Wednesday, December 24, 1999, continued
Number 12 Grimmauld Place
"Start thinking of a deal that you can accept without choking too hard, and you had better think fast." Masterson was hoping for some visible rage, he needed some amusement after the last 45 minutes.
But he didn't get any, instead there were a pair of resigned looks, it was as if Bill and Harry knew that he was right, but wished that he wasn't. He had to admit that he was impressed by the two of them.
"No jail? Are we going to have to accept that?" Bill was watching Harry out of the corner of his eye.
"You might have to, yes. I'll happily testify against him in court, and so will a few other people I'm sure, but The Wizengamot likes Gawain Robards. A lot. With Vendish disqualified, I don't know if you would have the votes to convict him, even if he did take Veritaserum and spill all he knew. They could just say that what he did fell under a Minister's executive powers, and then turn on you."
Stenner saw the confused looks, and explained.
"Vendish would be forced to disqualify himself because he would gain promotion if Robards was convicted. And I don't know that his fellow colleagues would want to see him elevated." His father would be one of those colleagues not liking Vendish becoming Minister.
"None of us do. But you think we can actually get him to resign? Or does he have to, as you put it, have an 'accident'?"
"He might have to Harry, yeah. And remember, any trial puts at least the two of you on the witness stand, if not your entire cadre, and that would be very bad for all of you. But as it happens, I have an idea. You know that it was Lucius who actually had your godson's grandmother killed, right?"
"Draco confessed to it."
And another Knut dropped, both Aurors knew Draco's ultimate fate now. Stenner recovered quickly though.
"Well good, I'm glad that's taken care of. But I am now thinking of Percy, and his killer is Macel Phideas, who is waiting outside for you to lower your wards. In custody I might add." He had ordered Dreybold to do it, quietly, just in case.
"I'm listening." Harry was hoping that there was good news at the end of this.
"I think she should be the one to cause the accident, if you will. She's looking at life in Azkaban for killing your brother, Bill. I think she would be amenable to an arrangement that lets her exit the country, the same way the victim did, under the same terms. I know her financial situation, you wouldn't even have to get her a job, though she's not fabulously wealthy. Can you live with that Bill?"
"I can, sure. My mother and father however, will be tougher hurdles."
Airy sighed, he liked the deal too, but acknowledged the problem.
"Your mother is not a concern, but your father is a popular man in The Ministry. Get him over here and let's see what he has to say."
Arthur was duly retrieved, and presented with Axel Stenner's plan.
"So Percy's killer will get off scot-free?" He didn't exactly look 'angry', but frustrated ws coming on.
Masterson answered him.
"The actual killer, yes. The one who ordered it is the one who is going to pay the penalty. The ultimate penalty Arthur. I'm not asking if this deal will make you happy, any dimwit can see that it wouldn't. I'm simply asking if you can live with it, keep quiet, and guarantee the same from your wife. I would like to remind you that we're being aboveboard here by presenting this to you, it could easily have been done under the table."
"Why thank you Airy, for your generosity after you invaded this home and tried to arrest my entire family." More than a touch of sarcasm from Arthur there, but it didn't have the effect that he wanted.
"Tried and failed, Arthur. Which is why we're having this conversation in the first place. You won, but it's not a total victory and you know it. It has to come backed with some legitimacy."
"Who takes over as Minister?
"Vendish until the election can be called, and it takes 30 days to put one together usually. So call it February 1st, or something like that. He can't cause too much trouble until then." He hoped.
"Will he be involved in the deal?"
"Eventually, he'll have to know pieces of it now if he's to take over. I didn't hear a 'yes' or a 'no', Arthur."
"We will not cause a fuss, as long as Robards dies. You have my guarantee, and I speak for Molly." He looked at Harry after saying that, but his surrogate son did him the favor of not smirking or otherwise casting aspersions on what he said.
Actually, Harry was impressed that Arthur was being so pragmatic about the whole thing, but he didn't think it would be a good idea to pat the other man on the back just now. Or even later. Instead:
"Well that's settled. But I would like him to go under Veritaserum by force, just so that we know all of what happened."
"That's fair, Axel and I would like the same." A look to his friend confirmed as much.
"And obviously nothing is to happen to anyone in the Order for what went on tonight."
"That assumes that you won't ask for damages for the carnage to your house." Masterson thought that it was a very good deal for The Order if they took it, laws technically had been broken en masse by Harry and his people.
"Fair enough." Nothing had really been broken that couldn't be fixed, or so Harry assumed. He hadn't done a tour yet.
Stenner sent his man Danilo Baronio to go fetch Wival Vendish, who was about to have an early Christmas present. Masterson was still a little flabbergasted that he, of all people, was doing the negotiating, this was not usually his thing. But he realized that he spoke for Auror Command, and that brought him to his next point.
"Now we have to talk about Kingsley."
"Hang on a second. Kreacher!"
"Yes Master, is the business over with?" He looked around, but you never know.
"I sure hope so, how is Teddy?" The Grangers were still up with him.
"He is still asleep, or knocked out, I do not know which."
That was a long speech for Kreacher, and Bill started smiling, as Harry answered.
"Okay then, go into the living room and make sure that everyone is fed and watered. There should be enough food to keep people busy."
"Of course, we always have extra."
"Thank you Kreacher, you've done a terrific job tonight."
"Good, now that that's taken care of, let's talk about Kingsley. Airy, I imagine that you have some ideas on that, or at least what you would like to have happen."
"I do, thank you Harry. Today was a tactical debacle for Auror Command. Leaving aside whether we should have come in here at all, and I don't think that we should have, but that is ultimately a political question that the politician in question is going to suffer for. But we came in here and got destroyed, figuratively, and heads have to roll for that. Kingsley needs to go. If he's willing to be demoted back to regular Auror, I have no problem with that. But Head Auror? Not after today, not again anytime soon. Axel?"
Stenner had a different idea:
"A quiet reassignment within the government, but take away his Auror privileges. You can't recover from what happened today, and once it really hits home for the rank and file that he effectively turned on you Order lot because Robards was waving succession plans in front of him? I don't know anyone that would want to be on a crew with him, he'd all but be ostracized from the first week."
Airy had something to say, as everyone chewed on that:
"Are you wanting more than that for him?"
"As long as he didn't know ahead of time about the murders of Andromeda and Percy, we're fine with Axel's option. Right Harry?"
"Sounds good, though I don't want him in the Department of Magical Games and Sport."
That got some chuckles, as the DMGS oversaw the BQL in conjunction with the league owners, and organized the English, Scottish, and Welsh national Quiddtich teams, the first and third of which Harry was eligible for. Any high ranking DMGS person would have a decent amount of Harry contact, even if only through paperwork.
Arthur had stuck around, so he cleared his throat.
"I'll take him. My third in charge is retiring in March, he can take over for her. Better that he be watched over by someone who knows him, at first anyway." That job was the one he had in mind for Ginny in a few years, but she needed more experience anyway.
Both Aurors liked that solution, and Stenner said as much.
"That sounds very reasonable of you Arthur, thank you. Who is to be your sponsored candidate for Minister then? Diggory?"
"That is our agreement with him, he would make a decent caretaker. Your ideas?" Bill kept his voice neutral, as if hoping that they would have a better idea to present to him.
Airy and Axel looked at each other and shrugged.
"He's a good a candidate as any, everyone in the department either likes him, respects him, or both."
"Glad to hear it. We'll make sure that the two of you are suitably promoted for your efforts today."
A pair of cynical chuckles from the Aurors, as Airy smiled:
"You think you have that much influence with him? How long has he been working with you?"
"Not long, but he was the one who told us about the habeas corpus and the inspections."
"Tricky, very tricky. Now, while we're alone. This information will stay between us, but we have to know: How high is your body count? Don't deny the Yaxley thing, and you've already fessed up to Lucius. Draco and Narcissa too I take it?"
"Yes, and sort of." Bill couldn't wait to tell an outsider this story, and these two guys, neither of whom he had ever met, seemed okay.
"Pansy Malfoy, while working for us, took it upon herself to kill Narcissa."
Stenner and Masterson both started chuckling until they realized that Harry wasn't kidding. The former:
"You had the Parkinsons working for you?"
"Just Pansy and Anson, we killed Pansy when she tried to have Hermione killed."
More eye goggling, but Masterson quickly put an end to this line of talk:
"Okay, Boxing Day, lunch in London, the four of us and your ladies. You tell the whole story, and we will fill in whatever gaps need to be filled in. Otherwise we'll be here all night, and there are things need attending to before we leave."
"Deal. Now what?" Bill assumed it would be Robards stuff.
"We wait for that fraud Vendish and give him his good news. But before that, Harry, please take the Metamorph thing off your door so that we can talk to Phideas." Later on, Stenner was going to ask Harry to teach it to him, it could be very valuable.
Harry did so, and Macel Phideas was brought into the house. She had a very scared look about her, especially seeing Masterson and Stenner so allied with Bill and Harry, though it was mostly an act for their consumption. She knew that the latter two had to know about Percy, and that black sheep or not, a Weasley was still a Weasley. After putting up a Silencing Bubble, Stenner got to the point right away:
"Macel, it's your lucky day……..night, whatever. You will not be charged with any crimes, but instead you will 'voluntarily' emigrate to the non-Britain country of your choice, never to return of course. There is just one thing that you have to do first." He made the thing seem almost inconsequential.
"A full confession?" She asked rather hopefully.
"That would be nice, but we need you to take care of a problem for us. A certain someone needs to die, and it would just wonderful if you would take care of that for us, and of course take the blame."
"You don't mean……" She almost couldn't believe her ears.
Stenner was loving this.
"Yep, you will assassinate the Minister of Magic. Do it, and you stroll right on out of the country a free woman. Banished, sure, but free. You have five seconds to decide."
"Why me?" She was thinking that a pensieve memory of this conversation in the right hands would be very valuable for her.
"Because you're convenient, that's why. And don't get any ideas about blackmailing us, if I get even one whiff of betrayal from you, into Azkaban you go, without trial, for a long, long time." Axel was already trying on the title of Head Auror Axel Stenner in his mind, and liking it very much.
And she believed his threat, everyone could tell, Stenner had the reputation of someone who could get that done. Masterson decided to pitch in to the effort:
"Your five seconds are up Macel, decide now."
"Good. You'll be taken downstairs and guarded, after we're done with the subject, you will do the deed, and somehow escape. Do we have an understanding?" Masterson too was thinking about the office he would have as the DMLE Head under the new regime, once Diggory took over.
"We do. Sir."
"Excellent, remember, everyone gets what they want if you do what I say. If not, there will be problems. Lucy!" He called out to Lucy Wolverton, who Stenner had told him was the first to suggest the flipping. She was a riser, Masterson thought, and he delegated the guarding of Phideas to her.
It was easy, as it turned out, as Lucy Stunned her the moment they got to the basement. Phideas was taken care of.
"And what happened to the disappearing men Harry? That was quite an interesting visual you know, poor Axel here missed it."
"Mini-portkeys, the latest thing. I got the concept and execution from some folks at the bank, human and goblin. They get around the wards because the wards prevent you from going outside the house, like a net. They don't prevent you from moving within the house, unless you style them that way, and you lot didn't have that chance, or the time. They went right into a holding pen in the basement."
"And the couldn't use their wands to get out?"
"A magical dead zone that I created, no spells in a two by two meter area. If things go along smoothly between us, eventually I'll teach you how to do it."
He knew that the goblins wouldn't dare teach something like that to an Auror, and Harry planned to extract a humongous concession from Masterson and/or Stenner before he did so. But he could tell that they liked it, that they were intrigued. That was good enough for right now.
One last thing before they went back to the group, as Masterson was a little hesitant.
"I'm guessing that you know we got in because of Rachel Brunsden." Who was now resting comfortably after her ordeal, and in 12 no less.
"Her kids were threatened, and she did what she had to do Harry. The husband was given Veritaserum to see what the parchment did when he violated it, and he was knocked out. How long before he comes to?"
"12 hours, but it's a doubling kind of thing, the next violation will be 24 hours, then 48 and so on." Bill was really proud of the parchments, and was sneakily a little happy that someone had finally tested it, though he wasn't pleased about the circumstances. He also didn't say whether it would double for each person's violation, or each violation within the group. Only he knew that, Bill had not even told Harry that particular detail.
"Well it's non-violent anyway. Look, I played my part with threatening her, and I'm not proud of it. Just be easy on her. What would you have done if we'd had Teddy? Think of it that way."
"I would have started murdering people until he came back to me, and heaven help you if he came back with a scratch." Harry felt that he needed to make a point here.
And it was made, as he saw their faces.
"That said, she'll be fine, no retribution." He enjoyed the looks of relief on their faces, it was clear that both men felt guilty about their part in the Brunsden business. He would never know that Gawain Robards and Trenton Lee had talked about this same thing right before the battle. Lee was in the living room, praying that his boss' questioning wouldn't be so specific as to expose him.
Now Masterson and Stenner went into the living room, where their Aurors were enjoying some free food and beverage, courtesy of Harry. Though not for long.
"Okay, Aurors and other Ministry personnel, it's time to get going. Go home, celebrate Christmas, have fun with your families. Remember, any of you that's quoted in Friday's Daily Prophet is in big trouble unless cleared by myself, Axel, or Mr. Diggory in advance. Thank you for your service today, let us all give thanks that it was not much, much worse here in this little misunderstanding." He waved his arms, and people started trickling out, most of them making a point to say to Harry how impressed they were with his funhouse. After the fact they were impressed, the experience itself was not one they had enjoyed.
Baronio was still not back with Vendish yet, so it was just The Order, along with Stenner, Masterson, Kingsley, and Robards left. The latter two did not have their wands, but otherwise were not tied up in any way. No one was talking with them, and they were, wisely, not talking with each other either.
Bill, who had been content to let Masterson and Stenner do most of the talking before, decided to reassert his authority a bit.
"Kingsley, you have two options right now: Obliviation, or you re-join The Order and sign the secrecy parchment that we now know that you are aware of. What's it to be?"
"I don't like either option Bill, I have committed no crimes, so attempting to put me on trial would be rather pointless." The confidence of one who believes that his ass is covered.
"I don't care what you like, or don't like. You're going to do one or the other as the cost of doing business. You invaded our home, former mate, and we don't want you blabbing about what happened afterward. Do it, or else."
"Or else what?" Harry had been threatening him, vaguely, like this for months, and Kingsley finally decided to call the bluff on Bill.
"Well my Obliviation skills are not those of a professional you know, I might mess something up. A little slip is all it would take." Actually Bill's skills, honed from years in Egypt, were just below professional level and probably good enough to do the job here.
"I'll let you know what I decide, after you finish with The Minister here." He was convinced that they would not hurt him.
"Just remember, you ordered the use of Avada Kedavra against us. We will never, ever forget that. Now sit there and keep quiet." He quietly signaled to Harry to continue:
"As for you, dear Minister. You lost today, please tell me that you are not so thick that you don't realize this."
"I am not, but thank you for pointing it out to me Harry." Robards was now quite scared, unlike Kingsley. Because, unlike Kingsley, he did not have past history with anyone in the room, other than barely knowing Diggory and Arthur before the war. But he chose to appear calm, confident that the by the book Masterson would not allow anything to bad to happen to him. By the book was why he had selected Airy in the first place for his role in the plan.
"You're most welcome. Your letter of resignation in our hands, a full confession under Veritaserum, and this entire mess goes away. No trial, no public reminder that yet again, a Minister of Magic proved to be an incompetent dolt. The fourth in a row, in my opinion, I was in Surrey for Millicent Bagnold so I can't speak for her." He walked up to Robards, who was half a head taller than he was, but it was clear who was threatening whom.
"Did you really think that I wouldn't be ready for you? Really?"
"Not as ready as you were, no. And I don't believe that you'll leave it at a resignation and confession."
"There's no use questioning the air when there is nothing else to breathe, is there."
The rest of the Order didn't think for one second that it would be that easy for Robards, even Molly, which is why not one of them objected.
"I want my trial, where everything will come out Harry, including your own crimes. You will be the star witness in my defense." His ace in the hole, or so he thought.
"Who says you're getting a trial? You removed habeas corpus my friend, you can sit in prison until the law is repealed. Hopefully no one will forget to retrieve you there when it does." Harry liked the look that his riposte generated.
"You're not going to do that Harry, your whole platform would fall apart if it got out that you rigged a coup. No, there will be a trial."
"You understand that you're in a room that is very hostile to you right now, don't you?"
"I'm not afraid." He even sounded like he believed it.
"I give you points for that, or for being such a skilled liar. But either way, you're going to spill what you know. Bill."
Bill kept a copy of the secrecy parchment in his and Fleur's room, on standby sort of. Fleur had gone up to get it, and it was presented to Kingsley.
"Do it Kingsley, our fight is not with you here. Sign it, and nothing harmful other than a demotion will happen to you, and that part is not my call to make anyway. Nothing else will happen, you have my word."
There was debate among designers of such parchments over whether Imperious compelled signatures would work. Bill had not field tested that as of yet, but he was willing to try it if Kingsley balked.
But he didn't. He took the pen and signed, not looking at Robards as he did so. If he had, he would have found that there was no glaring, no contempt. Gawain Robards rarely held grudges unless he had to, he would have done the same as Kingsley did in a similar circumstance.
"Thank you Kingsley, you're now back in the fold, though you will forgive us if we don't trust you, ever. You may leave now, give your wife our best, and have a Merry Christmas."
Bill reached out his hand to shake, and Kingsley had the class to take it. No one told him about his new assignment in Muggle Affairs, but that was due to one key thing:
No one other than Bill and Harry could really talk right now, since outsiders were present. None of those assembled wanted to test the parchment. Even Diggory was smart enough to keep quiet. The now former Head Auror left with as much of his dignity intact as he could muster. Robards was quickly tied up, and Arthur was handed the man's wand, in case Percy's father felt like snapping it any point during the interrogation to come.
Danilo Baronio, Stenner's left hand man, arrived with Wival Vendish, who was taken into the other room and informed of his promotion. To say that he looked happy was rather an understatement, even after being told that the DMLE and its members would insist on a legally timely election.
"No matter, no matter, whatever the current law says is what we will do. I don't even know if I would run anyway. Robards is going to prison?" It didn't really look like he minded the prospect.
"Where would you like him to go, Minister?"
Vendish, despite knowing at best 30 percent of the story, nevertheless had a flexible view of such things:
"Axel, Airy, I am sure that you have things well under control. I have no interest in interfering in the affairs of your fief. Am I needed for anything else?"
"Have a Merry Christmas, Minister Vendish." Airy said that with a straight face, and the newly anointed Minister shook his hand with vigor, as he did the ones offered to him by Axel, Harry, and Bill.
"Harry, if we might have lunch sometime during your BQL hiatus, I would be very interested to get to know you better." Vendish was nothing if not a networker.
Which reminded Harry and Bill greatly of Slughorn, the men even looked similar. Hmmmm.
"Have your assistant send me an owl sir, and I'll be happy to buy you lunch." There was no harm in it, he thought, and it might be nice to be on good terms with at least one Minister of Magic at some point, a welcome change.
The new Minister smilingly let himself out the door, and the four men left stared at each other.
"What the hell have we done?" Stenner was this close to trying to walk this all back.
"You'd better get your father elected Wizengamot Head Axel, or we'll be finished if that salesman wins the election."
"I'll bend his ear at dinner tomorrow, trust me Airy. Now guys, the coup de grace, so to speak?"
"You lot need to sign the parchments too, temporarily, so that we can all talk freely in there." Bill was taking Axel literally when he said that he and his two colleagues were joining the Order, and Masterson was being included too.
"I was wondering why everyone was so quiet." Stenner was very impressed, smiling craftily.
"Rules of the game my new friend, rules of the game."
Both men were willing, and those two, along with Baronio and Wolverton, the latter eventually, all signed, though Masterson had sent his personal crew home without telling them anything. Masterson requested to be the first interrogator, and in a fit of Christmas spirit, Bill agreed:
"Gawain, I don't know what to tell you here. You were at a poker table with a decent hand, but you went all in before knowing what the other players were capable of. Why couldn't you just be Minister and gain support through regular means? The next election is years away, there was no opposition, none. Lucius was put to heel, Harry was trying to get some sleep, there was no one. What happened man?"
"I'll tell you everything, at trial."
"If only it was going to be that simple. Professor Slughorn, if you will please."
Harry got to pull Robards' head back, the last time in his life that he would touch the man. It had the requisite effect though, and Slughorn dropped the Veritaserum inside the prisoner's mouth. Masterson waited for a moment, then commenced firing:
"Your name and occupation for the record please, what are they?"
"Gawain Yosef Robards, Minister of Magic for Great Britain."
"Are you being held against your will?"
"When was your last sexual encounter?" The ultimate control question, and Airy saw Bill and Harry smile.
Robards was single, with no known girlfriend, so this raised some eyebrows.
"Macel Phideas." He did have the grace to look embarrassed.
But Harry couldn't resist.
"Was she willing?" He could see some of his male friends smirking at the question, and even Ginny covered her mouth.
"Well that's nice to hear. She has agreed to work for us, and that does not bode well for you later on, if you don't cooperate." He winked as he said the last bit.
"I'm under a truth drug, how can I not cooperate?" Still, he knew now how they planned to kill him, Robards was quite intelligent in most matters.
"Nuance Gawain, nuance. Was Harry Potter to be killed after his arrest tonight?" Airy figured that he might as well get the big questions out of the way first, for the sake of the audience.
"He has become too formidable an adversary."
"He is 16 years from being able to take your job, why is he an adversary?" This was all for the record, as Masterson knew all too well how formidable an adversary Harry was.
"Because he is a threat, he can galvanize people to do things, he's an insipiration, if you will. If he decided that he wanted us brought down, he could do it. He is the new Dumbledore, like the Daily Prophet was saying."
While Attila Quirke was not hear, his interest in the Order didn't include chatting with them, his granddaughter reacted very visibly to the mention of the family business. She didn't glance at Harry during the Dumbledore mention, one of the few not to do so.
"Would it have been too much trouble to sit down with him, and see where his future interests lay?"
"Seeds needed to be planted, this was set to be a long-term operation."
"The end of next year."
This confirmed Lucius' version of the story, much to the relief of Bill and company. But it still rankled them.
"Why the acceleration?"
"The Yaxley burning, it showed them becoming too proactive for our comfort."
"Who is 'our'?"
"Myself, Phideas, Trenton Lee. They take orders from me, but they know everything."
Trenton Lee's brother lived in Dallas, Texas, and the Auror was on his way to Heathrow right now after some hasty packing of his things. He had known this would happen, and having been to Azkaban as a visitor before, he had no real desire to be an inmate.
Masterson was assuming that Lee would take off, but he made a mental note to try to have him arrested anyway.
"How was Harry to be killed?"
"Lee and Phideas were to use whatever means they wished at the time, during an attempted escape."
"You don't know what they had planned?"
"Only a quick death, no fuss. They were ordered not to torture him beforehand."
"Well that was mighty generous of you. How did you get the money for all of us this? Lucius?" Again, Airy didn't know what the Order knew.
"No, I used Ministry funds, I did not want Lucius to be able to hold that over my head."
"I don't blame you. Please detail for us how you embezzled Ministry funds for your activities."
Robards did so, it wasn't that hard as it turned out, as budgets for The Unspeakables, to name one department, were very black, and specific transactions in black budgets did not go before Comptroller Tanner Leonidas, newly minted Order member and stickler for financial detail in triplicate.
Who would have a coronary when he found out about all of this. As bankers, Bill and Fleur had a funny feeling that black budgets were going to be thing of the past if these three Aurors had anything to say about it.
"How much did Kingsley actually know?"
"Did he know that you planned to kill Harry at some point?"
"He must have suspected, but I never out and out told him." He threw in that first bit as his little revenge on Kingsley, the drugs didn't make him say it.
"Did he know about Percy's death and Andromeda's death."
"Did you have contact with anyone in The True Voice other than Lucius Malfoy?"
"Are you aware that he is dead?"
"No." But he could not have been less surprised.
"Who do you think killed him?"
"Harry, or Bill."
Bill indicated that he wanted to take over the questioning, and Masterson nodded.
"No, and kind of close. Are you unhappy that he is dead?" He wouldn't tell Robards, or the three Aurors, that it was Charlie who had killed Lucius.
"Of course not."
"Were you going to do the killing of him eventually, or were you relying on us to get to it?"
"I was certain that he would goad you enough to snap. Which one of you did it?"
"Pansy killed him, she was working for us the entire time." A lie, and a half truth, as the 'entire' time was somewhat elastic.
Robards surprised them all by chuckling.
"Found a better horse did she? Was she after Potter?"
No gasps, but some raised eyebrows accompanied the question. Harry decided that since Robards was minutes away from dying anyway, there was no harm in telling him. Roger Ebert, and his theory about 'the Talking Killer' would have tut tutted this, but he wasn't around.
"Yes she was, but she got impatient and rushed things, getting caught. I killed her soon after. Sound like anyone you know?" A smile accompanied the remark.
"It does, I should have given the overall plan more time. But mistakes are a part of everyday life Harry, you're not above them yourself, are you?"
"Of course not, but I don't play chess with peoples' lives! I'm a product of my environment Gawain, I assume that we're still on first name basis. You have helped form my environment, so the Yaxley deaths are on your head! I was content to just play Quidditch and live my life, but you lot had to get greedy!"
Harry was less than a meter away as he screamed at Robards, getting some Andromeda issues out of the way. But no one stopped him, his wand was in his pocket, and his hands weren't unconsciously grabbing for it, or balling into fists.
There wasn't a question in there, but Robards chose to respond anyway.
"Yes, I probably should have met with you, gotten a lay of the land. For what it is worth, your friend Kingsley talked me out of it. Not because he had anything hostile in mind of course, but you weren't sleeping and he was conscious of your history with Ministry officials, he didn't want you saying something you might regret later."
"So it's Kingsley's fault?"
"No, it's mine, and if you're going to kill me, I would rather you get it over with."
"I could give rat's ass what you want."
"Lucius and I talked each other into Andromeda, if that's what you are wondering. But tell me that young Teddy isn't better off here, fully in our world with all of these people to take care of him. Andromeda was debating not sending him to Hogwarts at all, did you know that?"
Bill jumped in:
"You are saying that Andromeda might not have sent him to Hogwarts?" That would make the Veritaserum force the truth, Robards' earlier statement was voluntary and could have been a lie.
"I would have had 9 years to talk her into it, don't you dare try to use Teddy to justify what you did." Still, that bothered him a bit, and would later on when he had time to really think about it.
"Mistakes were made, now get your next one over with and kill me."
"That would not be a mistake."
"I beg to differ. You are performing a coup Harry, your first if I'm not in error. But I hardly think it will be your last. You're a lightning rod whether you like it or not, and you will always have to have one eye peeled on the Minister of the day. It's a slippery slope that you are about to step on, but a slope all the same. In fact, it's not really your first coup is it? If you had given Scrimgeour your full throated support, he might have been able to hold out against Voldemort." He liked the looks he got for that last sentence, he was now trying to goad Harry into getting the whole thing over with.
And it worked like the proverbial charm.
"I'm having Dumbledore flashbacks right now, get her up here!"
Harry didn't address that to anyone in particular, but Ron and George nonetheless went downstairs to collect Wolverton and a now revived Macel Phideas.
While they were coming up, Bill asked a few more technical and procedural questions about Robards' activities, but there was little more than what they already knew from him, Lucius, Yaxley, and their own experiences. Pretty much everyone in the room was thinking that waiting another day might not be so bad, but they didn't want to give Vendish any time to think, or Masterson and Stenner to change their minds.
The Metamorph was given her wand, but had another dozen trained at different parts of her body in the bargain. After being placed in front of Robards, Masterson instructed her to fire.
"We know now that he was more than just a boss to you, but that changes nothing of what has to happen. Do it, and you live. If you don't do it, we'll use your wand and blame you anyway, and we'll find a hole to keep you in. Now, if you please. Just put a nice Reducto between his eyes, from that distance it should do the job nicely.
Phideas was very calm under the worst of circumstances, and she had only been attracted to Robards because of his power. Power that was about to be terminated by these people whether she helped them or not. She lined up her wand, less than a third of a meter from him:
It hit his nose, she wasn't the best shot even from close range like this, there was a reason that she was not an Auror. But the nose was driven back through the brain sufficiently to kill him instantly.
With no tears from anyone, the Minister of Magic was now dead. Long live Minister Wival Vendish. For now.
Not part of the deal she had been given was her Obliviation, but Bill did it anyway. He removed the killing part, and the deal offered to her, and instead told her that she was only being accused of the murder, and that if she ran away and never returned to Britain, she would be safe.
The parchment banning her was not used, as this was deemed to be good enough. Whether they ever saw her again, that would be another question. But she left the house without incident, and wound up being on the boat to Cherbourg on Boxing Day.
The four Aurors stayed for a little bit to enjoy some food, after their long evening, but eventually left to be with their own families, all four were married or otherwise spoken for, after a stop to The Ministry to let Rachel Brunsden be with her still unconscious til morning husband. They also took Robards' body with them, he would be 'discovered' in his office tomorrow by the holiday shift, which coincidentally included Danilo Baronio and Lucy Wolverton.
Or not coincidentally.
That left The Order, and after some group cleaning up, Bill had something to say as he raised his wine glass.
"To The Order of the Phoenix. You saw as much teamwork here tonight as you would see in any sports team in the world, muggle or magical. Tonight validated our re-forming all those months ago, I am so very proud of all of us. Thank you."
Everyone lightly applauded, and took a sip. Bender, a bit surprisingly, was next:
"To Harry Potter and his house of horrors, we just routed one of the better trained Auror cadres in the world, thanks in large part to his wards. To Harry!"
A really long round of applause, and Harry was elbowed in the side by Hermione, she wanted him to say something.
"I would like to echo what Bill said, and thank Soren for what she said. You all are my friends and family and I love you all. There have been some hard times over the years, but the day Hagrid told me that I was a Wizard is still one of the greatest days of my life. Thanks to you it is." He raised his glass again, and drained it, a big smile on his face.
And the party continued for another few hours, some steam to let off, a few drinks, or few dozen, to be swallowed. Some celebrating to do. It was the holiday season, and everyone of them felt that magical Great Britain was a safer place than it was on Christmas 1998.
As they were getting ready for bed a little later, Harry and Hermione were pretty quiet, both going over the events of the day, and of the next day. Only 30 minutes until Christmas Day remained, there was The Burrow to visit, the Granger house, and the opening of presents by Teddy, and other people. But mainly by Teddy, the little fellow was getting quite a haul.
It was only after they were in bed, with the lights out, that Hermione spoke.
"So this mess today should make for an interesting chapter in your book." He had told Hermione about the book from the start, even before they began their relationship. But no one had read it yet, or even knew where he kept it for that matter. And people had looked.
"Oh it will be more than one chapter, but yeah, big doings in 12."
"Another fire that was put out."
"I know, our little world seems more flammable that the muggle world, doesn't it?"
They shared a laugh, and snuggled together.
"That's because even the weakest of us is dangerous, but it does make life interesting. I wonder what the next chapter is going to bring?"
"You know, I kind of hope that it doesn't happen for awhile, if ever." He sounded a bit conflicted as he said it.
"Really? Ever?" She could see how Harry would want a break though.
"I know I keep getting told that I like being around the action, and maybe that will be the case. But I do kinda want to see if the grass is greener on the boring side of life." He took a deep breath and smelled her hair, he knew that life with Hermione would always be fun, how could he have ever thought of trading her in?
"Well then that's what I want for us too. No more The Adventures of Harry Potter? The book is complete?" Boring might not be so bad, right?
He drew her even closer, as they prepared to celebrate the first minutes of Christmas in a very fun way.
"Maybe, we'll see."
And I Thank You