Everything Has Its Cost
A/N: After writing "A Bad Week at the Wizengamot," this idea occurred to me. What if the ancient laws allowing the Ministry to interfere in Hogwarts (in the 5th year) demanded the payment of a price, a high one from the Ministry, to keep everyone honest? And what if Fudge, Umbridge, and the others were ignorant of the drawbacks of what they tried to do to keep Voldemort's return a secret?
Rather strange one shot, set a few weeks after Harry's fifth year has ended. A rather demented cast of characters. Starring Dumbledore as wily, careless, and sadistic. And Fudge as…well, himself.
"Ah, Cornelius, I'm so glad you finally decided to show your face this morning. We have much to discuss, you know…"
Albus Dumbledore was seated inside former Minister Fudge's new office, the tiny broomcloset he'd been allocated since he was now a counselor to the new Minister, Scrimgeour. But the office was bare, outside of Dumbledore and the bizarre, conjured chair he was seated upon.
"Albus, what in the blazes are you doing here?" Fudge hadn't uttered more than a dozen words to Albus since he'd been thrown from office one week earlier.
"Obviously, I've been waiting for you. And, as you should know, a Minister can show his face at ten and leave at four-thirty and call it a day's work, but not when you have an office this size, Cornelius. You'll have to do much better in the future, I'd say."
"Shove it. I had a long night last night. Had to introduce Scrimgeour to the Muggle Prime Minister, you know."
"Ah, yes, I remember hearing something about that, I think."
"Why are all my furnishings gone? I paid for every one of them? Has Scrimgeour gone looting, then? Kicking a fallen man while he's down?"
Dumbledore's twinkling eyes just danced. "No, Cornelius, I'm afraid that's a bit of your doing – and mine, too, I suppose."
"What poppycock are you selling now, Dumbledore?"
The aged wizard was smiling now behind his massive beard. "Everything has its cost, does it not, Cornelius? Buy a new wand; pay Portius Ollivander a handful of galleons. Buy off a member of the rather corrupt Wizengamot and he'll want galleons or a favor or something else. Buy off the right to muck around in my school and you should find the cost beyond anything you're prepared to pay, I'd expect…"
Cornelius blew a raspberry at Albus. "The Wizengamot and the Board of Governors let me do it, Albus. You fought, you lost; now it's all piled back on me, of course. But I beat you, then, you old infuriating goat. I beat you."
Albus' lips pursed up, as if he'd just tasted a very tart sweet of some sort. "Not exactly, Cornelius. No, the original compact between the fledgling Ministry and the already ancient Hogwarts set up a series of basic agreements. Hogwarts offers to teach all the British witches and wizards above a certain threshold of magical ability; thus the Ministry pays the school an increasingly small portion of the costs of the education. Plus the Ministry gets the right to administer tests to the fifth and seventh-year students. That's the agreement we've all been working under for nearly three hundred years. The provisions you and Dolores invoked, however, had never been used before, even if they were legal. They did have some safeguards built in…"
Here Cornelius began to sweat. That Weatherby in his old office was the one who'd found the loopholes, but Cornelius had never read the laws himself. Damn magical contracts! Why did there always have to be loopholes? And bad ones at that – assuming Dumbledore's grin to be rather malicious.
"They laid out the terms and conditions for the Ministry assuming more control. You violated the conditions, so that's something to atone for. But, for each action you committed at Hogwarts, well, there was a specific monetary cost attached, you see. For appointing a teacher to Hogwarts – something no Muggle government would ever be able to do, except in a dictatorship – hah, imagine Tony Blair trying to appoint his secretary to teach at Eton, ludicrous – you and your staff working on this are collectively responsible for a fee equal to ten percent of all the student tuition collected…"
Cornelius began to sweat. This sounded worse and worse the longer Dumbledore spoke. Damn that Weatherby!
"…your little decree banning and reforming all the clubs was a major interference, thus another twenty-five percent of the budget…the business about the High Inquisitor position, one hundred twenty-five percent of all the student tuition…each firing of a staff member, fifty percent of the student tuition…your toad of an Undersecretary using a torture device, and a dark one at that, on students, one hundred percent of that student's tuition, for each and every usage…throwing me out of my own school, that's ultimate interference, three hundred percent of the student tuition…that Inquisitorial Squad, opening student letters and such, roughing up the other students, three hundred percent…Well, in total, it appears that Hogwarts will be fully funded for at least three decades based on what you, Dolores, and quite a few others now owe to Hogwarts, and that's even before we begin to talk about the penalties for late payment and interest demanded in that compact…."
"No, Albus, none of that can be true. Weatherby found that law for me…"
"Percy Weasley, as you can't seem to call him, was a Head Boy at Hogwarts, although I voted for Oliver Wood. Hmm, Weasley, a rather indifferent researcher, if I remember. Loved memorizing rules – of all the useless things to study. A good enforcer, but not so sharp when it came to things like this. And, how could you expect him to be? He wasn't a law wizard now, was he? Not like a certain former Minister we both know…"
"Cornelius, you studied the law after Hogwarts before joining the Ministry, but did you slip up here? Oh, I see." Dumbledore was laughing now. "You didn't even read the law you were misusing, you foolish little child! You started a major act of war against Hogwarts with just a cursory understanding of the tool you were using? You took Weasley's interpretation of the law on his word alone." Albus was clutching at his sides as the laughter poured out of him. "Oh, you are a marvel…"
"I know nothing of this, Albus. And you can't make me pay any of these ridiculous fines you've seemed to conjure up…"
"You should have done more to ensure good relations with the goblins, Cornelius. I've already seized everything you had at Gringotts, you know. The estate that Lucius bought you – as a gift because I'm sure he deeply respected you, and not for any likely nefarious purpose, like bribery – will be auctioned off in a week or so. Plus the rather vengeful goblins were quite helpful in explaining all about muggle banks in places like Switzerland and the Bahamas. Seems you had rather sizable assets sitting in numbered accounts. A few flicks of my wand and all that money now serves Hogwarts, clever if I say so myself! I'm rather considering an endowment so that the school always has a nice supply of funding for the future, in case of a future Minister as corrupt and incompetent as yourself. Hogwarts should always be insulated from incompetence and bureaucracy. Perhaps we'll stop accepting the ministry funds altogether and set a more challenging curriculum than what the Ministry prescribes. Oh yes, we could teach some truly wonderful magic then, if we didn't have to worry about teaching endless goblin wars and reading tea leaves. There is real history to learn – even history of divination and Seers. But, Cornelius, you wouldn't know about that…"
The former Minister hadn't risen through the bureaucratic ranks for nothing. He'd been born for the Ministerial job – and all the political dancing it required. He'd been a natural candidate for election. Well, there was the fact that the best candidate had been disgraced when his son turned out a Death Eater. And that the other candidate splinched himself so badly it took the Magical Catastrophes squad three days to sew him back together – thus destroying any credibility he might have had. But, Fudge had been a good third-choice candidate to run for Minister. As such, he had gifted skills for dealing with people like this Dumbledore.
"I'll just get Scrimgeour to pardon me. I know things about him from when he was the head of the Aurors, Albus. He'll do whatever I tell him…"
Albus shook his head. "These debts are nondischargeable. If Rufus gave you a pardon, he'd merely be transferring the debts from you to him. I doubt he's that foolish, particularly as I've already made him aware of this fact…"
The former Minister screamed in frustration.
"Then, how do you expect me to pay off these ridiculous sums? I'm not Minister any longer so my usual methods of collecting additional money are closed to me…"
"Ahh, yes, no one will want to bribe you any longer. We'll have to see about trying your former corruptors before the Wizengamot to generate more fines to help discharge your debts. I'm sure you'll be quite happy to name names, then, if it saves a bit of your pallid flesh." Albus smiled. "But, I suspect the bulk of your debts, Cornelius, you still will have to discharge with your own labor…"
"You can't expect me of all people to work? I've never worked a day in my life, Albus, I wouldn't know the first thing. I only the know the Ministry…"
"Oh," Albus said, waving away the objection as if it were an annoyance of an insect. "Well, I've already arranged a rather appropriate position for you, Cornelius."
Cornelius saw that Albus had drawn his wand and was beginning to cast a spell.
When Cornelius was revived after Albus stunned him, he realized he was no longer in the Ministry. No, by the smell of it, he was in a rather foul place. He opened and blinked his eyes a few times.
"Albus, what in Merlin's blasted earth did you do to me?"
"Oh… I decided it would be easier for you to see it than for me to explain it. I think it will help you be a bit more understanding of what's to come next."
Fudge didn't enjoy any of this. It all sounded ominous. And it hurt his brain too much to think on it too hard.
"Up, get up. We only have a couple of hours to get you situated, you layabout."
Cornelius groaned as he attempted to lift his pudgy body off the stone floor. Where was he? He still didn't know. It seemed rather like a subterranean dungeon of sorts? What was this old coot thinking?
"Walk with me, Cornelius."
His rather short legs had quite a time of it keeping up with Albus' long strides through what was obviously the dungeons of Hogwarts.
"You were Minister for, what, five years or so? And then in the Ministry for another thirty-seven before that. What do you know of the history of Azakaban?"
That was not the way Cornelius ever wanted to have a conversation start.
Albus just nodded, unsurprised.
"It was an abandoned building on a remote island until about seven hundred years ago. A forerunner to the Ministry decided to use it to house sturdy beggars and layabouts, to make them productive while in custody. It was itself a forerunner to the workhouse concept of the last century…"
"No, you can't send me to Azkaban to work, Albus, you just can't…"
"I'm not, Cornelius. It's been fully a wizarding prison, and not a workhouse, for two hundred and seven years. No, Azkaban merely inspired some of the tactics I've taken in the last few years at Hogwarts. Of course, Severus was my first experiment…"
Albus chuckled in a sad way.
"I set the spells on him in rather an unsatisfactory way. He's retained rather too much of his former personality for my taste, you see. But, I made it so that the spell couldn't be cancelled until his penance was paid. Well, I guess I could remove them, but it would kill him at the same time, not a desirable solution to the problem. So all these years of students are paying for my bad judgment… Such is life, I say. So, Cornelius, with you and a few of the others, we'll just have to be more careful."
Chills rippled down the bureaucrat's back. Cornelius didn't like the sound of this at all.
The pair emerged into the light of the afternoon sun. Cornelius realized he was no longer wearing his fine Ministerial robes, the ones that Lucius and his ilk had paid for. No, he was wearing rather dowdy grey robes. He rather looked like a convict now.
"Where are my clothes?"
"They're part of the auction, of course, Cornelius. Don't you pay attention to anything I say? We're auctioning off everything you owned. I've already got a couple of folks interested in that small estate you sold your soul for. Personally, I'd have held out for something a bit larger, if I had been interested in selling out…"
Cornelius began grumbling to himself.
Albus led the pair to the edge of the lake. Then Albus seemed to be actively looking for something out on the water. Then he suddenly started speaking in some foreign language, shouting at the top of his lungs in some cross between a clicking language and yodeling. A few moments later, the water in the middle of the lake began to roil as something was climbing to the surface.
And then, Cornelius goggled, the Giant Squid popped into view. Its tentacles were waving in the air, making a great show. And it emitted massively loud noises – again, a cross between clicking and yodeling – into the air.
"Oh, good," Albus said. Then he turned up his voice again. "Percy. Percy Weasley, pop your head out and listen for a second."
And with that, Cornelius observed, a waterlogged red head popped up to the surface of the lake. The rather angry face of Weatherby began to shout some rather foul epithets.
"Aloysius the Squid just told me, Percy, that you haven't been cleaning around his suckers at the end of his tentacles. You only get paid if you do a good job – and don't forget I can speak Squid! So, get back to work, young Weasley, and be sure that Aloysius gives you a clean bill of health."
Percy swore some more before the Squid sucked both of them back under the lake's surface.
"Rather annoying task, that one, as the Squid hasn't been thoroughly cleaned in seven or eight years. But, Gillyweed does have its uses, doesn't it, Cornelius?"
Fudge was riveted to his spot. He was nearly a catatonic state. His mind was locked into a repeating loop: Oh my Merlin. Oh my Merlin. And so on.
So Albus zapped him. And again. Then Fudge blinked a few times. "He used to work in my office, Dumbledore. Why's he cleaning a squid?"
Albus pursed his lips rather like his current Transfiguration professor might. "Cornelius, start listening to me or I won't bother explaining anything to you. I'll just throw you to the wolves and see if your blood tastes sweet enough…"
At this, Fudge did pass out.
Albus awoke Cornelius just through his raucous laughter. "Oh, Fudge, you'd better be made of sterner stuff than that otherwise you'll never survive a week here."
At that, Fudge passed out again.
The next time, Dumbledore wasn't so gentle awakening Fudge. No, he rolled the rotund little man into the lake. Fudge came out spluttering in his convict-style robes.
"Come along, Cornelius, we still have a good deal to see to."
"But, Percy Weatherby, why was he cleaning the Squid, Albus?"
Fudge was trying to wring out his own sopping hair while he walked and talked. It wasn't a pretty sight.
"Oh, his punishment, you mean? Well, he and a lot of other folks share in the fines you managed to wrack up with Dolores. Percy, we've discovered, was personally responsible for drafting most of those ridiculous education decrees as Dolores is pretty much incapable of performing even basic written communication. She may have a pureblood lineage, but she has a brain full of mush, Cornelius."
"But that doesn't explain why he was cleaning a Squid of all things, Albus…"
"Ah, yes, well. I guess I have been a little bit vague so far as to what we have set up to ensure proper repayment of the debts owed. It seems we've been neglecting a good deal of basic maintenance in and around the school. Mr. Filch is, regrettably, getting on in years and he didn't relish the idea of taking Gillyweed to clean the Squid. Plus the castle is in need of basic repairs, you know. So, we've arranged for a program for several individuals to assist us. Weasley, for his role in what you did here, received his share of the fines which amounted to about ten years of his salary. So he'll be splitting his time between the Ministry and here – say for the next twenty years or so – until he's repaid everything. He'll be the dogsbody, the general helper…"
Twenty years of that! For a mere Weatherby! Cornelius couldn't imagine what he'd be subject to, then.
"The members of the Inquisitorial Squad, since they violated the privacy of the students by opening and reading mail and such, were each fined and will be serving detentions nightly until they graduate. A fair number have already transferred out of Hogwarts. Such a pity!"
Albus led the sopping wet Cornelius Fudge over to the edge of the Forbidden Forest.
Then Cornelius shrieked in terror. "There's something in there. I can see it walking around. It's brown, foul-looking, and looks like it's covered in slime or something. Oh, Albus, save me. Save me!"
Albus peered into the forest. "Ah!" Then he veered off and lead them toward that foul beast. The rounded, squat animal was making all sorts of grunting and keening noises.
"This is the Forbidden Forest, Albus, why in Merlin's name are we in here?"
"Oh, stop whimpering. I'm answering your question, I think…"
As they got closer to the massive wooden structure, the smell began to assault at Cornelius' nose. It was ammonia and decomposition and death. He shivered in the warmth of the afternoon.
"Ah, here we are. Hagrid's stables. We make it available to the thestrals, unicorns, and such. Mostly for the harsh winters. Hasn't been fully mucked out in a few decades I think. The centaurs would never set foot inside it even if they were freezing to death. But, still, we've made the offer available."
"Why are we here, Albus?"
"Ahh. Well, I wanted you to greet your former Undersecretary. Ms. Umbridge has had her vaults and estate confiscated, including a particularly revolting collection of dark artifacts. I mean, who in their right mind needs seven blood quills? Well, she's got perhaps fifty years of full-time work here in order to fulfill her obligations to Hogwarts, so I decided to make her the assistant gamekeeper, working for Hagrid…"
Fudge began spluttering and choking on his own spit.
"Since she treated him so badly during the school year, I decided she should have to make nice with him. Yes, it's perfectly wonderful when a plan comes together. In a similar vein, I shall have to consider finally letting Severus Snape teach Defense Against the Dark Arts. True, the position is cursed and Severus would be as likely to go insane, die, or murder me as he would be to survive the year intact, but think of the benefits…"
Surprisingly, Cornelius could think of no benefits for Dolores apologizing to Hagrid or of Snape teaching children in any capacity at all.
"Anyway, Dolores' first task is cleaning out the stables. I expect it will take her, oh perhaps, eighteen or nineteen weeks of nonstop, backbreaking labor. I estimated that she'll have to move about forty-seven tons of manure by hand, as none of you are permitted wands while you're paying off your debts to the school. She's expected to put in fifteen hour days, you see, and she does get one day off per month. I was thinking of giving you the same terms, Cornelius, but then I realized it was much too relaxed for you. You'd still be here after a hundred years or longer…"
At that, the slime-encrusted monster became visible and the horrible noises it had made quieted. Then it began to speak. "Cornelius, you have to help me. They took my money and my pink cardigans and my hair nets and my slinky undergarments. They took them, so you need to make them give them back, you see."
Fudge passed out just as he realized that the slime-covered monster was his former Undersecretary Dolores Umbridge, a woman who was only slightly less useful in practical matters than he himself was.
Dolores grasped onto her former boss and tried shaking him awake, but succeeded rather more in covering him with thestral manure. Fudge groaned a few times and, each time, passed out again as he saw Dolores covered in slime.
Albus finally stunned Dolores, moved her filthy form away from Fudge, and then woke the man himself.
"No, Albus, you can't mean for me to do this… My hands, Albus, my hands have never touched a shovel in all my life. I can't. I won't." He burst into tears. "I'm an important person. I can't be turned into a manual laborer…"
"Hush, hush, Cornelius. We need to get you out of here before Dolores works her way out of her stupefaction. No, I thought we'd talk over some of my plans, you see. It's nice to have a sympathetic ear. Then we'll get you situated…"
"You can't mean to make me work for Hagrid? I sent the man to Azkaban. He'll eat me for dinner and grind my bones to make his bread…"
Albus laughed. "No, no, Cornelius. You won't be working for Hagrid."
Cornelius wanted to sigh in relief, but then fear crept back into his mind.
"If not Hagrid, then who? Are you going to make me grind up supplies for your greasy Potions Master? Or work in the kitchens with those blasted elves? Or chase around that horrible poltergeist? Do you know that I still have nightmares of the things that can happen when one is showering alone at night? That damned Peeves scared the Merlin out of me, literally…"
"All very good ideas, Cornelius, but indeed I have need of you for other work than what you've identified."
Fudge froze up in fear. "What is it? It's got to be worse than what you did to Dolores…"
Albus just smiled and walked back into the castle.
"Albus, I demand, absolutely demand, that you tell me what scheme you've cooked up…"
"Of course, Cornelius. Calm yourself. We need you nice and healthy for a very long time, you know. A hundred years is a long time and you're no spring chicken at the moment. In fact, I'd say you rather overindulge at the dinner table. But, all the extra exercise will be quite the thing. Dolores herself has reported already losing twenty kilograms and she's only been on her new regimen for a week and a half. It may have something to do with the fact that she has to take her meals in the stable for the time being. Alas, she is still wider than she is tall. But, the key idea is to keep healthy…"
Cornelius was working through every scenario. What had this old chessmaster decided to do? And how grisly would it be?
The answer to the last question was: extremely grisly.
For Cornelius Fudge was introduced to his 'boss' for the summer in the following way: "Now, of course, Cornelius we'll need your services during the school year mostly during classes, the Defense classes and the newly revived discipline of Spell Creation will be using you as a practice dummy, of course. It really was a pity that the Ministry interferes in the '20s to make Astronomy a required OWL subject and to demote such useful disciplines as Arithmancy and Runic Studies. I mean, really, who needs to know that much about the stars? It's just useful for Divination and that's a notoriously wooly discipline. No, it was politics again. Damned pureblood supremacists wanted to discourage others from learning to spell craft – as you know, Cornelius, the Ministry-approved spells we teach here can't hold up to a single one of the great Ancient families' grimoires. The Potter line practically invented the healing arts plus more than half of the spells in the Defense arena; that's only what they allowed to be made public. I suspect they have some truly devastating offensive magics lurking around in a book written hundreds of years ago. The Blacks and the Lestranges 'pioneered' some truly awful curses, including the Cruciatus. The Bones of long ago developed much of the domestic magic we all rely upon: cleaning, cooking, and such. The Prewitts pioneered much of the early work surrounding transfiguration, if memory serves. Why shouldn't all witches and wizards be granted the same rights? To develop spells – some for the family's use, some for the public's – so I'll be using our newfound monetary independence to help even out the playing field a bit… Oh yes, I can see the wonderful things Hermione Granger might choose to develop. And I can't help but wonder if Harry Potter will be as gifted a spell crafter as his great great uncle Wilhelm, a near contemporary of my own. Brilliant man, wonderful sense of humor. So, you'll be assisting with that, Cornelius, it's truly noble work."
Fudge was just gaping. Not about the Spell Creation business per se – no, about his being a testing dummy for classes of undertrained witches and wizards.
"You can't, Albus. It'll hurt…"
"Don't worry, the Cruciatus is still illegal, I think. Third years casting casting Riddikulus on you won't hurt at all; nor will being stunned a few dozen times a day. Some of the reductor curse training could be a bit messy, but Poppy will be around to put you back together again. But that's only half of your duties. But, during the summer and the non-class hours, you'll be working with Argus." Here Albus turned to look for Hogwarts' caretaker. While Cornelius Fudge fainted away.
"You really won't survive very well if you faint away just hearing the man's name."
When Cornelius Fudge woke up again, he found he couldn't move his hands or legs – yet he knew he was upright.
"Ah, the sounds, Mrs. Norris. The sounds of screams again. Albus has answered our prayers, hasn't he, Mrs. Norris. A new assistant to help scrub the filth away and catch us some rule breakers. And, then, in the privacy of our chamber, a new one to cry and scream while we test out our chains and whips…"
Fudge fainted away once again. But he didn't stay unconscious for very long. He felt the harsh, soul-penetrating lash of a well-oiled whip lacerate the pudgy skin of his back.
"Oh, that'll sting, Mrs. Norris. That it will!"
He tried struggling. Chains!
How could Albus have done this to him. Fudge was an important personage, not someone meant for a torture victim. "Albus," Fudge bellowed.
"Oh, the screams. They're back, Mrs. Norris. Just listen."
Fudge screamed and cried.
"The rules, Mrs. Norris. It needs to know the rules, doesn't it. Well, Mrs. Norris, should we tell him, sweet? Or should we make him figure them out for himself? It'd be more fun to punish him all the time for breaking one – certainly a good way to train little monsters, isn't it?"
Fudge whimpered in between the licks of the whipping. He was rapidly swinging between unconsciousness and complete, searing pain. Which is how Argus Filch wanted it.
"Bad Dumbledore hasn't let us have an assistant since we made the mistakes, has he, Mrs. Norris? So what if Buford Norris and Amanda Prewitt Norris had some difficulties while they were supposed to be cleaning out the Iron Maiden? I can't help that my assistants weren't very smart – or that I didn't clean up their blood very well. Who knew you weren't supposed to fit two people into a single-person-model of the Iron Maiden? Ridiculous. Well, my explanations were enough to avoid prosecution, but not enough to avoid the Headmaster's scrutiny." Here he bent down to pet his cat. "Good times. Ah, good times. But then I found you and named you after that Mrs. Norris, didn't I, Mrs. Norris? To remember Amanda Norris, a living memorial… And you're a much better catcher of rule breakers than that other Mrs. Norris was, aren't you?"
Fudge just whimpered. He didn't want to know what had happened to the previous assistants. He just wanted to go home. To get in his bed, with its silk sheets, suck his thumb, and fall asleep.
And, thus, Cornelius Fudge passed out again. And Argus let him sleep through the night, still in the chains. And, in his office high above Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore laughed the laughter of the righteous and the insane.
"Everything has its cost," he whispered to his phoenix while sucking on a lemon drop. Albus was superb at determining and exacting costs when forced into it. But today had been an utter pleasure.
"I rather believe you'll be of more use to Mr. Filch than to Minister Scrimgeour, Cornelius. Politics never really suited you very well…" He started chewing away on the hard lemon drop in his mouth, then. "Well, that decides it, I guess. I'll allow Severus to teach Defense this year. I do enjoy a challenge. Last year Fudge tried to arrest me; perhaps Severus will make the year rather exciting. We've had possessed Quirrell, fraudulent Lockhart, and the fake Moody to thank for most of the fun that's gone on in the last few years. Plus that odious Umbridge woman. I wonder exactly what kind of trouble Severus can provide… Really, staffing for Defense is the most fun I've had in decades."
Sadly, Dumbledore forgot in that moment that 'everything has its cost.' See Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for how that decision turned out.