Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter and I am making no money from writing and posting this story.

AN: Well, what can I say? It's been a while, huh? An absolute ton of stuff has happened since my last update up to – and including – my having to get to grips with Middle Egyptian grammar since I finally started university, moving house, and studying like you wouldn't believe. So this was shunted down to very near the bottom of my priorities list. Sorry, but, RL unfortunately has to come first.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the chapter and that it was worth the wait.

Red Sun Rising

By Evandar

Chapter 24

'This is

Where heroes

And cowards

Part ways.

Light the fire, feast

Chase the ghost, give in

Take the road less travelled by

Leave the city of fools

Turn every poet loose.

Heroes, cowards, no more.' – 7 Days to the Wolves, Nightwish

Lucius rested his chin on one delicate hand and watched the proceedings with interest. Minister Fudge has been dragged before the Wizengamot to explain exactly why he had seen fit to leave the country as it descended into a state of outright civil war. The man was truly useless: he couldn't even manage to spit out his own excuses properly, making him sound like the bumbling idiot he was.

It was the crowd that was the most interesting, however – watching Fudge was fairly embarrassing, actually – it was like watching vultures circling over a dying animal. The Wizengamot would elect a new Minister after they had dealt with Fudge – it was an open secret that nothing he could say could save him from disgrace and a forced early retirement – and there were several spectators hoping to get elected themselves. Familiar faces filled the room, Lucius had entertained most of them at dinner parties over the years and he could feel the gazes that locked onto him every so often. They were wondering whether he had a change at the position; whether they were competing against him.

Lucius had wondered that himself – grateful, not for the first time that the secrets of his family history were locked away from prying eyes – but he had decided that affected nonchalance was a much better look than the predatory expressions of his potential rivals.

There was, after all, nothing worse than public humiliation…as Fudge was currently proving to them all.

It was also interesting that Dolores Umbridge, one of the Minister's most vocal supporters, had managed to drag herself away from the fortress she had turned Hogwarts into to watch. She was one of the most predatory looking spectators in the room; her betrayal of Fudge's ideals and her own hypocrisy clear for all to see. Lucius wondered if she would follow any new edicts made by the new Minister over Hogwarts' future or if she would continue with her tyrannical regime regardless.

Judging by what he had heard from Draco – before the brat had stopped speaking to him over his relationship with Arthur – he doubted that she would heed any rule but her own now.

He could only hope that his Lord's orders for today had got through to Severus in time. If there hadn't, there would be unpleasant consequences for everyone involved. Things had to move very quickly now, and they had to gather their strength for the final battle. If anything at all went wrong now then they would fail.

HPLV

The whole of Hogwarts felt different now, without Umbridge lurking in its halls. The brief reprieve and the joy it brought could be seen in the face of every student that Severus passed on his way through the halls. It felt as if a shadow had been lifted from over the school. But Severus could not relax; unlike his students he was not granted such luxuries. He had an important task to perform, one that would ensure the fall of the Light and dispose of Umbridge forever.

In truth, Severus was rather looking forward to the coming bloodshed. He hoped to get at least one good hex in before the toad-like woman was vanquished. Who, exactly, would kill her was unknown to him, but he really hoped that whoever it was would do a brutal job. He would hope to do it himself, but his Lord had ordered for his focus to remain on pacifying his students during the attack, and Severus knew that that obeying orders was far more beneficial to his continued existence than taking his revenge on the woman who had been the bane of the school since the start of the year.

He moved swiftly through the corridors of the school, heading down to the lowest levels of the school to where the object his Lord had sent him was guiding him. The object looked like a kind of compass, only it was crafted from black metal and the face had no directions displayed on it. Instead the needle pointed towards sources of magical power, and currently it was locked onto the keystone that held up Hogwarts' wards.

Apparently Lord Voldemort had managed the impossible: he had managed to find a way to alter the ancient wards of Hogwarts in a way that would allow his followers swift and easy access to the building without being splinched or causing the school to go into automatic lockdown. Severus had always known that the man was a genius, but he had to wonder how exactly his Lord had managed it. He couldn't help but wonder if it was anything to do with the vampire that his Lord had taken to consorting with recently.

He had often bought potions supplies at Vesper's shop and he knew better than to underestimate the vampire's abilities. That was why he wondered if the vampire had decided to aid Voldemort by passing on his knowledge of archaic magic. It would explain why Voldemort felt that he had a chance in taking on the wards of Hogwarts – long renowned as the most powerful wards in the country. They had, after all, been added to over the school's long history, and were layered and woven together in a supposedly impenetrable way.

Not even Dumbledore had had a full grasp of the wards' abilities…but Dumbledore had fallen, hadn't he. He was dead at the hand of an unknown assassin sent by a Dark Lord who had considered him – perhaps rightly – to be so far beneath him that he wasn't worth a death at his own hand.

Severus pushed thoughts of the old headmaster out of his head. He had respected the man, despite his loyalties to the Dark Lord, but now was not the time to reflect on that. The black-metal compass was leading him deeper into the school, down corridors he had not seen before; that had not been travelled for centuries. Now was the time for Severus Snape to focus on his task.

Now was the time for him to prove his worth to the Dark Lord.

HPLV

A loud crash echoed down the corridor and Voldemort sighed. He had never been so tempted to hex the Hell out of his followers' children before, but now he had to actively suppress the urge to torture the lot of them…except Longbottom, maybe. That boy seemed to have more self-preservation than the others; he was keeping out of the war that had erupted between Draco Malfoy and his future step-siblings.

Draco had not reacted well to Lucius' little personal matter. It was fairly understandable: the hostility Lucius had displayed towards Arthur's wife and family had obviously affected his son's opinions on them greatly.

Voldemort wouldn't have cared about this at all if the little snot hadn't deemed fit to try and destroy his house while attempting to prove just how unhappy with the news he was. He wished Lucius could control his own spawn better.

As it was, Voldemort was trying to ignore the actions of his second-in-command's heir and the Weasley twins' retaliations and had retreated to the seclusion of his private suite. Harry had decided to join him for the most part, seeing fit to just wander in whenever the racket got too much for him. Voldemort would have hexed anyone else, but he enjoyed Harry's presence in his chambers. The boy didn't grovel, didn't mince his words, and Voldemort didn't care; he was more than aware that Harry was one of the only people who didn't irritate him.

In fact, he missed Harry when he wasn't around. He hadn't expected that. Apparently Vesper had known what he was doing when he had arranged their wedding contract.

There was another crash – it sounded expensive – and someone shouted. Voldemort covered his eyes with a long-fingered hand and groaned. He would definitely have to intervene at some point, he just didn't want to leave the sanctuary of his chambers.

Maybe he would wait until Lucius got home and then order the man to take control of the chaos his son was causing. Then he could watch Lucius suffer.

The door to his private sitting room opened, and Harry poked his head round. He smiled tiredly – and somewhat apologetically – and opened the door wider to reveal several harried looking wereleopards.

"Do you mind sheltering them for a bit?" he asked.

"What happened to their suite?" Voldemort asked, looking at Ari for an answer.

The girl winced. "Weasley-Malfoy family politics," she said. "They interrupted pack bonding time, and, er, destroyed the living area and a couple of bedrooms before we managed to kick them out."

"Managed?" Voldemort raised an eyebrow.

"We had been asleep," Ari explained, indicating their attire – they were all in pyjamas. "And we were trying not to maim them when we were rudely interrupted."

"Ah…" Voldemort sighed. "Come in then. Try not to make too much noise."

"We weren't planning on it," Ari told him. "Fur-piles are quiet."

The wereleopards then proceeded to arrange themselves on the rug in front of the fire place, draping themselves over one another to create a tangle of limbs and bodies. One by one they began to fall asleep, their breaths becoming deep and even. Ari, glanced sleepily at Voldemort one last time before she dropped off, and nodded her thanks before burying her face in the crook of Lauren's neck and drifting off into sleep.

"All were-packs do it," Harry informed him. "It's a way for them to bond; to become more comfortable with each other. Pack is family, but at the same time it's closer than that. For most lycanthropes, the pack is the only thing that they have to live for. That's why times like this are so important for them."

Voldemort nodded, not taking his eyes from the heap of slumbering teenagers currently on his floor. He had heard Greyback mention such things, and he realised that Harry must have been in such a situation at some point – he was the 'cub' of a werewolf, after all. And he was not stupid enough not to realise that the wereleopards and the werewolves he had among his forces had a bond with each other that transcended even that of the Dark Mark which most of them possessed. It was one of the many secrets to their strength.

Harry sat down next to him and leaned against his side. He tilted his face up and pressed a kiss to the Dark Lord's jaw, thoroughly distracting him from the wereleopards and their fur-pile. Voldemort wound his arm around Harry's shoulders and pulled him in for a more passionate embrace.

Harry had let him understand how mutual affection could create strength.

HPLV

The Wizengamot filed back into the room, filling up the rows of empty seats. Lucius looked down at them from where he sat, mentally going through each of their allegiances. Fudge had been sent home in disgrace, and the Wizengamot had moved to a more private chamber to select a new Minister of Magic. The results of their election, which had taken up practically the whole day, were about to be released.

Personally, Lucius didn't really care who it was they had elected. The Dark Lord's forces were more than enough to crush the Ministry anyway, and Lucius was bored of waiting – he wanted to get back to the Dark Lord's manor and get some sleep. He also needed to try and talk to Draco about the anti-Weasley tirade he was currently stuck on.

He barely looked up when the Head of the Wizengamot stood to deliver the results. He was an elderly wizard of considerable lineage who had an unfortunate tendency to make everything – even the most interesting of subjects – seem unbearably dull. His voice was frail and shaky, and he did not look particularly happy, as if he was unhappy with the verdict he was about to deliver.

"The next Minister of Magic, who won by a majority of two hundred and eighty seven votes, is Lucius Reichard Aurele Malfoy. 1"

Lucius blinked. People were turning in their seats to look at him, and it was clear from their faces that they too were stunned by the verdict. He…he was Minister of Magic?

Lucius almost laughed. Fate clearly hated him; at least his Lord would be pleased.

HPLV

Draco ducked round the corner, avoiding a hex that had been sent speeding towards his head by one of the Weasley twins. He didn't know, or care, which one it was, but it had been a close call. He held his wand in front of his chest as he peered down the corridor he had just turned into. It looked unfamiliar, and he could see no signs of damage, so it was clear that the Weasley twins hadn't followed him through here before. He had only put a hair lightening potion in their shampoo to make them look more like the Malfoys they were about to come; spending the day running from them spoke of a massive over-reaction on their part, in his opinion.

He edged down the hall, his back against the wall, shooting nervous looks in both directions. He knew that he really shouldn't be causing so much havoc in the Dark Lord's manor, but he hadn't been able to let the affront to what he had thought was family honour slide. How could his father have expected him to welcome Weasleys into the family after a lifetime of hatred; how had he been supposed to realise that it was only Molly Weasley that his father hated?

Draco also wondered how on earth he was supposed to act now that his whole world had been turned upside down.

"Malfoy, right?" said a voice.

Draco jumped about a foot in the air. He looked around wildly until his gaze came to rest on a tall man with long black hair pulled back from his face into a ponytail at the base of his neck. The man looked vaguely familiar at first, and then Draco realised with shock that he had seen a photograph of the man – looking decidedly more gaunt and unkempt at the time – in the Daily Prophet a few years ago. It was his mother's cousin: Sirius Black.

He drew himself up. "Yes?" he asked.

The man rolled his eyes and muttered something about 'his mother's attitude'. "Look," he said, loud enough this time for Draco to hear him. "You aren't making many friends right now. You might want to consider calming down."

Draco glared. "This is none of your business," he snapped.

"Of course it isn't," Black said sarcastically. "You aren't disturbing anyone at all with all the chaos you've been causing. Please ignore me and continue causing your father more grief."

That caught Draco's attention. "What do you know about it?" he demanded.

Black sighed. "I was in First Year when your father and Lucius Malfoy came out," he said. "And a few years later I found myself in a pretty damn similar situation 2, so I clearly know more about this than you."

Draco bristled. Even though he was curious, he did not like being talked down to. Black pushed himself off the wall he had been leaning against and moved to walk past Draco. He paused though, and looked down at Draco thoughtfully.

"Imagine if Blaise was pushed into marrying someone you hated," he said. "Imagine if he stayed with her just so that society would accept him and that you were made to marry someone you didn't care about at all. Imagine if you were then pushed to opposite sides in a war, but then, years later, you were given the chance to get him back. Would you really do any differently than you father's done?"

And with that he walked off, leaving Draco to stand alone in the dimly lit corridor to think over what he had said.

1. I had quite a bit of fun choosing Lucius' names. As I have previously mentioned, Lucius is French in this Fic so I went looking for French baby names and their meanings. Reichard apparently means 'strong power', which fits him because he is a pretty powerful wizard, while Aurele means 'golden', which I chose because of his (oh how superficial of me) hair colour.

2. When I say 'similar situation' here, I don't meant that Remus or Sirius were ever forced into marriage or anything like that. What I was referring to was the way that Sirius is the only one Remus can fall in love with, just like Arthur is the only one for Lucius, and that both couples were forcibly separated from each other for long periods of time only to get back together later in life.