AYNIL: Chapter Nine: Welcome Back, Potter

“Harry, wake up,” came a voice that sounded very distant. Harry didn’t want to. He felt like he had just gone to sleep. He knew that wasn’t right though. He had come upstairs not too long after dinner, and now the room was light.

“Happy birthday,” Hermione’s voice sounded again. Harry could feel his consciousness threatening to take over. He grunted for her to go away, and rolled back over in his blankets.

Harry had awaken the day after destroying the Horcrux, and had been back to his normal self. At least the normal self that he had been for the last few weeks anyway. That was, the moody, depressed Harry. The elated feeling that he had gone to sleep with did not carry through to the next day.

“You have to get up, Mr. Weasley is going to be here in an hour to take you and Ron to do your Apparition tests, then we’re going to the Burrow. Everyone is looking forward to seeing you,” Harry was still reluctant to get out of bed. “Especially Ginny!” Hermione added.

This had done the trick. Harry rolled over and stared at his friend. He could feel the smile on his face.

“OK, OK, I’m up,” he said sleepily, stretching and making to get out of bed.

“I thought that would work,” Hermione said. Harry didn’t have his glasses on yet so he couldn’t be sure, but he was fairly certain that she was smiling. “Tonks and I are leaving in ten minutes. See you guys there later,”

“Yeah,” Harry replied as he threw back the covers.

“Oh, and if Ron doesn’t make it again, don’t be too hard on him,” Hermione said gently. “I am sure that he will, but —“

“He’ll do great. It was only half an eyebrow last time anyway,” Harry told her loyally. He wasn’t just saying this out of friendship for Ron. He was confident that his friend would pass this time.

An hour later, Harry and Ron were waiting by the door for Mr. Weasley. They couldn’t Apparate to the ministry yet, and the elder Weasley could not side-along Apparate both of them, so they were once again going to be taking the underground.

As was always the case when he had the chance to act like a Muggle, Mr. Weasley was thoroughly overexcited.

“We’re going to have to walk to the station again,” he said, looking like a little boy with a new toy. “We can act like real Muggles for a change.” He was positively beaming. “All the same,” he said, a little of his exuberance fading, “make sure you keep your wands at the ready. We don’t want to be unprepared.”

As they had done two years previous when Harry had to go to the ministry for his hearing, he and Mr. Weasley made their way to the shabby underground station, this time Ron accompanied them.

“I can’t see why we couldn’t have just got a ministry car,” Ron complained as they waited for the next train.

“Ron, don’t be silly, we don’t need one for this short of a walk,” his father told him. “Honestly, a few Muggle experiences are good for you. I think that Hermione is right and we should have encouraged you to take Muggle Studies.”

“Plus, I dunno if you could get one, if I was supposed to be there,” Harry said. “I hear Scrimgeour is really unhappy with me.” He wasn’t upset at this. He still didn’t care what the Minister of Magic thought of him.

“That reminds me Harry, I think that we might run into him today. I saw him last week and he made a point of asking if you were going to be in today to take your test. I have a feeling that he’s going to come down to have another go,” Mr. Weasley said, as he checked down the tracks to see if the train was coming yet.

“Fat chance,” Harry replied flatly. “There’s no way that I am going to do anything for them.”

Mr. Weasley was once again his Muggle-loving self as they rode the underground, got off and ascended back to street level for the short walk to the Ministry.

“Simply fantastic,” he muttered several times as he watched people on the streets going about their business. Only Mr. Weasley could say that about the shabby street they were on. It was enjoyable to watch his reactions. He was beside himself when he saw a man in a business suit, talking on a mobile phone.

“How extraordinary,” he said. Mr. Weasley turned and was about the follow the man. Ron grabbed him by the back of his jacket.

“Dad, the test remember?”

“Oh, right, of course.” Mr. Weasley said distracted, but he followed them.

They all piled into the same broken telephone box that had been there the year before, the last time that Harry had been at the ministry. Being the first one in, and closest to the phone, Harry dialed 6-2-4-4-2.The same cool witch’s voice spoke.

“Welcome to the Ministry of Magic. Please state your name and your business,”

Suddenly Harry wanted to do nothing but get out of that booth. He didn’t want to go into the Ministry at all. This feeling had nothing to do with the fact that he might run into Rufus Scrimgeour.

The last time that he had been here was the night that Sirius had died. It was the night that Voldemort had planted that vision in Harry’s mind that Sirius was down in the Hall of Prophecies, being tortured. It was that night that Sirius had died; the night that Harry had been possessed by Voldemort. This was also the night that Harry had heard the prophecy.

“Arthur Weasley, Detection and Confiscation.” Mr. Weasley gave a shortened name for the department he was head of. Harry could understand why they had been keen to shorten the name. It was quite a mouthful if you had to say Office for the Detection and Confiscation of Counterfeit Defensive Spells and Protective Objects. “Harry Potter, and Ronald Weasley, here for Apparition tests,” the elder Weasley added.

“Thank you,” said the female voice, coolly, as before. “Visitors, please take the badges and attach them to the front of your robes.” Harry and Ron took the two badges that contained their names and reason for their visit. They attached them to their t-shirts. They listened to the voice telling them they needed to submit their wands for registration at the security desk. Then they slowly began to trundle down.

Harry pressed back as far in the little booth as he could go. He wanted to delay the inevitable first sight of the atrium below. He didn’t know what sort of recollections he would have when he did see that place. The last thing that he wanted to be reminded of was the duel that had taken place here between Dumbledore and Voldemort. That scene had been even more poignant since he learned that he was the one fated to defeat the latter, and since the death of the former.

“Harry, you coming?” Ron asked.

“Yeah,” Harry replied. They had reached the atrium. He really wanted to say that he didn’t want to go into the ministry. Or at the very least, he wished that he could keep his eyes shut tight until they had passed through, but with the amount of people that were bound to be here at this time of day walking around with his eyes closed was really not a viable option.

To his great relief, Harry didn’t have any overpowering feelings as they walked through the atrium. He was mourning the loss of Dumbledore as he remembered the battle that had taken place here. It might not have taken place if he, Harry, hadn’t felt the need to go chasing after Bellatrix Lestrange.

One of the first things that Harry noticed was the fact that the Fountain of Magical Brethren was no longer there. The pool was, but the witch, wizard, centaur and house-elf were gone. Had they not been able to repair it? Harry was sure that it would not take a lot of effort to fix the fountain; it was odd that they hadn’t mended it. Harry was going to ask Mr. Weasley about this, but Mr. Weasley seemed anxious to keep him away from the fountain.

Harry didn’t really have a burning desire to get nearer that fountain than absolutely necessary. That is, until he saw that the plaque, that had once read that the proceeds from the fountain went to St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. Harry remembered this plaque well. The one that now stood in front of the plinth was new. It had been replaced.

Harry wanted to go over and see what it said, but was steered away by Mr. Weasley.

“We can wait in my office for the next half hour until it’s time for your appointments,” he told Harry and Ron, leading them to the lifts at the other end of the atrium. Harry was quite certain that Mr. Weasley had led him away from that plaque on purpose. What was on it that he didn’t want Harry to see?

Mr. Weasley’s office was still on the second floor. It was now a proper office though, not a broom cupboard with two desks shoved in it.

He introduced Harry and Ron to his employees, all of whom looked as if they were being run ragged. They all seemed slightly perturbed when Mr. Weasley called them over to make introductions. However, their moods brightened considerably when they were introduced to Harry. Their eyes would open wide, comprehension dawning on them, then they would have to look for the lightning bolt shaped scar on his forehead. Harry always hated this, and was in no mood to have a dozen people all staring avidly at him.

“Are you here because of Scrimgeour?” a tiny witch with mousy brown hair asked Harry. She looked like she couldn’t be much older than he was, and she kept trying to catch his eye. When he caught her at it, Harry would look just as resolutely in the other direction. He didn’t know what it was about this witch, perhaps it was the hair, but she reminded him of Delores Umbridge. “Are you here for the —“

“I guess you didn’t hear us the first time when we told you that we were here for our Apparition tests,” Ron said loudly. Harry would frequently turn to look at his best friend when the Umbridge-like witch was making one of her attempts to flirt, or whatever it was that she was doing, Harry was sure he had grimaced at least once as he turned to his friend for help. Ron was looking slightly amused.

“And I think we’re about due,” Mr. Weasley stated, checking his watch.

Harry, who was not sorry to get away from the group of people milling around, set off immediately for the lifts. He knew that they had to go back down to the sixth floor for the Apparition Test Centre.

They didn’t have to wait at all when they arrived on the sixth floor. Mr. Weasley had arranged a special appointment in an attempt to avoid the Minister and any other unwelcome visitors.

Wilkie Twycross, the Apparition instructor they had for lessons, was going to be testing both Ron and Harry. He took Ron in first, at Harry’s request. He and Mr. Weasley waited ten minutes, and then Ron bounded out of the test room, brandishing his license.

“Piece of cake,” he said, grinning broadly. “Not even one eyelash left behind this time.”

It was now Harry’s turn. He wasn’t worried about this test. He could Apparate, he had done it several times already, once with Dumbledore in tow. It was sort of unnerving, the fact that he didn’t feel nervous. Would that impair his ability to Apparate? Hermione always said that it was good to be a little nervous; you always seemed to do better on tests, was she right?

“We usually do this in an open area, like we did in Hogsmeade this spring. However, given the recent upsurge in Death Eater activity, we have decided that we are going to do the test inside until further notice,” Twycross explained. He had pulled out his wand as he was talking, and conjured more of those stupid little hoops.

“Now Mr. Potter remember your three D’s when Apparating into that hoop and you should do fine.”

Harry couldn’t remember the three D’s at all. Destination was in there somewhere he thought, but the other two were complete blanks. It didn’t matter. That was theory, much more Hermione’s strong suit. Harry closed his eyes and concentrated hard. He twisted away, as Lupin and done a few weeks before. He felt the squeezing sensation that was a part of the Apparition process, and when he opened his eyes, he was in the hoop that Twycross had conjured.

“Excellent. Now again, a little farther away this time,” Twycross conjured another hoop about a hundred feet farther away than the first had been. Harry Apparated into that one with no problems. Twycross again commended him. He had Harry try twice more, with a ring that was even farther away, and then with one that was just next to Harry. He said that this was to test both short and long-range Apparition abilities. Harry couldn’t help feeling this was really pointless as he had side-along Apparated Dumbledore back to Hogsmeade almost two months ago, and that was supposed to be the hardest kind of Apparition there was.

Harry walked out of the test centre a few minutes later, also holding a license like Ron’s. At least he was now able to do magic and Apparate legally. That was something. He couldn’t get arrested now for things that wizards did every day.

“Excellent. We could Apparate back to the Burrow from here but you two need to go down and drop off those badges. Shall we take the lifts, or would you prefer to Apparate?” Mr. Weasley was smiling as though he already knew the answer.

Next moment, the three of them were standing in the atrium once more. Ron had Apparated a few feet from where he meant to, but thankfully all of his hair was still attached.

“Need to work on the accuracy just a bit,” he said, his face tinged red.

The atrium had been far from empty when they had been down there before, but now it was crowded with people, and they were all hanging around the ruined found.

“What’s going on there?” Ron asked.

“Dedication ceremony,” explained Eric the security guard. “They’re renaming the fountain.”

“Really?” Harry asked interested. He now wished that he had read the plaque that was standing near the pool.

“Boys I think that we should go,” Mr. Weasley suggested, but both Ron and Harry had joined the crowd of people waiting for the ceremony to start. They didn’t have to wait long. Rufus Scrimgeour stepped up to a podium that had been erected just to the right of the new plaque.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for coming this afternoon. As you are no doubt aware, a great tragedy occurred on these very premises a little over a year ago. A noble and valiant man, fighting to protect one of our greatest heroes, sadly lost his life.

“This man, despite all the persecution he underwent, did not waver in his convictions. He stood up for his friends. He was willing to sacrifice his own life to protect his best friend, and his friend’s wife and son from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. I am speaking, ladies and gentlemen, of Sirius Black.”

Harry felt his jaw drop.

“We dedicate this fountain to Sirius Black in the hope it will serve as a reminder just what it means to be courageous. Let us hope that this pool will be a beacon of strength in these hard times.”

As he said these words, Harry saw Scrimgeour zero in on him. He wanted to get out of there that instant, because he was sure in about two seconds his name was going to come up. Unfortunately, he was not wrong.

“And here, to say a few words about this rededication is none other than Sirius’ Black’s godson, Harry Potter.” He stretched out his hand in Harry’s direction. The two hundred pairs of eyes in the crowd turned to stare at Harry. He didn’t see them though because he was glaring daggers at the Minister.

This had been staged. This wasn’t really a dedication for Sirius; it was a way to get him to cave about being the new mascot for the Ministry’s war with Voldemort. Why else would the ministry even mention Sirius? Their treatment of Sirius’s case had been a huge blunder from the start.

“Harry, come up and say a few words,” Scrimgeour called. Harry was still glaring at him, but the minister wore a triumphant look. Harry was not going to cave into this. He had told Scrimgeour twice already that he didn’t agree with the way the ministry was dealing with the Death Eater crisis. If the minister was going to pull nasty underhanded tricks like this, then Harry was just going to have to go on record with his views.

“I think I can say them just as well from here thanks,” he replied coldly. The people that had been standing around him had backed away. There was now at least a five foot gap between he, Ron and Mr. Weasley, and the rest of the spectators. They had formed a circle around him, and Harry could see a few reporters, one surely from The Daily Prophet, frantically scribbling.

“This whole dedication ceremony is a ruse. Sirius has been dead for over a year. Why all of a sudden the need to dedicate a broken fountain to him? If you had bothered to do any research at all, you would know that this is the last thing that he would want. He wouldn’t want to be honored by the Ministry that had sent him to Azkaban without even giving him a proper trial. He wouldn’t want to be remembered for the fact that he was killed on your premises by a Death Eater that escaped prison because your predecessor -” Harry was staring right at Scrimgeour, “- didn’t listen to Dumbledore when he warned Fudge that keeping the Dementors at Azkaban would lead to problems. And he certainly wouldn’t appreciate the fact that you are doing all this on the day that I had to come to the ministry. Pretty coincidental timing I’d say.

“I know that you are doing this publicly so that I might feel some sort of obligation to be the new poster boy for the losing war that you’re fighting with Voldemort —“ there was a collective intake of breath, and a few people screamed, looking around nervously, as though expecting to see Voldemort there. “- and his Death Eaters. I’m sorry minister but imprisoning Stan Shunpike for making a stupid comment and letting real Death Eaters like Severus Snape run free isn’t my idea of how to fight this war.”

Scrimgeour was fuming, but trying to hide it. His sneaky little plan had backfired. Harry was quite certain that the minister had underestimated him. Harry didn’t like publicity it was a well-known fact. Perhaps Scrimgeour had thought that Harry would go along with this little plan just so he could avoid the unending newsreel guaranteed to follow His refusal

“And you can quote me on that,” Harry told the reporters. He knew that they would no matter what, he said it just to make a point to Scrimgeour. He wasn’t some stupid little kid that could be manipulated. Having said everything that he was willing to say, Harry turned to Ron and Mr. Weasley and motioned for them that he was ready to leave.

They tried to get away from the crowds of people, so that they could Apparate, but everyone had swarmed in. The reporters in particular were quite pushy. They seemed to feel it was now free question period. They were firing questions at him. Questions about the night Dumbledore died, asking if he was really the Chosen one, and others Harry couldn’t make out over all the noise.

Ron and Mr. Weasley were standing either side of Harry, acting almost like bodyguards, trying to get the people to back off, but to no avail. Finally, wanting to leave, and losing patience, Harry pulled out his wand.

“Back off, or I will curse you,” he yelled. Stunned, they complied. Not sure how long they would stay away Harry seized the opportunity to focus his mind on his new destination. He twisted and a second later was feeling the effects of Apparition.

* * * * * * * * *

Dumbledore was right, Harry thought as he found himself facing the Burrow. Apparition wasn’t bad, once you got used to the sensation. It was certainly a quick way to travel, and got him away from all of those people.

Harry barely had time to look up and smile at his second favorite place in the world when he heard a loud scream, he thought it was his name, but couldn’t be sure. Next second, something ploughed into him. Not being ready for this, Harry fell over backwards, hitting his head on the ground. He must have hit his head fairly hard because he saw stars. Something landed on top of him.

“Oh my god Harry, are you OK?” Ginny asked frantically, getting off him. She had been what landed on top of him when he had fallen. She sounded really worried that she had hurt him. In a much better mood than he had been a moment previous Harry decided that he was going to play along. He didn’t say anything when Ginny shook him. “MUM,” Ginny screamed frantically when he still didn’t respond to her.

Deciding that this had gone far enough (he didn’t need Mrs. Weasley harassing him all night, making sure that he was feeling OK) Harry opened his eyes. Ginny wasn’t looking at him. Even better he thought, a wicked grin spreading across his face. He slowly lifted his hands and began to tickle her. Ginny jumped at first, but she turned to look down at him and saw that his eyes were open.

“Hi, Ginny,” Harry greeted her. She shocked him, not by laughing, but by punching him hard in the arm. “Ouch, what was that for?” he asked, massaging the place where she had hit him.

“For being a stupid prat,” she responded angrily. “You scared me half to death I thought that I really hurt you.”

“What Ginny?” Mrs. Weasley peaked her head out of the door.

“Nothing mum, Harry was just being an idiot.”

“Sorry,” Harry said, realizing, not for the first time, how much she looked like her mother when she was mad.

“Yeah, well you’d better be. Or else I might have to tell Fred and George about you. They’re not very happy with a certain Mr. Potter these days?”

“What? Why?” Harry asked, wondering what on earth he could have done to deserve the twins’ wrath. He made a mental note to double check everything he ate for concealed joke shop products.

“Well . . . as I am the youngest . . .” Ginny tried to act innocent. Harry couldn’t help but laugh, she was about as innocent as Fred and George. “You’re just going to have to watch your step, or I might have to start telling them . . . things.”

Yes, that evil grin that she was wearing was proof to Harry that Ginny was as dangerous as Fred and George. She was able to get away with so much more than they were. Harry wondered whether he dared eat anything the whole time he was here.

Her anger completely gone Ginny leaned up to kiss Harry.

“Happy birthday,” she said.

“It is now,” he replied, hugging her close. It had been a month since he had that dream, yet Harry still could not get rid of the need to keep her close to him. Ginny didn’t seem to have any objections, which was all the better for Harry. It wasn’t until they heard two voices speak, that Harry and Ginny let go of each other.

“Welcome back Potter,” Fred and George Weasley spoke, identical evil grins on their faces.

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