Chapter 20: The Pact

The most important thing to understand about Bartholomew Gamp, the 32nd Minister for Magic, was that he was, and had always been, entirely beyond reproach.

To be clear, this was not a remarkable fact in and of itself, although it might have saved several enterprising aspiring blackmailers quite a lot of time and money. Plenty of wizards and witches lived unremarkable, honest lives, after all.

But Gamp's life had been anything but unremarkable, and his unimpeachable good name was a result of six decades of effort, across a storied career in public life, not to make any important enemies or get into any significant trouble.

It had been a herculean task at which he had proven remarkably successful. As his colleagues and classmates had pinned their colours to the masts of the great powers that had characterised much of the twentieth century – had bent their knee to Grindelwald, or bared their arms to Voldemort, or sought the restrictive auspices of Dumbledore's protection – Gamp had taken great care to be prudent and pliant in equal measure, and had managed to avoid committing himself to any cause in the process.

Of course, there had been moments where mere prudence hadn't sufficed to do so: the dark days of the 1940s, for example, when the ministry had seriously considered compelling its employees into military service should Grindelwald have invaded, or the late 1970s, when active or passive subordination to the Dark Lord's whims or to Dumbledore's resistance was an important prerequisite to any public figure's long-term survival.

Gamp had been equally prudent at those junctures. A three-year stint overseas, for which he'd used all the meagre influence his ancestral link to the first Minister for Magic afforded him to garner a contract with the Daily Prophet to report on the muggle war, had tided him through Grindelwald's war to his eventual downfall; and his early retirement from prosecutorial work had allowed him to avoid the worst excesses of Britain's latest wizarding conflict, although he had permitted himself the excess of speculating, with the young Malfoy scion, as to how the ministry might function under a victorious Dark Lord. Gamp was, after all, of only middling magical ability, and, no matter which side of a fight he might have found himself on, he'd always assumed that he'd end up worse off than if he avoided fighting at all.

In truth, Gamp's only real malfeasance – his one secret vulnerability – wasn't a crime at all, for all that a victorious Voldemort might have had his head for it: Bartholomew Gamp was a dedicated student of the muggle world.

It had started, as so many wizarding obsessions did, with an investigation of Gamp's family tree at Hogwarts – one of Professor Binns's more infuriating side-projects, as pointless for muggleborns as it was passé for purebloods. Yet, as Gamp was about to jot down some lacklustre drivel about his ministerial forebear, he'd instead found his attention drawn to one of the vanishingly few muggles his family admitted a connection to: Sir William Petre, who had been Secretary of State under three Tudor monarchs. Curious about a man he'd known little about, he'd broached the subject with the portrait of Mary I in the third-floor corridor – and had come away beyond impressed by her account of the 'man who said nothing', and, in doing so, survived a period of tremendous tumult in the royal court under three diametrically opposed monarchs.

The lesson Gamp had taken from that experience was that muggles had just as much to offer (at least in affairs of the mind) as wizards – which was why he had been delighted to study and report on their in their war of the 1940s.

This fascination might have defined Gamp's life – might have made him an ardent muggle-lover and devoted student of their advancements. As a correspondent in the United States, he had spent much of his reporting career ensconced with the MACUSA unit which regularly monitored the war effort in the Americas – all the security of the American government was hardly a barrier to a motivated wizard, after all – and had made fast friends with his American magical counterparts in the same line of work, most of whom were just as fascinated by the 'no-maj' world. And he'd been most fascinated of all by the Americans' efforts to find new ways to be destructive without magic: to make bigger bombs, more terrifying flying machines, and all the rest of their manifold attempts to overcome their inherent limitations.

It was that arrogance which had led him to New Mexico in 1945, keen to witness the Americans' latest attempt at making a bigger bomb. He'd headed there on a tip from the No-maj monitoring agency, whose own representatives were just as curious about the so-called 'Manhattan Project' – and, in exchange for close-up photos of the test from a couple of Americans, he'd happily agreed to monitor the test from afar.

He'd learned just how wrong their idea of 'afar' had been when the subsequent explosion had obliterated his American colleagues, ripped through his meagre shields, covered him with third-degree burns, and blinded him. Only a tremendous feat of - literally - blind apparition had saved his life; he'd somehow managed to apparate to the Navajo outpost they'd portkeyed to from New York, and awoke several days later in a New York hospital, where he'd learned that they had needed to regrow his entire dermis and his eyeballs to heal him from the horror that the muggles had created.

Gamp's love affair with the muggle world had ended there and then. The ingenuity which had once delighted him was now horrifying; the ratio of muggles to wizards, previously a source of curiosity, was rendered a vulnerability which terrified and transfixed him in equal measure.

Gamp never sent off a dispatch to the Prophet on what he'd seen in New Mexico, but he never forgot what he'd been subjected to. He'd kept up his studies of the muggle world – a few hours a week reading one of their newspapers was more than a worthwhile investment – and had watched with fear and disdain as the so-called Great Powers built up a payload of weapons which could destroy the world thrice over.

(This was also why Gamp had doubled the muggle prime minister's guard contingent since he'd come to power. The Imperius curse had the potential to cause far more damage than wizards could ever be allowed to know.)

That the muggles could destroy wizard-kind by accident – not even on purpose! – was, not that Gamp would ever admit it, the fear which had driven his prosecutorial career and, latterly, his premiership. If the statute of secrecy fell, after all, wizards might deal horrific damage to the muggle world in the ensuing violence – but they would never be able to triumph. And, conversely, every muggleborn was a threat by the mere fact of their world-spanning knowledge: of course they needed to be blocked from any line of work which might bring them to propose something catastrophically dangerous.

Gamp knew – regardless of the complaints and blockages which Dumbledore's faction continued to throw at his every proposal – that his every action was making magical Britain a better, safer place, and the minor inconveniences he was levying against a very few people was more than worth the trade-off.

He had, not unreasonably, presumed that the terse missive from Dumbledore – which had arrived for him that morning with a request for a personal meeting between the ancient sorcerer, Lucius, and himself – would be another of these complaints. Gamp had wondered, idly, if he had any reasonable grounds to reject the request; but, knowing that he didn't, had resigned himself to the tedium of more impotent moralizing, and agreed to meet that evening.

He couldn't have been more wrong in his suspicions.

Graham had hardly expected a ticker-tape parade to celebrate his return to the UK, but he still felt a little underwhelmed on his arrival. Remus had explained, the last time they'd talked, that arrivals by Portkey were now required to produce evidence of employment, recent past presence, or a date of exit, in order to be let into wizarding Britain: Graham, unable to discuss his work, prove recent residency, or show when he would leave again, had instead been forced to take a red-eye flight from Boston - on which, naturally, he'd been seated next to a tantrum-prone toddler.

The flight, of course, had then been delayed for two hours on the runway before taking off for Heathrow, where an eye-wateringly slow queue and tetchy border guard at the end of it had rounded out the travel misery, leaving Graham bleary-eyed, fatigued, and in desperate need of a caffeine infusion.

Happily, once he'd finally collected his luggage, it only took a quick jaunt into a deserted bathroom and a rather shoddy apparition for Graham to reach to his final destination - Lockwood's front lawn, and, after a couple of minutes fumbling through his bags for the keys, his rather dusty bedroom in the groundskeeper's cottage. Graham hardly needed his two medical degrees to know that he'd definitely regret going to bed at ten in the morning - but, displaying all of the poor decision-making skills that medics have when it comes to their own health, he found himself climbing into bed for what he planned to be a twenty minute power-nap.

Some ten hours later, Graham awoke to the muffled sounds of amused conversation outside his door, which was rarely a good thing.

"I know - absolutely dead to the world. I do feel a bit guilty - I mean, I did suggest that he take a plane -"

"Oh, stop fussing, Remus - he's a grown man, and it's not like you were wrong to suggest it. Let's just leave him - Jesus, Graham!"

Graham had decided that opening a door wouldn't be much of an entrance, and instead had opted to apparate into the midst of Remus and Delia's conversation.

"More or less fine, yes." he said, grinning. "And it may not be your fault, Remus, but I'm definitely holding you to account on this one - I still feel like death."

Remus wrinkled his nose.

"Well, if you're looking for immediate revenge, you smell like death, too. Why don't you take a shower, and we'll pop down to the kitchen and whip something up for you?"

It was a generous offer, and one which Graham happily accepted. Half an hour later, feeling much more human after a fresh wash and a healthy serving of stew, he strolled up to Lockwood itself with Remus and Delia, who were keen to show him their latest project.

"Sorry for dragging you out to the manor," Remus explained, as he led Graham through a much-expanded atrium, "but we decided to move our base of operations to a dedicated office in the main building a few months ago - it was getting pretty, uh, unwieldy."

"Unwieldy?" Graham asked. "How would paperwork get - oh."

The 'dedicated office' was, in fact, dedicated most of all to an enormous map of the British Isles which took up nearly the entire floor; the walls were mostly shelving, and only the presence of a few desks on top of the oceans suggested that the room was being used for any sort of office work.

"You know that we made that A-Z road map to keep track of all the new magicals?" said Delia. "Well, it wasn't a very good solution - it didn't keep tracking addresses after that first manifestation, which meant we had no idea if a family had moved, and it wasn't very intuitive to use in any case. So, well, we got creative."

"You mean this is a live map?" Graham murmured, as he picked his way across the floor. "So in the capital, for example... wow."

Sure enough, in handwriting nearly too small to read, London thronged with tiny names: a fair number were clustered around Charing Cross Road, as Graham would have expected, but there were hundreds of other names scattered across the city as well. He couldn't help but feel a little overcome by the sight: even after spending the past two summers working at Lockwood, it was still quite moving to see such a graphical proof of their project working as planned.

"This is outstanding work, both of you," Graham said, at length, "but how on earth did you manage it?"

Remus smiled, a little abashed at the praise.

"Well, it was my idea, but Delia did all of the heavy lifting. I'd made something a bit like this before - much smaller scale, mind you - and for that, we were able to piggy-back off a pre-existing tracking matrix in the wards which monitored all the people in the area that the map covered. Made everything a lot easier."

"But that's a lot harder to replicate for the whole of Britain - which is where I came in." said Delia. "I'd done plenty of enchantment analysis before - it was my first job out of school, actually - but it still took me a few months to work out the identification mechanism in the Register. From there, we just needed a few cleverly applied protean charms to get the map up and running."

"It's not a perfect solution," Remus noted. "The sympathetic link to newly manifested magic seems to fade after about five or six years, judging by when some of the names are getting archived when we lose tracking - like this one in Cheltenham, for example -"

Remus took a moment to point out a faded name on the outskirts of the town in question before continuing.

"- so presumably, whoever enchanted the Register thought it didn't need to last any longer than that, given that most children will be picked up by the Hogwarts rolls and then by the Trace, once they've started using magic. But it's plenty long enough to make sure we don't let any muggleborns slip through the net before we contact them for the first time, which is the important thing."

It was quite a lot for Graham to take in. He'd been the one to bring up the potential issue of children moving from wherever their magic had first shown up - it was hardly rare for people to move house, after all. He had been determined from the beginning that no muggleborn should be left behind, but hadn't had the slightest clue that Remus and Delia had found a way to make that a reality.

Graham realised, with a start, that Remus and Delia were waiting for him to say something.

"Tremendous." he said, shooting them both a wild grin. "That's the hard part out of the way - now all we need to do is convince a few thousand non-magical parents that magic exists, convince them all to sign up to an unchartered school, and change the world, all while evading the attention of the wizarding world. Nice and simple!"

Once again, and to his great irritation, Garrick Ollivander found himself rudely awoken (after not nearly enough sleep) by the persistent itch in his soul that had, for months now, been telling him that he needed to work harder.

Even though it had kept a hundred generations of forebears in business, Ollivander was rapidly coming to see the family affinity for wandcraft a curse. Its origin was a mystery: perhaps some ancient accord with magic, now lost to the mists of time, or maybe a particularly rarified hereditary ability; but, aside from a preternaturally inherited ability to craft wands and match them to their eventual owners, it was most noticeable for the obnoxious manner by which it pressured the Ollivanders into making more wands whenever it felt that they were needed.

An itch wasn't quite the right word for the sensation, Ollivander mused, as he tugged on his clothes and shuffled back to his workshop. Maybe it was more like a stone in the shoe of his mind? Mundane words were so often inadequate when it came to magic. Either way, it had never been an issue in the past - the number of new wands required to meet the needs of wizarding Britain was low enough that Ollivander had previously dealt with the discomfort before it even started by simply crafting more wands than he expected he would need to provide.

And that had worked until, a few months ago, the feeling had seized him full force - and he hadn't the slightest clue why. It hadn't just affected him, either - Ollivander's son, Guillaume, had been on a material-gathering expedition in the Andes at the time, but had rushed back home to assist his father. Partly, Ollivander hoped, this had been an act of filial piety, but he suspected that it was mainly because the only relief from the sensation seemed to be to craft more wands.

Even more irritating was the fact that neither Ollivander nor his son could work out why their gift seemed to think so many new wands would be needed - if anything, Britain's wizarding population seemed to be shrinking. It was certainly a conundrum - one which, had either Ollivander had the slightest interest in bringing it to the attentions of the wizarding world, might have shed a great deal of light on what was approaching it.

Ambition was a heady drug, Amelia mused - one which had tided her through the various inconveniences that seemed to have come to define her career. It had staved off the fatigue of working late and arriving early every morning; had soothed her conscience as she asked increasingly distant friends of the family to look after Susan when she couldn't, which was most of the time; had even kept her silent in the face of the endless idiocies of the new class of aurors whose manifold deficits she was somehow expected to take responsibility for.

But if ambition was a drug, then Amelia had officially come down from it. Even after deciding that she'd be resigning from the Ministry, some months previously, pride had compelled her to stay in post until she'd worked out what she would do next, even though she had no real need for an income. And, although it was hardly their fault, Amelia's options had been terribly curtailed by the denizens of Lockwood and the Gordian knot of the muggleborn population boom they had warned her of.

Were it not for that accursed knowledge, Amelia suspected she'd have already finagled her way into a senior post in the Irish or American ministries. The Bones had no great estates to manage, and with the death of her brother, very little remained to tie her down in Britain: for all Amelia's fondness for Hogwarts, Susan would hardly suffer from an education at Ilvermorny or Castle Erehnoll, after all.

And so Amelia had found herself trapped in a job she hated, working to enforce laws which were as stupid as they were small-minded, with nothing to blame but for it her own ego.

The advice she needed to solve her problem came from a rather unexpected quarter: even if it wasn't quite wisdom from the mouths of babes, Amelia thought that Sirius was childish enough for it to be very nearly the same thing.

(This was a sentiment only partly fuelled by Amelia's resentment at the man for jumping ship and quitting the aurors almost a year before she'd decided to leave herself.)

"I'm just saying, Amelia," he'd remarked, after he'd bumped into her as she left another update from Delia on Lockwood, "I decided I was too good for the ministry months ago, now - if that isn't enough for you to decide that you are as well, I don't know what could be."

"Believe me, Sirius," she'd replied, drily, "If it wasn't for this little circus of yours, I'd be long gone - but someone has to be the adult in the room, especially when you stop contravening the Statute in theory and start breaching it in practice, and apparently, for the sin of a curious mind, that someone is me."

"So why not actually be in the room, then?" Sirius had shot back, amused. "God knows what we're doing here is challenging enough to keep you busy - there are a ludicrous number of plates to spin, and it's going to take all the hands we can get on deck to stop them sinking."

The horrific mangling of metaphors was enough for Amelia to immediately discard Sirius's point; it was several days before she found herself dwelling on them. While plenty of reasonable wizards and witches chafed a little at the more irritating of Gamp's restrictions, most of the ones whose votes he counted on - the purebloods and the more established half-bloods, especially - saw them as necessary evils in the pursuit of securing their world. Adding to that the steady loss of would-be detractors to new lives overseas, Gamp's ministership was his for as long as he wanted it.

Indeed, they were already half way through 1985, which meant that the deadline for announcing nominees for the next election was fast approaching - and every indication suggested that Gamp, who had already announced that he was running again, would do so unopposed.

Neither Gamp nor his ideas were going anywhere, then. And, even though Longshaw's lot thought a few introductory lessons might improve their fortunes, hundreds of unsuspecting muggleborn children were just a few years away from being dropped into a magical society which was already hostile to muggleborns; and Amelia didn't need to be a prophet to guess how that society would react to a muggleborn cohort of the size which was fast approaching.

It was, in other words, a challenge of a scale beyond anything else in Wizarding Britain - and perfect for a witch in search of a less soul-destroying outlet for her ambition. All she had to do was to work out how to ask to help without looking a fool in the process...

It was not without disappointment that Gamp received the curt missive of Amelia Bones, informing him that she intended to resign her post at the end of the month. After all, the woman was capable, incorruptible, and had (as far as he'd known) been entirely willing to implement his agenda as long as it fuelled her own career.

Certainly, Bones was hardly a true believer - she'd never expressed a hint of distaste towards muggleborns, and even her thickly crusted veneer of politeness hadn't managed to conceal her irritation at the burden which Gamp's agenda had involved - but a true believer was generally, in Gamp's experience, a far less useful subordinate than a well-qualified functionary. Amelia Bones was, in every way which mattered, the right sort of witch - and the short note which he took a moment to write to acknowledge her resignation and wish her well in the future was entirely sincere.

Gamp sighed, regarding the clock which sat across from his office with some irritation. He had always believed in the value of a good routine, and it rankled to be trapped in his office at almost eight on a weekday, just because Dumbledore had claimed that he couldn't arrive any earlier - not that Lucius Malfoy tended to be any more accommodating.

Which reminded him - gently, he reached down to tug open the bottom drawer of his bureau, and - taking a moment to focus - vanished the copy of the Daily Telegraph that he'd picked up a few days before. There was no need to risk revealing a weakness, even one so slight, to a man like the Malfoy scion, after all.

"Minister! So very good to see you."

Gamp, expression betraying nothing, nudged the drawer shut again, and stood to greet Lucius Malfoy, who - as always - had let himself into Gamp's office with all the characteristic insouciance of a man who knew that he held all the purse strings.

"Mr. Malfoy - all the same to you, my good man. Do you have the slightest clue why -"

"No more than you, Minister - rather a waste of an evening, in my view. But I'm sure that it's nothing more than transient unpleasantness - Dumbledore has an excess of bark, but not much bite, after all."

Gamp hummed non-comittally. "Well, I suppose we'll both find out in a moment. Would you like a drink?"

It was not Malfoy that replied.

"How very kind of you, Minister. A finger of firewhisky, perhaps?"

It was with no small amount of satisfaction that Gamp, who had expected Dumbledore to prioritise dramatic effect over punctuality in arriving and had managed to avoid flinching, watched Lucius stumble at the ancient wizard's voice.

"Certainly, Supreme Mugwump." Gamp said, affably enough.

He worked his way through the usual pleasantries while he seated and poured drinks for his guests, wondering all the while at Dumbledore's game. Usually, when he'd come to express his wrath at some bill or other that he had no power to overrule, the man opted for graveness or disappointment: bonhomie was much more unsettling.

Unsurprisingly, given the company at hand, the polite conversation quickly dried up, and Dumbledore's expression hardened.

"Now, then; to business. Minister, I understand that your office has access to an obscurant ward matrix for dispensing with particularly sensitive matters?"

It was hardly worth asking how Dumbledore knew about a secret which, by its very nature, was meant to be known only to the current minister and the chief Unspeakable; instead, Gamp merely nodded, expression guarded, drew his wand and muttered the incantation he'd been taught by his outgoing predecessor before she'd been stripped of the secret.

"It does, yes - and it's active as of now. Lucius - unless all participants in the room agree to it, none of us will come away with any memory of what we discuss tonight; either way, we won't remember that we used the ward."

To his credit, Malfoy took the information in his stride, his expression betraying none of his emotions.

"How very convenient - a way to discuss matters without prejudicing one's position if no agreement is reached. Well then, Headmaster - why are you here?"

Before he answered, Dumbledore looked up at the ceiling for quite some time, expression pensive.

"Well, Minister, Mr. Malfoy, I suppose that, in a way, I'm here to offer you a deal - and, I suppose, to acknowledge my defeat."

Once again, Gamp was grateful for his composure; unlike his intemperate financier, he only felt shocked instead of looking it.

Dumbledore continued.

"Let me be more specific. I have come to the conclusion that the only way I can truly shift the course of your ministry would be to conquer it - and that is something I am unwilling to do."

"Unwilling?" Lucius scoffed. "Unable, I would say. Defeating one wizard fifty years ago is hardly the same as overthrowing a nation, Headmaster."

Dumbledore smiled beatifically, and Gamp reflected, once again, on how very young Lucius really was. Had he seen the devastation Grindlewald had brought about first hand, or the wasteland which he and Dumbledore had left in the wake of their last, most terrible duel - but he was getting distracted.

"Can't or won't - it doesn't matter either way, Lucius." Gamp said. "You're telling us nothing new, sir; the numbers in the Wizengamot speak for themselves."

"Yes," Dumbledore sighed, "They do. There is in fact only one thing I can do to destabilise your regime, and I'm here to agree that I won't do it."

"And that thing is?" Gamp prompted.

"Absolutely nothing."

Gamp and Lucius met each other's eyes in silent conference; it was the younger man who responded, tone unimpressed.

"Let me guess." He drawled. "If you do nothing, the wizarding world will wake up to the back-door tyranny you think we're bringing about. Well, Headmaster, here's some news for you: people like this new era of ours, and the disappearance of the doomsayer-in-chief wouldn't change that a jot."

"Indeed." said Dumbledore. "Why, I would imagine that nothing short of the Dark Lord's return could stop the changes you have set in motion. And unfortunately, that is exactly what my inaction would bring about."

Gamp couldn't help but laugh at that.

"You're not really telling me that you've brought into that claptrap, are you?" He snorted. "Magic tales from the faeries about the wizard who lived for ever? Immortality's a myth, Dumbledore - You-Know-Who's followers might have been mad enough to think that he'd live forever, but I'm not, and neither is Lucius -"

Rather too late, Gamp became aware of the change which had fallen over Malfoy: his face, pale to begin with, was ashen.

Dumbledore regarded Gamp with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes.

"I think your supporter is rather less sure of that than you seem to be, Minister. Perhaps some evidence would be in order?"

Dumbledore rummaged in his robes for a moment before withdrawing a vial of silvery liquid which Gamp recognised as a memory. The man took a few moments to cast some complicated spells, after which the memory was projected onto the ceiling.

"First hand evidence, I should add," said Dumbledore, "From just a few days ago. I shall narrate."

The following minutes, as Dumbledore systematically dismantled his happy confidence that Voldemort was dead, were perhaps the worst of Gamp's tenure as minister. Lucius, on the other hand, seemed to withdraw into himself as Carrow's foolishness played out.

Dumbledore was content to let the silence which followed his display drag out; at length, Gamp found his tongue.

"And you suspect that the Dark Lord has other plans to return."

"Whichever artefact has tied the man to this existence will let him try any number of methods until he finds one which works." Dumbledore confirmed. "But learning how the man survived is a task which requires my full attentions: and I am no longer willing to waste them on futile internecine struggles."

"Well, it sounds like you know what to do." said Malfoy, still a little shaken. "Stop wasting your time opposing our democratically endorsed agenda. I certainly wouldn't object, and neither would the Minister."

Gamp ignored the man, and regarded Dumbledore thoughtfully.

"You mentioned that you had come here to make a deal." He said. "I assume that you're offering to stop campaigning against my agenda in the future - in fact, I would require your active cooperation going forwards - so that you can do the country the additional service of preventing the Dark Lord's return. That's two things you seem to be offering - what is it you expect in return?"

Dumbledore sighed.

"I have read your manifesto for the next election, Minister, and dislike it immensely - but for all the indignities it proposes, it does not quite criminalise muggleborns for being muggleborns. And that is what I want in return for preserving this petty regime of yours - for that manifesto to mark the outer limits of your scheme. Reasonable limitations, enforced by magically binding oaths."

"As if you could stop us from going any further if we wanted to." taunted Malfoy. "You really are a paper tiger, Headmaster."

Dumbledore treated Malfoy to a narrow smile.

"Oh, but if you went much further, Lucius, I might well be compelled to try, even if I'm far too old to want to rule anything beyond my own faculties. And, of course, if I was forced to oppose you, I might not be able to prevent the Dark Lord's return."

He paused to take a sip of his firewhisky.

"Your world is very nearly at hand, is it not? One where your chosen few can live, cordoned off from all the horrors of the muggle world, in peace and in prosperity. You've both known the chaos of the last war, and I'm sure you haven't forgotten the Dark Lord's ambitions. Do you really think that he would tolerate a triumvirate?"

Malfoy's bluster faded at that.

"No," he admitted, "I suspect he would not."

The contents of his next manifesto, Gamp mused in the ensuing silence, were yet another thing which Dumbledore ought not to have known about. But it was hardly a great setback - even if Dumbledore had demanded a ban on the passage of any further bills in the Wizengamot, Gamp had already given himself enough levers to enact everything he was interested in accomplishing. If Lucius wanted to go further - well, that was a disappointment that the man would have to deal with.

"Well, I can't say I'll miss our constant arguments, Albus." said Gamp. "I'm inclined to accept your offer. Shall we talk terms, Lucius?"

The younger wizard said nothing, jaw clenched. Once again, Gamp rued the fact that the man had so very little experience in the dark art of the compromise.

"Lucius," Gamp said, "Serving under a mad dictator would only get in the way of the world you want - I know you know that."

Malfoy scowled.

"Fine, then. I'm agreeing to nothing, but let's talk terms: I certainly don't plan on being here all night."

And, although it still took a great deal of squabbling and most of the evening, that was that.

Dumbledore emerged with a deal that almost let him pretend his conscience was unmarred: magically binding limits on what the minister and Lucius would do, governed by intention as well as action, and the assurance that his machinations against the dark lord would have the ministry's support where it was needed.

Gamp, for all that his legislative program now had an upper boundary, gained something he felt to be even more important; a commitment from his main opponent to support what agenda he had implemented and to refrain from involving himself in public debate from then on - including, even though Dumbledore had argued bitterly against the suggestion, a promise to take a light touch approach to blood-based matters at Hogwarts and a commitment not to intentionally undermine the ministry's stances at the school.

And Malfoy, despite his dislike of the man, found that Dumbledore's guarantee to prevent the Dark Lord's return was almost incentive enough by itself. Even if Dumbledore's limits meant that Malfoy might not achieve the full scale of his political ambitions, it lifted a much heavier weight from his shoulders: the secrets which the Dark Lord had entrusted to him, and which he had kept since the man's death more from fear than any sense of duty.

Eventually, after disputing and discarding several drafts, the agreement was made, enacted through yet another complicated piece of Dumbledore's spellwork. As he read out his obligations, Gamp felt as if he was being bound with a form of invisible twine - a pressure which only grew as Malfoy and Dumbledore followed suit, until, just as it was starting to feel unbearably tight, it disappeared all at once, leaving nothing but the faintest sensation of discomfort.

With some curiosity, Gamp realised that the ritual seemed to have rendered him unable even to conceive of contravening its provisions: as an experiment, he tried to imagine passing a law to intern all muggleborns in Azkaban, only to find that the thought simply wouldn't settle in his head: it was a bizarre, unsettling sensation.

"Well," Malfoy said, still a little dazed, "That was rather gruesome, wasn't it? And I fear the evening's about to become even more unpleasant. You see, before the Dark Lord's defeat, he demanded that I conceal a most peculiar artefact of his..."

A/N: And we're off to the races!

Apologies for taking so long between instalments; I've been slowed in part by life, in part by writer's block, and in part by the necessary process of working out just what this story's trying to say and where it's going! I'm hugely grateful for the very generous feedback so many have provided in the interim; it really does make writing feel worthwhile.