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Chapter 33: A New Beginning
Author's Note: Only two chapters remain to be posted! That feels so crazy to say! I just want to give a quick thank you to all my faithful readers, reviewers, and all of those who nominated/voted for the awards this story has won. Everyone who has supported this story and my ambition to write it. You are all awesome, and without you, this story would never have made it this far! I can only hope that the conclusion of this story lives up to your expectations.
Thank you so much.
And also, a fair warning: sensitive topic chapter!
Sterile. Linen sheets. Soap.
These were the smells that greeted me when I awoke. My vision was hazy, but it was filled with white. I blinked rapidly, trying to clear the haze from my eyesight. I inhaled deeply, trying to gather more than just the strange three clean things I could smell.
Was I dead? I thought I had died. This was heaven, wasn't it? Bleeding out on the cold tile like I had, there was no way I wasn't dead. The right Healers and supplies hadn't gotten to me in time.
My vision finally cleared up, and I found myself staring at a white ceiling. I stirred, and there was a rustling noise. It felt scratchy almost, starchy, and there was a rustling noise that came with it. Bed sheets, I finally realized. Unmistakable now.
I was in a bed. The sterile bed sheets, the smell of soap, the overwhelming white that seemed to fill my vision; slowly it was beginning to fall into place. A hospital. I was in a hospital.
Did that mean I was alive?
I tried to move so I could gather more of my surroundings than just the plain white ceiling that was blindingly bright. I squeezed my eyes shut as I tried to move, not ready for the light. I felt my body refusing my desire to move as I tried to fidget. I was unsuccessful. My left side was willing, my arm moving to throw back the covers on that side of the bed.
When only half of my bed sheets had obeyed, I knew something was wrong. Really wrong. My right side wasn't participating. Did I even dare look? Did I even have a right side anymore? Mustering my courage, I looked down to my right side. My right hand was there, still fully intact, and I had all five fingers. Nothing was missing.
So I tried to move my arm, hand, or fingers again. Even just a twitch. Nothing. Why couldn't I move? I begged myself to move, desperate, groaning as I tried. Frustrated, I reached over and grabbed my right wrist with my left hand. I lifted it with my left hand, my fingers hanging limp, and then I let go of it. It dropped onto the bed, limp as a rag doll.
I groaned as the realization dawned on me. "No, no, no," I moaned.
Tears filled my eyes. My right side is paralyzed. I'm paralyzed...
I moaned, never stopping my attempt to move my right arm. My arm had to move; it had to. There was no way I was paralyzed. I was a mess of flailing sheets and failed attempts with long slurs of curse words and maledictions when the door flew open.
It was Harry. "You're awake!"
His surprise quickly subdued once he saw me. He rushed to my side, his hands going on, and he pinned my left side down, leaning over me, cooing to me.
"Shh," he said, holding me down until I calmed. He then resulted in pulling up my sheets and pushing back my hair. "Stop. Just stop. It's not going to happen."
"Why?" I demanded to know. "Why not? What's wrong?"
"Your right arm has been paralyzed, Ted," said Harry, and the words sent a chill to my heart. Panic went over me; I didn't want this. I wanted to be able to move. "It may only be temporary. There's no way of telling yet, but you may be able to move your right arm again. Someday. Don't worry about that now. Right now you just need to rest."
"W-What's happened?" I finally asked after I calmed myself. I needed to know. I needed to know if it was over with, if it had all finally come to an end. "What happened with the hearing?"
"Don't worry," he tried to calm me again. He sat down on the edge of my pristine hospital bed, careful to not sit on my right hand even thought I wouldn't have been able to feel the difference. "You did it. I'm sorry I didn't have the faith in you that I should have had. I never should have doubted you."
"That's great, Harry," I said quickly, "but Rosie. What about Rose?"
He grinned at my anxiety. I don't know why he found it funny, but all right.
"She's been cleared of all charges," he said with a smile.
I had never been so relieved in my entire life. I couldn't believe it. I wanted to ask more, but there was a knock on my door. Why couldn't people just leave us alone?! I was desperate for more answers!
Both Harry and I turned to face my visitor, who had opened the door to let his identity be known. There was Geoffrey Sondheim, standing in the middle of my doorway. My brow furrowed. What was he doing here? Harry straightened at the sight of our Minister, and we both waited for Sondheim to explain himself.
"Erm," he began uneasily. "Mr. Potter, would you mind giving me a minute with Mr. Lupin?"
Harry tensed and he didn't move. He set his mouth in a tight-line, and his words surprised me. "I'd rather not, Minister. Anything you need to say to my godson you can say in front of me."
"Actually - "
"It's okay, Harry," I said quickly.
I could tell Harry didn't want me to be bombarded with Ministry business already. I agreed with him; I didn't want that just yet, but Harry didn't know the full story. Ron didn't even know the full story. No one did except for Geoffrey and I still, and because of that, I found that - on some level - I did want to speak to him in private about what had gone down with Peakes.
Surprised, Harry abruptly turned to face me. He appraised my expression, trying to determine if I was being serious or not. I kept a straight face, holding eye contact. I was dead serious, and when he finally believed this, he swallowed and nodded.
I smiled to my godfather as he rose and dismissed himself. Geoffrey was prudent to make sure the door was firmly shut before approaching my bed.
"Ted," he greeted me with a genuine smile. I looked at him in confusion even as he reached out his left hand. I looked at it in questioning until I realized what he had intended. A handshake. I then pursed my lips, knowing why Geoffrey had offered me his left hand to shake with when it was custom to shake with your right. He knew of my condition. He knew I couldn't move my right arm, so I awkwardly reached over my body to shake his left hand.
"Minister," I replied in greeting.
He pulled the chair along the wall up to my bed and lowered himself down, a serious look taking over his face. I watched him, anticipating his next words, but he seemed to lose face as he looked at me. Any intentions of a specific conversation left as his eyes met mine. He appeared lost. He was a blubbering mess when he finally did speak.
"The Wealseys and Potters cannot thank you enough for you what you did," he said, still trying to sound more eloquent than he appeared. "You were brave, you know? Jim - and myself actually - underestimated you at all turns."
"What are you doing?" I asked, stopping him before he could give me any more praise. I didn't want to hear it from him. I knew what he had done, and I wanted an explanation for it. "Stop trying to act like you and I both don't know that you were a part of this whole thing as well."
"I know," he finally said, and the reason for his vision suddenly became evident. "That's why I'm here. You never mentioned my name in the Wizengamot that day - "
His words made me pause and think. That day? Was it not the same day? How many days had passed since I had nearly bled out on the Wizengamot floor? I put the thought aside for later.
" - and for that I am grateful. I know what I did can potentially jeopardize my career, especially with Peakes facing the fate he does and with what you know. I need to know what Peakes told you about my involvement in his scheme, and I want to explain myself."
"Then explain," I said sharply. I didn't have much sympathy for a man who had schemed with a master killer.
"I knew who was behind it all along; I knew what he did and what he planned to do. I didn't want him to go through with it. Countless times I tried to tell him not to. But he has a way with words. You and I both know this now. He bribed me with the position I now have. Minister for Magic. The public has always liked me; we knew I would be a great candidate and I could win the election with enough campaigning. He said he would make it easy for me; he'd give me the opportunity to be Minister, as long as I gave him something in return. Harry Potter's job. I didn't know he meant killing the Minister until he had already had his first torture session with Ron Weasley, forcing his daughter to watch. By then I wanted out of it, but he said I knew too much. He took to threatening my own family, and I did nothing more to stop him..."
Without planning to at all, I found myself sympathizing for Geoffrey. Like Rose, he had been manipulated by Peakes and then threatened. He was just another victim.
"I never meant for this to go the way it did. Jim wanted to frame Scorpius Malfoy; the family names of known Death Eaters are still vulnerable and are closely being watched for a small slip up. He knew it would be easy to get away with Malfoy. Rose was to simply do the deed. His deal with her - she would get off, free of charge, no conviction, nothing at all. She wouldn't have anything to do with it. But then she started to resist him. He was fed up with her; he was tired of waiting and he was tired of resisting. So he Imperiurised her, and while he had her under the spell, he broke his deal with Rose Weasley. He made her pull out a strand of her hair - the single source of DNA found for her - just because he was mad at her resisting and didn't care anymore if she was convicted. Then the hearing came along, and while Peakes didn't give a shit what happened to who, I knew someone had to be convicted. It was then up to me to decide who to convict, for it could go either way."
I thought back to Scorpius Malfoy's trial, how unfair it had been and how biased it had seemed. Now I knew that it had been intentional. "You chose to focus on convicting Malfoy."
"Yes," sighed Sondheim. "That is why his trial went the way it did."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"I want you to know...that I'm not Jimmy Peakes. I'm not like him. I never wanted to be, and had I known how far he would go, I would have..." he faltered, looking desolate.
"You want to know if I'm going to say anything..." I suggested.
"I don't know yet..." I admitted.
How strange. To know you hold the power of your Minister for Magic's fate in your own hands. If I were to open my mouth, it would be bye-bye to Sondheim.
"Well," he sighed in defeat, "no matter what you decide, I assume I can't persuade you? I haven't done anything to deserve your reasoning, but no matter what you decide, I will no longer be the Minister for Magic."
"What?" I asked, stunned.
"You may decide to share my involvement with Peakes. The world will not want a Minister who agreed to such a scheme, and I will be overthrown. There's no doubt about it. However, even if you do not speak of my wrongdoings, I am resigning. Next week. The world does not need a Minister like me. Because he was in the most recent campaign and our race was so close, Percy Weasley will be Minister, no matter what you decide."
I pursed my lips, thinking hard. I didn't like being in such a delicate position. I know I had been in the same position the past few months, knowing of Peakes' evil nature and having the potential to overthrow him, but that was different. Convicting Peakes and sharing his true identity was the right thing to do. But Sondheim was a different story. What was the right thing to do here?
Had he really been just another victim of Jimmy Peakes' ploy?
I thought back to that day at the Wizengamot when I had bled out on the floor, anticipating my death at any moment. He had been by my side; his panic had been evident, and he seemed to care. I remember thinking he truly cared about my well-being, and he wanted me to rid of Peakes. He had wanted it as badly as I had. Perhaps he had just been tied down by Peakes' threats, and when he saw the opportunity to be rid of them, he had found his ability to stand up for himself.
Should I really ruin his good-standing with the world by sharing something when he could still very well be a good man?
My first condition would for Sondheim to not be Minister anymore. If I were to tell the truth, it would be to get Sondheim out of office, but he was stepping down anyway. So was the plausible destruction of his reputation really worth it?
The words left me before I had even thought it all the way through. "I will never tell a single soul," I breathed.
His shoulders dropped significantly, and for the first time, Geoffrey Sondheim let his guard down. His head fell and he looked to his lap as relief washed over him. "Oh, thank you," he whispered. "Thank you, Ted. Out of all the mistakes I've made in my life, this one is by far the worst. I cannot thank you enough."
I thought back on my own mistakes. How I should have told Rose who I was from the beginning, how I never should have let it become to so bad, how I never should have let Peakes manipulate me, how Rose was right - I should have quit in that very moment.
"I understand," I said in return. "I've made some pretty bad mistakes myself."
Geoffrey started ranting then. "Before I resign, I am going to reinstate Harry as Head Auror. I will personally apologize for the hardships Rose and Scorpius faced, and you...You will get a raise and a promotion. Effectively immediately. You are a great Auror, Ted. Even when everyone underestimated you, you prevailed."
"I don't need a raise and a promotion, Geoffrey," I said quickly. He quickly looked to me with surprise, curiosity furrowing his brow.
"You deserve it," he quickly argued. "In fact, it's well overdue."
"That doesn't matter," I said, and I finally knew where I was going. My words had been getting ahead of me, trying to figure myself out and speaking before I could even think it through. I just trusted them and went with my gut, but now I knew what I needed to do. What I wanted to do, what I should have done a long time ago.
"Sure it does."
"No, it doesn't," I said again, "because I'm resigning. Immediately."
Sondheim looked appalled, but as he analyzed this surprise, the look quickly faded. "I actually can't say I'm surprised," he said as the idea settled in. "You never wanted to be an Auror. It took everything in Harry's arsenal to get you into that department, and now after this, I can understand perfectly why you are resigning."
I nodded, grateful Sondheim understood where I was coming from. "I can't do it anymore," I elaborated. "Let you guys use me for what I can do, and while I know Harry would never take advantage of me like that, Peakes has...He's scared me. Forever. I can't let someone have control over me like that anymore."
"I understand," Geoffrey said kindly. "I will compile your resignation forms as soon as I return to the office."
I nodded and then we fell into a mutual silence. Neither one of us spoke. While we couldn't figure out what to say next, there was still so much to be said. He knew so much on subjects I knew so little of, but I didn't even know where to begin. So I just looked at him desperately, giving him that nudge he needed to begin speaking.
"I'm sure you would like to be filled in," he finally inquired after getting the memo. I nodded, and he pursed his lips, trying to figure out just where to begin. "I suppose you know nothing, then, as Harry was only in here moments before I intruded. You've been unconscious for three days now. You lost tremendous amounts of blood. We thought...We you passed out on the Wizengamot floor, we thought you died. We thought that was it, but then the Healer found your heartbeat and we moved you here immediately. You received quite a few transfusions, and as you can tell, they stitched up your arm. You were only minutes away from losing your entire right arm, Ted. For what it's worth, you're lucky you've only been paralyzed. Besides, your Healer says you may regain the use of it someday. I've been here...just about the entire time, along with Harry, Ron, and Rose of course. Although, we all know Miss Weasley is still recovering. She's fragile. Her father has been making her spend the majority of her time at home for her to recover as well; he promised Harry and himself would be here all the time, and of course they have."
"Rose has been here?" I interrupted. "You mean she's not..."
I faltered. I didn't quite know how to word those thoughts.
"Yes," answered Geoffrey, the beginnings of a smile reaching his face. He actually grinned. "Yes, Miss Weasley has been here. After the whole ordeal, there was a recess until I could get back in the courtroom. As soon as I set foot in there two days ago, I made the sentence. Rose has been cleared of all charges, and Jimmy Peakes faces Azkaban. Perhaps the Kiss, as well. There is also another matter to which I came to speak with you. I can make the call before I resign or leave it up to Percy Weasley to make the choice, but I wanted to know what you believe Jimmy’s fate should be…”
He was looking at me for answers. Answers I didn’t know if I could give. Deciding a man’s fate, that was a huge decision, and yet I had tried to take his life from him that day in the Wizengamot court. I had already decided I wanted to kill him long ago. But now that the threat was over, I had reason to think justly. And Sondheim was really asking for my personal preference?
“I couldn’t decide that…” I weakly argued.
“You have a right to. Granted, you can’t make the call. But I owe it to you to at least know what you want.”
I tried to think reasonably. What if Peakes was to get out of Azkaban? He would come back with a vengeance….It didn’t matter to me if Sirius Black was the only one to ever escape Azkaban; to me, that meant it could be done, and a vile man such as Jimmy Peakes could figure it out if he grew desperate enough. I then thought of Rose. Her safety, the safety of Ron, of Harry. Everyone I love, whom Peakes would then take from me in a heartbeat if he had the chance. All of them. I couldn’t do this again.
The words were out of me before I could help myself. “The Kiss.”
Sondheim nodded. “Very well. It will be done.”
“Will people think it just?” I asked apprehensively.
“Oh, yes,” sighed Geoffrey. “The Kiss has been given to those condemned for less. Now for another matter, Ted. I am embarrassed - for Jim's sake - of what you did for this case. How you were manipulated. That is why this case will be classified as Confidential. Completely shut down as soon as the records are locked up. No one will know, I can promise you that. The case will be signed and filed accordingly where it will never be read, and no one will ever know of what they made you do, and no one will ever know..."
He trailed off, seeming embarrassed. But he pulled himself together and looked to me sternly.
"No one will know what I did as well. No one will know how much of a coward I was. Those involved in the case have signed the report: all of Wizengamot, Harry, Ron, Rose, and myself. All we need is your signature, and we can put this all behind us. If that's what you want."
I listened to Geoffrey and what he was saying very closely. I could read between the lines and figure out why he wanted to classify this case as Confidential. While I did agree in some aspects that yes - I don't want the world to know what I did and what a twisted man I was - I knew why Geoffrey wanted this more than I. He didn't want the world to know of his wrongdoings involving Jarvis' murder. He didn't want anyone to know that he had been threatened and ultimately agreed. He didn't want to seem weak or evil, for that matter, and I could understand how he had gotten everyone else on board as well. Ron most likely wouldn't want the world to know how he had been tortured and then obliviated to forget it entirely, leaving him with scars on his ribs to wonder what happened to him. And Rose. Well, it upsets me to consider the fact that she may want the case to be Confidential so that the world doesn't question her sanity for still loving a man who was blatantly pretending to be someone else. It made perfect sense.
I then thought about what I wanted - how I held the delicate position once more and the balance was in my hands. Geoffrey needed all signatures to sign the Confidentiality Agreement that none of us would speak of the case again. If we didn't sign, then there was no way of holding us accountable for our words. All signatures had to appear to make it valid, and I would be the last to sign.
I thought about how I had pretended to be Malfoy, how I had lied, how Rose had reacted when she found out and how horrified and disgusted she had been with me. I didn't want that, and I didn't want the rest of the world to think that way of me either.
No, I knew what I would do. That settled it. I would sign the agreement. Sondheim was right; I just wanted to put it all behind me and start anew.