Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home
And lo, it is ended.

Robert Frost

Chapter 20 – "Crux-ification"

Remus apparated from Harry's warm, quiet flat into the noisy morning chill of magical London, breath catching in his lungs at the sudden change of scenery before him. At least two thousand people lined the streets, bunched in loose groups of like-minded individuals. And in front of him, waiting at the pavement edge, was Severus, robe hood thrown over his head as he looked at Remus from under the cowl with a scowl only Lupin would recognize as a smile.

"You're slightly late. But good morning nonetheless," he rasped lowly as Remus walked over, eyes nervously tracing the never-ending sea of people.

"Severus…All these people….I can't believe this."

"And why not?"

"Shouldn't they be in Ministry hall by now?"

"By law, Forum attendance is limited to 3,000."

Remus wiped at his face and went a shade paler.

"It's….there aren't 3,000 people in there."

At that, Snape's eyes narrowed in unusual amusement.

"They've expanded the hall, Lupin. Attendance has reached legal capacity for the first time since the post-war crime hearings….But come now, our time is limited."

They immediately started towards the towering Ministry building, Severus threading carefully through the crowd and calmly checking over his shoulder to look at Remus, who unflaggingly eyed the large pack of Lycanthropes gathered ahead.

"Severus, I think they all came!"

"Yes….And the Lycanthropes are very much aware that they cannot attend."

"They might not let me in, either. 'Wallis updated the roster yesterday, but it could be messy."

Severus shook his head, slightly breathless from exertion as the building grew closer.

"The entrance waiver you obtained last month is still in effect….And because you worded it as a blanket clause for Forum speakers, it shall cover Cretagus Grendil's attendance, as well…..But the others, of course…."

Remus nodded, shifting to let several people by as he continued to walk.

"I know, Severus….It just doesn't seem right."

The werewolves wore dress clothes and were the quietest of the masses lining the streets. A large magical screen behind them ran a list of faces and names – those who had died in LCH since its inception, many of the lost souls laughing and hugging friends and family in captured seconds. For a moment, Remus saw young Marcus Hale flash across the screen, smiling, flanked on either side by his proud parents at Hogwarts graduation.

Lupin's face tightened in sudden hurt and he looked away from the images of the dead, shifting to the living group below who stood amidst signs and banners in calm vigil, barely even talking amongst themselves.

Remus understood. Despite the boiling anger within them, they convened quietly, frustration in check, and had arrived dressed in their best clothes. Shabby but tidy, they would to prove to the masses that they deserved to rejoin society once again as equals. Yet…Remus couldn't help but notice that they stood out in the streets like oil in water, those untouched by Lycanthropy keeping their distance.

As they reached the quiet pack, Remus pulled his robe hood farther down, breathing out in nervous frustration. God, he wanted to talk to them; but he had promised Moody he'd walk the streets incognito until he reached the Ministry doors and identified himself to the guards.

Moody knew the crowds would teeter on rioting all morning long and didn't want any one group losing it over something they couldn't explain. He was right, of course. It took such a small spark of uncertainty to light insurgence.

But as Remus and Severus shuffled through the werewolves, Fletcher Kelly, wearing an oversized waist coat and undersized trousers, turned in shock and began a furtive chase, dodging jaggedly through the crowd to grab the taller hooded man's sleeve.

"You! Hey, mate!"

Remus kept walking but cut his eyes to Fletcher, a finger to his lips before he touched the other man's shoulder in greeting.

"Lupin?...Merlin, Lupin, you're alive!" the man managed, stopping Remus with a long, rough hug before he pulled back and whispered, "I know your smell," and Remus returned his grin, glad that Fletcher caught him.

"We can't afford to dally," Snape warned, annoyed by what he considered small talk in light of the day's schedule. And the two kept on with Fletcher in tow, moving slower as the crowd thickened near the Ministry building's edges. Lupin's voice was low and guarded when he said, "Fletcher, I'm sorry for not stopping, but I shouldn't talk to anyone, not until the forum has ended…..Very few people know I'm alive."

"Hell, I imagine, but, God, it's bloody wonderful to see you! And don't worry, I won't tell anyone."

Fletcher grinned broadly, matching Lupin's gait as they slipped lithely through the human thicket, constantly moving. For a second, Lupin turned, his eyes catching the deep scars clefting Kelly's face.

"From the last moon?"

"Yeah….but I was a helluva lot better off than you when I woke…There musta been a barrel's worth of blood coming out of your cell!...I came to in the morning….blood everywhere…..I watched that Potter boy drag you out, deader lookin' than a doornail. How'd you manage to make it through that?"

Remus just smiled gently, eyes moving inward for a moment.

"Everything happens for a reason. Perhaps I had things to do first."

"We all do, mate. We'll stay out here all day, all week if we have to, until the decisions go down. And we've already talked it through. If it's denied, we'll leave quietly and plan for the next move. The next peaceful move. We all know how it is, mate. We can't afford violence. People watch us with spyglasses…all the time."

Remus let out a breath. He'd worried about that possibility all week – violence if it all went to hell, the werewolves boiling over…And Kelly could see the pent up tension in Lupin's face.

"Don't worry, Lupin," he said reassuringly. "We can't go in there, but all our friends and family could. We got reps in the seats. Lots of 'em. And we'll stay out here 'til it all ends."

As they neared the final barrier where only Forum members, Ministry employees, and pass holders could continue, Fletcher gave an ironic laugh.

"But for now, I gotta stay in the backyard with the rest of the dogs."

Remus put a tight hand on Kelly's shoulder, the squeeze of his fingers saying a thousand things.

"When this is all over, Kelly, I think you and I deserve a few drinks together, after everything we've been through."

Fletcher's scars went dark as he tried to keep his emotions in check, but he quickly lost the battle.

"Whatever goes down today, Remus Lupin, for better or for worse, you got yourself a deal. The best of British luck to you! You go in there with all our hopes!"

He shook Lupin's hand in both of his and quickly disappeared, the crowd enveloping him as he withdrew. And in a few scant steps, Remus and Severus reached the towering Ministry entrance, grey stairs trailing several flights upward to four enormous doors where black-clad guards, glowing blue from their magical riot shields, stood at attention, unholstered wands in their gloved right hands.

Severus took two steps alone then eyed Remus, who stood frozen and unmoving, staring at the trail upward. The potionsmaster pulled out a black metal pocket watch and gave it a quick glance then impatiently clicked it shut.

"You have nine minutes to enter the Forum hall before they lock the doors."

"…This is it."

"Yes, this is it."

Severus reached down and grabbed his arm, pulling him forward. But as Remus began to walk, Severus cleared his throat, fingers clenching and unclenching around his cane.

"Lupin….Grendil will present my report…alongside his study of the mass wolfsbane administration this past full moon."

Remus looked at him sharply.

"You're bowing out," he said in disbelief, tinged with anger. But Snape's answer was adamant and resigned, each word slow and succinct.

"I am simply leaving my report's presentation in the hands of one who is unknown to this world. The ill will concerning my name is no help to you or this cause. I have told you that from the beginning, and since Grendil has now agreed to take part, it is in the best interest of the Forum that he assumes this duty."

With each step upward they moved away from the bustling crowd below into a quieter sphere, even more electric with the morning's tension.

"Walk in with me…By my side, Severus."

Snape's sharp brow immediately furrowed and he said lowly, "That would only exacerbate things."

Remus stopped.

"Will you do this for me?.….As my friend?"

"The Forum seating area allows for six people only. Cretagus is taking my place."

"Then sit beside it. Sit with us."

After a few loaded seconds, Severus sighed and looked to the heavens; and Remus allowed himself a smile, knowing Snape well enough by now to tell when he had caved.

"So in we go," Remus said, and Severus just dipped his head slightly.

"In we go…quite."

Sharply-dressed guards immediately took their wands. Remus endured several magical scans and had to unbutton his clothes twice to show his registry number, while security poured over his paperwork, finding everything in order but exchanging whispered, confused conversations with their superiors before allowing him to pass.

And then, in a strange and heavy daze, as if in a dream, Remus found himself standing at the main hall's twin doors – tall, heavy and maple with brass handles cast like arching dragons returning to water. A cold trickle of sweat ran down his back.

"Thank you, Severus."

In reply, Snape just put a palm on the second door to match Lupin's and they pushed the doors open decisively, walking in side by side.

On the 28th tier, Nymphadora Tonks sat by Molly Weasley and shifted nervously in her seat as she studied the crowd. The entire auror force was there, scattered strategically throughout the hall to cover every nook and cranny; and for the tenth time in an hour, she touched her tucked-away wand in reassurance.

The magically-expanded room was gargantuan and even larger upwards, 3,000 people nestled in tier upon tier. And as the two men came into view, two battle-worn veterans walking down the narrow aisle below, a wave of murmuring gasps began until the building buzzed like a giant hive of humanity and confusion. Tonks' heart jumped in her throat to finally see him, pale and clean-shaven, his long hair in order but combed awkwardly, the cut too long to manage. And, Merlin, he had worn that threadbare brown suit. It was patched and pressed but sad nonetheless.

"Oh, I could have cut his hair!" Molly Weasley hissed in Nymphadora's ear and Tonks just smiled and whispered back, "He wouldn't let me cut it. And he wouldn't let us buy him new clothes. He said, 'This is who I am.'"

"He's a stubborn man," the matriarch said, shaking her head. Under other circumstances, Tonks would have smiled. But she couldn't muster it this morning.

"Oh, I'm well aware."

Much to Lupin's surprise, the collective hum blanketing the hall slowly morphed into scattered clapping. And as the cacophonic crowd grew even louder, several people disappeared with a fast pop, silencing those around them.

From the raised Ministry platform, Scrimgeour recovered just enough to lean into his wandophone and steadily say, "We will have it quiet in here. I remind those in attendance that if anyone's voice registers above 25 decibels or you move within one meter from your chosen seat, you will be automatically apparated outside the building and will not be allowed readmittance."

Remus focused on the seating area ahead; but when the clapping began, he looked carefully about and managed a nod, shocked to see how many faces looked back at him in approval…..And he sensed her, surrounded by an aura of lavender and soft pink only he could see, halfway up the tier, her hands clasped in front of face with worry.

I love you. It will all be okay.

Lupin's words sounded in Nymphadora's mind, clear as the voices of those around her; and when she nodded, he smiled before turning back to the long aisle ahead.

As they reached the Forum block, the other members immediately rose and welcomed him, something of reassurance in their firm hands. And when Remus finally sat, Scrimgeour stood as if to counteract him, his voice rising well above 26 decibels. Apparently, the hall's sound law didn't apply to everyone.

"Auror Moody, you are aware, I'm sure, that this man was listed as deceased during the recent London City Holding investigation?"

Sitting next to Harry, Moody stood with a grunt and Remus caught his godson's eyes. The two exchanged a small nod just as Moody stated, "Yes, Minister. Because the auror force had ample reason to believe his life was in grave danger, Mr. Lupin was placed under our protection. You will find that all the paperwork for his case was submitted within the allotted time-frame and is in order at the main auror office….if you wanna see it."

Scrimgeour's mouth opened and closed, wild hair matching the confusion in his eyes; but he finally regained decorum and stiffly moved to the podium, warily considering the enormous crowd.

"Very well then….It is 9:00 AM…..And it appears that our Forum committee for today's agenda is now complete…with one unexpected substitution and one addition…that was…until recently….subtracted. Now then…"

As Scrimgeour began, Remus slowly trailed his eyes upward until they landed on Dolores Umbridge, who sat near Scrimgeour's empty seat, her entire body shaking like jelly, her face furiously red like a toad in boiling water.

You won't live to see another moon, you goddamned abomination. Not another moon. And that greasy haired gimp leg bastard beside you, either. How DARE YOU….

Remus had to stop himself from sending her the things he thought. She'd have him arrested on the spot. But he could see her thoughts in her pin-point pupils, in the shaking of her shoulders…..Merlin…if they managed to get through the day without rampant bloodshed, it'd be a miracle.

He held her beady, livid gaze for a full minute then gave her a small, loaded smile and looked back to Scrimgeour, serious.

"And so we will hear today from the six forum members, each of whom have fifteen minutes allotted to speak and no more. We will also hear from ten representatives of our world who have requested the allotted five-minute platform available for responding to the issues at hand. At the conclusion of forum presentations, the Ministry will distribute magical ballots to those in attendance, and the council will convene for a maximum of five hours. I must reiterate for this collective that although ballot votes are taken into consideration by the Ministry, the Council is responsible for the final decisions. And those final decisions may, of course, be veto'd by me, the Prime Minister. We will not take questions from the collective, and you are once again reminded to stay in your seats and keep your voices below 26 decibels. I now turn the Forum over to its first speaker…..Mr. Remus Lupin."

Moving carefully through the dead quiet, Remus walked to the podium and organized his notes, gripping the scroll edges in white fingers as he clipped them open, heart beating in his ears. He had the presentation down to fourteen minutes and fifty seconds.

Don't dally. Open your mouth and get moving.

With a strong breath, Remus began, the flowcharts Harry made ticking up behind him one at a time – concrete comparisons of this and that. The burden LCH placed on the taxpayers, on the Ministry and, by proxy, on its people. The beneficial programs their country had lost in order to re-allocate money to "the werewolf problem." The vast and unexplained expenditures of Dolores Umbridge's department. The wasted funds and the wasted lives. The rise in werewolf crime that coincided with advent of LCH. The lack of crime in the last thirty days, since lycanthropes had once again received a margin of liberty. He didn't deny that a problem existed but explained that it could be ameliorated in a cheaper, more humane manner – a manner that would benefit everyone. And with great alacrity and efficiency, he presented his ideas for a wolfsbane program.

"One dosage of Cretagus Grendil's new wolfsbane formula cost only seven sickles to create. It would cost the Ministry just 304 galleons to medicate 718 werewolves. With two potionsmasters, four potions assistants, two people to attend to administration the five days before the moon, and one auror representative to report those who haven't arrived for their dose, monthly cost of this program, as you can see from the chart behind me, would run 5,096 galleons per month. Assuming that each of these people was paid the properly allocated wage for his or her position, cost of this program would run 96,130 galleons less than what it currently cost the Ministry to "maintain" the werewolf population with London City Holding, in its present incarnation."

As he continued, Remus was surprised by the occasional nods, the interested faces, and the general aura of support emanating from the crowd. And before Remus knew it, he had wrapped up his presentation with twenty-five seconds to spare. As he took his seat, he couldn't relax, though. They had only touched the surface.

Marietta Brocklehurst and Cornwallis Fletchley both covered the legal issues of London City Holding, putting up several Ministry rules concerning civil liberties for all to see and circling stanzas magically in glaring red, which only intensified the horrors inflicted under the phrase "wartime adjustments."

Samuel Spinnet spoke eloquently on the dangers of history repeating itself, talking quickly but at length about the Dark Creature Massacre of 1308, the Salem Witch Hunts, and the riot lynchings that followed Voldemort's death (a violent embarrassment still fresh on everyone's minds.) And he ended with words that reverberated through the room, clinging to people like gossamer.

"We only wish to restore equal opportunity to a world that still desperately shakes from the blows of war. Mr. Lupin's presentation and the ideas outlined therein could help stop this sanctioned and unsanctioned civil violence in our land and foster peace. From the standpoint of economics, it would free up an enormous sum of money for our government to use more adequately -- to rebuild our freedoms, our hopes, and our liberties. And as we know, of these desires, liberty is the most tenuous. For it cannot be caged into a charter or handed ready-made to the next generation. Each generation must recreate liberty for its own times, and whether or not we establish freedom rests within ourselves."

Marianthe Brown, the historian of the group, took a more personal approach than expected, talking of her small werewolf son, who waited outside with his father, the fate of his young life held in delicate balance. And Daniel Hale talked of public misperception and how well he understood it, being a person who had once lived deep within the walls of prejudice…..before Fenrir bit his son.

"It's easy to label 'the other' at a threat, but when 'the other' becomes your brother, your lover or, in my case, your child, those misperceptions, that perceived threat, falls away. And you are left only with the soul of the person you love. Daniel was a brilliant, happy child; and after he was bitten, I saw how he suffered, not because he saw himself differently, but because the world saw him as such. And because of our world….because of our current laws, my beautiful son, who never harmed a soul…who graduated with honors from Hogwarts, who planned to attend university and study potions….He died alone on a cold floor in London City Holding. He died screaming for help as he slowly bled to death. He begged….for hours. And no one came. London City Holding killed my child….my beautiful child….and that woman sitting over there created the laws that allowed it."

From her high seat on the raised platform, Umbridge made a small noise, a short hum of disapproval but smiled with a tilt of her head as Hale left the podium.

Of the special interest groups who followed, Remus was shocked that three supported their cause. And of the seven that didn't, one speaker was actually swayed by what she had heard. Sherwin Diggle, a mother of four and treasurer of the Citizens for a Better Tomorrow, spoke only half-heartedly on behalf of her coalition, ending with heartening words.

"We are a group of concerned individuals. We worry about our country and its progress, and we act with the best of intentions….but I must add something of a personal nature….. It appears that terrible acts have taken place this past year under the guise of protection and patriotism. And this unsettles me. It unsettles me. After hearing what I have heard today, I realize that Citizens for a Better Tomorrow has been steered incorrectly on many things…by the media, by our leaders, and by our own deep-seated prejudices. We want what's best for our world, but I must ask….Are we supporting what is best? These acts…these violent, atrocious deaths, have been seemingly veiled from public view by those responsible for informing us…As an individual, I cannot completely stand behind CBT's current stance on these issues until I learn more, until I do what every citizen should do – search for the truth. We must not accept news passively like spoon-fed babies, for we cannot afford to be underdeveloped in our understanding of the world around us. And so, I have presented CBT's stance, and I have ended with my thoughts on the matter. Thank you."

She was the last speaker and; as Diggle descended from the podium, the massive room went still, vibrating with quiet tension as people shifted in their chairs, anticipating the next step. Scrimgeour cleared his throat and leaned into the wandaphone to say, "Does the lead speaker have anything to add?"

Remus blinked twice and looked around, slightly alarmed as Marianthe Brown pushed at his elbow, smiling.

"Go," she coaxed, and he could tell from her eyes that she was happy with the way things had unfolded.

"I didn't know anything about a closing statement," he whispered, and from behind him, Fletchley leaned forward and said in his ear, "This isn't common at all. Take the opportunity."

"Mr. Lupin?" Scrimgeour repeated with an edge of impatience, and Remus stood, wiping hands self-consciously on his pants as he limped over to the podium, unsure of what he would say until his mouth opened and the words began to fall out in careful, measured tones.

"……I am…..unfortunately…or fortunately…the oldest living Lycanthrope in the magical world…..Fenrir Greyback took a large portion of my life away from me as a small child…on one moonlit night….….And I took his life, not so long ago. For a short time, people called me a hero for doing that….but….the truth is that I killed him in anger. Instead of thinking of how I could make the world better, I took his life in fury….I killed him in vengeance, and that has haunted me. I tell you this, because people often do good things for terrible reasons and…terrible things for the common good. And most often, actions moving in either direction are harmful, in some way. The current path to making people feel secure from werewolves in this wake of war is misguided….I do understand how the current laws have happened, but I also realize that they are harmful laws, founded in an irrationality bred by war's fear and torment. Greyback's reign is over, yet werewolves untouched by crime or criminal intent have existed this past year within a newfound horror. Three-hundred and seventy four have died because of lack of treatment, have bled to death from easily treatable wounds; and because of our illness, we lack many rights that freely come to you."

Remus cleared his throat, looking down intently at the blank podium desk in front of him.

"We spend full moons in prison cells where the medication that could help us from hurting others as well as ourselves is denied….I wish I had the words to explain to you all what it's like to have an illness and then to have the one means available to you to ameliorate it snatched away…...When our government does this, it makes our illness our existence. Minister Scrimgeour, when you hinder goodness, when you define a people by their shortcomings, you kill their spirit. And when you crush a spirit, you leave someone with nothing but the flaws by which you identify him. Such an action breeds self-loathing and doubt, which festers into misery. And misery is the great killer of hope within us. When you create, by your own hand, a people with no hope, you create humans in which the monster surges. Perhaps this occurs more directly and more literally in Lycanthropes, but it is true of all people. We simply ask for the chance to be more…..to once again have the means to rejoin society. To each person here today, I'd like to remind you….that although we are all different, each and every one of us…. we are one. I desperately want peace for our world…..but peace shall never come completely until it comes for everyone…until people who have committed no crime are free from judgment, regardless of their physical ailments…. We've supposedly entered an age of new light and promise. Those of us who have survived LCH….We ask only to walk toward that new promise with you….We're grateful for your attendance and your attention….Thank you."

Clapping wasn't allowed, but Remus felt himself go scarlet when a good half of the crowd stood for him in silence, hundreds of bolted chairs creaking as the seats swiveled back.

As if to shorten any sign of approval, Scrimgeour immediately announced, "Thus, we conclude the presentation phase of Forum 93. Each of you will have a ballot appear before you. Please note that they are seat-designated. You have five minutes to fill them out, and when the last portion is completed, they will automatically transfer to our poll room. This Forum will reconvene in the next one to five hours after the Ministry Council has reached decisions on the issues at hand. You may leave your seat but not the building. That is all."

Severus stood with both hands resting on Dumbledore's cane and Remus didn't return to his forum seat but took the newly emptied one by Snape. Silently, he let his hands fall to his lap, his shoulders sagging in relief.

"You did well," Snape said with something of slight amusement playing in his eyes, but Remus just exhaled and said quietly, "It's over."

Snape watched the Ministry council file out, Umbridge throwing them all a look of pure fire, and he answered, "Lupin, it is far from over. In fact, it may have just begun."

Tonks found Remus talking uncomfortably to a large huddle of well-meaning people in the hallway and broke out her crowd control voice as she passed through group.

"Official auror business, everyone. I hate to drag him away right now, but it can't be helped. He has forms to sign." Several nodded warily. They all knew the grudging necessity of government paperwork; and as they dissipated, she broke out in a grin, lightly touching his coat buttons.

"Did you ever imagine it would go so well?" she said.

He looked terribly worried.

"I feel like we got through one hoop, but the next few will be in flames."

Tonks nodded and turned to look at the noisy crowd that jammed every square meter of the hallways.

"The auror force is evenly distributed throughout the building, and Moody is watching Umbridge like a hawk. She hasn't left the council room."

"She won't," he said. "If things don't go her way…..I can't imagine she'll do anything until this evening, but….."

Tonks turned back and looked at him, her eyes tight.

"Moody's ready. We all are, Remus."

In the final hour, Remus sat alone in a quiet, empty room he found on the supply floor. Looking out the window in silence, he watched the people below, moving slowly, their paces forming an ever-changing pattern on the light pavement, their shapes mutating as they crossed distortions in the blown glass pane. And he fell inward, succumbing to tethers that pulled nervously in every corner of his mind.

It all comes down to this..…The life of every werewolf….our families……Tonks and our child…Who would have ever thought in two short months so much could change…What will become of us…What is that woman doing right now…What…

Suddenly, Snape's rasping voice sounded quietly from behind him.

"Holed away with your thoughts….I should have known."

Remus didn't take his eyes from the window.

"How'd you find me?"

"Moody is constantly aware of your location. As is Potter, it seems. For your information, he is currently holding a meeting in the lower hall for what he calls….Dumbledore's Army."

Lupin smiled softly, folded arms tightening a bit more across his chest.

"Harry knows Umbridge well...She could unravel everything we've worked for in a heartbeat….."

"She could."

"I've talked to the other werewolves….If this ends badly, many of us will go to Germany…to the forest colony there."

Snape's long silence voiced his opinion.

"They're ferals, Lupin. You know that."

"But they're free."

"As usual, you anticipate the worst possible outcome."

Remus chuckled, finally turning to his friend.

"Probably the only reason I'm still breathing."

Snape gave him a rare, small smile and walked to the window, wincing into the light.

"I've not spent much time around Scrimgeour since the war….But from the bare reflections I see of him in the media….and watching the man today. He is but a husk of the strong-willed auror from years ago….Scrimgeour is….deeply entrenched in the social mores of political survival, it seems. And because of that, he will follow the majority vote. I assume from the number of people who stood as you left the podium, the majority will vote favorably. Do you not agree?"

Remus wanted to nod in affirmation but couldn't commit himself, and Snape just smoothed one of his eyebrows with a bony knuckle, realizing Lupin wouldn't answer.

"I've come to retrieve you. They're reconvening as we speak."

When Scrimgeour finally emerged, Council trailing closely behind him, the re-seated masses went silent. You could have heard a pebble drop as he approached the stand and absentmindedly adjusted his collar before observing the crowd over his bifocals, mouth pursed.

Remus carefully watched Umbridge. She looked calm, her heavy face serene as if she had just risen from a satisfying afternoon nap. God, what did it mean. In the high balcony, Tonks had already drawn her wand and scanned the audience like a hawk, heart pounding behind her eyes.

"We, the Ministry responsible for the governing of this world, as part of Forum 93, have heard statements from sixteen people on this day. We have reached a decision

concerning each proposal, and these decisions will now be officially declared……"

In the second row, Harry turned and looked behind him at Ron, sitting with Bill and Fleur five rows back…Neville seventeen rows farther and Luna in the second tier, as well as fifteen other members of Dumbledore's Army, fresh from their first meeting in a year and ready for action.

"Regarding the conditions, operation, and status of London City Holding and the proposal of a blanket wolfsbane program, we, the Ministry, have agreed upon the following alterations to the current system. For a trial period of six months, London City Holding shall remain open and operating in a manner similar to the past full moon. A wolfsbane program shall be installed immediately and a potionsmaster hired. We request that Cretagus Grendil remain involved in the program for the sake of scientific research and study. If he chooses to decline the position, another research potionsmaster shall be hired. Should the wolfsbane program prove its long-term efficacy, both scientifically and socially, and Lycanthrope social integration has been deemed successful, London City Holding shall be predominantly closed after a period of six months. A smaller holding establishment will be built for Lycanthropes new to our world who will be required to undergo full moon observation in a non-incarceration environment for a period of one year. Of those in attendance today 2,542 voted yea to changes in the system, and 458 voted nay. The Ministry Council voted in favor of change by a number of nine to one; and I, the Minister, have concurred with the majority."

As the masses murmured in approval, Remus closed his eyes in relief and felt several quiet, firm hands go to his shoulders.

"Regarding Section 97, which prohibits the legal hiring of dark creatures within magical commerce and society, we, the Ministry, concur that this law is a product of war and should no longer remain active in a time of peace; however, we do not agree that a new law promoting affirmative action should be installed in its place. Let dark creatures work alongside regular witches and wizards, neither favored nor denied regarding their employment opportunities. Of the 3,000 in attendance, 2,592 voted yea in favor of section 97's abolishment and 408 voted nay. The Ministry Council voted in favor of these changes by a number of nine to one, and I, the Minister, have concurred with the majority."

"Regarding Sub-statute B of Section 108, which states that Lycanthropes may not enter government-operated buildings and parks or ride public transportation, we, the Ministry, have determined this law to also fall under war-time concerns and have struck it from the ledger. Of the 3,000 in attendance, 2,847 voted yea in favor of abolishing sub-statue B of Section 108, and 153 voted nay. The Ministry Council voted in favor of these changes by a number of nine to one, and I, the Minister, have concurred with the majority."

Scrimgeour cleared his throat and shuffled through the papers in his hands before looking up briefly.

"And I do have an addendum….regarding a case that was brought up by Barrister Fletchley during his presentation…..a case mentioned briefly by several other Forum members, as well…. Regarding the incarceration of Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt after the divulgence of his Lycanthropy while attempting to enter Building 182 ¾ on the 23rd day of April, we have dropped his charges in light of Section 108's deletion. Effective immediately, he is referred back to his superiors within the Auror force to continue his former duties."

Tonks dropped her head and fought back tears, her fingers white around the wand gripped tightly in her hand.

Merlin, Kingsley…They did it.

"As for other considerations that were not included on the public ballot….Regarding Section 143, which outlines 'Crimes of a Sexual Nature' and sub-statute E that currently forbids Lycanthropes from taking non-Lycanthropic spouses or fathering children, we, the Ministry have concluded that this law is universally unethical and should be immediately struck from Section 143. The Ministry Council voted in favor of these changes by a number of nine to one, and I, the Minister, have concurred with the majority."

"And finally, regarding the alteration of the Werewolf Registration Program, we the Ministry find it in the best interest of our government to keep records of all conditions that could pose a threat to the general populace in the event of a lapse in treatment. Because of this, the current registration system shall remain in effect; however, the Ministry does support alternative methods of permanently marking the body other than firebranding. These magical techniques shall be resumed immediately and the burning of symbols on the body abolished………"

"In closing, let me say that many practices are initiated in war, because they are needed. They are required to maintain order. The Forum system was started by myself two years ago to provide a voice for the people, to allow me to gauge when certain restraints upon our world should be relinquished and when they should be retained. Today is a magnificent example of our government at its best. We have chosen to drop one more necessary shackle installed during the war and move on to a better tomorrow. In the words of Mr. Lupin, let us all move forward together. I thank you all for your attendance. This marks the completion of Forum 98."

But just as Rufus Scrimgeour banged his gavel to release the masses, an audible pop sounded and Dolores Umbridge disappeared.


Author's Note:

First things first, paper citations! Several sentences of Samuel Spinnet's closing statement quote Florence Ellinwood, who played a very important role in procuring voting rights for American women. Go, Florence! :)

Hope this installment wasn't too…governmental… I tried to deal with everything without sounding like the Congress was in session, but that was hard to pull off.

I wrote the last three chapters simultaneously, skipping from one to the other, and the rough draft of this one kept getting longer and longer. By the time it reached 48 pages, I figured the best thing to do was divide it and polish the first half so I could get it out to you. The second half (now chapter 21) will be up the week of June 4th (I promise!) and the final chapter and the epilogue very soon after that. By July 1, Blood will be entirely wrapped up.

This and the next installment are, without a doubt, the hardest things I've ever tried to write, so I hope it doesn't show.

21 smacks somewhat of sweetness and light, but 22 will taste of foul darkness! (evil cackle) Look for some cameos and, unfortunately, a character death or two. Thank you for sticking with me, guys. Love and peace to you all,