“I am pleased with the reports of our progress at the Ministry,” Lord Voldemort said, awarding the group of men in front of him with a rare and chilling smile. A few shivers ran through them, despite their best efforts to suppress any reaction. “That fool Scrimgeour has made more than enough trouble for himself without us even having to raise a finger.”
“I am sure you have heard about the Minister’s address on the wireless tonight, my Lord?” one Death Eater asked tentatively.
The Dark Lord’s gleeful smile did not waver. “I am looking forward to that, Yaxley. It will be most entertaining,” he said smoothly. “However, in light of the new vulnerabilities of the Ministry, I’ve decided to take a different and more…amusing route. A detour, shall I say. You are assembled here now so I may give you all a new assignment. The first of a few entertaining ones, I assure you.”
The Death Eaters looked to their Lord with apprehension. Every time one of his projects reflected his amusement, it more likely than not caused extra trouble for them.
Voldemort fixed his red gaze on the men in front of him. “If infiltrating the Ministry was successful, I expect that the Daily Prophet can be overthrown with similar ease,” he said. “It may take a little while longer, but I trust that you will accomplish this for me.” The skin on his forehead gathered in wrinkled bunches. If the Dark Lord had eyebrows, they would have been raised.
There was silence as the Death Eaters choked back their surprise. They dared not voice an objection, but even more dangerous was embarking on a mission for their Lord for which they had no idea what the desired result was.
“Pardon my ignorance, my Lord, but the Prophet? I do not understand the significance of bringing a Wizarding newspaper under our control,” Antonin Dolohov finally said, sounding uncertain.
“Nor would I expect you to,” Voldemort said, his voice icy, but not displeased. “It is not a project that will yield immediate results. But I think I have underestimated the power of the media, and the Prophet will prove a valuable resource.” He let out a short, high-pitched cackle which cut through the air like a blade.
Dolohov opened his mouth to speak again, his brow slightly knitted in consternation, though he dared not show outward insolence to his Lord.
His confusion, and that of the other men, did not escape the notice of the Dark Lord. “Must I spell everything out for you?” he sneered. Receiving no response from them save for a humble inclination of head, Voldemort glared and continued, “In light of recent events, I have realized that the easiest way to bring down the Minister neatly and without struggle is to pull his public support out from under him.” His eyes glinted with eager malice in the dim light. “The damage will be done before the public, stupid as they are, sort out who is responsible for their poor Minister’s fall from grace. Then our coup will be nearly guaranteed a successful takeover.”
“You are always wise, my Lord,” Dolohov responded fluidly.
“Under no circumstances do you have the authority to kill the editor,” Voldemort ordered. “Bring her to me, and I will cast the Imperius on her myself. This is of paramount importance. She must continue to do her duty or they will replace her.”
With that, Voldemort nodded and motioned towards the door to dismiss them. As the men left, they passed another, lower-ranking Death Eater standing nervously by the doorway. Dolohov and Yaxley sneered at the novice as they walked by. The man knocked on the doorframe with a shaking fist.
“Enter,” Lord Voldemort said carelessly. He had been sitting in the silence, musing over the finer details of this latest plan.
“This Owl just came, my Lord,” the man said quickly. “It was addressed to Lucius Malfoy, but you said that all mail must go through your inspection before being distributed, although I might have misheard…”
“No, you heard correctly,” Voldemort interrupted, holding out a hand and flapping it impatiently. “Let me see the letter.”
This particular Owl held his interest, for Lucius had not gotten any mail since his departure. Voldemort had automatically assumed that Lucius had blocked off all correspondence to the Manor prior to leaving, so that his Lord could not pry any further into his business during his absence. Perhaps Lucius really was losing his touch.
Voldemort scanned the short letter quickly and the skin on his forehead bunched together once more, though his face otherwise betrayed no sign of shock. Once he finished, he had to read it over again to be certain of its contents. Was it even possible that this invaluable information, this golden opportunity, had dropped straight into his awaiting arms?
In hindsight he had to admit that Lucius had been right in enlisting the help of a Wizarding corporation, especially one so suited to his needs. The security risks that came with the executive were far overshadowed by the benefits. Bringing Lucius back out of exile so soon was out of the question, however. His banishment had been as much to punish him as to simply set a precedent for the rest of the Death Eaters.
Now he turned his attention back to the man in front of him, his mind racing at the new possibilities. “Summon this Erickson to me. Let’s see what we can learn from the boy,” he ordered.
The novice hesitated. He looked to be on the verge of speaking.
“Go!” Voldemort snarled, though not with full force. Everything had been going so well of late that he was in a good mood. Even so, the man scuttled out of the room as quickly as he could move. The Dark Lord smiled to himself.
“…so I implore you, ladies and gentlemen, to realize that we are living in a potent time, an era of great change and strife. At times it may seem that our society is on the brink of chaos—let me assure you that this is untrue. The Wizarding world is simply evolving through a great burst of fiery advancement, and like the phoenix we will rise from the ashes of our strife better, more wholesome, and with a renewed vigor for life. Let us be patient, ladies and gentlemen, for the transformation to be completed. Then we may judge for ourselves what there is to be done.
“Once again, I stress that the Ministry of Magic has gone to great lengths to ensure that adequate protection for you, the Wizarding public, has been provided to help calm unease in this unsettling time. Be assured that we will let no harm come of any witch or wizard, as has been the policy of this government since its establishment several centuries ago. We did not fail you then, and we will not fail you now. The Ministry has always had the good of the public in mind with every move we make.
“Therefore, to reiterate my purpose for this address, it is my responsibility as the Minister of Magic to dispel the rumors that have cropped up of late. Let it be known that I will not allow fear of these untruths to disturb the peace of the Wizarding world, and more importantly, the peace-of-mind of the witches and wizards who live within it. Please understand that while strange events have rocked the Muggle world recently, we have neither indication nor proof that these events are tied to magical interference of any kind. And until we receive decisive evidence that disproves our stance on the case, it is confined to the business of the Muggles.
“We at the Ministry of Magic find it imperative, once again, to provide only the most reliable and trustworthy news to the Wizarding public, and therefore we have waited to confirm the reliability of the information we have received of late before authorizing the media to print it. In this way, we prevent general misconceptions such as the recent ones from spreading amongst our citizens.
“I hope that this address tonight has reminded each and every one of you that the Ministry is reflective of the interests of all of its citizens, and wishes to help you all through this transitory time. There is nothing more important to the government of a society than the happiness of the citizens who uphold it, and for your unbending support, I thank you all. Merlin keep you safe, and good night.”
The wireless crackled as the Minister of Magic’s voice faded into static. In the living room of the Burrow, Arthur Weasley reached over the arm of the old couch to turn the machine off. Silence engulfed the room as the sound died away, and the six Weasleys who sat around the fire looked at each other apprehensively.
“Well,” Bill began. The others waited for a moment for him to continue, but he paused, apparently lost for words.
Seated next to him on the overstuffed armchair, Fleur Delacour-Weasley had contorted her face further and further into a painful grimace as the Minister’s speech progressed. By the time Scrimgeour had finished reiterating his main points, her thin eyebrows had nearly connected over the bridge of her small nose.
“I think zat was an awful speech,” she announced haughtily in the silence after her husband spoke. “He did not even bozzer to tell us anything important.”
Molly sighed, running a hand through her hair, which was beginning to become flecked with salt-and-pepper strands. “I know, dear,” she said tiredly, “but I didn’t really expect anything more of him.”
“Scrimgeour’s always been somewhat of an airhead,” George commented from his place on the floor at his mother’s feet.
“Nothing between his ears,” Fred added almost immediately.
Arthur Weasley frowned down at his two sons. “Now, boys, I’ve known Rufus Scrimgeour for many years and worked with him on quite a few projects before he became Minister. He’s quite an intelligent man, and ambitious, too.” He raised his eyebrows at the twins.
“If he’s so intelligent, then, why won’t he just say what he means outright?” George rolled his eyes. “If he meant to reassure the Wizarding world that everything’s under control, then that was the worst statement I’ve ever heard! ‘Like the phoenix we will rise from the ashes of our strife’?”
Arthur and Molly chuckled as George pretended to convulse on the floor and then rose slowly upwards, flapping his arms like wings.
“George, I know that probably wasn’t his best speech,” Molly said, trying her best to keep her laughter from ruining her scolding. “But the Ministry is under a lot of stress right now to dispel rumors of You-Know-Who’s interference in the Muggle world. It’s only natural that he would pretend like all is well.” She looked around the room. “Not everyone is smart enough to figure out that he’s lying.”
Fred sighed gustily and pulled at stray strands in the carpet. “I suppose you’re right, Mum,” he admitted. “The joke shop has fallen on hard times lately. I’d think that people would be more eager for a laugh or two now, but it’s not so.”
“It’s not so,” George echoed morosely.
Bill pulled his gaze from the entrancing flick and flutter of the fireplace to glance at his brothers, and he cracked a smile. The expression seemed alien on his face after so many days of stressful work, but it illuminated the youth in him until Fleur smiled as well.
“It’s nice to be home for a little while, Mum, Dad,” he said to Molly and Arthur. “Shell Cottage is beautiful, of course, and it feels great to live as a married man”—here he cut off to give Fleur a quick peck on the jaw, to the delighted wolf-whistles of the twins—“but in these times, I’d like to see as much of my family as I can.”
George looked at his brother in consternation. “Since when have you become so morbid, William?”
Bill shrugged, avoiding the eyes of his brothers. It was still somewhat of a tender subject that while the two oldest Weasley brothers were allowed to fully participate in Order activities, the twins—who had come of age nearly two years ago—still had to adhere to Molly’s restrictions. Bill didn’t want to tell them that his recent work with the Order had taken a great toll on his physical health and peace-of-mind.
“Well, what about you boys?” Arthur asked Fred and George, his eyes twinkling slightly. “Aren’t you glad to be home for a little while, too?”
“I came for the food,” Fred replied, grinning at his mother.
“Oh, Fred.” Traces of tears welled up in Molly’s eyes as she reached over to bring her son’s head over onto her lap. Surprisingly, Fred did not object as she began to run her fingers through his hair, tidying up the mess like she had done when he was young. “I love it when you lot are at home.”
“Besides, if we weren’t here,” George added with a wicked grin, “who would polish Dad’s bald spot?”
Arthur, a dismayed expression crossing his face, was about to fire back a retort when Fleur suddenly blurted out, “’as anyone ’eard from Ginny lately?”
Immediately the Weasley parents froze, tension building up in their faces and aging them drastically. The twins sat up, alert. All eyes in the room turned their attention to Molly Weasley, who was drawing out a thin piece of folded parchment from her sweater pocket. The letter was worn from reading and rereading.
Bill reached eagerly for it, but Fred pounced first and took it out of his mother’s hand. “Read it aloud,” George complained as his twin began to scan the words silently.
“Boys, maybe it would be better if—” Arthur began apprehensively, but Fred had already begun to read.
“Hello Mum, Dad, and everyone. School has been…”
Fred trailed off with a confused look on his face. “Well?” Bill demanded, beginning to frown. “Keep going!”
“I can’t,” the younger Weasley said quietly. “It’s charred out.”
This time it was Fleur who reached disbelievingly to grab the letter from Fred. He maneuvered it out of her grasp, but Bill was faster. Quickly the older Weasley brother settled back down in his seat, clutching the piece of parchment, and continued to read where Fred had left off. There was indeed a small char mark where the next few words should have been, but the letter continued in neat script that was almost unlike Ginny’s handwriting. More char marks littered the page in small clumps.
“School has been…the usual. I am doing…well in classes, and I take good care of myself, so don’t worry about me. Hogsmeade trips have been cancelled, but I…find that things are…better around here than when Dumbledore was Headmaster. I am very much looking forward to holiday break. I…may choose to stay here instead of returning home.
“Send my regards to…the rest of them. Your…daughter, Ginevra Weasley.”
Bill lifted his horrified gaze slowly from the worn piece of parchment to appraise his parents. Molly had clenched her jaw tightly, doubtlessly setting it against the tears that were bubbling over in her eyes. Pale as a sheet, Arthur reached up for his glasses and rubbed them absently on a corner of his shirt to clean them. Neither of them decided to look back at Bill.
“Things are better than when Dumbledore was Headmaster?” George said softly, knotting his fingers in his hair with agitation. “What have they been doing to them, brainwashing them?”
“’ave you talked to ze ozzer parents?” Fleur asked in a tone quite subdued from her normal one. “Madame Longbottom? Monsieur Lovegood?”
“All the letters they’ve received are in the same shape,” Arthur said tiredly. “They haven’t been brainwashing them, George. They’re just interfering with the post that goes through Hogwarts grounds.”
“So all the letters that we’ve sent her, she’s most likely never gotten.” Molly’s voice was shaky and small when she did speak. “Or they were altered into something completely different.”
Bill shook his head morosely. “Thank goodness we have better sense than to send any important information through owl anymore. I feel bad for cutting Gin off from the rest of us, but while she’s in the clutches of those Carrows, I don’t want to send anything they might see as a reason to hurt her.”
“Carrows?” George snapped. “I thought Snape was the Headmaster. Why is he doing this to us?”
“He’s under constant watch, dear,” Molly explained heavily. “He has to play his part very convincingly, or it could mean much more danger to us all if those brainless Carrows raised the alarm. Severus doesn’t want to do this, I’m sure.”
“No, I can’t believe it,” Fred pronounced, staring blankly down at the worn stretch of carpet in front of him. “Nothing’s real anymore these days, is it?”
None of the Weasleys had an answer for that.
A/N: Alright, here's another update. What did you think? Please drop a teeny review if you read. Criticism is welcome. Oh, and how do you like the stunning new banner? Kudos to Ladywolf @ TDA!
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Two Shots In the Dark: Delivery and Response