Reign of Terror starts with a light shower.
Thanks again to all those in my team at The Place That Shall Not Be Named, and my beta Dave.
The trip back to Grimmauld Place was uneventful and quiet, with the possible exception of Ron’s constant stream of muttered complaints about not being able to visit the basilisk. For some reason, he felt he missed out by not seeing the first one, and the idea of actually meeting a live one caught his imagination. Blaise was sufficiently cautious in that she didn’t want to risk accidental death, but Ron’s sense of self-preservation had apparently gone the way of his attention span.
"So, what’s the plan," he asked as we settled down in the drawing room. "Can we burn down Malfoy Manor tomorrow?" His face was pulled into a puppyish expression of gleeful anticipation.
Blaise looked at me and rolled her eyes. "Why do you surround yourself with Gryffindors?"
I shrugged. "They have their good points. And no, Ron, we cannot go and burn down Malfoy Manor tomorrow. There are a few other things we need to accomplish first."
I amused myself my absently swishing my recovered wand back and forth, creating a silver cascade of sparks. It was very nice to hold an eager wand again. "Well, first we need to make sure I’m seen as dead. I need to visit dear ex-Minister Fudge, explain in detail just how irritable being incarcerated made me, and take back my belongings. I’d like my invisibility cloak back." I turned to face Blaise. "I need your delightful Slytherin deviousness. I’d like you to compose a will for me to sign, with conditions that ensure that my will cannot be executed unless my body is available or something. If I get recorded as deceased, all sorts of undesirables will descend, vying for a piece of my estate. I need to keep control of it for now."
She frowned, but nodded. "I can go over the wills of the Black family. I’m sure they’ll have a few nasty clauses I can use." She rose and headed over to the door.
I smiled at her gratefully. "Excellent."
She paused and frowned in thought. "You should probably visit the goblins though. At the very least, you need to see Rilifa. Your will would cover any personal assets, but the Potter and Black family assets might be handled differently if the last family Head is listed as dead. I know you want to keep as low a profile as possible, but the Wizengamot might take a hand if there are any doubts. The older families would fight like cats in a sack to snatch a piece of wealth from two ancient families. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she finished, before going into the library.
Ron laughed. "If the goblins think you’re dead, you might have to tell them how we made off with the locket to get them to believe that you’re the real Harry Potter."
I winced. The idea of admitting to a successful robbery was not appealing, even if the goods stolen did actually belong to me. I couldn’t imagine that Rilifa would be too impressed. "We’ll cross that bridge later, eh?"
"What do you want me to do?" Ron asked.
I grinned. "Mate, you get to be my official mouthpiece."
"I’m going to be taking down a lot of people. Part of that is to let people know there is a new group out there, acting in my memory. One that has rather similar ideals to those of the Death Eaters. Instead of advocating the extermination of half-bloods and Muggle-born, though, we’re going after the pureblood bigots."
He grinned. "In your memory?"
I nodded. "Poor Harry Potter," I said, feigning wiping away a tear. "He was victimised by Death-Eaters and pureblood supremacists all his life. It’s time we showed them bastards what for, eh? Let’s make the pricks suffer! Harry would have wanted it that way!"
He gave me a baffled look. "How the hell am I going to do that?"
"As Harry Potter’s best friend, I’m quite sure you will be asked for interviews. Rita would probably be delighted to print that sort of thing."
"No, you prat. I’m pure-blooded myself!"
I grinned at him. "Yes, but you’re not a bigot. No one in your family is. The Weasley family seems to produce more than the average number of gits, of course, but no one would ever accuse you of being dark."
Ron initially looked pleased at my words, but frowned about three seconds later. "Hey!" he objected. Blaise snorted from the library. Apparently she could still hear us.
An hour or so later, Hermione tumbled out of the fireplace. She brushed the soot from her robes, and smiled hesitantly at me. Ron looked up from his late night snack. "Sorry for jumping out like that, but I just…"
"I know," I replied easily, pushing away the third draft of my will. "What did the old man have to say?"
She swallowed nervously. "You probably don’t want to hear it."
She sat down on one of the armchairs, crossing her legs. "He doesn’t think that you’re dead. He thinks he knows why your body disappeared from St. Mungo’s."
I blinked, before bursting into laughter. "Oh, that’s rich. That’s perfect."
Blaise appeared in the doorway, frowning. "What’s going on?"
I grinned at her. "Dumbledore thinks I made a Horcrux."
Hermione’s gaze lingered on me, and she blushed. I guess she still likes men who can use their minds.
I shook my head. "That old bastard actually believes that I’d make one of those things? Bloody hell, give me a little credit."
Hermione cleared her throat. "Um, Harry, he only came to that conclusion after he discovered that you weren’t dead."
Blaise and I shared a glance. "How did he figure that?" I asked evenly, wondering if Hermione had somehow let slip.
"Do you remember the Gaunt family ring? He showed it to us when he told us about Horcruxes. The stone allows the user to commune with the dead. The crack down the centre hasn’t broken its power. And he hasn’t been able to talk to you with it."
Blaise and I shared a look. "If he was just trying to convince you…"
Hermione shook her head. "No, he proved it to me. I got to say goodbye to my cousin. He died in a car accident near the end of our seventh year. I was in the middle of studying for my NEWTS, and couldn’t go to the funeral."
I rubbed my chin. That changed things. While there was no way I could have suspected that Dumbledore would have a way of communing with the dead, I really wasn’t surprised that he had some magical way of determining that I was still clinging to this mortal coil. "What about Darius?"
Hermione frowned. "He seemed like a very nice man. Are you sure he was involved with, you know..."
I nodded. "Yes, he was involved. My Master knows him, or at least, knows of him. He said Darius is one of the most brilliant spymasters in the world today."
"Oh," she said, sitting down. "I really liked him."
I grinned. "I’m not surprised. I wouldn’t put it past him to have a charm on himself that makes people in the vicinity more trusting."
Hermione pouted. "Well, I didn’t tell him anything."
I nodded. "I didn’t expect that you would. I have something for you to work on, if you like?"
"There are charms that make a Muggle ignore places, or people, right?"
"Yes," she said slowly, wondering where I was going with this.
"Well, do you know of one that makes them ignore sounds? I imagine there was one used at the World Cup, considering how loud it was."
Hermione nodded. "Yes, there is a charm for that. Why?"
"The Dark Mark was so passÃ©, wouldn’t you say?"
Blaise prescribed another set of nutrient potions for me, cast a couple of diagnostic charms, then sent me to bed. I was rather hoping that she’d join me, but since I fell asleep in the warm, soft comfort in under a minute, it was probably a good thing she didn’t.
Fourteen hours later, I awoke feeling stiff, sore, but rested and energized. I stumbled gingerly out of bed and performed my morning ablutions. Dressing in simple Muggle jeans and sweater, I left my room and headed for the kitchen.
Blaise and Ron were already there. They were laughing, jabbing the cutlery with their wands, encouraging the silverware to battle on the table in front of them. The forks currently held the advantage, using their ability to entangle and trap to good advantage. The knives were holding up well though, slashing through the air like miniature swords. The poor spoons, with no offensive prowess of their own, were relegated to simply bashing their opponents with their convex side, and usually ended up missing.
"Morning," I yawned.
"Good afternoon, Sleepyhead," Blaise responded. "I’ve got a potion here for you," she finished, rising and heading over to the medicine cabinet. "This should be the last one you need."
"Hey mate," Ron greeted, waving his wand in a mock salute. "Ready to go to Gringotts?"
I rubbed some sleep from my eyes, and accepted the vial. The potion had an odd metallic taste, but wasn’t unpleasant. "Not just yet. I need some food first."
Dobby instantly popped into existence next to me. "Master Harry’s breakfast and lunch is ready in the dining room," he said excitedly.
My breakfast and lunch were indeed ready. Next to a wonderfully smelling plate filled with bacon, eggs, sausage, toast and beans was a platter of sandwiches and fruit. You’ve got to give that elf points for trying.
Deciding on a combination, I began picking at the hot, greasy food, and put some bacon and scrambled eggs into a tomato and cheese sandwich. The odd combination of flavours was unusual, but not distasteful, and I munched my way through one and a half rounds before becoming full. Ron, who joined me at the dining table, picked at the remains of my breakfast. Waste not, indeed.
Blaise appeared in the doorway. "Are you ready? I’ve got your will here, but we need to go and see the goblins first. Rilifa at least needs to know that you are alive."
I nodded, waving my wand and applying a few glamours. I’d have to find something that worked better when it came to disguising my appearance. I suppose I could make myself some boots that changed my height, and perhaps some robes that would make me bulkier. Hell, even if I just appeared to be average in height and build, it would set me apart. Harry Potter was a short, skinny runt of a man, after all. Everyone knew that.
"What do you think?" I asked, turning slightly for her to get a good look.
She made a show of looking me up and down before reaching out and giving my bum a squeeze. "Nice, but you need some more meat on your bones."
Ron and I shared a glance, and laughed.
Blaise motioned us into the sitting room. "We can take the floo to the main guest room at the bank. My grandfather used to take me there when he was conducting the family business."
Ron nodded, and grabbed a pinch of powder. "Am I going to be welcome there?"
I snickered. "At first, probably. If we have to admit to our theft, I’d guess not."
He grinned at me. "The goblins always look grumpy to me. I can’t wait to see a pissed off one. Dibs on telling them first!"
He disappeared into the fireplace. Blaise looked at me with an eyebrow raised. "Are you sure we need to bring him along?"
I nodded with a grin. "If nothing else, he’s a lot of fun."
She gave me a sour look. "I suppose so. What the hell happened to me? Consorting with Gryffindors!" She gave one last mock harrumph, before jumping into the fireplace herself.
"Dobby!" I called out.
He instantly appeared at my side. "Master Harry called."
"How long would it take you to get the goblet I gave you to hide?"
Dobby shifted from one leg to another. "Dobby can get it in two minutes."
I nodded. "I just needed to know, in case I do need to get my hands on it quickly. Now, I need you to get a few things for me and some for yourself." I proceeded to give my elf a short verbal list of things he would need for my humble plan. He nodded enthusiastically. "Thanks Dobby," I finished, before stepping into the fireplace myself.
The VIP reception room at Gringotts was just as I remembered from the last time Ron and I were here. That time, we came in the front door. I’d have to remember the floo address for this place.
Ron and Blaise looked at me curiously. "You took your time. Did something happen?"
I shook my head, deciding not to answer them. "Who do we ask to get Rilifa?"
"She knows you are here."
The three of us turned around to look at the speaker. Flanked by animated stone golem guards, Rilifa still looked as old and frail as I remembered, but held herself with remarkable stoicism and pride. "Two of you, I recognise. But you," she said, looking directly at me for a long moment before shaking her head. "You I do not. Remove your glamours."
I looked around the room. Though it was empty, I had no desire to reveal my identity in a room with an active floo connection. "In your office, if you please."
Her eyes flickered over me, then my companions. "Very well, Mr. Potter. Your friends will have to remain here. Lead the way."
At the mention of my name, my heart leapt, though with an instant of thought, I could see how she came to that conclusion. I’d told her about dating Blaise on my last visit, and Ron had accompanied me at that time. She’d made a deductive leap, but had instructed me to take the lead to her office. If I was not who she thought, it would have been unlikely that I’d know the way, especially if I couldn’t pick up hints from my friends. Ron gave a half-hearted grunt of disapproval, but shut up when Blaise kicked his leg.
"Righty-ho," I said jovially, reaching out and taking the leather document folder from Blaise. "Follow me." I turned and picked out the corridor Ron and I were led down last time. She followed silently until we reached the door to her office.
"You may remove your glamours now, Mr. Potter."
I glanced around, noting that there was no one in the corridor in either direction. I did as she requested.
Rilifa watched carefully, nodded, and opened the door. "Come in. May I offer you some refreshments? You look rather peaked."
I kept the surprise I felt at her unexpected hospitality from my features and shook my head. "No, thank you. I just ate." I carefully lowered myself into the same chair as last time. "What do I have to do to prove who I am?"
She tilted her head to one side. "Prove, Mr. Potter? Why should I require proof?"
That surprised me too. "Because the papers have probably reported my death by now."
She waved my comment away. "You are not the first wizard to have faked his death. You know one other rather intimately, I understand. Of course, while I can give you advice and so forth, any changes or account access will require our usual, and more rigorous, identification. But let us continue. How can I assist?"
I leaned back in my chair. "I want to be dead to the world for a while. But without a blood heir, I’m afraid that the Potter and Black family assets would be scavenged by other families with a claim by marriage."
Rilifa nodded. "I see. I can arrange for documentation to be drawn up, stipulating the conditions required to occur before your families’ assets are disbursed. What conditions did you wish to include?"
I shrugged, really wishing Blaise was here. "My goal in this is to prevent any attempt to take control. Since several Wizengamot members are also distantly related through marriage or inbreeding, I could easily imagine them using the law to force you to release control of the Potter and Black vaults."
She nodded sagely. "For how long do you intend for this deception to continue?"
I raised a hand and waggled it back and forth. "Not sure yet. A year tops."
"Have you identified your heirs, assuming you do perish during that time?"
"Very well. I shall obtain advice from our legal representatives. Perhaps something along the lines of there being a year and a day for the selected person to come forward to claim their inheritance before any dissolution of the current family assets could occur."
That sounded good. "I would appreciate that."
"Your personal assets will also need protection. Have you accounted for that?"
I nodded, opening the document folder. "Blaise drew this up last night. What do you think?"
Rilifa held up a hand, refusing to take it form me. "I am not your legal council, Mr. Potter. I am not qualified to give legal advice in any case.
I nodded slowly, and replaced the will. "All right. I’ll need to make a sizable withdrawal from my personal vault."
She gestured towards the door. "As is your right. I shall have the documents you requested owled to you by three o’clock. Is there anything else I can assist you with today?" she asked, rising to her feet.
I paused, wondering if I should bring up the continued existence of Draco Malfoy. The comments she made last time I was here about there being some irregularities in his death now made sense. I probably shouldn’t, I decided after a moment’s thought. It bought me nothing to reveal that information, and it still might be useful in the future.
"No. Thank you for your time."
The ancient goblin nodded briefly, and gestured imperiously towards her door, her head already down in a leather-bound ledger.
Ah, the courtesy of goblins. There’s nothing like it in the world.
Ron had to go to a training session, but consented to have a compulsion charm placed on him, to encourage him not to talk about me for now. With his short attention span, he understood the need. At exactly three o’clock, a Gringotts owl arrived, interrupting Blaise and me as we enjoyed some clothing-less time together. The impatient owl’s hoots and scratches soon became distracting, so we dressed and left the bedroom.
The grumpy bird left as soon as we’d relieved it of its burden. Dobby produced a tea set and pair of china cups for us, and we sat down to examine the documents.
The language was very archaic, but precise. As promised, the selected heir to the Potter and Black families must present himself to the goblins with proof of my choice within a year and a day of conformation of my death. The families’ assets would be administered by the goblins during that time, for a significant fee.
I grinned at that. Looks like Rilifa decided to make me pay for the privilege of being dead.
Since my â€˜body’ had disappeared, we used a clause from the Gringotts documents in my own personal will, stating that my wishes must be executed only after my remains had been formally laid to rest, or after a year and a day had passed. It was all very solemn and serious. I especially liked the poison pill clause, stipulating that anyone challenging the wills, either on their own behalf or on behalf of another party, would cause that person or party to be excluded completely.
Blaise and I could hardly wait to see the legal gymnastics people would go to, trying to figure out a way around the clauses.
We finished the tea, and then finished our interrupted business.
We lay on the bed, with Blaise’s head on my chest, her breath tickling my chest. Our lovemaking had been frenzied at first, but slowed towards the end as we both simply took pleasure being close again. Once we were spent, we simply lay there, tangled in the sheets, with my arm around her. I let my hand absently draw circles on the freckled skin of her shoulder.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked, breaking the long, comfortable silence.
I sighed. "I missed this so much."
I could feel her smirk against my chest. "So you should."
I sighed. "Now that I have you back, I’m finding it hard to muster the anger I felt in Azkaban. Now that I have something to lose, it’s harder to risk it."
She tilted her head back, looking up at my eyes. "You were put in prison illegally. Now you are out and can expose them. Do you think they would even hesitate to kill you if they had the opportunity?"
I shook my head. I knew I had to fight back to defend myself. "Marry me," I said on a whim. It just felt right.
That shocked her. Her eyes shot open so wide I was surprised they didn’t fall out. "What?"
"Marry me," I repeated calmly.
She blinked, momentarily at a loss. "No!" she said emphatically.
It felt like I’d been hit by a bludger. "Wha-?"
She plonked her head down on my chest again, breathing as heavily as she had been half an hour previously. "No."
She reached around and put a finger to my lips. "Listen to me very carefully, Harry. I love you. I’m in love with you. You are crafty, loving, protective and supportive, and I love those things about you. There are things I hate about you too, or rather, there are things that seem to happen to you that I hate. I’m willing to put up with the bad, because the good outweighs it so much. But I never thought I’d be so emotionally wrapped up in someone that news of their death would cripple me. So no, I will not marry you."
I started to protest, before she firmly put her hand across my mouth.
"Not until you can stay out of trouble for a year. No kidnappings, no assassination attempts, no getting drawn into quests to kill insanely powerful dark wizards. You need to stay out of trouble for a full year, and then I’ll consider marrying you."
Well shit. Knowing my life, it might as well be â€˜No’.
After our little discussion, which we both agreed not to mention again, we prepared for our upcoming visit to one Cornelius 'I'm A Daft Prick' Fudge. Blaise had been to his house for a Ministry ball a few years before, and was excited about trashing what she thought were the most tastelessly decorated rooms in existence.
Fudge’s humble abode appeared to be anything but. Situated in a rather nice crescent in the middle of Mayfair, it was a cut above the other humble abodes around it. The gold leaf trim, the marble steps -- one could only come to the conclusion that even in political exile, Fudge wasn’t exactly hard done by from his time in office.
Of course, what really struck me was the fact that there was a squad of Aurors crawling over the place like an ant colony.
From the park at the focal point of the crescent, Blaise and I watched as they methodically searched the house and grounds. I had arrived suspecting that I’d have to break through some rather professionally placed wards. Looking at the blackened anchor stone in the front yard, it appeared that the Aurors had done that part of the job for me. Blaise and I shared a long look. "You’ve been a naughty, naughty boy, Fudge. You’ve done something to make the Ministry very curious indeed," I whispered to her with a grin.
She smiled back. "Curious enough that a warrant has been issued to search your home. I wonder what it could have been?" she asked rhetorically.
"If I had to guess, I’d have to say it was the fact that there is a blank wall where The Prison used to be."
Blaise snickered. "Nice. You know, one of these days, people are going to get the hint not to mess with you."
I lost my smile. "We can only hope. The vast majority of the wizarding world’s population are notoriously hard of learning."
We made ourselves comfortable on a nice bench directly opposite Fudge’s home, and settled in to watch and wait. Having Aurors around while I confronted Fudge wasn’t exactly my plan. Assuming they were in fact looking for The Prison, it wouldn’t take them too long to determine that their precious painting wasn’t in the house. I was rather looking forward to seeing Fudge’s reaction when he arrived back home.
The Aurors had obviously either left the Muggle-repellent wards up, or erected new ones after destroying the anchor stone, because every Muggle that did happen to walk down the street studiously ignored the bunch of robed men and women methodically ripping a house apart.
It was a few hours after dark when the man of the hour arrived. We could hear the crack of an apparation from across the road, indicating that someone with more money than talent had arrived in the home. Less than a minute after his arrival, he came charging out of the front door, yelling incoherently at the robed law enforcement officers. The young lass in charge, who was vaguely recognisable by her vibrant neon green and purple hair, tried placating him, with little success. It was nice to see that Tonks was doing well for herself. A couple of other Aurors had to start fingering their wands menacingly for Fudge to get the idea and to bring his voice down to more socially acceptable levels.
Papers were exchanged; the warrant, I presume. More blustering from Cornelius. Man, the idiot was predictable. He gestured towards the blackened remains of the anchor stone for the wards. Even from here I could see him go almost incandescent with fury. Damn, I should have brought some popcorn or something. This show was good. Tonks shrugged and tapped the parchment with her wand, indicating a specific paragraph, I assume.
Blaise leaned closer, slipping her arm through mine. "Ten galleons that piece of paper gives them the right to break any protective wards to gain access to the property."
"No bet," I whispered back, taking in the scene.
Fudge did not look well. His robes were crumpled and sweat stained, his hair was limp and flaccid. He didn’t look like he’d slept since I’d forcefully pumped his stomach and given him an enforced nap. I mentally calculated that it had been over thirty-six hours since my escape. Having to deal with the fallout from the prison break would no doubt have taken up much of our dear Cornelius’ attention. Somehow though, I just didn’t feel sorry for him.
Eventually, Tonks ordered her squad to leave. She seemed to me to have left it a little longer than was strictly necessary. I suspect that being in a position to royally piss off someone who was held in universal disregard was just too tempting. An understandable point of view.
Fudge was all but jumping up and down at that point. Each Auror joined the assembly in the front yard and apparated away. Tonks was the last to leave, and Fudge threw a stinging hex at her just as she apparated. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to miss her, or if he was just displaying his usual level of competence, but she was gone before the spell left the wand.
So, either he was just as incompetent in spellcasting as he was at politics, or he needed to feel macho without actually putting himself in any danger. Even money, I suppose.
Fudge gave his wand a thorough examination, before he turned and stormed back into his house, slamming the door behind him.
A grin formed unbidden on my face. I guess his wand spat out a spell the wrong way as some point in the past day and a half. He’d do well to be cautious for a while. I gave Blaise’s hand a squeeze. "Time to move. Ready?"
She nodded, but looked nervous.
"Right," I said as we stood, "I’ll take the front door, you’ve got silencing spells and cover." I disillusioned us both.
Carefully, we picked our way through the front gate and got to the front door. I could detect magic residue all over the place, but there was no direction to it. The only functioning magic in the immediate area was the brand spanking new locking charm on the door. I reached out and tried to pull, but felt no warmth of power. I wasn’t low enough on power to do my new trick.
Instead, I decided to start with a simple â€˜Alohomora’ and work my way up from there. Fudge never struck me as the sort of person who practises his casting.
Indeed, the simple unlocking charm worked, and the door swung open. On silent feet, Blaise and I crept into the entryway and paused, listening hard.
Blaise, who had been here once before at a party, led the way. It took less than a minute to find Fudge, who had gravitated to his luxurious sitting room.
I carefully stuck my head through the door to the expensively decorated room. Fudge was mumbling to himself, while pouring a tumbler of firewhiskey. He threw the first glass back without even a shiver, before pouring another. Again, that disappeared. I couldn’t help but smirk at seeing such a deserving man destroy himself. After his third glass, his face screwed up, and he hurled the empty tumbler into the fireplace. "Damn you, Potter!" he shouted.
There was an instant of fear at discovery, though it passed quickly. Fudge quickly grabbed another glass and poured another drink. This time, he just took a mouthful, instead of a gulp. "Damn you Potter," he repeated, in a whisper this time.
There was a flash, and in my peripheral vision, I saw a new face appear in the fireplace. "Cornelius! Are you there?"
Fudge, who was facing away from the fireplace at the time, took a deep breath, closed his eyes and held still for a second. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he didn’t want to talk to his caller. He threw back the tumbler of whiskey he held, then turned and with a fake smile said, "Ophelia! What a pleasant surprise."
Blaise gasped quietly, and gripped my arm tightly. I guess she knows this Ophelia.
"Cornelius! Where the hell have you been? I’ve been trying to call you for days."
Fudge grunted, and poured himself another shot, spilling some over his hand. "Just some minor trouble at work, my dear. I had to stay over last night to clear it up. It’s all sorted now though."
"Well stop drinking and listen. Our false Potter is gone."
I expected him to agree, or at least give a poor imitation of acting surprised. But he actually stumbled and roared, "What?"
The woman called Ophelia flinched. I almost did too. I thought Fudge had ordered my counterpart’s death. Apparently not. "It was an assassination. Those damned Europeans came and, well…"
Fudge yelled incoherently and threw his full glass. "What the hell happened?"
"Does it matter? He’s dead. I need Potter’s body. If they don’t find it in the rubble, this will all come crashing down around our ears."
Fudge collapsed into an armchair. "I don’t believe it."
"Believe it! You need to fix this. Give Potter the Kiss, and get him to me." The hairs on the back of my neck stood up at her casual dismissal of my soul for her own plausible deniability.
Fudge shook his head, leaned precariously out of his armchair and grabbed the neck of the firewhiskey bottle. "I can’t."
"Why on Earth not?"
He looked like a caged animal for a second, before saying, "He's dead. He died while trying to escape."
I turned to look at Blaise and smirked. Even to his own flunkies, he lies.
"Then get me his body immediately!"
He winced, and took another pull. "I can't. There is an audit at the prison. Until it's finished, I can't smuggle the body out."
"Don’t be a fool! We can't wait for some idiotic bureaucrat to decide how big his bribe should be." The woman seemed to size Fudge up. "You need to act on this, Cornelius. Holding on to Potter will come back and bite you. And me."
Fudge mumbled, "I know," and took a long pull from the bottle. "How long?"
A pause. "I can give you another day. After that, the rubble will be cleared. If they don’t find Potter, there will be questions, and I don’t have the answers."
Fudge nodded unsteadily. "I’ll contact you then," he said with the imprecision of someone rapidly becoming very intoxicated.
Ophelia pursed her lips, but didn’t say anything before signing off. Her face disappeared from the fire. Fudge leaned back in his chair and took another long drink from the bottle. Pathetic.
For a while, Fudge did little more than drink and mumble to himself.
Blaise reached out and pulled my head so that my ear was next to her lips. "That was Ophelia Babcock. She’s the administrator of St. Mungo’s. Her first husband was Fudge’s brother, I think. I can never remember for sure. If she’s part of this, then there’s no wonder access to the impostor was so restricted."
I nodded while watching Fudge drink himself into a stupor. "No, no, no, this can’t be happening," he mumbled. I almost snorted in amusement. I guess denying reality actually was Fudge’s usual tactic for dealing with the world. I figured it was time for an appearance.
"Ready?" I whispered to Blaise. At her nod, I dispelled the disillusion charms and stepped out boldly into the sitting room. I stood there for a long moment while Fudge’s unfocused eyes finally reported to his brain what they were seeing.
"Potter!" he wheezed, fear in his eyes.
"Why, good evening, Fudge. So good of you to have me here, old boy." I waved my wand and conjured a comfortable chair. "Do you mind if I sit?"
"Shtupefy!" he slurred, hope glimmering forlornly in his expression. Time to squash that like a bug.
I absently batted the unfocused spell away. It was pathetically easy to do so. His focus had taken a big hit from the drink, even if I’d let the spell hit me it probably wouldn’t have done much more than made me yawn. "Now, now, that’s not polite. If you want to bring the conversation down to that level, well, that sort of thing will cost you," I said, and hit him with a jolting hex. He yelped at the pain, and all but jumped from his chair. "Now, sit down and let’s have a civilised discussion."
Stubbornly, he kept his wand out and fired off another spell. Again, I deflected it, and tossed a pair of jolts back, one for each leg. In his current state, he had no way of dodging, and screamed with pain as his legs started twitching uncontrollably. He fell to the floor in what looked to be a most uncomfortable manner.
"Sit down Fudge," I said tiredly. "On the chair, if you please."
Growling, he staggered to his feet and started to mouth the Killing Curse. "Avadaâ€”"
I pushed him backwards over his chair before he finished the incantation. A quick summoning could have taken the wand from his grasp, but I wanted him to understand that even armed, he was nothing more than a minor nuisance to me. He landed hard with a grunt, and then scrabbled on his hands and knees behind the armchair, using it as cover. I Vanished it and drilled him harshly with three jolts.
The gibbering pile of flesh whimpered on the floor. I sighed. "Cut that shit out. It’s getting old. The next spell earns you four jolts."
"What do you want?" he whined piteously. "You’ve won. You’ve left me with nothing."
I smiled lazily at him. "Oh, Cornelius, I haven’t even started the game â€˜Let’s Take Everything Fudge Has’."
He raised his head, looking at me incredulously. "What? You’ve destroyed my political career. I’ve lost my job. My family will disown me. What more can you take?"
"My property, to start with," I said through clenched teeth.
He actually looked as though he was going to negotiate with me. "I have your wand in my sh-shafe," he started, blinking rapidly.
"Assuming the Aurors haven’t confiscated the contents," I pointed out.
He shook his head. "It’sh blood warded."
"Well then, by all means, open it," I replied. "Of course, if you display any antisocial tendencies, I’ll have to take steps."
He swallowed nervously, but rose unsteadily to his feet and hobbled across the room to the safe. He gave it a series of taps with his wand, and the metal door swung open. He reached in, but
"If you are thinking what I think you are thinking, don’t even think about it."
He took a second, but apparently decided that discretion truly was the better part of living like a coward. He withdrew the wand I’d nicked from some German fellow in Albania and tossed it to me.
I let it fall to the floor, where I ground it under my heel, splintering the wood. "Don’t want it," I snapped. "It’s not mine. No, what I really want are the items in my backpack I had when you kidnapped me," I clarified.
He almost deflated. "I don’t have them," he said, before tensing up and screwing his eyes tightly together, expecting some pain.
I ground my teeth together, though I had expected as much. "Don’t be such a baby. I knew you’d hardly keep valuable things like that. Not when you could exchange them for favours or large amounts of money. I do want them back, however, so give me some names."
Fudge swallowed. "I sold them," he whispered.
"I figured that out for myself," I snarled. "Look at me!"
He glanced up, the armies of fear and paranoia marching in step behind his eyes.
Pushing with Legilimency, I asked, "To who?" I demanded. Had Hermione been present, she would probably have corrected my English by saying, â€˜To whom?’
He swallowed. "Croaker. He impounded the invisibility robe."
I got a flash of truth from the name, but a definite lie from the rest. I almost smiled. The lengths to which this man would go to avoid responsibility were truly amazing.
"An odd definition you have for the word â€˜impounded’. Normally it doesn’t involve receiving money in return. Who else?" I demanded.
His jaw worked for a few seconds before any sound emerged. "Anashtasia Royshten," he slurred.
Ah, now there was a name I recognised. "What did she buy?"
I raised an eyebrow. "And the gloves? The rest?"
Fudge started to sweat profusely. "I pawned them. To Borgin and Burkesh."
I snarled at him. "I also want the names of the two guards who tormented me in Azkaban."
This time he sighed and shook his head. "They’re dead. Killed in the shtampeed." I got a strong sense of truth from my Legilimency.
"And finally, who was the embassy official who gave me the portkey?"
Fudge cringed. "No, please leave him alone."
"His name," I demanded.
"Ogilvey," Fudge replied, a bit too quickly. I got a distinct flash of a lie.
I hit him four times with the jolting hex. It took nearly a minute for him to stop quivering.
"Next time you lie, it goes up to five."
"Babcock," he whimpered. This time, I got a strong, fearful truth feeling. Hmm, nice to know he was human enough to care about his relatives. "But he doeshen’t know â€˜bout thish."
I rose from my seat. "I don’t care. Are there any others who knew I was at Azkaban?"
Fudge shook his head. Once more, I got a sensation of truth. It must be killing his inner politician, having to tell so much truth in one go.
"Excellent. Well then, let’s get on with things, shall we?"
He actually cringed and covered his head with his hands. I think I’ll bottle this memory and sell it. "Oh, stop that. We’re going to have a little talk about what else I’m going to take from you."
Fudge looked at me incredulously. "I don’ have anythin’ elshe!" he reiterated.
I gave my wand a flick, sending him flying to the last remaining chair in the room. He seemed a tad nervous, so I levitated the half-empty bottle of firewhiskey over to him. "Oh, you’d be surprised."
Fudge took it and swallowed maybe half the remaining contents. Without a cough even. Impressive.
I trust you noticed that there was a blank spot on the wall of your office?" I asked.
He frowned, and nodded mutely.
"Well, the Cummersleigh that used to grace your office is now in my possession. Tell me, what would happen if it came to light that you exchanged it to pay off your debts?"
"Wha?" he exclaimed. "Bu’ I n’v’râ€”"
I rolled my eyes. "I know that, and you know that, but the public? Fickle creatures, aren’t they? Skeeter would be delighted to grind your name even further into the dirt."
Fudge shook his head. "No pr’f," he said, drooling slightly. If I wanted this interview to go on much longer, I’d need to get his stomach pumped.
I let a slow, predatory grin flood my face. "Oh, but there is. I have your wand. It’s amazing what a wand signature can accomplish."
He paled even further, going almost Snape-esque. "No!" he said hoarsely.
"Oh, yes. How do you think people would react to that? More importantly, how would our wonderful Auror force react? This house is worth a pretty penny. They may just confiscate it."
I snickered. "Just how long do you think it would take for Rufus to pass a law allowing it? Hours? Minutes?"
He whimpered. "Pl’s, no," he begged.
"Oh, come on Fudge, grow a pair, eh? We’re only just beginning."
He looked at me incredulously. "Huh?"
"I’ve only just made you homeless. Let’s discuss how I’m going to turn you into a pariah." I gestured at the fireplace. "Ophelia Babcock? The administrator of St. Mungo’s? Your sister-in-law, I believe. If she finds out that I’m alive and out of your clutches, exactly how fast do you suspect she would cover her arse?"
He shook his head so fast his jowls flapped from side to side, unable to deny it verbally.
"Especially when the press discovers that you smuggled a prisoner out, no doubt due to rumours of a hefty deposit to your Gringotts account," I continued.
"There wash no deposhit," he exclaimed.
"I know that, you know that, but the pathetic sheeple out there? Oh, they’d love to believe it. You could deny it under Veritaserum and even produce goblin-certified proof that you didn’t receive a bribe, and they’ll just believe it all the more. I know; because you used that sort of crap against me, remember?"
"Dey won’t believe you," he insisted.
"Maybe. They would believe someone who was pure-blooded, from an old family, who was above reproach though."
"Say hello, sweetie."
Blaise stepped into the room, a smirk on her face and her wand in her hand. "Nice to meet you again, Fudge."
He frowned for a second, trying to place her. "M’ss Zab’i?"
She nodded. "You have no idea how much my career is going to rocket after I have a chat with Administrator Babcock tomorrow. She’s always had it in for us Slytherins, but I see that turning around real soon."
He slumped. "I…"
"Oh, do shut up, you pathetic waste of flesh. You could offer me nothing that I couldn’t get just by telling her that I know about what you’ve done. When I let her know I’m partial to blackmail, well, I could be the youngest person ever appointed to the St. Mungo’s Board of Directors. Imagine that!" she said, moving over to his open safe. With care, she cheerfully examined the contents, picking out some documents and a money pouch. "You don’t mind if I help myself, do you? What with my rich boyfriend being in Azkaban for the past three months, I’ve had to use my own money to pay for things, if you can believe that. I figure you owe me."
Fudge actually started to object, before gaping like a goldfish looking for food. It was nice to see Blaise at work. She had her Great-grandfather’s sense of nastiness, with an ambitious streak the size of Draco’s ego, only with enough talent to make her dangerous.
"Oh, look at this," she said, unrolling one of the sheets of parchment. "You have been a naughty boy."
Fudge looked bewildered, his attention switching between us rapidly as he finally realised that there was absolutely no way out of his situation. "Sho tha’sh it?" He began weeping to himself.
I rose from the chair. "Oh, don’t be absurd. Of course that’s not all."
His incredulous look was simply beautiful to my soul. His red-rimmed eyes were wide with disbelief. Time to sink the final boot in.
"I fully expect you to still have some pitiful remains of political capital to burn. The dirt you have on those still in power could carry you through any punishment levied for your crimes. No, my final revenge will appear next time you step out in public."
Despite his terror, he couldn’t help but be curious.
I stepped over and dropped to one knee, lowering my face to his. "Imagine the general public’s reaction when they discover that you were willing to kidnap their hero, unjustly holding him in Azkaban for months, just to get your hands on Voldemort’s remains, so you could bring him back to life." I rose to stand tall in front on his face. "Think about all the hexes and curses you’ll be getting in the mail the next morning, from people howling for your blood. Imagine the target painted on your back when you wander around Diagon Alley, or even the Ministry. Now, I imagine that you could take steps to protect yourself from the general public, though you really should worry about your allies. You know, those people you have dirt on. The very people who were your friends while you gave them what they wanted. They’d probably notice that just about every person in the country has a motive to hurt you, and take the opportunity to permanently silence you while there are so many people with a motive." I grinned nastily at him. "You are an embarrassment, Fudge, and everyone will know it. And in your final moments, perhaps you really should take a lesson to heart you should have learned long ago."
"Wha--?" he blurted dumbly.
I grabbed a fistful of his robes, and pulled him close to my face. "Don’t. Ever. Fuck. With. Me," I said, enunciating every word.
I let him go suddenly and stood, reaching into my robes and withdrawing his broken wand. I tossed it down on the carpet in front of him and gave him a condescending sneer. Blaise however, felt the need to reiterate something that Fudge may have missed.
"Oh, don’t worry, Fudge. You’re far too useful for us to just destroy like that. No, we’ve just got a few things for you to do. We don’t want to do them ourselves, since they’re exceedingly illegal, not to mention life-threatening. But now you know what’s hanging over you, you’ll do them without hesitation, won’t you?"
I wasn’t even halfway through my next breath before Fudge put his unbroken wand to his head and cast the spell that ended his life.