Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or its characters, those belong to J.K. Rowling.
'Thoughts' / internal thinking
Author Note: Sorry about the long break between updating, I've just had so many distractions in real life, and the PC unfortunately caught a virus. Time for a final pairing to reveal... maybe? This chapter will have a wide range of points of view, just so everyone can get idea of the extent and progression of every story plot, and how it's all interconnected with cause and effect.
Midnight Gold, the Rise of the Forgotten Lord
Chapter 43: Aftermath Pt3
Posted 19th March 2014
Revised and Beta'd by 'Joe Lawyer'
Straightening his formal Potter household robes, the handsome Potter family crest was proudly on display on his broadening chest. The crest was outlined in traditional gold, to represent his status as the head of the Potter family, such as it was, with the Black family crest in a secondary position on his shoulder outlined in silver, indicating that he was both a part of the Black family as well as the currently acknowledged heir due to the silver outline. Other, 'official' members of the family would traditionally have a bronze or plain crest on their own robes. He pushed his growing black mane behind his ears once again as he smiled for the cameraman, his pet reporter Rita and Sirius moving out of the picture.
The cameraman was surprisingly quick at his job, snapping several photos before he was even ready. He tasted an acrid carbon in the air from the puffs of smoke from the camera. He gave the man a quick glare to indicate his displeasure, as he purposefully positioned his hands on his lap, allowing the three magical rings to be seen in the photo. The first two rings had been caught on camera many times before, but the third, now that one would certainly cause a stir, as soon as those even somewhat 'in the know' realized what it meant. He mightily resisted the urge to smirk at the chaos and confusion it would sow throughout magical Britain.
After a great deal of thought on the matter he had chosen to openly wear his Peverell Lordship ring for this interview with Rita, the ancient magical ring carefully positioned besides his Potter family ring, hopefully to show and imply its similar importance. Logically, he knew the photo wouldn't be able to capture the fine details of the ring, most people likely assuming it was simply for decoration, but one or two people might get what was being subtly implied. He tried to make himself look powerful and regal for this next photo. To aid him in that goal he had also made the deliberate choice to wear the formal and traditional ancestral robes of the Head of the Potter family, rather than wearing something more fashionable and modern, like he normally would for such interviews.
Some of the credit for the idea of carefully crafting a successful public image had to go to his Aunt Andy, who had helped him choose some of his clothes. Her extensive experience with the courts as a lawyer meant that she understood the importance of projected self-image to obtain influence and to impress. Rita's reporting enhanced this deliberate effect with flattering articles that portrayed him as a charming young heir to the masses. 'I need to properly thank the pair of them sometime,' he mentally noted as he continued to smile for the camera. The urge to fiddle with his robes was increasing.
Of course, the ceremonial robes he was now wearing were not the original ones the previous Lord Potters had worn to the Wizengamot for centuries. Unfortunately, those had been destroyed when his ancestral family manor had been burnt to the ground during a Death Eater attack, the same attack which had claimed the lives of his grandparents. Once again, the idea that so much history had been lost, that the ancestral home that had nurtured his family and seen the births and deaths of so many of his ancestors was destroyed...it made his blood boil for revenge. To his credit these thoughts didn't appear on his face, the years at the Dursley's for once helping him to hide his true feelings of rage behind a mask of cheerfulness. He had plenty of experience at that. These new robes had actually been carefully and painstakingly recreated using various old photos in the family vault and official pictures in old editions of the Daily Prophet, only slightly updated to give it a more modern and stylish look. While he paid homage to the history of his family, the slightly more modern look suited him perfectly, because his family was essentially being reborn under his leadership. Now that he thought about it, the rebirth of his house was much like a phoenix rising from the ashes of destruction to begin a new life, this imagery led to a much more genuine smile to be captured by the camera.
In short, his new robes were a careful mix of modern fashion infused with the traditional symbolism of ages past, nicely linking him to the ancient symbolic robes his forbearers once wore for his first head long dive into the murky waters of Wizengamot politics and the back room deals of high society.
There were several good reasons for why he was wearing the traditional style family robes favoured by the head of houses for this photo session. The first being the robes would help tie him to the rich legacy of the Potter family visually. It would also tell many of the neutral, more traditional families, that he was 'one of them,' cut from the same old cloth, rather than some presumptuous upstart. Hopefully this would help to influence some undecided votes in his favour. The new robes also screamed 'old money,' which was also a good thing, since the magical world revolved around gold and family connections.
And his choices in robes weren't solely an affectation meant to manipulate those people; he truly did have a great respect and appreciation for history and tradition. After all, if you didn't learn from the past you were bound to make the same stupid mistakes as your ancestors did. Human nature hadn't changed much, even in a few thousand years. And furthermore, tradition helped to unite society under a common set of values and practices. However, unlike so many others in the wizarding world, he didn't see tradition as some unchangeable thing set in stone, never to be touched. Yes, tradition in this case had been quite good to him, and was the sole reason why he was now able to sit in the Wizengamot despite only being 12 years of age, but it could also be an anchor. An anchor around their collective necks leading to stagnation and decay and an unwillingness for society to adapt to a changing world. Some traditions should fall away when they became untenable or no longer made sense, so that new ones could take their place.
Of course, he would be keeping these 'modern' and most 'radical' thoughts firmly to himself for some time to come, rather than voice them aloud and alienate possible allies and votes, and lose potential business deals. Such reformist opinions could wait until he was older and in a far stronger political and financial position, with deep gold reserves and firmly developed trade deals that no one would want to see ended. 'I need to set up another meeting with Lord Patil,' he reminded himself, wondering if the well connected Indian ambassador that had dismissed his original proposal the previous summer would be more interested in dealing with him now. His star was on the rise. Soon his three Lordships would be known by all, his plans for the docks revealed, and his pockets flush with Malfoy gold and business assets. He considered the idea of sending the man a message, before ultimately dismissing it. The main reason why he was hesitant, despite the Patil's business being a perfect fit for the Potter Docks, were the talks he had had with his friend Padma about Indian culture and the way they concluded large and long-lasting business deals. Her father, the Lord Patil, would almost certainly propose to seal the business deal and their families' long-lasting business alliance through marriage. While he wasn't strictly opposed to it, and frankly knew that many British families would propose something similar under the circumstances, it just wasn't something he wanted at this time. The idea of simply going through with it was tempting though, despite his feelings. The Patils and the Potters would both benefit greatly for many years to come with such a business alliance in place. Their alliance could also make his penetration in foreign markets that much smoother as well. The camera flashed again releasing another puff of greyish smoke.
But the main reason for wearing the traditional ancestral robes of state was that he wanted people to begin associating him specifically with the position and persona of the Lord Potter, in preparation for Malfoy's upcoming trial and his eventual induction to the Wizengamot's ranks as an entity independent from Sirius, upon completing his time at Hogwarts.
Furthermore, from a practical perspective, despite the new robes being both stylish and very fashionable, the ornate and voluminous robes gave him the opportunity to have a number of protective enchantments and runes woven into the acromantula silk, with a discreet layer of thin, but highly protective and magically reinforced dragon hide skilfully hidden between the layers of silk. The dragon hide was primarily meant to protect his centre mass and internal organs from harm, as the torso was the most likely part of him to be targeted and hit in a fight. Predictably, he also had several magically concealed and expanded pockets added to the interior of the robes. These were purposefully designed and tested so that they wouldn't be scannable by most detection charms, allowing him to smuggle an item or two within the robes. He smirked at the idea of going into politics with hidden body armour and hidden pockets capable of carrying extra weapons. After all, wizard politics were often a bloody, backstabbing affair. Betrayers were often disguised as friends and allies, that's what made them so effective. It was often said that "the bigger the smile, the sharper the knife." Many had met their end by disregarding that bit of wisdom.
Having the magically reinforced dragon hide woven into the robe, especially in so stealthy a fashion, had been an incredibly difficult and obviously custom project and thus extremely expensive, but what good was gold to him if he was dead? For mobility's sake and to keep others from realizing what he was wearing by having movements too stiff to be natural, the dragon hide didn't extend to his arms, but arms could always be re-grown with enough time and money, which he easily had, and assuming that no dark magic was involved in inflicting the original wounds.
Naturally, the acromantula silk had also been treated with several powerful magical potions, some even close to alchemical in nature, to strengthen the already magical fabric further to increase its durability, since it wouldn't do for the silk to fail under the stress of combat. Other potions were added to make it more resistant to fire based spells as well. Fire-proofing charms and runes had also been applied to the silk, enabling the robe to stand up to even dragon fire if need be, but only for a couple of seconds. This same magic would also protect him from most magical acids that dark wizards often enjoyed conjuring in battle.
Yes, it was a tad paranoid, but after recent events nothing but the best would do for his personal protection! Besides, being overly paranoid was only a bad thing when you didn't have people after you! 'It's a shame Caesar didn't wear body armour,' he noted, as he thought about the famous roman general, wondering what history would be like if the assassinated Roman statesmen and master general had taken greater steps to protect himself from harm.
Those thoughts inevitably led him to think more about how he could also protect himself better. 'To start with, I really need to get another wand... or two,' he noted. A wizard without his wand was close to a muggle in capabilities, probably even less due to an inability to think of solutions without resorting to magic. A primary wand and a backup wand on his person at all times, in concealed holsters, with another wand in a safe location at home in case both primary and backup were taken or destroyed... 'Maybe a small portkey on my person at all times, for quick escapes when needed,' he mentally listed. 'Maybe some potions as well?' Healing potions would be a good idea, like the blood replenisher, essence of dittany for wound knitting, pepper up...and a bezoar in case I'm ever poisoned. Now that was a good idea considering recent events. The cameraman took another poorly timed photo interrupting this incredibly productive train of thought, temporarily blinding him due to his now sensitive, magically enhanced eyes. He sent a quick glare at the photographer in response, his inner tiger getting rather irritated at the annoying man.
'I can't change and rip his head off. I can't change and rip of his head off.,' he mentally repeated to himself like a mantra, having to resort to occlumency based calming exercises to restrain his more feral side, his hands/claws unconsciously flexing.
He knew his quicker, almost explosive temper was a combination of his teenage hormones flooding his rapidly developing body and the feral instincts of a male Siberian tiger. The fact that he had been effectively imprisoned in Number 12 for almost a month for his own protection didn't help, the residence only possessing a few outlets for his restless energy. So caught up in his own self analysis and indignation at being locked up, he didn't notice that Rita had detected the warning signs that he was silently emitting into the room. Whether her realization was due to the instincts of an experienced reporter, the magical bonds of a servant detecting her master's rising anger, or just her own animal instincts sensing the shift, he did not know.
"Take another. And this time, take a proper photo!" Rita stressed, with a scathing undertone, knowing his wishes without a word being spoken, and clearly getting concerned that she would be blamed later for the cameraman's annoying behaviour.
It had been over three weeks since he had faked his death in an elaborate plot to catch the man responsible for the attempts on his life. Two and half weeks since Lucius Malfoy, the man responsible for attempting to kill him, had been caught red handed by the investigating Aurors in a sting operation. In the end Lucius had been caught, but his parents' spineless betrayer had somehow managed to escape and still avoid capture by the Aurors, even after all this time.
Privately, he suspected that by now Pettigrew had somehow managed to escape overseas, either by his own skills or more likely, by another invisible party helping him. Regardless of the how, it placed the rat firmly beyond their reach and the Ministry's Aurors. The matter wasn't helped any either by the fact that the Ministry was hesitant to ask for any other nation's help in the manhunt. However, that didn't matter much at the moment; Pettigrew had merely been the tool. The true mastermind that had been behind the nearly successful attempts on his life had been caught, removing the threat for the time being. He smiled for his picture once again. It was a genuine smile, one of joy and anticipation as he thought about the mindless Lord Malfoy, drooling away in the hospital, and the thought of the swiftly approaching dismantlement of the Malfoy family name and assets. Revenge would be sweet; it would be even sweeter if there was gold involved.
The attempts on his life this last half year, while of course being frightening, had also been an eye opening experience, a transformative experience. He had hated the uncertainty, the thought of being powerless, lacking control. The fact that at any moment his life could be stolen from him had hardened him. But the unfortunate events had also been a boon for him in many ways. It had focused his mind on what was truly important in that moment, giving him a powerful motivation to focus his time and energy on developing key skills, like those that would serve him well in combat, as well as giving him the push to move more quickly on the Potter Docklands' reconstruction, despite the risks involved. Secondly, due to the press positively lapping up the juicy sob story of a polite, well-mannered orphan boy, targeted for death by the power hungry and corrupt Lord Malfoy, his popularity and political capital was at an all time high. With the wider public lapping up the skilfully written stories, his fame and standing in the magical world had improved tremendously, becoming a household name, almost akin to the Boy-Who-Lived. At the same time, several articles had been written and published that strongly implied that his godfather's wrongful imprisonment had been engineered by the Lord Malfoy in an attempt to steal the Black family name and fortune. Of course, there was no real evidence, just speculation, but the 'rumour' helped to damage the Malfoy name even further in the public's eyes.
This was true power in many ways, the way he could invisibly reach out to manipulate and influence magical Britain, the ability to bend and distort the truth to his benefit through his puppet of a reporter. Right now not only was she producing and directing a wonderful sob campaign to garner him sympathy, but she was also conducting a systematic campaign of character assassination against the Malfoy family, in preparation for their court hearing. Each member of the family, and frankly anyone even remotely associated with them, was being discredited to the point that victory was almost certain.
Yes, it was an underhanded tactic, one what would never work in the non-magical world due to laws against defamation, but with only one true newspaper in magical Britain, with their star reporter under his control, and no laws preventing such defamation, he could get away with ordering it.
Frankly, he didn't care if the tactic he was using was less than noble and was 'outside' the traditional noble values of the Potter family. He had to be ice cold to survive in this world by himself, like a persistent winter storm, as he slowly buried the Malfoy family in the following days. He was playing for keeps, nothing more and nothing less. The price to be paid for trying to kill him, to end his family line forever, was the complete destruction of the Malfoy family for good. He would destroy their legacy and their name as well, which meant any tactic was fair game in his book.
The reason was simple, he wanted to, no, needed, to send a message to anyone else with designs on messing with him. The message was that he played for keeps, and wouldn't be intimidated, or bullied into submission simply because he was only 12 years old. To those who sought to attack him he wouldn't just go after the one responsible; he would go after the entire family and destroy them, as he remembered the Sorting Hat's words. Yes, it might be overly harsh and ruthless, but he wouldn't leave an enemy behind him to strike him in the back when he was down or distracted. He was the last Potter. It rested on his shoulders alone to rebuild the Potter family, to rebuild the foundations to see it last long into the future, for another thousand years. That had long been his driving force...and he couldn't afford to show mercy and restraint now. Those who sought to destroy him would be taken down ruthlessly and without mercy. There was no other way forward.
His pet reporter's task of character assassination was made infinitely easier upon the aurors seizing the Malfoy family manor. An intensive search of the home and property had dug up loads of dirt on the man and his family. The graphic photos of the medieval torture chamber hidden beneath the manor filled with old fashioned and bloody torture devices, and a room chock full of extremely dark and cursed artefacts on display, like a private museum from previous dark wizards and lords, had made for several incredibly damning stories. The best photo had been of the way the Lord Malfoy proudly and prominently displayed his former death eater robes and white mask, along with a large number of unregistered wands, obviously used for nefarious purposes. Rita and several other reporters at the Daily Prophet had managed to spin that story for days.
He suspected that Madam Bones, or perhaps one of her subordinates, had shared the incriminating and oh so damaging photos with the paper, because he certainly wasn't behind it. The flash of a camera blinded him again for a moment, but he blinked it away before forcing a smile as another flash occurred. Rita stood watching in a lovely and actually very flattering outfit, an outfit which kept his godfather's eyes wandering to Rita's well defined rump and semi exposed chest.
He had lessened the restrictions he had first placed on Rita's choice of wardrobe in the last couple of days as a reward for her good service to him, thus giving her greater personal freedom as a reward, which seemed to have earned him some points with her. Luckily for his eyes, Rita knew better than to fall back on her old habits completely and had forgone wearing the bright green she had previously been known for. He knew that giving gold was a good reward and one that he could use repeatedly, but personal freedom of choice would be a far better reward, and it would show that he would lessen the reigns of control on her if she behaved properly and in a way he would approve of. It also gave him something else he could take away if she needed to be punished or reeled back in.
Today she was wearing an attractive red and black two piece number, with a red gem encrusted jacket and a black skirt with red line stripe down the side which stopped just beneath the knee. She also wore a pair of black stockings or tights, completed with an attractive pair of black four inch heels with a cute red bow on the tip. A new and growing part of him wanted to see just what was beneath the outfit, but he reined in this primitive impulse. Sirius was dressed in his formal robes for this occasion, nothing as elaborate or decorative as his own, but still quite fashionable, which further enhanced his godfather's roguish good looks. The rogue that was his godfather had already mentioned several times after their previous meetings with Rita that he would happily 'bang that ass like a drum.' His godfather's eyes stole another naughty glance at Rita, before noticing that Harry had seen the look. The dog animagus grinned like a bad boy that been caught stealing a cookie.
'Interesting,' he noted silently to himself, as he smiled directly at the camera, easily able to guess just what his godfather was thinking about and what the effect of Rita's fire engine red lips was having on the dog animagus' mind.
Rolling his eyes at his godfather's behaviour caused Rita to look over her shoulder to examine his now straight faced godfather. The look on his face was so ridiculously fake, it was laughable. She then looked back at him with a smirk on her lips. He now knew that Rita had noticed, or at least suspected just what had transpired between the pair, but the reporter chose to say nothing. He wondered for a moment if he could use his godfather's attraction for his own ends, or if perhaps Rita herself would use that attraction for her own ends.
It wasn't yet a matter of concern, but numerous marriage contracts and offers had been made by several respectable households since last summer for their unmarried daughters, for both himself and Sirius. Of course, no one knew about his godfather's infertility, otherwise this level of interest wouldn't exist for the middle aged Lord Black. Predictably, with all the recent positive news articles about himself and the highly publicised case against Lord Malfoy, he had also received far more marriage offers.
Ninety percent of the marriage offers he had received were nothing more than polite feelers for interest, Lords and Ladies testing the proverbial waters for their unmarried daughters with those of (relatively) similar age, social standing and personal wealth to his own. The one made by Padma's own father was in the same vein, which resulted in the offer receiving a personal reply, or like the one made by Lady Parkinson on behalf of her daughter Pansy.
They had used the excuse of his young age as the reason for the lack of interest in the matter at the time, thus giving them a way of setting the matter aside to be visited in the future without giving offense. The camera flashed again. Another five percent were much pushier, believing that they were somehow more special, practically demanding a meeting which Harry had no interest in. The other five percent were just plain stupid or disturbing enquiries. One of the most disturbing offers was made on behalf of a 97 year old witch who was interested in a new boy toy for her remaining years. Even though wizards and witches aged far slower physically than muggles, that was just plain disgusting. The other was made on behalf of a three year old little girl, for marriage when she reached 17. He spotted Sirius' eyes once again wandering to Rita's ass. Whilst he was naturally reluctant to meddle in his godfather's love life, as he would hate for his godfather to meddle in his own, he couldn't deny the fact that he was worried about what would happen if his godfather married someone whose agenda ran counter to Harry's own, someone who didn't get along with him, someone who could influence Sirius and damage his own plans for the future. On the other hand, Sirius' womanising was a weakness as far as he was concerned, an easy means for an assassin to get access to Sirius with his guard down and strike at the family. He shifted uneasily at the thought.
'Lucius should have targeted Sirius. It would have been far easier to get to him,' he noted grimly, as he spared a look at his godfather, even as he started to mentally list the man's weaknesses that could be exploited and used against him. He grimaced; the mentally compiled list was long.
"Is there something wrong?" Rita asked, interrupting his thoughts. Once again he wondered how she knew something was distressing him.
Quickly realizing his slip, he replied, "No, my apologies, just a momentary lapse in attention." He forced a smile for the camera once more. With his mask restored, his mind turned back to his previous line of thought.
Sirius getting married could also threaten his succession to the position of Lord Black, potentially robbing him of his position and influence as Sirius' heir if a direct heir was produced, despite the highly unlikely odds. After all, magic was magic, meaning there was always a small chance of an heir being born, and Sirius was certainly a man with a strong sexual appetite Even if a child wasn't conceived, a new wife might be able to persuade Sirius to declare another his heir, selected from a distant branch of the Black family tree rather than Harry, who was already heir to two families. The purebloods had intermarried so much over the years there were probably many with Black blood close enough to qualify as 'family.' Technically speaking, Draco was his closest rival by blood, followed by Andy's own bloodline as potential challengers, but Draco and thus any children he might produce in the future had already been disinherited, along with his mother Narcissa due to her marriage to Lucius Malfoy. That couldn't easily be undone. Again, though, not impossible.
'I should marginalize Draco further,' he decided, knowing there was no such thing as too safe. But the question was how to do it, short of outright killing the lad. He considered the possibilities.
Perhaps he should attempt to get Rita and his godfather together? His fear of being displaced as the Black family heir would be next to impossible with the hold he had over her, due to the magical vows, thus securing his position from being usurped. The camera flashed again with a large puff of smoke, making him wonder just how many more photos the man was going to take before he called it quits. However there was one problem with this developing plan, Rita was already seriously dating someone else, a man called Malcolm. His thoughts flashed back to the file Rita had assembled on her lover. This meant he would have to break the pair up. That would be a minor issue, solved with a simple order; nevertheless, he was hesitant to give it, as it would almost certainly permanently damage his relationship with his pet reporter and cause her to fight back against his control in whatever way she could. He considered the pros and cons of this idea.
He decided to delay such plans for a while, or at least until after the court hearing was done, since he didn't want Rita's opinion of him to suffer during such a crucial period. And there was always the chance that Sirius would end up dating someone that Harry actually liked or maybe just continued his womanizing and never staying with one woman for all that long. While it invited one danger, it ended the other of his being replaced. He mentally marked the possible plans for Rita as a backup.
"I think that will be enough photos for the article," Rita told the cameraman that accompanied her to the interview, before she turned to him and Sirius with a genuine smile. "Thank you again for agreeing to the interview."
Sirius was quick to respond with a doggish grin, "No problem, no such thing as too much publicity after all, and you do always write the most flattering articles about us." Harry kept the smirk from showing on his face as he got up out of the chair he had been sitting in for the photo session.
He took over for his godfather at that point. "Why would we go to another reporter? You say the nicest things about me. 'A charming young man, a wonderful catch for any girl,'" he recited with a smile, quoting one of her previous articles about him, as he looked over toward his godfather before smiling.
"It's all true," she replied with a false smile, one that he recognised for what it was. Sirius grinned, clearly buying the little act going on between the pair.
"Thank you Ms. Skeeter, you're too kind," he replied, carrying on with the act. "Will you be attending the trial of Lord Malfoy this upcoming Wednesday?" he politely enquired, as the chat quickly settled into polite small talk about the upcoming trial.
"My Lord?" Rita asked timidly through the small hand held mirror, clearly taken off guard by his unexpected communication in the middle of the day.
He really did love that, how that 'My Lord' sounded, how it made him feel powerful and in control. He was never going to be someone who wanted to be "just Harry" or asked everyone within moments of meeting them to call him by his first name. Those people were fools and undeserving of his respect. "What do youthink of Sirius? He thinks you're quite attractive," Harry asked, editing the choice of words since Sirius' original words he used to describe the reporter was about 'banging her like a drum,' and various other heavy handed sexual remarks which he doubted would be taken well by the reporter.
"Does it matter?" Rita countered, avoiding the question by asking her own.
He rolled his eyes at the transparently evasive answer, knowing from experience that this was a tactic commonly used by Rita to fish for more information, as well as to avoid answering questions she didn't want to. "Do you think my Godfather is attractive, or not? It's a simple yes or no question, I'm not asking for any specifics," he pushed, wanting an answer, just in case he decided to try to match Sirius and Rita together in the future.
There was a short pause before she replied with a single word, "Yes." This caused him to nod in response, as he noted that his scheme could potentially work if he decided to go ahead with it.
"Ok," he answered with a satisfied tone. "By the way, discreetly remind the public of the current Minister's long and very close friendship with Lord Malfoy. We don't want the Minister thinking the public has forgotten their mutually corrupt close friendship, now do we. Maybe even compile a nice collage of old photos of the Minister and Lord Malfoy getting oh so cosy together. I'm sure there have been so many such pictures over the years in the Prophet that you'd have easy access to." Rita quickly nodded in thoughtful agreement, a little smirk on her face that he recognised as one of happiness at having another angle to fan the flames of scandal and write several articles doing it. "I look forward to reading your upcoming articles then. Have a good day, Rita." He then disconnected the magic flowing into the mirror and ended the call.
Everything was coming together as he desired, and soon the Malfoy family fortune would be his to use as he wished. He mightily resisted the urge to cackle like a mad James Bond villain, just as shadow jumped onto his lap, causing him to instinctively stroke the black cat's fur.
Looking up from the essay she was reviewing to check on her temporary charge, she saw that Luna was once again off in her own little world, oblivious to everything around her, even as students moved through the library talking quietly to themselves. "You need to rework this sentence Luna, it's a mouthful, and jumbled." She underlined the sentence with her quill. "Also, that fact you referenced isn't necessary since you used it for the first question, nor is it a good one in context. Just reference it briefly again, rather than repeating it in its entirety. Ok?" she asked the odd first year she was now mentoring on Harry's behalf.
"Ok, Penny," Luna answered back in a light tone. "I think Percy wants to talk to you," she speculated, as she noticed Percy walking through the library toward her, his back straight and rigid, much like the boy himself in personality, before stopping in front of their table.
"Good afternoon Penny, Luna," Percy greeted in a moderate, but friendly tone.
She returned his greetings, "Good day Percy, how are you today?" she politely inquired, as Luna added from besides her. "Good afternoon Percy, how is Ginny doing?" Luna asked, focusing on the gryffindor.
"She doing much better now Luna, but there are some fears she will have to redo her first year, since her recovery is taking longer than predicted. There have been several unforeseen difficulties," Percy explained in a low tone. "It's good to hear she's doing better," she replied with a smile, knowing that the 'Blue Pox' had just been a convenient cover story spread by the staff, but by the look of it, this knowledge strangely hadn't been shared with Percy, nor any of his siblings.
Over the last year Penny and Percy's relationship had shifted, with Penny gradually distancing herself from the ambitious gryffindor, both due to the demands of her NEWT studies and the fact that they now only shared one class, and frankly, due to her own lack of interest in the boy now. It also helped that every time she looked at Percy these days she felt a degree of distaste swirl up in her gut, silently suspecting that the lad saw her as nothing more than a baby maker. Never for her to have to a life and career of her own separate from his. She suddenly had the frightening image of herself looking like Molly Weasley in ten years time, with half a dozen kids running around a run-down kitchen.
Percy smiled slightly, "And I'm doing just fine, thank you Penny for asking. Do you mind if I join you?" Came the request, his hand already resting on the free seat next to her own.
Her first instinct was to say, 'No.' She knew that the seat had been intentionally chosen so that he could sit as close to her as possible. Maybe even so that Percy could try to use it as an excuse to discreetly and accidently feel her up beneath the desk. 'I can't believe I kissed him,' feeling rather sick at the memory. 'What the hell was I thinking?!' But, perhaps she could use this to her advantage, just like Harry would do. "Sure Percy, but on one condition," she voiced in a more playful tone, already knowing that Percy would agree. "I'm helping mentor Luna here; you can sit with us if you also help her with her studies."
"Sure, Penny," he quickly agreed, taking the seat next to her. She didn't like the idea of outright manipulating people, but after being around Harry, she had learned that it was either play the game or be played. That was an unavoidable fact of life she was growing to realize.
Percy's method of mentoring was far different than her own, taking the attitude that 'I'm the boss and you'll do as I say' over her own more passive methods. The next 15 or so minutes passed rather smoothly, with Percy giving most of his attention to Luna and her studies rather than herself, giving her a chance to push on with her own studies, before the first leg brushed against her own beneath the desk.
Shifting her leg to break the unpleasant physical contact, she spared a quick glance at Luna who still had her signature dreamy expression on, even as Percy lectured away, clearly trying and failing to impress her with his heavy handed methods.
Noticing her attention, he turned his focus back to her and away from Luna, who rather humorously seemed to sigh in silent relief. "Penny? Do you have any plans for this weekend?" Percy enquired, taking a break from his lecturing.
She knew what Percy wanted, so she kept her answer as vague and wishy washy as she could, knowing that Percy was fishing for a date for the upcoming Hogsmeade weekend. "I do have some plans for the afternoon Percy, but most of my plans depend upon the weather, and on how much of my work I get done during the evenings this week. Luna, remember you have a meeting with Professor Flitwick on Friday."
"Ok," Luna voiced, before drifting off once again to her own world.
Another uncomfortable silence fell upon the mismatched trio, as she chose to focus on her work, rather than talk with Percy any further, hoping that the cold shoulder she was giving him would give him the hint to leave. Unsurprisingly, Percy didn't get the hint. "What do you think of the changes made by Professor McGonagall?" he asked, trying to make conversation.
'What a dull subject,' she mentally noted, wondering if Percy even knew how to properly chat up a girl. "I believe the changes are for the better, you?" she asked, knowing Percy loved the sound of his own voice and wouldn't be able to resist an opportunity to expound on his opinions.
"Same," Percy agreed with a quick nod and an approving smile. "It's a good thing that there is new emphasis on discipline around the school; it's been far too lacking in recent years. Frankly it's about time someone did something about it. Then there is the new work ethic being enforced, requiring good grades in order to go on Hogsmeade weekends or be a part of school clubs. Even new rules on uniforms are a good thing in my book; it ensures everyone respects the uniform and good discipline on uniforms helps create self-respect." She nodded in response, agreeing with most of the points he raised.
"Your twin brothers don't seem to agree with you." She voiced, knowing that the twins had been having a hard time with the new school rules.
"What can you expect with those two slackers? They're always too busy goofing around, causing trouble," Percy offered with a firm shake of his head in disapproval. "It's about time they were reined in. Mother and Father were always too soft on them if you ask me; they have no respect for authority and rank!"
"Very true," she agreed with her own nod, before adding. "And Professor McGonagall is restraining Professor Snape and Slytherin house..."
"Do you think Headmaster Dumbledore will be back?" Percy offered, as she took on a thoughtful look, considering what she knew about the situation.
"No, I don't think he will, unless Professor McGonagall willingly steps down, but I can't see that happening," she shared. "Do you?"
With no small amount of pride she strolled down the school's halls, her charges making a path for her as she made her way to her new office, some of them even going as far as to politely greet her, which caused her heart to warm up, leading her to return the greetings without ruining the stern image she was well known for.
Surprisingly, it was Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw house that had smoothly accepted her as the new headmistress with minimal trouble, with Gryffindor and Slytherin causing the most resistance amongst the student body.
The resistance coming from Slytherin house was to be expected, since she was the former Gryffindor head of house, and by default marked as an 'enemy' by the older students. She had also been responsible for restraining their Head of House's biased and inappropriate behaviour towards the rest of the school. And secondly, she had brutally cracked down on the Slytherin's unacceptable social behaviour that they had long gotten away with, such as bullying and verbal abuse. That had won her a lot of support from Hufflepuff and the muggleborn students, both of which were the Slytherins' primary victims.
Naturally, Hufflepuff had no issue with the new emphasis on hard work and good grades, since it was the cornerstone of their house's values, whilst Ravenclaw had always been a grade driven house.
Her former house of Gryffindor, on the other hand, had really surprised her, and not in a good way, which was rather disappointing. She had expected her former house to be the most well behaved and supportive of her new appointment to the role of Headmistress. The reality was exactly the opposite, with most now rebelling in their own way, testing her at every turn, the vast majority buying wholesale into the idea that the former Headmaster had been unjustly removed from his position. The most vocal group opposing her leadership was lead by none other than Neville Longbottom, which somewhat surprised her, since she always assumed she was one his favourite staff members.
The boy's popularity had returned in recent weeks, mainly due to the Chamber of Secrets being largely forgotten about by his peers and the recent scandal involving Lord Malfoy. He was supported by Molly's boy, Ron, who was busy grumbling about the injustice of his detentions for poor grades and lack of good effort in class. She wasn't going to punish them for their words and opposition, since she had known for a long time that Dumbledore had paid very close attention to young Neville. The Weasleys were no surprise either, being long standing and extremely loyal allies of the old wizard, so naturally, they were inclined to side with the former Headmaster who had been their patron for so many years.
Then again, her recent actions hadn't won her any favours with Gryffindor house, in particular the fact that she was now actually enforcing the rules on school uniform. This was falling the heaviest on her former messy house, with Severus using that rule on a rather frequent basis to deduct a small amount of points. This was something she couldn't even challenge, because for once he was actually enforcing the rules. Furthermore, her new rules on minimum homework and grade standards resulted in several of her former lions suffering a series of detentions and the removal of the Weasley twins from their positions as beaters on the house's quidditch team, on account of their failing grades in multiple subjects. Oliver Wood had been given a similar warning about getting his grades up; otherwise he would suffer the same fate as the twins. It was always dangerous to get between a wizard and his quidditch; there were numerous stories of World Cup quidditch referees going missing after a match for making the wrong call, just to reappear months later in middle of the Sahara desert. She gave a small disapproving shake of her head at such disorder over a simple game, no matter how much she liked it personally.
She knew the action of removing the troublesome twins was overly harsh on her former house and her former prized quidditch team, especially as she had previously ignored their failing grades for years until now. But things had changed with her ascendance to the role of headmistress of Hogwarts; she had to be scrupulously fair with her rulings to ensure that the staff and the whole population of the school saw her as a fair judge, and knew that the rules, while maybe not well liked right now, were being applied evenly to everyone. She had always known that this would be painful in the short-term, but firmly believed that it would bear fruit in the long-term. Her students would eventually see how it improved the learning environment and the overall education they received at Hogwarts, along with their parents. Her students receiving better grades would mean her changes would be supported, as they got results. However, if the grades went down, well, then she would be in trouble.
The bottom line was that she would not play favourites like Albus did; she would be unbiased in all her rulings. She also had to prove she was the better head teacher to Britain, if she wanted to remain in power. She also silently hoped by forcing the mischievous twins to focus more of their energy on their grades and studies, it would also reduce the free time they had to cause trouble with their numerous pranks. However there was also the chance that all this extra studying would make the pranks far more impressive and creative, which could help the twins make their dream of owning a joke shop one day, a reality.
Nonetheless, this difficult situation was being made worse by Slytherin, who were now actually starting to use some of that collective cunning to bait and goad their hot headed Gryffindor classmates into starting fights, which naturally resulted in her former lions being punished more heavily for throwing the first spell. In short, most of Gryffindor house liked the old system better, where they could easily get away with their lazy, carefree attitude towards education and grades due mostly to the former headmaster's own laid back attitude to their schooling and discipline. Some of it was due to his faulty belief that 'kids will be kids' and that it just some 'harmless' fun. Though most didn't realize it also had a lot to do with the fact that Dumbledore was one man supposedly doing three full time jobs and didn't have time for much else.
Of course, there was one Gryffindor who heartily approved of all the changes, Miss Granger, who for a while openly argued in favour of the changes, before eventually falling silent rather than continue to be isolated in her own house. She did not blame the second year at all for keeping quiet with such pressure on her, not after the events of her first year and the fear of losing her new friends.
"New Regime," she said to the stone gargoyle guarding the entrance to her office, before the lumbering monster moved to one side for her, granting her access to the moving stairwell to her office.
Her new office had once belonged to her former friend and mentor, 'former' because he was currently quite busy trying to get himself reinstated as headmaster and get her fired. This task was turning out to be a rather big problem for her former boss and a minor one for herself.
Ironically, even with his fall from grace and the loss of all his memories, Lord Malfoy was still being a thorn in Albus' side, quite the stubborn thorn too, and was actually indirectly the reason for the former Headmaster's current woes. The reason for this was funny in a way; the Headmaster or Headmistress of Hogwarts could only be removed from their position by the collective might of the Hogwarts Board of Governors. And for such a meeting to 'officially occur' and for their decision to have the power to remove her, all eleven school governors had to be present for the 'removal' vote. Other matters could be decided without every member present, but the removal of the current head had to be with the full Board. A rather convenient rule in this case.
And to her good fortune, the school's governors had acted swiftly and rather rashly to save their combined hides by dismissing Lord Malfoy from his role as governor as soon as the scandal surfaced, in a bid to seemingly distance themselves from the rapidly unfolding national scandal that was making everyone even remotely connected to the man nervous, particularly his allies on the board. This meant that there were only ten official governors on the board at this time, exactly one member short of what was required to hold the necessary vote for her dismissal. Fortunately for her, whilst she did not have the power to dismiss already appointed school governors from their positions, only she could put forward names of new candidate members to join the board, thus preventing a vote for her removal from being held as the board only had ten members and would continue to only have ten until she decided otherwise, which could be for a while.
In short, she could not be removed, at least not by the governors for the meanwhile, allowing her time to secure her position and gather allies and public support. Of course they could always pressure her to step down willingly, without the vote, by causing problems, but they had nothing to use against her, since all the faults of the previous administration rested squarely on Albus' shoulders, and she had all the current staff on her side, except Severus and Hagrid, but that was to be expected.
After all, time was on her side, which was something that Albus understood quite well, based on his increasingly frantic attempts to remove her from her new position. Every day that passed meant she would gradually be accepted more and more as the school's rightful Headmistress, her bond with the school's wards and magic steadily deepening and her appointment being accepted by the wider world as perfectly normal and legitimate, whilst Albus' moans and groans about the injustice of his removal would slowly become less and less effective as the whole incident involving Lord Malfoy was gradually forgotten about and was replaced by yet another scandal. In time Albus' own powerful rivals, normally assembled behind Lord Malfoy, would find a new leader and regroup to present a new path of resistance to the Chief Warlock's reinstatement as Headmaster. Besides, there were other rules that worked in her favour if push came to shove, but for now, she was relatively safe.
Naturally, she had some candidates in mind to fill the free position on the school board, initially she was going offer the free seat to Lord Black, since her former pupil had given several large donations to the school in the last year and more importantly at the moment, wasn't on good terms with Albus, which would have been to her advantage in securing her position from being usurped. But, Filius had argued against the idea, since it could be seen as a possible bribe to buy their silence and support by the wider public and Albus would surely use his influence within the Prophet to portray it in such a way, even if bribes were commonplace in high social and government appointments.
Taking her seat behind her new, but old desk, she considered her candidate options for a long moment. She needed an ally, one that she could rely upon in the Ministry to support her rightful claim, someone neutral and well respected by all the political factions that made up the Wizengamot, someone who wouldn't be pushed around by Albus when he inevitably threw his weight around again. She pushed the candidates' names to the back of her mind since it wasn't a matter that could be rushed; this was something that needed some careful consideration, her future as headmistress depended on it. Besides, she had plenty of time before she had to pick a candidate, and there were several names in the forefront of her mind, such as Madam Bones, the strict but fair head of magical law enforcement who had never bowed down to Dumbledore.
Reaching the top of the stairs, she opened her office door. Her office held many of the same key features as it had under Albus' leadership, since it was the same room, with the only changes being in terms of its atmosphere and the aura the room now projected as a whole.
During Albus' 50 year reign as headmaster the room had had a bubbly, welcoming atmosphere of an old, erratic scholar, with the clear intention of putting visiting students at ease, but now that friendly easygoing aura was gone and had been replaced with the aura of a stern, organised disciplinarian, who you didn't want to cross. After all, the only reason a student should even be in this office, as far as she was concerned, was if he or she was in trouble and their own head of house felt it was necessary to require her personal attention.
That being said there were some minor, almost trivial changes in the decoration, the clutter and junk gathered from the decades that Albus had called this office his own had been removed, the bookshelves were now filled with her own chosen books and ones gifted to the school, but there was far more space on the shelves so it didn't look like she was some kind of hoarder. The priceless artefact that was the Sorting Hat had been placed on a lower shelf where it was visible to all, rather than being left on the top shelf to gather dust next to the portraits of the former headmasters. Plus, with it being in her direct line of sight, hopefully she would use it as an aid, something to bounce ideas off. After a thousand years the Sorting Hat likely had a lot of knowledge and experience it could impart, if only asked.
The left behind silver candy bowl that she simply couldn't remove from the desk, despite her very best efforts, was now filled with her own choice of sweets, toffee mainly, merely because it had to be filled with something otherwise it would look stupid if left empty. But, unlike Albus' lemon drops, the toffee wasn't dosed with various potions to drug her pupils, like Albus did. Whilst she understood the reasoning behind such morally questionable actions, somewhat, she just didn't agree with the principle of drugging her charges just to get some easy answers and save a few minutes of her time. She gave a disapproving shake of her head at the very thought. Naturally, that wasn't the only thing Albus had been drugging during his term in office, it turned out the student meals had also had a weak contraceptive potion mixed into them every other week.
Once again, she understood why such an action was done, even if she disapproved of it, since it would be a newsworthy scandal if one of their young charges got themselves 'knocked up' as it were. Especially if it was a couple outside of an official marriage contract or if it caused another marriage contract between a pair of houses to be terminated due to an unexpected pregnancy. After all, the school was 'responsible' for their charges' safety and wellbeing, so the blame could fall directly upon her own shoulders and the schools, and they would be expected to pay compensation for their lack of 'care,' which amused her at the sheer outrageousness of the idea that the school would be held responsible for such events.
Despite her prudish and very conservative nature, she had been teaching at this school for over 40 years now. She knew quite well that if her teenaged, hormone driven students wanted to have sex, she couldn't do much about it, short of locking up the whole school population in enchanted chastity belts for the duration of their education. Even at the reduced student population levels after the war with Voldemort, there were just too many students for the teachers and prefects to stop a couple of amorous students from finding one of a few hundred broom closets or empty classrooms in this large school. Whilst she understood the weak contraceptive potions was a possible solution, it seemed crude to simply drug the whole student body without their knowing consent, rather than teaching them to be responsible for their own sexual health and wellbeing. That would serve them far better in the future, outside of Hogwarts after all.
An evil, but brilliant thought suddenly crossed her mind, but her thoughts suddenly shifted as a puff of smoke appeared on her desk to reveal a sealed letter with the crest of the Ministry of Magic on the front. She didn't even need to open the letter to know that this was Albus' doing somehow, as she reached for the letter opener on the desk.
Throwing the envelope into the waste bin with more force than she originally intended, she carefully unfolded the official letter.
Dear Professor McGonagall, Acting Head of Hogwarts,
'Acting head?! What audacity! The board of governors confirmed my appointment weeks ago, you old bastard!' She mentally proclaimed, as she resisted the overwhelming urge to throw the letter into the open fireplace. Taking a calming breath, she realized the opening greeting had been intentionally chosen to anger and annoy her, meant as an insult and open challenge to her authority as Headmistress.
It has came to the Ministry's attention that the school board of governors does not have a complete rota of members as it is required to have under the Hogwarts-Ministry Education Agreement of 1656, (Subsection 6, Paragraph 9 Subsection 5) with their being one empty seat that needs to be filled immediately if Hogwarts wishes to continue to receive financial support from the Ministry of Magic.
'That manipulative old bastard, he can't force a removal vote so he's going after the money,' now realizing Albus' plan to force her to pick a candidate sooner than she had intended. It was a good move. After all, she couldn't run the school without any gold! And it would be just the excuse needed to forcefully remove her. 'I need to check the school's Gringotts accounts, I also need to find out more about this Hogwarts-Ministry Education Agreement.' She felt another headache gradually developing, wondering where the original agreement document even was. She didn't even know such an agreement existed before this moment.
Turning her attention back to the letter that was the source of her current headache, she knew her headache was about to become even worse.
Furthermore, a Ministry inspection of the school and its staff is required to ensure the school is meeting the rigorous standards set by the Wizarding Examination Authority, under the Education Agreement (Subsection 5, Paragraph 6 Subsection4). Failure to meet the required standards will also lead to reduced funding.
'Inspection?! There hasn't been a Ministry inspection of the school in the 40 years I've taught here! This is Albus' doing!' Once again she knew beyond any doubt that this was all the former headmaster's doing. She definitely needed to get a copy of this damn agreement. If it had things to attack her with, perhaps it also granted her powers she wasn't even aware of. And considering this inspection had never happened in all the years she had taught here, perhaps there were other mandates that Albus had conveniently avoided or broken while headmaster. Two could play at this game!
"Why did they have to assign Snape to teach DADA as well? It's like he loves the stuff. Why couldn't they keep Professor Lockhart on?" Lavender moaned aloud, as Padma looked up from her studies at her twin best friend, who was struggling with her defence essay. "It's bad enough he teaches us potions!" Lavender hissed.
She nodded her head in agreement to Lavender's assessment, Professor Snape did seem to like the Dark Arts a bit too much for comfort, especially with the way he talked about it and the material, but it was also clear he knew the subject material very well and managed to hold the class' attention, this time from both the fear the man always generated in his students and the subject material. Then again it was well known that Professor Snape had served under You-Know-Who, but it was unclear whether he was a spy or not. Some rumours said that he had been spying for the former Headmaster, others said that he had been spying on the Headmaster for You-Know-Who, others said he was spying for both sides, and would've joined whoever won in the end.
"It's only for a couple more days; I've heard rumours that a 'Professor Slughorn' is going to take over potions for the remainder of the term." Her sister Parvati shared with the disgruntled table. "I asked dad about Professor Slughorn and was told the man was a big softy at heart with a sweet tooth for candy, but that he likes to play favourites." She tried to focus on her defence essay, specifically on the practical application of jinxes and hexes and curses in self-defense, over the use of more 'flashy' transfiguration magic.
"Yea, Tracy said the same thing about him," she offered to the group, whilst wondering if she could get Penny or Tonks to look over her essay later, since Harry would normally look at her DADA work for her. "Tracy found out from Daphne that Professor Slughorn likes to hold a little tea club for his favourites to attend and who he believes to be Hogwarts' 'high flyers.'" She looked towards her twin, who seemed to be struggling with her work, "Do you need a hand?"
Parvati was just as smart as her despite being sorted into Gryffindor house; the only real difference between them was that her younger twin sister always had a lack of interest in her studies, preferring company and gossip to that of a good book.
"Nah, I'm fine," her twin replied, as she saw the Weasley twins walk through the library.
She merely nodded her head, knowing her younger twin didn't like accepting help from her unless it was absolutely necessary. "So who is replacing the twins as beaters for the match against Slytherin?" she enquired in a light tone, as Lavender and her sister's faces darkened.
"Conn and Pine, I think," her twin answered. "Hopefully, Fred and George will be allowed back on the team before the next game against Slytherin. There is also talk of Longbottom being removed from the team as well due to his failing grades in two classes."
"Oh? What classes is he failing in then?" she asked.
"He's failing in potions and History of Magic," Lavender shared, her tone full of gossip. "Rumour also has it that he was foolish enough to copy Granger's own potions essay almost word for word. Little-Miss-Know-It-All was not pleased and Professor Snape actually looked like he was about to smile when he told the class. Professor Hooch is currently looking into it, but I think Professor Snape just wants Neville removed to improve the Slytherin team's chances for the Quidditch cup this year."
"What an idiot. If that is confirmed it will be on his permanent record!" She voiced, her opinion of the Boy-Who-Lived dropping even further, as the group muttered in agreement to her assessment. "By the way, what is it like having Professor Hooch as your Head of House? Is she strict like she was last year?" She asked, as she remembered her first flying lessons.
"She's pretty cool actually, far more hands on than Professor McGonagall ever was, regularly popping into the common room to check up on us and ensuring that no one is causing any mischief," Lavender offered with a smile from besides her twin.
"She has also started having meetings with us individually, like I hear Professor Flitwick does with you Ravenclaws. Lavender had hers yesterday," Parvati added, as Lavender nodded.
"What did you talk about?" she asked, wondering if Professor Hooch's meetings were anything like Professor Flitwick's.
"A bit of everything really, since by the look of it she will be staying on as Head of Gryffindor house for the remainder of the school year, probably next year as well I think. She is actually smiling and enjoying her position, unlike Professor McGonagall who was always frowning. But she mainly wanted to talk about the subject options offered next year to third years, explained a bit about them and what career paths they would offer us."
"When is yours sis?" she asked, as she shifted her attention to her sister.
"Wednesday evening after dinner," Parvati replied.
The front door of Number 12 opened with a familiar creak of old hinges. He looked over his shoulder in the direction of the open door leading to the entrance hall, the house's protective identification wards automatically informing him mentally that it was his friend Remus. His aged friend then hung up his old grey coat on the coat rack. "Remus? How did your meeting go with the old cat," he asked, using Professor McGonagall's nickname whilst lowering the paper he had been reading as his friend entered the front room, the werewolf's eyes both tired and weary.
"Just like Harry expected it would go Sirius," Remus replied dryly, before dropping into the armchair next to him. "Minerva made it clear that it wasn't a personal decision on her part, but a political one. It turns out that she is under a lot of pressure from the school board at the moment and can't risk employing me after the recent articles about the safety issues at Hogwarts." It went unsaid why, since both of them knew how fearful the vast majority of wizards were concerning werewolves.
Silence fell over the living room, as both men considered the future. "Are you going to take Harry up on his job offer then?" he asked, hoping that Remus would swallow his pride and take the job that he was actually well qualified for. "You couldn't get a much better one than that. Harry's plans for the docks are going to flip magical Britain on its ear."
"I'd rather not Sirius," once again showing his remaining pride getting in the way of a good thing. "Besides, I feel like I wouldn't be very good at managing a building project the size of the Potter Docks," Remus replied. Sirius gave his friend a 'you are being stupid look' at that ridiculous response.
"If you're sure Remus... Harry won't offer again you know. And he can't afford to wait on you coming to your senses," he voiced.
"How did your meeting go with Gringotts?" Remus asked, changing the subject of the conversation to Sirius' own morning activities.
His considered his words before answering, "Better than I expected, and yet far more costly than I expected, due to the privacy requirements of the job. They'll have a price estimate by the end of the week. If it all goes well, by the end of the month their curse breakers can take a crack at breaking whatever magical protections are around that damn cavern." He answered, as he thought about Regulus and the horrible fact that his younger brother's remains were unburied, his animated corpse likely inside an unknown seaside cave corrupted by dark magic cast by You-Know-Who to act as a guard. A shiver ran down his spine at the imagery this brought up.
"Are you going to inform Albus of this?" Remus asked in a careful tone as his head snapped to face his friend.
"Why would I inform the Chief Warlock of my doings? This is a private family affair to recover my brother's remains," he countered, as he remembered the magical locket safely locked away in his family's vault.
"Sirius, there could be dozens if not hundreds of missing people's bodies there, not just Regulus'. This is a chance to possibly provide some families with answers to what happened to their missing loved ones and solve some cold cases by the aurors." Remus argued, the werewolf's words causing his anger to flare at the mention of the Chief Warlock. "The cursebreakers will destroy the inferi on sight! You know they'll just destroy the bodies so that they can get their payment quicker!"
He was just about to rant about Dumbledore, but he stopped himself as he came up with a better plan, a plan more fitting for the Lord Black. "This is not a matter that requires the involvement of the Wizengamot. It does not challenge the preexisting laws and the courts, or taxes and legislation, or the running of the state, nor does it risk the Statute of Secrecy Remus. Therefore, this is not a matter that falls under the Chief Warlock's limited authority. This is actually a matter for the Aurors, therefore this matter requires the involvement of Madam Bones and the Ministry of Magic, not the Chief Warlock." He countered in a reasonable tone, he did somewhat agree with Remus that they should use this chance to solve some open cases from the war.
After all, he had been one of the aurors investigating many of those disappearances, so it might solve some of his old cases. That said, he wasn't about to let the Chief Warlock take credit for the massive find to boost his weakened political image. That gave him an idea. He'd have to discuss it with Harry and see what this cunning godson and heir would make of it, and between the two of them they could certainly flesh out the idea for maximum impact.
"I'll talk with Madam Bones about it Remus, but only after the trial is done, so it won't be mixed up in politics and other back handed deals," he remarked, giving a peace offering to his old friend. "If she believes the Chief Warlock should be informed, then I'll defer to her judgement, but not before. Ok?"
"Ok," Remus agreed, accepting the offered compromise.
Whilst such a big, public find of missing wizards/witches from the war would certainty help win and persuade some of the more undecided votes against Lord Malfoy, he didn't feel it was necessary yet to reveal the seaside cavern at this time. If the trial started to stall, or to go against him and Harry, then he would let slip the knowledge of the mass grave, turned inferi horde, to renew any diminished anger concerning the last war. It would also galvanize public support to see justice done and the perpetrator made to pay, but he doubted that would be needed given all the public support they had so far.
Plus, he didn't really want to reveal the cavern to the public just yet, since it only guarded a single locket. It would raise a number of uncomfortable questions about what made this locket so important to Voldemort that it required a virtual army of inferi to guard it? Why guard it at all? What made it so important that his brother was willing to die to retrieve it? And did he want really want these questions being asked by the public if Voldemort's cavern was revealed?
"What are you thinking about Sirius?" Remus asked from his chair.
"Just the trial," he lied. "Hopefully everything will go as planned on Wednesday."
"So, the final exam curriculum that I sent you the other day, is it proving useful?" Harry enquired over the enchanted mirror, whilst stroking Shadow on his lap, the cat too watching her through the mirror.
"Of course it is!" she answered back with a big smile.
"Good," Harry replied with a satisfied smile.
She gave her younger cousin a curious look, "How did you even get a hold of the marking criteria anyways?" Tonks asked.
"Remus," Harry answered honestly. "The headmaster gave him all the marking and assessment criteria for DADA so that he could start preparing his lessons for next year. I may have surreptitiously made myself a copy."
"So Remus doesn't know?" she questioned, knowing that her Harry had a strong dislike for the werewolf.
"No, he doesn't," Harry confirmed, before changing the subject. "What's Hogwarts like with McGonagall in charge?"
Ministry of Magic
She critically looked over her Aurors who were standing proudly at attention before her. They were arranged in two lines of four, their backs straight and rigid, their uniforms impeccably pressed as she walked down the line inspecting her troops, before she stopped in front of them, clasping her hands behind her back. She took a moment of silence to mentally review her speech.
"Many of you are wondering why you are here today, why I have had you swear oaths of secrecy," she began, her prepared speech flowing off her tongue, her one good eye sweeping over them. "You have been personally selected, by me, for your integrity, in order to form an elite unit within the Aurors," she revealed, her words already having an effect as the men and women under her command stood straighter, prouder at her praise.
"'What does this unit do?' I would imagine you're asking yourself at this moment. 'Will I still be hunting dark wizards?' In a sense, you will be, but your targets will hide behind false smiles and high priced lawyers. This unit is being formed to be the new anti-corruption unit within the DMLE, charged with investigating internal affairs within the walls of the Ministry and the Wizengamot, to hunt down and reveal the corrupt within these walls, to bring justice to the ones who hide behind their social ranks and positions of power," she told the group, who were disciplined enough to hold their questions in check.
Looking over the group again, she intentionally made eye contact with each of them. "In the last couple of weeks it has been realized that there are many men and women like Lucius Malfoy within these walls," she said, as she gestured with her hand to the walls. "Even within the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, even within the Aurors themselves." A handful of Aurors cursed under their breath once they realized where this was going. "In the last couple of weeks it has been confirmed that there have been informers in this elite department of law enforcement, those who have been selling themselves and their services for gold, like common street whores, selling out investigations, destroying and sabotaging evidence, and selling out their brothers and sisters to the highest bidder," she explained, 'and to the papers' she mentally added.
"You will be tasked with purging this corruption from within the ranks, this cancer that has infested this unit, this department, the Ministry, and finally, the Wizengamot. You will be the fire than burns away the filth, that restores the creditability of the Aurors, that restores our tainted honour."
"This will be hard, stressful, time consuming work, where even your friends may come under suspicion, but it is an essential task, one that needs to be done so that we can trust our colleagues again, to know that we won't be stabbed in the back when our guard is down, when our attention diverted, to know that we won't be betrayed by our own when gold is offered up." She paused for a moment to allow her words to sink in for proper effect. She recalled her illuminating interview with Professor Snape, the one who had revealed the truth about Lord Voldemort to her and the cursed objects known as horcruxes. She valiantly suppressed the urge to shudder at the thought of Lord Voldemort's potential return, or the renewal of the mayhem, bloodshed and chaos of the last war. It was only a last minute miracle that saved them the last time after all. If it came down to fighting in the streets once again, in most ways they were even worse off than before.
"During the war against Lord Voldemort, a decade and a half ago, this department was ineffective to say the least. Lord Voldemort's agents and allies had hopelessly infiltrated this department and every other department of the Ministry, to the point where Lord Voldemort knew our plans before even we knew of them, and even knew of our investigations. This was why we never could catch him, why we could never win, why so many high level Death Eaters like Lord Malfoy went free, whilst so many of our brothers and sisters died in ambushes, or even in their homes and beds with their families screaming around them," she spoke with tears in her eyes, as she remembered those awfully dark years of constant death and betrayal lingering in the air.
"The code name for this clean-up operation is Cerberus, you will report directly, and only, to me, on this matter," she stated in a firm tone. "If I hear anyone gossiping about this to their friends I promise you that you will find yourselves without a job and swiftly become an inmate of Azkaban." She explained in a cold, ruthless tone, giving them a harsh look with her one good eye. "If anyone, and I mean anyone, Fudge, Dumbledore, even Merlin himself, asks you what you are investigating, you will answer that you are investigating the smuggling of illegal creatures and ingredients. Nothing less, nothing more. Do you understand?"
"Yes Madam Bones," the eight Aurors answered together.
"Good," she offered with a sharp nod. "You'll be split into two squads, and will be assigned to investigate one of the two senior Aurors who I believe were on the payroll of Lord Malfoy and have links to the pureblood supremacy group known as the Death Eaters."
End of Chapter
Author Note: Chapter 16 has also been reworked and reposted =) if anyone wants to read it.