Six weeks and five days after the Battle of Hogwarts, three things of particular consequence happened.
Letters arrived at the Burrow from the Department for War Recovery Efforts, addressed in darkest midnight ink to Mr. H. Potter, Mr. R Weasley, Miss H. Granger, Miss G. Weasley, Mrs. M. Weasley and Mr. P. Weasley. ‘Invitations’ to attend ‘bilateral discussions’ with members of the Department, to revisit some details unearthed in previous testimonies.
“We hope that this will be the last time we require your services,” each letter read. “In the event that you fail to respond to this letter by the date stated above, confirming your attendance at the aforementioned meeting, we will be obliged to issue a legally-binding summons and dispatch Aurors to bring you to the Ministry in person.”
Hector Marshall’s signature at the bottom of the final page was almost illegible; the scrawl of a man who didn’t read or write the letters sent on his behalf. Kingsley’s handwritten addendum was smoother, its letters rising and falling in elegant cursive:
“Ignore the legalese – stock Ministry letters, I’m afraid. Nothing to worry about with these meetings, we’re just looking to tie up a few loose ends. I’ll be heading up these meetings myself.”
He signed himself off with a ‘K’, the flourish of the tail somewhat anachronistic for a plain speaking, level-headed man.
The Wizengamot gathered, quorate but not yet back to its full contingent, in Courtroom One. Members shuffled in wearing dark gowns, automatically settling in their factions: those pro the Government seated themselves around the cadre of Department Heads, overworked junior ministers and secretaries, the Opposition on the facing benches.
The doors had locked themselves shut before anyone thought to count the number of reporters in the room, to query their absence.
“The purpose of today’s session,” the Speaker began, his voice harsh against the gentle murmuring, “is to discuss and vote upon the proposed amendment to the War Reparations and Judicial Investigations Act. You all have had chance to review the full written text of the amendment, so in the interests of time, I invite the Head of the Department for War Recovery Efforts to outline his proposals…”
In the hours that followed, chaos reigned.
Until, after a recounting of the votes and three members of the Opposition being threatened with expulsion if they continued to filibuster, the Speaker rose once more to his feet in the sweltering courtroom.
“The motion,” he announced with weary finality, “is passed, by 24 votes to 17.” Amidst the scraping of benches against the flagstones and outcries of the members, only then did the Junior Undersecretary amend the pre-prepared statement for the number of votes cast and palm it off to the bored reporter waiting in the foyer.
The Prophet’s evening edition ran late that night.
“WIZENGEMOT VOTES YES TO ‘VERITASERUM TRIALS’,” its headline blared, atop a photo of the Minister for Magic walking calmly from the courtroom.
The article continued: “This evening, the Wizengamot voted in favour of an amendment to the War Reparations and Judicial Investigations Act, to allow for the first time the admission of testimony obtained under duress or the influence of potions in the forthcoming trial of known Death Eaters and collaborators.
No word yet from the Minister for Magic, whose public neutrality on this topic has been heavily criticised by both sides of the debate, but the Prophet understands that, shortly after the vote was announced, the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Cato Denning, tendered his resignation. For a full breakdown of the vote, see page 4, and for Perry Gower’s commentary on the potions and charms we can expect to see deployed and challenged in the upcoming trial, see page 11.
Tonight’s vote is the latest in a series of moves by the Ministry designed to bolster the recovery efforts after the War. On Tuesday, the DMLE reaffirmed its position that the use of any Unforgiveable Curse was liable to lead to prosecution, and that the maximum sentence remains life imprisonment in Azkaban. The Department’s statement came in response to a petition by Barnaby Brabble, noted magical law campaigner, for a general amnesty on the use of Unforgiveables between the date of Minister Scrimgeour’s death and the Battle of Hogwarts…”
The Ministry, usually a hive of activity even at the strangest hours, was dead upon Kingsley’s return to his office. The various underlings he’d met on the walk back from the courtroom had been dismissed for the evening, sent home with benign promises that overdue reports and questions could wait for the morning.
“Good man to work for, isn’t he,” they all left saying. “Hell of a change from Fudge and Scrimgeour!”
Even Robards had left, stomping past the Minister on his way to the lifts without making eye contact.
The Auror Office, Kingsley’s home for so many years, seemed distant now; as distant, it seemed, as Robards could make it, with its offices and files and cubicles groaning under the weight of as many protective enchantments as he could put up. Kingsley couldn’t get within five feet of the Head Auror’s office, with its heavy door and the golden plaque he’d once thought might one day bear his name, without a Caterwauling Charm being set off.
Alone, he unlocked his office door, flicked his wand at the desk lamp and settled into the hard-backed chair, aglow in warm light.
It would be poor optics, his Junior Undersecretary had warned, to move into the traditional Minister’s office, given the role Pius Thicknesse had played in the war. In fact, the entirety of Level One, home previously to the Minister’s Office and that of Dolores Umbridge, had been cordoned off and marked for ‘refurbishment’. So Kingsley’s office was now a glorified ex-meeting room, co-opted from the Aurors with much grumbling, and formerly plush carpets and walls bearing the portraits of previous incumbents had been replaced by threadbare rugs and inexplicable stains.
Rita Skeeter’s article, on the dawning of a new Ministry and the many obstacles Kingsley’s Government had to overcome, had been effusive in its praise of the new arrangements. The DMLE might now, she suggested, be finally subject to some bureaucratic oversight, no longer allowed to run amok as Fudge had looked the other way.
“A development not to be sniffed at,” she had continued, “if, as rumour has it, the Auror Office is soon to welcome within its ranks the Boy Who Lived and a number of his colleagues from within both the Order of the Phoenix and Dumbledore’s Army, organisations both closely associated with the Minister himself. No doubt the Chosen One wishes to remain close to his powerful allies, whose rise his actions undoubtedly helped to secure, and perhaps to exert some influence over their decision-making.”
It was past midnight now and the lamp light caught cold cups of coffee, interdepartmental documents folded into paper aeroplanes, the lustre of dried ink on the latest figures from the Department of War Recovery Efforts. And, nestled between innumerable other bottles, a vial smaller than all others.
As colourless as the liquid within and stoppered with black wax, Kingsley loosened the scrap of parchment secured to the neck of the bottle.
This batch should now reflect your specifications. We are conducting another test run tomorrow, at 7am – the usual place.
“Level Nine,” a voice announced through the speaker. “The Department of Mysteries. Entry for authorised personnel only.” At this time in the morning, there was no one to remark on the lift’s destination, on why there were distant noises echoing behind the heavy wooden doors lining the hallway, on why the Minister for Magic was visiting a department notoriously beyond reach of his office and the DMLE.
In the darkness, hardly able to see the flagstones before him, Kingsley made his way down the corridor, counting each stride. Twelve down, four to the right, through the second door… Gabriel had refused to provide exact directions to the room, impervious to the status of the man asking. He hadn’t even bothered with a proper answer when Kingsley had asked him why the secrecy, and reminded him that he had once been inside the Department of Mysteries and fought off Death Eaters in its inner sanctum.
“Better for all of us this way,” the Unspeakable had said with a charming smile, depositing a vial on the Minister’s desk and inviting him to the first of the test runs.
The notes he left and reports he wrote were suitably deferential, but it had been clear from the first – when Kingsley had thrust papers marked ‘confidential’ at the young man who eschewed the charcoal robes typical of Unspeakables and quite concisely explained his goals – that the relationship between them was at best reciprocal and at worst not weighted in Kingsley’s favour.
Five paces down and another eight to the left, Kingsley reached another set of heavy doors. Light leaked out of the crack at the bottom; the chamber, when he crossed the threshold, was bathed in firelight. Lit torches stood in brackets hoisted on the walls every few feet apart, more torches surrounded the raised dais in the middle of the room; and in the very centre, a wooden chair sat in its own spotlight courtesy of a skylight that seemed improbable, in this room on all but the lowest level of the Ministry.
How any of the chamber’s occupants – how the hooded man sat slumped in the wooden chair, unmoving in his own personal halo – stomached the brightness, Kingsley didn’t know. On previous visits, the chamber had been as dark as a grave, lit sporadically as though the existence of light, as with the existence of these trials and the substances they tested, was to be kept secret.
“Ah, Minister. You made it,” Hector Marshall broke off his conversation and strode over to where Kingsley stood transfixed. “Remarkable, isn’t it? Over a hundred feet below ground level in London and he’s got it lit up like Bonfire Night. He’s over there, just getting prepped.”
Hector gestured with a turn of his chin at a man directing operations at a potioneer’s bench; long and wide, with cauldrons bubbling away every few feet and a garden’s worth of dried herbs. There was a fervour in his tone of voice, the way his whole body moved as he spoke to the underlings taking notes that made him impossible to mistake: Gabriel Dagworth-Crowley, the reason the Minister, the Head of the Department for War Recovery Efforts and a dozen others had gathered in the bowels of the Ministry.
As if on cue, Gabriel turned from the bench, assessed the numbers in attendance and strode over to the dais. Chairs appeared from nowhere, set a good few metres back from the stage, and Kingsley took his seat as dark-robed Unspeakables positioned themselves around the prisoner.
“Gentlemen, thank you for joining us this morning,” Gabriel began, a benevolent smile softening his chiselled features. “Today we are closer than ever to reaching our stated aim, if not already there. Today I stand before you with something that is going to change our world – this.” He paused before withdrawing a small vial from his jacket pocket, identical to the one Kingsley found on his desk the night before. The clear glass caught the firelight and threw rainbows in its reflection.
“A brief recap of our developments so far, if you’ll allow me, for the benefit of our newer observers. Traditional Veritaserum, as I’m sure you are all aware, has only limited efficacy, being vulnerable to any antidote the drinker takes shortly after consumption or to any reasonable degree of skill in Occlumency. Any basic Potions textbook will give you a list of fifteen antidotes and they aren’t all found on the black market; half of them any housewitch could prepare. And then there’s the trouble with Occlumency. Any decent Occlumens is quite capable of overwriting the truth in his own mind, planting false memories which traditional Veritaserum can’t distinguish from true ones. And what we need now, gentlemen, is, as I am sure you’ll all agree, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. No more Death Eaters cheating corners. No more collaborators hiding behind the mask of wilful ignorance.”
“And therein lies our challenge,” Gabriel continued. He stood his ground in complete comfort, his hands clasped behind his back. Charisma rolled off him in waves. “Over the last few months, my team and I have worked to perfect the potion and after various iterations, we believe we’ve reached its final form. This version shows no response to the established antidotes and, crucially, appears to override the cortex of the brain responsible for creating false memories when engaging in Occlumency. In short, this is the closest we’ve come to putting truth in a bottle.”
Murmurings broke out amongst the audience; Marshall chuckled. “This’ll put a bee in their bonnets,” he said, but Kingsley was past joviality. Nothing existed for him but Gabriel and his little vial, and if the message hadn’t hit home last night, it certainly did now.
This is it, he thought. This is how we do it.
Gabriel allowed his audience their moment of wonder before reclaiming their attention. “But talk is cheap,” he said, stepping up onto the dais and coming to rest beside the hooded man. “A practical demonstration is in order.”
He pulled the hood off and in the same motion, pushed the prisoner’s head back and dispensed two small drops of the potion into his open mouth.
John Dawlish, groggy, assaulted by the bright light and manacled at the wrists and ankles, groaned.
“What the- Dagworth? The hell are you doing down here? Where am I?!” Dawlish spluttered. His eyes roved wildly, taking in the spectators to his humiliation, the Unspeakables encircling him. Finally, his gaze came to rest on Kingsley.
“How can you be sure he isn’t going to get up on the stand and tell every reporter inside that courtroom what you’ve been doing down here,” a voice in the audience asked.
“Simple memory modification,” Gabriel replied. “Quite a tricky bit of wandwork but we keep these sessions to no more than an hour, and then it’s much easier to control the spread of memory and eradicate it. Mr. Dawlish here is particularly susceptible to the Confundus charm, which is an additional difficulty, but we’ll work around it. That, and a, uh… rotation of our subjects. We don’t test the potion on the same subject twice. We don’t want to distort their perception of events. But, let’s get to it.”
He turned to face Dawlish, still staring Kingsley down.
“I am going to ask you a series of questions, which you will answer,” he said, all geniality gone now from his voice. “You are John Devereux Dawlish?”
“How many N.E.W.T.s did you achieve?”
Dawlish didn’t even pause to think. “Five Outstandings,” he said, which Kingsley knew to be true.
“What spell did you attempt to use to incapacitate the Hogwarts Gamekeeper, Rubeus Hagrid, when sent to arrest him?”
“Stunning spell. Didn’t work on him though, then he started chucking things at us. Asked him to be reasonable, but he started knocking people out.”
Gabriel turned slightly to meet Kingsley’s eye, and Kingsley nodded; yes, that was true. Yes, this is working; yes, this is what we wanted.
The questioning continued, the questions becoming increasingly personal. Beads of sweat ran from Dawlish’s brow; the room, with its fires and skylight and the weight of expectation, was stifling.
Eventually, Gabriel brought the questions round to the situation at hand. “Do you know why you have been imprisoned in Azkaban and are awaiting trial before the Council of Magical Law?”
“Tell us why you have been imprisoned awaiting trial.”
Dawlish shifted in his chair but couldn’t stop the truth from spilling. “I attacked a woman,” he growled. “Mrs Longbottom. Her nephew was causing problems and they wanted to send a message.”
Finally, Gabriel asked, in a low voice, “And on whose orders did you go to the home of Augusta Longbottom and there attempt to perform, in conjunction with a variety of other hexes and jinxes, the Cruciatus Curse?”
“Percy Weasley,” Dawlish answered, and the room erupted.