Chapter 9 : A challange for the Ministry.
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The summer of 1993 was one of the most stressful so far in Fudge’s career as Minister of Magic. Less than two months after he was proven to have been mistaken with regard to the identity of the person who had opened the Chamber of Secrets, another crises arose for the Ministry. Probably the biggest crises of Fudge’s Ministry and possibly the greatest since the defeat of You-Know-Who.
It was the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement who sheepishly announced the bad news to the Minister. It was not something he relished telling his boss. After all it was a major embarrassment for his department.
Fudge, however, was still irritable about being proved wrong, and was in no mood to wait until the man was ready to share whatever information he had.
“Get to the point,” he snapped. “Something’s happened and it’s obviously unpleasant. Now just let me know what it is and then maybe we’ll be able to limit the damage somewhat.”
“It’s more than unpleasant,” the man stammered. “It’s….well, a prisoner is after escaping from Azkaban.”
“Escaping?” Cornelius asked in amazement. “But that’s impossible.”
“Nonetheless, it’s what’s happened.”
The head of the department of Magical Law Enforcement stumbled over his words again.
“Em, Sirius Black, Minister.”
“Sirius Black,” Cornelius cried in alarm. Of all the prisoners in Azkaban, Black was one of the most feared. This was the man who had killed thirteen people with a single curse, the man who had blasted all of those people to their deaths, simply because he wished to kill one man, Peter Pettigrew. The others were nothing more to him than collateral damage. It was suggested that Black had been…well, You-Know-Who’s right hand man. Apart from the Dark Lord himself, there were few names that would strike greater fear into the hearts of most witches and wizards than that of Sirius Black.
Almost before the Minister had had time to absorb the idea of one of the wizarding world’s most notorious criminals being on the loose, the head of Magical Law Enforcement asked permission to invite the Azkaban guards in and they shared another worrying piece of information.
“Black has been talking in his sleep recently,” they explained. “Repeating the same words over and over again. Talking about somebody being at Hogwarts."
“And who do we believe he was referring to.” Fudge addressed this question to the head of Magical Law Enforcement, reluctant to communicate with the terrifying creatures who guarded Azkaban.
“There’s only one person it can apply to really,” he replied. “Harry Potter.”
It made sense, Cornelius supposed. After all, here was a man who had expected to achieve great success on the tailcoats of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. And then, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named vanished, destroying all Black’s hopes. As far as the Ministry could work out, it was this which had driven Black over the edge, for he was undoubtedly insane at the time of his arrest. Since then…, well Cornelius wasn’t so sure of the man’s inherent. In his view, it was merely the knowledge that all the plans which he and his master had made had been shattered by one little boy which had led to his crazy behaviour.
So what was more natural than that, after escaping, he would try to seek revenge on the child which had ended all his hopes.
Natural it may be, but it created a major headache for the Ministry. An escaped prison was bad enough, even worse when that prisoner had a reputation like Black’s. But when that escaped prisoner was targeting a young boy at his school…. well, the thing took on even greater significance. Particularly after what had taken place at Hogwarts the previous couple of terms.
First the opening of the Chamber of Secrets, the petrification of a number of staff and students, then the abduction of a young girl and her near death in that very same chamber and now the possibility of the school being attacked by a notorious mass murderer. How were the parents going to feel?
Once again the thought of his own son and daughter entered his head. How would he feel if this had happened when either or both of them were attending the school. Romilda had expressed disappointment that she was to leave the school before Harry enrolled, but if there was a danger of killers attacking the school in order to revenge themselves on him, Cornelius would be just as happy for both of his children to keep as far as possible away from Harry Potter.
He turned his mind back to the problems at hand. As far as the Ministry was concerned, the problem was two-fold. Well, three-fold, at least, if you included the apprehension of Black, but as regards the school, there were two major problems. One was the reaction of wizarding parents. The Ministry’s stance on law and order was bound to be questioned as a result of Black’s escape and if he attacked the school, wizarding parents would be livid, and likely to look for a scapegoat. Fudge had no intention of allowing the Ministry to be made a scapegoat for what was obviously a problem at Azkaban. Still, how to convince the parents of that; that was the problem.
The other problem was the parents of Muggle-born students. If they came to hear of the problems which Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft, and doubtlessly they would, what would their reaction be. The possibility of an attack by Sirius Black, in addition to strange beasts attacking staff and students might appear to them adequate reasons to withdraw their children from the school and return them to the Muggle world, which would seem to them, far safer.
Of course wizarding parents could withdraw their children too and send them to schools abroad, such as Beauxbatons or Drumstrang. But while this would be a disappointment, it would not be the disaster that the withdrawal of the Muggle borns would be. Fourteen, fifteen, even sixteen year olds who hadn’t yet taken their O.W.Ls. Half trained as witches and wizards, with a significant knowledge of magic, but without the full training; these could prove a major problem to both the wizarding and Muggle worlds in the near future.
Of course there were two ways in which they could, hopefully, prevent either of these possibilities becoming a reality. One was the immediate apprehension of Black. That, of course, would be the ideal solution.
Failing that, they would need to put in place, provisions for the protection of Hogwarts. These provisions would have to be both effective and highly visible. It was necessary, not only that the children be safe, but that both they and their parents could see that they were safe.
In order to ensure this, Fudge realised that he may well have to face argument with Dumbledore. In Dumbledore’s view, Hogwarts was already one of the safest places in Britain. Cornelius didn’t question that. It may well be true, he thought, but the issue was to ensure parents were made aware of this. Dumbledore was handicapped by the fact that he did not have any children himself and therefore could not be expected to understand what parents went through when there was the slightest possibility that their children might be in danger.
There was only one provision that could ensure the protection of Hogwarts, and it was one which Cornelius knew would not be welcomed by Dumbledore. They would have to get some of the Dementors to guard the school. He could understand Dumbledore’s reluctance. He didn’t like the creatures much himself, but there was no denying they were good at what they did. Ok, so they had let Black escape, but that was one man. In all the years they had been guarding the place, Black was, as far as Cornelius Fudge knew, the only man to escape from the prison. A record like that spoke for itself.
Not in Dumbledore’s view, though, apparently. He was as adamantly opposed to such a move as Cornelius had feared he would be.
“I don’t want those creatures around my school,” he replied flatly, when Cornelius asked his permission to station Dementors at Hogwarts. “How could we possibly teach with those things around.”
“Oh come on, Albus,” Cornelius pleaded. “Please reconsider. I know what they are like. I had them in describing Black’s recent behaviour to me. Ugh, it was one of the worst experiences of my life.”
“Then surely you can understand why I wouldn’t want them around our students,” the headmaster responded in a tone of finality. “You must remember that some of our students are a mere eleven years old.”
“And do you want Sirius Black around such young children,” Cornelius snapped. Then he quickly relented, as he realised that Albus Dumbledore could never be bullied into agreeing to anything he did not approve of.
“Look Albus,” he continued, in a more conciliatory tone. “What if I were to give you my solemn word that the Azkaban guards would never enter Hogwarts’ grounds. Would you be agreeable to their remaining outside and simply guarding the premises.”
“To be entirely honest, I’d prefer they kept well away from the place, but in view of the present situation, so long as they do not enter the grounds, I will agree to their guarding the school.”
“Thank you Albus. I can assure you, you won’t regret this.”
“I think I already do,” Dumbledore replied dryly. Cornelius decided to take the remark as a joke and moved quickly on to the next issue which he wanted to discuss with Dumbledore; the question of how much the Muggle population should be told.
“I don’t want to speak to the Muggle leaders,” he explained. “You know the kind of reaction I am likely to get if I do so. But on the other hand, Black is as much a danger to Muggles as to the magical community. More so, possibly, if he shares some of his master’s more radical views. Do you think I should say something?”
“I don’t think you have any choice, quite frankly,” Dumbledore replied. “I would suggest you speak privately with the man they term their Prime Minister. I know you have already briefed him on the existence of the magical community. Ask him to keep the conversation private, though. Mind you, I shouldn’t imagine that you will have much difficulty getting him to agree to that.” Dumbledore chuckled.
Nonetheless, he had a point. It was unlikely that anybody would believe reports of the magical world, even if they were given by such an important person as the Prime Minister. And nobody in high office would leave themselves open to ridicule by announcing details of a discussion such as the one he was planning to have with the Prime Minister. As a high ranking official himself, he was well aware that he would never allow himself to be ridiculed by admitting his belief in anything that his people were likely to consider impossible. It didn’t exactly advance your career!
In order to prove who he was and to avoid the difficulties attendant in gaining entrance to the Prime Minister’s private offices, Cornelius Fudge decided to floo into the office.
It proved to be a possible mistake. The Prime Minister nearly fainted when the other man appeared in his office dressed in green robes and carrying a wand. He turned as pale as snow and managed a faltering "What are you doing here?”
“I've come to inform you of recent events in our world. "
“Well, sit down,” the Prime Minister invited, appearing to finally accept the strange apparition. “What was it that you wanted to discuss with me? I understood that your-people, if that is what I should call you- kept yourselves quite separate.”
“As a general rule, yes we do. And I must ask you to keep all unnecessary details of this conversation strictly between ourselves. We do rather value our privacy.”
“Of course, of course,” the Prime Minister assured him. “Anything that does not have to become public knowledge, will naturally remain between ourselves.”
At that moment, there was a knock on the door of the office.
“Yes,” the Prime Minister replied sharply.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” said a young woman, entering the room. “But you do have a meeting in twenty minutes time. And it will take you most of that time to get there.”
“Thank you for reminding me,” the Prime Minister smiled. “But I’m afraid I’m going to be slightly delayed. Could you possibly phone and ask if the meeting could be delayed by say half an hour?”
Here he looked at Cornelius Fudge, as though to ask if half an hour would be sufficient. Fudge nodded and the woman agreed to do as she had been asked.
“Thank you very much. I’m sorry for that interruption,” he said to Cornelius as the woman left the office. “What was it you were saying?”
“Have you heard of Azkaban?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“It’s our prison. The wizarding prison,” he explained, in case the Prime Minister had not understood. “At the moment we have a serious crisis. A man called Sirius Black has escaped. This man is extremely dangerous and has already killed twelve Mugg….-I mean non-magical people. This crime was one of the reasons why he was sent to Azkaban.”
“Sirius Black,” the Prime Minister repeated. “I’ll make a note of that. And you say he’s escaped.”
“Yes. I consider it important that the non-magical community is made aware of the threat caused by this man, but I would prefer if you did not let people know that he can use magic.”
The Prime Minister thought for a moment.
“How about if I tell the media that this man is carrying a gun? You are aware of what a gun is, I suppose?”
“Something which you use to kill one another,” Cornelius replied uncertainly. “Yes, that would do very well,” he continued as the Prime Minister nodded.
“Do you have a picture of this man? Or any possible way of identifying him?”
“I do,” Cornelius replied, taking a photograph which had been doctored to remain still especially for this purpose.
“It goes without saying that I will keep you fully informed of all developments in this situation. I take it you would prefer if I sent the letter by your postal service rather than by owl post.”
“Yes, I think I would prefer that,” the Prime Minister smiled. “I think a flock of owls arriving at these offices might attract a certain amount of attention. Thank you for making me aware of this situation.”
“You’re welcome,” Cornelius replied. “Now, I had better return to my duties and allow you to go to your meeting.”
With that, he disapparated, leaving the Prime Minister unsure whether or not he had really seen and heard what he thought he had. In order to convince himself that he was not going mad, he had to look down at his desk where he had placed the picture of this wizard killer and the notes which he had made with regard to his identity. He would have to let the media know about the escape as soon as possible.
As soon as the situation was announced in the Muggle media, the recriminations began for Cornelius Fudge. The Daily Prophet interviewed him about his decision, stressing the opposition of many people in the wizarding world to this move.
He was annoyed. He had only done what needed to be done and people still complained.
“Well, really, I had to, don’t you know?” he replied shortly. What did they expect, after all? To reassure them, he continued, "I have the Prime Minister’s assurance that he will not breathe a word of Black’s true identity to anyone."
When that issue of the Daily Prophet came out, Cornelius was relieved to see that they had quoted him accurately. You could usually depend on the Daily Prophet to do so. Some of the other papers seemed to go out of their way to discredit the media. Even the Daily Prophet seemed rather doubtful about what he had done, however.
Still, Cornelius was convinced he had done everything possible to limit the likely damage caused by Black’s escape. Now, hopefully, all the Ministry would have to do was wait for his recapture, either by the Magical Law Enforcement squad or the Azkaban guards.
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