Author's note: Like the two previous chapters, the events of this chapter have been taken from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and are the property of J.K. Rowling, as are the underlined sentences, which are direct quotes from the novel.
Once Harry returned to school, the immediate pressure on the Ministry was relaxed. Of course, it was still a major embarrassment that a high security prisoner like Sirius Black should have managed to escape and it was still top priority that he be recaptured as quickly as possible, but it was no longer so urgent that it required the personal attention of the Minister himself at all times.
Therefore, Cornelius was able to spend some time with his family during the last week of his daughter’s holiday.
Five days before she returned to Tunisia, Carla was invited to dine with the family. Naturally, she had been introduced to Romilda shortly after Romilda had arrived back in England, but the official invitation to dinner had been postponed until the family were pretty sure that Cornelius would be able to be there. It would be a little rude to invite the girl and for him to have to disappear practically as soon as she arrived.
Although, to be fair to Carla, she always showed a good deal of interest in Cornelius’ position as Minister and she now showed equal interest in Romilda’s job. In this way, she made herself quite popular with Jovian’s family, even Romilda, who had expected to dislike her, having known only that she was a Healer, worked with Jovian and appeared to be quite ambitious and likely to be successful. Even though that description could just as easily have been applied to Jovian himself, Romilda was inclined to picture the girl as humourless, ambitious and intellectual. Perhaps a more successful and possibly harder version of her own mother.
The fact that she was a half-blood added to this impression. Romilda would have strongly denied any prejudice with regard to blood, but nonetheless it was her impression that Muggle borns and half-bloods took magic far more seriously than those who were born into entirely wizarding families. They were less inclined to take magic for granted, she supposed, when she bothered to think about it at all.
To an extent Carla confirmed this impression. She did take her job as Healer seriously, and when asked, by Alyssa, about her ambitions, she told the Fudges that she was very interested in genetics, particularly the research which was currently taking place into the phenomenon of squibs.
“If we could manage to tell, before birth, which children were likely to be born as squibs, it would make it significantly easier for both parents and children to accept the situation,” she explained. “Did you know that there have been some situations where wizarding families have not realised a child was a squib until the child failed to be accepted to Hogwarts or a similar school? There is research taking place at the moment as regards why some children are born as squibs and if it is possible to predict which witches and wizards are most likely to produce squibs. I would really like to be involved in that. I think it is a very worthwhile exercise.”
Alyssa agreed. “If either of my children had turned out to be squibs…” At this she paused, as though the horrible possibility of such an event had just hit her. “Not that there was any likelihood of either of them being, of course.”
“Of course,” Carla agreed pleasantly.
“But if I had been unlucky enough to have such a child, then I think I would have liked to know as quickly as possible. They say there are many things that such children can learn, if they are given the correct education and everything of course. Apparently some of them have managed to become quite successful.” Her tone indicated incredulity. “I am sure it must be important that they get the right kind of education as early as possible.”
“I wouldn’t really know much about that,” Carla replied apologetically. “My interest has been entirely in the genetic side of the thing. I do think it must be a very difficult thing to hear at eleven if you have always taken it for granted that you are magical, though. Particularly if you are entirely wizarding born and know little or nothing about the Muggle world. At least, in my case, had I been a squib, I would have plenty of relations in the Muggle world who would be able to advise me as regards how to manage without magic.”
“She’s nice, isn’t she?” Cornelius commented to Romilda after Carla had left.
“Surprisingly so,” Romilda agreed. “I don’t know; I think I was sort of expecting her to be a real pain. I guess that was because Mum was so impressed by her. It’s difficult enough to please Mum and being a half-blood…..”
“Ah, well,” Cornelius began uncomfortably. He generally reserved his highest respect for those of wizarding blood, but of course, Carla’s father’s family were of wizarding blood, so it wasn’t as if she was Muggle born. Not that he had anything against those of Muggle birth, he told himself. It just made things easier when you married someone of a similar background to yourself.
He didn’t say any of this to Romilda, though. She might see it as prejudice or something. His daughter could be odd like that. She tended to view perfectly reasonably concerns as being based on prejudice or out-dated ideas. Oh, well, she was young. The young were naturally idealistic. Jovian was the same sometimes. It was only as you got older that you realised there were very good reasons for certain restrictions, even if they seemed unfair.
For Merlin’s sake, if you were to judge things solely on fairness, then giants and werewolves and all kind of dangerous creatures would be allowed to roam the streets freely on equal terms with innocent human beings. Cornelius chuckled to himself at the idea. You had to have some judgement too. It was trying to balance all those different elements that made the position of Minister so challenging, Cornelius decided.
Despite some of the irritating ideas his daughter held, it was good to have her home for a while, Cornelius thought, and it was disappointing that she had to return to work so soon. Why did crises always have to take place at such annoying times?
“Oh well,” Romilda said, as she prepared to return to Tunisia. “I might be able to get home for a weekend sometime before Christmas. Being able to apparate makes it much easier to get home quickly. I’ll try and get home for Halloween, but I do have to maintain a social life, you know.”
Hearing this, Cornelius couldn’t help wondering if she had a boyfriend or someone in Tunisia. Of course there were quite a few wizards working with her. It would be hardly surprising if she were seeing one of them. It was just that Romilda had never brought anybody home to meet them and rarely mentioned any guys; either boys she had been at school with or fellows she worked with.
Jovian hadn’t had many girlfriends, but there was one girl at school that he had had a two year relationship with. It had only ended when they had left Hogwarts and had both got a bit caught up in their new lives. And there had been a girl on the Healer’s course that he had fancied, but who, unfortunately for him, hadn’t been interested. He had given his family at least a censored version of his relationships with these girls. Romilda, on the other hand, had never told them anything about whatever boys, if any, she had been interested in.
Not that Cornelius had much time to dwell on what this might mean. Even with Harry safe at Hogwarts, the issue of Black’s escape became more and more of a worry to the Ministry as the months wore on. Cornelius was no longer involved in the actual physical search, but he was required to brief the media on the situation on regular intervals, and also to keep the Muggle Ministry informed of developments. This was on top of his usual work and certainly kept him busy.
The panic in the wizarding world reached its height shortly after Halloween when it became known that Black had managed to somehow enter Hogwarts and find his way to Harry’s own dormitory. Luckily the boy had been at the Halloween feast; Black had chosen the wrong day to find him in his dormitory. Well, it was hardly surprising that he’d lose track of such feast days after 12 years in Azkaban where celebrations were rare.
To the Ministry, however, the fact that Harry had been safely out of the way was a very minor consolation. Oh, on a personal level, Cornelius was pleased. As were most of the rest of the Ministry and particularly Arthur Weasley. But it didn’t make their job much easier. The very fact that Black was able to enter Hogwarts so inexplicably threatened to cause mass panic.
It was imperative that Sirius Black be apprehended as soon as possible, Cornelius berated the Ministry employees. It was the only way of restoring faith in the Ministry’s policies on law and order.
Unfortunately, there appeared to be little success in this area. Cornelius himself made a couple of trips to Hogwarts, as that appeared to be the place most likely for Black to turn up at, but he achieved little. Nobody appeared to have any idea how Black had entered the castle. Logically speaking, it was impossible, particularly with Dementors stationed at every entrance.
Even Dumbledore was flummoxed.
“I wouldn’t have believed that he would find it so easy to get into the castle,” he told the Minister, sounding quite concerned. “But then, I wouldn’t have believed that he would have been able to escape Azkaban so easily either. Cornelius, I think you have to consider the possibility that he may have gained the support of one or more of the Dementors. I have already voiced my concerns about their loyalty to the Ministry. The possibility that their support could be gained quite easily, by Voldemort has worried me for some time.”
“Nonsense,” Cornelius blustered. “The loyalty of the Dementors is beyond question. I know you don’t like them, Albus. To be honest, neither do I. But I can assure you that they are completely under the control of the Ministry.”
“Well, I hope you’re right, Cornelius,” Dumbledore replied, without any reduction of the concern which showed in his voice. “But it strikes me as very suspicious. The Dementors were guarding Azkaban and Black managed to escape. The Dementors guard the castle and Black manages to slip past them. Severus has also commented on the possibility of Black hasn’t inside help. I’m not the only one wondering. Although I must admit, that the possibility of Dementor involvement has not occurred to him.”
“And I can assure you that he is absolutely right. I am entirely confident of the Ministry’s ability to control the Dementors.”
Cornelius refused to consider the possibility that any of the Dementors might not be loyal to the Ministry. It would be a situation of nightmarish portions and he could not bring himself to grant it any credence whatsoever. It was a fault of Cornelius’ that he refused to acknowledge anything that he did not want to believe, and the possibility that the Dementors might betray the Ministry was one that he certainly did not want to believe.
Therefore he ended the discussion with Dumbledore as quickly as possible. It hadn’t been very productive, he thought in disappointment.
Afterwards he decided to go for a drink in Hogsmeade with some of the Hogwarts teachers. Dumbledore declined to attend.
“I’m very sorry, Cornelius,” he excused himself, not sounding sorry in the least. “But with the Christmas holidays coming up, I am very busy at the moment. I know Minerva was hoping to go into the village for a Christmas drink though. Why don’t you ask her if she would like to join you?”
Minerva McGonagall was more than willing to join Cornelius for a drink, as were Professor Flitwick and Rubeus Hagrid. Cornelius was a little doubtful about the latter. He felt a little embarrassed around Hagrid ever since his mistake the previous year. Accusing somebody of Dark Magic and having them locked up in Azkaban hardly led to a close friendship with them afterwards. Nonetheless, he could hardly tell the man he didn’t want him to come with them, so there was little choice but to grin and bear it.
Naturally conversation in the pub turned to the reason Cornelius had been visiting Hogwarts in the first place and the worrying situation which existed in the wizarding world.
To Fudge’s annoyance, the Dementors presence appeared to be most unpopular.
Having already had to put up with Dumbledore’s criticisms for almost an hour, he felt forced to defend his decision.
“Rosmerta, m’dear, I don’t like them any more than you do,” he replied awkwardly. "Necessary precaution…unfortunate, but there you are…I’ve just met some of them. There in a fury against Dumbledore-he won’t let them inside the castle grounds.
Both McGonagall and Flitwick seemed to be in agreement with Dumbledore on this point.
When Cornelius looked back on his next words afterwards, he wondered if he made a mistake in telling people so much. Perhaps his desire to make people realise just what had prompted his decision with regard to the Dementors had made him a little too vocal with regard to Black’s crimes. Or possibly it was the redcurrant rum, he thought ruefully. A pub really was not a good place to discuss such sensitive information, but then again what were the chances of anybody overhearing? And he was sure McGonagall and the others would not betray his trust.
Anyway, there wasn’t much point in worrying about it afterwards. For better or worse, he had told his companions the details of Black’s crimes. His murder of Peter Pettigrew and a number of Muggles was well known of course, but his betrayal of James and Lily was not so well documented, and Hagrid was not the most careful of people.
He interrupted Cornelius’ story to loudly condemn Sirius Black. It was understandable of course. Black’s betrayal was despicable, but they didn’t particularly want the whole pub to overhear the conversation.
“Is it true he’s mad, Minister?” Romerta asked. This was something that had been worrying Cornelius.
“I wish I could say that he was,” he replied reluctantly. “I certainly believe his master’s defeat unhinged him for a while. The murder of Pettigrew and all those Muggles was the action of a cornered and desperate man- cruel….pointless. Yet I met Black on my last inspection of Azkaban. You know most of the prisoners there sit muttering to themselves in the dark, there’s no sense to them.
At this point, he broke off and looked at Hagrid awkwardly before continuing.
“But I was shocked at how normal Black seemed. He spoke quite rationally to me. It was unnerving.
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