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Chapter 43: The Powers That Be
Chapter 43: The Powers That Be
‘...you almost can’t recognise the place.’
The summons from Hogwarts had come shortly after dawn. They’d known some had raced to Hogsmeade a few hours after midnight, answering a call for reinforcements, but they had been elbow-deep in wrecking the Ministry and breaking into Azkaban by then. They’d only just been getting the last of the freed prisoners out of Azkaban and back to the Ministry when the message had come from the north.
Voldemort was dead. Potter had killed him.
The fighting had clearly been bloodier at Hogwarts than it had been in London, where the small pockets of loyalists had been predominantly overwhelmed by the resistance fighters left behind, and in throwing everything against Potter, the Dark Lord had lost his infrastructure. But he’d not lived to rue the mistake. Nevertheless, it meant that the people who’d spent the night fighting in London were in a state to bring some badly needed help to the school.
Or the battlefield.
The main courtyard was wrecked. Most of the building was wrecked; chunks had been taken out of the walls, of the towers, fallen masonry was everywhere, and the home they’d had for seven years looked like someone had dropped a bomb on it.
Tobias leant heavily on his staff as he lifted his gaze to the looming towers, and sighed. ‘They can rebuild it,’ he said. ‘In time.’
‘There’s going to be a lot of that,’ mused Jen, and led the way up the steps into the Great Hall.
Tobias wasn’t even sure why he’d come. Jen was the leader of the Lions, whose numbers had been split and likely diminished in the fighting, but they were still an organised, cohesive group which knew how to work together, and even just glancing into the Great Hall it was clear they were doing their part to help out with healing, with repairs to the dangerously damaged bits of the building. Cal and Gabriel were still technically members, there to take her terrifyingly organised directions to make themselves useful.
As for Tanith, amongst those they’d broken out of Azkaban had been Cassius Vaughn, the highest ranking member of the Aurors and the MLE they’d been able to find. He’d rallied those remaining Aurors and Enforcers and was setting them to various jobs, and one of the most important had been getting trained and rested officers to Hogwarts to deal with the lingering Death Eaters - the prisoners, the surrendered, and those who’d fled.
But Tobias himself had no group, no job. Will had been resting from his injuries at the hands of Thanatos Brynmor and had stayed in London along with Dimitri, who had cheerfully offered to help communicate to the rest of the wizarding world that Magical Britain was no longer under the rulership of Pius Thicknesse - or Lord Voldemort.
He wouldn’t be the only tourist here, the only person come to gawk at the site where Voldemort had died, or to try to get a glimpse of victorious Harry Potter - though that was a less exciting prospect when he’d shared a school with the man for six years, and Tobias had no pretences that he’d have any interest in having his hand shaken for the thousandth time. He could have gone over to the Lions to help, but they were rushing back and forth to attend to a million different things, and his leg was still hurting him quite badly.
Still, Jen had suggested he came, though he wasn’t sure why. And he’d wanted to. To be with his friends, yes, even if it was just in the same mile-radius as them, but to be in a familiar environment. After nine months spent hundreds of miles away, now it was all over, he wanted nothing more than to settle himself at home.
And though it was childish, Hogwarts was still the closest home he’d had in the past five years. Or past eight, really.
He’d expected to be able to find somewhere to sit where he was out of the way, so he could rest and come down from the thunderously drastic last eighteen hours. He hadn’t slept a wink, and on top of the night’s catastrophes, was beginning to feel it. Maybe he could get a bit of sleep. Maybe he could, for the first time in nine months, or even longer, begin to relax.
He certainly hadn’t anticipated being recognised.
By some housemates, sure. Jack Urquhart was around the place, having joined Slughorn’s contingent of Slytherins who’d come back to the school with the reinforcements. And some of his fellow prefects, be they those from his own graduating class who’d answered summons back to Hogwarts, or those who had stayed behind in the first place. He’d been Head Boy; most people who’d been at school the year before recognised him.
Some of them just wanted a friendly word, a friendly acknowledgement that they were both alive, and the war was over, and wasn’t it great? Some of them wanted a slightly more in-depth conversation, to exchange some stories, to reconnect. Some of them still had read the Midnight Press.
But then there were people he didn’t even know approaching him. All about the Press, all come to congratulate him on his hard work, to comment on how helpful they’d found it - either in conducting their own insurgent activities, or to keep track of loved ones and the truth, or just for hope. People he’d never met before admitted they’d been overwhelmed to learn he wasn’t dead, that they’d consumed every word he’d written week after week for months on end.
Fortunately, none of them used the word ‘hero’. When Harry Potter was in the room, all other men were mere mortals, and Tobias preferred it that way.
This. This is why you did all that. For your loved ones, yes. But for these people. This is the difference you couldn’t see, all year, from the far side of the world.
But it was there, anyway.
When the next person came up to him, he was really fancying a nap, but Tobias forced a smile as he looked up from his bench in the corner of the Great Hall, only to meet the gaze of a rather sombre-faced boy in a Hogwarts uniform who didn’t look especially happy about anything.
‘You’re wanted in the Headmaster’s office,’ he said, and then left before Tobias could begin to ask why.
The walk there was longer and harder than he’d have liked on his leg, but the stairway leading up was already down and extended, and so Tobias hobbled up and into the office he hadn’t stood in since Dumbledore had lived to find he was the last person to arrive.
For a moment he’d thought that McGonagall, sat behind the headmaster’s desk, had been the one to call this meeting, but then he saw Kingsley Shacklebolt stood beside her and realised it was he, the de facto leader of the Order of the Phoenix, the man he’d contested for the role of the second most wanted individual in the country - or, in his case, out of - who’d summoned them.
Aside from them he saw Harry Potter, Jen Riley, Cassius Vaughn, Lee Jordan, and maybe half a dozen other witches and wizards, all sat around the desk. Thicknesse had done a good job of killing off the upper echelons of the Ministry’s leaders who hadn’t been entirely loyal to him; the faces Tobias recognised were those who had been locked in Azkaban or on the run, or had been middle management enough to get away with dissident attitudes and not be removed for it.
‘I’m sorry I’m late; it took me a while to get up here...’ He hobbled over, leaning on his staff, and felt colour rise to his cheeks as Harry Potter got to his feet and gestured to his chair. He lifted a hand. ‘Oh, no, I’m fine.’ It was mortifying, rather than invigorating, that he looked so bad on his feet that the Boy Who Lived felt obligated to give up his seat.
‘It’s fine, I’ll get another one,’ was all Potter said with a calm, easy smile, and as if he didn’t have a care in the world sauntered across the office to get himself another fold-out chair.
Tobias tried to not make a face, tried to not look ungrateful as he sat down. This was made easier by just how much better he felt at getting the weight off his foot and, with a small sigh, he propped his staff against the headmaster’s desk and looked up at Shacklebolt.
The tall man inclined his head to him in acknowledgement - they had never met before, but it was obvious that he, too, knew him by sight, before he looked down the table. ‘Thank you for coming. I’ve asked you all to be here because, frankly, sat at this table are perhaps the remaining most influential people in Britain. Before we get started, it’s best you all know one another.’
And he ran through the introductions. He skipped McGonagall and Potter, obviously, but did include himself, and went round the table. Of the witches and wizards Tobias only fleetingly recognised it was confirmed they were some of the remaining highest ranking people in the Ministry, or people like himself, Jen, and Lee Jordan, who had played significant roles in the resistance movement.
‘I suggested we have this meeting,’ said Shackebolt once he was done, ‘because Britain finds itself in a tough position. We might have defeated Voldemort, and we might be currently successfully hunting down his remaining lieutenants, but Thicknesse’s administration did a fine job of overturning legitimate government. We do not have a Minister of Magic, we do not have Department Heads, and we barely even have a Wizengamot. We can do what’s necessary to repair and heal over the next few weeks, and efforts are being coordinated and split between Hogwarts, the Ministry, and Saint Mungo’s, but soon that will not be enough. Simply put, we need a government.’
Jen leant forwards. ‘Do we have the time to put together an vote?’
‘Not a fair one,’ said McGonagall. ‘Candidates would have to put policies together, which should not be a rushed matter, and we lack the infrastructure to truly support a political race, get the word out, and organise the elections themselves. It would distract from the rebuilding efforts. But Kingsley’s right, we need a Minister of Magic.’
Tobias grimaced. ‘I’m not sure I like the idea of the twelve of us sitting down in this room and just deciding who the next Minister of Magic is, behind closed doors. We need infrastructure, yes, and order, to bring about the rebuilding process, but it shouldn’t serve any purpose further than that, or claim to have any legitimacy further than that.’ He looked up and down the table. ‘Any government we’re forming has to be provisional, and subject to free and fair elections. Within... six months, or so.’
Jen nodded. ‘This way we can select a Minister who can oversee harnessing the resources and organisation of the government to get us immediately past these months of Thicknesse’s rule, and into a state where we can sustain a proper election where someone can establish long-term policy to move on.’
‘Then the issue arises,’ said McGonagall, ‘of whom we will be selecting. And I assure you that nobody need look in my direction; my place is here, at Hogwarts. Would anyone presume to put themselves, or someone else, forwards?’
Silence fell on the table, awkward and uncertain rather than lacking in any confidence in anyone, and it was Potter who acted first, who cleared his throat and pulled his chair closer to the table. ‘I really don’t want anyone to go along with this just because I suggested it,’ he said, a little anxiously. ‘I don’t think I want to get too involved in politics. But if there’s one person here who’s proven themselves a capable, principled leader, it’s Kingsley.’
Shacklebolt looked a bit abashed at such a glowing statement from the Boy Who Lived. ‘I have experience from leading the Order, that is true,’ he acknowledged. ‘But there are individuals here with greater Ministerial rank and experience than myself.’
Cassius Vaughn snorted. ‘Well, I don’t bloody want it, Shacklebolt...’
‘Your lack of rank is perhaps a good thing,’ said Tobias suddenly. ‘I mean no offence to those who worked within the Ministry over the last year; I know times were difficult. But I think it would be best if we appointed someone who had patently not cooperated with the Thicknesse regime, even out of necessity. Someone who has no association with the Ministerial decrees of the past nine months, and someone who stood ardently and publicly against such decrees. If nothing else, Mister Shacklebolt is the public figure who matches that description best with the most leadership experience.’
Shacklebolt looked at the faces up and down the table, and there was nothing but approving nods and murmurs of assent. ‘...if that’s the will of this gathering.’
‘There is nobody better qualified who springs to mind, Kingsley,’ said McGonagall. ‘And this is, at least, a temporary arrangement.’
‘We call you Acting Minister of Magic,’ said Tobias, patting his coat down to pull out some parchment and a quill. ‘And we ought to set at least a rough time frame for the elections when we announce it. That way nobody is under any illusions. The process has to be as transparent as possible.’
And, like that, it was decided. Shacklebolt straightened and seemed even taller than before. ‘Communication will be key,’ he agreed. ‘We are going to have to be full and frank on everything we do. From the allocation of resources to the appointment of Ministerial Staff; I imagine I will be drawing on a lot of people around this table to fill these various roles.’
‘As Acting Minister you’d have the legal authority to appoint more or less anyone to anything,’ said Jen, ‘but I think it would be appropriate if we also had every Ministerial Staff or Department Head appointment you made be expected to offer their resignations to the first properly elected Minister. So whoever gets the job, even if it’s you, can do so with a clean slate and no hard feelings.’
‘And that needs to be made publicly clear, too, so it’s obvious you’re not stacking the Ministry with your cronies,’ said Tobias, scribbling.
‘I have no intention in getting bogged down with the people of Britain being afraid I am another Thicknesse or an opportunist taking advantage of the chaos to seize power. We can look into this, but we have work to do. I’ll make some broad appointments over the day, just so every area of responsibility has someone at the head of it, and those people will all report directly to me. From there we can develop our infrastructure, but the Ministry, when it had good people at the head of it, worked. Let’s not reinvent the wheel.’ Shacklebolt nodded to Vaughn. ‘Cassius, I will want you to continue to head up the Department of Magical Law Enforcement on a temporary basis.’
‘I’m not doing that permanently. I don’t even mean for six months, I mean I’ll do it for a few weeks, tops,’ grunted Vaughn, but he nodded. ‘We’ll round up the first wave of Y- Voldemort’s allies still on the loose.’
‘We... might need new security facilities,’ said Tobias delicately.
‘I heard what happened at Azkaban,’ said Shacklebolt with a grim smile. ‘The cells at Canary Wharf will have to suffice. Letting Azkaban rot for the foreseeable future could perhaps be my best first act.’ He pressed on, dishing out responsibilities across the table, and occasionally when it came to a job a name not present came up as an option, and it was agreed they would be asked. Despite the occasional back and forth, the occasional debate of the suitability of a candidate or the outlining of a specific role if it was one which had not previously been accounted for by the Ministry, everything passed smoothly, quickly.
The new Acting Minister was already getting his own way, and the people around the table were happy to give it to someone like Kingsley Shacklebolt.
‘Courts,’ he said at last. ‘People are going to need to see justice being done. We’re going to not just have to round Voldemort’s people up, but we’re going to have to make sure they are brought properly to account for the crimes they have committed. I will have no lynchings or arbitrary justice.’
‘There is a small problem in that most of our legal system was outright gutted and replaced with a mockery,’ growled Vaughn. ‘Lawyers are thin on the ground. It wasn’t a place someone could just keep their heads down and get on with it; they had to either go along with the programme and condemn hundreds of innocent people, or risk their necks. Most of them are, not to put too fine a point on it, dead after resisting, or sold out.’
Shacklebolt looked unperturbed. ‘Ms Riley, you worked in the Legal Department, didn’t you?’
Jen winced. ‘For about five minutes. In defence.’
‘That’s five minutes more than anyone else, and I know you’re trustworthy and I know you can organise matters. I’m making you Head of Legal Affairs. Recruit the specialists you need to fill the gaps you find.’ Jen didn’t look too pleased at Shacklebolt’s pronouncement, but she didn’t object and his level gaze swung over to land on Tobias. ‘Mister Grey.’
‘Mister Shacklebolt. I know I’m just an editor of a defunct newspaper, I don’t -’
‘I need you to head up Communications.’ Shacklebolt straightened as Tobias looked bewildered, carrying on. ‘Domestic and foreign. I’m not too proud to ask for aid from abroad, and you are one of our most public international faces. Positive ones, anyway. You’ve dealt with the international diplomatic channels, you have friends and contacts; I want Europe reassured that Britain is in good hands, and moving forward - I want them to want to help us.’
‘I don’t...’ Tobias hesitated. ‘Forgive me, but I’ve spent a lot of time abroad. I was looking forward to spending time back home.’
‘Again, I’m not asking you to do it yourself. Just supervise and communicate, and you can do all of that from London, and our Portkeys can get you to anywhere in Europe you need to be and back in a day,’ continued Shacklebolt smoothly, and he still wasn’t done. ‘And as for domestic communication - people need to have faith in us. They need to know things are changing for the best. You were right about transparency - that’s why I want you handling all of our press releases.’
Tobias scratched the back of his neck. ‘The Daily Prophet -’
‘Has been seen as nothing more than a tool of the government for the past year. Nobody trusts it. The Midnight Press, however, is seen is independent.’
‘If you hire me into the government, I won’t be independent,’ Tobias pointed out, but he raised a hand. ‘The Midnight Press is done. I sincerely hope there will be no further place for it. I won’t continue publishing under that name, and certainly not on behalf of the government. But I can use our resources and facilities to publish government newsletters, clearly stated to be dispatches from the Ministry, to ensure the public are aware. Written press releases, until the journalism in this country manages to regain some public trust.’
Vaughn made a face. ‘Under our name, under the Press’s name - you’re getting a bit nitpicky, aren’t you lad?’
‘It matters. A free press matters. People need to believe government is accountable, and for it to be accountable, they have to be able to see what the government is doing so they can hold them to account. Pretending to be an impartial observer of the system while actually belonging to the system damages trust all around,’ said Tobias stubbornly.
Shacklebolt lifted a hand. ‘And this, Mister Grey, is why I want you doing that job. I want Britain to know we can be trusted, I want Europe to know we can be trusted.’ He looked up across the table. ‘And each of us is going to work to make sure we have earnt that trust. The opportunity for a new Britain was squandered after the First War. Perhaps we knew, on some level, that peace was not going to last. I intend for this peace to be enduring.’
The group knew concluding words when they heard them, but Cassius Vaughn was the first to move, getting to his feet and straightening his robes. Tobias knew him from his interview at the Auror Office, and though the man’s time in Azkaban hadn’t done him much good, he still looked as hearty and stubborn as ever. ‘On that note,’ the veteran Auror growled, ‘I’ve got some Death Eaters to go shoot up.’
Tobias looked apologetically at Potter as they stood. ‘I know you probably want to rest, and reliving the last twenty four hours is certainly likely not high on your priority list, but at some point I think it would be best if I got an account, in your own words, of the defeat of Voldemort. Nothing spreads dissent and worry like ignorance.’
Potter gave a lopsided smile. ‘Considering half of Britain saw it happen,’ he said mildly, ‘I don’t think I’ve got anything to hide.’
Tobias let the others filter out of the office first, not wanting to slow them down, but Jen lingered at the back with him, offering a helping arm down the steps which he grudgingly accepted.
‘What happened?’ she asked, nodding at his leg.
‘Robb. I might not have died, but I didn’t get away scott free. The Healers aren’t sure it’ll ever patch up,’ he said as they limped their way down the stairway. ‘So you’ve been busy.’
‘So have you,’ she said with a small smile. ‘I’m still going to be busy. There’s lots to do. And truth be told, I don’t think I know how the hell I’m supposed to... relax. After all this. Eight months, on the run from the government, and now I’m a part of the government? It’s crazy.’
‘I know what you mean. Just being back’s weird enough. And now... You-Kn - Voldemort’s dead? The war’s over? Just like that?’ He clicked his fingers, but sobered up quickly as he looked at her. ‘I was sorry to hear about Nick. And sorrier that it happened on a job I gave you the intel for.’
‘It wasn’t your fault. It was Brynmor’s and nobody else’s. Except for, possibly, Nick himself.’
‘I know it’s tough, losing someone, feeling like that when you’ve just got to push on. When you get the chance to stop, you sometimes realise you’ve gone and finished your grieving without... even noticing you were done.’
Jen’s lips twisted. ‘It’s all right,’ she said. ‘You can ask. Though I don’t know why you don’t ask him.’
‘Gabriel doesn’t tell anyone anything,’ said Tobias with a snort.
‘He tells me.’
‘Let’s just say that by surprise alone I could have probably knocked over a Dementor when I saw you two together. I wouldn’t have seen that coming even if I, too, were a seer.’ That was going to be a tough one to wrap his head around.
She smiled faintly. ‘You wouldn’t have seen it coming because we only got to know each other these past eight months. Of course you wouldn’t have predicted it. But he’s... he’s there for you. Even if you don’t notice. Perhaps especially if you don’t notice. Did you ever notice?’ Jen shrugged as Tobias hesitated, thinking. ‘He’s not like others, who support you in public, who you notice because they support you loudly. And sometimes you do need that public support, that volume. But when that all fades, when it’s quiet and you think you’re on your own and you need someone... he’s there.’
Tobias couldn’t help but smile as she spoke, though he gave his own, lopsided shrug. ‘I’ve known the guy for eight years. And I could barely venture that I know him. But I’m glad you’re happy.’
‘I am,’ said Jen, and sounded surprised. ‘It’s good to have you back, anyway.’
‘It’s good to be back.’ Tobias stumbled as they reached the foot of the stairs, and leant on her heavily with a grimace. ‘Even if somewhere like Hogwarts and its many stairs might not be the best place for me to be right now.’
‘It’s crazy, all that happened here, the state of this place.’ She frowned, and wandered towards the nearest window in the corridor, which granted a broad view of the devastation that had spilled across the school. ‘It’s going to take an age to rebuild.’
‘Not that long. Months, likely. And not just for here, for everywhere... and not even just the buildings, or the infrastructure.’ Tobias limped up to join her, brow furrowing as he, too, took in the sight of wrecked Hogwarts. But still, in and amongst the wreckage he could make out the workers, clearing away rubble, making sure damaged masonry wasn’t going to fall, even beginning repair work on the important passageways or buildings.
‘But you know you and I make a good team,’ he reminded her. ‘And Shacklebolt’s putting together an even bigger, better one. It’ll take a while.’ He drew a deep breath. ‘But it’ll get done. We’re stubborn like that.’