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The Daring Win

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Dolores kept her thoughts to herself as she stood behind Bartemius and listened to him speaking to the French Minister’s son. The son had wanted a tour of Muggle London. Bartemius was assigned to give it, and Dolores had come with him to show willing. It was so important that the Department of International Magical Cooperation and the Improper Use of Magic Office could work together.

Of course, it was also important that the next candidate for Head of that Office showed all the proper attitudes. Dolores was beginning to regret the journey. Crouch was not the man he had once been, before he made the mistake of having a son sentenced to Azkaban. And the French Minister’s son…

Dolores shuddered delicately and renewed the spells on the orange with cloves that she was holding to her nose. What sort of person was he if he could willingly want to see how Muggles lived?

Right now, a slack-jawed person, staring around and tilting his head back so that he could fully see the ceiling of the small Muggle shop where they stood. They were under Disillusionment Charms, at least; Dolores had got Crouch to agree to that. The excuse was so that none of the Muggles would notice them behaving uncharacteristically.

The real reason was so obvious that Dolores’s estimate of Crouch had dropped again when she received no acknowledging nod.

With a sigh, Dolores turned to watch the Muggles, although they were simply the same crack-voiced, ugly-faced, improper-clothing-wearing savages that she already knew about. At least she sometimes saw a mother dragging a screaming child out by a sleeve or the scruff of a neck. Dolores nodded. They were inferior in every way, they would never know about the wonders that dwelt in their midst, but at least some of them had an idea of the right fashion to treat a snotty-nosed little boy wailing for a biscuit.

She watched a tall, thin woman snap at a boy trailing behind her in a grey jumper so huge that Dolores couldn’t even see if he had trousers on. Dolores shuddered delicately. From the clothes, the boy was poor.

He should have made better decisions.

The woman pointed to a container of cabbages that looked almost like the barrels of beetle’s eyes at the last apothecary Dolores had visited. Approvingly, Dolores watched as the little boy began to sort through the cabbages. Was he like a house-elf? She hadn’t known that Muggles were allowed them.

Then she saw the scar, and her approval fell away.

A lightning bolt! A lightning bolt on his head! Dolores craned her neck in the subtle way she’d perfected that meant no one could see where she was looking. But there it was, the same from every angle, as the child gathered up cabbages and two cases of Muggle foods the woman directed him to. This was Harry Potter. Dolores remembered the black flyaway hair very well from pictures.

The Daily Prophet had just run another article on him the other day, in fact, speculating where Harry Potter had disappeared to.

To be abused by Muggles, apparently, thought Dolores, and felt indignation swell inside her. As if that is a proper fate for a wizarding child!

At that moment, it was all so clear to her. Harry Potter hadn’t been taken charge of by people who wanted the best for him, people who had the Ministry’s future and the boy’s future—which were intertwined, of course—at heart. He’d been seized on by someone who wanted to teach him about Muggles so he would come into their world a blithering Muggle-lover and they could use him against the Ministry.

Which meant Dumbledore, of course. Dolores wanted to clap her hand to her forehead at her own stupidity, wondering how in the world she had never noticed before.

For now, she could do something about it. She slipped away from Crouch and the French Minister’s son, who were still acting as though fat Muggle women in scarves was the most interesting sight in the world, and walked towards the thin woman and the figurehead she was raising. The boy had just stretched out an arm to grab hold of a bottle of…something. Dolores, after a few moments of incredulous staring, decided it was milk.

Trust Muggles to keep milk that way, she thought, and came close enough to hear the woman say, “Don’t drop anything, boy, or you know what will happen.”

“Yes, Aunt Petunia.”

No wizard should ever sound like that, defeated and worn-down and so automatic. We are the pinnacle of magic and should rejoice in it. Dolores came up behind the woman and touched her wand to her throat. Since she was still under the Disillusionment Charm, no other Muggle in the shop noticed anything.

But the boy turned his head sharply when she said, “Do exactly as I tell you, Muggle, and you won’t get hurt.”

From the way the woman froze, the word “Muggle” and maybe even the feel of a wand weren’t unfamiliar to her. That only made Dolores’s wrath more deadly. Then shedid know that she was badly mistreating someone superior to her, and she still did it anyway.

She deserved something special. Dolores knew how to do special.

“Wh—who—”

“Someone who saw the way you treated a wizard, and thinks you don’t deserve to be alive,” said Dolores, tightening her hand on her wand. But even as the Muggle’s head bent back and she gave a frightened squeak, Dolores reminded herself she had to hang on to her temper, too. She would simplify her life considerably if she could do that. The Ministry would forgive a lot, but a dead Muggle was hard to erase memories of.

“Wizard?”

The boy was the one who asked that, fiddling with the sleeve of his too-large shirt. Dolores gave him another assessing glance. When he wasn’t looking at the floor, his green eyes were sharp and intelligent, and he even looked straight at her despite the Disillusionment Charm not letting him see her.

Although he wore glasses. Dolores could admire the impressions glasses could give, used the right way, but not the ones he wore. How hideous.

“Yes,” she said. “You are a wizard. Your name is Harry Potter, and you’re famous as the Boy-Who-Lived in our world.”

She had hoped he might show some recognition, but instead, he only stared at her. “I can do magic?”

Oh, dear. Dolores wondered whether surviving the Killing Curse could cause brain damage. That would be unfortunate. While she could teach the boy his place in their world, it would be much harder to exhibit him to advantage if he drooled or interrupted his betters or didn’t know what a wand was.

“Yes,” she said. “What has your aunt told you? That you’re a Squib, or a Muggle? No such thing.” She laughed, and watched the Muggle’s flinch in delight. “No. You’re most definitely a wizard, Mr. Potter.”

“I don’t know what those words mean.” The boy didn’t dart his eyes around looking for her at least, thank goodness. He seemed to focus steadily on her, and he even moved a little closer so no one else could hear him speaking. “I just know that I—I’m different. They always said I was.”

“But never why?” Dolores smiled. Not brain-damaged, but ignorant. That made her even more certain that it was Dumbledore who had placed him here. Dumbledore thought highly of the value of ignorance. It was the only way he could recruit new Muggle-lovers, if he kept facts from them about what Muggles did to wizards when they found them.

“No.” The boy hesitated for a long moment. “What’s your name?”

“Dolores Umbridge,” Dolores said, and pulled her lips together when the Muggle didn’t flinch at her name. Her contact with the wizarding world must be limited, even if she had the Boy-Who-Lived in her care. “You have a few choices. You can stay here with your family, or you can come with me.”

“I’m coming with you.”

Dolores had been all ready to recite the advantages of such a guardianship, but that made her blink. Why would the boy want to get away from the Muggles so quickly? They must have some kind of blood relation to him, and everyone knew that blood was incredibly important to most Muggle-lovers. That was the way Mudbloods justified staying close to their parents and spreading around secrets, after all.

But the boy turned his head and looked at the thin woman, and Dolores saw the answer. It was an answer she had seen in the mirror before, when she locked herself in the bathroom and miserably contemplated why she had been born to a wizard father and a Muggle mother.

Many on Dumbledore’s side valued family. But this boy might value power more.

“Of course you are,” said Dolores, and managed to make her voice soft by thinking of the boy as a kitten. He had messy hair sort of like a newborn kitten’s head-fur, and his eyes were a brilliant green. That made it easier. “Come along, Mr. Potter.”

She took his hand, and cast a Disillusionment Charm on him when he hesitated. Then the two of them walked away from the Muggle shop, and left the gaping woman and Crouch and the French Minister’s son behind them.

Dolores’s mind was working rapidly as she thought about that. It wouldn’t improve relationships between Crouch’s office and her own. And she sometimes had hopes of Crouch. She knew he had been married once before, and to a woman who was incredibly different from her. But wouldn’t that make him only all the more likely to turn to a woman who could offer him some peace and rest from work by taking the work on her own shoulders?

Now, she didn’t have to think about that. Now, she could look at the boy trotting next to her, not full of trust for her but full of hatred for what he was leaving behind, and smile.

She didn’t have to find a powerful husband now. Not if she could get confirmed as Harry Potter’s guardian, and have him tell the Muggle-lovers of the world what his lovingrelatives had been doing to him.

She had her own path to tread.