Grantham was vexed. “I didn’t think it would be like this,” he complained to his wife, Vanessa.
“You always knew there had to be compromises, Oliver. It’s the nature of politics.”
“I know, I know…” Grantham glanced out his lounge room window and was heartened by the sight of his two youngest children playing in the twilight. His eldest was upstairs studying, getting a head start on the rapidly approaching school year.
“What irks you in particular,” asked Vanessa.
“It’s no one thing. It’s a thousand little things. They were so supportive when they were clamouring for me to step forward. ‘Of course we’ll support your programs, Oliver. Of course we want to get rid of incompetence and cronyism, Oliver.’ But then, step by little step they back away from it. The steps themselves look innocuous, even reasonable, but when you add them together…”
“When your Minister of Magic, you’ll be in a much better position to push your programs through. That’s what you need to consider.”
“Yes, I guess…This awards committee thing really irks me too. The final vote is on tomorrow morning. I wasn’t particularly in favour of giving such a high award to people so young, but I hate being threatened.”
“Surely it would have been unprecedented giving first class Merlins to 18 year olds,” replied Vanessa.
“Not quite,” responded Grantham. “In 1612 Ogden the Odious was awarded a first class Merlin. He raised an army of merchantmen and arrived just in time to turn the tide in the Battle of Hogsmeade Hill. He had only turned 17 the day before. Apart from that, though, no one under 20 has even been awarded a second class Merlin.”
Vanessa burst out laughing, “Oh Oliver, only you would know that!”
Vanessa became serious. “Oliver, tomorrow night you will be Minister of Magic. You will pursue your vision with all the considerable energy, intelligence and integrity you possess. The magical community will be well served. I will be by your side every step of the way, providing you with all the support I can.” She raised her pumpkin juice. “To the next Minister of Magic!”
Oliver regarded his wife with deep affection. “And you will be Top Witch.” He too raised his pumpkin juice. “To the most beguiling, beautiful and bewitching Top Witch ever to grace these lands!”
On the other side of London an impatient Percy Weasley was tapping his wand on the table top, sparks flying with each tap.
“This meeting of the executive committee of PLEJ will now come to order,” he intoned. “First order of business, report from the leader of the party in the Wizengamot, Minister Shacklebolt.”
Kingsley put down the quill he was using to annotate a thick report.
“Thank you Percy. At 3:30 pm this afternoon Hypon Gallant moved a formal motion of no confidence in my performance as Minister of Magic. Debate on the motion will start late tomorrow afternoon followed by a vote later in the evening. If the motion is successful, I will have lost my job and the speaker will call for nominations for a new Minister of Magic. Another debate and a vote will follow. It should be a long night.”
Kingsley had spoken matter-of-factly. Now a slight edge of bitterness crept into his voice. “I will let our numbers man, Rufus, give you a detailed rundown of the state of the vote but it doesn’t look wonderful.”
“Thanks, Minister. Party Treasurer, you have the floor.”
Bill Weasley smiled at his brother’s formality, though he had to admit Percy kept the discussion focused and moving along. “Thank you, Mr Secretary,” he said tongue in cheek, “Following Hermione’s suggestion, I have been able to discover most of the details of the agreement reached between the Guilds and the Merchant faction. It’s a good deal for the guilds and most merchants. The public is the main loser. However, some merchants are not happy at all, especially importers. We’ve been able to identify Wizengamot members with close ties to importers and we believe we can get their votes, including one member of the Guild Faction whose family has large commercial interests abroad.”
Percy gave Rufus Lazarre the nod. “I’ll go straight to the bottom line. The situation is not hopeless but is not good either. The economic agreement between the Guilds and the Merchant faction is both a strength and a weakness. It cements Grantham’s three way alliance between the Guilds, the Merchants and his own Traditionalist faction. That’s its strength. But there are always losers, that’s its weakness. In every faction there are people whose supporters or whose families are badly affected and we will pick up most of their votes. Unfortunately, on my count that still leaves us four votes short.”
“Do you see any way of getting those four votes,” asked Arthur earning a sharp look from his son for speaking without being called.
“We already have most of the independents’ vote,” replied Lazarre, “and the three we don’t have, we are not going to get. The Pragmatists represent the largest block of votes that isn’t formally committed to one side of the other. Let’s be frank, they don’t like Kingsley or PLEJ much. They think were bad for business, dirty business, and their right. They don’t much like Grantham either, think he is too straight. However, they believe his allies will be able to keep him on a short leash. I’m not sure they’re right. Around the Wizengamot there are five votes that we might still get, but they are all going to be tough and we need all but one of them. I’m not giving up though.”
The mood around the table was grim but determined. Discussion centred on just how to use the remaining time to go after each of those five votes.
After the discussion had taken its course Kingsley spoke again. “If we lose this vote it will be a serious setback, but it will not be the end. We will remain a powerful force in the Wizengamot and I suggest it is time we start putting forward more of our policies. Our platform calls for 10% of the places in the Wizengamot to be filled through direct election by the people. I propose win or lose, we place legislation in front of the Wizengamot to accomplish that. We should be looking forward, not to the past.”
Most people around the table recognised that this was more an attempt to boost morale than anything else, but the proposal was warmly, if not enthusiastically supported. The meeting broke up and everyone went home, each to prepare for the coming battle in their own way.
The public gallery in the Wizengamot was packed. So was the press gallery. This was the best show in town, and no matter the outcome, there was bound to be fireworks.
The day had been frantic with the last minute lobbying. Even Harry, who abhorred any involvement with day to day politics, was wheeled out in an attempt to get those five much needed votes.
Hermione had been busy in another way. She was developing a reputation as a speechwriter and had worked first with Kingsley and then Neville on their speeches. Neville would be giving his maiden speech in the Wizengamot and, as he frankly admitted, he needed all the help he could get.
Harry, Ron and Hermione had good seats in the public gallery. Molly, Arthur and Percy were seated behind them. Ron was intrigued by the bustle in the place and was scanning the area with avid interest. His attention was arrested by the arrival in the public gallery of a very attractive witch accompanied by a young boy. She was warmly greeted and given a prominent position. Percy commented behind him, “That’s Grantham’s wife and I guess his son.”
Ron watched her closely for some time. Hermione dug him in the ribs. “You don’t have to ogle her, Ron!”
Ron turned to Hermione who was looking cross. He couldn’t decide whether she was faking it, but decided to play along. “I don’t know what you’re talking about Hermione, she’s old enough to be my mother,” he said adopting an exaggerated air of wounded innocence.
“Only if she gave birth when she was 12. In any case, Ron, she isn’t your mother.” Hermione tried hard to hold her scowl, but in the end couldn’t and broke down laughing.
“Bloody hell, Hermione, if I knew Grantham’s wife looked like that, it might have been less of a problem. She’s not bad looking…for an older woman that is,” he quickly added.
“Keep your eyes to the front, Ron,” said Hermione and Ron realised this time she meant it.
The chair called the Wizengamot to order and quiet fell around the chamber. The first speaker was Gemalla Wenglespon, leader of the Pragmatist faction and chief Mugwump of the Wizengamot. She still had enormous political clout, though Kingsley’s administration and the rise of PLEJ had diminished it. She had been slow to recognise the changes that were occurring and was stunned when PLEJ outmanoeuvred her in the election of a High Warranter. She now hated Kingsley with a passion.
Her speech was powerful, clever, vindictive and damaging. She managed to paint Kingsley as responsible for everything bad that had happened in the last four months and much that had happened before that as well. In particular, she managed to pin all the shortcomings of the aurors on him to devastating effect.
“When will we get a leader who does not cower behind children? When will we get a leader who does not cravenly rely on children to rescue him from his own incompetence?” She fixed her gaze on Kingsley and raised an accusing finger. “When Death Eaters attacked the mourners at brave Fred Weasley’s funeral, where were your aurors, Minister Shacklebolt? Did they lead the defence? Oh no, some of them actually led the attack! Did your aurors at least help the defence? Oh no, they fell for a simpleton’s ruse and rushed elsewhere. It was the children who saved the day. It was the children who once again saved your bacon, Minister.”
Wenglespon pressed home the attack. “For the last two months you have been reassuring us all that the Death Eaters were a spent force, that their day was done. Then, just two days ago, Death Eaters launched a devastating attack on this nation. Many people were killed. We so nearly saw the slaughter of a school full of innocent little ones. And why? Because the men you placed in charge of the aurors were incompetent. But you’re a lucky man, minister. Once again the children saved you. They tossed aside the bumbling fools you put in place and took matters in their own hands. Bah, it is not good enough; it is not even close to being good enough. Go, I beg you, go!” Wenglespon resumed her seat to thunderous applause.
The rules that govern the order of speakers in a Wizengamot debate are an arcane mystery understood by a select few. The result this day was that one of the most experienced and effective speakers was followed by the least experienced.
Neville had been nervous earlier, and had spent an hour pacing up and down in his miniscule office going over Hermione’s speech. All that was now forgotten. Wenglespon’s speech had incensed him. He stood tall, his prepared speech deep in his pocket where it would remain.
Neville was shaking when he started, his voice quivering. “I have not long been a member of this assembly. I am not sure I could stomach being here much longer if I have to hear more speeches like the one just inflicted on us. Perhaps most of you have stronger stomachs than me. I am not used to such heavy doses of hypocrisy. I am not used to such clever lies either.” Neville felt the weight of so many eyes on him, of so many important people fixing their attention on him. He remembered, though, how enthusiastically they had greeted Wenglespon’s speech and his eyes panned accusingly across the assembly as he addressed them. “I am also not used to such hypocrisy and dishonesty being met by enthusiastic approval rather than the disgust it deserves. Do you not know you have been insulted? Do you not know you have been treated with contempt? They know.” Neville pointed to the public gallery. “Why don’t you know? You should ask yourself that question.”
Members of the Wizengamot were beginning to stir. They had been indulgently amused when Neville had started, now many were getting annoyed. Only the time honoured tradition that a maiden speech was listened to in silence prevented some of them from jeering him. Neville didn’t care. He was just getting into his stride. He now fixed his full attention on Gemalla Wenglespon and spoke directly to her.
“How dare you make that speech! I nearly gagged when you spoke of ‘brave Fred Weasley’, enlisted his memory to your rotten cause… Did you know him? I did. I fought with him in the resistance against Lord Voldemort. I supplied him with information for his clandestine broadcasts…I ask where were you, Chief Mugwump, when he and his brave brother George were risking their lives to tell the truth to the world? Perhaps you were feeding the Daily Prophet with the lies they so frequently published. They certainly quoted you enough.”
“Kingsley Shacklebolt knew brave Fred Weasley. He fought with him in the resistance. He participated in Weasley’s life saving broadcasts. Where were you when Kingsley Shacklebolt was risking his life to tell the truth to the world? Were you, as Chief Mugwump, making some sleazy deal with Voldemort’s minions? This place certainly kept humming along nicely during Voldemort’s reign.”
“Where were you the night brave Fred Weasley died? I know where Kingsley Shacklebolt was. He was fighting by his side.” Gemalla Wenglespon had a thick hide, but Neville’s words penetrated and stung. She had daggers in her eyes as she tried to stare down Neville. He was relentless.
“I nearly gagged when you blamed Shacklebolt for the broken state of the aurors. Auror Shacklebolt had to flee for his life when Voldemort came to power for he would make no accommodation with monstrous evil. What accommodation did you make so you could continue your safe, comfortable life?”
“The aurors did fail at Fred’s funeral. They were broken, broken by Lord Voldemort. And yes, we children, as you so contemptuously call us, did save the day, along with many others who had not forgotten how to fight. What was Minister Shacklebolt’s response? He cut through a lot of opposition to repair the aurors and he used imaginative and unconventional means to get the people he needed in place.”
“This week at Godric’s Hollow it was the auror force created by Kingsley Shacklebolt that saved the day. I was there, I took part, a proud member of Shacklebolt’s aurors.”
“I nearly gagged when you stated that we, the children, rescued Kingsley Shacklebolt. The truth is that we, the fighters of the resistance, we including minister Shacklebolt, we rescued you. He deserves your respect and gratitude even if he cannot have your vote.”
Neville sat down. He was still angry but he had said what he had to say. He was stunned when the Wizengamot rose as one, with some few abstainers, and gave him a standing ovation. What’s wrong with these people, he thought. How could they applaud her one minute and him the next? Didn’t they care about the content of a speech? Was style all they cared about?
Speaker followed speaker as afternoon slowly turned to evening. The PLEJ group watching from the public gallery were given frequent updates from Rufus Lazarre. Amazingly, Neville’s speech had moved two votes into PLEJ’s column, but they were still two, maybe three votes short. Only two more speakers were scheduled to talk, Grantham and Shacklebolt.
“It all comes down to this,” concluded Lazarre. “If Grantham stumbles badly or Kingsley is beyond brilliant we might just win, but it isn’t looking good.”
A hush of expectation fell over the assembly as Grantham rose to speak. This was the main event. The contenders were in the ring.
“Let me say at the outset,” opened Grantham, “that there is much I admire about Kingsley Shacklebolt. Speaker after speaker tonight have alluded to his fine record of public service and of his fierce, courageous resistance to Voldemort’s rule. I dispute none of this. I will go further. Much that he has done since coming to power has been both good and necessary. I applaud his determination to rid this place and the ministry of those who helped Voldemort commit foul deeds and implement immoral policies. I applaud his determination to restore ability rather than patronage as the prime consideration in ministry appointment. I applaud this and much more. When I started the chain of events that has culminated in tonight, it was not with the intention of abandoning these policies. On the contrary, I will not lead a government that is not committed to pursuing them with zeal. My differences with Minister Shacklebolt, and the party to which he now belongs, lie elsewhere as I will now explain.”
Hermione slumped in her chair. Grantham was not stumbling. His opening was inspired; his lavish praise of Kingsley sealing Kingsley’s fate. She was interested to hear this next bit, though. What really drove Grantham?
Grantham adjusted his plum coloured hat and then continued. “So many of us see our world as strong, robust and indestructible. I cannot share those sentiments. To me, our magical world is a delicate flower, fragile and imperilled. We live surrounded by an ocean of muggles who outnumber us a 1000 to one. Each year their technology grows stronger. The gap between their power and ours grows smaller. Each year their surveillance and recording of events becomes more pervasive; cameras, satellites, CCTV, the list goes on. It gets harder and harder to hide our presence. Their rapid communications technology means any story travels very wide, very fast and is almost impossible to eradicate. Do any of you doubt that widespread knowledge of our existence amongst the muggles would be an unmitigated disaster?”
“It is not just the muggles that pose a threat. The peace we have largely enjoyed in modern times between the magical races is a precarious thing based on a balance of power that can easily be destabilised. Who would want a return to an endemic state of warfare between Goblins and Wizards that once characterised the magical world? Who would want the powerful magic of elves to go unchecked? And yet both these things could easily be the outcome of even a well-meaning but misguided attempt at reform.
It is for these reasons in particular that I oppose Kingsley Shacklebolt and PLEJ, the party he has now openly joined. These are the times that demand leadership by our most able and clear sighted people, free to act in the best interest of society as a whole. But what would PLEJ have us do? They would have us adopt muggle style democracy! I have studied muggle democracies in depth and I can assure you that what they most often throw up are mediocre leaders with little vision who are focused solely on winning the votes of the dumbest members of society. It is a luxury we cannot afford.”
Grantham spent some time in a brilliant forensic deconstruction of PLEJ’s policies and explaining the dangers he saw in pursuing them. Hermione was shaken. She knew instinctively that Grantham was wrong, but that was hardly sufficient. In time his arguments would require well thought out and forceful rebuttal and she realised she would need to play a major role in that. But that was not today’s task. That was to save Kingsley’s job and Hermione’s hopes sunk lower and lower with each point that Grantham drove home.
Despairingly Hermione focused on Grantham’s speech. He was changing gear, she sensed, preparing for the final thrust of the knife. She listened intently as Grantham continued.
“I have outlined tonight those things I admire about Kingsley Shacklebolt and his administration and those that I am compelled to fiercely oppose. Not quite two months ago I started the process of forming a coalition with the intention of installing a government that would continue those reforms that were necessary but set aside the more dangerous policies. I saw no point then, and I see no point now in installing a new government that is merely different from the old. It has to be better.”
“When I started this process there was no thought in my mind that I would be the one to lead this new government. It never occurred to me. My colleagues insisted, though, and so, in the end, I accepted. I sought and received firm assurances of support in maintaining Minister Shacklebolt’s essential and urgent program to combat corruption, cronyism and incompetence in this assembly and in the ministry. I resolved to come before you and ask for the privilege of forming a new government. And so here I stand.” Loud cheers and applause filled the assembly. Colleagues rose to congratulate him, but he signalled them back to their seats. He had not finished.
Grantham had become pale, he was shaking just a little and conflict ravaged his face. He looked as if he was preparing to drop one final bombshell on Kingsley, drive one further nail into his coffin, but was afraid to do it. Utter silence fell over the chamber. The tension built inexorably as all eyes were transfixed by the silent drama unfolding before them.”
Then Grantham visibly relaxed, his decision made and he once more begun to speak. “And so here I stand,” he repeated himself, “here I stand, a conflicted man… Politics and compromise go hand in hand, it is not a game for the pure and so it was when the first few signs appeared that my colleagues were backsliding on their commitment to reform I happily brushed them aside. The indications grew, but by then I had a taste of the prize and my ambition came into play. I ignored them. I began to convince myself that once I was Minister of Magic I could find the support I needed. Thus vanity and ambition had left me blind. It was a blind man that came into this chamber tonight to seek appointment to our highest office. That has changed. Two things were said in tonight’s debate that I cannot ignore.” Confusion in the chamber slowly gave way to stunned disbelief as the import of Grantham’s words became clear. Angry murmurs started and rose in volume. Mercuto Blake and Adam Mallot from the Merchant faction looked thunderous. Hypon Gallant looked sick to the stomach. Grantham ignored the rumblings and continued.
“Most of you will know that several weeks ago the personal private secretary of the Minister of Magic was kidnapped and interrogated using dark magic and veritaserum. Two things were said in tonight’s debate that made it crystal to me that the people behind this despicable crime were senior colleagues who would have formed an important part of my government. I can no longer hide from the truth. The scales of ambition have fallen from my eyes. I could so easily have reached for the prize. I have chosen not to do so.”
“Minister Shacklebolt, at this point in time I am not in a position to form a new government worthy of the honour. I do not believe anyone else can. I will therefore support you in tonight’s vote and urge others to do the same. I will continue to oppose you with vigour when I believe you are wrong, but tonight you have my vote.” Grantham sat down in his place and lowered his head. He could not bear to look at anyone. He was feeling sick. He thought it likely that he had just delivered his own eulogy and that his career in politics was now over. Who would ever trust him again? But he had done what he had to do.
There was no cheering or jeering when Grantham had finished. Everyone was too busy trying to come to terms with what had happened. Hypon Gallant and Paula Pestle stood and quietly left the chamber. Two hours later, they were arrested.
The Chair of the assembly suddenly remembered it was her job to keep things moving and she called on Kingsley to speak. He rose in place but then Rufus Lazarre jumped up and spoke in his ear. Kingsley nodded. “I decline the right to speak. I ask the vote now be taken.” When the result of the vote was announced Kingsley had won 39 votes to 31.
It was Saturday morning and the Weasley family were sitting around the breakfast table. They still couldn’t quite believe the events of the previous evening. They discussed it back and forth and dissected in detail the reports in the newspapers arrayed on the table.
Most papers praised Grantham’s stance, though political commentators were unanimous that his career was over. The arrest of Hypon Gallant and Paula Pestle along with several others over the kidnapping of Melanie Watts was also big news. Gallant was one of the most respected Healers of the age. He sat on the board of St Mungo's and was a very influential man.
Ron was having trouble coming to terms with Oliver Grantham. He still didn’t like the man but he was forced to reassess his beliefs about Grantham’s character. Hermione still hadn’t decided about the board position but Ron knew that he would support her however she decided.
Ron’s thoughts were interrupted by a comment made by Percy.
“The Wizengamot Honours and Awards committee finalised its deliberations yesterday morning. Notifications to award winners should be sent out today.” Percy smiled at Ron, Harry and Hermione. “I wouldn’t be surprised if certain people around this table were to win an award, perhaps even as high as an Order of Merlin, third class.”
“Wow,” said Ron.
“We don’t need awards,” said Harry.
“Well, you deserve them,” replied Arthur. “Actually, I think there is an outside possibility you might even get second class Merlins.” Percy looked sceptical. Ginny scowled.
“I think they deserve First class Merlins!” she said indignantly.
“Maybe,” laughed Bill, “but they only give those to old geezers after a lifetime of outstanding service, people like Dumbledore.”
“And Hypon Gallant,” commented George, causing the whole table to laugh. Gallant was indeed a recipient of the Order of Merlin First Class.
An hour later a single owl flew into the Burrow and dumped a thick envelope in front of Harry. Before he had the chance to open it two more owls flew in and dropped identical envelopes in front of Ron and Hermione. The air was soon thick with owls and by the time they had left everyone had an envelope in front of them. Each bore the seal of the Wizengamot Honours and Awards committee.
“Maybe we’ve been sent invitations to the award ceremony,” said Percy, breaking the silence. He knew that was ridiculous the moment he said it but he couldn’t bring himself to believe the obvious alternate explanation.
“Well, there’s only one way to find out,” said Ginny as she ripped open her envelope. Ginny drew in a sharp breath and then paled as she read the contents:
The Wizengamot Honours and Awards committee
Is pleased to announce the award of the
Order of Merlin, Second Class
Ginevra Molly Weasley
For outstanding leadership of the resistance organisation known as Dumbledore’s Army during the past year and for the protection of the student body of Hogwarts undertaken at great risk and heavy personal cost.
You are further made a
Member of the Order of St George
For heroic participation in numerous battles against the forces of Lord Voldemort.
“Well,” said George when Ginny had remained speechless for some time, “What does it say?” None of the others had had the courage to open their envelopes yet. She read it out to the room in a shaky voice.
It was Percy who was the first to find voice, “Ginny I would be lying if I said I wasn’t dumbfounded, but Ginny, that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve every single bit of that award. Congratulations!” His words broke the bonds holding them in place. Everyone one moved to hug Ginny and congratulate her.
“What’s the Order of St George,” she asked.
“It’s for outstanding valour in combat. You’ve been admitted to the order as a member. There’s a higher award, Knight of the order of St George,” explained Arthur.
One by one they opened their envelopes until only Ron, Hermione and Harry’s letters remained unopened. With a sense of disbelief that refused to go away even as each letter was read, they learnt that everyone except Percy had received an Order of Merlin, Third Class. Everyone, including Percy, had been admitted to the Order of St George, Molly as a Knight for “engaging in single handed combat and defeating the dangerous and powerful witch, Bellatrix Lestrange.”
“Way to go Mum,” echoed around the table.
George had received two letters in his envelope. Fred had been posthumously given the same awards as his twin. George kissed Fred’s letter and said quietly, “Congratulations.” He then looked towards the ceiling and spoke to his brother. “You know, Fred, if we keep this up, we might just end up being respectable. We’re going to have to do something about that!” even Molly smiled.
All eyes now turned to the trio. “Come on Hermione, you go first,” said Ron.
Hermione eyed the envelope nervously, unable to bring herself to open it.
“Come on Hermione,” urged Ron. “It’s probably just an Order of Merlin. It not like it’s something important like exam results or something.”
Hermione smiled. “You open yours then.”
“Witches first,” he replied.
Hermione picked up the envelope gingerly and opened it with shaky hands. She and Ron read it together.
Wizengamot Honours and Awards committee
Is pleased to announce the award of the
Order of Merlin, First Class
Hermione Jean Granger
In recognition of her central contribution to the protection of the magical and muggle communities against Lord Voldemort and his supporters over a period of seven years. In further recognition of her indispensable role in the destruction of Lord Voldemort and the final defeat of his forces. In performing these tasks the awardee has frequently been exposed to extreme physical danger and has suffered significant hardship. She has repeatedly displayed courage, determination, endurance, intelligence, resourcefulness and selflessness of the highest order.
You are further made a
Member of the Order of St George
For heroic participation in numerous battles against the forces of Lord Voldemort.
“Wow,” was all Ron could say, but this was more than Hermione could manage. She had broken down in tears.
“Open yours, Ron,” urged Ginny. Ron’s citation was virtually identical to Hermione’s as were his awards.
Harry, in addition to an Order of Merlin, First Class was made a Knight of the order of St George for “an heroic act of self-sacrifice and the destruction of Lord Voldemort in single handed combat.”
“Where’s Charlie when you need him,” said Arthur. “Someone conjure up some fire whiskey!”
An impromptu celebration was quickly underway. Somehow word soon got around and friends soon started dropping around. In the early afternoon Neville showed up with Luna, followed not long after by Kingsley.
Neville, like Ginny, had been awarded a second class Merlin for his leadership of the DA. He had however also been made a Knight for his defiance of Voldemort and the destruction of Nagini.
Luna had only won a third class Merlin for her leadership of the DA. “That’s not fair,” said Ginny.
“Yes it is Ginny,” replied Luna. “I was only there for one term. Besides the order of Merlin has some connection to the Rotfang conspiracy. I’m not sure if I’ll accept my award. I’ll have to talk to Daddy.” Ginny and Neville just shook their heads.
It soon became apparent that everyone who had fought in the first desperate half of the Battle of Hogwarts had been admitted to the order of St George. Molly, Harry and Neville had been admitted as Knights.
Every member of the Order of the Phoenix had been awarded at least third class Merlins as had a dozen members of the DA including Terry Boot and Anthony Goldstein.
The crowd at the Burrow continued to swell as the afternoon progressed. It turned into a celebration of not just the awards but also of Kingsley’s victory. The Burrow was overflowing with people and with the food and drink brought along with them.
Toast followed toast as did the impromptu speeches, most of them jocular, a few quite ribald. Molly Weasley, Order of Merlin, third class, Knight of the order of St George blushed and tried not to giggle. Seamus gave a hilarious version of Neville’s speech to the Wizengamot addressing it to an imaginary Dolores Umbridge, rather than Wenglespon.
Eventually, Kingsley was prevailed upon to speak. He thanked everyone for their support. He then spoke openly and emotionally about how difficult he had found the last two weeks and how he had found the courage to continue from remembering the courage and sacrifice of all those people who had been awarded today. He took a piece of paper from his pocket.
“This was written for me by a very special person,” he began, “The youngest witch ever to win a first class Merlin, the youngest Muggle-born ever so awarded.” He held the paper in the air. “This is the speech I was to give last night. In the end it wasn’t needed, but it is too good never to see the light of day. I would like to quote just one small part of it:”
‘Today we enjoy the blessings of peace. Today we need not fear that someone we love will fall in battle. But this is the peace brought about by war. This is the peace that is merely the absence of war. Such peace cannot last. It must be supplanted by the peace that comes from an unquenchable thirst for justice and an unwavering commitment to work with each other to build a better future for all. Tonight you must decide whether you will support me in an effort to build such a lasting peace or to cast it aside in the pursuit of narrow self-interest. The choice is yours.’
“Last night the Wizengamot, perhaps by default, voted to build the peace, the peace that so many of you here fought so hard to secure and, I am sure, will work hard to protect and develop. So let us all raise our glasses and toast ourselves and, above all, Peace!”
“Peace!” affirmed fifty voices that boomed forth from the burrow and resounded across the land.
Grantham and his wife had hardly had an opportunity to talk to each other in private since the dramatic events of the previous evening. Oliver had been tired and depressed and had gone to bed as early as he could. He had spent much of the present day being interviewed by Magical Law Enforcement, a frustrating and repetitive experience. He and Vanessa were now seated side by side on the sofa in Oliver’s study. Vanessa was resting her head on Oliver’s shoulder
“Disappointed love?” Oliver asked his wife
“A little,” replied Vanessa, “mainly in myself. In you, Oliver, I couldn’t be prouder.”
Oliver lifted his eyebrows in surprise and turned toward her. “Why disappointed in yourself?”
“You weren’t the only one who had a ‘taste of the prize’ as you put it. I began to have visions of myself swanning around as Top Witch. Instead of helping you see things clearly I encouraged you to ignore the clear warnings in front of you. I have always regarded myself as an idealist but I have discovered a vain streak and I don’t like it.”
Grantham smiled, “Well if you want to prance about as Top Witch now, you’ll have to find yourself a new husband.”
“Never! Besides I wouldn’t be so sure your career is over.”
“Hah, you haven’t seen the owls I’ve been getting from my erstwhile colleagues.”
“Actually, I have,” replied Vanessa. “They haven’t all been negative. Tell me, how did you know that Gallant and Pestle had been involved in my sister’s kidnapping?”
“There’s a short dumpy witch, Esalda on the awards committee. She’s a member of the guild faction and is very close to Paula Pestle. She knew, before it was published, that Ron Weasley had abandoned his friends during their mission. So did Paula and Hypon. That information could only have come from Melanie’s kidnappers. All the same, information is the currency of politics and is widely traded. Hypon and the others could have acquired the information innocently.
At yesterday’s committee, I had decided not to support first class Merlins for the young trio. Esalda didn’t know that, though, and she went in for overkill. She babbled on about how the trio had been involved in a cover up of some criminal activity by Xenophilius Lovegood. Frankly, I had no idea what she was talking about and I ignored her. Then she made a big mistake. Esalda looked me in the eye and said ‘You’re a pureblood, Oliver. Surely you can’t support our highest award going to a teenage mudblood bitch.’ She knew she had a mistake, but it was too late. I was incensed. I would have supported the awards out of anger, but I also saw clearly just how important it was that the achievements of the muggle born receive due recognition.”
“Hypon had threatened to pull support for you if you voted for those awards. Why didn’t he?” asked Vanessa.
“He must have realised it was too late to change candidates, or else he was bluffing in the first place. In the end he said nothing.”
“So what happened in the debate that made things clear,” pressed Vanessa.
“Both Pestle and Hypon referred to the Lovegood matter during their speeches, but Hypon said something in particular.”
Sudden understanding hit Vanessa. “ ‘Lovegood turned on the trio like a Manticore swatting his pups’,” she quoted, turning pale.
“Exactly, it’s a very unusual turn of phrase. The only other person I have ever heard use it is your sister Melanie and she uses it frequently. If Hypon was using her language then he must have been very close to the source of the information, probably present at the interrogation.”
“I am very glad you did what you did, Oliver” said Vanessa snuggling closer to her husband and giving him a kiss.
“So am I, so am I.”
It was evening, a week later. Ginny and Harry together with Ron and Hermione were sitting beside the pond at the Burrow. In the morning the girls would be returning to Hogwarts and there was sadness in the air.
The last four months, despite the sorrow, the challenges and the difficulties, had been for each of them the happiest four months of their lives. The horror of the past would always be with them to some degree but they had at least begun to come to terms with it. They had found love, or more precisely they had acknowledged, then openly accepted and finally cherished the love that had always been there.
Love, too, for each of them had found its full physical expression. Ron had quickly twigged that Harry and Ginny were now sleeping together, mainly because he realised Hermione was trying to hide it from him. He found, to his surprise, that he was happy for them.
Thanks to the arrangements Hermione had made with Minerva McGonagall she would be free to leave Hogwarts at will and Harry and Ron would be able to visit, all within reason of course. It wasn’t going to be the same though.
Few words were spoken as they sat by the pond. Just being with each other seemed enough, was special all by itself.
It was Ron who broke the silence. “Hermione love, when I start with aurors and have to study again, can I send you my homework?”
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