A Lesson Learnt Too Well

by: Yidkirkin of the Warhammer

Disclaimer: I don't own anything.

I always try to keep it real and close to canon as I need, but this one goes out there a bit. I'm a big fan of fics coming about from a conversation that veers away from canon, so that's why it starts so abruptly.

SPOILERS I GUESS

Harry kept quiet as he was pulled along by the Minister, the two of them following Tom's lantern through the dark hallways to finally arrive at a small parlour. Harry almost couldn't see anything at all until Tom clicked his fingers nonchalantly, causing a fire to quickly spring to life in the grate and flood the room with a warm orange glow. Even with his nerves frazzled as they were, Harry relaxed against his will momentarily, only to tense back up again when the innkeeper left the room to acquire a bit of food and drink for them.

"Sit down, Harry," Fudge said, motioning to a chair by the fire.

Numbly, Harry complied, breaking out into goose bumps the moment he did so as the Minister turned to face him. He watched with increasing trepidation as Fudge removed his pinstriped cloak and bowler hat, tossing both onto an empty chair to the side. Finally, the man adjusted his bottle-green trousers and sat down as well, keeping slightly to the right of the fire so that he could see Harry in as much light as possible. Fudge didn't speak for a moment, almost as if he wanted to give Harry as much time as he needed to break out into a cold sweat.

"I am Cornelius Fudge, Harry. The Minister for Magic." Harry didn't know what to say to this; he had already seen Fudge once before, while under his invisibility cloak, but it wasn't as if he could say that. Harry also didn't want to introduce himself, as Fudge knew who he was as well, and he didn't want to sound stupid in front of one of the most influential men in Magical Britain.

Harry stayed awkwardly silent until Ton the innkeeper reappeared, bringing with him a tray of tea and crumpets and looking much more chipper than one ought to look at this time of night. It wasn't until he had placed the tray on the coffee table and left the room that Fudge deemed it the right time to try speaking again, this time preceded by clearing his throat rather stiffly.

"Well, Harry," Fudge started, pouring out tea, "You've had us all in a right flap, I don't mind telling you. Running away from your aunt and uncle's house like that! I'd started to think... but you're safe, and that's what matters." Passing Harry one of the steaming cups, Fudge then began buttering up one of the crumpets. When he saw that Harry was still holding the tea cup –he hadn't moved at all except to take it from the older man –he gently pushed the basket of pastries towards him.

"Eat, Harry, you look dead on your feet. Now then... you will be pleased to hear that we have dealt with the unfortunate blowing up of Miss Marjorie Dursley. Two members of the Accidental Magic Reversal Department were dispatched to Privet Drive a few hours ago. Miss Dursley has been punctured and her memory has been modified. She has no recollection of the incident at all. So that's that, and no harm done."

Fudge smiled at Harry briefly before taking a long sip of his tea in lieu of continuing his reassurances. Harry didn't know what to think about the revelation –the entire night he had thought that an encounter like this would result in an immediately broken wand –but he was still sure that anything else Fudge had to say wouldn't be making his situation any better. The Minister seemed to notice his inner turmoil if the sympathetic hum he let out was any indication.

"Ah, you're worrying about the reaction of your aunt and uncle?" he asked."Well, I won't deny that they are extremely angry, Harry, but they are prepared to allow you into their home again so long as this never happens again, as it won't, I'm sure."

Harry unstuck his throat.

"I- but- what about my punishment?" Fudge blinked.

"Punishment?"

"I broke the law!" Harry insisted. "The Decree for the Restriction of Underage Wizardry! Last year I got an official warning just because a house elf smashed a pudding in my uncle's house!" Harry steamrolled past whatever the Minister was about to say, his nerves on their last supports from how his night had gone so far. "The Ministry of Magic said I'd be expelled from Hogwarts if there was any more magic there!"

Fudge paused then, an odd expression passing over his face before it once again smoothed into an appropriately consoling look. Unbeknownst to the Boy-Who-Lived, his own frightened outburst had given the Minister an opportunity to employ something that he had been quietly mulling over ever since the reports of Harry's magic had reached him hours ago. Had Harry remained quiet right then, things might have gone differently for him, but now the gears in Fudge's mind were turning at full speed and nothing short of an official Wizengamot veto would stop them.

"Calm yourself, my dear boy; I was just about to touch on that, don't worry." Fudge soothed the obviously frazzled youth, mind still whirring a mile a minute. "It... is true you received that warning, and since you did the Ministry has to abide by it in some fashion or another, but we are not required to expel you, nor do we send people to Azkaban just for a touch of accidental magic."

Earlier that summer, when Sirius Black had first escaped and it was suspected that he might make an immediate attempt on Harry's life instead of laying low as he had been doing recently, Fudge had written to Dumbledore to ask for any advice on how to handle the safety of the Boy-Who-Lived and his family. At the time, he had thought that Dumbledore would be the best to ask, as he was the headmaster of Hogwart's and knew how to deal with children far better than Fudge himself. The old man had gently touched upon the Dursley's house wards to assure him of their stability, but had then suggested that Harry be kept ignorant of the impending danger. The headmaster's reasoning was that Harry having his summer break unimpeded would be better in the long run for his feeling of security at Privet Drive, and Fudge had agreed with him and that had been that.

Fudge had heard of the boy's disappearance, and his first thought had been how he should have had the situation explained to Harry after all. Now that he had the previously missing child here in front of him, safe but obviously extremely rattled by the fear of his own government, well, the Minister for Magic simply couldn't let such a thing go unaddressed and unrepaired. So, though he was still unsure if he really should be divulging this, Fudge decided that it was better the boy was prepared for whatever could happen rather than be an open target as he had been in the hours he had been missing. The Minister could see how letting Harry have his childhood was important, but this incident was not the first dangerous thing to happen to the boy, and an informed child was always going to win out over the alternative.

"Due to certain circumstances surrounding you, which I will explain in just a moment, the Ministry has decided that while you are not to be expelled... we cannot allow you to return to Hogwarts either." Fudge ignored Harry's outraged squawk and motioned for him to wait. "You have likely heard of the Sirius Black incident that is occurring right now... we, the Ministry, have reason to believe that he has broken out of prison in order to get to you, seeing as you were the one to defeat his master." Fudge's eyes slid up to Harry's forehead and the teenager glanced away, a feeling of dread creeping slowly up his stomach.

"Unfortunately, with all the recent activity on the continent, foreign criminals and all that, our previous plan of placing Dementors at Hogwarts as guards fell through just last week. Until Sirius Black is captured and the threat against you and by extension, anyone associated with you has been dealt with, the Ministry is going to have you study your Hogwarts curriculum using a tutoring system we have been developing for those who are unable to attend formalized magical education. Think of it as a test run... Harry, don't look so down, I promise that the Ministry will have this madman caught sooner than you think, the longest you'll be gone is for a year. Think of this as a convenient compromise. You don't want to be expelled do you?"

"Of course I don't." Harry said, feeling almost ashamed of himself, 'The Minister's only doing this for my benefit after all,' and Harry was grateful that he could still learn magic, if the other option was expulsion. He was just going to have to suck it up and learn to deal with living in Privet Drive again.

"Then how about this; if Sirius Black isn't captured by the time your fourth year comes along, though I am positive he will have by then, then I will guarantee that you can rejoin your classmates in Hogwarts. Does that make the situation a little easier to bear?" Harry nodded humbly, and so the Minister gave him a pat on the shoulder. "Now, have a crumpet, Harry, while I go and see if Tom's got a room for you. I think a young wizard should be able to spend some amount of time in his own society, so why not stay here for the last two weeks of the holidays?"

Fudge strode out of the parlour and Harry stared after him, unable to consciously accept what he had just agreed to. He really couldn't imagine what the coming year was going to be like, but then, it wasn't as if he really had a choice in the matter if he didn't want to be expelled. Fudge returned minutes later, accompanied by Tom the innkeeper.

"Room eleven's free, Harry." Fudge said. "I think you'll be very comfortable. Just a few things before I leave you. Sometime this week I will send your tutor so you can get acquainted with them, as well, I will have the situation explained in full to your family. I don't want you wandering off into Muggle London, all right? Keep to Diagon Alley. And you're to be back here before dark each night. Surely you'll understand. Tom will be keeping an eye on you for me."

"OK," said Harry slowly. "but why-?"

"Don't want to lose you again, do we?" said Fudge with a hearty laugh. "No, no... have your fun before your lessons, but we only want to be careful." Fudge cleared his throat loudly and picked up his pinstriped cloak. "Well, I'll be off, plenty to do, you know. So, I'll say goodbye."

He held out his hand and Harry shook it, smiling awkwardly as the Minister bade him a final farewell and then departed, leaving Harry alone with a beaming Tom who motioned towards the hallway.

"If you'll follow me, Mr. Potter," he said. "I've already taken your things up..."

Harry followed Tom up a handsome wooden staircase to a door with a brass number eleven on it, which Tom unlocked and opened for him. Inside was what Harry had expected for an inn room; a comfortable bed, wooden desk and chair, a fire burning warmly in the corner, and a tall brass owl perch- occupied by his favourite girl.

"Hedwig." Harry breathed in relief, having been incredibly worried about the fate of his first friend. The snowy owl made a fond clicking sound before she fluttered over and landed onto Harry's outstretched arm and shimmied up to his shoulder to preen at his hair.

"Very smart owl you've got there." Tom chuckled. "Arrived about five minutes after you did. If there's anything you need, Mr. Potter, don't hesitate to ask." He gave another bow and closed the door behind him, leaving Harry alone for the first time since before he had accidentally summoned the Knight Bus.

Harry sat on his bed for a long time, absent-mindedly stroking Hedwig and murmuring to her about his night. As the sky outside slowly turned from the black of night to a thin, light blue on the horizon, Harry found himself sinking into the mattress against his will, knowing full well that when he woke up he was going to have a lot more to worry about than a Hogsmeade form.