A/N Passages in bolded italics are quoted from canon or make a direct reference to it. They belong to JKR and are not my original ideas.
"Bye, Gin," said Harry Potter gingerly to his fiancé, Ginny Weasley, giving her another tender kiss on the cheek.
For the tenth time that morning, Ginny adopted a look of concern. "Be careful, Harry," she said quietly. "You and I both know how sensitive you are around Dementors."
"I will be careful," Harry repeated exasperatedly as he put on his jet black bowler and threw on his scarlet cloak in preparation to Disapperate from his Hogsmeade cottage. "I'll be okay."
He reached out a loving hand. Ginny took it and squeezed it, trying her best to smile. "I love you, Harry," she said slowly and carefully, stressing every word. Then, she hesitated. "I know you'll be fine. Just . . . just be careful, OK?"
Harry smiled in response and felt Ginny's smooth fingers fall from his hand. Harry screwed up his mind in concentration. Receiving a last supportive smile from Ginny, Harry felt the familiar falling sensation in the pit of his stomach that came with Apparition, and then he appeared abruptly in the Atrium of the Ministry of Magic.
The Atrium was still mostly empty as it was very early yet. Just one of the disadvantages of being Minister, arriving so early, thought Harry.
The New Fountain of Magical Brethren stood gleaming in the middle of the Atrium. It had changed much since Harry had first seen it the summer before his fifth year at school. For one, it no longer bore a house elf; Hermione's department had seen to that. It now only bore three figures — a wizard pointing his long slender wand upward, shooting a spout of water in the air; a merman gracefully spouting water from the tips of his tail, though his head remained submerged; and a ghost, made of transparent stone with a Permanent Levitation Charm upon it, emitting water from some unseen point within it — a being, a beast, and a has-been united together.
As Harry neared the Fountain on the way to the lift on the other side of the Atrium, he reached into his robes and retrieved a Sickle. He dropped it into the Fountain as he passed, as usual. He paused a moment to watch it sink through the crystal-clear water, but as it hit the stone bottom, he heard not the familiar clink, but instead, a nearly inaudible pop of Apparition.
He turned round and found himself face-to-face with the Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures and founder of the Department for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare: Hermione Weasley.
"'Morning, Weasley," said Harry in a mock-businesslike manner.
"Good morning, Harry," said Hermione brightly, brushing her bushy brown hair from her face and smiling.
"Now, watch who you're talking to, Weasley," said Harry in a mock-reproachful voice. "I'm the Minister of Magic."
"And I'm your soon-to-be sister-in-law and your friend of eleven years. How long have you been Minister?' said Hermione, playing along.
Harry grinned sheepishly. He mumbled something barely audible to Hermione.
"That's right, only a week," said Hermione. She smiled widely. "Not even, in fact. It'll be six days tomorrow, I think. All things considered, I should be allowed to call you by your first name."
Harry finally laughed out loud. "Of course, Hermione," he said. He turned and continued to the lift, Hermione following along at his heels.
They reached the lift and the doors clanked open noisily. "So," said Harry, "remind me — who did Ron end up Keeping for again?" Harry's other best friend from school and Hermione's husband, Ron Weasley, had recently become a professional Quidditch player, and last Harry had heard, he was trying out for Keeper for the Chudley Cannons.
"The Tornados," said Hermione, smirking and following Harry into the lift. "The Cannons wouldn't take him. He was very grumpy that day." The Cannons had been Ron's Quidditch team all through school.
Harry laughed, though it felt forced, as he was still apprehensive about what he was facing today. "I can imagine," he said, trying to sound happy and light-hearted. "I'd like to be there when Cho Chang finds out that the Tornado-Hater from fifth year is now their star Keeper."
Hermione laughed too. Harry knew that he was only postponing the time when Hermione would talk to him about his Azkaban inspection that day. . . .
As if Hermione could read his mind, she said, "You're inspecting Azkaban today, aren't you Harry?"
Harry nodded, his heart sinking to the depths of his stomach. He didn't need to be warned by Hermione when Ginny had been doing it too all last night. . . .
"You'll need to be careful," warned Hermione.
Blimey, do I lead an ironic life? thought Harry grumpily.
"I know, Hermione," he said as the lift continued to ascend. "Ginny had me up half the night warning me about it." And, as he thought of Ginny along with the thought of Dementors (which he had not had contact with in eight years), his heart sank. He could only imagine what else he must now be forced to experience in addition to his parents' deaths and Lord Voldemort's rebirth. It had been just a year ago when it had happened. . . .
Hermione put a friendly hand on his shoulder, once again as if reading his mind. "You really do love her, don't you?"
Harry nodded. He could still almost hear Ginny screaming in agony. . . . He shuddered and tried to put in from his mind, knowing that he had to be strong.
"Two weeks from today, isn't it?" asked Hermione. "Your wedding?"
"Oh, right," said Harry. He could still hear him laughing shrilly, still feel the bonds on his own arms. "Yeah."
The lift came to a stop. The doors clanked open and the cool female voice said "Level five, Department of International Magical Cooperation, incorporating —"
"Enough," said Harry, and the voice ceased talking.
Harry stepped from the lift, but before the doors could shut again, Hermione said, "Be careful, Harry." And the doors clanked shut.
Harry began walking down the already-familiar corridor leading to his office, staring around at the familiar faces peering out from various offices. Some of them greeted him with a polite, "Good morning, Minister," or a casual "Hello, Potter," and every time, he would respond half-heartedly with "Good morning Benson," or with "Hello, Macmillan."
Harry reached his office door with the already-familiar plaque upon it, reading in shining brass lettering:
Harry James Potter
Minister of Magic
He reached out his hand, closed it around the cool metallic doorknob, and opened the door. He entered his office, cluttered with memos strewn about his mahogany desk. The pictures in frames on his desk featured his parents; Ron and Hermione holding their eight-month-old baby daughter, Tracy; and Ginny; all waving merrily up at him.
Portraits of previous Ministers lined the walls, including, to Harry's disgust, one of Cornelius Fudge, his predecessor. The caption on his portrait read:
Cornelius Oswald Fudge
Minister of Magic 1982 — 2003
Other than that and the law books lining the shelves along the walls, his office was mostly unfurnished. He had, after all, only worked in the Department of International Magical Cooperation for five days. He had previously been employed in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement as an Auror. But after what had happened to Ginny. . . . And he had only been an Auror for a year when he had quit. . . .
Warm sunlight shone through the enchanted window of his office as he removed his scarlet cloak and bowler and hung both on the bronze hat stand in the corner. He made toward the chair behind his desk to begin rifling through the memos that had been patiently waiting for him. When he sat down, the memos began squealing excitedly and sprang to life, each trying to present itself to Harry first.
"Calm down, I'll read each of you eventually," he said to the memos, and they stopped squealing and fighting each other.
The memos now motionless, Harry grabbed one and began reading. Headmaster Snape is still seeking a new Potions teacher. Any assistance is appreciated. . . . He threw it into the wastepaper basket with a snort of disapproval. That old git could find his own Potions teacher. It wasn't his fault that Snape had quit Potions to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts. He picked up another memo. The Daily Prophet requests an interview with you after you Azkaban inspection today. . . . Another one read, Don't forget to attend Mundungus Fletcher's trial tomorrow morning. . . . The usual rubbish. Harry cast aside memo after memo, and after what seemed like hours and just when had begun to make a dent in his immense workload, a knock came on his office door.
"Come in," said Harry, and his door swung open, and his Senior Undersecretary, Heather Gray, stepped inside.
"It's time to go now, Minister," said Mrs. Gray, indicating the two figures standing behind her. Harry nodded and stood up, swallowing the anticipatory lump in his throat and grabbing his bowler and cloak. He put them on and exited his office, shutting the door behind him. Doing so, he took note of the two figures standing behind Mrs. Gray: Nymphadora Tonks ("Wotcher, Harry," she said brightly) and Kingsley Shacklebolt ("Hello, Potter," he said in his deep, slow voice), two Aurors that he had met a few years ago, before he had finished Hogwarts. He had been told previously that they would be accompanying him to Azkaban.
"We need to go down to the Atrium to use the Portkey," said Mrs. Gray. "The Anti-Magical Transport Wards aren't in effect down there, as of course they are up here."
Harry nodded and the four of them began walking down the corridor toward the lift. Harry noted that now it was much more crowded than when he had arrived as it was several hours later. The noise level, too, was much higher as Harry, Kingsley, Tonks, and Mrs. Gray entered the lift.
It was already full with people, and when Harry stepped in, many of them greeted him jovially. Harry nodded in recognition, and the lift doors shut. The lift began to descend, and though it stopped at every level, they reached the Atrium in seemingly no time. They all stepped out of the lift and moved to the centre of the Atrium, next to the New Fountain of Magical Brethren.
"Here's the Portkey," said Mrs. Gray, holding out a golden key to