A/N: Hey all, new story... it came to me a while ago and thought I'd make a start on it. Don't worry, I'll still be continuing with 'between the end and the epilogue' at the same time. Expect another update on that in a few days. Rough outline: Instead of accepting Harry's failed trial, the Ministry find another way to discredit Harry by arresting him for the murder of Cedric Diggory. Oh, poor Harry. After he escapes Azkaban...will our little Harry Potter ever be the same again? :)
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter; anything you recognise belongs to JK Rowling. The words in Italics come straight from Order of the Phoenix, Chapter eleven.
"Thank you very much, Professor Umbridge, that was most illuminating," Dumbledore said, bowing his head slightly in Umbridge's direction."Now, as I was saying, Quidditch tryouts will be held..."
Dumbledore stopped again but this time Harry could see what had interrupted him. The doors to the Great Hall had burst open and a small group of witches and wizards had entered, led by the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge. Harry scanned his eyes over the crowd quickly and spotted Kingsley Shacklebolt standing tall at the back, his golden earring glinting in the candlelight, his face as calm as ever. Standing next to Fudge was Ron's brother, Percy. He was practically bouncing on the spot in excitement. The others that made up the small entourage, which consisted of eight or nine people, Harry had never seen before. Dumbledore seemed taken aback for a moment, before his face settled into a serene expression.
"Cornelius," Dumbledore began pleasantly, but his eyes were hard and cold. "To what do we owe the pleasure?"
"Good evening, Dumbledore." Fudge replied haughtily. "Forgive the interruption but I am here on important Ministry business."
"Indeed?" Dumbledore asked. "Well, then perhaps you would like to accompany me to my office and we can allow the students to retire to bed?"
"Oh no, no, no." Fudge replied cheerfully. "I don't think that is necessary, Dumbledore. There is nothing to discuss."
The sleepy, relaxed atmosphere that had filled the room had disappeared in a flash. The silence in the hall was absolute. No one even seemed to breathe. All the students had their eyes fixed between Dumbledore and Fudge, excited curiosity etched on their faces. Some had even stood on the benches to get a better view of the events. Harry glanced up at the Head table and saw the teachers stare at the new arrivals with narrowed expressions. McGonagall stood with flurried motions and walked towards Dumbledore. He bent down slightly to hear what she was whispering to him, a small frown playing on his lips but when he straightened he looked as calm as always. Dumbledore strolled leisurely down the length of the hall, stopping short of the crowd of Aurors and grasped his hands in front of him.
"I believe it would be best if we spoke privately, Cornelius." Dumbledore said quietly but his voice carried easily over the heavy silence. "This is neither the time nor the place for this discussion."
"Oh, I think not." Fudge replied calmly, straightening his shoulders in the face of Dumbledore's impressive height. "I think it's about time we put this whole messy affair to bed."
He scanned his attention across the hall, yet when his gaze reached Harry's direction, he paused for a fraction of a second and a cold, menacing glint shone in his eyes. Harry felt Hermione stiffen beside him but before he could ask what was wrong, Fudge began speaking again.
"Terrible business all this, Dumbledore, terrible business indeed," Fudge said clearly, but the twisted smile that had appeared on his face betrayed his words, "but the Ministry must act where it sees fit, for the safety of the students. We cannot allow a murderer to walk free amongst us. You can already imagine what the parent's are saying. Something must be done."
"What is this nonsense?" McGonagall asked coldly, coming to stand next to Dumbledore, her mouth so thin her lips had seemed to vanish. "You can't possibly mean to accuse Albus of murder?"
"Of course not, Minerva." Fudge continued, rocking back and forth on his toes, his hands clasped behind his back. "After all, Dumbledore was present here at the time of the terrible event. There are a room full of witnesses that can testify that he was nowhere near Diggory at his death. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for..."
Fudge paused and turned his head to stare at Harry over the mass of students again. Something heavy and cold had settled in his stomach when he realised what Fudge was saying. Every eye in the room followed the Minister. Harry felt his breath constrict in his lungs. He felt stunned. He must have been dreaming. He distantly became aware of the muttering and whispering that had broken out across the hall.
"A warrant," Fudge continued, finally dropping his hands from his back and holding out a scroll towards Dumbledore. "For the arrest of Harry Potter...for the murder of Cedric Diggory."
Harry turned towards Hermione and Ron, who were staring at him with a mixture of terror and shock.
"This is a joke, right?" Harry said blankly. "This can't be happening..."
They didn't answer. Harry ignored the heads turned towards him and looked towards Dumbledore pleadingly. He would fix this surely. He wouldn't allow Harry to be sent to Azkaban. But Dumbledore wasn't looking in his direction. He had drawn himself to his full height, and for the first time that night, he looked angry.
"This is madness, Cornelius!" Dumbledore said coldly. "I will not allow you to interfere with any of my students. As long as I am Headmaster-"
"Ah!" Fudge interrupted with a look of viscous satisfaction. "That is just the thing, Dumbledore. I'm afraid the Board of Governors have decided that your actions these past few months have shown your true light, as they say. They recommend that you be removed from your post as Headmaster."
There was yells of outrage coming from the crowd and Harry saw Fudge blink in surprise. It was clear that he thought that Dumbledore had lost the support of his students. An expression of annoyance graced his face before Dumbledore raised his hand towards the crowd around him and silence fell once more.
"Harry Potter," Fudge continued through clenched teeth, his eyes locked with Dumbledore. "You are under arrest for the murder of Cedric Diggory in the light of new evidence. You will be escorted to the Ministry, where you will be formally charged and held until your trial at sunrise."
This declaration seemed to spur a reaction from Ron and Hermione, both of whom jumped to their feet in outrage.
"How is this justice?" Hermione cried, tears of anger shinning in her eyes. Ron looked so furious, his face had turned as red as his hair.
"You can't do this!" He yelled at Fudge before turning towards Percy and pointing a shaking hand in his direction. "Percy, you prat! Are you just going to stand there?" Percy recoiled as if he had been slapped but he said nothing. He didn't even look in Ron's direction. "You're not my brother anymore!"
Before long, Neville, Fred, George, Ginny, Dean and most of the Gryffindor team had gotten to their feet to join the calls until their voices fused into one angry tirade. To Harry's surprise, students from other tables had stood to defend him. Only the Slytherin table remained seated.
"Silence!" Dumbledore said finally and the crowd fell silent once more.
"Up here, Potter, now!" Fudge barked angrily (it seemed this had not gone to plan for him) but Harry couldn't move. He felt as if he had been immobilised. His legs felt like lead and his heart was beating rapidly in his chest.
"Harry, come here." Dumbledore said softly.
With a shaky breath, Harry got to his feet, stumbled slightly on his robes and walked towards the small crowd that had formed in the space between the house tables. He stood awkwardly beside Dumbledore and Fudge but before he could speak, Dumbledore reached out and wrapped his hand around Harry's wrist, pulling him behind his back. Pain flashed across his scar on his forehead at the touch and Harry felt the horrible urge to attack him, like a snake rising through his chest but it vanished as soon as the cool fingers left his skin. He barely had time to frown in confusion at the broad back before him before Dumbledore began speaking again.
"Prefects, please lead the students back to the dormitories and await instruction from your Heads of House." Dumbledore continued calmly. "Now."
There was a stunned silence before the prefects hastened to obey and led the students from the Great hall. Many of them slowed as they passed the group, clearly wanting to remain to see the events unfold. Harry glanced through the crowd and caught sight of Ron and Hermione who were leading a group of frightened looking first years. They looked at Harry for long moments, their faces trying to convey reassurance before they forced to move from the crowd pressing against their back. Harry wondered, with a pain in his chest, if this would be the last time he would ever see his friends. The teachers stepped down from the Head table and joined McGonagall and Dumbledore in the middle of the tables, even Snape, who looked hesitant to be near so many Aurors. Umbridge, Harry saw, walked past the teachers and took her place on the other side of Fudge, an animated look upon her toad-like face. Dumbledore waited until the last student had left the hall before he spoke again, his voice returning to the calm and authoritative manner Harry had come to associate with the old wizard.
"I will not allow this to happen, Cornelius." He repeated and Harry looked down in time to see Dumbledore's wand appear clenched in his hand. "I will give you one chance to see reason. Cedric Diggory was murdered at Lord Voldemort's command, not Harry's. Any evidence you claim to have is false."
"Now, now Dumbledore." Fudge said smugly, bouncing on his feet again, his eyes flicking towards the wand in Dumbledore's grasp. "I have no reason to arrest you as of yet. Don't do anything foolish."
"Foolish?" McGonagall repeated scornfully, his eyes narrowed into slits. "I must say that is rich coming from you, Cornelius. Might I remind you that Potter is under-age and is therefore protected by-"
"He will receive a trial, Minerva!" Fudge said irritably. "If he has nothing to hide, then he has nothing to worry about!"
"I fear not for Potter's innocence," McGonagall replied angrily, "more for the sham that is our justice system! Heaven forbid the Ministry spend their efforts searching for the real culprits of this crime rather than harassing innocent students!"
"Calm yourself, Minerva." Dumbledore said steadily as Fudge turned an ugly purple colour. "If you have left us with no choice, Cornelius then we too must do what is best for the safety of our student."
Although Dumbledore's voice had not risen in volume, Harry heard the threat as clear as if he had shouted. There was a ripple of motion surrounding him at Dumbledore's words. Harry glanced around and saw that every teacher present had their wands out. It suddenly dawned on Harry what the professors were about to do, even those he had never spoken with before, and he could not let it happen. If they fought to protect him, they would be arrested as well and the school would be left with no one but Umbridge and the Ministry to control it. The thought turned his stomach. Clearly, the Ministry officials realised their intentions as well, for they stiffened visibly in preparation for attack.
"You do not think you can take on the Ministry, Albus?" Umbridge in a sickeningly sweet voice and beneath his numbed disbelief, Harry felt real hatred rise in him. "Such a case of blatant insubordination must be handled accordingly."
"Indeed it must, Dolores." Dumbledore responded simply.
Harry's heart was pounding in his chest but his mind was oddly clear. He knew what he had to do. Taking a deep breath, Harry stepped to the side and faced Fudge.
"No." Harry said between numbed lips. "If there's a trial, I'll go."
"I cannot allow that, Harry." Dumbledore replied softly without looking at him. "Please stand back."
"No." Harry said again, surprised himself that he was disagreeing with the Headmaster. Snape turned to him quickly and stared at him through dark, menacing eyes but he ignored him. "It's alright, I'll go, just...don't fight, please."
"Well," Fudge said after a moment of shocked silence. "Well...you heard him. Dawlish, Streps...take him. Dumbledore, you will be removed from this school immediately."
McGonagall moved slightly as if she were about to intervene but after a second, she seemed to decide otherwise and she remained were she stood, her body tense. Dumbledore sighed heavily and lowered his wand.
"Very well." He said hesitantly. He lifted his free hand and if he were about to touch Harry again but he dropped his arm before it could reach its target. "I will see you tomorrow morning, Harry." Dumbledore whispered to him though he still avoided his eyes. "I promise you."
Harry only nodded as his arms were gripped tightly by the two Aurors and he was pulled from the hall. A horrified thought filled him mind as he was lead towards the front doors. Dementors. What if he was placed with them until his trial? Harry felt himself grow pale. He wouldn't last the night.
A/N: Well, there it is...please review.