Download Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Book 6

J.K. Rowling

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The war against Voldemort is not going well; even Muggle governments are noticing. Ron scans the obituary pages of the Daily Prophet, looking for familiar names. Dumbledore is absent from Hogwarts for long stretches of time, and the Order of the Phoenix has already suffered losses.

And yet . . .

As in all wars, life goes on. The Weasley twins expand their business. Sixth-year students learn to Apparate - and lose a few eyebrows in the process. Teenagers flirt and fight and fall in love. Classes are never straightforward, through Harry receives some extraordinary help from the mysterious Half-Blood Prince.

So it's the home front that takes center stage in the multilayered sixth installment of the story of Harry Potter. Here at Hogwarts, Harry will search for the full and complete story of the boy who became Lord Voldemort - and thereby find what may be his only vulnerability.


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Chapter 1: The Other Minister

It was near­ing mid­night and the Prime Min­is­ter was sit­ting alone in his of­fice, read­ing a long memo that was slip­ping through his brain with­out leav­ing the slight­est trace of mean­ing be­hind. He was wait­ing for a call from the Pres­ident of a far dis­tant coun­try, and be­tween won­der­ing when the wretched man would tele­phone, and try­ing to sup­press un­pleas­ant mem­ories of what had been a very long, tir­ing, and dif­fi­cult week, there was not much space in his head for any­thing else. The more he at­tempt­ed to fo­cus on the print on the page be­fore him, the more clear­ly the Prime Min­is­ter could see the gloat­ing face of one of his po­lit­ical op­po­nents. This par­tic­ular op­po­nent had ap­peared on the news that very day, not on­ly to enu­mer­ate all the ter­ri­ble things that had hap­pened in the last week (as though any­one need­ed re­mind­ing) but al­so to ex­plain why each and ev­ery one of them was the gov­ern­ment’s fault.

The Prime Min­is­ter’s pulse quick­ened at the very thought of these ac­cu­sa­tions, for they were nei­ther fair nor true. How on earth was his gov­ern­ment sup­posed to have stopped that bridge col­laps­ing? It was out­ra­geous for any­body to sug­gest that they were not spend­ing enough on bridges. The bridge was few­er than ten years old, and the best ex­perts were at a loss to ex­plain why it had snapped clean­ly in two, send­ing a dozen cars in­to the wa­tery depths of the riv­er be­low. And how dare any­one sug­gest that it was lack of po­lice­men that had re­sult­ed in those two very nasty and well publicized mur­ders? Or that the gov­ern­ment should have some­how fore­seen the freak hur­ri­cane in the West Coun­try that had caused so much dam­age to both peo­ple and prop­er­ty? And was it his fault that one of his Ju­nior Min­is­ters, Her­bert Chor­ley, had cho­sen this week to act so pe­cu­liar­ly that he was now go­ing to be spend­ing a lot more time with his fam­ily?

“A grim mood has gripped the coun­try,” the op­po­nent had con­clud­ed, bare­ly con­ceal­ing his own broad grin.

And un­for­tu­nate­ly, this was per­fect­ly true. The Prime Min­is­ter felt it him­self; peo­ple re­al­ly did seem more mis­er­able than usu­al. Even the weath­er was dis­mal; all this chilly mist in the mid­dle of Ju­ly… It wasn’t right, it wasn’t nor­mal…

He turned over the sec­ond page of the memo, saw how much longer it went on, and gave it up as a bad job. Stretch­ing his arms above his head he looked around his of­fice mourn­ful­ly. It was a hand­some room, with a fine mar­ble fire­place fac­ing the long sash win­dows, firm­ly closed against the un­sea­son­able chill. With a slight shiv­er, the Prime Min­is­ter got up and moved over to the win­dow, look­ing out at the thin mist that was press­ing it­self against the glass. It was then, as he stood with his back to the room, that he heard a soft cough be­hind him.

He froze, nose to nose with his own scared ­look­ing re­flec­tion in the dark glass. He knew that cough. He had heard it be­fore. He turned very slow­ly to face the emp­ty room.

“Hel­lo?” he said, try­ing to sound braver than he felt.

For a brief mo­ment he al­lowed him­self the im­pos­si­ble hope that no­body would an­swer him. How­ev­er, a voice re­spond­ed at once, a crisp, de­ci­sive voice that sound­ed as though it were read­ing a pre­pared state­ment. It was com­ing — as the Prime Min­is­ter had known at the first cough — from the frog ­like lit­tle man wear­ing a long sil­ver wig who was de­pict­ed in a small, dirty oil paint­ing in the far cor­ner of the room.

“To the Prime Min­is­ter of Mug­gles. Ur­gent we meet. Kind­ly re­spond im­me­di­ate­ly. Sin­cere­ly, Fudge.”

The man in the paint­ing looked in­quir­ing­ly at the Prime Min­is­ter.

“Er,” said the Prime Min­is­ter, “lis­ten… It’s not a very good time for me… I’m wait­ing for a tele­phone call, you see… from the Pres­ident of–“

“That can be re­ar­ranged,” said the por­trait at once. The Prime Min­is­ter’s heart sank. He had been afraid of that.

“But I re­al­ly was rather hop­ing to speak–“

“We shall ar­range for the Pres­ident to for­get to call. He will tele­phone to­mor­row night in­stead,” said the lit­tle man. “Kind­ly re­spond im­me­di­ate­ly to Mr. Fudge.”

“I… oh… very well,” said the Prime Min­is­ter weak­ly. “Yes, I’ll see Fudge.”

He hur­ried back to his desk, straight­en­ing his tie as he went. He had bare­ly re­sumed his seat, and ar­ranged his face in­to what he hoped was a re­laxed and un­fazed ex­pres­sion, when bright green flames burst in­to life in the emp­ty grate be­neath his mar­ble man­tel­piece. He watched, try­ing not to be­tray a flick­er of sur­prise or alarm, as a port­ly man ap­peared with­in the flames, spin­ning as fast as a top. Sec­onds lat­er, he had climbed out on­to a rather fine an­tique rug, brush­ing ash from the sleeves of his long pin­striped cloak, a limegreen bowler hat in his hand.

“Ah… Prime Min­is­ter,” said Cor­nelius Fudge, strid­ing for­ward with his hand out­stretched. “Good to see you again.”

The Prime Min­is­ter could not hon­est­ly re­turn this com­pli­ment, so said noth­ing at all. He was not re­mote­ly pleased to see Fudge, whose oc­ca­sion­al ap­pear­an­ces, apart from be­ing down­right alarm­ing in them­selves, gen­er­al­ly meant that he was about to hear some very bad news. Fur­ther­more, Fudge was look­ing dis­tinct­ly care­worn. He was thin­ner, balder, and gray­er, and his face had a crum­pled look. The Prime Min­is­ter had seen that kind of look in poli­ti­cians be­fore, and it nev­er bod­ed well.

“How can I help you?” he said, shak­ing Fudge’s hand very briefly and ges­tur­ing to­ward the hard­est of the chairs in front of the desk.

“Dif­fi­cult to know where to be­gin,” mut­tered Fudge, pulling up the chair, sit­ting down, and plac­ing his green bowler up­on his knees. “What a week, what a week…”

“Had a bad one too, have you?” asked the Prime Min­is­ter stiffly, hop­ing to con­vey by this that he had quite enough on his plate al­ready with­out any ex­tra help­in­gs from Fudge.

“Yes, of course,” said Fudge, rub­bing his eyes weari­ly and look­ing mo­rose­ly at the Prime Min­is­ter. “I’ve been hav­ing the same week you have, Prime Min­is­ter. The Brock­dale Bridge… the Bones and Vance mur­ders… not to men­tion the ruckus in the West Coun­try…”

“You–er–your–I mean to say, some of your peo­ple were–were in­volved in those–those things, were they?”

Fudge fixed the Prime Min­is­ter with a rather stern look. “Of course they were,” he said, “Sure­ly you’ve re­al­ized what’s go­ing on?”

“I…” hes­itat­ed the Prime Min­is­ter.

It was pre­cise­ly this sort of be­hav­ior that made him dis­like Fudge’s vis­its so much. He was, af­ter all, the Prime Min­is­ter and did not ap­pre­ci­ate be­ing made to feel like an ig­no­rant school­boy. But of course, it had been like this from his very first meet­ing with Fudge on his very first evening as Prime Min­is­ter. He re­mem­bered it as though it were yes­ter­day and knew it would haunt him un­til his dy­ing day.

He had been stand­ing alone in this very of­fice, sa­vor­ing the tri­umph that was his af­ter so many years of dream­ing and schem­ing, when he had heard a cough be­hind him, just like tonight, and turned to find that ug­ly lit­tle por­trait talk­ing to him, an­nounc­ing that the Min­is­ter of Mag­ic was about to ar­rive and in­tro­duce him­self

Nat­ural­ly, he had thought that the long cam­paign and the strain of the elec­tion had caused him to go mad. He had been ut­ter­ly ter­ri­fied to find a por­trait talk­ing to him, though this had been noth­ing to how he felt when a self proclaimed wiz­ard had bounced out of the fire­place and shak­en his hand. He had re­mained speech­less through­out Fudge’s kind­ly ex­pla­na­tion that there were witch­es and wiz­ards still liv­ing in se­cret all over the world and his re­as­sur­an­ces that he was not to both­er his head about them as the Min­istry of Mag­ic took re­spon­si­bil­ity for the whole Wiz­ard­ing com­mu­ni­ty and pre­vent­ed the non magical pop­ula­tion from get­ting wind of them. It was, said Fudge, a dif­fi­cult job that en­com­passed ev­ery­thing from reg­ula­tions on re­spon­si­ble use of broom­sticks to keep­ing the drag­on pop­ula­tion un­der con­trol (the Prime Min­is­ter re­mem­bered clutch­ing the desk for sup­port at this point). Fudge had then pat­ted the shoul­der of the still dumbstruck Prime Min­is­ter in a fa­ther­ly sort of way.

“Not to wor­ry,” he had said, “it’s odd­son you’ll nev­er see me again. I’ll on­ly both­er you if there’s some­thing re­al­ly se­ri­ous go­ing on our end, some­thing that’s like­ly to af­fect the Mug­gles–the non magical pop­ula­tion, I should say. Oth­er­wise, it’s live and let live. And I must say, you’re tak­ing it a lot bet­ter than your pre­de­ces­sor. He tried to throw me out the win­dow, thought I was a hoax planned by the op­po­si­tion.”

At this, the Prime Min­is­ter had found his voice at last. “You’re–you’re not a hoax, then?”

It had been his last, des­per­ate hope.

“No,” said Fudge gen­tly. “No, I’m afraid I’m not. Look.”

And he had turned the Prime Min­is­ter’s teacup in­to a ger­bil.

“But,” said the Prime Min­is­ter breath­less­ly, watch­ing his teacup chew­ing on the cor­ner of his next speech, “but why–why has no­body told me–?”

“The Min­is­ter of Mag­ic on­ly re­veals him–or her­self to the Mug­gle Prime Min­is­ter of the day,” said Fudge, pok­ing his wand back in­side his jack­et. “We find it the best way to main­tain se­cre­cy.”

“But then,” bleat­ed the Prime Min­is­ter, “why hasn’t a for­mer Prime Min­is­ter warned me–?”

At this, Fudge had ac­tu­al­ly laughed.

“My dear Prime Min­is­ter, are you ev­er go­ing to tell any­body?”

Still chortling, Fudge had thrown some pow­der in­to the fire­place, stepped in­to the emer­ald flames, and van­ished with a whoosh­ing sound. The Prime Min­is­ter had stood there, quite mo­tion­less, and re­al­ized that he would nev­er, as long as he lived, dare men­tion this en­counter to a liv­ing soul, for who in the wide world would be­lieve him?

The shock had tak­en a lit­tle while to wear off. For a time, he had tried to con­vince him­self that Fudge had in­deed been a hal­lu­ci­na­tion brought on by lack of sleep dur­ing his gru­el­ing elec­tion cam­paign. In a vain at­tempt to rid him­self of all re­min­ders of this un­com­fort­able en­counter, he had giv­en the ger­bil to his de­light­ed niece and in­struct­ed his pri­vate sec­re­tary to take down the por­trait of the ug­ly lit­tle man who had an­nounced Fudge’s ar­ri­val. To the Prime Min­is­ter’s dis­may, how­ev­er, the por­trait had proved im­pos­si­ble to re­move. When sev­er­al car­pen­ters, a builder or two, an art his­to­ri­an, and the Chan­cel­lor of the Ex­che­quer had all tried un­suc­cess­ful­ly to pry it from the wall, the Prime Min­is­ter had aban­doned the at­tempt and sim­ply re­solved to hope that the thing re­mained mo­tion­less and silent for the rest of his term in of­fice. Oc­ca­sion­al­ly he could have sworn he saw out of the cor­ner of his eye the oc­cu­pant of the paint­ing yawn­ing, or else scratch­ing his nose; even, once or twice, sim­ply walk­ing out of his frame and leav­ing noth­ing but a stretch of mud­dy­brown can­vas be­hind. How­ev­er, he had trained him­self not to look at the pic­ture very much, and al­ways to tell him­self firm­ly that his eyes were play­ing tricks on him when any­thing like this hap­pened.

Then, three years ago, on a night very like tonight, the Prime Min­is­ter had been alone in his of­fice when the por­trait had once again an­nounced the im­mi­nent ar­ri­val of Fudge, who had burst out of the fire­place, sop­ping wet and in a state of con­sid­er­able pan­ic. Be­fore the Prime Min­is­ter could ask why he was drip­ping all over the Axmin­ster, Fudge had start­ed rant­ing about a prison the Prime Min­is­ter had nev­er heard of, a man named “Se­ri­ous” Black, some­thing that sound­ed like “Hog­warts,” and a boy called Har­ry Pot­ter, none of which made the re­motest sense to the Prime Min­is­ter.

“…I’ve just come from Azk­aban,” Fudge had pant­ed, tip­ping a large amount of wa­ter out of the rim of his bowler hat in­to his pock­et. “Mid­dle of the North Sea, you know, nasty flight… the de­men­tors are in up­roar”–he shud­dered–“they’ve nev­er had a break­out be­fore. Any­way, I had to come to you, Prime Min­is­ter. Black’s a known Mug­gle killer and may be plan­ning to re­join You Know Who… But of course, you don’t even know who You Know Who is!” He had gazed hope­less­ly at the Prime Min­is­ter for a mo­ment, then said, “Well, sit down, sit down, I’d bet­ter fill you in… Have a whiskey…”

The Prime Min­is­ter rather re­sent­ed be­ing told to sit down in his own of­fice, let alone of­fered his own whiskey, but he sat nev­er­the­less. Fudge pulled out his wand, con­ju­red two large glass­es full of am­ber liq­uid out of thin air, pushed one of them in­to the Prime Min­is­ter’s hand, and drew up a chair.

Fudge had talked for more than an hour. At one point, he had re­fused to say a cer­tain name aloud and wrote it in­stead on a piece of parch­ment, which he had thrust in­to the Prime Min­is­ter’s whiskey free hand. When at last Fudge had stood up to leave, the Prime Min­is­ter had stood up too.

“So you think that…” He had squint­ed down at the name in his left hand. “Lord Vol–“

“He­Who­Must­Not­Be­Named!” snarled Fudge.

“I’m sor­ry… You think that He­Who­Must­Not­Be­Named is still alive, then?”

“Well, Dum­ble­dore says he is,” said Fudge, as he had fas­tened his pin­striped cloak un­der his chin, “but we’ve nev­er found him. If you ask me, he’s not dan­ger­ous un­less he’s got sup­port, so it’s Black we ought to be wor­ry­ing about. You’ll put out that warn­ing, then? Ex­cel­lent. Well, I hope we don’t see each oth­er again, Prime Min­is­ter! Good night.”

But they had seen each oth­er again. Less than a year lat­er a ha­rass­ed­look­ing Fudge had ap­peared out of thin air in the cab­in­et room to in­form the Prime Min­is­ter that there had been a spot of both­er at the Kwid­ditch (or that was what it had sound­ed like) World Cup and that sev­er­al Mug­gles had been “in­volved,” but that the Prime Min­is­ter was not to wor­ry, the fact that YouKnowWho’s Mark had been seen again meant noth­ing; Fudge was sure it was an iso­lat­ed in­ci­dent, and the Mug­gle Li­ai­son Of­fice was deal­ing with all mem­ory mod­ifi­ca­tions as they spoke.

“Oh, and I al­most for­got,” Fudge had added. “We’re im­port­ing three for­eign drag­ons and a sphinx for the Tri­wiz­ard Tour­na­ment, quite rou­tine, but the De­part­ment for the Reg­ula­tion and Con­trol of Mag­ical Crea­tures tells me that it’s down in the rule book that we have to no­ti­fy you if we’re bring­ing high­ly dan­ger­ous crea­tures in­to the coun­try.”

“I–what–drag­ons?” splut­tered the Prime Min­is­ter.

“Yes, three,” said Fudge. “And a sphinx. Well, good day to you.”

The Prime Min­is­ter had hoped be­yond hope that drag­ons and sphinx­es would be the worst of it, but no. Less than two years lat­er, Fudge had erupt­ed out of the fire yet again, this time with the news that there had been a mass break­out from Azk­aban.

“A mass break­out?” re­peat­ed the Prime Min­is­ter hoarse­ly.

“No need to wor­ry, no need to wor­ry!” shout­ed Fudge, al­ready with one foot in the flames. “We’ll have them round­ed up in no time–just thought you ought to know!”

And be­fore the Prime Min­is­ter could shout, “Now, wait just one mo­ment!” Fudge had van­ished in a show­er of green sparks.

What­ev­er the press and the op­po­si­tion might say, the Prime Min­is­ter was not a fool­ish man. It had not es­caped his no­tice that, de­spite Fudge’s as­sur­an­ces at their first meet­ing, they were now see­ing rather a lot of each oth­er, nor that Fudge was be­com­ing more flus­tered with each vis­it. Lit­tle though he liked to think about the Min­is­ter of Mag­ic (or, as he al­ways called Fudge in his head, the Oth­er Min­is­ter), the Prime Min­is­ter could not help but fear that the next time Fudge ap­peared it would be with graver news still. The site, there­fore, of Fudge step­ping out of the fire once more, look­ing di­sheveled and fret­ful and stern­ly sur­prised that the Prime Min­is­ter did not know ex­act­ly why he was there, was about the worst thing that had hap­pened in the course of this ex­treme­ly gloomy week.

“How should I know what’s go­ing on in the–er–Wiz­ard­ing com­mu­ni­ty?” snapped the Prime Min­is­ter now. “I have a coun­try to run and quite enough con­cerns at the mo­ment with­out–“

“We have the same con­cerns,” Fudge in­ter­rupt­ed. “The Brock­dale Bridge didn’t wear out. That wasn’t re­al­ly a hur­ri­cane. Those mur­ders were not the work of Mug­gles. And Her­bert Chor­ley’s fam­ily would be safer with­out him. We are cur­rent­ly mak­ing ar­range­ments to have him trans­ferred to St. Mun­go’s Hos­pi­tal for Mag­ical Mal­adies and In­ju­ries. The move should be af­fect­ed tonight.”

“What do you… I’m afraid I… What?” blus­tered the Prime Min­is­ter.

Fudge took a great, deep breath and said, “Prime Min­is­ter, I am very sor­ry to have to tell you that he’s back. He­Who­Must­Not­Be­Named is back.”

“Back? When you say ‘back’… he’s alive? I mean–“

The Prime Min­is­ter groped in his mem­ory for the de­tails of that hor­ri­ble con­ver­sa­tion of three years pre­vi­ous­ly, when Fudge had told him about the wiz­ard who was feared above all oth­ers, the wiz­ard who had com­mit­ted a thou­sand ter­ri­ble crimes be­fore his mys­te­ri­ous dis­ap­pear­an­ce fif­teen years ear­li­er.

“Yes, alive,” said Fudge. “That is–I don’t know–is a man alive if he can’t be killed? I don’t re­al­ly un­der­stand it, and Dum­ble­dore won’t ex­plain prop­er­ly–but any­way, he’s cer­tain­ly got a body and is walk­ing and talk­ing and killing, so I sup­pose, for the pur­pos­es of our dis­cus­sion, yes, he’s alive.”

The Prime Min­is­ter did not know what to say to this, but a per­sis­tent habit of wish­ing to ap­pear wellin­formed on any sub­ject that came up made him cast around for any de­tails he could re­mem­ber of their pre­vi­ous con­ver­sa­tions.

“Is Se­ri­ous Black with–er–He­Who­Must­Not­Be­Named?”

“Black? Black?” said Fudge dis­tract­ed­ly, turn­ing his bowler rapid­ly in his fin­gers. “Sir­ius Black, you mean? Mer­lin’s beard, no. Black’s dead. Turns out we were–er–mis­tak­en about Black. He was in­no­cent af­ter all. And he wasn’t in league with He­Who­Must­Not­Be­Named ei­ther. I mean,” he added de­fen­sive­ly, spin­ning the bowler hat still faster, “all the ev­idence point­ed–we had more than fifty eye­wit­ness­es–but any­way, as I say, he’s dead. Mur­dered, as a mat­ter of fact. On Min­istry of Mag­ic premis­es. There’s go­ing to be an in­quiry, ac­tu­al­ly…”

To his great sur­prise, the Prime Min­is­ter felt a fleet­ing stab of pity for Fudge at this point. It was, how­ev­er, eclipsed al­most im­me­di­ate­ly by a glow of smug­ness at the thought that, de­fi­cient though he him­self might be in the area of ma­te­ri­al­iz­ing out of fire­places, there had nev­er been a mur­der in any of the gov­ern­ment de­part­ments un­der his charge… Not yet, any­way…

While the Prime Min­is­ter sur­rep­ti­tious­ly touched the wood of his desk, Fudge con­tin­ued, “But Blacks bythe­by now. The point is, we’re at war, Prime Min­is­ter, and steps must be tak­en.”

“At war?” re­peat­ed the Prime Min­is­ter ner­vous­ly. “Sure­ly that’s a lit­tle bit of an over­state­ment?”

“He­Who­Must­Not­Be­Named has now been joined by those of his fol­low­ers who broke out of Azk­aban in Jan­uary,” said Fudge, speak­ing more and more rapid­ly and twirling his bowler so fast that it was a limegreen blur. “Since they have moved in­to the open, they have been wreak­ing hav­oc. The Brock­dale Bridge–he did it, Prime Min­is­ter, he threat­ened a mass Mug­gle killing un­less I stood aside for him and–“

“Good grief, so it’s your fault those peo­ple were killed and I’m hav­ing to an­swer ques­tions about rust­ed rig­ging and cor­rod­ed ex­pan­sion joints and I don’t know what else!” said the Prime Min­is­ter fu­ri­ous­ly.

“My fault!” said Fudge, col­or­ing up. “Are you say­ing you would have caved in to black­mail like that?”

“Maybe not,” said the Prime Min­is­ter, stand­ing up and strid­ing about the room, “but I would have put all my ef­forts in­to catch­ing the black­mail­er be­fore he com­mit­ted any such atroc­ity!”

“Do you re­al­ly think I wasn’t al­ready mak­ing ev­ery ef­fort?” de­mand­ed Fudge heat­ed­ly. “Ev­ery Au­ror in the Min­istry was–and is–try­ing to find him and round up his fol­low­ers, but we hap­pen to be talk­ing about one of the most pow­er­ful wiz­ards of all time, a wiz­ard who has elud­ed cap­ture for al­most three decades!”

“So I sup­pose you’re go­ing to tell me he caused the hur­ri­cane in the West Coun­try too?” said the Prime Min­is­ter, his tem­per ris­ing with ev­ery pace he took. It was in­fu­ri­at­ing to dis­cov­er the rea­son for all these ter­ri­ble dis­as­ters and not to be able to tell the pub­lic, al­most worse than it be­ing the gov­ern­ment’s fault af­ter all.

“That was no hur­ri­cane,” said Fudge mis­er­ably.

“Ex­cuse me!” barked the Prime Min­is­ter, now pos­itive­ly stamp­ing up and down. “Trees up­root­ed, roofs ripped off, lamp­posts bent, hor­ri­ble in­ju­ries–“

“It was the Death Eaters,” said Fudge. “He­Who­Must­Not­Be­Named’s fol­low­ers. And… and we sus­pect gi­ant in­volve­ment.”

The Prime Min­is­ter stopped in his tracks as though he had hit an in­vis­ible wall. “What in­volve­ment?”

Fudge gri­maced. “He used gi­ants last time, when he want­ed to go for the grand ef­fect,” he said. “The Of­fice of Mis­in­for­ma­tion has been work­ing around the clock, we’ve had teams of Oblivi­ators out try­ing to mod­ify the mem­ories of all the Mug­gles who saw what re­al­ly hap­pened, we’ve got most of the De­part­ment for the Reg­ula­tion and Con­trol of Mag­ical Crea­tures run­ning around Som­er­set, but we can’t find the gi­ant–it’s been a dis­as­ter.”

“You don’t say!” said the Prime Min­is­ter fu­ri­ous­ly.

“I won’t de­ny that morale is pret­ty low at the Min­istry,” said Fudge. “What with all that, and then los­ing Amelia Bones.”

“Los­ing who?”

“Amelia Bones. Head of the De­part­ment of Mag­ical Law En­force­ment. We think He­Who­Must­Not­Be­Named may have mur­dered her in per­son, be­cause she was a very gift­ed witch and–and all the ev­idence was that she put up a re­al fight.”

Fudge cleared his throat and, with an ef­fort, it seemed, stopped spin­ning his bowler hat.

“But that mur­der was in the news­pa­pers,” said the Prime Min­is­ter, mo­men­tar­ily di­vert­ed from his anger. “Our news­pa­pers. Amelia Bones… it just said she was a mid­dleaged wom­an who lived alone. It was a–a nasty killing, wasn’t it? It’s had rather a lot of pub­lic­ity. The po­lice are baf­fled, you see.”

Fudge sighed. “Well, of course they are,” he said. “Killed in a room that was locked from the in­side, wasn’t she? We, on the oth­er hand, know ex­act­ly who did it, not that that gets us any fur­ther to­ward catch­ing him. And then there was Em­me­line Vance, maybe you didn’t hear about that one–“

“Oh yes I did!” said the Prime Min­is­ter. “It hap­pened just around the cor­ner from here, as a mat­ter of fact. The pa­pers had a field day with it, ‘break­down of law and or­der in the Prime Min­is­ter’s back­yard–’”

“And as if all that wasn’t enough,” said Fudge, bare­ly lis­ten­ing to the Prime Min­is­ter, “we’ve got de­men­tors swarm­ing all over the place, at­tack­ing peo­ple left, right, and cen­ter…”

Once up­on a hap­pi­er time this sen­tence would have been un­in­tel­li­gi­ble to the Prime Min­is­ter, but he was wis­er now.

“I thought de­men­tors guard the pris­on­ers in Azk­aban,” he said cau­tious­ly.

“They did,” said Fudge weari­ly. “But not any­more. They’ve de­sert­ed the prison and joined He­Who­Must­Not­Be­Named. I won’t pre­tend that wasn’t a blow.”

“But,” said the Prime Min­is­ter, with a sense of dawn­ing hor­ror, “didn’t you tell me they’re the crea­tures that drain hope and hap­pi­ness out of peo­ple?”

“That’s right. And they’re breed­ing. That’s what’s caus­ing all this mist.”

The Prime Min­is­ter sank, weakkneed, in­to the near­est chair. The idea of in­vis­ible crea­tures swoop­ing through the towns and coun­try­side, spread­ing de­spair and hope­less­ness in his vot­ers, made him feel quite faint.

“Now see here, Fudge–you’ve got to do some­thing! It’s your re­spon­si­bil­ity as Min­is­ter of Mag­ic!”

“My dear Prime Min­is­ter, you can’t hon­est­ly think I’m still Min­is­ter of Mag­ic af­ter all this? I was sacked three days ago! The whole Wiz­ard­ing com­mu­ni­ty has been scream­ing for my res­ig­na­tion for a fort­night. I’ve nev­er known them so unit­ed in my whole term of of­fice!” said Fudge, with a brave at­tempt at a smile.

The Prime Min­is­ter was mo­men­tar­ily lost for words. De­spite his in­dig­na­tion at the po­si­tion in­to which he had been placed, he still rather felt for the shrunk­en­look­ing man sit­ting op­po­site him.

“I’m very sor­ry,” he said fi­nal­ly. “If there’s any­thing I can do?”

“It’s very kind of you, Prime Min­is­ter, but there is noth­ing. I was sent here tonight to bring you up to date on re­cent events and to in­tro­duce you to my suc­ces­sor. I rather thought he’d be here by now, but of course, he’s very busy at the mo­ment, with so much go­ing on.”

Fudge looked around at the por­trait of the ug­ly lit­tle man wear­ing the long curly sil­ver wig, who was dig­ging in his ear with the point of a quill. Catch­ing Fudge’s eye, the por­trait said, “He’ll be here in a mo­ment, he’s just fin­ish­ing a let­ter to Dum­ble­dore.”

“I wish him luck,” said Fudge, sound­ing bit­ter for the first time. “I’ve been writ­ing to Dum­ble­dore twice a day for the past fort­night, but he won’t budge. If he’d just been pre­pared to per­suade the boy, I might still be… Well, maybe Scrim­geour will have more suc­cess.”

Fudge sub­sid­ed in­to what was clear­ly an ag­grieved si­lence, but it was bro­ken al­most im­me­di­ate­ly by the por­trait, which sud­den­ly spoke in its crisp, of­fi­cial voice.

“To the Prime Min­is­ter of Mug­gles. Re­quest­ing a meet­ing. Ur­gent. Kind­ly re­spond im­me­di­ate­ly. Ru­fus Scrim­geour, Min­is­ter of Mag­ic.”

“Yes, yes, fine,” said the Prime Min­is­ter dis­tract­ed­ly, and he bare­ly flinched as the flames in the grate turned emer­ald green again, rose up, and re­vealed a sec­ond spin­ning wiz­ard in their heart, dis­gorg­ing him mo­ments lat­er on­to the an­tique rug.

Fudge got to his feet and, af­ter a mo­ment’s hes­ita­tion, the Prime Min­is­ter did the same, watch­ing the new ar­ri­val straight­en up, dust down his long black robes, and look around.

The Prime Min­is­ter’s first, fool­ish thought was that Ru­fus Scrim­geour looked rather like an old li­on. There were streaks of gray in his mane of tawny hair and his bushy eye­brows; he had keen yel­low­ish eyes be­hind a pair of wirerimmed spec­ta­cles and a cer­tain rangy, lop­ing grace even though he walked with a slight limp. There was an im­me­di­ate im­pres­sion of shrewd­ness and tough­ness; the Prime Min­is­ter thought he un­der­stood why the Wiz­ard­ing com­mu­ni­ty pre­ferred Scrim­geour to Fudge as a lead­er in these dan­ger­ous times.

“How do you do?” said the Prime Min­is­ter po­lite­ly, hold­ing out his hand.

Scrim­geour grasped it briefly, his eyes scan­ning the room, then pulled out a wand from un­der his robes.

“Fudge told you ev­ery­thing?” he asked, strid­ing over to the door and tap­ping the key­hole with his wand. The Prime Min­is­ter heard the lock click.

“Er–yes,” said the Prime Min­is­ter. “And if you don’t mind, I’d rather that door re­mained un­locked.”

“I’d rather not be in­ter­rupt­ed,” said Scrim­geour short­ly, “or watched,” he added, point­ing his wand at the win­dows, so that the cur­tains swept across them. “Right, well, I’m a busy man, so let’s get down lo busi­ness. First of all, we need to dis­cuss your se­cu­ri­ty.”

The Prime Min­is­ter drew him­self up to his fullest height and replied, “I am per­fect­ly hap­py with the se­cu­ri­ty I’ve al­ready got, thank you very–“

“Well, we’re not,” Scrim­geour cut in. “It’ll be a poor look­out for the Mug­gles if their Prime Min­is­ter gets put un­der the Im­perius Curse. The new sec­re­tary in your out­er of­fice–“

“I’m not get­ting rid of Kings­ley Shack­le­bolt, if that’s what you’re sug­gest­ing!” said the Prime Min­is­ter hot­ly. “He’s high­ly ef­fi­cient, gets through twice the work the rest of them–“

“That’s be­cause he’s a wiz­ard,” said Scrim­geour, with­out a flick­er of a smile. “A high­ly trained Au­ror, who has been as­signed to you for your pro­tec­tion.”

“Now, wait a mo­ment!” de­clared the Prime Min­is­ter. “You can’t just put your peo­ple in­to my of­fice, I de­cide who works for me–“

“I thought you were hap­py with Shack­le­bolt?” said Scrim­geour cold­ly.

“I am–that’s to say, I was–“

“Then there’s no prob­lem, is there?” said Scrim­geour.

“I… well, as long as Shack­le­bolt’s work con­tin­ues to be… er… ex­cel­lent,” said the Prime Min­is­ter lame­ly, but Scrim­geour bare­ly seemed to hear him.

“Now, about Her­bert Chor­ley, your Ju­nior Min­is­ter,” he con­tin­ued. “The one who has been en­ter­tain­ing the pub­lic by im­per­son­at­ing a duck.”

“What about him?” asked the Prime Min­is­ter.

“He has clear­ly re­act­ed to a poor­ly per­formed Im­perius Curse,” said Scrim­geour. “It’s ad­dled his brains, but he could still be dan­ger­ous.”

“He’s on­ly quack­ing!” said the Prime Min­is­ter weak­ly. “Sure­ly a bit of a rest… Maybe go easy on the drink…”

“A team of Heal­ers from St. Mun­go’s Hos­pi­tal for Mag­ical Mal­adies and In­ju­ries are ex­am­in­ing him as we speak. So far he has at­tempt­ed to stran­gle three of them,” said Scrim­geour. “I think it best that we re­move him from Mug­gle so­ci­ety for a while.”

“I… well… He’ll be all right, won’t he?” said the Prime Min­is­ter anx­ious­ly.

Scrim­geour mere­ly shrugged, al­ready mov­ing back to­ward the fire­place.

“Well, that’s re­al­ly all I had to say. I will keep you post­ed of de­vel­op­ments, Prime Min­is­ter–or, at least, I shall prob­ably be too busy to come per­son­al­ly, in which case I shall send Fudge here. He has con­sent­ed to stay on in an ad­vi­so­ry ca­pac­ity.”

Fudge at­tempt­ed to smile, but was un­suc­cess­ful; he mere­ly looked as though he had a toothache. Scrim­geour was al­ready rum­mag­ing in his pock­et for the mys­te­ri­ous pow­der that turned the fire green. The Prime Min­is­ter gazed hope­less­ly at the pair of them for a mo­ment, then the words he had fought to sup­press all evening burst from him at last.

“But for heav­en’s sake–you’re wiz­ards! You can do mag­ic! Sure­ly you can sort out–well–any­thing!”

Scrim­geour turned slow­ly on the spot and ex­changed an in­cred­ulous look with Fudge, who re­al­ly did man­age a smile this time as he said kind­ly, “The trou­ble is, the oth­er side can do mag­ic too, Prime Min­is­ter.”

And with that, the two wiz­ards stepped one af­ter the oth­er in­to the bright green fire and van­ished.