Twenty-Seventh Movement: White Synthetic Noise
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June 27, 1993
Early-morning sunshine filtered through the east window, bathing the Headmaster's office in warm, delicate light. Gryffindor's sword, standing proudly in its display case, gleamed at his inspection. Reflected in the crystal depth of the glass he beheld a young teenager with thin features, and bright, piercing blue eyes. He ran a single hand through his unruly mop of dirty-blonde hair where renegade strands stuck out in random directions.
Lowering his hand, he slipped it into one of the pockets of his crisp black robes, finding the handle of the wand nestled within. It was twelve inches of cedar polished to a fine sheen, with a core made from dragon heart-string. A fine wand it was, reactive to his command, an artifact which prior to his arrival at the Flamel Estate, had just been gathering dust upon the plush velvet cushion which lined the drawer.
However, for all its virtues, it was not his own. The eleven inches of holly, the twin to the wand favored by the Dark Lord, currently resided deep beneath London, within the heart of the Ministry of Magic.
"Are you certain you want to do this, Harry?" asked Perenelle, sending a worried glance in his direction.
Harry Potter broke his gaze away from the mirror. Even since the Flamels had cast the glamours, a Coloring Charm for his hair and eyes, and an Obscuration Charm for the lightning-bolt marring his forehead, he had not been able to keep his eyes from his reflection.
"I am certain," he said, with utmost confidence. Even though he couldn't be exactly sure what awaited him there, a fact which understandably made his surrogate parents nervous, Ron Weasley had put himself out on a perilous limb to redirect the ire of the Aurors onto him rather than Harry. It would have been wrong to leave Ron hanging in the wind, and not offer his testimony at the hearing.
Besides, it'd be nice to have his wand back sometime before he became of age.
Seated behind the enormous, claw-footed desk, Dumbledore inclined his head in approval at the statement. When Harry had made his intent clear to testify, the Headmaster had made his office available for them to travel to the Ministry. An arrangement far more preferable to entering through Muggle London.
"In that case, I suppose we should be heading off," Nicolas stated, taking a quick glance at pocket watch attached to a silver chain, before placing it back into the folds of his light-grey robes. "Albus, you have my thanks for simplifying the travel logistics for us."
"The pleasure is all mine," stated the Headmaster in pleasant tones, before turning to Perenelle. "I know that you nervous about Harry's wellbeing, but I have had every assurance from Madam Bones that he will not face any harassment from Ministry personnel." As the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, it had been Amelia Bones' notion to have Harry travel in disguise. Not for the benefit of the Ministry, but to allow for a more inconspicuous entrance when traveling through security.
"Very well," the witch in question answered, her lips thinned to a line. She had went along with Harry's insistence at traveling to the Ministry, but had clearly not forgiven Dumbledore for the life threatening danger Harry had faced during both of his years at Hogwarts. "Are we ready to depart?"
"We are," Harry said, moving towards the wide fireplace. On the mantle was an open wooden box, two-thirds full of a bright green powder. He carefully took a pinch between his thumb and index finger.
"We'll be right behind you, Harry," assured Perenelle. "Just wait for us."
Fighting the urge to roll his eyes, he nodded, tossing the Floo Powder into the chimney. The cold, dead ashes roared to life in a blaze of brilliant green flames. Head held high, he stepped into the inferno.
"Ministry of Magic!"
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Ashes in his mouth, Harry was spat out of a small fireplace, stumbling slightly. As he regained his balance he glanced around, mouth dropping open.
The entrance hall of the Ministry of Magic was gigantic, dwarfing Harry. A hundred feet overhead hung a peacock-blue ceiling inlaid with gleaming gold symbols that moved and rearranged themselves by the second. Walls of a dark, polished wood held up the ceiling, with fireplaces and apparation points breaking up the paneled sections.
To his left, stretching from the far end of the entryway to just past where he stood, taking up half of the hallway, lines and lines of witches and wizards waited with annoyed, impatient looks on their faces. Bronze pedestals connected via red velvet ropes partitioned the lines, herding everyone like cattle towards the front of the hall.
"Hey kid, wake up," ordered a droll voice. Harry turned, to see a witch in blue robes approach him from the beyond the edge of the small, brick platform. In her hands she held what looked like an old-fashioned muggle TV antenna, making a silver 'V'. "Eyes ahead, hands by your side."
"Sorry, ma'm," apologized Harry, taking a few steps forward to where the witch in question regarded him with bored, disinterested eyes. He did as bidden, staring out across to the outgoing side of the Ministry entrance, which barely had any foot traffic at all.
With movements that spoke of endless repetition, the Ministry Security witch waved the contraption at Harry, going from head to knees, then left to right across his midsection.
"What are you bringing into the Ministry today?" she asked.
"Um, just my wand," Harry said, keeping his hands to the side.
"No other items? No papers, no Dark artifacts, no potions? Possession of undeclared items can result in a fine of up to one hundred galleons and criminal charges."
"No, that's it," he assured her, once she had finished running through her script.
"Alright then. Please proceed to Aisle Seven. The Ministry wishes you a safe and productive day," she finished, before motioning him to step off the platform and onto the polished wooden floor. Apparently done with him, she turned her attention back to the fireplace just as it roared to life in a flash of green flames.
Coughing in quick, delicate bursts, Perenelle emerged from the fireplace, taking a few crooked steps before regaining her balance. She flashed him a quick smile, before enduring the same questions and probes from the Secrecy Sensor Harry had received.
"Please proceed to Aisle Five," the Security Witch said, finished with her spiel. "The Ministry wishes you a safe and productive day."
Perenelle, not bothering to hide her annoyance, moved her gaze over to Harry, who put seven fingers up in the air.
"My ward was assigned to Aisle Seven," the French witch spoke up, drawing the Security Witch's attention back to her.
"Sure, that's fine too," the witch said with a casual shrug, before returning her attention back to the next entrant from the Floo Network.
Satisfied, Perenelle stepped down from the platform, and walked over to Harry.
"Did they give you any problems?" she asked, staring around distrustfully at the massive throngs of congestion heading up towards the far end of the hall.
Harry shook his head.
"Not really. Just what she was supposed to do."
Perenelle gave a sharp nod, before letting out a loud sneeze.
"I hate 'ze Floo Network," she rapidly spat, her French accent making a brief cameo, before she took a deep, calming breath. As she did, Nicolas passed through the first security checkpoint and joined them at the entrance to Aisle Seven, the number etched in gold upon the hardwood right outside it. Taking the lead, Harry walked down the aisle, the Flamels flanking him as he walked.
It was not long before he stopped, reaching the start of the aisle's line. A wizard dressed in green robes, a thick bundle of papers tucked beneath one arm, took one bleary, half-awake glance back at Harry, before his gaze moved back towards the front of the hall.
"Did the Security Witch at the Floo ask you about your guardians?" asked Perenelle.
Harry shook his head in reply, causing his guardian to let out a frown of displeasure.
"From what Dumbledore spoke of Ministry security protocol, she should have been expected to ask an Underage witch or wizard if they are being accompanied by an adult. It is a measure to protect children from being separated from their parents and getting lost."
"That probably would have prevented the different line assignments," Nicolas mentioned. "Not that it turned out to be difficult to change lines. "
"Is that not the point, dear?" asked Perenelle with narrowed eyes. "Why bother making up rules in the first place if you have no intention of enforcing them?"
"Well, it is one thing to draft a law and quite another to actually enforce it. That takes far more work, which as we know, is the bane of any bureaucracy."
As Harry let out a snicker at Nicolas's comment, he saw the golden symbols on the ceiling begin to rearrange themselves, beginning to form into words.
"Please…keep…conversation…to a…minimum," read Harry aloud, before shaking his head. Leave it to the Ministry to take something as majestic as a lettered ceiling and turn it into a crowd control method.
"What do you think the odds are that each and every one of our words is being recorded and analyzed?" mused the old alchemist, staring up at the warning with a bemused expression.
"Large enough that you should consider listening to it," said Perenelle with an uncharacteristically sour expression, crossing her arms and tapping an impatient foot on the floor.
Conversation ground to a halt as the line inched forward. He glanced around, seeing the writhing mass of humanity edge closer, and wondered how people did it day in, day out. Having to spend an hour each day just trying to get through the gates, moving at the pace of a funeral procession…was it any wonder that all the other witches and wizards looked so miserable?
As the line crept forward, the aisles all began to curve to the left, hugging a giant fountain in the middle of the hall. Golden figures stood in the middle of the marble fountain, standing so high that the ceiling above them had been raised. A wizard and a witch stood proud and tall, wands pointed outward, at an unseen threat. A goblin, a house-elf and a centaur stood lower than the humans, staring up at them with an expression Harry could only describe as rapturous. Small streams of water flowed down from the tips of the wands, as well as from the arrow notched in the centaur's bow, the very top of the goblin's pointed hat, and from both of the house-elf's ears.
"Uh, why is the water coming from inside its ears?" asked Harry.
Nicolas let out a small chuckle. "A good question Harry, but I have a better one: Under exactly which condition would you see a goblin wearing an expression like that while talking to a human?"
"I can't think of one," replied Harry to the impossible question. From his admittedly brief interactions with the goblins, he had learned that wizards were a barely-tolerated inconvenience.
As they moved further down the line, the aisle curving back towards the center as they passed the fountain, he saw a long row of booths manned by a member of the security team. As Harry watched, he saw a portly wizard with dusky-skin hand over his wand and receive a slip of paper in return. He threw the guard a cool glance, before stepping beneath the narrow golden arch which ran from booth to booth. As he passed under the threshold, the coil of dark hair atop his head vanished, leaving behind a thin horseshoe which ran from ear-to-ear.
The wizard clapped a hand to his head as the glamour vanished, shouting out something that sounded close to 'madarchod'.
"Wonder what he said?" mused Harry, as Perenelle let out an annoyed huff of air.
"I am certain it was not 'thank you for letting me know about the glamour-dispelling wards placed at the Ministry entrance'."
As the wizard spun his head around, dark eyes burning, as if daring someone to laugh, it occurred to Harry that the same thing would happen to him shortly unless something changed.
"Where is he?" Harry asked, craning his head around. Dumbledore had promised an Auror named Kingsley Shacklebolt would be available to escort him through the security checkpoint, to avoid making a scene…but where was he?
"I do not know, but if he is not here shortly, there is going to be a problem," stated Perenelle, who was clearly losing patience quickly.
"Excuse me. Excuse me."
Harry turned as the deep, confident voice rolled out across the throngs of tightly packed wizards, from the middle of the hall. People cleared out of the way of the authorative tone, making way for a tall man with a completely shaved head, a golden earring in one ear and the crimson robes of an Auror.
"My apologies on keeping you waiting," he said by way of greeting, inclining his head slightly in their direction. "Monsieur, mademoiselle, Harry; if you could follow me?"
Without waiting for an answer, he motioned for them to follow and made his way through the crowd. They followed in his wake, attracting sullen glances of envy and annoyance. Kingsley held each velvet robe for them, until they reached the wide middle aisle, which was almost free from people.
The Auror led them to the security booth, where a well-muscled security wizard wearing peacock-blue robes that seemed a size too small, waited for them. The Auror took the lead, reaching into his robes to withdraw a signed piece of parchment.
"What's this, Shacklebolt?" the security wizard asked, as he took the paper from the Auror and read it, his lips moving silently. Once done, he looked up at the Auror with a skeptical expression. "Is this for real?"
"Did you happen to notice Amelia Bones' signature at the bottom?"
"No, I believe it," he said with a shake of head. "I guess I'm just surprised….right then. Wands out, lady and gentlemen. I will still need your wands, but if the head of the DMLE says you don't need to pass through the dispelling ward, I don't get paid enough to question her."
Nicolas and Perenelle bore twin looks of distaste, but nonetheless handed over their respective wands. They gave their receipts dubious glances, taking them without comment.
The guard took one last glance at Kingsley, before shrugging and going back inside the booth. A moment later, a brief hum emitted into the air as the outer wards deactivated. The Flamels passed through the archway as Harry handed over his wand. The guard eyed him speculatively, as if trying to gauge why a young teenager was being afforded a luxury usually only offered to high-ranking Ministry officials, but kept his questions to himself.
"One wand – cedar, twelve inches, with dragon heart-string," read the guard, before handing Harry the receipt. He took it with a word of thanks, before passing through the deactivated wards, joining the Flamels.
A large gate ran the entire length of the area past the booths, with individual revolving doors set at even intervals into the gate. Beyond lay a wide bank of elevators, each with an assigned guard.
Despite being surrounded by members of Ministry security, he couldn't help but feel nervous without a wand at hand. Usually, no matter how bad a given situation became, he'd at least have the means to defend himself. Here, however…
"They don't fool around with security here, do they?" asked Harry as Auror Shacklebolt led them to an elevator in the center.
"Not at all. Three years ago, a security breach claimed the lives of several Ministry employees. The new measures were said to be a matter of necessity."
Harry turned back to the Flamels, wondering if he was the only one who noted the deliberate phrasing of the Auror's explanation. As they approached the elevator, the door opened. As they filed in, the guard went to follow, but a single glance from Shacklebolt caused him to reconsider.
"Not even ten years ago, there was none of this nonsense," claimed Nicolas, waving an annoyed hand in the direction they had come from. "It is all smoke and mirrors; if someone were truly motivated to blast their way in, Ministry Security would not have much of a chance of stopping them."
"Oh, I wouldn't be too sure about that," Shacklebolt argued. "You haven't exactly seen the finest the Ministry has to offer."
"Do they ever lose the wands, or hand them out to someone else?" Harry asked as the elevator doors closed.
"Now there is a comforting thought," complained Nicolas. "That wand has been mine for over half a millennium. And now it could be gone if one thing is filed wrong? Ridiculous."
"Speaking of which," Harry said, switching gear, "You never did tell me where my backup wand came from."
"No, I do not believe I did."
Nicolas kept his expression neutral, but Harry thought he saw the ghost of a smile form as the moments from his statement began to add up.
"Well what?" Nicolas questioned with manufactured, polite curiosity. "Did you ask a question?"
"You know what? I don't think you even know who it belongs to."
"You are welcome to keep believing that," Nicolas said with a slight smirk, before the elevator slowed to a stop.
"The Department of Mysteries," declared a cool, female voice as the door opened, revealing a hallway with dark bare walls, the only feature a plain black door at the end of the corridor. Shacklebolt led them towards it, before leading them to the left, down a flight of steep stone steps.
Their path bore a striking resemblance to the upper levels of the Hogwarts dungeons, replete with rough stone walls and dim flicking torchlight.
"Why doesn't the lift go down here?" asked Harry, to which Shacklebolt shook his head.
"There was hardly any aspect of this entire building that was planned. Related departments sometimes have seven floors between them. Courtroom Ten is another shining example of this fact."
They took a turn into a corridor that ended at a massive ironwood double door. As it came into view, Harry began to tense mentally, knowing full well what lay beyond it.
Shacklebolt, however showed no interest in the set of double-doors at the end of the dimly lit hallway, instead opting for a heavy door on his right.
Beyond it lay a small sitting room, cluttered with wooden, straight-backed stairs devoid of any cushioning. A small fire burned in a fireplace upon one of the walls, sending the light shadows aflutter. On one of the tables were scattered issues of Daily Prophet, the top one showing a black and white Cornelius Fudge standing behind a podium silently answering reporter's questions bearing somber expressions.
"It lacks for comforts," the Auror mentioned, his tone apologetic, "but if everything goes according to plan, you shouldn't have to wait here long, Mister Potter. A member of the Wizengamot Security Force will be here shortly to escort you to the trial."
"Thank you for showing us the way," Harry said before the Auror could duck out. If someone less courteous had shown them the way, someone who wouldn't have allowed him to bypass security, their entrance could have quickly turned into a fiasco.
The dark-skinned Auror inclined his head at the thanks, before exiting through the door opposite of the entrance. Once Shacklebolt left the room, Nicolas shot a disdainful glance at one of the chairs.
"Harry, I almost envy your upcoming date with the Wizengamot. At least you will be able to stand."
"So what exactly is preventing you from standing here?" Perenelle asked, shaking her head. Her husband opted to ignore the question, turning to Harry.
"Ready to drop the disguise?"
"I suppose so," Harry said, barely paying attention to his two guardians. The closer the testimony loomed, the less sure he was about agreeing to it. Despite all of Dumbledore's assurances, any Auror with two brains cells to collide would be able to tell that his story of Lucius Malfoy's death bore a striking resemblance to Swiss cheese.
He glanced towards a mirror mounted on a nearby wall, and saw the long hair begin to shrink upwards and lose its perfect straightness, regressing to the unruly mop that it had always been. The infamous scar was revealed when the obscurations were lifted, and the world became blurry as his eyes reverted back to normal, prompting him to pull his glasses from his robes.
Back to his familiar self, all that was left was waiting. He tried sitting down in one of the chairs, before quickly jumping up.
"Think these are a holdover from the Inquisition?" Harry asked, rubbing the slightly sore spot on his posterior region.
"I told you they looked uncomfortable," Nicolas said with a sad shake of his head, "But was my extraordinary insight paid any heed? Yet again, I am afraid not."
Perenelle let out a definitely un-ladylike snort of disbelief, as the door they had entered through opened. A witch in peacock-blue robes slashed with three purple strips on the arms, and another pair running from armpit to hem, appeared. Her movements were confident, brown hair pulled back into a tight, pristine bun, her hazel eyes watchful.
She struck Harry as a force to be reckoned with, and certainly more competent and professional than the teams that worked the Ministry entrance.
"Mister Potter, I presume," she greeted, holding the door open. "If you would please follow me."
Harry took a deep breath, before turning back to the Flamels.
"You will be fine, Harry," encouraged Perenelle, before favoring him with a hug a quick peck on the forehead. She had given great protest to allowing him to enter the courtroom on his own, without his guardians, but there was no give in the iron law of the Wizengamot.
"You will be better than fine," added Nicolas, embracing Harry for a short moment before stepping back.
"Thanks," mumbled Harry, before turning and stepping out from the waiting room. There may have been more to the assurances lain by the Flamels, but he found that he was sweating slightly. Why was he suddenly convinced this was all going to end in disaster?
The witch led him down the hall, to the immense door, wrought with an immense iron lock. At his approach, it opened silently, like a yawning mouth. Taking a deep breath, Harry stepped into the dim light.
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He arrived to ominous silence.
Courtroom Ten was an arena-sized room, its stone walls dimly lit by torches. Empty benches rose in every direction, save for directly in front of him, where shadowy figures lurked on the highest levels. It was like the Hogwarts dungeons, expanded to mammoth proportion.
"Mister Potter," rang out a cold, businesslike male voice. One that was very familiar. "Please take a seat."
Harry glanced over to the center of the room, where a wooden chair sat forlorn, its wooden arms draped in chains. His footsteps echoed throughout the courtroom, creating an avalanche of sound in the crypt-like quiet. The chains rattled menacingly when he sat upon the very edge of the warped wood, but to his relief, the chains stayed in place. Still wondering if the chains would change their mind and come to life, he walked across the room, to where two more members of the Wizengamot Guard stood at attention, as still as statues.
Above the guards sat the full contingent of the Wizengamot. Their number was close to seventy, each one wearing plum-colored robes with a silver 'W' stitched upon the left breast. Few seemed overjoyed to see him, most bearing austere expressions.
Front and center sat Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic. His trademark lime-green bowler was missing, but his thinning grey hair had been swept back, giving him the look of a predatory bird. To his right sat a broad, square-jawed witch with short-cropped, grey hair, her monocle reflecting the dim torchlight. To his left sat a squat witch with a broad, flabby face, no neck and a wide, slack mouth. In her short, iron-grey hair she wore a black velvet bow.
"Harry Potter," addressed the Minister, cold eyes fixed upon him. "You have been summoned here today, on the twenty-seventh day of June, to testify in the criminal hearing of Mr. Ronald Weasley, who stands accused of multiple crimes, including the use of unsanctioned usage of the Dark Arts, possessions of potions banned by the Nuremgard Accords, usage of Unforgivables, and most egregious of all, murder."
Harry began to sweat lightly, rubbing his hands along the side of his trousers. Despite Ron's selfless act to take the fall for his actions, the fact remained that he was the one who had lashed out. It was him who had killed Lucius Malfoy with a Dark cutting curse to the throat.
"Interrogators: Cornelius Oswald Fudge, Minister of Magic; Amelia Susan Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement; Dolores Jane Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister."
Keeping a calm exterior, Harry told himself that he needed to follow the script. Clara Vance, the Weasley's lawyer, had already told him what to expect and how to answer the Minister's questions.
"Mr. Potter, if you would, could you begin by telling us about Ronald Weasley?"
"Uh, sure. We've never really been friends, but he was never actually hostile towards me until our second year at Hogwarts. His brother, Percy, had just died, so I thought that was the cause of his newfound hatred, and excused his behavior as part of the grieving process."
"However, it was not just Mr. Weasley who showed aggressive behavior towards you, was it?" the Minister questioned.
"At first it was, but over time…it changed. More and more people turned hostile as the year progressed. I thought that maybe Ron held more influence in Gryffindor than I thought, but I never guessed that Voldemort was possessing him."
A chorus of angry whispers and incredulity broke out over the Wizengamot at his words. The Minister shot an annoyed look at the gathered assembly, before focusing back at Harry.
"From this point forward, you shall henceforth refer to the Dark Lord as You-Know-Who. Do I make myself clear, Mr. Potter?"
"Yes, sir. Minister."
For reason he could not define, despite the stern tone of his words, Harry couldn't help but think that his warning was more for the benefit of the Wizengamot than anything else, like he was just going through the motions of pretending to care.
"Very well then. Mr. Potter, why are you so certain that…You-Know-Who has returned?"
"He told me himself. Down in the Chamber of Secrets."
A second wave of chatter among the gathered witches and wizards broke out, but Fudge continued on as if nothing was amiss.
"Please explain yourself, Mr. Potter."
"V – You-Know-Who had hoped to rally me to his cause, to create a situation where I would commit a murder. Every single thing Ron Weasley did that year was while under You-Know-Who's control, including using the basilisk to attack students, placing most of Gryffindor under control of the Mindslave Potion and firing the fake killing curse at Hermione Granger was all part of a carefully controlled plan."
"Isn't it a trifle convenient, Mr. Potter," spoke the toad-faced interrogator to Minister Fudge's left, "that every single crime attributed to Ronald Weasley is now absolved?"
"There was nothing convenient about what happened to Millicent and Regina," Harry shot back with a glare.
"Doubtless," said Fudge, cutting off the witch to his left and shooting her a quick glance. "May their souls rest easily."
At her dismissal, a petulant look upon her face, the witch leaned back, disappearing into the shadows.
"Well, I think that's all we need to ask of you, Mr. Potter," announced Fudge, drawing a chorus of whispers from the Wizengamot, and causing Harry's mouth to drop open in shock. That was it? No questions about Lucius' death? No questions as to why the curse that killed Lucius was cast with Harry's wand? Where was Alder Parkinson? Clara had warned him about the Malfoy family lawyer, and how he would probably have his own line of inquiry, with the full support of the Minister to pursue it. "You may now leave the courtroom."
Unable to believe his good fortune, Harry rose from the intimidating chair and walked towards the exit, having to force himself to walk as opposed to breaking into a full sprint.
How in the fuck had he gotten off that easily?
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When he re-entered the small waiting room, Perenelle was mid-step of a pacing circuit, while Nicolas leaned against the wall, his gaze faraway. As he entered the room, they discarded their distractions at once, heading towards him.
"Ow was it, 'Arry," asked Perenelle, her accept becoming more pronounced in her concern.
"It was weird," decided Harry, shaking his head. "They barely asked me anything."
"That is not what we were told to expect," Nicolas pointed out, his tone wary.
"No, no it wasn't. I don't think anyone else did too. A few members of the Wizenmagot really wanted to ask me questions, but Fudge cut them off whenever they tried. It was like he was…protecting me."
"This does not make any sense," Perenelle stated, a look of concern upon her face. "We were told that your Minister has a vindictive nature. Perhaps this Auror, Shacklebolt, might have some insight into the matter."
However, when Kingsley arrived to escort them to their next destination, he had no insider information.
"It doesn't look like Fudge let any of the other members of the Wizengamot know what he was going to do," observed Shacklebolt as they left the waiting room and made their way back to elevator. "And I am well below their pay grades, I assure you."
They turned on more corner and ascended a stone staircase before the familiar golden grilles of the elevator came into view.
"So does that mean that Fudge is following his own agenda? One perhaps separate from the Ministry?"
"It's…" the tall Auror trailed off as he opened the elevator doors, searching for the right words. Apparently unable to do so, he shook his head.
"There are differing opinions of just what the Ministry agenda should be," Shacklebolt finally answered, as the lift began to ascend, the chains rattling loudly. "Even amongst the very witches and wizards of the Wizengamot. Not that you heard that from me, of course."
Harry nodded his head at once under the Auror's intense gaze. It softened slightly at his confirmation of staying mum on the matter.
"Level two, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, including the Improper Use of Magic Office, Auror Headquarters, Ministry Militia Headquarters and Wizengamot Administration Services."
"This is us," declared Shacklebolt at the cool, female voice's last statement. The elevators emptied out into the end of a corridor, which they followed back, passing countless doors on either side of them. They turned a corner, went through a set of oak double-doors, and emerged out in the Auror Headquarters.
Auror Headquarters was made up of a large square of cubicles, all open to the air. The Aurors had decorated the walls with pictures of family members, favorite Quidditch players and teams and clippings from the Daily Prophet and the Quibbler. Paper airplanes zoomed from cubicle-to-cubicle, a far more elegant solution than owls would have provided.
Being professionals, the Aurors coming and going never stopped outright to stare at him, but he felt their curious eyes upon him as he passed by the cubicles while heading to a large office on the far wall.
Frosted, opaque glass had been set into the door, reminding Harry of an old black-and-white detective movie. Bold black letters painted on the glass described it as the office of Amelia Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.
Nicolas raised a hand to rap on the glass, but a harsh female voice rang out from the interior, urging him to come in. Apprehensively, he followed his guardians through the threshold. Was Madam Bones one of the Wizengamot members who had the expectation of putting him on trial? She hadn't said anything during the hearing, but that didn't say much about her stance with regards to him.
The office was a haven of untidiness. Bookshelves filled with overflowing case files lined the walls, the shelves sagging beneath the weight. On the scant wall space available, hung wanted posters of people Harry had never heard of. Bartleby O' Leary, Helera Montrose and other criminals sneered, strutted and stomped upon their posters, but Harry's eyes were glued to one.
The one bearing Sirius Black.
The former best friend of James Potter had a dead, hollow look in his eyes that reached outwards, threatening to turn all that was hopeful to sorrow. Scraggly, unwashed hair hung to his shoulders in a tangle, several strands obscuring portions of his face. How long had he known he was doomed? From the moment the lack echoes of the explosion faded away, as charred, severed limbs dropped from the sky? When he was brought before the Wizengamot in chains, with not a single voice to offer any support? Or did it not strike until he was locked within the confines of his tiny cell at Azkaban?
If he hadn't had the insight of Sylvia's vision, he would have certainly thought Sirius guilty. The image the poster presented was of an almost cartoon-like villain; a man who would hold no scruples with betraying his best friends in service to the Dark Lord, and then destroy the one man who stood up to him, Peter Pettigrew.
"Madam and Mademoiselle Flamel, it is a pleasure and an honor," greeted a voice, faraway. Harry thought his guardians made a reply, but he was so far removed from the office, mentally, that he didn't hear it.
He vaguely recalled that the summer before his second year began, Dumbledore would inquire as to the whereabouts of Sirius Black, to see if a trial could actually be staged.
With difficulty, Harry pushed the questions from his mind, past the cluttered, messy desk, to the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement herself. She had traded the plum robes of the Wizengamot for a faded set of crimson Auror robes, but her short hair was still iron-grey, and from behind the monocle sat a cool eye, regarding him with a combination of intrigue and suspicion.
"We haven't met before, Potter, but I've heard a lot about you."
Forcing a smile back onto his face, he directed the full of his attention of Madam Bones. Beneath her cool, collected exterior, he got the distinct impression that the Head of the DMLE did not care for him much. He already had enough enemies; he didn't need to make another over poor social etiquette.
"Well, today was the first I've ever heard of you."
"Did you sit in on the hearing?" Perenelle asked, to which Amelia gave a sharp nod.
With a start, Harry noted the significance of Madam Bones' attire. Did that mean the trial was over?
"Did they let Ron go then?"
The Head of the DMLE let the question linger in the air for a moment, considering her answer.
"They found him innocent," Amelia carefully stated. "Much to the surprise of the Wizengamot."
"Why was it a surprise if they voted on the resolution?"
"Saying that Weasley was innocent is saying that he did nothing wrong. If he did nothing wrong, then he was possessed, and not in control. That means Voldemort was in control, and that," trailing off Madam Bones sighed before starting back up again. "The idea that he's back is a very unpopular idea at the Ministry. Most supervisors here would give their employees a ration of shit if even one of them said it aloud."
"But they voted for him anyway."
Madam Bones nodded a single time. "They voted for him anyway."
"Why? Does everyone secretly believe Voldemort is back?"
"I'm not sure he's back, and I voted to acquit Weasley," she said with a snort. "No, today's decision was a political play."
"Dumbledore?" asked Harry, immediately knowing it was wrong. Dumbledore no doubt has his supporters, but didn't seem to have an abundance of support at the Ministry.
"Well, he convinced me," admitted Madam Bones, "but as for the others, no, the difference makers were all staunch supporters and bootlickers of the Minister."
"Fudge…" said Harry, letting the words trail off. He never would have guessed it a day ago, that the Minister would be doing him favors, but after curtailing the line of questioning, and making sure that Ron was found innocent…
Did he have a new, unexpected ally?
"This, this, this does not make sense," pointed out Perenelle, tapping the toe of one of her boots against the hardwood floor. She was well aware of the Minister's failed, blundering attempts to place Harry with a British Wizarding family.
"Something larger is definitely in play. Fudge is no idiot. He has a specific goal in mind."
"Am I to assume that he has not shared this with you?"
For the first time Amelia's neutral expression broke at Perenelle's question, a bitter smile showing through.
"Giving me nothing would be more than I was used to. We may sit next to each other in the Wizengamot, as our job titles force us to, but there's a rift the size of the English Channel between my department, my Aurors, and his Ministry Militia."
"The Ministry's Militia is under Fudge's control?"
"His crony, Umbridge, runs it, but I'd be surprised if none of their directives didn't cross Fudge's desk first."
"Where are the lines of jurisdiction drawn?" asked Nicolas, prompting Amelia to throw her hands in the air.
"Who the fuck knows? Not me, not my Aurors, and certainly not those hacks on the Minister's payroll."
Awkward silence reigned after her outburst. After a moment, she let out a deep sigh, focusing her attention back on Harry.
"As much as I want to think that Voldemort has not returned, and you are every inch the liar the Prophet makes you out to be…"
She trailed off, as if inviting him to interject. After a moment's hesitation, he took it.
"Twice I've faced him, Madam Bones, and twice I've almost died. It is only a matter of time before he returns. Do you really think that Ron could have enslaved the entirety of Gryffindor on his own? Awoken the sleeping basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets on a lark?"
"No, it doesn't add up," she admitted, shaking her head. "I saw all those students, packed into the beds in the Great Hall, chained like wild animals so they wouldn't hurt anyone. That type of Dark Magic is evil on a scale that hasn't been seen since the last war. No way a second-year brews the Mindslave Potion on his own. And there's been other occurrences."
The listeners stayed silent, waiting for her to continue. With another sigh, she took out her monocle, polishing it a single time, before placing it back in.
"Voldemort was never confirmed as dead," pointed out Perenelle. "A fact people have conveniently forgotten."
"Over the past few years there have been…far too many coincidences for my liking. Almost three years ago, a break-in occurred here, claiming the lives of several of my Aurors. Nymphadora Tonks, an intern at another department, was responsible, but escaped the Ministry, and was never heard from again. Not a single glimpse. By all accounts an unremarkable witch, but she still managed to best veteran Aurors. There's nights where I wonder…"
"What did she steal?"
"Voldemort's wand, found within the ruins of Godric's Hollow."
"His wand!" exclaimed Harry, at which the Head of the DMLE nodded.
"The break-in, the events at Hogwarts, the ascendancy of Fudge's Ministry; there are days when I wonder if there's a conspiracy happening right under our noses, paving the way for the Dark Lord's return."
"Lucius Malfoy was the one who snuck Voldemort in," offered Harry, drawing an intent glance from Madam Bones. After a few seconds, she broke the look and shunted aside several papers on her desk, revealing a flat wooden square, six inches wide. A large red button was set into it, which she pushed.
"Yes, Director?" answered a pleasant female voice, seemingly coming from the square contraption.
"Get Potter his wand."
"Yes, of course, Madam Director."
The expressions on both of the Flamels' face darkened at her orders.
"Dumbledore had explained to us that you would have Harry's wand waiting for him," said Nicolas, his gaze cool. "But that was not the case, was it?"
"No, it wasn't," Amelia shamelessly stated. "And Dumbledore does not have jurisdiction over this department; I do."
"So what was all of 'zis?" demanded Perenelle. "A test?"
"You could say that," Madam Bones admitted, her eyes shifting over to Harry. "A potentially ascendant Dark Lord, who in his two years at Hogwarts has been linked to multiple murders? It'd be careless of me not to have a face-to-face with you before deciding."
"Deciding what?" asked Harry. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the Flamels were coiled tightly, tense, as if ready to strike. What were they planning?
"According to the report I received from two of my Aurors, Ron tried hitting Lucius with a body-bind. Lucius swatted it back at you, following up with a killing curse, which missed. Ron took up your wand and cast the Dark Cutter which killed him. The wand ballistics confirm that story, but…is that what really happened, Potter?"
"Harry, don't answer that!" ordered Perenelle, but Harry sent a pleading look in her direction, and she hesitantly backed down. If he had a chance to get at least half of the Ministry off his back, he had to take it.
"No, it's not," admitted Harry with a sigh. "I-"
The Head of the DMLE stopped him mid-sentence, raising a hand in the air. "That's all I need to know. Lucius gave up any protection of the law when he cast an Unforgivable against a student."
Nicolas and Perenelle relaxed visibly at her words, the tension fleeing their muscles. Their actions left Harry to wonder; what exactly could they have done without wands?
"So I guess you're convinced that I'm not going to take Voldemort's place?"
Amelia shrugged carelessly. "Not today, at least, but I wouldn't rest easy if I were you. If Fudge is handing out a gift, you can pretty much guarantee that it's poisoned."
Uncomfortable silence followed her statement. What did Fudge have in mind? If the general mood of the Wizengamot was as Madam Bones had described, it would have cost him a great deal of influence to not only acquit Ron, but to squash any line of inquiry back towards Harry? What was the payoff?
As he wondered, his eyes drifted back to the menacing poster of Sirius Black.
"Do your Aurors run Azkaban?" Harry asked, turning his attention back to Amelia.
"Ten years ago, they did," she answered cryptically, before turning her head, following the former trajectory of Harry's glance. "It's a shame about Black, really. You could not have found a wizard more opposed to Voldemort's ideology, or his followers, for that matter. It's almost unbelievable that he could have switched sides."
Harry wouldn't have sworn to it, but he thought he detected a smug, knowing thrust to her words.
"Are you certain he was guilty?"
"Well, the evidence against his was ironclad. That, and the fact that he did nothing but laugh at the smoking crater where Peter Pettigrew and the thirteen muggles had been blasted to pieces, and said nothing in his defense."
"Not even at his trial?" ventured Harry, wondering how much Bones knew, and how much she was leading him on.
"He had no trial," stated the Head of the DMLE, "but you knew that already, didn't you, Potter?"
At Harry's lack of response, she continued onwards. "In fact, about a year ago, I had a conversation about this same situation with…an interested party, shall we say? Despite giving the Aurors information that sealed Black's fate, this person seemed interested in holding a trial for a crime a decade old."
Dumbledore? Had he followed up on Sirius, as he had originally promised to do?
"So what happened?"
"You know, I'm more interested in the 'why'. As in, why the hell is there such a sudden interest in Black? What do you know, Potter?"
Harry hesitated, unsure of what to say. He didn't think revealing that he'd seen an alternate viewpoint of his parents' murder would gain him too many points.
"The other interested party also seemed to lose their tongue when pressed," Amelia said, leaning forward in her chair. "Intriguing, isn't it? Here sits a man in Azkaban, with two people who think maybe he's been wrongly accused, and no one says a word. What is so important that an innocent man must suffer the torments of the Dementors to protect?"
Guilt settled over Harry at the accusation. How could the secret of his past be worth that much?
"How dare you?!" spat Perenelle, brushing past Harry and placing her hands on the wide desk, scattering papers to the floor as she leaned over it. "Have you no shame?!"
"Oh, I have no shame in asking a few questions," she lightly replied, leaning back in her chair. "I did not mean to ruffle any feathers."
"No, you only meant to manipulate a child into telling you what Dumbledore wouldn't!" spat Perenelle, red-faced with anger, reaching into one of her pockets. Nicolas moved more quickly, catching her arm and whispering into her ear.
"Now that is an interesting gesture," mused Madam Bones. "Could two guests of the Ministry of Magic have smuggled wands inside? Now that, I'm afraid, would be considered a serious breach of security, punishable by one to five years at Azkaban."
"No, I believe my wife was looking for anything to throw at the smug, conniving vulture sitting across from her. An understandable, if foolhardy, gesture. Right, dear?"
Perenelle, facial features scrunched together as if waging mental war, ultimately relented, withdrawing her hands from her pocket.
"You would 'ave deserved eet, to," she growled, before backing away from the desk. As she did, the wizarding equivalent of an intercom went off.
"Uh, Director Bones…there's a problem."
Madam Bones jabbed an angry finger at the red button. "Get in here."
The frosted-glass door opened, admitting a young, diminutive blonde witch in tight dress robes.
"I'm sorry, Madam Director, but an unseen…complication cropped up."
"Artifacts Storage had been informed. What's the problem?" Amelia demanded.
"Potter's wand…wasn't there."
"What?!" exclaimed Harry. Did those idiots lose it?
"So where it is then?" asked the Head of the DMLE, rising from her chair.
"The Minister has it."
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The office of the Minister of Magic was lavishly decorated, as one might expect from the leader of Wizarding Britain. An immense ironwood desk sat at the center of the room, sheaves of parchment stacked neatly upon it. Lush purple draped covered the diamond-paned window at the rear, through which wafts of lazy sunlight filtered in. Oak bookshelves and portraits of distinguished-looking witches and wizards covered the walls.
On each side of the desk, standing at attention, staring straight ahead, stood two wizards, the sharp royal purple of their crisp robes informing their status as members of the Minister's personal guard.
And between them sat the Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic.
"Gentlemen, would you please grant us a few private moments?" asked the Minister, never taking his gaze from Harry. Without comment the two members of his personal guard filed out of the room, closing the elaborately carved door behind them. Once it was closed, he finally shifted his gaze to the two Flamels.
"Would you consent to giving me a few minutes alone with Mr. Potter? There is much that we need to discuss."
"After what you pulled at Platform 9 3/4?" scoffed Perenelle. "We have little reason to trust you."
"After all, we are agents of the French government," replied Nicolas, his voice hard. "Or at least that is what you tried to sell to a scared eleven year-old boy, after you cornered him. Is that not correct, Minister?"
Without ceremony the Minister reached into his plum robes and withdrew his wand, carelessly tossing it across the desk. Perenelle snatched it out of the air, the fire in her eyes making Harry wonder if she was going to snap it in half.
"Wow, a wand," stated Nicolas in a flat, cool tone. "So are we to take your word that you have no other stashed in this office?"
"You are," answered the Minister, his gaze unflinching. "Just as you are to rightly assume that no harm shall befall Mr. Potter today. I think the results of his testimony today bear that fact out."
A brief moment of silence followed his statement. Whatever history Fudge and he shared, the Minister had squashed lines of questioning that could have proved very uncomfortable had they been pursued. A stint of Azkaban wouldn't have been out of the question. At the very least, he owed the Minister that.
Though what had his motivations been? Amelia Bones hadn't been friendly in the slightest, but Harry wasn't under the impression she had lied, either. And she had warned him of poisoned gifts.
"Please, I need to talk to him," urged Harry, looking at both of his guardians. The last thing he wanted to do was banish them, but how else was he going to get answers to what was going on?"
"Are you sure, Harry?" Nicolas asked, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"Very well then," Perenelle said, relenting. "But if he gives you any trouble, if you see the barest hint, let us know. One false move, and his wand is getting snapped in two."
If the display in the Head of the DMLE's office was any indication, snapping Fudge's wand wasn't the only weapon in their arsenal.
"We'll be waiting," Nicolas said, before departing from the room, closely followed by Perenelle. The white-haired witch sent him one final nod, before closing the door behind her.
Left alone, they stood in silence for a few moments, locking eyes. As the door close, all pretext of civility fled from the politician's face, his gaze becoming cold and hard, his mouth gaining a cruel twist.
"You will never know how much it sickened me to hand out a pardon to a murderer," spat the Minister. Harry bore the dramatic tonal shift in silent shock. Undeterred, Fudge plowed on.
"Perhaps you've been wondering why I deflected my cohorts among the Ministry, many of whom had ever inclination of following the inconsistencies in your story to the roots."
"I did not lie to you," Harry said emphatically. "Ron was possessed, his actions were not his own."
"Well, we agree on the second half of your statement. Ronald Weasley was clearly under the influence of something. There is little doubt of that, as from every account he is the very definition of mediocrity. Nowhere is this more evident than in Potions, which means he is clearly incapable of brewing a draught as complex as the Mindslave Potion."
The Minister let the statement hang in the air from a moment, before a cruel smirk broke out over his face.
"You, however, Potter, are quite the Potions prodigy, if your marks in the subject are any indication."
"So what are you trying to say?" demanded Harry, crossing his arms in front of him. After the help he had been granted during the hearing…this was not the reaction he had been hoping for. His idea that the Minister had turned over a new leaf in regards to policy towards him was going up in flames.
"I am not stating anything, merely offering observation about this unique set of circumstances. There are so many questions but precious few answers. Perhaps you are a budding Dark Lord, and needed to create a pretext for lashing out at your 'oppressors' with righteousness on your side. A rallying point to recruit your fellow Slytherins."
A hundred retorts on the tip of his tongue, Harry instead opted to bite it, so hard it almost bled. He would not let himself be provoked by this strutting bureaucrat.
"Of course, that's just one theory," said the Minister with a casual air, dropping his moral indignation as if it never was there. "Maybe the spawn of 'former' Death Eaters are well-versed in the Dark Arts, enough to pull off the creation of the Mindslave Potion. Maybe it was one of your budding pupils that got out of hand, and hoped to eliminate you. None of it is provable."
"However," he said, raising his left hand, "One thing that cannot be denied is that Lucius Malfoy played a role in the tragic events at Hogwarts. Whether he was working for Voldemort, another rising Dark Lord, or perhaps even you…it matters not. A world in which an influential Death Eater can no longer lend his wand to the enemies of the state is one where I can more easily breathe. In some strange way, it could be said that you provided a service to Wizarding Britain."
A reply formed and ready, Harry was thrown off-kilter by the last statement. Fudge seemed to notice this, and let out a light, indulgent chuckle.
"Please, Potter; it was a figure of speech. You are a murderer. There is nothing I would like more than cutting your flimsy story to shreds in front of the entire Wizengamot, and letting my colleagues hang out to dry. However…compromises must sometimes be made. And if that price includes letting a murderer walk free…then I must take the long view on the matter."
Fudge leaned down slightly, before pulling open a drawer and taking out a wand. The Minister held it up to the light for a moment, before placing the thirteen inches of holly down on the middle of the desk.
"Mr. Potter, if I were to check what the previous spell cast with this wand was, what would it be?"
"I haven't seen it in several weeks," Harry said quickly. "I was stunned from behind – how would I know what had been done to it since then?"
"Then I suppose it's a good thing that the Aurors on scene had already checked, don't you think?"
"No, I actually don't really think it matters. All you would have proved was that 'someone' used it. You can't pin that upon me."
"Please," said the Minister, his features tightening as he waved a hand in the air in a disgusted manner. "A storm is coming, Mr. Potter. Both of your years at Hogwarts have been marked by bloodshed, with you directly at its center."
"Unfortunately, I've attracted unwanted attention since birth," Harry said, lifting up the fringe of black hair that hung down over his forehead, exposing his infamous scar. "I feel guilty about every single death…but I will not take the blame for it. Should I have known that Voldemort would pursue me to Hogwarts? Did you know, Minister? Or were you just biding your time?"
"It is a symptom indictitive of a larger failure, Mr. Potter! The parents of Hogwarts' students should never have cause to question the safety of their children! Does three deaths in two years seem acceptable to you, Mr. Potter? Does it?"
As much as he disliked the Minister, insufferable prick that he was, his point was inarguable.
"No," echoed Fudge. "And that is why a change is needed."
The Minister's words were clear, but nothing about his intent was. What did this have to do with getting the Wizengamot off his back?
In the silence following his statement, a soft cough echoed through the office. Harry glanced around quickly, but Fudge immediately brought his eyes to the left side of the room, a look of extreme annoyance upon his face.
"No, this is not a good time," he spat. Harry followed his gaze, to a portrait where a froglike man in a long silver wig stood against an oily-brown backdrop.
"To the Minister of Magic. Extreme urgency. There's been an escape. Sincerely, the Warden."
"An escape!" roared the Minister, slamming his fist down upon the desk, scattering a neatly stacked pile of papers. As they fluttered to the floor, green fire came to life in the fireplace. A man in a dark uniform stepped out of the ashes, wearing a long-sleeved shirt neatly tucked into black pants, presenting a look far more muggle than wizard.
"Did I respond to your summons?" demanded Fudge. The 'Warden', polished black boots and neatly shaved head gleaming in the light, shook his head.
"There is no time for niceties, Minister. We must act now."
"Who escaped?" Fudge asked, Harry temporarily forgotten.
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The last update of this story came with an apology, and this one is no different. I never planned to take two years off from writing, but my muse, emotional state and geographical upheaval has other plans. I didn't really even have much of this chapter aside from 'Harry goes to the Ministry and shit happens' until the first of 2014. How quickly things have changed…hopefully for good.
My work schedule is extremely hectic this month, so I don't see myself getting back into this story until March. The Elizium epilogue is being edited right now, and Ouroboros 4 inches closer to completion. You should expect those two first.
Thanks for reading. Questions, comments, exclamations and criticisms are welcome. I respond to every signed review I receive…if not always in a timely fashion.
Thanks to my wonderful new beta EnglishGrlVerity for patience and great work on this chapter.
Cheddar Trek, Zill, Inert, psihary, awinarock and jjack1003