The day he was due to give his statement, Scrimgeour woke in a cold sweat. A glance out of the window at the approaching pale dawn told him that, once again, he had woken up way too early. Too early for a reasonable human being, anyway. He was beginning to suspect that his undisclosed location had put him into another time zone altogether.
There was nothing he could do about it but get up. He wasn’t about to fall back asleep. Besides, after several such nights of tossing and turning sleeplessly, the Minister was already used to feeling perpetually tired. It had been especially bad the night before, with bouts of fitful dozing and anxiety-ridden dreams, the hazy aftereffect of which still made him wonder whether or not his life was all just a nightmare. Perhaps he really hadn’t issued a new order with disastrous secrecy measures.
Perhaps he really hadn’t agreed to deliver a statement of lies to a public that was murderous for the truth.
Perhaps he didn’t actually have a terrible feeling rising in his gut, and perhaps he didn’t attribute it to the fear that he would make several more terrible blunders before he was impeached or driven out of office by the general rage of the mobs.
Shaking the strange thoughts out of his mind, Scrimgeour stumbled into the kitchen to make himself some coffee. All in all, the last two days had actually gone exceedingly better than the day of the impromptu World’s Alliance meeting. In that time he had managed to pull together some semblance of a reassuring speech. Whether it was enough to convince the public, he didn’t know. He smiled crookedly as he flicked his wand at the coffee-bean-grinder. It was too late to make any changes now.
That didn’t stop him from being nervous about it. Before his coffee was finished, he had already thought of four things that were wrong with his current statement. Hurriedly pouring himself a cup, he raced back into his office to grab the piece of parchment, which was already getting ragged from his reading and rereading, and read it one more time. He dipped his quill and poised it over the paper, thinking.
The statement had some blatant holes in logic. But he also didn’t really want to make any permanent changes, either. Most likely they would not be as effective as what he had originally placed there, and he would regret replacing it.
The Minister hovered over his statement for several moments longer before slamming his quill back into its stand in a huff.
This worrying was completely unproductive. It was a blessing in disguise that he had woken up so early. This gave him ample time to prepare for the live wireless broadcasting, and he couldn’t waste it over hopeless revisions. As it was, he felt his anxiety returning, and his stomach churned uncomfortably.
He stalked into the small bathroom and peered at his reflection in the dingy mirror. He grimaced as he surveyed his hair, which stuck up in odd places and altogether did not look presentable. This was no way for the Minister of Magic to appear, especially when he had a statement to give.
Wetting a comb in the sink and tugging it through his hair, Scrimgeour was only halfway done with the mess when he realized that he would be giving the statement over the wireless broadcast. Which meant that nobody would actually see him. Cursing in frustration, he abandoned the comb and returned to the kitchen, desperate to find another outlet for his nervous energy.
He busied himself making eggs, breakfast potatoes, and toast, though he knew once he was finished that he could not stomach it. He was wondering what in the name of Merlin’s pants he would do with all of this food—and feeling a strong bout of homesickness for his family—when Kingsley came bursting unceremoniously though the door.
“Minister—oh, Minister—I’ve got great news!” he cried, grabbing Scrimgeour by the shoulders. “He’s here! He’s finally turned up!”
Scrimgeour stared at the usually calm and collected Kingsley for a moment. “Great news?” he asked hopefully, his mind still half-focused on his statement. “What news?”
Kingsley took several deep, calming breaths. “It’s what we’ve been waiting for. I never thought this day would come. He’s back!”
Before the Minister could get in a word edgewise, he turned toward the open door and beckoned to someone to come in. A weary-looking, stubble-ridden and otherwise travel-rumpled young man stepped over the threshold to survey the small set of rooms with tired eyes.
“Good morning, Minister,” he said quietly.
Scrimgeour squinted at the strange man. He had black hair that had been cut roughly at different lengths, but because it stuck out at all angles the bad job was barely noticeable. A shadow showed underneath his chin, and dull green eyes peered out from behind round black spectacles. The spectacles looked very familiar, but the man was too tall and Scrimgeour had to look up to see his face clearly. Scrimgeour had a slight hunch, but it couldn’t be him.
“Harry Potter…?” the Minister asked weakly, unsure of what his own eyes saw. When the younger man nodded, he cried, “Where in the hell have you been for all this time?!”
Harry Potter took a deep breath, looking apprehensive. “I’m sorry for disappearing, Minister,” he began quickly and apologetically, as if he had been composing this particular speech in his head for a long time. “I know it seems irresponsible, but I can explain. It must have been difficult to conceal my disappearance from the public, especially since it could’ve looked like I had possibly been abducted.”
Scrimgeour stared at him stupidly. “How could you possibly know what we did or didn’t do if you were in hiding?”
“I wasn’t in hiding. Ron, Hermione, and I were Apparating around, carrying out a special task under Dumbledore’s orders.” At Scrimgeour and Kingsley’s confused expressions, Harry elaborated, “We had a wireless. If you hadn’t kept it under wraps that I was missing, it would’ve been all over the news.”
“True, true,” Kingsley agreed. He eyed the still-untouched pan of food on the stove hungrily. “Say, son, you haven’t had breakfast yet, have you?”
Harry blushed. “Well, no. See, we got back to London about two hours ago, and Ron wanted to go straight back to the Burrow. I wanted to find a hidden place to stay, because the Burrow’s the first place they’d go to look for us, but Hermione pretty much ordered me to owl Kingsley right away…” he trailed off, looking uncomfortable.
“You weren’t going to contact us? The Ministry?” Scrimgeour asked, his brows drawn down towards the bridge of his nose.
“I—I just thought of Kingsley, since he was part of the—”
“Ministry,” Kingsley interrupted with a subtle warning glance at the disoriented young man to tell him to watch his tongue. “And I have been good friends with the Weasleys for a while,” he added for good measure.
“I meant no offense, Minister,” Harry said nervously.
“Never mind about that,” Scrimgeour said as Kingsley doled out food onto three plates and set them on the small table. Something else about Harry Potter’s return was bothering him… “You were on a secret mission for Dumbledore?” he asked. “That man’s been dead for over a year!”
“We talked about it before he went,” Harry explained. “He knew it was bound to happen sometime, so he told me to go on with it.” When he saw the Minister open his mouth again, he quickly added, “Don’t ask me about it. I’m sorry Minister, but I can’t tell you.”
“Dumbledore is dead,” Scrimgeour said a tad too sharply. “It doesn’t matter what he told you to do now.”
Harry stuck out his chin. “I believe it does,” he said stubbornly, his temper flaring up at the Minister’s disrespect to the dead Headmaster. “Dumbledore had the whole picture in mind the entire time, which is more than I can say for the Ministry. Who knows if Dumbledore’s plan won’t be essential to winning this war?”
Kingsley chewed his food as he watched the Minister’s expression darken. “The Ministry is managing perfectly well without Dumbledore’s shoddy plan,” Scrimgeour told Harry shortly.
“Speaking of which,” Kingsley interrupted the exchange hurriedly, “I have some more news.” Both Scrimgeour and Harry turned to look at him. “I’ve heard that there’s discontent among Ministry employees. The sentiment is that if the danger is really as mild as we claim, then the Renegade Minister needn’t have abandoned ship yet. It’s setting a terrible example for the public, Minister.”
“Well, what would you have me do about it?” Scrimgeour asked impatiently. “May I remind you that you were the one who arranged for this?” He made a flailing gesture at his surroundings.
“Only because you feared for your safety,” Kingsley reminded him slowly.
“You needn’t fear any longer,” Harry told the two men, who stopped eating and looked at him in surprise. “Voldemort is all but gone. You only need to mop up the Death Eaters and stick them back in Azkaban.”
“You…killed him?” Scrimgeour whispered, growing pale.
“I—I think so. I mean, it should’ve worked…” Harry replied uncertainly. “Now that all of the Horcruxes have been destroyed—”
He clamped a hand over his mouth, eyes growing wide in horror. His brain’s defenses were lax with fatigue, and he had spent the better part of the last year in the company of only Ron and Hermione. Even so, there was no excuse for this slip of the tongue. He glared at his half-empty plate suspiciously.
“We didn’t drug you,” Kingsley assured him. “Besides, the Ministry has known about the Horcruxes already. It is only taken as good news that they are now all destroyed.” He cast Harry another warning glance.
“But how…?” Harry protested feebly.
“The Department of Mysteries,” Scrimgeour said shortly. “I did not, however, know that you and Dumbledore had been after them. Our Aurors have been too busy battling our immediate concerns, but we have had Unspeakables searching for them for years.”
“I have destroyed them all, so Voldemort should only now be a body, a physical shell holding a tiny sliver of his soul. Once we destroy his actual body, he should be gone forever.” Harry resumed eating.
Scrimgeour eyed him. “Is that what Dumbledore told you would happen?”
“Yes,” Harry said defensively. “I doubt he knows that all of his Horcruxes have been destroyed. If we begin to plan an ambush on Malfoy Manor soon, we can kill him for good and eliminate the base of his support in one fell swoop.” He stared pointedly the Minister. “But I’ll need the resources of the Ministry to accomplish this.”
“You fool!” Scrimgeour said strongly. “We cannot simply launch an attack on You-Know-Who’s headquarters without further information! If something goes wrong, our best men and women will be trapped.”
“Well, do you have something else in mind, Minister?” snarled Harry. “Perhaps an actual plan of action…?”
“Kingsley, what do the most recent reports from within the Malfoy Manor say about You-Know-Who?” Scrimgeour asked the other man.
Kingsley put down his fork and swallowed. “Voldemort is alive and well as always. Or at least, they have seen no evidence that indicate otherwise.” Scrimgeour watched smugly as Harry’s eyes widened in dismay.
“But—but how is that possible?!” the younger man exclaimed.
“Perhaps there is another Horcrux that we are yet unaware of,” Kingsley said with a sigh. “There is, however, one piece of good news from the most recent report. I’d forgotten about it until now.” He paused and snuck a glance at Harry. “Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy have fled from Malfoy Manor, Minister. They appear, for all purposes, to have been banished by Voldemort.”
Scrimgeour swallowed a gulp of his now lukewarm coffee with difficulty. “They just up and left? What about Draco?”
“Still at Hogwarts,” Kingsley replied over Harry’s rude noise of distaste. “He should be safe there, with the Carrows in charge. They are old friends of the Malfoys.”
“Mmm…” the Minister mused. “So it’s entirely possible that Lucius’s resignation was only in light of his banishment by You-Know-Who?” His face lit up with momentary hope. “Perhaps You-Know-Who is not poised to act just yet?”
“It’s possible,” Kingsley agreed, “but more plausible that Lucius was banished because of his resignation. If Lucius believed that holding that position was no longer necessary, but Voldemort disagreed, it could very well be grounds for banishment.”
“Maybe he’s off to fulfill a secret task for Voldemort,” Harry put in.
“He wouldn’t have taken his wife,” Scrimgeour told him in a patronizing voice. He and the famous young hero had never had been on great terms, certainly not like the relationship Harry had had with that old fool Cornelius Fudge. Now that he had reappeared after leaving for nearly a year and throwing the Ministry into disarray, Scrimgeour wasn’t inclined to give Harry the hero’s welcome that he expected.
“Never mind about Lucius Malfoy,” Kingsley interrupted once again. “I trust that you are ready to issue your statement tonight, Minister?”
Scrimgeour nodded and smiled wanly.
“Good. Now, I have arranged air time on the wireless starting at seven o’clock, but because the time zones are slightly different I will have you start here at five.” He gave Scrimgeour an encouraging pat on the shoulder as he rose from the table. “Perhaps it’ll make the wait a bit shorter. I must go finalize arrangements now.”
Harry rose to follow Kingsley out of the door, but Scrimgeour called out after him. “Wait, boy! Have you and the others found a safe place to stay yet? I mean, besides the Burrow, which is out of the question.”
Harry looked at Scrimgeour, surprised at the Minister’s sudden concern. “No,” he replied. “Ron and Hermione are staying hidden at the Leaky Cauldron for the moment. We figured we could trust Tom.”
Scrimgeour gave Kingsley a sharp look. “That old man? What do we have on him?”
“He’s safe,” Kingsley assured him, more from Order knowledge than Ministry knowledge. The Order had been trusting Tom for years. Even still, Kingsley was suspicious of the business conducted at the Leaky Cauldron and the people that lodged there. He would have to tell Ron and Hermione to relocate to the Hog’s Head later, after the Minister was out of earshot.
“Good,” Scrimgeour replied. When Harry and Kingsley turned again to go, he hurriedly added, “But I would like you to stay here with me, Harry.”
Harry drew his brows down into a frown. The mutual distaste between himself and the Minister was no secret. He wasn’t entirely sure that he could stand staying in such close quarters with Scrimgeour, especially if there was nobody else there. “Why?” he finally asked.
“Because I would like to ensure your safety,” Scrimgeour said simply. “Times have changed in the last year, and Death Eater attacks are growing more and more frequent. It is too dangerous for you to stay out in the open when they are seeking you.”
Harry’s fatigued mind was racing. Of course the Minister would want to confine him to a small house in the middle of nowhere “for his own protection.” After all, Scrimgeour wouldn’t want him to interfere with Ministry policies. And as popular with the public as he was, Harry could likely rally many Ministry malcontents on his side.
But he had no plans of doing so. Even the thought was ridiculous. Harry had obligation to only one job: to destroy the Horcruxes. And now that it was done, he needed to kill Voldemort. Unfortunately, he could not do so if he stayed in hiding with the Minister.
“Thank you for the offer, but I would rather stay with Ron and Hermione.”
For the first time in weeks, Scrimgeour felt a flash of authoritative power. “It is not a choice, boy, it is an order from the Minister of Magic!” he snapped. “If you want to stay alive, you’ll listen!”
“And if you want Voldemort dead, you should listen to me!” Harry said vehemently, shoving his glasses up onto the bridge of his nose. “You can’t hide here forever, Minister! Cowards who hide get trapped in the end by their own cowardice.” He huffed and made towards the door once more. “We should strike while we have the advantage of time, not sit here awaiting our doom with smiles on our faces!”
This was too much for Scrimgeour to bear. “For your information, boy, I’ve been taking drastic measures to protect the world from You-Know-Who! But you wouldn’t know anything about my work, would you?” he cried.
“Look, Minister—” Harry spat the word out in disdain. He was interrupted by Kingsley before he could go any further.
“Harry, I think it is a better idea if you stay with the Minster for the time being,” he said in a soothing voice.
“But—” Harry began to protest.
“If you are needed, or if you must see your friends, you can always be released. But I agree with the Minister that the less time you spend out in the open, the better. Please,” Kingsley implored.
Harry glared at Scrimgeour, but he trusted Kingsley’s judgment. “I’ll stay for now. But cowards will never win a fight,” he said.
“Fools will die trying,” Scrimgeour grumbled back.
“I am neither a coward nor a fool,” Harry argued. “If wanting to act makes me foolish—”
Kingsley began to edge his way out of the house, looking disconcerted. But he had other things on his mind, such as the Minister’s statement. He hoped that Harry would not distract Scrimgeour from his duties too much.
As if reading his mind, Scrimgeour seemed to remember all at once about speech. His roar could be heard outside of the house. “I have no time for your infantile name-calling, Harry Potter! I have a statement to prepare. I must address the Wizarding world tonight, and I will not have you bothering me right now!” His voice rang loud and aggravated in Kingsley’s ears as the other man Apparated away.
A/N: Well, Harry's back! What do you guys think of that? Please drop a little review in the box below. I really do appreciate anything you have to say about this story.