore had given up trying to educate the man about the real complexities of life. According to Gray, "shades of grey are merely camouflage for lies and cowardice."

Gray had limited patience with certain foibles. In particular, he hated it when people asked questions and then got upset with a truthful answer. He hid that anger fairly well—unless one was a skilled Legilimens. Then he would simply look the offender dead in the eyes and remember the phrase, "if you don't want my peaches, don't shake my tree." Much time would pass before Gray would answer another question from such an offender.

It was that last adage that Dumbledore was presently struck by. He had invited Amelia to dinner, ostensibly to discuss priorities. He had, then shaken her tree, but not with any intention of taking her advice. Instead, he realized that he had really meant to set her priorities, as he had been hoping to offload some of his pet projects to her. But she had been right in focusing his thoughts on his own tasks. He had too many. He had to cut back. The sand was running down inexorably. He had to separate the necessary from the vital.

He realized that Amelia had continued talking. It was time to gather peaches.

"Installing Fudge as a replacement to Millicent. Honestly, Professor, what were you thinking?"

Dumbledore winced. "You're right, Amelia. I underestimated the man's venality and overestimated his intelligence. But the options were significantly diminished after Barty's unfortunate experience with his son."

"True, but Diggory had an interest."

"Yes, but it seemed academic. Maybe Amos has the drive to do the job now. It didn't seem to me that he did then."

"You may have a point," Amelia conceded.

Dumbledore inquired, "What are your thoughts about carrying on the traditions of the school? Surely Minerva…"

Amelia broke in, "The real question is whether the Board of School Governors is happy with the current results or wants to move forward. Objectively, there are several areas that could easily be strengthened. History of Magic has become a joke while Muggle Studies hasn't moved forward in a hundred years. Dippet never accepted the Edwardian age and if he'd been king of the world, we'd still see the streets of London filled with horses and hansom cabs."

Dumbledore smiled to himself, recalling their charm and several romantic evenings of his youth. "Well," he said nostalgically, "hansom cabs weren't all bad, you know. But I don't know how the muggles endured the smell. Surely you'll put forth Minerva as your nomination for Headmistress?"

Amelia framed her answer for a moment as the old Headmaster refilled her glass and replied, "As a School Governor, I would endorse her on an interim basis, but nothing longer. As a parent, I'd be highly inclined to ask for my children's opinions. Certainly she's a fine administrator, much like my Auror supply clerk, Nick Straighthand is in the DMLE. Is he good at what he does? Certainly. Is he a leader with vision? Absolutely not. From the reading that I've done, the school has thrived when it was under the leadership of a young witch or wizard that possesses leadership and vision. There are leaders and there are managers. Unfortunately, they're not the same talent. The school needs a leader with a vision for moving the curriculum ahead to meet the reality of the technological age that is exploding around us. The school needs a leader with a good eye for talent, who can coach the instructors to be inspirational in the classroom and improve their skills at transferring relevant knowledge to the students."

She didn't bother to bring up Minerva's weak performance with the Grangers, as they'd called Amelia back a day later for additional questions – obviously less than pleased with the transfiguration professor's answers. She took a sip of her water glass and continued. "We don't need the school to be a safe haven for endangered soothsayers or semi-reformed Death Eaters who have no inclination or ability to work with children."

She let out a breath that she didn't know she'd been holding. It hadn't been her intention to rip into the old Headmaster so hard – not really. She looked into his eyes and admitted, "I didn't mean to be so blunt, Headmaster."

Dumbledore adjusted his metal eyeglasses and acknowledged, "No, I'm certain that you didn't, but there was truth in your words. Do not let it ruin your evening. What else would you care to discuss or ask about?"

Amelia returned to the point as gently as she thought safe. "Albus, Minerva simply isn't a leader. She's a fine follower and a competent steward until the next leader is selected, but she'll never invent anything. The school has only ever thrived under the tenure of great leaders through its history. As a teacher and administrator, she excels. But honestly, can you see her defending the school should Riddle attack? Can you see her standing up to the Governors, as you have had to do from time to time? You have all the portraits of your predecessors to compare her to. Does she measure up?"

Dumbledore shook his head sorrowfully. "No," he said slowly. "I cannot see her stopping Riddle or successfully sparing with the Governors. The person to do those things in my absence is not yet on the staff. And as much as I admire her, she is not likely to innovate. She would do some obvious things - the next Divination instructor will be a better teacher, for example. But I doubt she'd understand how badly the Muggle Studies program is needed, and even less how badly out of date it is. Neither is she likely to do away with Divination, despite its inherent unteachability."

Amelia brightened, "I agree. I will do all I can to protect her in her current role, but I will not support her as headmistress. I heard a muggle saying I liked: Think outside the box. Please do that; tell me who you would like as headmaster of the school, political issues aside."

"Florean Fortesque."

"Why? He's a shopkeeper, not an academic," Amelia objected.

"True, but he loves the age group for one thing. He can converse with young people easily and on an exceptionally broad range of subjects. He is the most well-read wizard I've ever met on history. And his ice-cream business owes its existence to muggle technology; they invented ice cream. He learned how their machines work and then found magical ways to duplicate the process. He has a good grip on the muggle world as a result. And he is an innovator - look at how he uses his superb Potions background to develop his amazing flavors! He is an exceptionally rare person in our world. He might be willing to serve a three-year term."

Amelia nodded, impressed at Dumbledore's analysis. "Do you think he could help introduce muggle technology to the curriculum? I think seeing how inventive muggles can be would do much to reduce the tendency to see them as almost subhuman and unimportant."

Albus smiled, "Yes, I do. And I agree. The muggle cell phone is an astonishing bit of work. If I hadn't had someone explain them to me, I might have thought they were magic!"

Amelia continued, "Yes, I know what you mean. We have begun using them and they have been invaluable. Mine helped save Harry's life last summer, you know. And there have been many other cases where owls would have arrived far too late to save lives."

"But it isn't just their communications that are amazing. We think we are wonderful because we can put a witch or a wizard on a broom and they can fly across a county. muggles put hundreds of people into flying machines and fly them across oceans! And a single muggle can farm unbelievable amounts of land! Far more than a wizard can!"

Dumbledore agreed, "They have truly progressed at a much faster rate than we have. Unfortunately, many of their advances are of a terrifying nature."

"You refer to their weapons?" asked Amelia.

"Yes," replied Dumbledore. "I worry whether knowing just how dangerous muggles have become might make Riddle's hate-driven platform seem prudent. Some people would strike at muggles out of fear of being discovered and attacked."

"I know," agreed Amelia. "But you and I know that there are just too many muggles for any conceivable magical attack to cope with. And the counterattack from them would be catastrophic. It would end our world forever. I think wider knowledge of muggles and their strength will lead the sane to realize we must be cautious - and courteous - in our dealings with them."

"Once you start talking about dealing with muggles, you are beyond a headmaster's span of control, Amelia. As poor a state as you may believe Hogwarts is in, I believe it is far ahead of the hidebound mass of reactionaries we call a Ministry for Magic."

It was Amelia's turn to wince. It wouldn't do to forget that the mortally wounded relic before her was Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot and intimately aware of the failings of the government they both helped to run.

"We've looked backwards at Ministers, Professor. Who do you see looking forward?"

Dumbledore gave her a shrewd, penetrating look. "Not you, Amelia. Unless I am very mistaken, you see the job as a curse. As with Diggory when Bagnold was leaving, I think you are interested in the job, but not ambitious for it. I believe you would hate it within a few days. While it sounds somewhat tawdry, a really effective Minister must, among other things, genuinely desire to be a really effective Minister. You, I think, want to be a really effective Director of Magical Law Enforcement."

Amelia found herself nodding. "Too right, Albus, too right. But someone has to do it. I'd rather it not be me, but it must be someone. Fudge will be our ruin if we do not rid ourselves of him very soon."

"Agreed. Tom is forcing our hand in ways I doubt he intends. I do not imagine he wants to deal with an effective Minister. That has unfortunate implications for the person who meets our needs."

Hufflepuff Amelia hated to admit it, but she knew Dumbledore was right about that. An effective Minister would be a target of the most ruthless killers she knew of.

"It sounds like a job for a Gryffindor," Amelia said. "And I might just know the person who could pull it off."

Try as he might, Dumbledore couldn't imagine to whom Amelia could be referring. Intrigued, he confessed, "I surrender, Amelia. Who is your candidate?"

Amelia related the relevant parts of the strategy discussion she, Rufus, Connie, and Anna had had, pointing out the insightful positions and policies Rufus had put forward.

"Connie, Anna, and I are not easily sold, Albus, but I think all three of us would vote for him on the platform he was outlining."

"I could see myself supporting the man behind those words myself, Amelia," concurred Dumbledore. "Although I think we need to keep our eyes open, both to how he might change as Minister and to other possible candidates."

Silently she wondered if her dinner companion would be alive to see a new Minister of Magic.

He continued, "However, there is one issue on which I must be certain. Our world is dying from within. We drive most of the muggleborns out altogether; the Ministry reminds me of the American South not all that long ago. Persons of a certain heritage were simply excluded from any serious role above that of menial labor. Yet as we discussed, the muggles thrive on challenges and find the most ingenious ways to attack problems. We must find a way to keep the likes of Miss Granger in our world or there will be very little left for Riddle to rule in a few short years."

Amelia nodded, thinking of the recent conversations that she had with Hermione's parents. "I couldn't agree more, Professor. As I've come to know Harry, his viewpoint has often astonished me. At first I didn't realize how much of his approach to life was influenced by his muggle upbringing until this year - but one cannot get to know Harry without getting to know Hermione Granger. She's a force of nature. Losing her to the intolerance of the system would be a devastating blow."

"And how does Rufus see the muggleborn?"

"I've never had the first suspicion that he has any elitist attitude, Albus, but I will certainly sound him out on it. I'll try to see whether Harry has had any inkling of a bias in that area, too. They spend a lot of time together."

"Good idea, Amelia. Please share what you learn with me," asked the aged mage. "Now that you've brought Harry into the conversation, I think we need to dwell on him for a moment. I know we agree that the prophecy is a curse, mainly because Riddle seems to believe it - or the part we know he knows so implicitly. Whether the prophecy is true almost doesn't matter, because Tom will keep seeking to destroy Harry lest he be vanquished by him."

"I have one objective only when it comes to Harry," said Amelia firmly. "I will keep him alive. Despite this Tournament, despite the Death Eaters, despite Riddle - despite Hell itself, I will keep my son alive!"

Impressed by her resolve, Dumbledore replied, "Then I need more time with him. Harry is remarkably resourceful, but he has too few resources to call on. We simply must give him a wider arsenal of spells to work with."

She took off her monocle and uttered a single word. "No."

"No? How can you reject that? It is self-evident!"

"No, it isn't. Harry doesn't need a hundred ways to kill Riddle. He needs one way that works one hundred percent of the time. If you wish him to know of a score of ingenious ways to dispatch the Dark Lords of the future, will him your pensive and a hundred memories in sealed vials. What he needs this month is one way that will work for him."

She felt that Harry's training with Rufus had gone well so far, and she didn't want to inject more distractions or stress into his life.

Dumbledore leaned back, thinking deeply. Amelia had a point; Harry's quiver of spells had to be tailored to his survival. And thanks to Riddle's faith in the prophecy, that meant he had to have a sure thing, a positive method of sending Riddle on to the next leg of his journey. Still, Amelia had overlooked one vital thing.

"You are quite right, Amelia. As far as Riddle goes, Harry does need to find only one way to deal with him."

Amelia was nobody's fool. She waited for the other shoe to fall.

And down it came. "But Riddle seldom leads in his confrontations. He will act as he did in the last war, sending his Death Eaters in first – more so, given the effect of the loss of some of his items. Harry will need at least some tactical training and all the help he can get to survive such a battle. You know too well that even trained Aurors with a full complement of NEWT DADA spells and advanced Auror training fared poorly in such fights."

Amelia flinched at that, knowing it was right. There were only two choices - either Harry had to be pumped full of combat training and turned into a walking, talking weapon, or somehow, they had to shape the battle and the battlefield so that Harry was never unsupported or left facing such a scenario alone. Both were daunting tasks. It would take some careful thinking to shape the right strategy. "Harry will find a way. I repeat: I will keep him alive. No Slytherin was ever more cunning, no Gryffindor more brave, no Ravenclaw brighter, and no Hufflepuff ever worked harder than I will be to protect my son."

Dumbledore was not easily impressed. He had seen the blackest of evil in Grindelwald and Riddle. He had seen Harry's strength, courage, conviction and compassion in towering amounts, too, and the determination coming from the Director across the table was a palpable, tangible force. He almost pitied Riddle.

"It will not be easy, Amelia," cautioned the old warrior for Light. Harry certainly has power, but he currently lacks concentration and focus. He is still so very young - the sprint is his, but the long race is still beyond him. I know that he cannot yet sustain the Bubble Head charm, for example. His survival against his foes may well require such sustained spellwork. I only hope he gets enough time to grow into his full power."

"I keep telling you, Albus - I. Will. Keep. Harry. Alive. There is almost nothing I would not do to protect him. But you haven't mentioned another worry of mine - what is Harry after Riddle is gone? What becomes of the Boy-Who-Lived when he becomes the Man-Who-Vanquished? We are a society of idol worshippers, and Harry hates being idolized."

Dumbledore frowned, saying, "It is a real problem, Amelia. I may have erred in placing Harry with his muggle relations, but I could see even then that he would be ruined by the attention he would get if raised openly by wizards. He has been angry with me for keeping things from him, but I have wanted him to have as much of a childhood as he could. Now, as an educator, I remember Pope: ''Tis education forms the common mind; just as the twig is bent, the tree's inclined.' I had hoped Harry could have a regular education. I think we must agree that is not possible anymore. However, if Riddle were to regain his body this afternoon and return as Lord Voldemort, you could buy Harry weeks or months by arresting all of the known Death Eaters."

Amelia was near tears and could only nod her assent. Gradually she regained control enough to move the subject onto something less agonizing. "We have run into a dearth of leads on our searches, Albus. Have you any new insight you can share?"

Dumbledore gazed with no trace of twinkle in his sad, blue eyes as he responded, "No. I've wracked my brains for ideas we haven't shared. I'm sure that when we finally discover the missing pieces, we will all look back and say, 'Of course! It's so obvious!' But that will be the keen eye of hindsight. Here, now, today, I have nothing new to offer. Well, one small thing you probably have seen yourself. It will have some significance to him. He could have used a common stone dropped down a well and been virtually untouchable. But unless I miss my guess, he won't change his spots. Significant things in significant places and trusted servants are his pattern and he will stay with it. The trick is to keep quiet about the search."

Amelia nodded, "Connie has come to the same conclusions. We really need two strategies. One is a way of dealing with a stronger Riddle until we find the locket. If Harry were lucky enough to defeat him, he would still linger in spirit form until he found a way back or the locket was destroyed. The other is defeating a weaker, mortal Riddle after the locket is destroyed. As you mentioned, in either case, he will keep his Death Eaters in front of him when it is time to do battle."

Dumbledore knew that there was nothing more to say about defeating Tom at the moment. He observed, "The largest potential threat facing you this week is Lucius Malfoy. He has the influence and gold to finance a war against you. Your best move would be to find a way to keep him out of the war."

Bones replied, "It wouldn't be my preference to kidnap his son and hold him as a hostage, though there certainly would be those who would do so if asked."

"Scrimgeour might point out to him that he would have little to gain and much to lose by participating in another war. There are those who would never accept his usual claim of being forced to act while under the Imperius curse."

Amelia nodded and replied, "Speaking of those with much to lose, you would do well to advise Snape that he has shelter until your passing. Reformed or not, his bill for participating in the Potters' deaths is coming due very quickly."

The old Headmaster concluded that he would never change her mind and acknowledged the truth of her words with a nod. Severus may have truly reformed, but his unpleasant attitude and blatant favoritism would be his undoing.

He concluded, "I will revise my Will one last time. I do have several items for Harry and will try to give them to him in the next few weeks. Should Florian actually accept the job, Harry would be my first choice as his eventual successor. I believe that our conversation for the evening has concluded. I appreciate your candidness. When will you call for a vote of no-confidence?"

"Immediately after the third task or when Riddle had made his first public move, whichever is sooner."

Dumbledore replied, "Fate willing, I will do what I can to aid your effort. Goodnight, Amelia."

"Goodnight, Albus."

As they parted ways and left, one of the busboys sent an owl to Lucius Malfoy informing him of the visit.

… --- …

Sunday 2 April

Minerva happened across Harry and Susan who had been outside quite early in the morning jogging and doing exercises and offered to walk them back to their common room. She opened the door and climbed in.

"Miss Johnson, Mr. Weasley, Miss Spinnett, and Mr. Weasley! What are you doing?"

"Celebrating Fred and George's seventeenth birthday, Professor."

"We had to do what we could," explained Fred as Angelina made a passable attempt to cover herself.

As Alicia buttoned her jeans, George added, "We let Mother Nature do the rest."

Hermione happened to walk down the stairs, seemingly horrified at what she saw. Fred was mistakenly putting George's trousers on. She exclaimed, "But you're barely seventeen!"

"And they're barely dressed," observed Susan, who had a wicked smirk on her face.

"Enough," remarked McGonagall, who'd seen quite enough by the fireplace light. "I never…"

"I reckon that's part of the problem," smirked Lee Jordan to himself, swinging his dreadlocks as he and Katie Bell walked out the portrait door holding hands on their way to an early breakfast.

… --- …

Saturday 11 April

Riddle listened as Pettigrew and Barty went back and forth on the details of the plan to snatch Potter from the third task. The Quidditch pitch was outside of the Anti Portkey wards of the castle, so in the event that Potter failed to reach the cup, Barty could simply grab him.

If possible, Riddle wanted to avoid that alternative. As he'd found with Pettigrew, supposedly dead servants were uncommonly loyal, as they had no other distractions and no one was looking for them. The old fool had failed to convince anyone that Wormtail was alive, or Black innocent. The deception with Crouch Senior was working better than his wildest dreams. The Weasley boy was such a fool, blinded by ambition and misplaced loyalty.

Junior's only concern was his inability to get an opportunity to examine the cup for existing enchantments and wards. Dumbledore had placed it in a most conspicuous spot at the front of the trophy room where people walked by on a constant basis. He'd just have to find a way.

Riddle dismissed the two, saying, "Well done my faithful servants. We shall soon prevail and you both shall be well rewarded."

… --- …

While Riddle was briefing his servants, Stephen Nott waited at his table at the Stirring Stick until his dinner companions arrived. Morris hadn't greeted him with the same level of enthusiasm that he had when the Hogwarts Headmaster or the DMLE Director had recently dined with him, but the service was still well above average. Nott didn't possess quite as sanitary a reputation as Lucius did, and Morris knew better than to intentionally offend a man whom he believed had relieved a dozen people of their lives.

A few minutes later, Macnair came in with Malfoy. Morris involuntarily shuddered at the sight of them. Mr. Malfoy was a powerful, dangerous man and Mr. Macnair was the Ministry Executioner. Morris had overheard more than a few stories that Mr. Macnair had occasionally used his professional skills on a moonlighting basis for He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, before he disappeared.

Morris put on his best face and greeted the two men. "Good evening, Mr. Malfoy, Mr. Macnair. It is an honor to see you here. How may I help you?"

Macnair replied, "We're dining with Stephen Nott. We'd prefer not to be bothered any more than needed." He'd spoken the words without a greeting. There was no sense of request, rather a command, like he'd give to one of his house elves.

"Of course, Sir. This way, please." He led them to an out of the way table next to the wall. When they were seated, all of the men seemed to be facing outward or sideways, as if, out of longstanding habit, none of them wanted their back to the door. Malfoy gave a slight sneer when, out of turn, Macnair ordered a bottle of Johnny Blue for the table. He preferred his favorite single malt, Oban to the blend, but said nothing as Macnair poured them each a generous glass. They all ordered steaks.

If they were short with Morris, they were brutal with Antonio, the chatty wine-master. Macnair transfigured him into a bottle of cheap Chianti, stuck the bottle on a shelf and calmly stated that he'd whack off the bottle neck with a cleaver and pour the contents down the toilet if they were bothered again during their stay.

Nott gave a slight cringe. It never paid to make enemies for no reason. When Morris was done apologizing and had gone, he stated, "The Mark has been changing since the World Cup. One week it's back, then it got a lot darker, and then it seemed lighter. There's no doubt in my mind – he's out there someplace and sooner or later, he'll come calling."

Macnair observed, "Borgin's brother, Tim took his family to Argentina last week. I don't expect he'll be back. On the other hand, Thomas is so excited, you'd swear it was the second coming of Slytherin himself."

Lucius was silent as he refilled his glass with the amber liquid. Tim had made a small fortune in recent years raising and selling mokeskin products. With sufficient breeding stock, he could replicate his business far enough away to safely ignore any call that he might receive. The younger Borgin had lost most of his holding supporting the Dark Lord and escaping the long arm of the Aurors. Malfoy was certain that he didn't want to lose his life's savings a second time.

Nott remarked, "Wallace did the same. He sold his livestock and moved to New Zealand. He said almost the same words – he'd given two sons and twenty years of hard work to the Dark Lord and got nothing back. He told me that he refused to be a piggy bank for the son of a muggle - not that I believe that bit to be true, myself."

Like the others, Malfoy had read the same article. He'd seen a lot of half-bloods try to improve their supposed heritage over the years by selectively including or excluding ties to various family members. Certainly Riddle was no name of an Ancient or Noble family, least of all in Britain. He kept his opinions to himself, drained his glass and took his leave. His father had been one of the Dark Lord's original benefactors in the '50s. Lucius thought it was too bad that his father hadn't done his due diligence. Malfoy imagined that if the Dark Lord came back, he'd be hungry – hungry for supporters and hungry for gold. Auckland had never seemed so desirable a place to be, or so very impossible to get to. Any way he thought about it, he was trapped. The Dark Lord would never let him leave.

… --- …

ooo CCC ooo

"Nudity, product placements, loose ends and blatant disparaging of school staff! Why do you insist on breaking the rules, Mr. Crow?" She'd given him chance after chance and he continued to flaunt the rules of reporting that she'd so clearly laid down all those years ago. It was obvious that he deserved another detention.

Having just finished a late fall ride, the old scribe was in far too good of a mood to be bothered. He could see the winter storm that was gathering and had enjoyed a great afternoon visiting his favorite still water pub.

As he rode off, Crow thought about the other gathering storm, and knew that his reports would describe more bloodshed. Sometimes, it couldn't be helped. He also wondered what the dentists would do when they found out. Perhaps one of the other scribes or readers knew. He hoped to hear from them

Speaking of second chances, McGonagall noticed an arithmetic formula ending with 4776013 on the table. She decided to look it up as she plotted her revenge on the old scribe.

McGonagall wondered what the other scribe's thoughts were regarding the Grangers. She hoped that they would let her know before Crow returned.