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Act III - Birth Of The Demon


Chapter 32: House Of Cards


December 6, 1995.

From the Front page of The Flying Post…

HOUSE OF MALFOY SHAMED AT ROSIER-SANTOS WEDDING!

MALFOY-PARKINSON BETROTHAL DISSOLVED! QUINTUS PARKINSON FILES FOR INFIDELITY CLAUSE!

HOUSE BLACK DECLARES DRACO MALFOY BLOOD-TRAITOR!

IS THIS THE END OF A GREAT HOUSE?


Harry had thought he had seen the worst of politics at the trial. He was dead wrong.

His arrival back on British shores had been met with a metaphorical firestorm of epic proportions, especially because for once, the Ministry couldn't just undermine the events as 'slanderous lies' and sweep them under the proverbial rug. It didn't help that there were multiple Houses, several of which were from the Dark Alliance itself that could verify the claims of the international tabloids that covered the Rosier-Santos wedding apart from the Daily Prophet. Despite how much Skeeter wanted to present it differently, the truth, or at least a major version of it, was there to stay. With the Dark Alliance fragmenting, even Minister Fudge had to play ball and adjust to the changing circumstances.

Deals were struck and concessions were made as the 'official' story began to take shape. In this story, Draco Malfoy and Cho Chang conspired together against House Potter and Greengrass, out of a misguided sense of vengeance over recent events. Unfortunately, their ploy was openly discovered by several of the visiting guests and dignitaries. The ploy in question was conveniently omitted to spare House Malfoy of further faceloss. The British Ministry wholeheartedly accepted the effects of House Black's Judgement of Draco Malfoy, as well as the out-of-court settlement held at the Spanish Ministry of Magic Atrium. Neither Draco Malfoy, nor Cho Chang would be further investigated by the British DMLE, and Houses Potter, Greengrass, Black and Delacour would be dropping all charges against House Malfoy.

Minister Fudge, Daphne and Harry would appear in a lovely photograph alongside the wedded Rosier-Santos couple, and Harry would provide at least one quote praising the Minister for being a supporter of justice, even if it meant going against his chief supporter, House Malfoy. The Minister would also issue a statement confirming that both House Chang had been officially pardoned for their daughter's malicious activities in return for House Chang swearing a fealty agreement with the House of Potter. The British Ministry of Magic would be working in tandem with the Spanish and French Ministries to introduce a Student Exchange Programme between Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Campus Magico, and Harry Potter, famed Warlock, student and currently Defence Professor at Hogwarts, would be invited to Campus Magico and Beauxbatons to shed light on his unique thaumaturgy. Additionally, in light of both recent and past actions, Minister Fudge would be sanctioning an official funding of 'five thousand galleons' from the Minister's Special Fund to the Hogwarts Workshop, as a token of appreciation.

Harry hated how Fudge was milking this publicity like he was some kind of dairy cow, and in the end, it was better than him in photographs with Lucius Malfoy. Besides, reinforcing the idea that the Potter Alliance's vaults were far, far greater than the Malfoy vaults was always a good thing.

Behind the scenes, Minister Fudge would be having a meeting with Joshua Greengrass, representative of Potter-Greengrass Alliance, to see if a compromise could be reached between the warring claims. The Ministry would be giving the associated Houses certain tax-benefits in return for sticking to the official story, and ensuring that the Minister didn't come out looking bad. House Potter and House Greengrass would be pouring a significant sum of money, part of the restitution package, to create a donation fund for the DMLE, to be utilised under exclusive command of the DMLE Director Amelia Bones. Naturally, everyone agreed on that, because everyone in politics enjoyed giving other people's money to good causes.

Either way. This would help Bones hire more Aurors, and better prepare for the upcoming war. And that was a good thing in Harry's book.

Though, seeing a sobbing Pansy Parkinson apologising to Daphne for betraying her felt rather cathartic. The girl had been a massive bitch, but she did love Daphne, in her own way.

"I have to say, Harry," said Albus Dumbledore. "When you left for Spain, I had my suspicions this was going to be a staged attack from one of the Dark families. I had even prepared for Tom himself to show up. I did not, however, anticipate this."

"Honestly, it was all her," Harry pointed at his betrothed. "I was just along for the ride."

At Dumbledore's twinkly-eyed stare, he explained. "Daphne was tracking Malfoy ever since he attacked her in the Quidditch game. She found out that he was involved with Chang, and that they were planning something stupid and dangerous to break our upcoming engagement. Cho wanted me to pay for her crushed dreams, and Malfoy just wanted vengeance for me stealing Daphne under his nose. Daphne let them think they were being cunning, and outplayed them at the last moment."

Sirius barked out a laugh. "On behalf of James, I dub thee as a Marauder, Daphne."

Daphne rolled her eyes.

"I must confess I am rather surprised at the way the two of you have shaped events recently, Mr. Potter, Miss Greengrass," said Dumbledore. "I've always tried to ensure that other Houses, especially the ones on the other side of the spectrum, see through Lord Voldemort's hypocrisy, but somehow, all my efforts were doomed to fail."

"Maybe because you were thinking like a Gryffindor, Headmaster," said Daphne, and Harry looked at her bluntness in surprise. Daphne was always bold, but this was something else. "Perhaps at times, a Slytherin approach to things is what is needed."

"Perhaps," Dumbledore agreed kindly. "And you two have my felicitations for that. I always knew that Lucius's actions would come to bite him back, but I did not anticipate it coming true so quickly. Not even when Sirius took over House Black could I see this coming."

"Again, all credit goes to her," said Harry. "She planned the events, she chose the attendees, and prepared in advance."

It was an honest statement that had nothing to do with his inability to accept praise.

"Oh please," said Daphne. "You're a polarising figure, Harry. This was bound to happen anyway."

"Now onto more pressing matters," said Dumbledore. "I'm afraid you left a lasting impression on Nicholas. While you were away, I received word from him about having an official talk with him about… and I quote him, 'matters most exclusive to the two of you'." Dumbledore gave him that weird X-ray-like feeling. "Do you know what it is about?"

He must have been talking about the Sunken vault, Harry surmised.

"Another thing, kiddo," said Sirius. "I received a letter from Apolline Delacour. Fleur's mother, as I'm sure you know. She wrote to me about meeting you at the Rosier wedding. She… wants to discuss something with you, about Fleur's future, and requested a meeting before…" his eyes flickered to Daphne. "Before your engagement."

A frown went up Harry's face. Fleur had met him only once after meeting her mother, telling how she needed to return to France to take care of some errands. He knew she was being evasive, but hadn't pressed any further.

"Fleur is an adult," he said slowly. "What does it matter what Apolline Delacour has to say?"

"It does, Harry," said Sirius. "House Delacour is a House of considerable renown in France, and Apolline is the Lady. Fleur is bound to answer her."

"But Fleur doesn't want to," Harry stressed. "That's why she came to Britain."

"Then why does she answer the name Delacour?" asked Sirius. "Like it or not, she's the heiress of that House, and is obligated to do as her mother says, at least in these matters."

Harry didn't like it. Not one bit. His and Daphne's engagement was to happen in about two weeks. If Apolline wanted, she could've directly talked with him at the wedding after the entire fiasco with Malfoy was over. But she had instead taken the circuitous route and delivered a formal letter to Sirius, courtesy of his position as Potter Regent. That only meant that there was something she wanted to spring on him, and it would happen sometime before his wedding with Daphne.

What was it about? Something related to the Cabal?

Harry surreptitiously looked at Daphne. She nodded back.

Deep within, a sense of frustration was growing. The presence of this new factor β€” Apolline Delacour, triggered him. She had the legal authority to do what she wanted with Fleur's future, unless she was willing to give up her name, and that was only possible if she immediately married Harry and took his name. Interestingly, that would put Fleur on equal grounds with Daphne, being married to the Lord of a Most Ancient and Noble family. And if he could see it, then surely Apolline did as well? Why would she try to enthral him, then belittle him, only to seek a formal meeting before the wedding? What was she after?

Maybe he should give her a taste of her own medicine. Pour a little Death into her, make her feel what it was like to see that predatory beast within her scream and spasm as his power slowly erased it to an inch of its existence. Give her a taste of what true Death felt like. It would be momentary, but the feeling would stay with her forever. Teach her that he was not her prey, she was his. He β€”

"Harry?" Sirius asked worriedly.

"Ah…" Harry faltered, realising he had spent too long thinking. "...Sorry about that. I was just… wondering." He breathed out slowly, pushing his owl instincts back into the recesses of his mind. It would not do to let those distract him right now. "Professor Dumbledore, when does Mr. Flamel wish to meet with me?"

"At the earliest," said the Headmaster. "He hasn't given me any more reasons, so I imagined you would have a better idea."

"In that case," said Harry quickly. "Would it be okay to do so tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow?" Daphne stammered in surprise.

"Yes," said Harry. Turning to Sirius, he asked. "Would I be committing faux-pas if I offered to meet Lady Delacour on the grounds of the Flamel mansion?"

Sirius blinked. As did Daphne.

"Harry Potter," said the latter. "What are you scheming?"

Just a tiny curveball, Harry mused. Apolline wouldn't do anything big now if he didn't either. It was too early in the game. Perhaps by meeting her early would catch her off-guard and keep her from preparing for their meet.

"I do not think," said the Headmaster, smoothening his beard, "Nicholas would object to your request. Perhaps a letter to the Delacours is in order?"

"I can send Hedwig."

"In this case, speed might be necessary. Might I suggest using Fawkes?" asked Dumbledore, peering at Harry.

"I don't know what you're planning, godson, but you've got that look on your face," said Sirius.

"Look?" Harry blinked in confusion.

"It's the look you get when you've resolved to get in the middle of something nasty and violent," said Sirius. "Lily had the same look on her face whenever she got really pissed off at something."

Harry blinked again.

"You're a bit of an open book when it comes to reading your emotions through your facial expressions, Harry," said Daphne.

Harry looked at her with something akin to frustration and turned to Dumbledore. "Sna… Professor Snape mentioned something about that, Professor. About an unconventional way for me to learn Occlumency to master my emotions. Something about there being more benefits to the discipline than just protecting my mind."

"I… recall Severus mentioning that," said the wizened Headmaster. "And mastering your emotions should indeed help you gain further control over your animagus form. Alas, I had to reject his request."

Harry frowned. "Why?"

"Because," said Dumbledore. "He suggested certain… unorthodox rituals that I do not believe you share the right disposition to conduct. If you fail, or conduct it inappropriately, you might even end up losing all control of your emotions, or worse, rob yourself of the ability to feel any emotion at all."

For whatever reason, the man's words took him back to an image, one he had seen back there in the Anima. One that still haunted his dreams to this day. The version of him that wasn't him. It looked like him, externally, but his eyes… They were flat, like a reptile. Empty. That thing β€” it wasn't a wizard. Hell, chances were that it wasn't even human enough. The power flooding through it was not life, not magic, and not even death. Just a numbing, empty void that made the world darker and gloomier by existing. An existence that was utterly, utterly bad, a black hole, with shadowy wisps swirling around him, whispering sweet nothings in dulcet tones. Hatred made manifest.

"...Harry?" asked Daphne, something fearful in her eyes.

The expression on his face spoke volumes.


Cornelius Fudge slammed the door to his office and quickly dashed across his office to the fireplace, ignoring a fire with his wand and grabbing a handful of Floo powder from his little pot which he knocked onto the floor. He ignored that as he threw the powder into the flames, turning the merry crimson and orange flames into devilish green, before thrusting his head into the flames and yelling β€”

"High Inquisitor's Office, Hogwarts."

A thousand fireplaces rushed past his vision, making him feel dizzy. When everything stopped, Fudge found himself looking into the nightmarish pink of his Undersecretary's office. He could hear her humming lightly to herself.

"DOLORES!"

The woman shrieked in surprise, and nearly fell off her chair, before gathering herself and waddling over to the Floo as quickly as her stubby legs could carry her. "Minister! How can I help you?"

"Help me, you mindless woman?" Cornelius raged. "I've already lost everything! Now open the damned Floo. I'm coming through!"

"What?" Dolores reeled, but obeyed. Cornelius rushed out of the Floo, uncaring of the lints on his bowler hat. "What are you talking about?"

"Haven't you paid attention to the international newspapers, you dumb woman?"

Dolores blinked. "Minister! You sent me to meet Babajide Akingbade in Uganda to raise a no-confidence motion against Albus Dumbledore at the ICW. I've been in that… place for the last four days on your orders, Minister! I had to bear the presence of those vermin, and even put their food into my mouth."

She gagged. "Even the air itself was filled with the stench of their filth. How do you expect me to find a newspaper, let alone something in English?"

His stomach twisted. "And what did Akingbade say?"

"He agreed," said Dolores, looking suitably pleased. "Barbarian he might be, but understands the language of money."

Yes. Another sixteen thousand galleons went down the drain. Cornelius mentally wept over his misfortune. Akingbade was their strongest candidate against Albus Dumbledore, and with his help, they could oust the man from his position as Supreme Mugwump at the ICW. His defeat on the international stage, followed by well-timed scandals and speculations, and some nasty press releases courtesy of the Prophet, and they could've set things up for a No-confidence motion against his role as Chief Warlock at the Wizengamot. With those two positions lost, it would be a matter of time before they could publicly oust him from the Headmaster position.

Or at least, that was the plan.

"It won't matter anymore," he said weakly, throwing an unpublished edition of the day's Spellbound magazine on the floor. "As soon as this hits the crowd, there is no way Akingbade can gain support against Dumbledore."

Dolores looked at the front page. On it was written in bold headlines β€”

HOGWARTS, BEAUXBATONS AND CAMPUS MAGICO CALL FOR A STUDENT-EXCHANGE PROGRAMME! IS THIS THE NEXT STEP TO INTERNATIONAL MAGICAL COOPERATION AFTER THE INTERNATIONAL TRIWIZARD TOURNAMENT?

Beneath it, was a half-page photograph of a smiling Cornelius Fudge, standing beside Harry Potter. On Cornelius's other side, stood Antoni Pizarro, the Spanish Minister of Magic, while a French woman that seemed oddly familiar stood on Potter's right.

There was even another sub headline beneath it.

WIZARDING BRITAIN'S NEWEST WARLOCK OPENS TIES WITH MAGICAL FRANCE AND SPAIN!

AFTER ALBUS DUMBLEDORE'S VICTORY OVER DARK LORD GRINDELWALD, IS HIS STUDENT HARRY POTTER FINALLY STEPPING INTO THE MASTER'S SHOES?

Dolores opened her mouth, then closed it, imitating a fish. She did the same again, and then again, but without any success. Finally, she looked at the Minister, and drew in a sharp breath, as if preparing to dive underwater.

"...How?" She croaked. "How did this happen? And why would you agree to this?"

Cornelius impotently clenched his fists.

"I β€” I spent four days in that hovel for you, Minister. I gave those vermin all those galleons to stage the motion against Dumbledore. Why would you do this? Why?"

Cornelius was caught between trying to digest his Senior Undersecretary's obliviousness to his current situation, process his own revulsion and horror at what had just transpired, and control his slowly-growing dread over the fact that his greatest supporter had just been neutered. Somehow, he managed to squeeze all that into some dark corner of his mind, and briefly described the mountain of misfortune that had struck him at the Rosier-Santos wedding. A red-faced, thunderstruck Umbridge listened to all of that without mounting horror, the grave realisation that so much had happened in so little time, and yet, she had been utterly oblivious about it all.

"And the worst part?" Cornelius wailed. "Harry Potter told me what he really wants! He told me all about his secret ambition, and he did it in front of the Spanish Minister of Magic."

Umbridge clutched her pink cardigan tightly.

"He said β€”" said Cornelius, now blue in the face from having spoken without a break, "he said he wants to be the Minister of Magic."

Silence reigned between the two for several seconds.

"He…. he actually said that?"

Cornelius suppressed the urge to throw up. The others might have thought the boy was only joking, but he knew better.

"He did. He admitted that he wants my chair before he finishes school."

"It's Dumbledore!" Umbridge crowed. "He's guiding Potter. He likely even told Potter what to talk about with the Spanish Minister. I swear that man is far more diabolical than we can even begin to perceive, Minister. Plans within plans. His secrets have secrets!"

"Dolores β€”"

"And Devereaux! There was absolutely no need for her to support that filthy halfblood over a prestigious family like the Malfoys. I've no doubt that she's actually in Dumbledore's pocket, and helped him fool the Spanish Minister."

"Dolores β€”"

"And that memory! How would anyone know how to get access to Draco Malfoy's β€” I'll bet my right arm that the entire thing was fabricated, and they used the wedding to make the Malfoys look bad. It was all a planned setup! Very clever! Do you see, Minister? Yes, very clever! Minister β€”"

"DOLORES!"

That shut the idiot woman up.

"...Yes, Corβ€” Cornelius?" she asked weakly.

Cornelius sighed. "It does not matter. Not anymore. I don't know why Lucius's son would do something so stupid. It makes no sense."

"Perhaps he was Imperiused?" Dolores suggested.

Cornelius froze for a second, weighing that possibility for a moment. It would definitely make sense. Draco's sudden desire to play that particular memory in front of everyone, and standing like that, oblivious to the memory or its contents, and then behaving so erratically in the end. And the constant claims about Potter and Greengrass having something to do with it β€” could he have been imperiused? Nobody had checked for that, what with it being Spanish grounds, but who knew? Perhaps the old crackpot had taught Potter some way to cast Unforgivables without his wand? One could never know! That man likely forgot more magic than most people even knew.

It was a perfect setup. Draco and the entire House of Malfoy had been played like fools. But it wasn't too late. It wasn't too late. He was still the Minister of Magic. He could authorise the DMLE to perform diagnostics on the junior Malfoy and β€”

He froze for a second time, and deflated.

"...Cornelius?" asked a concerned Umbridge.

"It β€” it doesn't matter," he said, feeling something die within him. "We β€” I had an agreement with Potter and the others. One of the points I focussed on was avoiding further DMLE involvement, from any of the involved nations β€” to help Lucius save face. Especially if Draco or that Chang girl had any further plans to derail Potter."

"But that means β€”"

Cornelius heaved. "It means I let Potter and Greengrass get away with a perfect crime. I asked for no DMLE prosecution, and we all signed that agreement. I can't do a single thing to prove foul play now. Not after… everything else that happened."

"Everything… else?"

Cornelius wanted to cry. Instead, he just threw out the day's unpublished edition of the Evening Prophet. "This is going to become news any moment."

On it, was printed in bold headlines β€”

LUCIUS MALFOY IMPEACHED! BENJAMIN NOTT ELECTED AS CHAIRMAN!

HOUSES WILKES, HAYWOOD, ROSIER, FAWLEY AND PARKINSON BREAK OUT OF DARK ALLIANCE!

HOUSES WILKES AND PARKINSON TO JOIN THE SELWYN BANNER!

HOUSES HAYWOOD, FAWLEY, CHANG AND ROSIER IN TALKS WITH HOUSES GREENGRASS AND POTTER!

WILL HARRY POTTER OWN THE WIZENGAMOT?

Come Winter Solstice, the Wizengamot would meet for its biannual session, where the different houses would pledge to their changed factions. He'd watch as the Dark Alliance would officially crumble before his own eyes, with a shard of it retained under Benjamin Nott's leadership. The Potter-Black-Greengrass Alliance would become the largest and most influential block on the Wizengamot, and Harry Potter would win.

Harry Potter would win, and there'd be nothing he would be able to do about it.

"Dolores," he whispered. "How are you faring on the reconnaissance front? You assured me that you'd find evidence against Potter and Dumbledore."

Dolores made a face. "I'm working, Minister. I got a horde of information about Potter and his dastardly acts over the last several years. Unfortunately, even his minions believe his lies, so it's difficult to gain solid evidence. But I'm tracing things back, and soon we will know how deep these lies go. We will know what Dumbledore was planning all along. I just.. I just need a little more help from you, Cornelius."

Hope blossomed in his chest. Bless this woman! Even in such desperate and troubling times, she was doing her best to support him. Even for her origins, Dolores had her uses. Lucius was absolutely right to retain her services. How terrible that he wouldn't be able to meet with Lucius now. The troubled man was too busy keeping himself and House Malfoy afloat.

"What?" he whispered. "What help?"

A frightening intensity came across Dolores' features. "I need your permission to access the Ministry Archives, Minister. If I have to catch Dumbledore red-handed, I have to operate in the fields I work best. I need to dig deep into his past."

"What… what are you hoping to find?"

"Information," said Dolores. "Information about a very select group that operated during the last war. Auror Dawlish helped me get access to the DMLE Records, and I found that for whatever reason, Bartemious Crouch, then DMLE Director, sealed all information about them. I need to bypass his authority, and access the Archives myself, and for that, I need your permission."

"You have it," said Cornelius, feeling another breath of fresh air visit his lungs. "This group, what is it called?"

Dolores gave him a most promising smile. "They called themselves The Order Of The Phoenix."


N: Sorry for the slight delay. Update Schedule for this month - 8th. 10th. 17th. 20th. 25th. 29th.

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