"The Minister will see you now, gentlemen," said Fudge's new receptionist, gesturing them through the security wards surrounding the door of Fudge's office.
Harry felt a tingle of magic run through him as he stepped into the office after Severus and stood in front of the Minister's desk, a huge black teak affair. Fudge was seated in a large royal blue upholstered chair with curving arms that reminded Harry of a throne. He half expected the Minister to be wearing a red robe of state and a crown. Instead, Fudge had on an expensive suit tailored to fit him, plus a matching bowler with a discreet green band about the brim. His cloak was hung over his chair back, and his graying hair had been combed back.
He remined Harry of a genial smiling uncle, though the boy recalled Fudge's unwillingness to act when Voldemort was revealed to have returned, a thing that nearly cost them a war. He had instead chosen to bury his head in the sand and try to pretend it never happened. But at least he had not persecuted Harry when Umbridge died at the school under such odd circumstances. It was something. Though Harry was sure Fudge was not going to like what he had to say.
Fudge cleared his throat and gave them his patented political smile, one that made Severus want to retch. He could tell the Minister was not at all thrilled to be speaking to them today, and supposed that perhaps he had been bamboozled into it by Albus. Even without his powers, Dumbledore still had clout. Or he had called in his markers and Cornelius had honored them. Even so, the Potions Master did not trust the other man at all. He just hoped the man would listen to them.
"Come in, Severus and Harry, no need to lurk in the doorway like a bad odor," Fudge waved them into his office, chuckling at his own attempt at humor.
Severus gave him a thin smile and Harry mirrored him. Both wizards were dressed in their best clothes and came to stand before the Minister's desk. "Good morning, Minister. Thank you for consenting to see us." Severus said politely.
"Good morning, sir," Harry echoed, though a part of him longed to just blurt out, Hope the meeting with whoever you had this morning was good, because it certainly took you long enough. Nothing like procrastinating while you're running the government, eh? But he bit his tongue and sat down where Fudge indicated, in the brocade chair on the right.
Severus sat on Harry's left, cool and composed as always. His inscrutable mask was in place again.
Fudge folded his hands atop his desk and looked at them questioningly. "May I inquire what was so important that you had to arrange a personal meeting with me? Not that I mind talking with the two heroes of the wizarding world." He gave another chuckle.
Harry looked at Severus, willing to let him speak first. Fudge seemed to respect the lean wizard more than Harry, perhaps because Severus was an adult. Severus eyed the Minister sharply and said quietly, "Minister, we are here to discuss several matters of grave importance, things which we discovered during our journey to seek out and destroy the Horcruxes Voldemort created."
"I see. Do go on."
"While we were searching for the Horcruxes, I became critically injured, and would have died had it not been for a wizarding family who helped me. Their name is Witherspoon, and they live in Northern England, in a special community of readers. The head of the Witherspoon family is a wizard called Jace Archimedes Witherspoon II, otherwise known as Jasper. He has invented an ingenious method of communication using his Talent that Harry and I used on our quest. He calls them Amulets of Communication, and once they are activated by him, they can be linked to each other, and provide instantaneous communication between anyone wearing one.
"Harry and I each have one and they proved invaluable when we needed to summon the Order to help us in the final battle, much quicker than the Floo or letters, the only thing that would be faster would be mindspeaking. Also more private and unable to be tracked, so anything discussed via an amulet would be certain to remain so. Jasper asked us if we would present this patent to you and have you authorize his invention for public use. He wishes to bring this brilliant invention to the rest of the wizarding world, but cannot do so unless you first authorize his patent."
Severus pulled out the paper Jasper had given him and handed it to the Minister. "Would you care for a small demonstration of how the amulets work?"
Fudge considered. "Yes, I would like to see for myself. I believe I remember this Jasper Witherspoon now. A most persistent and clever man. But then again, he is a reader, and they are known for their clever intellect."
"Harry, let the Minister have your amulet for a moment." Severus ordered.
Harry removed his amulet and handed it to the other wizard, who examined it curiously before putting it about his neck. Fudge looked at Severus. "Now what? Shall I Apparate somewhere to test this? How far of a range does it have?"
"Distance is no obstacle for an amulet, Minister," Severus explained. "Jasper says he designed them so they could be used over any distance, even across oceans. And you merely have to think of what you wish to say while holding the amulet and your thoughts will be sent instantly to the holder of your paired amulet. Why don't you go in the other room and try it out?"
Fudge agreed and rose and went into his conference room, the amulet grasped in his pudgy fist.
A few moments later, Severus' amulet began to glow and he grasped it and heard Fudge's thoughts. Hello, Severus. Can you hear me? It feels odd to use my thoughts this way, but definitely faster.
Severus quickly replied, Hello, Minister. Yes, I can hear you loud and clear. No garbled or lost messages with the amulet.
Marvelous! Simply marvelous!
Fudge returned after a moment, beaming. "This is, indeed, a wonderful invention! I could call two dozen people in the time it takes to drink a cup of tea."
"Then you'll sign the patent and let Jasper make more of them?" Harry asked, unable to keep silent any longer.
"I would love to, Harry my boy, however---there is the small matter of Jasper Witherspoon being a reader." He handed the amulet back to Harry.
Harry frowned. He detested prejudice, it was what had allowed Voldemort to get such a foothold in the wizarding world and it tainted it still. "So what, sir? Being a reader was how he was able to invent the amulets in the first place. He and his wife Grace, who saved our lives, work together on them. Why should it matter if a reader invented it?"
Fudge gave Harry a pitying look and smiled conspiratorily at Severus, who barely returned it. "Severus, you understand how the world fears readers because of what happened last time. People were terrified of the Spiers, afraid of being taken over and afraid that their very thoughts would never be private."
"But Jasper isn't a Spier, Minister. He's a respected reader and he would never do anything like they did. He follows the Code, sir," Harry defended his friend.
"Minister, if you agree to acknowledge Jasper's patent rights, he can make more amulets, including one especially for you. If people see their Minister endorsing the amulets, more of them will purchase one and it could be the start of a brand new magical trend—and you, Cornelius Fudge, could be the trendsetter."
"Really?" Cornelius looked pleased, he did like recognition and being in the limelight. "But are you sure about the readers?"
"Yes, Minister. The community of readers Jasper lives in protected us until we were able to return to our quest. They defeated a Spier hired by Voldemort to stop us and the very least we owe them is our thanks, for otherwise our quest would have failed and Voldemort remained at large wreaking havoc. What better way to show the world that readers are not the evil mindrapers they are thought to be than by showing the people that there are decent readers who create such wonderful things like the Amulets of Communtication? I urge you, sir, to consider Jasper's request. He is an honorable wizard and his amulet doesn't deserve to be forgotten at the edge of nowhere."
Fudge looked torn and Severus could tell he was weakening. He had never been able to pass up an opportunity to make himself look good and get his name in the papers. He loved it when the press lauded him for anything. "He would be sure to mention the fact that the Minster of Magic himself supports his invention and how it will benefit you and anyone else who works for you. You might even be known as the first Minister who promoted a brilliant invention that revolutionized the world as we know it. You would be famous."
Fudge looked as eager as a kid at Christmas. "Fancy that! I like it! Very well, I shall sign the patent conformation form and send it to the Wizarding Inventions Committee. Where is it?"
"Right there," Harry pointed at his desk.
"Ah, of course." Fudge grasped the quill and swiftly signed the document. "I shall write Jasper immediately and let him know that I want a special one for myself."
"Very good, sir. I'm sure you won't regret it." Severus said. "Now to our second order of business. Harry, tell the Minster what happened when we searched for the staff Horcrux," Severus encouraged.
Harry began, telling the Minister how they had been pursued by werewolves and they had to make their way to Romania, to the Forest of the Night, where the Horcrux was.
Fudg stiffened as soon as Harry mentioned the Forest, and said softly, "You went in there? That's a very dangerous wood. Did you see anything in there? I've heard stories . . ."
So have we, Harry thought angrily. "Not all the rumors are true, sir. But some . . .some really are true. Like the wolfen. Do you know what they are?"
Fudge went very pale, almost a ghost white. "I . . .yes, I have heard of them. They are half human and half werewolf." His genial smile vanished, replaced by loathing. "The wolfen are abominations. Unfit to be allowed to mingle with proper society."
Harry felt his temper explode. To hear his beloved Meadowsweet and his friend Darkmoon reviled like that made his insides start to hurt. The friends he had come to trust, that had saved his and Severus' life, from the sarcastic Vlad to the feisty Healer, referred to as abominations not fit to be in society made him furious.
He opened up his mouth to shout at the Minister when Severus' boot connected hard with his ankle. He bit back a yelp and went to glare at the other man before he recalled his request that Severus kick him if he was getting out of control.
He sucked in a breath and began counting rapidly in his head. Hold it together, Harry. Just hold it together.
Severus spoke up, he too was angry with the Minister's remarks, but had better control over his temper. "With all due respect, Minister, I would tell you that you are mistaken. The wolfen are children, adolescents with special powers and a shared history of misunderstanding and persecution as well as abuse. They aided us as well upon our journey, saving our lives more than once. Their leader, Darkmoon, made us swear an oath to ask you if you would consider lifting the magical barrier that keeps them imprisoned in the Forest of the Night."
"No! Absolutely not! Are you mad, Snape? They are dangerous insane beasts! You can't trust them. Any of them. They were put there so people would be safe from them and you wish me to just . . .release them?"
"Minister, I assure you they are no more dangerous than any of our adolescent Animagi. They have a complex society of their own, one that has a hierarchy, and they merely wish to be treated with respect and consideration. For Merlin's sake, Minister, they are children, not monsters."
Fudge was looking more and more yellow, as if he were about to be sick. "They are not children! Our children cannot turn into wolves and ravage people for sport. They don't grow fur and bay at the moon."
"Just because they are shapeshifters doesn't mean they are evil!" Harry burst out, ignoring Severus' kick to his other ankle. "You haven't spent time with them, sir! You don't know what they're really like."
"Nor do I wish to, Mr. Potter," Fudge cut him off. "Did your furry friends tell you that their sires were ravening werewolves who ate human flesh and drank human blood? Part of the pack of Fenrir Greyback, whom you helped destroy?"
"They can't help who they were born to. They were victims of rape, sir. They don't deserve to be judged for the sins of their fathers. They hate and detest their sires, they fought against them to help us outrun them. They would never join them, Darkmoon even helped us destroy a Horcrux! Meadowsweet saved my life two times, and Severus too. They don't deserve to be locked away in a forest because of what they might do, or because they're different."
Fudge glared at Harry. "Mr. Potter, you are too young to comprehend what the wolfen are. They are sly and wicked, vicious killers without conscience. How can they not be when their fathers were bloodthirsty fiends?"
"You haven't even met them!" Harry hissed.
"Nor do I have any desire to."
"No, you just like sticking innocent shapeshifters into forests to die." Harry snapped. "Two of them did die, you know. You had no right to just . . .kidnap them and shove them in a cage somewhere. They were somebody's kids once too and their mothers loved them."
Fudge was very redfaced. "They should have drowned them at birth and spared themselves the pain. One of those so-called children nearly ripped off my bodyguard's arm!"
"And what hex did they cast upon the wolfen, Cornelius?" Severus interjected. "For if I had been subject to, say, a Burning Hex or a Binding Charm, I would be angry enough to go for your throat too."
"What you did was wrong, sir," Harry snarled, incensed by Fudge's blindness. "They were kids, orphans like me, and they should have been given a chance. Sending them into the wilderness to die is cruel and wicked. Doesn't it bother you?"
"It's where they belong. They are wild creatures and should be treated as such."
"If they're so wild, sir, then why did they bother building a tree town? They call it Sylvanor. Why did they welcome us as friends after we destroyed the Horcrux? Speaking of that, Darkmoon was the one who destroyed it, because I got knocked out and Severus did too. If he was so evil, he would have left the Horcrux intact and used it against us. But he didn't. And Darkmoon's mother wasn't a victim of a werewolf attack, she knew her husband was a werewolf and was fine with it. You owe him, Minister. He helped destroy Voldemort as much as Severus and I did. Set them free and all debts are paid."
Fudge looked horrified. "Set them free? To do what? Breed more of their filthy kind? Out of the question!"
"Why?" Harry asked coldly. "Because you're afraid of what people might say? Because I don't think people will be too happy once they found out you nearly committed genocide by murdering innocent children, half-were or not!"
"How dare you accuse me of such!" Fudge cried angrily.
"He dares because it is the truth," Severus put in, his voice silky with menace. "You abducted those children from their homes and families, some of them, and took it upon yourself to be judge, jury, and executioner. You assumed they were evil based upon what their fathers were, you justified your crime by telling yourself you were doing it for the good of the wizarding world—keeping them safe from the vicious wolfen."
"See, you understand me, Severus—" Cornelius began.
"No, Minister. I do not," Snape declared coldly. "For you cold-bloodedly ordered the destruction of children. That is not something I would have ever done."
Fudge went scarlet. "Don't you lecture me, Severus Snape! You were once a Death Eater, don't think I've forgotten that!"
"Ah. And shall you persecute me now for a foolish mistake I made when I was not much older than Harry?" Severus returned. "I have spent my life atoning for it, and I would think that my assistance in slaying Voldemort would cancel that out. Now I am offering you the same choice, Cornelius. A chance to set things right and rectify your mistake. You would be a fool not to take it."
Their eyes met and clashed. But Fudge could not stand that penetrating stare for long and had to look away.
"There was no mistake, Severus Snape. I did what I had to preserve my people."
"Oh? I fail to see how fifteen teenagers could prove such a terrible threat to the entire population of wizards. Because if that is so, Cornelius, all of us who teach at Hogwarts must live in fear everyday that out students will take over the school."
"Do not mock me, Snape. I can still press charges against you for your little . . . indiscretion."
Harry lost it then. "You bloody coward!" he spat. "He saved your arse and everybody's arse from Voldemort and the Death Eaters and risked his life for you and you're threatening him? If it wasn't for us, you'd be kissing the hem of Voldemort's robe . . .either that or dead!"
Severus laid a hand upon Harry's arm. "Enough, fledgling! Remember your manners." He squeezed Harry's shoulder in warning.
"Yes, young man, listen to your elders. I am not Albus Dumbledore, to let you speak so disrespectfully to me, I am the Minister of Magic, and you—"
Harry's eyes suddenly shifted to a hawk's molten gold. "I have more respect for the wolfen than you right now!" he snarled. "At least they don't attempt to cover their arses by hiding the truth. If what you did was so right, then why didn't you let everyone know about it? I'll tell you why. Because you knew it was wrong. You thought you could hush it up and nobody would ever know. But we found out your dirty little secret and now it's time to own up. Or else you're no better than Greyback."
Fudge looked as if he were about to have a stroke. "How dare . . .you will leave this office right now, Potter, you insufferable brat!"
"With pleasure. Good afternoon!" Harry snapped, then he rose to his feet and stalked out of the room, his control over his magic was splintering and he needed to get away before he blew apart Fudge's office.
The man was a bloody idiot!
"This appointment is over!" Fudge told Severus. "Good day, Mr. Snape!"
"Cornelius, you are making a huge mistake. I would reconsider." Severus told him, and in his voice was ice and darkness.
"I have nothing to reconsider. It is done and I will not undo it."
"That is your choice. Upon your head are the consequences," said Snape.
"I can live with them," said Fudge stiffly.
"We'll see," Severus said darkly, then he swept out of the office. Fool! You have no idea what you're dealing with. No idea at all.
He strode rapidly through the corridor, seeking his furious fledgling.
He found Harry finally in the atrium where the fountain was with the wizard statue. The boy was standing with his fists clenched, staring into the water, which was bubbling like a hot geyser.
Harry turned slowly to face his guardian, certain Snape was going to let him have it for losing control. "I'm sorry, Severus. I shouldn't have lost my temper, but I just . . .I couldn't stand it anymore . . ." He drew in a breath and hung his head, feeling despair sweep through him. "I really screwed up, huh? There goes our last chance to free the wolfen. Damn it!"
"Not necessarily," Snape demurred.
Harry lifted his eyes and saw that the other wizard looked more calculating than angry. It appeared as if his cagey mentor had a plan up his sleeve. "Sev, what are you thinking? How come you're not remaing my arse out for what happened?"
"Because that wouldn't help anything now. And because I felt like doing the very same thing. Fudge truly is a dullard and a dunderhead."
"And an arsehole."
"That goes without saying. As for what I'm thinking . . .I'm thinking we need to force the good Minister's hand a little. By hitting him where it hurts the most."
"His reputation. He is truly afraid of this coming to light. He won't admit it, but I could feel the tension rolling off him in waves. He's up for re-election in a week's time and such a secret could ruin him."
"Great, but what good does that do us?"
"What's the fastes way to ruin someone's reputation, Harry? You should be able to answer that without blinking, since it happened to you."
Harry frowned. He knew the answer to this, he knew he did . . .Then he snapped his fingers. "You print an article in the paper."
"Very good, fledgling. We tried playing by the rules and offering Fudge a chance to fix his mistake in private. He rejected that offer. Now we'll make him an offer he can't refuse."
Harry laughed softly. "You sound like the Godfather, Sev."
Severus smiled cunningly. "Come, Harry. We need to go see the beetle about a story."
Harry understood then and he walked up and grasped Severus's arm, the smile on his face an eerie echo of Severus Snape's own.
Comments? What did you think of Fudge? This is my first time writing him in a major scene.
Next: The Snapes go to a certain reporter to tell about the cover up. Will it work? Find out next chapter.
Thanks for being so patient about updates and please review!
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