Chapter 22 : The Party
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The party was at the Minister's Mansion, the house where all the Ministers of Magic had lived. Albus had been there a few times before, but not in a couple years. Usually all the parties the Minister held were while Albus was at Hogwarts.
A few hours before the party, Ginny made Albus, James, and Lily all take showers and comb their hair properly. She spent a good fifteen minutes trying to get James's hair to lie flat and another fifteen minutes putting Lily's up in some sort of elaborate bun type thing. Albus was very happy his own hair was far too short for that sort of thing.
Before they left, Albus's parents sat him, James, and Lily down on the couch and proceeded to tell them the rules for the evening.
“Absolutely no making trouble!” Ginny stared at James as she said this, “None at all! This is the Minister's house! I will not have you wreaking havoc in it.”
“We're trusting you to keep yourselves occupied during this. I'm going to have to mingle with everyone and we won't be able to watch you every second,” Harry added, “You're all at Hogwarts now. You're old enough to not be glued to us for the evening.”
“Don't worry,” James said, “I know when mischief isn't appropriate.”
“Let's hope so,” Ginny sighed.
Albus and his family Apparated to the Minister's house, which meant side-along Apparition for Albus. He hated side-along Apparition. It felt like he couldn't breath. It was worse when the person who was Apparating him was also Apparating another person, which was always the case in his family. It was the curse of being the middle child. He was either with James or Lily. This time it was with Lily and Harry was Apparating them.
When Albus had regained his ability to breath properly, he looked around at where they had landed. He was standing on the front lawn of what was the most extravagant mansion he had ever seen. It couldn't be considered a house; it was just too monstrous.
A long and winding sidewalk, framed with bushes and lights on either side, lead up to the front door. Albus's parents started walking up and Albus followed.
The mansion seemed to get bigger as they got closer. It was painted brown with a black roof and reminded Albus of a castle. It wasn't nearly as big as Hogwarts, of course, but it was still huge.
Harry rang the bell when they arrived at the door and it was answered by the Minister himself. “Harry!” he shouted, “Come in!”
Minister Langston Hartwell was the third minister since the fall of Lord Voldemort. He was a tall, rotund man with very little hair left on his head. He did sport a rather large mustache, which caused Albus to think of him as a much taller version of Professor Slughorn.
Hartwell was one of those very educated wizards who spoke using very large words that Albus couldn't really understand. He was long-winded and most of his speeches could be condensed down into a few sentences, according to Harry, that is. He was a very nice man, though.
“Right this way,” Hartwell motioned for them to follow him.
Hartwell lead them through the house, which was just as immaculate as Albus remembered, and into what could only be described as a grand ballroom. It was the same ballroom all the parties Albus had been to were held.
The room was decorated with silver and black and was already filling up with people. Albus spotted Rose and Matt in the back of the room and left his family in the doorway to go see them.
“Some place, huh?” Albus said once he reached them.
“This is the biggest house I've ever seen,” Rose agreed, “I see you're wearing your Slytherin robes.”
Albus rolled his eyes. “Shut it.”
“What do you think, Matt?” Rose turned to Matt, “His mum says they match his eyes, but James says they're Slytherin robes.”
“Slytherin,” Matt said immediately.
“Then yours are Ravenclaw,” Albus pointed out, gesturing to Matt's blue robes.
“I don't care,” Matt shrugged, “So, did you just get here?”
“Yeah,” Albus replied.
“I've been here for two hours already,” Matt said, “We were the first ones here. Dad keeps introducing me to people and they all think I'm a first year.”
“Bet that's fun,” Albus laughed, “Do you know most of these people?”
“Some,” Matt said, “That's the bloke Dad's taking over for,” he gestured to a very large wizard, “McVicar.”
“Right,” Albus said, “I've heard of him. Dad's always said he would never retire.”
“Dad never thought he would either,” Matt laughed, “Then we've got your Uncle Percy, I think you probably know him. Those people are a few of Dad's colleagues,” Matt gestured to a few more witches and wizards, “Then there's a bunch of people from other departments, but I don't remember any of their names.”
“Looks like it's going to be a fun night,” Albus said sarcastically.
“Oh, it will be,” Matt grinned, “When I was really little, we went to parties like this a few times a month. You make your own fun.”
“Like what?” Albus asked.
“Charming alcohol out of the wine and champagne. It'll still taste exactly the same,” Matt grinned mischievously, “By the time midnight rolls around, everyone will be wondering why they're not drunk. It'll be funny.”
“You've done this before?” Rose raised an eyebrow.
“Amy has,” Matt said, “She's here somewhere and she's going to do it soon.”
“I have to admit, that's really creative,” Rose giggled, “What else?”
“Mostly stuff with the food. Charm the chocolates to taste like vanilla, charm the serving utensils to move every time you go to pick them up, that sort of stuff,” Matt explained.
“My parents gave us this speech about how we can't play pranks here,” Albus said, “She was saying it mostly for James, but I think she should've given it to you.”
“My parents never say that stuff to me,” Matt laughed, “They never suspect me of anything. The minute they find out the alcohol's been charmed out of the drinks, they'll find Amy.”
“She is the one who's going to do it,” Rose pointed out.
“It was my idea, though. She wasn't originally going to do it at this party,” Matt explained.
“Alcohol's gone,” Amy said quietly as she came up behind Matt, “This is going to be interesting.”
“What exactly happens when you use this charm?” Rose asked.
“Oh, it's great,” Amy grinned, “First, only a couple people notice and they make a very quiet mention to another person and then that person agrees that there's something wrong with the drinks. Then it just snowballs from there until it's all they're talking about. Then someone will test the drinks, discover the alcohol's been charmed away, replace it, and then everyone will cheer. But some of them will act drunk because they think there's alcohol in the drinks.”
“Aren't your parents going to be upset?” Rose asked.
“They might tell me they wish I hadn't done it, but there's not much they can do,” Amy shrugged, “That's why I'm doing it and not Matt.”
“I couldn't see your parents yelling at you anyway,” Albus laughed.
“You never know,” Matt shrugged.
“I bet James and Cedric are going to do something,” Albus said as he scanned the crowd. James and Cedric were sitting at one of the tables, heads close together like they were plotting something.
“I'd be shocked if they didn't,” Rose smirked, “Aunt Ginny has no hope of stopping James.”
“And I'd bet my last Galleon that Georgia and Bradley are talking about Quidditch,” Albus gestured to his other two cousins, who were standing near the buffet.
“That's all they talk about,” Rose said, “And Lily looks bored. Five Sickles says she's over here in about ten minutes or so.”
“I wouldn't bet against that,” Albus said, “And Samantha and Lindy will sneak out of the room the next time Aunt Corrine looks away.”
Albus's Aunt Corrine was talking with two witches Albus didn't know and his twin cousins were chasing each other around the room.
“Are any of your other cousins coming?” Amy asked.
“Nope,” Albus shook his head, “None of my other aunts and uncles work for the Ministry.”
“Let's go get something to eat,” Matt said.
Albus and Rose agreed. Amy left to go talk to someone else and the three friends walked over to the buffet. There was already a small queue in front of it.
“There go Samantha and Lindy,” Rose said as they waited. The twins ran out one of the doors and Corrine quickly followed.
The queue moved quickly and soon Albus was in front. He grabbed a plate and piled it high with just about everything. There was always the best food at this sort of party.
They found an empty table far enough away from James and Cedric. Albus didn't want to be anywhere near them when they did whatever they were planning on doing.
“I don't even know what half this stuff is,” Matt said as he began eating, “But it's good.”
More and more people arrived as Albus ate his dinner. He recognized a few of them, but didn't remember any names. He also noticed that nobody was acting strangely due to Amy's charm. They were all acting perfectly normal for adults who had had a few drinks.
Albus, Matt, and Rose wandered around the room once they finished their food. A few adults stopped to exclaim how big they'd gotten and to inquire what year they were at Hogwarts. Lily joined them because she didn't want to be associated with James and Cedric's mischief.
“Hello, everyone!” Minister Hartwell shouted from the podium at the front of the room.
Everyone quieted down and turned to watch him. Albus, Rose, and Matt were somewhat close to the podium.
“Thank you,” he smiled, “I assume you all know why I've thrown this party, and it's not just to unload the large amount of wine I was given for Christmas!”
The adults all chuckled at Hartwell's attempt at a joke and then quieted down once again.
“Yes, yes, well, this party is in honor of none other than Walter Eckerton, whom I have appointed to the position of Head of the Department of Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. There is no one else whom I would trust with such a job....”
Hartwell's speech soon descended into one of his usual speeches, which Albus could not understand. It was long, drawn-out, and Albus could've sworn he saw his dad yawn at one point.
Albus clapped loudly when Hartwell finally finished and turned the podium over to McVicar.
“Thank you, Minister,” McVicar began, “That was quite an interesting speech. I, too, would like to congratulate Walter Eckerton on his promotion.
“I am sure at least half of you were quite surprised to hear that I was retiring. I myself was surprised. In fact, I probably wouldn't have done it if it weren't for the fact that my wife has been begging me to for the past ten years.
“However, the main reason for my lack of an earlier retirement was because there was not a single person employed in the Ministry whom I would have trusted with this job. Nobody had the capabilities to carry out this position in the way I would like. Like they always say, if you want something done right, do it yourself. That was my motto up until five years ago, that is.
“A little over five years ago, a man came into the Ministry looking for a job in the Department of the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. He applied for a job in Werewolf Support Services, a position that had been open for well over a year. I was ready to hire anyone who walked through the door at that point, but I had no idea what was to come when I hired Walter Eckerton.
“Some of you may know that Walter has experience in this field. He was the Head of the Department of Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures in Australia for three years before leaving the position in order to move to England.
“Walter revolutionized Werewolf Support Services as soon as he started. The ideas he had were ones that even I hadn't thought of. In five short years, he has bettered life for those plagued with lycanthropy more than anyone else in the department have in their entire careers.
“It took only six months for me to realize that I wanted Walter to take over for me when I retired. Not only does he have the experience and intelligence for the job, but he also has dedication that I have never seen before. I even have to admit that his dedication surpasses my own. I have never seen anyone fight as hard for werewolf rights as he has.
“The only thing left for me to do was convince myself it was time to retire,” McVicar chuckled, “And yes, it did take the better part of five years to do that. But now, I feel very confident as I hand the reins over to Walter.”
Everyone clapped as McVicar stepped away and Matt's dad took the podium. “That was quite the speech,” Albus muttered to Matt.
“I'll say,” Matt agreed, “And McVicar doesn't usually praise people like that.”
“Well,” Matt's dad began, “Thanks for your vote of confidence, Rob. I certainly hope I can live up to your expectations.
“I have to begin by saying how unexpected this was. I really had no intentions of becoming the head of the entire department again, no matter which country I was living in. Werewolf Support Services has been such a great place to work these past few years. It truly is my passion.
“However, when Langston and Rob approached me about taking over when Rob retired, I found it difficult to say no. In the end, I said yes because I want to make more of a difference.
“Of course, I could not have gotten to this place without the help of my wife, Julie,” he gestured to Matt's mum, who was standing near the podium, “And my daughter, Amy, and my son, Matt.
“I'm not one for long speeches, so I'll just say that I look forward to starting the job and I truly hope I can be at least half of the head of the department Rob has been.”
“I just hope none of them find out why my dad's so dedicated,” Matt whispered.
“They're too drunk to think much on it,” Rose smirked.
“They're not really drunk,” Albus reminded her.
“They're certainly acting like they are,” Rose pointed out.
A good portion of the adults were acting very drunk. In fact, if Albus hadn't known about Amy's charm, he would say they all really were drunk. The weird thing was that everybody was acting drunk. There didn't seem to be anyone who was thinking there was something wrong with the drinks.
“Let's go ask Amy about it,” Matt suggested.
Amy was standing nearby, so Albus, Matt, and Rose squeezed their way through the crowd to get to her.
“Amy,” Matt whispered, “Why's everyone acting normal?
“I don't know,” she whispered back, “Let's go look at the drinks.”
James and Cedric were also standing near the drink table, looking nearly as confused as Albus felt about this charm. That was kind of strange.
Amy grabbed a glass of wine and tried it. “Well, it tastes fine, but it's supposed to.”
“You'll have to drink a lot more than that to get properly drunk,” Matt grinned.
“I'm not doing that,” Amy rolled her eyes.
“Actually,” James grinned mischievously, “That might get you drunk.”
“What did you do?” Albus groaned.
“Cedric and I added some extra alcohol to that wine,” James whispered.
Albus, Rose, Matt, and Amy burst out laughing. Albus could not believe it. All of their pranks had backfired. The wine was now perfectly normal.
“What's so funny?” Cedric asked.
“Amy pulled a prank, too,” Albus said.
“I put a charm on all the wine to remove the alcohol, while keeping the taste,” Amy explained, “I did it right when the party started.”
“So much for that prank,” James groaned.
“Now you won't get in trouble,” Albus pointed out, “Mum's been watching you two.”
“I know,” James muttered, “That's why we can't do it again.”
“What do you want to do now?” Albus asked as James, Cedric, and Amy left.
“Want to explore the Minister's Mansion?” Matt suggested.
“Is that allowed?” Rose asked skeptically.
“I don't see why not, I mean, this is my dad's party,” Matt pointed out, “Plus, we'd just be walking around.”
“Let's go,” Albus said and lead them out of the ballroom.
It was much quieter in the rest of the house. They started wandering through any rooms that had open doors.
“This place is so bloody fancy,” Albus said.
“It reminds me of my grandparents' house,” Matt said.
“Their house is this big?” Rose asked.
“Nearly,” Matt replied, “They've got a ballroom and everything.”
The three friends wound up in a very large living room filled with antique furniture. There was an oriental carpet on the ground and oak tables and bookshelves around the perimeter. Atop the tables were fancy vases of flowers and crystal sculptures.
“We'd better be careful in here,” Rose said as she walked into the room, “If we break any of this stuff, our parents would murder us.”
“Cinda's got one of these,” Matt pointed to a crystal swan.
“Don't touch it!” Rose hissed.
“I wasn't,” Matt assured her, “I broke Cinda's once, but Mum fixed it.”
“Look at all these books,” Albus gazed up at one of the bookcases, “Madam Pince would love to get her hands on these.”
“They're all about politics, though,” Matt pointed out, “Pretty boring.”
“Mum would like them,” Rose said
“I wonder how old this furniture is,” Matt said as he looked at a rather uncomfortable looking armchair.
“Probably older than Aberforth Dumbledore,” Albus replied.
“Hey, Albus, Matt, come here,” Rose said as she looked out the window.
Albus and Matt walked over to the window and leaned over the table that was in front of it.
“What is it?” Albus asked.
Matt leaned farther over the table and knocked one of the crystal sculptures off. Rose gasped and managed to catch it before it crashed onto the floor.
“Merlin,” Rose whispered as she set it back on the table, “Be careful.”
“Sorry,” Matt replied, “What were you saying?”
“There's someone sneaking around out there,” Rose said.
Albus peered out the window into the darkness. He could just barely make out a shadow lurking around the bushes. It didn't look like the person was walking up towards the house to go to the party. Plus, why would he show up three hours late?
“There's definitely someone out there,” Matt said.
“Let's go find out who it is,” Albus said. He didn't have a clue as to who it was, but he wanted to find out. There was no reason for someone to be sneaking around the Minister's Mansion at this time of night.
“Albus Severus Potter, are you bloody insane?” Rose exclaimed, “I think you are!”
“Look, I just want to go see if we can find out who it is. I'm not saying we should go duel them. Plus, there's a whole room full of Ministry officials in case whoever is out there is someone bad,” Albus said.
“That's a good point,” Matt replied, “Why would someone sneak around a house that's full of Ministry officials, especially when the two top Aurors are inside?”
“I don't know,” Albus said, “But I want to find out who it is.”
Rose reluctantly agreed and followed Albus and Matt, muttering under her breath. They found the nearest door and went out into the cold night, drawing their wands as they did so.
“If we aren't killed, we'll freeze to death,” Rose muttered.
Albus ignored her and started looking around. He stayed close to the house and tried to keep himself concealed in the bushes as he looked for the figure. However, he couldn't see or hear anything.
“Do you hear anything?” he whispered to Matt.
“No,” Matt replied, “It's like they disapparated or something.”
“Good,” Rose muttered, “Now let's go back inside.”
“They could've just moved,” Albus pointed out, “Let's keep going.”
Albus continued creeping around the house, with his wand out in front of him. His heart was beating fast and his hands were sweaty despite the cold. He didn't want to stop, though. Figuring out who this bloke was was exciting and nerve wracking at the same time.
“Don't move!” someone shouted and all of a sudden there was a bright light in Albus's eyes. Wand light.
Rose screamed and grabbed hold of Albus's arm. Albus held up his own wand, his hand shaking.
“Who are you?” the person shouted.
“Wh-who are y-you?” Albus stammered.
“He sounds familiar,” Matt whispered, “Hang on. Bloody hell, that's Professor Balladanis!”
Albus thought for a second and the voice did sound a lot like Balladanis. But why would he be sneaking around the Minister's Mansion?
“Albus Potter, is that you?” the man shouted.
“Er, yes,” Albus replied.
The wand light lowered and Albus heard the man step through the snow towards him. Albus saw that he was indeed Professor Balladanis. He breathed a sigh of relief as Rose let go of his arm.
“Mr. Potter,” Balladanis said and then waved his wand around, “And Miss Weasley, Mr. Eckerton. Oh, I suppose this party is for your father, Mr. Eckerton?”
“Y-yes, sir,” Matt replied.
“What are the three of you doing sneaking around outside in the dead of night? I thought I'd taught you better than that. You're just asking for trouble,” Balladanis said sternly.
“Told you,” Rose whispered to Albus.
“Er,” Albus began, “We saw someone lurking around out here and went to investigate. I guess that person was you....”
“And you're lucky it was me,” Balladanis barked, “The three of you could have been dead if that person had been a dark wizard. Now, I'm taking all three of you back inside.”
Albus nodded and followed Balladanis through the snow and towards the door. “Sir,” Albus said, “If you don't mind my asking, what were you doing outside?”
“If you must know, the Minister asked me to check the grounds in order to make sure nobody was lurking around,” Balladanis replied.
That did nothing but spark Albus's curiosity even more. He knew better than to press further, though. Balladanis was not one to explain his motives.
A/N: Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, as well as everyone who has read and reviewed this!
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