A/N: This one's a longer one. Hope you guys enjoy! I've been reviewing like crazy for the review-fest, so please take a little time to tell me your thoughts on this story.
The first time Matthias Erickson, executive of ErickCorp Corporation, had contacted Lucius Malfoy requesting a meeting with him outside of the Ministry, the proposed meeting place had been the Hog’s Head bar in the village of Hogsmeade. Why Erickson had suggested this place was beyond Lucius’s understanding, except that whatever in the world Erickson had to discuss with him, the corporate executive preferred it was not overheard.
Lucius’s reply had been short, polite but curt. He would not, on any circumstances, meet at the Hog’s Head.
The reason was because Aberforth Dumbledore, who was an active member of the Order of the Pheonix, was the bartender there, though half the time he was so hidden in the filth of the place that he was unrecognizable. Lucius only knew of his whereabouts because, naturally, his Lord had to monitor and track every known member of the Order.
Erickson had written back, almost begging that Lucius meet with him anywhere. This sort of power over another was not to be wasted, and Lucius had no qualms about taking advantage of it. Besides, he was slightly curious about what Erickson wanted.
And so this was how he came to be seated, alone, in the virtually empty Three Broomsticks pub at three in the afternoon. Erickson had called the meeting for four o’clock, but if the matter was as urgent as he had made it seem, the man would be here early. Besides, Lucius wanted to get this over with before the normal evening crowd would be pouring into the Three Broomsticks to drink themselves silly after work, as per usual.
Sure enough, as the clock behind the bar struck half past three, a young-looking wizard in formal robes strolled easily into the pub, with the casual air of someone who had not a care in the world. Lucius was not fooled.
As if to prove the point, the man’s relaxed charade disappeared as he spotted Lucius seated at a table near the far corner of the room. Erickson stalked over to him quickly, glancing around unhappily at the few tables of people that had trickled in while Lucius had been waiting.
“Here already? I had not expected you to be early,” Erickson remarked as he took a seat. His voice wavered slightly.
Lucius was not impressed, nor was he patient enough to wait this man’s nervousness out. This was business…or at least, Lucius assumed it would be. “Well, what could possibly plague you so urgently that you must meet with me about it at once?” he asked sardonically. “If it has something to do with the new order, you should have contacted the Minister directly. It would have been taken care of by his little minions.”
“Shh…we shouldn’t speak of the new order here!” hissed Erickson, alarmed. He did not dare look around again, or draw the attention of the bartender. “You told me this place would be sufficient for our meeting.”
“And isn’t it?” Lucius asked, raising an eyebrow. “It is a place. There are seats. There are no Death Eaters around. Hell, we even have drinks!” He gestured at the butterbeers on the table in front of him. “What is not sufficient about it, Erickson?”
“We cannot afford to be overheard,” the man said shortly. “There are not nearly enough people here to raise a ruckus so that we can talk under its cover.”
Lucius rolled his eyes visibly. “How ignorant a statement,” he sighed. “Don’t you know that the more people there are around, the more ears? The more ears, the more chance one will overhear? And the more who overhear, the more likely it is that the overheard information will be understood and used against you?”
“Let me cast a Silencing Spell around us, then,” Erickson said, reaching into his robes for his wand. Erickson could not call Lucius Malfoy arrogant and overconfident to his face, especially now that he needed his particular help and cooperation. But, as Lucius held out a hand to stop him, it was definitely what he was thinking.
“I can tell you all at ErickCorp have set a new standard for paranoia,” Lucius commented dryly. “But your fear is not needed. In fact, casting a Silencing Spell would only serve to draw attention to us. If our conversation was not one that needed to be hidden, we would never have cast it.”
Erickson paused. Lucius made a good point. “How do you suggest we proceed, then?” he asked.
“Let us take a walk into the forest. Both the Dark Lord and the Ministry will be hard pressed to eavesdrop on us in the wilderness.” Erickson nodded, and the two men rose to exit the pub casually. Lucius flipped a couple sickles to the bartender for their drinks on his way out.
Once out in the open, taking a path through Hogsmeade toward the forest, Erickson spoke up. “Is it safe to talk now?”
Lucius observed him out of the corner of his eye. “You are eager to speak, and speak in complete privacy. What could be so important?” he asked, genuinely curious. “Is your company not doing well?”
Lucius already knew the answer to this question, of course. ErickCorp had been doing miserably as of late, an effect of the new order. It was true that the compromise between the Minister, the media, and the corporations would benefit most private companies in the long run. But ErickCorp was a company that had first invented magical alarm systems and now made a monopoly out of producing them for small businesses and warehouse and property owners. For them, the false sense of safety that the Ministry had given the general public did not boost sales at all, and in a time when the value of all other corporations were rising, ErickCorp simply could not compete.
Erickson did not find it necessary to mention any of these troubles to Lucius. It seemed that he had already given up on his company. “Oh, I have already given up on that old endeavor,” he said casually, waving his hand to dismiss the idea.
“Is that so?” Lucius asked, raising an eyebrow. “It must have been a hard decision, seeing as the company has been in your family for generations.”
“Naturally, magical technology advances much faster than Muggle technology,” Erickson said, drawing an amused snort from Lucius. “I think it’s about time we abandon that field so that the Erickson family name can be attached to a project more…worthwhile.”
There was something about the way Erickson’s voice suddenly changed tones that made Lucius very wary. This was not idle chatter about a corporation being abandoned. Was Erickson an executive-turned-spy, sent here to extract information from Lucius about the Dark Lord? If so, this would be a dangerous move for the Minister of Magic, and Erickson utterly the wrong man to employ for such a job. He had no experience in espionage, as any fool could see.
“What sort of worthwhile endeavors are you pursuing now? Another business opportunity, perhaps?”
Lucius fixed Erickson in a cold, steady gaze, intent on unnerving him to the point of breakdown. The Dark Lord did not take well to being spied on, and stupid spies were just not to be tolerated.
“You could say that,” Erickson said cautiously, his fingers fiddling nervously with his robes. “In fact, that is what I wished to meet with you about, Lucius. You have power and influence in many places. One of these places is where I wish to pursue my worthwhile endeavor.”
Lucius could not, for the life of him, figure out which place Erickson was talking about. It wasn’t the Ministry, he hoped. It could’ve been any number of the pureblood families that the Malfoys had relations with. It could even be Hogwarts for all he knew. One place it could not be was…
Lucius’s mind was racing. Though the man was young, and for the most part inexperienced, he was smart. He knew his company was worthless to him. He knew where the power lay. He coveted it. And yet, it was ridiculous for him to come to Lucius for the key to that power. Unless…
Lucius stared at Erickson. “You cannot be serious,” he stated incredulously.
The young man met his gaze unwaveringly, daring Lucius to laugh, his mouth set firmly in a determined line. For the first time, he seemed not to fear him.
“Give me one reason why I should even consider it,” Lucius added. “You have nothing to offer us.”
“I have all the knowledge of my company behind me,” Erickson said. “Without me, you have only force, no finesse. All of your maneuvers are immediately revealed and recognized. But I can get you inside any building, any property, and out again before anyone realizes you have entered.” Drawing a breath, he added bravely, “You won’t have to Avada Kedavra every guard or innocent bystander that gets in your way anymore. You won’t have to leave behind a conspicuous trail of death.”
Lucius recoiled at his impertinence, fighting down an urge to curse the man right then and there for his disrespect to his Lord. Instead, he realized that this man was right. He was so valuable that perhaps Lucius himself would gain more status by finding him and bringing him in.
“You must never speak to the Dark Lord in that manner, if you want to stay alive,” he muttered dangerously.
“I want to stay alive,” Erickson assured him. “Just let me know whenever I can be of any help. You know how to contact me.”
But for Lucius, this seemed to be too easy. Before Erickson turned to go, Lucius grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around so that the two men faced each other head on.
“Not so fast,” Lucius growled. “How can I be sure of your intentions?”
“You mean, how can you be sure I’m not a spy for the Ministry that destroyed my corporation and ruined my life?” Erickson replied. “You can have me observed, if you wish. Just keep in mind that whatever information I have on my company dies with me.”
Damn it, he has leverage, Lucius thought. Well, I guess it couldn’t hurt to take a small chance. He barely has any idea what he’s getting into. He couldn’t do much harm.
“One more thing,” Lucius said, whipping out his wand and sweeping it in the air down the length of Erickson’s height. “Revelio.”
The spell was designed to reveal any other spells that were active in the area of the casting, as well as the nature and strength of the spell. But no patches of light, however faint, appeared in the air around Erickson’s body. He had not been bugged by the Ministry, nor had he cast any protective spells on himself. He had placed his trust in the fact that Lucius would not try to attack him, which meant his intentions were close to being true.
“Alright, you can go,” he said tersely. “I will inform our Lord of your allegiance, and we will be in contact with you shortly. Until then, Matthias Erickson.”
Erickson nodded. “Until then, Lucius Malfoy.” And then he spun on the spot, and was gone.
Alone, Lucius could not help but dance a little jig of excitement. Again, it had been he who added another valuable asset to the Dark Lord’s inner circle. He would be reaping the rewards of his Lord’s satisfaction.
Then he, too, spun on the spot and Apparated away, out of the forest of Hogsmeade.
Meanwhile, Scrimgeour was putting in extra hours at the Ministry, working long past dark. The offices were nearly empty when he received an Inter-Department Memo from the Management of Ministry Public Affairs.
Due to circumstances raised by the new order, we have been flooded by owls in the last few days from civilians demanding to know the real state of the Wizarding World, as they say that the Daily Prophet is no longer sufficient in providing accurate news to them. The public is convinced that the Ministry is keeping secrets, and the mail we receive is getting angrier by the day. Therefore, security must be heightened, lest the most extreme of radicals carry out the threats they now only put on paper. I strongly encourage you to employ a personal guard.
Management of Public Affairs
Scrimgeour could only stare at the foreboding memo for several moments, his brain frozen. He hadn’t foreseen that the public would react so violently to the lack of depressing news in the Prophet. After all, people usually see and believe only what they wish to. He had been so sure that this aspect of the new order would be the most successful. Well, so much for that idea.
But what could he do now? With the public poised to plunge a knife into the Ministry at any moment, he couldn’t exactly do nothing. But the Daily Prophet, when released from its vow of silence, could be libel to say anything, whether it was the truth or not. No, that couldn’t happen.
Vainly Scrimgeour wished for Kingsley and his methodical way of taking care of things. What would Kingsley do in this situation?
Absently he tapped his quill on his cheek as he thought. The public wanted to hear the truth, but it was out of the question to tell it to them. As long as what the Ministry did tell them was believable and acceptable as the truth, they wouldn’t know the difference. Perhaps, in order to control exactly what information got to the citizens, the Ministry could skip the middleman, the media. They would deliver a statement directly to the Wizarding World.
With that decided, Scrimgeour gave a sigh of relief. He hadn’t needed Kingsley to get him out of this mess after all. But just the thought of releasing a statement to the public made him break out into sweat all over again. This statement had to be perfectly fabricated, carefully constructed, and euphemistically worded. Otherwise, the whole thing would just fall in like the hollow shell of truth that it was.
Summoning over a blank memo from the pile on a shelf by the door, Scrimgeour began to write out a response to Christine Gerald.
Please construct a list of the most extreme of the radicals, as you put it. Tell them all the same thing: that the Ministry has been putting together an analytical report of all the most recent news, which has not been released to the media because the Ministry wishes to present it to the public directly. It will be done in the form of a statement from the Minister of Magic in exactly 4 days. That should appease them for now.
Minister of Magic
As the memo sped out of the door on its way to the Management of Public Affairs, Scrimgeour felt a piercing migraine coming on. There was no way but the hard way to solve this particular problem. And though he didn’t want to admit it to anyone but himself, this new order had created more problems for the Ministry than he had initially predicted. That didn’t mean that it wasn’t worth it in the long run; it only meant that he had more work to do.
But for now, it was high time he headed home for some food. He could write his speech and employ his guard tomorrow.
“Sir?” Before he could even put his coat on, a nervous-looking intern poked his head in the door, and Rufus Scrimgeour thought fleetingly that he was about to receive even graver bad news as he beckoned the young man inside. News by messenger (and especially by anxious intern) was bound to be worse than news by memo.
“What is it?” Scrimgeour asked tiredly.
Wordlessly the intern handed him a piece of parchment, rolled up and stamped with the seal of Malfoy. Scrimgeour swallowed with difficulty before asking, “When did this come?”
“Just now, sir,” the intern mumbled.
“You’re in charge of mail for tonight?” Scrimgeour asked.
Scrimgeour frowned. “And you didn’t open it? You didn’t read it?”
The intern shook his head vigorously, pointing to the small note on the outside of the parchment. “It says it’s for the Minister, and of high importance,” he said. “And it’s from Lucius Malfoy,” he added needlessly. “I daren’t read it.”
Scrimgeour let out a dry little laugh. “Right you are,” he said, dismissing him with a sense of foreboding rising uneasily in his gut. For the Minister, of high importance, and from Lucius Malfoy. That could mean nothing but trouble for all. He unrolled the parchment.
To the Minister of Magic—
I, Lucius Malfoy, formally offer my resignation from my post of Advisor to the Minister of Magic and Sponsor to the Ministry. Expect no more correspondence or transactions until further notice.
Formerly of the Bureau of Advisors
“Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no…” Scrimgeour trailed off in horror. The hand that held the parchment trembled uncontrollably, and without further ado the Minister rushed out the door of his office and stalked down the hall, feeling that the very walls were closing in on him with malicious glee.
“Minister, please try to breathe,” Kingsley said soothingly in his deep voice. He placed his hands on the heaving shoulders of the currently hyperventilating Minister, who had just barged into his house through the fireplace unceremoniously and without explanation. Well, he was trying to explain.
“He—Lucius Malfoy—oh, we’re in trouble now,” Scrimgeour shuddered. “Do you hear me?” he shouted hoarsely at Kingsley, furious.
Kingsley looked concerned. “What about Lucius Malfoy? What has he done?” he asked the panicky Minister slowly.
Rufus Scrimgeour drew a few violent breaths. “He…he resigned,” he forced out in a whisper.
Any other dim-witted, uncomprehending bureaucrat would have laughed at the Minister’s words, but Kingsley understood the implications at once. Gulping, he whispered, “There is no use panicking now, Minister. We must keep our wits about us and think. Has anything recently given him a cause to resign from the Ministry?”
“Yes!” the Minister roared. “We have thought all these years that by keeping our enemies close, we could learn about them and keep them from learning about us! We thought we were using Lucius Malfoy!”
He barked a short, hysterical laugh. “Don’t you see? It has always been the other way around! Whatever purpose Lucius served for him, there is no longer a need for it. You-Know-Who has no more use for us. He has all the information he needs to launch his attack, so all Lucius has to do is drop the charade, turn in his resignation, and officially take his place beside his Lord!” Scrimgeour wailed. Shaking Kingsley by the shoulders, he pleaded, “It’s over! Don’t you see?”
Kingsley sighed heavily. “Yes, yes, I see,” he breathed, prying Scrimgeour’s hands from their tight grip on his shoulders. “I understand. But we cannot panic now, for if we act quickly, there is still hope to save the Wizarding World.”
Scrimgeour shook his head dejectedly, all of the hysterics and energy draining out of him at those words. “How is there hope?”
“First, we need to find out what caused him to resign,” Kingsley said. “What was the last bit of information he received, which could possibly spur him and the Dark Lord to action?”
“Lucius Malfoy has not been at the Ministry since the day of the first World’s Alliance meeting, though of course he did not attend…” Scrimgeour grew pale. “You don’t suppose he somehow secured…”
“No,” Kingsley stated firmly. “No one would have lacked the foresight to so foolishly give him such information. But I suppose now that he has resigned, everything in his office is Ministry property, Minister?”
Scrimgeour glanced at him, comprehending. “I am the Minister. I can search whoever’s office I like. But please come with me, Kingsley. I am afraid that now that the true allegiance of Malfoy has been revealed, he will no longer avoid acting publicly. If he gets the chance to kill the Minister of Magic in front of all of London, I think he would do it.”
Kingsley looked serious. “Then if you fear for your own safety, you must go into hiding immediately,” he proclaimed. “I will search Malfoy’s office myself tomorrow.”
Without waiting for Scrimgeour to argue with him, he whipped out of the room to arrange for the Minister of Magic to go into hiding.
A/N: So things are progressing...any conspiracy theories? ;) I'd appreciate reviews!