Disclaimer: see earlier chapters

A/N: Has anyone else noticed that these chapters tend to begin with Harry waking and end with him sleeping/passing out? Oh well, I never claimed to be creative : ) See bottom A/N for apologies/excuses and such : )

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Chapter 9

Harry woke early the next morning after six hours of sleep. It was more than he'd had for the last few nights, but still not enough to appease Madam Pomfrey, should she inquire. He decided to visit Michael that morning before going to the children's home. So, he ate breakfast and tidied up before leaving the house.

Simon trotted along beside him with his tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth. Harry chuckled when he thought of the pup's protective nature. It was obvious to anyone that Harry had been run-down of late, and Simon had let him know he should be in bed as soon as he returned home from the hospital the night before. Hedwig had been uncertain of the dog in the beginning, but recently it seemed that Harry's pets were ganging up on him with their worries. For some reason, it was not as hard to accept their concern as it was people's.

As they approached the house, Harry told Simon to stay at the edge of the yard. The intelligent dog stared at him and the house for a moment, seeming to consider whether it was a safe place for his friend. Then he lay down in the grass so he could see the door and much of the yard. Harry thanked him for waiting and walked to the door.

His knock was answered by Mrs. Richards; 'Amy' he reminded himself.

"Good morning, Harry," she greeted with a smile.

"Hello, Amy, it's not too early, is it?" he asked.

"Oh no, not at all. In fact, you can meet my husband before he heads to work," she informed him. She called into the house, "Kyle, could you come to the sitting room?" She then led Harry to a seat in a nearby room, which a man entered a moment later.

Harry stood and stretched out his hand as Amy did introductions. "Kyle, this is Harry Potter. Remember, I told you he'd visited and said he wanted to help Michael?" Mr. Richards gave his wife a look that said, 'How could I forget that the Boy-Who-Lived stopped by to see my werewolf child?' "Harry, this is my husband, Kyle. Would you like some tea or anything else?"

"No, thank you. I've just finished breakfast," he smiled. "I wanted to speak to you about a few things and hopefully visit Michael, if that's alright. I'm sorry I came unannounced," he apologized with a slight grimace at his lack of manners.

"That's fine, dear. Kyle still has a while before he needs to leave, so go right ahead," Amy told him as she and her husband sat.

"Well, I have some good news, and some other good news," he started with a bright smile. "Do you remember what I told you about Remus Lupin last time I was here?" She nodded, as did her husband, showing that she'd filled him in on the disappearance. "Well, I found him the night before last. He's at St. Mungo's, and the healers think he will make a full recovery." Harry couldn't keep the genuine smile off his face, and could barely hold back the tears of joy.

"Oh, Harry, that's wonderful!" Amy cried. She placed her hand over his and squeezed it lightly before removing it.

"That is, indeed, positive news," said Kyle.

Harry nodded. A shadow passed over his face briefly as he thought of the long recovery ahead, but he pushed it aside grateful that the man was alive. That was all that mattered. If Remus survived eight weeks at the hands of Death Eaters, he could survive whatever amount of recovery, and Harry would be there every step of the way.

He looked back up at them and without preamble said, "I've arranged for Michael to receive the Wolfsbane potion every full moon."

The young lycanthrope's parents sat shocked for a few minutes before Kyle said, "Thank you, Mr. Potter, but it is too much. We couldn't possibly accept-"

Harry cut him off. "Please, call me 'Harry.' And this is for Michael, his health and well being. I beg you not to make it about money. The man who makes it for Remus has agreed to make it for Michael as well, so it's no trouble."

Harry stopped and hoped he hadn't gone too far. Pride was a tricky thing, and he didn't want to alienate Amy and Kyle because of something as petty as money. Then again, he had never seemed to place as much importance on financial status as others he'd known. Malfoy had always flaunted his wealth, and much of Ron's anger and insecurities came from his lack of money. His uncle based countless prejudices on money and other material possessions of no consequence. He silently cursed whoever had come up with monetary systems for the complications it created.

Amy sniffled a bit and said, "Thank you, Harry. We will accept, of course, for Michael's sake. But, please, let us do something for you."

Harry smiled. "That's alright. I don't need anything." The Richards looked about to argue and Harry held up a hand to stop them. "Listen, one of my best friends once told me I have a 'saving people thing.' Just chalk this up to that part of my personality. However, if it makes you feel better, I'll try to think of something you can do for me. Ok?"

Amy nodded, at a loss for words, and hugged him tightly. It was one of those motherly hugs he'd only felt from Mrs. Weasley a few times before. It felt so good as he leaned into it and let out some of the tension of the past few days. He closed his eyes and let himself delight in the feeling for a long moment. He wondered if he held on too long, but decided not to worry about it. He didn't want to ruin the moment with his own insecurities.

As they pulled apart, Harry absently wiped his eyes, and whispered, "Thank you, Amy. That's all I needed." He realized what he said and looked down in embarrassment. He hardly knew these people and already the woman had almost made him cry.

"You've had a grim life, haven't you, Harry?" said Kyle rhetorically.

Harry looked up in surprise. Even though much of the public thought of him as a tragic hero, the orphaned boy who saved the world, no one really thought he had a difficult life. Most seemed to think he'd had a glorious childhood, just without his parents being present.

Kyle and Amy were looking at him with honest, caring eyes, and Harry found he didn't know how to respond to the question. To any other virtual strangers, he would have simply shrugged the question off and changed the subject. His closest friends didn't need to ask the question, they just helped him deal with things in their own way. Remus and he had had many long conversations about Harry's life with the Dursleys and the trials he'd faced in his first six years at Hogwarts (they hadn't seen each other very often in seventh year). But how should he answer the Richards?

He nodded once and said, "When compared to some." Looking for a change in subject, he asked, "Is Michael feeling better?"

"Oh, yes, he's fine now. He's upstairs cleaning his room. He's been looking forward to seeing your animagus form," Amy said with a smile.

"Hasn't stopped asking about it since you were here," said Kyle wryly.

Harry grinned apologetically. "Sorry about that. Actually… I could show him today if he wants. Have you talked to anyone else about this?" Harry asked curiously.

"Well, not really. We don't socialize often." Harry knew that even families of werewolves were shunned and felt sickened by the prejudices of the world to which he belonged.

He nodded. "Good. I'm not exactly, er, registered, so I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention it to anyone if you do say anything about me."

They looked surprised once more, and he couldn't help but grin. "You're an-an illegal animagus!?" cried Kyle.

"Technically, yes. The Minister knows, but we have an understanding," Harry said with distaste at the thought of Fudge in power. Harry had agreed not to reveal certain faults of Fudge, and he'd agreed to let a few things slide for Harry's services to society. Harry thought he might have to have a talk with the man if he pushed the ridiculous 'improper portkey procedures' charge.

"I see," said Kyle with a smirk. "Am I right in guessing you don't think too highly of our esteemed Minister of Magic?"

Harry snorted, "I don't think we should get on the topic of Fudge. I get the feeling I'll be seeing much more of him than I would like rather soon." He answered their questioning looks, "I'm sure he'll want to question Remus about his, er, experience. I don't intend to let that happen until Remus is healed. Fudge isn't a patient man, especially when he doesn't respect the people he's dealing with. Hmm… I may need a calming draught before I speak with him, so I don't curse him too quickly."

Amy laughed. "It would do the pompous git some good to be taken down a notch or ten."

"True, but I don't fancy spending time in Azkaban anytime soon."

"Surely, no one would put you in prison!" exclaimed Kyle.

Harry smiled grimly. "Well, Fudge has been looking for a way to get me out of his hair for quite some time now. I'm sure it would be a relief to him for me to be locked away with mush for brains."

"Why would he want that?" asked Amy curiously.

"We've had some… disagreements in the past. Basically, I would tell him some important bit of information, and he would say I was lying until it was too late. He's in love with his position, but doesn't want to do his job properly. I think he fears my so-called popularity. I don't know if he thinks I want to be Minister or what, but he obviously considers me some sort of threat. Personally, I wish I was finished dealing with him for good." Harry paused and was surprised at how much he had said to his new friends. "I'm sorry to bore you with all of that. I didn't realize I was rambling on so much."

"Completely understandable, Harry. We don't care much for the man either, as you could probably tell," said Kyle.

Harry nodded and looked at his watch. He only had an hour until he wanted to be at the children's home. "I need to leave in a little under an hour. Do you think Michael's room is ready for visitors, yet?" he asked with twinkling eyes.

Amy chuckled, "Oh, I don't know if an eight year old boy's room is ever ready for visitors, but we can certainly check on his progress."

They entered the boy's room, which Harry thought looked respectable enough for an eight-year-old. Even though it was messier than anything he'd gotten away with at that age, it was a vast improvement above Dudley's room at any age.

"Hello, Mike. What are you up to?" Harry asked politely.

Michael, still a bit in awe of the Boy-Who-Lived, answered shyly, "Just cleaning my room a bit. Do you – do you want to go out and play?" he asked.

Harry smiled. "Sure." They exited the house and Michael immediately led Harry over to his favorite tree.

"This is the bouncy tree!" he said excitedly.

"Oh? What does it do?" Harry asked looking at the rather unimpressive appearing trunk. It had no branches or leaves, in fact it looked long dead. The trunk grew straight up for about two meters, then bent at an unnaturally sharp angle, making the rest of the lengthy trunk almost even with the horizon.

"Watch. Dad?" he called looking behind him.

The only one there was Amy with an apologetic look on her face. Harry's heart sank in anticipation of bad news. Growing up the way he had, he automatically expected the worst whenever someone had that look. For him, it usually meant someone was dead or close to it. He shook off that feeling as ridiculous. He'd just seen the man, perfectly healthy, inside. If something had happened in the last minute, he would have heard something.

"Sorry, sweetums, dad went to work," said Amy. The endearment caused Harry to flinch inwardly. He remembered Aunt Petunia calling Dudley 'sweetums' and a number of other silly names when he lived with his relatives. It didn't make him sick to hear it now, though, between Amy and Michael.

Michael pouted briefly, then smiled at Harry. "You want to help me?"

"Sure. What do I need to do?" he asked while walking closer to the boy and his tree.

"You lift me up to the tree, then pull me down to the ground, then let go!" the small boy said excitedly.

Harry didn't know if he liked the sound of this. It looked like it could be pretty dangerous, but he had to admit it was probably very fun. He might have to try for himself… He turned around and gave Amy a questioning look to ask if she would allow the activity.

She laughed lightly, "Oh, Mikey and Kyle found that tree within the first hour of exploring the new house. Trust me, he's been bouncing around on that thing more times than I can count. Go ahead."

Harry shrugged and went to lift the boy up. He was fairly light, but still somewhat difficult to lift so high. When Michael had hold of the trunk, he gave the word and Harry pulled him down to the ground, all the way so Michael was in a squatting position. The eight year old counted to three and Harry let him go.

Bounce. Bounce. Bounce.

Harry could see how this tree would be so inviting. He was itching to try it himself, but he didn't want to seem rude (and childish), so he pulled Michael down three more times before the boy asked to stop.

"You go, Harry," he requested.

"But it's your tree, Mike. I don't want to take away your play time."

"My hands are getting sore; I need a break. You should try it. It's lots of fun!"

"Ok. Here I go."

Harry jumped up and was able to grasp the trunk. He couldn't quite do it the way Michael did, by squatting and being held down by someone, then flying in the air. Instead, Harry used it as a spring and just jumped, bending his knees more with each landing.

He was a little surprised to find himself giggling along with Michael. Soon, they were both holding on, bouncing up and down on an old, gnarled tree. Amy was laughing on the side.

Harry's hands slipped, and he landed on his behind, while Michael flew up even higher. They decided to stop after that as both of their hands were raw from the bark. They went into the kitchen for some juice and snacks and chatted for a few minutes. Amy had a healing cream that she had obviously bought for after-tree use. Harry checked his watch and found he had only ten minutes to get to the children's home.

"Mike, I have to go. I'll see you again soon, alright?" he said with a pat to the boy's shoulder.

Michael looked a bit down at his leaving, but smiled at him anyway. "Ok, Harry. Next time I get to see your animal, right?"

Harry had completely forgotten about changing into his animagus form while they were in the yard. "Absolutely." With that he left for the end of town.

He realized he could probably apparate and be there in a second, but he was supposed to do things without magic when he could, according to Madam Pomfrey. It didn't bother him too much, because he liked doing things the muggle way sometimes. He felt that the drawback to many old, pureblood families was that they were too reliant on magic. It was something that had helped in fighting against Death Eaters a few times. They didn't expect a witch or wizard to fight back if they lost their wand in a fight. Harry and Hermione had taught a few, the hard way, not to underestimate muggle-raised wizards.

Besides, he liked walking next to Simon. It felt very normal. He fleetingly wondered if it was normal to keep track of the number of things in life that could be considered 'normal.'

He came upon the house, hearing noises from the backyard, so he headed straight back there. He smiled at the site of the children playing until he saw one little girl sitting all by herself. She must have been new. He didn't remember meeting her before, and he knew he'd met all of the kids at the home when they first arrived. He saw the woman in charge and strolled over.

"Hello, Grace, how are you on this beautiful summer day?" he asked grinning.

"I'm wonderful, Harry! It's so good to see you. We've missed you the past couple days," she said with a welcoming hug.

Harry nodded a little guiltily. "I'm sorry about that. There were some… er, activities that couldn't be avoided. But I'm here now, and I'll try not to be away too often."

"Oh, don't be silly. You are a volunteer, that means you make your own hours. Is everything alright?"

"Yes, yes, it's fine. I'll tell you about what's happened later," Harry said, indicating they should wait until they were out of the children's earshot, as they were all coming over once they saw him. All except for the lonely girl, he noticed with sadness. He knew he would need to talk to her, but he wanted to get the other children to approach her as well, so he thought he might start with that part.

"Hi everyone!" Harry greeted.

"Hello, Harry," they said as one, making Harry laugh. It reminded him of Umbridge's class, but these kids were all smiling and laughing and eager for him to be there.

He allowed himself to be led over to where Melissa and a few others were painting a toad. He wouldn't have known the blob was supposed to be a toad if he hadn't seen the live model posing on a nearby rock. It looked like Grace must have petrified it to stay in one place.

He noticed that everyone except Max was crowded around. Harry saw Max chatting with Grace and knew the older boy must get extremely bored in a setting where the next oldest child was only around seven or so. He made a mental note to himself to ask if he could take Max out on his own some days.

"These are very nice paintings," he told the group. "Can I ask you a very important question?" he asked in a serious tone. They all nodded vigorously. "Why isn't anyone playing with that girl over there?" he asked, nodding to the lonely girl he'd seen on his arrival.

A six year old girl gestured him over to speak in his ear, so he leaned over some more and she whispered, "She's a bad witch."

Harry was surprised. The child couldn't be more than five or six years old. How could she be considered a bad witch by the other children already? "Why do you think that?" he asked.

This time a young boy answered. Harry remembered his name was Jake. "Her father was a Death Eater," he said simply, like that should explain everything. He had to admit, he'd done the same thing when dealing with Malfoy and his goons, but they had been old enough to become malicious on their own. He seriously doubted the new girl had done anything to the other kids.

Harry nodded in acknowledgement of the boy's comment. "I understand what you are thinking. You think that because her father was bad, she must be too, right?" he asked in simple terms. They all nodded. He wondered how he could do this so that three year olds could understand. "Lissa, does Max like anything that you don't?"

She looked him right in the eye and nodded solemnly. "Max wikes onion soup." Harry had a hard time controlling his laughter at the seriousness of her statement. Instead he only nodded wisely and looked around the group. It seemed most of the children didn't like onion soup. They most likely preferred sweeter foods.

"So, if I met Max first, and he told me he really liked onion soup, would it be right of me to think that you like it to?" This is ridiculous. I'm comparing torture and murder to food preferences.

"No, I do not wike onions! They icky!" Melissa exclaimed.

"Ok, now try to compare that to how you think about the new girl," he really wished he'd asked for the name of said girl.

The children seemed to think about this profound comparison for a long time. They all had their little faces scrunched up in concentration, some with a finger on their lips. Finally, it seemed Jake had figured it out.

"So, you don't think she's bad just because her father was?" he asked quietly.

Harry shook his head. "She's too young. She may have been taught things by her father that are different from you, but I don't think she is a bad person because of who her father is. Has she done anything to any of you?"

They all shook their heads 'no.' He smiled, glad he'd taught them a little about tolerance, he hoped. He knew that if peace were to last for any amount of time in the wizarding or muggle worlds, people had to learn to tolerate each other. He wasn't idealistic enough to think that everyone would get along, but being able to live without fear of another would be good enough.

He told them all to stay put while he introduced himself to the girl sitting by herself next to a bush, almost like she was trying to hide from the world. He sat down next to her.

"Hello, I'm Harry. What's your name?" he asked kindly, hoping not to scare her off.

She sat up straighter at his introduction and held out her hand in a proper fashion and said, "I am Maeve Elladora Jugson. Pleased to meet you, Mr…."

"Potter," Harry said while shaking her hand. Her eyes widened at the name and she quickly looked down. She didn't even glance at his scar.

He brought her head up by lifting her chin. She shook off his hand and looked at him proudly. She was definitely trained by an old family. He hoped it wouldn't be much of a problem.

"I was wondering if you wanted to come over to the other kids with me. They're painting a toad," he told her as if that was a very exciting pastime.

She shook her head. "I prefer to sit by myself."

"Oh, well, then I'm going to sit with you while you're by yourself," said Harry agreeably. She looked at him like he was an idiot, but didn't say anything.

After a few minutes of sitting primly and pointedly ignoring him, she asked, "Do you know who my father is?"

Harry nodded. He'd been the one to put the man in prison for, he hoped, a lifetime. He hadn't really considered whether the man had children to leave behind. He wondered what kind of life the girl would have had with her father, and what her life would be like without him. He didn't know which would be worse, because he had no knowledge of how Maeve's father treated her.

"I met your father. Did he teach you many things?"

She looked affronted. "Of course he did. Any decent pureblooded father teaches their children proper decorum, among other things."

"How old are you?" he asked amazing at the way she spoke for such a young child. He guessed sentences like the one she just spoke were probably engrained into her.

"I will be six in three weeks time."

"Yeah? Your birthday is close to mine," he commented.

"I was aware of that."

"You know, you don't talk like a six year old." She looked at him curiously. "You sound much older, very mature. Do you think you might want to have fun like the other kids?"

"I fail to see what is enjoyable about rolling in the dirt like swine," she said with an upturned nose. He noticed she was sitting on a stone, so as not to get her tiny dress robes soiled on the ground.

Harry couldn't help it this time; he laughed outright at her. "Yes, well dirt can be quite enjoyable, if you know how to let it." He stood up and held out his hand to her like a gentleman. She took it and stood with him. Harry could tell she was nervous. Even though she was probably trained not to show emotions, she was still very young and hadn't mastered the skill yet.

Harry introduced her to the other kids and she was very polite to everyone. Someone gave her some parchment and paints, and she proceeded to paint a very regal looking toad, something Harry wasn't sure was possible.

Once he was satisfied that the children would be getting on without any major obstacles, he walked over to Grace and Max, who were sitting in the shade sipping pumpkin juice. He helped himself to a glassful and sat on Max's right; Grace was on the boy's left.

"I don't know how you did it," said Grace with a small smile as she watched the younger children. "I couldn't get them to go near her, and she didn't want anything to do with them either."

"I just pointed out that not everyone is what their parents were. And Maeve just needs to loosen up some of her notions of 'proper decorum.'" Harry had quoted the words spoken by the young girl by curling his fingers in the air. Grace and Max laughed.

"She speaks better than most of the students at Hogwarts," said Max.

"I know. I was worried I might need a dictionary if I talked to her much longer," joked Harry. They watched the youngsters in a comfortable silence for a few minutes. Harry checked his watch. He wanted to get to the hospital soon. It was one in the afternoon, and he wanted to be there around two. There wasn't really any reason for him to be there at a certain time, but he didn't want to leave Remus alone after just having found him.

"So, Harry," Grace began. "What was it that you wanted to tell me?"

"Oh, erm," he wasn't sure if he should talk about this in front of Max or not. Would the boy be jealous that Harry had something of a father figure left in his life, when he had none? He decided Max would know soon enough, so he might as well tell him now. "Do you remember what I told you about Remus Lupin?"

"Your guardian?" Grace clarified. Harry knew some people saw it as odd that he had a guardian when he was of age in the wizarding world, but Grace was one of the few who understood.

Harry nodded. He'd explained the situation, as well as most of his and Remus's history to the woman already. Max also knew some of it, including Remus's disappearance.

"I found him."

"That's wonderful, Harry!" She reached over Max to give Harry a one-armed hug and a beaming smile. "I'm so happy for you! Is he alright?" she asked when she took in Harry's drawn appearance.

"He will be… well, the healers think so anyway. He was held captive for eight weeks so there were some injuries and such… Anyway, I just wanted you to know that I didn't just quit coming here the last two days. It's been a rough weekend." He decided he didn't need to tell her about the attack at his house. "I'm sorry I didn't send you a message or something. I've just been so wrapped up in everything. Remus told me not to stop coming here on his account, though. He says if he has to stay in bed one of us might as well have some fun." Harry smiled at the thought of his father's friend, alive and safe.

"Thank you for sharing your news with us, Harry," said Grace quietly.

Harry looked at Max. The boy hadn't said anything yet. Harry wasn't sure if he was mad or sad or didn't care or what else he might be thinking.

"Max… what do you think about this?" Harry asked.

"What?" he looked up out of his daze. "Oh, erm, it's great," he said unenthusiastically with a noticeably forced smile.

"Are you maybe a little angry that this happened to me and not you?" Harry asked gently.

Max looked at the ground and swallowed. Slowly, he nodded, "I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't be. It really is great for you and all, but I just wish…"

"I know, Max," Harry whispered as he awkwardly hugged the younger boy. Harry had never been given physical affection until he met the Weasleys, then Sirius and Remus, and he still felt off when trying to comfort someone else. Max didn't seem to mind though, and hugged him back. Harry knew Max's parents had been very loving, even though Max rarely talked about them. He was still trying to get over their deaths and didn't talk to anyone about it, yet. One of Harry's goals was to try and get Max to open up about that horrible event, not necessarily to him, but to someone.

"Are you going to see him?" asked Max.

"Yes. Rosie gave me a few days off work, so I could spend some time with him. Would you like to meet him when he's feeling better?"

Max seemed to think about this for a while. Harry didn't know if it was a good idea or not, but he knew Remus might be able to help him. Remus was a naturally good listener; Harry often wondered if the man had had training as a therapist at some point.

"Yeah, I think I'd like to meet him if he wants to meet me," Max said uncertainly.

Harry smiled widely at him. "I'm sure he will want to. I should probably get going, though."

"See you, Harry," said Max.

"Grace, could I ask you something before I go?" Harry asked after Max walked away.

"Sure, but you know you just did, right?" she grinned.

Harry rolled his eyes. "You remind me of a certain headmaster… Anyway, I was wondering if I would be allowed to take Max out of here some days?"

"That shouldn't be a problem. He just has to be willing, and you'll have to fill out a few forms. Of course, I'll need to know exactly where you're going and for how long and all that junk. I think he'd like that. He hasn't been here long, but I can tell he gets bored with the rest of them," she gestured to the much younger children. "He's very polite about it though. If he's annoyed with their antics, he'll either come and talk quietly with me or go read in an abandoned room in the house. It would be good for him to go out with someone closer to his age sometimes. Just let me know."

"I will, thanks. See you tomorrow, Grace!"

"Bye, Harry. Send my good wishes to Remus."

Harry walked Simon home, then left for St. Mungo's. He didn't even care that he despised being in hospitals if it meant he could spend time with his Remus.

… … …

He arrived to a chaotic scene in the waiting room. He was about to ask a nurse what was going on when he saw it. A green bowler hat. Fudge was there, and Harry knew he must have been trying to get inside to question Remus. Harry saw healers and nurses all blocking the way. He felt a rush of gratitude for the staff of St. Mungo's and vowed to repay them somehow.

Harry marched straight up to Fudge, ignoring the aurors surrounding the man. "What are you doing here?" he asked without adding the respectful title of 'Minister.'

Fudge reddened, predictably, and started off on one of his speeches about being the Minister and that he was allowed to go where he wanted and question whom he pleased.

Harry interrupted him without really listening. "Fudge, you may hold the title of 'Minister', but you are not above the law or people's privacy and well-being. Have you even talked to one of the healers?"

Fudge just blustered at Harry's disrespectful tone. Harry continued without waiting for any senseless comments from the man.

"I didn't think so. If you had, you would know that Remus is in no condition to answer your questions at this time. If you would like to set up a formal meeting at your office, we will try to make it after he's healed when he is feeling up to it."

"Now, see here. That – that thing has information on remaining Death Eaters. He must be questioned now! I know that he is conscious and quite capable of speech, so I demand entrance at once!"

Harry was beyond angry now. The fool had the audacity to insult Remus in front of him and demand to see the man! He needed to be put in his place, and Harry was likely the only one who would do it. He was no longer afraid of Fudge's position or anything he would threaten to do. Even though Harry was embarrassed to admit it, he probably had more influence over the populace than the Minister, and if the fool tried to pull anything, Harry would have the Daily Prophet at his fingertips. However, now was not the time for people to be reporting to the paper about this little spat, so he spoke in low tones for Fudge's ears only.

"Fudge, I don't know what the bloody hell you think you're doing here, insulting my friend and making outrageous demands after you left that man for dead in the hands of his captors! You didn't so much as lift a finger to help find him, just because of some archaic notion of pure-bloodedness you have in your over-large head. Perhaps one of these fine healers could poke it and let it deflate a few notches so you will be able to think straight," Harry said seriously.

"I found Remus. If you want to question anyone about it, come to me. I know you sent people there, and the two Death Eaters guarding him were detained, along with the man who attacked me at the Weasleys. Do you remember who that was, Minister?" Harry asked sarcastically. "It was Macnair, who you so graciously employed for a year after I told you he was a Death Eater! Now, don't come in here acting like it's your duty to find out if Remus knows anything else about them. He was almost dead when I found him. Let him recover before he has to deal with your incompetence."

Harry turned and walked to the door that led to Remus's room. He could hear Fudge sputtering behind him, but he didn't turn around, since he was trying to get his anger under control. He was proud that his voice didn't once crack from the cool edge he used, even though inside he was crumbling into an emotional mess.

He half-expected Fudge to have him arrested for something or another, but the sound diminished in the room behind him and he realized the Minister and his entourage left.

Harry's emotions straightened themselves out, somewhat, after that. With a deep breath he continued to Remus's door with a smile on his face.

"Why do you look like your father after he pulled off a spectacular prank with minimal punishment?" Remus asked with a grin.

Harry hugged him quickly and sat down. "Well, it seems our esteemed Minister wanted to have a chat with you. I politely turned him away, and now I'm sitting with my good friend who I came to visit."

Remus chuckled, interspersed with coughs. "I just hope you didn't say anything that would make dear old Fudge want to get even."

Harry frowned. "Honestly, I'm tired of playing games with that man. It's ridiculous that he's still in office when he was basically helping Voldemort for so long. I know he didn't exactly know that he was doing it, but Merlin, he needs to be kicked out."

Remus nodded. "Well, maybe you should talk to Albus about this. Who would you rather see in office?"

Harry sighed. "I really don't know. I think Mr. Weasley would do well, but I'm not sure he has the influence to get it. Kingsley is pretty high up with the aurors and holds a lot of respect. If Mr. Weasley isn't popular enough, maybe Kingsley could help among the aurors."

"Why not suggest Kingsley for the position?" asked Remus.

"He doesn't like administrative duties," Harry said with a smile, remembering a conversation they'd had shortly after Harry awoke in the hospital wing after the last battle. "He likes being an auror. He said the amount of paperwork he does now is more than he would like."

"What about Madam Bones? She seems very level-headed and fair, but I guess I don't know if she would have enough sway to get the job either. She could help support Mr. Weasley," suggested Remus.

Harry shook his head sadly as his chest constricted. "She was killed… the night before the battle… no one knew until after it was all over. There were quite a few quiet murders the night before, especially in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and other important areas of the Ministry that could have helped us in the fight."

They were quiet for a few minutes until Remus said, "She was a good witch. She tried to keep the politics out of law as much as possible."

Harry only nodded and cleared his throat. He didn't like when he was reminded of all the people killed around him. It didn't matter how many times people tried to tell him the deaths weren't his fault. All those that occurred since Voldemort's resurrection, and especially after learning of the prophecy, felt like his responsibility.

His thoughts were interrupted by a pair of arms wrapping around him from behind. He opened his eyes and saw a shock of red hair hanging over his right shoulder. He looked up and smiled at Ginny and led her around to sit on his lap, because the other chair was full of get well gifts for Remus. This kind of contact had been normal with them for a long time. It was one of the things he liked about Ginny. He thought he should feel nervous or embarrassed by it, but he usually didn't, and that was very desirable.

"What are you doing here, Ginny?" he asked.

"Am I not allowed to visit my favorite former professor?" she asked with pretend hurt.

"Of course," said Remus with a small smile. "And I'm glad to see my favorite former student as well."

"Hey!" Harry cried.

They laughed at him when he pretended to pout, then Ginny kissed his protruding lip, making Harry blush like mad. This only made the other two laugh even more at him.

"Oh, shut it, you two," he grumbled and pushed Ginny off his lap. Ginny hopped lightly onto Remus's bed and laid on her side at his feet. Harry was sure that Ginny would be some sort of feline if she ever decided to go through animagus training.

"How has your summer been, Ginny?" asked Remus.

"Oh, alright, although I haven't really spent any time with my boyfriend since he asked me out," she said with a glare. Harry shrank into his chair and she giggled. "Geeze, Harry, I didn't believe Fred and George when they said you were scared of me, but this could be fun!" She gave him an evil grin and he groaned.

Remus laughed. "I can see how that would be a problem. Harry seemed to pick the wrong time to find me or ask you, one of the two anyway."

Harry shook his head. "No, no, no. I couldn't wait any longer on either. Ginny, I'm really sorry if I haven't paid you enough attention the last few days…" He really did feel bad about it. He hadn't thought about it with everything else going on, but leaving her out just after they got together seemed like a bad move. He worried that he'd already started on a downward spiral. He knew Cho didn't like to be ignored, and that was really the only other relationship he had experience with. He couldn't blame Ginny if she wanted to break up. He was never going to have a nice, normal life, and he wouldn't force that on Ginny.

He suddenly found himself with a lapful of Ginny again, only this time she was facing him and kissing him while running her fingers through his hair. He sighed when she pulled away and looked at her with a goofy grin.

"You're back," she stated.

"What?"

"You were off in lala land. I can only guess, but I would assume you were trying to make yourself feel bad about my joke. Am I right?"

Harry just looked down, realized Ginny was still very much on his lap and looked up again, blushing.

"It was only a joke, Harry. Don't worry about it. You're a good boyfriend, alright? Now, get over it and chat with us." She finished with a light slap on the arm and a cheeky grin.

Harry smiled. He was glad for Ginny's straightforwardness. He knew that if the same thing had happened with Cho, she probably would have cried and not told him anything useful. Of course, she would have taken the recent lack of attention personally, whereas Ginny had not, so he couldn't really compare the two.

"I brought Exploding Snap, chess, and something else that I'm sure you'll both be thrilled about," she said pulling up her bag.

"Oh? What's that?" Harry asked.

She pulled out a text and several rolls of parchment, along with quill and ink. "Well, I have this assignment for Defense Against the Dark Arts, and it wouldn't be right to keep it all to myself when you two enjoy the subject so much! So, I'm going to sacrifice a bit of my normal study time, so that you and Remus can help me and have a break from the normal hospital routine." She smiled sweetly at them, like it was an entirely altruistic act and blinked innocently.

Harry and Remus sat looking at her for an entire minute before she finally laughed, then scowled. "You two are no fun. You never crack first."

"Aw, poor Ginny," Harry said sympathetically. Then he grinned. "Stop pouting and tell us the topic." Despite himself, he was a bit interested in her assignment. He decided not to think on it and just chalked it up to spending far too much time with Hermione over the years.

She stuck her tongue out at him, then read, "'Describe, in detail, the benefits and drawbacks of the Patronus Charm. Include a detailed analysis of all creatures affected and applicable situations. Extra credit: formulate a theory to permanently subdue a dementor; be sure to analyze all aspects for a well-rounded theory.'" Ginny looked up at them. "The first part is simple; it's the extra credit that I was hoping for a little, ah, inspiration. So, what do you think?"

"Can I see what you have, so far?" Harry asked. She handed him her essay, which he found was well done. This wasn't much of a surprise, as Ginny had never been lacking in school work, but she wasn't exactly a 'Hermione' either. "You've left out a section," Harry pointed out.

"No, I haven't," she objected.

"Yes, you have," he said firmly. "Tell me which creatures you described that would be affected."

"Dementors and Lethifolds. Everyone knows that those are what you use the Patronus against."

"True, but the directions say to describe all creatures affected by the charm." She gave him a blank look. "You need to describe how it affects the witch or wizard casting the spell. 'Creature' is a very loose term in this sense, but it will make the essay complete. The emotions and sensations of the castor are every bit as important as the resulting effect on Dementors or Lethifolds. As for the extra credit – are you allowed to get outside help on that?"

"Well… we're not supposed to work with our classmates, if that's what you mean." She huffed. "Besides, it's not like you never got help on your assignments."

Harry laughed, "Yes, yes, I know. Without Hermione I'd have failed right out of Hogwarts. I don't really know much about a proposed theory though. What do you think, Remus?"

"I think this is the Ministry's way of getting a few ideas," he mumbled. Harry frowned. Was the Ministry concerned about the Dementors? Were they that desperate to find a method of disposing of them as to ask students to think up theories? Harry hadn't heard anything about them since defeating Voldemort, and he honestly hadn't given the issue much thought either. "I'll have to think about it, Ginny. Harry was right about adding the part of the castor in your essay, though. I'll have a read through once your finished if you'd like."

"Really?"

"Sure. I don't exactly have a whole lot on my schedule at the moment, and I really enjoy the subject."

"Who'd've thought it?" Harry said sarcastically with a roll of the eyes. "You liked it well enough to teach it. I don't think you really need to tell us that you enjoy it."

"I'm not the only one here who has taught Defense, Harry."

"That was just a club, not a class."

"That might be, but I know that I learned a lot more from you than most of the teachers we've had," said Ginny. "I'm sure everyone in DA would agree."

Harry blushed slightly at the praise and turned back to the essay, pretending to reread it as Ginny and Remus continued to toss compliments his way, which they seemed to find highly amusing.

He had fun the rest of the day with Remus and Ginny. Tonks stopped by for supper, and Ron came later to tell Ginny to come home. Apparently, she had told Mrs. Weasley that she would only be gone for a few hours, and it had been a good six by the time she left. Harry felt guilty for keeping her, and possibly getting her in trouble, but he didn't say anything. He knew what she would say, and he didn't want to get into an argument over it.

Harry talked to Healer Tigs again, and he didn't have anything new to add. He was very positive about Remus's recovery, even though it might be slow. The healer thought Remus would be well enough to return home in a few weeks, but that would be around the next full moon, so Remus would be weaker again. They decided to talk to Remus about what he would prefer, the hospital or home, for his transformation. There would be a chance that he would need more medical attention after the full moon, so it might be safer for him to remain at St. Mungo's. However, he would likely be more comfortable at home. Harry didn't want to think on it too long until he'd had a chance to speak with Remus, who had fallen asleep by the time Harry was finished with the Healer.

Harry decided to visit Dumbledore after he left St. Mungo's, so he flooed home and walked up to the castle. It was somewhat late, almost nine thirty, by the time he arrived, but the Headmaster seemed to be up whenever someone needed to see him, so he wasn't worried.

"Jelly slugs," Harry said to the gargoyle, which jumped out of the way. He was surprised. He hadn't known the password, and that was the first time he'd ever guess right on the first try.

"Ah, Harry, come in come in," said Dumbledore.

"Good evening, sir."

"You no longer attend school here, Harry. You are allowed to use my first name if you wish."

Harry flushed in embarrassment, and said, "Yes, Albus." It wasn't the first time the old wizard had made the request. "I was wondering if we could talk about the state of the Ministry."

"Certainly, it is often an interesting topic when so many changes are occurring," Dumbledore said with twinkling eyes.

"Er, yes, sir, I mean Albus. I was wondering if there had been any talk of… er, a new Minister for example." Harry really needed to work on proposing good hypotheticals.

Dumbledore smiled. "Are you interested, Harry?" he asked mildly.

"What? Me? No, not at all. I'm just interested in… not Fudge." Harry cringed, wondering if he'd gone too far in insulting someone he was supposed to respect.

Dumbledore chuckled and popped a lemon drop in his mouth. "Ah, Harry, your youthful will battles with your politeness. I do so enjoy our talks of politics." Harry couldn't remember many actual conversations about politics, but then again, Dumbledore had probably gotten a lot more out of their discussions when Harry was younger that he did.

"To answer your question, yes, there has been some talk of necessary changes."

"Sir – Albus, why didn't someone try to get him out of office during the war?" Harry asked curiously.

"Fudge was not ideal, by any means, but we could not be certain who his successor would be. It could have been someone more perceptive to the Order's activities through the Ministry or otherwise and been able to impede our goals. Minister Fudge's selective ignorance was an asset occasionally."

Harry nodded. It was one of the most forthcoming answers the old headmaster could have given. "I think I understand. And now that things have settled down some, it's safe to find someone new."

"Exactly. Tell me, do you have someone in mind?"

Harry was taken aback at being asked for his opinion on something so important to the wizarding world. However, it was the reason for his visit, so he answered as honestly as he could. "Er, well, I guess Mr. Weasley. He's the most fair-minded Ministry worker I've had experience with, but I know I haven't known many. Maybe someone else is better qualified."

"Perhaps." They sat in silence for a long time. Harry had done this many times with Dumbledore during the war. They would speak on some topic, usually battles, casualties, or methods of stopping Voldemort, then they would both think for a few minutes.

"Thank you, Albus. I'd like to invite you over for dinner once Remus is allowed to come home."

"I look forward to it, Harry. I'll bring a dessert."

Harry smiled and left the office. The old wizard was a little nuts, but living through two evil wizards' reigns of power (one of them twice) and working in a school for over fifty years took a special kind of person. Yes, Harry smiled, that is definitely a nicer thing to say than the man is nutters.

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A/N: Hi all. This was two chapters put into one. For some reason, people wanted to see a bit of Harry/Ginny interaction ; ) I'm sure it's not what you had in mind, but there's more fluffy/juicy stuff in coming chapters. Sorry about the long delay for this one. I hadn't even realized it had been so long. Life's getting icky right now. Along the same lines, sorry if there are mistakes and such in here. I may have over-edited, meaning I changed stuff around a lot, so there may be some strange wording left in or something. I think I got them all out, but tell me if something doesn't make sense. As always, see my LJ for review replies (will be posted tomorrow or Sunday). I'm sleepy, now. G'night folks!