“Minister, I advise you to reconsider,” Harry Potter said petulantly. He stood in front of Scrimgeour’s desk in the small study, levitating a board in midair. Blueprints of the Malfoy Manor had been pinned onto the cork, and untidy notes were scrawled all over them in Harry’s handwriting.
Scrimgeour sighed heavily without looking up from his work. Honestly, what in the name of Merlin had Kingsley been thinking when he brought this boy here? All Harry had done since he had put up residence with the Minister was huff and puff about invading Malfoy Manor. After an unbearable few days, Scrimgeour had even agreed to sit down and listen to his plan to humor the boy. Harry seemed to take it as a sign that Scrimgeour would agree to go through with it, but the Minister had promised nothing of the sort. In fact, though Scrimgeour had long turned his attention to other matters, the Boy Who Lived continued to stand in front of him with that damn map.
“Sir,” Harry said again, sounding more irritated that Scrimgeour was paying him no mind. “Hello?”
“Hello.” Scrimgeour looked up, bared his teeth in a mocking smile, and then returned to his work. The Minister was done with this child’s prattling. He had more pressing matters to deal with, such as the fact that the public statement he had given a few days ago hadn’t gone over too well. His approval ratings had dropped almost ten percent, according to the Prophet, and were continuing to slide. Scrimgeour knew that even in tumultuous times like these, political success was still of the utmost importance. Actually, it was especially important. After all, how could he help the Wizarding world if they did not trust him enough to follow him? And of course, if the people didn’t allow him to lead them successfully, he would be forever misunderstood in the History of Magic textbooks.
“Why won’t you just listen to me?” Harry yelled in aggravation. He flicked his wand to make the board fly across the room and park itself directly in front of Scrimgeour’s nose, so that the older man could not ignore it. “I’ve already laid down all the plans—I’ve done all the work. You don’t have to do anything but give the order, and you’ll get the bloody credit for it, too!”
“Credit is not what concerns me,” Scrimgeour stated, staring the young man down calmly over his reading glasses. “What concerns me is that your proposal is rash and foolish, and it is utterly improbable that anything good will come of this. It’s not worth the risk of people dying. How do you even know those floor plans are accurate? Where did you get them from?”
“I have a book on the Wizarding architectural feats of the eighteenth-century,” Harry replied smugly, thinking of Hermione as he spoke. “It was submitted by the firm that built the Manor.”
Scrimgeour hesitated. “Well, even if you had the knowledge of the Manor’s layout, you don’t know how to counteract the wards that You-Know-Who has placed around it. Nobody does. And you have no way to plan for how many Death Eaters will be present when you choose to attack. What if they outnumber you? What if they call for reinforcements before you can reach You-Know-Who?”
“Then we’ll just fight harder,” Harry said simply. “There are ways to get information. And we can have reinforcements at hand, too, can’t we?”
Scrimgeour had a hard time deciding whether to roll his eyes or shudder at the amount of inevitable deaths that would result from this single boy’s ridiculous siege plan. “I refuse to let you throw away the lives of talented Aurors in a fruitless scheme,” the Minister announced for the umpteenth time, “and that’s my final decision.”
Harry struggled to contain his anger—he had hoped against hope that the Minister would yield once he saw that Harry had come up with an actual strategy and was prepared to follow through with it. Harry had planned every step painstakingly; he’d thought of every possible hole and found a way to close it. Most of his other encounters with Voldemort had been won purely by luck, but Harry wanted to show the Minister that this time it was different. It was a do or die mission, and the Order was willing to give everything to kill Voldemort. If this succeeded, the fight would be won. But Scrimgeour wouldn’t even give him the chance to explain the details.
For a tense minute, there was no sound in the room but the scratch of Scrimgeour’s quill on his parchment and Harry breathing heavily.
Harry thought about ditching the Ministry altogether and relying on the Order to carry out the attack, but that was dangerous, a last resort only. He had to get the Minister to change his mind, but his most useful weapon (the threat to take his services elsewhere) was of no use to him, because now he couldn’t just pick up and leave, even if he really wanted to. Besides, who else would he go to?
“Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’m very busy. I have to find a way out of this mess and back into the public’s good graces before I lose my job,” Scrimgeour said with a snap of sarcasm in his tone.
Fury boiled up inside Harry again, and he couldn’t help but think that the Minister really had his priorities all screwed up. But instead of pushing their confrontation further, Harry decided to pass his plan on to the Order immediately through Ron and Hermione. He just needed to make sure the Minister didn’t suspect what he was doing. Harry tuned up his acting skills and took a deep breath.
“Don’t be angry at me, sir,” he said quietly, bowing his head. “I wasn’t thinking, and I lost my temper. If you think I need to make improvements on my plan, I’ll wait a while and work on it some more.”
Scrimgeour narrowed his eyes in suspicion. Why the sudden change of heart? Harry Potter was stubborn and arrogant—a few days in this safe-house with him had confirmed Scrimgeour’s previous impression of the boy. It was unnatural for him to so easily admit that his beloved plan had flaws. He had to be up to something, and the Minister knew exactly what it was.
“Don’t think that anything you do will change my mind,” the Minister said shortly. “You think I’m not familiar with the concessions game? I played it for years before you were even born.” Harry suppressed a snort and continued to force himself to look demure. “I’ll never authorize an infiltration of Malfoy Manor by your plans, no matter how many times you fix it.”
Harry sighed, and to Scrimgeour’s surprise it sounded heartfelt. “So you won’t even consider it,” he clarified, his shoulders drooping in defeat.
“Affirmative.” Scrimgeour tried to repress the triumphant feeling rising in his gut. Harry Potter was still only a boy, after all, and it wouldn’t speak well of Scrimgeour’s character if he bullied him. The Minister attempted a friendlier tone. “I suggest you put your mind to work on more productive matters. If you cannot return to Hogwarts, why not continue your studies here?”
“Yeah, well, I’m no good at independent learning, and I shouldn’t ask you to take away time from your responsibilities as Minister to teach me,” Harry replied humbly. “Out of everyone in my year, Hermione was the only one who could plan out good, solid lessons for herself. Do you think I could ask her to arrange something for me?”
Scrimgeour weighed the question in his mind briefly. Letting Harry leave the house to meet with Hermione meant running the risk that he would not return. Then again, that could easily be solved by sending Kingsley along with him. And he and the boy really needed some time away from each other. Harry’s constant presence had begun to feel both smothering and irritating, like a cloud of pixies.
“Alright, but Kingsley will have to accompany you. You lot can meet next week, providing that Kingsley casts adequate safeguards.” The Minister waved his hand towards the door in dismissal.
Harry complied, slinking through the door with a disappointed expression plastered to his face. Nevertheless, he felt like he had scored a decisive victory. There were, after all, many other ways of gaining Ministry aid for his plans without the approval of the Minister. That wasn’t his job—Ron, Hermione, and the rest of the Order would know how to go about it.
He shut the door to his tiny room behind him and propped the board with the Manor blueprints up against the wall. Every position, every timed detail had to be finalized before he could pass this on to Ron and Hermione. Otherwise, there could be no changing of it—nothing that he could control, anyway. This was it.
Harry flipped through his notes and began to review them one last time.
“I assume you know why I called you here,” Voldemort intoned, glancing with boredom at the young man crumpled in reverence at his feet. He tapped his wand against the armrest of his chair. “Get up,” he ordered impatiently.
Trembling in terror, the man stumbled onto his knees. Voldemort waited, glaring at him with red eyes, until Matthias Erickson had gotten his feet underneath him and straightened his robes. As much as he appreciated the observance of the rituals of homage he required from his disciples, this scum was wasting his time. Pureblood as he was, Erickson simply did not have the mind or the stomach for this sort of job. The Dark Lord could already tell. All Voldemort needed was to milk the useful information from him, and then their business could be finished.
“I received your letter, and deemed it necessary for us to have a talk.” Voldemort drummed the tips of his long, pale fingers on his black-clad knee. “The Ministry ordered ten thousand of your alarms, you say. But how can I trust your word, when you have written so openly about it in an owl that could have easily been intercepted?”
“My Lord, I apologize,” Erickson murmured in a panic. The tremulous whisper evoked no pity in Voldemort, but rather a dull pang of irritation. “I didn’t realize—and it was so urgent!—but I assumed that the contact information Lucius had given me was secure…”
“That’s right, I had nearly forgotten. Lucius enlisted you.” The Dark Lord’s forehead wrinkled again in mirth as he raised his brow-bone. “And do you happen to know where Mr. Malfoy is residing currently?”
Even without the use of Legilimency, Voldemort could feel the thrills of fear radiating off of Matthias Erickson. When he briefly probed into the other man’s mind for amusement, a clear image popped up: Lucius’s body dumped deep into the waters of the River Thames, his platinum blond hair glinting weakly in the filtered sunlight beneath the surface.
The Dark Lord cackled, a shrill sound that echoed off of the cavernous walls in the dark room and made Erickson shake. “No,” he hissed. “Farther away. Too far to come to your aid. Albania.”
Erickson held his breath, ready to be executed on a moment’s whim, and was silent. After a moment, Voldemort spoke again. “The reason why I’m telling you this is to ensure your full cooperation. Know that if you ever cause inconvenience to me and this organization, Lucius will not be able to plead for your life. No matter where you seek refuge, you have my word that I will find you. And you do not want to take that chance.” Erickson gave a quick, convulsive nod. “Now, if that is clear, you say that the Ministry has ordered ten thousand alarms from you. Tell me, can you track where these ten thousand alarms are placed?”
“No, my Lord,” Erickson breathed. His voice was so quiet that it would have been inaudible, save for the stillness of the giant hall. “The tracers are packaged inside the product and they belong to the purchaser. Once the alarms are installed, there is no way to track them. After the shipment is sent to the Ministry, I’ll have no control over how they use them.”
“And any tracing spells we place on the packages will undoubtedly be discovered by the Ministry,” Voldemort said coldly, fiddling with his wand. “I fail to see the value of your existence to me, then.”
“Please, my Lord,” Erickson protested, the frantic words rolling off of his tongue at an astonishing rate. “The tracers are simple, straight-forward contraptions, very easy to monitor and even easier to read. The Ministry has ordered alarms from us before, though never in such large quantities, and I believe they keep the tracers for them all in a wing of the Department of Regulation and Control. I don’t think they will be under any specific security protection past the workers assigned to monitor them for strange behavior, so if you have a man in the Ministry who can get access to the tracers, you will know all the locations in which their alarms are installed.”
“Of course I have a man in the Ministry!” Voldemort snarled angrily. “I have men and women in all departments and divisions of the Ministry under my command, and it happens that I control the Head of Regulation as well.”
“My Lord, I meant no offense—”
“If you have no wish to duel with me, Mr. Erickson, do not argue with me,” the Dark Lord interrupted with an icy smirk. “In any case, you have surrendered your information and allegiance, and you are bound to my service until death. I enforce these pacts with consequences like those of blood vows. You are either in my service or against it—there is no other choice.”
Erickson willed his body to still its shuddering, to no avail. “I am honored to serve you, my Lord,” he whispered frantically, flinging himself to the floor before Voldemort once again and touching his forehead to the cold tiles.
This time Voldemort allowed him to remain prostrated. “In addition, you must bring your wife and child here to live at the manor.” Ignoring the gasping sob of protest that tore itself from the young man’s throat, the Dark Lord pressed on. His high voice escalated mercilessly. “Attempt to interfere with this and my tolerance of you will be short-lived,” he warned, eyes flashing. “At this hour tomorrow, they must be here; if they do not come of their own accord, they will be coerced or deceived. I will keep you all here under my scrutiny for 24 hours a day. Remember, you are an outsider here, Mr. Erickson, and I will treat you as one because you now possess information that I have no reason to trust you deserve. Go, and do as you are told.”
“But my Lord,” Erickson cried, rising to his knees in appeal, “my wife—she’ll never forgive me if I deceive her! And my daughter, she’s only five…”
The Dark Lord’s eyes burned so dangerously red that Erickson was forced to turn his face away, defeated. “Do you challenge my authority already?” Voldemort hissed. The young man clenched his fists in hopeless despair and loathing, but could only jerk his head mutinously and said nothing. “Then you are dismissed.”
As Erickson lurched to his feet and shuffled dazedly out of the room, the Dark Lord waved his wand. A string of blue and grey sparks trickled out from the tip of the wand, and assembling themselves into a likeness of the Dark Mark insignia, floated lazily in the air in front of him.
“Yes, my Lord?” it whispered in a startlingly accurate imitation of Voldemort’s own voice. A snake, its winding body formed from green sparks, flicked in and out of the skull’s gaping jaws as the simulacrum spoke.
“It is just as I thought. Bring word to Thicknesse that he is to report to me as soon as the alarms are installed and the tracers added to the Ministry’s watch. And inform Rosier, Rowle, Avery, Goyle, Nott, Mulciber, Travers, and Selwynn—anyone who is not on the Prophet job—to prepare to report here upon my summons for a new project. It promises to be entertaining.”
“Of course, my Lord.” And then the simulacrum sped out of the hall. That was the programmed response for affirmation that the simulacrum had successfully stored the information that Voldemort had provided, and the orders he had given.
That’s the wonderful thing about simulacra, the Dark Lord thought silently. They serve without questioning. They keep silent. And they never, ever forget.
A/N: There you are, another chapter! What did you think of it? Is there anything you'd like to see more of? Any comments or criticism would be greatly appreciated, so please do leave a teeny review if you read. Thank you! :)