Chapter 23 - Planning Pays Off
The atmosphere inside Ambrosia's was definitely celebratory in nature. The guests who were currently enjoying the wonderful cuisine and hospitality this restaurant was famed for certainly had good reasons to be celebrating. They'd each played their part in the minor miracle of getting the Potter institute not only built, but up and running - and ready to receive their first students come September.
In reality, they had hardly stopped celebrating since the families of their new first years had left the Institute on Sunday evening. Every single family left the Institute showering it in glowing praise, and, more importantly, had also signed up their children to attend within hours of arriving. After sending out the official acceptance letters for the rest of the years, as well as many more 'sorry, your son/daughter has been unsuccessful in their application' replies, all that had been left to do was look forward to tonight.
The restaurant had its own photographer, though Luna was taking a few snaps too. Both of course agreed the Institute would have final say on any pictures that appeared in newspapers, though the restaurant was certainly free to hang any photos they wanted on their own walls. Sirius joking that there would soon be a few more framed pictures of Harry tastefully adorning the restaurant didn't bother his godson. Ambrosia's manager and staff had pulled out all the stops for the Institute tonight, Harry considered some pictures and a few quietly asked for autographs was a small price to pay for all their efforts. Harry would also be picking up the bill for tonight and, while that wouldn't be small, seeing everyone have a great time meant it would be worth every galleon.
They'd reached that point in the evening where Pomona had stood to say a few words. She thanked everyone for all their hard work, while looking forward to the challenges they would face once the Institute officially opened its doors to students in a few days. Thanking Harry for making everything she'd just spoken about possible, including arranging tonight's celebration, Pomona then offered the Institute's owner a chance to address all the people he'd invited.
Their friends who had holidayed with them for most of the summer were also here tonight, sharing a table with the betrothed couple. The addition to their group sat in her now default position - between Harry and Hermione - and sparkled, with only a little of that sparkle being due to the new dress she was wearing. Joan had slotted into this group as though she belonged there, and also knew what Harry's surprise was going to be. It was hard to contain so much joy in her little body, so it was leaking out and encompassing everyone within range.
Surrounded by his friends and family, with Hermione's constant support through their rings, it was a different Harry who stood to spring his surprise on all but a choose few.
"The first day of summer was one of the longest days of Hermione's and my life - but what a day. That was the day the Potter Institute began its journey from an idea in our heads to the thing that now has ties to everyone in this room. That night I made a promise to some people we were trying to coax into joining us on our dream of building a school, that if we could be ready to open by the first of September I would treat the entire staff to a night in the best restaurant we knew. I always keep my promises, and am delighted we're all here tonight..."
This drew tumultuous applause from within the restaurant, since all of the people there had heard a version of that meeting from those who were actually on the terrace for that life-changing sales pitch. "I remember there being a protest outside Ambrosia that day too, though apparently tonight's crowd is much larger - and a lot more vocal. I've also been assured by Amelia that there are enough of her aurors outside to handle it, and we should just enjoy our evening. By the anger on display out there tonight, I'm surprised both me and the Institute aren't drowning under waves of howlers on a daily basis."
George simply couldn't resist a quip at that. "Since all the Weasleys are attending, our mum doesn't need to send any."
This drew some laughter before Barchoke gave Harry the real reason. "We handle all correspondence for you and the Institute, and no one would dare send a howler to Gringotts."
The seriousness behind Barchoke's presentation of his comment for some reason set Joan off giggling. This started others off too, and it soon spread throughout the restaurant. Since Barchoke was already a fully paid-up member of the 'wrapped around Joan's little finger' club, he couldn't help but smile along. He was also one of the few present who knew this young girl was shortly about to have her greatest wish come true. Barchoke had probably smiled more tonight than he had in years - probably ruining his reputation as a tough goblin negotiator too.
Things had changed so much that Neville felt comfortable making a comment that everyone heard as well. "I think it's all Luna's fault. Those pictures in the Quibbler of the new first year's visit to the Institute was a real slap in the face to those who didn't get accepted."
Ron got in on the act too. "Yeah, Luna, that wasn't very nice. Those pictures showing how much better the shops in Naples are was just kicking people while they're down - and crying about how much gold they were loosing."
Susan managed to hold her laughter back long enough to get a crack of her own in. "That the Prophet didn't even know about their visit to Italy was just terrible. The Quibbler had wonderful pictures plastered all over it, and all the Prophet had that day was a story about regurgitating toilets inside the Ministry building... What have you got to say for yourself, Lovegood?"
As laughter rang around the restaurant, Luna was actually enjoying being jokingly teased by her friends. She enjoyed Neville leaning in and kissing her much more though.
Looking around, Harry couldn't fail to see the lives affected by the decisions he and Hermione had begun making since that night they met his parents. He hoped they would be proud of their son for his next actions.
"I think it's fair to say that, for those of us here tonight, this has been a summer like no other. Hermione and I becoming betrothed was the start of it for us. Now we're ready to take the next step, and announce an impending addition to our family."
This was greeted with gasps of shock, even Hermione and Joan hugging didn't give the prank away. Dan and Emma's hysterical laughter was puzzling though, as was Barchoke's deep chuckling. Jillian standing from her table and, after receiving a scroll from Barchoke, walking over to Harry alerted the Marauders they'd just been pranked. Everyone else though was still a few moments behind. A beaming Jillian handing Harry the scroll, before bending down to kiss Joan on the cheek, saw most of the guests now catching on.
"This scroll means that tonight, Joan will officially become a Potter. When offered this choice, Joan only asked for one thing - that the day she joined our family would then be celebrated as her official birthday. I would like everyone to join our celebration by singing a certain song."
A more emotional rendition of 'Happy Birthday' had rarely been heard. When Ambrosia's staff began wheeling out a magnificent cake with four lit candles on it, there was hardly a dry eye in the restaurant as emotions were running as freely as the wine. Joan stood with Harry and Hermione and blew the candles out, the three were then surrounded by friends and family as congratulations saw all of them receiving hugs.
Sirius was congratulating Harry on a wonderful prank, before kidding Joan that keeping this a secret robbed her of lots of presents. Looking straight into his eyes, her answer of 'what more could I want?' began another round of hugging.
"There is one thing you could do for your newest godchild, this scroll doesn't actually become official until two witnesses sign it. We thought Lord Black and Madam Amelia Bones' signatures on the document would stop anyone at the British Ministry trying to make a fuss about it."
A delighted Sirius and Amelia soon made the entire process complete. With birthday cake now appearing on all the tables, everyone sat back down to eat even more.
Augusta and Amelia were sitting at the table that also held the Grangers, Sirius and Francesca with Jillian and Barchoke completing the company. It was Augusta who posed a question to the table. "Now that Joan has been adopted, do you think they'll test to see who her actual parents are?"
Emma couldn't have shot that idea down any further if she'd drawn her gun. "Hermione and Harry are her family now. That's all Joan needs to know, the little darling had made it clear she doesn't want to know any more than that."
It was Jillian who then actually surprised the rest of the people sitting around the table. "In all honesty, I wouldn't have expected any other answer. The staff have actually been approached by quite a few of our older children. We were all staying with Harry when he was injured at the Wizengamot session held about the orphanage, so they understood what happened - and why. Every single one of them who came forward also made it plain they didn't want any parental test done on them. Not only didn't they want to be associated with anyone who would attack Harry, they now have far brighter futures to look forward to than at any time in the Orphanage's history. The three older girls who recently joined us after being abandoned by their fleeing families also had a profound affect on everyone."
An emotional Jillian needed a sip of wine before continuing, with the rest of the table now hanging on her every word. "Our children now have vastly improved facilities and excellent levels of care under the rule of the Black Orphanage board, with admission to the Potter Institute at eleven already guaranteed. For the first time ever, our children recognise they have wonderful opportunities to make their own way in life. There will be parents currently outside this restaurant protesting that their children are being denied access to a wonderful school while ours will automatically attend there - and be treated the same as every other student when they do. If that isn't a reason to enjoy the best celebration I've ever had, I don't know what is!"
None at the table had realised the restaurant had become silent around them as people listened in to Jillian's words - words that came straight from her heart. Joan crawled onto Jillian's lap, hugging the person who always looked after everyone in her care.
Kissing the little girl's forehead, Jillian made no attempt to hide the joy she felt. "A very happy Birthday to you. I couldn't possibly have chosen a better family for you, and know you'll be so very happy there."
A beaming Sirius couldn't help himself. "And that right there, ladies and gentlemen, is the reason why Miss Jillian Green not only manages the orphanage, she's now on its board of directors. I'm only glad we managed to snap her up, before my godson coaxed her into working at some Institute in Italy."
A now blushing Jillian was soon joined by Hermione and Harry - with the latter now revealing his last surprise of the evening.
"I have of course spoken to Headmistress Sprout about this, and know I need to approach the orphanage board with any proposal for the orphans. Since every member of that board is currently sitting here, I'm just going to put it out there. The Potter institute would like to invite those who live and work at the Black orphanage to spend Christmas with us in Italy."
Hermione's hand was already in the air as she called for the board to vote on the matter. Barchoke's hand was quick to follow, as was Neville's and both her parents. Francesca's hand was clasped in Sirius' as she raised both their hands together.
A smiling Harry was looking down at an emotional Jillian. "Miss Green, I was hoping for a unanimous vote here."
Joan slid of her lap, allowing Jillian to stand. She surprised Harry by kissing him on both cheeks, before giving Hermione the same treatment. "Miss Granger, I'm sure you won't take it the wrong way when I say your Harry is the best thing that ever happened to me. With three Grangers, his friend Neville and the Potter's Gringotts account manager on the board of directors - I know exactly who we have to thank for dramatically changing all our lives."
Sirius's half-hearted protests were drowned out by cheers as Jillian then raised her hand to make the acceptance of Harry's offer unanimous. A smiling Pomona stood and raised her glass, offering a toast to the Potter Institute, a toast that was gladly taken up by everyone in the restaurant.
Augustus had accepted the slight risk walking into Gringotts presented. After spending over a decade in Azkaban though, he was certain the chances of him being recognised by a witch or wizard while making the quick trip was minimal. With the hair on his head now far greyer and receding, while sporting a beard that would further confuse anyone looking too closely, Augustus also deliberately chose a time when the bank wasn't busy. No identification was required by the goblin teller, nor asked for, when simply exchanging a bag of gold for Muggle currency.
They wanted to exit Britain without attracting any attention from the Ministry of Magic, and the easiest way to do that was to travel while posing as muggles. Augustus had also apparated to Dover on scouting missions, mainly to see what types of clothing he would need to purchase - but a look at the ferry boarding procedures couldn't hurt either. He then spent some time in second hand clothes shops, putting together travel clothing for the group.
September the first saw all four apparating to a deserted site in Dover Augustus had already picked out. Confundus charms cast on four pieces of parchment were all that was needed to get the group on board, convincing any Muggle who enquired that they had the proper tickets and documentation for the journey. It was an excited group who sat at a corner table in the ferry restaurant, drinking beer and eating food they didn't have to cook themselves.
Washing fried chicken down with a cold beer had Bellatrix in a very good mood. That, and they'd finally started their mission to search for their master. She stared Augustus right in the eyes and paid him a compliment - in her own inimitable style.
"All those times you would disappear off for hours, I was sure you were just trying to take a break from us. It seems you really did put some work in. You made today look easy, and these clothes aren't half bad. Good job, and can we have more beer?"
Nodding in acceptance, Augustus tried to make his position clear. "I was the obvious person to arrange this part, so I did the best I could. When we reach where we're headed, these clothes would see us murdered. Wearing the robes in our bags won't get us taken seriously either, but I couldn't buy what you and Rodolphus will need to mingle with the right type of dark families. That will be up to you two to arrange, buying the right robes and seeking out invitations. Rabastan and I will be fine wearing what robes we've already got while rooting out information from the lower classes, with firewhiskey and a few gold coins to loosen tongues. One way or another, we'll pick up news of our master. A wizard as powerful as the Dark Lord will always leave traces as he passes through."
As Augustus left to buy more drinks from the bar, Rabastan felt he had to say something to his family. "He won't betray us, you know."
"That just proves once more how smart he is, because only a fool would betray us."
"Bella, Augustus is loyal to our Lord. He's loyal to me, I'm family to him. Apart from our Lord, he's also the most brilliant wizard I've ever met. None of us three could have pulled this off today, yet Augustus had us appropriately dressed and so well coached that we waltzed on board this ferry without a second glance from anyone..."
As Augustus arrived back with the beers, Bella lifted hers and nodded to her brother-in-law. "You know, this is actually quite a civilised way to travel. A toast - to finding our Lord."
Four glasses clinked together, symbolising their joint purpose as the channel ferry they were sitting onboard already had them out of Britain and heading for Calais on its short trip to France.
In their roles as Deputy Headmistress and Steward of House Potter, Minerva and Remus portkeyed out to the London branch of Gringotts. Minerva would handle the portkeying of all the students who were attending the Institute, while Remus was there to assure she got her work done in peace. The official refusal notices from the Institute had set off something of a storm back in Britain.
Pureblood families being refused something they desperately wanted by a half-blood upstart upset the natural order of how things were supposed to work within Magical Britain. The matter had even been raised in the Wizengamot chamber, but too many members owed money to Black and Potter's company for it to gain any support there. Amelia took great delight in pointing out the blindingly obvious - the Institute was owned by Harry Potter, and it was solely his decision on who received invitations to attend.
Amelia had to split her auror force today, covering Diagon Alley as well as Platform nine and three quarters. As she walked down the Alley toward Gringotts with the Abbots, Amelia was certain she made the right decision. There were witches and wizards standing around the Alley, staring at those families leading their children into Gringotts. Susan and Hannah's appearance almost started a riot.
Having been involved in the design of the Institute robes, and been fitted for theirs while holidaying with Harry over the summer, both girls proudly wore them as they marched to the bank. Amelia actually had to pull her wand on a group of reporters and photographers who all but mobbed the girls with their enthusiasm for pictures and quotes, but her aurors soon had the situation back under control.
A huff from Hannah's mother was followed by a remark aimed at both girls. "I told you it would be provocative to wear them before reaching the bank."
Both girls had benefited greatly from spending the summer with friends, and were growing in confidence by the day. "Mum, a school uniform should not be enough to set off a reaction like that. We're very proud of our new school, and have no intention of hiding the fact we're attending the Potter Institute. We'll be there for another four years so people will just have to get used to it."
Neville and Luna arrived just behind them, they too were dressed as Institute students. One of the shopkeepers actually had the nerve to shout at Augusta as she led her grandson and his girlfriend toward Gringotts.
"I thought the Longbottoms were on the Hogwarts Board of Governors - how can you send your grandson off to this abomination?"
Pinning the shopkeeper with a look that would have withered Devils Snare, Augusta's rebuke could be heard the entire length of the Alley. "Since Dumbledore ignores every request the Hogwarts Board makes of him, I didn't see any point continuing and resigned my position. My grandson is attending the best school I've ever seen, with some of the top professors in all of Europe. What gives you the right to publicly rebuke me for accepting that offer? If your takings are down, what right have you to shout at people for shopping elsewhere?"
"I'm going to be out of business if this is allowed to continue..."
If anything, Augusta's glare intensified while talking a step toward the shopkeeper. "And just how are you going to stop it? Let me give you a few clues, standing protesting outside a restaurant or berating witches and wizards as they walk down the Alley will never be the answer to helping your business."
They walked away, only for the Weasleys and Bulstrodes to follow on behind, their Potter Institute robes looking bright and resplendent too. The sky blue robes, proudly displaying the Institute's 'Inspire' logo, were like a breath of fresh air when compared to the decaying atmosphere now being generated in the Alley. A steady stream of families headed toward Gringotts over the next couple of hours, tellingly with none of them purchasing anything in the Alley.
Back at the Institute, the owner and staff of the shop chosen to supply the Institute students with uniforms and robes arrived. They brought large trunks of shrunken PI uniforms with them, as the Institute students would get their supplies today.
All the new first years had been measured and fitted on their visit to Naples, a trip to the wand shop had also taken place. They would be arriving later, to find everything they needed already in their allocated room.
The first students to arrive were the Patel twins and Lavender. The pair of former Gryffindors proceeded to squee and gasp in amazement at everything they could see around them, Hermione though knew exactly how to divert their attention. After Pomona had officially greeted the girls, Hermione pointed them in the direction of where they could get their new uniform and robes. Since she, Harry and Ginny were standing already wearing theirs, poor Padma was dragged out of there so fast she almost suffered a whiplash injury as both fashionistas couldn't wait to be dressed so finely.
Dean and Seamus were next to arrive, Dean's low whistle was the only obvious sign both were very impressed with their new school. The two were also delighted that Ginny offered to lead them to where the wizards were being fitted for their uniforms.
Michael Corner and Wayne Hopkins portkeyed in next, with Pomona obviously knowing the former Puff better. Harry then led both to where they could get fitted for their uniforms. "It's good to have you here, guys. I understand some people you know from Hogwarts didn't make it to Italy, but that really couldn't be helped. The Institute was never set up to replace Hogwarts, just as an alternative. Our numbers are locked at twenty students per year."
Wayne summed it up for both of them. "There will be some really pissed-off people getting on the Hogwarts Express today. While we certainly get why they're angry, both Michael and me are just so glad to be here. Did you hear Percy Weasley and Penny Clearwater are now Professors at Hogwarts? They were both on the express with us at the end of summer. I'll take Sprout running things over Dumbledore any day!" Hermione's 'told you so' in his head had Harry's smile growing wider.
The next to arrive were the Greengrass sisters and a Tracy Davis who thanked Hermione profusely every two steps they took. Thankfully they quickly found themselves ready to be fitted for their robes. Ginny soon followed, bringing Sue Li and Megan Jones with her.
Harry had almost the exact same conversation as before while leading Justin and Ernie to the waiting tailors. Both had an identical very high opinion of Headmistress Sprout and were delighted to be attending the Institute - no matter who didn't make it.
All three were waiting on their friends arriving. This had been deliberately timed to build a break in the uniform fitting process, and provide a few more guides to initially show the new students around. A bubbly Susan and Hannah were first to arrive, hugging their three friends who were waiting. Neville and Luna were next, finally followed by the Weasleys and Millie. Pomona then began issuing their tasks.
"I need a couple of people here to lead the arrivals to the tailors. The students fitted for uniforms then need to be show our accommodation, demonstrate the systems to anyone not used to them, then lead them to Dan and Emma to finalise their room allocation."
They quickly agreed to work in rotation. Leading the new arrivals and then picking up whoever was already done and lead them to the accommodation block. After dropping them off with Dan and Emma, they would return here to start over again.
Harry volunteered to go first. Hermione's raised eyebrow was the only visible clue they were holding a conversation. 'You're volunteering for Lavender and Parvati?'
'I invited them here, I should be the one to put up with their squealing at the slightest thing. Their first sight of the pool will probably see my hearing permanently damaged.'
'It was them, or Boot and Goldstein. I think we're better without the arrogance and sense of entitlement those two would bring with them. I thought Tracy was going to get down on her knees and kiss my feet - now that's a massive change right there!'
Harry was smiling at Hermione's memory of the event. 'It looks like a lot of people had their sights set on the few unallocated places the Institute had left. I suppose their disappointment explains some of the grief we've been getting from Britain."
Their mental conversation went unnoticed as Ginny had volunteered to go next, which was Dean and Seamus - and instantly attracted her three brothers' attention. Millie was going to be Mandy's roommate, so it made sense for her to show the former Puff around.
Harry left as the rest sorted out who would do what. Hermione's quip 'at least the Creeveys have already chosen their room, so you don't have to do that one' once more had him smiling.
As he approached the trio of hyper girls, Harry asked them who was rooming with who.
"Any particular reason you want to know, Harry?" Lavender flirted back at him.
Padma snorted her disgust at Lavender's blatant attempt at gaining Harry's attention. "I'm rooming with Sue Li, Harry. I don't want to be around when Hermione kicks these two out your institute. I'm here to learn, and can't thank you enough for this fantastic opportunity."
Knowing Harry would do whatever Hermione suggested, Lavender immediately apologised. "Sorry, Harry, you know I was only joking."
Harry advised Padma to wait on Sue Li, before leaving with the temporary cowed gossip twins in tow.
"Headmistress Sprout had quite the chat with Fred and George, the Institute is going out of its way to have them attending. In return, their behaviour will undergo a radical makeover - otherwise they'll be back at Hogwarts and being taught by Percy. The line between pranks and bullying can be an exceedingly thin one, so the twins will adopt a no-pranks policy while attending here."
He stopped walking, turning around to face both witches. "The line between gossip and slander is also easily crossed, and there's a lot fewer students here - with no house loyalties to hide behind either. You are going to see things today that will blow your mind, we're all really proud of the Institute, and both of you know the alternative. Like the twins, we're going out on a bit of a limb for you two. Then again, the entire purpose of the Institute is to provide opportunities to witches and wizards they wouldn't get in Hogwarts or Britain. It's up to each witch and wizard whether they grasp the offered opportunities."
Harry began walking again, and it was two thoughtful witches who followed. He then dangled a carrot in front of them. "If you two behave, I'll introduce you to the witch who's stolen my heart."
This didn't seem like much. "Harry, we've roomed with Hermione for the last three years."
"Ah, but I didn't say it was Hermione - did I?"
It was a cautious Parvati who asked the next question. "Does Hermione know?"
"Of course, and she loves her as much as I do..."
With Hermione laughing in his head, Harry easily ignored the questions both girls were now peppering him with. He'd reached the first accommodation room to show the girls, opening the door stopped all questions as effectively as a silencing charm.
The large room contained a pair of single beds, a double wardrobe with mirror doors, a designated purpose-built study desk/area and a door that led to their own bathroom - with a walk-in shower cubical too. Flicking a few switches turned on the room lighting, bedside lamps and study area electric lights. Lifting the telephone, Harry explained about the facility to phone home - both witches confirming their families were on the list to get phones installed as quickly as possible.
Harry had saved the best to last though, pulling back the curtains to reveal floor to ceiling glass sliding doors - and the balcony beyond. The girls drunkenly staggered forward onto the balcony, and both burst into tears. Harry placed a comforting arm around each of their shoulders.
"So, I take it your minds are blown?"
"Harry, I don't have the words." For Lavender, that was really saying something.
"Now, this is only one of four types of accommodation available - the rooms are basically the same but what's through these doors is slightly different for each one. This is a first floor pool view, looks fantastic but that's the staff accommodation over there on the other leg of the Pi. There will be a full tour later, by yeargroups and led by the staff. This is only so you can put a request in for your favourite room type, and so we can get you settled in before dinner tonight. Across the corridor, you'll get a sea/mountain view - and probably see the corner of my villa too."
The girls shot out of there to witness the view from the other room, and of course get a glance at Harry's home. After going downstairs and seeing the rooms that had patios instead of balconies, it was a couple of confused witches who left with Harry to give Hermione's parents, and now their professors, a decision on what type of accommodation they preferred. Their minds went into meltdown though when a young girl shot across the classroom and jumped into Harry's arms.
"It's actually happening, I'm so excited. I start classes on Monday too!"
"I didn't know Hermione had a younger sister?" Instead of answering Lavender's question, Harry just introduced the girl currently in his arms.
"Parvati, Lavender, I'd like to introduce you to Joan Potter. I'll leave you with Dan and Emma - it's going to be hard for us remembering they're our professors too."
Putting her down, Harry left with a chatty Joan's hand held in his - Hermione's laughter once more ringing in his head.
"Pav, I've just realised how difficult it's going to be attending a school where the owner knows you so well."
"I don't care - this place is fantastic!"
Both then sat down to chat with Hermione's parents.
Snacks were being served all day in the hall while the same procedures were carried out for the new third and then second years. The fourth years we're getting their tour of PI by the time the first years began arriving. Since they had already visited and chosen their preferred room type, they simply headed down the corridor to their already allocated room - where everything they needed was waiting on them.
After the last of the new first year reached the Institute, Minerva and Remus returned too - both looking as if they needed a stiff drink. None of the friends who'd spent the summer with Harry had gone on the fourth - or third year - tours. Remus headed straight for the group.
"I dealt with a whole bunch of disgruntled parents, but we expected that. Dumbledore turned up too, Barchoke wouldn't let him through to see either Minerva or me. That's certainly one we owe him, I could actually hear Dumbledore getting louder and louder as Barchoke basically told him to bugger off - repeatedly."
"So, plan B then?" Harry couldn't help but kiss Hermione for remaining so calm, while Joan giggled at them kissing.
A nodding Remus still gave them a reminder. "You don't leave Italy until Sirius or me calls for Dobby."
Looking around, Ron asked where Sirius and Francesca were.
"He wants this to be our day, so they're in London at the orphanage. They'll both be here later, we'll try and be back for the Headmistress's welcoming speech."
That had Hermione giggling in his head. 'This is the Potter Institute, Pomona will wait for you.' As the fourth year students poured back in, all could see the reasoning behind not starting classes tomorrow - Friday. It would probably take at least until Monday to scrape this lot off the ceiling - though Dean was quickly down on his knees thanking them for the TV room. He really missed watching the football while at Hogwarts.
Ernie too was raving about the available facilities. "Justin took us to a movie during the summer - it was brilliant! To think we have a cinema here..." When the pool was next to be mentioned in glowing terms, Harry was pretty sure this was going to go on for hours yet. Hermione took Joan over to Emma, Harry and her had somewhere else to be later.
In any instance of running contraband by channel ferry, whether that contraband would be people, alcohol, drugs or guns, the direction of the illegal traffic was almost exclusively from Calais into Dover. It stood to reason then that boarding a ferry in Calais for Dover saw passengers facing far greater levels of scrutiny than those travelling in the opposite direction. Tom watched through those possessed eyes as passengers from Britain disembarked with barely any checks in place at all.
Yet, for him and Wormtail to board the same ferry at Calais, the muggles were carrying out an array of tests - including passing any baggage carried on through some sort of electrical scanner. Since one of their bags had a featherlight charm on it, and expanded on the inside to transport Nagini, Tom had no idea how the muggle device would react to any scan of that. With armed police standing all around, they simply couldn't risk drawing any attention to themselves.
Tom had a plan though, and it was time to put it to the test. Casting the disillusionment charm on himself, Wormtail and their baggage, Tom grabbed Peter by the shoulder and slowly led him to where they needed to be. It took nearly fifteen minutes for the right set of circumstances to appear. A holiday maker returning to Britain after spending a caravanning break in Europe. It is of course illegal, and highly dangerous, to have passengers inside a caravan as it is towed. Since it would be less than a hundred yards onto the ferry, and that distance covered at very low speed, Tom didn't count that as a risk at all.
As the caravan paused in the traffic queued to board the ferry, a quick notice-me-not charm on the door took care of anyone seeing it opening. Alohomora saw both of them and their luggage safely inside the caravan before it began moving again. While still invisible to the muggles, they were driven onto the very same channel ferry four Death Eaters had just disembarked from.
The last students had disembarked from the train, with the Head Boy and Head Girl directing any stragglers toward the horseless carriages. A pair of cloaked figures with their hoods raised then stepped off the railway carriage nearest the big red engine. Another two figures became visible either side of the pair that had just exited the train.
"Remus promised Dumbledore you'd be on the Express today. Thanks to Dobby, you've just kept that promise. There can be no risk of any magical backlash against Remus now, so can we get the hell out of here and go home?"
That Sirius now thought of Italy as home pleased the young couple bracketed by their escorts, but they weren't ready to leave just yet. "I need to talk with someone, someone very important. It will take two minutes, and we've all got our portkeys - with Dobby standing by too."
"In two minutes, I'm invoking a Potter emergency portkey situation, and the clock is already ticking."
Harry and Hermione quickly sprinted down a path they'd last trodden exactly three years ago this very evening. Hagrid was herding this year's few charges into the boats when he realised they had company. His pink umbrella was instantly pointed at this pair of intruders.
"State yer business 'ere, an' I better like yer answer."
"We just stopped by to see a friend." As Harry spoke, they both lowered their hoods. The change in Hagrid was dramatic and immediate.
" 'Arry, 'Ermione - what the blazes are yeh doin' 'ere? I thought yeh would be goin' to yer own school?"
"We are, Hagrid, but couldn't leave Hogwarts without saying goodbye to you."
This saw both of them engulfed in one of Hagrid's hugs, until Sirius broke up the party. "Guys, we need to get out of here. Hagrid shouting both your names was probably loud enough to be heard all the way up in the castle."
They both knew Sirius was right, but had one more thing to do first. "Hagrid, how would you like to spend Christmas with us in Italy? All the kids from the Black orphanage are coming too - and you'd get to meet Joan Potter. Trust me, that alone is worth the trip."
A now tearful Hagrid could only nod his acceptance, the power of speech having temporarily left him. Harry barely had time to tell his large friend that Gringotts would make all the arrangements before Sirius forced them to activate their portkeys.
"You really do have a lot of friends at the Institute, Hagrid, and they'll all be looking forward to seeing you at Christmas."
Remus was nodding in agreement with Sirius, while thinking this situation couldn't have worked out any better for them. Within minutes of the boats landing at the castle, it would be all over Hogwarts that Harry Potter had been here tonight. The Marauder only wished there was some way they could witness Dumbledore's reactions to that news.
It was only after Sirius and Remus had portkeyed away, one of the eleven-year-olds felt brave enough to ask a question.
"Mr Hagrid, sir. Was that really Harry Potter?"
"Yep, an' a better friend yeh couldn't wish for."
A/N Thanks for reading - and stay safe.