Cerulean Silver vs. Amber Gold
by hikaranko

Summary: Ed has been put on his stupidest assignment yet: babysitting. Well, that's not what everyone else would call it, but to Edward Elric, it's exactly like babysitting... Over the months, Ed's learned a lot of new things, one of them being "never stick your nose in where it's not wanted." But now it's too late to back out. Something must be done, before the situation gets any worse... FMA/HP crossover. kinda sorta may possibly be slightly AU with HBP and with FMA. rated T for language.

Disclaimer: As much as I wish and hope and pray that one day I will wake up and have all the rights to have the Fullmetal Alchemist series, it has not yet happened. So FMA, my most favorite and the absolutely most brilliant manga series EVAR, belongs to Hiromu Arakawa (and Studio BONES). All things Harry Potter belong to J.K. Rowling... and this story belongs to me and MJade-1! ^_^

Author's Note: oh my God. I can't even begin to apologize for how long it took for this chapter to be finished. I had the worst case of writer's block EVER and it didn't help that MJade and I hadn't been in contact forever. Real Life took over and between the writer's block and finishing school and looking for jobs and having/losing boyfriends and moving to a different state (sob, why MJade, whyyyy) and drama up the wazoo... sadly, CSAG suffered a hit. RL does have to come first in our lives, (unfortunately?) but now that all the crap is out of the way, MJade and i were FINALLY able to sit down and hash this baby out.


Chapter 41
Prove Me Guilty

Without preamble the barred door swung open, making room for the tall, dark-robed man to pass through them and enter the small, darkened room. The words barked by the guard were jumbled and difficult to understand, but it was easy for it to be understood as "get in there and stay put" by any number of different standards. Either way, it made Severus Snape more than a little irate with the manner in which the Amestrians treated those who were being detained only for questioning, and he shook his head furiously as the guard's footsteps grew faint.

"Damn it all!" he hissed under his breath. "They should never have allowed that to pass... That imbecile of a minister..."

He finally looked away from the door, turning his head to scan the dark holding cell. Not that there was much to see: four stone walls and a bench on the wall opposite the door. Standard for most jails, though aside from being charmed to retain its prisoners, this one looked more like a Muggle jail cell than anything else. As Snape glanced around he spotted Draco sitting on the bench.

It was pitiful, a painful sight to behold. Draco Malfoy, who'd been such a strong, proud creature hardly a year earlier, now sat defeated and lost in the shadows of the cold jail cell. His clothes were rumpled and dirty from earlier events, his hair frazzled and unkempt, as though his hands had tore their way through the short locks one too many times. He cradled his head in his hands with his face hidden from view; though it was hardly necessary to see his expression in order to know what he was feeling. He drew in deep, ragged breaths that nearly shook his entire body with each exhale as though it pained him in a way that was far beyond the physical.

An almost sad look flickered over Snape's face, but was gone again in an instant. "Draco..."

The young man didn't answer.

"Draco... They moved your hearing earlier. Tomorrow."

Still no response. Snape took a step closer.

"Your trial is in a few hours. The best we can do right now is prepare for how you are to approach your case. To prove your innocence."

Not a word. He didn't even twitch or move at the sound of the other's voice. Snape's eyebrows knitted together a bit, letting out a frustrated breath.

"Draco, are you even listening to me?'

Finally, slowly, Draco lifted his head, his hair falling in a messy curtain over his face, his eyes lifeless and unseeing. It was as though he didn't even see Snape there and was looking past him - maybe even through him.

"They should..." His voice was soft and hoarse.

Hearing Draco speak at long last took Snape aback, but after a moment he shook it off, frowning slightly. "What?"

"They should take me..."

"What are you talking about?"

Draco blinked slowly, his eyes quickly becoming glassy. His voice had a slight tremble to it and he had to squeeze his eyes shut, as though that would help him get a grip. "The dementors... They should take me... I need to be locked up in Azkaban..."

Snape scowled. "Don't be foolish, boy-"

With a cry, Draco yanked his sleeve further up his arm, revealing the skull and snake symbol burned into his skin. The sight of it invoked the memory of that night in the clearing when the dark lord claimed Draco as one of his followers, where a mere boy had been given orders to murder a great and powerful old wizard or watch his loved ones suffer. Snape drew in a breath, his eyes narrowing slightly at the mark. A mere boy. He should've had his whole life ahead of him, and it was taken away by a tattoo on his arm.

"Look at this! This mark brands me for life! I'm always going to be this horrible thing! There's no chance of redemption for me! I am a Death Eater!"

Draco choked the words out desperately, cutting Snape off before he could even think about trying to give him any semblance of hope. He could barely keep himself from sobbing as it was, and he wondered idly if maybe being a Death Eater could help him be numb. He was supposed to be a cold-hearted killer now; he didn't deserve to feel as human as he still did.

"I'm no better than my father! I couldn't even save those that I... I-I couldn't! They could have died, my mother, Hermione..."

The professor's scowl deepened in disapproval as he strode over to grasp Draco by his shoulders, shaking him forcefully. "Draco, get a hold of yourself! Your hearing is tomorrow, you can still clear your name."

He squirmed, weakly attempting to escape the professor's hold on him. "I don't give a damn about clearing my name, Snape! I almost killed a man! Were it not for Elric, Granger, and you intervening..." He shook his head, redoubling his efforts to pry himself free of Snape's grip. "No! No, they're safer with me behind bars!"

"Draco, listen to yourself! You're acting like a child!"

"You don't get it!" he shouted, the sound wrenched from his throat in frustrated hysterics, hoarse and raw and trembling. "I'm a fucking heartless minion of the Dark Lord! They were all right about me, I'm just like the rest of them! I am cruel, ruthless, unfeeling... I almost destroyed Hogwarts letting them in the castle... THEY HAVE TO! THEY NEED TO TAKE ME TO AZKABAN! I NEED TO RECEIVE THE DEMENTOR'S KISS!"

Without warning, Snape reared his arm back and slapped him hard across the face. "'Safer behind bars'? 'Receive the Dementor's kiss'? Who are you trying to protect? Hermione? Your mother?" Snape's voice lowered, rough and demanding. "Or yourself?"

Immediately Draco stilled, coming down from his bout of hysteria as he stared wide-eyed at a section of the stone wall nearest him. Then he shut them again, clenching his jaw in frustration. His godfather watched him in silence, hands at his sides.

"Draco..." His voice was quiet, controlled. "I know you're in pain. I know you feel guilty. But you are not a Death Eater. Regardless of what you may think, having this mark on you does not make you a Death Eater."

Draco choked out a sob, burying his face in his hands, running them through his messy hair. He shook his head slowly, muttering his disbelief inaudibly against his palms. Snape didn't relent; he went on, his eyes locked on the younger man's form.

"A Death Eater would follow Voldemort's orders without question. A Death Eater would devastate others with relish. A Death Eater would not think twice about murdering those who are innocent..." His gaze dropped away from him for a moment. "I was once like that... Once lived for killing Muggleborns and blood traitors... once long ago."

Snape pulled up his own sleeve, revealing the Dark Mark emblazoned on his skin, bold and black and foreboding. "This mark... This mark made me a prisoner. A prisoner to my own desires, my own temptations. I was a prisoner of the Dark Lord, of Voldemort. I still feel trapped. Even more than I feel behind these bars."

He fell silent for a time, as though lost deep in his thoughts and in shadows of memories long past. And then finally, he looked up again.

"Draco, you are nothing like me. You are nothing like them. You did it to save your mother, you did it to save those you love. You protected Granger from Greyback and fought back the other Death Eaters. You are a good person though bad things happen to you. But because of that, you have the chance to change things. To free those who are also trapped."

For a long moment Draco remained silent, with Snape just looking at him with an expectant, albeit frustrated expression on his face. Ever so slowly, the haze in Draco's mind began to recede. He'd heard this somewhere before; the realization made the image of a pair of golden eyes burning holes into his skull flash in his mind. The words were different, but the message was surely the same: He was being selfish. Accepting death was the easy way out. Death won't help. At least while you're alive, you have the ability and the chance, the option, to do something to change things.

The tension in his shoulders was slowly released, and after another moment passed, Draco straightened in his seat a little and raised his head. And when his gaze met with Snape's, the older wizard had to admit to himself that seeing the fight back in those silver eyes was more than a small relief. His jaw set determinedly, Draco spoke once again, but this time his voice was strong and firm; a far cry from the defeated whimpering of just moments before.

"What must I do?"

Edward quirked an eyebrow upward and frowned, hands buried deep in his pockets as he shifted his weight onto his prosthetic leg. His eyes moved between Dumbledore as he sat behind his desk and Colonel Mustang who stood beside him. They'd spent the past short while discussing what had happened in that battlefield, more or less explaining it all to him in an indirect sort of manner, and so far the Fullmetal Alchemist hadn't uttered a word. He just looked at them, frowning, not quite sure what to think one way or the other.

Apparently, Dumbledore had taken it upon himself to extend Roy a special "invitation" to Hogwarts some time ago, to be used only in an emergency and to be activated at either Dumbledore's or another Order member's discretion. He'd also chosen to keep Roy as updated as possible after Ed had stopped submitting reports. So when tensions between Ed, Draco, and Hermione had escalated the way that they had, the colonel had been informed. Roy had then chosen to take Narcissa out onto that yacht cruise he'd given her as a present for Christmas, which was exactly where she still was at that moment: safely out at sea in the Caribbean. Roy had been retrieved from there by a few members of the Order of the Phoenix when the fighting at Hogwarts broke out and, after quickly gathering reinforcements from East City and Central, they used the emergency portkey to get to the castle in the nick of time.

Or so the two older men were telling him. This wasn't quite ideal in Ed's eyes. For one thing, it all seemed horribly convenient, even though he did know of the headmaster's tendency to know absolutely everything and only speak when he thought it necessary. And for another, he just wasn't sure he liked some of the implications there. He'd admit that the military intervention had been beneficial. But it made it seem as though his presence in the school had been, for the most part, unnecessary. Like the past year of torment that he'd endured had been for no reason other than for Mustang to get his jollies out of forcing Ed into staying in one place.

"Speaking of which, headmaster," Roy said calmly, "my men have finished transporting the Death Eaters from the school to your ministry's headquarters, awaiting their transfer to Azkaban."

"Good, good," Dumbledore replied with a nod. "Thank you..."

Ed turned his look over to Roy. "Including Malfoy and Snape?"

Roy glanced toward him as well. "Malfoy, yes. Snape proved himself guilt-free while being questioned and was just escorted back to his quarters. You didn't notice him?"

The frown on Ed's face only deepened, his eyes narrowing ever so slightly. "Even though he's a former Death Eater, he gets out scott free?"

"Professor Snape has very particular circumstances," Dumbledore answered in the colonel's stead. "I vouched for his innocence to the Ministry a very long time ago... But that brings us back in our discussion to young Mr. Malfoy and his situation."

Gold eyes snapped back up to focus on Dumbledore, watching him almost warily as he folded his hands and leaned forward on his desk. Ed's jaw clenched tight and he had to draw in a deep breath through his nostrils.

"What're they doing with him?"

The headmaster's gaze settled on Edward. "As promised, I have gone and spoken with the Wizengamot on his behalf. I'm afraid I was unable to convince them of Draco's complete innocence in the situation, but..."

Ed quirked an eyebrow. "But?"

"They've agreed to hold a hearing for him."

He let out a small, relieved breath. At least that was one worry off his shoulders. Though it was quickly replaced with the burdens of figuring out what anyone could do or say to truly prove his innocence. "Good, we can get testimonies from Harry and Hermione, gather up anything that could help us in our cause... We don't have a whole lot of time. When's it scheduled for? Next week?"

Dumbledore shook his head slowly. "No."

He relaxed a little. Good. If it was in a month's time, that was even better. "So when?"


Ed's jaw dropped. "What?"

Roy's eyes widened slightly, both eyebrows arching upward. "Headmaster, that- To be holding it so quickly-"

"'Quickly'? That's the understatement of the century!" Ed interjected, running his hands through his hair and ruffling it up in frustration. "This is fucking insane! That literally gives us no time! Like hell we can find anything to help build up our case in less than 12 hours! They're doing this on purpose! Bastards, trying to make sure they can convict Malfoy to Azkaban like this, just wait 'till I get my hands on 'em, they're gonna-"

"Fullmetal." Roy interrupted his ranting with a sharp glare in Ed's direction. "Calm down and for crying out loud, keep quiet."

Ed shot a glare right back, opening his mouth to protest further, but shut it again. He scowled and quickly looked away, shoving his fists deep into his pockets with an annoyed grunt. The colonel looked back up at Dumbledore, frowning.

"Headmaster, couldn't you request a later date? I'm afraid tomorrow is..."

"I know, it is much too quick for my liking... But I'm hoping this can be to our advantage. After all, we're lucky they agreed to having the hearing at all." Dumbledore then peered over the rim of his glasses at the younger man, eyes twinkling. "I assume you wish to be present, Edward?"

He didn't answer. Not that it mattered how he responded, since he was fairly sure Dumbledore was going to decide for him anyway. Ed merely frowned and glanced off to one side. Dumbledore smiled softly, nodding.

"I'll arrange for someone to take you to the proceedings before they begin."

His frown deepened, but he didn't turn to look over at the professor just yet. The headmaster was unperturbed, turning instead to look at Colonel Mustang.

"Thank you for your time, Colonel," he said with a nod. "You may go now."

Roy nodded back, snapping into a salute. "Yes, sir." He turned to Edward. "Come on, Fullmetal."

Ed let out a breath and started to turn as well, but just as he did so Dumbledore raised a hand. "Actually, I'd like to speak with Edward alone. If you don't mind, Colonel?"

The colonel stopped dead in his tracks, turning back toward the headmaster with a surprised blink. He then looked over at Ed with a quirked eyebrow. Ed didn't look one way or the other, just stared dead ahead, a deep frown on his face. He should've known Dumbledore would've pulled something like this, sly old man that he was. That was fine enough by him, though. Of course he had more to say, and many more questions. So without turning his head, Ed gave the colonel a barely perceptible nod in the direction of the office door.

Not that Roy needed his permission. Still frowning, he also nodded, but toward the headmaster. "Of course, sir."

And with that, he turned on his heel and swiftly left the office. Dumbledore looked after him for a moment, then turned to Edward again. He leaned forward on his desk, hands still clasped loosely in front of him, the ever benign smile on his face.

"Now... I believe you have questions for me?"

The frown on Ed's face deepened as he once again faced Dumbledore properly. As a matter of fact, he did. He had so many questions in regard to what exactly he was supposed to have been doing in Hogwarts all this time... He had even more questions about Dumbledore himself, but he wasn't entirely sure he would manage to get that sort of information out of him.

"Professor..." He paused for a moment, searching for the right words. "Why did you even bother bringing me here? If you knew from the beginning what Malfoy was up to, you could've stopped him all on your own. You probably could've actually stopped him from letting the Death Eaters in here. Why go to all the trouble of getting someone all the way from Amestris to wa-"

Dumbledore didn't even raise his voice as he interrupted. "You were needed, Edward."

Ed blinked, his tirade of questions momentarily stopped. "What... me?"

The old wizard nodded slowly, eyes twinkling.

"But... why me? I barely did anything. I couldn't even stop him from carrying out the bulk of his mission! I made a bunch of stupid mistakes, was way too careless and took it way too easy... But you could've stopped him from the beginning. You knew everything!"

"Perhaps... But merely putting an end to his actions would've been meaningless."

"No it wouldn't, the Death Eater's invasion on the castle would never-"

"You should know better than I," Dumbledore interrupted gently, "that Draco is a misled creature, Edward. He wouldn't have come as far as he has on his own. I needed you to be a friend to him, to help him realize that he had choices in spite of his predicament."

Ed frowned. "Sir, he never even listened to me. He barely talked to me, he didn't want any of my advice, let alone my friendship. I don't-"

"And yet somehow," Dumbledore said evenly, giving Edward an appraising look, "you still affected him to the point where he understood he could make a better life for himself."

The young alchemist shook his head, glancing off to one side. "But that's not what he's doing right now. He's allowing himself to be condemned to a soul-sucking prison."

"Only if the Wizengamot decides that doing so is necessary."

"There's no guarantee that they won't decide that, professor," he argued, glowering at a spot on the floor in front of him. "All the evidence points to him being guilty, when it's not his fault."

The headmaster didn't answer right away. In fact, a rather long moment of silence fell over the room and, in confusion, Ed eventually had to look up. And then he blinked, surprised. Professor Dumbledore was looking at him with an almost proud smile, hands still folded in front of him. If Ed didn't know any better, he'd have said the man was losing it.

"Edward." His tone was as gentle and mild as always, but with a slight fondness to it that Ed wasn't entirely sure he'd ever heard before. "I hope you can come to understand what a rare and extraordinary individual you are."

Ed blinked, confused. "I... What?"

"There are few people who've experienced the same things you have, Edward. Even fewer who are your age. I knew that only you could have done all that you have."

"Sir... I don't understand. What're you...?"

"Draco is going through a very difficult time. He is being forced to grow up very fast, made to take charge of his entire family at the tender age of sixteen. He doesn't know how to handle the change. He believes he must do it all himself, and seeking or accepting help from someone is a failure on his part. He thinks that no one could possibly begin to understand his predicament, let alone be able to help him..." Dumbledore paused, peering at the younger man over the rim of his half-moon glasses. "Does any of this sound familiar, Edward?"

A small frown had settled in over Ed's features. Of course it sounded familiar. He himself had gone through much the same thing, albeit at a much younger age. He supposed that did set him apart somewhat, but it was hardly anything extraordinary. There were lots of kids orphaned by war in Amestris. What's more, most any family in Amestris had suffered the loss of a loved one and enduring many different kinds of crises. Edward just happened to be one of them.

"He is much like you, Edward," the wizard went on, closing his eyes for a moment. "But in spite of all the terrors you have lived through, you haven't fallen into the depths of despair. You believe with all your might that all the pain will be worth it in the end. An equivalent exchange, correct?"

"Yes, but-"

"Draco needed such an influence in his life. An unbiased, outside opinion. A strong moral ground. I knew that someone in my position would not be able to reach him. My efforts to help him would have been viewed as meddling, perhaps even as threats to his goal, and be rejected. So I knew that only someone who would not be seen that way could hope to make any difference. Only someone like you, a peer who can speak from real experience and wouldn't appear to be trying to convert him to 'our side' of things. You were the only one able to give it to him." Blue eyes twinkled. "And that, Edward, is why you were needed."

Ed slowly shook his head. He just wasn't seeing it the way Dumbledore did... Draco had barely ever listened to him. Any kind of meaningful conversation between them had been few and far between; the Malfoy heir was just so difficult to get through to. Had what little Edward did during his time with him really affected so much?

Dumbledore leaned back in his seat, sighing with an exhaustion that seemed to extend from more than just physical weariness. "I apologize... It must seem as though I used you. I would have asked Harry to speak with him, but... unfortunately they do not seem to get along."

"There was always Hermione," Ed offered with a shrug. "She was obviously able to influence him more than I was."

"Ahh, Hermione..." The headmaster smiled, nodding his head. "Admittedly, I was unaware of what Miss Granger's role in all of this was. You were the one who pulled them to equal footing, Edward. I doubt she would have run up to the tower at all had it not been for your efforts."

He was looking at Ed again with that twinkle in his eyes, like he was a proud grandfather or something to that effect. Ed just stared back at him, bewildered. He hadn't known? But he knew everything... He'd predicted everything, figured out what was going to happen and how and who was needed, but he hadn't known about Draco and Hermione? It had seemed so obvious. And it had seemed obvious to Edward Elric. Someone who was just about as disconnected from every aspect of romance as one could get!

As though his mind had been read, Dumbledore spoke again, that amused look on his wisened old face unchanged. "It must be something one can only see when in the thick of things, as they say."

Ed's frown only deepened. He really wanted to believe the headmaster, but... It just wasn't happening. He let out a heavy sigh, shaking his head. "Sir... Either way, it's all out of my hands now. I did what I could, but nothing I do or say from here on out will change a thing."

"I wouldn't be so sure about that," Dumbledore said, his smile unwavering.

A single eyebrow slowly arched upward. What was that supposed to mean? Ed studied him carefully for a moment, searching his features for something - anything that might clue him in to what the headmaster was thinking. But as usual, the professor revealed nothing, keeping all of his many secrets to himself once more, concealed behind a mild, tight-lipped smile. Even though he'd gone and opened himself up to shed light on so much, it still seemed unfair that there was a limit on how much and what kind of information he could get out of him.

Before Ed could open his mouth to give voice to his questions, Dumbledore stopped him with a wink. "Now then. You will be coming to the hearing tomorrow, yes?"

Ed couldn't help but frown at the turnout for the hearing. In spite of their initial reluctance to even let Draco have a hearing, they sure as hell seemed to be all for making it as public as possible. He supposed that the capture of so many Death Eaters all at once would make for some headline news, but this was ridiculous.

"This can hardly be the Ministry's doing," Roy muttered.

"That doesn't make it any less annoying," Ed grumbled right back.

When Ed and Roy arrived they were greeted by a seemingly endless crowd of journalists, flashes from a million magical cameras going off from every part of the room. The air was buzzing with reporters dictating their notes on the status of the Ministry to charmed pens and quills, people demanding to be allowed into the hearing room in spite of the room being at full capacity, officials insisting that the majority of journalists there had no permission to enter. Those voices were all Ed could hear as he and Roy tried to push their way through. They were driving him mad before they even managed to get halfway through to their destination. Their connection to Dumbledore and Draco helped their cause, and eventually they managed to enter the hearing room in the Ministry basement.

It was situated in a large dungeon with walls made of dark stone, all dimly lit by torches. Benches rose on either side of the room, but straight ahead, in the highest benches of all, were many shadowy figures talking in low voices amongst themselves. In the very middle of the front row sat Rufus Scrimgeour, the current Minister for Magic, who looked rather like an old lion. There were streaks of gray in his mane of tawny hair and his bushy eyebrows, keen yellowish eyes behind a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles. There was an immediate impression of shrewdness and toughness to him, possibly just as battle-scarred as any soldier; it was easy to see why he'd been elected in such a turbulant time.

Paparazzi-wise, conditions were not much better inside the chamber. Much to the annoyance of everyone in the room, flashes were still going off intermittently from all sides, the sound of charmed quills scratching down notes breaking whatever silence could be found between testimonies. Roy led Edward to the back of the chamber, where they both leaned back against the wall, surveying the rest of the room. From there Ed could see who the other "special attendees" were: Snape and Narcissa were in the first row of benches, seated closest to where Draco was situated with Dumbledore standing by him; a pack of redheads that Ed assumed to be the entire Weasley family was on the opposite side of the dungeon; a group of people that Ed vaguely recognized as members of Dumbledore's "Order", Hermione and Alphonse amongst them. Hermione must have noticed him enter, as her eyes seemed to follow his every move. Not that Edward was hard to spot when he was sporting his familiar black outfit and deep red duster.

Up at the front of the room, Harry Potter shifted his weight from one leg to the other, looking around with a small frown. He was standing right under the scrutiny of every single one of the Wizengamot members and everyone in the audience. The weight of their gazes was heavy, almost unbearable, and it was all Harry could do to keep himself in one place.

"Thank you, Mr. Potter." Scrimgeour looked down at his papers, looking for all the world like he was going about rearranging them. "That is all. You may step down and take your seat."

Harry blinked, confused, looking from the face of one Wizengamot member to the other. "But I-"

"I said that is all, Mr. Potter."

"I haven't got to-"

"Please. Step down."

The older wizard was giving him a look as he made the command, and so, feeling dejected, Harry did as he was told. He turned and stepped off the stand, shooting an apologetic look in Professor Dumbledore's direction before moving to slip back in amongst the rest of the viewers. More flashes went off all around him, practically blinding him as he had to raise a hand to his eyes as he moved toward where Hermione and the Order members were.

Ed glared at Scrimgeour. What with that insane crowd in the upper levels of the Ministry, he and Colonel Mustang had arrived later than either one of them had anticipated. Apparently they'd just missed Harry's entire testimony. But Ed could tell, just from the way he'd been dismissed if not by the look on Draco's face, that things weren't going very well for him at all.

Scrimgeour turned to Dumbledore, folding his hands on top of the table. "Professor Dumbledore. Are there any other witnesses you'd like to call?"

Dumbledore looked up at Scrimgeour mildly, a small frown over his features. He took a brief moment to glance around the room, and for a second his eye seemed to catch where Ed was standing before his attention was back on the minister. "No, there are not."

Ed's eyes widened, jaw dropping slightly. No way. The trial was already over? He and Roy had only just arrived, hadn't seen a single one of the previous testimonies... And Scrimgeour was already on the verge of passing his verdict? Ed rounded on Mustang with a snarl.


"I know." Roy looked just as displeased as Ed was, frowning deeply with his gaze fixed on the minister. "I know."

The members of the Wizengamot stirred loudly as Scrimgeour leaned back a little in his seat. There was a smug air surrounding the minister now, like he was some kind of cat who'd just caught a canary. And Ed didn't like it at all.

"In that case, I hereby sentence-"


The sudden interuption caused a ripple in the audience as people turned this way and that to see who'd spoken up. Scrimgeour, however, knew exactly where to look and did so with both eyebrows raised. The people who had been seated nearby turned as well, looking right at Hermione Granger with expressions that were a mix of alarm and confusion. Hermione shifted uncomfortably under their gazes, eyes darting between the nearby faces of her friends, the minister, and Draco himself.

"Please... Please, wait just a moment."

Scrimgeour frowned. "And you are...?"

Carefully, Hermione rose from her seat. "My name is Hermione Granger, sir. I'm Draco Malfoy's... friend."

Draco twitched visibly in his seat. Both of Ed's eyebrows arched upward in surprise. His friend. That was certainly a step up from what she'd been ready to admit just a few nights ago. From where he was seated right next to her, Alphonse turned slightly and caught his brother's eye. Ed tried not to grin; He could swear Al was beaming, clearly proud of Hermione's step forward. Of course, no one else would've been able to tell unless he said something and his voice gave the feeling away.

"Well, excuse me, Miss Granger but we really don't have any more time to waste on this-"

"With all due respect, Minister... Doesn't the defendant get a chance to speak up for himself before you give your sentence?"

The murmuring started up again as different members of the Wizengamot turned to one another to see if this would be acceptable. Ed's frown deepened. Why hadn't they questioned Draco yet? It seemed like a very crucial thing to skip over just like that. It really was a good thing Hermione had said something when she did.

"I have made my decision, I have no obligation to let him have his say-"

"Actually, sir you do. I've read the whole Wizengamot Charter of Rights - twice - and it says in page 387, clause 62, 5th paragraph, 6 lines down: 'In the event that the accused, or his or her representative, has no further witnesses to call in his or her defense, the accused party has the exclusive right to make a final plea before the Wizengamot passes a verdict.'"

The exact citation left Scrimgeour dumbfounded, the Wizengamot members around him shifting and whispering to one another. Cameras all around the room were flashing again, journalists quickly scribbling down their notes to this new development. Ed could see the headlines now: 'Minister Shown Up During Trial by Teen Witch.' He could barely contain his grin at the idea. Hermione was a true bookworm through and through. A hopeless nerd. A real genius. He could've kissed her.

Dumbledore turned a pleasant smile up at Scrimgeour. "I believe Miss Granger is right, minister. But if you should like to refresh your memory..." He reached into his robes and pulled out a thick indigo-colored book with the Ministry of Magic's seal on its cover. "I just so happened to have brought my very own copy of the Charter of Rights. If you would like another look."

Scrimgeour's expression twisted slightly, but then he faced the rest of the room again, adjusting himself in his seat. "That won't be necessary, headmaster... Very well. Will the defendant, Mr. Malfoy, please step forward?"

With a quick glance in Hermione's direction, Draco stood up and did exactly that to a barrage of camera flashes. Ed's eyebrows arched upward slightly at the sight of him. He looked different from when he'd been taken away in chains; where before he'd looked like a complete wreck, shoulders sagging, rumpled and utterly defeated, his jaw was now set, his shoulders squared, his silver eyes ablaze. He looked for all the world like someone about to enter a fight, and Ed wholly wanted to believe that he was in it to win.

Scrimgeour regarded him critically for a moment, then cleared his throat. "Have you any further statements to add in your defense, Mr. Malfoy?"

The Malfoy heir straightened up to his full height, clearing his throat as well. "What Professor Dumbledore and Professor Snape, as well as Mr. Potter have said is all true. I did it." It looked for a moment as though Scrimgeour was going to pound his gavel and put an end to this, but Draco pressed onward, cutting him off. "Under the orders of Voldemort-" Most everyone in the room gasped loudly. "-I figured out how to let the Death Eaters into the school, as well as attempted several times to eliminate Professor Dumbledore."

The members of the Wizengamot turned to one another, quietly confiding their opinions to those closest to them. Ed frowned slightly. What was he doing? Not that he thought Draco should lie to the minister about what he was and wasn't responsible for, but an all out confession wasn't exactly the best way to start their final plea. He was supposed to be proving his innocence! Why wasn't he mentioning...

Draco raised his voice over the murmuring, putting an end to it. "However, I only did it to save my mother. Because I knew if I failed, her life would be in the hands of Voldemort and his cruelty."

Ed let out a breath and settled back a little. That was more like it.

Scrimgeour let out a yawn. "Are you trying to tell me, Mr. Malfoy, that you had no choice? That you played no part in the attack of the school?"

"No, I take full responsibility for that. What I meant was-"

"And are you saying that you were forced to kill Headmaster Dumbledore? That you were blackmailed by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named into doing it?"

"Well no, that's not exactly true. As you can see, he's still alive."

Ed caught a hint of an amused smirk on Dumbledore's face, that playful twinkle in his blue eyes. Scrimgeour, however, was not so amused by Draco's glibness.

"It's also true," Draco went on, "that I tried to kill him three times. First with the opal necklace, second with the poisoned mead, and third, face to face, with a killing curse. But apparently, even confronted with Professor Dumbledore directly, I couldn't do it."

"Am I to understand, Mr. Malfoy, that the only reason you failed to do it was because a..." He bent over his papers to double check, then leaned back again with a quirk of his eyebrow. "... Mr. Elric intervened?

"Yes, that is correct-" Suddenly, Draco stopped for an instant, hesitating in his own testimony before pushing onward. "Mr. Elric used an expeliarmus spell to disarm me, but-"

Ed went rigid, eyes widening. "What?" he hissed under his breath, causing the colonel to glance over at him. "What the hell- The bastard's lying!"

Scrimgeour suddenly looked a lot more comfortable. "So were it not for Mr. Elric's interference you would've done it."

"Yes. However, I..." Draco trailed off, brow furrowing in thought.

"Yes, Mr. Malfoy?"

Draco was quiet for a second, still with that thoughtful look settled over his features. His eyes briefly darted to the side, toward Hermione, then went right back to the floor. He seemed troubled for a split second, but then it vanished as he turned his gaze back up onto the minister.

"Nothing. Nevermind, you're right. That's how it happened."

Liar. Edward was suddenly livid, fuming quietly with his fingers clenched tight into the fabric of his sleeves, glaring down at both Draco and the minister. What the hell did that asshole think he was doing? Where was the fighting spirit Ed had seen in Draco's eyes not fifteen minutes earlier? Why wasn't he going to bring up the girl who'd saved his ass again just now?

"Well, then. The verdict is settled." Scrimgeour straightened in his seat, seemingly trying to hide the contentment he must've been feeling over this victory of his. "Draco Malfoy, for the crimes of attempted murder of the headmaster as well as providing aid to the Death Eaters during the attack on Hogwarts, you are sentenced to-"


Every head in the room began to swivel from one side to the other, a dim, incoherent buzz of confusion erupting amongst themselves. Scrimgeour looked particularly upset by the outburst, banging his gavel again as he cast around the room.

"Who said that? Present yourself forward at once!"

"I'm right here." Suddenly, every last person in the room had their stare right on Edward as he stepped forward, just as instructed. "You've got one last witness willing to testify."

His gaze fell on Dumbledore, who was looking right back at him with the merest hint of a smile on his face and that oh-so-familiar twinkle in his eyes, then on Draco up in front, who simply looked shocked. It was another second before the paparrazi initiated the assault of their cameras, quills back to working at a furious pace.

Before Ed could take another step, Roy's hand was gripping his shoulder, holding him back for just another moment longer.

"Fullmetal, what the hell do you think you're doing?" he hissed under his breath.

Ed didn't look back at him as he answered. "I don't know. But like hell I'm just gonna stand back here and let Malfoy get thrown into that hellhole of a prison."

"One wrong move will guarantee that the boy gets locked in there for life."

"Then I guess that's a gamble I have to make."

He shrugged the colonel's hand off of him and strode forward, doing his best to ignore the intensity of all the stares he knew he was receiving. They were all watching him carefully, trying to read him, trying to figure out who he was and why he was important. He really wasn't completely sure of what he was doing, to be honest. He didn't have anything prepared to say, and he certainly couldn't think of anything that would help Draco right off the top of his head. But he had no choice. If he didn't speak up, this was a done deal.

He stopped only when he was standing between Draco and Dumbledore, slipping his hands into his pockets and looking right up into the face of the minister himself. Scrimgeour was frowning as well, giving him a critical look. Then finally, he cleared his throat and spoke.

"Full name?"

"Edward Elric."

There was a pause as the minister rummaged through more of his paperwork, brow furrowed in thought as he did so. After a moment he seemed to find whatever he was looking for and immediately let his eyes scan quickly down the page.

"Mr. Elric. I understand that you were undercover as a student at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry upon Dumbledore's request. Correct?"

This sent a ripple of murmurs throughout the entire Wizengamot, unsettling them while the cameras went off from all sides again. All the journalists in the room were chattering amongst themselves, clearly pleased to have found a new angle for their news story. Ed looked over at Dumbledore once more, but the headmaster seemed unperturbed. He just nodded mildly in his direction, and Ed had no choice but to let things play out.

"Yes, sir. I'm a soldier, a state alchemist, from the military of my home country, Amestris."

Another barrage of camera flashes. The press was having a field day.

"Could you tell us-"

"Excuse me!"

Ed blinked. That definitely wasn't the voice of the minister. Raising an eyebrow, he turned in the direction the voice had come from. There, standing amidst the crowd with one arm raised furtively in the air, was a tall, curly-haired blonde woman with bejeweled spectacles and an overly fancy coat. Her lips pursed into a little smile when Ed's gaze fell on her, and she quickly snapped for her enchanted green quill to set to work.

"Excuse me, Mr. Alrick - Rita Skeeter, for the Merlin Inquirer. When magical minds inquire, Merlin's there to answer! Now... Where is this 'Amestris' country? Anywhere in the vicinity of Germany or the Ukraine, perhaps? Or maybe Switzerland is closer, hmm?"

The question threw Edward for a second. Why was that even remotely relevant?

Before he could even think of an answer, Scrimgeour was banging his gavel again. "Miss Skeeter," he barked at the woman, "this is a hearing, not a press conference!"

The journalist looked put out as she sank back into her seat, but the order certainly didn't stop her quill from writing things down. With a shake of his head, Ed turned back to face the minister to let his interrogation begin properly.

"Now, Mr. Elric. What exactly was the job you were assigned to do?"

His frown deepened. He knew how trials worked; it was the whole truth or serious consequences to the defendant. Not only that, but everything he did here was going to reflect on his country and the military operation he was a part of. Regardless of how much he disliked the Amestrian government, he couldn't allow them to take a heavy hit because of him.

"As you said, I've been placed here on orders, as an undercover agent in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. My assignment was to watch over Draco Malfoy. To try and keep him out of trouble."

Someone in the mix of people scoffed. "A fine job he did of that."

Other members of the Wizengamot laughed a little as well. Ed just frowned, looking through all of the laughing faces to try and pinpoint the one who'd spoken. Scrimgeour looked equally unamused by the snide comment. It must've been a journalist.

"My ability to execute this task more efficiently," Ed went on in a loud voice, cutting through the derisive laughter, "was somewhat inhibited by the fact that I couldn't work openly. I had to maintain the appearance of a normal student, and since so much of my presence in Hogwarts was suspect to begin with, I had to work extra hard in order to do so." He paused for a second, frowning. "But yes, ultimately, I didn't completely succeed in my task."

Another wizard spoke up. "Not 'completely'?" he echoed curiously. "Hogwarts was under siege! This is fact, and a complete failure on your part!"

"Silence, Doyle!" Scrimgeour snapped. The wizard seemed to shrink in his seat a little as the minister turned his attention back on Edward. "As previously stated by the defendant himself, Draco Malfoy's assignment was to let the Death Eaters into the school and then kill Professor Dumbledore. Is that true?"

"Yes, it's true that Malfoy was assigned to do that," Ed admitted with a small sigh. "However, I personally don't believe that he was the one who actually followed through with the act."

There was more muttering, more quills scribbling their notes, wizards turning to one another both in disbelief and irritation. Ed's frown deepened, eyes moving over each face in turn, watching them shake their heads or laugh. It was no surprise that they didn't agree with him, but it annoyed him to see nonetheless. If they'd let Draco speak up properly earlier, they would've known this already.

"He's biased, obviously friends with the Malfoy boy-"

Ed barely managed to fight down an amused snort, rolling his eyes. "That's hardly the case. I've been stuck with this annoying bastard all year. To both of our discomfort, we've slept in the same room and attended the same classes at the same time with the same people, shared homework, shared meals... And even when he thought I wasn't looking, I had to watch him because ever since I stepped out of Colonel Mustang's office almost a year ago, I was on assignment." He shot the members of the Wizengamot a quick glare. "Do you have any concept of just how frustrating that is?"

From somewhere behind him, Ed could've sworn he'd heard Roy suppress a snort of amused laughter. Everybody started talking in low voices amongst themselves and cameras flashed once again, but Ed continued, choosing to speak over them. Scrimgeour struck his gavel against the table, raising his voice so everyone could hear him.

"Order, order! Everyone settle down! That includes you, Mr. Elric!"

"Hey, I'm in the middle of testifying here!" Ed shot back, and before the look of anger could properly register across Scrimgeour's face, he went on. "So out of spite for this entire situation, I pulled through. I scrutinized every single little thing Malfoy did, watched him so carefully I could probably tell you how many breaths he's taken since I met him, stuck so close to him that I could almost be his damned shadow. I was absolutely determined to find out what the hell he was doing, why, and how to stop it. And even though I didn't manage to stop him in time, if there's any one thing I've succeeded in learning about him in the past year, it's that Draco Malfoy is not a Death Eater."

"THAT IS ENOUGH, MR. ELRIC," Scrimgeour growled, banging his gavel so hard Ed was sure it was charmed so that it wouldn't break under the force of it. "You're contradicting evidence! We all saw the Dark Mark embedded in his arm!"

Ed let out an annoyed sigh. Minor details. "Okay, technically he was going through what I'd like to call a 'Death Eater internship', an orientation of sorts. But that's not-"

"It's the brand of a Death Eater!"

"If I remember correctly, you wizards define a Death Eater as a Magical citizen who's allied him or herself with Voldemort-" The chorus of gasps was almost encouraging. "-and therefore works against the flow of the rest of society. Outlaws, merciless killers, elitists, purists... All of whom are after the extermination of all non-magical people and their sympathizers, as well as the eventual taking over of the world. Right?"

A drone of agreement to this rippled through the wizards, each of them looking toward each other as though searching for confirmation. Upon seeing this, Ed cast a brief glance over at Draco in his seat. The Malfoy heir remained motionless and silent, his dull gray eyes locked to some spot right in front of him. The alchemist then turned back toward the minister with a frown.

"No matter how much he may insist, Draco Malfoy is none of those things. The symbol on his arm is just a symbol. It doesn't make him anything."

Scrimgeour scoffed loudly, giving Ed the most disdainful look he'd received over the course of the entire trial. "His father Lucius was before him, and the boy was more than willing to do You-Know-Who's bidding. There's testimony to it, he's a Death Eater, through and through!"

Many members of the Wizengamot agreed, each turning to someone near them to discuss that clearly, Ed was off his rocker. The young alchemist practically snarled, his fists balling at his sides. He hated when people tried to play the father card on him.

"He's not!" His voice was rising again, and everyone's attention was back on him. "You people are so willing to just slap that label on him just because of his father? Malfoy never really wanted to be part of it! But that's what everyone expects of him, isn't it? And the kid's been brainwashed into thinking that he absolutely has to meet those expectations no matter what! His family, everyone at school... I've heard the Slytherin students at Hogwarts whisper about What's-His-Face and trust me, it wasn't in the fearful way I hear from all of you. It's all... ingrained in Malfoy's head. 'Son of a Death Eater, he must be a Death Eater too' -" He noticed more wizards trying to interject and swiftly cut them off, speaking quickly, voice going louder. "Well, let me tell you something, sirs. Just because they have the same blood running through their veins doesn't mean they have to be anything alike! Keep thinking like that and you're no better than Voldemort and his crew!"

Once again everyone in the room stirred loudly in response to this, the journalists starting up with a cacophony of incomprehensible questions. Scrimgeour had to bang his gavel even harder, calling out for order in a loud booming voice. Only when the noise had gone down some did he speak again, leaning forward in his seat and turning a suspicious gaze on Edward.

"Do you mean to tell me, Mr. Elric, that Mr. Malfoy is innocent in all of this?"

Unfazed by the hairy eye he was receiving, Ed nodded firmly. "Yes."

"In spite of the fact that he himself has confessed to many of his wrongs? As well as Mr. Potter's testimony to the shady nature of Mr. Malfoy's past?"

"That was blackmail," Ed insisted, doing his best to keep his voice level. "But he's changed. He's not that kind of person anymore."

Scrimgeour scowled a little. "Do you honestly expect me to believe that? That somehow, somewhere over the course of the year, something's changed him?"

"Yes. Something did change him, something I couldn't have expected. And for once, it wasn't anything I did or had a hand in."

"And what exactly was that something?"

Ed shifted his weight from one leg to the other, then replied, almost casually, "A girl."

This brought up the stirring amongst the wizards again, the jourrnalists seemingly going nuts over this new development. Others among them were going so far as to laugh, like Ed had just told some great joke. Even Scrimgeour was glancing at his other comrades, clearly uncertain as to the validity of this new argument. Seeing this made Ed's eyes narrow angrily. As storybook cliche as it was, he was absolutely serious. From out of the corner of his eye, Ed could see Draco shift in his seat. He was obviously uncomfortable with this being brought up.

"That's enough, Elric," he could hear Draco growl under his breath. "Just shut it already."

"No way," Ed muttered back, not turning to look at him. "I'm just getting started."

Before Draco could say anything further, the press once again raised its ugly head. Questions were being thrown at them left and right, in such enthusiastic voices that Ed could barely understand half of them. It was clear that they were very pleased to have gotten more out of this hearing than they'd initially bargained.

"Can you identify her, Mr. Elric? Is she here in this room?"

"Would you say their relationship was intimate?"

"Tell us more about their forbidden love story!"

"You're certain it was a girl and not another man?"

Ed made a face. The media certainly had an interesting way of interpreting things.

"Oh no..."

The words were muttered under her breath, soft enough that Al barely managed to catch it over the noise of the room. He turned to look over at her, head tilted slightly in curiosity.

"Miss Hermione? What's wrong?"

She turned a worried look on Al, her hair seeming to frizz up in her distress as she pushed it out of her face. "This is not looking good for your brother, Alphonse. There's no way they're going to believe him. For all the Wizengamot knows he's just a very good liar!"

Al twitched slightly. Well, Ed was a very good liar, and it didn't help much that Al knew that. Still, he was absolutely right about this, wasn't he? And as unbelievable as it may sound, Alphonse had complete faith in what his brother had learned over the past year.

"I- I know it looks bad, Miss Hermione, but... Brother's very good at getting himself out of bad situations like this. He knows what he's doing."

Hermione let out an exasperated sigh, twisting slightly in her seat so that she could properly explain things to him. "Scrimgeour's smart. He's already making Edward's story seem like he made it up, and he's going to keep questioning him until he has nothing to say. And then he'll ask for proof. Actual, tangible proof that Edward can't give. This is hopeless."

With that she faced forward again, but the worry was still clearly present in her eyes. She wasn't looking at Scrimgeour, though. Or the members of the Wizengamot, or Dumbledore, or even at Edward. Her gaze was fixed on Draco, as though she was searching his face for something she needed to set all this right. But whatever it was, she wasn't finding it.

If he could, Al would've been frowning. He knew Hermione had a point. If they had something real and weren't just relying on Ed's word, then that could just about set it. Anything would do: Some sort of record, maybe a receipt from a gift he'd bought her, or the present itself, or-

Al stiffened. Scrimgeour was pounding his gavel again to get the journalists to settle down, and it was finally starting to work. The room was quickly getting quieter. Al braced himself.

"Miss Hermione?"

Hermione hesitantly tore her eyes away from Draco to look up at him. "Yes, Alphonse?"

"This may not be as hopeless as you think."

The moment the journalists finally settled down, disappointed having all of their questions left unanswered, Scrimgeour's attention was right back on Edward. Ed was getting used to having Scrimgeour turn to him with that expression of disbelief, but this time it was worse. The man actually looked amused, which served only to make Ed angrier.

"Mr. Elric, do you truly expect us to believe something so simple could change a man's nature?"

"I don't see what's so unusual about it," Ed answered casually, masking his irritation with a nonchalant shrug. "It happens all the time. We men do all sorts of things to impress a girl we've got our eye on, wouldn't you say?"

A single glance around the room confirmed it; most if not all of the men in the room began to mutter and shift, looking at one another and shrugging. Even the women that were present had to agree, nodding and smiling at what were probably fond memories for them. Ed smirked a little at noticing all this, then turned back to the minister with an absolutely serious look on his face.

"He fell for a girl, and she influenced him to change for the better. It happened and that's a fact."

"Yes..." From nearby, Professor Dumbledore was nodding. "Love. A very powerful, very old magic indeed."

Draco's face was alternating between turning red and white.

Scrimgeour looked like his lion's mane had been ruffled the wrong way. "You've no evidence to support this claim, Mr. Elric!"

"But I'm an eyewitness," Ed retorted quickly, looking right at the minister. "As a witness, the court is assumed to take my word for fact same as any physical evidence. If you want more proof, just look at his face! Right now!"

Scrimgeour didn't, but it seemed every single journalist in the room certainly did. It looked like Draco could feel their stares on him as he glared down at his feet, face burning.

"And I saw it," Ed went on. "I saw everything Draco did. And that includes the moment he pointed his wand at Professor Dumbledore."

"Naturally, as you were the one who stopped him, correct?"

Ed shook his head. "No."

This made Scrimgeour's eyes widen, bushy eyebrows rising almost to his hairline. From beside him, Ed could hear Draco hiss at him angrily.

"Elric, shut it."

He ignored the plea. It was time to put this little lie of Draco's away and get this all straightened out. "I'm the one he disarmed at the tower. I hate to admit it, but I was completely incapacitated while Malfoy held the headmaster at wandpoint. Held us both at wandpoint, actually. Nobody ran in to stop him and rescue Professor Dumbledore. Malfoy lowered his wand."

Again, the headmaster nodded. His eyes were twinkling. "That is correct."

The Wizengamot fell silent, and if it weren't for the quills and the cameras the entire room would have followed completely. Draco was still glaring at some spot on the floor in front of him, jaw clenched. One could almost hear the sound of this information slowly, carefully being absorbed. At length, one of the Wizengamot members spoke up.

"How do we know you're not lying to cover for Mr. Malfoy's actions?"

"I've got no reason to," Ed answered easily, sliding a look over at the woman who'd posed the question. "I've already said that I'm not friends with Malfoy. I'm a soldier. I'm just doing my duty to protect innocent people. Something wrong with that?"

Ed almost wanted to roll his eyes at what he'd just said. He was sure Mustang had a smirk on his face just from hearing him talk about his "duties" as a soldier, since he'd never really enjoyed having such a position. But it was the truth. That was what soldiers were supposed to do, and for once it was useful to pull that card on someone.

There was a long, pregnant pause. And then Scrimgeour leaned forward, folding his hands on the table before him, eyes fixed on Ed's face. His frown was deep and serious, but there was something in his eyes that bothered Ed.

"Prove it to us, Mr. Elric," the minister insisted again. "Give us tangible evidence. Hard proof, and not just the word of a foreigner, soldier or not."

Ed tensed. He'd known that this was coming. He knew it from the very beginning. He'd really hoped that the eyewitness bit would fly, and now here he was being driven into a corner. Ed flexed his jaw, eyes narrowing slightly. He could practically see Scrimgeour feeding off his sudden anxiety.


"We have proof right here."

The interruption had everybody turning to face the one who'd spoken, only to find Hermione Granger once again standing in her seat. The room came to life again, the air buzzing as everyone turned to one another, obviously wondering just who on earth this girl really was. That didn't stop the quills from flying over the parchment, or the cameras from flashing all around them. Ed raised an eyebrow at her, then gave Al a questioning look. The suit of armor gave away nothing and simply shrugged.

"What is the meaning of this?" someone in the Wizengamot cried out, giving Hermione a disdainful look. "Have we not been here long enough? We can't have some young girl constantly interrupting us like this!"

Others voiced their agreement, turning to Scrimgeour for his final word in the matter. The minister himself scowled, but neither stopped nor encouraged them. Hermione held his gaze, then raised a folded up piece of parchment for everyone to see. It certainly caught Ed's attention, his eyes widening slightly. She was too far away to really be able to tell, but he was sure he'd seen it before. Which made him sure he knew what it was. Which made a surge of hope well up within him.

"Minister, sir, may I approach the bench?"

Scrimgeour eyed her for a moment, then finally nodded. "Very well. Make it quick."

With a nod, Hermione moved to exit the viewing benches and step down into the center of the room, where Draco and Ed were, every eye in the room on her. Ed remained calm and silent as she walked past them, but Draco was clearly on the verge of panic. His focus was entirely on her as she got closer and he was clearly fighting the urge to run over and stop her in her tracks. Obviously he knew exactly what that piece of parchment was as well.

"I hold in my hand a letter that Draco wrote to... to the girl he loves. And if you'll let me, I'd like to read it out loud."

The entire room was stirring again, now perhaps altogether too eager to hear what the young woman had to say. Scrimgeour raised his eyebrows in surprise, but nodded his allowance for her to continue. Everyone squirmed excitedly in their seats, so pleased with the drama and suspense of it all. Everyone, it seemed, but Draco.

"Granger, I'm begging you," Draco said desperately. "Don't do this... Please!"

She ignored him, focused on carefully unfolding the parchment.

"Don't do this!" He called out to her again. "Hermione, please!"

She froze abruptly at hearing her name fall from his lips, her hold on the paper tightening ever so slightly. But she still didn't turn to look at him. The corners of her lips quirked downward, brow furrowing.

"I'm not going to stand by and do nothing." She shook her head slowly, her eyes glued to the parchment in her hands. "I'm sorry, Draco, but I can't let you go to Azkaban. As far as I'm concerned, you're innocent."

She drew in a deep breath as she finished unfolding the letter. And without looking one way or the other, she began to read.

'I must have started a hundred letters to you, never knowing how to begin. I have sat like this one too many times in some illusion of glory, with a quill in hand and numerous crumpled pieces of parchment scattered across my bedroom floor...'

Ed glanced over, instantly recognizing that harsh script handwriting, then looked over at Draco. It looked as though he was prepared to shut it all out, fixing his gaze on a spot straight in front of him and holding onto it as though it was all he had left. He supposed he couldn't be blamed, though. This was a letter that he'd had no intention of sending, and now its contents were about to be known to every reporter in the room. It wasn't the easiest way to prove a man's innocence, but in their case it was the only one that worked.

It seemed like just about everyone was on the edge of their seats, leaning forward so that they wouldn't miss a single word of the letter's contents. And as Hermione continued, slowly revealing everything that Draco ever hoped to keep hidden, the tides turned. It wasn't as obvious at first, but then Ed heard that very first sniffle from the other side of the room. And another soon after it. And another.

The defenses of the women in the room were cracking, and as Ed glanced around it was clear that they weren't the only ones. Most people it seemed, men and women alike, were simply caught in a state of shock, their eyes wide as saucers. Others were looking to their neighbors, the looks on their faces some mix of disbelief and astonishment. Some seemed simply unable to believe what they were listening to. Even many of the journalists in the room had completely stopped writing, engrossed in the contents of the letter. Several had stopped to listen though their quills continued to work.

It wasn't long before Draco could barely hold his gaze where he had set it. Slowly he'd started to look toward the floor, his face just a touch paler than usual. But that didn't stop the words from being spoken, pulling them out into the open where they could no longer be taken back. Hermione didn't stop or hesitate as she read the letter aloud keeping herself steady as she did so. And then she risked a glance over in Draco's direction, only to find that he was looking right back at her.

It was just a split second, but that was all it took. There was something there in his eyes that she'd never seen before, something real. She knew how truly, genuinely terrified he was as she continued to pour out every emotion he'd ever felt in his life. He'd spent so much time living outside of his emotions; Years of rejecting, denying, hiding, and fighting against everything he was forbidden to feel. And yet he'd still lost out to just one: the very feeling he got whenever he looked at her. Now she was looking back at him... and time came to an indefinite stop. His once cold, unfeeling grey eyes were suddenly depths of cerulean silver overwhelmed with emotion. He had said time and time again that he felt nothing, especially for her. But against all reason, he loved her... and now, she believed him.

She had to tear her eyes away, had to make herself focus on what part of the letter she'd been on. Her hands started to shake. Her voice began to crack.

'...I promised myself that for once in my life, I would tell the truth. I would stop denying everything I say or do; it will never prove anything and that is not fair to you. So, as I end this, without you ever knowing how strongly I felt for you, all the pain and pleasure you have given me, the prison and sanctuary I found in you, it has finally become clear to me...'

And that was where Hermione finally cracked. It was like something had wedged itself into her throat and held her voice in, and if she tried to push it any further she knew she would break. She took a breath, held it for a second, then tried again only to fail. She had to stop- No, she had to keep going. But the reality of it all was hitting her too hard too fast, and even just holding the letter in her hands felt like too much for her. She had to finish it, though. Just a few more sentences...

The parchment slipped easily from her fingers, causing her to look up in surprise. Ed had stepped forward at some point and had quietly taken the letter from her. His eyes didn't meet hers, though; they stayed locked on the letter as he turned the parchment over so he was looking at it properly. Hermione seemed stunned, but with her voice failing her she made no protest. Her gaze dropped toward the floor, her lips pressed in a tight line so that she could attempt to recompose herself.

'And I need to say it before all courage fails me again.'

Ed spared a glance toward both Hermione and Draco, using that moment to study each of their faces. They both had their eyes to the floor now, and Ed could swear they were bracing themselves for what was coming next. He didn't blame them. He drew in a breath as he turned back to the letter and read the very last lines.

'I love you, Hermione Granger. Goodbye forever... Draco.'

The room fell completely silent. For just a few moments it seemed as though the world had come to a screeching halt. Ed was the one who broke it with the sound of his boots on the floor as he stepped closer to where Scrimgeour was sitting, holding the letter up for him to look at.

"You can verify it, if you need to. This is Draco Malfoy's handwriting."

Clearly shocked, the minister reached out to take the letter from him, his eyes moving over the page. And then, quite suddenly, the room exploded into chaos. Cameras went off everywhere, every single one of the reporters in the room were on their feet and shouting out questions. Ed supposed many of them were dumbfounded at the realization that the girl who'd read the letter aloud was the very girl it had been intended for... Then again there were probably also many who'd suspected as much. Still, the story was too juicy, too irresistible for any reporter to pass up making note of.

The Wizengamot had a different reaction to the revelation. They were all talking amongst themselves again, looking somewhat disoriented and confused. From where Ed was standing, it looked like none of them were completely sure on how to proceed from here on out. Scrimgeour looked especially perturbed as he scanned the letter again and again, desperately searching for some discrepancy that would work in his favor. To his great displeasure, he wasn't finding it. And that just flustered him even more. He blindly reached out for his gavel and pounded it loudly, but the sound was swallowed by the ruckus caused by all the journalists. So instead he grabbed his wand, pressed the tip to the side of his neck and said, in a loud, booming voice that drowned out all the others, "ORDER."

The noise level went down slightly, the innumerable voices merging into a low, excited buzz that certainly kept the room alive. Scrimgeour had to clear his throat several times as he put the letter back down with all of his other paperwork, eventually addressing the rest of the room.

"Yes, well... Ah... Regardless of the new information that has been presented, the suspect is still confirmed to be killer-"

"I don't think you've been paying attention," Ed interjected, eyes narrowing slightly. For a second the minister was thrown off, and just as he opened his mouth to say something more, Ed continued, loudly so that everyone could hear.

"Let me refresh your memory. Despite appearances and the fact that he was given orders to murder someone, Draco Malfoy is not a killer. For one thing, his only target is still very much alive, right over there."

Professor Dumbledore, now seated alongside Professor Snape, smiled and waved mildly at the onlookers. Scrimgeour bristled.

"Then he is confirmed to be a heartless Death Eat-"

"He's an annoyingly stubborn, arrogant, selfish, spoiled brat with a blood superiority complex who looks at himself in the mirror way too much, probably uses over a dozen different hair spells and tonics to keep it so perfectly slicked back all the time, and has a fanclub that actually manages to be bigger than his ego, not to mention his emotional constipation and his position as the biggest idiot I've ever had the misfortune of knowing... But he's got a heart. One way too big to have gotten turned into a Death Eater just because they burned a tattoo on his arm. If you can refute that in any way, minister, I'm sure we'd all love to hear it."

The room fell into an expectant silence, all eyes on Scrimgeour as they waited to hear what more he had to say. But the silence stretched onward, and the atmosphere in the room grew more and more tense with each passing moment. The minister shifted in his seat, kept rifling through his documents, opened and closed his mouth as he struggled to find something to say. And it was quite clear to Ed and everyone else present that Scrimgeour could no longer fight back.

It was as the room started to come back to life with people whispering about Scrimgeour's lost resolve that Dumbledore rose from his seat. He loudly cleared his throat and turned toward the minister, hands clasped in front of him.

"Well, Minister... It would seem a change in verdict is in order."