~Chapter Seventeen~

Headaches were an uncommon experience for Ariel. Within the depths of the Ministry his body had never pained him in any way as his body remained stationary. His mind had been the only muscle he'd utilized the entire time. Pain in general was a new experience when not associated with experimentation.

Ariel's first headache was brought on purely by the frustration of this meeting.

The entire Inner Circle sat around a long dining table. At the head, the Dark Lord watched his followers bicker like children. Lucius, sitting to their Lord's right and opposite Ariel, looked far from impressed. Ariel doubted the man shared his affliction. He appeared more appalled his acquaintances were behaving in such a frightful manner. Not that Ariel truly blamed him. Selecting a plan to overtake the Ministry shouldn't have been this difficult.

For the past few hours they'd been holding this discussion. Some believed a violent takeover was necessary. After all, the light held the Ministry firmly in its grasp. Therefore a violent takeover would give them both the Ministry's power and rid the Death Eaters of a few Order Members in the process. Others suggested a slow infiltration where Death Eaters killed off anyone who stood in their Lord's way.

Each Death Eater held a different suggestion; each more gruesome than the last. Ariel tired listening of the boastful nature of each Inner Circle member trying to out-gore the others. While Fenrir and Bellatrix might have enjoyed the talk, he found his patience waning.

"What if we crept into the Minister's office and killed him where he sat?" Mulciber spoke. "I could behead him like the snivelling animal he is."

Ariel watched as Severus flinched minutely at the words; though he was fairly certain for a reason entirely differing to the topic.

"We are not sending such an unnecessary message to the public." Lucius rebuked.

"I agree with Lucius on this matter." Augustus said. "A panicked Ministry is a useless Ministry, my Lord."

Mulciber snarled but made no move to comment further.

"Killing the Minister would be a poor move for you, my Lord." Ariel added into the quiet, gaining the attention of everyone in the room.

It had been a while since he'd last spoken during this meeting. With the Death Eaters speaking over him Ariel had allowed the conversation to carry on. Now that common sense was being applied by a few he would also try to steer the conversation towards a magnificent plan. However that first meant attempting to redirect the ire towards him so he could focus them all.

"And just what would you know of how the Ministry works?" Rabastan questioned.

Ariel turned a neutral gaze towards him.

"The Ministry handed me over to the Unspeakables so they could do what they liked. I have spent nearly all of my life amongst the Ministry and its officials. The better question would be what I don't know."

"Tell us, how would you take the Ministry? You seem to know so much yet have no input."

Beside him Ariel heard Remus and Fenrir growl. It caused several of the Death Eaters to flinch yet Ariel cared little for this. Someone was finally prepared to listen to his opinion. Ariel wasn't about to waste it.

"The best solution for the takeover is simple. For a start there should be no killing, no maiming, and no torture."

The uproar was immediate as Ariel had known it would be. Death Eaters were well known for their rather heavy handed tactics. They enjoyed the power that came from taking another being's life. Ariel knew the feeling well. Power such as this gripped one and never let go. Once a killer revelled in the feeling it was not only difficult to control but also difficult to give up. That was why when Ariel had suggested the simple course of action he knew their reaction.

"Really, how do you think we'll ever agree to something as easy as stunning our targets?"Mulciber sneered.

"Did I say you would be stunning your targets?"

The Death Eaters floundered uncertain to his intentions.

"Quiet," The Dark Lord hissed. "I would hear Ariel's plan."

Ariel gave a gentle nod of gratitude before turning to address the Death Eater present.

"Taking the Ministry by force would be a mistake firstly because you have not nearly enough men to hold it and keep it running smoothly alone."

Rudolphus frowned.

"Why mention running the Ministry? All we have to do is take it."

This time it was Lucius who stepped in to answer the relatively simple question.

"The Dark Lord wants to rule not decimate. It would be simple to slip into the Ministry and take control. Any changes made after the takeover would be entirely legal and binding."

"Most of the Ministry workers aren't worth the amount they are paid however once in charge we can remove and replace whoever we so desire. Add to that the laws we can alter and it is the perfect solution for this situation." Ariel agreed.

Changing the Ministry from the inside was the easiest solution. It was sneaky and would keep the populace in an agreeable mood leaving plenty of Death Eaters free for the battle with the Order of the Phoenix.

"So we won't be needed for the Ministry takeover?" Rabastan asked.

Numerous Death Eaters frowned and looked ready to start an argument at Rabastan's question. Ariel held no plan of them becoming useless. The Death Eaters would remain necessary for quite a while to come yet. He and the Dark Lord would make certain of it.

"Fear not, we will have taken the Ministry however that doesn't mean the Order will fall as swift."

The words of the Dark Lord reassured his followers. Many were then dismissed so only Augusts, Lucius, Severus, Remus, Fenrir, and Ariel remained with their master. Ariel felt a weight lighten from his person as fewer people remained in the room. Now they could focus on the important facts.

"Now that they have left, Ariel, how do you plan to work your way into the Ministry once again?" Augusts questioned.

Ariel smiled.

"I won't work for the Ministry not even if it is under the control of a Death Eater."

Nervous glances were thrown his way. It appeared as if they deeply desired to see if the Dark Lord held any concerns over this comment. They continued to glance between the Dark Lord and Ariel until Remus finally picked up the courage to ask further.

"What of the Dark Lord?"

"Not even then." Ariel replied.

Severus was the first to question his answer.

"Then what do you plan? How are we meant to obtain the Ministry?"

"As I have intimate knowledge on the Ministry I can see which sectors need to be replaced and what needs to be altered only slightly. The major problem is Minister Fudge."

"Fudge is an idiot." Fenrir snorted.

It was no secret creatures held little opportunity and relevance in the eyes of the Ministry. They were deemed to be monster and banished from schools and other establishments. Most of this fear had originated in a singular fashion born from someone who held great power at the time. Fear held a greater and swifter power than hope or love ever could imagine.

"The main problem with Minister Fudge is he relies too much on the support of Dumbledore to secure is leadership. However with Dumbledore focusing his concerns further towards the war effort he has left Fudge to run the Ministry by himself. Many within the Ministry don't rely on Fudge as a leader they see him as weak on his own. This we can exploit."

Silence enveloped the room as each questioned how it would be possible to do so without killing or torturing the man in the limited time frame they had. As soon as they made a move within the Ministry they would have a time limit concerning the Order's appearance. It seemed impossible.

"Lucius shall be the one to replace Fudge. He doesn't even need to run a campaign. All he needs to do is issue a Challenge."

Uncertainty spread through the group. A Challenge, though not illegal, hadn't been used for centuries. It was a law which had fallen out of favour when a Minister instead of accepting a Challenge had instead had his colleagues cast a vote. At the time it was unheard of. Only the powerful should control the laws which separated magic from muggle. Only the powerful could keep them apart and safe.

Before the vote was introduced, the Challenge was law. The Challenge pitted opponents against each other in a battle to be determined by both sides. Each side would have five minutes to choose a second if need be and name a judge after the task had been set. All Lucius had to do was set a Challenge both sides could agree upon but he would win.

Sensing the uncertainty, Ariel continued.

"This will take the Minister and the Order by surprise. They won't have time to alter the rules or decree the law unsuitable. Their own laws will force them into action especially if this is done publically."

"What if they do the same? What if they Challenge Lucius the very moment he wins?" Fenrir growled.

While likely the Order would attempt to do so to gain power once again, legally they wouldn't be able to. Augustus explained,

"After a Challenge is issued there is to be a grace period of one year. In that time Lucius could abolish the law if he felt he couldn't hold his own."

Lucius sneered at the slight. A Slytherin was unlikely to abolish the law. Instead they would manipulate everyone else and have them remove the law in their own way. The law would be removed by another's paranoia not his own doing.

"What would I Challenge Fudge to?" Lucius asked.

The Dark Lord spoke up.

"I believe the solution to that is quite simple."

Ariel smirked knowing what was to follow. The remaining Death Eaters shifted in worry. Anything that had both the Dark Lord and Ariel in high spirits was certain to cause them concern.

The Dark Lord gestured for the group to stand, taking Ariel by the arm and leading them out of the room and deeper into the manor. They followed twists and turns snaking past forgotten rooms until they stopped short of wide double doors opening into a library.

"Lucius, how well do you know your Ministerial history?" Ariel question.

The group, coming to an understanding, smirked victoriously. They would win.


Watching Lucius stride into the Ministry, Ariel withheld the awe he felt. Many times he had watched the pureblood Lord walk in and manipulate the Ministry into doing his bidding; this held a different feeling. Everyone had their eyes on the small party who oozed confidence every step taken. He belonged with the confident not those struck in awe.

Even so Ariel kept an eye glued to the crowds. These would be the people prepared to welcome in the new Minister or reject him entirely.

He could see the usual sheep the Minister employed to appear great and powerful. They would easily fall into a heap upon hearing Lucius challenge. The flock would flounder around until given an order; then continue on as if no change had occurred. Easily kept under control, their master wouldn't have to worry about them.

Then there were the usual employees. A mix of Light, Dark, and Neutral people, Ariel only truly had to worry over the Light. Dark supporters would always obey the Dark Lord's plan. Neutral supporters would be mollified once they realized the change in government officials led to an improved leadership. Only the Light would protest.

Of the Order, Ariel could see several members following them through the crowd. They held little effort of being subtle. Green eyes surveyed the area and yet didn't find any trace of the Potter's. Not that it mattered. Soon anyone who ranked high within the Order would be present; ready to watch history unfold in favour of the Dark Lord.

Ariel smiled deviously as their group finally become noticed by the Minsiter.

"Gentlemen, to what do I have the pleasure of such a meeting?" Minister Fudge spoke, scurrying forward.

Cornelius' voice gave away the nerves he felt inside. Ariel knew however this indication meant nothing. The man always held poor nerves when approached by someone above his blood standing.

"Minister, as you may be aware these are rather trying times." Lucius opened with.

A mere flinch gave away Cornelius Fudge's unease.

"These are indeed trying times." He agreed. "That is why the Ministry of Magic under my care is doing everything in its power to combat the threat."

By this time a crowd was beginning to gather. Those standing nearby had gathered out of curiosity, wondering what Lucius Malfoy wanted to say. Others moved closer hearing the boastful words of their Minister and wondered who he was speaking to. Lucius held control of the situation. There would be no interference from the Order members now that this was under way.

"Yet your power is allowing Death Eaters to remain among the population including those who have escape Azkaban."

Lucius' countered words were met with a derisive snort as an Order member pushed through the crowd.

"And what of you Malfoy? Weren't you once accused of being branded by You-Know-Who? Show us; show us where your allegiance lies."

Among the crowd people appeared hopeful Lucius would reveal he was marked. They easily identified as Dumbledore's men all eager for a Death Eater to be caught. Then there were others who looked terrified merely for hearing such a topic uttered. Surprisingly, most looked confident Lucius would pass the test. Ariel was one of them.

Agonizingly slow, Lucius tucked his cane beneath his arm and rolled back the left sleeve. Beneath his usual high end robes lay a pale forearm bare of any mark.

Members of the Order frowned, looking around for an explanation namely one who could alter reality. Ariel smirked knowing any who knew his identity and wasn't a marked Death Eater wouldn't be able to currently see him. Anyone else wouldn't pay attention to his appearance. They couldn't risk being accused of cheating, not before the Challenge had been issued. After the Challenge had been completed was another story.

"Is this what you desired to see?" Lucius questioned.

"That's impossible. I know you are marked." The Order member spluttered.

Lucius rolled down his robe, cane once again in his left hand.

"Do forgive me but I don't know your name. How could you possibly claim to know me so intimately?"

The man blushed.

"My name is Edmund Dormer. I was in the same year as you at Hogwarts."

"Ah, yes, the quiet Gryffindor if I remember correctly."

Compared to the Marauders, two years below them, every Gryffindor had been quiet. Gryffindor's may have been notorious for bravery but not all of them were mischievous. The Marauder's and the Weasley Twins were exceptionally devious as well as brave. Yet Edmund Dormer had been another case entirely. The only time Edmund Dormer braved his enemies was when he knew allies stood behind him. Bravery in the face of danger was not the reason the hat called Gryffindor.

"See, he knows me!" Edmund crowed.

"I know of you, Mr Dormer." Lucius corrected. "As such, I fail to see how this concerns your accusation of my being a Death Eater."

The crowd agreed a bare forearm proof enough for them.

"You were present when You-Know-Who came for that boy!"

"Many people were present for that particular moment, Mr Dormer," Cornelius said, "I, amongst them. Surely you aren't going to accuse every one of the same nonsense."

Edmund flinched as eyes turned towards him. There was no argument to be had.

A smirk clawed its way to Ariel's face. This simple show had set the stage perfectly. The surrounding crowd now looked at Lucius favourably. This confrontation hadn't been planned but Lucius had handled it with all the grace of the future Minister of Magic. All they needed to do was call the Challenge before word managed to leap from the Ministry to Dumbledore. Ariel gave a nod to Lucius cleaning him for the next phase.

"It seems we have fallen off track Minister Fudge."

Lucius smiled, sharp and to the point.

"I assume you had a reason or this talk?"

The Minister looked very uncertain now.

"Our lives and those of whom we love are in danger by the threats you have allowed to pour onto our streets unchecked. The Ministry is weakened by its leader's inability to lead therefore, I, Lord Lucius Malfoy, Challenge Minister Cornelius Fudge for the right of Leadership, to be decided by Knowledge of our great community. As Judge, I nominate Lady Amelia Bones. This crowd shall bare witness."

The words echoed around the room filled with power as the magic binding the Ministry acknowledged and accepted the words. Everyone else, however, seemed to be at a loss as to what Lucius had just enacted. Many of the people were scrambling for answers, mostly reporters who wanted to scoop. Yet considering the age of the law only one person knew of its existence outside of Ariel.

"It would seem, Cornelius, you have a Challenge on your hands."

Lucius grimaced as the speaker moved further, careful however to hide it from the surrounding people.

"Albus Dumbledore, as always it is a pleasure to see you."

"It seems Lord Malfoy as if your ambitions have grown since certain allies of yours stepped forward. May I ask where young Ariel Ashling is?"

Ariel smiled. Dumbledore was certainly cunning enough to be a member of Slytherin however it had clearly been a while since he'd used such a skill against another Slytherin. He shouldn't have spoken Ariel's name at all. He should have simply hinted at it. Now everyone would be curious as to what Dumbledore knew of Ariel Ashling.

"As you can see Headmaster Dumbledore, Mr Ashling isn't currently present. I believe he is recuperating nicely at a safe location." Lucius responded.

The wording couldn't have been perfected. Lucius had turned the query around and made it appear as if it were Dumbledore who had harmed Ariel. Obviously it was understood as such as well since many of the surrounding group flinched away from the aged man. No one wanted to be around a man who tortured children even if it were merely hinted at.

Around him, Ariel noted most of the Order had arrived and spotted the Potter family towards a corner. They were hesitant to approach further. Clearly a meeting between the groups hadn't gone as they had hoped and they were distancing themselves from the Headmaster. Ariel smirked; it was too late for any hope to change however.

Turning back towards their current situation Ariel noticed Fudge incessantly badgering Dumbledore for the rules. Many others were listening as well as they hadn't known and desired to appear smarter once this bout was done. It wouldn't be needed if the nervous movement of the crowd was anything to go by. The Ministry would demand to have the rule band before Lucius' year was over with. They wouldn't need to learn the rules. They would be ineffective soon enough.

"Ah, Madam Bones, do you accept the responsibilities of being judge?"

Ariel smiled as the final piece presented itself to the board. Madam Bones looked far from being impressed at this situation. Yet truly she had little to do. Everything they had planned left her in a position of absolute neutrality in this situation. She didn't like Cornelius Fudge yet she disliked Lucius Malfoy even more. Either way she didn't have the situation in her favour. All she needed to do was act as questioner and judge to the pair before her.

"What is needed of me?"

"All you must do is ask us say five questions in regards to the Ministry and judge whether or not we have answered them correctly. Whoever answers the most correctly retains the position of Minister of Magic."

Bones clearly looked at Dumbledore who nodded his head at Lucius' words.

"Why this topic?"

"A Minister should always know about his Ministry no matter the time." Lucius replied.

The jibe was clearly aimed at Cornelius who stood straighter.

"Of course, I completely agree with Lucius' statement. As Minister I know everything possible about this fine establishment."

Ariel laughed at the man's horrible attempt to reassure the people of his knowledge. Soon it would be obvious whose knowledge was greater.

"Very well then, we shall begin."

Magic flowed from the ceiling forming a dome around the three. Everyone watched in awe, uncertain as to what this functioned as. Ariel smirked as Dumbledore realized he wouldn't be able to help his fool through this Challenge. The dome prevented the three from hearing anyone on the outside yet allowed everyone to hear the words from within.

"A simple question first I believe is in order," Bones began. "When did the Ministry of Magic come into being?"

Fudge immediately piped up, "I believe it was around the late 1600's."

Lucius nodded.

"I agree with Minister Fudge."

The dome glowed golden as Madam Bones accepted their answers as truth. Thankfully they weren't asked for an exact date as no one truly knew when the Ministry was completely founded. Many argued about that particular date in the timeline however the 1600's was the generally agreed upon time.

"What is the largest department within the Ministry and who doesn't answer to it?"

Another rather easy question yet Cornelius, ever the pompous fool, spoke before Lucius could even open his mouth.

"That's ridiculous. Every department within the Ministry answers to the Minister and my staff clearly take up more room than any other department here."

The answer had Madam Bones twitched in rage. However before the situation moved out of hand, Lucius answered, ignoring the words of the Minister.

"The Department of Magical Law Enforcement is the largest department within the Ministry and only the Department of Mysteries works outside of its jurisdiction."

Gold once again surrounded the dome yet this time with a streak of red through it indicating a wrong answer. The Minister puffed up believing his answer to be correct even if the red circled closer to his half of the dome.

"Who was Chief of the Wizard's Council in 1269?"

"Barberus Bragge was Chief of the Wizard's Council during that time." Lucius answered.

"That wasn't his name." Fudge denied.

Lucius didn't bother to argue with the man. Within the crowd, supporters of Cornelius Fudge were growing dim. Dumbledore looked to be rather irritated though he hid it well enough for a public setting. Ariel turned to see the Potter's appear uncertain as to what to do. Obviously they knew Lucius was winning this bout and they felt they should prepare to leave. Chris however appeared to want to stay, eyes roaming around the area for someone in particular.

Ariel turned back towards the bout. If Chris wanted to play he would need to wait. This took precedence. He would play with the teen later.

"When was the Werewolf Register introduced?"

"The Werewolf Register has always been around to protect the people." Fudge boasted.

"That would be in 1947." Lucius replied.

People openly frowned at this. Ariel couldn't believe the man had the audacity to think he could reassure the people with his incorrect answers. Most people knew about the Register. It had recently been included in a story included in the Daily Prophet as the wolves started to stir again due to the Dark Lord's resurrection and the Death Eater raids. For the Minister to not realize this spoke volumes to the surrounding crowd. When the story became published everyone would realize the gravity in their mistake electing him as their leader.

"When was the ban on Experimental Breeding introduced?"

"No one practices Experimental Breeding anymore."

Bones simply sighed as Cornelius failed once again and turned towards Lucius.

"The ban was introduced in 1965."

With the final answer the dome broke away, golden on Lucius' side and mostly red on Cornelius' side. The Challenge was won and a new Minister would lead them. Many of the crowd rushed to congratulate their new Minister while Fudge stood in shock with Dumbledore standing beside him ready to whisk him off now that the damage was done. Everything was settling in for the Dark Lord's victory. Now all Ariel had to do was deal with a stubborn teen who wouldn't take no for an answer. Revenge would be served.

All information was gathered from the hp-lexicon.

I apologize for taking so long for an update. Real life has been kicking me around however I've set time aside to work on all of my stories. I plan however to finish one story at a time so check my poll and vote for what you want. ~MidnightEmber