Secrets and Lies
“Bloody Hell! Whaddya reckon’s taking them so long?” Ron grumbled. The sun was nearing its highest point of the day and he was getting hungry.
Seamus just shrugged, looking as perplexed as everyone else. It seemed to be taking hours for Dumbledore and the other judges to sort things out. A buzz of curiosity filled the air as the crowd in the stands was growing just as restless as Ron. Nobody had an inkling of what had gone on under the surface of the Black Lake, but clearly Fleur had been the first to come back with her hostage, and Cedric’s too - though well outside the time limit.
Dumbledore and a couple of Aurors had jumped into the lake, and Harry had finally arrived with Hermione and Lavender Brown a short while later. Then some time after that, Dumbledore and the tall Auror with a shaved head had returned, dripping wet, and had a conversation with Fleur, Hermione, and Harry. Then to everyone’s surprise, Dumbledore and the baldheaded Auror had dived back into the lake and not returned for nearly an hour.
While everyone had waited, Madam Pomfrey had seen to the many cuts and bites that Fleur had received from the Grindylow, and to the nasty gashes that Harry had received from the Kappa, and also to the penetrating wounds that he and Hermione had both sustained from the business ends of spears and tridents during the battle with the Merpeople. Professor McGonagall had in the meantime conjured up a supply of refreshing drinks from the castle cellars to keep the bewildered audience occupied and hydrated. Finally Dumbledore and the Auror had returned.
After one last hushed conversation with Harry and Hermione, Albus Dumbledore shared a grave look with Kingsley Shacklebolt before rejoining the other judges. For the first time, he had some evidence that the Minister was actively interfering with the Triwizard Tournament in an attempt to capture or harm Harry Potter, indeed likely having instigated it for that very purpose to begin with...
Unfortunately, the testimony of “halfbreeds” held no legal sway at the Ministry. Amelia Bones would believe Mer-Chieftainess Murcus and her remorseful cousin of course, but she would not be able to act on the information in an official capacity. Any investigation Amelia opened into the Minister’s activities would have to be surreptitious - a dangerous prospect indeed.
Dumbledore cannily regarded the expression on Ludo Bagman’s pale features. The man was trembling slightly, his shifty eyes darting nervously from Harry Potter to Dumbledore, then back again. There seemed to be little doubt now that he was involved, though the Mer-Chieftainess’s cousin had not been able to provide any evidence to that effect - having only met with unidentified Ministry personnel, perhaps members of the Triwizard Commission or other associates of Ludo Bagman and the Minister.
Then there was the matter of who had hired the Kappa assassins that Harry Potter had informed him of. They had apparently fled the scene, though Kingsley had at least managed to find some physical evidence which confirmed Harry’s story. There was unfortunately nothing to link them directly to the Ministry or Lucius Malfoy - and there was a distinct possibility that Karkaroff was behind them, hoping to give his Champion an edge to make up for not having equal representation in the tournament.
The headmaster sighed, knowing that he could not make any unsupportable accusations or have Bagman arrested on sight. Though it was apparent to Dumbledore that he needed to confide his concerns with Olympe Maxime behind closed doors at the earliest opportunity. As he settled into his seat, Dumbledore gave Kingsley a slight nod.
The Auror approached the Judges’ Bench and gave his report in deep mellifluous tones. He spoke of the unrest among the Merfolk, and the true danger that the hostages and the Champions had faced, carefully leaving out any hint that he and Dumbledore suspected Bagman’s and the Minister’s involvement.
Kingsley peered at both Bagman and Karkaroff - looking for signs of recognition - when he displayed the throwing star and the severed hand of a Kappa which he had found in the lake. When he was finished, Fleur gave her accounting of what had happened.
Harry sighed, wishing he could give voice to what he and Dumbledore both knew to be true and suspected. He understood why he couldn’t, but he was unable to refrain from shooting Bagman and Percy glares while he recounted the events, leaving out the bits the Mer-Chiefs had mentioned about the deal to turn him over to the Minister.
Ludo Bagman looked a bit puzzled, but relieved when nobody questioned him. He knew there was nothing tying him directly to the unrest among the Merpeople, but he’d thought questions might at the very least be raised as to how the Merfolk had come to obtain the return of their Magic Staff from the Ministry.
He already had a perfectly reasonable answer prepared if it had come up of course, which was that it had been the price to get the Merfolk to agree to participate in the tournament. But given the circumstances of Potter having completed the task, Bagman had been worried that certain other questions might be raised.
Bagman was as surprised as everyone else to hear about the Kappa though - he shot a glance at Karkaroff, but the Durmstrang headmaster’s expression was unreadable.
“Well,” began Dumbledore, his manner serene as he addressed the other judges, “how shall we go about this then? Clearly Harry Potter and Fleur Delacour were the only ones to complete the task and return with their hostages - and though they both returned well outside the time limit, given the circumstances, that ought not be held against them.
“And I daresay Harry’s experience with the Kappa ought to be taken into account - as they were clearly not an official element of the Task,” Dumbledore added pointedly with raised eyebrows. “Yet he apparently dealt with them quite effectively.”
“But Potter clearly broke the rules though when he veered off his own quest to assist Miss Delacour,” Percy said officiously. “Champions aren’t supposed to help each other...”
Madame Maxime looked scandalised at Percy’s pernicious pronouncement, but Karkaroff looked both pleased and surprised at the young British official’s sensible declaration.
“I quite agree,” interjected Karkaroff quickly, “From my understanding of all accounts, Potter and Delacour should both be disqualified for assisting each other. How are we to know that they did not have some kind of prior arrangement to put my Champion and your Mr Diggory at a disadvantage, Dumbledore? They seemed to be quite... affectionate with each other at the conclusion of the task.”
“Surely you cannot be implying that either Miss Delacour or Mr Potter were able to persuade the Giant Squid to fling Mr Krum to the shore... or to convince a massive swarm of Grindylow to force Mr Diggory to retreat to safety to avoid being savaged by them as Miss Delacour nearly was herself?” Dumbledore retorted coolly with raised eyebrows and a hint of a twinkle in his eye.
“Why, one might just as easily say that you hired the Kappa hit-team to give your student an advantage... but without any evidence, such an accusation would of course be absurd!” Dumbledore concluded jovially.
“Of course... Yes! It would be absurd indeed!” Karkaroff snapped, his eyes narrowing. Percy scowled as it became apparent that Dumbledore was manipulating them into announcing a victory for Potter at any cost.
“Well then,” said Dumbledore avuncularly, “perhaps we can all agree that Mr Potter and Miss Delacour were both displaying the moral fibre to which we all hope to aspire! ... Is this not truly the very essence of what this Tournament was founded for? ... to forge bonds of solidarity and friendship across international boundaries?”
“Oui...” began Madame Maxime, nodding, but she was interrupted by a loud “YES!” from Ludo Bagman.
“You’re absolutely right, Dumbledore, my dear fellow!” Bagman eagerly exclaimed. “Moral Fibre indeed! The noble ideals of Solidarity and Friendship are precisely why the tournament was founded and why we are here today...
“Where would we be if we did not aspire to the principles of fairness and kindness to our fellow man above all else? I move that we award all the Champions points based on both the relative skill displayed in their use of magic, and then also on the successful completion of said Task without regard to the time limit.”
Dumbledore allowed himself a little chuckle at Ludo Bagman’s transparent attempt to quell any silly notions of Ministry corruption which might have come from listening to any fairy tales told by dangerous and untrustworthy “halfbreeds.”
Percy goggled in surprise at Ludo, and with no small amount of frustration, he reminded himself that the Minister had directed him to follow Ludo’s lead.
“Er... I...erm... I second the motion,” Percy said awkwardly.
“Zat sounds like a vairy fair compromise,” agreed Madame Maxime.
“It does indeed,” said Dumbledore with a satisfied smile. “I move that we each award Mr Krum and Mr Diggory five points - giving them both a total score of twenty five points apiece. Mr Krum’s partial transfiguration into a shark no doubt took some effort... it is not his fault that the Giant Squid takes great exception to sharks in his territory...”
“And your Mr Diggory - ‘e must ‘ave more than a passing knowledge of French to ‘ave translated ze Bubble-Head Charm,” Madame Maxime said kindly. “I second your motion Albus.”
“Oh alright then!” snapped Karkaroff, looking very disgruntled. “Twenty five points to Viktor and to Mr Diggory!”
“And I propose Full Marks to both Mr Potter and Miss Delacour,” said Bagman cheerfully. “Mr Potter made excellent use of Gillyweed and Miss Delacour the Bubble-Head Charm - they both arrived with two hostages - and though Mr Potter was last to arrive, it was his bravery, determination, and compassion which gave Miss Delacour the opportunity to rescue her hostage and to arrive first...
“...and finally, Miss Delacour was all set to return to help Mr Potter fight his way free of those back-stabbing water-beasts, though he did eventually return under his own steam! Clearly they are both deserving of a full ten points from each one of us,” Bagman concluded.
“Seconded,” agreed Madame Maxime immediately, beaming proudly as she peered at her Champion and Mr Potter who were waiting with the other Champions by the school nurse’s tent near the stands.
“That... that’s ten points apiece from me then,” said Percy in a strained sort of voice.
“And from myself of course,” said Dumbledore, eyes twinkling merrily.
Everyone turned to peer expectantly at Karkaroff. The Durmstrang headmaster’s eyes were now so narrow that they were nearly slits, and his lips were as thin as they could possibly be.
“Ten points...” he hissed through clenched teeth, “...to share between the both of them. Award the points... as you... see... fit...!”
“Well, that is a most gracious offer indeed,” chuckled Dumbledore, his clear blue eyes sparkling in the midday sun. “Well there you have it Ludo, you may announce the marks - forty-five points apiece to Miss Delacour and Mr Potter, and twenty-five apiece to Mr Krum and Mr Diggory.”
Never had Ludo Bagman been so relieved to announce a score which had lost him so many galleons. He made the announcement quickly, sparing the audience most of the details, and was comforted greatly by the knowledge that his losses would all be covered by his sponsor.
“Honestly, I really couldn’t give a hang about the points,” Harry muttered angrily as he clutched Hermione closely to him in his arms, his chest tight as he listened to Bagman cheerily report the Judge’s final marks for the Second task.
“I’m just glad you’re alive Hermione,” he said more gently, pressing his lips to hers.
“Oui,” murmured Fleur, shooting a radiant smile at the kissing Potters as she continued to embrace her sister, “I feel much ze same. Gabrielle means more to me than winning ze Tournament.”
Harry still couldn’t get the image out of his mind of Hermione chained up, deathly pale as her hair and robes eerily drifted in the undulating current at the bottom of the lake. And Harry was furious that he couldn’t say anything about the Ministry for the time-being. Hermione knew exactly how Harry felt, because she was feeling it too.
“We’ll expose them eventually Harry,” whispered Hermione as she peered earnestly into his green eyes, “Bagman and the Minister and everyone else who’s involved...”
“An’ if I can ‘elp, I shall do what I can,” said Fleur quietly, in whom the Potters had confided as they waited together. “I am most grateful zat you say nothing about Veela. My father - ‘e insisted I say nothing, but I thought for ozzer reason, because of ze boys... but now ees more clear.”
“Yeah,” Harry sighed, “the people in charge at the Ministry right now would probably think you’re a ‘halfbreed’...”
“...and it’s probably best that we keep everything quiet for the moment until we have solid proof,” Hermione continued. “Dumbledore promised he would tell Madame Maxime what was going on when he has a chance to talk to her alone...”
“But I should probably warn Viktor and Cedric soon too,” added Harry. “I suppose I’ll just let them enjoy the moment though,” he concluded as the cheering crowd exited the stands and surged towards the Champions.
Parvati was among the first to mob Harry and Hermione as the stands began to clear, flinging her arms around the Potters and Lavender. Harry and Hermione blushed furiously again when Parvati and Lavender each gave them both a kiss on the cheek.
“Thanks again for both rescuing me too Harry, Hermione...” said Lavender almost shyly, turning pink herself as Viktor stood nearby grinning.
When Viktor fought his way back to the castle through the throng of onlookers with Lavender and Parvati in tow, Luna and Ginny rushed in squealing to hug Harry and Hermione. Neville, the Twins, and Dean were apparently lost in the crowd somewhere, but another freckled redhead emerged with Seamus Finnegan at his side.
“Tied for First Place! And a snog from the French girl... That was brilliant Harry!” Ron shouted to be heard over the crowd, his curiosity overwhelming him, “But what took you so long? And why’d you come back with Lavender too? Dumbledore would’ve never let any of the hostages drown... You didn’t waste time acting the Hero did you?”
Seamus sniggered, flashing a thumbs up at Harry.
Gritting his teeth, Harry didn’t know what to say. He wanted to point out that Ron hadn’t been so concerned about his “acting the hero” when he and Hermione had saved Ron’s sister Ginny from Voldemort’s Shade, or saved Ron’s own life when they’d all been swarmed by Dementors - but he squashed that urge, not wanting to sound like a boastful prat.
Focused as he had been on training for the Task and enjoying all of his time with Hermione, Harry’s anger towards Ron had dissipated gradually over the last couple of months, but Ron’s denseness brought some of it back now in a hot rush.
Harry struggled to remind himself that Ron had no clue what had gone on down below; he didn’t know what it had been like - he hadn’t been in a terrifying battle for his life with murderous Kappa and Merpeople. Ron didn’t know what Harry, Hermione, and Dumbledore knew.
As he looked at Ron’s beaming sincere features - so lacking in guile - it suddenly struck Harry that Ron really couldn’t help himself sometimes. Ron didn’t always mean to be rude - though it was quite obvious when it was intentional. Much of the time Ron was just an insensitive thickhead who blurted things out without thinking, more than a bit selfish and jealous at times too, and he probably always would be.
Hermione opened her mouth to respond to Ron, a furious look on her face, but Harry tugged on her torn wet sleeve.
“Leave it Hermione,” he said quietly, “Ron’s got no idea...”
Then Harry sighed as he peered at Ron and Seamus. Harry wasn’t sure that he could ever really trust Ron enough again to share everything he knew with him, or have him back in his life on a full-time basis, but he supposed it wouldn’t hurt to try and get past the rough patch a bit. Ron was good for a laugh every now and then.
“Well, if I ‘acted the Hero,’ then so did Fleur,” Harry retorted pointedly, eyebrows raised, half-smiling. “She came back with Cho as well as her sister...”
“Oh yeah...” said Ron thickly, a lightbulb appearing to go on in his head, “I was wondering about that! I thought maybe she just wanted to get into Cho’s knickers after I saw her snog Hermione too...”
Hermione rolled her eyes, huffing as Harry gave her a comforting squeeze and grinned at Ron. Dora - who had been standing nearby chatting to Professor Moody and the Auror that had investigated the Task - had overheard; she chuckled and shook her head.
“Let’s get you two back up to the castle so you can get out of your wet things and dry off,” said Dora to Harry and Hermione. “You should rest up for a bit - you’ve both earned it.”
As the students and visitors all headed to the Great Hall, Harry and Hermione opted for lunch in their own quarters, glad to be away from the crowds.
“Shacklebolt told me what happened,” said Dora quietly as she led the Potters back through the empty stone corridors of the castle to their chambers. “The tall bloke with a shaved head - that’s Kingsley Shacklebolt - he’s a member of the Order too. It’s a shame we don’t ‘ave more to go on...”
“Yeah,” agreed Harry, “I would’ve loved to see the look on Percy’s face if we could’ve arrested Bagman and brought charges against the Minister right then and there... Dumbledore told us that nobody would’ve believed the Merfolk - that Bagman would’ve just denied it and said they were lying to make the Ministry look bad and blame them for stirring up the unrest...”
“It’s horrible that the word of Merpeople doesn’t count for anything, legally or otherwise,” Hermione uttered vehemently, “It’s absolutely disgusting how other beings are treated. At least Dumbledore let them keep their Magic Staff.”
“Yeah, that’s somethin’ at least...” said Dora wryly. “The Minister won’t be too happy about getting nothing in return for it.”
Harry awoke the next morning, his scar itching and sore, but not paining anywhere near as badly as it had the previous night. He could still sense Voldemort, who appeared to be now in a quandary as how best to proceed, but the feeling was muted - more detached and distant now.
He grinned at his wife, who was snuggled beside him with an arm across his chest, giving him little kisses to wake him up. Harry drew Hermione nearer, fingers caught up in her golden ringlets and a hand around her waist as they shared a proper kiss to start the day.
The Potters both felt achy and worn as they got up and dressed. Despite spending the afternoon and evening following the Second Task just cuddling after getting out of their wet things and taking a nice hot bath together to relax and wash the silt and water-weeds out of their hair, they were both still drained and exhausted.
“...It’s perfectly normal,” said Dora - her spiky hair royal-blue this morning - when she saw the Potters both looking a bit out-of-sorts and yawning as they made their way to breakfast. “It’s just the after-effects of adrenaline and the physical and emotional turmoil of a fight. You’ll both feel better after a bit.”
Harry reckoned that Dora was right, but he had an ominous feeling when he spied Luna giggling madly at the Gryffindor table as she read something along with a stunned looking Lavender and Parvati, Ginny nearby with her blazing face buried in her hands and moaning. Few else were in the Great Hall yet, trickling in gradually as they often did for breakfast on the weekends.
“What’s going on?” asked Harry. Dean shrugged and shook his head.
“Dunno, they won’t let us read it yet - some girls’ magazine,” said Neville, looking very bewildered.
“I can’t believe her...” said Lavender, her face flushing with embarrassment as her eyes widened in amazement, “How does she come up with this rubbish? She can’t just make stuff up and get away with it, can she?”
“She’s very creative - you have to admit,” Parvati replied, looking torn between mirth and shock, not to mention a hint of admiration for the sheer audacity of what she was reading.
“What’ve you got there?” asked Hermione.
“The latest issue of Witch Weekly,” Luna answered, trying to catch her breath between giggles, “It’s the silliest thing I’ve read in a long time... Daddy would never publish something so ridiculous.”
Hermione’s eyes boggled as they darted across the page of the women’s magazine. Her frowns and gasps of outrage were quickly overtaken by snorts of mirth and squeaks of laughter. In no time, Hermione was giggling as much as Luna.
“Come on then... what’s so funny?” said Harry, beginning to grow frustrated. “Let me see then!”
Hermione glanced at Harry, her giggles abating. She bit her lip and looked worried as she reluctantly passed the magazine to Harry, knowing he wouldn’t like it one little bit. Dora clapped a hand to her mouth, her eyes popping when she saw the pictures and the headline above the article. Harry’s face began to darken.
Harry Potter’s Secret Harem
by Rita Skeeter
A boy like no other, perhaps - yet a boy in the throes of his adolescent urges... or a man of dark passions? This reporter was as stunned as the rest of the Wizard World when we recently learned of the secret marriage of Harry Potter to his steady girlfriend Hermione Granger, but is it possible that something much more salacious and sinister is lurking beneath the Potters’ robes?
It was originally presumed that the devious muggleborn woman of lowly birth and dubious attractiveness had merely been hoping to improve her means and her status in the Wizard World by riding on the coat-tails of Mr Potter’s fame and fortune, but it has recently come to light that something even more disturbing may be at play.
Eyewitness reports seem to confirm the inappropriate and dark nature of Harry Potter’s proclivities. Mr Potter - a man of the age of majority - and his even older wife - have been seen frequently together in the company of numerous underage girls, as pictured above in a Hogsmeade Tavern. And if the images captured at the conclusion of the Triwizard Tournament’s Second Task are any indication, the Potters appear to have also drawn the French Champion into their circle of lust.
“Yes, Potter and his wife are always hanging out with Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil,” says Millicent Bulstrode, a sweetly innocent fourth year student. “I see them with Luna Lovegood and Ginny Weasley all the time too - and they’re only in third year.”
When seeking to uncover the means by which the Potters are enticing their unsuitably young companions, this reporter discovered that they may be secretly employing the use of Love Potions - which are banned at Hogwarts. The aforementioned Miss Bulstrode assures us that both Potters are highly skilled potioneers, and both more than capable of creating their own Love Potions.
“I’m sure that’s how they’re doing it,” Miss Bulstrode went on to say nervously, clearly afraid that she could be the Potters’ next victim. “They’re brilliant in Potions - always at the top of the class.”
As if that weren’t bad enough, a number of other students have come forward to report that Mr Potter has an exceedingly rare ‘talent’ associated with Salazar Slytherin, a notorious Dark wizard long disowned by those who reside in the House named for him at Hogwarts.
“Everyone knows that Potter’s a Parselmouth,” a doe-eyed young Draco Malfoy informed us. And indeed, a few brave souls such as Hufflepuff Justin Finch-Fletchley confirmed this hair-raising information, though some are still too terrified of Mr Potter to reveal their identities.
This stunning revelation would appear to indicate that Mr Potter’s unique Parseltongue abilities may be too titillating and tantalisingly temptatious for young girls to refuse his nefarious advances. Is Mr Potter a Dark wizard in training, employing his Cunning Tongue to ensnare young victims, only to surreptitiously dose and subdue them with an illegal potion, then to share them with his insatiable wife in orgiastic Bacchanalian rituals of debauchery and depravity?
One might hope that Headmaster Dumbledore would look into these shocking allegations. But given his encroaching senility, and his own penchant for employing dangerous halfbreeds, it is no wonder that these goings-on have thus far escaped his Eagle-Eye.
“Bloody Fucking Hell!” Harry swore, a vein throbbing in his temple as his face reddened. He supposed it was slightly unusual for a guy to have so many girls among his circle of good friends, but he couldn’t believe that Skeeter had managed to turn perfectly ordinary friendships into something so revolting.
“What’s so funny about this?” he growled.
“Oh Harry...” Hermione quickly took his hand and peered at him sympathetically. “It’s just so lurid and over-the-top... like something in the Daily Mail or some other rubbishy tabloid! It’s too unbelievable. If that’s the best Rita Skeeter can come up with, she’s losing her touch...
“It’s all just innuendo and gossip without a shred of evidence. Everyone knows that we’re both only in fourth year ourselves. And most wizards ought to know that Parseltongue is snake language - not quite the ‘depraved’ sex act she’s implying it to be...”
“Yeah...I know,” Harry sighed resignedly, glad at least that Hermione seemed to be managing to find more humour in the situation than himself. “But a lot of people seem to switch-off when they read stuff in mainstream newspapers and magazines Hermione. They’ll just assume it’s true, even if it flies in the face of known scientific facts.”
“I’m sorry Harry,” Hermione frowned, “You’re right of course. It’s just really hard to take this sort of rubbish seriously.”
“It’s alright Harry,” said Parvati earnestly. “We all know it’s a load of dung.”
Lavender nodded in agreement but looked a bit anxious; she hoped Viktor wouldn’t believe any of it.
Hermione glanced across the Great Hall, hearing chortles and sniggers from the Slytherin table. Pansy Parkinson looked insufferably smug next to the gormless looking Millicent Bulstrode, no doubt hoping that coaching her friend through an interview would be enough to save her from being targeted for retaliation this time. Draco Malfoy smirked, his narrowed eyes glittering.
Hermione smiled brightly and waved to show that she wasn’t in the least bit upset. Following Hermione’s lead, Harry managed a stiff looking grin. Parvati seemed to be in a particularly wicked mood; with a sultry look, she put her arms around both Potters and made a show of kissing them both on the cheek while Luna giggled at all of them. Dora shook her head and chortled.
Ginny had recovered somewhat from her initial embarrassment and grinned at Luna before turning to face the Slytherins, giving them a dangerous looking smile. Pansy gulped and quickly looked away, some of her smugness evaporating.
A red-faced Neville swallowed nervously as he and Dean gaped at the article, having finally got a hold of it. Dean quickly hid it under his robes as more groggy looking Gryffindors staggered into the Great Hall for breakfast, having been up late at Fred and George’s Second Task party last night.
“I just wonder...” Hermione muttered ten minutes later after swallowing a bite of scrambled egg, a pensive frown furrowing her brow. Harry halted just as he was about to take a bite out of the end of a banger.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Well...” said Hermione, “how’s Skeeter managing to get onto Hogwarts Grounds and conduct interviews if she’s been banned from Hogwarts? I wonder if she really has got an Invisibility Cloak, or if it’s something else...”
“You can’t be serious Amelia!” the Auror gasped.
The Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement adjusted her monocle as she peered at Dawlish, her features dour. She had been somewhat dismissive of Dumbledore’s long-held suspicions about Dolores and her association with Lucius Malfoy in the past, but the report she had just received from Kingsley appeared to have confirmed the worst of them.
“I am absolutely serious, John,” she said grimly. “And the investigation into Dolores’s activities must be kept completely under wraps...”
“So Chief Auror Scrimgeour...”
“Rufus must not know!” Amelia crisply interjected. “I have no doubt of his commitment to the Ministry, but his narrow views and his closeness to Dolores could compromise him. You will be reporting directly to me. I want you to employ only the most trustworthy Aurors in this investigation - those who can keep a secret and who do not have an ideological axe to grind against Dumbledore...”
Auror John Dawlish raised an eyebrow; Amelia Bones sighed.
“I understand your skepticism John... However, I know you to be fair-minded and dedicated to truth and justice. I trust Dumbledore, and I trust you... I need you with me on this.”
“Of course Ma’am... Amelia,” said Dawlish quickly. “I shall do as you ask...”
“Thank you John! I knew I could count on you.” Madam Bones smiled stiffly at Dawlish. “And please tread carefully John... This could be very dangerous. Without anything more than the word of the Merfolk, we are on very thin ground.
“The release of their Magic Staff from Ministry custody was done without my knowledge, which also raises red-flags. However the requisition forms appear to be all in order. We cannot rely on that as a basis for probable cause.”
“I understand Amelia - I have just the people for the job...”
The Minister’s hand shook slightly with fury as she dipped her spoon once more into the sugar bowl. Dolores Umbridge scowled as she stirred the fourth spoonful of sugar into her cup of tea and took a sip, seriously considering adding a healthy splash of brandy as she read through the reports for the umpteenth time.
Potter’s continuing survival was bad enough, but the resolution of the situation with the Halfbreed fish-people appeared to indicate that they very likely had retained possession of their Magic Staff, though there was no mention of it in the report. It had pained the Minister greatly to have parlayed with the Halfbreeds, but it had been a calculated risk with the promise of great reward if it had paid off.
And Dolores was beginning to regret that she had ever trusted her insurance policy to assassins who also appeared to be suspiciously halfbreed. By rights, Harry Potter should have never reached the Mer-Village at all; the Japanese Minister had assured her that there were none better suited to marine assaults than the Kappa.
Minister Umbridge had considered adding a herd of Kelpie to the Second Task - Bagman’s suggestion - but she had decided that the risk of international incident was too great should the French or Bulgarian Champions have faced such a near certainty of death. And the French girl risking her life for a British Champion and a hostage not her own had been utterly unanticipated.
As she mulled over how best to counter another such an occurrence in the Third Task, the Minister reminded herself that the heads of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang had signed off on the Tournament with the full knowledge that death was a distinct possibility - and with their assurance that any students participating would be fully informed of that potential outcome.
They all knew the risks, and Britain was clearly indemnified should either France or Bulgaria attempt to lodge a formal complaint with the ICW or seek sanctions through other legal means. The risk factor of the Third Task would simply have to be ramped up, and a back-up plan put into place should Potter still make it through to the finish.
Frankly, Dolores was baffled as to how Potter had managed to survive everything thrown at him thus far. Certainly, he appeared to perform quite well academically, but there was little to indicate anything truly special about him. His apparent survival and defeat of Voldemort at the age of fifteen months could only be attributed to an unusually strong outburst of accidental magic - a rare but not entirely unheard of prospect, despite most opinions to the contrary.
Surviving a Killing Curse was certainly unusual, but accidental magic had killed in the past, and nobody really knew what else a particularly strong outburst of undefined magic was ultimately capable of, being attributable to raw Emotion with unspecified and undirected Intent as it was - perhaps it had protected Potter in some manner. Unspeakable Lab-Techs in the Department of Mysteries were still quite hopeful of developing a shield against the Killing Curse one day. In any case, there had been no other real indication since that there was anything particularly out of the ordinary about the boy.
Unfortunately, to many in the wizard world, that had been more than enough to convince them that he was a Saviour. Harry Potter was a Living Symbol of the defeat of the Pureblood Agenda, and that simply could not continue to stand. Of course Dolores understood now that Voldemort had some sort of mysterious back-up plan which had sustained him, but that wasn’t the point.
Like his Pureblood father before him, Halfblood Potter was a protege of Dumbledore, a threat to the Natural Order of Things, thumbing his nose at ancient traditions and blood protocols, even going so far as to follow in his father’s footsteps and marry a Mudblood. As long as Potter was alive and retained his reputation unsullied, he would continue to be an inspiration - a rallying point for all of the Mudbloods demanding greater representation in the Wizengamot and the Ministry.
At least Dolores could take some heart that the campaign of the Daily Prophet and its sister publication Witch Weekly was beginning to show signs of success. Inroads were being made in regards to damaging the credibility of Dumbledore and his youngest protege among the members of the Wizengamot.
The Minister was concerned about the Department of Magical Law Enforcement though. Amelia Bones was far too close to Dumbledore for her liking. It wouldn’t do for Amelia to be working against her from within the Ministry. Clearly, steps would have to be taken in that regard.
Once the DMLE was in Dolores’s hands, and Dumbledore ousted as Chief Warlock, Dolores would be able to more openly display her hand and to begin moving her and Lucius’s agenda through the Wizengamot.
In the meantime, the Triwizard Tournament was Dolores’s most effective tool for advancing her goals and keeping the Ministry’s foot in the door at Hogwarts. But the cover provided by Crouch’s and Bagman’s departments had to be maintained. She needed someone to take the fall should the tournament turn into a debacle.
Crouch Senior had unfortunately already taken himself out of the equation, having checked himself into St Mungo’s Rehabilitation Centre for Incurable Grief and Alcoholism. And the Minister was most reluctant to sacrifice Percy Weasley - he was such a delightful young man.
Percy was everything Dolores had hoped he would be; his sharp wit, his eagerness to please, his dedication to the Ministry, his passion for Order, and his greedy ambition above all else, made him a perfect choice to be her Senior Undersecretary. Despite everything, a cruel cunning smile crept to Dolores’s lips. The delicious irony of having a young Weasley to mould was not lost on her.
That only left Bagman. Dolores had assured herself of his unwavering loyalty by paying off his gambling debts from the Ministry’s coffers, but his failings made him the most suitable candidate for a patsy. Yes... Bagman would do very nicely indeed.
Dolores took another sip of tea, feeling much better, satisfied that she was ready to move forward. A knock on the door of her office caught her attention. Minister Umbridge looked up as the Unspeakable who had assisted her in the interrogation of Crouch Junior entered. The sinister smirk on her face broadened - quietly securing the man’s release from Azkaban by insisting that he had been a double agent all along had been a stellar decision which had paid off handsomely.
“Ah, Rookwood, excellent,” said Dolores, her tone steely as she had no need to couch herself with one of her own, “Thank you for being so prompt - there is much work to be done...”
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