A Change of Strategy

Chapter 6

Potter was practically skipping as they left the court. Severus settled for a more dignified nonchalance.

Outside, Arthur Weasley was waiting. Apparently he'd not been able to tell much from the expressions of the wizards filing out of the atrium, and still didn't know Potter's fate.

Well, 'fate' made it sound rather negative. So Weasley didn't yet know Severus's fate. He got to keep Potter in Potions for another year.

Potter filled the Weasley sire in, "Cleared! Of all charges!" Weasley and the boy hugged, and then the man insisted in trying to shake Severus's arm off in gratitude.

"You should come by for dinner tonight, Severus. Molly's making meatballs. We'll have a celebration!"

Naturally. The Father of Ronald Weasley tries to repay a perceived debt with food.

"I have a previous engagement."

"That's a shame."

"Yes." He replied, without conviction. Potter looked just as disappointed as Severus felt. Not a good sign, but still somehow a relief.

Severus turned to the boy. "Come on Potter. I'll take you back to Grimmauld Place," The overjoyed releif faded slightly from Potter's eyes. His gaze shifted to Weasly,"Unless you'd like to stay here for the remainder of the workday." Potter was undecided, still. Severus so wanted to just leave him, but Dumbledore's 'suggestions' were not to be ignored. "Five hours, Potter." The boy still appeared willing to wait it out. Severus was willing to let him, and was about to do just that; he'd tried after all, and been polite about it too.

"Harry. I've got regurgitating toilets today." Weasley prompted.

Now Severus was defiantly willing to leave the boy. And he was a little shocked. A Ministry employee of almost three decades and Weasley was still doing the work of an unpopular intern? Indeed, while his less qualified and less talented son works closely with the highest level of Wizarding Government. Only under this regime.

But Potter apparently preferred Severus's company slightly more that of a regurgitating toilet.

A sign of progress, surely.

They made it up a few floors, almost to the elevators, when they were once again waylaid. Severus began to wonder if he would ever make it out.

This time it was Lucius Malfoy. Possibly the one man who could get away with loitering around the Department of Mysteries.

That was an indication that the Dark Lord was getting desperate. Malfoy's job had always been to do nothing to arouse suspicion. To simply remain slightly racist, but rich enough to make it okay.

More recently he'd been instructed to throw his full and considerable support behind the Ministry's I-don't-want-to-believe-it-so-I-won't policy. For him to be Staking Out the Ministry's most guarded department was quite telling.

Potter had stopped short at the sight of him there, talking casually with Fudge. Understandable. Potter had recognized Malfoy at the Death Eater's reunion a few weeks ago. Severus saw anger and a flash of fear run through the boy's eyes.

He wondered for a moment if Potter would bring it up. It could be amusing to see Malfoy ruffled, as people tend to get when they're called out as terrorists in front of their Head of State.

But since Malfoy was one of very few who knew about Severus's orders regarding Potter, he would probably let them pass without incident, knowing to avoid confrontations with Potter while Potter was with Severus, so subconsciously Potter would stop connecting time with Severus and negative confrontations. Fudge, however, couldn't manipulate heated water to boil.

So, feeling he had Lucius Malfoy on his side, Fudge took another stab at scathing sarcasm.

"Lucky escape, Potter." Severus saw Malfoy suppress an eye roll, and was reminded why he had once so enjoyed Lucius' company. It was a sign that Malfoy intended to back him up on this one. Severus was always uncomfortable with how relieved he always was when he and Malfoy ended up on the same side. Even over trivialities like this.

Malfoy cut in before Potter could reply, his voice carrying a sophisticated politeness rivaled only by Dumbledore.

"Oh, Potter's quite adept at that. Now Minister, if I may, might we talk in your office?"

"Yes, in a minute." Fudge waved Malfoy away, the blonde man obligingly took a step back, but his face had, for a second, twisted into an ugly expression, and Severus was sure Fudge would at some point pay for his rude dismissal of A Malfoy. That family's sense of pride was unparalleled. Just how they managed to bow to the Dark Lord was an ongoing mystery for Severus.

Fudge didn't notice any of this though. He had turned to Weasley, whose grasp on Potter's shoulder tightened.

"A bit early to be taking your lunch break, don't you think?"

"It's eleven-thirty."

"Is it really? Heavens!" Fudge said, startled.

"Perhaps we should adjourn to our meeting, then Minister?" Malfoy suggested.

"Yes, of course. Why didn't you tell me what time it is?"

"I apologize." Oh yes, Malfoy was going to make Fudge regret that one. No doubt about it. "Severus." He nodded, Severus returned the gesture, "Arthur," Weasley didn't get a nod, "Potter, congratulations." And the two walked away, talking in low voices.

Weasley lifted his hand from Potter's shoulder. "Lets wait for the next elevator." Severus snorted.

"What's he doing down here, anyway?" Potter burst out. Both Severus and Weasley immediately checked the area, making sure they couldn't be overheard. There was no one.

"Trying to find out if you'd been expelled or not, probably." Weasley answered, "to report back?"

The last was directed to Severus, as a question. Though he knew Potter had been apprised of the situation, this casual reminder threw him for a moment. It caught Potter off guard too.

"No. To satisfy his own curiosity. Draco's too, probably," he smirked at Potter, "Lucius Malfoy always needs to be the first to know, and if he can find out from the Minister himself, all the better."

Weasley was clearly surprised that Severus had volunteered anything more than the 'no,' but was glad for the information. Malfoy's presence was obviously considered more sinister when he represented the Dark Lord than when he was just being nosey.

"What's he talking to Fudge for, then?" Potter ventured, and he seemed to be asking Severus.

"I doubt it's anything too significant. Fudge likes having Lucius around for the same reason he use to like Dumbledore. Their reputations. Fudge feeds on them. The Cornelius Fudge Memorial is much more likley to be built with Lucius Malfoy backing it."

"Malfoy's very well connected, Harry. Been donating gold for years, and now he's calling in the favors… Getting laws delayed… stopping investigations."

"But, if he's meeting with Fudge, how do we know he hasn't put the Imperius Curse on him?"

"We've thought about that." Said Weasley, pressing the button for the elevator.

"There'd be no point," Severus said, in what Harry recognized as his Detention voice, "Why bother? Fudge is unwittingly doing more for the Dark Lord's cause than anyone would have dared make him do under a spell. They'd be too scared of arising sucspicion to do half the moronic things Fudge has done of his own free will!"

"Not very comforting, eh Harry?" Weasley cut in. Severus composed himself as they stepped into the mercifully empty elevator.

Well, from the look Potter was giving him, he'd just made his loyalties quite clear. Okay. He probably just saved himself from an akward conversation some time in the future.

Merlin. He was becoming an optomist now.

A/N – Hi, hope you liked it. My spell check's down again, so I'm sorry about any mistakes. I read it over a few times, but I probably missed a few errors.

I've started writing with the book open infront of me, so Harry moods should at least match up with JKR's events. So, hopefully, that's starting to improve.