Chapter 1 – Surprising Developments

Some days, it just did not pay to even get out of bed. Unfortunately, if your name happened to be Harry Potter, the above maxim was uncomfortably close to being the story of your life.

On this particular day, it was as yet unproven as to whether it would end up becoming a day to forget, but he had seen enough in his short life to know enough to never discount just how bad a day could get without seeing it through to its conclusion.

His morose thoughts and the knowledge of just how ridiculous he was being caused a bubble of laughter to escape from Harry's throat, catching the attention of his two companions, both of whom, he was certain, would berate him for his overly cynical thoughts if they were to ever learn of them. Or at least, Hermione would—Ron would likely agree with him before muttering under his breath about the unfairness of life, something with which Harry privately agreed. But though Hermione would undoubtedly be correct in her assessment of his gloomy thoughts, Harry knew there was one inescapable truth about his life—sometimes it just sucked to be Harry Potter.

"Harry, I hardly think it's time for lightheartedness," Hermione scolded. Although her words were severe, the light of compassion lit up her voice, reminding Harry again how fortunate he was to have her friendship.

"Sorry, Hermione," he responded, trying—somewhat unsuccessfully, he thought—to appear contrite, "but something struck me as funny. If I don't laugh, I'll probably cry, so laughing at this point is better, don't you think?"

Her gaze softened, and she gazed at him with a fondness clearly visible in her eyes.

"What are you on about, mate?" Ron demanded peevishly, his eyes moving between his friends.

Harry shrugged. "What would you do, Ron? I have to go on display this morning and may never come back to the magical world. Should I cry and throw a tantrum, or should I laugh? Sorry, but I prefer to laugh—I may go crazy otherwise."

"Don't talk like that, Harry," Ron muttered. "You aren't going to be expelled."

Hermione was clearly agitated. "Ron's right, Harry. Dumbledore would never allow it."

Although her words appeared calm and confident, there was an underlying tension evident in her voice—knowing Hermione as he did, Harry knew she was uncertain and deeply concerned for his welfare while trying to present a brave face. A swell of affection for the young witch filled him as he gazed at her warmly, wondering what he had possibly done right to deserve such a steadfast friend. Without her, he thought he would be lost to the vagaries and injustices of the world.

Hermione blushed and looked down, clearly uncomfortable with his scrutiny, though he was certain a half-smile had been plastered on her face the entire time. Glancing over at Ron, Harry lowered his gaze to the floor immediately at the suspicious glare his friend favored him with. Harry knew that Ron had begun to fancy Hermione, and since he had arrived at Grimmauld place nearly ten days before, Ron had taken to watching them closely, alert for any signs of affection beyond mere friendship.

Ron was his best male friend, and closest comrade, closer even than Hermione, largely, he thought, due to their status as roommates and their ability to relate to one another as boys. However, Harry had always understood his friend sometimes had the tendency to be somewhat of a fair-weather friend, prone to occasional fits of jealousy, while at the same time being possessive of his friendship with Harry and Hermione.

To be fair to Ron, Harry was well aware that it could not be easy to live in his shadow and he knew that at times Ron felt almost stifled being known as the best friend to the Boy-Who-Lived—not to mention younger brother to some truly exceptional wizards—rather than to being known based on who he was. However, although Ron certainly had his issues, as anyone else, for the most part he had been a good friend and staunch companion, and he certainly could not be accused of cowardice. The times he had willingly followed Harry into danger—from the Philosopher's Stone incident in their first year, to the Acromantulas and Chamber of Secrets in their second—Ron had been a steady and supportive friend, and co-conspirator in his adventures.

However, in the matter of Hermione, Harry knew he and Ron would be at odds, should Harry ever decide he fancied his closest female friend. Harry understood, as he suspected Ron still did not, that Ron would consider Hermione his territory due to his expressing interest in her first—the fact that he had not in actuality expressed that interest to the young woman in question would ultimately have no bearing on the matter in his own mind. It was not a failing in Ron, per se, but more simply the way his best friend's mind worked, inasmuch as Harry had insight into the workings of Ron's mind.

As for Harry's feelings on the matter of his best female friend—they were confused and not easily understood, even, he suspected, if he had given the matter a great deal of thought, which he had not. What Harry did know, was that he esteemed Hermione beyond anyone else of his acquaintance; she was his truest friend—the one who had stood by him in everything which had happened to him since his arrival in the magical world, the one upon whom he could always depend. Not even Ron could not make that claim.

Perhaps the fact that Harry was incapable of deciphering his own feelings was not to be wondered at due to his upbringing in the Dursley household. While Harry was aware of Hermione and understood she was growing from the bushy-haired, plain girl of her youth into an attractive young woman, he was not certain how he should feel about her, being so completely ill-prepared to judge his own feelings. Understanding her feelings was equally difficult, although the way she had snuck glances at him since his arrival, particularly when she thought he was not looking—coupled with her blush from moments earlier—seemed to indicate to Harry's inexperienced eye that he was not the only one to wonder at the state of their relationship.

But then again, knowing there was an insane and recently reincorporated madman out for his blood, could he subject Hermione to becoming an even larger target than she already was by openly declaring feelings for her?

Harry snorted to himself, well aware of the tongue lashing he would receive from her if she was ever aware of his thoughts. Although Hermione would undoubtedly appreciate his willingness and determination to protect her, she would not take kindly to him making decisions for her without her knowledge and consent. He could well imagine her indignation, considering it was their hearts he was reflecting on—although the subject had never been broached, he thought he knew her well enough to know she would believe the risk of openly declaring romantic feelings worth taking in order to be happy.

"Harry," a hesitant voice startled him out of his reverie. "Are you all right?"

His eyes coming back into focus, he peered back at his friends, aware of the concerned looks which adorned both of their faces. It hit him suddenly that he had been silent for some time.

Smiling, he nodded to them and started putting on his sneakers. "I'm fine, Hermione. I'm just worried about the hearing."

"You don't have to worry, Harry," Ron said with some confidence. "Dumbledore will take care of everything. You'll see."

"Thanks, Ron, I hope you're right. I'm trying to remain positive, but it's tough sometimes. Fudge has been out to get me ever since the tournament—looks like he's found his chance."

Glancing up, Harry recognized the encouraging looks on both his friends' faces. He sighed, aware his overly pessimistic outlook on life was not doing him any good, and was simultaneously worrying his friends. Consciously, he decided it was time to let his worries go and accept what was to come.

But whatever was to come, if Fudge was to succeed in his campaign to discredit and remove Harry from the wizarding world, Harry promised himself it would not come without a fight. If Fudge wanted to expel him, he would not do so without Harry standing up for himself. If he had been taught one thing during his fifteen years of life, it was to never turn your back on a bully. And that was what Fudge essentially was.

A few moments later, Mr. Weasley entered the foyer of the dirty and worn-down house, indicating to Harry it was time. Nodding, Harry said a last goodbye to his friends, taking in Hermione's worried frown and Ron's attempt to be brave and positive, thanking them both for their friendship, and promising to see them once again when this was all over. For now, he was bound for the Ministry and his destiny.

Later, Harry could only say he could not remember much of the journey to the Ministry building on that fateful day. He could vaguely recall heading down the steps of the old house to a car waiting out front and stepping into said vehicle, but then he could recall nothing until they had arrived at the old phone booth which provided the entrance to the Ministry itself. Had he been thinking clearly of what was happening at the time, he would have wondered why they were going through the bother of driving in one of the Ministry's cars to the trial rather than using the Floo system. He was told later that though it would have been possible for Mr. Weasley as an employee of the Ministry to bring him in that way, it was normal procedure for visitors to enter via the phone booth. That, and the desire to spare Harry due to his well-known aversion to Floo travel, prompted the longer journey by car. It also had the added benefit of allowing him to order his thoughts. On this day, none of this crossed Harry's mind.

No, his mind was engaged in thoughts of what might happen and his rebellious subconscious insisted on replaying all the possible scenarios of what a conviction could mean to him, real or imagined. And although Harry had thought somewhat morosely that very morning just how much trouble he had had, not only since his reentry into this world but also throughout his whole life because of its very existence, he realized that he now thought of himself—identified himself—by his status as a wizard. Now, with the reality of being forcibly removed and bound against ever doing magic again, he knew he had no desire to leave this world, regardless of the trouble it posed to him or the dangers it represented. It was now his life—he wanted nothing more than to be allowed to continue to live it.

Besides, he could not leave Ron and Hermione behind—their friendship and trust meant too much to him to leave them in a world which could soon be dominated by a megalomaniac. Voldemort had seen fit to target him all his life and to Harry that meant the dark wizard believed Harry to be a threat to his vision. If he was such a threat, Harry was determined to be as much of a thorn in Voldemort's side as he possibly could. This in turn strengthened his resolve to meet Fudge head on and challenge him—he would not be meek and vulnerable before the Minister. No, Fudge would not find a pliable child in Harry Potter.

Such thoughts were not to be dwelt upon, however, as after a short journey through the streets of London, they arrived at the entrance to the Ministry and had soon entered the building by its somewhat unorthodox entrance.

Unfortunately for Harry, who would have preferred a low-key arrival and journey to the courtroom, the Ministry atrium was overflowing that day, partially because it was a regular business day for the wizarding government, but also, he suspected, because of the sensational aspect of the trial to be held. Upon entering the atrium, the noise level in the crowded room suddenly decreased, and countless heads swiveled in his direction, almost as one, a fanciful part of him whispered. Then the soft whispering began, and he saw more than one gesture in his direction. The atmosphere was difficult for the young man to make out, and although the crowd in general did not seem overly hostile, they were not especially friendly either.

He suspected the large crowd had something to do with the nature of the coming trial. Harry had not been idle during the past week—he had done some research on the matter (with Hermione's judicious assistance) and had learned that no one who had been charged with underage use of magic had ever been tried in an open court before the entire Wizengamot. No, this was Fudge's big chance to humble and neutralize the famous Boy-Who-Lived while setting himself up as the sole voice of reason and champion of the people. Harry only wanted to see the bastard go up against Voldemort himself; the Minister would not last more than a few moments against the dark wizard before facing utter defeat, or worse.

Following his best friend's father, Harry made his way to the stairs which would take them down to the tenth level and the courtroom, all the while his cheeks flaming due to the unwanted attention. It was crystal clear to him—he was big news in the wizarding world, and his trial was drawing a lot of interest. He sensed that it was up to him to take the initiative and show himself in the best possible light. If he could show himself to be the hero these people all hoped him to be—especially with Voldemort's recent return—he suspected the atmosphere of the recently-exited atrium would change into a more positive one for him. Perhaps the idiot Fudge could even be put on the defensive for a change. One could only hope.

Of course, this presupposed Harry could devise something which would not only save his hide, but also prove sufficiently inspiring to capture the imagination of the masses. Unfortunately, he would not be flying on his broom being pursued by an angry dragon, or fighting a massive basilisk—this fight would have to be won with words. He wished Hermione were here; she was the one with the gift for words.

They emerged from the stairwell and made their way down the long hall. Their progress down the hall went largely unnoticed by Harry, intent as he was on his own problems. At length, as they progressed toward Harry's destiny, he noticed a tall, austere sort of man who was regarding them intently as they made their way toward the courtroom. As they drew near, he approached them, a kindly expression coming over his face.

"Ah, Mr. Potter, I presume."

Although Harry was unsurprised the man seemed to know him (was there anyone who did not after all?), everyone else had been content to do no more than watch from a distance and whisper. In his experience, there were many Lockharts in the world—those who wished to know him for their own purposes and agendas.

Deciding it was better to be distant for the moment, he responded cautiously. "Yes? Can I help you?"

The man chuckled. "No, young Harry, I just thought I would say hello before you enter the courtroom."

Harry looked past the man at the open door, leading to courtroom number ten, which loomed in the distance. It seemed to mock him, beckoning him toward his destiny and sudden doom—taunting him with his own fears.

Shaking off his fanciful thoughts, Harry focused his attention back on the newcomer, who was even now watching him with an expression of sympathy.

"It is a little overwhelming, is it not?"

For the first time, Harry noticed the slight accent in the man's speech—it was not blatant, nor did it make him difficult to understand. Although he had no knowledge of this man—as Arthur did not, it appeared, given his curious reaction to the man and his lack of greeting—he was the type that inspired confidence and exuded competence.

"Just a little…" Harry finally muttered in response.

The man nodded sagely. "Although it seems bleak, just remember to keep your head up. We can't necessarily pick our circumstances, but we can choose the manner in which we react and conduct ourselves. Sometimes, that is more important in the long run. Our behavior in trying circumstances is a better indicator of our character than when we are in our comfort zone. Remember that as you stand in front of these fops."

His last words were spoken with a wry smile and a gesture toward Minister Fudge, who was making his way into the courtroom.

Grateful for the kind words, Harry nodded and regarded the mysterious man. "I'm sorry, sir, but do I know you?"

"No, although I do know of you." At Harry's grimace, he once again chuckled and slapped Harry on the shoulder. "I guess that's not exactly a surprise, now is it? Remember, you have people who are on your side—those who will fight for you. Don't let them intimidate and try to isolate you."

Harry nodded, thinking about what the man had told him. He knew he had good friends—Hermione and Ron were the best, Dumbledore and the other professors had always looked out for him, and it was amazing how close he and Sirius had become in such a short time. Somehow he would get through the day and become stronger for it.

Thank you, Mr.…"

"Oh, don't worry about me, Harry," the man responded. "I'm certain we will see more of one another in the very near future."

With that, Harry found his hand firmly shaken, after which the man departed, entering a door to the side of the main entrance to the courtroom. He looked askance at Mr. Weasley and noted a slightly bemused expression on the other man's face. As this was somewhat normal for his best friend's father, Harry simply shook his head, assuming Mr. Weasley had no more idea of the new acquaintance's identity than Harry did.

Gathering himself, Harry and his escort crossed the final distance to the courtroom entrance and paused before the open door.

"Harry," Mr. Weasley began, "you know we're all behind you. Don't worry about a thing."

Thanking his host for his assistance, Harry took at deep breath and entered the courtroom.

He found himself in a semi-circular room, with a floor that was roughly the size of the Gryffindor common room at Hogwarts. On three sides, benches rose up along the walls approximately ten levels high; to his back, a raised gallery stood above the entrance to the courtroom. The benches along the walls were filled with members of the Wizengamot, most of whom were stern-looking elderly witches and wizards. Although it was difficult to get a true reading of the mood of the legislative body, Harry could tell that many were not happy to be there—whether that was due to indifference, disapproval of Fudge's actions, or enmity to himself, he could not tell. Turning back in the direction from which he had just entered Harry gazed up at the gallery, which was packed with onlookers. Among those was the forbidding presence of Lucius Malfoy, who watched him with an arrogant smirk on his face. Determined to avoid the father of his most hated rival, Harry allowed his gaze to wander over the gallery and he caught the eye of the man he had just met outside the courtroom, who gave him a cheery salute. Grinning in response, he turned back to Minister Fudge, who was now regarding him with an expression of fury and the utmost disdain.

"Please take a seat, Mr. Potter," he said between clenched teeth, indicating the hard wooden chair which stood in the center of the room, facing away from the door. "We are ready to begin these proceedings."

Suddenly worried, Harry peered about the room, looking for the telltale garish robes of his Headmaster. Not seeing him among the members of the Wizengamot, he looked up at the Minister, who was regarding him impatiently.

"Excuse me, Minister—I had understood Headmaster Dumbledore was to be here."

Fudge's face lit up with a cruel, triumphant smile. "It seems your Headmaster has not seen fit to bother himself with the deeds of a mere student. In cases of such contempt being shown to the Wizengamot, we must continue in his absence."

Shivering at the vindictive glee which was fairly dripping from the Minister's voice, Harry glanced back at the door and then at the face of his supporter, who regarded him steadily, lending him courage and the belief that all would be well. Taking a deep breath, Harry gathered his determination and sat in the hard chair, his back straight and his head held high. He would show Fudge that he was not about to be intimidated.

A feral grin met his response, as restraints suddenly shot out of the arms and legs of the chair, binding him and holding him immobile. The Minister smirked in triumph at his shock, as he called the Wizengamot to order.

"Order in the courtroom!" he shouted, banging his gavel on the desk at which he sat.

As the room quieted, he glanced around the room and spoke again. "I call this trial of underage magic use for one Harry James Potter into session." He sneered at Harry as he continued. "The defendant is accused of using magic in the presence of Muggles and in violation of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery. The truth of this charge, as well as the lies of said defendant, shall be brought to light and shall be acted upon accordingly."

"Is that so, Cornelius?" a voice rang out from behind Harry.

Harry twisted his head as far as he was able due to the restraints and witnessed the dramatic entrance of his Headmaster, grinning as the amused twinkling of Dumbledore's eyes was directed at him. The grandfatherly old man looked his immaculate best today, from his long flowing gray robes to his long white beard, which had been combed and tied down with his usual gold chain. Although his eyes twinkled when he looked at his young charge, Harry could tell the Headmaster was not amused—he fairly radiated power and his gaze on the assembled Wizengamot members was not only stern, but also disapproving in the extreme.

Walking up to Harry's chair, he took his position along his side and continued. "I suppose I should not be surprised the location and time of this… hearing was changed without prior notice." His harsh tone left no doubt as to his opinion of the trial. "If one did not know better, Minister, one would think it was deliberately done to deprive Mr. Potter of his right to defend himself before this noble body."

Fudge's eyes tightened momentarily before he sniffed in disdain. "The Wizengamot can hardly be held responsible if you cannot take the trouble to keep up with the doings of the body you lead, Dumbledore."

Raising one eyebrow, Dumbledore's gaze bored into the Minister, making him squirm slightly in his seat. "The memo must have gone missing, Minister. If it were not for some conscientious member of this body, Mr. Potter and I may not have heard of this until after a decision had been rendered. Surely you would not want to be seen as a Minister who presided over a miscarriage of justice for one of your most famous subjects."

Fudge looked on, his face slightly pale at the implications of Dumbledore's speech, while there was an uncomfortable silence as the Wizengamot digested all which had not been said by their leader.

"Be that as it may," Dumbledore continued, "regardless of my opinion of this forum, here we are. I suggest we conclude this farce as quickly as may be so we can all get on with matters which are far more important. As I will be representing Mr. Potter, I yield the floor to you, Minister."

Inside, Harry was elated over the implied dressing down his Headmaster had just given the Minister, although he tried not to let it show on his face. Harry was not a student of wizarding law—far from it—but he knew he was being singled out by a Minister who had refused to see reason and had publicly called him a liar following his testimony after the third task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament. What Dumbledore had said was not only fair, but also just in the context of any wizarding law Harry knew.

"Quite," Fudge responded at length.

The Minister signaled for the prosecution to begin their case, their star witness being the assistant with whom Harry had had communication with twice previously: Mafalda Hopkirk. Harry listened as Fudge prompted her with the information to build the case against him, asking questions to draw out what he obviously considered to be the pertinent facts. He watched and listened carefully, noting the gleeful glances the Minister kept directing at him. Ms. Hopkirk, by contrast, appeared to have nothing against either Harry or Dumbledore; she merely presented the facts of the case as she saw them, embellishing little and only elaborating when prompted directly by the Minister or one of the Wizengamot members. The facts were simple and straightforward: on the morning of August 2, the Ministry tracking devices had detected a large surge of magic which had been traced to Harry's wand. Ms. Hopkirk had initiated standard procedures and dispatched a letter to his residence, informing him of his expulsion from Hogwarts and the actions to be taken by the Ministry in response. However, the order was soon rescinded when Albus Dumbledore had arrived at the Ministry and convinced them to hold a hearing to determine his fate.

This final piece of information had Fudge smirking down at Harry, causing Harry to squirm in his chair.

"Ms. Hopkirk," Fudge began after she had finished her report, "I take it this is not the first time Mr. Potter has used magic improperly?"

"No, Minister. Mr. Potter has been detected using magic on two separate occasions outside of Hogwarts since he began attending."

"There!" Fudge thundered. "The Wizengamot can see the pattern of disobedience and contempt for the laws of our world—contempt which puts us all in danger of discovery by the Muggles! Can anyone possibly say anything in Mr. Potter's defense?"

"Minister, I believe Mr. Potter should be allowed to respond in his defense."

Fudge's beady eyes fixed on Dumbledore, and an unpleasant sneer came over his face. "Ah, yes—we come to the crux of the matter. The esteemed Headmaster of our most distinguished school, who has himself shown a pattern of favoritism for Mr. Potter. Tell the Wizengamot, Headmaster, why it is, that as an official member of this body, you felt necessary to intervene on Mr. Potter's behalf. Has his stay at Hogwarts been similarly rife with favoritism from your office?"

His insinuation was not lost on the members of the Wizengamot. Harry witnessed dark, contemplative looks on the faces of many watching Wizengamot members. It was a strike, clearly designed to focus attention on his relationship with the Headmaster, rather than the crime being discussed. Dumbledore chose to ignore the insinuation.

"Tell me, Ms. Hopkirk," Dumbledore stated—the woman had been standing quietly, waiting to be addressed or dismissed. "How is it that a letter was dispatched to Mr. Potter's residence so quickly? Standard procedure states that a first offense generates a warning letter immediately, but a second offense requires a review before any response is made."

"Dumbledore, I hardly think this is—"

"But it is relevant, Minister. After all, the reason for this forum is to make certain Mr. Potter is treated the same as any other witch or wizard, and subject to the appropriate action according to our laws. You will answer the question, Ms. Hopkirk."

Her eyes darted to those of the Minister, who was staring at her, his eyes narrowed. Sighing, she glanced back at Dumbledore and responded. "Minister Fudge sent a memo instructing prompt action if Mr. Potter were to be detected using magic."

"Only Mr. Potter?"

"Yes, sir."

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow and peered back at the Minister, who was now looking distinctly uncomfortable. He appeared ready to angrily interrupt the conversation when Dumbledore spoke again.

"In answer to your previous question, Minister, I have always acted in the best interests of those under my charge. I will continue to do so to ensure the safety and well-being of my students. I would do the same for any who I feel are being unfairly singled out—I had thought you already understood this, Minister."

Although Harry did not understand the reference, the tightening of the Minister's eyes told him that he, at least, understood and was not pleased.

"Really, Dumbledore," Fudge snarled in reply, his momentary setback forgotten, "you should cease involving yourself in lost causes such as this—it may eventually damage the mystique of your reputation. Regardless of anything I or anyone else in the government have done in this case, the facts are relevant and irrefutable, as is the punishment."

"Mr. Potter is deserving of the opportunity to respond to his accusers, not only as is his right, but also due to the seriousness of the consequences. Do you, Minister, believe he should be summarily convicted without his explanation, or do you wish to perpetuate the mistakes of the past and convict another innocent man by denying his rights?"

The Minister was practically snarling by this time. "Fine, Dumbledore—make your case! How does Mr. Potter think he can defend his actions in this?"

"Harry? Would you like to respond?"

Feeling the weight of the entire Wizengamot bearing down on him, Harry, nevertheless, screwed up his courage and looked Fudge right in the eyes. "We were attacked by Dementors, sir."

"Dementors, Minister!" Dumbledore boomed. "Mr. Potter was set upon by Dementors on the morning in question. That is what accounts for his use of magic."

"Dementors?" Fudge shrieked. "Are you claiming that a fourth-year student was able to cast a Patronus charm to drive away Dementors? Preposterous!"

Having sat there quietly watching Dumbledore defend him, Harry was struck by the thought that Fudge did not want him to be acquitted—a fact that he knew intellectually. But having it stare him in the face brought the fact into harsh focus.

"I've been able to cast the Patronus charm since my third year!"

"Boy, the Patronus charm is a post-NEWT level spell which can be successfully cast by few in our society. You expect us to believe that you, a mere lad of fifteen, can do what most adults cannot?"

"Give me my wand and let me loose, and I'll show you," Harry snapped in response.

The Minister's eyes narrowed, but before he could say anything further, he was interrupted. A short, pudgy woman, wearing a shade of lurid pink under her dark Wizengamot robes, had raised her hand. "Hem, hem," she cleared her throat before continuing, "I believe the point of whether Mr. Potter can cast a Patronus is academic. After all, the Dementors are under the control of the Ministry and therefore cannot have been in Little Whinging."

Harry immediately disliked the ugly woman—she spoke in a sugary sweet voice, while she simpered and smirked at the entire gathering. He sensed it was nothing more than an act.

"There you are, Mr. Potter—straight from the Undersecretary. What do you say to that?"

"The Dementors were there—I saw them. Mrs. Figg and my cousin Dudley were there as well."

"Muggles," Fudge spat with derision. "Convenient, don't you think, that your only witnesses cannot actually see Dementors?"

"The effects of a Dementor's presence are well known, Minister," Dumbledore responded. "Simple questioning of the witnesses will establish whether they were affected."

"Rubbish! Your proposed questioning would be nothing more than circumstantial at best. We have proof through the Ministry recording devices of Mr. Potter's use of magic and nothing but his word of the existence of these Dementors to prove otherwise. Why would Dementors be after you, Potter, so far away from Azkaban?"

"I don't know, Minister," Harry responded, the defiance and contempt he felt for the small-minded little man showing in his voice. "I have been attacked by Dementors before, as you well know, when you decided to station them at Hogwarts in my third year. Maybe they were able to escape somehow, or maybe one of Voldemort's supporters set them on me."

A feral grin lit up the Minister's face even as a wave of gasps at hearing the dark lord's name spoken rippled through the chamber. "Ah, so now we come to the heart of the matter—Mr. Potter's insistence on the reappearance of the Dark Lord. Tell me, Potter, why you are so insistent on proclaiming the impossible? He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has been dead these past fourteen years after all… You were there, were you not?"

Harry sat up as straight as he could manage and glared at the Minister. "I'm telling you he's back because it's the truth."

"And I'm telling you it's impossible!" Fudge yelled in response. "Do you think you are some sort of god, that you can return a man dead for over a decade to the land of the living?"

"I did not bring him back, Minister. He was brought back by Peter Pettigrew, who used a dark ritual to return his former master."

"Peter Pettigrew! Another man dead since you were a child! Are there no end to your lies?"

"Minister, it is known that there are ways to tether one's existence to this earth—and ways of bringing one who has accomplished this back. As you well know, I have never believed Voldemort to be gone and given his fear of death and intense self interest, I do not think this belief is unreasonable—he is out there, and now he has been re-embodied, and it is foolishness not to act to protect your people and our very society."

Fudge glared at Dumbledore in disgust. "And yet, you have no proof of these claims other than the word of a young, glory-seeking upstart who seems intent on causing panic in our world."

"The proof exists if you would only look at it!"

"Enough!" Fudge shouted. "I will not listen to the lies of this young man, nor to your attempt to cause panic in these halls! Mr. Potter is a spoiled, indulged little brat who has been toeing your line for far too long, Dumbledore, and I mean to see his lies brought to an end for the good of our society."

Leaning back in his chair, Fudge smirked at the Headmaster. "I have another theory of Mr. Potter's… experiences. He is attempting to sow fear and discord because his star has waned since he returned to our world—he wishes to recreate his past celebrity and is using his only claim to fame to do so by invoking the name of our greatest enemy. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is dead, Mr. Potter. You will receive no further adulation from this society for an accident which happened when you were a mere baby!"

"If he is dead, never to return, then why do you fear to speak his name?"

Dumbledore's question echoed out over the room, causing some to glance at the Minister with a certain speculation, while still others looked affronted that anyone would have the audacity to suggest they actually use the dark lord's name. Harry took stock of their reactions, trying to commit them to memory—these were the ones who were, at the very least, tacit supporters of Voldemort, if not actual Death Eaters.

"Surely the Minister cannot be afraid of a dead man," Dumbledore continued, causing a swell of noise to break out over the Wizengamot, not to mention a certain amount of snickering. A point had been clearly scored by the Headmaster.

Finally a sputtering Fudge regained control of his voice. "It matters little what you call him, Dumbledore," he spat. "The man is dead, and regardless of what Mr. Potter thinks he saw, he cannot have seen the dark lord. He is obviously lying."

"I'll take Veritaserum!" Harry yelled desperately.


"Give me Veritaserum—that will show you I'm telling the truth."

"An excellent suggestion, Minister," Dumbledore chimed in smoothly. "Veritaserum will prove Mr. Potter's claims without a doubt."

"Veritaserum is a valuable substance," Umbridge interrupted in her sickening voice, while Fudge sputtered. "We don't just use it on anyone with a random claim—your case does not qualify, Mr. Potter."

"On the contrary—" Dumbledore began, but was interrupted by a now-furious Fudge.

"Bollocks! We will listen to no more of this. It is time for the Wizengamot to deliberate and determine the results of this hearing."

Harry was uncertain how it would play out—Dumbledore had obviously scored significant points with the Wizengamot, but would it be enough? Harry had glanced up at the Headmaster, fearful of the outcome, when he heard a strong voice from the gallery.

By this time, Jean-Sebastian had heard enough—the British Minister was intent on petulantly getting his way and was clearly not interested in the truth. It was time to repay Sirius's trust in him and cast the die which would change the lives of his family.

"Enough, Minister!"

Ignoring the look of astonishment on the face of the British Minister, Jean-Sebastian rose from his chair and vaulted the bar which separated the spectator gallery from the rest of the amphitheater. He quickly strode down the stairs to the floor, and moved toward the detested chair in which the young man he had come to help still sat regarding him, a look of shock, mingled with hope, adorning his features.

Arriving in the middle of the floor, Jean-Sebastian scowled at the chair which held Harry captive and flicked his wrist, releasing his bonds. Uncertainly, Harry glanced up at his benefactor, grinning tentatively in response to the welcoming smile Jean-Sebastian gave him.

"Stand up and face your accusers, Harry. That chair was designed to remove a person's free will and dignity, and I will not have you spend any further time in it."

Jean-Sebastian just had enough time to exchange a glance, accompanied by a raised eyebrow, with the Headmaster before Fudge finally recovered. His voice rang out through the courtroom.

"Ambassador! What is the meaning of this?"

Glaring at the nearly apoplectic Minister, Jean-Sebastian helped a stunned-looking Harry Potter to his feet before turning to address the young man's accusers.

"This hearing is a farce, Minister. I will not allow you to continue with this character assassination, this… kangaroo court any longer. You have no interest in knowing the truth of Harry's actions, only in pushing your agenda of denial and your destructive and narrow-minded Pureblood bigotry. This young man will not be sacrificed to further your career!"

"How dare you! By what authority do you interrupt our proceedings?"

"By the authority of the ICW!"

His statement apparently caught Fudge off guard, as the man's tongue was stilled momentarily, allowing Jean-Sebastian to continue his assault.

"With the assistance of the Supreme Mugwump," he nodded in Dumbledore's direction, "an emergency session of the ICW was convened this morning. With an overwhelming majority, the ICW has voted to commend young Harry Potter for his actions, not only during the attack on him and his cousin, but also during the recently completed tournament."

"And what authority does the ICW have here in England?" Fudge sneered in response.

But though the Minister attempted to appear confident and unmoved by the news, Jean-Sebastian could tell his words were a little less forceful, his manner slightly less secure. The approval and recommendation of the ICW was no small matter, even to the most powerful among them—to fall afoul of the international wizarding body was not without political and personal risk, as many had found to their detriment.

"Obviously, no legal authority," Jean-Sebastian responded, twisting the knife slightly. "My dear Minister Fudge, you must study international wizarding law further if you are concerned about that."

The jibe did not go unnoticed and Fudge scowled in response. The members of the Wizengamot reacted differently, as those in direct opposition could be seen to be smirking in his direction, while others appeared to have varying looks of contemplation, understanding, and even apprehension.

"The ICW cannot intervene directly in an affair which is so obviously an internal British matter," he continued, making certain the Minister and his entire Wizengamot understood exactly what he was saying. "However, young Mr. Potter is a person of interest to the wizarding world as a whole, not only for surviving an attack by one of the most feared dark lords of any age, but also because of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, among his other exploits. Mr. Potter, it appears your adventures have gained you much notoriety and fame beyond the boundaries of England, above and beyond what happened when he attacked you all those years ago. The offers of refuge came from many different countries, including my own."

Jean-Sebastian almost laughed at Harry's look of incomprehension and consternation—he was obviously a private young man who did not appreciate his fame. Deciding he would have to watch closely—Harry appeared as if he did not fully understand what was happening, and if that was the case, he would need to be educated, not only in the ways of the wizarding world, but also in how the international world worked—Jean-Sebastian turned his attention back to Fudge, curious to see how the Minister would react to the blows his case had taken that morning.

The Minister was glaring ferociously down at the accused, no doubt trying to determine how to resurrect his case. Jean-Sebastian stared back at the Minister, allowing the gleam of dislike and disgust to enter his eyes. Fudge's eyes narrowed in response—it was obvious to Jean-Sebastian that he had made himself an implacable (although he expected somewhat ineffectual) enemy this day. Yet, everything he had heard about Harry and the Dark Lord's unhealthy interest in the young man told him it was worth it. Harry Potter would be a leader in the fight against Voldemort—Jean-Sebastian was certain of it.

"The ICW is irrelevant!" Fudge finally responded, making one last gasp to save his case. "Mr. Potter has broken the law—international law I might add—and we are duty-bound as a society to ensure the secrecy of our world is upheld."

"Then instruct your Aurors to prepare the Veritaserum," Jean-Sebastian responded. "Mr. Potter has already agreed to its use."

It was the short, pudgy, pink woman who responded. "The use of Veritaserum—"

"—is condoned in the use of all trials to determine the truthfulness of the accused, as long as the Wizengamot condones its use. Really, Madam, I should think that as a member of this august body, you would understand the laws of your own country."

She visibly bristled at his comments, causing Jean-Sebastian to wonder why she was so adamant in her support of Fudge in this matter. It would bear looking into.

"The matter is still clear!" Her sickeningly sweet voice now held a hint of shrillness. "The statute was broken, and Mr. Potter has admitted to it."

"If I may," Dumbledore intervened for the first time since Jean-Sebastian had spoken, "there is a reason for the term 'reasonable' in the statute. Surely defending himself against Dementors would be considered justified to any right-minded wizard or witch. The use of Veritaserum would verify the presence of Dementors on that morning."

"Unless he's delusional!" Fudge snapped, finally finding his voice again.

"Then the testimonies of the witnesses will also be necessary," Dumbledore responded with aplomb. "Unless you feel they were all delusional for some inexplicable reason."

His sarcasm was not lost on the members of the Wizengamot. Jean-Sebastian could almost feel the tide of opinion turning against the Minister and decided it was time to finish the debate.

"Minister, with what I have heard this morning, it would almost appear to me as though you hold a personal vendetta against this young man, although I must admit to being at a loss to understand your reason. I have had only one brief conversation with Mr. Potter, yet I can state without reservation that he seems like a nice, bright lad, one who has experienced hardship in his life due to no fault of his own. Given his stature as hero to the British wizarding people, do you really want to go down as the Minister who has driven one of your most famous heroes away from England forever? How could your people have possibly turned on Harry so quickly? Has the English wizarding world even been told the truth about Mr. Potter?"

That more than anything else received Fudge's—and the entire Wizengamot's—attention. Jean-Sebastian was aware that Fudge could have portrayed Harry in any manner he pleased and gotten away with it, as long as he controlled the flow of information and kept public opinion firmly on his side. Now, with his arguments in ruins, and his bias and personal grudge against the young boy all but proven in the aftermath of these proceedings—which were being followed across the British Wizarding Wireless by most of the country, unless Jean-Sebastian missed his guess—it would be political suicide for Fudge to continue to push for conviction and punishment.

Jean-Sebastian's grin was practically predatory. "Ah, I see that has gotten your attention. But be that as it may, I will not allow the exploitation of young Harry Potter to continue any longer."

The looks of confusion and apprehension on more than one face would be almost comical if Jean-Sebastian was not so deadly serious.

"Because the English wizarding world cannot be trusted with Mr. Potter's welfare, I fear I must take steps to ensure he is never again treated in this manner. I have recently become aware of the existence of a document signed by my father and Mr. Potter's grandfather more than fifty years ago, a document which allows me to be of some use to the young man. As I have the agreement of his guardian, by the ancient laws of magic I am hereby invoking a marriage contract between Mr. Potter and my eldest daughter. So I say it, so will it be!"

Updated 02/06/2013