Cornelius sat at his desk, his mind reeling from the new information and everything that had happened. The meeting with Harry Potter had been much more intense that he'd anticipated. He'd been prepared for a cool, aloof young man, but not the vengeful soul he found. Cornelius swore blindly that he would never get on the boy's bad side; the power the boy had… he'd be lucky if he just lost his job and didn't become an exile from the magical world. The worst thing the boy could do was probably kill him; his and Snape's magic combined was extremely powerful. He was powerful himself, he'd had to be to get into the Auror academy, so he was no slouch when it came to power. He'd had Hagrid put in Azkaban a few years ago, but Dumbledore had had him released within a few months. It seemed the boy wanted everyone to pay, and it was his prerogative. After all, he was the one who had been wronged, in the worst way imaginable to wizards. Abuse like that just wasn't done in the magical world; all children were a gift, as long as they had magic... at least to a good portion of the magical world.
A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts.
"Come in," Cornelius said, staring at the clock, he didn't have any meetings today; in fact he had no meetings scheduled until after Dumbledore's trial. He prayed it wasn't Lucius; he just didn't want to deal with the drama right now. Although him being at Hogwarts would have reached the blond wizard's ears via his son; it would explain his arrival.
"Sorry to interrupt, sir, do you have a minute?" the man entering his office asked.
Cornelius arched an eyebrow in curiosity; why would the Auror want to speak to him? "Very well," Cornelius allowed, not playing the part of bumbling Minister; he was in no mood to do it today. "Come in."
"Thank you sir," Shacklebolt said as he took a seat. His stomach was queasy, but he had no choice; he knew that. When the news reached him of Dumbledore's arrest, he'd known it was only a matter of time. He'd stupidly let himself relax when Minerva had let him know Dumbledore was safe. The old wizard wasn't, though; he'd been told by Scrimgeour that Dumbledore was in the cells, and he wasn't about to risk his freedom to get him out. The old fool was being watched closely, very closely according to the senior Auror; if anyone attempted anything, the Unspeakables would come down on them like a ton of bricks.
"You wish to speak to me?" Cornelius asked blandly; the Auror was extremely worried, that much he could tell. His body language indicated he was extremely uncomfortable, almost desperate. The silence continued and the Minister began to wonder if his visitor was ever going to open his mouth.
Shacklebolt tried to remain calm, professional, and stoic as he usually was, but he'd prefer to face two Death Eaters right now than tell Fudge what he knew he must. If he admitted it, he might have a little hope in hell of keeping his job, and remain out of Azkaban. He'd tampered with an investigation; he'd get at least a year in Azkaban. Azkaban struck fear into everyone, for good reason.
"Auror Shacklebolt, sometime today would be appreciated," Cornelius snapped, irritated by the oppressive silence. He gestured towards his pile of urgent paperwork as an unsubtle hint. Of course, the ones concerning Dumbledore were under lock and spell; nobody was getting near them.
"I have something to confess," Shacklebolt admitted, rubbing his eyes tiredly.
Fudge sat up, paying attention now; his eyes narrowed in on the Auror, wondering if it had anything to do with Dumbledore. The timing suggested it might have, but what would he have to confess? He knew the Order of the Phoenix had members in each department of the Ministry, he just didn't know who they were. Even if he did, they weren't necessarily doing anything wrong.
"I misled the investigation into Sirius Black's evading recapture," Shacklebolt stated, resisting the urge to shift about on his seat at the look he was receiving from Cornelius Fudge. He'd gone over the Minister's possible reactions in his mind before coming here; this wasn't one of them. Stuttering, shouting, yelling, firing him, yes, yet all the Minister did now was stare at him.
"Misled?" Fudge repeated, refraining from sacking the Auror right there and then. He needed everyone he could get at the moment; they were at war, after all. He'd wait for more information before making a decision on that front.
Kingsley stared at Fudge in surprise, was he actually wanting him to outright confess everything? Did he actually have a chance at keeping his job? "I knew where he was, and had everyone running in the opposite direction on false information." He'd even had Aurors going to Tibet after Black.
"Why?" Fudge demanded to know, although he had a good idea why. He just wanted to see if the Auror would admit it.
"I knew he was innocent," Shacklebolt said bleakly, unable to talk about the Order with anyone that wasn't a member.
"Evidently; why didn't you just bring him in and let him explain his side?" Fudge asked. Was he seriously going to have to ask each question to get anything from the wizard?
"Without Pettigrew in custody, we knew that it was impossible," Shacklebolt admitted.
Fudge stared at Shacklebolt in confused disgust. "And you, an Auror, believed that?"
"Yes," Shacklebolt said, trying not to cringe and feeling like an utter idiot. He'd made bad choices, mostly due to listening to Dumbledore in the first place. He'd often wondered why they didn't just take Sirius in to the Minister, but the last time Black didn't even get a trial, so he hadn't wanted to risk it. In fact, lately Kingsley'd been questioning Dumbledore's motivations more and more, only to be brushed aside, something Dumbledore was very good at doing. "Black wasn't given a trial before; I was afraid it might be repeated."
"I see," Fudge said, nodding his head in reluctant agreement. It might have happened, but they'd never know for sure. No, Pettigrew was dead now, and Sirius Black had been fully pardoned and compensated. The Rat's dead body had been found and identified, the missing finger heavily pointing in his direction as well. It made Fudge gag just thinking about it ―cutting off one's own finger― and it was the most revolting thing he'd seen. "Turn in your badge and robes," he finally ordered, not letting his regret and reluctance show.
Shacklebolt cringed once more, swallowing thickly, his broad shoulders hunched. Removing his Auror's robes, he passed them over along with his badge, which was still attached to them. Just like that his career was over. His mind was going into overdrive, wondering if he was about to be arrested as well.
"Kingsley Shacklebolt, you are suspended for three months without pay; I do not want to see you anywhere in the Ministry during this time. Any raises and bonuses you have received will be stopped immediately; any promotions you were up for will be denied. When you return, you will be given basic duty until you prove yourself, and your loyalty to the Ministry once more. Whether you believe someone to be innocent or not, the Ministry has to deal with it," Cornelius grimly declared. He didn't want to sack the wizard, he was a formidable Auror. Fudge could see Shacklebolt as Minister one day; hopefully this suspension wouldn't hinder it. Unfortunately, it was going to be marked down in his records; he couldn't let him away with it. One too many corners had already been cut.
"S-s-suspended?" Shacklebolt squeaked, an odd sound coming from such a big man. His brown eyes were as large as saucers as he stared at Fudge in blatant shock. He still had a job? He slumped back onto the seat feeling completely numb. Okay, this was something he hadn't expected while he paced the corridor outside the Minister's office for half an hour.
"Pack up and leave," Fudge said. "Just to be clear, the only reason you aren't being fired is because, quite frankly, we need everyone we can get... and because Sirius Black was indeed innocent."
"Yes, sir," Shacklebolt said, standing up and immediately leaving the office. He could feel all eyes on him, it was almost as if everyone knew, but that wasn't possible. No, it was probably because he didn't have his robes on; they had to wear them, by law, when they were on duty. He was grateful nobody was in the office when he went to pack his belongings and immediately Floo'ed from the Ministry to Hogwarts. He wanted answers from Minerva McGonagall, and had to find out what was happening to the Order with Albus out of the picture for now.
"Come in," Minerva called as she approved the paperwork for Madam Pince to get the new books she wanted for the library. Dumbledore wouldn't have allowed it; in fact he'd denied her often enough, probably why she was taking this time to ask her for it. Unlike Dumbledore, Minerva didn't see the harm in learning magic that Albus would have considered bordering on Dark Magic. No, the money in the Hogwarts vaults were for the betterment of the school, and this would educate their students. "Ah, Kingsley, I have been expecting you," she admitted as she placed the paperwork in the done pile she'd created. She wasn't sure how Dumbledore kept track of everything without piles to help sort things along the way. All the cluttering do-dads had been removed from the desk, after first being scanned for magic.
"Why?" Shacklebolt demanded angrily.
"Excuse me?" Minerva said coolly, not appreciating the tone the Auror was using to speak to her in.
"Why did you nod that everything was fine when it clearly wasn't?" Shacklebolt said, his accusatory voice still evident.
"Are you questioning me as an Auror, Kingsley?" Minerva asked, her mood darkening even further. How dare he continue to defend that man after what he did? It sickened her to the core, that a man like him could or would.
"I've been suspended," Shacklebolt sullenly replied.
"Why?" Minerva asked in surprise; that certainly explained his mood.
"I told them about Sirius," Shacklebolt said, sitting down and suddenly looking defeated. "It was only a matter of time before they found out anyway."
"Ah," Minerva replied, not sure what to say to the Auror. "It is better than being fired, surely."
"Yeah, that was actually what I expected," Shacklebolt grimly conceded. He was lucky, he knew that, but any hope of advancing within the Ministry was gone. At least he would still be able to help people by being an Auror. Merlin, he wanted a drink so badly; Dumbledore hadn't half screwed him over time and time again.
Minerva quietly stared at Kingsley with nothing to say. She pulled more paperwork towards herself; if he wasn't going to say anything, she may as well get more work done before the Order arrived.
"Why didn't you help Albus?" Kingsley asked, his voice sounding lost and confused.
"Do you not know why he's been arrested?" Minerva asked incredulously.
"No, we weren't informed," Shacklebolt said blankly. "Why, what has he done?" Nothing bad, surely? His mind drifted to the last Order meeting, and his heart sank; damn, it was bad then.
"Albus has been arrested for the following reasons: child abuse and child endangerment; the use of an illegal potion―which by the way is the equivalent of an imperious curse, without being able to be removed at a later time. Tracking someone's magic, by means of removing their file from the records room... by what means is still currently unknown. Negligence, and last but not least, coercion," Minerva summarized for the Auror.
Shacklebolt's jaw dropped, "Child abuse?"
Minerva wasn't surprised by the fact that was the one he picked up on; to most wizards, it was a crime most inconceivable. "Indeed." Just wait until he found out who the victim was.
"Who?" he asked, baffled; the only children remotely close to Dumbledore were Ginny Weasley, Ronald Weasley, and Hermione Granger. And yes, they were all children, they hadn't graduated Hogwarts yet. They shouldn't be in the Order, it wasn't right, but it might explain why they'd been allowed in, if he had abused them.
"Are you being deliberately obtuse?" Minerva asked, incredulity wafting from her in waves. She could barely believe what he'd just asked her, had he suffered a recent blow to the head? He had been at the last order meeting. She had no idea just how much she sounded like Severus Snape at that moment.
Shacklebolt thought back on what she'd said, and his eyes widened in disbelief. They had to be talking about Potter, there was no other explanation. So he hadn't recorded Harry's magic after he managed to get him to Hogwarts, he had somehow gotten into the records room and stolen the data. He had often wondered why they didn't use Voldemort's records to find him. Unfortunately, he had found out his answer: Tom Riddle, a.k.a Voldemort, hadn't been born in the magical world or registered. No, he was essentially a Muggle-born, since that was normally the only way a magical child wasn't registered. Children with at least one magical parent were registered in the Ministry.
"Harry Potter?" Shacklebolt asked, dumbfounded. "He abused Harry Potter?" He was unable to believe it. He was a hero, what on earth had Dumbledore been thinking? He was, according to the old man, their last hope.
"The Order will be meeting here in an hour, why don't you go and get some rest or something to eat?" Minerva suggested, hoping it would give him enough time to digest everything he'd just learned. She was going to have to repeat herself to the entire Order anyway, and it wasn't going to be easy.
Shacklebolt just blinked and got up in a daze, barely able to believe it.
"What are you guys doing here?" Hermione asked as she saw the twins, walking towards them. The coin she had created for the Order told her they were meeting at two o'clock; it was only one, so why were they here?
"Business," Fred said, lying through his teeth and having no problem doing it. Hermione Granger was the biggest teacher's pet they'd ever seen.
"Are you going to the meeting?" she asked her voice quiet.
"Yes," George replied. "You okay?"
"No, not really." She sighed sadly, "I can't stop thinking about the other meeting, what Dumbledore has done." She had believed in him so completely. She'd defended him against anyone who dared to call him names, mostly against the Slytherins, but she just didn't have it in her to do so anymore. Her world had been turned upside down; Hermione wasn't even sure whether she wanted to remain in the Order anymore. Oh, she was so conflicted; she wished she had someone to talk to, but Ginny was too young and Ron was a…well, not someone she could talk to; he was too immature.
"I know," George said, not as surprised as her. They might be Weasleys, but they didn't think anyone was above doing whatever it took, including Dumbledore. They'd also had longer to get over the shock of what he'd done, having met Harry and learned a great deal of the truth before this.
"Do you know what happened earlier?" Ron asked excitedly, joining in the conversation.
"What happened?" Fred asked in concern.
"Dozens of Aurors came into the Great hall," Ron said in a rush. "We got let off classes! And Dumbledore hasn't been seen in weeks…" that unfortunately wasn't unusual since Dumbledore liked to go off on some quest or other. He'd been doing it all last year.
"Huh," George said curiously.
"At the meeting…"
"With a bit of luck."
"Now, we have to go…"
"So goodbye," George finished, walking away with his twin right beside him.
"Man!" Ron groaned with a shake of his head, "I wish they would stop doing that."
"You say that every time you talk to them," Hermione complained in exasperation. "I need to go to the library."
Ron quickly tried to come up with a reason why he couldn't go with her. Wracking his brain didn't help; he couldn't think of an excuse. Instead he was grabbed by the arm and led towards the library; staring longingly down the hall he reluctantly went with her... wondering what the twins were doing. They didn't have any products with them, which was very unlike them if they were actually really here on business. He was smarter than he liked to think ―or than anyone else thought― it was just too bad he didn't apply any thought to everyday situations or while working or studying.
"Did we just have a tolerable conversation with Granger, of all people?" George asked in surprise. Granger and Ginny were friends, best friends, but she couldn't tolerate Luna, so Ginny had to choose between them. So from one day to the next, it would be either Hermione or Luna she'd hang out with. To make matters worse, Granger had begun hanging around with Ron as well. He actually fancied her ever since seeing her in a dress at the Yule ball. That was during the tournament Cedric Diggory won, glory going to the Hufflepuffs for once.
"Yup, the world must be ending," Fred chuckled as they descended into the dungeons, passing a few suspicious Slytherins as they went.
They passed through the Potions classroom, not surprised by the lack of people, knowing now that classes had been cancelled. At least they didn't have to annoy Snape again. The office was empty also, so there was only one other place to look: his quarters. It was one the place they'd never gone as students, their teachers' private quarters. Although, it would have been a thrill to get into them, they were troublemakers after all. Fred knocked on the door, then waited patiently for someone to answer it. They were admittedly curious about why Harry wanted to see them; they hadn't half jumped out of their skins when his house elf appeared in their room at the Burrow. It wasn't something they were used to, elves popping into their bedroom when they were working.
"Hey, mate," George grinned when Harry answered the door.
"Come on in," Harry said, smiling genuinely at them. That wasn't a sight they'd seen before, he normally just smirked at them as though he had a secret they'd never find out. Or as if he'd found out something extremely amusing about you. This smile did make Harry look years younger. He had to be really happy to show it; even after only seeing him a few times they knew he was a lot like their Potions Master. He didn't show his emotions easily... or at all, actually.
When they entered the well-lit room, they noticed the myriad of love bites on Harry's neck and chest. Snape was one possessive Slytherin, and for the first time since they met Harry they didn't blush. Not even at the fact Harry wasn't properly dressed, wearing just a vest and a pair of shorts that could actually be boxers. They were surprised Snape wasn't making Harry go get dressed! They wouldn't have been surprised; he was extremely overprotective and selfish―he did want Harry to himself. No, that wasn't true, if he did... then they wouldn't be here. He cared more about Harry than being selfish for himself.
"Did you get to use the pranks?" Fred asked eagerly, sitting down across from Harry, his twin doing the same.
"I did," Harry said, smirking with sadistic pleasure that reminded them of Snape when he handed out detention and deducted hundreds of points from Gryffindor.
"Spill!" George said, just as eager as Fred for news.
"I had to remove them," Harry said, his smirk turning into a scowl.
"That sucks!" Fred grunted, "I hate when that happens." They'd had to do it numerous times when they were at school.
"It does," Harry said with a sigh. "Good thing is, though, nobody else could undo it, nor could they read the spells in a scan? Or something like that, Sev said."
"A scan detects what spells have been cast on you, so a nurse or someone with medical training can find it and cancel or fix it," Fred explained.
"I know," Harry said nodding.
"But at least you got to use them; was it fun?" Fred smugly asked.
"I didn't get to see it," Harry complained, "But it was better than him getting away with it."
"Where's Sna…Severus?" George enquired, remembering to call him by his given name. Harry didn't like it when they called him Snape, for some reason. They weren't doing it out of disrespect, they were just used to calling him Snape. He'd been their teacher, and you just didn't call your teacher by his given name.
"Brewing more nutrient potions," Harry told them, his face screwed up in obvious disgust.
He'd tasted them before then. Given how thin and short he was compared to them, it was no surprise really. He was shorter and thinner than Ginny, although admittedly not by much. "All potions taste disgusting, but they work, so I can't complain. Although we like the prank potions more," Fred agreed.
"Course you do. Speaking of pranks, I have something for you," Harry said, growing slightly more serious.
The twins just stared at him curiously, wondering what he meant. Had he invented a prank? Or come up with one? It wouldn't surprise them in the least. Harry produced a long wad of parchment and handed it to them. Opening it up their eyebrows rose in unison, unable to believe it. Their eyes immediately sought out the amount he was offering them to get the business started. Bloody hell, they could buy the shop they'd been eyeing for years, the flat above it, and get the supplies they needed for their products. There would still be a lot left; they stared at Harry in awe. He believed in them this much? Nobody else did; not Gringotts, not their parents, not a single person believed they had what it took. Yet a boy who'd only seen them twice was offering them all this money? They'd often dreamed of something like this happening, but didn't believe it actually would.
"Is this for real?" Fred asked, totally astounded.
"I get thirty percent of your income if it works out," Harry said seriously, "And it will."
"How can you believe that?" George asked, baffled. "Even our own mother keeps trying to get us to get 'proper jobs' as she calls it." She went on about Bill, Charlie, and of course Percy all the time, and how they had jobs that got them reliable incomes. She was constantly telling them to get their heads out the clouds, that it would never happen and the quicker they realized that the better. Here was a boy who didn't know the magical world giving them something ... giving them their dreams.
"Snape agreed to this?" Fred added, Snape of all people believed they could do it as well? There was no way he'd risk Harry's money otherwise, surely? Thirty percent was a lot of money, but Harry was taking a much bigger risk in giving them money for this venture of theirs.
"It's Severus," Harry growled, he didn't like people saying Snape like that, as if he wasn't worthy of a first name.
"You know we don't mean it disrespectfully, Harry; he was our teacher, and we are used to calling him Professor Snape. It just got shortened when he was no longer our professor," Fred carefully explained.
"You better get used to it; everyone calls him that, well most people, especially the Order," George told Harry, adding to the conversation.
Harry grimaced; that Order sounded like a right bunch of arseholes; didn't they care what his Dom had done for them? He had to speak to him, find out if it was the proper way to address him, or if he was just overreacting. Although if anyone disrespected his Dom they'd have him to answer to; he wasn't going to put up with it. He knew Sev wanted to take care of him, but that didn't stop Harry from wanting to look out for his Dom from time to time. In a way he did take care of Sev, just in a different way than how he was looked after.
Fred and George stared at each other, almost as if they were having a silent conversation together. In the end George nodded, then his twin did the same. Having come to a conclusion they stared back at Harry seeing him in deep contemplation as well. Whatever it was, he didn't like it, if the curling of his lips was anything to go on.
"Are you sure you want to risk it?" Fred asked seriously, changing the subject.
"It's not much of a risk, you know, it's been untouched for sixteen years," Harry said shrugging his shoulders. As his Dom had said, he would be taking care of him. His new clothes were proof of that. They'd come earlier, making his mood a little better after having to remove the spells from Dumbledore.
"Alright then," Fred said eagerly, "Do you have a quill?"
"They're over there," Harry told him, gesturing towards the desk where he did his work.
"Thanks," Fred said; jumping up he grabbed a quill and an ink pot, making sure it was black; all official documents had to be done in black ― it was just the way things were done here. Dipping it in, Fred signed his name first, his hand trembling with excitement, appreciation and anticipation. He was seconds away from his dreams coming true, and he was… well, he just wanted to jump around like a mad man. Handing the quill over to George, he saw his brother was in pretty much the same state as him.
"Here," George said, his heart racing. Half of him feared this was just a wonderful dream…or a horrid prank. Harry huffed at the quill but began writing his name down, a bit messy but readable. The scroll wound up and disappeared in a puff of smoke.
"Sev says all you need to do is go to Gringotts; they'll give you the key," Harry told them.
"Thank you," Fred said, and in a move only Gryffindors could make, both pounced on Harry to hug him. Unfortunately, they didn't count on Harry's reaction; they only touched him once before Harry's magic sent them flying into the bookcase at the other side of the room. Later they would be thankful it hadn't been the fireplace, otherwise they would have gotten severely burnt. Right now though they were just groaning in agony, completely winded and confused as they tried to sit up.
Unsurprisingly the noise drew Severus out from his laboratory.
"What happened?" Severus asked, assessing his surroundings, arching an eyebrow in surprise at the scene before him.
Harry stared down at the floor feeling contrite; a very small part of him wondered if they'd still want to be friends with him after that display. Unfortunately he couldn't help his reactions, they had been coming at him, and it was an automatic reflex. The street-hardened part of him was impressed with what his magic could now do. It wasn't accidental, otherwise he wouldn't have been able to do it. emotional or otherwise; he could control his magic now.
"Harry?" Severus questioned, his fingers prodding Harry's head up to meet his eyes.
"It's not his fault," Fred said, groaning as he successfully managed to sit up.
"They came at me," Harry said, shrugging helplessly.
"We surprised him," George said before Severus could turn on them.
"We wanted to thank him for… you know… helping us start our shop," Fred hastily added. "It was just a hug; we didn't expect him to react like that. We should have thought, or warned him; sorry about that, Harry." He inhaled sharply as his ribs protested to the movement of standing up.
"Yeah, we are sorry," George said as Fred helped him up. "Crap, are we late for that Order meeting?"
"No, ten minutes until it's time," Severus said immediately.
"It's going to be fun," Harry said smirking ferally, the episode with the twins evidently over.
"You're coming?" Fred asked perking up. Oh, this was really going to be fun! And they were getting front row seats to it. He couldn't help but rub his hands in gleeful anticipation, wincing again. Merlin, he hurt. He made a mental note to NEVER, ever sneak up on or surprise Harry ever again.
Severus rolled his eyes and summoned two pain relievers for the twins, and handed them over.
"Oh, that's better," George said gratefully as the pain immediately disappeared once the potion had been drunk.
"Ready to go?" Fred asked, his eyes twinkling madly as they always did when he was happy.
"Ready," George agreed.
Harry laughed in amusement while Severus just shook his head and smirked. He was getting too comfortable around the twins, he didn't know if that was a good thing or not.
Big thanks to Jake and Jordre for editing the chapter!