Chapter 5 : Christmas in the Ministry
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CHRISTMAS IN THE MINISTRY
Ormesby was apparently serious about having Harry stay at the Ministry for the rest of the holidays. When a fresh Hit Witch came to relieve the guard at Harry's door that night, his trunk from the Dursleys was floating behind her. Before the old guard departed, he conjured up a softer mattress and extra pillows for the camp bed and taught Harry a charm to transform the last sink in the toilet down the hall into a shower.
Next day Ron, Fred and George came back to visit. Fred and George went off to talk to some friends who had left Hogwarts and gone to work for the Ministry. Ron made a determined effort to keep Harry's spirits up, discussing the Quidditch scores from the Daily Prophet and letting Harry very nearly beat him at wizard chess. In the afternoon, a Ministry witch took the pair of them on a tour of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.
It would be quite easy to get lost in the Ministry of Magic, Harry thought. The building contained as many winding corridors and narrow staircases as Hogwarts, but no statues or paintings to act as landmarks. His sole means of orienting himself was by peering into the offices, many of which were well worth a second look.
There was one whose walls and ceiling were upholstered in maroon velvet, another with a pond and a live orange tree growing out of an earthen floor, and a third in which half-a-dozen pure white, floppy-eared dogs were lounging on silk cushions. Mr Weasley's office reminded Harry of The Burrow: shelves of Muggle objects crammed together willy-nilly and towering stacks of parchment that must have been held up by magic. Perkins the warlock's office could have been a room in Mrs Figg's house, right down to the boiled cabbage smell and profusion of cat photos.
In the Muggle Disguise Room, Harry was allowed to pick out a battered brown leather flying jacket only a size too large for him as a Christmas present from the Ministry. He was beginning to think spending his holidays there might not be so bad ... until he and Ron returned to the spare office.
Fred and George were waiting for them.
'Good news!' said Fred, with an air of rather strained cheer. 'They're letting Percy out of Azkaban!'
'The Ministry's given up on getting the Dementors under control again any time soon,' said George. 'They've decided to remove the short term prisoners, and Percy's at the top of the list!'
'Yes!' said Ron ecstatically. 'Percy's coming home!'
Harry forced himself to smile.
'That's great, Ron,' he said. 'Really great.'
And it would have been great, Harry thought that evening as he lay awake brooding, if Percy had still been in Azkaban. How long would it take the Ministry to realise he'd escaped, if the Dementors weren't speaking to them? When they did, they'd be taking a close look at what the Weasleys had been doing the night the fortress was attacked -- the Weasleys and all their friends as well. There were loads of witnesses that Fred and George had been at the Christmas party, but the Ministry only had Harry's word for it that he was dead at the time. And what of Percy himself? Fred and George couldn't have counted on this kind of uproar whilst making their plans for spiriting him off afterwards ... an uproar for which Harry was partly responsible ...
Harry was too anxious to enjoy next morning's tour of the Department of Magical Catastrophes. Ron, however, chattered away happily.
'Mum started cleaning Percy's room at five o'clock this morning ... hey, maybe you can have dinner with us, I bet she cooks something really good ... course, we're not sure they'll let Percy come back to The Burrow straight away, but anywhere's better than Azkaban, eh?'
This merely gave Harry one more thing to fret over. What would the Weasleys make of Percy's disappearance? They were expecting him to be rescued from Azkaban, by evening at the very latest. It would be a nasty shock for them when they learnt he hadn't been.
'Have they brought Percy in yet?' Ron asked his father hopefully when he and Harry met Mr Weasley for lunch in the Ministry canteen.
'No, not yet,' said Mr Weasley. Perhaps it was just Harry's imagination, but he seemed to sound slightly uncomfortable.
That afternoon, Harry and Ron were shown around the Department of International Magical Cooperation. Ron kept stopping to poke his head into fires to see if his father had had any news of Percy. After the dozenth time, Mr Weasley evidently became fed up with this.
'He said to quit badgering him, he'd shoot me an arrow if he heard anything,' said Ron irritably (Ministry members used magical silver arrows to send each other messages inside the building). 'But how will it catch up with us if we keep moving about? Let's go back to your room.'
So they cut short their tour and returned to the spare office, where Ron was so distracted watching out for his father's arrow that Harry almost actually did win one of their chess matches. A couple of hours later, Mr Weasley turned up in person. His face was grave.
'The last of the Hit Wizards have just flown in from Azkaban,' he said. 'They weren't able to bring Percy back today. There was -- considerable difficulty with the Dementors; they were extremely angry at having so many prisoners taken from them. But the Ministry will be sending out another squad first thing tomorrow. We must think positively ... and not lose hope ...'
It was clear, however, that Mr Weasley was having some trouble following his own advice, and Ron showed up next morning radiating such palpable misery that it made his father seem nothing short of buoyant in comparison.
'Percy wasn't in his cell,' he told Harry in a low voice. 'We overheard Dad telling Mum. They're afraid the Dementors may have moved him. The Ministry's going to try and search for him, but they'll have a real job of it with the Dementors on a rampage ...'
Ron refused to go on any tours that day, even when the witch guide offered to take them round to the Department of Magical Games and Sports and introduce them to Gwenog Jones. Harry desperately wanted to tell Ron the truth about Percy but didn't dare, as there was a Hit Wizard sitting right outside the door.
The best he could do was suggest diffidently, 'He might've got away while the fortress was being attacked ...'
'That's what Fred and George said,' Ron replied gloomily. 'But can you imagine Percy breaking out of prison? I mean, he's not exactly Sirius Black.'
Hearing Sirius' name, the guard sat up straighter.
At half past three, Fred and George, who had been off as usual collecting gossip, came into the office looking grim.
'They've brought in the last batch of prisoners from Azkaban,' said George. 'Everyone's been accounted for except Percy.'
'The Hit Wizards say some of the walls were blasted apart on the way to his cell,' said Fred. 'That git Lucius Malfoy is claiming this proves Percy killed Watchett -- that he was part of a conspiracy against the Ministry and his accomplices helped him escape.'
'Fred and I still reckon Percy managed to escape when the Dementors were fighting the attackers,' said George. 'Percy can pick locks, we taught him how.'
Ron looked askance at this and Harry didn't blame him. He could hardly see boring, rule-following Percy allowing Fred and George to teach him any such thing. It was unlikely that anyone else who knew the Weasley family would give the notion much credence, either.
'The Ministry doesn't think any of you --' Harry began.
'Of course not,' said Fred. 'Everyone knows we were at the Christmas party all night.'
That evening, Harry ate his dinner at the desk in the spare office as usual. He had just set down his goblet after a sip of pumpkin juice when a strange feeling came over him. An odd creeping numbness was spreading upwards from his stomach. His brain was growing sluggish and fogged, his thoughts grinding slowly to a halt.
As he gazed blankly at his plate, the Hit Wizard who was guarding him said, 'Potter? Can you hear me?'
'Yes,' Harry heard his own voice say. His scar throbbed dully on his forehead.
The guard called down the corridor, 'Sir? You can come in now. He's under.'
A few moments later, Ormesby walked through the door, followed by Cornelius Fudge, Lichfield the mediwizard, a number of other Ministry members Harry didn't recognise -- and Lucius Malfoy.
Although his body remained paralysed, the pain in Harry's scar was prodding him back to full consciousness. This was not entirely to the good, as it left him free to worry about what was happening to him. Plainly he had been slipped some sort of potion, but what sort, and why? And what was Mr Malfoy doing here?
Ormesby placed a quill, a roll of parchment and a bottle of ink on the desk in front of Harry. The quill sprang up, dipped itself in the ink bottle and stood poised to write.
'The Veritaserum interrogation of Harry James Potter in the matter of the Christmas Eve incidents of 1995 will now commence,' said Ormesby.
A thrill of horror shot through Harry. He couldn't tell them about Percy, he had to fight the potion ... but Professor Snape's voice was echoing inside his head. It is Veritaserum -- a Truth Potion so powerful that three drops would have you spilling your innermost secrets for this entire class to hear ... Was there any way he could stop himself?
Harry drew up every scrap of will he possessed, trying to resist the potion as he did the Imperius Curse. But the Veritaserum was in his blood, coursing through his veins -- its effects were not so easily thrown off.
Harry was so engrossed in his struggle that he almost didn't hear Ormesby say, 'Tell us what happened to you on Christmas Eve.'
As Harry opened his mouth, his scar burnt more fiercely yet. The pain seemed to diminish his compulsion to speak and he realised that he could indeed fight this. It was harder than lying to Voldemort whilst transformed into a snake, but Harry forced himself to repeat the story he'd previously given.
Ormesby appeared disappointed but not terribly surprised. 'So you had nothing to do with the break-in at the British Museum on that same night?'
'No,' said Harry, without effort as he was now telling the truth.
'Do you have any information regarding that incident which might be of interest to the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol?'
Mechanically Harry started to recite everything Fred and George had told him about the museum robbery.
'Stop,' said Ormesby. Harry fell silent. 'I mean, do you know who was behind it?'
'Yeah,' said Harry. 'It was Voldemort.'
Fudge blanched. A spasm of terror flitted over Lucius Malfoy's face. Harry was as startled at what he'd said as either of them. He hadn't given much thought to who was responsible for the museum robbery, more or less assuming it to be the work of ordinary wizarding burglars. Nor had he been intentionally lying: the words had just popped out of his mouth.
'Was it?' said Ormesby keenly. 'How do you know?'
The true answer to that question was that Harry didn't know how he knew, but he could see that this would sound a trifle peculiar to his interrogators.
Instead he replied, 'Who else could it have been?'
Ormesby looked disgusted. 'But you have no evidence beyond your own suspicions?'
'No,' said Harry.
Before Ormesby had a chance to ask anything more, Lucius Malfoy stepped forward and said, 'It was you who attacked Azkaban, you and Dumbledore!'
'No, it wasn't,' said Harry. He noticed it was rather less difficult to tell a partial lie than a whole one.
'Your Patronus is a reindeer!' said Mr Malfoy furiously.
'No, it isn't,' said Harry, which was technically true.
Lucius Malfoy rounded on Ormesby. 'He's lying, it's not working, you didn't give him enough --'
'Kindly let me handle this interrogation, Mr Malfoy,' said Ormesby coldly. 'Were you in any way involved with the attack on Azkaban?' he asked Harry.
'No,' said Harry.
'Was Albus Dumbledore in any way involved with the attack on Azkaban?'
'No,' said Harry.
'Were any members of the Weasley family?'
'No,' said Harry.
'To your knowledge or belief, was any other specific person involved with this attack?'
'No,' said Harry.
'Are you in fact able to cast the Patronus Charm?'
'Yes,' said Harry.
It would be dangerous to lie about this; too many people knew the truth.
Ormesby raised his eyebrows. 'What form does your Patronus take?'
'It's a Scottish stag,' said Harry.
'Is it?' said Ormesby. 'Well, you were nearly right, Lucius. But ungulate Patroni aren't especially uncommon and he has confirmed under Veritaserum that he did not take part in the attack. Unless any of you have further questions, this interview is over.'
There was a general shaking of heads. Even Mr Malfoy, although exceedingly disgruntled by the look of him, had nothing more to say. Led by Fudge, the Ministry wizards filed out, leaving only Lichfield and the guard.
Harry should have been relieved that the interrogation was finished, but his scar was hurting him as badly as ever. Did that mean Voldemort was nearby? If the Dark Lord came after him, Harry was in no condition to get away. His mind was starting to drift again and he could scarcely feel his arms and legs.
Lichfield used his wand to float Harry to the bed. He poured a few drops of potion into Harry's mouth and closed Harry's eyes with his hand. Harry began to feel extremely drowsy. But he couldn't let himself fall asleep ... not when Voldemort was lurking about ...
Whatever had protected Harry from the Veritaserum did no good against the potion Lichfield had given him. The room swirled away from him as he sank into darkness.
Harry dreamed that Voldemort stood by his bed and spoke to him in a cold, hissing voice. 'One of our people was questioned tonight ... I felt it through the Dark Mark ...' Then, a little later, 'You have done well, my newest Death Eater ... drink the bitter wine of Slytherin ...'
It was very bitter wine indeed. It scorched Harry's throat and burnt in his stomach, and the taste of it remained on his tongue until morning, when he had forgotten the rest of his dream.
It was noon before Harry finally woke, tired, muzzy-headed and rather surprised that he was still alive. His scar felt perfectly normal, which meant Voldemort had gone -- for now. So, apparently, had everyone else. There was no longer a guard at the door and Ron, Fred and George didn't seem to have stopped by to see him that day.
Harry picked up his wand, glanced nervously up and down the passage and set off for the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office. Mr Weasley was at his desk reading a piece of parchment, his brow furrowed. He looked up as Harry walked in.
'Voldemort was here last night,' Harry said in a hushed voice.
Mr Weasley's hands clenched, crumpling the edges of the parchment. 'How do you know?'
'My scar,' said Harry.
He described how he had been given Veritaserum and questioned about Azkaban and the museum robbery. He didn't mention the potion not working, merely that his scar had started to hurt when the Minister and his party entered the room.
'D'you reckon one of them was Voldemort using Polyjuice Potion? Mr Malfoy kept trying to get me to say Dumbledore attacked Azkaban ... except if Voldemort was there, I don't understand why he didn't finish me off while I was sleeping.'
Mr Weasley looked as tense as Harry had ever seen him.
'The Ministry has spells and enchantments that ought to prevent that kind of thing, but the Dark Lord has got round so many of our magical protections ... Harry, I wish I could take you away from here, but the Minister won't allow it. Dumbledore's been trying to get you sent back to Hogwarts since he heard about the attack, but Ormesby says he's a suspect and now it appears I am too.'
Mr Weasley shook his head. 'Using Veritaserum to interrogate a child! It wouldn't surprise me if that's what caused the pain in your scar. Nasty stuff at the best of times and combined with an old head injury ... I'll owl Dumbledore, perhaps he'll be able to think of something. For today, I want you to stay in my office. Even if You-Know-Who can't get in here, it's quite likely there's a traitor in the Ministry. Someone murdered Watchett, after all, and evidence is pointing to Azkaban and the museum being inside jobs as well.'
A traitor in the Ministry. Harry felt as though he'd been punched in the stomach. Waking up to find himself in the middle of the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol's investigation had driven his last conversation with Percy clear from his mind. Now it all came rushing back to him.
He had to warn Mr Weasley about Riversedge ... but how could he, inside the Ministry of Magic? If Harry told Mr Weasley that Riversedge was the traitor, he'd have to explain how he knew. He'd have to admit that Percy had killed Watchett and that Harry, Fred and George had broken him out of Azkaban. Someone might overhear them, Mr Weasley's office might be bugged -- he'd said the Ministry suspected him -- and Mr Weasley had no scar to protect him from Veritaserum.
'Harry ... Harry, are you all right?' Mr Weasley was saying anxiously. 'Here, sit down ... are you ill? Shall I arrow Lichfield?'
'No, I'm fine,' said Harry weakly. 'I -- haven't had breakfast yet, that's all.'
Mr Weasley accompanied Harry to the Ministry canteen and sat at his table while he ate. All through the meal, Harry racked his brains for a way of safely passing on his information but could think of nothing that had much chance of success. If only he had his Invisibility Cloak ... but Ormesby had taken it, 'for safekeeping'.
When they got back to the office, Mr Weasley said, 'Why don't you give me a hand with these reports, Harry? They need sorting by date -- I've been making that list of confiscations Ormesby asked for. The ones from 1989 and afterwards you can put on my desk. Everything else goes in those three crates: eighties, seventies and sixties or earlier.'
Harry began ploughing through the nearest ceiling-high stack of parchment. Worried though he was, as he read the reports Harry had to laugh, imagining some of the hexed Muggle artefacts they described falling into the hands of the Dursleys. When the witch who had taken him on his earlier tours dropped by to ask if he'd like to see the Department of Magical Transportation, Harry told her 'no thanks'.
Halfway through his second stack, Harry came across a roll of parchment that was crisper and less dusty than the others. What really caught his eye, however, was the first line:
ORMESBY: Now, Mr Lupin --
FUDGE: I say, shouldn't he be chained down?
ORMESBY: He's not under arrest yet, Minister.
When he finished reading it, Harry said to Mr Weasley in amazement, 'Fudge thought Professor Lupin tried to eat me?'
'What?' said Mr Weasley distractedly. He'd been paying little attention to the reports Harry gave him, spending most of his time staring out the door and fingering his wand.
'Last summer when I disappeared -- here, look.'
Harry passed him the parchment. Mr Weasley ran his eyes over it.
'Where did you get this?' he said sharply.
'It was in your stack of reports,' said Harry.
Mr Weasley frowned, strode over to the fire and stuck his head into the flames. Harry heard him speaking as though from a great distance.
'... in with my reports ... Harry found it ... one of your people must have laid it down and forgotten about it ...'
Mr Weasley pulled his head out, put the hand with the report in, and removed it again, empty.
'Honestly, no wonder they're having trouble with leaks in Magical Law Enforcement, if that's the care they take with their paperwork,' he muttered as he returned to his desk.
In the evening, Mr Weasley escorted Harry to the spare office. The guard was back; Mr Weasley conjured up a chair and sat down beside him. The pair of them were talking quietly to one another as Harry fell asleep, but when he woke next morning, he was alone again.
Harry went to the canteen for breakfast. Even though it was Sunday, there seemed to be as many people in the corridors as ever. After finishing his meal, he made for Mr Weasley's office. Mr Weasley wasn't there but two other Ministry members were. A cross-looking old woman sat at the desk, pursing her lips over one of Mr Weasley's reports. A young man with a tangle of curly hair and a fixed, slightly mad smile stood by the door.
Harry stopped short.
'Where's Mr Weasley?' he said.
The old witch ignored Harry, but the wizard at the threshold gave him an even wider grin.
'Precisely the thing we were wondering ourselves!' he said, practically bouncing on his heels. 'Arthur was supposed to meet us here half an hour ago. He left a note saying he'd gone to have a word with Agnes Hammersmith in Magical Creatures. Why don't you run down there and see what's taking him?'
So off Harry went. It was a while before he managed to locate the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. It hadn't been one of the departments he'd visited previously and the directions the wizard gave him turned out to be completely wrong. When he finally got there, nobody could tell him where Agnes Hammersmith's office was. In fact, most of them were quite certain there was no Agnes Hammersmith in the department, nor did they know of anyone by that name anywhere else in the Ministry.
After much consultation, Harry learnt that there was an Agnes Armstrong in Magical Games and Sports, and an Agnes Footit and a wizard named Ogma Hamper in Magical Transportation. Thinking to kill two birds with one stone, he set off for the latter department, where he found Agnes Footit (Ogma Hamper was out checking the anti-Apparition spells around Azkaban) but no Agnes Hammersmith and no Arthur Weasley.
At last Harry had had enough. During his search he had been continually held up by people wanting to shake his hand, hear what had happened to him on Christmas Eve or merely stare at his scar, none of whom had been of any assistance in finding Mr Weasley. It was nearly lunchtime. Wherever he had gone, Mr Weasley was undoubtedly back at his office by now. Harry decided to head in that direction himself.
As he trudged down the long main corridor of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, an unpleasantly familiar voice from the office ahead froze Harry in his tracks.
'... as for Azkaban, the only way we'll be able to salvage that situation is by proving Dumbledore was behind it. Obviously he took the precaution of putting a Memory Charm on Potter. If I can convince Fudge -- or better yet, Ormesby --'
It was Lucius Malfoy. Harry stood very still, straining to hear what was being said.
'What about the rest of the stuff?' a second voice interrupted. 'Anything you want before I tip it in the Thames?'
There was a pause, then --
'You fool, you should have got rid of those things days ago,' hissed Mr Malfoy. 'If Magical Law Enforcement comes nosing around ...'
'Why would they do that?' said the other voice. 'Even Ormesby doesn't make a habit of searching his own men's flats for no reason.'
'It seems I've been spending half my life covering up for your mistakes lately,' said Mr Malfoy in a deadly quiet tone. 'If you're caught this time, don't expect any help from me.'
'If I'm caught, I'll take you down with me,' said the other wizard, now sounding quite menacing.
'Don't you threaten me, Riversedge,' spat Mr Malfoy.
Riversedge! For an instant Harry was dumbstruck. Then, like a lamp being lit inside his brain, he realised. He now had a way to warn Mr Weasley about the traitor at the Ministry: simply tell him what he'd just overheard.
Harry started off at a dead run -- straight into the tall wizard who stepped suddenly out of a side passage ...
Disclaimer: All characters and concepts from the Harry Potter series copyright J K Rowling.
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