Chapter 18: Politics at Play
Harry wasn't sure where his week went. After his and his father's initial meeting with Mr. Dwight Earnshaw, the remainder of the weekend had been entirely uneventful and had passed in its entirety before he knew it. Monday had seen his father back to work, Bethany off to the Frobishers house for the week, and him being dragged away from his breakfast by his mother and Mayra to go shopping for new attire that would befit his heritage and status. From Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions to Twilfittand Tattings and Gladrags Wizardwear, he had been herded and made to endure custom fitting and design session after custom fitting and design session. Needless to say, the day had been tedious and without progress, outside of his wardrobe having been updated with adequate apparel that possessed class as well as the practicality that he had demanded and had steadfast refused to compromise on even for the sake of the garment's overall appeal.
Tuesday, he had been left to his own devices. A silent apology from his mother for the day before, he suspected. He had spent a majority of the day walking the woods behind his family's cottage with the intent of familiarizing himself with the layout and marking himself a jogging path, as well as finding a few sturdy trees that would be good for climbing and had the right limb structure for strength training exercises. If he was going to get his body into shape, he needed to be able to push himself to his limits without worrying about getting lost in the woods or climbing up a faulty tree. Markers that had been etched into the bark of a tree every dozen or so yards had been a method that he had always found to be helpful in tracking his position and whose territory it had been that he had been traveling through in the other world. A different sort of mark on the trees that he knew to be structurally sound and conducive to his strength training needs also simplified matters.
Wednesday, he had forced himself out of bed the moment that the sky had lightened and had started his new training regimen. His mother had given him a strange look, when he had returned from the woods flushed, covered in mud, and soaked to the bone with rain and sweat, but had said nothing, as he had passed her on the stairs on his way to the bath for a soak. He had spent the day with his mother in the cellar, which had been converted into a potions lab of sorts a few centuries back. As he had helped her with the urgent, three cauldron batch of pepper up potion that Tugwood's Apothecary of Hogsmeade had ordered, she had taken the opportunity to quiz him on the third year material that he was to be tested on, before the end of the summer and being allowed to start his fourth year at Hogwarts. Later that evening, after his father had gotten Kingsley Shacklebolt to take the second half of his double shift, Mr. Earnshaw had met with him and his father to authenticate the documents proving his claim to the Peverell heritage, as well as have him and his father sign the finalized forms that granted him his emancipation from the House of Potter and officially changed his surname to Peverell.
Thursday, he had woken early and again left the house a little after dawn. When he had returned from the woods, his mother had greeted him at the back door with a glass of water in hand and a smile on her face. As his mother didn't have another urgent order that she needed assistance with, he had spent much of the drizzly day studying newspapers that his father had saved over the years, looking for any useful information that would tell him where he might find one of Voldemort's currently unaccounted for horcruxes or whether Voldemort's activity was greater or less in this world than it had been in the other world around the same time. He had found nothing definite in what he had read so far, but the stack of newspapers was quite large and he had only gotten a quarter the way through them, before his mother had urged him to bed.
As Harry stared at his reflection in the mirror mounted upon the back of his wardrobe door, adjusting the blood red cravat knotted around his neck, he couldn't help but feel that time had deceived him. Where a week ago, down to the very minute, he had been calmly and rationally planning his mission to recover what he had thought was one of the rune stones that would power the Kill Wards over Britain and use it to locate the Kill Wards'keystone, he was now dressed in an expensive set of coal robes and was growing ever more frustrated with the temperamental cravat choking his neck, while attempting not to stress out about the evening ahead of him. It felt like barely a day had passed between the two nights, yet seven days had come and gone and things were now so very different - more complicated, yet simpler -than they had been last Friday.
At hearing a knock on his bedroom door, Harry turned away from his reflection and, in defeat, ceased clawing at the cravat with an irritated huff. "Come in."
"Nearly ready?" Lily asked, carrying with her into her son's bedroom the floral scent of the perfume that she only ever wore on special occasions - lavender and violet with a hint of honeysuckle.
Harry breathed in deeply, as he registered the enticing scent and he took in the sight that his mother made. Like Harry, she was dressed in expensive, vastly adorned robes. The silk of her bodice was of a powder blue and accentuated her breasts and the curves of her hips sensually, while the skirt of her robes flowed in the same pale blue to the floor in a cascade of ruffles. A light smattering of makeup brushed her eyes, lips, and cheekbones and her hair was done up in a twist of curls upon her head. Diamonds and sapphires hung from her ears and encircled her neck and white gloved wrists, complementing the vivid coloring of her eyes even more so than her robes. She looked beautiful.
Harry told her as much.
"You look quite dashing yourself, young man." Lily smiled at her son, as she surveyed him in his dress robes in return. Every inch of the dark fabric had been designed to empower her son's image and was doing its job marvelously, erasing the youth that defined him as an unready lord and weaving the appearance of a sure and capable wizard in its place. Harry wouldn't merely be her and James's son tonight, nor would he be ever again after this night. He looked the part of Baron of the Peak, if nothing else.
"Dad's meeting us there?" Harry asked. If he thought that killing Rufus Scrimgeour would put an end to his father having to work double shifts, he would have done it last week. Unfortunately, it seemed that the Ministry truly was that desperate to have its employees working as many hours as possible - what with people beginning to pour into the country for the upcoming Quidditch World Cup and all the preparations being made for the Triwizard Tournament. Therefore, killing his father's boss wouldn't get his father anymore time off. It would only increase the amount of hours that his father would have to work, as the Ministry would be down a man.
Lily's smile became forced, coming across as more of a grimace."He's been assigned to the security detail for the ball."
Harry nodded. His father would be present, but working. It wasn't an ideal scenario. He'd been hoping to have his father at his side acting as a guide, as well as a buffer. Knowing that he wouldn't have his father's support for a good majority of the night, spiked his preexisting anxiety.
"Harry, you don't have to do this," Lily said softly, her concern tone and perceptive eyes suggesting that she desired to say more, but knew that no words that she voiced on the matter would make a difference to his resolve. She stepped closer to her son and reached out to place a gentle hand on his cheek. It was a silent plea that spoke their doubts and requested cowardice.
Harry turned away from the gesture, rejecting the request. A pang of guilt washed through him, as his mother dropped her hand and looked to him with hurt that she tried to hide, but failed to do so completely.
"You don't have to do this," Lily said again, a detectable tremor in her voice undercutting her conviction. "Tell your father -"
"Dad isn't forcing me." Harry narrowed his eyes at his mother, his guilt shifting back to irritation - this time the feeling being directed at his mother, instead of his cravat. He imagined that he'd have to deny his father forcing his hand for some time, until people realized how minuscule a hold his father had over his person and his actions.
"Harry, you're still very young." Lily reached for his hand this time. He allowed her to take it, but met her imploring gaze beseeching his compliance with indifferent eyes. "It's not too late. You could wait until you've your NEWTs and are out of Hogwarts. You don't have to declare yourself tonight."
"Mum, I love you dearly," Harry gave his mother's hand areassuring squeeze that communicated his sincerity, "but you're wrong. This is something that I have to do tonight. I have a responsibility not just you, Dad, and Bethany, but to the people of my district and to the people of Britain who will benefit from my voice in the Wizengamot. If I wait, it may be too late to make a difference, where making a difference truly matters."
Lily gave a resigned sigh, her demeanor acknowledging the determination in her son's words and stubborn set of his jaw. She squeezed Harry's hand in return, as if to tell him that she wasn't disappointed in his decision, merely mourning his youth. "You're so willful, just like your father."
Harry smiled. "He says that I get my pig-headedness from you."
"He would," Lily said with a combination of affection and amusement, as a tentative smile graced her face once more and she released Harry's hand and reached up to fix his cravat. "You and Bethany...you both got a double dose, didn't you?"
"It seems so," Harry agreed and tilted his head back to allow his mother room to work the cravat loose and correct his pour excuse for a knot.
"You'll be careful tonight," Lily said sternly, her nimble fingers lightly tickling against Harry's neck, as she loosed the cravat from his neck and robes with a soft hiss of fabric sliding on fabric.
"Constant vigilance," Harry said and frowned, as his thoughts flitted briefly to Mad-Eye Moody and the fact that the ex-Auror would be locked inside the seventh compartment of the man's own multiple compartment trunk in a little over a month's time. Or so the man would be, if events concerning Voldemort continued to occur similar to how they had in the other world. The fact that Bertha Jorkins had gone missing was a very good indicator that they would. The fact that Pettigrew was supposedly dead in this world, however, was indicative that they wouldn't. But, then again, Pettigrew had faked his death in the other world as well, just at a much earlier point in the timeline.
"Your father and Sirius will shadow you. Stay within their sight."
Harry hummed his acquiescence to his mother's instructions, as she formed his cravat into a proper knot and drew it snug against his neck. Personally, he wasn't concerned about his safety, but if it would make his parents feel better, he wouldn't wander - unless he was given a very good reason to do so, that is.
What concerned Harry about the affair was the politics of the matter. The correct way to go about declaring himself would be to present himself to the Minister of Magic and the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot in private, followed by presenting himself to the Wizengamot as a whole body and publishing a Declaration of Intent in the Daily Prophet for the public's perusal. To do things properly, however, would risk far more than he was willing to risk. Not to mention, the annual ball that the Ministry hosted in honor of the Boy-Who-Lived's birthday presented him with a far too perfect opportunity to initiate a preemptive strike aimed at securing his position; for he knew how Fudge and Dumbledore worked. If he went about things properly, the two men would make every effort to bury his ambitions before he ever reached the Wizengamot chamber.
Fudge, Harry knew, would reject his claim of Peverell descent and would object to him inheriting the East Midlands, along with him assuming the title of Baron of the Peak and the hereditary seat on the Wizengamot that came with the lands and title, purely out of fear for his own position. The stout man had a good thing going at the moment and a potential change to the current political climate could all too easily threaten the life of easy and luxury that the Minister enjoyed.
Dumbledore, on the other hand, would object to his youth, while silently disapproving of his decision to declare himself a son of Peverell. The aged wizard would be of the mind that the move was one just asking for trouble, which was the truth, as well as the point. Harry, however, wasn't about to read Dumbledore in on his situation or his future plans, as the man would disagree with, if not his objectives, then his methods. There was also the fact that Dumbledore was currently charged with overseeing the East Midlands, and though Harry felt that Dumbledore had built up enough political capital over the years that his source of power was not at all dependent upon his management of the East Midlands, he wasn't confident that Dumbledore wouldn't hold the loss of the district against him or attempt to subvert his rightful claim to what remained of the Honour of Peverell. He knew Dumbledore to be a good man, but the headmaster was a master strategist and usually protected his interests with cunning on par to the dirtiest of politicians. If the East Midlands were of significance to Dumbledore, he would face some pretty serious opposition.
The difference in their motivations aside, both men would have been united on the matter of his ascension, and Harry wasn't particularly fond of his odds in going up against the Minister of Magic and the Chief Warlock in a private sit-down. If he achieved anything tonight, it would be turning the public's eye upon the matter, which would still the hand of most, if not all underhanded attempts to usurp him quietly and would force whatever opposition there was to his ascension onto the politic stage for the public to see and speculate about.
As Lily smoothed down the front of her son's robes, which she had just finished refastening the vest of over his cravat, she said, "I don't know what I'll do, if something happens to you."
"Nothing is going to happen to me," Harry promised with such sincerity and confidence that Lily blinked, startled by his conviction.
Mother and son portkeyed away from their family cottage in Godric Hollow and were subsequently deposited in the Atrium of the Ministry of Magic in London at precisely seven o'clock. The vast, high ceilinged hall with its polished wood floors, dark marble columns, and window inlayed walls that extend and marked the upper floors of the Ministry was filled with many witches and wizards all dressed to impress and ranging in age from Hogwarts aged youths to nineteenth century adults. The majority of people were conglomerated in small group before the majestic double doors that faced the Fountain of Magical Brethren. The gold statues of the fountain were as royal in appearance as they were a lie and were even more ostentatious than usual with the addition of fairies weaving between their forms and playing in their jets of water and the sparkling pool at their base.
As Harry walked with his mother on his arm over to a familiar blond haired man of average height and wiry build, the double doors opened with a click of the latch giving way that echoed throughout the hall and gave pause to the many conversations. Harry paid no mind to the groups, as they began filing into the ballroom beyond in an orderly, yet excited fashion. His focus was on Dwight Earnshaw and the alcove that the man had snagged.
"Lord Peverell, Mrs. Potter," Mr. Earnshaw greeted with a pleasant smile and bowed to Harry, before kissing the knuckles of Lily's offered hand. "How do you do?"
"How do you do, Mr. Earnshaw?"Lily returned. "Is Helen here tonight?"
"Sadly, no, and I won't be staying very long myself," Mr. Earnshaw said with a keen light in his eyes. "Ben has been acting up the last few days."
Lily's face brightened, making her smile all the more brilliant. "You've named him."
"Benjamin Dwight Earnshaw," the dad to be said proudly and nodded.
"It's a wholesome name," Lily said kindly. "Helen must be getting anxious."
"She not the only one," Mr. Earnshawsaid truthfully, a hint of his nervousness showing through his calm demeanor.
"For what it's worth," Harry pinned the man with an earnest look, "I have no doubts that you'll be a good father, if you treat your son half as well as you've treated my family. You're a good man."
"Thank you, my lord." Mr. Earnshaw flushed, appearing to be truly touched.
"I'll let you two get down to business," Lily said, as she glanced between her son and Mr. Earnshaw. She kissed Harry on the cheek and detangled their entangled arms. "I must find Bethany. I will see you both inside."
As his mother's heels clacked away, growing fainter with her every step, Harry maintained his focus on Mr. Earnshaw, who returned his gaze unwaveringly.
"One last signature?" Harry asked, breaking the silence between them.
"No." Mr. Earnshaw reached into the breast pocket of his maroon robes and removed a gold leafed card. "All the paperwork was taken care of the day before last and was quietly pushed through the proper channels yesterday. I merely need to give you this," he held out the card in offer to Harry, "and wish to give you my congratulations, before the night sweeps us away."
Harry accepted the card. A thrill of anticipation mixed with apprehension slithered down his spine and momentarily stilled his breath, as he looked past the vanity of the card and read the embossed words rippling its surface.
The Right Honorable Harold Peverell,
The Baron of the Peak
It was an crier's card - the one that he would pass to the crier, upon entering the ballroom in a few minute's time - the one that the crier would read out for all to hear, unknowingly declaring him.
This is it, Harry thought, as he stared down at the card. For whatever reason, the title of Baron of the Peak felt more real to him than his title of Gray Lord of Europe ever had in the other world. Baron of the Peak; it was his to own, his birthright. Perhaps that was the difference. He didn't know. All he did know was that he had just been handed a potentially devastating weapon, one he would wield against Voldemort's influence and the general rot that infected the upper echelons of Britain's magical society, yet it was a deadly one that could turn upon him, if he didn't watch his back and handle it with care.
"My wife and I live in your district, my lord," Mr. Earnshaw said, drawing Harry's attention back to him. "We look forward to the changes that you'll bring, as will many others. It's nothing against the Chief Warlock - he's a busy man - but, due to how busy he is, his focus has never been on what the district needs or desires. I know you will do better."
"Thank you, Mr. Earnshaw," Harry held out his right hand, "for everything."
"Just doing my job, my lord." Mr. Earnshaw shook Harry's hand.
As Mr. Earnshaw graced him with one last smile and inclined his head towards the ballroom, Harry took back his hand and nodded. "Give your wife my best."
"I will, my lord," Mr. Earnshaw assured. "Good luck tonight." And with their farewells exchanged, he turned away from Harry to join the queue outside the ballroom.
Harry leaned against the wall of the alcove, as he watched Mr. Earnshaw's retreating back. The whine of violins and the sweet melody of flutes combined with the soft tenor of a piano and the undertones of a cello told of the ball truly beginning. He hummed along to the pleasant tune, as more and more people arrived. As was accustom with such events, the later one arrived the more important he or she was. Wealthy business owners and influential Ministry works became Ministry department heads and elected members of the Wizengamot. Dumbledore soon arrived in the company of Minister Fudge, Barty Crouch Sr., and Ludo Bagman. By this point, the orchestra had been quieted to a low drone, so the crier could be heard clearly, as he announced each person of importance.
"The Right Honorable Algernon Longbottom, The Baron of the Lakes! - The Honorable Frank Longbottom, Head Auror of Squad Delta! Lady Alice of the Noble House of Longbottom, 5th Chair of the Hogwarts Board of Governors! - Guest of Honor, Mr. Neville Longbottom, The Boy-Who-Lived!" was the first issue of cries that announced the arrival of the Noble Houses.
A great wave of applause and an increase in chatter emitted from the ballroom.
"The Right Honorable Lachlan Burke, The Baron of the Bogs! The Right Honorable Elodia Burke, The Lady of the Bogs! - The Honorable Sage Burke, guest Alison Urquhart! - The Honorable Celesta Burke! - The Honorable Tomas Burke!Lady Patricia of the Noble House of Burke!" curbed the increased chatter and, after an intermittent pause, was followed by, "The Right Honorable Ferdinand Macmillan, The Baron of the Isles! The Right Honorable Agatha Macmillan, The Lady of the Isles! - The Honorable Joffrey Macmillan, Order of Merlin, Second Class, Hit Wizard: rank Triple-Star! Lady Delphi of the Noble House of Macmillan! - Ms. Serena Macmillan, guest Vidal Harkiss, Hit Wizard: rank Single-Star! - Mr. Louis Macmillan, guest Kathrin Bell! - The Honorable Henry Macmillan, 11th Chair of the Hogwarts Board of Governors! Lady Anne of the Noble House of Macmillan! - Mr. Ernest Macmillan!"
Harry listened intently to the crier, as the man announced each person and he observed the Noble Houses enter the ballroom: the O' Cuinns, the Pritchards, the Vanes, the Selwyns, the Greengrasses, the Dunbars, the Talvaces, the Malfoys, and, lastly, the Blacks.
"The Right Honorable Sirius Black, TheBaron of the Channel! The Right Honorable Mayra Black, TheLady of the Channel!"
Harry cast a tempus spell. 19:27, the glowing magic read suspended before him. He shrugged off of the alcove wall. It was time.
The two Aurors stationed on either side of the double doors that led to the ballroom regarded Harry warily, as he approached, his footfalls echoing with a steady, confident rap on the hardwood floor of the Atrium. The female Auror - short, blonde, fit - had been first to notice him secluded within the shadows of the alcove opposite their post and had subtly pointed him out to her male partner - oaf, not as stupid as he looks. Both had been keeping an eye on him, though they appeared to have been the only ones to notice him lingering just out of sight.
Harry flashed the Aurors his crier's card, once he was close enough for them to make out the Ministry of Magic seal that was inlayed within the gold leaf of the card. The woman nodded, and he was allowed to pass unhindered. The lax security did not instill Harry with confidence for Britain's future in this world. But, then again, no one but him, Dumbledore, and probably select members of the Order of the Phoenix knew that all was not well, and he was fairly confident that only he, his father, and Sirius knew that they were currently at war - a small, private war for the time being, but a war nonetheless.