A/N: Another update! I'm going to be en vacances in a few days, so I got this up for you all! Please read on and enjoy!
Pius Thicknesse, the Head of Regulation and Control of the Use of Magic, a subdivision of Magical Law Enforcement, came across Kingsley just as he was exiting Lucius Malfoy’s abandoned office after conducting the thorough search of his belongings that the Minister had ordered. Kingsley glanced up in surprise as Thicknesse’s tall frame blocked his way.
“Afternoon, Pius,” he said cordially.
“Afternoon, Kingsley,” the other man returned, sounding a bit out of breath. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere. Candice Rutherford in Law Enforcement told me that she had seen you walk this way. What were you doing in Lucius’s office?” Thicknesse asked curiously.
Kingsley refused to be caught off-guard by the other man’s seemingly friendly tone. Though he had personally harbored doubts about the Regulation Head for years, information had recently come to the Order—and by way of Severus Snape, no less—that confirmed that Thicknesse was indeed now in the service of the Dark Lord.
And while the incoming flow of intelligence from both the Ministry and the Order often proved extremely useful to Kingsley, it was sometimes just as useless. This was one of those cases: Kingsley couldn’t even recommend to Scrimgeour that he fire Thicknesse, because supposedly the Ministry had absolutely no incriminating information on him. Scrimgeour would need proof of the man’s wrongdoing, and Thicknesse’s Ministry record was scoured clean. Kingsley couldn’t very well pull out a stack of Order of the Phoenix reports for the Minister to review as evidence.
Now, with a great effort, Kingsley kept his countenance pleasant. It was paramount that he would betray no indication to Thicknesse of the Minister’s suspicion about Lucius Malfoy’s resignation, and maintain the façade of ignorance.
“I’m readying the room for its new occupant, making sure everything is cleared out and none of the furniture is broken. Standard procedure, as I’m sure you know.” He fired an equally curious glance back at Thicknesse. “Surely you’ve heard by now that Lucius offered his resignation to the Minister on Tuesday?”
Thicknesse balked, but forced himself to recover quickly. He had not known, in fact, and now he knew that he had just lost one of his primary allies at the Ministry—not that he could tell Kingsley as much, of course. And Thicknesse was in such a position of power in his department that he could continue to serve the Dark Lord’s interests at the Ministry without Lucius’s help. It might even boost him in the long run, because as of now the Head was of such low status within the Dark Lord’s circle that he had not been given the Dark Mark, nor was he summoned to any of the Death Eater meetings. His Lord simply called upon him if he was ever needed.
But Lucius Malfoy’s power had given Thicknesse a strong sense of security, and had paved him an easy path in the Ministry, free of suspicion. After all, who else could have ensured that his Ministry record was wiped spotless?
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Thicknesse replied in a constricted voice. “Who is to be the new occupant of his office?”
“We don’t know yet,” Kingsley said shortly. “I’m sure the Minister will be hiring some new personnel soon. But you know me, Pius. I always like to be prepared for the moment when the need arises.”
Despite his high position in the Minister’s Board of Advisors, Kingsley knew that he was often dismissed as the Ministry’s housekeeper. Heads of the departments, including Thicknesse, assumed that Kingsley had little power or influence over the Minister simply because he managed things like office arrangements and memo delivery when he wasn’t out in the field doing Auror work. But in truth, because of his job Kingsley saw—and knew of—everything that went on within the walls of the Ministry.
“So, what was it that you needed to see me for?” he asked Thicknesse politely when silence had fallen between them.
“Oh, yes, I’ve been receiving the strangest reports from External Communications.” External Communications, or ExComm for short, was a sector of the Department of Magical Transportation and Communication. “It seems that the Floo networks that run from the Ministry fireplaces here in ExComm to Wizarding consulates all over Europe have seen more traffic this morning than in the last year combined.” Thicknesse frowned in true confusion. “Naturally, ExComm forwarded the odd Floo patterns to Regulation and Control for examination—but I’ve never seen anything like it! Representatives from the consulates have been pouring in for the last few hours, and they’re all clamoring to see the Minister.”
Kingsley suppressed a groan. This could only mean one thing: the Muggles were dissatisfied.
He could only hope that the liaisons who had arrived were smart enough to keep their mouths shut about the dropping of the secrecy, and the Minister’s new order. After all, almost nobody at the Ministry, except for the Board of Advisors and the Minister’s private clerk, knew anything about it. The Muggle leaders had been smuggled into the Ministry the day of the World’s Alliance meeting—for security purposes, but it was irritating all the same. Kingsley hoped that the Muggles would not demand to come here any sooner than the next scheduled Alliance meeting in nearly a month.
“Speaking of the Minister, where has he gone off to these past two days? He hasn’t been in his office,” Thicknesse said.
Kingsley hesitated for a moment—but the world would find out sooner or later, anyway, he reasoned—before saying, “I’ve heard some rumors that he has taken himself into hiding as a precaution, under a recommendation from the Management of Public Affairs. He’s been receiving threats on his life, you know.”
Thicknesse looked innocent, almost too innocent. Kingsley wouldn’t have been surprised if the man and his other Ministry traitor friends had been using their Ministry credentials to incite public dissention themselves.
“Well, I guess it’s all in a day’s work for him,” Thicknesse said casually. “They’ll never be happy no matter what we do. But, wow, the Minister’s actually gone into hiding? The threats must have been serious. Where is he?” He threw the question out offhandedly, but the gleam in his eyes was less disguised.
“I don’t know,” Kingsley replied, lying easily. “It wouldn’t be much of a safe hiding spot if anyone knew where it was, would it? I’m not even sure if the rumors are true, but the Board of Advisors ought to know if they were, don't you think?”
“Well, he’s going to have a hell of a time with those consulate representatives when he returns, that’s all I’ve got to say.”
Kingsley sighed and resisted the urge to hex Thicknesse straight into the next week. “I’ll take care of it for him, Pius. Don’t worry. I’m sure there are more pressing matters to attend to in Regulation and Control, anyway. The underage use of magic is on the rise these days!”
Thicknesse took the hint and bowed as Kingsley edged past him with a strained smile. The two men parted as Kingsley headed for the lift that led to External Communications and Thicknesse prepared to head out for lunch, after sending out a hurriedly scrawled message by owl.
“I don’t know what could possibly be this urgent that it couldn’t wait until the next opening in my schedule, Mister…sorry, what was your name again?”
“Never mind that, my name isn’t important.”
“I like to credit my sources.”
“This source would not like to be credited. He wishes to stay anonymous and preferably androgynous as well.”
“Have it your way, Mister No-Name. Now, you said you had earth-shattering news? Are you sure this place has adequate secrecy measures to ensure that we are not overheard?”
“I’m no newcomer to the business of secrecy, I can assure you. To outside observers I appear to be an old grey-haired witch, hunched with age, with a set of powder blue rain boots on. And you, my dear, appear to be an aged wizard with gnarled hands and a rather large wart on his nose. If anyone comes within earshot, we are speaking of our daughter’s wretched new husband. He happens to be the fourth one she’s had since running away from home at age seventeen. Satisfied?”
The wizard with the warty nose nodded. “Very. Now, down to business…where exactly did you gather this information from? How do I know it is reliable?”
“Garnered from between the very lips of a high advisor on the Minister’s Board, it’s as true as the wart on your nose, my dear.” The witch in the powder blue rainboots chuckled dryly.
“I hope you don’t mean that it isn’t true at all. You have quite the sense of humor, disgusing yourself as an old woman, Mister No-Name. Well?”
“The Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour has fled London once and for all. He fears for his life due to a few recent unpopular proposals that he has forced through the Bureau of Advisors.”
“Have you heard anything in particular about this legislation?" the wizard asked eagerly. "What do the proposals say?”
“I don’t know, but it’s caused uproar in the Ministry and in the public, so your guess is as good as mine on that one," the witch said, smiling gleefully. "But the part that will be worth Galleons to your political commentators is that Scrimgeour supposedly plans on ruling the Wizarding world from afar. He has no future plans to relinquish claim on his position. He’s going to slowly tighten the reins until he’s got all the power—and he’ll be too far away for rebuke or punishment.”
The wizard raised a grizzled eyebrow, crossing his legs limberly in a very effeminate manner which would only be appropriate to a woman half his age. “That’s all well and good, but political commentators, you said? Let’s be honest, nobody even reads that column. Why can’t we print it on the front page?”
“You forget the Libel and Sedition Edict, my dear. Most likely the same advisor in the Ministry that let this information slip will be approving—or not approving—your publication. He or she will leap at the opportunity to correct their blunder, and this gem of yours will not publish.”
The wizard slammed a fist onto the tabletop. “Damn the Edict! Important stories of mine have been rejected time and time again, but the public needs to hear the truth.”
“You can circumvent the Edict if you give this story to your political commentators and let them make of it what they will. The Edict only applies to news stories, things that the public will assume hold total truth. But that does not mean that they don’t place much of the same confidence in political commentary. And you don’t even have to submit the column in for approval,” the witch said soothingly.
“Well, I guess I can run the political commentary column right next to the Quidditch standings," the wizard relented, giggling. "Everyone reads those.”
“Exactly, my dear. Now you’re catching on.”
The jingle of coins passed across the table from the old wizard with the wart on his nose to the elderly witch in the powder blue rain boots, and without a word, both rose and left the restaurant.
Kingsley edged into the External Communications wing cautiously, expecting to be bombarded with angry liaisons and their Muggle leaders’ new demands. Instead he was met with silence and an empty corridor of offices. Frowning, he turned and entered the door immediately to his left, where he found the Transportation and Communication department’s Personnel Manager sitting at her desk, filling out paperwork with a fluffy quill.
He gave a small cough. “Er—Linda?”
Melinda Connelly looked up, smiling sweetly at the sound of his voice. She and Kingsley had known each other since their Hogwarts days, and met up once in a while for coffee if their lunch breaks permitted it.
“Ah, Kingsley, nice to see you as always,” she said cheerfully, peering up at him from underneath dark eyelashes. “There are quite a few invaders in my department that claim they are here to see you. Ever the popular one, aren’t you?”
She was teasing, but Kingsley wanted to get right down to business today. He had no time for flirtatious banter, even if he knew that it was only in Linda’s nature and he was receiving no special treatment. Thoughts of his fiancée, who awaited his return eagerly at home every night, often assailed him guiltily during the day. He hadn’t been spending much time with her lately, with the stress upon the Ministry growing exponentially by the day. And here Linda thought that he was still up to his old antics when in all honesty, he just needed to find the rampant liaisons and appease them before any serious damage could occur.
“So, where are they, then?” Kingsley asked, raising an eyebrow.
Linda was a good-tempered woman by nature—it was a requirement for the post of Personnel Manager—so she brushed off Kingsley’s dismissal. It was understandable that he was too busy to talk, since he had to fill in duties while the Minister was gone, although it seemed mysterious to her that nobody really knew the reason behind the absence.
“Well, they’ve been arriving by Floo by the cauldron-full all morning, so I had no choice but to herd them all into Meeting Room C until you arrived.” She grinned at him, her eyes sparkling wickedly. “I know that you’d rather strangers and outsiders not run wild around here. Especially Wizarding consulate reps from Muggle states.”
“What do you mean?” Kingsley asked, slightly alarmed. Did she know something that she wasn’t supposed to?
Linda giggled, fluffing the feather of her quill even more. “You know I’m always a sucker for gossip, Kingsley,” she said quietly. Kingsley remembered suddenly that one of the most dangerous things about Linda was that she pretended to be stupid and simpering—and most people fell for it. But Kingsley was equally sure that she was a good person and would never abuse that power, either. “Do you really think that news of the Minister’s new order hasn’t leaked out by now?” she asked.
Kingsley fought to keep his face from contorting with anger as he silently cursed Thicknesse, who as a department head had surely attended the Minister’s first fateful proposal meeting. Of course, Kingsley had expected that the Dark Lord would already know of the new order—Lucius Malfoy passed information along under the threat of death—but he had not anticipated that Thicknesse might leak it into the Ministry itself. But the more Kingsley thought about it, the better a tactical move it was…for Thicknesse, anyway.
“So,” he asked under a pretense of calm, “who knows about this, exactly?”
“Oh, nobody really, just the managers in Legal Counsel, Law Enforcement, and Public Affairs. I’m not even supposed to know. I only found out because Charlie”—she spoke of Charles Pickett, the Junior Project Manager of Legal Counsel—“and I are good friends.” At Kingsley’s raised eyebrows, Linda had the grace to blush slightly. “But really, it’s nothing to worry about. Charlie said that one of the Heads filled them in, seeing as it’s those three departments that’ll be taking care of that sort of business anyway.”
Kingsley held back a grimace. Of course he had expected nothing less of the perpetrator—Ministry Legal Counsel, the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and the Management of Public Affairs were among the most powerful of divisions and subdivisions in the Ministry. If there was ever a place to ferment an anti-Scrimgeour conspiracy within the Ministry, that would be it.
The whole ploy reeked of Thicknesse. Still, just in case, he asked Linda, “Do you know which Head informed them?”
“No,” she replied with a truly confused frown. “He didn’t mention it. All he said was that he was sworn to secrecy.” Or threatened, Kingsley added to himself. “But I promised I wouldn’t say anything, and you can hold me to that. Why does it matter?”
“It doesn’t, but thanks.” Kingsley forced his most charming smile onto his face and quickly turned on his heel and exited back into the hallway. Immediately the painful smile dropped, and his head filled with buzzing thoughts as he made his way to Meeting Room C. Facing the liaisons was the last thing on his mind. That is, until he entered the room and a small metal contraption was shoved directly under his nose.
“Good morning, Mr. Shacklebolt. We’ve been waiting to speak with you.”
He stared down at it for a moment, feeling his eyes cross. “Erm—what exactly is that?” he asked politely of the man who stood in front of him. He now recognized him as the French liaison, another fellow Hogwarts graduate of French descent.
The French liaison whipped the object out from underneath his nose and held it out from Kingsley to examine. “It’s a cell phone, like a telephone, but portable. We brought them because it’s quite inconvenient that the Ministry doesn’t have even one telephone line rigged up,” the French man explained. "We tinkered with it a bit, so it still works, even here around so much magic." He dropped the boxy object into Kingsley’s hand and gestured around the room at the other consulate representatives, who all held out similar contraptions. “You should have a few of these in your Misuse of Muggle Artifacts collections.”
Kingsley forced out a chuckle. “So you use these to communicate with the Muggles that you ‘work for’?” he asked. The man nodded. “And somebody would like to speak to me using this machine?” He nodded again, looking the slightest bit amused. Kingsley sighed. “Who exactly would you like me to speak to?”
A/N: Hahah, wow, I really like to scare readers into thinking that their heroes have met their end, don’t I? It struck me that to a wizard, a cell phone and a handgun would look much the same: small and metallic. But don’t worry, Kingsley will live to see another day. ;) I love him too much to kill him off. Ha, can you imagine what Scrimgeour would do without him?
Well, what do you think? Guesses on what happens next? Please review!
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Two Shots In the Dark: Complications at the Ministry
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