A Day of Ripe Old Age
A/N: Happy New Year! It's been a while since I've done one of these. Luckily, my muse has returned and I am back for more! One thing. Please do me a favour and tell what you think about this chapter. It's an odd one so I'm a bit wary of posting this. The whole time I was bullshitting like crazy.
Thank you for the faves, the follows and your comments! When I started I never thought I would get this far! Thank you for all the support!
I still have no beta. I am a sad, sad girl... XD Not.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Severus knelt down. His eyes roamed Albus' skin for a close inspection of the damage with a glint of appreciation at the obscure handiwork.
"What can you tell me, Severus?" Albus asked softly.
"The curse is spreading," Severus said absently. "You could do with another doze of Phoenix Tears now after I leave. With them you can continue to lessen the effects until we can perform a cleansing ritual the next full moon. It is very fortunate of you to have your familiar so at hand, Headmaster."
Albus smiled grimly at his employee. He could never tell for certain when the man was being purposely sarcastic.
"Your information has done a long way to lift my spirits, my boy," he said mildly. "What about the caster? Is the curse traceable?"
"It is not," Severus said, inspecting Albus belly and the protruding black veins infesting the area. Under his watchful eyes, he could see the curse struggling to gain more ground, but also failing to keep up with the remedy; for now, its influence was only concentrated in the stomach. Severus had long known that the curse was self-sufficient. It was a humbling spectacle which few could hope to recreate, to his knowledge. "I cannot tell which curse is in the first place. Luckily, your tears can heal the damage caused by the foreign magic, and it does seem to be reversible, but you have no hope of ridding yourself of the curse itself without any assistance. Whatever spawned inside you, it has taken hold of your core and it's feeding on your own power. Your Phoenix is only a temporary solution—hardly a sufficient answer in the long run."
Severus let go of the headmaster's robes, letting the fine material cover Albus' modesty once more.
"What could have caused it?" Albus asked, a worried look crossing his face.
"Definitely not by ingestion, if you are wondering. No poison I know could have caused this," Severus drawled, packing his things slowly. He left two small vials on his table. "This was done by wand point, point blank. Preferably while your back was turned to intensify the maliciousness of the spell."
When? How? Albus wondered silently. He promptly indigested the pain relieving potions and immediately sighed in relief. What was at fault with the Fawkes' tears had nothing to do with its healing properties, but rather the lack of effect over the increasing ache of his malady. He could hardly ask his friend for more at the first sign of discomfort and he was feeling the curative properties of the tears begin to wane. Albus thanked his luck for having Severus, arguably the best potions master in Britain, at his service, for he was sure that he would have been a lot more desperate otherwise.
"The next full moon will be in a week, Headmaster," Severus told him. "You should consider asking for assistance to other people; we'll need at least four more wizards to complete the circle. Some extra protection against possible interference from dark creatures would be also recommended."
Albus didn't want to ask for help, but he could see the logic in what Severus was saying. After that unfortunate encounter between the potions master and a changed Remus, Severus had never been quite the same. The old wizard knew that had been a turning point for the young man; he had begun to resent the Marauders more strongly than ever before, although Albus could admit that the resentment was entirely justified since Sirius Black had practically lured him out of the castle to get him killed—or worse, turned. Severus had wanted to see for himself what the group of troublemakers were doing out so late, only to be confronted by a monster. That night would scar deeply the man before him and Albus had no doubts that if he refused the potion master's request he would reconsider aiding him. And that was something that, while he could afford, wouldn't act in his best interest.
Albus sighed gravely and thought about his options. Alastor wouldn't mind assisting me and surely Dedalus could be persuaded to take an Unbreakable Vow, much like Arthur... Other volunteers would have to be considered carefully. Albus was not risking this carefully warded secret getting out from these walls. The public would panic and many at the Ministry would try to strip him of his positions if they saw he was weak.
"Alas, things cannot be always simple," he murmured.
"Never anything in life is merely simple, Headmaster."
Albus eyed the potions master, considering him carefully. He smiled. Might as well throw him a bone. If it was Quirrel who was causing all these stirrings in the castle, it would be in their best interests to drive him out sooner—never mind what he'd planned for the Stone. If Voldemort had touched him so easily, he wasn't having Harry confronting him for another few years.
"I fear something is eluding us," he said.
Black tunnels stared back. "I fear the same thing, Headmaster. The fool, Quirrel, has returned changed from his little vacation from Albania," Severus sneered derisively. "He hides his secrets well, but I have heard him talk to himself when he thinks he is alone; I recognize the signs of a dark ritual."
"Dark, indeed," Albus nodded, looking quite pained. "It might be best to have that man watched for now—the paintings will have to do until I locate the ghosts—and it never hurts to be prepared. In the meanwhile, I must ask you to find out what he wants."
"I'm already on it."
"Ah, yes. Always ahead of me, Severus." The headmaster smiled at his potions master. "Your work is commendable, as it always is. You have my most thanks for your timely intervention today as well."
Severus vowed his head slightly. "Now, if you have nothing else to discuss, Headmaster, I would like to take my leave. I need to prepare for tomorrow and the dunderheads I have to attend to. My only reprieve is that the Longbottom menace won't be there to try to melt his caldron and make a mess of himself," he sneered.
"Students, Severus," Albus corrected him automatically. "Why you insist to call them that is beyond me. And I feel like you are being too harsh on that boy, Neville."
"If you had to endure what I have, you would be of a different mind, Headmaster."
Albus sighed. "Whatever you do, continue as normal. Do try not to snap under scrutiny, Severus. It will not do you any good if you end up cursing Harry in front of many witnesses."
The potion master's patience snapped at the mention of his rival's son. "The Potter brat and his article are the reason why—"
Just as Severus was about to begin his tirade, the headmaster straightened in his seat. Blue eyes narrowed in bewilderment and surprise.
Someone was standing outside of his office.
"We have a visitor," he announced. The school's wards hadn't told him of anyone visiting, which was most troubling. They had travelled all the way up to his office undetected. Seeing how Quirrel was still on the grounds, that was most unacceptable.
Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw one of his portraits hurrying out to see for himself who'd circumvented his defences.
Severus' countenance changed immediately. He glanced at the entrance over his shoulder like it had done him a personal grievance. His posture turned defensive.
"Meddlesome busybodies," Severus seethed quietly.
Albus didn't say anything. He waited impatiently as he saw some of the portraits gossip upon the other's return. Typically the usual behaviour of his portraits wouldn't have bothered him, but now he felt especially high-strung.
He cleared his throat.
"Should we be worried, Armando?" he said to the nearest of the lot.
"Depends, Headmaster. It's the Minister and his entourage. I see Amelia Bones and some Aurors. They also have Harry Potter with them, why that is I wouldn't be able to say, but the boy didn't look too worried when I saw him," Armando Dippet said, frowning thoughtfully.
Harry Potter? What have you done now, Cornelius?
"Very well," Albus nodded placidly, although internally he was puzzled with the information. Young Harry should have been in his first broomstick practice if things had gone according to the school's schedule. He turned to his the potions master, frown in place. "Severus—"
"I'll go through the trap door," he said morosely.
"Please," Albus nodded gratefully.
With his permission, one of the biggest portraits in his office swung open and allowed the sallow-skinned man passage. Severus slinked through quietly, levitating potion ingredients and the like in front of him. The young man vanished into the darkness soon after and would soon reappear down in the dungeons. It was a tight fit; with a spinning stairwell going so far down, it was impossible not to feel claustrophobic. It was no wonder Severus was so reluctant to part that way, as even he would feel uncomfortable in such small quarters.
Granting entry to his guests, Albus swallowed one last vial of Phoenix Tears, not wanting to have people second-guess his health. He was running out of them, unfortunately. He made a mental note; he would have to ask his friend for more.
The first to emerge was the stone-faced Amelia Bones, followed by a delegation of four Aurors and the Minister and his Undersecretary. Harry Potter looked so out of place within the group that he was easily identifiable. He was small, smaller than he should be within his age group, but looking exactly just like his father did in his childhood—of course, with the exception of those poisonous eyes staring back at him so intently. Albus contained a sharp exhale of his own making.
His eyes were pure Lily.
Calmly, he tore away his eyes from the young boy and tried not to think about the ghosts of his past. Her sacrifice had been necessary for the Greater Good, as had been James and Sirius'. Remus was still blissfully unaware of what had really happened that night.
Looking at Cornelius' sulking pout, at once, Albus knew what this was about. The Minister was either trying chat up the Boy Who Lived, possibly to establish a politically favourable connection between the two of them—miserably failing—or he was here to force said boy to go back on his word about what he'd said about Death Eaters. Albus had to admit that he could see the benefits of such thing happening, although it would damage Harry's image a bit to have claimed something only to retract it soon after.
He still smiled genially at their group, keeping his posture lax despite the complex setting.
"Welcome Minister, Madam Bones, Senior Undersecretary, Harry, gentlemen," Albus greeted cheerfully. He allowed his face to fall a bit. "I'm afraid that I have this place slightly crowded. We seem to have run out of chairs."
"Oh, the number isn't important! We'll deal with that just fine," Cornelius dismissed his very real preoccupation as he plopped himself on one of the seats. There wouldn't be enough room for everybody. "Come, Harry, next to me, my boy—ah, Dolores, sit here, right where everyone can see you—you too, Amelia…"
A flashbulb flashed, taking Albus slightly by surprise.
"I'll need a seat for myself, Minister," a small man with pepper hair frowned at him from the entourage.
Albus had initially pegged him as an Auror, but now he could see that he wasn't. The middle-aged wizard had a camera in his hands, which he was now tucking inside his robes. His face was somewhat familiar to him as well, although he could see why! A reporter from the Daily Prophet! For some reason, the amusement he could see on Harry's face didn't seem so out of place now.
"Ah—well!" blathered Cornelius, looking panicked around him.
"I had to sacrifice my photographer to come here today, Minister! The least you could do is provide me somewhere to sit!" the reporter exclaimed.
"With due respect, Minister," one of the Aurors stepped forward to address Cornelius. "We could stay outside while you do your business and transfigure something into a chair so you can all fit. The Headmaster is especially capable of conjuring chairs."
"Ah, yes—yes, yes! That will be fine," blathered the Minister, blushing. "You are dismissed, Auror…?"
"Shacklebolt, sir," the dark-skinned Auror said.
The newly elected Minister puffed his chest. "You and the rest of you are dismissed! There is clearly no space to spare here," Cornelius said importantly.
Shacklebolt didn't obey at once, unlike the other two who had come with him, glancing at Amelia with a raised eyebrow.
The Head of the DMLE looked resigned, but she nodded at her subordinate. "Keep close in case we have to call you in," she said.
The Madam Undersecretary harrumphed in distaste, watching the Auror walk away.
"If the Minister tells you to leave, you have to leave!" she muttered to herself.
Amelia, choosing to ignore the jab, looked steadfastly ahead.
The man who had stayed behind didn't wait for the others to provide him with anything, even though Albus was more than willing to conjure a chair for him, instead making a chair out of thin air for himself immediately. At the sound of the door closing, he crossed his legs and took out a clean sheet of parchment for some quick notes.
"Albus Dumbledore," the man began with confidence, looking at him directly in the eye, looking as though he wanted to say much more, "the Minister wants you to be present in this interview as Harry Potter's magical guardian. My name is Arnestus Fenetre—perhaps you've heard of me?"
"I can't say I have," Albus said sadly. "My tight schedule allows me to read the Daily Prophet only occasionally."
"I covered your research into the twelve uses of dragon blood." Arnestus wasn't deterred by the lack of recognition from his part, but he was mildly annoyed, judging from the small turn of his lips, which were now pointing downwards. "Brilliant. Harry Potter—" he turned to face the Boy Who Lived, "—you've been spreading some scandalous rumours lately, some of which our readers would like to talk about now."
"Everyone wants to know," Cornelius said intently.
"Everyone," tittered his Undersecretary.
"Okay," the boy said, smiling.
"Are you sure you want to do this, Harry?" Albus interrupted before it could get too far.
"I'm perfectly sure," he said.
This was going to be painful to watch. Albus sighed internally.
"No objections from my part," he said.
The reporter from the Prophet looked like a cat that had caught a canary between its teeth, but just as Arnestus was about to pounce, the Head of the DMLE saw fit to intervene.
"Wait! Before we begin, I must remind you, Arnestus, that Mr. Potter has every right to keep quiet if your questions get out of hand," said Amelia, looking at him through her monocle severely.
The man flushed an unflattering shade of red. "I wouldn't let it get that far, Madam Bones…" stammered Arnestus weakly.
"Regardless, you might want to be careful. Mr. Potter is a minor and is thereby protected by our laws until he turns thirteen. Any signs of purposeful slander will see you detained behind bars in my department at the very least; one year at Azkaban if it gets too much. It is my duty to let Mr. Potter see the end of the day with his rights intact."
Ah, Amelia. How shrewd of her to remind them of the Children Acts...
You could see that Cornelius was now regretting bringing Amelia along, though he couldn't see why he had done it in the first place, but he was also new in the political arena; he played along for now.
"What she said," he stated curtly. The Senior Undersecretary was of similar opinion.
Amelia was keeping her smirk suppressed, but everyone could see she had meant what she had done.
Meanwhile, Arnestus was doing his best to keep his unease from showing.
He cleared his throat. "Harry—may I call you Harry?" he asked tentatively. Harry nodded. "You've defeated the worst Dark Lord of our times as a mere baby. For some reason unknown to us, you were able to rid us of this incredible threat in a matter of a night. We are safe from You Know Who's influence now. His followers—Death Eaters, they called themselves—have been long been locked away by the Ministry. So why are you claiming that there are still among us? That's what we would like to know."
The Minister was nearly bouncing in his seat, trying to get Harry's attention with each crane of his head and making aborted gestures with his hands.
The cool amusement in Harry's eyes was still present.
"I'll answer that question if you answer one of mine," Harry said.
"And what is that?" Arnestus asked.
To his surprise, Harry spoke to Albus and not the one who was asking the questions.
"Is Severus Snape a confirmed Death Eater?" he asked.
Taken off guard, Albus took advantage of their locked eyes and prodded at the boy's mind, getting only vague impressions from him, like his own face showing from Harry's perspective, but not a whisper of any of the thoughts which would tell him what he thought he would achieve from this little inquiry.
Perhaps he had underestimated the Chosen One.
"Severus Snape was an essential piece in the war," he said simply. "His role as a spy helped us save many lives during the confrontation with Voldemort's"—the people inside his office, bar Harry, he noticed with satisfaction, flinched— "dark forces. He's sacrificed much for our cause and thus has my utmost confidence."
Not looking pleased with his response, Harry turned to Amelia, the only one in this room who would tell him a direct answer. "Madam Bones?"
Amelia raised her eyebrow at young boy.
"Yes, he's been confirmed as a past Death Eater, but we've been—" Amelia glanced at Albus with a frown that made her monocle look even more evident on her face, "—assured that he's reformed."
Harry looked incredulous at this. "After no trial to determine whether or not his crimes aren't damnable enough to send him to prison?"
"Our forces were stretched thin at the time. We had no human resources to launch a formal investigation," Amelia defended.
"There is nothing preventing him from getting a trial now," Harry pointed out. "If his position is that secure, there's nothing to be wary of."
What was Harry's issue with Severus? Albus did not know for certain, but he could see the hostility shimmering just under the surface. This could mean bad news for his potions master if he didn't cut in before any more damage was done.
The Prophet was going to have a field day tomorrow. Arnestus looked highly entertained, not minding that he had essentially been forgotten, but keeping up with the discussion around him with his poisoned quill.
"This isn't what we've come for, boy!" Cornelius burst angrily.
"I must agree," Albus said. "Harry, you still haven't given us your answer. Many of us have important duties to attend to afterwards."
"We've come here to give your reporter his interview," Harry said calmly. "I never agreed to tell everyone a lie and I certainly didn't ask for your time. Now that it's begun, let's get on with it. I am not following the Minister's script—or anyone's, for that matter."
"What has the Minister told you to say?" Arnestus asked, practically salivating.
Seeing the danger in that question, Albus stepped in. "Alas, I fear we've meandered off track again."
"No, Headmaster," Harry shook his head. "This is my response and if you'd stop interrupting me I'll give you all a definite answer."
Harry glared at them, ignoring the outraged exclamations in the background.
"Severus Snape is a confirmed Death Eater; you have all heard Madam Bones say it. This is a publically known fact. Now, I've claimed I could sense his Dark Mark and Lucius Malfoy's when he was shopping at Madam Malkin's with his son. This is also true. I don't see why Lucius doesn't come forward himself and try to prove me wrong if he's so convinced that I've told everyone lies. It's a simple matter of visiting Hogwarts and showing off his forearm. I'd like to see the day when that happens. As a matter of fact, I dare Lucius to grow a pair of stones and do it in front of me, right in the middle of Hogwarts. If he was truly an Imperius victim just as he said he was, then he's got nothing to fear from this. The Dark Mark is a form of a contract between You Know Who and his most loyal followers. One of the requirements to obtain it is their willingness to follow his commands. And, as we all know, most of them chose to terrorize Muggles in order to prove themselves worthy. Someone who was just spelled to do something terrible wouldn't do anything for a heartless Dark Lord out of their free will. I know, for one, that I wouldn't join a band of murderous rapists willingly."
"Lies! You lie, boy!" Cornelius barked.
"Which part of what I've said is a lie, Minister? The part where I said I wouldn't join Voldemort?" Albus shuddered with the rest of the room. "The part where I explained how the Dark Mark can be obtained? The part where—"
While Amelia was silently approving of the boy's speech, the rest of them weren't.
"Lucius Malfoy is outstanding citizen! A Pureblood! How dare you, a measly Half-blood, accuse someone of higher standing of such nefarious activities!" Madam Umbridge shrieked.
Harry Potter stared her down from his seat. "I won't be talked at this way. I must ask you, madam, for a formal apology as the last Heir to the Potter name. Failure to do so will end in an immediate Blood Feud with my House. I may be 'a measly Half-blood' but your crass mouth doesn't excuse you for your lack of regard to my person. I am the last Potter and I know better than to listen to you froth at your mouth like a rabid animal."
Goading. Harry is goading them, Albus observed.
"Now, Harry, I think it's best you—"
"Respectfully, stay out of it, sir!" Harry spat at him.
Albus was so startled he found himself mute momentarily. Similarly, Cornelius was so out of it that he stood from his chair. Thankfully, his mouth was not making any sounds. The impact of Harry's words was leaving behind a wrecking mess.
Harry knew that all too well. "Voldemort supported the 'Pureblood only' agenda. Outstanding Purebloods means nothing to me, madam, though your morals are in question. If I'm only a Half-blood to you, what about all the Muggleborn? How high do they rank in your eyes? I'm the one who paid for the previous administration's incompetence in blood," he tapped the scar which had made him so famous, so powerful and influential in their society, "and I haven't seen much of an improvement yet."
Suddenly, Albus wondered if tinkering with Harry's Sorting had been a wise choice. Had the boy been in Slytherin—as he suspected he would have been—, people wouldn't have been so willing to listen to everything the boy said. They would have been wary. Their Golden Boy wouldn't have been golden at all. The legend around Harry Potter would have crumbled in a single moment—after the Hat put him in the snake pit, where he would have been met by his peers with disbelief, there would have been doubts. After that realization, all Albus could see now was the silver trim of Harry's school robes, Gryffindor red replaced with dark green—just like his eyes—so Lily—so poisonous, he couldn't stand staring at them for more than a couple of seconds.
The green made Albus look for traces of Tom in the boy. He found the similarities, between Dark Lord and Saviour, fast. What he'd feared was unveiling in front of his. Still, he maintained what he'd said to Minerva that night when they had left him at the Dursley's—if he could have, he wouldn't have removed Harry's scar, mysterious as it was.
"This scar is part of me," Harry said. "It's a curse mark made by your latest Dark Lord and it has given me resources that otherwise I wouldn't have been able to hope for—might even not wished for."
Harry glared at all of them, stretched out in a circle around him, until finally his gaze settled on Cornelius, who, for all accounts, looked close to apoplectic.
"These abilities," he began quietly, "allow me to detect the Dark Marks on his followers' forearms. I tell you've got people who weren't properly prosecuted. I would have thought you would see this as an opportunity—bring justice to the ones wronged in the War—as it was the Death Eaters who attacked and carried out his bidding, while He just plotted from the shadows and hoped for despair."
Arnestus had stopped writing, looking at Harry, transfixed just as everybody as the boy played on their emotions.
"What are you suggesting, Harry? The War has passed. Time has allowed us to heal and move on. People have just begun to get over the death of their loved ones. The wounds you could open, with this interview and your impassioned speeches, do they merit such heartbreak and pain for the sake of vengeance?" Albus said.
Harry, stoic and not the least complacent with his logic, rebutted him. "This is not vengeance. I seek legal action against the murderers and torturers of the Wizarding World. Clearly, not many have moved on if people are so scared of a mere name."
"Saying Voldemort's name was similar to invoking a bloodthirsty demon into their household. Their fear is justified," Albus explained patiently, ignoring the jumping he provoked by speaking his nemesis' name so casually.
"Ten years after he died, sir? I don't think so. The amount of irregularities I've seen in the Death Eater trials—"
"I agree with Albus," Cornelius croaked, wringing his hands as he stared at Harry scornfully. "Inciting panic will get us nowhere—fast! Have you got no sense, boy? Think about what the public will say! The Wizengamot won't like it—no, never have I heard such blasphemy in my life!"
The Senior Undersecretary cleared her throat. "I say we are done here," she said sweetly. "It is clear that Mr. Potter's desire for chaos has maddened his mind. His word can't be trusted; what, he himself said his scar has a connection with You Know Who! He could be the one plotting an insurrection—why, I can see Potter leading an army in a foolish attempt to take over the Ministry in the near future! This will not stand!"
Both Minister and Madam Umbridge stood up, their noses turned upward. The witch regarded the Prophet's reporter with a cruel gaze.
"I'd better not see any of that useless drivel on paper! Potter's defamation campaign against our Ministry has no place in your newspaper!" she said sharply.
Arnestus hugged the parchment to his chest, meeting her gaze squarely with his lip curled in disgust.
"Amelia!" Cornelius barked. "Get up! We are leaving!"
But Amelia was staring ahead, not looking at anything in particular.
Albus watched on, examining the miniscule changes in Harry's expression. He could see fire still burning hot under his rigid exterior. He wasn't nearly done.
"I can see you cannot be persuaded with only words," Harry said, catching the attention of everyone in the room.
"Are you still on that! I warn you! One word, you insolent—!"
"Minister," Amelia cut in.
"You—try—my—patience—!" Cornelius sneered at him.
"Be careful, Cornelius. Beware to who you are who speaking to," Albus murmured.
Amelia looked up sharply at him, having sensed what he did.
A faint aura of power was surrounding Harry. Albus' spine straightened, having felt such pressure previously in his life. Gellert and Tom came to mind, although his aura was considerably tamer than theirs. It gave Albus hope that not all of Harry had been lost to anger and hatred.
Cornelius flinched, but quickly regained his composure—what remained of it. He was trembling under his robes. "He's only one boy!" he said. "Surely—you can't really believe what he's saying? He may have defeated You Know Who for us, but only because of a fluke! And I refuse to bow down to the whims of an attention seeker!"
"As you should, Minister," his Senior Undersecretary said approvingly.
"But he has a point, Cornelius," Amelia pointed out. "The Death Eater trials were most irregular. It would do us good to go through the archives, just in case something has gone past us unnoticed."
"No! I refuse to go back in time! You will not listen to this boy, Amelia!" yelled the Minister.
"I find it very interesting that you don't want to listen, Minister," Harry said.
"You! You don't—!" The words seemed to get stuck in the man's throat.
"I was considering forgoing invoking my Right of Conquest over Voldemort, but I feel like I have no other choice," Harry said.
"What are you on about, boy? What conquest?" Cornelius asked, looking at his Undersecretary. She was just as befuddled as he was.
"More harmless threats, Cornelius," she said. "He's a child, obviously. He can't know about our laws!"
"On the contrary, Dolores," Amelia said briskly. "The Right of Conquest hasn't been used for centuries, yet it still exists in our law books. It cannot be removed since it's tied to our lands and our sovereign over them. It's part of the First Laws, one of the most primal kinds of magic. The Ministry's role in this case is merely supervising that the final sentence is carried out. If the claim is valid and the opponent isn't there to dispute the claim, then everything they had in life goes to the winner. Lady Magic herself judges if a claim is legitimate or not and the final decision cannot be disputed by anyone."
Albus could feel the sharp panic course through his veins.
"Amelia is right. However, that doesn't mean you can seize someone's possessions, Harry! We are talking about thousands of wizards and witches on the line!" Albus tried to intervene.
"Thousands, sir? That many people served Voldemort in his prime? How do you know this, sir? And why shouldn't I do this? You may have done nothing as Chief Warlock, but I'm a survivor and I won't let their actions slide. In the Muggle world, these people would have been sentenced to time in prison—justly—because criminals must be tried for their crimes. Keep in mind that the Death Eaters were responsible for the murders of not only countless Muggleborn families, but they were responsible for many other disappearances and deaths on the Pureblood side as well. The only people I should affect by claiming my Right of Conquest are those who willingly devoted themselves to Voldemort. Those who bear his Mark. I find myself outnumbered here. Clearly, no one here is even going to give me the benefit of the doubt. I may be telling the truth, but you are all too afraid to confront what I say. I see no other way; I'll have to demand retribution through other means."
Cornelius had enough. "Amelia! Arrest that boy!"
"But under what charges, Minister?" Amelia asked calmly.
He stared at the woman as if she was a dumb troll. "Didn't you hear threatening us, woman? He'll leave us starving in the streets if he goes on!"
"He only threatened to seize the accounts of Death Eaters, something that isn't in the least illegal. It's entirely up to him if he wants to go further with this. Just who are you defending here, Minister?"
Cornelius sputtered incoherently.
"Minister Fudge," Harry began, fixing him a hard stare, "if you don't want me to do anything extreme, I suggest you go over the files of the Death Eater trials. I am particularly interested in Sirius Black's; according to the goblins, he is my godfather and I couldn't find anything about the circumstances of his imprisonment. The Prophet only said what he was guilty of and that he was shipped off to Azkaban almost immediately."
Sirius Black. Albus did not want that man out of prison, not if he could help it. But who had told him about his so-called betrayal?
"That man was the one who betrayed your parents, Harry," he said.
"What evidence do you have that he really did?"
Albus didn't even blink at the retort, although he did take notice how rude Harry was acting. "I was present when the Potters cast the Fidelius over their property. In fact, I was the one who provided the necessary power to place the wards who would protect your family. And it was Sirius Black who swore he would be the Secret Keeper and betrayed their location to Voldemort. After that, he hunted down a family friend of your parents and murdered him as well. The name of that poor man was Peter Pettigrew; all what remained of him was a finger. The aftermath of that encounter cost many Muggles their lives, lost in a massive explosion, product of Dark Magic."
Albus paused, revising what he said. Harry's face hadn't even twitched during his explanation. An explanation was in order, he thought. The boy didn't understand why Sirius Black had been so instrumental in his parents' death.
"Excuse the long-winded ramblings of an old man, my boy. I can see I've confused you. I'll explain. The Secret Keeper is the person who is entrusted to keep the—"
"I know what that is," Harry nodded reluctantly. "Even so, even if Sirius Black is guilty of betraying my parents, there is nothing more terrible than a miscarriage of justice, as I'm sure you'll agree, madam. Nothing has been done to prove whether he's truly guilty or not."
"Certainly, Mr. Potter," Amelia said. "In the event that he is innocent, the Ministry has sentenced a guiltless man to lifetime of prison. That is something I won't have in my watch. Until he receives a proper trial, he ought to have the benefit of the doubt."
Albus couldn't really refute that without drawing suspicion to himself.
"And then there were rumours that the Black Family cast Sirius out of the family tree," Harry said. "And everyone knows how the Blacks were."
Practitioners of the blackest of arts, not that Albus would admit to anything now. Harry was digging a big hole and he could only watch in admiration and wariness as he buried his targets alive.
"Now, now," Cornelius said. His body was covered in sweat, "the evidence left behind that day was clear on Black' culpability. Crouch didn't make a mistake in placing him in Azkaban! Black was insane! There's no need—"
"Right of Conquest, Minister," Harry said.
"Now, see here, boy!" Madam Umbridge shrieked. "You cannot threaten the Minister of Magic! Show him the respect he's due!"
"Madam Undersecretary. I still haven't heard you say my apology."
"Yes, madam, but I can see that your manners are lacking. Don't worry, I shall not bother you with mere formalities; I can see you can't lower yourself to give me, 'a measly Half-blood', a proper response like I'm due."
"Why, you filthy blood—!" The witch aimed to fire with ill intentions in mind. Albus, reflexively, reacted with haste and stunned her, shocked that she would dare to try in his office. Her body dropped, bonelessly, to the floor, much to the horror of the Minister.
"Albus! That was a bit much!" he screeched.
But before he could apologize, Harry stepped in.
"She wanted to curse me, Minister—a minor. I don't even know how to defend myself properly," he said. "Why are you so on defensive when she was the one at fault? You saw her try to attack me with your own eyes."
"You provoked her!" he seethed, seeing red. "Dolores wouldn't have attacked anyone normally! Your mind games must end now!" Seeing the disbelief on everyone's faces, he gritted his teeth. "She wouldn't!"
"Mind games? Normally, sir?" Harry's mouth twitched.
Cornelius was beyond furious. "I know your tricks, boy! I know the kind of person you are! In the political arena… this means nothing—nothing! You can't prove anything!"
"Actually, Minister," Amelia cut in coolly, having already taken Madam Umbridge's wand from her collapsed form. "I can check her wand for curses right now. I suggest you stop talking before I deem your actions inexcusable."
Cornelius glared at her. "And you! You were supposed to be on my side!"
"I already told you, I'm in no one's side!" Amelia said. "I'm currently overseeing this interview, as you wanted me to—not that there's much to be interviewed here! You should be ashamed of yourself, Minister!"
Albus couldn't watch this anymore. "All right, that's enough!" he boomed.
"Albus! The boy has played you—all of you! You must see sense!" The newly-appointed Minister pled.
"Your own words have betrayed you today, Cornelius," Albus said sadly. "I fear I cannot support you after what I've seen today. Your actions have needlessly endangered lives today. You have threatened to send an eleven-year-old boy to Azkaban, tried to put words in his mouth for the sake of your agenda—at the cost of himself—and abducted him from his class. Alas, you have gone too far this time. You have no authority in Hogwarts."
The man's complexion might as well been made out of chalk. The current Minister of Magic glanced around the room and found no allies with him there. Finally, his gaze settled on the boy that had cut him off his knees so thoroughly.
Harry's face was painfully neutral, not even a glint of triumph escaped his two green abysses.
"You win, Potter," the Minister of Magic whispered. "I'll go over the trial's files."
"Good choice." The boy nodded. "There'd better be a trial soon, sir. Preferably in this week. I want this to be over with as soon as possible," Harry said.
Or he'll be taking over the Malfoy accounts, among many others. That'd be a huge blow to the current administration. Just because, coincidentally, the owner of those vaults was one of Cornelius' biggest supporters. Harry struck were it hurt, in the pocket.
Ruthless, Albus lamented.
"And please tell Mr. Malfoy that I'll be awaiting his response," Harry said. "I'll be posting mine in the Daily Prophet. Tell him I'll wait eagerly for it—no response from him and I'll consider him just another elusive Death Eater. And Lucius doesn't want that, right?"
"I'll—I'll see what I can do," Cornelius gritted out.
"Before you go, sir…" Harry cocked his head considerately, "I'll need an Unbreakable Vow to make sure nothing happens to Sirius Black before the trial."
People gasped at the boy's request. It was a serious commitment to bind somebody to their word. To have the Minister of Magic risk his magic with an Unbreakable Vow… It was unprecedented with someone so young!
"Mr. Potter," Arnestus spoke up quietly from his sitting place. "I promise you, I'll keep a close eye in the comings and goings of the Ministry. If anything goes amiss, I will report it the moment I see it."
"And our Aurors won't let anyone touch a hair of Sirius Black," Albus said, receiving a stiff nod from Amelia. "Your Unbreakable Vow, although requested for good reasons, won't be necessary."
Harry looked at them in the eye, finally shaking his head.
"The Vow, Minister," Harry said.
Cornelius must have planned for something to happen to Sirius Black because he was particularly reluctant to step closer to the Boy Who Lived.
Harry grabbed the wizard's hand tightly, just as unwilling to let go.
"Madam Bones, would you be willing to be our Bonder?" Harry whispered, staring at Cornelius' worried frown.
"I—" Amelia wavered momentarily. Albus was about to speak up when she managed to gather her wits. "Yes."
Amelia came forward, pointing her wand to the joined hands.
"Will you, Cornelius, try to the best of your ability to guarantee the safety of Sirius Black until he's tried?"
A thin fiery lace of magic surged from Amelia's wand started searing the man's hand before everyone's eyes.
A dawning sense of horror assaulted Albus.
"Yes—!" the Minister moaned because of the pain. The sting of flesh was fresh in the air.
"Will you, Cornelius, be fair during Sirius Black's and everyone else's trials?" Harry asked.
"Yes! Yes, I will, yes!" he immediately gasped.
The cord grew stronger and firmer. A gust of wind began to blow in his office, quaking off-balance the portraits and his gadgets. Albus' eyes grew wide when some of them began to topple from above, gadgets breaking and cracking without him being able to stop it.
He couldn't move. Somehow, someone had turned Hogwarts' wards against him, her Headmaster. The castle's magic was immobilizing him.
"Harry!" Albus yelled, realizing who was behind this. "You must stop this!"
"Will you, Cornelius Fudge, swear on your life and magic to try to assist me when I require aid?" Harry asked, pointedly ignoring him.
Amelia, just helpless as Albus, began to protest loudly as well. She began to call for her Aurors, her cries growing more and more desperate as she realized that no one was storming into the room to help them.
"YES!" Cornelius cried out.
Thicker and larger, the red wire that was the Unbreakable Vow started to feed on Cornelius blood, taking advantage of his weakness to prevent him getting out of their deal.
Arnestus, shell-shocked by the horrifying spectacle, finally had too much and dropped to the ground unconscious.
"Will you, Minister Fudge, assist me when I try to punish my enemies?"
"—allow me to take any necessary action against—?"
"—never willingly accept bribes from—?"
"—never bring me harm—?"
With this warped form of an Unbreakable Vow, Harry continued pushing for more concessions from Cornelius, until the man was a sobbing ball of pain—until the small man could not even utter the briefest of words—it was even worse than a Cruciatus Curse, something he'd never ever wanted to see.
Albus was staring at an apparition.
Harry was looking at the Minister of Magic with complete apathy. Amelia had had no chance against the reincarnated Dark Lord; he had dispatched her the moment he broke off the connection with Cornelius. When he turned to look at his frozen form, Harry smirked.
"Albus Dumbledore," he breathed. "Finally, face to face. Did you enjoy my little present?"
Albus was silent. He knew what he was talking about.
"How is this possible?" he asked.
Harry chuckled. "Everyone has something up their sleeve," he told him conspiratorially. The possessed boy looked him over. "You look far healthier than I expected you to be."
Fawkes. He needed Fawkes.
"Ah, your Phoenix," Harry nodded, satisfied. "You were the first thing he saw when he hatched. Now I understand."
"He won't come, your so-called creature of Light."
Something was squeezing his throat.
"Too easy," Harry told himself out loud.
Tom Riddle—the deadliest of his mistakes—so near… His magic was beginning to loosen his bounds; Albus could feel them give a little.
"How?" he choked out.
Harry—Tom—twirled his wand, a knowing glint to his eye.