Chapter 1: Shots Fired
Harry slumped into a chair in his kitchen. He slouched his body over his work bag and thumped his head against the flaking-white table.
“I hate my job. I hate my job. I hate my job.” Harry repeated religiously.
A pale, lightly-freckled hand cupped his forehead and stopped his methodological banging. The thumb moved to rub his slightly reddening forehead.
“Would you stop it,” his mother warned from behind him. “You’ll damage the table.”
“Sorry,” Harry mumbled, straightening himself out. “But I do hate it. I cannot stand working for him for one more second. He’s cruel.”
“What’s Riddle done this time?” His father sighed before seating across from him at the head of the table. He picked up a copy of the Prophet and flicked through it until settling on the Quidditch sections.
“Harry can’t attend Ron and Hermione’s wedding next week because of Riddle’s big project,” his mother explained. “It’s very unexpected and very urgent, and Riddle has given Harry little to no notice or any explanation for that matter.”
His father furrowed his brow before shooting Harry a confused look.
Sighing, Harry explained. “I gave Riddle a notice a full two weeks ago. I told him I had a prior engagement. Unnegotiable scheduling. Absolutely no way can I come to work. I even sent an owl yesterday morning reminding him I would not be available, and you know what that bastard did?”
His father raised a brow.
“He floo’d me last night, right before I went to bed. I had to come in next week. That it can’t be avoided.” Harry raised his hand in exasperation. “He goes on for a good minute, and then blames me for the fact I can’t go to my best friends’ wedding. He faults my 'work behavior'.”
Harry looks at his parent’s incredulously. “Quidditch Captain, Head Boy, some of the best OWL and NEWTS the ministry has ever seen. And he says I have poor work behavior? I’ve done so much for that pissy devil. Late nights at the office. Full re-writes of his speeches. Booking his lunch. Picking his clothes.”
“Just quit,” his father shrugged. “I’ve heard you complain about that job more than I’ve heard you say anything else. Quit, and then join the Auror’s. We could always use a mind like yours.”
“I can’t,” Harry whined, shoving a piece of toast in his mouth.
Harry had decided to join Undersecretary Riddle’s staff right out of Hogwarts. While he wanted to join the Auror’s and contribute in some way to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, he’d wouldn’t be able to stand being compared to his father for too long. He loved his father, but he had no desire spend his time being told how much he looked or behaved like someone else. It was like that in Hogwarts, and Harry wasn’t going to go spend the rest of his adult life being told how much like his father he was.
Divulging from his path, Harry was told by Draco how Riddle had an opening in his staff and that he was willing to take on recent Hogwarts graduates. Taking a shot, Harry owl’d in his resume and was pleasantly surprised to find an acceptance and a scheduled interview the next morning. In hindsight, that should’ve told Harry that the man never rested. A perpetual working machine.
Harry joined Riddle’s staff and was put to work right away. It took a few days in the beginning to adjust to the high demand. Riddle always seemed to be doing something and he never stopped to enjoy a moment.
Every win just brought on more work. Did the legislation Riddle support get pushed through? That’s fantastic, now it’s time to write speeches, book meetings with heads of departments, and see to the concerns of members of the Wizengamot. He helped Riddle with his opinion pieces for the Prophet, overview reports, and managed communication within the Undersecretary’s staff.
While Harry was rough in the beginning— almost quitting the first day, he soon became Riddle’s right-hand man of sorts, if Riddle was modest enough to admit needing a right-hand man.
Those employed under Riddle did not last long. Sooner or later, someone was fired or quit. No one had lasted long, and it was known that Riddle demanded high energy and devotion to his work.
Harry was the longest serving member of Riddle’s staff, and thus, the senior most member who engaged with Riddle the most.
He wasn’t sure whether the man even liked him. Riddle was hardly the sort to take the time to chat, and he valued work performance over everything. Why breathe when you could spend that time evaluating the latest piece of legislation introduced?
Riddle told Harry what to do and Harry did it. It was exhausting at times, but the money was good and Riddle’s unsaid ban on personal matters prevented anyone from asking him about his father, his mother, or his ex-girlfriend.
But this took the cake. Harry warned Riddle he was taking his vacation days. He told him he was attending a wedding and that would pull him away from his work for a full week. He had already prepared Nott to take over any on-going work commitments and basically trained the poor fool on how to handle Riddle.
Yet, Riddle had a new idea he needed all hands-on deck for, and when Harry explained he couldn’t start with a new project if he was only going to disappear soon, Riddle had the gall to say that if Harry wasn’t committed to his work, then he shouldn’t bother returning to work at all.
Harry was furious. It was his only job out of Hogwarts, and his immediate superior had quit sometime ago and it was only Riddle left who knew him long enough to write a letter of recommendation. Harry also knew how extensive Riddle’s sphere of influence was in the Ministry. Should Harry even want a position shining shoes, Riddle was powerful enough to stop it.
No one realized it either. Not his father who was Head Auror, neither did Fudge the incompetent Minister. The only ones who seemed to know just how far Riddle could go was him, Riddle’s Pureblood allies, and maybe even Dumbledore, if the Headmaster’s cryptic words of advice held any significance.
Resigned, Harry finished his breakfast, kissed his mother goodbye, and promised his father a Quidditch rematch soon before floo-ing into the Ministry and heading to Riddle’s offices. On his way up, Harry stopped beside a café cart and purchased Riddle his preferred cup of tea before buying a coffee for himself.
Entering the office space, Harry placed Riddle’s steaming cup on his desk atop a coaster that Narcissa had gifted Riddle. Cautiously, Harry also placed a stack of various reports and research Riddle had ordered him to go through the past week with his annotations atop his desk, far from the tea’s possible path of destruction.
Harry grabbed whatever messages or assignments Riddle had left for him in his pigeonhole before retreating to his own desk. He flicked through some of the assignments, and there was nothing ordinary, all of it were things he had expected to come his way any day now. Nothing of Riddle’s big plan was there.
A seed of doubt had planted itself in his guts. Was Riddle prepared to fire him? Was he that unsatisfied with his work? He knew that Riddle had threatened to cut him out if he wasn’t going to be on board with his work, but Harry had showed up hadn’t he? Riddle hardly fired anyone, not that the man couldn’t do it, but Harry or some other senior member usually did it. It was rare for Riddle to be so displeased with them.
Shaking away his thoughts, Harry resumed his work. He updated progress reports, distributed work to his subordinates, and re-confirmed Riddle’s schedule for the day.
Soon enough, his infamous boss walks in. His robes flapped behind him as he engaged in conversation with Lucius Malfoy and Rodolphus Lestrange. The man hardly acknowledged his staff as he rapidly cross-talked. He stopped briefly to grab his tea, shooting a quick look to Harry, before resuming the conversation.
The trio walked into an attached meeting room, and were soon joined by Bellatrix and Barty Crouch.
It wasn’t odd to see Riddle among that crowd, but never did he do it so brazenly. Feverish whispers spread through the small work space like wildfire. Harry had to shoo his co-workers along, telling them to focus on their work lest their behavior affect their performance sheets.
Soon enough, Harry got the staff under control, thanking Merlin that the standard Ministry meeting rooms had frosted windows, preventing any nosy workers from crowding around to catch a word of what might be going on.
Though, just to be sure, Harry cast a silencing bubble to deter any nosy employees.
Trying to ignore it himself, Harry diligently began his work, trying to finish as much as possible so that he could still make it to some part of the wedding. If he couldn’t attend the whole week of festivities, Harry very well planned to attend the ceremony and reception at the least.
It wasn’t long until Harry lost himself in his work, his mind moving through the paperwork systematically. He had almost forgotten about the secret, undisclosed meeting occurring the room behind him. That was until Lucius stuck his head out and called him in.
Surprised, Harry rose up and entered the room. He tried to ignore the way Bellatrix was scrutinizing him from the corner, at the way Lestrange and Crouch were analyzing him, at Lucius blank look. At the head of the long conference table, Riddle sat staring at Harry in consideration.
The conference table was filled with various papers, pamphlets, photographs, and packets. Folders were spread out and duplicates were at every occupied chair.
“I plan to run for Minister after Fudge’s term ends.” Riddle announced to him as he thumbed the papers in front of him. “He has high enough approval ratings but his health is deteriorating substantially. On the guidance of his healer, he would not look for re-election. Instead, he will endorse me when I nominate myself for the position.”
“Why?” Was all that left Harry’s mouth.
He nearly grimaced at the way Bellatrix clicked her tongue, but was careful to only look at Riddle who watched him intently. “Truthfully, I was going to hold off a term more had I not heard of Scrimgeour’s plans to run himself. He would be a more… hardened man to come into understanding with.”
He isn’t as easy to manipulate, Harry’s mind supplied. That still hadn’t answered his question, though. Any one of Riddle’s sycophants would have sufficed. “Why you?”
Riddle cracked a smile, showing the barest hint of his canines. “Come now, Harry, isn’t about time we stopped hiding in the shadows. Besides, Rufus will need a proper contender. Who not better than I?”
“As a result,” Lucius continued, pulling a chair for Harry to take a seat in. “The Undersecretary will need the full support of his staff at this time.”
Ah, Harry thought. Riddle is finally making a move.
Riddle would need him more than ever. Aside from writing his speeches, they’d need to start organizing fundraising events, distributing pamphlets, and set up his campaign platform. Harry would need to get in touch with publishers, and some of the more prominent news outlets. Riddle resonates well with older, pureblood families, but he would need to work more with Muggleborn institutions to improve his standing in their eyes.
Wait, Harry’s mind stopped. What was he doing?
“Great,” Harry said slowly, distancing himself from the stack of papers. No matter how much his fingers itched to grab a look at what ever figures and statistics that were prepared. “I’ll be sure to get started when I come back.”
Riddle’s mutinous look could’ve killed. “I don’t think you understand the consequences of your actions. The circumstances surrounding this is vital. It’s critical for your position.”
“I understand the predicament,” Harry retaliated. “But I have never taken a day off the entire time I’ve worked for you. All I ask for is a week, then I’ll be back in time to do whatever you need me to do.”
“You expect me to be fine with you taking a vacation during one of the most pivotal weeks of my career? I’m about to announce my candidacy. The media notice that week alone will propel public interest for the remainder of the campaign. You will not be allowed to scrap your duties.”
“Excuse me?” Harry stood stunned. He could feel his neck flush with anger. “I told you well beforehand. Besides, why do you even need to announce anything this week? It can be held off until I return.”
“And risk Scrimgeour gaining the upper hand this early on?” Lucius sneered. “Any established politician understands that the longer it takes you to announce your candidacy, the more likely the public and the media will grow disinterested.”
“A week is not going to make a difference!”
“It makes all the difference in the world,” Riddle spit out. He stood up quickly, moving to Harry’s side with rapid speed. “If you are too bothered by your other commitments, then believe me, you are not that needed. Pack your things, I think you should start your vacation early.”
Before Harry could even stutter a reply, Riddle flicked his wand, and Harry was propelled out of his chair and into the hall. His personal items flew off desk and into a box Riddle had conjured up, and then shoved between his knees.
Harry blinked back at his boss only to be met with Riddle's fierce glare. “If you’re thicker than I remember, I hope you realize this isn’t an invitation for you to return.”
With a final flick, Harry was shoved out of the offices and into the Ministry hallway.
Chapter 2: A New Prospect
Having just been fired, Harry finds himself at a bit of a loss.
Here's Chapter Two!
Thank you all who left a kudos or even a comment! Posting stories on AO3 isn't something I have a lot of experience in and your words of encouragement are so helpful.
I have the first few chapters written out, and I expect to continue publishing at least once a week (on Wednesday's). I don't expect to drag this out-- I'm not a slow burn-type of person so I can't imagine writing it out.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
He felt beyond numb. Here he was in the middle of his vacation, supposed to be enjoying Ron and Hermione’s wedding and he couldn’t even be more disconnected. He had never been this idle before. Usually at this time he would be running between offices, distributing Wizengamot releases.
He’d been fired. He wasn’t even sure if Riddle was allowed to fire him for his pre-approved vacation time, but he doubted he could write his boss up for improper workplace ethics. Riddle’s slick fingers was dipped into every department. He would be lucky to even work in the Ministry again.
Harry watched as the happy couple spun around each other, basking in their love for one another. He was happy he could attend. He really was, but his gut couldn’t help but burn when he caught sight of Riddle’s charming smile on the front page of this morning’s Prophet.
He’d finally announced his run for Minister, and as he'd predicted, the public was alight with frenzy. Members and friends of the Weasley clan had actually come up to give him their congratulations, to which Harry had to sheepishly mutter that he no longer work under Riddle and had no input whatsoever.
His close friends and family were concerned for him. He didn’t mention that he’d been fired, so it was all cloak and dagger. They worried for him, especially since he started to mope around.
He was able to curve himself when he moved into Ron’s old room in the burrow for the week, helping Mrs. Weasley plan and prepare for the wedding.
Despite how it came to be, Ron and Hermione were ecstatic he could attend the whole celebration after all. Harry was too. Being fired brought some good in his life. He finally got to sit and chat with his friends. He didn’t have to worry about what the next day brought. He was able to enjoy his time rather than spending it agonizing over a piece of parchment.
Swirling his champagne glass, Harry trekked up the sloping stones to the Burrow. As he made his way inside, Harry stopped by the food stand assorted with various finger foods and a half-eaten cake.
As he grabbed a few cheese cuts, Harry felt someone else’s presence behind him. Making room, Harry shuffled politely to allow the wedding guest access to the food.
It took a moment for it to register that the man in front of him was Rufus Scrimgeour.
“Hello,” the Head of the Aurors greeted him. “Mr. Potter, isn’t it?”
Harry blinked back stupidly before jolting himself awake.
“Um, yeah,” Harry shuffled the cheeses into his left hand in order to free his right. He shook Scrimgeour’s more calloused hand. “Harry Potter.”
“It’s a lovely wedding,” Scrimgeour commented, looking pointedly outside the slanted, dust-stained window. “I was a bit hesitant when I learned it was an outdoor wedding, but it all seemed to work out in the end.”
Harry nodded. Hermione was prepared to cast rain-repellent charms should the weather turn for the worst, but luckily it was shining bright outside.
“They seem a happy couple. I wish them the best.” Scrimgeour raised his own glass in a toast, before sipping on the lightly colored liquid.
“I’m sure they appreciate you coming,” Harry said. “How do you know them, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Neither Hermione nor Ron worked in the Ministry. With the former working more with non-profits, and the latter working alongside his brothers in their shop.
“Not at all,” replied Scrimgeour. “I know Arthur from our brief interactions in the Ministry. He had sent an invite, and when I learned you were among the guests, I compelled myself to attend.”
Turning to look at him better, Scrimgeour stared at Harry intently. “If I understood correctly, you’re currently looking for work, Mr. Potter?”
“I am,” Harry replied, all too aware of what was transpiring.
“I’d like to offer you a position on my staff. You’ll find the hours tedious and the pay marginal, but I hope you’d find it in you to accept.” Scrimgeour drowned the rest of his glass. “I plan to run for Minister and could use a man of your caliber.”
“Thank you for your offer,” Harry begins to say. “But I’d have to reject it on acc—“
“Don’t be stupid,” Scrimgeour interrupted. “You’re out of a job and could undoubtably use the money. I have need for your talents. If you’re afraid of being used as bait against Riddle, then don’t be. I’m a bigger man than to resort to cheap tricks.
"I’ve heard a lot about you, Mr. Potter. How you can diligently accomplish any task. You weren’t Riddle’s longest serving staff member as a fluke. You’re experienced, articulate, and dedicated. You shouldn’t let your expertise go unrecognized just because Riddle was tired of you. I plan to announce my candidacy soon, and I hope I can count on you being there when I do.”
Scrimgeour held his hand out once more. This time the implication was far more reaching. A seal meant of Harry’s loyalty to his campaign.
While Harry wasn’t sure it was completely ethical, he was currently unemployed. Joining Scrimgeour staff would be one of the very few openings available to him.
It wasn’t as if he was completely opposed to the idea. He could feel it. The itch to return to the high stakes, highly driven environment. Working for Riddle was hell, but it was addictive. There was an itch that seemed to only be sedated when Harry worked against the clock.
Ignoring the warning bells in his mind, Harry grasped the future Minister’s hand.
The hair on his neck prickled. He could feel multiple set of eyes on him. Sipping his wine, Harry shuffled through the Ministry’s gala nonchalantly, trying to sneak a look at those glaring daggers at him.
It was three months in. As predicted, Riddle and Scrimgeour were practically neck-and-neck. There were others in the race, but just as Riddle had stated, the longer it took for the others to announce their own run, public interest was already fixated on the primary candidates.
Working with Scrimgeour was vastly different from working under Riddle. Scrimgeour was not above working with every member of his team while Riddle preferred direct correspondence to his underlings through Harry.
The rush was similar. Though it was odd to see Scrimgeour delegating most of the work himself. It took magic to understand Riddle’s mindset. Usually, one had to guess Riddle’s next move or understand what he was hinting at to accomplish anything. It wasn’t impossible, but the skill to work with Riddle required months to fine-tune, which Harry had eventually succeeded in doing.
The Ministry Gala tonight was where the most esteemed members of the Ministry and the Wizengamot came together as a large professional socialization event where very important people could make contact and rub elbows.
It was critical for campaign financing and gaining the lead on one’s opponent. And like a good, little foot soldier, Harry was out in the field, schmoozing constituents and charming donors.
Harry smiled as he engaged in conversation with Amelia Bones. He got to know her well enough in his early days at the Ministry. They’ve had a pint or two at the Leaky after work and talked sometimes about Quidditch.
Harry was a good with this. Talking to someone to just talk. He didn’t go through the programmed, almost commercial way of speaking his co-workers seemed to rely on. Ever so easily, Harry would slide in a mention of working with Scrimgeour and helping him run for Minister. How happy he was to be working for a man that seemed to really reflect his values.
And like that, Harry would move on to the next person. He didn’t need to convince them now. Only to plant the consideration in their minds.
As soon as he wrapped up his conversation with Amelia, Harry could feel the eyes on him again.
Turning around naturally, Harry came in eye contact with Bellatrix Lestrange. She was dressed in a suggestive black slip, with a glittering, feathered brooch tied between her clavicles. It highly accentuated her features.
“Hello, Mrs. Lestrange,” Harry greeted, smiling sharply. He knew why she was here. He also knew how dangerous she could be. “What a night to have a ball, isn’t it?”
Bellatrix narrowed her eyes at him. “Take your small talk somewhere else, Potter. I had hoped I wouldn’t see your repellent face here, but I always loved to be surprised.”
“Why so hostile, Bella?” Harry replied, trying to appear unbothered by her presence. “I hadn’t thought we parted ways in bad taste.”
“I never did find you funny,” she sneered before composing herself once more. “But I have to congratulate you. Who would have thought you could find another position so fast? And with Tom’s opponent as well. I always knew you weren’t the loyal lap dog you made yourself to be.”
“Is that so?” Harry ignored the bait.
“I’m almost disappointed in myself too. I misjudged you. I thought you spineless, but you turned out more deceitful and conniving than anyone gave you credit for.”
“I’m sorry you think that way,” Harry said in an effort to remain civil. He knew that Bellatrix was counting on his temper. She was waiting for him to lash out— an opportunity that she could run to the press with. How Scrimgeour encouraged temperamental staff. “Believe me, it was never my intent.”
“Of course it was never your intent. You’re not a man of action, Potter, not until its forced upon you. It was one of the reasons Tom finally decided to let you go,” Bellatrix eyed Harry back disinterestedly, backing him into a corner. “I never knew why it took him so long. Trash needs to be thrown out when it begins to rot.”
Harry made sure to keep a calm front no matter how much her words were beginning to bother him. Bellatrix and him had enough rows behind the private walls of Riddle’s office.
“It’s odd, then,” Harry began with a small condescending smile he knew would bother Bellatrix, “that Undersecretary Riddle is finding himself with so much trash. You’d think a man with the caliber to believe himself minister would know a thing about conservation. What’s his turnover rate again? If you ask me, it’s much less what to do with trash than what to do with the man creating it.”
“Watch yourself, Potter.” Bellatrix warned with a snarl. Harry could vaguely see her wand slip into her hand. He tensed at the thought of a duel, but he wouldn’t put Bellatrix down for anything else. “You think too highly of yourself. But you forget that I know you. I know that you’d rather be withering under Tom than against him. Soon enough, you’ll lower your head and beg him to take you back.”
Harry reared back as if slapped. Her accusations came as a complete surprise. Sure, Harry begrudging admired Riddle in a started-from-the-bottom success type, and sure, the other man was concedingly handsome, and sure, Riddle never had a girlfriend and so the hint of possibility was there, but Harry had never wanted to sleep with him.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Harry said in a hushed tone. Taking a step, Harry leaned close to her ear as if peaking her cheek goodbye. All too aware of the potential eyes on them. “This is hardly the time or the place to be doing this, but let me make this clear: Tom Riddle can go to hell.”
Making eye contact with some bumbling wizard that he vaguely recognized, Harry excused himself with false sincerity and briskly walked away from Bellatrix’s glaring form.
He talked briefly with the man, who he now recognized was some unimportant member of the Wizengamot, and infused him with his typical campaign speech before giving him the attention he needed in return.
Some Wizengamot members were easy to persuade. So long as you gave them some attention, they flocked to you like birds to feed. A trick he infuriatingly learned from Riddle. It worked wonders though. Giving them a small, charmed smile as they spoke of whatever topic held their interest that week was usually enough to persuade them.
Moving along strategically, Harry slowly made his way to the large balcony where he managed to slip onto following his final conversation with a toad-ish looking woman outfitted in total pink.
Signing, Harry loosened the tie around his dress shirt, basking in the cool, evening air. His robes fluttered with the wind as if a tinge of magic was surrounding him.
He wasn’t alone for long however, a voice cleared his throat behind him.
Turning around, Harry came face-to-face with Riddle.
He was a bit far away, giving a wide berth between the two wizards. His robes were a crisp, dark green. His brown hair was in a perfect wave, with several strands of gray sweeping through it. He hadn’t seen Riddle this close in months. He avoided looking at his face whenever the man graced the front of the Prophet. He nearly forgot how damnably handsome he was.
“Harry,” Riddle smiled, void of any emotion.
“Mr. Riddle,” he greeted back, cautiously.
“These Ministry functions do drag on, don’t they? Rather exhausting to say the least.” Riddle took a step forward. His long leg stretching out elegantly.
Harry took a much shorter step back. “It comes with the job, I’m afraid.”
“Hm, I suppose so. Your employment does require you to be here, doesn’t it? You’re working for Scrimgeour, as an aide of sorts.” A step forward.
“Yes,” Harry said sharply. A step back.
“I must confess to be rather disappointed. I hadn’t expected you to sink so low.” A step.
“Excuse me?” Harry’s brows rose. He stood firmly on the ground, jabbing a finger towards Riddle. “If you forgotten—”
“Now, Harry enough of that temper.” Riddle interrupted, striding forward. They were only a few feet apart now. “I only meant that I thought you were the type of man to work for someone you believed in. You can hardly expect me to think you have any sort of confidence in Rufus.”
“I have the fullest confidence in Mr. Scrimgeour.” Harry said confidently, though he wasn’t quite sure how truthful that statement was. The man was imposing for sure. Strong, definitely. But whether he had the ability to make it all the way was questionable at best. “I’m sure he will succeed in the election.”
“He won’t,” Riddle said decidedly, waving a hand dismissively. “He’s not very forthcoming. I doubt he could even say how he likes his tea without circling around the answer for 30 minutes in fear of offending anyone.”
“As opposed to you?” Harry snapped back, leaning in closer. They could see each other clearly now. Harry tried to ignore how the backlit form of Riddle gave him an ethereal glow. “You’re so definitive that you risk alienating an entire part of the population.”
It was well known that Riddle was a traditionalist. He favored keeping old Pureblood legislation and made it exceedingly difficult for more muggleborn integration, despite him being a half-blood himself.
Riddle laughed. An ugly, condescending laugh that made Harry feel the size of an ant. “When it comes time to debate, the entire country will see how Scrimgeour never answers a question directly. That’s his problem. They’ll never take his word for action.”
Harry shook his head. “Scrimgeour is approachable.” Lie “He’s highly experienced. He’ll maintain the public confidence and safety. That’s what the people want.”
“He’s going to lose. It's inevitable.” A small smile graces Riddle’s face as he looks down at Harry. It was making his insides squirm uncomfortably.
“He has a good shot,” defended Harry stubbornly. “They see him as a more central figure, less of an extremist.”
“You forget,” Riddle taunts. “I may be extreme, but at least I have views— opinions—a goal.”
It went left unsaid. Scrimgeour had none.
That's a wrap on ch. 2
Please, let me know what you think!
See you all later =)
Chapter 3: Work is Work
Harry does his job
Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for all the wonderful comments and kudus you all left last chapter. I am consistently blown away and I promise you I read each one, and to be honest? I re-read them cause they're just great
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Harry hated to admit it, but Riddle was partially right. It wasn't that the Scrimgeour held no opinions— it was just that he was afraid of being impartial. The man was feared being impartial. More than a decade in magical law enforcement had beaten a sense of justice and fairness into the man that paralleled no other. He wanted to appeal to all, traditionalists and progressives alike. Appease both sides.
And his way of doing that? Refuse to answer a question directly, and say as much as he can, even if that ends up sounding like complete nonsense to anyone with half a brain.
That, regrettably, resulted in confusing and often conflicting viewpoints that— frankly speaking— appealed to no one.
At least Riddle’s extreme views appealed a select crowd, interesting attractive donors like the Zabini's or the Greengrass’. Families with interest and money to spare.
Unfortunately, Scrimgeour had considerably less success down that avenue. He had a tougher time convincing donors that his campaign was viable.
The one thing Harry was certain Riddle was taking advantage of was Scrimgeour's utter incorruptibility. The man wouldn't touch dirty money, especially not if it came with a subtle promises laced in bribery. Morally speaking, Scrimgeour was far above the levels of his competitors. it was unfortunate for them that Riddle held no such moral backbone.
It was exhausting at times. Harry knows that the Minister should be right and just, but the established system makes it difficult to do so.
“Potter,” Zacharias Smith called out— interrupting his thoughts. The man’s mousy-blond head popped from around a corner into Harry’s line of sight. He looked just as tired and defeated as Harry felt. “Have you gotten the latest poll predictions? I want to get ahead of the Evening Prophet.”
“I do. One second.” Sighing, Harry scratched his temple as he flipped through a manila folder coming across the page displaying a graph with multiple colors and arrows. It currently listed all the current contenders for Minister as well as how likely they were to fair in the next coming weeks. Luckily, Scrimgeour was roughly neck-in-neck with Riddle.
Harry handed the paperwork to Smith, fully expecting the other man to move away—back to whatever corner of Scrimgeour’s cramped staff room he currently occupied. He was slightly surprised to see that Smith was still lingering by his desk.
Looking at the man expectantly, Harry declined to speak first. Instead he watched as a pensive Smith stare him down, looking for something that wasn’t there.
“How is Riddle?” Smith finally managed to get out after another awkward moment.
“Riddle?” Harry repeated confused. Had Smith wanted to discuss Riddle’s performance these last few days? He had been doing rather well. He made use of his youthful appearance to appear on the cover of Witch Weekly to undoubtedly attract younger voters, though Harry was sure whoever decided to set up that particular interview was never heard from again. “He’s doing alright. He isn’t polling as high as he has been when he first announced his candidacy.”
Thank Merlin for small miracles, Harry thought. Regardless of Scrimgeour’s faults, his name-recognition was enough to overcome the large gap Riddle had established for himself.
“No, that’s not what I mean.” Smith looked contemplative. He took a seat at the cushioned chair that was positioned adjacent to Harry’s desk. He leaned closer conspiratorially. “I saw you talking with him at the gala. He’s a bit intimidating, isn’t he? But, also significantly better looking than anyone gives him credit for. I was a bit star-struck if I’m being honest. I don't know how you could stand beside him for that long.”
“You understand I used to work for him, right?” Harry furrowed his brows. “Any sort of awe tends to disappear after he wakes you up in the middle of the night to run faxes for him.”
“But, it’s Riddle. He has more talent and ambition in his pinky than all of Wizarding World, and not to mention, he looked pretty interested in you the other night. I mean, he waited until you were alone to seek you out.”
It was stupid, but Harry didn’t think anyone had seen him and Riddle’s brief talk. It wasn’t like he was hiding it, but in that moment, it hadn't felt like they were mere steps away from a crowded ball. It held a vastly different mood than his run-in with Bellatrix.
“I’m not sure what you’re asking about, Smith.” Harry stared at the other man in the eye, daring him to go on.
“I’m just wondering where your loyalties lie, Potter.” Smith said innocently, as if he wasn’t questioning Harry’s character. “You looked pretty chummy.”
Harry was certain he had been mere seconds away from blasting Riddle’s infuriating smirk off his face. “I can assure you that nothing interests me more than making sure Scrimgeour is Minister.” And having Riddle suck it in the meantime.
“Terrific,” Smith stood up, patting non-existing dust off his robes. “Just be more cautious, okay Potter? No more one-on-one meetings with You-Know-Who, lest word gets back to Scrimgeour.”
“Are you threatening me?” Harry's raised his brows in disbelief.
“Honestly? No.” Smith responded simply. “I’m warning you, Harry. You’re a good worker. You may actually have the ability of getting Scrimgeour to office, but that will not be the case if your allegiances aren’t in the clear.”
“Worry about yourself, Smith.” Harry defended, swiveling his chair to get a better look at the man.
“I am, but that includes making sure that my interests aren’t harmed by other’s mis-guided ambitions.” Smith turned around and began to make his way back to his own desk. “I’ll catch you later, Potter.”
“Gather around people!” Bertie Higgs waved around a stack of papers, drawing everyone’s attention. He was Scrimegeour’s number two. A pal from Hogwarts who was the first to know of Scrimgeour’s candidacy. “We are approximately two weeks away from the first debate, and we are woefully unprepared. Luckily, we know the other side is just as poorly ready according to the Prophet.”
A few sparse claps made its way through the gathered crowd. The Prophet, despite Riddle’s close connections, had run an article tearing apart Riddle’s campaign, which was apparently running on sticks at the moment. It was practically a smear campaign at this point. Riddle’s inability to keep staff was beginning to become public knowledge, a fact that Harry took immense satisfaction in seeing it come to light.
“We need to deviate some responsibilities here.” Higgs announced. His sleeked back hair reflected the overhanging lights, making it appear greaser than it probably was. “I need someone on finance analytics- corporate and individual donations.”
“Here,” Cormac McLaggen raised a hand. An older man clapped his back.
“Good man,” Higgs handed a folder over to the former Gryffindor keeper. “I need someone on media relations, the Prophet piece was good but we need to keep the trend— don’t want Riddle gathering his bearings, or worse, run an equally disastrous piece on us. Merlin knows we don't need this now.”
“I’ve got it,” a dark-haired woman Harry hadn’t learned the name of raised her hand. It was difficult to pinpoint her age. She could’ve easily been his mother’s age or even his grandmother’s.
Higgs handed her a well-worn, red-colored folder. “I’ll allow you all to designate your own subcommittees once I’m done here. Field research?”
A brown-haired man this time, with ragged scars and dark eyes. A blue folder for him.
This went on for a few more folders. Various members of Scrimgeour’s staff nominated themselves for positions to prep for debate. Harry stood back, biting his thumb while waiting for the one that would spark his interest.
“Now,” Higgs huffed. There were only a few of them left at this point. “I need someone for the Wizengamot floor. Not exactly critical work at the moment, but it will vastly help us in the long run.”
There. Harry raised his hand for it. He was the most qualified of the lot to talk to members of the Wizengamot, and the most experienced given his knowledge of Riddle’s typical tactics. He knew who was who and had even run into some on a social basis.
Higgs caught his eye before moving across the room. “Zacharias”
Harry watched in thinly veiled disgust as Smith threw him a smug grin before going to accept the crème-colored folder and trotting back to his desk.
“The rest of you find yourself a subcommittee,” Higgs delegated. “Potter, walk with me.”
Sucking softly on his inner check, Harry got up and walked in stride with the older man.
“Hope you don’t mind I singled you out, my boy.” Higgs patted his back and steered him out of the campaign office. “I understand your interest for the Wizengamot position, and I would have given it you had I not needed you somewhere else”
“You know Riddle more than anyone else on Scrimgeour’s staff. Word in the Ministry is you were one of his longest staffers. You don’t become that way by chance, Mr. Potter, and frankly I don't see you an anything other than the capable man before me.”
“Thank you, sir." Harry took complement with nod.
“Consequently,” Higgs continued. They were walking through the Ministry now, headed in the direction of the stairs. “I want you to work one-on-one with Rufus. You know how Riddle will likely attack, and I need you to prepare our man for the worst.”
“For the debate, you mean?”
“Exactly,” Higgs nodded point his knobby finger at Harry before they began to climb the down the stairs. “In addition to that, you and I both know Rufus is not the one for public speaking. I need you, and your charismatic charm, to help him prepare. The public will want a strong leader out of Rufus. It will be your job to make them know it.”
“I understand,” Harry nodded along. They reached the 2nd level: the designated floor for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Due to the Ministry’s campaign laws, Ministry employees running for a position must continue to work at their respective jobs. No work hours can be delegated to campaign efforts. During normal working hours, Scrimgeour was currently doing his work as Head Auror.
“Scrimgeour!” Higgs called out into the busy office.
Harry saw as various aurors decorated in dark-maroon colored trench coats paced the floor, moving from desk to desk in the open workspace. Every cubicle was adorned with pinups of news articles and photographs of various wanted witch or wizards.
He’d been inside a few times before, often visiting his father or godfather, who he couldn’t see at the moment. They were likely out in the field doing patrols or the like.
Harry always appreciated the chaotic nature of the auror department. In a lot of ways, it often reminded him of the Gryffindor common room.
Higgs, apparently not as enamored as Harry by the chaos, stopped a younger looking boy carrying a stack of papers. “Scrimgeour?”
The boy sighed irritably and jerked his head to the side, in the direction of a group of huddled aurors.
Higgs let the boy go and marched over to the group, not appearing apprehensive at the possibility of interrupting their work.
“Rufus, you free?” Higgs pushed a few of the aurors aside, ignoring the looks of outcry shot at his direction.
Scrimgeour looked back at his old friend impatiently. “What do you possibly want now?”
“Is that how you treat your campaign chief, you bastard?” Higgs sniffed. He turned and grabbed Harry by the collar and shoved him to the front. “Potter here is going to help you with your debate against Riddle. It would do you a lot of help to listen to the boy and make action of his words. After you’re done here, you ring him up and allow him to do his job, you got that?”
“You’re increasingly insufferable, you old crook. It would do you some good to learn some damn respect.” Scrimgeour glared at his friend before turning his gaze onto Harry. “Listen here, Potter. I’m a very busy man and my time is limited. So, it’s your task to make sure I am the best possible candidate out there as efficiently as possible, you hear me? Don’t make me regret it.”
“I won’t, Sir,” Harry shook the Auror’s calloused hand.
“How have you been fairing otherwise?” Scrimgeour asked.
“The boy’s got a good head on his shoulders,” Higgs answered for him. Not that Harry minded. “He made quick work of that Skeeter piece. Spinned that nasty rumor around so fast, Skeeter would think twice before coming at you again.”
“Good,” Scrimgeour nodded. He rubbed his chin pensively as he stared at Harry for a moment longer. “I can see why Riddle kept you on for so long. You’re competent, Potter. Something that is lacking in a lot of people.”
“Thank you, Sir. I strive to be.” Harry gave him a tight-lipped smile. “It helps to work with an equally competent staff.”
“Ha,” Scrimgeour snorted. “I would hardly call the likes of Higgs competent.”
“You’re a piece of work, aren’t you?” Higgs scowled, an impressive frown on his face before he turned to look back at Harry. “Go back on up, Potter. Rufus will meet you when he’s done. You can go over the logistics of it all.”
Taking his cue, Harry nodded at the two bulky men who began to squabble once more before making his exit.
I didn't really like this chapter since nothing really happens and I wasn't impressed by my own writing. There was some tension and work, but a little boring over all. I spent a while editing it a bit. Still not impressed, but oh well :/
Obligatory school is kicking my ass, so we are catching up on my pre-written stuff. Hopefully will sit down and churn out a few more chapters this weekend so I'm not releasing more "meh" stuff.
Please, please let me know your thoughts and your suggestions! Anything you'd like to see?
IMPORTANT PSA: How's the length? This chapter used to be longer but I cut it in half while editing. I try to keep my chapters at roughly 2k words since I think it's easier to digest and lets me update weekly. If I were to write more (say 5k per chapter), I think the updates would get a bit slower (think around 1 month). So let me know, please!
Chapter 4: A Conversation Between Rufus and Harry
Harry gets some one-on-one time with Rufus.
A week later, Harry fell into a simple rhythm. He would head to work in the morning, buy a breakfast scone in the lobby from the eldery lady with the red-and-white striped cart, and do whatever work needed to be done before noon, which usually consisted of preparing research reports that he could then distribute to the rest of the staff. After lunch, he’d buckle down and begin to develop debate briefs that he would then present to Rufus in the evenings.
It was going well. Harry was currently intrenched in the pages of the Prophet, trying to garner the way the public was likely to sway on certain topics. He was sure that he could convince Scrimgeour in the coming week to develop a more staunch position if he was made aware of public reactions.
Scrimgeour still had the nasty habit of deflecting questions or answering without actually saying what he meant. Luckily the man’s natural sense of righteousness tended to establish some key positions, including ‘Dark Magic – Bad’ and ‘Public Safety – good’.
He was also a natural born leader. Harry would gamble that no one thought Scrimgeour weak-minded or incapable of commanding. The man’s experience as Head Auror alone set him apart from everyone else. All Harry needed to do was make sure that the voters knew that. Convince them that there was no one else better for the job than Scrimgeour.
Scrimgeour’s stage presence would be key in establishing voter’s trust. The Head Auror was overwhelming to say the least. A tall, bulky man with an imposing stature and a prominent brow. He walked with a limp on the occasion, a characteristic given by his decades working as an Auror.
He hoped that it appeared endearing, but Harry wasn’t certain how well that would work for them. The pages of Witch Weekly tended to gush over Riddle’s appearance, fawning over his high cheekbones and angelic features. A new, fresh face that was needed in the Ministry. On the other hand, Scrimgeour was far rougher around the edges to say the least.
But what Harry was certain of was Riddle. He knew Riddle’s mind better than the man himself. He knew how he thought, how he reacted, and how he was likely to strike. An advantage, Harry thought, that Riddle didn’t have.
One of Riddle’s greatest flaws was his ability to underestimate those he thought beneath him. It may be Harry thinking highly of himself, but he knew that Riddle underestimated him. Sure, Riddle believed him a good foot solider, but many things had changed since then. Possibly one of the greatest things Riddle had taught him was to take in his surroundings like a sponge, be aware of everyone and everything and use whatever you have in your arsenal to accomplish your goal.
It was very Slytherin of Riddle. In some ways, Harry respected the other man. He had to climb his way to success. Use whatever resource he had at his disposal to clench victory fro the jaws of inequality. Fighting against blood status, social standing, and economic disparity, the man was truly a sight to behold.
It was too bad that Riddle would rather burn alive than admit to any of fraction of his past— to admit to being anything less than what he is now.
That arrogance will be his downfall, Harry thought with a smug smile.
As the clock struck 6, Harry packed his things into his well-worn messenger bag and followed the winding halls of the Ministry until he reached the atrium.
Taking a handful of floo powder, Harry took a gracious step forward. He threw the white dust with a shout and watched as his view became obstructed by flames of acidic, fiery green.
Harry felt his body stretch and squeeze as it shot through space. It was only half a second, but it succeeded in causing a deep-rooted sense of discomfort in his bones.
Momentarily disoriented, it took a moment for Harry to realize he reached his destination: Scrimgeour’s personal quarters. The man lived in a townhouse in central London. From across the street through the eyes of a muggle, the house appears damp and decrepit, but under the haze of magic, a red-bricked wonder with gold trim and clear windows stood proudly, very similar to its owner.
The inside was very much the same. Tall ceiling, furniture barred from any stain or tear, and white marbling throughout. He saw a house elf in the corner, reaching over a large vase with a colored duster to lightly sweep away any filth.
Harry made his way through the open doorway at the entrance of the foyer and followed the steps of a winding, carpeted staircase. At the top, Harry turned to his left and approached the door at the end of the hallway. It was left ajar, with a thin ray of the evening light streaming through a tall, louvered window.
Three sharp knocks on the aged wood prompted a brief “Come in.”
Obliging, Harry nodded his head as he entered and took his regular plume-colored seat beside the fireplace. Across from him sat Scrimgeour in a far more impressive leather chair. A book sat open atop his lap and a pair of bifocals on his nose.
“Ah, Harry, good. You’re on time.” Scrimgeour sat up straighter in his chair, shutting the book and placing it on the table beside him. “The debate is not too far away from us now. It’ll be a pivotal time around here, and I want to be sure that everything runs smoothly.”
“Should we go over your opening argument then?” Harry suggested, already pulling out his notes and handing Scrimgeour a copy.
Bowing his head in acknowledgement, the older man pulled out his brief speech and adjusted the glasses on his face as he read:
“Public security is the priority of my administration. Gone are the days of Dark Lords and so has our investment in our safety. Petty crimes in Diagon Alley to mass corruption at the top levels of the Ministry has risen dramatically these past few years. My opponents would have you believe that the argument here lies elsewhere…”
Although it very much sounded like he was reading off a page, Scrimegeour still had the rare ability to captivate. He drew people in, had them believe that every word he was saying held some sort of importance.
Taking notes on the margin, Harry watched Scrimgeour’s delivery with special focus on how he stressed his words. A wrong syllable here or there could set off unintended consequences. It was a technique he developed while working with Riddle. The man was detailed to a fault if anything.
Frowning, Harry shook his head. No matter how much he tried, thoughts of Riddle would still wiggle themselves through. It was like the man was perpetually in his ear; whispering, smirking, laughing.
“…Our world has perhaps faced no greater threat than it does today. It is why my administration will work to end the corruption that floods our streets red. I say this to our citizens: We are your servants, and we will continue to defend your liberty, your freedom and defend it against forces that seek to take them away. Thank you.” Scrimgeour finished, taking a sip of tea when he was done.
Harry sucked on the inside of his cheek as he analyzed the opening statement. A bit dramatic. The flaw with Scrimgeour’s staff is the co-dependency of it all. The speech was written by 5 staffers, Harry included. It led to a level of inconsistency that Harry felt weakened its value.
It was meant to be an opening statement, introduce Scrimgeour to those who may not know him. Dialogue that dramatic could set off the wrong impression, cause people to believe to think that Scrimgeour was pointing a finger at something that didn’t exist. On the other hand, it could also work. As Head Auror with decades of experience working in the Ministry, Scrimgeour would provide the view of someone from the inside. It was a double-edged sword.
“Well?” Scrimgeour prompted, placing his tea cup back in its saucer before pulling a silk napkin from his coat pocket and dabbing the sides of his mouth.
“No one can say you’re not a man of action,” Harry said. “if you’re trying to implement any policy changes within your first few days in office, it would be imperative to state your intentions directly. I think you're being unnecessarily vague at the moment, which wouldn’t work well during the debate.”
Scrimgeour tilted his head in consideration. “I agree, I don’t want to give any of my opponents potential fuel. Not that I can’t handle anything they throw at me, mind you, but if we can curb it or better yet predict the way they’ll go, it would work best for me.”
“Of course,” Harry pulled out a self-filling quill and small sleeve pf parchment with an adhesive backing that he could temporarily stick to his copy of the speech. “I can take a few notes tonight and meet up with the rest of the group on Monday to see of getting anything changed. Is there anything you feel we should add?”
“Foreign policy,” Scrimgeour said much to Harry's surprise. He pointed a knobby finger towards the younger wizard. “I want to include how we present ourselves on the global scale. It’ll separate me from the others, and I know it’ll stir things up, hopefully not too bad, but I think we can approach a wider set of people if we go for it. I want to come across as a strong supporter of international cooperation, place Britain back as the face of leadership.”
Nodding diligently, Harry wrote it down. It would be a good topic to discuss in his opening. The others, especially Riddle, would pounce on it considering they were all for Britain's estrangement from the rest of Europe. But this was workable. They could likely predict how the others will react and plan accordingly.
“May I recommend including some fiscal measures?” Harry suggested, the tip of his feathered quill reaching the side of his lips. He was thinking a few steps ahead at the moment, weighing the repercussions of his actions.
“Something economical?” Scrimgeour huffed before waving his hand in a ‘go ahead’ movement. “They love hearing that sort of thing, don’t they? We can tie it in with foreign policy, free trade and growth of capital or whatnot. McLaggen lad is on it, isn’t he? Get some numbers from him and work it in. To strengthen our resolve,”
It added another person to their writing team, which made things annoyingly difficult. Hopefully, he could just get the numbers from Cormac without him demanding writing credits or forcing his way into the writer’s room, Harry thought as he scratched his temple absentmindedly.
Finished writing, Harry waiting patiently for Scrimgeour to continue, but the other man was just staring at Harry now. The Head Auror had leaned back into his cushioned chair and draped one leg over the other. His forefinger rubbed the bottom of his mustached lip in consideration.
Harry kept silent, feeling as if the man was conducting some sort of experiment on him. Not wanting to fail whatever test was being instigated, Harry tried to appear as nonchalant as he could, unbothered by the tawny eyes following his form.
A moment later, the man pulled his hand away.
“I can’t sleep.” Scrimgeour said.
“Well, um…” Harry blinked at the abrupt shift in conversation. Taking a moment to compose himself, Harry began again, “What happens when you try to sleep?”
“I stay awake.”
“How long has it been?” Harry asked, convinced that Scrimgeour had to be telling this to him for a reason.
That was… a long time without going to sleep. The stress of the running must have started to weigh Scrimgeour down. Harry looked closer at the man. His eyes had a sunken look in them that weren’t there a few weeks ago. He looked more bone weary, and why would he not? The man was running as Minister while simultaneously maintaining his position as Head Auror. Harry was stressed now and he only had one job.
“That must be hard.”
Scrimgeour moved his hand to form fist under his nose, cupping his jaw. “My wife says that I’m stressed. I don’t like that word – ‘stress’. Stress is a superficial experience. Something that can be fixed with a cup of tea and a light stroll.”
“You don’t feel stress?” Harry raised a brow, trying not to appear skeptical as he felt. He leaned into his chair, making himself more comfortable.
As the evening sky began to darken, so did the room. Only the faint glow of the fireplace lit up the room, casting dark shadows behind every corner.
“I have a job I find pride it, and my family’s healthy.” Scrimgeour deflected.
“It doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to feel stress,” Harry reasoned with the older man, pausing a moment before adding a quick “Sir,”.
Scrimgeour only shook his head. “Stress is a concept designed for other people. A scapegoat for their problems. A way to deal with desperation.”
“Well, I'm told that most men who govern live lives of quiet desperation.” Harry crossed his legs, staring at Scrimgeour hard and unblinking.
A moment passed as the two men sized each other up.
“Who told you that?” Scrimgeour questioned.
“A muggle told you that?”
“A muggle said that. It was my mother who quoted it to me.” Harry said. “It’s another point you could address on the campaign trail that the others aren’t touching. Muggle integration. No one else running has made comment on it.”
"Muggle integration?” Scrimgeour questioned disbelievingly. “Are you out of your mind, Potter? Is your head on straight or should I send for a specialist from St. Mungo’s?”
Refraining from rolling his eyes, Harry responded with a shrug. “It was only a suggestion. A topic that would allow you to stand apart from the others.”
“Yes, I’m looking to stand out, not completely ostracize myself this early on.”
“You need to develop a platform that the people will rally behind.”
“And I will,” Scrimgeour guaranteed, leaning back reassured. “But not one as radical as that. Remember, Potter, that I’m not looking to start a revolution.”
"But what of Muggleborn rights?"
He wasn't sure why he was doing this, but Harry felt compelled to press Scrimgeour. He wanted to find out how the other man thought. Where his beliefs lie. It was terribly untoward and possibly not the best time to bring it up, but Harry wasn't sure if there was a more appropriate time.
Scrimgeour pinched the bridge of his nose in annoyance. Letting out an insufferable sigh, Scrimgeour asked, “What of it?”
“The fact that Muggleborns have disproportionality lower representation in the Ministry.”
“Last I checked, Potter, Muggleborns were still allowed a vote.”
“But not in the Wizengamot,” Harry pointed out. “Where the seats are almost always inherited within a family and based on nothing except keeping the lining of Pureblood wallets full.”
“I’m not using my campaign to promote a minute topic of issue,” Scrimgeour said. “I’m not looking to reform the ministry. This isn't what the public wants."
"What does the public want?" Harry questioned, green eyes narrowing in focus.
"Safety and security of mind, Potter. I will not be the candidate that seeks to rattle chains, especially chains that would divide the nation than bring it together. To run a successful campaign, you need to know which side the bread is buttered. Our priorities aren't here, Potter. Move on." Scrimgeour ordered.
"Of course, sir," Harry conceded.
I think my personal struggle with writing is characterization, and I really did try and improve on that this time around. It will be something I will always have trouble with, but hopefully the more I write, the more it will improve.
Also, does it bother anyone else when reading a fanfic and the chapters are just named "Chapter #". Cause honestly, sometimes when I'm re-reading, I try and go to a specific chapter, but it ends up being a guessing game. "Did this pivotal thing happen in Chapter 17 or Chapter 41?" So, I solemnly vow to make my chapter names specific to that chapter.
Also also, I'm completely trying to avoid studying for my evolution exam by writing (and reading) fanfic, so we are back up to having the next few chapters already written/planned out =)
Here's my current timeline if anyone's interested:
Next chapter (5) - a bit more filler with pre-debate stuff + what's Harry's life without work? Tune in next week to find out
Chapter after that (6) - Debate
Ch 7: Post-Debate
Chapter 5: Harry's Pub Night with Friends
Harry has a night with friends.
Struggling, Harry gripped the strap of his leather bag tighter as he weaved his way through the cobblestone street of Diagon Alley. The soft, rhythmic patter of his feet on the road contrasted the erratic beating of his heart.
He was late, and Hermione was going to kill him.
Ever since switching over to Scrimgeour’s staff, Harry had told his friends somewhat ecstatically that he would be able to join them on their excursions. They had decided on a bi-weekly get together which Harry said he would always make.
He had missed the last three.
He had promised Hermione he would make it this time around.
Time had just evaded him. Harry was consulting with others on some aspects of the debate preparation, and what started out as a small circle of people turned wider and wider by the end of the day. It would be a week of negotiating before anything would get done at this point.
It wasn’t an excuse for being, especially when considering that was Harry’s excuse every time he was late. Taking a sharp turn past Twilfitt and Tatting’s, Harry arrived at a mid-sized, brick pub at the tail-end of Diagon. The building, which stood at a slant, was covered in peeling green paint and was perfectly sandwiched between an animal apothecary and a broom repair shop.
Stepping inside, Harry made his way through the packed room to the edge of the bar where he could see his friends congregating around. Ron had an arm wrapped around Hermione, while simultaneously sporting a half-filled brew in the other. They were chatting with Seamus and Neville. Off to the side, he could see Dean and Luna engaged in a conversation with Ginny, who was standing behind the counter. It looked like it was her night to work.
“Harry!” Ron announced with a swig of beer in direction. He untangled his arm from around Hermione’s shoulder and stood to welcome him with open arms. “Merlin, it’s as if I haven’t seen you in ages. What’ve you been up to, mate?”
Harry shot his friends a small smile as he thumped Ron’s back in greeting, before sitting down in an open stool. “Fine, same-old, same-old, I suppose. What did I miss?”
“Lipstick Feminism,” Dean filled him in from the bar, sipping from a cup filled with a cool, golden-hued liquid that Harry swore sparkled.
“What’s that then?”
“According to Hermione,” Neville adjusted his posture. “It’s empowerment through the expression of sexuality.”
“And through embracing the more traditional, girlish concepts of femininity.” Hermione amended. She gently took hold of Ron’s hand as her husband sat himself back down beside her. “I was telling them how the expression of femininity had hindered feminist ideology. Too many women have been in-fighting, too worried about how they express their views rather than work together and accomplish direct action to focus on issues like pay equity, child care, and sexual harassment. Issues that we’ve been facing for years.
“In fact, Harry, I was going to form a coalition of like-minded individuals ahead of the Minister elections. I was hoping you could present a copy of our mission statement to Scrimgeour. It would be nice to ensure that our voices were being heard.”
“I can’t promise any action, but I’ll definitely can get it into his hands.” Harry responded.
Ever since they’re meeting at Scrimgeour’s home, their work relationship had become strained. The man was absolutely convinced that Harry was trying to force or coerce him into accepting ideologies that weren’t pertinent to the future of the country.
He wasn’t sure how likely Scrimgeour’s take on Hermione’s beliefs would be, but he could get him to read it at the very least. Though, not to cloud Scrimgeour’s view, Harry will probably slip it in anonymously among the other piles of paperwork going to Scrimgeour’s office.
At least by that account, Scrimgeour won’t simply dismiss it as another one of Harry’s radical ideas and may actually consider it.
“If you could get some notable names on there,” Harry contemplated. Ginny had stopped by and dropped a pint of butterbeer at the counter for him, shooting him a quick smile before going back and servicing other customers. “Then I’m sure it’ll have a more notable impact.”
“Thank you, and I will!” Hermione beamed at him, tucking a strand of mousy, brown hair behind her ear. “I’ve already been talking with a few of the witches I work with at a charity event, and they seem interested enough to sign on. Getting exposure during the elections will help boost our awareness too.”
“Speaking of,” Dean dropped in, having left Luna’s side to take a seat by Seamus. “How’s it going on with Scrimgeour? Everything must be getting busy what with the debate being a few days from now.”
“That’s all I’ve been hearing about these past few days,” Seamus said. “You would think it was the first of its kind.”
“It’s just more interesting,” Hermione reasoned. “Fudge isn’t running for re-election, which is frankly a shock. I hadn’t pegged him as the sort of man to be a single-term Minister, but with no incumbent, it’s really anyone’s game. How exciting.”
“I was wondering why Fudge didn’t run either,” Neville ran a hand through the strands of his hair, giving it a small tousle, causing it to look unkempt. “But for whatever the reason, it makes for a thrilling race after all. Undersecretary Riddle vs Head Auror Scrimgeour. A battle for the ages.”
“There are others too, isn’t it?” Ron was beginning to slur the end of his sentences, though the smile on his face never ceased. “A Wizengamot lady and some other bloke that works as a banker or something.”
“They’re polling so low they barely registered as a threat.” A cool, confident voice spoke from behind them.
Peering over his shoulder, Harry saw the tall stature of Draco Malfoy towering over him. Draco’s blond hair was combed to the side, and rather than traditional robes, he was sporting a three-piece suit in a sophisticated, steel blue.
Greetings welcomed the latest addition to their group.
“And I thought I was late,” Harry teased, taking a sip of his butterbeer. The sugary liquid traveled down his throat, sending his body tingling.
Draco rolled his eyes at him. Using his effortlessly long legs, he stepped over them and plopped himself down beside Luna. The tight, Windsor knot of his necktie became loose with three sharp tugs.
“I have no idea how they even qualified to register for the debate. The Ministry’s regulations have really become lax as of late.” Draco continued, raising a finger to get Ginny’s attention. No doubt to order himself a glass of red wine.
“It’s their high donation numbers.” Harry supplied. He was currently living and breathing the campaign as of late. “They’ve got a couple of keen people hoping they’ll succeed.”
“I’ve got people I want to see win, but you don’t see me throwing my money at a losing horse.” Draco said. “It’s practically negligent. I guarantee they’ll drop before the ballots are even cast”
“I get off in 10,” Ginny called from behind the bar. “When I’m over there I don’t want to hear any politics. I’m done with it.”
Almost as if stuck that way, Draco rolled his eyes once again. “You’ve got to at least be with it to be done with it.”
Ginny stuck her tongue out at him in return, before returning to pour a drink for a red-faced, middle-aged man.
“As much as it pains me to say. I’m with Ginny here.” Harry said with a discontent sigh. “I’d rather not waste the rare breaks in my life to talk about work.”
“Amen to that,” Dean raised a glass.
“Before we ending the discussion,” Luna spoke up. Her soft voice fluttering as she turned to look directly at Harry. “I was wondering how it’s going with all the preparation. You all must put under so much pressure. The nargles are practically swarming you.”
“We’ve been alright. There is definitely less pressure for us to be a success overnight, like some of the others.” Harry responded, taking another sip of his drink.
“What do you do, if you don’t mind me asking?” Hermione leaned in closer. “It must be a different environment than working under Riddle.”
“Loads different,” Harry agreed with a nod. “A lot of my work has become debate-specific at this point, but much of it is the same, though. I’m still tracking legislation, profiling people in power, spotting any special interests. Then presenting whatever I find to Scrimgeour or Higgs”
“You’re presenting gossip?” Draco probed with a perfectly-raised, bleached blond brow.
“It’s not gossip,” Harry defended stubbornly. “It’s hard substance— Public policy? Its research at its most basic level.”
“It’s vaguely disguised legislative gossip,” Draco dismissed with a wave of his hand. “Though I can raise you one better and provide you with actual gossip, straight from the eyes of my father.”
“You’re not about to conspire with each other, are you?” Hermione warned, sitting up straighter in her chair. “That would be breaking about a dozen laws.”
“It’s nothing to do with collusion.” Draco curled his lip in a mocking smile. He tended to do that when he thought Hermione was asking, what he thought of as stupid, questions. “Especially not when there were so many witnesses.”
“What happened?” Ron asked, completely ignoring the incredulous look his wife was throwing him.
Harry was also curious, though somewhat more reserved. He tried to appear nonchalant, as if the information Draco held wasn’t that important. Though it likely wasn’t.
“Riddle had a meltdown yesterday,” Draco responded smugly. “Practically threw a tantrum in his office, that got so loud and messy, that nearly the entire fourth floor could hear it.”
“It was a piece from the Prophet that set him off, according to my father.” Draco continued, all too pleased with the attention on him. “They’re nearly slandering him with all these opinion pieces. He may have the pages of Witch Weekly wrapped around his finger, but Rita Skeeter is an entirely different ballpark.”
Harry was surprised. Riddle had been nothing but cool and confident around him. Had it been anyone else who told Harry this, he would’ve been less inclined to believe it, but it was coming from Draco, which is akin to hearing from the horse’s mouth himself.
He didn’t know why, but he was pleased with himself. Harry allowed a small, self-content smile to bloom across his face.
“He’s gone through an incredibly high number of staffers at this point,” Draco said, “He’s not pleased at all, and apparently, they’re on the look for a new public relations spokesperson. The last one was literally thrown out.”
“Well, I can’t wait until this Sunday evening then.” Hermione spoke. “I’ll practically be glued to the telly, as I’m sure the rest of the country will be as well”
“Shh, shh, shh,” Ginny walked over, finger to her lips. She had discarded her apron behind the bar and had changed from her button-up work clothes into a more relaxing set of robes. “Enough politics, it’s friend’s time. We’re with friends. The state of the country is inconsequential as of now.”
“And time just stops for you, doesn’t it?” Draco sneer was met with Ginny’s annoyed look.
“Move over will you,” The ginger haired girl pushed Draco to seat herself between him and Luna. “I work in a pub, I hear the same three conversations everyday: politics, quidditch, and the weather. I shouldn’t have to be subjected to the same type of torture with you all.”
“We’ve had lovely weather nowadays, haven’t we?” Neville asked, a joking smile on his face.
Ginny kicked his shin.
“Oi, oi, you can’t ban us from talking Quidditch,” Ron argued, his orange brows furrowed. “Especially not with the great season the Cannon’s are having!”
“What great season?” Draco asked sarcastically, he swung his leg over the other. “Last in the league with no hopes of rising?”
“Face it, mate.” Seamus inputted. “I’m more likely to become Minister than the Cannons do at winning any game this season.”
“It’s only ‘cause MacEvoy’s benched.” Ron defended, his face starting to flush. For some reason, he started to stand up, but was promptly pulled down by Hermione. “Once he’s back in, the Cannon’s will skyrocket. They’ll win the English Cup for sure.”
“Didn’t MacEvoy get benched for purposely throwing a bludger into the crowd?” Neville asked.
Dean whistled, his brows raised in surprise. “That’s grounds for expulsion from the league, mate. How’d they let him stay?”
“Probably whined and payed to stay in, that’s all he’s good for anyways.” Ginny slouched in her chair, Draco moved to place an arm behind her. “The Cannon’s probably get back half their budget just from fining him for every missed practice.”
“My own sister,” Ron said with a disgusted look. “Betraying her family team, for what? Puddlemere United?”
“Hey,” Harry called out, insulted. “I’ll have you know that Puddlemere is a prized team and deserves none of this nonsense.”
“Also, Oliver Wood plays for Puddlemere and he’s always been so nice,” Luna added. She placed her small hands under one another and tucked them under her chin. She rocked gently in her seat, using the toes of her shoes to slightly propel herself back and forth. “Is he seeing anyone?”
“Felicity Newton,” Ginny said with an air of regret, slumping deeper in her seat. “She plays for the Hollyhead Harpies.”
“Why are you acting disappointed, it’s only Wood. The man isn’t even a decent Keeper.” Draco nudge Ginny slightly, forcing her to straighten her back.
“As opposed to you?” Ginny teased, smiling up at her boyfriend. “Tell me, how many teams have you played for professionally?”
“I could’ve played, but some of us have more important jobs than trying to play a game of catch-the-ball all day.” Draco sniffed, his nose held high out enough for Ginny to go and pinch it.
“You work with Gringott’s,” Ginny released Draco’s nose. “Hardly the most thrilling sort of job.”
“Oh, yeah?” Draco rubbed his nose. His voice sounding slightly nasally. “You try managing the estates of out-of-touch Purebloods and then going back to face the disdain of goblins. Believe me, it’s very thrilling.”
“Oh, you poor baby, do you need your belly rubbed? Shall I call for a healer?” Ginny asked with faux concern, batting her lashes for an added effect. “Try having to work the closing shift for a pub, the amount of drunken fights I’ve had to break up is more thrill than it’s worth.”
“Then why do you still work here, Ginny?” Hermione asked with a slight concerned tilt of her head. “If you need a job, I’d be more than happy to get you a position with me. The pay isn’t the greatest, but at least there aren’t any fights.”
“I keep telling her,” Ron pointed an accusatory finger at his sister. “She’s wasting away at this pub. She could come work with me, Fred, and George at the shop.”
“And be an accessory Weasley? Absolutely not," remarked Ginny, folding her arms in front of her. “I found this job myself. Besides, working here isn’t completely horrid. I like it.”
“You also like Draco, so your word isn’t entirely convincing.” Her brother replied, moving his legs fast enough to avoid Ginny’s incoming foot.
“Oh, leave them be,” Hermione curled a pale hand around the crux of her husband back. “They’ve been dating for a few years now, you’d think you’d be over it by now.”
“I am over it,” Ron said. “This is good humored fun.”
Harry smiled as he watched his friends. It was a good break from everything that was going on in the Ministry. Harry closed his eyes and relaxed in his seat, just trying to absorb the moment. Aside from this friends, he could hear the distant hum of other people enjoying their night out, the sound of glasses and utensils clanking against one another. He was living in the moment, and through the haze of social chatter, Harry hadn't felt more relaxed in weeks.
Though, he knew, in the pit of his stomach, it wasn't going to last.
"What about you, Harry?" A voice pulled him out of his false slumber.
Blinking his eyes open, Harry watched as his friends stared back at him. "Erm, what?"
Grinning devilishly, Ginny leaned forward in her seat. "We've moved on to dating life now, Potter. The question's turned to you. How is he, that last one you went out with, what was his name? Pierre?"
"French?" Dean's eyebrows rose to an impossible height, making his face appear abnormally long.
This time, it was Harry's turn to roll his eyes. "It was Peter, not Pierre, and I think he's fine. It's not as if I've heard from him in a while."
"Oh, no," Hermione put a hand to her chest. "What happened?"
"Aside from consistently saying how amazing it was I got a 'high profile' ministry job despite being gay? He went on to describe every sexual encounter he's had up till that evening, starting from age 15. I can never view the Hufflepuff Dormitory the same way ever again."
Ginny pulled a face, visibly flinching back in disgust. "Ew, ugh, I cannot believe that. He seemed normal when I ran into you two."
"You met him for approximately 5 minutes. He has a threshold of 15 before he starts being unbearably annoying."
"If you're interested, mate," Ron said. "Charlie's got a friend up in Romania you might get along with."
"No, thanks. If I start outsourcing my relationships, I might as well stop dating all together." Harry shook his head. "I've hit a snag, that's all. Once things calm down at work, I'll begin considering it seriously."
"If you ask me," Draco inputted, eyeing Harry seriously. "You're better off stepping away from the dating sphere all together, Potter. Let them come to you. It's about the chase after all."
"I might as well." Harry mused, entertaining the thought for a moment. "I just like being in a relationship is all."
Harry missed cuddling the most. He liked the idea of wrapping his arms around another person, feeling warm, safe and secure. As if nothing could touch him. He missed feeling suspended in the moment. Time stopping just for them. No outside world.
Of course, the last time Harry had that, the outside world was very much a thing. A floo from Riddle would break up any such touching moment, and his subsequent commitment to his job with Riddle would wear down any relationship he had. After a while, Harry determined to have no relationship of any kind, at least while he worked under Riddle. So, when he switched to Scrimgeour, it was as if all eligible men had vanished, leaving behind society's worst.
Harry supposed he just had horrid luck.
Can you believe I completely forgot to upload lmao.
Here it is one day late, hope y'all can forgive, it's at least a little bit longer this time. =)
Chapter 6: The Debate
It's time for the debate, but too many things are happening at once.
Sorry it's a bit late. Last Wednesday I took my GRE, and I'm 90% sure I failed it lmao. Anyways, enjoy this chapter!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Harry was growing frustrated, angry even.
It was an odd feeling. He should have been entirely used it by now, unphased when it occurs, but it still seemed to exhaust him every time.
Sighing, Harry placed his hand behind his hand and rocked in his chair. The debate was soon. Too soon. They weren’t ready. It was giving him a level of apprehension he wasn’t used to. Everything was on the line.
He was currently situated in one of the large conference rooms, surrounded by many of Scrimgeour’s debate staff. At the head of the table was Higgs, surrounded by two of his assistants. Harry was to his right, further down the table. Across from him sat Smith, who was currently delivering a provision he wanted added to Scrimgeour’s opening statement.
“…Freedom must run deeper than the flow of capital. The world will only be free when we have freedom and protection; when we finally unclamp the eroded chains of tyranny, whether in the shape of fascist dictatorships or financial enslavement.” Zacharias Smith enunciated with elevated pronunciation, appearing as pompous as he actually was.
Harry rubbed his temples, letting out an elongated sigh. “Our goal is to proclaim Scrimgeour’s core values while lending some opportunity for progress. This,” Harry pointed to Smith’s papers open-handedly with a sickened tone, “sounds like a declaration of war.”
“This speech isn’t supposed to be about ideology, Potter.” Smith sneered. His upper lip curled up in loathing. “It’s supposed to be about reality.”
“I suppose you should stop spewing fiction then, Smith.” Harry bit back, nearly baring his teeth in the process.
“Enough,” Higgs ordered, forcing both men to draw their eyes away from each other. “Smith, Potter is right. It’s too fanatic. We’ll be a laughing stock if Scrimgeour’s goes out with it.”
Harry smile triumphantly.
“But,” Higgs continued, “this does not dismiss Scrimgeour’s goal of safety and security for the British populous. We are here to pacify, gentlemen, not trying to stir things up.”
“We should be defining a tougher foreign policy,” Smith argued, jutting a pointed finger down on the conference table with a false sense of authority. “A promise to uphold international sanctions on countries that pose a threat to our way of life.”
“What threat do you see?” Harry asked. “Tell me, is it hiding in the bushes or in plain sight?”
“If you are truly ignorant to the affairs of foreign nations, then you are truly helpless, Potter.”
“If you are seeing enemies where there are none, then you are more of a warmonger than I originally believed, Smith.”
“Do you have wool in your ears? I said enough.” commanded Higgs. He got up from his chair, staring down the other men. His large abdomen heaving as he spoke. “I wanted your cooperation without the threat of in-fighting.”
Both men had the decency to appear uncomfortable. They’ve been butting heads for weeks now. Harry had never truly relaxed around Smith ever since his vaguely-disguised threats, and Smith continued to doubt Harry’s motivations.
“Now,” Higgs sat back down. “We want Scrimgeour to promote positions that the public seems to respond positively towards. Given his unique experience in the Ministry, that will most likely be his position as the Head Auror and all that entails. As a result, we’ll want to give a strong, unambiguous statement in support of magical law enforcement.”
“Nobody’s for bluntly stated demands for increased law enforcement,” A dark haired woman inputted to Higgs’ left. Harry vaguely remembered that her name started with an R. “They’ll only see it as a power-hungry Minister over-exerting his authority.”
“What do you suggest then?” Someone else spoke up.
“We mention the portion of shops on Diagon that’ve been robbed. We mention the increased amounts of magic used dangerously close to muggle populations.” Harry said. “We don’t explicitly state stronger law enforcement, but we show there’s a problem and note we’re the only ones with enough experience to stop it.”
Higgs bobbed his head up and down, pointing a shaking finger at Harry as he wrote something down. Harry couldn’t make out what it was, Higgs’ handwriting being far worse than his own.
“The first formal polling data’s been published.” Higgs continued, flipping open the Prophet. Everyone copied his actions. “It will help shape our message and our strategy. Before the debate, Scrimgeour wants us to sit down with Department heads. This meeting will help form policy directives, and make sure we’re not re-litigating this stuff.”
“Crouch has already refused a meeting,” A burnette seated next to Harry spoke. She flipped through her papers until she came across the one she was looking for. She pulled it out and slid it across the stretched, oblong table. “He did send a memo of thinly-worded demands, however.”
Higgs scratched his beard, sending a few stray hairs out of place. “Crouch was a long shot by a good stretch. He’s a Riddle man through and through, though he pretends not to be. This is better than nothing at least.”
“Setting aside the opening statement for a moment,” Higgs said, moving pieces of parchment around before settling on one specifically ordained with debate formalities. They all had received a copy a week ago. “The debate will last 45 minutes. As soon as Scrimgeour goes on stage, he’s on his own. At this point, I’ll go down to the press room and watch the debate alongside the reporters.
"The rest of you will be assigned more specific roles as we get closer to the day. For now, I want profiles on the other candidates, their strong and weak points. Charlotte,” the dark haired women looked up, “I want you on Mr. Alastair Brooks. McLaggen, I want you on Riddle. Westshire,” a dark-skinned man raised his hand, “you’ll have Madame Histone.”
“Potter and Smith, you two will watch the debate from the sidelines. During the breaks, I trust you two will be able to aid Rufus going forward, especially if you notice the manner the other candidates are attacking. We want Scrimgeour to be well equipped if there’s been a change in tactics. Hopefully you’ll put aside whatever foolish thing has you two itching to dismember each other.”
Eyeing each other distrustfully, Potter and Smith bowed their heads. If anything, they at least shared a similar a goal.
Today was the day of the debate. Every candidate and their teams all assembled to put their respective finishing touches on their opening statements. They were all here, assembled in the 7th floor of the Ministry, which had been magically altered to support a stage and an entire backstage area outfitted with waiting rooms for all candidates.
The energy surrounding him was enough to set Harry on edge. Everyone was anxious, filled with the shared need for things to run smoothly. But a seed of doubt was beginning to plant itself deep in Harry’s chest. Not willing to let it fester, Harry had currently barricaded himself in the back stairwell, trying to calm his mind and focus his thoughts.
The sound of a heavy door opening echoed through the stairwell, drawing Harry’s attention. Turning around, Harry watched as Higgs approach him, a thin stack of partchment was in his outstretched hand.
“Potter,” Higgs greeted. His beard had grown somewhat unruly in the past few days. The toll of the campaign trail was beginning to affect everyone. “I want you to review the final legislative language before Scrimgeour goes out. He’ll be fine with any changes so long as those changes are noted in his papers, and for the love of Merlin, write clearly.”
“What are you concerned about?” Harry wondered as he took hold of the papers, looking briefly over the words they’ve worked tirelessly on the past week.
“Making sure we are stepping on any land mines.” Higgs scratched his beard thoughtfully before exhaling deeply. “We can’t introduce a dialogue that places Rufus in a compromising position.”
“Promises we can’t keep,” Higgs explained. “Changes we want to implement but that have hidden costs.”
Taking one more look at the paper, Harry responds. “We’ve run through this a thousand times. I doubt that there are any changes I can make. In the end, what’s said is said.”
Higgs sighs, taking a seat on the top step besides Harry. “I know, son. I’m just worried that there’s too much emphasis in there placed on the role of the Minister.”
“Well, we are running for Minister,” Harry said.
Higgs laughs. It was deep, as if coming from his stomach. The sound echoes off the walls of the stairwell. “I’ve known Rufus for a long time. The man can be difficult to understand at time. He cares for this nation. Above all, its safety and security. He’s not a corrupt man. He wants to run the Ministry the same way. To be above corruption. A lofty pursuit, as I’m sure you understand.
“However, the man is dead set in his ways. It can be difficult to persuade him otherwise. He’s stubborn to boot. He believes that the Ministry should operate in a way that touches very little of the public. Unfortunately, I don’t think the public will agree. Of course, we’ll only know after tonight.
“But because of that, I don’t want what’s written and what he believes to contradict. Especially not when he’s out there in front of everyone.”
“I understand,” Harry nodded, looking back at the papers more seriously. “I’ll be sure to look over these. I can’t promise I’ll do much, but I’ll give it my full attention.”
Higgs’ eyed Harry a bit more before speaking up. “He’s second guessing himself— Scrimgeour is. He’s revising answers in head. If you can manage to calm him down too, I’d appreciate it.”
“Positive reinforcement, nothing I can’t handle.” Harry said.
“Good man,” Higgs clapped Harry’s back. “Listen, I’m going to check with the coordinators before this begin. We’ve got half an hour left. Enough time for you to read over that. Before you go to Rufus, bring him some food, will yeah? The man’s wound up enough that I fear he’s forgotten to eat.”
“Of course, sir,” Harry watched as Higgs walked out of the stairwell towards the direction of the stage, before he disappeared behind a black velvet screen.
Making himself comfortable on stair, Harry conjured a quill and began to re-read.
There was nothing there that would likely implode on them later on. Harry had read it enough times to know. Unfortunately, despite placing Hermione’s letter on Scrimgeour’s desk, none of her ideas made it into the final copy of the debate statements. They were stricken out for being too progressive, and not aligning with Scrimgeour’s views.
He nearly felt compelled to add a line in there for her sake, but Scrimgeour was a bit unpredictable at the moment, and Harry didn’t want to wager his job. He had just made enough money to move out of his parent’s home and into his own flat.
In the end, Harry didn’t do much in terms of edits. The most he did was strike out a few sentences that came off too assertive.
Casting a tempus, Harry’s heart nearly flew out of its chest when he noticed the time. Gathering the papers as fast as possible, Harry shoved them into his bag neatly and took off running towards the concessions stand.
With only ten minutes before the start of the debate, the table suppling various foods and refreshments was completely crowded. Using his lithe frame, Harry managed to wiggle between the gap of bodies, grabbing whatever he could as quickly as he could.
Getting out of the crowd proved more difficult. The bodies swarming around the table served as a human cage and Harry couldn’t figure a way to remove himself. That is, before a strong hand wrapped around his upper arm and pulled him out.
Harry came slamming out into another person’s chest. Thankfully, the few pastries he manage to nab hadn’t fallen out of his hand following the impact.
“Are you okay?” The voice of his rescuer asked.
Harry looked up to make eye contact with a honey blond Cedric Diggory. Harry hadn’t seen the other man since their days in Hogwarts, competing as rival seekers for their respective teams. He’d grown taller. His body filling out in ways Harry hadn’t appreciated till now.
“Cedric!” was Harry’s rushed greeting. His cheeks growing red in embarrassment, though he fought through it. “I’m fine, thank you. What brings you here?”
“My Dad works for the Ministry. He helped coordinate tonight. I’m just assisting him.” Cedric replied good-naturedly. A small grin made its way on his face. “What about you?”
“I work for Scrimgeour. He’s one of the candidates.” Harry pointed noncommittedly behind him, in the general direction of Scrimgeour’s designated waiting room.
Him and Cedric were never particularly close during their days on Hogwarts, but would occasionally play a friendly match of Quidditch during the off season. He’d forgotten how comfortable talking to Cedric was. The man had a natural inclination to be easy going.
“I heard you worked in the Ministry these days,” Cedric leaned in closer. His shoulders hunched forwards as if in a perpetual shrug. He had on hand in his pocket and the other was carrying a white cup filled with a steaming, hot liquid.
“How about you? I heard talk of Qudditch scouts during your seventh year.” While Cedric was a few years older than him, Harry could distinctly remember the buzz of Hogwarts’ gossip mill brewing with talk of the handsome Hufflepuff seeker.
“There was some,” Cedric admitted, “but it was never something I seriously considered. I enjoyed Quidditch, but I hadn’t wanted to be my profession, you know?”
Harry did know. A few training scouts had stopped by for him as well, but Harry had made it clear early on that Quidditch was only his hobby. His way to de-stress. If he made it his job, then there would be no source of relief for him. Although now, Harry didn’t have enough time to even pull his broom from storage.
“Ever since Hogwarts,” Cedric continued, running his fingers through his hair. The backstage lightening reflected off the honey blond, casting him in a bright glow. He wasn’t looking at Harry anymore. Instead, his eyes were looking off to the side, lost in thought. “I’ve had the occasional odd job here and there. Nothing really stuck, I’m still figuring things out at the moment. Though now that I say it out loud, it’s a little strange.”
“It’s not strange,” Harry found himself saying automatically. “I just moved out of my parent’s flat myself.”
“Is that so?” Cedric’s smile broadened, showing the barest hint of teeth. “Listen, you probably need to get going, but if you’re not going anything after, do you want to grab a drink?”
“Yeah. That sounds good.” Harry smiled back.
“Perfect, but before you go, here.” Cedric deposited the white cup he was holding in his hands. “It’s tea. Something to wash down the food with.”
Harry said his thanks, and watched as Cedric bowed his head and walked away.
Turning his own back, Harry took off in a hurried walk through the backstage, taking extra precaution to avoid any obstacles in his path. He cradled the cup of tea and the assortment of pastries close to his chest, to center his point of gravity. He was beginning to regret not putting a stasis charm on the tea earlier as it was beginning to cool in his hand.
Coming into Scrimgeour’s waiting room, Harry deposited the loot on a nearby pop-up table. One of the aides was helping Scrimgeour put on coat. Another aide was to his right, looking nervous as they paced back and forth. Harry waited, catching his breath before approaching the older man.
“Don't worry about getting everything in in every answer.” Harry advised, doing as Higgs directed him to. Harry shoo’d the persistent aide away. His goal at the moment was to make sure that Scrimgeour wasn’t going to spontaneously convulse on stage. “Higgs can fill in the blanks with the Prophet in the press room afterwards.”
Scrimgeour nodded along. He was staring up at the wall to Harry’s left. He wasn’t focused, but Harry knew the man was paying attention to his words.
Harry retrieved the papers from his bag, and handed them over to Scrimgeour. He watched as the man’s eyes roamed through to words, luckily not appearing irritated over what was written.
Turning to the nervous aide who was now mulling by the door, Harry questioned him. “Where’s Smith? He’s supposed to be here.”
“Smith left for bathroom a few minutes ago, and I haven’t seen Higgs ever since he told us he was looking for you.” The aide reported, his posture straightening during his response.
“Higgs hasn’t returned?”
“No, sir. Should I go look for him?”
Harry nodded and watched as the aide rushed out of the room in search for their superior. Turning back to Scrimgeour, Harry resumed his run-down.
“Remember, two-minute answers, followed by one-minute rebuttal. It’s the moderator's option to allow a 30-second rebuttal to a rebuttal or to move on.” He said, reminding Scrimgeour of the general, Ministry-allotted rules. The man could get insistent, and they didn’t need him to forget himself.
“Stupid rules...” was Scrimgeour gruff reply. He bent to pick up the tea Harry placed on the table and took a massive swig before setting it back down. “Two minutes, one minute, 30 seconds... what can you say in 30 seconds?”
“They’re quick rebuttals that allows you to protect your stance.”
“No, they don’t,” Scrimgeour argued. “They make me feel stiff. Unnatural. There is nothing of substance that someone can say in 30 seconds. And it’s at the moderator’s discretion to allow it too? They’re all in Riddle’s pocket.”
“No, they aren’t,” Harry dismissed his suspicions.
It’s why they pushed for Ralph Whittaker to moderate. The man was as unprejudiced and reasonable as they come. Harry would almost venture that he took pride in his impartiality. He wouldn’t risk it all on the possibility of a Riddle victory.
“Just be calm and act as yourself,” Harry eased Scrimgeour. “The people don’t want to elect a charade, they want integrity and reliability. You can offer that to them.”
Scrimgeour rubbed his bearded chin. A nervous habit Harry discovered he possessed.
“Worst thing you can do,” Harry continued, “is struggle with the moderator. Keep calm and civil. It will do you better in the long run.”
“No,” Scrimgeour shook his head. His thin lips pursed into a frown. It wasn’t a pleasing look, it caused the wrinkles and aged scars on his face to become more pronounced. “The worst thing I can do is forget everything I came here to say; every debate point I memorized, every word of my opening statement.”
“Oh, you’ll be fine you m-miserable fool,” Higgs came bumbling into the room. He walked to Harry side fast enough to cause him to lose his balance briefly. An error he remedied by gripping Harry’s forearm with immeasurable strength to steady himself.
Higgs came to a stop behind Scrimgeour. Thankfully out of the other man’s line of sight.
Harry shot a look at the aide who walked in behind Higgs. The aide looked back in distress, equally confused by Higgs’ actions.
Harry noticed how a faint tinge of red seemed to stain Higgs’ cheeks and nose, and how his eyes appeared half-lidded. There was a faint slur to his word, mixed with the occasional hiccup, making Harry almost certain the man was well into his cups. It was alarming. He had spent enough time with the stout man to know that he didn’t drink.
Higgs only drank at social functions, or whenever there was a late night of strategizing in the office, but even then, it was usually with a watered-down beer. Harry knew the man well enough to know that he wouldn’t drink to this extent at an event like today.
Scrimgeour didn’t seem to mind, or rather, he didn’t seem to notice. Far too concentrated on the task at hand.
Harry could count that as being lucky. Scrimgeour didn’t need to know his campaign manager was likely too pissed to talk to the press.
“You,” Higgs called out. The aide who fetched Higgs appeared startled when the attention turned towards him. “G-go get me something to eat from the refreshment table. I’m starving. Why are you waiting there? Go.”
With a scurry, the aide rushed back out the room, in the direction of the confectionaries.
Working discreetly, Harry peeled Higgs’ hand off his forearm and directed the stumbling man to an open chair beside the table. “Don’t worry, you’ve been through worse situations than this, Sir. You have a history in tactical combat, and an impressive experience in the Ministry. Work that to your advantage.”
“Two minutes, one minute, 30 seconds,” Scrimgeour repeated methodically. The clock was ticking closer to the start time. They only had a couple minutes left before Scrimgeour had to approach the stage.
“Listen,” Harry stepped in front of Scrimgeour’s line of sight. “Riddle’s going to hide behind the rules. He's has no answer on how he's going to pay for the tax cuts he’s been pushing for, so he's going to try and run the clock out on that one. You can do that too. If you get in a predicament, just take a paragraph from your stump speech to get the clock to zero. The rules can be there to help you.”
Scrimgeour nodded along, looking more determined with each passing second. The clock seemed to be ticking faster now, though that may be skewed by Harry’s rush of adrenaline. The had less than two minutes left.
Higgs was still sitting quietly beside the table. Looking more dazed and confused than before, but thankfully keeping his mouth shut. He was currently occupied by staring into space, without a care in the world.
Frowning at the uncharacteristic behavior, Harry continued to reassure an oblivious Scrimgeour. “Higgs and I will be in the press room after. Take your time and don’t hesitate to use your notes, that’s why they’re there.”
Harry and Scrimgeour walked out of the waiting room, approaching the stage. They could see Riddle on the other side.
Bellatrix was fixing his suit while Lucius was murmuring into his ear. Harry hadn’t seen the man in person since the night of the Ministry gala. Mercifully, he wasn’t looking at them, but at someone else off to the side. Harry couldn’t make out who it was. They were hidden behind the long red, velvet curtains. Though, based on Riddle’s expression, they were someone he was pleased to see.
There was a pang of something there. But Harry paid it no mind. He couldn’t get caught up in the miseries of his history with Riddle.
The stage was a makeshift construction on the 7th floor of the Ministry. It was originally an open room for general use, but they had transformed it to support a stage, a moderator’s desk and several dozen rows of audience seating.
There were a few magically-altered ring-and-spring microphones on the podiums of prospective candidates, likely to amplify their voices without the need for a Sonorous Charm. There was another one on the desk of the moderator but it was hooked up to what resembled a phonograph.
Harry could only devise that that was how they were transmitting the debate to magical households all over Britain and Ireland.
Beside the moderator’s desk was a large, triple-bulbed light bearing the colors green, yellow, and red, easily resembling a muggle traffic light.
“You see that,” Harry motioned to the light. It was currently lit on green. “It will help indicate the amount of time left. Yellow is for 15 seconds. Red tells you to stop talking.”
“Green, Yellow, Red.” Scrimgeour repeated.
Motioned by stagehands to step forward, the two walked to the designated podium. The Head Auror placed his papers strategically on the dias before pulling out a self-inking quill and quickly making a few marks on the sheets.
Strong, florescent white lights were centered on the stage, illuminating the entire area with a fierce radiance. A bead of sweat was already starting to form on Scrimgeour’s temple.
Thinking quickly, Harry pulled a handkerchief from within his pocket and wiped the other man’s brow.
A small “Huh,” managed to pull his attention away.
The lectern right next to them was occupied by Riddle, who had long shoo’d away his sycophants.
The lights which seemed to cast an unpleasant, sickly look on Scrimgeour appeared to brighten Riddle’s. He seemed as impeccable as ever. His notes were organized in a single, neat stack atop his respective stand.
“Riddle,” Harry greeted diplomatically with a downward tilt of his head.
The mention of Riddle was enough to pull Scrimgeour from his pre-debate haze. The other man immediately tensed up as if prepared to battle, though his face remained as passive as before.
“Harry, Rufus,” Riddle nodded, though his steel grey eyes were still pinned on him.
“Tom,” Scrimgeour stuck his rough and calloused hand out. “I believe this is the first time we formally meet as opponents. I wish you the best of luck tonight.”
Riddle lips pulled upwards to form his classically soothing smile. It was fake, Harry could see that clearly. Though not many others could see through it, certainly not Scrimgeour who seemed to relax marginally.
Riddle extended his own, smooth hand and shook the Auror’s hand in a show of camaraderie. “Likewise. When I got word you were running, I near second guessed myself. To make matters worse, it appears you have a world class staff by your side.”
Scrimgeour placed a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Yes, we were so pleased to have been able to secure Mr. Potter’s expertise early on. He’s been a valued asset to our team. I doubt we would have been able to do as well as we have this far on.”
“Yes,” Riddle’s smile took a sharp edge to it. Harry wasn’t sure how, but Riddle started to resemble a shark. “Mr. Potter… expertise is something of value I must admit. Though it’s a shame his sense of loyalty isn’t as strong.”
Harry’s eyes narrowed in anger. He wanted to call Riddle out, but no matter how angry he was, he couldn’t risk the microphones catching him talking. He settled on a well-aimed sneer.
Scrimgeour’s hand tightened painfully on his shoulder in warning, causing Harry to grimace. Riddle seemed to notice as his eyes narrowed at the movement.
“My apologies,” Scrimgeour said. “Mr. Potter can be rather excitable at times.”
“No apology necessary,” Riddle waved it off. “I know how Harry can be.”
Harry could feel himself growing angrier, though he couldn’t bear to attract more of Scrimgeour’s ire now. Besides, he had larger worries now than the Riddle’s misplaced beliefs. Turning his on Riddle without another word, Harry focused his attention on his employer. “There are 20 seconds left before it begins. Good luck.”
Harry exited stage left without another word, and immediately returned to the waiting room to a drunken Higgs.
The man was slumped over his chair, now asleep. Drool pooled around his lower jaw and dripped onto his chest. Harry crouched and forced the man in an upright position, causing him to snore.
At the same time, Smith had finally returned from the restrooms. A look of disapproval was plastered on his face, though it quickly formed into shock when he noticed Harry trying to force Higgs’ awake.
He rushed over, “What happened to him?”
“I don’t know. He’s, ugh” Harry grunted as he bore Higgs’ weight as he slumped over again. He forced him upright once more. “Drunk.”
“Why is he drunk? Why would he get drunk? Where did he find alcohol?” Smith was beginning to worry. His voice rose an octave, no doubt attracting the attention of nearby stage hands.
“Shh,” Harry shushed, finger to his lips. “Why don’t you say it louder, huh? I’m not sure they heard you loud enough.”
Thinking quickly, Harry grabbed his wand and cast a disillusionment charm around them followed by a silencing ward to provide them a grain of privacy.
Though that didn’t seem to calm Smith, who began to wring his fingers as he paced back and forth across the concrete floor. “We’re doom. Higgs is supposed to handle the press release for the debate. How is he drunk?”
“Calm down,” Harry got up, patting his knees free from clinging dust. “We’re lucky the press doesn’t have access backstage. What we need to do now is try and wake Higgs up, at the very least get him conscious enough to let us know how he got this way.”
“Would a Reviving Spell work?” Smith came to a stop beside him, crouching down to get a better look.
“It’s better than nothing,” Harry gripped his holly wand and pulled it from his holster. Closing in closer to Higgs, Harry made sure no one was looking as he aimed the wand at Higgs’ comatose form. “Rennervate.”
The pale yellow spell shot from the tip of his wand and was absorbed by Higgs’ body, seemingly doing nothing. Harry let out a small curse under his breath, thinking fast she shot off a few more spells trying to reverse whatever charm was controlling Higgs, though nothing appeared to stick. Harry sighed before repocketing his wand.
The static sounds of magic and electricity colliding filled the space, indicating that the debate was finally beginning. Soon enough, Whitaker’s booming voice filled the room.
“Good evening Witches and Wizards! The Minister of Magic is a grand title that we the public choose to bestow. Join me in welcoming those contenders.”
Harry watched from afar as the stage lights focused on each candidate as they were announced. Riddle smiled widely and held his left hand out in greeting, while Scrimgeour appeared to scowl at the crowd with a slight frown.
“Let me try something,” Smith pulled a long, alabaster wand from his sleeve. “I learned it during sixth year house party as a sobering trick, but I haven’t tried it myself.”
Focusing his wand on the space between Higgs’s eyebrows, Smith flicked his wand while murmuring a spell quietly, causing a sharp red light to flow from his wand.
For a moment, nothing happened. It was all still, Higgs had even stopped snoring. Harry was almost sure that the spell may have worked, but then Higgs heaved forward with a sudden lurch. The boys jolted to catch the body.
“Someone did this to him,” Smith said as they forced Higgs back. “He was completely fine earlier, then he left somewhere, and came back like this. Does Scrimgeour know?”
Harry shook his head. “No, he’s too focused on the debate. Rightfully so. If someone did this, then they did it to mess with Scrimgeour. It isn’t magically-induced, meaning that they would have had to approach him close enough to slip something into his drink or food.”
“Anyone could have done this then.” Smith eyed the passerbys warily, following their busy forms as they darted back and forth across the backstage.
“I’ll need you to take him to St. Mungos, to their Privacy Wing. We don’t need to give the press a reward if they catch you lugging his body to their lobby.”
Smith nodded determinedly. “What about the press room, then? Higgs was expected down their ages ago.”
“I’ve got it covered.” Harry responded. “You need to drop Higgs off, and then call for someone else to look after him. Get Cormac, at least he’s got connections in St. Mungo’s, he’d be able to keep this under wraps. As soon as you do, I need you back here before Scrimgeour notices something’s wrong and this all comes tumbling down.”
Smith crouched beside the body, tugging it close to him before apparating out.
Harry got up, eyeing the stage. Scrimgeour was currently in the middle of delivering his opening statement. He looked calm, reciting his speech with a clear and unwavering voice. Moving his eye to gaze at the other candidates, Harry made eye contact with Riddle.
The two men stared each other down. Due to the angle of the stage and the position of the candidates, it looked as if Riddle was simply giving Scrimgeour his attention.
He was suspicious. Harry wouldn’t put it past Riddle if he’s done something to bring down Scrimgeour’s campaign, but he very well couldn’t spew accusations around.
Being the first one to draw their eyes away, Harry turned and walked to towards the staircase.
Taking two steps at a time, Harry arrived in front of the press room. Taking a moment to calm his beating heart, Harry gathered his wits and walked in coolly, as if he wasn’t completely late.
Harry took an open seat at the upper table, sitting beside the other candidates’ press advisors. Antonin Dolohov sent Harry a nasty smirk as he took his seat.
On the wall to their right was a magically projected view of the debate. It was currently centered on the moderator, Whitaker, delivering the first question.
“After Grindlewald’s defeat, the world has enjoyed decades of peace. However, some stipulate that this is an illusion masking greater issues facing our country. Scrimgeour, given your position as Head Auror, how would you respond to that statement?”
Harry sighed internally. They were starting them off easy. Scrimgeour was more than prepared to answer a question, it was thankfully vague enough that it gave the opportunity for equally vague promises— nothing the press could sink their talons into.
Just as they practice, Scrimgeour delivered an appropriate response, mentioning the rising petty crimes and the growing danger of muggle exposure with loosely supporting magical law enforcement. Nothing that would explicitly tie them to a definitive position, but one that everyone would agree too.
As Scrimgeour’s time ended, Whittaker motioned for the other candidates to respond.
“While Scrimgeour brings up an excellent point,” Riddle smiled, “this is not a law enforcement problem. This is an economic problem. If our economy was strong enough to support all members of our country, then we would see a dramatic drop in reported crime. Indeed, this would be an issue that could be solved with a stronger force, but that is only temporary. It’s akin to using a sticking charm when building a house. Sure, it works, but for how long until it all comes crumbling down? No, what we need is to grow a stronger economy. One that provides enough jobs so that it’s not worth trying to rob a shop. There is no other real solution to this, and at least this one benefits us all.”
Harry frowned as he watched Riddle wave his hand to the audience’s applause.
The other two candidates provided their rebuttal. The banker, Alistair Brooks, agreed with Riddle, drawing on projections and providing somewhat outdated information, something Harry hoped Scrimgeour catched for his own rebuttal. Madame Histone went off on a tangent, mentioning legislative amendments that ended up exceeded the time limit, to which the moderator cut her off.
The moderator moves on, he aims a finance question at the banker, who only stumbles around his answer. The floor is open, prompting Riddle to jump in with his own conjecture.
Riddle is good in front of a crowd. Harry hadn’t noticed that before. When the man was Undersecretary, he hadn’t really been in the position that required him to step in front a body of people. Harry thought that if anything, that would disadvantage the other man, but he was evidently proven wrong. Riddle handled the crowd with ease, if his smile was anything to go by.
Riddle discusses educational reforms, the necessity to develop pre-Hogwarts primary schooling and the need to expand Hogwarts’ current curriculum. He talks how the quality of a British education was trailing behind nations. How parents have now begun to look overseas for their children’s schooling. Riddle backs this all up with statistics. Discussing in specifics with how he’ll accomplish it with a restructure tax initiative and percentage-based subsidies.
As it moved towards rebuttals, Harry noticed Scrimgeour signaled for an opportunity to talk. Harry watched with baited breath as Scrimgeour began to speak.
“Undersecretary Riddle is throwing numbers at you in hope that you’ll all be confused enough not to notice how his educational plan is both impractical and unaffordable. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this before— 6 years ago when Cornelius Fudge was still a candidate, he had said the exact same thing we’ve heard here tonight. Undersecretary Riddle has worked under Minister Fudge to know that this won’t come to fruition. Instead, those tax subsidies will be absorbed into other departments, never truly accomplishing what they set out to do.”
It was a good answer, Harry was pleased to know. He observed out of the corner of his eye how the press’ self-inking quills floated beside their heads, making notes as the night progressed.
The debate continued more or less the same. The other two candidates had been quietly discouraged from continuing forward. Most of the screen time had been devoted to the on-on-one parley between Riddle and Scrimgeour.
Whether discussing experiences,
“Claiming that a decade of experience as Head Auror qualifies you to be Minister is akin to me saying that I’m a foreign relations expert because I met with an Ambassador from France. Scrimgeour isn’t even qualified to run the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.”
Or financial obligations,
“Unlike the wand in my hand, the tax cuts are not something that can be waved at every problem to make it go away. Riddle is very quick to attack my plans, but he has no structured ways to actively head off problems.”
Or even civil duties,
"The office of the Minister is not one to tell the public what they can or cannot do in their daily lives. Scrimgeour would have the size of Aurors increase, so that you believe that everything needs executive approval.”
“Riddle, with his desire for less oversight, would endanger us all, leaving enough legislative space for the corrupt members of our society with enough power and money to render us incompetent.”
Much of the night panned out same, with either side taking aim at the faults of the other.
An aide had come into the room about midway through and informed him that Higgs was admitted to St. Mungo’s third floor designated for potion poisoning. Smith had returned back to his post, a little shaken, but stable enough to resume his duties.
As the night concluded, the candidates gave their closing statements.
“Well, Head Auror Scrimgeour was eager to take a pledge about increased security, but now taking a pledge about anything else is beneath his dignity. The Minister is role that has to lead. He has to actively participate in solving issues that arise, not just hoping the situation will fix itself for him. Its’s attitudes such as that that has left many of us disadvantaged. Notice how he has not presented an effective education plan, no jobs plan, no legislative plan. All he has is security. After he gets what he wants, what's he going to do for the next six years?”
“And what you've heard were different philosophies of government. I believe both of us want what's best for this country, we just have different ideas about how to go about it. I think it's fair to say that Undersecretary Riddle has more confidence in the Ministry than I do, but I have more confidence in freedom— your freedom; I'm not anti-Ministry. I just don't want any more government than we can afford. I don't want a Ministry that make false promises, but an efficient, effective, honest Ministry. To govern is to choose and the choices are never easy, we shouldn’t treat it as such.”
Harry breathed a sigh of relief, but the night was only turning for the worst as he looked back to the room of expectant reporters, with their eyes as sharp as vultures.
Ok, so I'm not sure if it's the best or not. I kept going back and editing it, and frankly I don't know how to fix it. Listen, a lot of things are going on in this chapter, and I apologize for it, but it's also a whopping 6k, which is approximately 3x the normal size of my chapters.
Unfortunately, the long chapter comes with conditions, don't expect an update for some time. My brain is mush and exams are imminent. I need to take a step back from updating to focus on them, I just wanted to dedicate some time to getting this out here.
If you're up for it, please leave me a comment, I'd greatly appreciate it. They'll help motivate me through the week.
Thanks for reading! See you all later
Edit: I realized a couple of formatting mistakes and corrected them!
Chapter 7: Press Briefing
Harry responds to questions
I'm back! Sorry for the delay. It's been... a few months?
Thank you all for your wonderful comments. It's literally been a shining beacon of hope for me.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Harry ran his open palms over his pants, trying not to appear as nervous as he felt. It took all his willpower to stop the urge to bounce his leg up and down. Instead, Harry adjusted himself in his seat once more, alternating between resting his hands on the table and placing them on his lap. He wasn’t quite sure how to position himself.
He was very much out of his element. Harry had always been a behind-the-scenes type of person. The spotlight never appealed to him. He didn’t know how people like Scrimgeour could do it.
Harry briefly wondered where all his Gryffindor courage disappeared to? Granted, even back in Hogwarts, Harry was never the type to pursue attention. The most he ever got was when he became a seeker his fifth year and even then, Harry managed to blend in.
A ministry official who he didn’t recognize was going through the opening guidelines, outlining what was expected out of both sides.
Harry, who was only half-listening, was paying more attention to the dark-haired man next to him. Ever since Harry had walked into the room, Dolohov continuously tried getting into Harry’s space. In the beginning it was just a smirk, then he grew more and more confident, continuously doing little things to annoy Harry.
He knew Harry was far beyond his area of comfort, and judging by his actions, Dolohov knew exactly how to unsettle him further. He’d stretch his legs ever so often and bang them ‘accidentally’ against Harry’s chair. He’d cough unceremoniously loud, drawing the attention of everyone in the room. He’d lean in close to Harry, murmuring condolences. “It was a good run” or “I hope you have a job lined up” and even “I hope mummy and daddy have a big enough tissue for when you go crying home tonight.”
Harry, rather than let himself be coaxed into agitation, only deemed to glance back at Dolohov unimpressed. Instead, Harry would let his eyes travel the room, getting a vague impression of what lies in wait, and by the looks of some members of the press, he could guess it wasn't going to be easy.
They knew there was a story brewing. Higgs was announced as the press correspondent for tonight’s event. Not Harry.
And Harry’s rather abrupt arrival has basically confirmed that something was amiss, and they would feast and tear into him until they discovered what exactly that was.
By the luck of the draw, or maybe the opposite, Harry would not be the first to respond to questions. By order of seniority, that privilege went to a gangly, lithe man representing the only female candidate. He looked worse than Harry felt. He was almost sure that the other man would unexpectedly collapse from his own nerves. His hands shook with fiendish vibrations.
Ending on what Harry assumed was a joke considering they scattered chuckles it produced, the ministry official conceded to floor to the gangly man.
His questions had been standard. Basic confirmation on the ideas of his candidate and what was expected out of them. Common press brief.
Harry allowed himself to relax, trying to focus on his own upcoming turn. He’d like to think he knew Scrimgeour quite well by know. He was sure of what Scrimgeour would or would not appreciate being said to the press.
Frankly speaking, Harry knew that if given the option, Scrimgeour would not speak to the press at all. The man was all brusque and rough. He had neither the patience nor the social fluidity to speak to the media.
It was a two-way street of sorts. The media thrived on sensationalism, the best sort that produced headlines. Scrimgeour wouldn’t manage two lines of speech without promptly shutting down, a trait that members of the press didn’t value.
It why Higgs prevented Scrimgeour from speaking to the press at all. They couldn’t risk being villainized this early in the campaign. Higgs, on the other hand, had a more courteous relationship with the media. He knew their names and how to swing them in favor of Scrimgeour. He knew most of them from his time in the Department of Magical Games and Sports. He was a seasoned press correspondent, which again, Harry was not.
For some time, the gangly man, who had introduced himself as Theodore Hill, answered questions will only the tiniest of stutters. It was all rather mundane and hadn’t taken more than a quarter of the hour.
Following in order, the banker’s press correspondent stood and followed suit. Likewise, he also received standard questions on his candidate’s performance that night. Though, just has Harry had predicted, someone had caught on to the banker’s use of outdated financial projections. For all Harry didn’t know of him, the man managed to answer the question without much fuss, claiming that the incorrect projections took little away from the point his candidate was trying to make.
After another quarter of an hour, it was his turn was next. Standing up carefully, Harry approached the podium, being mindful of Dolohov’s outstretched legs intent on tripping him.
Harry’s worries fluttered about at the base of his chest. Swallowing his nerves, Harry introduced himself and watched as the arms flew up.
“A question for Mr. Potter,” a voice from the back spoke out. A tall fellow with ruffled, copper hair stood up. His robe was outfitted with stylized stitches. He wore a bored expression, observing Harry with half-lidded eyes.
“Mr. Potter, Quincy Adams with The Evening Gazette. Head Auror Scrimgeour has been reported to be strongly in favor of a hate crimes bill introduced in the House of Commons, is that correct?”
“Yes, that would be correct.” Harry confirmed.
Clearing his throat before continuing, Harry leaned in closer, hunching his shoulders up. “Rufus Scrimgeour has always regarded the law as the main way to enact thoughtful change. He views this particular act of legislation as a way to support the members of our community who may not have been protected as rightly as they should’ve.”
As Harry spoke, the quill in the man’s hand began to float into the air, along with a piece of scrolled parchment, writing with spellbound speed. “In context with tonight’s debate, can it be asserted that Scrimgeour intends to support a stronger DMLE?”
“Head Auror Scrimgeour has the safety and security of the wizarding public in the forefront of his mind, a concern that a future Minister of Magic should always have.” Harry emphasized, steering the conversation tactfully.
“Then how would you respond to Riddle’s claim on stage tonight? Are they completely unfounded?”
The quill stopped to catch Harry’s response.
Taking in a breath, Harry delivered a careful response. Being aware of every stressed syllable. “Undersecretary Riddle has made many claims tonight. Some of them are highly misleading, or have been reported with the improper context. Scrimgeour would rather have this country grow properly with thoughtful, cared decisions. He values the British people, and wants to see them live without worry.”
The reporter nodded, plucking his quill and parchment from the air, and taking his seat once more.
A black, whirly haired woman stood up from her position beside the rear left wall. “Mr. Potter, Marlene Murphee— Magick Monthly.”
Harry noticed Dolohov straightening his back, shooting the woman a yellow-toothed smile. Harry supposed that was his attempt to look favorable. Instead, it appeared unnerving and lecherous.
Instead of dwelling on their possible connection, Harry chose to ignore it, nodding at the woman to continue.
“Mr. Potter, Scrimgeour appeared to imply that a Ministry in his control would be one without corruption and provide freedom for all, but how can he say this when he also intends to elevate his own position as Head Auror through the expansion of the DMLE. Is that not corruption at it’s finest?” She ends with a small tilt to her head. Her grey eyes boring into Harry with hard intent.
Harry placed his hands on the press briefing before him, soothing out nonexistent wrinkles. “Do not confuse corruption with change. It’s true that Head Auror Scrimgeour intends to place security at the forefront of his platform, but that is because he has the experience to recognize where weakness lies in the Ministry.”
Another hand rose up, a stout man in maroon robes stood up. “Florence Tudge – The Crimson Wand. I apologize for cutting in, but is that experience enough? As undersecretary Riddle pointed out tonight, Scrimgeour hardly has the executive experience necessary for the role of Minister.”
“Being the Head for the entire Auror department is not enough executive experience? He has commanded groups of Aurors into working as a cohesive unit and has an impressive history in tactile defense. Moreover, Scrimgeour has dealt with all facets of the Ministry during his tenure as Head Auror. He not only has sponsored legislation but has seen how they affect the public. A vital point of view that not everyone has the privilege to gain.”
As soon as Harry finished speaking, the reporter from The Crimson Wand sat down writing down comments on his scroll of parchment.
The woman—Merlene— was still standing, though she appeared to be leaning against the wall for support. She didn’t ask him any further questions, but he could see something brewing behind her eyes.
And just like that, Harry continued to answer questions being posed at him. Some had been relatively easy to answer, things that Harry had already commented on while on the campaign trail. Other questions were more hard-hitting, intended to get an unprepared response from him. Luckily enough, despite Harry’s lack of experience, He didn’t believe he performed too badly.
He was taking longer than the other press correspondents, but Harry easily chalked that up to being a representative of a strong and likely candidate.
“Mr. Potter, given Scrimgeour performance here tonight, what can we expect during the first few weeks as Minister?”
“Scrimgeour intends to accomplish the goals he’s promised the public— as fast as possible. People who know Scrimgeour the best often comment on his strive to complete the task at hands. It’s what’s made him a proficient Head Auror.”
“Louis Fletcher – The Wizengamot Post. You say that Mr. Scrimgeour has worked with many in the Ministry, but he has yet to gain a single endorsement, not even from the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Would you care to comment on that, Mr. Potter?”
“I’m sure we all know how hesitant Ministry officials are, no? They like to keep their cards close, and their endorsements closer,” Harry stop to smile placatingly at the crowd. A tactic he’d seen Higgs use a few times. “I’m kidding of course. You as I know that it’s much too early for anyone to ring out any endorsements, especially those from the Ministry. However, I’m certain that some should be trickling in within the next few months.”
“How has Scrimgeour maintained the balance between campaigning and his duties as Head Auror?"
“No one understands the commitment to their duties better than Scrimgeour. He has often sacrificed his free time to the campaign intent on giving both roles the dedication they deserve, exemplifying the characteristics a future Minister must have.”
As Harry continued to answer questions, he spared a glance back at Dolohov, only to see him stare at the crowd with an uncharacteristically leveled expression. Harry couldn’t discern what the other man was thinking.
He hadn’t interacted much with Dolohov back when he was working with Riddle. The man didn’t work for the Ministry, but rather was a part of Riddle’s small but influential circle of individuals. He would occasionally drop by Riddle’s office and be out before the hour was done.
Harry had the unparalleled privilege of providing the often-hostile man with a steaming cup of tea whenever he deemed to stop by.
It took all of Harry’s willpower not to drop the tea in the man’s lap whenever he made a disparaging comment in Harry’s direction. It was usually about Harry’s mother. Sometimes he was creative and would attack Harry’s workmanship instead.
Though, like all spoiled children a prone to do, the man was noticeably more well-behaved in Riddle’s presence. Ceasing his antagonisms for the time being in favor to wagging his tail for Riddle.
Harry drew his mind away from Dolohov, not wishing to agitate himself and instead continued with the task at hand.
As time went on, the intensity of questions decreased until only a couple of hands still remained in the air. The official who stood against the wall to Harry’s right signaled for the crowd to wrap up and ask any final questions.
“Mr. Potter, from what you say everything has been going smoothly on the campaign trail, but is everything as it appears?”
“We’ve managed to progress without any hiccups, if that’s what you’re asking.” Harry nodded. “It’s the privilege that comes with a competent staff.”
“Mr. Potter.” The woman—Marlene—finally spoke after her prolonged silence. She leaned away from the wall she had propped herself against. With a few outstretched fingers, she gently pulled a few black ringlets away from her face. In that moment, she released her quill and parchment to float in the air beside her head.
“If you would, I’d like to ask you a few questions that I’m sure have been at the forefront of people’s minds. We’ve had no word of you being here tonight, Mr. Potter. It is our understanding that Bertie Higgs, Scrimgeour’s campaign manager, would be the one in your seat. What’s the reason behind this change? Is it something the public should worry about?”
Everyone’s eyes seemed to turn onto Harry this point. Even the ones who started to seem bored and uninterested in the dull proceedings perked up at the question. All quills were at the ready.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Harry joked, giving the crowd an open grin as he gripped the sides of the podium until his knuckles turned white. “I’ve gotten a promotion. Have I been doing a bad job? You’ll have to let me know if I’m performing too poorly.”
“Not at all, Mr. Potter.” Marlene smiled back at him, her teeth all too sharp and her eyes narrowing deceitfully. “It’s fantastic to hear that there are have been no, as you say, hiccups.”
With that, she sat back down. Her quill floated down and hovered beside her head. It wrote down a few more lines of notes until it gently nudged her. She glanced at it and nodded her approval at whatever it had written. The quill circled something and wrote a few more things until she finally plucked it from the air.
With that, Harry forced his nerves to calm and continued to answer a few more mundane questions until his time was up and he was forced to concede to the floor to Dolohov.
Making his way back to his seat, Harry watched as Dolohov stretched his too long legs and approached the podium with less steps than Harry took.
Just as soon as he took the stage, hands had flung up. Reporters were speaking over one another to get Dolohov’s attention.
And the bastard was revealing in it.
He allowed them to continue clamoring over one another, only deeming to smile smugly back at the crowd. If Harry didn’t know better, he’d think the other man was getting off on it.
After a moment, Dolohov held up a long, knobby finger and pointed to a figure in the back. The same woman stood up, smiling without malice back at him.
“Mr. Dolohov, Marlene Murphee – Magick Monthly.” She introduced herself the same way she had with Harry. “Scrimgeour appeared to imply that a Ministry under Riddle would make way for corruption, how would his administration reply to such serious accusations?”
Though she posed the question to Dolohov, she aimed a critical look at Harry. One of her brows rose up while the other furrowed flatter, and her lips pursed in a way that reminded him of his Aunt Petunia.
“He made a reasonable point.” Dolohov shrugged nonchalantly, folding back into his chair comfortably. “And maybe, given the circumstances, he's right. But the fact of the matter is, no one’s been elected yet. Where is this talk of corruption coming from? Scrimgoeur’s just making wild accusations without basis. But I mean, this man has seen it all, right? He’s had, what, 20 years’ experience as an Auror? He’s probably used to firing spells first and asking questions later.”
Dolohov let out a bark of a laugh. It was unsettling, but it did result in a few scattered nervous chuckles.
“But, joking aside, Scrimgeour is a great guy, and as Potter said, he’s worried about the people. The man is a good Auror. We need more people like him in the DMLE. It would be a shame for him to step away for any given amount of time.”
Harry’s eyes narrowed as he looked at Dolohov contemplating. He knew what he was doing. Scrimgeour was a good candidate, but what if he were too good? You never promote a skilled candidate because there will never be another one as skilled.
Scrimgeour is a good Auror. So much so, that the people might want him to stay as an Auror. They just needed someone to implant that idea in their mind, a task that Dolohov was all too willing to do.
Continueing on, Dolohov pointed to another reporter once Marlene took a seat.
“Mr. Dolohov, how would you respond to allegations of Undersecretary Riddle’s campaign connections to foreign agents?”
Dolohov folded his hand across his chest and looked back at the reporter with a look of contempt. “What allegations? What connections? If you’re trying to imply that Undersecretary Riddle would accept foreign aid for British elections than you’re mistaken. There has been, nor will there ever be anything of the sort. Undersecretary Riddle’s campaign is designed around disclosure. The public deserves the truth, and Riddle wants to give it to them.”
“Besides,” Dolohov continued, appearing bored that he has to explain all of this. “Riddle is first and foremost a British citizen. He has dedicated his time to the country and wishes to do more. He doesn’t do it for glory or gold, he could easily get that outside the office of the Minister. He does it because he loves his country, and he would never compromise his integrity with a handout from a foreign agent.”
“Has the Undersecretary commented on his intended relationship with Wizarding France? Especially in regards to existing deals made during Minister Fudge’s term.”
“Undersecretary Riddle has worked under Minister Fudge and has had a hand in creating some of the deals you speak of,” Dolohov said. “I can say definitively that the Undersecretary intends to continue to uphold the deals the previous administration has established and even aims to create new ones for the betterment of the British public. Riddle will determine what he believes is the best course for the country, and he'll make that decision accordingly.”
The reporter sat down, and Dolohov continued picking questions at random.
“What policies does Riddle plan to implement upon his appointment as Minister?”
“Just as he spoke in tonight’s debate, Riddle has proposed ways to enforce education reform as well as maintain the economic prosperity he held create under Minister Fudge. He has more to say on the matter and I would keep an eye out in the next few weeks. Though at this moment, he sees pre-Hogwarts education as one of the pillars of his campaign.”
There was a stark difference in how Harry and Dolohov responded to questions. He had no doubt that others have picked up on it. Whereas Harry was relatively ambiguous and a tad unclear, Dolohov spoke with stark and often-blunt remarks.
It could be seen that one of the candidates was more hesitant than others. It wasn’t necessarily bad. Harry was sure he could spin Scrimgeour’s resistance to detail positively. But it was a clear distinction nevertheless.
There were no gray areas where Riddle was concerned. It was either do or do not. It would be refreshing to some voters, but their one sticking point would be whether Riddle could realistically uphold his promises.
Harry watched contemplatively as Dolohov continued his round. He more or less responded the same way. Making clear comments on the direction of Riddle’s campaign. He would occasionally blend in a snide remark on Scrimgeour’s performance but nothing that was overtly damaging.
As the briefing came to a close, Harry’s mind drifted. There were numerous issues awaiting him back at the campaign office. He was left of easy today but he wasn’t sure how things would continue from here on out.
That's it for now. (Don't you all love my inconsistent chapter length/update schedule?)
I'm sorry if it was a little boring T-T . It was necessity. I wanted this chapter out (It's been sitting in computer half-written for months). The next few chapters have been planned out/partially written.
I'm not sure about when my next update is. Probably in 2-ish weeks I want to say, but no promises.
The agonizing thing about this update was that I struggled with it (as I do with all chapters). There were things in the previous chapters that I want to remove but I didn't want you all to re-read and generally cause confusion. But, ey, it's a learning process.
Anyways, sorry for the rambles, and I hoped you enjoyed!
Chapter 8: Author's note (not an update)
Just an update on the status of this piece. TLDR: Not abandoned, will undergo major re-writes, "new" chapters by May.
Its this anniversary of the last time I updated this fic.
What can I say except it's a mixture of life problems and my own frustration with the direction of my writing.
Last time I updated was beginning of Feb. I was wrapping up my last semester in undergrad, feeling pretty good overall. I was insecure about the direction of the fic and my lack of writing skills. I like to think I'm self-aware enough to realize that my writing needs a lot of work.
I like this fic. I wanted to do a deep dive in political melodrama, but to pull it off effectively as I want to, I need to spend a lot more time on it. That if I feel a chapter is sub-par, I shouldn't just post it for update sake.
I have Chapter 8. Its been finished since Feb of last year. Its just crap, and that's because of the poor foundation I set up with preceding chapters.
2020 has just been a wild ride. Since Feb, COVID struck, shutdowns and distance learning, graduation and capstone (thesis) presentations, I had undergone surgery in June, ended up in the ER the following month because of complications from that surgery, I got accepted to do my Master's, and I'm currently in the middle of a 2 year program.
I'm doing a full and heavy course load this semester, so I can't promise an update any time soon (sorry!). But I will get back to this fic. I promise an update by May, but just keep wary that the previous chapters are subject to MASSIVE re-writes and may no longer resemble its original version.
Uhhh... I think that's it? Thanks so much for all your comments, kudos, and overall positive energy. You have no idea what it means to me to see that my writing isn't complete gobbledygook. I hope you bear with me and stick around <3
Uh, yeah, life amirite? This fic will be updated by May, but I need to give it it's due diligence and not just half ass it. Thanks so much for all the comments and positive feedback. You have no idea what it means to me <3