The second part of my comeback chapter. Introduction of Pederson. Sorry for the delay when posting this.
Potter's Resistance 1: Breaking Ties
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by J.K. Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury, Scholastic, and Raincoast Books, and Warner Brothers Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. I do not own Harry Potter or anything related to Harry Potter.
Chapter 8: Bring in the pawn! Release the plan!
Gudmund Pederson approached a muggle pub wearing a carefully constructed disgusted look on his face. He really didn't have anything against the 'ungifted' stock, but he felt it his duty to at least somehow lord his kind's superiority over the unfortunate sods without any magical talent. There were few opportunities for Gudmund to feel superior over anyone or anything, and he was damn well determined not to miss any of them.
Besides , he reasoned, showing disdain towards muggles and Mugglebo... Mudbloods is highly appreciated amongst the right kind of people in the Ministry these days. And Gudmund was anything but the sort of man to go against the flow.
Several moments later he found himself inside the half-empty pub, looking for his contact. It was really hard to miss the man - even if there weren't for the prearranged sign, a golden-red Gryffindor badge on the man's robes, his whole appearance was a dead giveaway. He was a bald, sturdy fellow with rectangular wire frame glasses and brushy grey moustaches. Even though he looked about 40 or 50 years old, there was something very youthful in his stature. His rigid posture and guarded expression were simply screaming 'a man on a mission', especially in a bar filled with relaxed muggles just having a drink after a hard day at work. Mentally cataloguing the man's lack of proper muggle attire as a potential, if a rather weak, bargaining chip, Pederson confidently strutted to the table and sat down without asking.
Taking another look at the badge the man had said he would be wearing, Gudmund cleared his throat and said in what he hoped was a confident, superior tone, "I believe you are the one who summoned me here, mister..."
"You can call me Wilton," answered the man calmly.
"Ah, so a fake name, no? Trying to hide something, mister Wilton ?" Gudmund sneered, deciding to put the mysterious man on the defensive from start, just as they had taught him during the auror training.
Wilton raised his eyebrow. "My real name, perhaps?" he countered sarcastically.
"So you openly admit to have lied to an official law enforcement officer, sir ?" sneered Pederson. "It makes one wonder what an upstanding and law-abiding citizen of Great Britain would have to hide from one of it's faithful public servants. Of course, that's assuming that you are an upstanding citizen, mister Wilton ?"
Wilton gave Pederson a sharp look and then leaned back with a half-amused expression on his face. "Well, I am hardly standing up right now, am I?" he chuckled lightly.
Wilton's casual dismissal incensed Pederson. "Breaking the law is hardly a laughing matter, sir " he seethed. "I sincerely doubt that violation of article 9F, section 7 of International Statute of Secrecy, the prohibition of wearing wizard garments in the presence of muggles, is the biggest of your malfeasances! That's right, mister Wilton , you may hide behind your fake names and blank masks all you like, but I'm on to you now. You didn't honestly believe that your feeble attempts at disguising your misdeeds would pass unnoticed by the top security specialist of the Minister's elite bodyguard unit, did you, mister Wilton? " Pederson stopped there, deciding that he had intimidated Wilton enough. The man's blank mask and apparent indifference somewhat unsettled him, but he decided to stick with the step-by-step instructions listed in the Aurors' Interrogation Guidebook. Offer a carrot after showing a stick, he mentally quoted a bold caption from the manual. He suppressed a chuckle at the memory of a funny looking donkey pictured below that title.
"Of course, Mr. Wilton," he started in a somewhat milder manner, without a customary sneer at the other man's fake name, "the fact that you came forward by yourself speaks highly in your defence. I'd be more than willing to look past some of your less apparent misdemeanours if, and only if, you show the appropriate willingness to cooperate with a representative of your elected authorities." Deciding to take the man's silence as a yes, Pederson went on. "So, now since that whole incognito foolishness is behind us, why don't we start over. What is your real name sir, and why are you really here?" finished Pederson slyly, quite pleased with the way he had followed the instructions to the letter.
Wilton, however, kept his face impassive and only raised an inquiring eyebrow. After a few more seconds of tense silence, he finally snorted in amusement. "That's it?" asked almost indignantly. "That's your whole carrot and stick routine, sonny?"
Pederson flushed in anger, stammering a little, but then quickly pulled himself together by mentally latching to another rule book. "Mr. Wilton, calling an official law enforcement agent a derogatory name is punishable by..."
"Because if it is," interrupted the older man, "you should probably note that, even though you followed rule 7 of the 'Auror's conduct towards suspicious individuals' to the letter, you forgot all about the Auror's general codex, statement 5: 'Never make an offensive move without analyzing the situation beforehand'. So, what exactly did you divine about me before going in for the kill, sonny ?" Wilton finished in a mocking tone.
Gudmund bristled with irritation, but then his eyes lit with an evil idea. "If I were you, mister Wilton , I would be more concerned with how you happen to know the exact wording of the rules mentioned in the Auror's Handbook. It is my duty to remind you that unauthorized possession of, such as the Handbook, is punishable by law, and carries a penalty of up to three months in Azkaban prison and a fine of 5,000 galleons, fundable by seizure of the convict's personal property or, if not applicable, an additional three months of prison time. That said, as a law-enforcement officer, I can't help but feel extremely curious. How exactly do you happen to know this highly restricted information, mister Wilton?" finished Pederson, trying to get back on the offensive.
"Well, like you said sonny, it's all in this "Auror's Handbook" publication that I happen to own. It's practically filled to the brim with nifty little advices such as this. You should really read it sometime , . It will do you a world of good..."
"Aha! You admit you've broken the law!" interrupted Pederson, pointing his finger at Wilton accusingly, feeling surprised himself that the other man had admitted his transgression that easily.
"No I didn't," said Wilton calmly, his expression completely blank.
"You... How? Yes you are! You already said..."
"What I said was that I indeed own a copy of Auror's Handbook. I never said that my copy is unauthorized ," explained the older man calmly.
Pederson just sat there deflated, gaping like a fish. He knew he should say something, anything. He blurted the first thing that came to his mind. "You are an auror?"
"Tell me sonny, where exactly do you think you've made a mistake during this little chat of ours?" asked Wilton, taking the initiative and ignoring the other man's question.
"Well, I... Yes, I admit I might have leapt to the conclusion about that handbook, but you still..." stuttered Gudmund. He was once again interrupted by the other man.
"In other words, you've attacked me needlessly, without gathering proper information about me first... And why exactly did you try to do that?"
Gudmund again seethed with irritation. This interview wasn't at all going the way he had planned. When he had received a mysterious summons to an out-of-the-way muggle pub, 'to have a conversation that could turn out highly profitable for both parties', he immediately decided to accept the invitation. Of course, he had planned to easily divine his mysterious contact's agenda using his superior auror interrogation techniques, but it turned out that the man had completely outsmarted him and turned the tables around. Gudmund had half a mind to simply walk away right then and there and forget all about this whole incident, but his stubborn sense of pride and lingering curiosity made him stay seated and listen to what the other man had to say.
Taking a breath, Gudmund tried to calm himself. "That's the standard auror procedure, Wilton. No hard feelings, right?" he smiled weakly.
"Is it also standard auror procedure to leap forward without planning? To abuse your authority by harassing civilians? To lie about your real position and influence inside the government?" asked Wilton calmly but sharply, ignoring Pederson's weak attempts at appeasing him.
"Err... I just... I wasn't abusing... I didn't lie about my position!" snapped Pederson irritably and with a practiced motion, pulled out his official bodyguard identification badge from a specially designed pocket on his robes. It ' s edges were rather worn out from all the practicing he'd done in front of a mirror, but all the important parts were shining brightly under layers of meticulously applied polish. Pederson resisted an urge to caress his well-earned badge fondly, like he would sometimes do in private, and instead stuck it triumphantly under the other man's face.
Wilton just smirked slightly, looking totally unimpressed by Gudmund's badge, much to the other man's chagrin. "I don't see a 'top security specialist' caption anywhere on this badge. Do you?" he countered calmly.
Pederson snarled and angrily snapped the badge back to his pocket with a huff, as if deeming the other man unworthy of seeing such perfection. "Look here, Mr. Wilton. I have come here, on your own request, mind you, to hear what you have to offer, NOT to prattle about some silly technicalities and other such nonsense," snapped Pederson. The fact that he was the one who first started doing it has totally slipped from his mind.
"Tell me, Mr. Pederson, how do you deem your chances of actually getting this... 'top security specialist' tag on that badge of yours? Or any promotion at all in the foreseeable future?" asked Wilton, completely ignoring the other man's outburst.
"My career or personal life are none of your business, Wilton! Now, would you please get to the point of this meeting," said Pederson, getting even more irritated. The other man had obviously hit a painful spot.
"Where do you see yourself in five years from now, Gudmund? Or ten? Or let's say... after the next staff revaluation, scheduled for the beginning of the next year?" Wilton kept pressing in his calm voice.
Pederson blushed furiously in anger. The other man was sailing in dangerous waters now, mercilessly pulling at the strings of Gudmund's deep, personal insecurities. "Get to the point, Wilton, or I'm leaving!" he yelled. Only a combination of notice-me-not and silencing charms preventing him from making a scene in the pub.
"Calm down, Gudmund," said Wilton with a hint of amusement in his voice. "Things are not as bad as they seem, really. I hear that the Centaur Liaison Office is also issuing badges these days... Of course, they are nowhere near as nice as the MLE ones, but I'm sure few will notice the difference if you polish it as much as the one you have now," he smirked.
Pederson's face looked like it would explode in anger. He stood up abruptly, overturning the chair behind him, and pointed a shaky finger at Wilton's face. He stood like that for some time, shaking in anger while trying to think of something, anything witty or derogatory to say. Unfortunately, he was never much of an orator and especially not when he was furious, like now. So, with an undignified yell of "Fuck you!" Pederson promptly turned and stalked towards the door.
"Loosing your temper won't help you keep your job, Gudmund," said Wilton quickly, while standing up. "But I can."
At hearing those words, Pederson stopped in his tracks. Then slowly, very reluctantly, he turned back and gave the other man a cold, angry glare, but with some curiosity dancing in his eyes. Wilton had to suppress a smirk at seeing traces of tears on Pederson's face. Instead, he smiled gently and pointed at the overturned chair in a welcoming gesture. "Why don't you sit down and hear me out? I said you will profit from this meeting and I have every intention of keeping my word," he said softly, sincerely.
Pederson regarded him coldly for some time, but in the end, self-preservation prevailed.
"Fine!" he snapped, while resetting the chair and sitting back down. "But no more games! You tell me what you offer and you tell me now! Or I'm leaving, and this time for good!" he said in prissy manner, like a spoiled child demanding more presents for Christmas.
"Very well, Gudmund, just calm down," Wilton soothed him and then retrieved a bulky envelope from his robe pocket and placed it on the table. "Now tell me, Gudmund, what do you know about Sirius Black?"
- - - - -
"Now tell me, Gudmund, what do you know about Sirius Black?" Harry asked and leaned back in his chair, watching confusion and curiosity battle in Pederson's eyes. Oh, it was so easy manipulating the poor bastard. For a moment there he almost felt sorry for the idiot, but then he remembered his stuck-up conduct from earlier on, and figured he deserved pretty much everything he's going to get. At least he'll do one good thing in his life. So what if he won't do it knowingly or willingly?
"Black? He's still on the loose, probably drinking tea with You-Know-Who as we speak. What's he got to do with anything? And what's that?" asked Pederson, pointing at the envelope.
"That, my dear Gudmund, is your ticket to the big league. But we'll speak about that later," Harry said and was awarded by curious look in the other man's eyes, as he tried to devour the envelope with his stare.
Harry had to suppress a smirk at how easy it was to lead the poor fool by his nose. He'd often seen this technique used by the muggle TV networks. Instead of just showing some exclusive material, they would first spend a good deal of time announcing it, talking about it, warning viewers about it and generally building up the 'hype'. Once they were done with all the quasi-warnings about its shocking contents and advice for children to close their eyes, the viewers would get so curious, that they would swallow the footage like candy, whether it was really that good or not. With that in mind, Harry protectively wrapped his arm around the envelope and slowly pulled it back towards his chest, to Pederson's barely concealed disappointed.
"What I wanted to know is what do you really know about Sirius Black? Or the Black family in general?" Harry asked, startling Pederson from his reverie.
"Uh... I believe Black was unemployed at the time of his arrest, presumably living on the Black family trust fund... and whatever payment You-Know-Who was giving him, of course. As for the family itself, it's very old and very noble. I understand that the family fortune is mostly gone these days, but all the hereditary titles and chairs on various boards are still worth a lot in terms of political influence and authority," explained Pederson, giving mostly publicly available knowledge, with only a few titbits he had gathered during his own research. After all, folk with political power were the right kind of people to get chummy with. It was very useful knowing as much about them as possible.
"Ahh, I see you've done some research on the old families yourself. A very wise move for someone with the ambition to advance inside the Ministry's hierarchy," nodded Harry approvingly, making Pederson lighten up at praise.
"Of course I did," he nodded self-importantly. "The Black family carries a lot of influence and prestige in all levels of society, even with their... less than favourable financial backing at the moment."
"It's only too bad that Sirius Black managed to get himself tangled up with You-Know-Who and arrested without leaving a suitable substitute to take over the family reins in his absence," Harry added, trying to produce a contemptuous sneer in hope of prodding Pederson to blab further.
"Exactly," replied Pederson animatedly, then leaned in and continued in a secretive tone. "It's very strange situation with the Blacks these days. All political and financial functions of the family have been in a state of a complete disarray for the past 15 years or so. And at the root of this whole mess seems to be an attempt of the old mistress, Alfonsina Black, to discipline her traitorous son, who was an active heir at the time, by placing 'Nocens cruor' restrictions on his name."
Of course, Harry knew all about the 'bad blood' tag, having read about it when he researched the particulars of the Black situation. It is an obscure pureblood rite that the acting regent of an old family can utilize as a measure against a heir whose conduct they deem to be in conflict with said family's pre-established norms and ideals... Or in the case of the Blacks, against potential blood-traitors and muggle lovers. 'Nocens cruor' severely limits the heir's authority, especially regarding heredity and financial issues, and prevents him from appointing his own heir outside the strict family bloodline. This status is usually used as a short term measure for limiting the target's authority, until the family council could meet and properly discuss the wayward heir's future. 'Nocens cruor' can have a variety of different outcomes, ranging from total disinheritance and banishment from the family, to complete reinstatement of heredity rights, in case the wayward heir sees the error in his ways and bend his ideals to the council's will.
Pederson continued his tale. "You see, it seems that, at the age of 15, young Black had done something so unthinkable, that the old mistress was forced to completely block his status within the family."
"He ran away and went to live with the Potters," nodded Harry. The old bat probably expected him to come crawling back after a few days of being left without income and other privileges. She obviously never expected his uncle Alphard and the Potters to help him out.
Pederson nodded like he knew that all along. "Well, unfortunately for her and the rest of the family, she hesitated calling in the family council for far too long. She died less than a year later, never having a chance of cleaning up her son's status one way or the other."
Harry nodded approvingly, as though a teacher commending a good pupil. I guess she couldn't fathom that someone would rather choose friendship and freedom over money and power. She must have been keeping her hopes up until her dying breath that Sirius would eventually see reason and turn into the nice little Death Eater she had always wanted him to be , he mused.
Aloud Harry said: "Thus, the legal vacuum ensued. With her death, Sirius was instantly promoted into the acting head of the family. He became the only person able to call in the family council and incidentally the very person who repeatedly refused to do so in the few years prior to his incarceration. Since the council never had a chance to meet, Sirius was never officially declared Lord Black, which would have restored his full headship privileges and appointed him a deputy to look after the family in his absence."
Pederson shook his head sadly, obviously not comprehending how someone would refuse a chance of taking over the reigns of a powerful family. "It must have all been a part of some plan made by You-Know-Who, but for the life of me, I can't figure out what it was. I guess only He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and Black will ever know the truth behind that scheme," he said sagely.
Harry of course knew better. Sirius must have found it distasteful to formally plead to the bigoted council to restore his headship rights. Even though legal vacuum was costing the branch heads much more than it did Sirius, there was no doubt that death eater sympathizers inside the council would wrap the whole process in as much red tape as humanly possible, in hope of deterring the blood traitor's initiation any way they could. Harry could easily see his godfather getting a headache from even thinking about the mess his petition for official removal of 'Nocens cruor' would create.
Besides, Harry suspected that Sirius got kicks from making those pureblood bigots helplessly watch their precious fortune and influence slowly waste away, while waiting for their wayward head to call up the council. Harry would have thought it a good tactic - make them sweat for a couple of years and then grab them by the balls once they get desperate enough - but deep down inside, he was well aware that there was no grand plan or deeper intention in his godfather's little waiting game. Bottom line was, Sirius never cared much about running the Black family's dirty business or playing politician with their various boards. Of course, he also never considered appointing a successor when he was barely 20 years old himself and apparently had his whole life ahead of him. Harry almost smiled sadly at his godfather's rashness and hotheadedness - too bad his practical joke was rudely interrupted by his incarceration.
Aloud, Harry said, "Thus, he became the head of the family, without any of the privileges and powers that normally go with that title."
Pederson nodded, eager to continue with showing off his knowledge. "Exactly, Mr. Wilton. With 'Nocens cruor' still in effect, his control over the family reigns was limited at best. At worst, he was completely prevented from appointing his own heir, or at least a regent. Thus, when his treachery was revealed, the Black family was left both without leadership of any kind, and the legal means of fixing that problem. The goblins managed to save part of the family fortune by converting gold and shares into real-estate and gems, but lots of investments have gone to waste. Blacks, who had already been in a desperate need for a financial reconstruction, were almost ruined. Imagine, Mr. Wilton, one of the most noble and longstanding old families was reduced to practical non-existence thanks to that filthy traitor."
Restraining himself from punching the little weasel, Harry nodded sadly, trying to parrot the idiot's bitterness. "Even after Black had escaped, there was no chance of him calling in the family council and appointing a regent to handle family affairs in his absence. He couldn't have even named a heir, seeing how he had no allies inside the family and 'Nocens cruor' prevented him from choosing anyone outside the strict Black bloodline."
"Well said, Mr. Wilton," nodded Pederson. "The only way for Blacks to restore their rightful positions would be for that insane miscreant to produce a spawn of his own, or get himself killed and leave the lordship to one of his more upstanding cousins abroad," finished Pederson with some conviction, obviously pleased that he restored at least some measure of self-respect that had been severely shaken when Wilton outmanoeuvred him at the beginning of the conversation.
Harry on the other hand had to clench his teeth really hard to prevent himself from strangling the little twerp who dared to repeatedly insult his godfather. Sirius was ten times the man you'll ever be, you butt-kissing self-serving little prick , he screamed in his mind at Pederson, but quickly managed to collect himself by immersing himself in the analysis of their conversation.
Although Harry had already known almost everything that Pederson mentioned, it was still interesting to see just how much information the little twerp managed to collect about the 'Black situation'. He must have dug through all the powerful but out-of-grace families' trashes, looking for any opportunity to bite a piece of cake for himself. Filthy little upstart , Harry concluded. If there was any doubt in Harry's mind about manipulating the stuck-up piece of shit before, it was certainly gone now.
"That was very good Gudmund, very good indeed. It's nice to see a well-informed young man these days," Harry praised, making Pederson blush with pride. Establish yourself as superior and a small praise will get you a long way , he mused, cataloguing this technique as very successful against weak-minded butt-licking idiots.
"Now that you treated me with so much useful information, it's only fair for me to return the favour," said Harry and then leaned in, making a show of looking around for eavesdroppers. "What I'm about to tell you stays between us. You mustn't say a word about this to anyone else," he whispered.
"Of course, Mr. Wilton. You can count on my discretion, I promise," said Pederson hurriedly as he leaned in, always eager to hear a juicy secret. Harry sincerely doubted that Pederson would honour that promise, but it didn't matter anyway. He had to establish an illusion that he trusted the little shit and this was the perfect way to do it.
"Sirius Black is dead," he whispered simply, going for the 'shock' effect.
"What!?" Pederson yelped, but then he pulled himself together and whispered back. "Dead? Are you sure?"
Harry nodded conspiratorially. "It happened during that scuffle inside the Department of Mysteries two months ago. Some eyewitnesses claim that he was killed by an enchanted object kept by the Unspeakables, others that he was stuck by a curse and that his body was taken away by the Dark Lord himself," Harry whispered, lying through his teeth. It simply wouldn't do to start sprouting stories about Sirius' innocence. It was a common mistake made by many of those 'conspiracy theorists' Harry was occasionally seeing on TV and in press. Even some good points they made were quickly overshadowed by tons of bullshit that no one in their right mind would believe. Harry was determined not to make the same mistake. Also, he was very careful not to tell Pederson any more of the truth than he absolutely had to. If the little shit tries to spread this around, I'll easy bring his arse down by providing the real story behind Sirius Black's death. Always have a contingency plan available , Harry reminded himself, before returning to the explanation.
"That's not all. You see, it seems that at the exact moment of Sirius' death, the Black's legacy stone at Gringotts lost its connection with the Black family ring. Whatever happened down there, one thing is certain - Sirius Black is gone and he somehow took his lordship with him. The story is that the Goblins are already enchanting a new ring and waiting for the mandatory six months to expire, so they could announce a blood ruling for the new head of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black," finished Harry in conspiring tone.
Pederson was at this moment openly gaping at him. "Really? But... but how come there was no mentions of that anywhere? You'd think someone would have notified the press about You-Know-Who's key enforcer getting killed."
Harry leaned even closer, dropping his voice to barely a whisper. "It seems that the only light supporters present during Black's downfall were Albus Dumbledore's loyalists. I'm almost certain that Dumbledore had put a tap on that information, in hope of postponing appointment of a dark supporter for the new head of the Blacks. Black family's influence could be the key to turning this war one way or the other, and Dumbledore is desperate to keep it out of the Dark Lord's hands for as long as possible," Harry finished in the best mysterious whisper he could muster, leaning in to Pederson's ear as he spoke. Of course, all that tripe about Lord Black being crucial to the war was pure bullshit, but the appropriate level of mystique and exclusiveness he had wrapped this information in should hopefully befuddle Pederson enough to look past that little inconsistency.
Pederson finally leaned away, an awed look on his face. "Wow... This is just... Wow! Thank you, Mr. Wilton. This is indeed interesting news," he said distractedly, giving Harry an almost reverent look.
On his side, Harry had to suppress a smirk at how quickly he had wormed his way under the idiot's skin. In span of a several minutes, he managed to change his image in Pederson's eyes from a suspicious looking scoundrel, probably up to no good, to a mysterious but respectful gentlemen, worthy of his attention.
Of course, Pederson's character also played a big role in this success. Gudmund was obviously one of those authority-worshiping people, who are completely in tune with their position inside the hierarchy - they gladly use their own authority to repress their lowers, but are also willingly subjugated by the higher ranks. In the army, he would have probably been one of those sadistic officers, who took great pleasure in tormenting their subordinates, all the while being a good little flunky to his own superiors.
Amongst other things, Harry had briefly browsed through a psychology book about different personality types, from which he developed several theories on how to work his way around each kind. For Pederson's type, which he dubbed as 'arse-lickers-head-kickers' , the method was relatively simple. It all depended on the way one established themselves during the initial contact.
If the authority-worshiper classifies you as someone inferior, he immediately takes on a role of 'head-kicker'. In that case, it's almost impossible to receive any sort of respect from said person. Whatever you say or do, the 'head-kicker' will subconsciously keep thinking of you as of his 'lower', thus undeserving of his honest attention.
Harry slowly came to realize that this was exactly what happened in his and Ron's relationship with Hermione. She immediately classified the two boys with lower grades for her inferiors, thus people who can't do anything right and need her constant babysitting and guiding. Dumbledore and the teachers, on the other hand, were categorized as seniors, thus people who deserved her unwavering respect and obedience. In her mind, as long as Dumbledore doesn't go out and murder someone in front of her, his word has been and always will be made of gold. The moment Harry recognized this was the moment he realized that his relationship with Hermione could never be the same as it was before this summer. They might stay friends, but survival of mutual unconditional trust depends largely on whether she could somehow 'reclassify' Harry in her mind and put his word above Dumbledore's. He somehow doubted that.
Of course, Harry now knew how to prevent that from happening again. He found it funny that, for all their apparent failings, the Dursleys got that one rule right - the first impression is everything. Or in other words, if you manage to establish yourself as the authority-worshiper's superior during the initial contact, they would revert into the role of 'arse-licker' , becoming extremely open to your opinions and suggestions.
Thankfully, this is exactly what Harry managed to achieve with Pederson. By outwitting him during their initial confrontation, he had de-facto placed himself in the 'superior' category inside the moron's mind. From then on, Harry's every word came with extra weight, his every opinion was unconditionally worth listening to. Even though Pederson's conscience still considered 'Wilton' a suspicious-looking stranger with a shady background and even shadier motivation, his subconscious kept screaming, "Listen to your betters, Gudmund! Know your place!" And after a few further manipulations on Harry's part, this is exactly what he ended up doing. Actually, thanks to the man's extreme sycophant nature, it was surprisingly easy gaining an upper hand over the idiot. With some satisfaction, Harry concluded that he had picked his target very well.
A rising calculating gleam in Pederson's expression snapped Harry from his silent gloating, alerting him that the idiot had finally started using his brain. He's probably already plotting how to regain Fudge's favour by disclosing this info at the right moment , Harry theorized, having fully expected something like this to happen. After all, as an old Wizarding saying goes, "A snake may change its skin, but never its nature". Harry held no illusion that his current position of respect would stop Pederson from screwing him over in a heartbeat if given the right motive and opportunity.
The next step was a very important part of Harry's plan. He had to dissuade the fool from selling the story to Fudge or the press and lead him on to the greater goal. "You're probably already thinking of how you could use this knowledge to further your career, aren't you? Even though you promised you would keep the secret, if I may remind you," Harry said calmly.
Pederson looked startled for a moment, but then had the good grace to blush and look down. "Don't worry, you can do with it whatever you like, it would do you no good. Without some concrete evidence, no one would believe a word you said, especially seeing how all the people who could potentially back you up are either under Dumbledore's or the Dark Lord's thumb. And it seems they're both momentarily more than content to play the waiting game, while seeking out potential candidates for the Black lordship and sound out their allegiances," finished Harry nonchalantly. Pederson shifted nervously again. He obviously never thought a single step past his immediate goal and analysed the bigger picture. Fool. He'd have ruined a perfectly constructed plan for his own half-witted little schemes.
"So you can go ahead and pick up the crumbs, if even that, or you can hear me out and make it to the big prize. After all, without this little baby and the correct knowledge on how to use it, all the things you've learned today will remain just interesting trivia and nothing more," finished Harry as he pushed the envelope forward, placing it back in the spotlight. Now was the time to really start building up the hype around the envelope.
Pederson looked uncertain for a moment but then quickly reverted to his well trained self-righteous pose. "I'll let you know, Mr. Wilton, that I haven't even considered passing this knowledge to anyone without your explicit consent. After all, I've given you my word of honour, haven't I?" He almost managed to make himself look offended because a perfect stranger wasn't showing eternal faith in his hastily made promise. Harry fought down the urge to snort. "Besides," Pederson went on in a somewhat sly overtone. "I somehow suspect that you have more to offer than simple gossip material, however good it may be. Am I right, Mr. Wilton?"
Harry let Pederson's transparent bravado go, satisfied that the idiot was still following his lead. On the other hand, he did find it slightly disconcerting that the little shit was slowly regaining his baring, even trying to take over the lead in the conversation. A quick change of subject should keep him off balance and put him back to defensive , Harry mused, as he decided his next moves.
"Tell me Gudmund, what do you know about Kingsley Shacklebolt?"
Harry's ploy obviously worked, seeing how Pederson's self- righteous confident pose was quickly replaced by utter confusion. "Captain Shacklebolt, from the Special Tasks Division? What does he have to do with anything?"
"Everything, my dear friend, everything," Harry smirked mysteriously. "So, you know him?"
"Well of course I know of him, everyone does. After all, he is widely regarded for as one of the best aurors in the Ministry. If you meant do I know him personally , then the answer is no. I never had much contact with him, seeing how we are in completely different branches of the department. I see him in passing now and then and salute him on official occasions, but I don't remember ever exchanging a word with the man before."
"Which is exactly why you are the perfect candidate for what I have in mind," Harry nodded approvingly and leaned in expectantly. "Well, what do you know of him, then?"
"Like I said, not much. I mean, he's just another auror captain in the force, right? I don't exactly run statistics on them," Pederson drawled lazily. At Harry's level gaze, he huffed and rolled his eyes. "Alright, what do you want me to say, Mr. Wilton? He's one of the department's brightest stars, some say already a shoe in for the next head of Magical Law Enforcement. The few times I've seen him he seemed a bit standoffish, probably worrying about that elusive case of his, but I guess he must be competent enough, given his spotless record."
Harry was having problems believing that Pederson honestly had no clue what was the big case Kingsley was working on. But like the little opportunist said, he's only running statistics on people he could potentially use or benefit from. Harry snorted mentally. Little does he know that Kingsley is just about to enter that category.
"Elusive case?" Harry asked aloud, raising a questioning eyebrow.
"Yes, there are talks about Mr. Shacklebolt taking way too long to close some case he's been working on for years, but I always found such talks about superior officers disrespectful and..." Pederson suddenly paused, frowning in thought, until his face lit up with realization. "Of course, now I remember! Sirius Black! Captain Shacklebolt is in charge of recapturing Sirius Black and bringing him to justice. That's why you were so interested in the history of the Black family. Am I right, Mr. Wilton?"
Harry clapped and nodded approvingly, hoping that giving a little ego-boost would fortify Wilton's position of calm authority, instead of making him look like a sleazy suck-up. "Excellent deduction, Gudmund. I'm pleased to see you figured it out on your own." It only took you half an hour of dancing around the subject, you empty-headed baboon , he added mentally.
Being unable to hear Harry's internal anger management therapy, Pederson blushed and bowed his head in mock-modesty. "Thank you mister Wilton." He then plunged forward. "But what I still don't understand sir, is how any of this is relevant to the subject of our discussion, which is, according to you, securing my future inside the department. After all, the Minister's personal bodyguard unit is completely out of captain Shacklebolt's jurisdiction. The same thing can be said about the Staff Selection and Revaluation Office, which is not even a part of our department. The bottom line is, sir, there is really nothing that captain Shacklebolt could potentially do to help me out with my... problem."
"That is where you're wrong, my friend," Harry smirked mysteriously. "You see, the thing is Gudmund, Mr. Shacklebolt is, shall we say, unfortunate enough to have in his possession something that I'm sure you'd like to get your hands on. Something that could very well save your failing career and even give it a big push forward."
Pederson waited with baited breath, but Harry just stared back at him, a small, almost mocking smile playing on his lips. After few tension filled seconds, Pederson's patience finally ran it's course. "Well? What is it?" he snapped impatiently, while leaning over the table.
"His job," Harry said simply.
"Job?" asked a startled Pederson, his eyes suddenly turning calculating. He is probably comparing prestige and advancement opportunities with his current position , mused Harry.
"Exactly. Auror captain salary and regalia, plus a team of aurors under your own command," supplied Harry, making sure to point out symbols of authority that come with the position, like a brand new badge to show off and his own underlings to push around.
"Captain," muttered Pederson, his eyes finally glossing over. Harry amusedly watched as the other man daydreamed about having so much authority, before snapping out of it. "Well, I must admit that sounds nice, but I really don't see how I could possibly apply for his position from where I am right now. We are in completely different sections of the department, after all," he said carefully, slowly bringing himself down to earth.
"You are absolutely right, Gudmund. You can't," said Harry simply. "That's why you must leave your current job behind and take a new, temporary position much closer to your target."
Pederson gave him a suspicious but curious look. "And what position might that be?"
"High Inquisitor of the Sirius Black case."
Pederson blinked once, then again. Then, he burst out into a bout of slightly forced laughter. "Heh, heh, that was a good one, Mr. Wilton... But seriously now, what job is this?"
"I'm being perfectly serious, Gudmund," deadpanned Harry.
"Err... mister Wilton, just to get this straight. You want me to... quit my job... my highly paid and well respected job... and apply for a position of... High Inquisitor ?"
"Precisely," nodded Harry with the straightest face manageable.
Pederson stared at him blankly for another second and then leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms defiantly and said with an air of finality: "Absolutely not."
Harry finally let go a smirk, seemingly unfazed by the other man's reaction. He raised an inquiring eyebrow and asked sweetly, "And pray tell why not?" Of course, Harry had already read everything he could find on this subject and was well aware why Pederson was so reluctant to even consider his suggestion.
The High Inquisitor title is a tool that allows the Minister of Magic easier access and control of various aspects of society. When in doubt about a certain department or institution, the Minister could appoint a confident of his own choice as a sort of a temporary overseer. The Inquisitor would be given enough authority to execute the observation and would be expected to submit a report with findings after their mandate was over. Of course, this authority is controlled by various regulations and strict limitations on how long an inquisition may take and what rights and obligations are to be given. Harry was well aware that Fudge's little pissing contents with Dumbledore was a perversion of this law, not its natural order. It will be a long time before another Inquisitor would be able to gain the kind of authority Umbridge once held.
Furthermore, the High Inquisitor's job is completely outside the regular Ministry hierarchy. Inquisitors are appointed by the Minister in person, paid from the Minister's special expenses budget and completely dismissed after their job is done. In other words, it is a job made for the Minister's flunkies and undersecretaries, who have nothing better to do with their time other than wipe his arse whenever the need arises. No department would give an auror or any other permanent employee a few months off, so they could play a private eye for the Minister.
Thus, Pederson was well aware that taking this job would effectively kill his career in Fudge's personal bodyguard unit. And judging by his sputtering and reddening, he was more than eager to express his opinion.
"Why not? Why not!? Let me counter that with why the hell would I? How in Merlin's name would accepting an interim, bureaucratic position help me with my auror career?" Pederson visibly tried to calm himself down. "I'm sorry, Mr. Wilton, but I really don't see your point here. I thought you were offering me an auror captain job, not this... this..." He took a deep breath, trying to steer himself back to the politically correct terminology. "Well, I'm sure High Inquisitor is a very... honourable and... socially useful function, but it is not quite the direction I expect my career to take, nor the duty I am trained to perform."
"Gudmund, Gudmund..." Harry shook his head disappointedly, like one would at a puppy that has just soiled himself on an exquisite Persian rug. "I told you that everything is already taken care of and preplanned to the smallest of details. And you still doubt me." Pederson tried to say something, but Harry stopped him with a raised hand. "Hear me out, will you? Now, while your misgivings are generally speaking... understandable, you once again fail to grasp the bigger picture and see the problem from all the angles." He stopped Pederson's protest with another hand motion. "Nothing to worry about, sonny, that's why I'm here." Gudmund seemed a bit peeved, but still clamped his mouth shut. Good boy , Harry mentally smirked and continued his explanation. "You see, what you failed to take in consideration are certain, one could say, less known laws, that are very significant for this case in particular. The most important being article 7D, section 2 of 'the Statue of Internal Security'."
Pederson furrowed his brow in thought, while reciting various memorized law book passages under his breath, looking for the right one. Harry interrupted him, deciding not to let the little bastard flaunt his knowledge too much. "In short, the article 7D stipulates that no new Ministry employee may be given the position with access to Level 7 restricted files, if there is already an employee with the access to the aforementioned files available, willing to take over said position and capable of performing the tasks required by it." Pederson parroted the last few words under his breath, nodding like a brownnoser student would to his teacher. Harry resisted the urge to smack him. "Let me also remind you that Sirius Black's case is classified with the 7th level of security, placing it under the influence of this law. That should be enough information to clue you in to what I have in mind," finished Harry, knowing very well that it wouldn't be enough, but still looking forward to rubbing it in.
Seeing Pederson's confused expression, Harry sighed and started speaking in slow, well chosen words, as if explaining something to an idiot. "Now, as you should know by now, every High Inquisitor is by law given the full access to any documentation pertinent to the target of theirs investigation; which in your case means full access to the Level 7 confidential Sirius Black's criminal case. Thus, once you, as a High Inquisitor, manage to get Kingsley demoted or suspended, there will remain a question of choosing his replacement. Here is where you'll step forward and remind miss Bones and her colleagues of stipulations specified by the article 7D we have just discussed. Seeing how you will, at that point, be included into the select circle of people with access to the Black file and have the necessary education to perform Kingsley's job, all the prerequisites of the article 7D will be fulfilled and M.L.E. heads will have no other option but to promote you into the rank of auror captain and assign you to the Sirius Black case."
As Harry was finishing his explanation, realization was slowly dawning on Pederson's face.
"But... Does that means... Wow!" he stuttered, an almost maniacal smile shining from his face. "You are a genius, Mr. Wilton! That is a brilliant plan indeed!"
But then he started going through the specific of the plan, and his face slowly clouded over, reverting to a worried but thoughtful expression.
"It's only that... there are still many problems with that." At Harry's raised eyebrow, he quickly went on. "For instance... How would you.. we convince the Minister to launch the investigation... and appoint me of all people for the inquisitor? And what was that about getting Mr. Shacklebolt demoted? Like I said, he is one of the highest ranked and most respected aurors in the corps, the prime candidate for the next department head. I bet even his record is spotless, recommendation after commendation after promotion." He sounded slightly panicky now. "If... if I fail to get him... demoted, I'll lose not only my job, but any chance of working for the Ministry ever again. The whole Department will pull its influence against me..." Pederson's nervous rambling was stopped by Harry's sharp tone.
"Gudmund! Relax. As I said numerous times already, everything is already taken care of. Convincing the Minister to give you the job is the easy part, especially with a few plans I've already put into motion. As for Kingsley..." Harry's lips spread into a devilish grin. "Well, that's what this baby is for." He once again pushed the envelope forward, spinning it tauntingly on top of the table.
"So what is it already?" asked Pederson, his voice laced with impatience.
"This, my dear Gudmund, is all the evidence you'll ever need to ruin Shacklebolt's reputation and get him demoted from his position." Harry took a sip of his beer, prolonging Pederson's plight. He savoured the drink for a few moments, making pleased noises with his mouth. Then after few seconds of this, his head snapped up, giving Pederson a look as if he had forgotten he was there. "You wanna take a peek?"
Pederson nodded, eagerness visible on his face.
"Very well then," Harry said as he tauntingly slowly opened the envelope and retrieved a bunch of wizarding photographs from it. "Now, I should first inform you that Kingsley's team is currently on an official mission somewhere in the northern Australia... how was it that he describes it in his daily reports... relentlessly and persistently combing the rainforests in search for Sirius Black . Right?" Pederson nodded carefully, not having any reason to doubt Wilton's information. "Wrong! Oh, he is in northern Australia, no question there, but apparently nowhere near those damp, suffocating rainforests. No sir, our dear mister Shacklebolt seems to prefer, shall we say, less daunting surroundings," Harry sneered, his words dripping with sarcasm. "Like for instance, crystal white sand and crisp sea air of beautiful Cairn beaches" Harry said in mocking voice, throwing on the table the first picture from the stack.
Pederson's jaw hung open as he ogled the very familiar black form of one Kingsley Shacklebolt, laying beneath a parasol on some exotic beach, reading what appeared to be a week old copy of Cairns Herald daily newspapers.
Looking at the picture from his side, Harry had to suppress a smile at the memory of that hectic day in Australia. After an exciting and stressful morning, when he eluded Dumbledore's puppets and bought himself some more chaser-free time, the second part of the daytrip was spent in a much brighter mood. After all, who wouldn't like lazing around on sand beaches, learning to swim in the clear blue sea and touring local tourist attractions? In retrospect, it was one of the best days of Harry's summer, even if he had to spend most of the time looking like a dark-skinned British auror captain and every once in a while asking some random muggle tourist to take a picture of him.
Harry went on producing photo after photo of discriminating evidence against Kingsley and placing them on the table, as if in a game of Solitaire. Kingsley swimming in the ocean. Kingsley having a relaxing massage on a beach. Kingsley fishing from a tourist yacht's deck. Kingsley touring the great reef. Kingsley in a pub, a slutty-looking girl under each arm and a drunken expression on his face. For a moment there, Harry paused and smiled fondly at the last one, remembering the good time he had with Mandy and Clarissa. Who would have thought that tall and muscular black guys get so much action , he mused. Ah well, it's a shame I had to refuse their offer to give me a guided tour of Mandy's flat. Making too much of a ruckus in a fake body wouldn't be a smart move, especially with the original design snooping around the area, Harry concluded, forcing himself to continue the show. He was lacing each picture with venomous, sarcastic comments, targeted at further riling up the idiot against poor unsuspecting Kingsley. And truly, at the end of Harry's presentation, the expression on Pederson's face was a strange combination of anger, disappointment and glee.
"Who would have thought that leadership of the corps is blighted with such a disgrace of an auror," he sneered, shaking his head sadly. "And to think that this... person is held in such a high esteem amongst our colleagues in the department." Pederson took a breath, trying to regain his composure and continued in much more careful and collected tone. "Still... even with all this evidence... I must say it won't be easy to bring captain Shacklebolt down. After all, as I suspect we were both taught during the training, wizarding photographs can be faked using a number of techniques. Also, don't forget Mr. Wilton that captain Shacklebolt has a wide network of friends and supporters inside the department. They are bound to raise a ruckus about their poor hero being set up."
Harry was expecting something like that. Pederson may be an idiot, but he seemed to be extra careful with anything that could potentially jeopardize his personal career and wellbeing. Harry's experience with Fudge had already taught him that little fact of life about people such as those two. Some call them 'survivors', but Harry's mind had already supplied him with a number of alternative, more 'colourful' terms.
"Of course Gudmund, you are right," Harry nodded approvingly. "But while it is true that wizarding photographs can easily be altered or bewitched, there are other recording techniques that are not so susceptible to outside manipulations," Harry said knowingly, retrieving another object from his envelope.
"Is that... err..." Pederson squinted his eyes, trying to recall the correct term for the muggle artefact.
"Yes, it's a video tape," explained Harry. "You remember 'security systems' lesson in the 'muggle policing methods' class?"
"Ahh right. Never was my favourite subject," muttered Pederson and furrowed his brow in thought. "I think I remember a chart called 'the three elements of muggle security systems' - muggle camera, this... tape thing and... a dancer?"
"Player," nodded Harry. "Actually, we are sitting beneath one right now." Pederson gawked above Harry's head and truly, there was a video player and TV combo hanging over his head. There was a game currently on TV, but no one was watching it, thanks to notice-me-not charms Harry had erected before the meeting. He had carefully selected a seat near one of the televisions in the bar, well aware that he would need to properly present his 'evidence'.
"Now, as I'm sure you'll remember sooner or later, there is no certain and untraceable magical way of forging a video recording. Even if you find a way to alter multitude of frames on the tape, any magic cast at the medium is bound to interfere with the magic-obscuration layers on it, leaving the undeniable proof of outside interference."
Gudmund's confusion at those words wasn't very surprising to Harry. After all, not many wizards knew about the lengths that the International Confederation of Wizards' Secrecy Department had to go to insure the magical world's secrecy throughout the 20th century. Their job was rather easy at first - find a few squibs, equip them with an ample supply of newly developed obscuration potion and send them to infiltrate the world's few photo appliance workshops. Their job was to make sure that each produced photographic plate is immersed in said potion, which job was to ensure that any parts on photographs showing the existence magic stay blurred to the muggles, along with the release of several different look-somewhere-else charms upon the curious photographer. But in the span of a single century, those shy pioneer workshops has expanded beyond the easy-going wizards' wildest expectations, growing into powerful international conglomerates, with dozens of factories all over the world. New inventions and improvements followed this expansion; Kodak's flexible film, plastic film, motion pictures rolls, Polaroid, magnetic storage devices, beta and video tapes... The wizarding world was barely managing to keep track with the progress of muggle science. Harry remembered reading a small article in the Prophet last year, about difficulties that the secrecy department was having with figuring out how to deal with new digital imaging technologies. The reporter had presented this news as an inconsequential piece of trivia, but Harry and all the muggleborn students knew very well how serious the situation was. Sooner or later, the wizarding world was bound to slip and reveal its presence. Harry only hoped he wouldn't be anywhere near the wizarding government once that happened.
Snapping himself from his reverie, Harry smiled slightly at Pederson's confused expression. "In short Gudmund, messing around with these thingies is extremely difficult. Be sure to read up on it later on and refresh your memory," he advised Gudmund, who nodded eagerly, blushing slightly at his ignorance and murmured "Yes sir".
"So... want to take a peak?" asked Harry slyly.
At Pederson's curious nod, Harry flicked his wand and the tape soared upwards, smoothly sliding inside the player's tray. Harry flicked his wand two more times, changing the TV channel to 'A/V' and activating the 'play' button on the player. He hadn't spent much time this summer learning simple charms like these, but prior to this meeting, he made damn sure to master this particular family of Muggleborn-friendly spells, that Anarchia had generously provided. Standing up and fiddling with the controls manually would simply ruin too much of an image he was trying to create.
The TV came back to life, showing a black and white image of a quiet terrace in the middle of a rainforest. Six people were sitting at the table, engaged in a seemingly light-hearted conversation. Harry flicked his wand, increasing the volume. The privacy bubble around the two men was suddenly filled with the boisterous voice of a young, burley man from the screen, who was obviously in the middle of telling a joke.
"...so, Apprentice Troy is walking down the Diagon Alley one day and he is suddenly stopped by a small creature, dressed completely in red. 'Greetings, wizard', says the creature. 'I am little red leprechaun and I wish to fill your pockets with gold.'..."
"Who is that man?" whispered Pederson, eyes glued on the TV.
"Phillip McLaggen, one of Kingsley's lackeys," explained Harry. "The glum guy besides him is Terrence Higgs and across the table from them is Nymphadora Tonks. All junior aurors, yet all members of a supposedly elite 'Sirius Black retrieval team'. Suspicious yet?" Harry whispered conspiratorially, a sly smirk playing on his lips.
"Shh! Here comes the punch line," Harry interrupted Pederson's question.
"...'So let me guess, you are little green leprechaun and you also wish to fill my pockets with gold?', Troy asked irritably. 'No', answered the green dwarf. 'I'm Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, but I'd very much like to take your gold.'"
As expected, the assuming laughter from the TV did nothing to improve the irritated blush on Pederson's face. "That was highly inappropriate, even for a junior auror," he snapped at the TV, as if virtual McLaggen could hear him. "This... this whole meeting is inappropriate. These officers were supposed to be combing the forest, not... not having drinks with... with..." Pederson narrowed his eyes, peering at a bulky figure sitting at the head of the table. "Is that the Mad Eye Moody sitting there?" he asked confusedly. "I thought he retired years ago. I heard he is practically insane with paranoia these days. What is he doing with the team in Australia?"
Harry smirked at the idiot and said knowingly. "That's nothing Gudmund. Look more closely at the man in the shadows."
Pederson squinted his eyes again at the monochrome recording and almost jumped back in surprise. "Sweet Merlin! That's Severus Snape!" Seeing Harry's smirk and slight nod, he started stuttering. "But... but isn't he still the potions teacher at Hogwarts?"
"That is quite correct, Gudmund," nodded Harry. "However, I'd be more concerned with the fact that a confirmed Death Eater, like our dear professor here, has a say in the search operation after one of his own lieutenants."
"Merlin, you're right," deadpanned Pederson. "I remember the briefings now. He was awarded amnesty for testifying against several of his dark wizard friends. Never denied he was You-Know-Who's loyalist himself, though" He shook his head totally bewildered. "How could a shady character like him be anywhere near that many aurors, and yet act so... at ease?"
"Apparently, that is quite a common occurrence when our dear Mr. Shacklebolt is involved. Look more closely at the person sitting besides the girl."
Pederson peered at the screen and shook his head slowly. "I'm quite certain I've seen that man before, but for the life of me, I can't figure out where."
"Ah, Mr. Sturgis Podmore, a long-time staff member of the Department of Magical Games and Sports, currently unemployed." Harry made a small dramatic pause. "On the 31st of August last year, he was arrested and charged with trespassing and attempted robbery at the Ministry of Magic. He was later convicted on both counts and sentenced to six months in Azkaban. He only got out half a year ago."
Pederson gasped slightly. "Yes, I remember it now. He tried to break in into the Department of Mysteries, didn't he?" he said eagerly and then shook his head in confusion. "Three junior aurors, a half crazy retired auror, a suspected death eater and now this... ex-convict? What in the world is he doing anywhere near Shacklebolt?"
"I don't know Gudmund," shrugged Harry. "But the answer to that question might be related to the fact that Podmore was sentenced to mere 6 months, while he could have easily landed himself with charges for high treason and spent the rest of his life in Azkaban."
Harry smirked at Pederson gobsmacked expression. Of course, it was Dumbledore's connections that had ensured Sturgis' lenient sentence, but Pederson didn't need to know that little detail. Besides, everything that Harry said was pure truth. It wasn't his fault if Pederson's dirty little mind made something out of it, like say... a conspiracy involving Kingsley Shacklebolt and the Dark Lord.
"But... are you saying... does that mean"
"Hey look, it's Shacklebolt's turn," Harry pointed at the screen, interrupting Pederson's theorizing. He was more than content to let him make whatever fantastic theory he wanted in his own time. Besides , he mused, smirking slightly at the scene on the TV, this part might as well seal this deal .
"Come on Kingsley, we all took a shot at him. Screw the regulations," cheered black and white Tonks from the screen.
"It's easy for you to say, Tonks. You people are not targets of his paranoid 'house peace' policy," replied Kingsley defensively.
"What's the big deal, sir? It's not like one little joke against superiors is the same as starting a mutiny, no matter what that stumbling idiot says," piped in McLaggen.
"Are you afraid, sir?" asked Higgs slyly, like a man with years of experience of dealing with Gryffindors. "I thought you black people were supposed to have big..."
"Alright, alright, I'll do it," snapped an irritated Kingsley, buckling under pressure, before shifting in his seat into a more comfortable position and starting the joke. "So, Fudge is awaken one night by the dementor queen herself. The queen says to him 'Cornelius, I come here in the name of my children, baring a proposal for thou. We offer thee what thou has always wanted - complete and unlimited power over whole of Britania and all its mortal dwellers. But beware - in return, we demand the souls of your wife, parents, children, relatives, friends, allies and all the mortals who had ever voted for thou. What say thee?' Fudge furrows his brow in thought, considering the proposal. Finally, he asks suspiciously: 'Alright, so where's the catch?'"
Pederson predictably bristled and huffed at the laughter coming from the TV, but as his brain kicked in, a scheming smile started spreading across his face. Harry watched his gleeful expression with smug satisfaction. Hook, bait and sinker , he celebrated mentally, knowing very well that Pederson realized the potential trouble Kingsley could get into, if this tape ever got into say... Fudge's podgy little hands.
Harry once again congratulated himself at his foresight when he decided to check security tapes before leaving the Barron Falls Skyrail station, back in Australia. As luck would have it, one of the cameras was just above the Order members' table and yet low enough to end up inside their spherical privacy bubble. It was then a simple matter of breaking into the security room and replacing the appropriate tape with one of the blanks from the storage. It's not like many wizards knew the difference anyway - they were mostly relying on concealing charms embedded on the tapes themselves to keep anything magical away from muggles.
Of course, when he'd first watched the tape, Harry was mightily disappointed that, instead of some juicy piece of intelligence about the Order, he had gotten nothing but a bunch of useless jokes. Still, the tape stayed safe inside Harry's storeroom, patiently waiting for its new owner to grasp its true value. And Harry did, just when he was coming to realize that his faked photographs might not be enough to sway Pederson towards accepting his proposal.
Thinking about it now, Harry realized it may be exactly this seemingly useless tape that would tip the balance of the negotiations to his favour. After all, how could Pederson miss a chance at getting his hands on such a juicy piece of leverage against Kingsley?
"Well, I guess it's my turn now," came Sturgis' weary voice from the screen, but Harry quickly flicked his wand, muting the sound. Now is the time to close the deal , he decided as he redirected his full attention back to Pederson.
"I see you realize the importance of this part."
Pederson nodded, for some reason looking very pleased with himself. "I have to tell you, Mr. Wilton, your plan seems truly perfect. Simply by passing around this recording, Shacklebolt's influence in the department would be severely shaken. With a few more careful moves and allies in the right places, it wouldn't be impossible to have him even completely ousted from the corps" His eyes then narrowed, forming a suspicious look. "Now, the question that remains is - what do you get out of this? No offence meant Mr. Wilton, but I somehow doubt that you would have gone through all this trouble, out of the goodness of your heart."
Harry smirked approvingly at Pederson, never breaking the eye contact. "5,000 galleons." He raised a hand, stopping the oncoming protest. "No need to feign outrage and haggle with me, Gudmund. The price is non-negotiable. Besides, we both know that you'll easily compensate the financial loss when your new captain-grade pay-cheques start coming in." He gave Pederson just enough time to regain his baring, before interrupting him again. "And before you say anything, I know you've saved enough to cover the cost. Goblins are not exactly the most moral and close-mouthed sort." Pederson snapped his mouth shut, then struggled for a few more seconds, before finally giving his grudging acceptance.
Satisfied with having won the first round, Harry went on. "Of course Gudmund, gold is only a part of the payment. If I wanted mere money, I could have simply blackmailed Kingsley with what I have now." At Pederson's sharp inquiring look, Harry went on slyly. "Once I make you into an auror captain, I might need a... favour now and then. Nothing major, I assure you, just a little push here, some papers disappearing there, aurors mysteriously getting recalled from a routine raid... you know how it works," Harry finished shamelessly. Pederson tried to feign outrage, but a flash of his sharp, calculating look informed Harry that yes, the little shit knew very well how the real world works. Deciding not to push his luck further tonight, Harry mellowed the price. "Of course, we can flatten out these small details further once we celebrate your promotion to the auror captaincy." Pederson was way too quick to agree, tipping Harry off that he had no intention of honouring this deal once he got his prize.
Lazily flicking his wand and summoning the tape and pictures back to his end of the table, Harry started rearranging them and packing them back into the envelope, giving Pederson some time to think about all that was said. Once done, he leaned forward, steepling his fingers on the table and giving Pederson a penetrating look. "So, you've seen my evidence and heard my offer. The decision is now up to you. Are you in?" he asked bluntly.
Pederson seemed to be struggling with himself, finally realizing that the presentation was over and he would have to make a decision. "Well... I don't know. It is a great plan and all, Mr. Wilton, but... but... Do I have to quit my job? What if I fail to defeat Shacklebolt? There could be some other way..."
"Oh do shut up, Gudmund," snapped Harry, rousing Pederson from his stuttering. "You know very well that your job is as good as lost. All the other guards envy you for rising through the ranks so fast." Or more likely, bribing and arse-kissing your way to the position they've had to work hard for , he added mentally, but was well aware that the little sycophant wouldn't appreciate his candour very much. "Hell, they even managed to convince Minister Fudge himself that you are not worthy of your position. I'm telling you what we both know: One way or the other, by the end of this year you'll be the minister's bodyguard no... more..." Harry accented his point by knocking on the table, making Pederson wince pathetically with each strike, as though hearing his own judgment.
"The only question that remains Gudmund, is what will you do about it? Will you keep living in your little fantasy shell for a few more months and then end up working night shift in the emergency floo centre? Or will you grab this unique opportunity I'm offering and rise above those bastards that are trying to keep you down? Because, make no mistake Gudmund, you're not the only one I could make this offer to. Many would kill for a chance like this. The bottom line is - you need me a lot more than I need you." Harry finished his speech angrily, satisfied that he finally could vent some frustration at the little bastard. "So, do we have a deal, or do I make some other bloke into a captain? You have 10 seconds to decide." Harry said with finality, as he closed the envelope and put it back in his inner pocket, looking ready to leave at a moment's notice.
"Alright, alright, I accept, Mr. Wilton, I accept," yelped Pederson desperately. Four seconds, thought Harry, finally easing back in his chair and showing a smirk on his face.
"So we have a deal?" he extended his hand.
"Yes we have a deal," Pederson sighed and shook Wilton's offered hand, managing a weak smirk himself.
"Excellent!" Harry clapped his hands in delight, smiling at Pederson like a cat would at a mouse. I got him! he mentally cheered. I actually convinced the idiot to accept the plan! This couldn't have gone better!
Harry allowed himself a brief moment of mental celebration. Several months ago, not even in his wildest dreams was he be able to manipulate people like that. But improved self-confidence, careful planning and the radical mental revamp experienced after learning of the Prophecy did wonders for his psyche. The simple crushing down of his useless moralistic ideals and throwing away of all the pretences he'd been keeping up was a big step forward... or backwards in this case. The same way he'd crafted himself into a perfect Gryffindor hero back when he was trying to distance himself from anything related to his life with the Dursleys, he was now slowly 'rewiring' himself back into what he was supposed to be all along - a sly and crafty kid, capable of talking his way out of trouble, be it his relatives trying to beat magic out of him or Death Eaters trying to kill him. He was simply no longer afraid of what the others would think about his actions, and whether his behaviour was compatible with the hero status he had unwillingly been burdened with. Learning of this sword of Damocles hanging over his head had simply pushed all his other concerns into categories little better than 'trivial'. After all, better to be alive and unpopular, then dead hero of the Wizarding World.
"We start tomorrow," Harry announced, rubbing his hands together. Now that he had Pederson's agreement, he wasn't about to give the fool enough time to develop cold feet and call the whole thing off. His smile remained unaltered throughout the other man's ensued sputtering.
"But... but Mr. Wilton..."
"No buts, Gudmund, You already have an appointment with Minister Fudge for 11 o'clock tomorrow morning. You wouldn't want to stand up the Minister of Magic, now would you?" Harry said cheerfully, having already preplanned the next morning ages ago. No way in Hell would he let that little shit get away now, after he had already agreed with the plan.
"Well, no, of course not. But..."
"Excellent!" Harry interrupted him dismissively, before speaking on in a dead serious tone of voice. "Listen Gudmund and listen well. This is not a game anymore. If you wish this scheme to succeed, you will follow my instructions to the letter - no last minute changes, no improvisations and no hesitation. My plan is detailed and well thought-out, but that makes it difficult to change and adapt to any potential screw-ups you might make. I will not let you ruin so much planning by being a smartarse. Do I make myself clear?" Harry finished in deadly whisper, staring the other man down.
Pederson fought down the urge to gulp and tried not to look down like a chastised school-boy. "Yes... Yes I understand."
"Good." Harry snapped and then continued in military-briefing manner of speech. "You will arrive at the meeting with the Minister at 11,00 sharp. You will inform Minister Fudge that you have as of yet unconfirmed suspicions of Shacklebolt's transgressions regarding Sirius Black's case. You will hint , and I mean that in the vaguest way possible, that Shacklebolt might have something to do with Dumbledore's secret army, targeted at usurping the Ministry's authority" Harry raised his hand. "Don't interrupt me, Gudmund. You will inform the Minister that you will need the authority to browse through his files in order to confirm your suspicions. You will then kindly request of the Minister to launch an Inquisition, in order to re-examine the handling of Sirius Black's case and Shacklebolt's general conduct in the last several years. Be mindful to do this subtly - do not try to push the Minister into doing anything. And finally, you will generously offer yourself to take the job of the Inquisitor, seeing how you have already investigated this matter in your own free time, thus being the best suited candidate for the job. After receiving the Minister's approval, you will resign from your old job and file in the paperwork to receive the credentials for your new position. Are there any questions?"
Pederson was beyond confused now. He was helplessly stuttering and fumbling, trying to remember all that was said. Harry took mercy on the fool and retrieved a few parchments from his pocket. "I have all this written down on these parchments, in case you need a reminder... or two." He pushed the papers over the table, straight into Pederson's clumsy hands. "Read them. Study them. And for Merlin's sake, memorize them. I don't want to hear about you reading a script in the Minister's office tomorrow morning." While Pederson was going over the papers, Harry put on his wizarding hat and dropped some muggle money on the table, obviously getting ready to leave.
Seeing that the meeting was coming to its closure, Pederson finally broke through his block, bursting out with questions. "Will this work? What if it doesn't? What if the Minister refuses to listen to me? What if..."
"Stop worrying Gudmund. You have nothing to loose at this point, so for Merlin's sake, just concentrate on doing your part and leave the planning to me. If you have any further questions, we'll discuss them tomorrow evening. 9 o'clock, this same table. Good night and good luck."
Harry took a few steps towards the exit, but then stopped by Pederson's seat, as if having an afterthought.
"Oh and bring the agreed sum of gold when we meet tomorrow night. If you succeed, as you hopefully will, we'll do the exchange then - photos and the tape for the galleons. If you fail..." Harry shrugged. "Then that would be the end of our partnership. We part our ways and no hard feelings on either side."
With that said, Harry stalked down towards the exit, completely ignoring Pederson's anxious mumbling. Harry opened the door and was about to exit the bar, when he suddenly whirled around. "Pederson!"
Gudmund's head snapped up at the sound of his surname. He paled at the sight of 'Wilton' staring him down from the doorstep, his cloak ominously billowing in the night breeze. He couldn't repress a shiver at seeing a stony expression on his new partner's face.
Harry kept his stare for another second, before speaking in the most dangerous voice he could muster: "You better not fail."
And with that, he was gone.
This is the promised second part of the previous chapter. I simply split it off, because chapter 7 would have otherwise had 30K words strong. This part got delayed because of some communication problems I've had with my beta, so I apologize for that.
Nothing else to say here. Err... sorry that it sucked? This was written during my worst writer's blocks, so I guess it's normal that some parts might seem forced and disjointed. Oh, and notice that there's no mention of any other characters during this scene; it's because only a few hours have passed since the end of chapter 7, if that wasn't clear enough.
Good news is that the next chapter should finally close this filler arc (that was initially supposed to be just one chapter), and move us on to more interesting stuff, like Dumbledore's counter-move, the resolution of Rookwood drama and the Ministry heist or two.
I'd like to thank Athenia for editing this chapter, making it at least grammatically correct drivel, instead of just plain one.
My profile hasn't been altered much this time, but you should keep an eye on it nevertheless, seeing how I might post a new (multi-chaptered) story one of these days.
o - Potter's Resistance in German
As of now, there is a German version of Potter's Resistance being posted alongside the main English version (2 chapters at this point). The translation is being done by CGB (id: 3047071). For the link, please look inside my profile.
o - Sources and additional disclaimers
The encyclopaedias I've used for reference are Britannica 2005 and Wikipedia (www-wikipedia-org).
I don't own any intellectual property mentioned above.