Chapter 44 – Ministerial Maneuvers

Two days following Harry's incursion into the Hall of Prophecy, Albus Dumbledore called a special session of the Wizengamot for the purpose of electing a new Minister for Magic of Britain.

It was an auspicious occasion, regardless of the fact that it was necessary due to the death of the previous Minister, and that fact was reflected as Albus glanced around the room. In general, though the Wizengamot was the legislative body for the entire society, attendance at its meetings could be somewhat lackadaisical. Today, however, the members seemed to be taking the event rather seriously, as the chamber was packed—Albus expected that when role call was completed, it would reveal that only a handful of the seats would not be represented.

Of course, Albus did not fool himself that the sole reason for such attention was due to the conscience and civic duty of its members. The Wizengamot was largely corrupt and somewhat ineffectual as a legislative body, its members more interested in their own agendas than the common good, and with Fudge as Minister, it had fallen even further as it had been known that he could be bought for a price. No, the interest in today's proceedings were again largely due to self-interest, whether it was from the supremacist desire to elect one of their own, the rank-and-file members' desire to have their agendas pushed forward by a compliant Minister, or the desire simply to be closer—or perhaps even obtain for oneself—a higher level of personal power. There were those, of course, who were solely concerned with electing a Minister who would fight back against Voldemort; most members who did not support him—overtly or covertly—would at least have this in the back of their minds. Dark lords were, after all, bad for business.

This final factor was the reason why Albus was certain that he had the votes to elect Amelia Bones. Certainly there were those who would support a candidate of Voldemort's choosing, someone likely of Lucius Malfoy's ilk. Conversely, there were those who shared similar goals and ideals as Albus himself; those members could be counted on to vote for the candidate who best supported their philosophical ideals, and Amelia was certainly one of them. The rest, however, would ultimately vote for her because she was a respected Pureblood and known to be very competent. If they needed a push, they would only need to be reminded of the perils of supporting a Voldemort lackey, and the hit their wealth would take if Voldemort should come into power. Money was a compelling motivator.

When the appointed time arrived, Albus stood and rapped his gavel on the desk in front of him, watching as the chamber grew quiet.

"Esteemed members of the Wizengamot," he began, "I now call this emergency session into order." Albus waited until the residual murmurs died down, before he once again addressed the assembly. "It is with a heavy heart that I have called us into session today, as the passing of our Minister is a grievous tragedy. However, given the now acknowledged return of Voldemort, it is imperative that we now choose a new Minister immediately, so that we may oppose him effectively."

Albus almost smiled at the flinches which met the use of the Dark Lord's name. "You had all better become used to hearing that name," he chided. "It is only a name, and an alias at that, and to refuse to use a man's name only gives him a power he does not possess."

"That's all very well and good," a man's voice interrupted Dumbledore's speech. Peering up toward the sound of the voice, Albus noted that it had been Antonius Selwyn, the head of a minor house and an unconfirmed Death Eater from the first war who had spoken. Selwyn was one of those who had claimed Imperius after Voldemort's first fall, and had subsequently been able to avoid prosecution, though in his case it had been a near thing. He was also one who bore careful watching.

"What I would like to know is why Harry Potter is not now in custody."

Albus was somewhat nonplused—this was certainly not a tactic he would have expected.

In the front row, however, Sirius did not appear to be taken aback. He was in fact watching Selwyn intently, though with perhaps a trace of contempt. It was the first Wizengamot meeting he had attended after his exoneration, now that he had been able to take up the mantle of his house's leadership.

"For what?" Sirius asked bluntly.

"We wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for the whelp," the Death Eater snapped. "It was Potter's actions which led to the death of the Minister."

"Oh, Harry's wand fired the curse that killed Minister Fudge? I'm surprised that you've come to that conclusion, Selwyn. I had thought the coverage of the Prophet had been clear about who killed the Minister."

"You've ignored my statement," Selwyn shot back. "I never claimed that Potter killed the Minister. I only said that it was his actions which led to it. He needs to bear some of the fault for this."

"One can only be responsible for their own actions," Albus broke in. "Harry did not fire the curse and cannot be held accountable for Minister Fudge's death."

Selwyn sneered back at him. "Once again protecting your favorite, are you Dumbledore?"

"It has nothing to do with my relationship with the boy," Dumbledore responded, keeping his tone mild. "If I invite you to dinner at my house, and you choke on a chicken bone and die, did I kill you? To suggest that I did is ludicrous, as is the suggestion that Harry killed Minister Fudge."

"The fact still remains—" Selwyn began to bluster before Madam Bones cut him off.

"Mr. Selwyn, I believe that I can answer your question. Do you agree that I have the authority and knowledge in such matters?" At Selwyn's grudging nod, she continued, "Mr. Potter's actions on the night in question were indeed irregular. However, he committed no acts of a criminal nature. He merely entered the Ministry, through the proper entrance, giving his proper identity, and stating the reason for his visit. He the proceeded with his companions down to the Hall of Prophecy and retrieved the orb pertaining to him as is his right. The fact that he did it in the middle of the night is essentially irrelevant.

"Once he had his own prophecy in his possession he left the Hall, where he was confronted by several of Voldemort's followers, who, if I remember correctly, are all quite close colleagues of yours." A raised eyebrow accompanied her statement, but Selwyn refused to respond to her jibe. He merely stared at her, his expression stony with displeasure.

"These men demanded he hand over the orb, which he rightly refused, and was then assisted by his godfather and others, among whom numbered members of my own department. It was Lucius Malfoy who fired the first curse. And then once Mr. Potter had made his way to the atrium, he was confronted by the Dark Lord himself, and protected by the Chief Warlock. It was Voldemort's curse which killed the Minister. As the Chief Warlock has already explained, no culpability can be attached to Mr. Potter for the Minister's death. Minister Fudge entered the Ministry of his own volition and did not take the proper precaution against aggression by one who is known to have no compunction over killing others.

"Do you have any further objections?"

Angrily, Selwyn shook his head, though he did not respond verbally.

"In that case, I believe the floor is yours, Chief Warlock," Madam Bones said while taking her seat.

Albus paused for a moment as he considered Selwyn's objection. He could not believe that Voldemort had pinned his hopes on so small an offensive as this, one which had little to no chance of success and would not even affect the choosing of a new Minister regardless. No, Selwyn must have been acting on his own and though the man was rather determined, he was not exactly a towering example of intellect. Perhaps he actually believed he could have had Harry thrown in prison for being in the Ministry that night. He was far simpler than Albus had thought if he had truly expected it.

"Thank you, Madam Bones." Albus paused and looked out over the assembly. "As I was saying, the tragic events of two nights ago have necessitated the choosing of a new Minister. However, as the situation is serious, I move that we elect and swear in a new Minister immediately."

"I second the motion," said Madam Longbottom before anyone else could speak up.

A burst of conversation arose in the room and Albus glanced around, noting the general reception of the idea. Most there seemed to understand why this was a priority and were at least willing to listen, though he noted a few in the chamber who were watching him, no doubt wondering what his strategy would be.

"Hem, hem," a girlish voice broke through the tumult, and Albus turned and looked up at the face of Madam Umbridge with some distaste. She was dressed as usual in her lurid pink robes, and she had apparently recovered from her dismissal from her Hogwarts and Ministry positions. Though Albus would have preferred to have her thrown from this chamber permanently, she had merely been sacked, and not charged with anything, and as she was the most senior claimant to the old Morris seat, he could not bar her. In actuality, she descended from a cadet branch of the house, having been elevated to her current position due to the family's death at the hands of Death Eaters in the first war with Voldemort. Whether they had merely been a target, or had been Death Eaters who had displeased the Dark Lord had never been proven and the bodies had been in no position to be examined for dark marks, as the Death Eaters had used their typical tactic of sealing the house, cutting off the Floo and laying anti-apparition wards, and burning it with the occupants trapped inside.

"It is necessary to appoint a minister quickly, but it is of equal importance that we choose carefully. The Minister must be someone who espouses our society's ideals and will champion our way of life.

Albus almost snorted at her thinly veiled words. There was no doubt in his mind that she wished to be Minister herself, so that she may "champion" the rights and privileges of all Purebloods, and foment bigotry and intolerance, as was her wont. There was an equal lack of doubt that she had no chance whatsoever of being elected, as Albus could not think of two people in this chamber who would support her—one to nominate, and the other to second—let alone that she would garner the support of the majority. No, she would almost certainly support the candidate of the Pureblood bloc, and try to insinuate herself with whomever that person turned out to be in order to raise her fortunes, as was her usual strategy in such situations.

"I agree with Madam Umbridge completely," Sirius stated. He raised a mocking eyebrow at Umbridge as he continued. "The new Minister must not only uphold the rights of citizens and protect our way of life, but also must be willing to take unpopular stances to propel us forward to becoming a greater society. Equally as important, the new Minister must also be prepared to lead us against the darkness that is now knocking at our door. But in order to have every chance of doing so, they must be sworn in immediately. Voldemort will not wait for us."

Bowing his head in Sirius's direction, Albus glanced up at Madam Umbridge, as the former Defense Professor—and he used that term very loosely!—glared down at the current occupant of that position with some fury. She was very well aware of the fact that though Sirius's words appeared on the surface to be broadly supportive of her own, the sentiments behind the statements were very different. Sirius had managed, in his usually irrepressible way, to insult her while appearing to abide by the rules of conduct enforced in the Wizengamot chambers between members. And it appeared as though few had misunderstood the exchange.

"I agree with Madam Longbottom and Mr. Black as well," Tiberius Ogden, one of the elder statesmen of the Wizengamot, said in a loud voice. "The new Minister must take up their role immediately."

"So it has been motioned," Albus intoned. "I believe that to all right-thinking witches and wizards, this is only a prudent course of action. Shall we accept this measure as passed by acclamation, or are there any here who believe we should take a formal vote?"

Albus looked out over the assembly, noting the reactions to his suggestion. There were more than a few who appeared to be upset at this motion, but they were firmly in the minority, as most of the Wizengamot appeared to agree. There were a few Albus thought might protest, but they ultimately kept their silence, allowing the motion to pass. It was curious—perhaps Voldemort had intended to paralyze the Wizengamot as long as possible in order to delay any actions the new Minister might ultimately take against him. If so, his plan was doomed to failure.

"Very well, let the records show that it is so proclaimed.

"We shall now proceed," Albus continued. "We will take nominations for the post of Minister, and then open up the floor for debate—a member must be nominated and have their nomination seconded to receive consideration. Then we will cast our votes to elect the new Minister before the completion of this session. The wizard or witch with a simple majority will become the next Minister. In the event there are more than two candidates and neither reaches a majority, then the two candidates with the most votes will continue to the next round of voting where the one with the most votes will be declared the winner. Does anyone in this body wish to receive clarification, or protest what is proposed?"

When no one raised their wand, Albus nodded. "I now open the floor to those wishing to nominate a candidate."

Immediately upon Albus completing his statement, Madam Umbridge stood and raised her wand. "I nominate Alaric Morgan to the position of Minister for Magic."

"Seconded," Edward Rosier, another member with suspected connections to Voldemort—including a known Death Eater son—said in a gruff voice.

Nodding his head as the scribe took down the man's name, Albus looked up at the man who had just been nominated, noting that Voldemort had cast his die. Morgan was a tall, aristocratic man with long black hair tied at the back of his neck and startling blue eyes. He was also a Pureblood from a long and prestigious line and, though the man had not been a Death Eater in the previous war as far as Albus was aware, his ideals certainly fit in with Voldemort's crowd. He was a sympathizer at the very least, if not an active financial supporter. Of course, having been nominated for the Minister's seat, he may very well have already joined the Death Eater ranks.

Sirius then stood up and, with his customary flourish, raised his wand. "I nominate Amelia Bones for Minister for Magic."

"Seconded!" exclaimed Madam Longbottom.

The irony of the situation was not lost upon anyone in the chamber; a Black—the epitome of a historically dark family—had just nominated Madam Bones—a member of a family who had been light for centuries—to be the Minister. It had been calculated for that very purpose, in actuality. The symbolic significance of a traditionally dark family supporting one of their erstwhile enemies was not to be underestimated, regardless of the fact that Sirius had never supported his family's ideals.

A few speculative glances were cast in Madam Bones's direction, many clearly wondering if this had been a previously determined strategy, but Amelia was as cool and calm as she usually was. Of more immediate interest to Albus were the reactions of the families who had not taken a side in the conflict—the neutrals and some of the others who were cautious of their allegiance. The nominal spokesman of the neutrals, David Greengrass, was stoic, not betraying his reaction to what was occurring in front of him. The Greengrass vote, as well as many of his peers, had already been sewn up, but there were still many others who would not be certain to do likewise.

Of equal importance was the protection of those who would support Amelia. True, the voting would be anonymous and thus, no one would know who each of the members had voted for, unless they revealed it themselves. However, if one could perform simple addition, it would quickly become apparent to all just how the voting had gone, unless it was extraordinarily close in the end. There was a bloc who would support Amelia, and a block who would support Alaric—if the middle vote largely broke for one or another of the candidates, it would be obvious. Preparations had already been made—those families who had agreed to support them, both politically and economically, had been prepared to leave their homes at a moment's notice, and move to the various safe houses the Order had been setting up around the country. Albus suspected that with this opening political move, Voldemort's response would be swift and savage.

From there, two others were nominated for the post—a relatively new and firmly neutral member by the name of Reginald Posey, and John Stark, who was a venerable Pureblood whose family had been prominent in British magical society for centuries. Posey posed no threat and Stark, though he did belong to an older family, was generally more moderate in his leanings. Albus did not think he would get many votes regardless.

"Very well," Albus said, once the chamber had quieted and it was clear that there were to be no further nominations. "Each of the candidates will stand and confirm that they accept their nomination."

The first three did so with minimum fanfare, and few words, as was the custom. However, when John Stark stood and surveyed the room in his customary imperious manner, he responded in a completely different manner.

"Members of the Wizengamot," he began, "I thank you for your consideration this day, and for the honor of being presented for consideration to be the next Minister. It is indeed a responsibility and a difficult one which the next Minister will be placed in, for He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named must be opposed for the good of our society.

"However, I cannot in good conscience accept this nomination." A burst of hushed conversation broke out over the room. A candidate refusing a nomination was not an unheard of event, but it was unusual enough to be noteworthy.

"Members, I am aware of my strengths and weaknesses, and though I believe that I would be credible as Minister, I am not suited to lead in the prosecution of a war. Of the candidates who have been nominated, there is only one who is qualified to lead us against the stain of the Dark Lord. I hereby remove my name from consideration for the post of Minister for Magic, and give my support to Amelia Bones. I would urge all of those who would have supported me, to instead vote for Madam Bones."

Now that was by and large unheard of. As Albus considered the ramifications of Stark's actions, he realized that he could not have scripted it any better if he had come up with the idea himself. He noted the murmured conversations which were erupting throughout the room. It was clear that Stark had made an impression upon the body, and if the slightly smug look on the man's face was anything to go by, Albus would almost suspect that he had planned it that way himself. He had been a Ravenclaw during his time at Hogwarts, but if he had planned this, it was a move worthy of any Slytherin.

"Thank you all for your words this day," Albus said, standing once again. He continued once the sound of voices died down. "And thank you to Mr. Stark. It takes an honest man to step aside for the good of us all."

Stark inclined his head.

"Now, in accordance with our traditions, I hereby open up the floor to those who wish to make a statement for one of the candidates. Please keep in mind that the debate is to be kept civil and that no overt statements of criticism are to be leveled against any of the candidates."

Thus began the next two hours of debate, in which many things were said, but few were of the kind of substance which was required for a decision of this magnitude. The support for Amelia was largely centered around her experience as the head of the DMLE, though something was also made of her competence, and the fact that she was a citizen of good standing—of course, any who were paying attention recognized that "citizen of good standing" was actually a euphemism for "acceptably Pureblood" to many of the members. For Alaric Morgan, much of the discussion centered on his family's long history and his support for protecting their way of life. Unsurprisingly, little was said about his ability to fight the forces of Voldemort.

Also, Albus could easily determine that while only a small portion of the members in the chamber actually spoke, many more who did spoke on behalf of Madam Bones, than did for Mr. Morgan. There were very few who spoke in support of Mr. Posey at all. As the comments progressed, it became more and more clear that the support seemed to be falling in favor of Madam Bones, and while Alaric Morgan was stoic and quiet, Madam Umbridge's face began to take on an unhealthy hue in her anger.

Finally, when she could be silent no longer, she stood and began a long, rambling rant, in which she demanded, pleaded and cajoled the members to accept her candidate, touching on how he would clean up their society and usher them forward into a new era of prosperity. Of course, her words were little more than a diatribe in which she spouted her usual disdain for anything not Pureblood and her prejudices and hatreds were on display for all to see.

When she finally rambled down to a close and took her seat, Albus glanced about the room. It was clear that there was little else to be said.

"Thank you Madam Umbridge for your… interesting statements," Albus said as he stood. "It is clear to everyone in this chamber just what your position is and, I daresay, your time in Hogwarts made it clear to anyone who had not been listening."

He looked out over the assembled Wizengamot. "As tradition states, I will not, as Chief Warlock, make a statement in favor or against, any of the candidates who have been put forward today. I would, however, caution you all to remember not only the qualifications that each of these candidates possesses, but also their positions, and who nominated them. Those facts will tell you how they will likely stand on most of the issues which face us."

It was obvious to most just exactly the message Albus had been trying to convey. Given Madam Umbridge's actions at Hogwarts, not to mention the things she was suspected of doing as Undersecretary to the previous Minister, no one in their right mind should ever vote for a candidate she had personally endorsed. This was also apparent to the woman herself, if the poisonous glare she directed at Albus was any indication.

In the end, Madam Bones was elected by quite a large margin.

After the meeting had adjourned, Amelia Bones sat in her new office, thinking about the twists and turns of life. The office was far more opulent than the more utilitarian space she had preferred as Director of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, even with Fudge's personal effects having been removed and returned to his widow that morning. It was large and spacious, and with all of the former occupant's items now gone, it appeared to be more elegant and comfortable than it ever had before. It even boasted a large window, which took up most of the wall behind the desk. The window was charmed to show an outside view of the sky, high above the underground building, where she could see birds darting here and there, and the bright sunlight of a fine spring morning. She supposed she must become used to the trappings of the position—appearances must be maintained, after all.

There was much to do. Indeed, Amelia suspected that the first months of her administration would be hectic, if the pace ever slowed at all. She doubted it would until Voldemort was finally defeated. Until that eventuality, however, Amelia could well imagine that her days would be long and that there would be far more things to be done than time to accomplish them.

Still, it was good to be busy. Under Fudge she had often lamented the manner in which her hands were tied and how he would not allow the budget or the other resources necessary to effectively oppose the Death Eaters. That would all change; the new Director would find that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was her primary concern and as such, the new budgets that she meant to push through would reflect that fact. This was not a matter to brush off for the next generation to handle, as had already happened once. They would take decisive action to end the threat.

A knock sounded at her door, and her secretary poked her head in once she had given her assent. "The Chief Warlock and the French Ambassador are here to see you, Madam."

"Please send them in," Amelia responded. "And have Rufus Scrimgeour and Kingsley Shacklebolt to join us in thirty minutes."

"Yes, Minister."

A few moments later, the two men entered the room and, upon Amelia's request, sat down in the chairs facing her desk. Albus smiled for a moment and Amelia looked at him with a questioning glance.

"Is something amusing you, Albus?"

The elderly wizard chuckled as he flicked his wand, transfiguring the straight and rather severe, high-backed chair in which he sat into a rather large, stuffed chair. He settled back into it with a smile and said, "I was just thinking about how a generation of recalcitrant Gryffindors must have felt going into Minerva's office for a tongue-lashing. I believe your chairs are every bit as uncomfortable as hers."

Amelia smiled. "The chairs fit the position and helped to emphasize the severity of the situation during the occasions when I had to discipline members of my staff. I suppose I shall have to reconsider that now."

"And in that vein, I would like to congratulate you on your election on behalf of the French magical government," Jean-Sebastian spoke up.

Amelia refrained from scowling at the ambassador. "As you are well aware, I was most reluctant to accept this, so I will ignore that comment, Ambassador Delacour."

"I understand that," Jean-Sebastian returned with a smile. "However, I believe we all know that your election was for the best."

Amelia grunted, not particularly wishing to continue on with that line of discussion. Jean-Sebastian, apparently sensing her reluctance, moved on to another topic.

"Minister Bones, as you are aware, the French Ministry is very concerned with the threat of Voldemort. I am prepared to provide you with the assurance of my government's wholehearted support and our willingness to stand with our British friends in the coming struggle."

Amelia gazed at him. The British history with the French was, much in common with their Muggle counterparts, a stormy and tumultuous one, and as the magical cooperation during what the Muggles called World War II had been almost nonexistent, they had not even that struggle in common. The British did not trust the French, to be brutally honest, and Amelia was well aware that the sentiment ran both ways.

Jean-Sebastian's support for Harry Potter, however, could not be dismissed and though Amelia could not be certain, she suspected that Jean-Sebastian had discussed his support with the French Minister before declaring himself, no doubt with this eventuality in mind. Furthermore, Jean-Sebastian himself had a reputation for being an honorable man, which Amelia already knew based on her interactions with him, and she also knew that the French Minister, while she did not know him personally, was well regarded in international circles as a man of action. If these men indicated their willingness to assist, then Amelia had little doubt that they were entirely in earnest.

"Minister Bones," the ambassador began, apparently in response to her long silence, "it is true that our countries have been at odds more often than not, but I assure you that we are quite serious about standing with you. Although I certainly felt that I owed Harry a debt when I decided to help him, you should also know that I also took a much longer view of the situation.

"To be quite frank, we both know that Voldemort will never be content to stop at the English Channel if he should manage to subjugate magical Britain. I suspect that his ambitions include a stealthy take over of the Muggle government, and once that is accomplished, I do not doubt that he will turn his eyes toward my home. It is imperative that he be stopped, and I believe that standing with you now will be much more effective and save many more French lives than if we ignore the problem until it is staring us in the face. I assure you that the French Minster concurs."

Amelia nodded. "I agree completely with your assessment, Ambassador and I thank you for your assurances." Leaning back in her chair, Amelia once again peered at Jean-Sebastian with some speculation. "Just exactly how far are you willing to go with your offer of support?"

"As far as necessary to be certain that Voldemort is defeated," was Jean-Sebastian's even reply. "Of course, anything that I say here will need to be ratified by the Minister. He has given me his own commitment that he has the authority of our National Assembly to promise almost any level of assistance, including the wands of French Aurors, if necessary."

Nodding slowly, Amelia turned to look at the Chief Warlock. "Do you have anything to add, Albus?"

"Only that it is a very generous offer that we would do well to consider carefully."

"I agree," Amelia said with a tight nod. "I believe we should continue to discuss this at a later date. At the present time I can tell you that I consider this a British problem, but I must admit that our estimates of Voldemort's strength are very imprecise. Even so, a force of French wands could transform a potentially difficult battle into a decisive one. We will need to discuss this at a later date and decide how best to proceed."

Jean-Sebastian inclined his head while Dumbledore leaned forward in his chair. "If I might make a suggestion?" At Amelia's nod ne continued, "It would be best to conduct these negotiations in secret. A force of French Aurors showing up to battle unannounced would be far more effective than if they were arrayed in the same lines as our forces."

"Agreed," Amelia said, and she sat back in her seat.

Within a few moments, the secretary once again stuck her head in the doorway and shortly thereafter, Scrimgeour and Shacklebolt stepped into the office, each taking one of the remaining chairs.

"I didn't know you were graduating to more comfortable chairs," Shacklebolt said with a grin and a nod at Albus's chair.

Dumbledore merely smiled smugly and raised an eyebrow in Amelia's direction. She waved him off. "I suppose visiting foreign dignitaries and Department Heads will require something a little more comfortable than Auror recruits," she said somewhat dismissively.

"Or you could keep them and make your Department Heads sweat a little," Scrimgeour intoned with just a hint of a smile. "Merlin knows that this place could use a little shaking up."

Though Amelia could not agree more, she decided that there were other, more pressing matters which demanded immediate attention. "The reason I called you both in here is to deal with the disposition of the DMLE with my change in positions." Both men inclined their heads; clearly they had both anticipated this. "Rufus, I would like you to take over the department. Shack, you will take over as Head Auror."

The two men glanced in each other's direction, and it was Shacklebolt who hesitantly spoke up. "With all due respect, Minister, wouldn't Auror Moody be a better choice for Head Auror at the very least?"

Amelia barked a laugh. "Surely you know Alastor better than that, Kingsley. He's much more interested in bringing in dark wizards—not necessarily all in one piece—than being stuck behind a desk. He was only Head Auror for a brief time before I replaced him, and only because I was not ready for the position. If I asked him, I'm sure his response would be unsuitable for polite company."

They all laughed, and Albus said, "Having known Alastor for many years, I do not doubt that you are completely correct, Amelia."

Kingsley nodded ruefully and both men readily agreed to accept their new posts. Amelia, however, was not finished.

"I want you both to understand," she continued, fixing them with a serious stare, "that I have not made this decision merely because you are the senior members of the department. I made it because I consider you the best candidates to take over your respective positions, and because I know you both have the ability and familiarity with each other to work effectively. I would expect that the previously mentioned Auror Moody will have plenty to say which will help you both adjust to your new positions.

"The most important matter we face is, of course, the threat of Voldemort." Amelia scowled when both men flinched—Shacklebolt only slightly due, she suspected to his membership in Dumbledore's group, which was of course supposed to be a secret—of the dark wizard's name. "As our illustrious Headmaster would say, the fear to speak a made-up name is rather irrational, don't you think?"

Though her tone was mild, both men caught the hint. "I suppose it is," Scrimgeour replied with a slight grimace.

Amelia sat back and gazed at the four men sitting in front of her desk. "The most immediately pressing matter is to interrogate those captured in the Department of Mysteries. Now that we have Wizengamot approval for the use of Veritaserum to obtain the truth, I suggest we question them and bring them up on charges quickly to prevent Voldemort from doing anything to effect their release."

The other men in the room quickly agreed to Amelia's assessment, and she leaned back in her chair and thought of the events of the morning after her election. The bill had not passed easily, but it finally had, and she was now able to fight back against the Death Eaters in the manner which would do them the most damage.

"We have one final piece of business to cover before we adjourn for today," Albus was saying. Though Amelia knew what he was about to propose she was feeling a little shell-shocked by the fact that she had just been elected to the Minister's office, a position to which she had never aspired.

Regardless, it had happened and she had accepted it, and Amelia knew that it was time to move on. The passing of this next proposal was important, and Albus would need her support to pull it off.

"As you will see on the parchment which the clerks are now distributing, we are proposing changes to the existing laws, with respect to how Death Eaters and those suspected of allying with Voldemort are handled. Sirius Black, I believe that you are the member bringing forth this proposal. Will you please stand and explain it to the members of the Wizengamot?"

Sirius stood and gazed about the chamber in a manner which was unusually sober for the usually ebullient man. For the most part, the members of the chamber were paying him somewhat little attention—most were instead focused on the parchments in front of them, and if the expressions were anything to go by, many were not exactly pleased with what they were reading.

"Chief Warlock," Sirius began, "as you are aware, the one styling himself Lord Voldemort has now been proven to have returned to Britain. Though I am certain that many in this chamber would like to have the question of his whereabouts for the past fifteen years answered, it seems prudent that we instead turn our attention to the subject of ensuring that his forces do not gain a greater foothold than they already have, and that his efforts are turned back with as little bloodshed as possible.

"Therefore, I propose that we strike back against him and his followers through lawful means, but also with the appropriate level of force. I propose that we immediately question all suspected Death Eaters currently in custody with the use of Veritaserum to establish not only their own guilt, but also to bring them to trial expeditiously and punish them for their actions.

"In addition, I move that we give full Wizengamot authority for the use of Veritaserum in the case of all future suspected Death Eaters until Voldemort is finally defeated once and for all."

With that, Sirius once again resumed his seat. Amelia glanced about the chamber, trying to get a sense of how the Wizengamot as a whole was reacting to the proposal. It had been a risk to present this, as there would undoubtedly be much division and opposition to the proposal, but had ultimately decided that right after her election—which they, of course, hoped would be successful—would be their best chance of passing it.

At last, Alaric Morgan, erstwhile candidate for the Minister's position, stood and motioned that he wished to speak, prompting Albus to motion for him to speak.

"Some of these men are, of course, escaped prisoners and as such, should be returned to Azkaban where they belong. As for the rest, there are many prominent members of society among their numbers. Surely Veritaserum is not necessary."

It was a powerful argument for many in the Wizengamot, in one stroke reminding the members of the fact that the Malfoys and others were considered old and respectable families, while at the same time inferring the fact that should they be given Veritaserum, it could potentially set a precedent which would see them eventually being subjected to the truth agent themselves. It was a weak argument at best, but at the same time would appeal to those who would consider themselves too important to be questioned in such a manner.

"What, is our friend Lucius claiming the Imperius again?" Sirius's lazy voice broke out over the chamber, and setting off a further round of murmurs as the two combatants squared off, Morgan still standing and glaring down at Sirius who was himself reclining his chair in an arrogant pose.

"I do not pretend to know exactly what happened that night, Black, nor do I understand what Lucius was doing at the Ministry."

"Oh, I believe I can tell you exactly what he was doing here," Sirius replied.

"I suppose you think you can," Morgan replied with a sneer, while taking his seat. "But then again that brings up the question of what you were doing there yourself, with your… associates."

"What I was doing there is a matter of public record and exactly as it seems, and in contrast to your buddy Lucius, I am fully prepared to submit to Veritaserum willingly to prove what I have claimed." Sirius fell silent for a moment while a sly expression fell over his face. "You know, Morgan, I believe that there may be something wrong with your friend Malfoy."

Though Morgan's brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed, he said nothing, apparently deciding that Sirius's words did not merit a response.

"He seems to have a rather weak will," Sirius continued, his eyes fixed on Morgan, though they were half lidded. "He is constantly being put under the Imperius Curse in order for Voldemort to force him to heinous acts which he would never consider if he were in his right mind. I wonder how long it takes old Lucius to throw the curse off. Several months do you think? Otherwise, it would be rather onerous for old Voldy to be continually reapplying it. The poor old Dark Lord would tire himself out quickly if that were the case."

Morgan's nostrils flared—along with several others who were suspected of being Death Eaters—and he appeared to be on the verge of replying to Sirius's irreverent statements. But he imperiously turned away from Sirius and looked out over the chamber. "The point is—"

"The point is that these men ambushed three students in the Ministry and fired curses at them with the clear intent of harming them," Sirius snapped, the playful Marauder now gone in favor of a much more severe man. It was a side of Sirius Black that Amelia had rarely seen, though she could certainly not claim a close acquaintance with him. "Malfoy and the others can claim Imperius if they like. Veritaserum will soon establish the truth of the matter." He then smirked at Morgan and continued, "Consider it Lucius's chance to exonerate himself once and for all."

"I believe that most of us can agree that Veritaserum is called for in this instance," a new voice spoke up. Amelia identified David Toulson as the speaker, a man from an older family who supported Pureblood ideals, but not with the fanatical fervor—not to mention propensity toward enforcing that viewpoint with violence—that those such as Malfoy routinely did. "However, I must admit that I am troubled over this suggestion of carte blanche in the use of Veritaserum."

"Only when the ones being questioned are suspected of being Death Eaters," Sirius broke in.

Toulson inclined his head. "I understand. I merely wish to ensure that this power you propose we give the DMLE is not abused. There must be checks against such abuse."

"I do not disagree," Amelia spoke up. "The reason for this measure is to ensure the Ministry is able to fight against the threat of Voldemort effectively and quickly."

"And what do you propose to do with those who are proven to be Death Eaters?"

"They will be tried and if guilty, sentenced the same way that anyone else would be," Amelia responded evenly. "Either in front of the full Wizengamot, or a tribunal, whichever we deem would be more effective."

"The full Wizengamot would be my preference," Sirius interjected. It was an effective comment, Amelia decided, considering his history with illegal tribunals.

"That is understandable," Toulson replied with a look of sympathy. "In that case, it seems like a reasonable request. I suggest that we all agree and move on to other business."

The measure was passed soon after, though there was still a certain amount of discussion and acrimony to be dealt with. The vote was closer than her election had been and some members of the Wizengamot appeared to wonder if they were getting what they had bargained for by electing her. It was all too late, of course, and Amelia did not suppose that most would seriously have supported a man such as Morgan, even if they had known of the secondary bill which was to be proposed after the election.

"The interrogations are to be done soon, I suppose?" Scrimgeour's voice interrupted Amelia's thoughts.

"Immediately," Amelia confirmed. "This very day, in fact.

"In that case, I should depart," Jean-Sebastian said, standing.

"I would appreciate your attendance, Ambassador," Amelia said quickly. "I believe that first-hand knowledge of these matters would be of benefit and allow you to pass the information on to the French Minister more effectively."

Jean-Sebastian appeared as though he would decline, but after a moment he nodded. It was soon after that they made their way down to the cells to begin the interrogations.

It was perhaps unsurprising the things they learned from the Death Eaters, though in many instances it was sickening. The fact that these men had committed such despicable deeds in the service of their mad lord told Amelia that their escape from justice was a travesty of enormous proportions.

It would not continue. These men would be convicted—Amelia was determined. And they would pay the price for their actions.

"Well, that's it then. Shall we head back?"

Hermione turned and looked at her companion with a smile, gesturing back the way they had come. They turned as one and Harry, after grasping Hermione's hand in his own, began making his way back toward Gryffindor tower.

It was late—nearing midnight, unless Hermione missed her guess—and as tonight had been their scheduled turn to patrol the castle, they found themselves at the opposite end from their destination, a location which was actually not far from the Slytherin dungeons. It would be a walk of almost ten minutes to return to their common room. On some occasions they used the Marauder's Map when patrolling, as it made it easier for them to find students wandering the halls when they should not be, or dating couples ensconced in broom closets. They had decided that they could do very well without it that night.

As they progressed through the hallways, Hermione glanced at Harry surreptitiously, noting his serious countenance, and the way he constantly watched the hallways, alert for any movement, or anything which was not as it should be. This was, of course, in part to the experiences which had defined his time at Hogwarts—such events would make anyone wary and eager to ensure that no surprises emerged from the hallways through which they traversed. But it was also in part due to the fact that Harry had grown and matured much throughout the course of the year. He was more responsible now; more certain of himself and more likely to buckle down and get the job done, rather than goof off as he had done in previous years. This manifested itself mostly in his schoolwork, but was also equally obvious in the way he approached almost any task—especially those he considered unpleasant—and the way he would often take charge. He had within him the capability of being a gifted leader and it was only his upbringing which had suppressed such a trait. But now with the support of Sirius and the Delacours, not to mention the trust that the headmaster had shown in him of late, he was truly blossoming into the young man he had always been meant to be.

Hermione was captivated by the new Harry, to say the least. He was smart and decisive, caring and considerate, and even though he had a betrothed and a girlfriend—as she considered herself—neither was ever made to feel left out in favor of the other. Or at least Hermione herself had never felt that way, and she suspected that Fleur had no complaints to voice either. If Harry of the previous summer—shy, yet sweet and determined—had been attractive, he was now irresistible. She was glad that Fleur had helped initiate this relationship between them. She imagined that she would now be in the depths of despair knowing what she could not have, if the French witch had not been so selfless.

"Hermione," Harry spoke up, turning to look at her as they continued down the corridor. Hermione turned to face him, noting the expression of concern he was directing at her. "Have you noticed how Malfoy's behaved lately?"

"Isn't he like he always is?" Hermione replied with an arched eyebrow.

"To a certain extent, yes." Harry looked at her expectantly, and Hermione sighed and squeezed his hand affectionately.

"Yes, I've noticed he's been fixated on me."

She stopped speaking and they continued on down the corridor. She had noticed the ponce's murderous gaze on her. Ever since their return and the subsequent revelation of what they had done that night, she had noticed that now his glare had been upon her more often than on Harry or any of their other friends.

It made her nervous, to be honest. Draco Malfoy had always been a little ineffectual—more impressed with his own status as a Pureblood, and more confident in his own prowess than he truly had a right to be. He was at best an indifferent student, and certainly did not wield the magical power that Harry possessed, nor was he as strong as she was, she suspected, though her victorious encounters with the boy in the past might be as much due to her knowledge and determination as with any advantage in pure magical strength.

But this year, the boy had been different. He still had a big head and had much more confidence in himself than was warranted, but it was more his attitude which had changed. Voldemort's return appeared to have emboldened him, to the point where now Hermione began to wonder whether the ferret was turning into a rabid dog. There was something in his eyes when he glared at her which frightened her. In past years she had certainly received the message that he did not think she belonged here, and that he considered her to be less than the dirt which clung to his shoes. Now, however, she began to suspect that if he had the opportunity, that she would meet an ignoble death at his hand. Or maybe at the hands of the Death Eaters or their master.

The very thought of it cause a shiver to run up her spine—the likely fate that awaited her if she ever fell into the hands of the Death Eaters was too horrible to imagine. And it would be doubly worse for her than for any other Muggleborn, due to her close association with Harry.

Harry halted and turned a worried gaze on her. "Does he seem somehow… different now?"

"Like he's emboldened by Voldemort's return?" Hermione asked archly.

Harry nodded and she sighed. "His expression makes me uncomfortable."

Turning abruptly, Harry began pacing, while he ran his hands through his hair in agitation. "Damn the Prophet anyway!"

At Hermione's curious look, he shook his head exasperatedly. "Come on, Hermione—he's been especially bad since we returned from the Ministry. No doubt he's angry because you dared to raise your wand against dear old daddy."

Hermione blinked—she had not come to that conclusion, but as she considered it, she realized that Harry was right. It was exactly how Malfoy would react, and she did not doubt in the slightest that Harry had hit upon the problem. The question was, could Malfoy be dangerous enough to actually do something about it?

And the answer, uncomfortable though it might be, was undoubtedly that he was. Perhaps she might have dismissed anything he might do before, but his stares and his behavior, especially since Christmas break, led her to believe that not only was he capable of harming her, but that it was increasingly likely he would try to do so, if he ever got the chance.

"I swear to you, Hermione," Harry said fiercely, stopping his pacing and turning to look at her with some emotion, "if he tries anything against you I will tear him apart."

Hermione reached over and put a hand on him arm, partially in an effort to calm him, and partially because it was thrilling for her to hear of his care for her and his desire to keep her safe. "Don't be concerned for me, Harry," she said in a very soft tone. "You've taught me how to defend myself, remember?"

"This is not a game any more, Hermione," Harry replied, trembling with emotion. "Malfoy is not some stupid child calling you names and getting us in trouble in potions class."

He paused for a moment trying to master his emotions. "This is for real," he finally said. "I'm afraid he will hurt you. Or worse."

Hermione took his hand again and stepped close. "I don't consider it a game, Harry. I will be very careful."

Harry searched her eyes. "I just couldn't bear it if anything were to happen to you."

Hermione stepped into the circle of his arms, molding herself to him as his arms came around her shoulders and held her close. This was her Harry—the wonderful young man who cared for her so much, who worried about those around him and tried to make a difference in everyone's lives. This was the man with whom she wanted to spend the rest of her life.

After a moment she stepped from his embrace and with a sultry smile leaned back against the corridor wall behind her. Harry, with a half smile on his face, drew close again and braced his hand up against the wall, gazing into her eyes. His expression was intense and affectionate at the same time, and it filled her with a warmth she had never felt before, making her feel safe and protected.

"With you to protect me, what could possibly happen?"

A raised eyebrow met her statement. "This from the girl who absolutely refused to stay behind and then hexed Lucius Malfoy to within an inch of his life?"

As he spoke, Harry began nuzzling Hermione's neck, nipping and kissing his way from the base of her collarbone up to the line of her jawbone. Hermione sighed and rested her head back against the wall, allowing him better access.

"Fleur and I are capable of handling ourselves," she managed as she began to feel a little breathless from his attentions. "But that doesn't mean that we don't find your insistence on protecting us thrilling."

Harry pulled back and peered into her eyes. His own gaze was smoldering with love and affection, not to mention barely repressed desire. It was thrilling all over again, that this young man who was just about the most handsome in the entire school felt such a deep level of commitment for her. And she knew that was what it was. Many might scoff at the notion of a young man, not even sixteen, was able to feel such a level of emotion and commitment, but Hermione knew that his feelings were real. Harry was not an average fifteen year-old boy.

"Well it's good that you don't mind it, because I'm not about to stop. You and Fleur mean the world to me and I'll be damned if I let anything happen to either of you."

Harry paused a moment, still regarding her with that deep and unfathomable emotion in his eyes. It was perhaps clichéd, but Hermione at that moment understood the expression that the eyes were the mirror to the soul. In the depths of his brilliant green eyes, Hermione felt the depth of his regard for her, knowing that her own returned the sentiment in every particular. She was in love with this serious young man, and she now knew that she had been daft to have ever thought she could resist or deny him anything.

In that moment, something seemed to pass between them—a shared understanding or even more a joining of souls on a purely emotional level. Harry regarded her evenly and in a moment, said the words which Hermione had thought would still take him many months or even years to say.

"Hermione, I love you."

With tears pooling in the corners of her eyes, Hermione responded simply, "And I love you."

And then Harry's lips were on hers, questing, claiming her own with all the passion of a man in love. Hermione was in heaven—this was the boy she had not so secretly loved with all her heart since he had saved her from a twelve-foot troll in her first year, jumping on its back with no thought to his own safety. Hermione felt herself respond with abandon, meeting his tongue with her own in a sweet and passionate duel. He did not demand—he gave of himself even as she gave him everything of herself. It was a meeting of two young lovers, flush with the feeling of requited love.

At length Harry broke away from her, his chest heaving with emotion. Hermione's heart was beating in time with his own, and somehow her hands had found their way into his hair, while his were positioned around her lower back, pressing her up against him.

"We better stop before we do something we will regret," he gasped through heavy breaths.

And this was what she loved about Harry more than anything else—his sense of nobility and his respect for her. "How did you get to be such an amazing kisser?" she moaned.

"Just natural ability, I suppose," Harry replied with a hint of a conceited grin.

Hermione laughed and then tried to glare up at him. "Methinks someone has a bit of a big head."

Harry only grinned at her. "I'm not the one who said it."

Laughing to concede the point, Hermione grasped Harry's hand and began to pull him down that corridor toward Gryffindor tower. "Let's get back to the common room. We're supposed to be setting the example, and it won't look good if we're caught snogging in the halls after curfew."

They made their way through the hallways, but the journey took twice the time it normally should have, as Harry kept stopping every few minutes to curl her toes with his kisses. Hermione herself initiated just as many of their little delays as Harry did himself. Though she had been happy with the times they had spent deepening their relationship, this had been the first time they had ever gone so far as a couple. She loved Fleur like a sister, but having Harry to herself would be an important part of their relationship, as she knew that Harry's time alone with Fleur would also be essential for their relationship. Tonight had been a wonderful start.

As the two Gryffindors made their way down the corridor, they never noticed the pair of ice blue eyes watching them as they walked, disgusted at their display, and hating them more than ever.

Tired of the overt stupidity displayed by his closest companions and impatient for his father's inevitable release, Draco had left the common room some time earlier. A little solitude was welcome, allowing him to think further about the matter which had become his obsession—revenge against Potter for the impertinences his family had suffered. And the time was approaching swiftly.

Of course, being a prefect himself, Draco had known that tonight had been Potter and Granger's night to patrol and though he was still controlling his righteous anger, the thought of running into them and teaching them the consequences of their actions had made for a delightful bit of speculation on how he would go about their education.

He had not actually come across them until the very end of his stroll, and by that time they had already been engaged in their amorous liaison. Disgusted, Draco had briefly considered ending his rivalry right there against the two he hated above all others.

But now was not the time, nor should Potter's ultimate defeat be so easy. No, he must pay first—pay for his actions, pay for his lack of vision. And besides, Potter was not his to end, though Draco would have liked nothing more than to be the one to end his misbegotten line once and for all. No, that pleasure belonged to the Dark Lord and none other.

But first, Potter needed to suffer. And there was no better way for him to suffer than to see those objects of his pathetic affection taken from him one by one, each one tormenting him more than the last, until he was finally nothing more than a broken husk. Only then could he be allowed to die at the Dark Lord's wand.

And Draco knew just how to accomplish the initial lesson in Potter's education. There was something being planned—something major which would remind the Dark Lord's enemies exactly why he was feared, and why his rule was an inevitability. Distracting Potter and Dumbledore at the right moment would ensure the plan's success, though Draco knew that its success was a foregone conclusion. But Draco would do his part, and he would enjoy it immensely.

The time for action was quickly approaching.

Updated 05/28/2014