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The Art of War

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*~*~*

“So good of you to show up…generally on time for your detention, Mr. Potter.”

Harry simply nodded and concealed a smirk at Professor Snape’s grimace and eye roll. He picked up the basket of supplies he was pointed towards and quickly followed behind the other man as he left the classroom and headed up and out of the dungeons.

A path cleared quickly among the students leaving the castle to head down to Hogsmeade for the day and Harry ignored the pitying looks he received as he followed in the professor’s wake.

With the quick pace Snape set, they were soon among the outer trees of the Forbidden Forest, but they didn’t stop there. They continued on until there was no longer any glimpse of the castle through the trees then went a little further. They finally reached a clearing where Snape came to a halt. He looked around a bit before nodding to himself and gesturing at Harry to put down the basket he was carrying.

“Well, Mr. Potter, time to collect on all those potions ingredients I’ve used on you over the years.” He reached into a pocket and pulled out a small object that he looked at briefly before smirking at Harry. “Don’t forget my list, Potter, or you won’t enjoy the results.” With that he tossed the object at Harry, who caught it reflexively, eyes widening in shock as he felt the distinctive hook sensation around his stomach as he was pulled away by a portkey.

*~*~*

“Welcome to Gringotts, Lord Potter Black.”

Harry reached up and gratefully took the hand being offered to him and got to his feet. “Thanks, Reginald, those landings do it to me every time. And it’s not Lord Potter.”

“Only to those outside these walls, my Lord.”

“Well, there’s quite a few of them out there with that opinion.” Harry smiled wryly at him.

“True,” he nodded in acknowledgement before gesturing him towards the exit of the portkey receiving area. “Lord Longbottom is waiting in your usual room and Ragnok confirmed that he will be available at the regular time. As requested, we have a staff member available to run your errands for you while you’re here and I made sure that they were skilled in potion making.”

“Thank you. Professor Snape would be most displeased if I came back without the complete list of potions ingredients or if they weren’t of sufficient quality. I am quite sure he’s also added some hard to find or rare ones to the list so as to get his money’s worth while spending my money.” Harry laughed.

The walk from the receiving room went quickly as they were both very familiar with the route. Before entering the private meeting room, Harry canceled the transfiguration on the rock that had been used as his portkey and took a quick look at the items on Snape’s shopping list. He snorted and handed it over to Reginald before removing another list from his pocket and passing it along as well. Reginald glanced at both quickly, also smirking at the potions list, before nodding, giving Harry a quick bow, and heading off.

The meeting room Harry entered had been set up to resemble a cozy study with a fireplace, that was thankfully not putting off any heat, a double-sided desk and two comfortable chairs grouped around the fireplace one of which was occupied by the man he was there to meet with.

“Hi, Neville! Enjoying your Hogsmeade weekend?”

“Hello, Harry. I’m enjoying it as much as you’re enjoying your detention with Professor Snape.”

They clasped hands briefly before Neville rang for tea. It appeared as they got settled at the desk, Harry removing his school robe to show the formal robes hidden beneath. Neville too was dressed in formal robes, though Harry was well aware that when Neville had left the castle right after breakfast, he had been dressed much more casually.

“So, Harry, what was your focus for today? I think we finished all the legal paperwork last time, so Ragnok would have what he needed for today. What’s next on the list?”

“We were going to continue reviewing the Potter assets. I’ll be meeting with my account managers next month and I’m not familiar enough with what’s associated with the Potter side of things. Sirius had started working on the Black holdings before he died, so they were easier to get a handle on, but my parents’ assets weren’t taken care of for almost 15 years and it’s slow unsnarling the mess that was created during that time, especially as I can’t personally do anything about it for about nine months.” He grimaced. “Thankfully, Gringotts can and will be calling for an account review after we meet to make sure things are in order for me to officially take control in June.”

“They’re doing something similar for the Longbottom accounts. Gran and I were meeting daily over the period between recovering from the battle and getting on the Hogwarts Express for the start of term. Thankfully she’s mostly kept on top of things, so it was mainly a review to make sure I was familiar and see if I wanted to make changes.”

“That’s lucky and I really do appreciate all the help you’ve given me at figuring all this out, Nev. The books your Gran found for me third year helped set the basic information, but without you spending all this time with me the past couple years, especially with the war and school, I would be in a horrible position right now. Dumbledore,” he growled, “has been very thorough in making sure there’s nothing helpful to be found at Hogwarts.”

Harry pulled out the first ledger for the Potter accounts and they got to work reviewing the mess that Dumbledore, as Harry’s self-appointed guardian in the Wizarding world, had allowed to happen.

They worked until a warning chime rang to signify that they had fifteen minutes until their next meeting. Harry quickly gathered up his paperwork and stored it away in a drawer while Neville prepped the room for Ragnok’s arrival. Both were standing at attention when there was a sharp knock on the door before it opened to admit Harry’s primary account manager.

Harry spared a thought again to bless Lady Longbottom’s foresight in sending him the etiquette book along with the other intro to the Wizarding world books as he bowed in respect as the Goblin entered, careful to keep his eyes respectfully downcast.

As the door closed behind him, Harry stood upright and grinned at the goblin before him. “Senior Account Manager Ragnok, may your gold be plentiful.”

“Lord Black, Lord Longbottom, may your enemies tremble before you.”

“It’s good to see you, sir. Your last report was concerning. Please, sit and tell me what we’re dealing with now.” Harry gestured him towards the fire where a third seat now sat.

While Goblin expressions were hard to decipher, Harry and Neville had spent enough time with this one to recognize that he was annoyed. “I’ve filed all the legal paperwork you gave me last month and it’s all been magically protected. Your will has been filed and all the bequeaths set up, though obviously we hope they aren’t needed for many years.

“Dumbledore is still trying to convince the bank that he should be reinstated as your Guardian, but is being denied based on the fact that you’re over legal age. Just because you can’t legally become ‘Lord Potter’ until you pass your NEWTs, doesn’t mean you need a guardian and he’s not offering to teach you to be a lord, just to control you and your money.

“He also tried to submit a marriage contract on your behalf between yourself and Ms. Weasley, stating that things weren’t calm enough yet after Voldemort’s defeat for you to come in yourself. That was denied because any contract for a peer requires them to be present before it’s accepted. He said you’d come in later in the year with it.”

“I don’t think that’ll be happening, though if I do, please enforce that required spell and potion check before accepting it.”

“Absolutely, Lord Black. We are still on track to have all arrangements in order by the time you leave Hogwarts, but it will most likely take that whole time. Hopefully you can continue to put Dumbledore off until that point. He’s only mildly frustrated right now, but that will only get worse over the next couple months.”

Harry’s expression was fierce as he replied, “Voldemort didn’t defeat me and neither will Dumbledore.”

*~*~*

It was nice that Snape had been pleased by the results of his trip to Gringotts, even if it probably would’ve killed him to show it, because Headmaster Dumbledore most definitely wasn’t.

He had to admit that he wasn’t surprised when a note was delivered to him during lunch requesting his presence in the Headmaster’s office after his last class of the day.

“What does the Headmaster need you for now, Harry?”

“I have no idea, Hermione. With Voldemort gone I was sorta hoping to not have to have any of these meetings anymore. I really want to focus on my classes this year so I do well on my NEWTs, especially since I haven’t had the calmest of times at Hogwarts,” he smirked along with the chuckles of those close enough to be listening in. “In fact,” he turned slightly in his seat and called down the table, “Hey, Nev.” When Neville looked at him, eyebrow raised in inquiry, he continued, “I’ve been called to the Headmaster’s office after Charms so I’ll be late to our study group. Tell the others?”

“Sure, Harry. Hope it doesn’t take long; we have a lot to cover before that test Friday.”

“Harry, what study group?”

“The one I asked you if you were interested in joining the first week of classes, Ron. Hermione said she’d probably join us on occasion or if we needed her, and you said it was mental and you weren’t interested.”

“Oh, yeah, because it is. Why would you need a study group? You’re doing okay with your classes. You’ll pass your NEWTs with no problem; there’s no way they’d fail you! You’ll claim your title and get married. You should be enjoying this year; you’ve earned it. You can date and, hey, maybe you and Ginny could get back together!”

“Back together? What are you talking about? We were never ‘together’ to begin with.”

“Sure you were, fifth year. You said you had to keep it quiet because you didn’t want her to be a target with the Death Eaters.”

“Ron, while I agree that I made a general comment about being concerned about publicly dating anyone for fear that it would make them a target, I was not at that time dating Ginny or any other girl, nor did I start dating Ginny at a later date.”

“I don’t know why you’re lying about it…”

Harry’s eyes narrowed and he stood up from the table, his wand slipping easily into his hand. From the corner of his eye he saw Neville tense and he nodded minutely in acknowledgment causing Nev to relax slightly. He knew he had to do this carefully. He pointed his wand at his heart, ignoring Hermione’s gasp and stared directly into Ron’s eyes, “I, Harry James Potter, did not date Ginerva Molly Weasley in fifth year or at any other time until this point. So mote it be.” He silently cast lumos, lighting up the tip of his wand, then grabbed his book bag and left the table without another word. It was easy to ignore the whispers that followed him out. After all he’d had years of practice.

*~*~*

“Come in, Harry, come in! Have a seat. Would you care for a sherbet lemon?”

Knowing his mood was already bad due to the earlier disagreement with Ron and dealing with him in class since, Harry carefully took a deep breath, smiled and took a seat across from the Headmaster’s desk. “No thank you, sir. What did you need to talk about, sir? I’m late meeting my study group. We’re meeting to review for our Transfiguration test on Friday.”

“It’s good to see you so focused on your studies, Harry, but I hate to see you so stressed. The argument you had with Mr. Weasley today…”

“That wasn’t really an argument, though I admit I probably did over react a bit, but I’ve been rather sensitive to being accused of lying since Umbridge.” Harry ducked his head and rubbed slightly at the faint scar that still lingered on his hand, as if he were embarrassed or ashamed of his actions, though, other than a faint sense of annoyance that he let Ron annoy him that badly, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

“That’s understandable though you shouldn’t generally let it cause you to make magical vows. That can be very dangerous and they are not to be taken lightly. I’m afraid this is a sign of the stress you’re under trying to prepare for your inheritance while also taking classes and preparing for your NEWTs. I would be happy to handle the inheritance issues for you until the end of the year so you’re free to have a less stressful year. With my years of experience, as well, the work should go quicker which means everything will be ready for you when you finally leave Hogwarts.”

“That’s very kind of you, sir, but I can’t let you do that. I know you’re really busy getting things settled around here after the final battle with Voldemort and his army, not to mention helping out at the Ministry and with attending all the Wizengamot sessions that have been happening so frequently to handle all the captured Death Eaters. Your time is much too valuable to waste on things that can wait. Gringotts has agreed to continue to maintain things until after I take my NEWTs and can take control which is soon enough.”

“It’s a job I’m willing to do though to help you out.”

“And I appreciate it, but I’m not adding to your burdens right now. Now, I should stop wasting your time and get to my study group. Professor McGonagall has promised us a really challenging test that I need to be ready for not to mention I have a Charms project to start researching. Thank you for taking the time to catch up with me though.”

Harry smiled brightly at the Headmaster, whose normal twinkly look had been replaced by a look of confusion, and let himself out of the office.

*~*~*

Harry’s mood had improved slightly by the time he made it to the Library to meet his group to prep for their Transfiguration test. He felt that he’d handled Dumbledore about as well as he could while still making it seem that he wasn’t aware of what was truly involved in taking on his inheritance. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to dodge things all year, but he would for as long as he could before having to take a more direct approach to give Ragnok the time he needed to have everything set up.

It wasn’t hard to find the others as they were in their usual location in a back corner where they could be a bit louder without disturbing the other occupants of the Library and also not gain the disapproval of Madam Pince. They did occasionally meet in an empty classroom when they thought things would get louder or needed to do a more hands on review, and they probably would later in the week when they were ready to quiz each other on the Conjuration spells they were being tested on. Today was planned as book review so the Library was fine.

There was an empty seat at the end of their table with Neville on one side and Seamus and Dean on the other. Unlike Ron, the other Gryffindor males had recognized the need to buckle down and do well their last year and were willing to join in when Harry had suggested getting people together to study. They’d been joined by Justin Finch-Fletchley and Susan Bones from Hufflepuff and Blaise Zabini and Daphne Greengrass from Slytherin. Surprisingly, like Hermione, Draco Malfoy would also join them on occasion though he wasn’t a core member. They’d tried to invite some Ravenclaws, but they apparently already had groups set up and weren’t interested in changing them. Though Luna came on occasion when she needed help with something.

“Hi, guys, sorry I’m late.” Harry smiled around the table at the others as he slid into his seat and reached to pull his Transfiguration notes out.

“No problem, Harry,” Seamus grinned, “We were quizzing Neville about what we covered today in Herbology first, so we only just got started.”

“Ah, yes, I had some questions about that too, but I’ll hold off since you guys already went over it. So, what section did I get stuck with being the last to arrive?” It wasn’t a good sign when they all smirked at him at that.

“Review the chapter on the Gemino Curse and summarize the pros, cons, ways it can be adapted, etc.” Blaise did a pretty good innocent look for a Slytherin.

“That all?” Harry rolled his eyes and the others laughed. He nodded in acceptance and got to work.

About forty five minutes later they took a break to make copies for the others in their group of the notes they’d taken on their assigned topics.

“So, Harry,” Seamus began, “what did Dumbledore want with you this time?”

“He’s trying to convince me to let him take over prepping my inheritance for me. Said that my getting upset at Ron calling me a liar at lunch was a sign that basically I wasn’t mature enough and was too stressed over school to handle it myself.”

“He seriously thought you should let Weasley calling you a liar go? There’s no peer of the realm out there that would, or could, let that go! That’s as good as admitting that you were lying.” Blaise sounded horrified and the others were nodding in agreement.

“Yes, but Dumbledore, for all his political influence, isn’t a peer. The Dumbledore family isn’t even noble. Things like that don’t mean the same thing for him as for those of us who have, or will have, a title.” Neville said calmly. “He’s used to getting his own way though and being looked up to as the source of all knowledge. He’s forgetting, or ignoring, that any peer who would actually let someone unassociated with their house be in charge of their affairs would be considered unable to actually be the head of their house. He could jeopardize Harry being able to inherit his title completely if he succeeded in convincing him to let Dumbledore take over. It was okay while Harry was not thought of as an adult, but it could kill off the house of Potter completely now since it’s really only a technicality that he doesn’t get the title until after he completes school. He hinted to my Gran that he was available to help out with my Lordship as well, but she shut him down immediately.”

“That’s horrible! Harry, why don’t you explain to him what he’s trying to do?” Susan asked.

Daphne snorted, “You don’t actually think he doesn’t know, do you? The man is head of the Wizengamot and Supreme Mugwump. He is well aware of how the nobility works, but I’m guessing he doesn’t realize that Potter is aware as well.” She looked at him quizzically and he paused for a moment before nodding in agreement.

“And I plan to keep it that way as long as possible.” Harry was deadly serious as he looked around at the small group he’d gotten to know very well over the last month or so of school. He was taking a chance by being this honest, but he trusted them to keep his personal information to themselves and he’d personally set up this area to make sure there were no listening charms or ways to spy on them when they met. Since he had been late to join, he knew Neville would’ve confirmed that nothing had changed since they’d last met.

“As you said, Dumbledore has a lot of political clout, despite not being a Lord or noble. And the public have been trained to think he can do no wrong. I have not yet claimed the Potter lordship and he could make it difficult for me to do so, if he thought he needed to to keep his influence. Since defeating Voldemort, I now have a lot of visibility and people are looking to me to continue to ‘fix’ things for them. They’re not looking to Dumbledore as much, which is why he’s been keeping me ‘safe at Hogwarts’. He’s hoping people will have forgotten about me by the end of the year. Unless he can use my reputation or influence to get things he wants done done.”

“And Ron’s thing about Ginny? Him being convinced the two of you dated?”

“Historical revisionism.” Seamus laughed. “Ron’s been trying to fix the two of them up, with her full support, for years. The fact that Harry is totally not interested in her apparently hasn’t sunk in yet. You can’t say they’re not determined!”

“Well, being Lady Potter or family to Lord Potter carries some hefty benefits.” Dean said softly.

Harry shared a sad look with Dean. While he can’t stand being around Ginny at all anymore, he is well aware that Dean had once cared for Ginny quite a bit and had been devastated to find out that she’d just been using him to try to make Harry jealous. He didn’t appreciate being used like that to hurt a friend.

“People have always seen me more as an object than a real person, the same with wanting to become ‘Lady Potter’. It has nothing really to do with me and more for the prestige they’d get due to the title. It’s why I never wanted to publically date at Hogwarts. Dating’s hard enough normally without having them also be a target of every Death Eater out there as well as every disgruntled pre-teen who’s grown up dreaming of dating the ‘boy-who-lived’. I find them scarier than the Death Eaters actually. There’s more of them and they’re totally crazy.”

The others laughed though he doubted that most of them understood how honest he was being.

Things quieted down for a while and they passed around the copied notes they’d all made to be reviewed. Harry was making notes on Susan’s summary of the Orchideous Spell when he heard Blaise clearing his throat. He looked up to see him staring at him in consideration, with a slight smile on his face.

“Yes, Blaise…?”

“I was just wondering… you said you’d never wanted to publicly date anyone at Hogwarts. Have you ever secretly dated anyone at Hogwarts?”

Harry smirked, “Now if I told you that, it wouldn’t be a secret anymore, would it?” With that he returned to reviewing his notes. He may trust them, but that wasn’t a topic that needed to be discussed and he had 8 Conjuration spells to have down perfectly in four days.

*~*~*

“Hello, Headmaster Dumbledore. Professor McGonagall said you wished to see me?” Harry was pretty amazed it had taken this long for the next summons. He’d survived another Halloween at Hogwarts, choosing to skip the celebration in the Great Hall and settle for a slightly calmer time in the Kitchen with the House Elves and his dorm mates. Well his dorm mates minus Ron who would quite literally have to be on fire before being willing to miss the chance to stuff his face with all the sweets available at dinner. He figured his obvious absence would rate an immediate summons, but it had actually been almost a week since then.

“Yes, Harry, I wanted to check in with you. I’ve noticed the Potter vote being used at a number of the recent Wizengamot meetings and was concerned, both because of the way the vote was being cast and the fact someone was using it at all. You haven’t assumed your title yet so aren’t a Wizengamot member.”

“True, I can’t attend the meetings without the title, not to mention I wouldn’t have time to attend anyway due to classes, but I was informed that since I am of age, the vote is now active. Apparently it happened automatically when I turned seventeen. Gringotts has provided a representative to vote on my behalf, which, I’ve been assured, is quite legal, and they are casting votes based on guidance in my father’s will as he was the previous Lord Potter. I’ve been getting reports, of course, but won’t have time to review them most likely until the holidays due to all the work leading up to our NEWTs.”

“So you haven’t reviewed the votes yet?”

“No. I was sent a magically authenticated copy of the voting instructions from my father, but as to how they’re being implemented, I haven’t had time to read them.” Harry told himself that he wasn’t actually lying to the Headmaster as he really hadn’t read the Wizengamot reports yet, but he had discussed the sessions, both before and after they occurred, quite extensively with Neville, Ragnok and the Gringotts employee representing him at the meetings.

“What exactly are you concerned about as far as how the votes are being cast? The instructions he left didn’t seem too complicated or controversial when I read over them. You don’t think they’re being used incorrectly or even… illegally, do you?”

“Oh, I’m sure it’s nothing as serious as that, my dear boy. Mostly I was concerned as the votes didn’t seem to agree with how I know you’d choose to vote if you were able, but they are all on things that can be revisited after you assume your title and we can fix any issues then. A re-vote can even be called at that point due to your disagreement with the previously cast vote.”

Harry barely controlled the snort that he almost made at that. There had been a couple of proposals recently, that Dumbledore had brought to the meetings, which he’d voted against. While coached in a manner to insinuate that they would be beneficial to the wizarding public, they actually placed a number of harmful restrictions on muggleborns and anyone, like Remus, that were considered ‘dark’. As his mother was muggleborn and Remus one of his father’s best friends, things like that were automatically on the veto list from his father and he quite agreed with it.

“Well, that’s a relief to hear, Headmaster. I’m sure they’re just confused by the wording of the proposal; I’ve heard they can be confusing to those who aren’t use to interpreting what they really mean. It’s good to know the votes can be changed later if necessary.”

“Yes, certainly fixable, Harry; I didn’t mean to concern you over it. I just wanted to check that you were aware that it was going on.”

“I appreciate that, Sir. Now,” he said glancing at his watch, “I should be going. I have detention with Professor Snape in just under half an hour and I need to get down to the dungeons.”

“I hadn’t heard, what happened to have Severus assigning you detention? I thought the two of you were getting along better?”

Harry laughed. “Better is relative, considering how much the man has always hated me, but I think at this point it’s become habit for him to assign me detention periodically and really, Sir, it’s occasionally nice to just clean cauldrons or chop potion ingredients for a while and get a break from studying. And I don’t mind doing it, not that I want him finding out or he’ll come up with something less pleasant for our ‘quality time’ together.”

“Well, far be it from me to make you late for detention then, Harry.” Dumbledore twinkled with what Harry felt was a slightly condescending smile and waved him out of his office.

Twenty minutes later he was making his way into the Potions classroom where Professor Snape was involved in what looked to be grading homework, based on the irritated expression and broad quill marks he was putting on the parchment in front of him. Harry waited patiently until he finished with the current assignment and looked up to nod in acknowledgment of his presence.

“On time for once, Mr. Potter. How refreshing.”

“Apologies, Sir, I’ll try to do better next time.” Harry smirked at the glare from the professor and approached his desk when gestured over.

“Impudent brat,” he muttered, shaking his head. “We will be doing some brewing tonight. I’ve received a commission for a set of pregnancy potions for a woman in America via an acquaintance of mine. While they’re not used often, they are useful for women bearing magically powerful children, where the baby’s magic occasionally interferes with the mother’s. While it pains me to say it, you have the possibility to produce magically powerful children, so knowing how to brew these could be useful for you. And they are also occasionally on the NEWT exam.”

“I appreciate being able to be involved then, Professor. I think I’ve read a bit about them with my study group, but we haven’t found much information on them in the Library.”

Snape snorted, “And actually have information in a school library concerning witches being pregnant? Of course there’s not much in there on them, or most anything else related to the conception, bearing or birth of children. I am often surprised they actually provide contraception information upon request in the Hospital Wing.”

“Do you mind then if I pass along information about how to brew the potions to my study group?”

“And who is in your ‘study group’? Not Mr. Weasley I imagine.”

“Hardly,” Harry said. “Seamus, Neville and Dean as well as Justin and Susan from Hufflepuff and Blaise and Daphne from Slytherin. Though I’d probably tell Hermione and Draco too as they join us occasionally.”

“Three Slytherins, Potter, how open minded of you. Yes, you may pass along the information you receive tonight to those students in your group. Now, we need to begin as these will take the remaining time until curfew to complete.” At that, he rose from his desk and led the way into his private potions lab and set the privacy wards after Harry entered.

*~*~*

“Harry, have you heard from Remus recently? I just realized that it’s been a while since I remember you getting a letter from him. Is he doing okay?”

Harry smiled happily at Hermione; eagerly turning away from Ron’s half asleep consumption of breakfast. “Actually, I got a letter from him just this week. He’s been out of the country since just after my birthday taking care of some personal business, but should be back by this summer. He mentioned that he’s gotten involve with an old friend of his that he’s been seeing a lot of recently. She seems really nice, so I’m hoping things work out. She should be coming to visit when he comes back, assuming things go well. I’m looking forward to it.”

“That’s wonderful, Harry! The laws around here are so biased; I’m not surprised he spends so much time away. I was horrified to read about the restrictions proposed recently in the Wizengamot that would’ve restricted werewolves’ rights to marry and have children. It’s barbaric how werewolves are treated here, and they wonder why so many supported Voldemort when he at least treated them the same as every other wizard in his army. Not that he treated them well, but…” She trailed off, blushing slightly when Harry chuckled at her.

“That’s okay, Hermione, I think I know where you were trying to go with that.” He was interrupted by the entrance of the various postal owls delivering mail, packages, and the daily newspaper.

He didn’t have any personal mail today apparently, but cheerfully took his copy of the Prophet from the delivery owl, gave it a bit of sausage and started unrolling the paper as it flew away.

His mood took an immediate turn for the worse when he saw the headline on the front page:

Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter – Working Together for the Betterment of the Wizarding World

*~*~*

Seamus’ harsh whisper of, “Harry!” finally caught his attention and broke him out of the angry daze that he’d been in since his first read through of the article. Luckily he’d kept his reaction to himself, for the most part, because that would’ve destroyed a number of plans to not let Dumbledore know how firmly he wasn’t supporting him anymore.

“Sorry, Seamus, too focused on just how badly the reporters at the Prophet can still warp things to fit what they want to say. I can only be happy that they’re not calling me a nutter this time or suggesting I’m the next ‘Dark Lord’.” Harry grumbled mildly with a smile. “We were going to grab Neville about some Herbology questions this morning, weren’t we? Nev,” Harry looked down the table where Neville had been sitting with Dean and found him already looking at him, a concerned look in his eyes. “Do you have time for some questions about the paper we’re working on in Herbology?”

“Sure, Harry. I have some time now, if you’re ready.”

Harry and Seamus nodded and got up from the table, grabbing their books for their morning classes. The three of them walked out calmly, discussing their first class. They found a nearby empty room and quickly checked for any listening or spying spells before setting up privacy wards.

They pulled chairs in close and took a seat, Harry controlling the urge to just start screaming at the top of his lungs, but only barely.

“Well, there went my morning. I need to respond to this immediately and get something to the press. I’m surprised I haven’t heard from R…” Harry broke off as Dobby popped into the room, easily ignoring all their privacy wards.

“Master Harry Potter sir, Dobby has a letter from Ragnok. Dobby was told to wait until Master Harry Potter sir was in private before delivering it.”

“Thanks, Dobby. I was expecting to hear from him. If you could check back with me in about 30 minutes, I’ll have a response to take back to him.”

“Dobby would be very happy to.” Dobby bobbed his head and popped out again.

“You were saying?” Seamus grinned.

Harry rolled his eyes and opened the letter. It was basically a confirmation of what he was already thinking and assurance that Gringotts would provide a trustworthy reporter to handle his response to Dumbledore’s article. He closed with the reminder that they needed to keep up the subterfuge with Dumbledore for at least another six or seven months for things to work smoothly, any less than that could cause complications. Harry couldn’t help but think that wasn’t really a reminder he needed, but it did stress how important handling this would be.

*~*~*

Harry Potter speaks on Life, Education and the State of the Wizarding World

Dear Readers, yesterday we heard from the great Albus Dumbledore on how he is working with our beloved Harry Potter, The-Boy-Who-Conquered, to fix the problems left over from the decades long war with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and his Death Eaters. Harry was so enthusiastic about our article, that he contacted The Prophet to do a follow-up article about what he’s been doing since the final battle.

Prophet Reporter: Mr Potter, how exciting to talk with you! We haven’t seen much of you since the battle. What have you been up to?

Harry Potter: Thank you, I’m happy to have the opportunity to talk to you and through you the rest of the British Wizarding world. The battle ended so close to the start of the school year that I had barely recovered from that before starting my 7th year at Hogwarts. This is my NEWT year, you know, and I’m sure many of your readers are well aware of just how ‘nasty’ they are. It’s a condition of my inheritance as well to complete them and I want to do really well to make my family, past present and future, proud of my accomplishments. Because of that I’ve practically moved into the Library as, if I’m not in class, I’m in there studying and revising.

PR: You mentioned your inheritance. You’re due to become Lord Potter after you graduate, is that correct?

HP: Yes, it is. It’s a condition of the House of Potter to have to have completed your NEWTs before assuming the title, though normally my father would already be Lord Potter while I was in school so the pressure would be less. Since my parents were murdered, there’s been no Lord Potter. Most of our accounts have been on hold, our vote in the Wizengamot frozen and many things associated with the running of the Potter estate going on automatically based on the last orders from my father or plans set up in his will. I did get the vote back after turning 17, but I personally can’t cast the vote until I’m out of school. Until then voting has been handled by a bonded Gringotts employee based on criteria set up in my father’s will.

PR: Dumbledore spoke of your plans once you graduate. Are you looking forward to assuming your title and being able to become more involved in politics and the running of our world?

HP: I think I have a ways to go before I’m really ready for that, but I think that’s the case for anyone upon assuming their title. It’s a huge responsibility. I look forward to being able to make life better for all magical creatures in Britain and to helping all of you get involved in making things better as well.

PR: How so?

HP: I’m not the only one living in the Wizarding world and I didn’t really grow up in it either, but many of you did and you have traditions and history and thoughts and opinions that need to be taken into consideration when changes are proposed. A very wise man once told me that we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy. It would be easy for me, for all of us, to just sit back now that Voldemort is gone and let things happen as they will, but then nothing will change and nothing will get better. I and every one of you out there need to choose to be right, to educate ourselves so we can do our best to heal our world and make it a safe and wonderful place to raise our families in. I look forward to being a part of that and getting to know more about the people and the history of my home.

PR: Speaking of family, do you have plans for one? Dumbledore mentioned how close you are with the Weasleys – I know you have attended school with most of the children and are reported to be especially close with the youngest two: Ronald and Ginerva. Any plans to make them family for real?

HP: They already are my real family. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley took me in practically from the moment I rejoined the Wizarding world. In fact it’s only because of Mrs. Weasley’s help that I even made it on the Hogwarts Express that first year as I hadn’t been told how to find the train. Ron was my first friend and he and his brothers became very dear to me. When Ginerva started at Hogwarts, she became my little sister, not that she needs another brother! My other best friend Hermione [Granger] is my older sister. But they are family. We might not always get along, but that’s the way families are.

PR: So, is there a lucky girl at Hogwarts then? Someone you plan to start a family with?

HP: No, no lucky woman at Hogwarts, though I won’t say that I’ll never have a family with anyone I’ve gone to school with. I do want children and look forward to raising my children with my spouse and getting to teach them things and watch them grow-up. I’m just not focusing on that until after I graduate. I wasn’t really able to focus on my studies before, being new to magic and trying to survive Voldemort, and now I’m really focused on studying because it’s my NEWT year. And really, I have the rest of my life to find the perfect person for me and have the family I always wanted.

PR: Well, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. I think I speak for many people when I say ‘Good Luck!’ to you and your classmates on your upcoming NEWTs and I look forward to seeing what the new Lord Potter has in store for us.

HP: Thank you!

*~*~*

“Harry…”

“Yes, Hermione?”

“I’m worried for you. You have been my best friend and, yes, my brother, practically since we met,” she gave him a slightly watery looking smile. “The interview in today’s paper… I don’t know what plan you’ve got going now, but know that I’m here to help you however I can. I’ve covered for you on the weekends when you’d just disappear and I’m not asking for you to explain where you are, but,” she grinned, “I do better work when I know the material I’m going to be tested on, so if you could just point me towards the books that would be most helpful, I’d appreciate it.”

“I haven’t said anything to you, not because I don’t trust you, but because the fewer people who know, the better. And I noticed your help and I apologize for not saying thank you sooner, but it has been very appreciated and I will continue to be… hard to find on the weekends until I leave Hogwarts. Please know though that I’m safe when I’m not around and it’s not a bad thing. You’ll actually be very pleased once I can tell you.” He hugged her, the familiar feeling of her hair in his face and her arms tight around him very welcome.

“And as far as books to read… there’s a section in the far corner near the Restricted Section that you’ll find interesting. Try the top shelf, far right corner. Very enlightening reading, if sometimes a bit dry.”

With that, he winked at her and grabbed his book bag to go meet his study group.

*~*~*

To say that Dumbledore was ‘displeased’ with his interview would be putting it mildly, but it was also obvious that he couldn’t find a way to express it so that he wouldn’t look like he was being unreasonable. Nothing Harry had said had directly contradicted any point in Dumbledore’s interview, it just expanded on the details of Harry’s life or views in a way that twisted what he’d said.

Harry could see him fuming at the head table as he read the Prophet. Harry’d received some advance copies the night before, which he’d handed out to Hermione and the others in his study group so they would be aware of what was going on and could subtly handle any questions that came up in their houses. He’d considered including Ron and Ginny, but figured that would bring the article to people’s attention too early as Ron couldn’t have kept this a secret to save his or anyone else’s life.

Speaking of…

“Harry, what’s this you’re saying about my family in the Prophet? I didn’t know you were doing an interview with them, why didn’t you tell me? Did Hermione know?”

“No, Hermione didn’t know. I kept it to myself as it wasn’t a big deal. I just wanted to expand on what Headmaster Dumbledore’s interview touched on and clarify a few things. You know how the press like to twist things about me. I was hoping to keep that from happening this time. And what’s wrong with what I said about your family? I said I considered them like my own and that you and Ginny and the twins and all are like my brothers and sister. Surely that’s not a shock to you? I’ve said it for years!”

“But…”

“I think it’s a good article, Ron. I hope it inspires more people to get involved and educate themselves about how things work and how things are run in the Wizarding world. People so often blindly believe everything they read in the paper and this is finally something I hope they do believe. What’s the quote? ‘You’re either part of the solution or you're part of the problem’ and the Wizarding public has been part of the problem for a while now. It’s good that Harry and the Headmaster are trying to change that.”

Harry could’ve kissed her at that since she managed to say it quite loudly just as Dumbledore was stalking over, most likely to give him a piece of his mind. His slight pause in step was probably missed by most, but it was certainly noticed by Snape who was following just behind him. McGonagall didn’t seem to see anything, but it was hard to tell with her sometimes.

“Harry, I thought we agreed that you wouldn’t be leaving Hogwarts grounds without notifying me first?”

“I haven’t left the grounds at all recently, Headmaster.”

“Come now, Harry. I read your interview in The Prophet, you had to leave the grounds for that as I know no one entered in the past couple days.”

“The interview was done by floo. Professor McGonagall was kind enough to allow me to use hers and she stayed with me during it to make sure nothing inappropriate was asked.”

McGonagall sniffed, “Which I would’ve been happy to tell you, Albus, if you’d simply asked. Honestly!” She turned to Harry, “I think it went well. Nothing appears to have been miss-quoted and no ‘extra’ information was added. I am pleased.”

“I am as well; I haven’t had the best luck with them reporting things about me fairly. To have the Headmaster’s interview and mine both turn out well in the same week… almost feels like we’re pushing our luck.”

He turned back to Dumbledore, “Was there anything else, Headmaster?”

“Yes, Harry, I’ve been considering your situation and was wondering how you’d feel about taking your NEWTs early? It would allow you to accept your lordship and start attending Wizengamot meetings now where we can start working on fixing the Wizarding world’s issues.”

“Albus…”

“Headmaster, that’s a very generous offer, but it’s not even the holidays yet; we have almost seven months left of classes and this isn’t exactly easy material we’re covering. I don’t feel I’d do well at all taking them now.”

“Well, keep it in mind as an option.”

Harry felt a chill go down his spine and hoped that was an idea that would blow over quickly.

*~*~*

It didn’t of course and came up again a couple weeks later. Harry once again protested that it would be a bad idea as he wouldn’t have had time to learn all of that year’s materials, let alone revise everything from the previous ones.

Luckily, the Heads of House were on his side and managed to get Dumbledore to back off again, but Harry was beginning to see where this was going and decided that over the holiday break he should probably spend some time reading ahead. His study group agreed with his assessment and were willing to step up their revising schedule to help out.

Unfortunately though it appeared that the original conversation in the Great Hall had been reported to friends and family outside the school and by the time students were back after Christmas holiday, comments were starting to appear in the newspaper about how great it will be once Harry graduates and can assume his lordship and how it was a shame that it was still six months away as so much could be accomplished in that time.

His regular meetings with Ragnok and Neville were filled with plans upon plans of how to head this off, but as January became February they realized that it was only going to be a matter of time now and they needed to focus on how best to turn this to their benefit instead. Harry was considering buying stock in the wholesale manufacture of headache potions.

*~*~*

“Why wouldn’t you want to take your NEWTs early, Harry? Just be done with it. You’d be out of school; no more homework or tests. Sounds great to me.”

“Yes, just wonderful, except could you pass your NEWTs at this point? We haven’t even covered all the material yet; how is that at all fair to me? Besides, why should I be singled out for this? Neville’s going to assume his title after graduation. Considering the situation with Malfoy’s father, he may be taking the title as well. Those are two more votes; two more people who could be out there doing things and those are only ones with titles. Just think of what Hermione could be doing! At least she’s been prepared to take them since 3rd or 4th year!” He grinned at her as she hit him on the arm in retaliation.

“Prat,” she said fondly, “and it was more like 5th year.” She teased. “I don’t think it’s fair for them to force you to test early, but if they do, it’s only right that they offer it to anyone in 7th year that wants to take them. I know after the battle ended, most of us wanted to take a break and relax, but we had to start school again almost immediately and many of us that fought are… chaffing a bit at being back as students after being treated as adults while the fighting was going on. We feel like we’ve already passed our tests by surviving, but we’re still here.”

“But, Ms. Granger, you’re also still learning new material,” Dumbledore interjected, causing Ron, who hadn’t noticed him joining them, to startle and spill pumpkin juice on himself.

“Absolutely, Professor, which is why I feel Harry should be left alone to test at the end of the year with the rest of us. Otherwise, it should be an option for any 7th year to test early, especially since the Ministry testers will already be here.”

He paused for a moment to consider that. “I see your point, Ms. Granger. I’ll speak with the Ministry about when they could set up testing as there would be more administrators needed if more than Mr. Potter were testing since you, for example, take some classes he doesn’t.”

He smiled happily and walked off again leaving them to exchange concerned glances until Hermione got fed up with Ron’s inability to remove the pumpkin juice from his robes and scoured them clean for him.

*~*~*

They managed to get the NEWTs postponed until the first week of April and a total of nineteen 7th years were approved to take them early including Harry’s entire study group plus their two alternatives.

While Harry needed every day they could manage, he began to wish they were happening even sooner after the first week of Dumbledore’s constant comments about what they would be accomplishing once he’d graduated and how, with Harry’s support, he could make so many wonderful improvements. Neville couldn’t decide if he was offended or not that his support as Lord Longbottom didn’t seem to be important to Dumbledore at all.

A new bonding contract for Ginerva Weasley had shown up at Gringotts towards the end of February, which is when the comments about ‘how he’d go far with the support of a good woman’ began. After the fifth time some variation of that came up during a meal in the Great Hall, Hermione looked over at him, her expression dead serious, and placed her hand on his arm. “I will always support you, Harry, and I’m an amazing woman.”

Harry snorted pumpkin juice out his nose while the rest of those seated around him burst into laughter as she smirked.

*~*~*

By the time they’d all finished completing the NEWTs, none of them really cared how they done. They took a bit of time to celebrate in the Room of Requirement, then all pretty much disappeared to recover during the remainder of the week they had off before the results would be available.

They’d all been told they would be free to leave after dinner once the results were in, so most spent the day they arrived packing up their belongings and taking care of any last minute details. Harry, Neville and Draco had been told to expect a representative of Gringotts just before dinner to confirm that they were eligible to assume the Head of their various Houses before they would join the others for the celebration feast.

Harry was happy to see Ragnok when they entered the small receiving room their meeting was set to take place in. “Senior Account Manager Ragnok, it is good to see you again. May your gold be plentiful.” He bowed respectfully, followed by Neville and Draco.

“Lord Black, Lord Longbottom, Heir Presumptive Malfoy, may your enemies tremble before you.” He watched Draco’s look of shock at the titles granted to the other two turn to a grudging approval at the subterfuge before continuing. “Draco Malfoy, due to the permanent incarceration of your father due to crimes committed during the previous war, the title has been released to his heir. As you have met the requirements to assume the Lordship, are you willing to shoulder the duties necessary to become Head of the House of Malfoy?”

“I am.” He stepped forward and put on the Malfoy family ring, shuddering as the magic settled upon him and sunk into his skin.

“May Magic bless you, Lord Malfoy.” Ragnok turned to Neville and gestured him forward to remove the charms hiding his Lordship ring and blocking Magic’s knowledge that a new Lord Longbottom had taken over. He then did the same to Harry’s Black Lordship ring before pulling another ring box out of his pocket.

“Lord Black, due to the premature death of your father, the previous Lord Potter, the title has been released to his heir. As you have completed the requirements to assume the Lordship, are you willing to shoulder the duties necessary to become Head of the House of Potter?”

“I am.” Harry took the Potter ring and placed it on his finger. After going through this with the Black ring, he knew what to expect as the magic settled over him, but this time was even more powerful, as if Magic was giving him a final test before accepting him, but it did and the magic soaked into his skin leaving him feeling warm and slightly tingly.

“Well, My Lords, I was told to inform you to join your classmates in the Great Hall once we were done so you can celebrate your accomplishments.”

“Are you coming as well, Ragnok?” Neville asked politely as they turned to leave the room.

“Oh, Lord Longbottom, I wouldn’t miss this for anything.” He pulled a scroll out of his pocket and handed it to Harry. “I believe you were planning to do something with this tonight as well, Lord Potter Black.”

“Ah yes, time to deal with this once and for all,” he looked down at the latest marriage contract Dumbledore had submitted with a bit of a glare before placing it in his robes and following the others out.

“Ah, Lords Malfoy, Longbottom and Potter, it is good that you could join us, we…”

“Actually, Headmaster, it’s Lord Potter Black now. I held off on publically acknowledging the Black Lordship while a student here so as to not make my fellow classmates uncomfortable around me.” He continued on, not wanting to give Dumbledore a chance to break in before he said what he needed, and really wanted, to say to him. “I hope you don’t mind that I have a bit of business I needed to take care of before I end my time here at Hogwarts. It won’t take long as I don’t want to delay your feast, but I needed to return something to you.” He pulled the contract from his robes and placed it on the head table.

“I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d now cease sending me marriage contracts for females you don’t actually have the legal right to contract for. Her parents were most displeased when I told them about the latest one and I expect you’ll be hearing from them shortly. I’d also like them to stop as I’m not in the market for a Lady Potter Black… as I’ve already got a wonderful Lord Potter Black.”

He paused a bit due to the immediate swell of noise as everyone started talking and yelling at once. It slowly quieted down as they realized that they weren’t going to get any answers until they shut up.

“But, Harry, don’t you think you’re too young to be making decisions like that? You’re very trusting and your title… titles are very tempting. Luckily marriage bonds aren’t permanent until an heir is born so we have time to…”

Harry broke in, “Your help is not needed, Headmaster. I’ve known my spouse for seven years and we’ve been together since 5th year. We survived the war and day-to-day living and magic herself blessed our union on August 1st of this year. Some of the witnesses to our ceremony are here if you don’t believe me but I’m not terribly concerned if you don’t. And I appreciate your concern,” he said with a touch of sarcasm, “but our bonds are now quite permanent. Our twin sons were born just last week. We had barely finished testing in time to make it to their birth, but our surrogate held out long enough for us to arrive.”

“You… you have children? You married this past summer and you already have heirs?”

“I know, we’re young, but with the war looking like it was coming to a head, we wanted to make sure our family lines were secure. Remus was kind enough to stay with the woman who agreed to bear our children and make sure she was protected during the pregnancy. My spouse and I are both powerful and she had it rough for a while handing the magical surges.” He shot a grateful look at Snape before continuing. “Thankfully we all survived and now we can devote our time to raising our family and making this world a better place for them to grow up in. Which will not include blindly following your lead in the Wizengamot…” Harry was ready to just let the man have it with all the frustrations that had built up over the school year when a voice calling his name caught his attention.

“Harry?”

He turned to see his husband giving him a faintly reproachful look, though he was also plainly amused. “Yes, love?”

Seamus grinned as he left the table and walked forward to take his arm. “I know how much you want to burn all those bridges down right now, but fire is my specialty, if you remember, and I’m saying it’s not worth it. He’s never going to understand and will always think he knows best. So let’s skip the frustration, collect our friends and go see our sons before they need to go down for their first brief nap of the evening. Marie and Remus will thank us for it.”

Harry nodded and embraced him briefly before pulling out their portkey. He decided he could live with that.

The End!