Chapter One—Easy Decisions
Harry leaned back on his chair, regarded the generous serving of Firewhisky in front of him, and sighed.
“That’s the seventh time you’ve done that this evening, mate,” Ron said, without looking up from the chessboard that was spread in front of him and Seamus. Seamus had apparently managed to give Ron a game, something Harry couldn’t do because he had no sense of strategy. The pawns could defeat the king, Harry kept arguing, if you just gave them a chance. Hadn’t he done it with Voldemort? “We’re getting a little tired of it.”
“That means you’re not paying attention to the game, Weasley,” Seamus chided, leaning forwards until he nearly buried his nose in the pieces. “And that means I’m going to win.”
“You wish, Finnigan.”
Seamus laughed and took a noisy drink. Harry gazed at him and sighed again. Seamus was one of the best examples he knew of how the wizarding world hadn’t turned out the way it should. Seamus had seemed so set up for a great life at the end of the war: he had fought in the Battle of Hogwarts and survived, he knew there was more to life than Quidditch and tormenting Slytherins, and he had seen the worst excesses of the Ministry and adults. He could help make the wizarding world better, or at least make sure that it didn’t get any worse by the way he lived his life.
But Seamus had cursed a centaur the next year when one tried to come out of the Forbidden Forest to Hogwarts to talk about something to McGonagall, and everything had just gone downhill from there.
Seamus had said that he thought the centaur was trying to attack Hogwarts, but even if he’d really believed that, it was just another example of how paranoid everyone had become, and Harry knew it didn’t stop there.
People mistreated house-elves. People went right back to accusing each other of stupid things based on blood prejudice as though Voldemort being around hadn’t completely discredited those ideas. People fawned on Harry at one moment and then sent Howlers when Skeeter made up a story that Harry was cheating on Ginny with Cho, right before they broke up.
Harry had fought for a better world, one where people didn’t have to go in fear of attacks at night. And he supposed that he had succeeded in that no one feared the Death Eaters appearing out of nowhere to kill them.
But nothing else had really changed. And Harry knew another Voldemort could arise someday because no one would prevent it.
I’ll fight as long as I’m here.
But he wouldn’t live forever, even if he lived a really long time. Harry gnawed on his lip. He had tried to educate people, and when someone asked him to make a speech, he always agreed as long as he got to choose the topic of the speech. So he had talked about the necessity for reconciliation and the necessity to protect the world they shared, whether they were pure-bloods or Muggleborns or something else.
No one tried to explain to him why they were so determined to keep being stupid, but Harry thought he knew it. It was harder to change than to just go on being stupid—the way you had always lived.
Maybe he should do something…
But what? Harry sighed again, absently dodged the pawn Ron hurled at his head, and swallowed his Firewhisky. He had come up with no new or good plan yet, and that meant he had to wait. He stood up and made for the door of the pub.
Hermione opened it before he could get there. Harry stopped and blinked at her. She never usually came to their drinking nights, because she got enough of Ron insisting that they play chess in their daily lives.
But now her eyes flashed, and she strode over and slapped the paper she held down in the middle of the chessboard, upsetting the pieces and making Seamus and Ron both say “Oi!” at the same time. Harry snickered, because the moment deserved it and no one else would. Hermione certainly didn’t notice, since all her being seemed concentrated in the finger that she pointed at the middle of the paper.
“Look what they’re doing to Hogwarts!” she hissed. Harry was impressed. She had almost said, “Fuck you!” in Parseltongue.
He leaned over her shoulder to see what she was talking about, feeling only mild interest. There was probably another argument about whether they should put a war memorial on the Hogwarts grounds, with the professors saying that students needed to remember the brave people who had died there and parents saying that it would scar their children.
But his amusement died when he realized the picture Hermione had pointed out was one of the full Board of Governors at Hogwarts, with Minister Leonard Tillipop standing in the middle of them, in front of the gates of Hogwarts. They held up a giant key, and behind them, the gates were locked.
HOGWARTS CLOSED! said the headline.
Harry looked at the words underneath it, skimming the article rather than reading it. He was so upset that his breath was coming short, and he had to rub his hands on his robes to keep from seizing the paper and wrenching it around.
…not teaching our children what they need to know…realized that there’s no reason to hesitate…the Ministry needs to use its power…regrettable lack of dedication on the part of the Headmistress...classes that will teach young wizards to be good citizens…
Harry stepped back from the table with a fire in the head. He knew what that meant. Oh, did he know.
It would mean that Dumbledore had lost the secondary war he’d fought all along, the war to keep the Ministry from taking over Hogwarts. Dumbledore had done some stupid things, and some things he didn’t need to do, and there were people who thought that Hogwarts should never have been as independent as it became, that Dumbledore had preferred playing stupid games with Fudge to actually acting as the school’s Headmaster. But Harry knew that he had done it in response to the Ministry overreaching its boundaries, not the other way around.
And Harry had thought McGonagall would be able to keep it free, or else that the new Ministry might not be as insistent on being stupid as Fudge’s old one.
I should have known better.
Yes, you should have.
Harry shrugged. As so often, when he had these conversations with himself, what mattered more than the words was the conclusion he had come to.
“They can’t do that,” he said abruptly, and only when he heard silence fall over the room did he realize that everyone else had been talking. He looked up, and blinked when he found them all looking at him instead of the article. Surely that was the thing in the room to make them gape, if anything was?
“I don’t see how you think you can stop them,” Seamus said, giving him a look that was burned free of any glaze the drink might have put there. “I mean—really, mate. You’re Harry Potter, but you know the Ministry doesn’t give a fuck about that.”
“I know the Ministry won’t pay attention to me,” Harry said, because he knew all the arguments, he could hear them burning through the fire in his head. The fire he’d lit was bigger and would put out that one, that was all. “I know the Board of Governors has the right to do whatever they want with the school, and that most people won’t care, and that some pure-bloods will like it, and that no complaints will go anywhere, and that McGonagall probably did all she could. I know. The thing is, none of it matters. It shouldn’t be this way.”
Hermione immediately nodded. “You’re right. It shouldn’t. And that means we should go to the Wizengamot, and that means—”
“Think that’ll happen?” Once again, Seamus was the voice of pessimism, leaning back with a snort and cradling his drink against his choice. “There are still people on there who were chosen by Fudge. And people who’re even more conservative than he was. No, our Harry’s not going to make any changes that way.”
It was almost comical to see the way Hermione’s face fell and she blinked, then looked around as if hoping that a situation might land from the sky. “Well—I mean, who else should we go to? The Ministry won’t listen, and the Board of Governors won’t listen. The Wizengamot might listen. They’re the only legal authority we’ve got left.”
“I’m the only one,” Harry said.
“But you’ve barely been a full Auror for a year,” Hermione said, frowning at him. “And you know that Aurors don’t have jurisdiction over Hogwarts.”
“I didn’t mean it that way,” Harry said, and then realized he had to do something, because all of them were staring at him as if he and not the world had gone mad. “Look, Hermione, cast a Privacy Charm, will you?”
She nodded and took out her wand and did. That made Harry smile, a bit. They were still his friends, and they would stand by him and defend him and do as he asked when it was really important, without questions.
“Look,” Harry said, as the sounds of the room faded and a small circle of mist sprang up around the table so that no one could see exactly what he was doing. He held his hand out and spread his fingers. He still needed to concentrate to do this, but his main problem right now was keeping the magic from running out of control and blowing up in his friends’ faces.
He held his hand there, staring at his fingers, and the magic came. The skin on his hand rippled, and then a buttercup grew up from his palm. He held it out silently to them, and Seamus drew in his breath and Hermione flinched backwards and Ron stared at him.
“You can grow flowers from your hands?” he asked blankly. “What bloody use is that going to be?”
Harry smiled at him in turn. Because Ron asked the important questions. “It’s something I can only do because my magic is so powerful,” he said quietly, and flexed his fingers until the buttercup turned into golden dust and crumbled down around them. He didn’t think anyone would have noticed, with the combination of the Privacy Charm and his friends all crowded around him, but he thought it just as well not to leave evidence. “I’ve had this strength for a long time now. I think—that summer after the war, when we were free to just think and decide what we wanted?”
Ron and Hermione exchanged a small glance. They had decided what they wanted was each other. Seamus shut his eyes for a second and nodded, and Harry wondered, for the same second, what Seamus had been doing that summer. He’d never asked. “Yeah,” Seamus whispered. “So?”
“It came to me then,” Harry said. “And I was so angry at first, because why didn’t it show up during the war when I could have used it? I’ve never found a use for it since then.”
He glanced at the newspaper on the table, and nodded a little. “Now, I think I have.”
Draco sighed and pushed his hair out of his eyes. He stared at the report on finance in front of him with unseeing eyes, while the other reports—on pure-blood attitudes since the war, on the number of Muggleborns in the wizarding world, on the people in the Wizengamot who would throw their weight behind him—teetered around his desk in the faint wind of his sigh.
Who would have known that preparing to take the Minister’s office could be so much work?
Draco leaned back and shut his eyes, refusing to think about Galleon figures for just one bloody moment. It seemed like years ago, instead of a year, when he’d looked around at the weak, fissured, faction-ridden Ministry, and discovered, with a rush of golden power, that the Minister’s position itself might be within his grasp.
He had worked for that goal ever since, convinced he could finally have the power and the prestige he had always dreamed of.
It was on the brink of success that he wanted to stop.
Why? Draco opened his eyes and studied the report he’d paid several former employees of Gringotts good money to prepare. It wasn’t a sure thing yet, but close to a sure thing. He could win this election. He could aspire to the seat of power that no Malfoy had ever tried to take. Most of his ancestors had been content with the power of an éminence grise instead.
But there was no challenge to it now. He knew he would win, unless he made a disastrous mistake. The people surrounding him, championing him, backing him, lending him money, were mostly nervous because they had known other Ministerial candidates who made mistakes on the very eve of the election. But Draco knew how to restrain his passions, sexual and otherwise. He wouldn’t be caught with a secret lover or tricked into a verbal faux pas.
Was it the challenge that made it worthwhile?
It seemed it had. Draco grimaced. He had thought of the Ministry as a golden chair. Now it seemed more likely to turn out to be a golden chain, simply because there was no one left who could challenge him.
The world hadn’t been fair to him since the war, so he had come up with a way to make it so—and now he didn’t know if he had ever felt so alive as when he was struggling and planning and fighting not to lose the Manor, or to obtain a position in the Ministry, or to make sure that his mother wasn’t persecuted years after the war, or for the ability to become a serious candidate.
I can’t draw back now, though. It would be stupid, and above all, Draco had accepted that, while they lived in an absurd world and most people behaved without a grain of sense in their heads, he did not want to do that. He would have to go ahead and mount the golden chair whether or not it was what he truly wanted.
For a moment, he wondered what his father would have said if he could see Draco now, and he had to smile. Yes, ultimate power over the wizarding world, access to more money than would ever come my way in the course of normal bribes, and people willing to become allies who wouldn’t speak the Malfoy name without spitting a year ago, and I’m turning my back on it because it’s not personally fulfilling.
Draco sat up with a shake of his shoulders. Well. He had done something stupid in not questioning himself enough, but he couldn’t avoid any further mistakes by refusing to run. That would leave his plans in shambles, and no one would take him seriously for years. That might give him a challenge, yes, but not the kind he wanted.
Why not remake the Minister’s office in his own image? Why not find truly challenging political situations and enter them? There was nothing to say that all his maneuvers had to be behind closed doors, or careful in case he angered someone too much for them to stay on his side. He had enough supporters to weather the loss of a few, and the wizarding world was still too divided, even now, to move in a herd on any one issue.
Still, as he went back to annotating the report, he couldn’t help wishing that there was just one powerful enemy worthy of respect. Someone he could fling himself against and fight.
Someone who’s a rival.