It was amazing really, Harry Potter reflected glumly. Two weeks since he'd finally destroyed Voldemort, he'd just got of St Mungo's, the Weasleys and Hermione had survived the war. Yet still, the prospect of a meeting with the Minister for Magic had the power to make his heart sink like a lead balloon.
The wizarding world was still celebrating, and everyone was happy. The cloud of anxiety that had hung over everyone's heads for so long was finally gone. The population looked decades younger in the absence of constant worried frowns; the shops on Diagon Alley were even starting to re-open. Almost best of all in Harry's opinion was the re-organisation of the Wizengamot, and some new legislation. The surviving Death Eaters were going to Azkaban, but it would be one without Dementors, and everyone would receive a trial. Harry was determined that there never be another Sirius.
Of course, that didn't mean that the Ministry had entirely avoided unpalatable behaviour. False imprisonments such as that of Stan Shunpike were only now being dealt with, and the Aurors seemed reluctant to give up their wartime right to use Unforgivables on suspects, never mind convicts.
Harry sighed. He was currently standing in a Ministry lift, on his way to meet Rufus Scrimgeour. He wondered if the man was going to ask Harry to be the Ministry mascot again. Harry snorted to himself (and got an weird look from the woman next to him at his various strange noises). There was no way he'd do that, no matter how much it jeapordised his chances of becoming an Auror. The Ministry had been utterly incompetent during the war; its major input seemed to be passing draconian laws and mass Obliviation. Harry was not going to pretend he liked it to please Scrimgeour. It might be a year on, but he was still Dumbledore's man.
The lift pinged and Harry stepped out of the lift, with a large number of the flying memos. The witch he'd been standing next to looked relieved and Harry smiled to himself, wondering what she'd think if she knew the strange, scruffy teenager standing next to her had been Harry Potter.
He looked around the little reception room. Huh. Clearly, Scrimgeour was still more of an Auror than a politician. This floor was all his, and impressively private. However, it had none of the opulence Harry had expected. The room was almost bare, with just a hard bench or two and lights as furniture. Its only real decoration was the engravings on the fireplace. The accessories were all very Auror-ish: magical handcuffs figured prominently. Harry stared wide-eyed at one particularly heavy pair.
"Harry!" Harry spun round and saw Scrimgeour entering through a door behind him. "So glad you could make it," he said, loping towards Harry.
Harry made some sort of affimative noise. Then he remembered Hermione saying through clenched teeth that no matter how the Ministry had behaved, they could only influence it and change it if they worked with it. Harry thought that if she had said that, Hermione who hated the Ministry even more than he did for its betrayal of her ideals, Hermione who was always right, then he should probably try actually replying. After all, when Snape had come back to Grimmauld Place alone, clutching a Horcrux and offering to teach Harry Occlumency properly, Hermione's smugness had been insufferable for weeks. Harry had no intention of going through that again.
"Yeah, I'm...glad to be here," Harry said politely. "Er...nice place."
Scrimgeour gave him a toothy grin. "It is, isn't it? Lovely for...entertaining."
Harry had a sudden flashback of a particular pair of handcuffs near the fireplace, ones that were velvet-lined. He fought a shudder.
"So, do come through to my office, Harry." Harry swallowed and agreed, fighting off a sense that he was in the lion's mouth, and now walking right into its digestive tract. He'd managed to kill Voldemort, after all. He was tough.
There was silence as Scrimgeour lead Harry down the stone corridor towards his office, and the ex-Gryffindor was grateful. He might have grown up in all the ways that counted. He might have fulfilled his destiny, saved the wizarding world, had sex and had his heart broken (Ginny had gotten together with a boy in her own year during the war), but Harry had still not mastered the art of making conversation.
Eventually they came to Scrimgeour's office. Harry, who had for some reason been expecting a small room with rich furnishings, was surprised. The Minister's office was about the size of Harry's old classrooms, and the furniture was spartan. There was also very little paperwork on Scrimgeour's large, solid-looking desk, although Harry suspected this was not down to organisation so much as the ex-Auror's abuse of his new secretaries.
"Do sit down, Harry," Scrimgeour said heartily, gesturing expansively at the couple of chairs in front of his desk. Harry considered asking him not to call him that, since he hardly considered the Minister a friend, but then reminded himself that he'd decided to be polite.
"Thanks." Harry took a seat. After a momentary pause, while Scrimgeour looked at the sitting Harry from his own standing position and Harry determinedly didn't acknowledge his gaze, the Minister sat down opposite him.
"So, Harry. How have you been spending your time as of late?"
Harry looked at him incredulously and only just restrained himself from rolling his eyes. This was what passed for politicians' small talk these days? "Well, I only just got out of St Mungo's. And obviously I wasn't exactly concentrating on hobbies before that," he replied, keeping all but the barest hint of bite from his voice.
"Of course." Give him his due, Scrimgeour recovered quickly after putting his foot in his mouth so magnificently; it was better than his fumbling response after once telling Harry it didn't matter whether he was the Chosen One or not. "Now, you must be wondering why I asked you to meet with me."
"A bit." Not really. I am well aware your motive is almost certainly to ask something of me, to get me on-side, to dictate to me the 'responsibilities' that come with my power.
"Well, Harry, the fact is that despite our earlier differences we owe you an enormous favour. You've done a truly remarkable thing, and the Ministry wishes to express its gratitude."
A moment of silence, marked only by the tick of a grandmother clock. Harry raised an eyebrow.
"Right, well. You will be aware, of course, of the concept of "spoils of war". The winning side in a war has the right to take possessions that once belonged to the loser. This is an idea that retains power." Harry hadn't been aware of it really, but he nodded. "And of course, you know that the Ministry is seizing some properties belonging to Death Eater families, to search for Dark artifacts and make financial restitution for the war." Harry nodded again, hearing in his mind Hermione's rantsabout children too young to have anything to do with Voldemort being sent to Children's Homes, and corruption and illegitimate financial gain.
"We are aware of your history with certain Death Eaters, and we thought our idea might grant you some personal satisfaction." Here Scrimgeour allowed himself a smirk, and Harry wondered who exactly the man thought he was besting. Him, which Harry would not allow, or...? "With Lucius Malfoy in Azkaban for life and Narcissa Malfoy dead, and both surviving family members Marked, the Ministry has of course seized Malfoy Manor. I believe Arthur Weasley was in charge of the team searching it for Dark objects over the last ten days or so. The work is completed, the place is harmless. If you would like it, Harry, the entirety of the house, grounds, and associated properties and possessions belong to you."
Harry only just managed to keep himself from gaping in shock. "You're...giving me Malfoy Manor?" he spluttered. He couldn't process this. He'd been so on his guard and ready for manipulation or demands, and now this? Well, after all Snape's warnings to keep his defences up this morning, telling his almost-friend about this turn of events was going to be fun.
Scrimgeour only nodded, looking as if he quite enjoyed Harry's astonishment. "And of course the various other Malfoy homes, and the family fortune. Narcissa built up quite an impressive stock portfolio. All the furnishings will be yours too, and you'll have a full staff. Four house elves, and then a little...bonus." Scrimgeour smirked again.
Harry still couldn't get his mind around this; his head was reeling. "Seriously, you're just going to hand it over? I already have a house!"
The Minister smiled blandly. "Of course, you're under no obligation to take it. I would advise seeing the Manor before you decide, however. And we're very happy to 'hand it over'. You have saved the people, Harry."
Ah. Harry's mind abruptly cleared. So that was why they were doing this. Harry had saved people, and Scrimgeour wanted to make those people like him by giving things to Harry. This was all a PR exercise to show how nice the Ministry was and how free it was of corruption, giving everything belonging to an old, notoriously influential Dark family to the squeaky-clean young Saviour.
Harry grinned a bit to himself at that thought, and wondered what everyone would think if they knew some of the kinks Harry had discovered in his own subconscious. They were unlikely to find out quickly, though, since aside from some vanilla sex with Ginny – skilled on her part, fumbling and embarrassed on his – and a bit of groping with a nameless male clubber – Harry was still rather inexperienced.
But he was supposed to be thinking about Malfoy Manor, not sex. It should have been barely a question – he was being offered what was no doubt a big place with attractive gardens, no doubt lots of other nice houses, and lots of attractive possessions if Malfoy's school stuff had been any indication. He'd have even more money than before, and more importantly a full staff – which meant Harry would never have to do his own laundry. (Although come to think of it, the staff might be more trouble than they were worth – Harry dreaded to think what Hermione would say if she heard he owned house elves).
Even better, perhaps, was the oppurtunity of sticking it to the Malfoys. Perhaps not to Draco himself – Harry despised him, but he didn't really want to hurt him any more. Harry pitied him rather, especially since he assumed the other boy had ended up dead or in a jail cell with the end of the war. But Lucius Malfoy was an entirely different matter. The thought of that bastard hearing Harry had acquired everything that was his from his Azkaban cell made a shit-eating grin instantly bloom on his face.
However, Harry knew perfectly well it was unlikely to be that simple. Quite aside from Hermione's inevitable indignation about the house elves, what would his other friends think? Would they feel comfortable with this? Could he? Harry was unsure that he could ever think of Malfoy Manor as home. And however carefully the Aurors had combed the place, Harry didn't trust that everything threatening had been removed. Harry's experiences with the Horcruxes had taught him well how innocuous utterly evil items could look. And it would be just like Lucius Malfoy to own things that would prevent a half-blood ever living comfortably in his home.
And that thought was enough to make Harry decide he'd look at the place at the very least. He'd destroyed one of the greatest, darkest wizards of all time. He was damned if worry about Lucius Malfoy's toys would stop him from doing anything.
He smiled at Scrimgeour, who had been surprisingly silent during Harry's brief contemplation. "I'd like to look around."
The Minister nodded, seemingly satisfied. "I'll have someone send you a time for your appointment. One of the wizards who examined the place can easily show you around."
Harry thanked him, and took his leave. Well that was surprisingly painless. Now all I have to do is explain all this to Ron and Hermione.
Harry felt a twinge of apprehension.
"That's fucking BRILLIANT!"
Harry grinned slightly. He should have predicted this response, really. Ron thought the idea of getting a massive house and lots of money was fantastic, and entirely Harry's due for all the shit he'd gone through during the war. The twins were also around, having visited Grimmauld Place supposedly to check up on Harry and his various vanishing wounds, but mainly because they were curious about the meeting with the Minister. On hearing the news, their faces had cracked into identical, evil grins. Fred and George both shared in Ron's malicious pleasure at taking the Malfoy fortune, and were distinctly joyful at all the pranks inspiration sure to come from Lucius' evil family home.
"So you think I should take the place?"
"Of course! Can I come stay with you, Harry? I'd love to mess up some of Malfoy's old stuff," Ron responded eagerly. Harry laughed.
"You bet you can. They probably have a massive garden, don't you think? And a great place for Quidditch! We could all play – "
"What great place for Quidditch?" Hermione's voice came from the doorway of Harry's room. All four males winced a bit. They were well aware that Hermione might not be happy about this. The Weasley boys in particular were nervous of her wrath; with their parents, they'd grown up in full knowledge that the female of the species is often more dangerous than the male.
"Er..." Harry tailed off, then decided to get a hold of himself. He was a Gryffindor, after all. "The Ministry's giving me everything that belonged to the Malfoys as a reward for killing Voldemort."
"What?" Hermione's brown eyes went wide. Harry nodded weakly.
"Bizarre, I know. But Narcissa's dead and Lucius will never leave Azkaban and Draco seems to have dropped off the face of the earth, so the Ministry can easily give it away now they've seized it to look for Dark artifacts. I'm getting everything, from the house to the cash to the house elves – "
Harry stopped, aware he had just made a fatal error. The twins were looking at him like he was an idiot, and Ron seemed mesmerised by the angry Hermione, and all three were backing away so that they wouldn't come between an increasingly enraged witch and her prey.
"House elves?" Hermione's voice was low, but dangerous. "You're going to own house elves? You'll be setting them free though, I'm sure."
Harry swallowed. "Well, sure, if they want me to," he replied. "But most elves don't seem to want their freedom, Hermione. I don't have a problem owning house elves if the Malfoy ones are that kind."
"You don't have a problem?" Hermione said loudly. "You're just going to – to order them around and own them like they're not even human – "
"Well, they're not human! They're not made to be free, Hermione, they're not like us!"
"That's what people like the Malfoys say about people like me, Harry!" Hermione shrieked back at him. "Or your mother!"
"That's not fair!" Harry responded heatedly. "They don't even want to – "
"Anyway, the house elves thing is hardly the only problem!" Hermione interrupted. "The Malfoy estate is private property, Harry. The Ministry had no right to claim it and therefore you have no right to take it."
"Who cares if it's private property? It's property that had to be checked over because the Malfoys seem to have spent centuries filling the place with evil shit."
"Haven't you ever heard of a search warrant?"
"For fuck's sake, Hermione! Who's it hurting? None of the Malfoys can use any of it!"
"No doubt there are relatives who the estate should have gone to," Hermione snapped back heatedly. "Besides, this is a punishment for the Malfoys, and that's illegal. It's something handed down by a bunch of corrupt politicians and it would never be upheld in an honest court!"
"They tried to take over the country, Hermione! Don't they deserve a bit of punishment?"
"Oh, so they did something wrong, so they lose all their possessions, do they?" Hermione shouted at him. "Well, I can hardly say I'm surprised wizarding Britain is a police state, but I never thought I'd see you supporting it, Harry!"
Harry stared at her. "I – that's so unfair! I'm just taking what's my due!"
Hermione glared at him, red-faced. Then she spun, brown hair whipping angrily behind her, and stormed out of the room.