Who Will Fill a Coward's Grave

Chapter 9 - Smiling at Death

The atmosphere in what had now become the family lounge at number twelve Grimmauld Place was so thick with tension you could have cut it with a knife. Emma was sitting on a large sofa with Hermione, Susan and Ginny. The group had tried to keep a conversation going but, as time had slowly dragged on, it just proved harder and harder to think about anything else - other than what could be happening on the mission.

Ron was siting supposedly playing games of chess against each of his twin brothers at the same time. While the twins were cheating almost every occasion Ron turned to the other board, none of the trio's hearts were really in the games. It was just something to do while they too waited on news. Their mum, dad and eldest brother were all involved in this mission tonight. All three brothers were silently swearing to work harder at their training, with the hope they would eventually be included in any missions too, because sitting here not knowing what was happening was torture.

Harry was long beyond the sitting stage. He was currently pacing up and down the room, and giving a fair impression of a caged tiger. Like everyone else in the room, his eyes would continually stray to the mobile phone sitting on the occasional table. All were waiting on news, and praying that the news would be good.

The phone managed one ring before Harry had it in his hand. "Sirius, you're on speaker. Tell us what happened? Is everyone okay?"

"What does 'on speaker' mean?"

"It means everyone can hear you, and will soon lynch you unless you tell us some news."

Apologising to more than his godson, Sirius spilled the beans. "Sorry folks, didn't mean to keep you waiting. The Order royally kicked Voldemort's arse tonight. He and his Death Eaters barely managed to get off a spell at us. We have no injuries at all while those Death Eaters still able to stand fled with Voldemort."

There was no celebratory cheering but the relief felt around the room was palpable. Harry was by no means the only one finally able to relax a little. "That's great news, Sirius. How about Tonks and the aurors?"

After a slight hesitation, Sirius had an admission to make. "Not really sure at the moment. Voldemort managed to sink the boat with one spell - just seconds before we opened fire. The whole fight was over in less than two minutes. I phoned you right away because I knew you would all be worried. I'm heading over to the dock but it's pitch black here now the sun's gone down. There are flares being set up so we can see what we're doing."

"We all really appreciate the call, Sirius, we were slowly going nuts here. Let us know if there's any news on Tonks."

As Sirius said goodbye, Harry noticed Ginny had moved over to join her brothers. Unusually for members of the Weasley family, no words were exchanged. Each brother simply taking a turn to hug their little sister in shared relief said all that was needed.

Harry dropped into Ginny's vacated spot on the sofa and soon found himself with Hermione's arms around him. It was Emma though who put into words their feelings. "That was horrible, sitting here not knowing what was happening."

Her arms shot out, grabbing Harry, Hermione and Susan for reassurance. "That feeling is going to be a hundred times worse if any of you are involved in a mission. I don't think I'm cut out for this."

A thoughtful Susan shared her opinion on the matter. "My Aunt Amelia is more than an aunt to me. She's my guardian, my surrogate mother, the last family I have left in the world. Ever since I've been old enough to understand what she did for a living, I've hated watching her leave for work. It's who my aunt is though, I couldn't change that."

With everyone now listening to Susan, she tried to explain why she was sitting there amongst them. "When my aunt tried to get us to leave the country I had to say no. She's an auror, a fighter, a member of a proud house. It would have eaten away at her if we were sitting somewhere safe while people were dying back here. Knowing she was only considering that option because of me, I had to say no. Everyone here has lost close family to these bastards. If we won't stand and fight, who will?"

Emma managed to give Susan the hug she so desperately needed. "There's a very big part of me that's struggling with the idea of teenagers fighting a civil war, especially teens I know."

The young man she was coming to consider more and more as part of her family responded angrily to that. "This is war, Emma, but there's nothing civil about it. Giving it such a title lends some justification to this bunch of murderers, rapists and arsonists. We have a Ministry who wouldn't deal with this the last time and Fudge doesn't exactly fill me with confidence that he's up to the job this time around. It looks as if we've won a battle tonight but the Ministry's reactions will determine who wins the war."

Sitting with her mouth agape at Harry's angry rant, Emma was struggling to see where he was coming from with this. "Surely the government now has all the evidence they need to take this fight to Voldemort and his Death Eaters?"

It was Hermione who tried to set her mother straight on the minefield that was pureblood politics. "Mum, Lucius Malfoy was a Death Eater who should have been serving a life sentence in Azkaban. He claimed to be under the imperius curse, paid for a new wing at St Mungo's, and not only escaped prison - he was considered a respected member of magical society. He used to have the Minister of Magic over to dinner, and even in death his reputation was being protected. It was only because news of the prophecy leaked, meaning the Ministry now needed Harry, that both Malfoys were hung out to dry. You witnessed what passes for justice in the magical community that night in our back garden. Harry was being sent straight to the worst prison imaginable without even a trial, just like Sirius."

While naive is not a word Emma would use to describe herself, she did believe that the British justice system was amongst the best in the world. To hear these opinions, coming from teenagers too, left her wondering what to believe. They wouldn't have to wait long to see if the kids were right.

-oOoOo-

Albus was walking along the stone jetty, trying to come to terms with the sheer number of cloth covered bodies laid out along it. "Too many witches and wizards died here tonight."

While really just muttering to himself, Shacklebolt and Moody heard the old wizard. An enraged Kingsley was stopped from saying anything by a more in control Moody, whose initial comments momentarily increased the Senior Auror's anger.

"I actually agree with you, Albus. Too many died here tonight. Fifteen dead is quite a high body count. Had it been fourteen, and Willie Samson was not lying there in the same condition as the rest of that filth, I would most heartily disagree with you. Losing one auror is too much, while we can never kill enough of these dark bastards. How long is their master back amongst the living? Yet we saw the mob who were all here tonight with him, ready to murder ten aurors on his orders."

Amelia approaching and muttering 'incoming' to the trio saved an argument developing, though didn't totally prevent it. The real target for most of that anger had just turned up.

As soon as they started portkeying the injured to St Mungo's, all had known it was only a mater of time before the Ministry turned up. Shacklebolt simply took charge of the initial aurors who had arrived on the scene, putting them straight to work in bringing the site under their control. This was also the signal for Order members to start fading into the night. By the time Umbridge made her appearance, there was only the group of four members still on site.

"Auror, I demand to know what happened here?"

Kingsley looked at the toad, deciding here was a target deserving of his anger. No one there even thought about trying to dissuade him. "Excuse me, Madam, but it's Senior Auror. I worked hard to earn that title, please use it. Short version, Voldemort and a bunch of his Death Eaters attempted to ambush the Azkaban prisoner transfer YOU set up. Wonder how he and his bunch of rabid animals got to hear about an auror mission?"

It would have been impossible to miss the anger in the Senior Auror's words, or the implication they contained. "I can only assume one of the aurors I briefed let the information slip…"

Cutting right across her, Shacklebolt pulled no punches. "Since you ensured none of the accompanying aurors were purebloods, I hardly think that they would be passing that information on to Death Eaters or Voldemort. What they did do was approach me with their legitimate concerns concerning a mission you planned and authorised. Since transferring the prisoners from the boat would be the ideal ambush point, I arranged some cover to be available in case it was needed. As you can see, we were needed. You have a former Master Auror, former Head of the D.M.L.E. and the current Chief Warlock here, all of whom not only witnessed Voldemort leading his scum but also fought in the battle that followed."

Trying to deflect the conversation away from how Voldemort discovered what was happening, Dolores tried to assert some control of the situation by asking what she thought was a pertinent question. She also managed to use Kingsley's title in an insulting manner. "Senior Auror, Shacklebolt, perhaps you could explain exactly how we took so many casualties?"

"Auror Samson was killed when Voldemort blew up the bow of the boat. As for the fourteen Death Eaters, it varies. Some of the prisoners were killed while attempting to escape, a couple drowned in their chains when Voldemort sank the boat. One was physically fighting with Auror Samson when Voldemort's spell hit them both. All ten prisoners are accounted for and lying under shrouds. Four others were part of the Death Eater force Voldemort brought with him, they were cut down in the battle that followed. Six more Death Eaters were incapacitated and unable to retreat with their master. They are currently at St Mungo's under auror guard."

She was shocked that her plan had not only spectacularly backfired, but had been so clearly deciphered beforehand by others. This revelation embarrassed Dolores and saw her shouting back at the auror who appeared to have forgotten just who was in charge here. "You had no authority to arrange tonight's fiasco. Nor do you hold the authority to place guards on pureblood wizards who were, in all probability, not responsible for their actions here tonight. You're treating them like criminals before any guilt has been established. Their lawyers will make mincemeat of the Ministry for that."

Shacklebolt's rebuttal of her argument was just as loud, their shouting attracting all the aurors who were currently on site. "Those wizards you are talking about turned up here tonight in full Death Eater regalia, and in the company of Voldemort. These same wizards then fired upon aurors yet, after they were legally taken down, your only concern appears to be for what any lawyer they have might say?"

It was time for Albus to intercede before Kingsley said or did something he would regret later. "Senior Auror Shacklebolt had my full backing for everything that happened here tonight. Unlike him, I do have the authority needed."

Waving away Albus' comments as unimportant, Dolores then told the quartet of her own actions tonight. "I have already dismissed those guards at St Mungo's and am standing here trying to decide whether to take his badge or not…"

She didn't have to make that decision, Kingsley saved her the trouble. Handing over his precious badge allowed the now former Senior Auror to say what he really thought. "You are either an incompetent arsehole or a dark bitch who planned the murder of ten aurors tonight. Either way, I can no longer work for you. When Voldemort comes for you, and he will, I hope you have a couple of those terrifying lawyers at your side. After your behaviour tonight, no self-respecting auror would lift a wand to try and protect you."

Before Dolores could blast back, she found herself being approached by four more aurors. None of them spoke as eloquently as Kingsley but all of them handed their badges over. When you couldn't trust your commander not to get you killed, each held their own opinion on whether it was deliberate or sheer incompetence, the four felt they were left without any other option.

A raging Albus also added to Dolores' woes. "A great victory against the dark forces was won here tonight, only for you to turn it into a defeat. With Voldemort now confirmed as having returned, the Ministry needs every single auror they've spent precious years and a lot of gold training. I intend to call an emergency Wizengamot meeting on this matter, and see whether the members agree with Senior Auror Shacklebolt's actions, or yours. I originally believed you to be a bad appointment to the post of D.M.L.E. Head. In the current position we now find ourselves though, I believe having you in that position is a liability. The brave people who battled against the dark tonight should not have that hard-earned victory looked down upon by an unmarked supporter of Voldemort such as you."

Seeing she had no support here, in fact Dolores found herself surrounded by hostility, she apparated away before any more of the attending officers could hand their badges in too.

Resting her hand on the tall black former auror's arm, Amelia attempted to offer her friend some comfort. "I'm really sorry it came to this, Shack. When I resigned, I half thought you would be my successor. Arranging this tonight, and your actions afterwards, clearly show why you weren't considered for the post."

This actually drew a smile from Kingsley. "I'm too much like the people who trained me. I don't kiss arse and do the best job I can. That was never gonna get me promoted under Fudge, and certainly not under Umbridge."

A clap on the back from Moody, along with a 'we trained him well, Amelia' was high praise indeed. It also meant more to Kingsley than any plaudits the Ministry could hand out. The way things were going lately, he might be lucky not to find himself up on charges for tonight's actions.

-oOoOo-

The Dark Lord had calmed down somewhat from his incandescent rage of last night, now his anger burned like a mere bonfire. While that anger was still more than hot enough to consume anyone who fell foul of it, today was all about discovering where his simple plan had gone so horribly wrong.

It was lunchtime before his spy was able to appear and kneel before him. That the Dark Lord had told no one about last night's raid until after he had summoned his followers for the attack should have ruled out any leaks from inside his organisation. He'd kept an especially close eye on Severus and was certain his spy had no opportunity to warn anyone. The Potions Master had also stood there last night fighting at his side, and been cut open with some of the stone shrapnel.

It was time to hear what Severus had picked up from Dumbledore this morning, since the event had yet to make the Daily Prophet.

"Well, Severus, what have you got for me? Did that spineless fool Fudge betray us?"

Keeping his head bowed, Severus was able to honestly provide what information he had to the Dark Lord. First though, he needed to ask a question. "Please forgive my presumptuousness, Master, but could I ask a question first? It would help with reporting what I've learned." Gaining permission, Severus asked what the Dark Lord's instructions to Fudge had been.

"I told the fool I wanted my most loyal Death Eaters brought to the mainland. I also advised using Black's recently discovered innocence as a reason to do so."

It was as Severus had expected. "I suspect in his understandable enthusiasm to grant your 'suggestion' Fudge, or possibly Umbridge, took things a step too far and created suspicion within the auror department. There were ten of your loyal subjects on that boat last evening, with only ten aurors guarding them. That those ten hand-picked aurors for this mission were either muggle born or half-blood was apparently enough to rouse suspicion and saw the Order of the Phoenix waiting for the boat to dock. I was here when the Order call came to Hogwarts, therefore had no knowledge of this to pass on."

"I gave that fool a simple task, and he couldn't even do that. He took my plan and bastardised it until what was left had all the subtlety of a tribe of charging giants. Have you heard how many of my subjects fell last night? We all saw Bella fall but how many more did I lose?"

With his head still bowed, Severus hated being the one to pass on this information. The Dark Lord did not appreciate hearing bad news, and usually vented his ire upon the messenger. There was nothing for it though, Severus couldn't lie about this. "All ten prisoners on the boat were killed. An additional four met their end on the dock, with another six injured and taken to St. Mungo's."

The silence that followed was another form of torture to Severus, his body trying to prepare itself for the curse that seemed certain to break the silence. The voice that eventually broke that strained silence came from a Dark Lord who was barely holding his temper. "Are you telling me that I lost TWENTY of my followers in last night's fiasco?"

Severus was quick to offer the little good news he had, all in an attempt to try and keep Voldemort's wand from cursing him. "Not quite, Master. Umbridge immediately cancelled the auror guards on your subjects sent to St Mungo's. She apparently claimed they were probably victims of the imperius curse. This did not sit well with the aurors on site. Five handed their badges to Umbridge there and then, with more aurors expected to follow their colleagues as the story breaks."

That was indeed a surprise outcome to the Dark Lord. "What is Dumbledore's position on this? I did not expect any force led by him to be casting lethal curses at opponents."

"As I have reported previously, Dumbledore's views are being repeatedly challenged within the Order. Black, Lupin, Moody and now Bones are really pushing him into areas he would never have ventured before, all in his attempt to retain control of the organisation. The Senior Auror who was responsible for providing cover in case you attack the boat last night is a member of the Order too. He also resigned from the Auror Corps last night, adding another hawk with a lot of time on his hands to the group of Order members pushing Dumbledore."

Since the curse had't come yet, Severus kept talking. "Dumbledore was trying to call an emergency meeting of the Wizengamot, with the view to getting Umbridge removed from her position as Head of the D.M.L.E. Should Fudge stand behind her, the Minister of Magic could find himself out of a job too. With your return now confirmed, the last thing the Ministry needs are aurors leaving because of incompetent leadership."

Voldemort had initially been delighted to see so many of his followers on that boat. He now realised that very fact had set people thinking. Instead of his Death Eaters springing a trap last night, they had walked right into one. What to do next though was his dilemma. The smart move would be to do nothing, and see how things played out. Since they were so soundly defeated last night, that wasn't really an option. People needed to fear him, not think that their Ministry had the situation under control.

Tonight he would take some of his Death Eaters and leave the Minister of Magic's official residence nothing more than a smoking pile of ash. The Minister and any of his aurors being present would certainly be a bonus, one that would strike fear in magical homes the length and breadth of the country. If the Minister of Magic's house wasn't safe, then theirs certainly wouldn't be if the Death Eaters' came calling.

Dismissing a surprised Severus, Voldemort settled down to think of how he could play these changes to his advantage.

Severus got out of there as quickly as good manners allowed. A thoughtful Dark Lord meant someone was going to feel his wrath. Severus said a silent prayer of thanks that it appeared not to be him in the Dark Lord's sights. Poppy had treated his injuries last night but getting punished by the Dark Lord would undo all her good work. Last night and today meant that Severus had been incredibly lucky twice in succession. He left wondering just how long his luck could last.

-oOoOo-

Cornelius was well acquainted with the phrase 'between a rock and a hard place'. As he sat at his desk with his face in his hands, oh how he wished that phrase applied here. Cornelius understood his situation was much worse than that, he appeared to be under attack from every side imaginable.

His only crumb of comfort was getting his wife to safety. She'd been dispatched to her sister's on the Isle of Wight, with enough gold to take her anywhere after that. Cornelius had first extracted a promise from his wife that she wouldn't contact him after she moved, just in case something had gone wrong with the task Voldemort had given him. Albus was at least right about something, Cornelius couldn't tell the Dark Lord information he didn't know.

That crumb of comfort was his only solace as Cornelius now faced up to the worst situation of his entire life. That the Dark Lord had been defeated last night would see the name Cornelius Fudge shoot straight to the top of Voldemort's shit list. That would be a very short list, since the people whose names were added to it never usually lived long after their addition.

The Ministry had won a great victory against the Dark Lord's forces last night, yet Cornelius couldn't even use that spectacular occurrence to deflect any of the shit coming his way. With one auror dead, and the other nine from the mission since having resigned from the Auror Corps, the Minister of Magic was going to be forced to downplay the event. With the story of what actually happened spread all over the Ministry, and even more auror resignations piling in, Cornelius now had some idea of how King Canute felt when trying to command the tide to halt.

With Dumbledore almost certain to gain the signatures he needed to call an emergency meeting of the Wizengamot, Cornelius couldn't see any escape from this situation.

Normally this would be the time when he would call for advice from his closest advisers. With Lucius dead, Albus after his head and Dolores embroiled in this mess up to her neck, even that option was now denied him. As Dolores was currently sitting across from him, Cornelius asked the question he really wanted the answer to. "Why?"

Shrugging her shoulders, Dolores told Cornelius the truth. "It's no secret I never wanted this job. I only took it on the premises that you sold it to me - guard Diagon and the Ministry and leave Potter dangling. When I received the order to transfer the prisoners, I assumed our position had changed. The mission would allow me to clean out my department of undesirables, while pleasing our new sponsor at the same time. That's why I increased the number of prisoners, and ensured the aurors were those of lesser blood. I had nothing to do with the ambush, and the Senior Auror who organised it is now no longer with us."

"Dolores, we've so far lost almost a quarter of the Auror Corps. Last night was a massive defeat for the Dark Lord, yet we have since lost more men than him - and I doubt if the resignations are over yet. You-know-who will now be looking for blood, and the only people who stand between us and him can't leave the Ministry fast enough."

"I thought we weren't going to stand up to him? That's Potter's job."

"Harry Potter is a fourteen year old schoolboy. As Minister of Magic, I can't cite him as our only defence against a marauding Dark Lord. That duty actually falls to us, as Minister of Magic and DMLE Head. Had you not interfered last night, we could have proclaimed a great victory and thrown our lot in with the light."

This confused Dolores. "When I received those orders, I thought you had already made up your mind?"

"I received a visit from the Dark Lord in the middle of the night, the original orders were his. Your changes means he'll be coming after at least me, and possibly you too. With a drastically reduced Auror Corps, and Dumbledore trying to get both of us kicked out of the Ministry for the way this was handled, you can perhaps see the trouble we're currently in."

A shocked Dolores finally got it. "You-know-who wants us dead and Dumbledore looks set to strip away what little protection from this murderer we have."

It was a sarcastic Cornelius who clapped that she had finally gotten the situation. "Now that you're finally up to speed, it's time for a wonderful suggestion that's going to save both of our arses."

Thinking out loud, Dolores gave him what she had. "I would much prefer being demoted compared with being dead. You can use the fact that I was not your first choice, but initial resignations forced you to look outside the department. You were trying to avoid more resignations but that plan backfired. I obviously don't want to be sacked, it would remove any protection working at the Ministry gives me. A demotion suits both of us but leaves the problem of who you replace me with. Asking the Wizengamot for suggestions on the matter might redirect a portion of their ire into something positive."

This was why Cornelius kept Dolores around. If she could ever overcome her hatred of those not of the right breeding, or even manage to disguise it in some form, Dolores Umbridge would be an unstoppable force in magical politics. She could be utterly brilliant but her blatant bigotry coloured everything she did or said. It was how to keep her, and himself, in the Ministry that would be the problem.

"Demoting you isn't a problem, the real fix here is getting someone in place in the D.M.L.E. who will appease Dumbledore, the Wizengamot and stop the resignations..." A smile started to form on Cornelius' lips. "Dolores, you are not going to like this but we both know what the alternative is."

-oOoOo-

A summons to the Minister's Office would normally have Arthur on edge, wondering what he had done wrong. This time he had a far more important concern, since Cornelius had sent his estranged son, Percy, to deliver that summons and escort him to the Minister's Office. That his son barely acknowledged he was family was breaking Arthur's heart.

The short journey in the lift, their was only one level between Arthur's an Cornelius' offices - although the were a world apart in importance to Percy - the father decided to confront his wayward son. "Percy, you backed the Ministry over your family. You can call me a liar if you like but last night there were three Weasleys firing curses at a man your Minister said was dead."

As the lift doors opened, Arthur strode out and left his shocked son behind. Marching straight to Cornelius' door, he knocked and entered.

"You wanted to see me, Cornelius?"

"Ah yes, take a seat, Arthur. Since the entire Ministry has heard what happened last night, and the aftermath, I'll cut right to the chase. I need a new D.M.L.E. Head, and am offering you the job. No one I approached in the department wanted the job, a few even resigned when I tried to force the issue. That was why I offered Dolores the job, which took us from one unmitigated disaster to another. You are a department head with a reputation within the Ministry for fairness and hard work. You are also prepared to battle for things you believe in - pushing bills that help muggles through the Wizengamot takes guts and determination. I also know you fought against you-know-who in the first war, and want you to use that experience to help defend the country from him again."

"Was Madam Umbridge sacked?"

"No. She should never have been given that job in the first place, which is why I'm demoting rather than firing her. The job as you know comes with a sizeable pay rise, and an Auror guard on your home. I fear with all the recent Auror resignations, the size of the force you will inherit might limit you to guarding the Ministry and Diagon Alley. There might be enough spare that you could form a response team but I would of course leave the planning of that up to you. What do you say Arthur?"

Having played the game long enough to see what was behind this move, Arthur nonetheless mentally weighed up the pros and cons in his head. While the extra gold certainly wouldn't go amiss, having Aurors guard the Burrow would be the real bonus there. Last night proved the Weasleys would fight Voldemort anyway. Wouldn't it be better to do so while having control of the country's Auror Corps too?

He didn't think taking the position would put his family in any more danger than they already were. Everyone knew the Weasleys were a light family, or blood traitors as the Dark called them. Their friendship and support of Harry Potter was also known throughout magical Britain. It could so easily been his family that the Malfoys visited, instead of the Grangers.

Arthur, always needing the extra money the overtime brought in, had participated on many raids with auror support. He understood how the system worked, and also had Amelia, Moody and Shackelbolt available to ask advice of. They were all on the same team, the one that wanted to see the end of Voldemort. With his youngest three sons now training so they could join the fight, Arthur thought this was a perfect opportunity to try and end this conflict before they were needed.

"Cornelius, I'll take the job."

Percy sat stoically at his desk while his father walked past him with a wide grin on his face. His wayward son had no way of knowing Arthur was trying not to laugh at the news Dolores Umbridge would now be working in the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office.

-oOoOo-

That news, along with Arthur's promotion, certainly added some extra cheer to the Order meeting called that evening. Arthur was asking Shack and a recovering Tonks, she had received a concussion and been thrown into the sea when Voldemort blasted the boat, if they would reconsider their resignations when Sirius interrupted.

"Excuse me, Arthur, but this was something I intended to bring up tonight anyway. The Lestrange line ended last night and Gringotts contacted me to say that their vault fell to the House of Black. I intended to use that gold to employ our own force, basically all the Aurors that have resigned. I was thinking Amelia or Shacklebolt could lead it, and that's as far as I got. If we could get Ministerial consent for this force to guard Diagon Alley, then that would free the Aurors under Arthur's control to go after Voldemort and his Death Eaters. What do we think?"

Albus let out a chuckle. "Signing off responsibility for guarding Diagon Alley is something Cornelius would jump at. It means he has a public scapegoat already in place if anything happens there."

While agreeing with Albus' opinion, Amelia added something else to the debate. "I don't see why Sirius should be out of pocket while the Ministry saves money on Auror salaries. What if Arthur makes a proposal that we accept this very generous offer in the short term, while using the saved salaries to spearhead an Auror recruitment and training drive? We need to bring the department back up to normal levels."

Arthur was keen to get behind that idea, but also had some questions for Sirius. "This isn't going to be cheap, Sirius. How long can you afford to pay these people, and what happens to them when that time is up?"

"Going by the number of resignations we've heard here tonight, and matching that to the gold available, I would say at least five years. By the end of that time, I'm going to assume we've kicked Voldemort's arse, whoever is in charge will surely have found openings where a force like this could prosper. I plan to put the gold into a start-up fund and the whole thing can be run as a business, only needing to think about turning a profit after Voldemort is gone for good. This force though will operate under the same guidelines for confrontations that we used so effectively last night. They protect the innocents by quickly and effectively putting the bad guys down."

With their victory last night, a new Head of the D.M.L.E. and now the promise of jobs for the three members of the Order who resigned from the Auror Corps, there was a mood bordering on euphoria taking hold at the meeting.

Sitting thinking it was hard to equate that this was the same group of people who were so despondent at the news Voldemort had returned, Albus had to admit to himself he could have been wrong. Firing curses at the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters, and seeing them retreat, had really installed a sense of belief inside the group. A belief they could actually do what almost all of them reckoned was impossible merely weeks ago. "We have an emergency meeting of the Wizengamot tomorrow. I think his latest round of manipulations will see Cornelius survive. It will also be a good time to push for anything that we want..."

It was Harry who interrupted this time. "Push all you want, he won't go after the Death Eaters. There are people who fired curses at Tonks last night, were put down by people in this room, yet will walk free from St Mungo's by simply saying they were under the imperius curse."

"Harry, I have tried to push the Minister on this point. It's a line he won't cross..."

"Well then I think it's time that we did. The brave people in this room risked their lives last night, only for the Ministry to let the captured Death Eaters go free. They were there, they fired on Aurors, does anyone here think they should be walking the streets? Walking straight back to Voldemort?"

Understanding where Harry was going with this, Albus tried to head him off. "Harry, the Order did its best last night..."

Harry was having none of it. "Professor, the Order were magnificent last night. They were then let down by a system that's structured to protect their own. It should be, they built and maintain control of it. The Wizengamot and the Ministry won't take action because they have family and friends on the other side. Barty Crouch went after them and ended up jailing his own son."

After an apologetic look to Sirius and Moody, both of whom had reason to hate that name, Harry continued making his point. "When the system doesn't work though, it's time to play by different rules. Mr Weasley can't send his Aurors after these people, the Ministry won't let him. If we don't do something about it, then these people will soon be back at Voldemort's side, killing and torturing as he orders. We have the names, we have the proof, we have the means, it's time to act. Delays can only cost lives."

Albus looked around the room and saw his answer reflected there. If anything, Harry's support on this particular matter had only grown within the Order. Even the likes of Molly was now supporting this action. With Arthur and the Burrow now prime targets, and having taken part in last night's mission, she obviously now wanted a permanent reduction in Death Eater numbers.

Discussions continued over how best to form this force, what its aims should be and who should lead it. No further discussion took place on Harry's proposal. It would seem the matter of hitting back at the Death Eaters had already been decided.

-oOoOo-

Edgar Clegg sat in the Leaky Cauldron, pushing his excellent lunch of beef stew around his plate with his fork. He really didn't want to be here, nor did he feel like eating such a hearty meal, his injuries sustained at the ambush last week were still healing. After getting out of St Mungo's as quickly as he could, it was now all about being seen out and about in the wizarding community. That was why he was sitting here at the busiest time, that and the fact his wife was currently in Madam Malkins buying a new robe.

His uncle had sponsored him for joining the Death Eater ranks and, after the pain of receiving his dark mark was over, Edgar had loved it. Just by putting on a mask, he held the power of life or death over their chosen victims, it was such a rush.

Last week Edgar got to see the other side of the coin. They were the ones being ambushed and he ended up getting injured. Even so, his blood status and connections were enough to ensure no charges were brought against him. In another few weeks he should be fit enough to rejoin his master's side, there was bound to be retribution for that ambush. Retribution beyond burning down an empty Minister's home.

A commotion at the bar had Edgar reaching for his wand, only to relax when he saw a wizard at the bar had been pranked by his now laughing friends. Edgar thought he was getting jumpy, while smiling at the prank that turned someone into a canary. He died smiling as the loud laughter in the pub easily covered the whispered spell an invisible Moody cast that stopped Edgar Clegg's heart. An examination would decide this was a heart attack, probably due to him being put under the imperius curse and getting seriously injured in last week's battle.

There would be a few more accidental deaths before some people would start putting things together. Things like the fact that these accidents kept happening to people who were Death Eaters.