The healers at Saint Mungo's had been prepared to receive casualties. They had received a notice from the DMLE of a battle at the Ministry, and had a trauma team on standby. The hospital normally kept the emergency portkey room staffed, as most aurors would carry a portkey when in the field. Tonight, however, they had a full team ready and waiting.
Instead of the expected auror and civilian casualties, what they got were three witches and two wizards who were awake and alert on arrival. Each had their wands out, ready for anything. Only when they recognized their surroundings did the five put their wands away and allow themselves to be treated.
The teenagers had few injuries worse than cuts from broken glass, though those cuts had the potential to scar, seeing as they were mostly caused by the enchanted glass of shattered prophecies. Most of their bruises and scrapes had already been treated with muggle-style field bandages, to the surprise of the healers. Ginny Weasley had sprained an ankle in the death room, when she misjudged her footing - but it was no matter, as she took down Rodolphus Lestrange from her back.
No aurors were treated that night, nor were any death eaters sent in for medical care. The healers later learned that there had been no badly injured death eaters - only captured and dead ones. The team lead, whose muggleborn wife had been killed the month prior, found it very hard to feel bad about their fate, despite his oaths.
Hermione was waiting on her official release when Harry arrived. In a shot, she was across the room, giving him a hug. Harry had seen her coming, knowing her as he did, and caught her.
"Are you ok?" she asked his shoulder, not breaking the hug.
"I will be," was his reply. It was all still too fresh, too raw. His parents, his brother, Dumbledore's betrayal. All of it would need time.
"So it's real, then? They were…?" She pulled away to look at him, getting a read on his reactions.
A nod. "Yep. It's them." He shook his head and chuckled at the reality of that statement. "My parents are alive, and Dumbledore knew."
Hermione looked just as horrified as he expected her to; so much of his life was defined not just by the actual loss of his parents, but by the manner of it as well. That they had died to protect him was part of everything he did, every decision. Much of what he had done this past year was his attempt to live up to the Potter legacy.
To then learn that they lived? How is he standing here, composed and calm?
Her eyes must have told the tale, for Harry just grinned at her. "It's the end of the year, Hermione, of course my life would get upended. That's how these things work, remember?" That got him a little shove, just enough to make her point.
"Prat," she said, her eyes wet. He saw that she was smiling, though, which was good. The anger will come later, he thought.
Her features clouded a bit, and he revised that estimate - her explosion might be sooner rather than later. Again she looked up. "What do we do about them?"
Harry let out a deep breath, running a hand through his hair. He had been considering this very question for the last half hour. Ever since his run-in with James Junior. With my brother, he corrected.
"I need time," he said quietly, after a few moments. "I need to process this, figure out where I stand, before I do anything." He sighed again, sadly. "As much as I want answers yesterday, as much as I think I deserve answers, what happens with them isn't mission critical right now."
Hermione nodded to him, saying nothing. He had just about come out and said that the 'Potters' and his brother were unimportant, at least in the short term. When he puts it that way, he's right.
"James was seen fighting Voldemort in the atrium," Harry said. "No one spoke to me when I got off of the lifts, which makes me think that everyone assumed I was an auror."
"You went straight to Amelia, didn't you?" Hermione asked. Harry nodded. "Then you're right, they probably figured you were from the DMLE. Wearing a long coat, clearly having come from a battle? And you said your… um, James' hair was different?"
Another nod. "He has my hair, but his was kept long and tied back." Hermione's eyes went up to Harry's own dark hair, which he had managed to keep in a short (and obviously muggle) style. The long-haired look was closer to the standard for the young pureblood heir - which was part of why Sirius had gotten rid of it.
"Right, then," Hermione continued. "I doubt anyone would make you out to be twins, then." She looked thoughtful. "And James Senior and Lily were, um, apprehended away from the public eye."
"It might not be public, then." Harry considered that. "Surely they won't just go back into hiding?"
"They might not have even been in hiding. Maybe they lived abroad under other names." Hermione speculated. "Did James have an odd accent?"
"Not that I noticed." He replied. Reaching into his coat, Harry pulled out a roll of parchment. "But I'll admit I had other things on my mind."
Hermione's eyes grew wide, even as they locked onto the document. Harry chuckled at her reaction, before handing it over. She scanned the words quickly, thankful that the quill Harry had used wrote in a clean, precise script, rather than his messy scrawl.
They had known they'd only have one shot at a transcript of the prophecy. She had made sure they would be able to take advantage. This was critical intelligence, Harry had said.
He saw her look of shock at the words, her mouth hanging open. She looked up, her eyes again watering. "Oh, Harry." She hugged him again. "This means…?"
He hugged her back. "Yep." was his only response.
The healers put up a bit of a fuss when Neville Longbottom insisted on waiting for the rest of his group. He, Ron, Luna, and Ginny, had all been released - they were waiting only on Harry and Hermione. Harry had stopped by while they were being evaluated, and spoken with the four for a few minutes, before going to find Hermione.
Harry, for his part, had not asked to be treated. With the rumors that he had fought He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named once again just that evening, no one was going to question him. Not tonight.
So it was that the four were waiting in a small conference room when the door flew open.
Neville was on his feet before the woman saw him. It took the others a moment to recognize her, for her appearance was disheveled, as if she had rushed out of the house when she received word of the battle. She even lacked her trademark vulture hat.
Any other night, Madam Augusta Longbottom would have died before leaving the house in anything less than her best. How else to represent the Ancient and Most Noble House of Longbottom? Tonight, however, events had taken a life of their own, and she had business more urgent even than decorum.
Seeing her grandson, Augusta strode across the conference room. Ron and Luna had stood as well, now, while Ginny remained sitting, her ankle still healing. None spoke, and thus the room was silent when Augusta's hand met Neville's cheek with a resounding SLAP!
The Longbottom Scion said nothing, but kept his eyes on his grandmother. The woman was seething in rage, her magic pulsing angrily, and Neville would do nothing to make it worse.
"How DARE you!" Augusta almost shouted. She was shaking, such was her anger. Then Neville saw her eyes, and realized what was really happening. A year ago, he never would have stood up to his grandmother. A year ago, he would have cowered, bowing before her magic and her presence.
Of course, a year ago he would not have been here in the first place.
Augusta punched him in the shoulder, hard. "How could you?" She said, her voice breaking. Neville stepped forward, wrapping his arms around her. The anger seemed to drain away from her then, her rage giving way to weeping, and she began hugging him right back.
"I can't lose you," he heard her say. "Not you too."
"I know, Gran," he said quietly. "I know it."
Augusta realized, in that moment, how tall Neville had become. How tall he stood now, as he comforted her. She stepped back a bit, collecting herself, her hands on his shoulders. She looked him up and down, seeing the black trousers with pockets everywhere, the heavy black boots, the basilisk skin long coat.
Her thoughts went to the night her son had come home from his first shift as an Auror, his face glowing in triumph as he showed off his red auror's robes, the red leather wand holster that his friend James had given him.
She looked up at her grandson, smiling at him with the same smile she had given Frank that night. "Your father would be so incredibly proud of you, Neville." Her voice was still quiet, but everyone in the room heard her.
Neville's reaction, in that moment, said everything. Stepping forward, he hugged his grandmother once more, only this time the sobs were his own.
"Thank you," he said.
Before long, the moment had passed, and Luna brought tea for both of the Longbottoms. Augusta looked at her grandson's companions, nodding her thanks to them for helping Neville. Then she sat back in her chair.
They all saw the change. No longer was she Neville's gran, concerned for the boy she had raised. No, now she was Madam Augusta Longbottom, the Regent Longbottom, longtime scourge of the Wizengamot.
"Tell me everything," she said, in a voice that brooked no argument.
"Mister Potter!" Harry and Hermione turned around, only to see an older wizard rushing towards them from the other end of the corridor. Hermione saw the pin on the man's drab brown robes, and elbowed Harry. When he looked at her, she mouthed the word Prophet, and then inclined her head at the man.
With a sigh, Harry stopped walking and waited for the man to catch up. "How can I help you, sir?" he asked politely.
The old wizard stopped a few paces away, having seen Hermione's wand in her hand. Even having identified him as a reporter, she was taking no chances. Not tonight.
"Barnabas Cuffe, with the Daily Prophet," the man said. "I'd like a moment of your time, Mister Potter, if you don't mind?"
Again Harry shared a glance with Hermione. She knew that the Prophet's coverage of Harry and Dumbledore this year had bothered her friend, but he had repeatedly declined to do anything overt about it. Beyond one interview with the Quibbler, the magazine published by Luna's father, the group had deliberately kept quiet. Harry had suggested that being publicly marginalized helped to encourage others to underestimate him, which served their goals in the long-term. After his "meeting" with Umbridge the day before, she had admitted that the strategy had worked to some degree - at least as far as the Senior Undersecretary was concerned.
The death eaters had certainly underestimated him, to their great regret.
This man, the actual Editor-in-Chief of the prophet, was the architect of most of that coverage. The six had decided early on that he must be receiving information and direction from the Ministry, likely from the Minister himself, but Cuffe was the one approving headlines. He was the one who assigned reporters, who approved their sources - or who approved their pieces whether they had sources or not.
Sirius had, correctly, pointed out that the Prophet had not held a shareholders' meeting in eight years. Through his solicitor, he had inquired about calling such a meeting, for the Blacks owned just under 10% of the paper. Not enough to take control, but enough to shake things up a bit. They had wondered, though - why would the shareholders care? As long as the paper was in the ministry's pocket, their profits were assured. The Malfoys, who owned 15%, certainly wouldn't consider a change in direction.
Being a fugitive, he could not reach out to other part owners, and so he and Harry had left it alone, knowing it was a card they could play later if the need arose.
Harry considered Mister Cuffe, who was still catching his breath. He knew that this might be an opportunity to control the narrative, so to speak, but he did not want to step on Amelia's toes after she had been so helpful to them in the past few months. Nor did he want to antagonize Dumbledore just yet - and speaking to the media would be the surest way to win himself another "I'm disappointed in you, my boy," speech from the once-and-likely-future Headmaster.
A grin crossed Harry's face. On the other hand, reassuring the public has value of its own, doesn't it? Hermione saw that look, and knew what it meant. Seeing a small office nearby, she walked over and opened the door.
Harry gestured toward the door. "Of course, Mister Cuffe. Please, step into my office." Cuffe smiled at the joke, before turning and following Hermione into the small room. Harry noticed the nameplate as he walked past and winced. Family Consultation Room.
After fighting his way through the Ministry, and killing several death eaters, including the notorious Bellatrix Lestrange with his bare hands, he was now going to speak with the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Prophet in a room set aside for the healers to tell families that their loved ones had died. The coincidence had him shaking his head. Merlin, he thought. This is my life now.
The room was decorated in colors probably designed to calm and soothe. A muggle painting of a beach setting was the only decor, likely a concession to privacy. A small desk sat in one corner, a stack of blank parchment and a quill the only items on its surface. Cuffe took a seat at that desk, setting his own parchment down before getting out a transcribing quill. Harry relaxed a bit on seeing the courtroom-style quill; it would write down what was said in the room accurately, without the embellishment of a quick-quotes model.
Hermione was already sitting on one of the couches. Mindful of the Prophet's speculations about his relationship (or lack thereof) with Hermione, Harry sat on the other couch, not wanting to give Cuffe any room to draw conclusions that weren't there.
"Right, well, Mister Potter I've heard a few rumors about your activities this evening, and I'm hoping you can clear them up." Cuffe had relaxed a bit, now that he was reporting again. The man had always enjoyed being a reporter more than sitting behind a desk, and for this story he trusted no one else.
"I'd be happy to clarify what I can, of course," said Harry, pleasantly. "That said, you do realize that there will be an extensive DMLE investigation, yes? I'll need to decline to answer some things as a result."
"Of course, of course," said Cuffe, dismissively. Hermione raised an eyebrow at the man - had he actually believed his coverage of Harry? That changes things, she thought. Harry saw the smile on her face, and resisted the urge to chuckle - Cuffe had no idea what was about to happen.
Barnabas Cuffe was frustrated. The obvious draw of an interview with the boy-who-lived, on the evening that he was vindicated before the eyes of the Ministry and the world, was fast becoming an exercise in torture.
Honestly, thought Cuffe. How many ways can he refuse to answer a question?
"So, to confirm, you have no idea who attacked the ministry?"
Harry smiled. "I would have to defer to Director Bones on that, sir."
He did it again! Cuffe shook his head, checking off the question in his notebook. "Fine, then let's discuss the fight in the atrium. I already have several witnesses who describe the fight between Albus Dumbledore and another wizard. Most of them described him as You-Know-Who. Can you confirm that?"
Another smile. "I expect that the Minister's office will have an official statement on that in a few hours, you'll want to get the word from them." Harry leaned back on the couch, clearly enjoying the interview. "If I were to confirm that it was indeed Voldemort, and the Ministry denied it, well - you can understand how I might object to that narrative, right?"
"But you fought him!" Cuffe almosts shouted his response, such was his frustration.
The smile faded from Harry's face. "Your witnesses saw a pale wizard with no nose and dark robes fighting against the former Headmaster of my school. I would hope that any capable wizard would aid Professor Dumbledore in that circumstance." Cuffe did not notice that Harry was not admitting that he had indeed fought him, for he had not. But the fact that the question was even asked proved one thing.
He doesn't know about James Junior.
Harry continued. "DMLE investigators will sample the magic used in the atrium and tell us who that wizard was. They know much more about confirming that wizard's identity than I do."
Cuffe shook his head at the non-answer - Madam Bones liked him even less than most Ministry officials. Harry saw the motion, and chuckled to himself.
"I take it that you and Madam Bones don't quite get along?" he asked. Cuffe snorted.
"Oil and Water, Mister Potter." was the reply.
"The House of Bones has been an ally of the House of Potter for a long time, Mister Cuffe, and Madam Bones herself has been most gracious in her assistance to me over the years." Harry leaned forward, dropping his voice a bit. "If you like, I can reach out to her office and make sure she knows about your questions. I don't disagree that the public will need to know the whys and wherefores, but it would be disrespectful of me to give that information out before Madam Bones has spoken."
Cuffe's eyes narrowed.
Harry continued. "After all, I am a nutter seeking little more than attention and fame, right? Anything I say is automatically suspect, isn't that right, Hermione?"
Hermione nodded. "I seem to recall reading that somewhere, yes."
Cuffe angrily snapped his fingers, and the dicta-quill ceased its movement. "So, for the record, the only thing of any substance you can tell me is that there was a battle at the Ministry, Dumbledore was somehow involved, and that the DMLE and the Minister will have a statement soon."
"That just about sums it up nicely, yes sir." said Harry, agreeably. Hermione nodded as well.
"And, off the record?" He saw both teenagers look at the dicta-quill, before returning their gaze to him.
"Off the record," said Harry, "I don't envy you the job you have this week. Backtracking a year's worth of coverage painting me as a madman will be quite the trick."
Cuffe started to put away his parchment, at that comment. Clearly he would get nothing out of the boy.
"That said," Harry continued, and Cuffe paused in his packing. "Off the record, of course." The editor nodded. "Voldemort was there. Or, at least, a wizard who looks exactly like the wizard I fought a year ago at the end of the triwizard tournament, and whose magic seemed similar as well."
Cuffe's voice grew quiet. "But it was him, then? Him?"
"And the death eaters?" Cuffe asked.
"It would seem they chose an appropriate name for their club, sir." Harry's voice was cold, and it sent a chill through Cuffe.
"Did you kill any of them yourself?" He's only a boy, thought Cuffe.
Harry's green eyes met Cuffe's. "I can neither confirm nor deny that, Mister Cuffe, as the incident is the subject of a DMLE investigation." And in saying nothing, Cuffe knew that the Potter boy had said everything.
"Dumbledore won't be happy about that, surely." said Cuffe.
After a moment, Cuffe finished packing away his notes. "Right then, Mister Potter, Miss Granger, thank you for your time." He shook hands with both teenagers, before leaving the room as quick as he could.
Once the door closed, Hermione cast a silencing spell on it. Harry sat back down on the couch, the tension draining.
"Did you notice it?" she asked, not bothering to explain.
Harry nodded. Cuffe had almost given Harry more information than Harry had given Cuffe - which was part of why Harry had agreed to speak to the man. "Not one question about James or Lily or James Junior."
Hermione sat in the chair Cuffe had vacated. "Eventually, some auror will recognize them, and the word will be out."
Another nod. "I know. As I said, it's not something I need to worry about tonight."
"What if James… I don't know, tries to take over the house?" She looked at her friend with no small amount of worry. One of the few things in Harry's life that he could control was his House - and the past year had taught him that his status as head of an Ancient and Most Noble House was a tool he could use.
And use it he had, reaching out to Madam Bones and Lord Greengrass, both of whom had known his parents and counted themselves as friends and allies. Or like the Longbottoms, leaning on the long-standing alliance between their houses to draw Neville out of his shell this year. He was the Potter, or had been until today.
Harry held up his hand, with the gold Lord's ring revealed. "Legally, they're dead - or else someone would have noticed. Magic seems to agree. The Goblins certainly thought so - and if they didn't, it didn't stop them from installing me as Lord Potter."
Hermione chuckled at that, remembering that day a year ago. "They may have been thumbing their noses at the Ministry, you know."
Harry shrugged again. "I don't doubt it. But that will teach them to declare a fourteen year old wizard of-age just so he can dance for the entertainment of the masses." The Goblins had been thrilled to process his emancipation, moreso when Sirius Black - the Lord Black in all but name, even as a fugitive - had signed off as well. The fees Harry had paid them to keep the whole thing quiet just sweetened the deal.
He hadn't needed to be Lord Potter, certainly not publicly, though having access to Potter Manor via portkey was useful when he wanted to practice his spellwork. Colonel Ramsay had made Privet Drive more tolerable than ever, having convinced the Dursleys to feed him properly so that he could handle his 'training'. The Colonel had somehow managed to sell Vernon on the idea that Harry would be good for little more than enlisting as a soldier, and so Vernon was more than happy to hand him off to the Colonel for 'training' whenever he could.
He eyed the Lord's ring he wore, considering the essence of Hermione's question. "I don't know, Hermione. If James does try to take over as Lord Potter, I don't know what I will do. Maybe I hand it off and walk away. Maybe I kick him out. Maybe we all become a family." He sighed, and Hermione heard the fatigue there, along with no small amount of hurt - too much had happened too quickly.
"You do have other options," she said.
He nodded. "That's true as well." He stood up, offering a hand to help his friend up as well. "It's not important today, though."
Hermione nodded in turn. Sometime soon, though, it will be, she thought with no small amount of worry.
Cancelling the silencing charms, the pair went to meet up with the remaining members of their team.
A/N: This chapter fills in some of the backstory that sets the stage - details that have little place in a one-shot but will be necessary moving forward. The fact that everyone seems to assume it was Harry in the atrium will make things interesting moving forward - and Harry has little interest in correcting those assumptions. James Junior's brash "I'll take over now, thanks" reaction to his brother still stings a bit, however unlikely this Harry is to admit it.
I also wanted to show a Harry who was both politically astute (making allies with other houses) and strategic in his thinking (in not taking his Lord's ring and fleeing the Dursleys, for example). He chose to take a bit of hardship in exchange for keeping his Lordship under wraps. It was a tool in the toolbox, one he could use when he needed to in discussions with other houses, but which would only bring scrutiny from, say, Umbridge - scrutiny he had no interest in. (That did make his trial for underage magic a bit interesting, as we will see in a flashback later on.)
Why Harry defers to Amelia will be discussed soon - as hinted at in the Atrium, and all but confirmed here, there is background we'll learn soon.
As I said previously, don't expect frequent updates here - but now that I've got an outline for this story I thought I'd flesh out a bit of the status quo.
Feedback, as always, is welcome.