Chapter 8 : The Chamber of Secrets
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Not that his own work couldn’t be equally exciting on occasion, Cornelius thought. Of course 90% of the time it was entirely repetitive and boring, but sometimes it was exciting or even glamorous.
The glamour was provided by the parties and functions which he was required to attend, usually accompanied by his wife. Alyssa was in her element at these events, and Cornelius too enjoyed hobnobbing with the highest in the wizarding world.
His pleasure, however was not entirely without purpose. It was important in his position to be seen to have a presence at such events and keeping in with people like the Malfoys was extremely important. They continued to be important contributors to a number of projects and they were also extremely influential. If they supported a particular person or project, others would too.
Cornelius genuinely believed that this was the only reason why he was so obliging towards people like the Malfoys and would have been totally bewildered if anybody had accused them, as they could with justification have done, of pride in being seen in the company of the rich and powerful. He considered himself completely indifferent to the glamour of high office.
Being Minister of Magic could occasionally be exciting too, although this was something which did not appeal as greatly to the present Minister as the glamour of his position did. Excitement usually meant a lot of hard work and also a high profile for the problem in question. The latter could sometimes be a good thing, as it meant that if he successfully resolved the problem, he was guaranteed good publicity. The opposite was true, however, if he made a mistake, or even if the issue was not immediately resolved to the public’s satisfaction.
Being extremely aware of all these issues, Cornelius’ feelings were deeply mixed when he received a message from Hogwarts, stating simply:
The Chamber of Secrets has been opened again.
The Chamber of Secrets? Cornelius racked his brains. He remembered hearing something about that when he had started Hogwarts himself, well over 40 years ago now. There was a rumour that it had been opened a couple of years previously, but as far as he could make out, the students had been strictly forbidden to talk about what had happened and therefore he had heard very little about it really.
He would have to look through the records. And speak to Dumbledore, of course. If anybody would be able to give him the information he needed, it was Dumbledore.
If he could solve this mystery and see that the culprit was arrested quickly, it would be a major feather in his cap. One thing that really worried people, probably more than any other, was to see their children in danger. If he could obtain the credit for ensuring the safety of Hogwarts pupils, his support would escalate.
On the other hand, if this wasn’t solved quickly, you could be sure that people would find someway of blaming him for the problems. It would be a result of his not implementing harsh enough policies or allowing Dumbledore too much freedom in Hogwarts or something. One thing you learned pretty quickly as Minister was that anything that went wrong was your fault, somehow. If it rained, he sometimes thought, people would find someway of blaming him.
Nor was he completely insensitive to the worries of the parents of Hogwarts’ pupils. If this had happened two years ago…. He shuddered at the thought. Like most parents, Cornelius felt that the worst thing that could possibly happen was to have one or both of his children in danger.
The thought that it could be Jovian or Romilda in danger from whatever it was that was emerging from the Chamber of Secrets to terrorise the students of Hogwarts made Cornelius even more determined to find the culprit and ensure they were safely ensconced in Azkaban as quickly as he could possibly arrange it.
The first issue, he decided, was to get Dumbledore to come to the Ministry as quickly as possible to discuss the situation.
Dumbledore was as succinct as usual. A cat had been petrified originally, he explained and a message had been daubed on the wall, giving a mysterious message. The fabled Chamber of Secrets had, it claimed, again been opened.
Concerning though Dumbledore had considered this to be, the Ministry of Magic really had not considered the petrification of a cat and some silly graffiti on a school wall to be any of it’s business. Even though Dumbledore had contacted the Ministry at the time, they had been inclined to write it off as a student prank.
This, at least, was Dumbledore’s description of events. Cornelius had no knowledge of any report. Of course an attack on a cat would be unlikely to reach the lofty echelons of the Minister of Magic’s office. Most likely it had been reported to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement who would have promised to look into it.
Now, however, the situation had become a lot more serious. A young boy-a first year, which would be sure to cause maximum panic- had also fallen victim to whatever it was that was stalking the corridors of Hogwarts. That was definitely an issue for the Ministry.
Dumbledore, however, was much less help than Cornelius would have expected him to be. He seemed convinced that You-Know-Who had some part in this.
“But, Albus,” Cornelius remarked reasonably. “We all know that You-Know-Who disappeared years ago. How could he possibly be wandering undetected around the corridors of Hogwarts.”
“That, Cornelius, is what we need to find out.”
Cornelius returned to the Ministry in a state of disappointment. He really had hoped that Albus Dumbledore would be able to shed some light on this mystery. Well, if he was entirely honest, he had hoped that Dumbledore would be able to give him some insight which he could hopefully pass off as his own. Dumbledore wouldn’t mind who had had the brainwave, just as long as his precious students were safe.
To Cornelius’ disappointment, however, all Dumbledore had been able to come up with was You-Know-Who mysteriously guiding events unknown to anybody. The man appeared to be loosing his touch. Well, he was getting on a bit. Best wizard in the world in his day and all, but maybe his day was over. Maybe this situation required a younger mind.
With this thought in his mind, Cornelius set to work, reading through the records of the previous time when the Chamber of Secrets had been opened.
It took him a couple of days to read through the entire file, but once he had, the whole situation looked completely clear. The person who had originally opened the Chamber of Secrets was still at Hogwarts. Rubeus Hagrid.
Cornelius couldn’t say that he was surprised. His work in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures had given him ample evidence of the vicious nature of giants, and even though it was not generally known, Cornelius Fudge was well aware of the fact that Rubeus Hagrid was half-giant. Obviously he had inherited a love of violence from whichever parent it was who had been a giant. In addition to that, Cornelius was acquainted with Hagrid’s love of all kinds of dangerous creatures. The legend of the Chamber of Secrets indicated that there was some kind of creature holed up in there. It didn’t take any great leap of the imagination to see Rubeus Hagrid releasing whatever beast was to be found in there-a giant spider according to the records-and allowing it to roam the corridors of the school. To Cornelius Fudge’s way of thinking, the only mystery was why the creature had disappeared for fifty years.
Given the choice, he would have headed to Hogwarts immediately to arrest Hagrid. The only thing that dissuaded him was Dumbledore’s strong objections to such a course of action. He still maintained that the Dark Lord was involved in this somehow, and repeatedly voiced his confidence in Hagrid’s innocence. Despite the strong evidence of Hagrid’s guilt, Cornelius couldn’t help granting some credence to Dumbledore’s view. He was usually right, after all and the last thing Cornelius wanted was to be proven to have made a major mistake. Arresting the wrong man certainly wouldn’t increase his popularity.
Alyssa was contemptuous of his reluctance to move.
“You are the Minister,” she pointed out. “Not Dumbledore. If you are convinced the man is guilty, then you ought to deal with it.”
He could see her point, but at the same time…
“Dumbledore has asked for some time,” he explained. “If he cannot prove Hagrid’s innocence soon, of course I shall act in the proper manner.”
Circumstances, however, prevented Cornelius from allowing Dumbledore as much time as the older man would have liked. Another student- a 2nd year this time, and one of the Hogwarts’ ghosts were attacked. The Ministry would have to act. The time had come to make a call to Hogwarts.
Cornelius Fudge hated situations like this. He preferred to be ingratiating to everybody. This situation, however necessitated one of the confrontations he hated. And this time it would be worse as the accused would be supported by none other than Albus Dumbledore.
He entered Hagrid’s cabin awkwardly.
“I want it understood, Cornelius, that Hagrid has my full confidence,” Dumbledore stressed, as they entered the cabin.
Fudge tried to pacify both Dumbledore and Hagrid, assuring them that it was only a precaution and not a punishment; that Hagrid would be released as soon as the real culprit was found. The words seemed to fall on deaf ears. It was obvious that the half-giant was terrified at the idea of Azkaban. Strange. It had never really occurred to Cornelius that they had emotions like that.
Then just as he thought the ordeal was over, Lucius Malfoy arrived at the cabin.
“Already here, Fudge,” he said approvingly. “Good, good….”
But there was nothing good about what Lucius was suggesting, Cornelius Fudge thought in alarm. He wanted Dumbledore suspended, and had received the signatures of all twelve governors of Hogwarts, demanding this.
Fudge was trapped. They couldn’t suspend Dumbledore. Ok, so the danger should be over now that Hagrid had been arrested, but could they be absolutely sure about that? What if the attacks did continue? Even assuming Hagrid was the man, and Fudge was fairly sure he was, what if the creature he had released was still at large? Without Dumbledore, the chances of the situation being contained became significantly slimmer.
On the other hand, it didn’t do to oppose Lucius Malfoy. The Ministry was presently hoping they could convince him to make another donation. And of course, the next Quidditch World Cup was to be held in Britain in little over a year. That would be quite a lot of initial expenditure. Cornelius was also hoping that Lucius Malfoy could be persuaded to contribute to that.
What should he say? How could he make the need for Dumbledore clear without alienating one of his most valuable supporters.
He managed a feeble protest. “Dumbledore suspended….no, no…..last thing we want just now-“
To his embarrassment, Rubeus Hagrid managed a far more forceful protest against Dumbledore’s suspension than he did. Not that Lucius paid the slightest attention to either of them. Strictly speaking, of course, he was correct. It was the governors who decided who should be headmaster-or headmistress- of Hogwarts, but Fudge couldn’t help feeling that he should have been more forceful in stressing the Ministry’s view. He was uneasily aware that if it hadn’t been Lucius Malfoy that he was speaking to, he probably would have been.
Nonetheless, he was relieved to have the situation dealt with. Putting the issue of Dumbledore’s position firmly out of his mind, he praised himself for having dealt courageously and effectively with the problem of Hagrid. There, he had shown true leadership, he told himself. He had put his regard and very real admiration for Dumbledore out of his mind and had done his duty.
Jovian, however, was less supportive than Cornelius would have expected his son to be.
“Dad, are you sure Hagrid is guilty,” he asked doubtfully. “I remember him well from when I was at Hogwarts and I am sure he would never have done anything to harm any of the students.”
“You can never know what they will do,” Cornelius replied, referring to Hagrid’s parentage.
“I don’t believe it?” Jovian stressed. “All this stuff about giants-well I don’t know much about them, but I do know Hagrid and he certainly isn’t vicious or stupid or any of the other things giants are supposed to be. He’s one of the kindest people in Hogwarts.”
“Well, maybe he didn’t intend it,” Cornelius gave in. “Maybe it was just his love of monsters. He may just have believed the monster was misunderstood.” His tone showed exactly what he thought of such misguided kindness. In Cornelius’ view, some creatures were just bad. Giants were one such example and trolls were another. He could never understand people who, against all the evidence, argued that such creatures were just misunderstood.
Maybe his own background made Hagrid sympathetic to such creatures, but to be honest, Cornelius was of the opinion that Hagrid had known exactly what he was doing. Despite what Dumbledore appeared to think, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree as a general rule.
However, Alyssa appeared to be the only member of Cornelius’ own family to share his view. Jovian appear convinced that his father had made a mistake and although Romilda was not as sure as her brother, she also expressed surprise that Hagrid could have done such a thing. She did agree, though, that he may have simply wanted to give the monster some freedom. It was the kind of thing he would do.
Jovian remained unconvinced. That Hagrid would release the creature once, he could possibly believe, but that he would do so again, when it had already been proven that the beast was capable of such acts-that he did not believe. And how could Hagrid be the heir of Slytherin, he argued. Slytherin was utterly opposed to half-bloods.
Cornelius ignored his son’s objections. Of course, having attended Hogwarts and known Hagrid, his children would find it difficult to accept that he had any part in such crimes. How often did the families and friends of convicted criminals make similar claims? But he never seemed the type was the frequently heard cry. Cornelius had heard that Sirius Black, one of the most notorious criminals in Azkaban had always seemed like a really nice guy, until it had been proven that he was a serial killer and a supporter of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. You could never be sure about anybody.
The more he thought about it, the more convinced that Fudge became of Hagrid’s guilt. It had been only Dumbledore’s doubts that had led him to question it, he told himself and of course, everybody knew that Dumbledore had rather liberal views about half-humans, and many other things as well.
Therefore, he was completely surprised when Dumbledore contacted him to let him know that the situation had been adequately resolved and that he had written to Azkaban to demand Hagrid’s release. Apparently some silly little first year girl had gotten hold of the diary of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and had been enchanted into doing the Dark Lord’s work for him.
Well, how could he have been expected to allow for a situation like that, he defended himself. Nobody could possibly have figured out that the Dark Lord would have enchanted something in order to ensure that the Chamber should be opened years after he left Hogwarts.
Nonetheless, it was embarrassing to have been so badly mistaken. The incident of the Chamber of Secrets was one which Cornelius wanted to forget as quickly as possible.
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